Roush Review: Vinyl Is Scorsese's 'Life-Altering Rock-pocalypse'

Matt Roush
Vinyl - full cast
HBO

Excess is everything in the hard-rocking, explosively entertaining Vinyl, starting with the ferocious, high-decibel star turn by Bobby Cannavale (Boardwalk Empire) as embattled record-label head Richie Finestra. This virile visionary's passions are so extreme it's hard to tell whether he's coked up or blissed out—probably both—whenever he embraces a fresh sound.

A towering, swaggering figure of animal magnetism that can manifest into primal rage or existential despair depending on the crisis, Richie bellows this refrain to his harried staff: "I want new, fresh, fast, exciting!" As do we all.

And Vinyl delivers on all counts. This is HBO at its most deluxe and debauched, starting from the first frenzied beats of a two-hour pilot directed with dazzling creative energy by Martin Scorsese, setting the tone for the propulsive and brutally dissonant drama that follows. With fellow creators Mick Jagger, Terence Winter (Boardwalk) and Rich Cohen, Scorsese is back in his early-1970s, viscerally grungy and menacing Mean Streets milieu of New York City, a neon nightmare-scape backdrop for a life-altering rock-pocalypse.

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Which is exactly what Richie experiences, the walls literally crumbling around him just as he's at his lowest, preparing to sell his soul—in the form of the American Century Records company—to a German conglomerate. His awakening robs his sleazy partners (including Ray Romano, terrific as a promotions/payola king) of a lucrative payday and strains his marriage to the glamorous Devon (Olivia Wilde), a former Andy Warhol Factory fixture who's restless in domestic Connecticut suburbia.

The best parts of the occasionally overwrought Vinyl depict the whirlwind of hustling required to keep American Century solvent and relevant, with funky, sometimes funny subplots (one involves an unwanted cache of illegal Donny Osmond LPs). While Richie clashes with and cajoles temperamental and fickle superstars, a hungrily ambitious A&R assistant (scene-stealing Juno Temple) seizes the moment, upstaging her sexist co-workers by discovering the unpolished, angry punk bank the Nasty Bits, led by sneering lead singer Kip Stevens (James Jagger, Mick's son).

Give Vinyl a spin. This combustible and kaleidoscopic odyssey of raunch ’n’ roll could rock your world.

Vinyl, Series premiere, Sunday, Feb. 14, 9/8c, HBO


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