Posts from 28th November 2003
Stop, And Listen
You might hear something you’re missing
Well its quite possible that you missed this, the fantastic highpoint of the fraggle band Mega City Four’s career. It managing to tickle the charts at number 34 in 1992. Which is a bit like getting in to the first round of the FA Cup. Trust me though, you weren’t missing anything good. Imagine a band from the home counties who were given some out of tune guitars and a Husker Du album for Christmas when they were sixteen. Sorry, that’s the Senseless Things. Imaging the Senseless Things older, uglier (!) brothers and you have imagined Mega City Four.
The band name comes from 2000AD comics, like all sensible mature bands they named themselves out of some juvenalia. All I know about 2000AD is Judge Dredd, a character who I rather admire for his ability to be judge, jury and executioner. Ah to have that kind of power, and be near The Levellers. The singer of Mega City Four (though singing is being charitable because he had a terribly weak voice, akin to Sooty’s mate Sweep) was called Wiz. I assume becasue he was a scrawny streak of piss.
They entitled their first album Tranzophobia, named after the fear they had of Transit Vans. Many people assumed this was due to the punishing tour shcedule they followed, trvelling the nation is said Ford Van. Actually i can report that the truth is a little bit more personal. There was a period in the early nineties when I inherited a transit van from my poor departed fathers business. Realising that the vehicle was not registered to me I set about chasing every half arsed indie band down with an eye for the hit and run. I managed to trap Jim-Bob out of Carter USM’s fringe under the wheels. I also managed to give The Frank And Walters concussion, however this made no difference as there was hardly chance of brain damamge. But the prize I wanted most was Mega City Four’s grubby heads on my trophy room hall and I could never quite get them. As long as I have established a permenant fear of vehicular transport my work is probably done. Though I guess they are all bus drivers now so it might be a bad thing…
IS FOR….PS-I LOVE YOU
Well it wouldn’t be an alphabet of crap if the Beatles did not make the cut. PS I Love You comes from the stage of their career when they were not being feted as the single most important cultural event of the twentieth century. The beginning of their career, on the ironically titled Please Please Me (my name for the album is Please Destroy It). This part of their career was notable for being crap with simpler arrangements, and songs which rather than have several verses often just repeated them over and over again.
The conceit here is that the hero is leaving his girlfriend for some time and is writing a note to tell her how much he loves her. Which is why it is a bit odd that he leaves it to the postscript to do just that. Equally it is possible that since the writer is a Beatle, the tortured similies and metaphors with which the idea was being put across in the body of the letter needed a postscript for fear that she would not understand them. After all, how smart could she be going out with a Scouser with a bowl haircut? And just in case it is unclear who they love, they say it twenty six times in the song. PS, they love YOU. YOU. YOU. YOU. YOU. YOU. YOU. YOU. YOU. YOU. YOU. YOU. YOU. YOU. YOU. YOU. YOU. YOU. YOU. YOU. YOU. YOU. YOU. YOU. YOU. YOU.
Get the message?
I was trying to work out what it was about Elf that reminded me of Ghostbusters. I loved Ghostbusters as a kid, and really rather like Elf. Perhaps it is the slightly fantasy setting of both films. The fact that both are firmly rooted in a vision of New York being a slightly curmudgeonly wonderland. Perhaps it is just the Saturday Night live alumnus aspect. Probably what it has most in common is an appeal to both kids and the ads. Jphn favreau has managed to direct a film which fakes a subversive attitude but is at its core really, really sweet.
It helps that the casting is so good. Bob Newhart is wonderfully doddery as Papa Elf, and frankly Ed Asner current owns the role of Santa. The New Yorkers also manage to convince, Zooey Deschanel is winning in a hugely underwritten role, and Caan and Steenburgen really do convince as a vaguely (but only vaguely) unhappy couple. The film rises and falls on Will Ferrell though, who grins his way through the film, perhaps equating innocence too much with stupidity, but wrings laughs out of the lamest of set-ups. One of the nicest things about Elf is how it has been properly screenwritten, the plot – whilst ludicrous – makes just about enough sense for it to be funny and heartwarming. A very good family film, which probably sounds like faint praise, so go back to the Ghostbusters analogy.
Oh, I’ve finally realised. The reason it reminds me so much of Ghostbusters: is it has the same resolution as Ghostbusters 2. Don’t let that put you off.
IS FOR….THE CHI-NESE WAY
Take a journey back in time
Leave the western world behind
Cross the mountains to Peking
Where the paper laterns gently swing
Leaving aside the fact that the Chinese prefer Beijing these days since Level 42 wish us to travel back in time, has there ever been a more stereotypical opening stanza to a song ever? I guess if it got gusty in the mountains the lanterns would do more than gently swing. Any minute now I expect Ping-Pong from Rupert to turn up in this song. Still this is The Chinese Way…
The Chinese way
Who knows what they know?
Mark King was obviously not the worlds greatest lyric writer as he was spending too much time being the worlds greatest slap bass player. Unbeknownst to him, China from ancient days had built a really rather large population of over 1 billion people, so when you ask who knows what they know, you’re looking at about 30% of the worlds population also knowing it. I guess they all knew one thing, that bands named after a joke in Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy are rubbish.
My eyes wide open
I feel a breeze
Words softly spoken
I will give him the benefit of the doubt that the “Eyes Wide Open” bit is merely some words made to fit. No such leniency given for rhyming breeze with Cantonese. Yet another terrible song written about the orient by the man that made the bit in Seinfeld that everyone hates. The theme tune. Slap bass? Slap him more like.
IS FOR…PHI LIFE CYPHER
Cheery Van Morrison.
The harder edged Cocteau Twins Songs.
The Farms Greatest Hits.
All phrases and concepts which make no sense I think you would all agree. Oxymorons even. And in British Hip-Hop nothing puts the morons in Oxymoron more than Phi Life Cypher. Their record company suggests they are everyone favourite Luton hip-hop crew. Lack of choice does not imply favouritism. I can just imagine the rap battles being thrown down at the Arndale centre, bringing in cres as far flung afield as Dunstable and Bedford to battle for this particular crown.
Phi Life Cypher are Skit Slam(!), Mr Thing(!), Life (should be a lifer), DJ Nappa(asleep on the job) and Si-Philli. They have a member whose name is basically Syphillis. Perhaps they think this means their tunes will be infectious. Instead they just make you itchy all over and prolonged exposure will probably kill.
It is sad to see good British kids wanting to emulate their American cousins into such poor fields as hi-hop. What is wrong with hanging around phone boxes with a two litre bottle of cider. Instead this slippery slope will almost certainly lead them into buying heavy gold chains from Elizabeth Duke and drive by shootings on the A5. The tragedy is that we will actually be saved more of this horrific noise. Phi life Cypher, the puzzle is why?
I’m sure most rock stars were better when they were dorks, but luckily for them we don’t usually get to see that. With Depeche it was all terribly public, and I can’t think why anyone with the vaguest affection for their gauche Goth-y phases would have tolerated Dave Gahan’s beard’n'tats routine for a minute.
Anyway, this is my favourite Depeche Mode single, probably. They always looked a little nerdy in the early days, mostly thanks to Martin Gore’s hair and their mother-me gangliness, and here they sound it too. Gore was still getting used to the ‘I’m the songwriter’ thing and ‘Shake The Disease’ is charmingly awkward, a collection of marvellous bits of songs that stops and starts as if it doesn’t know what to do with itself. They lose the momentum completely every time the chorus ends – initially it’s irritating but gradually you realise that by accident or design form (your frustration) is matching content (Dave’s frustration) and wow! this is actually rather good.
Gahan’s voice on it is excellent too – traces of an Estuary accent, a kind of stilted RP thing going on somewhere in there too, but his projection is so strong that it never comes out fey. You can hear the honking pomposity of ‘Personal Jesus’ et al. trying to break out but the confidence isn’t there yet, thank goodness. Anyway the whole package – downloaded on a whim from someone’s shared list – is so enjoyable it makes me wonder if I need to (eek) re-assess Depeche Mode. Well, the early stuff at least.
SEND FOR THE HATING TABLETS! My annual battle with misogyny gets underway with the release of this year’s Lambrini adverts. You know the form by now: three women enjoying ‘girly night out/in’ with bottle of stomach-wrenching pear plonk trade ‘dirty jokes’. Mercilessly the Lambrini people have not even changed the pictures of the women (though the ad’s background is now an unpleasant pale green) so the horrible image of the middle one in mid-cackle is glued on my brain once more.
Amazingly though the one-liners have got worse. Last year you may recall the main gag was as follows: ‘We had a RACE last night. He CAME FIRST as usual.’ (HAR HAR HAR HAR HAR). OK yes fair enough, it is just about possible to imagine a human being making that joke and maybe even others laughing. This year though the tagline is ‘When he said he liked BRAZILIANS I didn’t know he meant FOOTBALLERS.’ Perhaps I am na’ve but it boggles me even trying to imagine the supposed interaction leading to this shockingly weak, forced runt of a joke.
Now, alcohol does indeed make you laugh at any old shit, as readers who have played Dirty Crossword will be aware. If I was promoting an alcohol brand though, I am not sure this is the aspect I’d play up ‘ look look our product will turn you into a real chump! But the alternative is too horrid to contemplate: that Lambrini have identified a strata of consumers who aspire to making wisecracks as clever as ‘When he said ” (no, I can’t even type it again). It can’t be true. It mustn’t be true. AND YET’
I have a slim vol on my bookshelf called Genes, People and Language by a fellow called Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza. Using genetic tests, one can draw trees which show how early man spread around the globe. Using linguistics, one can plot very similar trees detailing the relationship between the various language families in the world. The book talks about the correlation between the two. It seems convincing, or at least worth exploring.
When I was given the book I was full of glee, because it struck me as a lovely idea. It seemed like my ideal book, in that it contained linguistics, maths and genetics in one little package. Unfortunately it’s a terrible read. It has been very sloppily translated from the Italian, but I suspect the leaden style has been faithfully rendered. The bits about the maths of correlation are badly explained, and every interesting fact and insight is annoyingly communicated. It’s not worth perservering with after a while. But this is still a fascinating subject, and if anyone knows of any better books on the subject (linguisto-genetics? geneto-philology?) then please let me know.
Just to prove I don’t complain about every pop science effort which comes my way, let me recommend a fantastic book in a similar vein called Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond, which asks some very ticklish questions about race, geography and culture, and proposes some interesting answers.