Arcade Fire premiers new sounds on SNL, while Badfinger says bye-bye to 'Breaking Bad'

One weird TV debut, one disappointing TV finale

September 30, 2013

Two musical moments from weekend television worth noting: Arcade Fire trumpets the Oct. 28 release of its fourth album with an appearance on Saturday Night Live and a half-hour special immediately following, and the ’70s power-pop band Badfinger dominates the final moments of Breaking Bad.

Based on their live performances on SNL and the Roman Coppola-crafted video special that aired afterwards, my early reaction to the forthcoming Reflektor by everyone’s favorite Montreal-based orchestral-popsters primarily is one of confusion. Working in the studio with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem partly in control, Arcade Fire seems to have crafted an unlikely hybrid of ’80s David Bowie, ’90s U2 (when Bono was in his MacPhisto phase), and disco-era Roxy Music playing electro salsa and New Orleans second line music.

The result sounded clunky and stilted, while the psychedelic/surreal look of things as set by the least talented Coppola—with a slew of gratuitous cameos by stars such as James Franco, Ben Stiller, Michael Cera, and the Almighty Bono Hisself, plus some tired plushies borrowed from the Flaming Lips—all came off as more than a little forced, awkward, and over-reaching. Here’s hoping for much better when the double album drops.

Meanwhile, I’ll leave the bulk of the finale of Breaking Bad to my television-critic colleagues, but I’ve got to say I was pretty disappointed by auteur Vince Gilligan’s choice of a musical farewell to Walter White in the closing moments, proud as the show runner seemed to be of it in a live interview with AMC right after the show.

The Todd Rundgren-produced “Baby Blue” is a 1972 single by Beatles protégés Badfinger that, while it’s hardly a bad song, certainly isn’t a great one on the same level as what Breaking Bad was for television. Leaning so heavily on this fair-to-middling tune to wrap up so many years of emotional investment and an adamant refusal to ever play things as expected reeked of The Sopranos ending it all with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”—and that is not intended as a compliment—though the show otherwise wrapped things up too neatly, with none of the lingering question marks in the mob series.

Back to the song: Like “Crystal Blue Persuasion” from earlier in the series, it was, as Gilligan pointed out, an obvious reference to Walt’s infamous blue product. (Duh.) But if that was its biggest qualification, and if staying time-appropriate to the period when the show was set was not a concern, I can think of a much, much better ditty that could have ended things.

Alas, getting the rights to this one must have been cost-prohibitive.