REVIEW: Scorsese sets record straight with Vinyl

Vinyl, HBO’s new Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger creation, is already establishing itself as must see TV.

 

Set in the drug-filled music scene of 1970’s New York, the show focuses on Richie Finestra, played by Bobby Cannavale, and his record company American Century. Over the course of a stunning 2 hour pilot, we see Richie attempting to sell the fading company to a German group, only for the deal to take some bizarre turns.

The show’s all-star creative line-up, also featuring Boardwalk Empire and Wolf of Wall Street writer Terence Winter,  have created a show that perfectly fits with Richie’s description of rock and roll; ‘It’s fast, it’s dirty, it smashes you over the head’.

Scorsese and Winter once again deliver us an exhibition of excess; entire buildings crumble to the ground, men are beaten to death with awards, characters go on drink and cocaine binges for days on end. It’s textbook Scorsese, and is every bit as visceral as his previous work.

Jagger has also played a key part in moulding Vinyl, using past experiences to put together the New York we see. The show feels like an authentic 70’s recreation, far more than just brown suits and large moustaches, and the opening scene where crowds rush over Richie’s parked car to get into a concert gives immediate life to the setting.

Richie himself is a puzzling character to evaluate. From the outset we can feel the strain of his battle to stay off cocaine and preserve his marriage and frankly it’s something we’ve seen before.

Richie is far more interesting when acting along to martial arts movies in a cinema coked off his head than in most scenes with his wife Devon, played by Olivia Wilde. There is a notable exception at the end of the pilot, and to his credit Cannavale portrays both sides of Richie quite well, it’s simply that one is far more interesting than the other.

Richie and Devon is one of three major sub-plots. Another focuses on fictional punk band “The Nasty Bits”, whose frontman Kip Stevens is played by Jagger’s son James. The band’s tape gets picked up by American Century secretary Julie, played by Juno Temple, who tries to prove to Richie that they, and she herself, have a lot more talent than people think.

Julie’s struggle to progress in the male dominated industry, at one point she instinctively offers Richie sexual favours for the chance to view the Nasty Bits for him, is one of the show’s highlights. She is consistently run down by other American Century employees and her hopes of breaking from the rut lie squarely with the Nasty Bits.

The problem with the Nasty Bits is that they’re just not that good. While their performance to Richie offered a nice underdog finale to episode 3, the characters often talk about a’ rawness’ to their sound that just doesn’t translate to the screen. At some point being told how good the Nasty Bits are is going to become weary.

The most interesting tale of all is Lester Grimes; a blues singer who Richie got a deal for when he was just a barman, only for Grimes to be told he had to do pop hits. Grimes’ ultimately tragic demise and Richie’s attempted reconciliation is a slow burner, but one that should be followed very closely.

As one might expect, Vinyl is an absolute treat for fans of Rock and Roll – the show is littered with brilliantly crafted Easter Eggs. Richie bemoans the progressive doodling of Emerson Lake and Palmer, there’s tales of Keith Moon throwing television sets from windows,  and there’s cameos from Robert Plant, Andy Warhol and Alice Cooper.

The problem with music is subjectivity. If you’re not a fan of rock music then Led Zeppelin references won’t do anything for you. But there is still enough to Vinyl to make it a fantastic watch, regardless of musical taste.

 

Shane O’Mahony

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