Or will Kings of Leon or BEP take home the coveted statue?
The Grammys are coming on Sunday, complete with their 3D Michael Jackson tribute and fundraising segment for Haiti relief. And they’ll hand out some awards too. Today we look at one of the big four categories: record of the year.
Record of the year
If the song of the year is for the tune alone in its most stripped down form, think of the record of the year as the award for the finished product after everyone else—the artist, producer, mixer, etc., had their way with the song. Therefore, this is more about how the record sounds than the actually notes on the sheet music. That’s one reason I argued under song of the year that “Halo” and “Single Ladies” should be flipped here as “Single Ladies” is the far more noteworthy production. “Use Somebody” is a strong song, as is “You Belong with Me.” Their productions are nice and suit the tunes, but don’t stand out as particularly innovative or noteworthy. Think about “Poker Face” and “I Gotta Feeling,” both are better records than songs (we’re not sure there’s really a song there in “I Gotta Feeling). They both possess unique sounds that make them instantly recognizable.
Record of the year
Song of the year
Best rock performance by duo or group
Best male pop vocal performance
Best female pop vocal performance
Best pop group performance
Best alternative album
Best rock song
Best pop vocal album
Download sales of 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' will go to American Red Cross
Following the telecast, both the audio and video of the Simon & Garfunkel classic will be made available for download at iTunes.com/Target with all proceeds going to the American Red Cross and earmarked for Haitian earthquake relief funds. While we can often be pretty cynical about these things, the thought of the powerful Mary J. Blige singing “Bridge” is enough to give us chills, so we think this will be the performance of the night.
Plus, unlike the Michael Jackson tribute, you won’t need dorky 3D glasses to enjoy it.
Grammy winner premieres new song written with David Baerwald, Richard Marx also performs
LeAnn Rimes debuted several new songs at a packed show at the ASCAP Music Café here at Sundance on Jan. 25. Dressed casually in a sweater, black pants, and black velvet boots, Rimes assuredly ran through a 45-minute set accompanied only by keyboards and a guitar.
Although she’s been in the headlines more lately for her love life than her singing abilities, Rimes’ voice is a pure, powerful instrument. Ever since she burst on the scene as a 13-year old in the mid-90s and was hailed the next Patsy Cline, Rimes has displayed a rare talent among contemporary singers. Now 27, the Grammy winner has grown into her pipes.
Nowhere was that more evident then on “What Have I Done,” a raw, emotional song she premiered at Sundance, written by her, frequent collaborator Darrell Brown and David Baerwald. I would have never thought that the gritty Baerwald and mainstream Rimes would be too odd a pairing to work, but if “What Have I Done” is any indication; they capture lightning in a bottle together. Rimes did not say if the song referenced her recent divorce from Dean Sheremet, but it wasn’t hard to read between such lines as “What have I done/I broke the sweetest heart of the only man who ever loved me” and “There’s a hurt in me that I don’t understand.” It’s a gutwrenching tune. On the lighter side, she also performed the up-tempo “God Takes Care of Your Kind,” which she co-write as a revenge fantasy after a girlfriend went through a divorce from a scoundrel.
Rimes is working on two albums, she revealed. Up first will be a covers album produced by Vince Gill. Second will be an album of new material, some of which she debuted at Sundance.
She closed the Jan. 25 session at the Music Café. Among the artists also playing during that day’s concert were pop dance group 2AM Club, whose RCA debut comes out later this year, as well as singer/songwriter K.S. Rhodes, soulful rocker Daniella Cotton and the combo of Vertical Horizon’s Matt Scannell and Richard Marx. The duo played together on Tuesday after playing individual sets on Monday.
Aside from writing surefire melodic pop songs with airtight hooks, Scannell and Marx definitely knew how to work a crowd. Marx told the story of being recognized on Main Street on Monday by a woman who came running up to him and declared her love. He thanked her, after which she asked when had he lost his British accent. “She thought I was George Michael,” Marx grimaced. Scannell then asked if he’d been coming out a bathroom, referencing Michael’s sex scandal a few years back.
The two also managed to play some music between cracking jokes, including a number of songs made famous by each on their own, as well as some new songs, including a great one called “I’m Not Running,” where their voices blended seamlessly together. The pair released an acoustic collection last year and will release a live set recorded earlier this year soon, as well as an electric set in coming months.
Why isn't Lady GaGa eligible for this award?
There are only a few days left until the Jan. 31 Grammy Awards so we're down to the big four categories: song, record and album of the year, as well as best new artist. Today, we look at best new artist.
Best New Artist
Let’s just consider for a moment if we’d even be talking about the other folks as contenders in this category if Lady GaGa had been eligible. As you know by now, she was not in contention because “Just Dance” was nominated in the dance category last year. Also not eligible were likely contenders Phoenix, who had released too many albums to be considered “new,” even though this was the band’s breakout year, and Kid Cudi, who did not release his debut album in time for consideration.
With all those codas out of the way, Zac Brown Band is the clear frontrunner here. The group, whose major label debut, “Foundation,” has sold close to 1.5 million copies, more than three times the amount of “In a Perfect World” from Hilson, ZBB’s closest competitor. Additionally, ZBB is likely to snare the majority of votes from the country community as will Hilson from the R&B genre, while MGMT, Silversun Pickups and Ting Tings will split the alternative rock vote. The award has only gone to a country artist twice before (Leann Rimes and Carrie Underwood), but ZBB will also pick up some rock votes courtesy of their jam band following.
The Grammy goes to: Zac Brown Band
Below is a rundown of our previous predictions.
Song of the year
Best rock performance by duo or group
Best male pop vocal performance
Best female pop vocal performance
Best pop group performance
Best alternative album
Best rock song
Best pop vocal album
Who do you think is going to win Best New Artist at the Grammys? Share your thoughts below.
Beck gives Charlotte Gainsbourg a helping hand
Two artists who exploded with their debut sets return with their sophomore albums this week. Both Lady Antebellum and Corrine Bailey Rae put out their second albums this week. Also of note is singer/songwriter Patty Griffin’s intriguing “Downtown Church,” and Charlotte Gainsbourg’s collaboration with Beck.
Beach House,”Teen Dream (Sub Pop) Baltimore-based co-ed duo releases first effort for Sub Pop full of their energetic, whimsical pop.
Charlotte Gainsbourg, “IRM” (Because Music/Atlantic): Daughter of Serge Gainsbourg, collaborated with Beck on her third album. Initially, Beck was only handling production duties, but the loner the two worked together, the more collaborative the effort became with him writing many tunes.
Patty Griffin, “Downtown Church” (Credential/EMI): Every singer/songwriters’ favorite singer/songwriter returns with her seventh album and a truly original concept. Recorded at a church in Nashville, “Downtown Church” features Griffin singing from the pulpit while guests such as Emmylou Harris, Raul Malo, Shawn Colvin and Jim Lauderdale drop by.
Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now” (Capitol Nashville): While Taylor Swift was getting all the attention as the new face of young country, this co-ed trio was out selling more than a million copies of their self-titled debut and picking up titles like CMA duo/group of the year. The title track spent five weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s country chart—that was longer than any other song in 2009. On its sophomore effort, the band expands upon its strength: strong country rock tunes and the gift of intertwining Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley’s voices.
Barry Manilow, “The Greatest Love Songs of All Time” (Artisa): What? You really thought we would ignore a new album from Barry? Manilow continues to mine the pattern that worked for Rod Stewart and their shared exec producer, Clive Davis, and cover hit songs with their own unique style. Here, Manilow takes on such classic love songs as “The Look of Love,” “Love Me Tender,” “I Only Have Eyes for You” and “We’ve Only Just Begun.”What? No cover of “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails?
Never Shout Never, “What is Love” (Loveway/Sire): Hot Topic poster boys release their debut effort for Sire Records. The set was produced by Butch Walker, who has worked wonders with such acts as Katy Perry and Weezer.
Corinne Bailey Rae, “The Sea” (Capitol): Soulful British singer returns with her first album since her 2006 debut and since the death of her husband. Given the latter tragedy, fans of her light “Turn the Radio On” will discover a deeper Rae on this project. Catch her on her North American tour which starts April 9 in Vancouver.
Where does the film get it wrong?
Hitfix got the chance to ask Currie when we sat down with her during the Sundance Film Festival, where the movie premiered Jan. 24. Were she and Jett lovers, as the movie implies? Did Kim Fowley have local boys throw dog poop at the girls to toughen them up? How did Robert Plant’s advice land the girls in jail? What shocking tragedy did the film makers leave out? What misunderstanding did she and Jett resolve last month, 30 years after the band’s break up?
The film, based on her autobiography “Neon Angel,” opens wide March 19. Currie is also preparing a new version of “Neon Angel” that comes out March 17.
Q: What did you think when you saw the completed movie?
A: I haven’t seen the completed movie yet. The sound hadn’t been laid in. I just thought that the actors were incredible. I love the soundtrack, of course. I’m partial. It’s a cautionary tale. It’s a parallel narrative, as Joan puts it. It’s not the real story, but it’s not far from the story either.
Q: What really struck me was that the movie tells a really grim story. There’s not any point where you seem to be enjoying the ride.
A: And that’s not true at all. How do you shove two-and-a-half years into an hour and a half? That was tough because we had a lot of fun.
Q: But the movie doesn’t show that.
A: No. And again, it says we got a record deal on the road. We had the record deal like two weeks after we’d been together. So there’s some inaccuracies about the film. No, we had a great time. It’s hard for me to be objective because it’s my life and Joan’s life that we’re talking about here. Of course, I was sitting there going, “No! It didn’t happen that way. No! Wait a minute.” But it was still very entertaining and it flew by.
Q: Did Kim Fowley really gather local boys to throw dog poop at you when you rehearsed?
A: No. And the thing is when Kim would have those days of just trying to prepare us for what was really out there; he just wanted us to be so ready for the impossible. Just once in a while. He didn’t bring in kids to do it, he’d just do it. He’d just grab a can and whip it.
Q: But not dog poop.
A: No, we would have drawn the line there.
Q: What the movie really does show is how at 15, you haven’t developed a voice to stick up for yourself, and you turn to the drugs. You have no coping skills.
A: Absolutely. And again, right when I had gotten into the Runaways, I was just treading water. Also, being a twin, its not easy, there’s the constant competition thing. Who’s the prettier one? Marie was the more popular one and I was just kind of lost. And what they don’t show in the movie as well is Marie’s boyfriend, who picks the girls up [in the opening scene], he raped me. He took my virginity. He raped me and that’s when I cut my hair off and became an angry…I wasn’t like that. I was a really nice surfer girl. Loving Bowie and loving sticking my toes in the water and just trying to break away from being a twin. At that point, you go through puberty and you just don’t want to be connected at the hip all the time. Yeah, so that was not in the movie as well. They didn’t want me to lose my innocence so early in the film. I felt, “Gosh, that doesn’t really explain why I take that turn.” That’s why I said the book really explains in depth a lot of things that we went through and especially on the road. We were arrested in Europe for possession of hotel room keys.
A: Back then, they threw us in jail: Me, Joan and Sandy, because Robert Plant had told us to save our hotel room keys. We went to Europe and he had his in shadow boxes, so of course we’d do anything that Robert Plant told us to do. Who wouldn’t? And they busted us in Dover on the way to Paris before we jumped on the ferry. Threw us in jail. And [road manager] Scott Anderson had stashed some of his cocaine in my makeup case…We signed off on all our luggage and all of a sudden it occurs to me while I’m sitting in this cell with the girls, “Oh my God, his coke is in my makeup case and I’m going to stay in Europe the rest of my life in prison!”
Q: What happened?
A: What happened was this really nice guard felt sorry for us because they were really treating us badly. He could tell that I was just coming apart. Europe was really tough for me, The punk movement had just come into play and they were violent and they were throwing knives at us on stage and I was just really homesick…But this guard just became very protective of me and he was the one that searched the luggage and he found it because he was looking at me. I was having seizures practically I was so scared and he just kept looking at me saying, “It’s okay, it’s okay. “ And when [his boss] came in, he said, “I’m disappointed to say we didn’t find anything” and it was sitting right…When you opened that thing, there it was. Wonderful guy. I was a scared little girl, just turned 16, terrified.
Q: How did you feel about how they handled your love scenes with Joan? Did you feel that was accurate?
A: No. A little overplayed. I mean, Joan and I just had a great friendship. I clung to her. She kept me sane. She had this vision. All her life she knew what she wanted to be. I wasn’t quite sure until I saw my first Bowie concert, which was a few months before I joined the Runaways. We were just best friends. And there were some drugs going on. Back then in the ‘70s, if you didn’t do drugs they thought there was something wrong with you. So, and at that time, bisexuality, David Bowie, Elton John, people were coming out of the closet. It was just right in that time when the experimental factor kicked it. That’s really all it was, just a couple of girls having fun. No in-love relationship kind of thing, girlfriend/girlfriend, it wasn’t that way. We were just coping with having fun. And we had a lot of fun on the road, we really did.
Q: What do you think when you see Dakota Fanning on screen playing you?
A: First of all, she was my favorite actress on the planet and I ended up finding she had been cast through [entertainment reporter] Sam Rubin on Channel 5 News and my knees literally buckled because I couldn’t have imagined anyone better than Dakota. No one can hold a candle to her. She was so receptive and quick. I mean if there’s any little thing, I’d say it and Boom, it was done. She got it.
Q: What about Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett?
A: I thought that she was just amazing.
Q: She looks so much like her.
A: And that was not an easy task. You know Joan is very unique. And she has a personality like no other and Kristen worked really hard to achieve what she did in this film. I take my hat off to all of them. And even Riley [Keough] playing my sister Marie, just exceptional.
Q: You have a teenage son and he’s in a band.
A: He’s here actually. He’ll be 19 next month.
Q: But when he was a minor and already in a band….
A: Not a chance. I’d never let him do what my… again, my parents were getting a divorce right at the time the Runaways happened. My mom was contemplating getting remarried and moving. It happened very fast between my mom and my stepdad. My father wasn’t even living in California, he was living in Texas.
Q: So that part is fiction where Marie has to take care of him?
A: No, that absolutely happened. My dad moved back to his cousin’s house…that was all true. And Marie had to stay behind and she took care of Dad and my grandmother and Aunt Evi did as well. But my dad, he started going downhill with the drinking and it was hard on my sister. Very hard.
Q: When your son got into a band at 14, did you say “do not do as I did?”
A: I don’t have to. That kid has grown up… his favorite book is “Neon Angel.” He’s read it. He’s the hippest, coolest. My ex-husband is Robert Hayes, from “Airplane,” incredible dad, he’s my best friend. There’s alcoholism on both sides of the family, so immediately we’re instilling, “Hey you’ve got the double whammy. You gotta be careful.” My son has just risen so far above it. He’s just not even… he’s not interested.
Q: When I interviewed you in 2006, we talked about a possible Runaways reunion and you said you came very close, but then Lita backed out. Given this film’s coming out, any chance?
A: She is claiming she will have nothing to do with anyone that had to do with this film and we have no idea why. She has an issue with Kenny [Laguna, Jett’s longtime manager] early one when Joan and Lita both had [solo] hits and Lita wanted to use the same photographer for her album cover that Joan had used. And Kenny, being a good manager, said I don’t think it’s a good idea for this album. We shouldn’t have the same photographer. And she wanted to use the same writer. And Kenny said, “You know what, not this record. Next record, but not this record. You guys shouldn’t have two records coming at the same time with the same album cover, the same photographer, the same songwriters. I don’t think that’s a good idea.” And Lita took that as a personal attempt to ruin her career. It’s just, again, you look at the chaos of us growing up in the insanity of Kim Fowley and you see that it’s very hard to let go of that, even as an adult, if you really get damaged by it all. I just look at it that way.
To me, it’s like can’t we all just get along? We’re grown. She and I are the only two who have children. I just thought it was ridiculous.
Q: That’s a long time to hold a grudge.
A: Oh, no kidding.
Q: Did the phone call happen as it did in the movie where you called Joan when she was visiting a radio station?
A: Yeah and that was a little upsetting to me as well. Yeah, I did call. I didn’t call from the bakery they had me working at. At that time, I was working as a drug counselor and I’d made “Foxes” and I’d taken the dive and got out and was working with kids. And I called Joan and I had a lot to say. I said, and I remember clearly, so does she and Rodney Bingenheimer. I said, I just gotta tell you from the moment I saw you, I knew you were a superstar. I’m so proud of you Joan. You are finally getting what you deserve and I love you, and that was the conversation. In the movie, I guess they didn’t think that was a good way to end it. Why? I don’t know.
Q: Are you and Joan in regular touch?
A: Yeah, we talk, of course. She’s just great. I just want to say that me and Joan finally, just in the last month, I heard how upset she was that I had left the band and that she was really hurt. I thought they wanted me out. And I said, “Joan, I thought you guys hated me. I thought you wanted me out.” She said, “No man! We were so crushed. We just thought that you thought you were better than us.” It’s like, no. I thought Lita was going to fricking kill me. Physically, I was going to be dead. You have to get to a point where it’s like, you know what, I just can’t take this anymore. I’m afraid of my life at this point.
Q: And you really were?
A: Totally. At the end of the movie, the actual story is we were doing our third record cover photo session. I came in early. Lita was a couple of hours late. I needed to leave to give my sister the car.. Lita threw a fit and kicked down the door and came at me and pushed me in the wall. And it’s like, you know what? Sorry. Enough. We were out of our minds.
Q: What do you want people to take away from the movie?
A: Wow… Buy the book. You know, you can survive anything if you just don’t give up. You know, Joan had her dream. Her dream came true. What meant the most to her in her life happened because she didn’t give up. I survived as well. I have a wonderful kid, a great ex-husband, a wonderful family. I’ve got Kenny who worked so hard to get this book. Who ever gets to write the same book twice? I’m a chainsaw carver and proud of it. Now all of a sudden I have this movie that depicts my life and Joan’s life and I have another book, the greatest kid in the planet. My God, just hang in there, even if you think it’s the darkest day of your life. Just stick around. Hey, if we could live through this, you can [too].
Or will Kings of Leon or Maxwell spoil the girls' party?
With the Grammys less than a week away, we turn to the big four categories this week: album, record and song of the year, as well as best new artist. These are the Grammys that every artist covets because they include all genres of music. We’ll tackle a category a day and then on Friday, we’ll recap all of our predictions from the past three weeks. The Grammys air Jan. 31 at 8 p.m. on CBS.
Song of the Year:
“Poker Face,” Lady GaGa & RedOne, songwriters (Lady GaGa)
“Pretty Wings,” Hod David & Musze, songwriters (Maxwell)
“Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” Thaddis Harrell, Beyonce Knowles, Terius Nash & Christopher Stewart, songwriters (Beyonce)
“Use Somebody,” Caleb Followill, Jared Followill, Matthew Followill & Nathan Followill, songwriters (Kings of Leon)
“You Belong With Me,” Liz Rose & Taylor Swift, songwriters (Taylor Swift)
Song of the year is a songwriters award so imagine each of these songs played on a piano or an acoustic guitar and just one voice—like a really good demo tape. How does it sound when it’s not surrounded by all the bells and whistles? To that end, we’re taking out “Single Ladies.” It is a brilliant record, but what makes it so great is the production. After we heard Lady GaGa perform “Poker Face” accompanied only by a keyboard, we had to admit that it worked as a song. “Pretty Wings” is gorgeous, but this is between “Use Somebody” and “You Belong with Me.” It’s Swift’s year. Regardless of how you feel about her as a singer, the girl can write a song and has chops to spare. Admit it, you’re singing “You Belong With Me” right now, aren’t you? Sorry for the earworm.
The Grammy goes to: “You Belong with Me,” Taylor Swift
Below is a rundown of our previous predictions
Can you hear AEG screaming in protest?
Does this mean that tickets surcharges will never come down? Probably. Does it mean that AEG is probably feeling pretty bummed about right now? You bet. We’re at Sundance so we don’t have time to analyze it more right now, but we will later .
As part of the deal, the new company, dubbed Live Nation Entertainment (yes, Ticketmaster is thrilled to be getting rid of that name that so many people love to hate) will get rid of its Paciolan ticketing company and, here’s the part that should be fun, has to make a ticketing licensing deal with AEG, according to Billboard.
Read much more about the deal here.
Isaac Slade talks about what comes next for the band, plus why Aussie fans rule
The Fray is one of the biggest new bands to explode onto the pop-rock scene in the last few years. Its hits like “Cable Car,” “How to Save a Life” or “You Found Me” have become the soundtrack to your lives due to their ubiquitous life on radio or on television shows like “Grey’s Anatomy.”
Q: How’s the next album coming along?
A: We’ve been in the studio off and on for the last four months. No producer yet. We’re just bringing in our engineer and kind of feeling it out. We really want to bring in somebody and kind of do a collaboration, but we want to get a little bit farther down the road first so it feels like we can go pretty strong left or right with this third record and kind of stay where we are or get way more commercial, which we don’t want, or go super indie and lose a broad swath of our mainstream fans, so we’re kind of at a weird junction. The label’s been really cool. They said, “You know what? You gave us two records of what we wanted so now do your thing.”
Q: So what do you want to do?
A: It’s a good question. We’re trying to figure it out right now. Loosely, I can’t really speak for the guys, but for me, I think I want a build a longer-term career and I feel like we’ve been really fortunate to have some big success with a few things, but I want smaller success with more things.
Q: You want the long tail theory.
A: My manager made me read that book. I still haven’t read it yet. I think I want to spread our foundation a little bit. We’re not like the one-hit wonder, we’re like a four-hit wonder, so it’s broader than I ever imagined it could be, but if you’re asking, that’s definitely a goal of mine to get the audience to know every song on our record instead of six or seven.
Q: Will it come out in 2010?
A: No, most likely not. It will likely come out early 2011.
Q: The Fray has already been so successful with song placements in so many television shows. What do you want to get out of being at Sundance?
A: We’ve done a lot of more visible syncs, more commercial, larger, whatever. Wed like to start smaller from the ground up, maybe do something from scratch for the actual piece.
Q: So you’d like for a director to see you here and ask you to write for his or her project?
A: Yeah and maybe not even that direct. One of our guys, Dave, is way into movies and he’s got a dream director list of 25 people, so it’s just a scene that we’ve never really taken the time to come see. It’s awesome. There’s such a spirit of camaraderie and collaboration…It’s how I imagine how it used to go with collaborations with old school phone calls and someone sits in a room with someone else and actually writes the music for the movie.
Q: Do you want to score a movie?
A: Yeah, we’d love to. We’re interested in doing some end credits or some songs or some soundtracks or some stuff. We have a lot of bands that we really respect that have gotten into that from Jon Brion to the Decemberists. They’re all setting the bar really high…We took Sondre Lerche [who wrote the songs for “Dan in Real Life”] out on the road with us and that was a real inspiration.
Q: You’re getting ready to go to Australia next month. How are Australian audiences different than U. S. audiences?
A: They’re a little nicer actually. [Here], you got to prove yourself to some people, they kind of stand there with their arms folded and kind of wait to see if you’re worth it and I respect that. I kind of do that but Australia is just a lot more openly gracious, I’ll say that. And it’s either the culture or they’re all drunk. One of the two. They’re pretty stoked about their alcohol.
Kristen Stewart rocks as Jett, Dakota Fanning staggers as Currie
It’s hard to believe that 35 years ago a girl with a guitar was a scandalous thing. If nothing else, “The Runaways” provides a little historical perspective on a time not so long ago when aggressive axe-wielding female musicians were seen as a threat to their male counterparts. But instead of celebrating the Runaways’ pioneering achievements and influence, the movie comes across as a cautionary tale about what happens when teenage girls run wild.
“The Runaways,” which centers on the relationship between Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) and lead singer Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning), premiered at Sundance Sunday night, but with Apparition already signed on as distributor, the movie played here mainly to drum up excitement prior to its March 19 wide release.
The film does a masterful job of showing how the band, which started as five questionably talented outcasts in Los Angeles with ambitions that far outweighed their abilities, zoomed to stardom on a bullet train steered by producer/manager Kim Fowley.Even at the group’s height, the Runaways’ passion, verve and raw appeal surpassed its talent (with the possible exception of guitarist Lita Ford, who did not cooperate with the making of the movie). Cult hit “Cherry Bomb,” written on the fly as an audition piece for Currie if the movie is to be believed, was all tease and come ons strung together with simple rhymes and a few chord changes in the best tradition of punk.
The four years from the band’s inception to its 1979 implosion pass in a blur as Fowley keeps the Runaways working at a breakneck pace, including a tour of Japan where they arrived to screaming, hysterical fans. If the band enjoyed one moment of its run, even the joy of playing on stage, it certainly doesn’t come across here on film. Instead, it seems as if the time passed in drug-addled haze with the young teenagers never having a moment to savor its success or take a breather before Fowley thrust them back on the treadmill. Quite frankly, if the ride was as desultory as it comes across in the movie, it’s a miracle the band lasted as long as it did.
Jett is all leather-clad testosterone, while Currie is a fragile, estrogen-fueled flower. And in many ways, it’s that contrast that fuels the band as much as it destroys it as the other band members become either jealous of Currie’s sex kitten image, totally created and later exploited by Fowley, or feel her plaything, come- hither stance, complete with corset and thigh-high stockings, undermines their musical credibility. The seemingly brief affair--or is it just sexual experimenting-- between Jett and Currie is played out in blurry cutaways and there’s never a conversation or even a knowing look between the pair over their night spent together.
Stewart’s Jett is an intense teen who seldom smiles, but who knows what she wants and that’s to play her electric guitar. Gruff and sullen, she nevertheless has drive to spare and its her vision as much as Fowley’s that propels the band. Stewart, who, like Fanning, does her own singing and playing, sounds and looks remarkably like Jett. It’s one of her strongest performances so far as she captures Jett’s fierce work ethic and undiluted desire to play music free of gimmicks. Plus, we see her toughening exterior and gritty determination as the band withstands various assaults.
Fanning’s Currie is a tentative creature so wounded by her absentee, alcoholic father and jet setting mother (an effective Tatum O'Neal) that she grabs onto the rope thrown to her by the Runaways before she has time to figure out if it is a lifeline or a sinking anchor. Fanning, who looks like a younger Kate Hudson, seems to struggle more with the role than Stewart, but that could be because the 15-year-old Currie was less grounded than Jett and Fanning has decided to play that fragility filtered through a woozy drug coma for much of the movie. Plucked by Fowley out of a nightclub to audition for the band, Fanning portrays Currie as a lost soul, whose only way to fight against Fowley and the unrelenting machine is to quit the band.
Michael Shannon, best known for his Oscar-nominated performance in “Revolutionary Road” is the stand-out here, but that’s also because he gets to chew the scenery as the larger-than-life Fowley. He reminds the girls that this isn’t about “women’s lib, it’s about women’s libido,” that “rock and roll is a blood sport,” and many other profane turns of phrase we can’t print here. It’s nearly impossible to play Fowley as over-the-top, obnoxious and creepy as he is in real life, but Shannon nails it. Also impressive is Riley Keough, Elvis Presley's granddaughter, as Cherie's left-behind twin, Marie.
Director Floria Sigismondi, who also wrote the screenplay based on Currie’s autobiography “Neon Angel,” is best known as a music video director (Sheryl Crow, David Bowie) and photographer. She has a keen eye, as one would expect, and the concert footage looks authentic, but the movie often resembles a montage of stylized, gauzy photos and stand-alone snapshots that don’t hang together cohesively and jarringly bump against each other with no transition from one to the next. Plus, we see little character development—unless being perpetually gorked or petulant count as growth-- as Currie, and to a lesser extent Jett, go through these life-altering changes. This is their story and both Currie and Jett, who executive produced, coached the young stars playing them, so presumably, they are happy with the dark, raw portrayal of their short-lived super nova, but both would have been served better by more fully-fleshed out characterizations.
The movie doesn’t have to deal with each of the band members equally, but the fact that there are screen updates at the end on Jett, Currie and Fowley with no mention whatsoever of Ford’s post-Runaways success or that drummer Sandy West passed away from cancer in 2006 seems unfair (although during the press day for the movie, but Currie and Jett were hopeful that those may be added in the final version) . They at least deserve a footnote, as they are reduced to bit players in the film.
Overall, "The Runaways" is a stylized, often glum, look at the rise of a groundbreaking rock group who left a permanent mark on rock and roll. It would have been nice if more of the joy that came from being part of history came through here.