Posts from 29th March 2005

Mar 05

Poptimism in Space

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Poptimism in Space

The key moment for me in the new Doctor Who is when the Doctor, having just twigged that the bad ‘guy’ is using the London Eye as a space transmitter, turns to Rose and grins, “Fantastic!”. “Fantastic!” – you’ve solved the problem. “Fantastic!” – we’ve found the evil base. But also – isn’t this “Fantastic!”, this running around saving the universe thing? It’s not the companion, new to it and in a state of understandable shock, who says this, it’s the Doctor, who has 900 years of it under his belt and seems more wide-eyed and enthusiastic than ever.

In the interviews I’ve read leading up to the new series (which I loved, even more than I expected to – in fact I loved it so much that I haven’t wanted to watch it a second time) I’ve been told a lot of things. Russell T Davies has written about the Doctor as a hero. Chris Eccleston has talked about wanting to bring the emotion back. There have been mutterings of a more human Doctor, or of a darker one. So I was completely blindsided by the simple glee in Eccleston’s performance, which almost nobody mentioned but which on the sliver of evidence we have seems to be something of a keynote. The Doctor has always had a sense of curiosity, sometimes an irresponsible one, but the sense of wonder has been left to the viewer until now. Eccleston, though, fizzes with it, whether he’s chivvying the “stupid apes” to wake up to themselves or grinning like a look when we do.

I’m not going to review every aspect of the show – you name it, I thought it worked, or could at least see what it was doing there. Looking at a big Who news and reviews site and reading the fan reviews there, the main quibble seemed to be the length – the show was rushed, the one episode format simply ‘unsuitable’ for Dr Who. For old Dr Who, maybe, but with a handful of acknowledged classics excepted can anyone really say that the old Who couldn’t have done with editing? Any given story is a rickety mess, superb scenes and great ideas interspersed with repetition, capture/escape routines, slack banter and the very occasional magnificent build up (something I suspect we’ll get in this series’ two-part stories anyway). It’s all lovely stuff but the feeling I get when I consider, say, The Daemons is like the feeling I get when I think of a favourite album. Contemplation of the whole brings a glow, a sense of completeness. The experience of actually listening though leads more often than not to ennui, awareness of flaws, a simple desire to skip to the good bits. Rose though was more like a great single, something thrilling and immediate but affirmational and jumping with possibilities. It was rushed because it was a rush. “Fantastic!”

Great Moments: ‘Mmm Bop’ by Hanson 0:55-0:58

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Great Moments:
‘Mmm Bop’ by Hanson 0:55-0:58

(an occasional series reviewing all of music a few seconds at a time)

(suggested by Pete during Poptimism)

This has a fairly undistinguished start, and the strangulated and weak vocals inspire little optimism. It’s nothing special, until we embark on the chorus, which is just sounds and syllables, but it’s immediately obvious we are hearing a classic bubblegum pop moment, one of those that most of us sing along to joyously while the rest sneer with loathing. But what makes this moment extra special is the addition of an element hitherto unknown in records remotely like this: scratching. Nonsense words are as old as rock ‘n’ roll, awopbopaloobop and so on (and see scat before that), and bubblegum pop was also decades old, but the incorporation of a hip hop technique gives this a strong modernity it might well otherwise lack. On top of that, it has a potent energising effect, and is deployed when we are just climbing to a musical peak anyway, which is perfect timing. And we shouldn’t ignore the appeal of novelty in pop music, the fun of something new, the pleasure of a surprising juxtaposition. I wouldn’t suggest that this would be a mediocre record without the background scratching, but I do think it makes a significant contribution to its greatness. The album offers no scratching credit, but it was the Dust Brothers who produced this, so I presume it’s down to them.

(Outside the parameters of this series, but I can’t resist mentioning my other favourite thing about this record’s success: the stream of indie fans writing to NME et al protesting that they fancied one of the band and then found out it was a boy: the great thing was that these fans thought this said something negative about Hanson, and nothing about themselves.)

THE FT TOP 25 ANIMALS – 11. Sheep

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“It’s sheep we’re up against!” trilled the Housemartins – has there been an animal which gets a worse recent press than the humble sheep? It’s almost a rite of passage for every gimp who fancies themselves as alternative: dust off the ancient metaphor and train both your limp barrels on the bleating forces of conformity. (An example: the worst headline in music press history, Steve Sutherland’s “SCENE AND NOT HERD”.)

It was not ever thus: when the ancient astrologers named a house of the Zodiac after the noble RAM* they were not sneering at one twelth of mankind for only buying Dido CDs. The fact is that aside from the odd moment of being chased by a dog into a pen (and aside from on the telly does this even happen any more), your average sheep – non-intensively farmed sheep, anyway – has a pretty good life. Nice big woolly coat in Winter, free haircuts in Summer, all the grass they can eat, the company of friends, harmonious parent-child relationships. I would say that the inscrutable face of a sheep hides a deep zen wisdom. There is the whole ‘being eaten’ aspect but hey, you have to go sometime.

*Though frankly as constellations go Aries is even more laughable than usual – nobody is going to convince me that ancient man didn’t know a triangle when he saw one. Maybe he had the wool pulled over his eyes.

In discussing the ridiculous paid for NUS card with “added value”

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In discussing the ridiculous paid for NUS card with “added value” at a conference I compared it to Pepsi Max. A retort saying that NUS Extra is nothing like Pepsi Max got wondering. What is Pepsi Max for? Really.

Think about it. We already have Diet Pepsi. Pepsi Max is different in what way? Taste perhaps (not a test I have done recently) and, er, its attitude. A marketing construct surely, a soft drink cannot have an attitude. It can have an ad campaign and its clear that Pepsi don’t really advertise Diet Pepsi any more. But they still make it. If I remember rightly Diet Pepsi was always the tastiest diet drink. But is not extreme sports enough.

People have suggested that Pepsi Max has more caffeine in it. There is nothing on the cans to suggest this. Which brings us now to the best brand dilution yet: Pepsi Max with a hint of Lemon & Lime. Which is like Diet Coke with a hint of Lemon and Diet Coke with a hint of Lime being pissed out of a snowboarder whilst he executes some dazzlingly pointless aerial stunt. Ie, nothing anyone would want to drink. Right?

TV Diary: everything I watched on 28/3/05

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TV Diary: everything I watched on 28/3/05

Huff: An overnight gap from Help, but here’s another show centred on a psychologist. Hank Azaria, the great Simpsons voice actor, plays a shrink with troubles of one sort and another with wife, son, parents, patients and friends. The support cast is excellent, especially mother Blythe Danner, and it’s written with strength and maturity – it’s a fine comedy drama.

Homicide: Life On The Street: a rerun from lateish in the show’s run. Smallville‘s Lionel Luthor is in it, and Lana Lang was in Earthsea yesterday. This is one of my all-time favourite shows, but this one is low on Pembleton, Munch and Lewis, who are my favourites, though there are some quite good Giardello scenes.

Culture Show: the one from ages ago with a segment on graphic novels, which was deeply irritating and full of wrongness, despite contributions from my old friend Paul Gravett.

Legend of Earthsea: The second and concluding part. I’ve enjoyed this – there was the odd moment of low-budget CGI, but mostly it’s looked good, sometimes terrific. The acting was mostly second-rate, but I guess it’s hard to imagine anyone doing too much with the parts. It’s a very strong story, and that carried it all through very well.

A Mighty Wind: This is the people behind Spinal Tap taking on folk music. If you crossed ST with their later Best In Show, this is what you’d get. Lots of the same cast, same kinds of jokes and mode. I didn’t find it as funny as either, to be honest, but I liked it well enough.

crypto-darwinian breakthrough

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and finally…

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Pandas still rubbish. Is messing this poor genetic dead-end about (come on poor old panda, let us move you somewhere where the bamboo isn’t in flower) less cruel than just letting the poor buggers die out?