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Thursday, 30 May 2013
The Bluth Family are back. The dysfunctional clan, who it's not glib to say (OK it is, but I'm going to) are somewhat like a 21st Century Simpsons with a fortune, have been resurrected by their creator Mitchell Hurwitz with the backing of the online streaming giant Netflix after they were dropped by Fox (the comparison with The Simpsons ends there really, with one dropped way too early by Murdoch's media behemoth and the other left running way too long).
Anyway, I was a tad apprehensive as to whether bringing back Arrested Development was going to prove to have been the right thing to do, but, having now watched the whole series (due to Netflix releasing all 15 episodes in one go on Sunday), I can honestly say that my fears have been completely assuaged and, in fact, I now wonder why I was worried.
One of the main reasons AD always worked so well as a comedy was the strength of the characters in it. Whether it be Tobias's uber-camp, fumbling idiocy, GOB's daft dreaming and complete self-awareness by-pass or Lucille's reprehensibly discriminatory beliefs and conniving control of her children, the characters are so well realised, and were throughout the first three series of the programme, that it was inevitable that this series would work as long as the writing was still as sharp, subtle and intricate as it always had been.
This has remained the case. In fact, this may be the most layered and byzantine series of the lot. The premise is that each episode focuses on one character and the whole series represents the story, but everything is so neatly done that one really cannot afford to miss a scene as it will almost certainly appear later on in the series as a pivotal moment. A bit like a concept album, this series of AD really challenges whoever is engaging with it to do just that and not to step away.
Netflix's original trailer for the show
Various farces occur and yet still seem believable due to the nature of the writing, but also cardinally due to the fine acting. For instance, GOB, who for what it's worth is my favourite character in the show, is played so brilliantly by Will Arnett that he comes across both utterly condemnable by his actions yet completely forgivable for his lack of intelligence - much like many a friend we all know and love. There is something rococo about the way each actor plays their part, as if they've gone Daniel Day Lewis and ended up making the characters extensions of themselves, forging a bond with the viewer which is so remarkable that it leaves one feeling as if they know and are a part of the Bluths in some way.
What are also key to the success of this series of AD are the slight changes that have taken place. Michael is now a far more pathetic character, crestfallen and unworthy and has, in turn, lost some of the moral compass that kept him above the other Bluths as a person. He has also seemingly lost his paternal control over George Michael in some way giving a slightly Oedipal counterpoint to their relationship. Indeed, the incestuous and maniacal relationships that have always pervaded AD still abound but have been altered to reflect the passing of time between this and the last series - so now George Snr. is in many ways now out-maneuvered by his formerly more naive and laidback brother Oscar, Lucille is a little more dependent on her children than she was before and Lindsay is further detached from Michael as his stock has fallen.
Great sitcom writing, and, in fact, great fiction writing in general often hinges on the likability of characters whose foibles are so obvious. As Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant did with Brent and Gareth, as Brett Eaton-Ellis did with Victor Ward and as Mark Twain did with Huckleberry Finn, Hurwitz has once again managed to manipulate otherwise dire views into both hilarity and a comment on ignorance and surroundings as opposed to innate evil or disquieting outlooks.
The new series of AD is wonderfully funny. I'd nearly go as far as to say that if Netflix want to find tax loopholes for the next 50 years they can, as long as they keep commissioning such commendable entertainment, but I cannot and so hopefully they can keep providing such fine (semi) original shows and also contribute a bit to our deficit. I'm sure that the ultra-Republican Bluths, on the other hand, would feel slightly differently.
Wednesday, 8 May 2013
Of all the accolades that Sir Alex Ferguson has received throughout his storied and glittering managerial career, surely number 1 on his list must be having a Black Eyed Pea name herself after him. Indeed it was that Prince William was thrilled at this same triumph and Steve Jobs was gushing when his company had the accolade bestowed upon it too. But Ferguson had the one who wees herself onstage in outbursts of punk irreverence and sings about her humps and her lovely lady lumps, as well as cleverly outwitting London's tourist board by confusing tourists into the city into thinking one bridge was actually the other (surely Fergie Snr. must have loved this, being a Glaswegian-cum-converted Mancunian).
Alas though, we have news today that he is retiring now with a huge old trophy haul, a ridiculous bank balance and, if his purple nose is anything to go by, a fine collection of single and double malts. His unmatched record stands by itself - perhaps only Jose Mourinho will be able to ever match or beat it (or, if he keeps on working on the principle of 'go and manage the best team in Europe, you're bound to win a European Cup', then Pep Guardiola may). So Alex passes, not with a whimper, but, rather, a blaze of glory - a 13th top flight title gained weeks before the season's end.
He got there with good old fashioned hard work too. Sure he has a talent for building squads, but, by all accounts, he's a grafter is that Fergie, and he has justly received his rewards. His cantankerous manner - be it with the BBC, referees or Becks - gives off an air of an old-fashioned, no-nonsense coach of the ilk of Paisley, Clough and Busby. He has stuck with some familiar (familial?) people throughout his years at United, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes in particular , but also David Gill as Chief Executive of 14 years' standing deserves a mention. But it's clear that Ferguson is not one to get stuck in his ways either - his regeneration of squad after squad proves his ability to look to the new.
So it is, probably with a heavy heart, that many in the football world will wave goodbye to old Fergie. The Hairdryer, Fergie time, squeaky bum time, it will all go down in football folklore, while Manchester United, one feels, will continue to thrive with the wise old Scot now in a directorial position. So as he leaves, no doubt with the choruses from 'Shut Up' and, in a whim of poignancy, 'Where is the Love?' ringing around Old Trafford, Fergie will be elephunked, sorry, elevated into the heavens around the Theatre of Dreams. The streets of Salford and Trafford will be littered with grown men on the final day of the season, all tearful, arm-in-arm singing Fergie's name and hoping that tonight's gonna be a good night. Fergie will go out and smash it, like all his dogs, and that will be that: the end of an era.
For your listening pleasure... in tribute to Fergie
Thursday, 4 April 2013
Football's a funny old game innit? All of those highly paid men driving around in sports cars through kicking a spherical leather object around a pitch, often berated by the national press for their idiocy and lack of articulacy. Yes, footballers are constantly harangued for their lack of understanding of the wider world and their Twitter faux pas, generally providing zealous journalists with quality canon fodder. I mean, they're just a bunch of morons who've never ventured anywhere near Das Kapital or The Wealth of Nations, right? They seem to just be a rabble of doughnuts who wouldn't know an Autumn Statement or a Conservative Party Conference if it was rubbed into their stud wounds with TCP, don't they?
But wait, there's been news this week of one ex-pro turned manager seems to contradict this notion. It seems that Sunderland's new gaffer has an interest in politics so divisive it has got David Miliband all in a kerfuffle, causing him to leave the Sunderland board. This fellow must be a bastard! To rile a man who acted in various positions, most notably as Head of Policy, for Darth Vader himself - former Prime Minister and part-time morally bankrupt spin heavyweight Tony Blair - one must go to extraordinary lengths. Indeed, to disgust David Miliband, a man who acted as Foreign Secretary under Gordon Brown (yeah him, that guy who told us we'd hit "the end of boom and bust" while he was cooking the books with more alacrity than George Bluth in Arrested Development), I can only think that this guy must be some kind of maniac with a Mussolini fascination and subsequent complex...
Well, if we are to believe what we read, then, indeed, Paolo di Canio is a right old fascist. In fairness to our wonderfully leech-like tabloid press, Mr di Canio does seem to hold a fascist view or two (see the below picture of him gesturing towards the fans of SS (yes, SS!) Lazio in what can only be descried as a fascist salute).
So Paolo di Canio believes in a rather worn-out, stupid doctrine which is pretty evil and generally not very fair to gays and minorities and that. To boot he's in a position of reasonable power, which holds sway over Joe Public i.e. he's in football at the top level. It's pretty alarming, right? Wrong. Not at all.
Look, if Paolo di Canio is a fascist (which is an 'if' by the way - holding slightly fascist views doesn't make you a fascist nor indeed does making a fascist salute or inviting fascist iconography - remember Prince Harry?) , it's really not that big of a deal anyway. Yes, fascism is disgusting and stupid and yes it kills people if in power, but people are entitled to their political views, regardless of whether they are offensive or not.
This week we've seen a witch hunt, calling for di Canio to declare his views - which he has done, claiming, rather unsurprisingly, that he is not a fascist - but one has to ask whether if, say, a Muslim manager was appointed to a Premier League club, there would be a media circus around him asking for his views on women's suffrage and equality? Indeed, what about Catholic managers (of which there are plenty)? Should we not ask them what their views on homosexuality are?
The point I'm making here is that while fascism is abominable and its rhetoric alarming, one who believes in it should not be hounded or potentially overlooked for job positions because of his beliefs. There are plenty of ridiculous dogmas out there that people believe in, all we can do is debate rather than berate. Also, David Miliband was fucking off to the USA anyway, wasn't he?
Thursday, 21 March 2013
Ah, St. Patrick's Day. Green shirts everywhere and the overriding stench of Guinness, sweat and the craic. It's pretty much the Hibernian version of "rum, sodomy and the lash" I suppose - maybe the wittiest quotation attributed to Winston Churchill, of which there are many . Anyway, it's a day for fervent flag waving, ritual singing and abuse of the liver reaching caustic levels. So, then, as I strolled through Clapham Junction on Sunday, it was to be that I was confronted by all manner of proud Irish men and women bumping into me and shouting at one another though clearly stood next to each other.
St. Patrick's Day is one of those celebrations with a certain charm about it, or so everybody tells me anyway, and not just a party for a nation, but for every Western nation, probably due to Ireland's main export seemingly being its own people. So it's a carnival, a delirious festival of green, white and gold for all to enjoy, then? Well, not really. It's basically a pious national day of pride which has become a hedonistic display of its people living up to every debauched stereotype about them - feckless, pissed nuisances and that sort of thing - in some kind of whim of identity politics.
Anyway, if another nation, say England, did the same thing, it's arguable that due to its colonial past and the fact that its flag has been robbed by meat-headed Nazi sympathisers as a beacon of the innate superiority of the "bulldog spirit" (or whatever other cliche those types may wish to use) over all other forms of national defence, that it would be perceived as a horrific, nationalistic display of Mussolinian proportions.
What, then, is St. Patrick's Day? Surely it's a nationalistic display of passionate, built-in feelings of the greatness of the Irish ergo the all day piss up and screaming of 'The Fields of Athenry' in the street in amongst the vomit and urine squelching underfoot. Why is it held up as such a cause of reverence and celebration then? One could contend that the answer lies in Ireland's history and its place as the victim at the hands of the English.
In the 'spirit of the underdog sense', Ireland as a nation seems to cause a wave of unilateral applause and fervour. Much like the idea of being Jamaican, the idea of being Irish has a special place in the hearts of many whose sole links to Ireland are through their grandparents or people even further back in their ancestry. Within this, it seems, everybody is expected to laugh and celebrate St. Patrick's Day as well, instead of standing back from it and all of its nasty connotations - namely those which tie any one person to a feeling of superiority due to a tenuous link to a bit of land somewhere.
That said, all of the Guinness and Jameson's bought over the weekend probably gave the economy a bit of a boost, so it has its positives. Somewhat like Christmas it should be used as a good way for people to get together, rather than as a day with any kind of literal meaning. This article, then, shows exactly the kind of harm that the more nationalistic thoughts of people involved can cause: http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/hanging-out-at-liverpools-unofficial-st-patricks-day-parade.
Why even have or start a movement called Liverpool Irish Patriots in the first place? It's just as ridiculous as the EDL and BNP and clearly ramps up the extremism dial to 11. Such divisive groups will always cause stupid reactions from other divisive groups. It does nothing other than give credence to all of that nonsense of the 'Bulldog Brits' and the 'Plucky Paddys'.
Beautiful... A Youtube comment exchange on a clip of the riot in 1995 at the England v Ireland game, where England fans decided to throw various objects at Irish fans and the police.
Once again we see how religion divides us herein too, with Patrick being a patron saint of a nation. The idea of these patron saints is ridiculous - emblematic bollocks dreamed up centuries ago proven to be as much myth as anything else. What's even more ridiculous is that people today still buy into it, even with amount of information available to them.
It's St. George's Day next month, which means one thing: my Facebook and Twitter feeds will probably be filled with nonsense about Wooton fucking Bassett and how English people should be going nuts about how great this country is, but don't. Brilliant. At least there's a whole month in-between anyway.
Tuesday, 5 March 2013
Like a feral, rabid, uncontrollable species hellbent on permeating the human race, a craze of uber-catchy pop nasties are finding their way into our charts, bringing with them dance crazes and, shudder, that most mundane and decidedly tortuous of processes: 'office banter' (I cringe nearly as much at this term as I do when I see Micah Paris speaking about one of her new records on some sugar coated cunt fest such as The One Show on BBC1).
With all of the gimmicky, unfunny, everyone-can-laugh-at-this-as-it-appeals-to-the-lowest-common-denominator hogwash of Mr Blobby and ITV's Benidorm, these soon to be forgotten creations are inserting themselves into the orifices of the pop charts (never exactly a medium averse to infection by drivel) with unsurprising, yet nonetheless dismaying, ease.
No, I'm not talking about those bubblegum singalong boy/girl group numbers - they've been here for years and the odd one of those is good - or even those shoddy dance tracks made by Calvin Harris or David Guetta with Pitbull and some other jizz rag shouting incessantly over them. No, I'm talking about the viral YouTube sensation turned pop smash. I'm talking particularly about 'Gangnam Style' and 'Harlem Shake'. Chart behemoths in their own right, having been stupid videos sent around the interweb by various pests.
It seems that it has become a given that a viral YouTube hit that has a catchy song on it and pseudo ironic dance moves will chart well. It also seems that it's a given that some fucktard will perform the moves in some piss-ridden nightclub full of 'rah' types to rapturous laughter from his ballsack friends, all the while being touted as some kind of messianic creature by various chinny strangers around him pointing, saying something like "Giles, fucking hell man, that dude over there's doing the 'Gangnam Style', what an absolute ledge, yeah" or something equally as inane and infuriating.
There's no escape from these things. It's as if 28 Days Later is happening, only through the medium of utterly moronic sonic bollocks. The virals are viral, but publically. What next? Where will all of this pop culture perpetuation end? Music videos of music videos? (Fuck, Blink 182, you utter twats!) Endlessly repeated monologues? (Shit, that's me... here). A popular music form devoted to being about popular music? (Bowie, you git!). My fucking head hurts. I think it's time I lay down and think nice thoughts, like picturing each one of those gimp-clad shits being force-fed ball-bearings the size of ornamental globes... up their arseholes. That's better. Now, off to YouTube. Surely there's a nice documentary about Ballard or The Crimean War or something that everybody's watching that I've not seen. Oh no. The most popular lists are full of this other inexpedient shite. Maybe I'll shove great spheres into various holes of my own. I'll kick off with a horse meatball into my gob. Everyone will be doing it soon.
Tuesday, 26 February 2013
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - 'Sacrilege'
Yeah Yeah Yeahs' wonderful new single, pre-released on the internet today, deserves attention. 'Sacrilege' sees the New York band back after four years away and is a fine return for them. Karen O is at her typical part breathy, part screechy best while Nick Zinner's axe mastery seemingly knows no bounds.
This single appears to see the band somewhere nearer their sound on 2006's Show Your Bones, in that Zinner's guitar is more fore-fronted, yet a full return to the garage rock sound of 2003's Fever to Tell is not quite apparent. The straight synth disco of 2009's It's Blitz! hasn't been completely wiped away, but is less noticeable on this track.
Leading in with a simple four note backing, with an almost Madchester drum pattern eventually joining halfway through, O effortlessly undulates between whispers in the first two bars in the verse and then into a distorted scream, the apex of which being "in our bed" in the second two. The song moves naturally into an intertwined chorus between Zinner playing a beautifully intricate guitar line in behind Karen telling us "it's sacrilege" in a high-pitched swoon. The song climaxes in a fade between O's sultry high end and a gospel choir taking over, providing an almost angelic end to a song that threatens to be the work of Lucifer at its birth.
I reckon this could be an extremely big hit for Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and rightly so as it is a stunning song. Here's hoping the rest of the forthcoming album matches it.
David Bowie - 'The Stars are Out Tonight'
Meanwhile, David Bowie released his second single from The Next Day (due for release on March 11th) this morning also.
As one would expect, one should never try to second guess what it might sound like before listening - it's Bowie! - and it doesn't disappoint in this vein. A slight step away from the slower ballad 'Where are We Now', 'The Stars are Out Tonight' is a brilliant mix of Dadaism as pop with a slight nod to the Ziggy Stardust period of his astonishing career.
The song careers its way through seamlessly with "ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh"s and a dramatically wailed refrain line being it's focal points and has an energy about it which takes you through a cascading myriad of sonically pleasing stages. The middle eight descends a touch, just pulling the track's momentum back for a second cleverly, before it gets moving again, giving it a neat structural design.
The accompanying video is equally intriguing, starring Tilda Swinton and various other androgynes artfully dancing around Bowie - who looks remarkably well for a man his age (especially given his recent illness).
If reports are to be believed, the album is to be awaited with infant excitement, with The Independent's Andy Gill calling it "the greatest comeback in rock 'n' roll history. Surely, if it were ever to be anybody, it would be Bowie who could live up to this kind of hyperbolic statement. I cannot wait.
'The Stars are Out Tonight'
Monday, 25 February 2013
I'm aware that my last post was sycophantic. Bordering on obsessive even. Any time I mention a certain Mr Lennon, it seems I'm overcome with effervescent praise and admiration for him. It's fair enough, though - it's John fucking Lennon. That said, I like to think I'm not one of these Beatles fans who discounts Paul. You know the type, all "Lennon's pain and experimentation mattered, Paul was just a pop song writer". As much as I do believe that Lennon was the more experimental songwriter, it must be said that McCartney was capable of deep, reflective and esoteric songwriting himself along with finely crafted pop.
Lest we forget Paul's contributions to The White Album, for instance. Not content with inventing heavy metal on 'Helter Skelter', McCartney also contributed the lascivious, subversive 'Why Don't We Do It in the Road?' to the 1968 double album. And we must also remember, as I noted how Lennon channelled American poet Sylvia Plath in 'Mother' in said last post, that McCartney's 'Blackbird' could be argued to be channelling another American poet in Edgar Allen Poe, specifically his poem 'The Raven', with its metaphoric ornithological protagonist. It is also a fine, masterful guitar piece to boot.
The Beatles - Blackbird
I'm sure I do not need to state that Paul McCartney is a great songwriter. I do feel, however, that a lazy argument has developed where he's concerned, in which he's seen as a jolly, jumper-wearing bore to Lennon's tortured genius poet. No doubt, Lennon is worthy of that moniker, but nonetheless, McCartney was just an untortured genius.
There's a touch of tribalism from certain Beatles fans who feel the need to pick a side between the two front men. I must admit I have, and unfortunately still sometimes do, enter into this sort of nonsense - being such a staunch fan and admirer of John Lennon's music and words I've often gone in for all of the 'John's great, Paul's good' drivel, but the fact is that they're both great and that Paul McCartney is often harshly seen as playing second fiddle to John.
Wings - Band on the Run
Whether it be in his cameo on 'A Day in the Life', his structural experimentalism on 'Band on the Run' or even coming up with the idea of the concept of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Paul McCartney's quality and capacity to create artistic, avant-garde music is undeniable. Don't forget that next time you think of saying otherwise. I'll try to also.
Tuesday, 19 February 2013
As dear old Yoko has now reached the grand age of 80, let's have a look at 5otB to be released under the moniker of The Plastic Ono Band.
'Mother': Lennon's impassioned, primal scream therapy-like cry at his parents is an emotional whirlwind like no other. He summon's all of his poetic force, channeling Sylvia Plath in her excruciating, forceful 'Daddy' and as he bellows out "Mama don't go, Daddy come home" at his estranged parents at the song's climax he leaves one also feeling angry at his parents. A stunning song which goes to show many young artists that when they think they're the first to be covering a topic, it's probably best to check the back catalogue of Dylan, Lennon and Morrissey. Right, Mr Mathers?
'Working Class Hero': I don't have a favourite John Lennon song (there's far too much to choose from), and there certainly isn't one that I would say speaks to me more than any other, but if I was absolutely pushed I might choose this. The stanza in which Lennon discusses the way they "keep you doped with religion and sex an TV, 'til you think you're so clever and classless and free" and goes on to sneer "but you're still fucking peasants as far as I see" stands up against any lyric ever committed to a pop song.
'Jealous Guy': This straight apology from John to Yoko for his green-eyed antics and stupidity is such a beautiful love song in its simplicity and overwrought begging for forgiveness. The feeling is in the words, yes, but also in that pained vocal timbre that Lennon had - see Roxy Music's cover for proof (as much as I admire Bryan Ferry, his is a poor imitation, perhaps it's one of those that shouldn't be covered as it was done so well the first time).
'God': Come on. Read the post below this (home page). You'll see why I picked this song.
'Love': When he wasn't prosthletysing the pious over to the way that says "we don't know for sure, but we can't just make a God up because of that", putting parental issues to poetry or summing up the awful feeling that one is left with after acting on a jealous impulse, Lennon was also able to sum up exactly what love is at a human level: "love is needing to be loved". The great thing about all of this wonderful music and numerous other songs in The Plastic Ono Band canon is not just the philosophical, poetic, polemical force of it all lyrically, but the finely realised melodic counterpoints and intriguing harmonic movements. The 'g' word is bandied around far too often, but nobody can deny that John Lennon was indeed that: a genius.
So that's Yoko's birthday celebrated then, sadly by five songs written by her dead husband. Sorry Yoko, but he was fucking good. Peace.
Tuesday, 12 February 2013
I've always hoped that the etymology of the word 'pope' had its roots in 'poop' or 'poo'. Yes, if I could, I'd doctor various previous dictionaries and texts to suit this point instead of supporting the obvious patriarchal roots in the word 'pope'. This desire to display religious authorities as faecal fathers has been alive and well in me for as long as I can remember, maybe due to my love of iconoclastic gestures (see the graphic of this blog and, indeed, its very name) or maybe due to my innate and beloved atheism.
The thing is, I find organised religion disgusting and thus equate its leading figures with bodily functions, particularly those of the anus. Put simply, I think the pope is a shit and that the very idea of a pope is shitty. Now, the old fellow is retiring due to being, well, pooped. Shit.
Not since the 1400s has a pope decided to call it a day, but Pope Benedict XVI has bucked recent trends of dying as the man in the catholic church and elected to put his feet up and engage in some, ahem, well-earned cocoa and slippers time. I'm sure many pious catholic folk are saddened to hear of his declining health - as well they might be given the amount of their lives they have willfully given over to declaring themselves not worthy of successive imposteurs who've been anointed and, in turn, have anointed themselves as God's representatives on earth. Personally, I feel it's no more or less saddening than the decline of any man's health. OK, maybe it's less saddening than the decline of somebody who has contributed something to our understanding of the world around us instead of contributing to ignorance, the spread of aids and poverty.
That people are incognisant enough to believe that a man in the sky is everywhere watching everything and that they should spend every day praising him while apologising for their very existence and sins (which he surely created according to their logic) and begging for forgiveness is disturbing enough. That they then choose to elect some autocrat so that they may do the same to a real person in the real world is utterly worrying. It shows that there is a side to certain human beings that's pretty low on self-worth and happy to swallow being told what shits they are. By shits.
Obvious one: REM - Losing My Religion
One reading this may feel I'm being slightly unfair on the departing pope. In actuality, I'm going soft on him. Maybe because even I can see how easy it is to point out the flaws of a decrepit old celestial despot, who knows? Anyway, I shan't mourn his exit any more than I shan't be happy when his successor steps in (unless this man decides to change attitudes within catholicism towards contraception, gay rights and women's suffrage). Pope Benedict managed, quite amazingly, to actually drag the already unfeasibly backward and pointless catholic church closer towards the dark ages. He helped raise deaths among 16-25 year olds in various countries due to his outspoken disgust at contraception and proved he did not believe in equality for all men and women by denouncing gay marriage. He presided over a period of dogmatic idiocy at The Vatican and should be remembered as the pope who had the chance to modernise, but decided to regress the catholic church.
Today is Shrove Tuesday, a big day in the catholic calendar. Folk across the nation will symbolically chow down pancakes in remembrance of people who before them would use the last of their eggs and flour before giving up the stodge and sweets for lent. If you're taking part, as I undoubtedly will be (for all of my atheism nothing will get between me and the chance to greedily stuff my gob with sweet treats), make sure that your eggs are in date. You don't want the... oh, you know where I'm going with this.
A few years ago a band from Oxford were being touted as the next big force in UK indie (along with, well, many others who happened to have a single out that week). Anyway, this group seemed different, somewhat more than ordinary (unlike their contemporaries around whom hype and buzz was building). I must admit, at this point, I hadn't actually heard a note of their music, but the music press and the radio told me that they had invented a new sound - which they were calling 'mathrock' - and it all seemed vaguely interesting, which, at the time, was a relief in amongst the other forms of UK indie like The Enemy and The Pigeon Detectives that were around, whose sound had me about as wrong-footed and inquisitive as a tea bag would be by hot water (were it capable of cognitive and emotional thought... just go with it).
Their first album, Antidotes, was decent. To my ears nothing truly earth-shattering was happening musically, but there were a few good tunes. A feeling of anti-climax was overriding undoubtedly, but I could hear something in the band that said, given an album or two, they could well do something wonderful. Maybe they'd been signed a touch early, maybe they just needed to progress a bit - after all, these days we're a little impatient with young bands and expect them to be producing their finest work within their first three albums. The Beatles didn't get to Revolver and Sgt. Pepper's... straight away.
Anyway, that band was Foals (if the heading didn't give away which band I'm reviewing here), and in 2010 they released Total Life Forever, which for the first few songs had me thinking they'd gone and cracked the code and may well have people beyond the hyperbole obsessed UK indie scene foaming at the bits, only to be let down by the rather lacklustre second half (sorry for the Andy Townshend-ism) of the album. As an album it failed because too much of its anchor had little weight, so to speak, and all of its force and quality was packed up-front (again, sorry - I stopped short at 'in the box' at least).
So we come to Holy Fire, their latest effort, released amid much press and some glittering reviews - Drowned in Sound gave it 9/10 - which, against my better judgement (given the way that albums can be touted as works of genius just waiting to be discovered upon their release these days, only to turn out to be about as close to the canon as I am to being a good height with a small nose), had me hoping for something marvellous. Maybe it's this year's The Suburbs or It's Blitz.
As it turns out, it is not as good as either of those records. It is a good record and certainly Foals have improved upon their last outing in that it's only the last 3 songs that let it down now, but it is just that: a good record, not a great one. Holy Fire starts out with soundtrack-ready opener, 'The Prelude', which would not be out of place in a fight scene in a Guy Ritchie movie (this, contrary to what some may think, is no bad thing - 'Fucking in the Bushes' is one of the best tracks Oasis ever put their name to). From there on in it pulls you in a few directions, be it stadium-worthy sprawl (second track 'Bad Habit'), party-worthy dance rock (lead single 'My Number' and 'Inhaler') or masterful guitar work a la The Durutti Column ('Late Night').
If Yannis Philippakis's voice could carry the last three songs ('Providence', 'Stepson' and 'Moon') a touch more and make up for the space that's clearly intentionally been left, I would maybe be saying that this is as good a record as anything I can envisage being released this year. For me Foals don't really do space-filled ballads nearly as well as they do up-tempo pop, and while I don't believe that any artist should steer clear of any genre or form they wish to go for, in the context of an album, they could maybe place the two or three lower points in-between their stronger, more groove-led tracks. This album doesn't do that and, as such, when listened to as a whole piece, has a slightly anti-climactic feel to it.
Lead single 'My Number'
That said, Holy Fire is a very good third effort. Foals have continually improved up until now and can certainly be proud of their latest effort. I'd hope it's not the best album released this year, but I can certainly say that it's a good record that will be appearing on those end of year lists that tell you what you should've listened to over the past year. If Foals continue improving at this rate I can see no reason why they won't be able to make something which can truly be considered among the pantheon of this decade's greatest records.
Friday, 8 February 2013
Ricky Gervais's metamorphosis into Woody Allen continues with his latest offering, Derek. Exploring the emotional connections between human beings through comedy, rendering popular comedy as high art, Gervais's use of characters we've all known and loved in our own lives as vehicles to say something broader is truly unmatched.
Derek has to be one of the sweetest comedy subjects there has ever been and his naivety and inquisition are among his most endearing traits. Gervais is treading a fine line with a character like Derek - one slip and the press would be hounding him as a discriminatory bully, but he is so adept at using the subject of his writing as a tool to speak about people's perceptions of them that there is absolutely no danger of him doing so. As it is, it probably speaks more about him as a person than a writer that he can handle such fragile subject matter with such consummate care. It's obvious that the joke is coming from a good root rather than one likely to mock the afflicted gratuitously.
Like Allen, Gervais seems to know just where to place absurd characters and just how to make them hyper-real. Once again using a documentary as the pretext for all of the ludicrous scenarios to become utterly believable, Derek is a real return to form for him after the poor, worn-out tedium of Life's Too Short. Beyond the central character there are gems aplenty too. The tirelessly accomodating Hannah (played by Kerry Godliman) is a true carer - for her there should be no price on care for the elderly and no end of patience when dealing with them. Karl Pilkington pretty much plays himself (which is, as always, utterly hilarious) without a pair of clippers as Dougie and Kev (played by David Earl) is a dislikeable, disgusting layabout with some cracking one liners.
The character dynamics here are classic Ricky Gervais territory - Hannah's looks at the camera in disbelief echo Tim in The Office, while Kev, a la Finchy in The Office, is a reprehensible, coarse man who believes he is God's gift to the opposite sex. Dougie has an air of Gareth Keenan about him - the talking heads in which he goes off tangent while venting his frustrations are the particular points where we see this side of him.
We're only two episodes in at the time of writing, but already I'm in love with this show. Once again Gervais has pulled off a masterstroke of comedy-cum-drama that gets to the very essence of drudgerous life and existence in Britain. In social observation terms, he is an absolute genius. That this time he's managed to do it alone (without usual collaborator Stephen Merchant) is testament to his enormous talent as a comedy writer.
I'll calm down with all of this sycophantic gushing when Gervais stops making superb comedy. For a while there I thought he would and that, as the lazy cliche goes, he'd lost it. Life's Too Short was a boring amalgamation of The Office and Extras and my thought was that he'd run out of ideas ergo An Idiot Abroad and letting Karl Pilkington's monologues take centre stage in his projects. As it turns out, he'd just had a temporary dip in form only to come back and reinforce my thought: that he is the finest sitcom writer we've seen on these shores in the past 20 years.
Tuesday, 5 February 2013
This time last year (almost to the day) I wrote a scathing attack on the Madonna half-time show at the Superbowl (available here). I went on to harangue the whole sport of American football and seemed to be, basically, fucked off with the whole idea of the showpiece of American sport - mainly due to the lack of sporting action and the grotesque 'world peace' Madonna halftime show.
It looks enticing, doesn't it?
Anyway, the slow-burning sporting action aside, there's always the half-time show right? Well to my mind this was equally as insipid as the roided-up nutters lobbing the red egg about (or, rather, stood waiting to lob the red egg about). Maybe it's because I'm not the biggest Beyonce fan in the world, but I just wasn't as enamoured as some of the people on my Facebook and Twitter feeds seem to be with it. Annoyingly, as I quite like a bit of Destiny's Child - particularly 'Jumpin' Jumpin'' - there was only a quick flash of them doing that rather annoyingly overplayed Charlie's Angels tune and a Beyonce solo song before they were gone.
I'm just not convinced that Beyonce's as great as everybody thinks she is. I really cannot see what she's got over, say, Amerie or Kelis other than the fact that she's shagging Jay Z. Her voice gets on my last nerve too. Listening to that 'Halo' number is, I imagine, how tinnitus feels at 4 in the morning on a Tuesday.
Anyway, the Superbowl is over-the-top nonsense dressing itself up as a sporting occasion. No matter how much of global culture America permeates, this kind of sporting event, I hope, will never become the norm. Imagine if, during the World Cup final, Spain had kept calling 'time out' and the match had been divided into four quarters. Imagine if Britney Spears had come flying out at half-time to squeal her back catalogue through your TV set. Surely even the Chinese couldn't come up with a more tortuous experience (and they certainly wouldn't have the gall to call it entertainment).
I'm not phobic of our cousins across the pond or their culture. Far from it. I think it's one of the most fascinating, diverse and interesting cultures in the world. I love American literature, be it William S. Burroughs, Bret Easton Ellis or Mark Twain. I think that musically they've contributed as much as anybody over the last century - just look at REM, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Nrivana, the list is too long. Hollywood - though certainly sometimes dealing in the banal - is a fine artistic institution.
I've always dreamed of spending a year of my life in the US, in fact, soaking up the deep south and New York City, feeling that strange pang of mortality at the Grand Canyon and standing at the gates of The White House. It's just this other form of Americanism that gets to me - the far less romantic, Las Vegas style pointlessness and pageantry. It's often actually amplified in the presidential elections (at least these only have the cheek to rear their heads every four years though). It's all incessant whooping and screaming and, of course, somebody singing 'Star Spangled Banner' (though I must concede that this is a great song, it is over the top and just a bit self-serving).
I wish those stadium lights had stayed off. In fact, I wish the other half had gone out.
Wednesday, 30 January 2013
Radio 4's Re-imagining the City series, which climaxed on Saturday, was a triumph. In four episodes the series took you through New Orleans, Dublin, Istanbul and Coventry with Nik Cohn, Joseph O' Connor, Elif Shafak and Pauline Black respectively narrating the journeys of their inhabited cities.
The thing that stuck out for me, maybe obviously, was the musical landscape described by each narrator. From Nik Cohn's picture of New Orleans jazz to O' Connor's infatuation with Phil Lynott and from the great calls to prayer in Istanbul which Shafak describes, to Pauline Black's (of The Selecter) ode to Coventry 2-Tone, I felt I had bounced through soundscapes that painted great sonic murals of their native cities.
I was particularly taken with Nik Cohn's musical celebration of New Orleans. Of course it was jazz-heavy - it's New Orleans! - but there was a fascinating description of modern hip-hop block parties in the city too, and every so often a snippet of Mystikal's 'Danger' would creep in, letting us know that it's not just Jelly Roll in The Big Easy. The 1920s left their stain, but haven't stifled everything since. New Orleans has a magic about it undoubtedly. Having never been myself (this I will most definitely put right), I've always thought of it as some kind of cultural Mecca - those great characterisations Kerouac managed to conjure up in On the Road and the thought of being technically under the water whilst taking in some hot jazz and ragtime lend it a romantic appeal which is completely unique.
Mystikal - Danger
But don't let that stop you from trying to catch any of the other episodes. Each one has its charms and each one gives a great insight into these places and their music. Pauline Black's comment on Coventry, for instance, made me realise how much I missed while I was working there a few years ago and Elif Shafak's look at Istanbul has made me look at flights there as I'd love to experience just a smidgen of what she does every day. Joseph O' Connor's musings on Dublin and its place in the world are superb and I may also look to get over there pretty soon for a weekend as I've not visited Dublin - and now feel it is imperative that I do.
The series was an inspiring, intriguing look at four cities whose qualities are maybe not always as fore-fronted in the mainstream media as, say, New York or London and if it is at all possible to catch the first 3 anywhere, then do so (iPlayer stops access after 7 days). You can catch the final one on Coventry here.
Tuesday, 22 January 2013
Prince Harry has killed an Afghan while on duty for the British Army. I'm sure everybody is completely shocked by this astounding revelation - a British soldier has killed an Afghan on his/her own soil. Crazy.
Now I'm sure that a few Daily Mail readers are absolutely aghast at the thought that cheeky, lovable Hazza has been causing havoc in Helmand Province (or wherever he's stationed), but really he's just doing what his job remit requires of him. I'm sure that many, many more anti-war demonstrators are disgusted with his comments such as "if there's (sic) people trying to do bad stuff to our guys, then we'll take them out of the game I suppose". If we look at this objectively, however, then surely we can see that this is rather typical squaddie bravado about being on the front line.
In any case, I kind of admire Harry. It may not be a popular opinion, but face it, he's a member of the British Royal Family who believes in the idea of 'the nation', and has gone on what he feels is a mission to defend it. I've toiled long and hard over the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, feeling sometimes opposed to them and sometimes for them, and I've come to a point of almost indifference. My apathy may well frustrate some, but the point really is that if the coalition forces of the US and the UK want to go steaming into a country and invade it, there really is very little that we, the people, can do about it unfortunately. I'll argue this point further in a moment, but firstly let's look at the facts.
Saddam Hussein was a vile dictatorial despot who was committing genocide on his own people. The Taliban were a militant group of tribal animals killing anybody in their way who did not agree with their Islamist stance. That the British and the Americans (and associated others in the West) went into these places and ousted these regimes (in Saddam's case at the second time of asking due to some rather dodgy weapons deals) has done some good. The killing of innocent civilians, the harrowing scenes of, as Outkast put it, "bombs over Baghdad" and the near Vietnam style war of attrition which has played out now in Afghanistan for over a decade, seemingly just to keep it going, are utterly wrong. I will conceded this and, indeed, wholeheartedly agree with it. The reasons behind going in may well have been somewhat ropey, yes. However, Saddam is no longer persecuting the Kurds on a whim and the Taliban are reeking far less hell on innocent Afghans through piety and misreading of religious scripture (surely the most flawed form of doctrine).
Outkast - BOB
The reason I'm at the point of indifference, though, is purely because while our leaders profess to be liberating people from dictatorship, as far as I can see we have no real democracy of our own in the West. In America, one has two parties to choose from (yes you can vote for an independent if you live there, but the futility of doing so I hope I need not explain). In the UK we have three parties, although really it is two (given that the last solely Liberal government got in almost 100 years ago). In fact, it seems in Britain that more and more hung parliaments will arise and the Lib Dems - or, rather scarily, UKIP - may have more of a say in who gets in, but they will mainly be choosing which one of the big two gets in and elects a Prime Minister. Our missions are supposedly freeing the people and giving them the right to vote for their leaders. This, I fear though is pointless, or at least if they follow the Western model.
In the UK we have a monarchy. Granted, it is a parliamentary country in which voters choose their leaders (although do you choose who is going to lead the party you would like to vote for?), but nonetheless we have a monarchy. It seems a tad strange to me that a country in which the democratic process is so controlled, leaving its voter with two real, viable options and which also then has a hierarchical family upon which we must all look up to should be trying to liberate anybody other than ourselves, but if it is a good cause, I'll throw my hat in and back it as far as I can - after all, Thatcher, Blair, Major and Cameron have all had their downfalls, but have never committed genocide on our soil.
That a member of that very monarchy is willing to risk his life for his belief in our semi-autocratic, church-bound system is actually quite refreshing. I do not remember Tony Blair ever offering to strap up and hit the trenches. I'm not condoning violence or oppression. Far from it. But if Harry believes in it and espouses the rhetoric, then the fact that he's out there defending it has an admirable quality which is missing elsewhere in Westminster and Windsor (note: I'm not saying pack the Queen off, I realise that she's in her eighties, just send some of those greasy hangers-on, maybe).
In any case, getting our backs up won't do a damn thing. I watched a video on TED the other day about this rather inspirational Israeli guy. He was giving a talk on this project whereby he sent messages to Iranians saying things like "We won't bomb your country, we love you" via Facebook and they were replying and this whole online community has been forged out of normal Iranians and Israelis who are for peace. I think this is a far better way of going about lobbying for peace - you cut out government and all of those egos and the people themselves just say to one another "look, we have our differences, yes, but I don't want you killed in my country's name, just as much as you don't want the inverse".
What I propose, then, is that anybody reading this from the West - be it the US, UK or more unlikely somewhere like Australia, Germany France, wherever, simply adds one Afghan friend on Facebook and one Iraqi friend on Facebook (send them a message beforehand if possible just outlining why you are adding them) to show that it's not us, it's the wankers that govern us, that we unfortunately vote in because we have no other real choice. Just like them.
Monday, 21 January 2013
As the hellish scenes of armed French intervention in Mali are still fresh in the mind, I feel moved to pay a small tribute to the great music of the troubled African state. Here, then, are 5 of the best from Mali.
Vieux Farka Toure - 'Fafa': From the first note of guitar mastery from 'The Hendrix of the Saraha' on this one, I challenge anybody to not be moved and quickly converted to wanting to know more about this great man's music. Ali's son is seemingly singing "Papa" against wailing screams and tears emanating from his guitar and larynx in unison, however, my cretinous brain could well be thinking that 'Fafa' must mean 'Papa' or 'Father' in Toure's native tongue when it means nothing of the sort. If this is true, then I apologise for my idiocy. I really hope this is an ode to Ali though, as a more touching one would be hard to find (though maybe Vieux's 'Ali' could do the job).
Vieux Farka Toure - 'Fafa'
Amadou & Mariam - 'M'Bifa': The pungent, off-beat stomp of the bass against the unholy soar of the immediately alien sounding (to western ears) vocal booms smack the listener straight in the face on this, the first track on Diamanche a Bamako, while dumbfounding anybody within ear's reach. The effect is such that it pulls you towards the rest of the album, instantly leaving you wanting more. A similar trick to The Clash kicking off Give 'em Enough Rope with 'Safe European Home'.
Tinariwen - 'Tenhert (The Doe)': The Touareg outfit's Led Zeppelin meets Arabic rap slant on this track was the first I'd ever heard of them after a few ringing endorsements in the music press. The result was such that I am now a fully-fledged fan in every sense. No superlative quite matches up to describing just how good Tinariwen are and this song is a fine example of their virtuosity as musicians.
Tinariwen - 'Tenhert (The Doe)'
Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate - 'Kala': Bringing together two legends of what is rather lazily termed 'world music', this song, and its parent album In the Heart of the Moon showcase both Ali and Toumani's talents and, quite frankly, nothing I can say here will do it justice. "Ah, but that's the point of you writing this isn't it?" I hear you say. Well, yes, but sometimes it's just better to point one's audience to brilliance instead of verbosely describing it. Just listen.
Ali Farka Toure - 'Dofana': One of the legendary blues man's songs was titled 'Ali's Here'. Grimly, he isn't. One of the finest blues guitarists to have ever picked up an axe, Ali Farka Toure left a legacy in Malian music akin to that of Dylan in American music or The Beatles in English music. This song, from The Source, has all of the offbeat, chant-like qualities I have come to love from his music. To be honest, this whole list could be made up of songs from The Source, such is the quality of the record. Transcendental, weirdly spiritual blues which once heard will stay with you.
Wednesday, 16 January 2013
With HMV entering administration, many have cried out in a whim of desperation. Is nowhere safe? Well, kind of not, but that's capitalism right? This sense that it's a great shame and a loss to high street, to my mind, however, is rather deluded and misplaced.
The top dog has been knocked off its perch. Now it would seem HMV is consigned to join other high street retailers such as its former rivals Zavvi and Woolworths and we're all supposed to be sad about it. But HMV basically got what was coming to it. After near killing independent record stores, retailers such as HMV, Our Price and Virgin Megastore enjoyed huge success throughout the '80s and '90s when overpriced CDs were the norm and mass sales and what Garry Mulholland excellently describes as the "Warholian nightmare of art as marketing" ran amok (across the '90s in particular, where the coveted number 1 spot on the singles chart was filled each week by a different entrant - much to the delight of the major record companies, themselves now falling victim to the new era in music).
So all of those minor, independent retailers in towns and cities across the UK closed their doors, teary eyed at the loss of their livelihood while HMV recorded record profits and ushered in new media forms such as Mini Disc, DVD and Blue-Ray onto their shelves throughout its later life and tape and CD in its earlier life. HMV (and associated others), however, never quite cottoned on to the most profitable form of new media until it was too late. Digital music and video (MP3 and MP4 etc.) stored onto computer memory and latterly in cyberspace would see to the demise of high street chain stores in a way akin to how they had killed the local record store originally - which is, interestingly enough, doing better these days than it has in years. The MP3 became the new CD and iTunes became the new HMV. Equally, ready to kill off the old HMV, by selling the media it did at a cheaper price, were the likes of Amazon, whose inexpensive rented warehouses in the sticks would house their shipping led-businesses to record extremely high margins. Meanwhile HMV sat there on the high street, lying in wait, paying a large lease fee for the pleasure and selling next to nothing in relation.
But HMV's bosses didn't give a damn when they were wiping out record stores. Remember that. In fact they courted it and everybody sat around rather unworried by the whole affair. In some kind of microcosmic representation of the western world outside it, HMV bullied its way around and was deemed too big to fail (if one cannot see the comparison to be made with Lehman Brothers or even the USA itself here, then one should open one's eyes).
It seems as if the zeitgeist now is to accept the mega brand as the norm and to see a bunch of small, relatively equal retailers competing with each other as arcane and dead. It's a funny view on capitalism to have, to see this even as capitalism. Surely all of that free enterprise and varied choice, a true market, if you will, is the capitalist way. Surely, having just one large, overbearing oligopoly owning the high street in its particular niche is as anti-capitalist as one big dictatorial leader ordering subjects to do as told.
Reel Big Fish - Sell Out. Seems apt.
We should surely applaud of the demise of HMV then. We who became so attached to a dog and a phonograph - while the owners got fat and overcharged us for so long - should be glad to be rid of this autocratic despot of record and video sales on the high street. Consumer power won again, right? Well, not when we consider that now the bully boys are Amazon and iTunes and there is little we can do to stop them from doing what they want (think corporate tax payments in Britain).
As one clever Palestinian once called his people "the victims of the victims", so now can those giants such as Amazon and iTunes call themselves 'the killers of the killers'. We can all sit back downloading for free or as close to as possible, while HMV dissapears (which, as history shows us, it is now quite likely to do). I should try and cash my HMV card reward points in if I can (such hypocrisy).
Tuesday, 15 January 2013
The obvious by-product of abundance is excess. Us Brits, we seem to love it. I dare say I'm no exception to this in respects. However, our excessive consumption knows no bounds and we've reached a point of such late Roman proportions that I think we might be at breaking point. The good news is it makes for fucking hilarious viewing.
Tricky - Excess
A spate of lads'/birds' holiday shows have been on our TV screens recently, with tonight bringing us Channel 4's What Happens in Kavos... - clearly Channel 4 couldn't wait to get in on the schlocky action provided by BBC 3's Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents and ITV's Magaluf Weekender. These shows highlight the gratuitous galavanting our late teens love to practice during the summer and set out to shock a middle class, middle aged stream of parents who seem happy to constantly parade their disgust at such matters. Indeed, the wasteful, nihilistic behaviour of these young boys and girls is really quite shocking (though, only about 6 or 7 years ago I'd have been there myself I must concede), but, quite frankly, these fleeting moments in the sun before they head off to Uni or the production line (or wherever kids go when the fees are too high and there are no jobs available) are quite understandable really. They go off and let off some steam for a week or two amongst some like-minded folk in the sun, safe in the knowledge that they're due to be headed back to 'Broken Britain' at the end of it all. Excessive drinking, fucking and vomiting ensues and they come back to Mum and Dad fully knackered. Job done.
Following the herd down to Greece
The actions of those pseudo bourgeois parents of theirs, however, are rather more inexcusable and downright unexplainable. Will Self's wonderful 10 min tirade at the actions of folk whose sole purpose these days is so sonorously to consume mass amounts of poncy nosh highlighted this wonderfully on Radio 4 the other night. His A Point of View special on what is conventionally known as 'the foodie revolution' was a tour de force in cultural comment which left me in no doubt that I utterly agree with Mr. Self. Curtness was not the tone of the day (and why would it be with such a doyenne of wordsmithery?) as Self ran through all of the problems with this fat, feckless attitude towards sustainability and cultural capital. A clever line about how middle class aspirations are now seemingly more achievable through Dorset Vinny instead of Warwickshire Shakespeare, which I cannot now fully recall to quote, stuck out particularly and, at the risk of turning this into a televisual polemic, it is really Channel 4 and the like who are pushing this agenda. Indeed, as those parents sit around disgusted by the ludicrous habits of their excessive spawn, as they mull over why young Jack and Sarah cannot resist going so wild with their booze, they guzzle Pinot Noir and chomp on over-sized portions of baked Camembert with aplomb without a thought for the waste or the health problems this may cause. Like some truly crazed bunch of addicts, they cannot resist discussing the merits of grilled figs and rare steaks and potatoes dauphinoise as they watch Jamie do it all in half an hour and the truly ridiculous Heston Blumenthal make chemistry cocktails out of cockles and cheese.
Consumption is a monster, however, those who practice it in its ugliest form seem to be overrun with disgust that their kids have no control either. The hypocrisy is leaden by its own weight and in any case, they raised them. Seemingly, though, we will not get past this until the major television companies stop exploiting all of the facets of excess for entertainment, which probably means we will not get past this. May as well just sit back and enjoy the show.
Monday, 7 January 2013
As a final note on last year I've decided to throw together what I think were 5 of the best songs released. 2012 was indeed a rich musical year and I believe you'll see that reflected here - or you'll see how truly weak I am for a hook that stays in your head.
Gotye ft. Kimbra - Somebody that I Used to Know: Elegantly simple, stupidly catchy and sung with a passionate vocal timbre unheard since Sting was screaming that he was "so lonely", this song was probably the song of 2012 in terms of impact. It was also nice to see a well constructed pop song at the top of the charts for once. I wonder if Gotye will just be a one hit wonder though...
Grizzly Bear - Yet Again: This is probably my personal favourite of 2012. Wonderfully reverb-affected guitar tones, simply hit, full barre chords with a divinely stylised pop vocal melody - for me this is the best track off of Shields, which is no mean feat as it is a fine album.
Grizzly Bear - Yet Again
Grimes - Oblivion: Grimes's blend of breathy, high-pitched vocals vs. simple beats and synth works to such effect that it would not be over zealous to compare her to Hounds of Love era Kate Bush. Beautiful art pop and this song maybe best showcases her talents.
Plan B - Ill Manors: Ben Drew's polemical breakdown does more to address the state of the nation and the snobbery of the right wing media in modern day Britain in around four minutes than any pathetic governmental olive branches could. Leaving the Coalition with yet more questions to answer, the song is an aggro-filled whirlwind of 'chip-on-the-shoulder' outrage. Mainstream British hip-hop would be in a horrible state without him.
Plan B - Ill Manors
Carly Rae Jepsen - Call Me Maybe: I probably shouldn't admit this, but I do like this song. Or, rather, it's not that I particularly like it, but that I can seemingly never get it out of my bloody head! Therefore it's earned its inclusion.
Sunday, 6 January 2013
Eminem's first three albums (I am not counting Infinite on here due to its minuscule success, impact and bearing on the Eminem story), upon which my main focus will be planted for this post, are truly up there with the finest ever to be released and sold as 'hip-hop' albums. From his controversial, vulgar and heretic beginnings on The Slim Shady LP through to the grown-up angst vs. school boy vernacular of The Marshall Mathers LP up to the fully-realised, politicised and at points idealised wonder of The Eminem Show, I intend to look at the journey made in the late '90s and early '00s by one of the period's only real mainstream stars to do what all 'yoof' icons should do: scare the shit out of parents.
First Run - On the early singles and first album Eminem pushed his nihilistic rhetoric to the fore. Constant cursing and fore-fronting filthy themes, even playing the bad cop to Dr. Dre's (yes, Dr. bloody Dre) good cop on 'Guilty Conscience', Eminem was seemingly trying to make all of those controversial icons before him, such as Alice Cooper, Johnny Rotten and Keith Richards, seem like The Osmonds. Mindless homophobia and sexism pervades the whole period and was, to some, its root problem. I, however, think that there were three rather deliberate reasons that Eminem went down this route.
The first is obvious, in that he had a deliberate plan to be as bathed in taboo as humanly possible, but was also in the rap game and therefore could not dare go down the race route - leaving two other vanguard cultural taboos. The second reason I feel Eminem pushed the homophobic/sexist agenda was that it made business sense: controversy sells and, as a poor kid from Detroit, money was no doubt a driving force behind launching his career in such a way. The third reason is slightly less black and white, if you'll excuse a rather crude pun on my earlier point. Eminem, to me, of all of the rap stars of his time, had the most intellectual awareness. In relaying this misdirected anger to his audience, he was rather cleverly relaying the thoughts of many bored, disaffected youths in the age of hyper-consumerism and displaying the way in which they frivolously projected their own anger and despair onto any weaker outlet (as adolescents pretty much always have done and always will do). This zeitgeisty approach in turn ignited the perfect response in the older generation - the free love hippies of the baby boomer generation - in that it caused them to stir and try to condescendingly 'protect' their children from this menace in much the same way their parents had to them when Hendrix, Jagger and Lennon were trying to 'corrupt' them (Anthony Bozza's Whatever You Say I Am: The Life and Times of Eminem argues this point with more virulence and in more depth than I have the capacity or wont to here).
Throughout his early run Eminem was vilified and made into the satanic monster he had arguably clearly wanted to be, but would strike back at his adversaries in the most eloquent, sardonic and aggressive of fashions.
The Tricky 2nd Album - Not so it would seem for Slim Shady (his creative death would come later, particularly on Encore, a rather shoddy attempt at Beastie Boys-esque frat rap). The Marshall Mathers LP is, to my mind, as good a hip-hop album as there has ever been. At times a passionate plea and cutting comment on the nature of celebrity ('Stan', 'The Way I Am'), at others a humorous, drug-fuelled social parody of the late '90s ('Drug Ballad', 'The Real Slim Shady') and at others just straight hip-hop 'bangers' with more balls than a billiards table ('Bitch Please II', 'Who Knew?'), The Marshall Mathers LP shifts and shudders around through various shocking skits and utter rhythmic and lyrical realisation.
During this period, the whole Aftermath stable of rappers and producers were enjoying a high old time both creatively and commercially. Dr Dre's collaboration-heavy 2001 was a worldwide smash hit and a fine album, Xzibit burst onto the scene as a new and exciting force with his unrelentingly catchy lead single 'X' and Snoop Dogg was seemingly ubiquitous with an array of guest spots and hits of his own - his star will seemingly never fade. Eminem had reached what may now be looked back upon as his zenith. Unbeknownst to most at the time, between here and 2003 would be Eminem's magnum opus. He was startlingly churning out groundbreaking material a la The Beatles during the time of Revolver and Sgt Pepper's... and never again would things get so good after one last wonderful triumph...
The 3rd Way - On 2002's The Eminem Show (seemingly, during this first period of Em's musical career, an album which didn't reference him or his persona didn't exist), Eminem went to town like never before. Devoting a whole song to berating his mother (and, beyond her, pious, middle class American soccer mom's everywhere) on 'Cleaning Out My Closet', letting rip on the state of American politics post-9/11 in a polemical fashion ('Square Dance') and going to town, back-to-back, with his compadre (another crappy pun for you) on most of their nemeses ('Say What You Say'), made The Eminem Show that man's most personal and introspective work to date. The sheer awe-striking lyrical dexterity throughout the album is something to behold in itself, but is best displayed in a microcosmic format on the incomparable 'Say Goodbye Hollywood' - a song of such power and resonance that it may well be his finest comment on the idiocy of believing in celebrity culture (there are quite a few), all the while referencing Billy Joel. (Indeed, the classic rock reference points do not stop there, with 'Sing For the Moment' sampling Aerosmith's classic 'Dream On' and 'Till I Collapse' sampling 'We Will Rock You' by Queen). As it was, The Eminem Show was also the album that won Eminem critical applause aplenty. That older generation that had seen him as a menace and a punk suddenly seemed to be gushing over him, the irony of which was no doubt not lost on him.
Say Goodbye Hollywood
All in all, the first 3 albums and run of singles from Eminem's career between 1999 and 2003 can be considered among, if not as the greatest ever achieved by anybody in hip-hop. That his more recent output is sketchier and not as consistent is by-the-by when one considers the magnitude, scope and genius of his work during this period.
Thursday, 3 January 2013
Here it is... a banal recap of the year just gone - Wiggo, Ennis, Osborne, Boris and Woy. And in music The XX released the follow up to their Mercury prize winning debut, Emeli Sande broke onto the scene and the Justice for the 96 campaign was Christmas Number 1. In literature we had the fervour of Fifty Shades and, in turn, millions of Random House copycats like whatever Silvia Day decided to put out. In film we had a fantastic new Bond and the adaptation of Les Mis. In television we saw the final nail in the X Factor coffin. Right, that's that then. Now for some real comment.
Firstly, 2012 was the year when everybody lost their mind in grotesque over celebration and flag waving. In the same year that it was called to pass that a referendum would eventually take place on splitting the Union, ironically everybody went nuts for waving the flag of that very alliance. The Jubilee, the Olympics and the Paralympics provided a platform upon which the nation could zealously scream "we're proud" in an almost imperial fashion. The most ridiculous thing about the whole charade was the masses of nutters getting pissed on, watching an elderly pair of toffs have exactly the same happen to them on a quite ludicrous boat on the Thames. Me, I watched it scornfully from the pub, moaning about the cost to the taxpayer.
Another ridiculous national trait this year was in some ways related to the abovementioned. It came out of the moronic wish that football fans and players would behave like their Olympic counterpartts. It really is like comparing bollocks to mud - they are two totally different beasts. The Olympics is an event which comes around every four years and roughly once every blue moon to the same city and is filled with audiences who really do not have the first clue about what they are watching other than that they want their home country to win. By contrast, football is on throughout about 10 months of the year every year with a fan base that watches it religiously, knows each player and is, on average, pretty clued up about how the game works. Add to that the fact that the fans on the terraces spend a good deal of their hard-earned cash on going to watch their beloved sides one day a weekend and possibly a midweek evening and the passion, the tribalism and the hysteria are only multiplied. It won't be all dandy smiles and kids singing along - as Bill Shankly once said "some people think that football is a matter of life and death. I can assure you it's much more important than that".
Tame Impala - Elephant (on Jools Holland)
2012 was also the year, however, that the music industry hype machine slowed down somewhat and, alas, some great records came out off of the back of it. Tame Impala, Yeasayer and, as mentioned, The XX released fine albums with Lonerism, Fragrant World and Coexist respectively. Tame Impala particularly could have been destroyed by the frantic 'buzz' that bags on a new band, beseeching them to be heroes of their generation, however, a steady rise and a sonically intriguing/radio friendly single such as 'Elephant' gave them a platform from which to become something more than could have been maybe had they exploded between the years 2001 - 2011.
2012 was a daft year really. The Rolling Stones turned 50 and had punters paying through their noses for the pleasure, the Olympics turned the UK into a nation of stirring sycophants and for once nobody believed England could win a major tournament (low and behold they didn't). Gone was our usual grump - replaced by the inverse. No doubt 2013 will restore the balance what with the onset of more economic trouble, possible Syria intervention, the possibility of the war to end all wars if Iran and Israel kick off and no "great summer of sport" keeping everybody's eyes away from the real issues. I'm going to make sure I read some of the acclaimed novels of 2012 that I didn't get round to perusing (namely Will Self's Umbrella and Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall) follow up and watch The Bourne Legacy (again, I didn't get round to this in 2012) and keep enjoying some of the wonderful sounds of 2012 (aforementioned). Behind me I shall put the nauseating flag waving and pageantry and Wiggo - everybody's new favourite mod. I cannot stand the milking poser personally.