Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Nelson Riddle "Lolita"; Cotton Mather "Kon-Tiki"

By Michael Henningsen

MAY 11, 1998: 

Alibi Rating Scale:

!!!!!= All-Beef Patty
!!!!= Special Sauce
!!!= Lettuce
!!= Cheese
!= Pickle

Nelson Riddle

Lolita: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
(Rhino Movie Music)

While Adrian Lyne's misguided unreleased remake of Lolita stays gossipworthy (the poor bastard seems not to have realized that the story's sexual relationship between a man in his 40s and a 12-year-old girl is primarily a metaphor), Rhino Movie Music has reissued Nelson Riddle's score to Stanley Kubrick's 1962 adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's brilliant novel. Like any soundtrack, it's best enjoyed after you've seen the movie a couple of times. Or in my case, a couple dozen--Lolita has been one of my favorite movies ever since Sue Lyon stopped me dead in my twelve-year-old tracks when I first saw her in that garden on the late show on Denver's KWGN in 1981.

The reissue presents for the first time all of Riddle's score. As Joseph Lanza points out in his excellent liner notes, the choice of Riddle was inspired: For years, through his massively popular film and TV scores and his stint as the house arranger for Sinatra's Rat Pack, Riddle had already provided the soundtrack for suburban proto-swingers like Charlotte Haze. This makes the tiki-torch-and-leopard-print faux-exotica of "Shelley Winters Cha Cha" more savagely ironic than any space-age bachelor-pad revivalist could dream of being.

Riddle's other best songs also stand up on their own, especially the insistently catchy "Lolita Ya Ya" and its vaguely creepy reprise, "Charlotte Is Dead," while his lovely arrangements of the standards, "There's No You" and "Put Your Dreams Away," put the score in its proper historical context. Other songs fare less well without the visuals--the tragicomic "The Last Martini" sounds more goofy than satiric if you haven't seen the film's pivotal scene.

But since you should see the film anyway, this is not a problem. Other than the odd package's design choices, which look more 1967 than 1962, this is a flawless reissue, as well as an opportunity for cocktail culture mavens to hear and see irony done right the first time. !!!!

Cotton Mather


Austin has always had a low talent-to-hype ratio. Of all the bands fawned over during the city's brief media heyday back in the mid-'80s, only Zeitgeist were any damn good, and most of their leading lights these days (Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Alejandro Escovedo) aren't even locals. This makes the jaw-droppingly great Kon-Tiki that much more of a shock--Cotton Mather are easily the best thing Austin has going for it musically.

Cotton Mather's first album, 1994's Cotton Is King, was fine guitar pop with a decided Squeeze influence, but it doesn't prepare one at all for the sonic and musical onslaught of Kon-Tiki. Easy comparisons include The Loud Family, The Apples in Stereo and R. Stevie Moore. Cotton Mather doesn't actually sound like any of them, but like albums by those artists, Kon-Tiki is one can't-get-it-out-of-your-skull pop song after another, interspersed with bursts of tape collage and random studio noise. "Vegetable Row," which sounds like a hard-candy circa-'66 Dylan outtake, ends with a few seconds' splice of a completely different song, which is rudely chopped off in time for the organ-driven "Aurora Bori Alice."

Variety is the watchword on Kon-Tiki. The wildly overdriven feedback-fest "Church of Wilson" leads straight into the gently swirling keyboards and acoustic guitars of "Lily Dreams On," which immediately makes way for the classic harmony-filled jangle-pop "Password." The amazing thing is that despite the wild mood and style shifts, the album doesn't sound fragmentary in the least--the pieces all fall into place.

Brad Jones' production features studio chatter, audible edits, remarkably loud clicks, and yet the overall sound is enormous, filled with amazing sonic depth. Low-fi this ain't. Song titles like "Camp Hill Rail Operator" or "Animal Show Drinking Song" might recall Guided By Voices, and the audio-verite "Prophecy for the Golden Age" wouldn't have sounded out of place on Westing (By Musket and Sextant), but Kon-Tiki is the album Pavement is too cool or too lazy (and Guided By Voices is too jaded or too drunk) to make. !!!!!

--Stewart Mason

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