Posts from 21st August 2003

21
Aug 03

Pop round-up

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You will no doubt be astonished to learn that in my search for pop perfection I download a lot of tat. None of it deserves a separate review, most of it is dribbly and half-arsed, but writing a round-up at least forces me to give it a second listen.

Louise‘s return, with ‘Pandora’s Kiss’, is an awful mess. It starts off as a swipe from J-Lo’s ‘Ain’t It Funny’ remix, which exposes Louise’s flimsy voice, and then switches gears into a lift from Xtina’s ‘Fighter’, which exposes Louise’s lack of charisma. Like most second-division R&B, it sounds very cheap.

Travis‘ new single, unbelievably called ‘Re-Offender’, is slow, pained and painful, very much on the nursing-a-last-pint-as-the-chairs-go-on-the-tables side of their style, not the arms-linked-matey-swaying side. It isn’t their worst record but I’d be surprised if you liked it.

Lemar from old Fame Academy has a single out, ‘Dance (With U)’, a play-it-safe bit of classicist disco which is impeccably soulful and as exciting as a prawn sandwich. By no means unpleasant, though.

You will not be surprised to learn that the new Limp Bizkit track (which has the same ‘plot’ as the Lemar single, plus panty-sniffing and whinging) is a stinker. I have been misled by the admirable open-mindedness of ILM to re-invent Fred Durst in my head as a fun-loving rock pranksta with a great ear for a hook. Whereas in fact he’s a tiresome fool and ‘Eat You Alive’ has the sad, tawdry heart of an office sex pest.

The second listen thing pays off with the Real Actual J-Lo, whose ‘Baby I Love You’ (praised by Raposa below) has a delicate, delicious backing track and whose intrusively sincere lyrics don’t cloy quite as much as they did at first, though ‘Blessed and cursed on the same day, the day I first felt the power of you inside of me, such a strong feeling’ is hard to stomach. First thing here I won’t delete.

Beyonce feat Missy – should be great right? Listening to ‘Fighting Temptation’ (the single from the Fighting Temptations movie soundtrack) will make you glum, though — the beat is hot in that Under Construction old school style, but there’s a nasty Pearl and Dean style horn sample which keeps breaking the mood, and Beyonce’s chorus is olestra to the ears. More a missed opportunity than a bad record.

Jamelia‘s ‘Superstar’ starts off pleasant enough and gets better every time you hear it — this kind of easy, Summery feel is what Lemar is aiming for, but Jamelia sounds much more effortless and her chorus is a gem.

Finally a strange record: ‘Download It’ by Cleo. When I saw it in the listings at www.mp3sfinder.com (where all these came from) I thought wa-hey! It must be some kind of Fast Food Rockers-style novelty hit about the Interweb! But no, it’s a poor-quality R&B record which rests on what seems to be an extremely tenuous digital metaphor (if I can’t have you with me at least I can download you, or you can download me, or something, really who knows, maybe it’s some kind of pervy webcam deal). The songwriters should be ashamed of themselves.

My television has been banished indefinitely

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My television has been banished indefinitely to the spare room, due in no small part to Nissan Micra and their current advertising campaign. It has become clear that I’m not the only one whose teeth and fingernails start screaming in protest every time I hear the words ‘simpology’ and ‘spafe’, but why?

The thinking behind these ads is obviously ‘this Micra is so original, radical and downright funky that we need to invent a whole new lexicon to describe it. Also, we are generally wacky and innovative, as reflected in promotional sidebars in national newspapers where we – get this – just go right ahead and make up words for random concepts that have so far escaped definition.’ Sorry Nissan, but Douglas Adams and John Lloyd got there (or somewhere similar but less obnoxious) twenty years before you, and did it with a light touch and an understanding of human nature that you can only dream of.

The main reason the adverts are so ground-breakingly annoying is that they utterly fail to grasp how language works. Yes, new words are created, and old ones adapted, all the time, thanks to text messages, pop songs, websites, TV shows, playgrounds, films… but they evolve organically, have an history, and will only survive if they are useful. No advertising executive can yank a hideous portmanteau word into existence just by willing it. And of course, the lack of any kind of wit or irony doesn’t help. If only that whispery, lubricious voice would intone “free… insurance… frinsurance!” at the end of the advert, but no. The Micra obviously takes itself deadly seriously, which is exactly why it’s impossible for the viewer to.

COMMENTARY CONUNDRA

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COMMENTARY CONUNDRA

BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA

Commentators: John Carpenter, Kurt Russell

These two are notorious for, among other things, one of the looniest DVD commentaries ever, namely for their collaborative remake on The Thing, involving director and star, at least a six-pack and a fair amount of marijuana. This might yet be looked at in more detail, but in the meantime, this effort, far more controlled (if you will) in some senses but otherwise a ridiculous, merry mess — rather like its associated film, to be sure.

One thing’s for sure, Russell is clearly that rarest of actors, a man without pretension, or if he has any he’s saved it for the right moments or let it wear away over time (and given his decades long career since his Disney days, he’s had plenty of time to let it go). Laughing loudly and gleefully on a nearly constant level, within the first few minutes he’s chuckling and more over his character, the studio boss of the time, Harrison Ford, Rambo, the misperceptions of the film and more besides, and perhaps most importantly himself. As he says regarding the ad campaign for the film, focusing on his character of Jack Burton without mentioning his name, it probably didn’t work first and foremost simply because people didn’t recognize his face, not something most star product personnel will admit even in the throes of an E! True Hollywood Story. Carpenter in contrast is a touch more direct and less prone to busting up, but he’s quick, chattering, clearly loving hanging around with the actor that he’s most associated with over time, has the kind of voice that may be a touch nasally but is never grating. He notes how effects and technical efforts have improved over time, in terms of visual effects and martial arts choreography, but makes no apologies for the end results in the film and more than once notes, with justifiable pride, how well he and his crew were able to make them work with comparatively more primitive equipment.

And the two are off and running from the start. Belying the occasional pause to note a pretty sharp action scene, they don’t stop — and they don’t stop with the film either. There’s plenty of stories, appreciations, details of scenes, but as the film goes on they happily start catching up on various things in their own lives, letting minutes drift by on the screen while tales of how their kids are doing in hockey practice and with music, the nature of action movies in general and bits of political discussion and more. At one point Carpenter and Russell bust out over the sidetracks, Carpenter noting slyly “This is what it’s like when Kurt and I get together!” A true enough point, but there’s enough trivia to keep the hyperfans happy and enough camaraderie to allow this to function as its own enjoyable shoot-the-shit session.

BUBBA SPARXXX — Jimmy Mathis

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Bubba Sparxxx’s earlier stuff wasn’t much to my ears, it was a case where a trademark Timbaland production didn’t work and the MCing was…well, was. But a song like this is already meta-swamp music, the type of thing that Nick Cave figures exists somewhere but he’s not entirely sure is best captured in music or in words or in a novel, and usually only with a deep black frown. Here the storm clouds are in the buzzing synth bass and the deep ‘whaaat’ and the distant harmonica, and the way Timbaland creates dub without creating dub means once again that it’s the space in the mix, the difference between what is prominent and what isn’t, which works the most. Sparxxx sounds better here too, the click of beats making it sound like he’s taking off his skin and dancing around his bones, pace Mr. Waits. For all the comparative straightforward structure of the song, a good word for this would be roiling — not stable, all mixed up, bubb(a)ling.

There are actual times when I want to shout at the American tv powers that be

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There are actual times when I want to shout at the American tv powers that be, such as when I found out (earlier in the Summer) that there were plans to create an American version of Coupling for the masses here. Insanity! Apparently, the fact that only All In The Family (“based on Till Death Do Us Part”) was a success —in the 70’s!—taught nothing.

How to accurately translate the sexual neuroses of Steve and Jeff? The utter cluelessness of Jane? The tired studliness of Patrick? Part of what makes the show so funny is the wry British style of humour….and the freedom to show your girlfriend handcuffed to the bed on TV. American networks still believe that BB4 is the height of sexual daring: television movies-of-the week and the daily soaps show more skin than the nighttime US comedy shows.

I’m tempted to keep my fingers crossed, but am simply waiting for the usual effect: either the scripts will be flat in translation, the pricey American actors will be wooden, or the general viewing audience won’t get the relevance. 13 potential episodes for a season will turn into a mid-Summer one-off. Sad, but inevitable. Thousands of US dollars to buy the rights will be wasted on unimaginative planning and execution.

If I’m wrong, I’ll gladly buy the beer.