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Made in Shoreditch

I also contribute a weekly column to Made in Shoreditch magazine called 'Old East End/New East End', where I look at the relationship between the East End of old and new, looking at the changes and the stalwarts in landscape, residents and culture, focussing on one street or district each week. You can find it here.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Sacrilege/David Bowie - The Stars are out Tonight

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.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

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.

David Bowie

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'

The Case for Paul

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.

5 of the Best - The Plastic Ono Band

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).

Jealous Guy

'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.

Benedict's Had Enough

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.

Joseph Ratzinger aka Papa Benny

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.

They're not that type of bead!!! I couldn't resist another anal tie-in...

Foals - Holy Fire

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.

Need I point out what this is?

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.

Gervais as Derek

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.

Hannah and Derek

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.

The Superbowl Halftime Show Revisited

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.

Well, this year I decided, against my better judgement, to stay up until the wee hours and watch the thing. I've got to say I'm unchanged. The Superbowl is gross. The sport itself is almost unwatchable with way too many stoppages and time-outs - the amount of which left me wondering when each quarter might end. There are points at which the game sparkles, this I cannot deny. The guy from the Baltimore Ravens sprinting the length of the pitch in about 11 seconds to touch down was a real highlight for me, but, frankly, these moments are too few and far between. It also seems quite nonsensically tactical, to the point where a layman has no chance of getting into it. It's not fucking chess! It's basically rugby with shoulder pads and forward passes (this rule, one would hope, would make it less tedious than watching Harlequins play Saracens - it doesn't, and quite frankly watching rugby is about as engaging as taking the bins out).

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. 

The Show

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.

Election Time

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.