REVIEW: Scorsese music drama Vinyl favours style over substance
With its smoke-filled, drug-fuelled, feedback and fuzz-heavy aesthetic, Martin Scorsese’s much anticipated new music drama Vinyl wastes no time throwing its viewer head-first into the orgiastic 1970s rock scene. The show’s two-hour premiere opens in a New York backstreet in 1973, where we witness music executive Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale) on an intense, urgent, and all too realistic coke binge, before following a crowd of rampant youths to a New York Dolls gig that literally brings down the house.
From the offset, Vinyl stakes its claim as a heady trip back to a bygone era; yet the show’s pilot seems to prioritise style over substance, and nostalgia over relevance, as the script dwells more on its references to historic bands and their managers than the story itself.
Vinyl’s narrative revolves around Finestra’s record company ‘American Century’ – or, as he himself chides, “American Cemetery, where artists go to die” – which is essentially Lower Manhattan’s answer to Capitol Records. On top of negotiating a deal with a sterile German conglomerate that wishes to buy out the label and remove the word “American” from its title, Finestra and his braintrust (J.C. MacKenzie and an almost unrecognisable Ray Romano) must resolve their troublesome, much-too-frequently-mentioned “Zeppelin deal” with Robert Plant and manager Peter Grant, while also pushing the company’s A&R team to discover the ‘next big thing’. It’s essentially Empire meets Mad Men, with a lot more swearing and bell bottom jeans.
Running alongside this corporate storyline are Finestra’s troubled home life with long-suffering wife Devon (Olivia Wilde), his feud with downtrodden blues musician Lester Grimes (Ato Essandoh), and, as we glean from the very first scene in which Finestra uses the business card of a homicide detective to cut his cocaine, a rather graphic major crime.
We also have the charming romance between Juno Temple’s ambitious sandwich girl with an ear for new talent, and Mick Jagger’s son James Jagger, who plays the lead singer of the horribly named and even worse sounding punk band, ‘Nasty Bits’.
Boasting blockbuster performances from Cannavale, Temple and Essandoh, Vinyl pays intricate attention to period detail, evoking glamorised memories of the ’70s in a way that is unmistakably Scorsese. Yet while the show’s pilot will certainly please fans of the era, its music, and Scorsese’s prior work, it also suggests little room to grow, in spite of the nine episodes left in the series. Currently feeling like a drugged up music executive, senses numbed and coasting through life on a rather hollow dimension, we hope Vinyl will engage on levels beyond the superficial in episodes yet to come.
Vinyl premieres tonight (Monday Feb 15th) at 9pm on Sky Atlantic.