The Sunday Magazine: Rolling Stone’s The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time

I am one of those who enjoys lists. I have come to enjoy making my own list of the best perfumes of the year annually. Whether it is me or others the process of judging different genres of anything is guaranteed to generate conversation. This week one of the biggest lists was updated.

Rolling Stone magazine released their new list of the 500 greatest albums which was last released in 2003. It is a mammoth project where they asked 300 people throughout the music industry to send in a list of their top 50 albums. Once it was all compiled, they debuted the new list at the beginning of last week. There have been a lot of discussions on the music boards but what I find most interesting is not that anything was left out. It is more on the placement of an album. Even then it isn’t that it is wildly overrated just that in one person’s opinion the albums under the one in question are better. Which is why this list works so well for me because they had 300 someones decide what the top is.

I don’t really feel too exercised about positioning because within the top 50 are Ramones (#47), The Clash (#16) and Talking Heads (#39). What I think is the greatest hip-hop jazz fusion album “The Low End Theory” by A Tribe Called Quest checked in at #43. The biggest surprise of the top ten percenters for me.

I own all the top 100 albums which was not the case in 2003. The ability to download and stream has allowed me to create my own reference library. After seeing the list I spent some time renewing my acquaintance with the top three.

I forget what a brave album Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” was when it was released in 1971. As the accompanying text to the entry says it was a singer-songwriter putting her life on vinyl for the world to hear. The authenticity of it rings true almost fifty years later. Ms. Mitchell was one of the few women who stood with the mostly boys of the early days of rock. The list reminded me why that was so.

I was a late convert to the Beach Boys “Pet Sounds”. I wasn’t a fan of the whole surfer style pop which caused me to dismiss them while I was listening in the early 1970’s. It wasn’t until I started into the NYC music scene in the mid 1980’s when I kept reading about “Pet Sounds” influencing this sound or that sound I finally gave it a chance. I understand the high placement, but this is the one which seems like the foundational album which is difficult for me to embrace. Relistening to it this week it reminds me of what it inspired more than what it is.

There were two albums in the 1970’s which constituted my introduction to soul. Curtis Mayfield’s soundtrack to “SuperFly” which is #76 on the list and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”. This was part of a window into a world a young white teenager couldn’t experience or understand. Music has always been one of the ways to communicate to an audience the life of a person of color. That “What’s Going On” still sounds like it belongs in 2020 is testament to its vision and commentary on society.

Mark Behnke

The Pierre Benard Challenge Continued- Cinnamon

Ever since I started the Pierre Benard Challenge back in May it has renewed my awareness of the scents around me. That might sound odd from someone who enjoys writing about perfume, but I tend to focus on the perfume under my nose. That leads to me missing the ambient world of odors around me. One thing this effort has done is to make me look up from the bottle and breathe in more consistently. Earlier this week after being outside in the early fall weather with the dogs I entered the house to the comforting smell of cinnamon. It completed a connection which I had not explicitly understood as this being the scent of autumn.

The reason the house smelled of cinnamon is a lot of our fall pastry cooking requires lots of it. If I were writing this twenty years ago there would just be cinnamon. Except I discovered there are many varieties of cinnamon all of which have their own flavor and scent profiles. We have four different kinds in our kitchen: Vietnamese, Ceylon, Indonesian, and Chinese. Just like the perfume ingredient oud, terroir seems to make a difference.

When it comes to apple pie the Chinese cinnamon is our choice. We tend to use the tarter apples in our pies, so this sweeter type of spice is used to take some of that edge away. For cinnamon rolls we want the strongest flavor we can get and that is the Vietnamese type.  For my beloved snickerdoodle cookies it is the Indonesian cinnamon I mix with sugar to coat the dough in. For everyday use on my oatmeal or cocoa the mellow Ceylon cinnamon gives me just the bit of flavor I desire.

When I walked into the house this week there were two apple pies cooling. A cinnamon roll was waiting for me to have with my morning coffee. I thought this is the essence of autumn the humid scent of cinnamon from baking.

The perfume which gives me the same thrill is Estee Lauder Cinnabar. It has always been a fall favorite because of its cinnamon and clove heart.

I know for many it is the pumpkin spice mélange which provides the demarcation of summer into fall. In out house it is cinnamon which does it.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maison Crivelli Iris Malikhan- Textural Iris

I tend to have reservations with fragrances which state they aspire to be textural. The way that translates is abrupt shifts in tone in the ones I think fail. Texture as it is applied to perfume is a more subtle effect in my experience. The perfumes I would describe as doing this well create the olfactory experience of a tactile effect. There is a new perfume brand which has stated this as their desired aesthetic of which Maison Crivelli Iris Malikhan is the latest evidence.

Thibaud Crivelli

Creative director Thibaud Crivelli stated in 2018 that he wanted the Maison Crivelli collection to be a collection of textural accords. I have found that they have hit the mark admirably through their initial releases. For Iris Malikhan perfumer Marc Zini begins with a keynote which already carries its own bifurcated texture of powder and root. What I found interesting in the way M. Zini approached this was he inverted the usual progression of iris if both faces are featured. Usually the powder precedes the root; the opposite happens here.

Marc Zini

Before the iris arrives cypress and baie rose provide the first impression. Then the rooty face appears through a layer of lentisk and galbanum. This creates a glossy silky effect. Like feeling it slip through your fingers. Through a heart of cinnamon and blackcurrant buds the iris morphs into its powdery face. Now this is an odd animalic gourmand accord as leather and vanilla interact most prominently. The vanilla along with the cinnamon forms a bakery confection dusted with iris powder. While a rich leather contrasts the gentle powder. M. Zini finds the place where this pleasantly harmonizes.

Iris Malikhan has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Iris Malikhan lives for its tonal shifts. It makes it quite dynamic on my skin. It ends up in a quite different place than where it starts. It is because the creative team knows what they mean when they use the word texture.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Jo Malone Cypress & Grapevine- An Afternoon in Babylon

As we enter fall, I start to take out my green scents which evoke foliage. As the air becomes crisper, I find that the natural smells of undergrowth finds its time to appear. I think without all those fancy flowers to compete with ivy, moss, and the like get their chance to display a vegetal version of beauty. Over the past few years there have been a proliferation of fragrances which have married woods and green to evoke this. Jo Malone Cypress & Grapevine is the most recent example.

Celine Roux

Creative director Celine Roux collaborates with perfumer Sophie Labbe on this addition to the Cologne Intense collection. The idea was to capture the smell of an afternoon in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Surrounded by cypress trees and vines. As have most of the entries on this collection it stays focused on the two ingredients on the bottle.

Sophie Labbe

Cypress comes first as Mme Labbe wraps it with an herbal lavender. This opens the way for the green foliage accord. This is that slightly piquant vegetal scent I find. It uses the herbal part of lavender as the connection to the cypress. A pinch of geranium gives a veil of floral quality. The vegetation is diffused through the softness of moss. This is where what is promised on the bottle is realized. Patchouli and a synthetic wood are the final ingredients.

Cypress & Grapevine has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is a simple perfume done well. It is not particularly groundbreaking, but it arrived at the right time of year for me. I could feel as if I were spending a day in ancient Babylon which sometimes is just enough.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Jo Malone.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar Naomi Goodsir Parfums Bois d’Ascese- The Haze of Woodsmoke

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In the morning I take the dogs out the back gate onto a path through a forest of birch trees. One of the ways I mark the transition from summer to fall is the smell of woodsmoke on that walk. As the mornings gain a little chill there are a set of houses in the distance which fire up their wood stoves. The sunlight slices through the haze. I have a perfume which captures this perfectly; Naomi Goodsir Parfums Bois d’Ascese.

Bois d’Ascese was one of the first two releases by Australian hatmaker Naomi Goodsir in 2012. Along with co-creative director Renaud Coutaudier they collaborated with perfumer Julien Rasquinet. Ever since then the brand has released three more fragrances. Every one of them have been among the best perfumes the year they were released. Because they are a brand which releases perfume infrequently it is easy for them to fall off the radar. To put them on your radar I will let Bois d’Ascese introduce you to it, as it did me.

When talking to Ms. Goodsir and M. Coutaudier they have an uncompromising vision which they will take their time to realize. M. Rasquinet was early in his career and was just beginning to show his skills off. Bois d’Ascese exemplifies this because they use one of the most common ingredients, cade oil, as the smoky component. I’ve smelled way too many smoky perfumes where the cade oil turns into choking billowing clouds of smoke. This creative team takes that same ingredient to a lighter place where it is that morning woodsmoke haze I recognize.

The way the cade oil is given that effect is through a precise amount of incense. It gives a foundation for the cade oil to not have to carry all the weight of a woodsmoke accord. That keeps it with a consistently strong but not overpowering presence. The woods come into focus through oakmoss, tobacco, and labdanum. This is the smell of birch trees on an autumn morning.

Bois d’Ascese has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Bois d’Ascese is one of my favorite smoky perfumes I own. It has engaged me ever since I tried it eight years ago. If you like smoky perfumes it should be on your radar. Naomi Goodsir Parfums should be there because this is the epitome of what independent perfumery can be.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Louis Vuitton Meteore- Upping the Quality

I have difficulty when I receive a fragrance which has quality ingredients with boring architecture. Am I to point out the step up in materials or the fact it is the hundredth iteration of a style? There is a place for well-made perfume which seeks to be nothing more. Louis Vuitton Metore is just this kind of scent.

Jacques Cavallier

The concept of better ingredients and common genres has been a lot of the raison de etre of the Louis Vuitton perfume collection since its inception in 2016. Perfumer Jacques Cavallier has been behind the entire set of which Meteore is number 24. As it has developed there have been some excellent original releases but those seem to be the exception. I am guessing there is a guiding principle of playing it safe while upping the quality. I think that’s a tough line to walk because if the consumer doesn’t pick up on it then they think it just smells like everything else. Meteore is a crisp citrusy vetiver ideal for fall days which stands out because of the ingredients.

It begins with a juicy citrus given shape though neroli and cardamom. A lot of time the crisper citrus effects come through the evocation of the rind. M. Cavallier goes for the pulp relying on the floral and herbal guardrails to keep it on the straight and narrow. Nutmeg provides a connection between that and the amazing Javanese vetiver in the base. This kind of vetiver carries a significant smoky piece to it. It is like that hint of woodsmoke in the distance while on a fall walk. The vetiver used here is mutli-faceted reaching out to both the citrus and nutmeg. Its greener facets play off them before letting the woodiness of it carry the latter stages.

Meteore has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

If you are a fan of this variety of vetiver Metore features it in a way you can really enjoy it. If you want a fall weight vetiver Meteore will also fill that need. There is nothing new to see here but what is here is a better than average version of it.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Louis Vuitton.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Etat Libre D’Orange Exit the King- Clean and Fresh Chypre

One of the changing of the guards as it relates to perfumery took place from the 1980’s into the 1990’s. It was when the era of burly chypres gave way to clean and fresh fragrances. By the time the century turned the takeover was complete as fresh linen and sea spray dominated the scene. Inspired by a Hollywood photo creative director Etienne de Swardt asks if there isn’t a place where they meet in Etat Libre D’Orange Exit the King.

Etienne de Swardt

M. de Swardt saw a picture of Rock Hudson shaking hands with Michael Jackson while the latter was working on his “Thriller” video. It was a meeting of then and now icons of their time. When M. de Swardt saw this he got the idea to create something which took the same then and now mentality and translate it to fragrance. He asked perfumers Cecile Matton and Ralf Schwieger to interpret his vision. What comes from this is an oddly compelling juxtaposition of fragrance styles.

Cecile Matton

One piece of this was they didn’t go for the clean and fresh of the 90’s. They went for the more recent iteration centered around clean smelling soapy skin. There is a fabulous soap accord at the beginning of this that sets up everything that comes after.

Ralf Schwieger

That soap accord is where Exit the King begins. It seems to be a collection of synthetic musks, aldehydes, and floral fractions; I think. I’ve spent a lot of time smelling it trying to pick it apart that’s my best guess. What it smells like is a lathered-up cotton washcloth with the best bar soap you can find. Microscopic bubbles tickle my skin and nose while I am surrounded by the smell of clean soapy skin. This is a marvel of the perfumer’s art of accord building in getting this right. The clever intent continues as a mixture of baie rose and Timur pepper provide just a bit of green contrast to the soap accord. Think of the soap foam having a faint green tint to it. The remainder of the development will be in deepening that until it is nothing but green. That is accomplished in steps as muguet shades it a few degrees deeper before oakmoss and patchouli complete the transition with the classic chypre base duet. The perfumers allow the lighter musks from the soap accord to replace the traditional animalic versions. This is where the interface of clean and chypre come together. I found this to be a mesmerizing experience where I kept wanting to smell it after it all comes together. Sandalwood provides the final piece, but I hardly notice it.

Exit the King has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

I know there are readers who dislike soapy fragrances and might think this is not for them. I would suggest you try it when you have the opportunity. The creative team came up with a way of making the soapiness a virtue rather than a flaw. For those who are fans of this brand this is one of the best perfumes they’ve released because it is so creative. Only M. de Swardt could convince me I wanted a clean and fresh chypre.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Streets of Fire

When I got my first VCR in 1984, I used to have what I called “Bad Movie Wednesday”. I would pick a critically panned movie off the shelf and see what I thought. That exercise has created a list of movies I enjoy because of their flaws.

Being housebound because of quarantine I have been revisiting some of my favorites from back then when something reminds me of them. A couple of weeks ago I was listening to my playlist of all the Meat Loaf songs when something not by him shuffled to the top. It was a song called “Tonight is What it Means to be Young”. It is on the list because it was written my Meat Loaf’s longtime collaborator Jim Steinman for the 1984 movie “Streets of Fire”. I re-watched the movie and caught up on some of what I didn’t know about how it came to be.

The movie was the idea of director Walter Hill who wanted to make a comic-book movie, but he wanted to write his own hero. He had just come off the huge success of directing the Eddie Murphy/Nick Nolte buddy film, 48 Hrs. That meant he could pretty much do anything he wanted. Once he showed studios the script, he has said it was the quickest a movie was given the go-ahead in his career.

“Streets of Fire” was meant to be the beginning of a trilogy of films featuring Tom Cody as played by actor Michael Pare. It didn’t work out that way. The movie was a huge flop at the box office not even making back half of its budget. I don’t care about any of that. This is a movie that lived up to Billy Crystal’s SNL impersonation of Fernando Llamas, it was better to look good that to feel good.

The movie takes place in a stylized city that never existed. It has similarities to Chicago, LA, and NYC. Tom Cody returns to town after the war to rescue his old flame Ellen Aim who is kidnapped by the head of the city’s motorcycle gang. It all leads up to a final act showdown where the protagonists battle with sledgehammers.

The movie is full of colors which represent the different parts of the city. The cars are all 1950’s era styles while the music is 1980’s power pop. Mr. Hill wanted an unidentifiable landscape where he could impart his sense of style. He gets all of that.

What he also got was a kind of wooden lead actor. Michael Pare plays the hero so low key he is outshone by his sidekick and the villain. What makes the movie fun is an actor who has about two or three emotional gears working against others who have hundreds. In every scene he looks like he is in over his head. When reading about the production they were trying to interest Tom Cruise, Eric Roberts, or Patrick Swayze to play Tom Cody. They took a risk on a relative newcomer and paid the price.

The same risk paid off for the female lead Ellen Aim who was played by Diane Lane. She showed she could deliver outsized exposition with emotion and belief. The scenes between Ms. Page and Mr. Pare are great indicators of who was going to have the larger career.

Finally the music was the fun part. Written by Mr. Steinman the two original songs were part of his rock operatic style of rock and roll. One of the funny things I learned was Mr. Hill had no experience staging musical numbers and the two big set pieces within the film were him learning on the job. It would have been interesting to bring in one of the early music video directors to have provided a hand. But then it wouldn’t be the kind of bad movie I love.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Chloe Rose Tangerine- Short-Term Pleasure

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When I receive my samples and am prioritizing them, I’ll admit a favorite perfumer name will move it towards the front of the line. It isn’t foolproof. The marketers and focus groups can dumb down the best. Even against those powerful tides I have a trust in the perfumers I admire to push back a little bit. Which is what I experienced with Chloe Rose Tangerine.

Michel Almairac

Ever since 2018’s release of Chloe Nomade it seems like there is a new team overseeing the perfumes. They have stopped being minimal variations on rose. That history made me wonder if a perfume called Rose Tangerine was a return to that. The perfumers which had me hoping for more are Michel Almairac and Sidonie Lancesseur. What they produced was a variation on rose but something more substantial in keeping with the more recent releases.

Sidonie Lancesseur

This is a perfume where you definitely get what is advertised. The tangerine effect is that of the fruit itself. It is given lift through the precise use of blackcurrant bud. This is where the imprimatur of my perfumers I admire is probably being seen. By adding this in underneath a juicy citrus it adds a subtle fizz. Not aldehydic but kind of like a mimosa where the champagne has gone a bit flat. It provides just a bit of expansiveness to the tangerine. Which allows the very fresh rose to fill those spaces. It comes together in a lovely fruity floral accord. Some more synthetic musks and woods add more opacity over the final stages.

Rose Tangerine has 4-6 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

If you are someone who bases your fragrance buying on how long it lasts and how far it blasts, Rose Tangerine is low on both scales. This is one of the shortest lasting mainstream perfumes I’ve tried. I topped it off twice after initial application on the days I wore it. It makes it a short-term pleasure I was happy to repeat on those days.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Sephora.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Perris Monte Carlo Mimosa Tanneron- The Hills are Alive with Mimosa

Outside of the stalwarts there are ingredients which seem to have their moment for a few years. I’ve never understood if it was consumer preference or a new source of the ingredient which causes this. Probably some of both. The yellow puffball flower mimosa has been having its moment recently. Perris Monte Carlo Mimosa Tanneron adds to it.

Jean-Claude Ellena

This is the fourth entry in the Les Parfums de Grasse collection. All of them have been composed by perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena under the creative direction of Gian-Luca Perris. The three previous releases focused on the three famous florals to be found in Grasse. To feature mimosa they must go about 16km southwest to the Massif du Tanneron. It has been described as something magical to see the mountainside covered in the yellow flowers in spring. The previous entries in this series have been based on M. Ellena’s memories as youth in the fields of Grasse. It is not so hard to believe he also spent more than his share of spring days running on the Massif. All the perfumes have been soliflores and this does not break the progression. This shows off the titular note with a couple smartly chosen ingredients meant to display its versatility.

Gian-Luca Perris

Mimosa has a sunny powdery disposition. It is the latter M. Ellena displays first. One’s tolerance for this in perfume will be tested because there is a high concentration of mimosa to start. It is as of the trees of flowers are raining down their scent upon you. To ameliorate this hawthorn adds its honeyed growl to shift the perception. Now the sunny golden heart of mimosa is captured in the slightly sweet slightly animalic hawthorn. The final piece is a set of white musks to capture the cool wind rushing down the Massif from on high. It gives an airiness to the overall composition.

Mimosa Tanneron has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

For this moment mimosa is having M. Ellena finds the hills alive with it. That vitality is what makes this stand apart.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.

Mark Behnke