It should be no surprise that pop’s own Rebel Queen might eventually go rawk but Plastic Hearts is in many ways a surprisingly grown-up affair, channeling the MOR side of 80s pop-rock and country. Collaborating with Joan Jett, Stevie Nicks and Billy Idol points heavily towards the mission statement for the album but there is without doubt more gloss than guitars, despite what the leather studded elbow gloves and fashion-mullet might suggest. However, while this mix will invariably generate sneers from ‘authentic’ rock music fans it hits a bullseye in her capabilities as a performer and is huge fun to listen to.
Like everything Miley has done since Can’t Be Tamed (a record that has more in common with Plastic Hearts than you might imagine) there is a perfect concoction of visuals, artwork and fashion orbiting the music. Much like Lady Gaga’s Joanne it feels as though there is an element of cosplay to the rock ‘n’ roll persona and this extends to the songs which are peppered with with cheeky sonic and lyrical nods to her influences. But while Dead Petz remains the most believably honest and raw record she has produced this new release sits firmly on the right side of contrivance, the packaging and ephemera only serving to further enjoyment of the music.
The only dud track for me is single release Prisoner, featuring Dua Lipa, which somehow feels like the worst of both artists. Otherwise this a strong and cohesive collection of songs. Night Crawling, an absolute ear worm that would be a shameless Billy Idol pastiche if it didn’t also feature Billy Idol, perfectly encapsulates the tongue in cheek side of the album whilst Midnight Sky, WTF Do I know and title track Plastic Hearts offer a more uniquely Miley take on the genre. Surprisingly ballad heavy, the album closes with what I imagine is the only genuinely moving song to have been released named Golden G String.
Miley’s vocal talents have never really been in doubt to anyone not clouded by abstract hatred of her media image but it feels like she is finally moving into a more credible position of longevity as an artist. Plastic Hearts doesn’t quite have the exuberant joy (or, ironically, as big a middle finger) for me as Bangerz but it feels like the perfect album for her stylistically right now.
ARTIST: Miley Cyrus
TITLE: Plastic Hearts
TOP TRACKS: Night Crawling, WTF Do I Know, Midnight Sky, Golden G String
MOOD: Put another dime in the jukebox, baby
I Don’t Know How But They Found Me (or iDKHOW as it’s stylised) are exactly the kind of band who will annoy almost as many people as they will be adored by, and Razzmatazz is exactly the kind of album you would expect a band like that to make.
As the title might suggest this much anticipated debut is a flamboyant and retro-tinged concoction. In their more comparatively contemporary moments there is a little of The Killers, Electric Six and twenty one pilots to be heard. Addictive earworm New Invention has shades of Gary Numan whilst From The Gallows unexpectedly channels crooner-mode Marc Bolan via ELO with a dash of Radiohead’s Fitter, Happier. Several tracks such as Clusterhug and Sugar Pills just go full out glam. The title song is, ironically, one of the less bombastic tracks on the album and offers an efficiently straightforward indie-pop banger guaranteed to take up permanent residence in your brain for hours after listening to it.
From the funky Fame-esque bassline strut of opener Leave Me Alone to charmingly unexpected piano ballad Nobody Likes The Opening Band, a paean to the plight of the overlooked support act that wouldn’t sound entirely out of place on A Night At The Opera, this is a band who are not afraid to wear their influences on their sleeve but crucially manage to meld them together into something new, exciting and uniquely theirs.
A thoroughly enjoyable album that should appeal to anyone who likes their electro-indie-pop strutting effusively just on the right side of annoying.
ARTIST: I Don’t Know How But They Found Me
TOP TRACKS: Leave Me Alone, Nobody Likes The Opening Band, Razzmatazz, Sugarpills
MOOD: Glitzy and glitchy
Is ‘pandemic pop’ a recognised genre term yet? Because if not then I think this is it..
Unify Separate, the recently rebranded artists formerly known as US, release their new single ‘Solitude & I’ this week and it has immediately secured repeat play status for me. Described by the band as ‘an in-your-face manifesto for never, ever giving up on your dreams’ the track is a thrilling, if unexpectedly drum and bass driven, four minutes of electronic joy.
Along with the usual hallmarks of soaring, dramatic synths and Andrew Montgomery’s always elegiac vocals this release is also a definite reminder of why I think they are often at their best when the go harder and is probably my favourite of their singles since 2018′s equally epic Voyager.
Solitude & I is in a lot of ways more instantly catchy and poppy than much of their output but it also has a driving power and an exhilarating, urgent aggressiveness pushing away in the background too. Possibly because, as the band say themselves ‘these days, there’s no time to lose’.
ARTIST: Unify Separate
TITLE: Solitude & I
MOOD: Dancing with tears in my eyes
With Reeder’s illustrious musical past encompassing connections to bands like Joy Division, New Order and Die Toten Hosen as well as the recent documentary ‘B-Movie (Lust & Sound in West Berlin)’ and Chosnau’s equally impressive resume both with Naktines Personos and as a solo artist it’s not a great surprise that Children of Nature is a fantastic tour of retro-tinged gothic electro.
From the opening melodic swoop of How Do You Feel? to the sparse rhythmic punch of Fade On, through the poppier and hooky title track and the punchy rock tinged Stand Up this album is stuffed with songs that feel instantly appealing and ask to be listened to over and over. In any righteous world I Can’t Share This Feeling would be a chart smash.
Meanwhile tracks such Drowning in You, Tonight, It’s Who You Are and (not a cover of the Stephen Sondheim song) Losing My Mind offer a more contemplative and occasionally darker, gloomier side to the album. Closing track Heartburn sees us out with a delicate and melancholic plea for hope.
Whilst this album plays with the moods and styles of something I would frame as gothic the overall feeling is optimistic, though never cloyingly so, and a welcome addition to these strange and difficult times.
TITLE: Children of Nature
ARTIST: Alanas Chosnau & Mark Reeder
MOOD: Gloomily futuristic optimistic
TOP TRACKS: I Can’t Share This Feeling, How Do You Feel?, Drowning In you
After doing a three album (and one movie) tour of duty of the Gaga version of a midlife crisis (Jazz! Country! Brunette hair! JUST A REGULAR GIRL!) and proving unequivocally that Gaga trying to be normal is just as weird as Gaga trying to be weird, Chromatica has now beamed down to earth in all it’s tecno-pinkness to bestow us with some classic Stefani bangers.
And make no mistake, this is an entirely dance album with even the slower moments still firmly in that camp. There are no piano ballads, no hair rock anthems. Even when Elton John turns up it’s to holler gloriously over an absolute monsterbonkers club track that goes hard before it goes drum and bass. There is some playing around with sub genres touching on deep house, disco and electro but overwhelmingly this is an album weighted more towards old skool dance than pop.
Although the videos and artwork pull together a neat concept world that sits somewhere between Power Rangers and Captain Planet the album itself is more loose. The lyrics are less overtly thematic and ornate than much of her past work but they are generally good, occasionally great, and surprisingly dark. Countless artists have made protestations about finding ‘salvation on the dancefloor’ but it’s still rare for it to sound so cathartic. This coupled with some of her strongest vocals makes Chromatica reminiscent of classic dance, disco and soul it a way that rarely troubles the charts anymore.
This may not be her strangest or most risky album, it is unlikely to polarise the mainstream in the way that Born This Way or ArtPop did, but it’s certainly her most coherent. While there is a lot to love in the rollercoaster experience of records that include songs like Swine and Jewels N’ Drugs in the same place it’s a surprisingly enjoyable experience to have a Gaga album that I feel I only want to listen to as a single piece.
I won’t call it a return to form because that suggests her talent was absent in previous releases but I will say it certainly feel like an injection of something needed in the Lady Gaga timeline. A strong reminder of what she does well mixed with something that feels like a progression not a regression.
ARTIST: Lady Gaga
MOOD: Getting into your pink plastic body armour
TOP TRACKS: Stupid Love, 911, Enigma, Sine From Above
TLDR: Dance the pain away 90s Sci-Fi anime style
I first encountered HMLTD via their gothic epic Satan, Luella & I – one of those tracks so masterful that if the band never released another note they would still have made a worthwhile contribution to pop culture. Since then I have been awaiting this album with curiosity and interest. The string of singles, EPs and other assorted bits and bobs they have released in between have oscillated wildly in genre (and occasionally in quality) and I found it hard to imagine what shape their debut might eventually take. Part of me expected them just to combust before that point, particularly in the light of various frothingly hyperbolic press articles (ARE HMLTD THE SAVIOURS OF GUITAR MUSIC??) but here it is and it is, thank goodness, excellent.
While it’s fair to say that my first encounter with them remains their peak it’s surrounded by a rich, genre diverse and satisfying album that actually is an album rather than just a collection of disparate potential singles. Songs sonically dovetail into each other and there are several short vignette tracks that act as musical connectors from one micro genre to another. The biggest surprise for me was how heavily the album leans into pop electronica rather than the glam punk some earlier tracks suggested, however it’s a shift that suits them and they pull it off seamlessly with some of the more contemporary touches being the glue that holds it together.
Singer Henry Spychalski has an extraordinary voice in the great tradition of ‘marmite’ vocalists that is a little Adam Ant, a little Jobriath, a little David Byrne and in many ways it is an album that hangs on this however it’s also stuffed with great sounds, interesting production and solid pop hooks. There is an excessiveness to the album, something that is reflected in their grandiose, filmic and teetering-on-the-right-side-of-ridiculous videos, however it’s not excessive in the way I expected. Rather than the big, swooning, gothic melodrama of Satan, Luella & I it’s a glorious excess of style, genres and ambition.
There are some obvious influences here from the dark Depeche-Mode-esque LOADED to the pure 80s pop of Mikey’s Song but there are less obvious touchstones too like the gloomy, ironic The West is Dead which lyrically has more than a hint of Leonard Cohen’s The Future about it or the Weimar cabaret horror weirdness of Where’s Joanna? which sounds a bit like a sexier, glammier version of The Tiger Lillies.
Sonically diverse but also cohesive, if you like your rock and roll smeared in lipstick and accompanied by synths this is probably one for you.
TITLE: West of Eden
MOOD: Music to badly home-dye your hair to.
TLDR: Big, ballsy, glamorous and gothic.
TOP TRACKS: Satan, Luella & I, Mikey’s Song, Blank Slate, Nobody Stays In Love, LOADED
It’s not been the greatest year for big pop tunes in my opinion but there’s still been a lot that I’ve loved, with a strong showing in indie-pop and electronica. Here’s my top picks from 2019:
Norman Fucking Rockwell – Lana Del Rey
Remember The Future – Ionnalee
Handfuls of Night – Penguin Cafe
First Contact – US
Fine Line – Harry Styles
Sacred Dreams – Josefin Ohrn + The Liberation
Caligula – Lingua Ignota
Silver Eater – Grace Lightman
Five V2 – White Lies
Cry – Cigarettes After Sex
The Center Won’t Hold – Sleater-Kinney
People – The 1975
DHL – Frank Ocean
Divided Cities – Mark Fernyhough
Blinding Lights – The Weeknd
Resentment – Kesha
The One – Marika Hackman
Nothing Breaks Like A Heart – Mark Ronson / Miley Cyrus
Paradise – She Drew The Gun
Ice Tea Liberace – Phebe Starr
My Name Is Dark – Grimes
I had the pleasure of getting to hear this album played in full at a recent live show and it was completely magnificent. At the time I felt it was likely to turn out to be my favourite of their albums and now that I have the vinyl on my turntable I can happily confirm that as a fact. Over the previous two albums I have enjoyed Penguin Cafe most when they lean towards the more dramatic, filmic or minimalist sides of their music preferring The Red Book to The Imperfect Sea which was a little too folksy at times for my tastes.
Handfuls of Night, which began life as an accompaniment to a Greenpeace project based in the antarctic, certainly has a cinematic tone to it owing no doubt in part to its origins. Two of my favourite tracks Chinstrap and Chapter both have a perfect combination of musical storytelling and ethereal beauty, with a dash of drama. The latter is in fact described in the liner notes as the tale of ‘a penguin detective tasked with solving a crime that led to something bigger than anyone could have imagined..’ (And it has to be said at this point that the liner notes for this album are a joy of their own, stuffed with interesting little facts and wonderful scene setting for each track. Having a Penguin Cafe album that is actually predominantly about penguins is also irresistibly fun.)
The only track that feels somewhat out of place for me is Pythagoras on the Line Again, and indeed it is a re-visiting of one of Simon Jeffes’ pieces. It’s a fascinating thing in it’s own right playing on harmonic relationships constructed from an old BT telephone engaged tone. I find it alternatingly pleasing and aggravating depending on my mood but it’s probably both the most unusual and most interesting track on the album. It does however feel somewhat like a cuckoo in the nest (to use a non-penguin bird analogy) and I wonder if it might have been better included elsewhere. It was an extraordinary thing to hear live though and it’s not something I would want to have seen buried. On the whole though the album is extremely cohesive, and takes the listener on a fascinating and curious journey.
A gorgeous, enveloping and engaging collection of music that should please any existing fan and would be a great entry point for anyone new to their music too.
ARTIST: Penguin Cafe
TITLE: Handfuls of Night
MOOD: Floating in the bath pretending to be a penguin
TOP TRACKS: Chinstrap, Chapter, Gentoo Origin
As we face down the increasingly real prospect of Brexit an Englishman based between the UK and Berlin, a city already keenly aware of the impact of borders both internal and external, is better placed than most to write a gloomily romantic electro-rock torch song on the subject – and here we have just that.
Musically Mark Fernyhough’s latest single Divided Cities is a close relative of his earlier dramatic melancholia like Berlin, The Human Eye and Steal My Love but with the addition of a grittier, more urban, electronic edge first introduced on last year’s single Sidewalks and it’s fantastically dark and druggy sounding b-side Favourite.
The track is accompanied by an chic and suitably international video starring French artist Camille Schaeffer, Belarusian
synth player Julia Runova and Polish/German
electro drummer Agata D’mon. Shot amongst the imposing architecture of the German capital it captures the bittersweet relationship between the cities we inhabit and how they inhabit us.
Divided Cities also comes backed by a brilliant (and single-worthy in it’s own right) b-side Edge of Town – a hooky little beast inspired by ‘fantasising about the ghosts, decadence and demons which lurk within the darkness of the forest at the end of the garden’ and which has a more guitarsey, gothically uptempo feel. Easily as good as its parent track it’s more of a double A side really, if such things still existed in the digital age.
ARTIST: Mark Fernyhough
TITLE: Divided Cities
MOOD: Romantic political gloom
Words like ambient, instrumental or soundscape are often used to mean the kind of blandly soothing music you stick on in the background whilst doing the crossword, but although this is an often beautiful and delicate album, it’s also frequently a deeply unsettling one too.
From the background chatter of children in decrescent to the intense sense of creeping dread in tracks like 4;28 and, the standout track for me, Uchujin there is not much about this album I would describe as soothing. In fact, a lot of it straight up gives me The Fear. I mean this in a good way of course, it’s perfectly done and I assume deliberate. There are shades of late era Scott Walker and the kind of skin crawling unease I get from David Lynch soundtracks but crucially it’s also underscored with a fragile, melodic elegance and it never tips into something unlistenable or aggressive.
An elegantly put together and thoughtful collection that I feel like I’m still only scraping the surface of despite having played it frequently over the last month since I received my (charmingly hand packaged) copy through the post. If you are a fan of either the eerie or ambient music in general I can’t recommend this enough.
MOOD: Soundtrack for your anxiety
TOP TRACKS: Uchujin, 4;28, (bonus track) Jónas
This year has been a blast musically and it was tough to narrow it down, but here’s my favourites from 2018:
A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships – The 1975
Continuing to teeter wonderfully on the precipice between meme, pretension and credibility this is a great mix of solid pop and genre mixing electronica.
Berlin Archives – Mark Fernyhough
This limited release collection is a fantastic introduction to what Mark has been up to over the last few years and an appetite whetting tease for his debut-proper to come soon.
Chris – Christine and The Queens
Gorgeous, sensual sophistipop with enough grit to save it from blandness.
Dancing Queen – Cher
It should be terrible, I guess it sort of is, but it’s also completely irresistible.
Dirty Computer – Janelle Monae
Prince meets Robyn meets M.I.A meets (literally) Brian Wilson – chic, hooky and funky.
Hunter – Anna Calvi
Anna Calvi has a voice you can dissolve into and this record uses it to great advantage on swooning moody ballads and retro tinged rock.
Hymn – Sarah Brightman
A return to form after a couple of less exciting releases this is and a near perfect and suitably eclectic capsule of what Sarah does best.
Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John – Juliana Hatfield
I never knew how much I needed this in my life until I had it.
Negative Capability – Marianne Faithfull
Another soulful and moving record that evokes the same kind of mournful ache as Leonard Cohen or late-career Johnny Cash.
The Blue Hour – suede
A more than worthy follow up to Night Thoughts, suede scrape around in the scrub of rural England and somehow come out with an epic and occasionally gothic masterpiece.
Bedtime – Toothpaste
Black Car – Beach House
Creep City – Jake Shears
Hot Pink – Let’s Eat Grandma
I Need You – Paris Hilton
Mariners Apartment Complex – Lana Del Rey
Negative Space – Hookworms
Shallow – Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper
The Light (IYEARA Remix) – LUMP
Voyager – US
Suede’s last album Night Thoughts was a surprising late-career tour de force that took the excess of their mid-90s imperial phase and pushed it in a more grown-up, but altogether darker direction. Though this album is very much in keeping with its predecessor there is a still a definite tonal shift and it’s unmistakably a braver, weirder creature too.
Like Night Thoughts the tracks run seamlessly together making it clear you are intended to listen to it as one piece and, similar to that record, some parts of it make scant sense on their own but form important points on the overall journey. However where Night Thoughts had at its heart a fragility and vulnerability, The Blue Hour is markedly more ominous, oppressive and sinister.
As the song titles suggest it’s lyrically focused on the macro of domestic and rural drama but with a delivery and production that listeners will likely find either intensely affecting or faintly ridiculous, maybe even a bit of both. While it does contain quieter moments (along with some of the purest, gritty rock the band have produced in quite some time) it’s when it’s at it’s most brilliantly batshit that it throws all notion of simplicity or humility out the window and challenges the listener to either love it or loathe it. I can’t imagine many people being on the fence about the gothic extravagance of this album, but that’s as it should be I think.
A worthy successor to Night Thoughts and the sound of a band continuing to push themselves beyond the nostalgic rehash of most post-reunion endeavours. It won’t be for everyone but I doubt it was ever intended to be.
Track By Track
I’ve always liked opening tracks that aggressively set out the stall for the album and if you were unsure what you were getting into before pressing play then the funereal chanting and raw, chilling bombast of this track should give you a clue. Just to hammer things in it ends with an audio sample of voices shouting and dogs barking that sounds like the start of a horror movie. ‘When he smiles he looks like a fox but when he holds me we will be as one..’
Though I understand the desire to put something more familiar after the slightly brutal intro I find this both melodically and lyrically a bit too suede-by-numbers. It’s not that it’s a bad song, it’s just that it’s one we’ve heard before. It does however end with a wonderfully eerie quote from Wind In The Willows.
One of the tracks closest to some of the quieter moments of Night Thoughts but also most reminiscent of some of Brett Anderson’s solo work. This is the kind of swooning, brittle, slightly nasty vignette he is already adept at but bolstered by the extra heft of production and arrangement it’s given here.
Beyond The Outskirts
Beyond The Outskirts is essentially Wastelands but better. Lyrically very similar but with more interesting (almost Beatles-esque) melodies and some fantastic big chunky guitars, it does make me question the need for both tracks and I would definitely pick this as the stronger contender.
A queasy, lilting nursery rhyme that suddenly turns into a great big cacophony of medieval chanting .. yeah, i know what you’re thinking .. and it shouldn’t work but I swear it’s one of the highlights.
You can’t beat some lovely, banging, pissed off sounding rock. Brett spitting out ‘I’m a hare in the cat’s eyes’ in his best proto-punk. Lyrically and spiritually this is the antonym of Night Thoughts’ The Fur & The Feathers. One of the definite highlights of the record for me and should be a monster live.
Life Is Golden
Another highlight track, Life Is Golden is a soaring, anthemic, hook-stuffed beauty. Classic nu-Suede with a dash of Manic Street Preachers.
I’m still undecided if a morbid, spoken word piece about a dead bird set over hymnal chanting is a shade too far on the pretension-ometer or not but I’ve got to admire the commitment to the cause.
This track hasn’t really grabbed me yet but it’s interesting enough that I expect it to be a grower.
Don’t Be Afraid If Nobody Loves You
I loved this track when it was released earlier in the year and I still find it to be one of the stronger songs on the album. Gritty but hooky and most reminiscent perhaps of something like No Tomorrow or Outsiders from the last album.
A wonderfully creepy interlude and a good reason not to put your music library on shuffle when you have guests round.
All The Wild Places
It’s been a while since I said Scott Walker in a suede review but this song is gorgeously Walkeresque, specifically the strings are very Plastic Palace People. A charming, romantic sigh of a thing in general.
Probably the track that feels most like something from Bloodsports, Invisibles was the first song released as a teaser for the album and though it seemed a decidedly obtuse choice at the time it also seemed encouraging that the album was going to be good not least because they were happy to chuck out something as lovely as this so early in the promo trail.
The standout track on the album, Flytipping pulls off the sacred combo of being epic, melodic, hook driven and lyrically strong. And then just when you think you know what it is the drums kick in and it takes you to the end of the record with full-on bombastic guitar shrieking prog noise, soaring choirs and glorious strings. An album that starts and ends with ridiculous, wonderful excess is rarely a bad thing in my book.
TITLE: The Blue Hour
MOOD: Gothic melodrama in the English countryside
Birdhead released their genre bending electro-rock debut ‘Pleasure Centre’ to much acclaim nearly five years ago, so the soon to be released follow-up ‘Massive Aggressive’ has been a long time brewing. Thankfully it’s been worth the wait.
Traversing from wailing 80s guitar riffs, to throbbing funk, to vocals spat disdainfully Mark E Smith style at the listener, to the more mellow almost ambient moments of the record – Birdhead continue to do a remarkable job of making music that is both pleasingly angry, undeniably melodic and often surprisingly danceable.
Rock music for dance fans, dance music for rock fans. Music for everyone to get drunk at a disco and start a punch up to.
Highlight tracks for me are Custom Muscle, Sunsleeper, Tesseract, Autostrider, Beasts of England and the title track. This is an album with no duffers though and if you like your music with some meat on the bone (or muscle for that matter) then this one’s for you.
Massive Agressive is released on the 28th of September.
TITLE: Massive Aggressive
With shades of 80s alt-electro mixed with infallibly hooky melodies and torch-song vocals, Mark Fernyhough’s new single Sidewalks is something that feels current but not slavishly wedded to trends. Similarly the low-fi glamour of the night-lit streets of Berlin in the accompanying video has a timeless, edgy cool.
Although his previous release Nouveau (a collaboration with guitarist Steven Horry) was a slightly more upbeat pop sound than many of his previous tracks, Sidewalks sees him moving further again into a new electronic, and dare I say it kind of funky direction.
The B-side Favourite is spacey, spooky and dark with a Jan Hammer / John Carpenter edge. Unapologetically unusual it’s exactly the kind of gem you hope to find in a b-side, and although it’s a pretty striking departure from his usual sound it’s an entirely successful one I think.
ARTIST: Mark Fernyhough
A gorgeous dreamy new track by Toothpaste, produced by Daisy Edwards and mastered by Simon Scott of Slowdive hit the internet today and it’s already a strong contender for one of my favourites of the year.
The woozy, sleepy atmosphere of the track hides some surprisingly dark lyrics which give a little extra bite to what might otherwise have been something much less interesting. Instead this is an intriguing and enveloping thing that can be both soothing and troubling at the same time.
‘Bedtime is a song about the misty-eyed moments of magic you might feel just before you drift off into dreamland. It is an ode to the blissful escape of sleep and the chance of seeing the one you love slip into your room, giving you a sweet send-off towards the shores of slumber. The feeling you get of slipping through the ever expansive layers of consciousness until you land with a gentle bump on the picturesque field of your dormant landscape. Was the one who floated into bed beside you ever really there? Whether in dreams or reality, the mere pretence of their presence was enough to soothe you for the night.’
A Frankensteinian superhero for the fast food era where no radioactive spiders or chemical plant explosions are required – just a steady, tasty diet of.. the beef.
“Chuck Carter is a good man. Chuck has shot penetrating bolts into the skulls of approximately 23,000 cows in his lifetime. This hasn’t affected him at all.”
The combination of Richard Starkings & Tyler Shainline’s bleakley satirical writing with Shaky Kane’s gloriously garish artwork creates the perfect marriage of love/hate Americanna – both indulging in and vilifying it’s reference points. It’s hard not to love the nostalgic crassness of the signposts of American culture and this story allows the reader to revel in it’s plasticy glory whilst also, not so much peaking below the surface as ripping the skin off and making you stare at the pulsing viscera underneath.
As fun and entertaining as it is horrifying and grim, it’s a rare (pun intended) comic book than can successfully take down consumption culture in all its forms (food, labour, sex) and include a two-page spread on the ugliness of the dairy industry with an unflinching focus on the most grooey home truths without veering into over-worthy browbeating. You’ll finish The Beef with a gnawing feeling in your stomach – it’s probably guilt, but it might be hunger.
AUTHOR: Richard Starkings / Tyler Shainline / Shaky Kane
TITLE: The Beef
Watch the hypnotic video for Veda Rays’ fantastic new single Shadow Side which is is available for purchase through their site www.vedarays.com/store and through bandcamp. A luscious slice of guitar-based, gothic, post-punk drama for your ears and eyes to enjoy.
Cover artwork by Cinnamon Curtis
An often dark novel with a non-linear timeline and an unreliable (and thoroughly bizarre) protagonist, this book could so easily have been a confusing, unreadable mess – but instead it is compelling, moving and strangely ‘real’. The portrayal of wartime London is evocative and raw and the author’s grasp on the mind of a young child remarkably authentic – a tough trick to pull off. Whilst it is far from being a piece of kitchen-sink realism it can be read in a more realist sense as an exercise in subterfuge, in shielding from the horror of reality through the escape into fantasy or as a literal ‘other’ world co-existing with our own, unseen. The story traverses a weird and wonderful collection of places, characters and themes including gender, sexuality, outsider status, the meaning of family and the treatment of animals. Indeed the book is teeming with fantastic beasties and creatures both recognisable and fantastical.
It is a vividly drawn, frequently sad and at times completely gut wrenching story of loss, abandonment and cruelty – but it is also strangely life affirming and I would hesitate to call it bleak despite so much of the subject matter being so. Goblin herself is a hugely entertaining character and there is a great deal of humour and ‘joie de vivre’ to be found amongst the rubble. The plot is engaging but really it is the characters who drive this novel and they will stay with you long after they have left the story themselves, or indeed after you close the book.
When you get to the end you will want to start all over again..
Prepare your rotten tomatoes of disagreement…
I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it – The 1975
Joanne – Lady Gaga
Heavy Entertainment Show – Robbie Williams
If there is one thing Lady Gaga could fairly be criticised for in the past it’s over-promising and over-hyping (Album of the decade! Reverse Warholian expedition! Redefining social media!) and whilst I’m sure there will be time for that yet the pre-release campaign for Joanne has been the polar opposite. Delivered with little fanfare, a low-key cover and a lead single that hardly set the world on fire, my expectations for this album were low. The two following buzz tracks struck a much better chord but I still expected this to be a grower, perhaps even slightly hard work to love. However, to my surprise I was knocked off my feet by half way through the first track and never looked back. There is a larger cautionary tale here about not to judging an album by the disembodied parts of it thrown out into the world before it’s launch but this has been one of the most extreme cases of going from trepidation to adoration in one listen that I have experienced.
The artwork suggested something stripped back and ernest (Gaga’s Back to Basics if you will) whilst the lead single suggested fairly faceless pop with a Pat Benatar edge. The implicit desire to simplify and be ‘authentic’ felt somewhat forced and I dreaded a renouncement of her previous pop lives. In practice however the album has surprisingly frequent lashings of pure Gaga and is in a way perhaps the most successful, distilled embodiment of her long-running desire to fuse the serious and the frivolous, credible and throwaway, art and pop. The personal nature of the title feels a little laboured in this context but the song itself is touching without being overly saccharin.
It should be no revelation that she might do something less ‘theatrical’ at some point but being Gaga it is still essentially dress up. Contradictory as always her concept of what is artifice or construct has always been at odds with the rest of the world – for her the artifice is authentic and I would suggest that Joanne is really no different at its heart. For all it’s corded mic swinging and crowd surfing the video for Perfect Illusion remains one of the campest things I’ve seen. For her there has long been a kind of infinity mirror of artifice in the stripping away of artifice – visualised in moments such as her onstage costume change on the Artpop tour or the photo of her wrecked nails in an after-acrylics monster claw.
This is by no means some kind of purist country record but what is, in the great tradition of musical ciphers like Gaga, is a pleasing mush of reference points across the gamut of country, americanna, rock and salsa and where this album really shines is when she mixes those flashes of trademark bonkers with vocals and lyrics that have hit a lusher more refined stride.
A surprisingly strong and far less embarrassing outing than it could so easily have been Joanne stands comfortably, stetson tilted, amongst her best work.
Track by track
Her strongest album opener this starts with a cool Courtney / Fleetwood drawl, leading us down a musical road we think we know before turning several unexpected turns into the kind of cross genre ferocity only Gaga can do. If Swine was a song attempting to get the anger, bile and rage of rape out into a poppers o’clock rave song then this is it’s whisky soaked 3am sister.
A fun, poppy clap-along little track.
The purest and most successful no-whistles ballad she has written to my mind. Gorgeous vocals, touching lyrics and a melody that pulls at your emotions without becoming naff.
Pure Gaga in the vein of much of Born This Way but wrapped around a chunky country strut extolling the joys of a cowboy lover.
Dancin’ in circles
it sounds like Shakira and it’s about masturbation – what’s not to like?
As is often the way this works much better as part of the album than on its own.
A melodic, harmony strewn ballad that is the closest to the type of country-lite the album seemed likely to be before release.
This toes a fine line between being almost pastiche, particularly in the chorus, and something that actually has a fair amount of depth to it but the combination works. Her vocal is particularly wonderful on this track – deep, rich and warm.
Come To Mama
Completely daft, OTT musical hall with more than a dash of McCartney – and lyrically pure hippy silliness. It’s a standout for me but will be marmite for sure.
The hook is pure Bennie & The Jets but although Gaga and Florence sound great together the melody leaves me a little cold, the only song on the album that veers towards MOR R&B.
A standout track reminiscent of the more hymnal moments of Brandon Flowers’ Flamingo, or at least of their shared influences. A mournful dirt-track protest song.
Another standout track for me. One of those songs intended to be sung along to at 3am, dunk with your best friends whilst railing against the injustices of life and fittingly includes a Spice Girls namecheck. Makes me oddly weepy.
Just another Day
A very Scissors Sisters esque jazzy melody. Although the album proper ends with Angel Down and the deluxe tracks with the work tape of the same song this is definitely a sweeter, lighter way to finish if you want it.
ARTIST: Lady Gaga
MOOD: Nancy: ‘I look like fucking Stevie Nicks’
It had never really occurred to me before but I think I’ve always thought of suede as an ‘album band’ but listening to the releases in this way for the first time really hammered home the sheer strength of their singles run across the 20ish years covered in the set – the baseline of quality and immediacy is startling.
And that’s without even taking into account the b-sides. Whilst the completest in me considered going for the CD box set which contains more tracks I was irresistibly drawn to the vinyl and I have to say there is something about the leanness of the 2 track format that also made the listening experience really enjoyable. In a way it felt like an interesting companion to Sci-Fi Lullabies – a sort of whistle stop tour of the band’s career so far. The b-sides, particularly in the Coming Up and Head Music eras, are well chosen to offer literally another side to each release and whilst not always the most obvious choices (to my ear anyway) this in itself makes the set feel slightly more special.
They have always been a band to straddle a strange position between brash, poppy fun and some of the darker recesses of the human psyche (frequently both at once) and whilst listening to their releases in this way understandably tilts towards the former the b-side choices lean pleasingly towards the latter.
Interestingly I also found the two singles I’ve always been a bit iffy about (Electricity and Positivity – two sides of the same rhyming coin in my mind) sounded so much better when listened to in this way removed from their parent albums – both of which I never wholly felt they fitted on.
Rooting through all those little records I also couldn’t help be struck by how great the artwork is across the run. The two A New Morning releases look somewhat odd on vinyl for the obvious reasons but from the DIY feel of the early singles through the Nick Knight / Peter Saville years right up to the Bloodsports singles – my personal favourite set of covers – it’s a pretty wonderful collection of imagery and for the most part hold an emotional coherence both with each other and the music inside.
As frivolous as it seems I’m delighted with this set and look forward to dipping in and out of it in a nonlinear way in the future. Now if only I could get a 7" of Outsiders to pop in the back..
Despite being a lifelong fan Madonna’s last two albums have been, if not terrible, at least a case of lowering expectations for me so I will freely admit that my hopes for her most recent release ‘Rebel Heart’ were not high. Perhaps that’s why on my first listen I came away with with a verdict of ‘ok, but nothing special’. However unlike it’s predecessor MDNA (you can read my review of it at the time here) Rebel Heart is a grower not a show-er. Where MDNA started as a force-yourself-to-listen-to-it-because-it’s-Madonna 6.5/10 for me (and, in all honesty, three years later has ended with me only being able to listen to a few tracks from it) Rebel Heart took just a few spins to become one of those albums that I can’t stop playing.
The biggest difference for me between this and MDNA is that it feels well crafted, well considered and cohesive. It also feels like an album made by an intelligent, functioning adult – by which I mean when there are saucy bits, bratty bits or sweary bits that make me guffaw out loud it feels finally like I am laughing with not at her again.
Along with the ‘outrageous’ it’s worth pointing out that the ‘heart’ in Rebel Heart is very much present too. In fact for me this is her first album since American Life to offer genuinely heartfelt emotion and vulnerability. MDNA and Hard candy both had flashes of it but always with a caveat or a wink. Here there are many moments I find moving without feeling shoe-horned in or like they occupy the place of the obligatory label-required ballad.
There are issues with the album – there are a few duff tracks (most of which are frustratingly lumped together at the start of the album) and most obviously, and sadly, her voice itself. She has in recent years lost much of the warmth, depth and tone to her vocal range that made it so beautiful and she now generally sounds rather shrill, thin and pitchy on most songs. There are flashes of what she is still capable of throughout the record but in most cases, on a technical level, it could be any of the big pop girls – and at times, arguably it would sound better if it were.
That said, what Rebel Heart does give us once again that has been missing for so long is a big, high voltage kick of the Madonna spirit – saucy, smart, irreverent, iconic, and frequently ironic. And for that reason alone it really could be no-one else. Where only a few years ago she seemed desperate and aimless I feel like she has thankfully found her feet again – her sense of humour and soul with it.
Rebel Heart is a very good record in it’s own right but also, almost more thrillingly, leaves me once more properly excited to see what she produces in the future. Something which I now confess (bless myself and genuflect) I thought was gone for good.
Track by track
1. Living For Love – 6/10
Why do I hardly ever like anyone’s first single? I find artists often have a habit of releasing underwhelmingly ‘safe’ tracks as lead singles only for there to be a wealth of more exciting material on the album. No-one seems to be immune to this from Bowie to Britney and Living for Love is another one of those for me. It’s not a terrible song and the backing vocals give it some enjoyable flourish but it’s at best a mid-range album track for me and no doubt I will come to love it much more as that than I do at the moment.
That said, I will probably never be able to listen to it without visualising *that* moment at the Brits :/
2. Devil Pray – 6/10
I feel like I should like this song more than I do as it’s reminiscent of some of my favourite songs on Music but it just doesn’t quite hit the spot somehow.
3. Ghosttown – 8/10
One of the few songs on the album where we get glorious chunks of thevoice we grew up loving. Melodic, melancholic and catchy in the right places.This is also set to be the second single, a great choice I think.
4. Unapologetic Bitch – 4/10
This is the only track on the album
that plumbs similar depths to MDNA for me and has the same icky ‘dancing with
the kidz’ vibe that put me off most of that album. Plus it’s a bit UB40.
5. Illuminati – 5/10
A fun and lyrically amusing track but
ultimately musically unsatisfying – should provide for some excellent tour
6. Bitch I’m Madonna – 10/10
To say this song is divisive among
fans would be an understatement but it’s one of the album highlights for me and
the only of the teaser tracks I played constantly before the album release. To
me this song is everything MDNA attempted but done properly – a brash, ballsy, banger
with a cheeky sense of humour. It, unlike similar tracks on MDNA, harnesses both
her current vocal range and her featured artist as highlights rather than hindrances.
Plus there is some excellent yelling. And Nicki does this ‘ooft’ noise that is
one of my favourite sounds of the year.
7. Hold Tight – 7/10
A pretty, melodic mid-tempo with an
anthemic chorus that for me achieves a similar feeling to Living For Love more successfully.
8. Joan Of Arc – 7/10
One of those rare moments like
Drowned World or Easy Ride where we are allowed to peek behind the curtain and
see that maybe she is actually ‘only human’ after all. A beautiful song that,
although it will likely never happen, I think could make a great late-campaign single.
9. Iconic – 9/10
One of the most addictive tracks on
the album for me. A massive, empowering stomper. This is also one of the songs
that signals the (almost impossible to describe) shift from dance pop that
feels like it’s struggling to be ‘cool’ to a sound which feels far more effortlessly
current as well as somewhat tougher and more confrontational.
10. HeartBreak City – 8/10
It’s great to hear genuine emotion in
her delivery again and this song has it in bags – bitter, sad, regretful and another
excellent mid-tempo, anthemic almost-ballad.
11. Body Shop – 10/10
The absolute stand out track on the
album for me. So totally unexpected and really quite unlike anything she’s done
before – though the closest reference points for me might be some moments of Erotica
or Music. Her voice sounds wonderful, wistful and intimate and I dream of ever getting
an entire album of songs of this level of ingenuity and sensuality from her
12. Holy Water – 8/10
One of those songs that seems utterly
awful until you realise halfway through that’s it’s completely won you over with
its stupidity and sleaze. Hilarious in all the right ways.
13. Inside Out – 8/10
One of my first favourite songs on
the album – catchy and melodic again with the shade of melancholy that runs
through most of Rebel Heart.
14. Wash All Over Me – 9/10
A beautiful and slightly funereal
ballad that somehow ends up feeling far more uplifting than it should. I can’t
help thinking it would make a wonderful mashup with Rain.
15. Best Night – 7/10
There are a clutch of songs on this album
that call to mind the Erotica album and on this track it seems to be a knowing
hat-tip on her part, particularly during the spoken section. A very well
crafted and more-ish album track.
16. Veni Vidi Vici – 9/10
I just can’t get enough of this song.
Being as lyrically self-referential as this can go either way but she pulls it
off and for some reason I actually find the chorus strangely moving. Absolutely
cannot wait to see this one live.
17. S.E.X. – 8/10
Madonna has spoken quite openly over the
last year or two about her horror at the media treatment of women in her age bracket
and most specifically the notion that they shouldn’t be sexual or sexualised. While this is a
complex issue that I don’t want to tangent into here I will say this – If you’re
going to be our ambassador for screwing after 50 Madge then this is how to do
it. Continuing the trend on this album of managing finally again to be sexual
in a way that reads as ‘adult’ rather than simply desperate or puerile, I feel
like she has at last struck the right balance of ‘fuck you’ and ‘fuck me’.
Let me caveat that by saying that there is a tendency to forget that she has
always been somewhat puerile (even on the aforementioned Erotica she served us
that unforgettable Colonel Sanders line) however in later years it has often
felt to me that she was trying to be shocking whilst in fact wimping out of
ever really going beyond playful or camp. All innuendo and no follow through if
you will. What I love about this song is that it actually is quite dirty. And it
sounds dirty. Yes, there is humour in it – but it’s definitely a sleaze jam
too. So now I’m thinking SEX book v2.0? That really would be fabulously shocking..
18. Messiah – 8/10
A swooning, slightly gothic unrequited-love
song with some of the better lyrics on the album.
19. Rebel Heart – 8/10
A lovely, catchy salve at the end of the album and another surprisingly
honest piece of self-reflection that leaves me feeling all kinds of warm and
fuzzy for our lady and her Rebel Heart.
.Overall score: 8/10 (and nudging towards an 8.5 as the days go by)
Here are my top movies and movie moments of 2013 🙂
Before you get angry at something you can’t believe I’ve not mentioned please check my list of films that I haven’t managed to see yet at the bottom in case it’s on there!
Better than expected
Robot & Frank
Worse than expected
Man of Steel
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Michael Douglas – Behind the Candelbra
Can’t believe I missed these (in no order)
Zero Dark Thirty
This is 40
Welcome to the punch
Place beyond the pines
How I live Now
Saving Mr Banks
Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Only just out
This year has been a bit of a belter for me music-wise with some great releases from heavyweights and old favourites as well as a few new acts and surprises.
I hate trying to do proper numbered top tens so instead I’ve just given my favourites in no particular order but split out into to broader categories of ratings.
Top of the Pops
(my 9 & 10 out of 10 albums – ‘zomg amazing’)
The Next Day – David Bowie
Yeezus – Kanye West
Bangerz – Miley Cyrus
Artpop – Lady Gaga
Bloodsports – suede
Random Access Memories – Daft Punk
The Big Dream – David Lynch
Best of the Rest
(7 & 8 out of 10 – ‘bloody good but not perfect’)
The Minutes – Alison Moyet
Exile – Hurts
Tales of Us – Goldfrapp
Days are Gone – Haim
Pale Green Ghosts – John Grant
Kiss Land – The Weekend
Seasons of Your Day – Mazzy Star
Innocents – Moby
Three – Charlotte Church
Dead Ends – The Rumour Said Fire
Could do better
(6 & 7 out of 10 ratings – ‘a few belters and a bunch of fillers’)
Swings Both Ways – Robbie Williams
The Marshall Mathers LP2 – Eminem
Rewind The Film – Manic Street Preachers
Closer To The Truth – Cher
Great song but the album was a bit rubbish
Roar – Katy Perry
Anything Could Happen – Ellie Goulding
New act that deserves a mention on the basis of one song alone
Take Me to Church – Hozier
Man of the year
David Bowie – For being the best at keeping a secret ever.
Woman of the year
Miley Cyrus – For cultural whiplash due to her unexpected smackdown on the pop landscape
Performance of the year
Artpop at Swinefest – Lady Gaga
Because sometimes the simplest move is right.
‘Moment’ of the year
Wrecking Ball – Miley Cyrus
For straddling the zeitgeist as well as the ball.
Gig of the year
Suede – Glasgow Barrowlands
Because that’s where I go, and that’s what I do..
Most anticipated for 2014
Ultraviolence – Lana Del Rey
Artpop volume 2? – Could just be a scurrilous rumour
More suede please!
I absolutely loved the Hunger Games books when I read them (you can see my review of the series here if you like) but never quite mustered myself to watch the first film. The trailers left me a little cold – or to be more accurate not cold enough – and having already been through the initially torturous process of learning to love the Potter movies I didn’t feel quite ready to sacrifice another fandom at the alter of the adaptation. However I had heard nothing but good about the sequel Catching Fire over the last week or two so I decided to man up and go and see it. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.
Let’s get my kvetches out of the way first – as predicted all three of the main protagonists are far too pretty and healthy looking. You’ve been down the mines all year have you Gale? That’s funny because you look like you’ve been modelling Levis in a 50s garage. And speaking of Gale – actually why bother? A combination of a chronically underwritten character and an actor who might has well have been a piece of handsomely carved oak meant I really couldn’t care less about him. In fact I generally just forgot he existed. I realise he had a smaller part in the second book too but still, a bit of a waste.
On the other hand I thought Josh Hutcherson was really well cast as Peeta and once I got over her too-pretty face Jennifer Lawrence was actually far steelier and closer to ‘my’ Katniss than I had expected. Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair and Jena Malone as Johanna Mason were a treat too.
The biggest surprise for me was that even at a 12A it manages to quite effectively capture the brutality of the books. And although I felt it didn’t always fully realise the larger feeling of desperation out-with the tributes themselves they have more time to expand on that in the next film. Oh, and It made me cry once, but unusually for a movie not at the end.
A little too much lipgloss in the grime for my taste but on the whole a very good adaptation
For some people an album that uses hashtags in song titles and includes lyrics like ‘SMH, I’m pressing send on you’ will only ever be a sign of the forthcoming apocalypse. But let’s be honest those are not the people BANGERZ was made for. This album is shamelessly zeitgeisty, absolutely of its moment, a living breathing tumblr meme and will undoubtably become one of those time capsule albums that sums up a specific point in the timeline of pop culture. It’s also a damn good record.
But before I get down to the boring bit where I talk about the actual songs let’s deal with the giant dancing bear costumes in the room:
I’ve always liked my stars to teeter right on the brink of self parody and cartoon. Ginger was my favourite Spice, I like Courtney more than Kurt, Country House is my favourite Blur video, I like Prince Charming more than Dirk Wears White Sox.. I could go on. The point is call it punk, call it privileged brattishness, whatever, I’ll take Miley’s ghetto-dyke posturing and fuck-you dry humping over most of her winsome, disingenuous or just plain dull contemporaries any day because there are no apologies and no get out clauses. If you don’t like it.. well, FU I guess. And more importantly because the bravado and infinitely giffable videos are backed by some really great songs.
I guess a lot of people in this country really had no idea who she was a few months ago (other than a vague memory of Achy Breaky Heart if you are old enough) but I’ve had my pop-culture magpie eye on her for a while now.
For those who don’t know Miley started out as one of those Disney girls like Britney or Christina only she played a character in a TV show called Hanna Montana who was a pop singer, sort of like herself but in a blonde wig. She also played Hanna’s alter ego Miley Stewart who was sort of like her in other ways (a ‘down to earth’ Texan girl with brown hair) who also happened to secretly be a pop star. So basically she was playing a version of herself who was also secretly another version of herself whilst also being a Disney star herself with all the pretending that comes with that. Oh, and she also went on a tour billed as starring ‘Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus’. Confused? You should be. So yeah, at 15 that’s surely going to fuck you up.
Don’t give your daughter to the Mouse Mr Cyrus.
But contrary to the crib notes most of the reviews are written from this is Miley’s fourth solo album and although she says she considers it her debut-proper since it’s her first truly post-Hannah release it’s by no means her first stab at a ‘coming of age’ album. That honour would go to the 2010 release Can’t Be Tamed, a patchy record with too much needless autotune but just enough potential that it peaked my interest. The song that hooked me being Robot – a dystopian journey straight through the dark heart of child stardom.
‘You gave me eyes and now I see..’
Although certainly her breakup album I am however convinced that Bangerz isn’t Miley’s breakdown album. It’s the perfect storm of a well orchestrated publicity machine and a young woman having a blast with it and – for once – I think calling the shots. This clip of her arriving at the VMAs and throwing a wobbly because her entrance plan had got messed up (she was meant to arrive in a police car) is pretty fascinating stuff. The moment she get’s out of the car and immediately turns on the Miley #BANGERZ ‘schtick’ is an illuminating glimpse into just how aware of her persona she is.
In a lot of ways it reminds me of the heydays of the Spice Girls blitzkrieg – only with less tits and more tongue.
So to the music..
Miley is an old hand and unlike many of her peers she’s actually pretty talented. In fact one of the most surprising things about Bangerz is how enjoyable her vocal performance is. I’d go so far as to say its a highlight of the record. Her rapping does have such an obvious air of trying on a costume for size that it verges on the ridiculous but self-aware nods to being a ‘southern belle’ and so on pull it back from the brink and in the end I find it endearing.
The mix of styles covered in the album is unusual and it’s fantastically well put together – although I could do without hearing Mike Will’s name every 30 seconds like a fucking audio watermark. There are some surprising and brave decisions (mixing dubstep and hoedown anyone?) but it pays off and forms a remarkably coherent tracklist. It’s also an album that for being unashamedly mainstream absolutely has it’s own character and feels totally wedded to Miley rather than tacked on to whoever happens to be recording it in the studio.
Thematically it’s pretty much half and half break up/fuck you songs and party tracks – occasionally blending together in that ‘fuck you I’m going to party instead’ way and although it’s the shallow bits that grab you by the balls the first time round there’s a larger emotional range lurking behind the crazy. Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying it’s The Wall or something but it’s not all twerking and texting either.
Out of the standard edition there is only one song that’s close to a skip track for me and if that was replaced by the first of the bonus tracks it would be a full house. Compared to recent albums by Katy Perry, Rihanna, Ke$ha, Nicki Minaj and even Madonna where I only listen to half the tracks at best Bangerz comes out head and shoulders above most of her peer group. In terms of pure, unabashed pop albums only Born This Way has topped it for me in quality and effort in the last few years. In fact removing Gaga from the equation it’s my favourite pop album in a long time.
Track by track
Starting an album promising ‘bangerz’ with a slowie is a brave move but it pays off. Adore You reminds me of that Beautiful South lyric ‘you can tell a classic ballad by how threatening it gets’. There is something about the claustrophobia of the chorus lyrics ‘When you say you love me, know I love you more. When you say you need me, know I need you more.’ that has ‘doomed romance’ written all over it. It’s a sad song that thinks it’s happy.
We Can’t Stop
As mission statements go ‘it’s my mouth and I’ll say what I want to’ is a pretty good summation of the Bangerz brand. An insanely addictive mid-tempo resplendent with in-joke Miley/Molly drug references and terrible grammar. A sure-fire hit basically.
If you find the word BANGERZ as endlessly amusing as i do you’ll love it. Otherwise it might make you angry. Oh, and Britney features on it apparently.
4×4 is a moment of mad genius. Not only does it combine a country hoedown vibe, rap and dubsteb in an alarmingly enjoyable way but it also has the unforgettable lyric ‘driving so fast about to piss on myself’. If there isn’t a tour mashup with Hoedown Throwdown it will be the crime of the century.
This is the only song on the album I could easily live without – although it does tend to get stuck in my head after I do listen to it.
Wrecking Ball is a soaring, angry, knockout ballad in the karaoke / slow dance / cry-along-in-your-bedroom sense. It’s one of those songs that makes me really glad I’m not 15 anymore.
Love Money Party
Money ain’t nothing but money when you get to the money. Love ain’t nothing but love when you learn how to love. Party ain’t nothing but a party when you party everyday.
Another one of the songs with the wonderfully weird country / hip-hop thing going on. This will soon be going in a playlist sandwiched between ‘Money, Success, Fame, Glamour’ from Party Monster and Lady Gaga’s ‘Beautiful, Dirty, Rich’.
A sweet sounding mid-tempo sex jam.
‘Drive my heart into the night, you can drop the keys off in the morning.’
Drive has the dark, brooding feel of a Kanye track and is the closest to what could be considered a ‘mature’ sound on the album.
Everything about this song is fucking perfect. Broadway meets hip-hop meets dub step meets Bond theme. With lyrics about texting and LOL-ing and all the bitterness and adolescent hyper-drama of the best mega-ballads. The kind of song that makes you feel like if all else fails for the artist it will have been worth it just for those 2 minutes 28 seconds. If you only listen to one song on the album this should be it.
Do My Thang
‘Don’t you worry bout ‘me. Imma be ok. Imma do my thing.’
There you go everyone, don’t worry – she gonna be ok.
I like this track a lot, it’s another addictive mid-tempo with a really hooky, soaring chorus. Next single maybe?
Maybe You’re Right
The only song on the album that could have come from a previous Miley album and on first listen I wasn’t keen but it’s grown on me, largely because she sells it well.
A slightly grimey, end-of-the-party number with a wonderfully aggressive shouty bit near the end.
And it feels fitting that the last lyrics of the album are ‘I’ve turned into someone else’.
Special mention for ‘Rooting For My Baby’ from the bonus tracks which is actually one of my favourites on the record. It’s a sweetly melodic, melancholy, folksy song that reminds me of tracks like Gone and Don’t Tell Me from Madonna’s Music album.
The (MTV) Crib Notes
Pop at it’s most shamelessly zeitgeist-grabbing coupled with strong vocals and genuinely well crafted tunes. Plus lyrics about pissing yourself in fast cars. What more could you want?
More consistent than The Casual Vacancy (although its highs were higher and lows lower) I found this to be an enjoyable, easy going whodunit that for the most part kept me engaged. Whilst the central characters felt quite cliched at the start they were fleshed out well throughout the story and by the end of the book were well poised for a sequel.
If I have any negative comments it’s that there is a strange combination of page-turner and long-windedness present in both this and The Casual Vacancy. Buried inside this book is a really gripping yarn half it’s length although unlike The Casual Vacancy it’s not as obvious to pinpoint where the extraneous information is. I never really felt bored while I was actually reading it, more that it just seemed to take far too long to get to the point. I’m a pretty gullible reader and never guess the endings to these things but in this case I did – I suspect mainly because I had so much prelude during which to wander through all the possibilities in my mind.
So to sum up..
A decent holiday read if not something that will blow your mind. Less divisive than The Casual Vacancy but ultimately less interesting too.
Hopefully there will be a slightly more brutally edited sequel to look forward to at some point soon.
Read it if you like: Colin Dexter, Jodi Picoult, Elizabeth George
Most people seem to have fallen for Kanye after 808 & Heartbreak but I was a bit of latecomer to the church of Yeezus and it was the title song from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy that finally piqued my interest with a genre-defying bolt of melancholy, humor and gloriously OTT crazy.
If MBDTF was the sound of Kanye losing his mind Yeezus is only further down the rabbit hole. Don’t for a minute be expecting that he’s found any kind of equilibrium since the last record.
I’m a sucker for artists who expose their own human flaws and generally will give a free pass on things I might not have otherwise if I know they know too. Kanye most certainly knows – Runaway was the touchstone moment for that but Yeezus continues the theme. Like all the great rock stars he is a big mess of contradictions ranging from arrogance to humility, money obsessed to anti-capitalist, misogynist to apologist. None of it makes much sense but like all great polemicists it sounds good at the time. The lyric ‘Soon as they like you make ‘em unlike you’ in I am a God seems to sum this perversity up perfectly. There is also a recurrent theme in both this and the last record of him demonising himself – referring to himself as a monster, a wolf, possessed etc and while it is glamorized there is definitely a strong air of self-loathing about it. Self disgust is self obsession, honey.
And if anyone is still under the allusion that he doesn’t have a sense of humour about it all then the 11-on-the-hamometer pastiche of American Psycho he trailered the album with should prove otherwise:
Musically Kanye West is one of the only artists, never mind mainstream artists, who can genuinely surprise me at the moment and Yeezus is sonically thrilling. Don’t expect some nice Starbucks ‘urban’ background music – strap yourself in for this one, it’s a bumpy ride. Aggressive techno, punky rock sounds, glorious melody and angry, angry rap all mixed up and never, ever doing what you expect. Just when you settle into some soothingly melodic sample it will be ripped out from under you and at other times just when you think you can’t take it anymore the relentless nastiness will be salved by a soaring top line tune. It’s basically the musical equivalent of walking through a minefield in the dark while someone alternately screams at you and feeds you cake.
On the whole Yeezus is not as lyrically sophisticated as MBDTF although it has it’s moments, and there are times when it feels he’s trotting out pat rap-isms. But musically it’s leagues ahead, absolutely blinding.
Track by track
As opening statements go this is firmly in the ‘strap in or fuck off’ bracket. Alternating between hard, dirty electro and eerie melodic samples of children singing. Yeezy’s back and he’s gunning for you.
I cannot stop listening to this song. On first listen I thought of Gary Glitter’s Rock & Roll Part II, on second listen Marilyn Manson. It does indeed apparently sample Beautiful People and is a big, stompy, glambanger with some suitable glam-punk lyrics to match. The end section where he is shouting ‘God’ over and over reminds me a bit of Bowie’s Pallas Athena but that’s accidental I’m sure.
This video of him performing it live on SNL illustrates perfectly why he is doing a better job of being Rock & Roll than most of our current rock bands at the moment:
I am a God
If Kanye is a God then he is neither a benevolent nor a happy one. Doom-laden, apocalyptic sounding droning opens the track followed by intermittent screams and a general feeling of impending disaster. The last minute of the track is genuinely quite intense and terrifying. It does however also include a classic moment of Kanye meme-bait when he yells HURRY UP WITH MY DAMN CROISSANTS – reminiscent of Madge’s soya latte and maybe bested only by ‘the sky filled with herons’ for my favourite Kanye lyric.
If there is any song on the album approaching something like a manifesto or a social commentary that extends outside of his own life then this it. Paralleling materialism with slavery he makes a strong case for rejecting capitalism and fashion, if not one he seems to be capable of following himself.
What you want, a Bentley? Fur coat? A diamond chain?
All you blacks want all the same things
Used to only be niggas, now everybody playing
Spending everything on Alexander Wang
And as far as shade goes ‘Doing clothes you would have thought I had help – but they wasn’t satisfied unless I picked the cotton myself’ is a pretty smart stab at the insinuation a man like him couldn’t possibly have been involved in fashion beyond ‘cotton-picking’.
Ironically it’s this song and not ‘Blood on the leaves’ that offers the more satisfactory explanation for the troublesome Nina Simone sample as he states:
I know that we the new slaves
I see the blood on the leaves
Drawing an explicit parallel between contemporary black commercial slavery and Strange Fruit’s gruesome lynchings is in this context perhaps hyperbolic but certainly eloquent. New Slaves is easily the lyrical high point of the album and although he seems to have ruffled a few feathers with the section where he states
Fuck you and your Hamptons house
I’ll fuck your Hampton spouse
Came on her Hampton blouse
And in her Hampton mouth
I was instantly reminded when I heard it of Pulp’s equally threatening masterpiece I Spy where Jarvis tells us he’s been ‘sleeping with your wife for the past sixteen weeks’ and sets out his (also borderline misogynistic) plan for class revenge by fucking married posh birds:
Your Ladbroke Grove looks turn me on [..]
And every night I hatch my plan,
it’s not a case of woman v man.
It’s more a case of haves against haven’ts.
And I just happen to have got what you need,
just exactly what you need
Musically it is as relentless as the previous two tracks and in my mind completes a trilogy of sorts ending with the soaring melodic last minute of New Slaves – a welcome respite by the time you get there.
Hold My Liquor
Musically and lyrically we are back on more familiar territory with Hold My Liquor being the song that sounds the most like some previous Kanye tracks. But with a big, nasty air horn sounding after every line – just to keep you awake. Perversely this almost sounds like a love song in places. Or as close as you are going to get on Yeezus.
I’m In It
Pornographic and kind of sexy in a fairly ridiculous way.
Blood On The Leaves
Sampling Strange Fruit was always going to be controversial and it’s certainly garnered it’s column inches. Most reviewers are dissatisfied with the disconnect between the sample and the lyrical content – a sprawling, bitter break up tale involving abortion, mollys and baseball games. Musically it all fits very well and feels to me like a gothic tale of love lost and in a way seems no different to the well tread tradition of equating blood and horror with personal loss. That said this particular sample is of course a little more contentious than something like Kurt Cobain singing ‘I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black’ because it directly connects to heavyweight socio-political issues. Within the context of the album it all hangs together for me with an overarching, if slightly messy, theme of blood, horror, personal confusion and black slaveries – both contemporary and historical. Of course it’s confusing that he chose to pair this sample with these lyrics and not New Slave but maybe that’s the point?
For most people this seems to be the centrepiece track but although I love it I prefer the triple header of Black Skinhead / I Am A God / New Slave and it’s sprawling majesty doesn’t quite topple My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy for me.
An enjoyable but not stand-out out track for me – although the Popcaan hook is pretty infectious.
Send It Up
I adore the queasy electronic background noise that runs through this track. Headache inducing in a great way – it’s like having your brain drilled by a drunk clown. The Beanie Man outro to the track ‘Memories don’t live like people do / They always ‘member you /Whether things are good or bad /It’s just the memories that you have’ seems to sum up Kanye’s ‘There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about’ philosophy perfectly.
By the time you get to the sweet, dancehall lilt of Bound 2 you fucking need it. And it’s not just us. Poor Kanye feels the same.
After all these long-ass verses
I’m tired, you tired, Jesus wept
Trying to convince a prospective lover with the promise that he’s worth it despite everything she might have heard and sounding like for all the world like he wants to give up the whole exhausting business of being Yeezy and go grow potatoes with his woman somewhere but knowing that won’t happen. Bound to falling in love. Tired of loving with nobody to love.
The world seems to be stumped as to whether Kanye is an idiot, a genius or a madman. I say an irresistible combination of all three.
Yeezus is in competition only with The Next Day for my album of the year so far.
So.. yes, it’s taken me over a month to sit down and write this review and I’m sure by this point no-one actually cares any more but here we are anyway.. The main reason it’s taken me so long is that although the overriding feeling of the album appealed to me and a few songs were instant I had the distinct suspicion that several of the slower songs would be growers and I wanted to give the album as a whole a chance to percolate before I wrote a review knowing that if I didn’t I would probably completely change my mind about half of it after I had written it.
My initial impressions of the tone of the album were favourable – I really like the way Brett has been using his voice in more recent years. Despite loving the album the more years that have passed since Coming Up the less fond I get of the plastic-glam pitch of the vocals and I don’t think anyone misses the Oasis rasp even if it did work well on a few songs like One Hit To The Body. The sound of the vocals on Bloodsports (and indeed the feel of the album) is closest to Brett’s last solo album Black Rainbows – an album I’m very fond of and has probably increased in my estimation quite a bit since my initial 8/10 review of it. The album as a whole feels full and ballsy but, unusually for suede not petulant. Also, apart from a couple of Brett-by-numbers moments it has continued the trend of his solo albums in having far, far better lyrics than latter day suede and Tears songs.
I also love the way everything sounds SO LOUD. I’m not very techy so I can’t tell you what I mean by that in production terms but everything just seems to BURST OUT of the songs.
The thing that threw me off about the album when I first started listening to it was the very strange way it is divided almost half and half into uptempo and downtempo songs which resulted in me often listening to first half only and ignoring the difficult ‘side 2’.
The lightbulb moment for me was this interview quote:
The album was conceived as a journey from the start to the end of a relationship, taking on all the points in between – suspicion, obsession, infatuation, co-dependency.
The second I read that not only did I think it was kind of a nice idea for an album but the record suddenly made perfect sense and just clicked with me. Now that difficult second half feels like a necessary bookend to the more familiar territory of the pop-rock tracks about emotional infatuation and sexual desire.
The album is difficult in places but after getting under it’s skin a bit I’m going to come out with a much higher mark than I might have expected on first listen. I’ve really fallen for it and although I think Black Rainbows is possibly more consistently satisfying (if less demanding) as a whole the highs on this album really are high. I’m delighted with this album as if not a ‘comeback’ (oh, but it is) then at least a forage into slightly new territory and hopefully a sign of things to come.
Track by track:
I really liked this song straight away. It has a nice meaty rhythm and a big punchy chorus. It does also, as many have said, have a bit of a stadium rock Simple Minds thing going on.
This was another of my instant favourites. It starts with an even more Simple Minds opening followed by a Coming Up esque ‘oooh oooh’ but the body of the song is like a slightly more macho, aggressive version of some of the Coming Up era rockers wrapped around another big, loud stadium chorus.
It starts and ends with you
I pretty much hated it when it was released but much like The Stars (are out tonight) it works much better for me in the context of the album than elevated to a single. Again like Stars it’s, in my opinion, the weakest track on the album. What is with that? Second-single-itus?
I love the oppressive, moody feel of this song and it builds towards a very satisfying ending although the chorus is a little weak. It seems to be a bit more loved by fans than I think it’s due but it’s a decent enough album track.
For the strangers
I love this song. Swoony and gorgeous.
Swagger. Next single. Fucking love it. Can’t wait to hear it live.
Hit me is really close to being suede-by-numbers but then it does these melodic twists you weren’t expecting.
Sometimes I feel I’ll float away
I swear I’m not being hyperbolic when I say I honestly think this is my favourite suede song since Dog Man Star.
Let me take you through each stage of the male mistake
And we’ll adopt our natural roles
All the plans were made
In the wooded glade
Where your body was split wide open
And I count to ten
As the race begins
Round your hairpin bends
are very un-suede but somehow still perfectly ‘right’. The guitar towards the end makes *me* feel like I’ll float away. The album would have been worth buying for me if it was just this song repeated twelve times.
What are you not telling me?
The song on the album most reminiscent of Brett solo. Paranoid and slightly bitter, the turning point of the album into the second half.
A classic stalker anthem. Melodically reminiscent of some of the more downbeat coming up era b-sides but with instrumentation flourishes and drama of Dog Man Star slowies like Wild Ones.
I’m in the odd minority of suede fans that really likes A New Morning (I’m not sure even the band are that keen) but I love this song because it’s like the best of the slow songs on ANM like Untitled.. or When the Rain Falls but just so much darker and tougher. The end feels almost positive, I think? But it’s quite ambiguous.
It’s an odd album with the last three songs being a tough ride if you’re not in the mood but persistence pays off and there are treasures to be found. A welcome return to form with unexpected turns along the way.
Here I am not quite dying
My body left to rot in a hollow tree
Its branches throwing shadows on the gallows for me
And the next day
And the next
And another day
It’s been noted elsewhere that anyone expecting an elegiac album of mournful slowies after the red herring release of ‘Where are we now’ was in for a surprise. The Next Day is an album positively drenched in the death rattle but it’s not the melancholic last hurrah of an ageing rocker eyeballing his future, it’s something far darker and more complex than that.
Lyrically at least The Next Day is easily Bowie’s bleakest album to date. He has often dealt with similar themes – suicide, death, murder, apocalypse even – but mostly in a glamourised, romanticised or pithy way. There are moments such as The Motel or Slip Away that are somber and intense but I’m not sure he has before produced a body of lyrics with such unrelenting harshness. There are flashes of wit and humour but you only need to compare something like the swooningly tragic Rock & Roll Suicide to the sheer venom of You Feel So Lonely You Could Die to feel the shift. Even the two popiest sounding songs on the album (I’d Rather Be High and Valentine’s Day) contain lyrics like:
I stumble to the graveyard and I lay down by my parents, whisper ‘Just remember duckies everybody gets got’
It’s in his tiny face
It’s in his scrawny hand
It’s in his icy heart
It’s tempting with any artist, especially one as shifting and enigmatic as Bowie to try and read biographical confession into song lyrics and certainly with Where Are We Now that seemed all to easy to do – the notion of a sad, elderly David ‘just walking the dead’ around Berlin seemed both plausible and poignant – but realigned within the context of the album it takes on a whole new flavour. With it’s cast of characters ranging from 17 year old soldiers to dying aged despots this is an album firmly written in the second person. Sure, like any art it must ultimately say something about the artist but transparent autobiography it certainly isn’t. This is nothing new for Bowie of course – his transparently autobiographical moments are scarce and many of those that I assumed to be such melted into storytelling for me on closer inspection. He wears many masks and he has always worn them well.
Musically the album is closest in the Bowie canon to the other jagged edges of his career – Scary Monsters, Outside, Earthling, the darker recesses of Heroes and Heathen – only the second single The Stars (are out tonight) recalls Reality and is, perversely, my least favourite track on the album.
Despite the fact I have literally not stopped playing it since it came out it’s taken me until now to tackle a review because there is just so much to digest, and I still feel like I’m only just scratching the surface. This will be an album I listen to for a long time to come. Bravo Mr Bowie.
Finally here’s my track by track for anyone who wants it:
The Next Day
Listen to the whores he tells her
He fashions paper sculptures of them
Then drags them to the river‘s bank in the cart
Their soggy paper bodies wash ashore in the dark
A stomping, beastly little introduction to the album where the words ‘the next day’ turn out to sound more like a threat than any kind of hopeful forward thinking that the album title might have suggested. The bit where he shrills ‘They scream my name aloud down into the well below’ puts a shiver down my spine.
You’ve got to learn to hold your tongue
This ain’t the moon this is burnin’ sun
Slinky and sexy with some lovely sax. Reminiscent of songs like Sweet Thing, Candidate and John, I’m only dancing this was an instant favourite for me. It seemed immediately like it had been in my life forever. An old friend seen in a new light.
The Stars (Are Out Tonight)
We will never be rid of these stars
But I hope they live forever
Musically this is the only track I feel is a little weak, although that’s comparative and I certainly enjoy it a lot more within the album than as a single. It has some great vocal moments and a fabulous video too.
Love Is Lost
It’s the darkest hour, you’re twenty two
The voice of youth, the hour of dread
The darkest hour and your voice is new
Love is lost, lost is love
Your country’s new
Your friends are new
Your house and even your eyes are new
Your maid is new and your accent too
But your fear is as old as the world
This song is just, I’m not sure what to say.. perfect? A brooding, gothic suicide note that breaks unexpectedly and confusingly into a seemingly uplifting middle eight before turning back in on itself as though that moment were an hallucination – a false promise leading towards a foolish act. ‘Oh, what have you done? Oh, what have you done?’
Where Are We Now?
Had to get the train from Potsdamer Platz
You never knew that I could do that
Someone who was once far too important to simply take the train finds himself now shuffling the streets of Germany. Maybe Mr Bowie, maybe not.
Valentine told me how he’d feel
If all the world were under his heel
There is little affection from the author for the characters that inhabit The Next Day and the would-be tyrant depicted in Valentine’s Day is no exception. I can’t help picturing a small man on the verge of a nervous breakdown, perhaps a little like Michael Douglas in Falling Down, about to finally let us all know exactly what he has to say.
If You Can See Me
Now you could say I’ve got a gift of sorts
A fear of rear windows and swinging doors
A love of violence a dread of sighs
If you can see me I can see you
If you can see me I can see you
The song on the album most reminiscent of the best bits of Earthling. This one kind of gives me the willies. In a good way.
I’d Rather Be High
The Thames was black, the tower dark
I flew to Cairo, find my regiment
City’s full of generals
And generals full of shit
This was one of the first songs to click with me and I still can’t listen to it once through without hitting replay at the end. Deceptively perky sounding with lines like ‘I’d rather smoke and phone my ex, be pleading for some teenage sex’ jumping out on first listen. I’ve seen it interpreted as a kind of looking-back-on-being-young song when on closer listen it’s nothing of the sort.
Boss of Me
You look at me and you weep for the free blue sky
Not a skip track by any means but the only song I haven’t quite connected with yet. A decent album track but nothing as arresting as the rest of the album tracks.
Dancing Out in Space
Something like religion
Dancing face to face
Something like a drowning
Dancing out in space
The only song that teeters close to something glammy and a little silly sounding. A small oasis of fun, albeit abstract and slightly cryptic fun.
How Does the Grass Grow
There’s a graveyard by the station where the girls wear nylon skirts
I love this song. Not just because it has a chorus that goes ‘Blood blood blood’ followed by a backing ‘la la la’ that sounds almost exactly like that bit in Gremlins 2 where they get melted while singing New York, New York and doing the conga. Not just because of that, but it’s definitely got a lot to do with it.
(You Will) Set the World on Fire
From Bitter End to Gaslight
Baez leaves the stage
Ok so, the fact that the opening chords totally remind me of the Beverly Hills 90210 theme tune is my problem and mine alone. Other than that it’s the sole song with a more conventional Bowie/Fame motif. A pep-talk-come-warning for the promise of success in the vein of Opportunities by The Pet Shop Boys via Eno’s Baby’s on Fire.
You Feel So Lonely You Could Die
I can see you as a corpse hanging from a beam
I could read you like a book
I can feel you falling
I hear you moaning in your room
Oh, see if I care
Oh, please, please make it soon
A claustrophobically dark vignette wishing loneliness and death on a malevolent and unlikeable soul – with swooning Spectorish backing vocals. Nasty stuff. In the best possible way.
My father ran the prison
But I am a seer, I am a liar
Another instant favourite, Heat is a clear nod to Bowie’s long-time musical bedfellow Scott Walker with shades of Outside and Heathen mixed in. A somber and downbeat ending that leaves you feeling both satisfied and bewildered.
And I tell myself, I don’t know who I am
And I tell myself, I don’t know who I am
There are films which are, as the reviewer’s favorite phrase goes, style over substance and there are films where the style *is* the substance.
Stoker is an almost entirely visual film – it could quite easily have no dialogue and be not much worse for it, although when there is dialogue it mostly lyrical, witty and worth the wait. Even the score punctuates the film sparsely but effectively.
This is a film that’s all about watching.
It is dovetailed by India’s monologue about how she sees things no-one else does. It’s voyeuristic in almost every possible sense. The characters watching each other through doors, windows, stolen glances and those long, stalkerish tracking shots at the wake. In Charlie’s case even watching India through the years themselves.
The symbolism of sneaking a peak at something through locked drawers, photographs and letters is everywhere.
And of course the way the viewer’s gaze is firmly positioned as the voyeur during both erotic and violent moments, the two blurring into each other on more than one occasion.
Like a lot of my favorite books and films Stoker is pregnant with unsaid things, sexual tensions, violent secrets – the truths (if there are any) are in the gaps between what happens rather than the plot itself. Like the empty seat at the piano it could all just be a mirage, or a specter – like the vampiric connotation of the family name. Everything is submerged between a somnambulistic, dreamy funk – personified in the moments Nicole Kidman’s character half-knows what lies beneath her family, both literally and metaphorically.
I can understand why this film is dividing critics and viewers alike because it’s a strange combination of over-the-top pot boiler and microscopic emotional minutiae at the same time. The performances are all a restrained kind of camp found almost exclusively in old noir thrillers and whilst the cinematography, set and costumes are lush and seductive it’s an iron fist in a velvet glove. It has one foot in ‘pretty’, one foot in ‘difficult’ and a more than slightly dubious moral compass – It’s a lovingly filmed spider on young girl’s inner thigh. Needles to say it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m happy to say I loved it.
I had planned on writing reviews of both Black Mirror and Utopia separately but I can’t help thinking about one when I think of the other. Two British, dark, dystopian series running concurrently with surely a very similar audience.
On paper Black Mirror covers areas that appeal to me more than Utopia – pop culture, media hysteria, and in particular, Brooker’s obsession with the frisson point between technology and human emotion. Utopia on the other hand sounds at it’s base level like a classic paranoid conspiracy theory. Even the titles would have me gravitating towards Black Mirror first – suggesting it’s as much about who we *are* as who we might become.
And yet Utopia succeeded in almost every way that Black Mirror has near-consistently failed me.
I’m not sure that the issue with Black Mirror lies entirely in the writing – the thing it is sold on – as the uneven execution. The drastic difference in stylistic tempos from episode to episode (and director to director) really is it biggest weakness for me. While ‘The Entire History of You’ (the absolute standout episode of the series for me, and in fairness probably good enough to justify the rest of the episodes on it own), ‘National Anthem’ and ‘Be Right Back’ were all directed with a sure, mature hand ‘White Bear’ and ’15 Million Merits’ were both so cheap looking and broadly directed that they felt more like slightly off cbeebies shows than anything being broadcast on late night Channel 4.
That said some of the ideas felt so slight and barely fleshed out (National Anthem surely was not much more than a good Brass Eye sketch?) that they buckled under the weight of the 45 minutes running time.
None of this would bother me if I didn’t think there was something there. Black Mirror is, or at least should be, exactly the kind of show we need to be producing more of in the UK and it’s frustrating to see it fall short of the mark.
Thankfully this frustration has been greatly salved by Utopia dropping it’s grinning yellow bag of death next to our feet.
What can I say without sounding like a fawning idiot?
Brutal, beautifully filmed and perfectly cast it’s everything I could have hoped for from it, and a little bit more. If I have any criticism it’s that I had hoped for a clean one series and out ending (it was obviously well plotted through a proper story arc so it was definitely possible) and instead it left me feeling a little cheated in the final moments. However, that’s a small price to pay for the series that preceded it.
I won’t say much more in this review because it’s exactly the kind of show that will be spoiled by knowing too much about it so I’l just round off by urging you to catch up with it on 4OD if you haven’t seen it yet.
The National Anthem – 6/10
15 Million Merits – 2/10
The Entire History of You – 10/10
Be Right Back – 5/10
White Bear – 3/10
The Waldo Moment – 4/10
Let’s just start off by saying that the ticket price is worth it for the three minutes that the camera is trained on Anne Hathaway’s face as she re-writes the book on how to perform I Dreamed a Dream alone. The word ‘mesmerizing’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.
That out of the way I think this stage to screen adaptation is on the whole an absolute triumph. Taking advantage of the opportunities for both large sweeping vistas and claustrophobic close-ups that the stage cannot offer Tom Hooper has directed this in a way that adds to the stage production rather than simply recreates it. It does at points creep into being a little visually overblown for my taste (Lovely Ladies being most notable) but this is offset by the fact that, being pure melodrama at heart, most of the cast spend the film makeup-less and crying!
I heard some early reports that the soundtrack sounded disappointing and / or bad and having now seen it I can understand why. Much of the score is sung / acted as oposed to belted the way you have to do in the theatre to reach the back. I’m not sure it will be a score I will want to sit and listen to much but performing it this way was so, so much more interesting to watch.
However, as you may have heard, it has to be said that Russel Crowe’s voice is frankly completely honking. It’s such a shame because I was really excited by his casting and while physically he looks the part not only is his singing not up to scratch but he also looks seriously out of his depth much of the time too. This is a *real* shame because not only does he sing two of my favorite songs in the show but , despite Hugh Jackman acting his socks off, it also impacted negatively on the central relationship between Jean Val Jean and Javert for me. (Whilst I’m being critical I also wish they had left the Thénardiers reprise in the sewers while they were looting the dead – it’s such an eerie scene in the stage show and a lovely dark mirror to the earlier number – but that’s a minor grumble.)
Thankfully there was so much else to enjoy (and it’s a credit to how good the rest of the cast were) that this didn’t in any way ruin the film for me. In the past I’ve never been that interested in either the Marius / Cossette plot or Fantine but both of these stories really flourish in the film. Amada Seyfried just gets more adorable by the day and Heart Full Of Love was particularly beautiful despite being a song I’ve never much cared for before. The surprising standout for me though was Aaron Tveit who I literally couldn’t take my eyes off and lit up the scenes centered around the revolution.
So, yes, on the whole an absolute knockout, and as a big fan of the show a huge relief. Do catch it in the cinema if you can. Take a box of tissues and a cold compress when you go though 😉
I was lucky enough to see a showing of American Mary on it’s limited release tour at the weekend. Shot in 15 days (!!!) as I found out at the Q&A after this is a very, very strong first time foray into mainstream-release territory for directors the Soska sisters.
Predominantly a (very) black comedy splattered with moments of empathy and pathos. As much as it’s it’s all about blood and horror and ‘horrible’ things it’s not really trying to scare you and it’s surprisingly not that graphic either, well – as these things go. It also has quite a lot to say for itself philosophically which is getting rarer than the dodo in contemporary horror.
Katharine Isabelle (of Ginger Snaps fame) is charismatic and nuanced in the lead role – a role that in less steady hands could have ended up flat out unlike-able. However it was Tristan Risk as Betty Boop obsessive Beatrice that stole the film for me. One of the standout performances of my year I think.
It’s a crying shame it’s got such a limited release because it feels very mainstream friendly – not in the sense of being ‘safe’ but because it’s beautifully shot and feels very accomplished. It could easily have had a major release with the right publicity. Whilst the the film itself is ‘alternative’ in the sense that it features unconventional body modification and lots of latex it’s put together with a surprisingly sophisticated and mature touch.
I found it to be charming and funny and beautiful to look at. It does have some flaws and there are a few scenes in it that fell a bit flat for me but on the whole I thought it was fantastic and if you can’t catch it in the cinema please snap up the DVD on the 21st.
This documentary is a must for any Hole fan not just for the, often heartbreaking, old footage but for offering us up the time to appreciate exactly how good a drummer Patty was and what a lovely woman she appears to be now.
More than a rockumentary though, Hit So Hard is a devastating portrait of addiction and excess. Not just excess in the pursuit of entertainment or escapism but excess of emotion, of anger, of energy, of passion and the blaze that these often difficult, selfish, self-destructive people set fire to for the world to warm their hands around. Being a rock fan can be a vicarious, morally dubious thing at times and this film underlines precisely why.
It’s also a worthwhile reminder of the still-fragile place of women in the industry. Will we ever see another band like Hole again? I hope so, but I suspect not any time soon.
Ok, so straight off the bat I’ll fess up that I’m a covers junky. I have a real thing for finding interesting reworkings of songs and I had already loved Kylie’s Live Lounge session so I was probably more up for this than most to start with.
There is a long tradition of artists stripping down and re-inventing their hits, most notably during the height of MTV Unplugged in the mid 90s. In recent years there have been a lot of (often ‘ironic’) reworkings of pop songs by more ‘credible’ artists. Sometimes this delivers something wonderful, sometimes something that makes you want to slap the artist for thinking they are so much bigger and cleverer than pop.
When a pop artist decides to do this to their own songs the desire can often come from a surprisingly similar place – to imbue it with something new, something different or to try and prove that it is ‘real’ music after all. Much as I love her Gaga’s recent Thanksgiving EP is a perfect example of the kind of po-faced schmaltz that often consumes stripped-down pop. (Although she has done similar things much better elsewhere – so I’ll give her a free pass on that one.)
So which is this? Well, thankfully it’s more of the former than the latter. Had she attempted this during her indie-Kylie period it would almost certainly have been an exercise in cred-flexing. Thankfully at this stage of her career she is far more comfortable in her own skin and approaches the project with just the right mix of humor and melancholia.
She’s had her fair share of chart bangers and OTT pop moments but I’ve long suspected that it’s the breathy mid tempo roboto-porn songs that have formed the backbone of her appeal. Kylie can sing almost anything and make it sound at once salacious and oddly refined. For a singer who’s voice has never really been considered her strong point it seems the closer and more intimate it gets the more enjoyable it becomes. And in that sense this album is a sidestep rather than a volte-face. The overall feel of the arrangement is stripped down in the sense that it’s not electronic but it’s certainly not girl-and-an-acoustic-guitar noodling and teeters on the edge of big-band but, Locomotion aside, remaining more reigned in and less ‘retro’ than that.
The standout tracks on the album for me are Finer Feelings, Confide In Me and Can’t Get You Out Of My Head – the latter two becoming so obsessionally seductive in tone that they start to sound, frankly, quite threatening.
Other highlights include On A Night Like This, All The Lovers (a 24 carat classic through and through), I Believe In You, Wow, Better The Devil You Know and I Should Be So Lucky. It’s also nice to hear Locomotion after becoming progressively dirtier and dirtier over the years re-instated to something more joyfully like, if not the original Little Eva version, then certainly Little Eva meets PWL.
It perhaps could have done without a couple of tracks here and there and, beautiful as it is, the new(ish) song Flower does feel a little out of place but all in all it’s a lush, mellow and slightly saucy affair with some beautiful instrumentation and backing vocals that help give it warmth and depth.
Clearly this album has a fairly specific demographic as you will have to enjoy both Kylie and these kind of easy listening/MOR arrangements – but it hit the sweet spot for me.
(mildly spoilerish but no actual plot details)
Let’s get a couple of things out of the way before I start:
With that out of the way let’s get down to what I thought of the book itself.
It took me a little longer to get into in than I would normally have persisted with a novel and although I enjoyed the tone from the offset I found the lack of discernible plot in the first chunk slow going and would probably have given up on it had it not been the new JK novel etc. It’s worth pointing out that I’m a pretty impatient reader though and often give up on books after a half dozen pages, sometimes even less, if they haven’t grabbed me – however I still suspect it could have been edited a little more toughly in this opening section. Somewhere around the 200 page mark it suddenly clicked with me though and from that point on I found it pacey and highly enjoyable with the last quarter being un-put-downable.
Typically of Jo’s writing the highlights of the book for me are the plotting and the characterisation, particularly of the teenage characters and the odious Howard Mollison.
The writing style and characterisation was *exactly* what I expected it to be. Pagford is basically Little Whinging dragged into a more invasively adult scrutiny. Like her previous writing every character is flawed and many of them fairly unlikeable but in almost all cases we are encouraged to empathise with them too. We are given all sides of each nobly story to mull over in a way that real life rarely allows us to. A few reviews have criticised the writing for being stiff or two dimensional but I think that’s largely an illusion. Whilst she does occasionally have a tendency to slip into trite phrases or slightly overwrote metaphors there is this odd aspect to her writing, which I love and which is also present in the Potter series, where she gives you the feeling of something slightly pompous and old fashioned (Enid Blyton or Agatha Christie often come to mind) then punctures it repeatedly with moments of humour, horror or realism. I can understand how people could take it at face value but it has an unsettling push-me-pull-me quality that I adore – in much the same way (albeit not quite as twisted) as Twin Peaks where the cherry pie and strong jaws are just as integral as the madness and terror.
I’m not sure if this will make any sense but the plotting is the book’s key strength but not the plot itself. The way the various character’s lives weave together – finally crashing into each other in an operatic and somewhat melodramatically Hitchcock-esque final act (also reminiscent of the end of the third League of Gentlemen series) is fantastically enjoyable but the main story itself is not all that involving. I did enjoy the device of the pivotal character being dead (reminiscent of The Virgin Suicides or Twin Peaks again) and revealed to us only in drips and drops through the lives of the remaining characters and their own intricate stories, but the larger arc concerning Pagford and Yarvil and the council itself felt more like a vehicle for the message she wanted to deliver than a fleshed out story.
I was quite concerned in the opening chapters that the class war between Pagford and The Fields would become naive or cloyingly liberal and while at points in the early stages of the book it does feel a little like having a finger wagged at you I was relieved that as it progresses the moralising becomes much more evenly spread and complex. If there is an over-riding message to the book it is a borderline-nihilistic suggestion that we should all try to be more aware and kinder to each other but that life itself makes that almost impossible to achieve – that social conscience of any kind is an almost Herculean effort when combined with your own desires and needs. And that’s *very* Jo.
In summation – it’s not the best book I’ve ever read but it certainly wasn’t the worst either and although it’s not really like these author’s books I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys slightly gothic character based thrillers like Donna Tart, Patricia Highsmith and Louise Welsh . Or – and this really is the target demographic – Agatha Christie fans with a stomach for sex and swearing 😉
All photos in this post by Chrissi McAlpine 🙂
Before I review the show in earnest there are a few things I’d like to get out of the way first. I’ll do a track by track review after and if you just want a quick summary of my thoughts skip all the blah and go to the end 😉
“It’s the worst concert I’ve ever seen”
Nonsense. Either it’s the only concert you’ve ever seen or you’ve only been to the closing night of the Ziggy Stardust tour, the Bad tour and the Blonde Ambition Tour so far. What I’m saying is it might not be the best show you have ever seen or ever will see but saying it’s the worst is just pure hyperbole in my opinion.
“She doesn’t play The Hits”
I don’t hold any truck with the criticism coming from a lot of the media reviews that she isn’t playing enough back catalogue. This isn’t being billed as a greatest hits tour, she has an album out right now and the tour is in fact named after it so to expect the Celebration tour is foolish. Any artist that considers themselves still functioning will play a similar balance of new to old – unless you do what Bowie did when I saw him in 2003 and play a beast of a setlist that accomplishes both. But then he did end up having a heart attack two thirds of the way through that tour so maybe not. Whether the tracks from her current album are as good as they should be or hold up well enough live is a different matter, however saying that she shouldn’t be playing new songs is not really the issue to me.
The fact that the audience were generally going home unhappy with this balance last night (comments overheard ranged from ‘It’s a lot of money to pay to be disappointed’ to ‘I’ll know not to go and see Madonna again’) doesn’t surprise me though – partly because she hasn’t had a genuine hit from this album and partly because the audience last night was exactly the kind of drunk-to-oblivion hen-party horror show that really should have been at an 80s revival disco instead. It was without doubt the most annoying crowd I’ve ever been in – and I include 2 hours stood at the front of T in the Park during Black Grape in 1995 in that. So no, I’m not surprised they didn’t want to see a world music version of I’m A Sinner. But then again who does really?
One thing that was immediately apparent to me was that for all her trend chasing and Niki Minaj features at 34 and ¾ I was at the younger end of the average age bracket last night. It’s like trying to get a date – the more desperately you want it the more it turns people off. The Kids can smell it and they are staying away in droves. I’m absolutely convinced that if she relaxed on the ‘still relevant’ push she would actually pick up more younger fans – or at least ones in their 20s!
I do think there is also an element of people reading reviews in the Daily Fail or whatever and just going along with what they are told to think though. A lot of the comments I heard afterwards (‘the violence was unnecessary’, ‘she didn’t play the hits’) seemed to be verbatim regurgitations of the press reviews. And maybe that just means it’s a consensus of opinion but i guess I have a little less faith in people’s ability to form their own opinions 😉
“She lip synchs the whole show”
I was very pleasantly surprised by how little of the show appeared to be mimed – and all the better for it. There were a couple of numbers (Human nature I think stood out particularly) where she sounded a bit ropey but generally her voice was good – Papa Don’t Preach, Masterpiece, Express Yourself and Like a prayer all sounded particularly strong.
“She’s too old to be doing a pop show”
I genuinely, and again to my great surprise, was really not aware of the ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ issue apart from during he majorette section where a combination of an unflattering costume and dance routine did make her seem a bit wobbly and trussed up. Generally I just felt I was watching a pop star not a grandma. The question of whether she can keep up with the choreography is a funny one though. It’s really hard to explain but I was impressed at how well she managed consistent, high energy and quite complex routines but at the same time I was aware of it. It’s like that thing about how good design should be invisible and there was an element of feeling ‘god, she’s doing it so well for a woman her age’ rather than it just being effortless. I think taking it down just the tiniest notch would have erased this though because the parts of the show where she is moving less frantically felt absolutely perfect in that respect.
It became pretty apparent to me when the show started why she’s been coming on so late at a lot of venues. I had assumed it was just because she was fannying about doing the downward facing dog in her dressing room or whatever but the strict curfew at Murrayfield meant she came on just after 9pm in pretty much daylight and I have to say the reliance on huge video screens to form the basis of the set really didn’t work well in the light. She made a comment during the show about having to keep it moving or they were going to pull the plug on her and as it was she cut two songs from the set (the two I was most looking forward too grrrrrr) and I highly suspect this was because she was holding back starting until it got darker.
I was standing a little to the side at the front of the general admission area but due to the fact there was a VIP area and a golden circle then some space then the GA area I had a good view but was still really not that close to the stage and from where I was the first section of the show looked surprisingly flimsy and the stage quite empty. The motel set was particularly disappointing from a distance in the light. Everything looked so much better as it got darker though.
The stage as an object is massive but the actual stage area was surprisingly small, or seemed so from where I was. In general I think the screen-based sets would have looked amazing close up but were not so good from where I was in the crowd. I think the show will look fabulous on DVD and certainly the sets looked much more dynamic even on the live feeds but for some reason felt a little flat to me in person. Of course this could just be down to where I was standing but since I had a fairly good spot I can imagine it would have been much the same if you were anywhere in the main bulk of the crowds.
Down to the nitty gritty..
Opening section / Girl Gone Wild
I feel like this should have been really epic but it fell a little flat for me. It probably doesn’t help that I really don’t like this song much. I’m not sure if this was mimed or autotuned or what I but either way the pitch of her voice was really weird. The crowd seemed to enjoy it though and I’d say that out of the new songs it got the best reaction from those around me with a fair amount of singing along etc.
I’m basically the only Madonna fan that liked and bought this song. It’s just me, Madonna and Lil’ Wayne digging it. Putting it on the set list was typically obstinate of her but I enjoyed it so raspberries to the lot of you 😉
This was one of two set pieces I was most looking forward to seeing live (the other was cut ;_; ) but I didn’t enjoy it as much I was expecting for some reason. It’s hard to put my finger on because I do love the way it looked and it was definitely my favourite of the more elaborately staged numbers but I found it sort of dragged on a little or something. It might have been the light, I’m not sure, it just didn’t rock my boat.
Papa Don’t Preach
Massive cheer from the crowd. She sung it really well. Only complaint was it was too short.
This was an unexpected highlight for me. The audience seemed to get a bit bored because there was no ABBA sample and the song was reworked but I really enjoyed the way it sounded and the physical routine was one of my favourites in the show. The part where she walked the slackline barefoot was particularly lovely for some reason.
I Don’t Give A
Another unexpected highlight. One of my main fears was that this would be one of those Britney-type shows where there was so much spectacle going on because the performance at the center was vacant. I know that everyone loved her Superbowl performance but it left me pretty cold because it seemed she was heading in that direction. But having this number fairly early in the set last night really alleviated a lot of my concerns about her performance abilities because it was predominantly just her standing singing – and singing with bite, vigour and some actual emotion. The funny thing is I’m not that keen on the song but she really brought something to it live I hadn’t got from the album version. She sounded pissed off, but in a good way. If only she could let go a bit more in the studio and get some of that feeling on record.
Express Yourself / Give Me all Your Luvin’ / Born This Way / She’s Not Me
The majorette costume has to die. I hated the routine, the costumes and pretty much everything about this section apart from the vocals for Express Yourself which were fabulous. I actually loved Express Yourself I just wish she had worn something that didn’t make me feel nauseous while she sang it. GAYL was a remix which I actually enjoyed far more than the single version. It was also not, in fact the song of the same name by ZZ Top as my husband thought when I was telling him about the concert. That would have been amazing though.
I still think including the Born This Way excerpt was classless and unnecessary, even more so within the frame of the show, but it was mercifully short and while I did see one guy wearing a t-shirt with Gaga’s face and the word ‘BITCH’ written underneath I did also hear the audience around me singing along to BTW so who knows what it accomplished other than some column inches.
Turn Up The Radio
Uneventful and unmemorable. She had the front row singing into the mic which was cute but other than that I don’t really remember much about it. I do remember that it was preceded by a rather interesting, scratchy little intrlude that mixed up video clips from throughout her career. I remember thinking ‘ooh, what’s this leading towards’ and then hearing the chorus line of TUTR and thinking ‘oh, that. oh well.’ I actually like TUTR well enough and it’s my favourite of the fluff songs on MDNA but still, it’s hardly stellar material to follow up a recap of her career highlights with.
As a side note: who knows where her career – touring or otherwise – will go in the next few years but I do hope she takes stock a little before her next move. As enjoyable as the show was and as not-as-bad-as-the-singles-make-it-seem as MDNA is there has been a lot (too much to go into here on a review of the tour) wrong with her approach to her career recently and I sincerely hope that she is not beaten but emboldened by the criticism. No Fear not No Care.
Open Your Heart
This was a weird one because I really enjoyed it but it went down like a lead balloon with the crowd around me. It was reworked completely with those Basque fellas whose name I can’t remember and I thought it was really interesting. A crowd pleaser it was not though. I could have done without the dancing at the end but she does love a bit of ‘ethnic’ street dancing does our Madge.
This was another highlight for me. The song has really grown on me recently and excepting the opening clunker the lyrics are lovely. I found the performance quite moving and very well sung. I’d love to see her do a theatre tour of this kind of stuff but it will never happen.
Very enjoyable classic performance of Vogue. Exactly what you would expect from it but in a good way.
Candy Shop / Erotica / Human nature
This was my favourite section of the show despite the fact that I can’t stand Candy Shop on record. The choreography was paced just right and the set up fell on the right side of sexy – at times moving, at times humorous. Human Nature was visually particularly good and probably the only part of the show that gave me food for thought or stimulated emotions beyond the purely visceral. I’m absolutely gutted that she cut Like A Virgin (which would have fallen after this set) although if she was going to cut something I guess the audience that was there would probably not have been that receptive to the version of it she is doing on the tour so maybe it was the best choice in that sense. You can see what I missed here.
I’m A Sinner
I thought she looked really beautiful during this section – the slightly hippy look has always suited her so much. The song itself was a bit of a snooze for me though.
Like A prayer
Similar to Vouge this was a strong, classic performance that did nothing more than you would expect but nothing less than you would hope. The crowd loved it and she sounded fantastic.
I felt this was a bit of an anti climax for a closing number although she certainly gave it her all. I geuss Celebration is the new Holiday though and I never liked that much either 😉
All in all I enjoyed it and I’m glad that I went. The bits I expected to wow me (the big visual set pieces) didn’t really but the thing I was most fearful of (her core performance) was actually really good. I know I was quite out of step with the crowd around me in terms of the bits I enjoyed most so obviously it’s just my opinion but I would love to see her focus on less high energy but more performance led numbers – which she has done plenty of on previous tours so this isn’t a ‘she’s old’ thing just a personal preference. That also doesn’t need to mean sitting on a stool for an hour and a half just more routines like Human Nature and less like GMAYL.
Overall I’d say it’s a 7/10 for me – but since I nearly didn’t go because I was so worried about it being terrible that’s a score that’s made me really happy.
I feel like there are two angles that I need to broach in reviewing this – firstly how does it square up to / sit alongside the Alien franchise and secondly is it any good in it’s own right.
(This review is very, very mildly spoilerific btw but no major plot details or anything..)
Let me get the big Alien question out of the way first.
Aesthetically and visually it feels akin to the first two to me but with a glossier, slicker edge. It’s by no means sanatised when it comes to grooey bits and unpleasant deaths but it doesn’t have the run-down, grimey quality of the original film. Contextually in terms of the actual space ship etc this makes sense because of the reasons they are there but it’s present in the direction and cinematography too. The characters are thankfully fairly close in spirit to the best moments of the Alien films in that I found them mostly believable and uniformly well acted.
The clue is in the title of course but philosophically it felt like quite a departure from the original series. For all that the Alien films spun on the axis of gestation, birth and survival it was in a unilaterally darwinistic way. Rape as the most effective form of impregnation, survival of the fittest, and above all the devastating strength of mother-love. So despite all the procreation the creationist dilema of Prometheus still came as little bit of a surprise to me. It sits (albeit inconclusively) to the side of theology I’m personally comfortable with but this is absolutely a film about looking for God in our ancestral trail. I perhaps found it slightly disappointing that the theology had to be framed within the recognisable symbolism of the crucifix but I can understand why it works as as a shorthand for the audience. I do think it’s interesting that the cesarian scene is written as a cesarian and not an abortion, but I am possibly reading too much into that.
If the Alien films are Mother then Prometheus is Father. This is born out both by the fathers and their children (both metaphoric and literal) that pepper the plot as well as the design of the huge, muscular, Fusili-like Engineers and the general masculine heft and might of the film itself.
On the whole it feels like a film that exists within the same universe as the Alien films but very much has it’s own rhythm and agenda.
So on to the second question – is t any good?
This is much easier for me to answer because yes, as a standalone piece I found it very enjoyable. It looks magnificent and it has a solid mixture of nastiness, action and dialogue. The cast are excellent particularly Michael Fassbender and Charize Theron who between them stole the film for me. Noomi Rapace has some strong moments in the film but for some reason never really felt like the lead to me although technically she is. Fassbender’s Bishop by way of Bowie in The Man Who Fell To Earth is without doubt the best thing on screen at any point in the film – he is absolutely spellbinding.
If I am being critical the pace sags a little in places, particularly in the first third, but it still tops out as a well above average sci-fi / action movie.
And for anyone who has seen it – I leave you with these:
This series may start as a familiar, if well crafted, dystopia but it ends as one of the most brutal and bloody indictments of the politics of war I have read – be that for the teen demographic or otherwise.
Suzanne Collins’ writing uses fairly broad brush strokes and at times can verge on the more stylized futurism of something like Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series* but ultimately remains grounded in a bone-crunching realness that gives weight to both the story arc and the characters.
Although all three books are consumate page turners (I downed the series in less than a month) it’s not always the adrenaline rush of the standard action page turner. There is an intrinsic, unspoken caveat to these books that anything – especially anything bad – could happen to any of the characters at any time and whilst this makes the action gripping it also creates an uncertainty and anxiousness I rarely feel with hero (or heroine) led stories. There is also a grinding, ‘last-gasp crawl towards the finish line’ quality to a lot of the action that at times has more in common with horror movies, in particular those that veer into torture porn, than anything else. None of these observations are criticisms by the way, they are exactly what makes the satire present in the story arc so powerful.
Only just raising it’s head above the parapet of nihilism it’s not a series for anyone looking for a new Alex Rider but if you like to have your buttons pushed along with your action then I would absolutely recommend it.
In terms of where it sits within the frame of teen writing, and for any parents considering whether it’s appropriate for their kids, I would say it’s definitely at the upper end of the YA spectrum. That’s not to say you have to be 17 to read this – I think I could have tackled it effectively by the age of 14 or so – but it will depend on the individual and their reading habits. It’s not a book that is controversial for the sake of it but it could certainly be a conversation starter for younger readers. I also suspect that under 12 or 13 it would be the emotional language of the personal relationships in the story that might be an issue in digesting the series rather than just the violence.
In short – highly recommended.
*RE: Uglies: I love those books too. Here is my very old review of them.
This might look like a small, fragile sliver of a story from the outside but it’s a wonderfully messy, urgent and visceral little beast on the inside. It’s sexy, honest, real and slightly perverse.
Titillating? Yes, but if The Book Lover were burlesque it would be the pulling glitter out of it’s arse kind not the awkward fan dance in perfect lipstick and lacy knickers kind. And all the better for it.
“When all of your wishes are granted, many of your dreams will be destroyed.”
It’s got to be pretty weird being Marilyn Manson in the post Burton/Emo world. How do you carry on as the Antichrist Superstar when no-one cares if you are the Antichrist or not?
The key word in that moniker for me however has always been ‘Superstar’. It’s long been a frustration that his one obvious road out of this hell was to be our last great glam rock star – Mechanical Animals set the stage perfectly and his career since then has been punctured by blindingly good reminders of why he has all the sex, sass and swagger necessary to be the God of Fuck forever – unfortunately it’s more often not the road he chooses to take.
Born Villain, like much of his career, is a mixed bag. When it’s good it’s very, very good and when it’s bad it boring.
High points: There are a few excellent tracks on Born Villain – Pistol Whipped, Slo-mo-tion, The Gardener, The Flowers of Evil, Born Villain and Breaking the Same Old Ground are all above average, with Pistol Whipped and Slo-mo-tion being the standout tracks.
Pistol Whipped is a claustrophic, sexy, BDSM drawl that, although tempting to view as part of the recent I Love The Way You Lie trendification of domestic violence is in fact probably best just not thought about too much at all!
Slo-mo-tion is a fantastic big glamorama done in the way only he can. Reminiscent of songs like I Don’t Like The Drugs (But The Drugs Like Me) and Arma-goddamn-motherfuckin-geddon it’s exactly my favourite kind of Marilyn Manson song. Pop-rock with a great big middle finger.
Low Points: One of the biggest disappointments on it is the cover of Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain (intriguingly also credited to Johnny Depp though I’m not sure doing what). Marilyn Manson has recorded some of the greatest cover versions of all time, I Put A Spell On You, Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) and Golden Years spring to mind, but sadly this is more in the vein of Tainted Love and Personal Jesus – tired rehashes that don’t really bring anything new to the table. What a wasted opportunity!
The rest of the tracks range from average (Murderers Are Getting Prettier Every Day, Children of Cain) to tedious (Disengaged, Lay Down Your Goddamn Arms) and most anoyingly the album does that strangely common cardinal sin of starting with one of the most boring songs on it (Hey, Cruel World).
All in all not a classic and certainly not an album that will gain him any new fans but there is still enough here to keep the ones he has happy.
Scores on the doors:
Hey, Cruel World – 5/10
No Reflection – 6/10
Pistol Whipped – 8/10
Overneath the Path of Misery – 6/10
Slo-mo-tion – 9/10
The Gardener – 7/10
The Flowers of Evil – 6/10
Children of Cain – 5/10
Disengaged – 4/10
Lay Down Your Goddamn Arms -4/10
Murderers Are Getting Prettier Every Day – 6/10
Born Villain – 6/10
Breaking the Same Old Ground 7/10
You’re So Vain – 5/10
Overall rating: 6/10
The final word: Not the God of Fuck-All quite yet.