Posts from July 2008

Jul 08

Blurzillas, the Olympics and Jet Li’s Piss

Do You See + FT + TMFD/Post a comment • 719 views

So the BBC have launched their slightly abstruse trailer for the Olympics
. It being a two minute summary of Wu Cheng’en’s Journey To The West, better known in the west as MONKEY. The animated two minute trail takes a while to get on to the subject of the Olympics, and is subtitled Journey To The East – as that is what the BBC will be doing to cover the Olympics (DO YOU SEE). One assumes the music and imagery are largely based on the recent stage version of Journey To The West by Damon Albarn and Chen Shi-zheng, designed by Jamie Hewlett whose animation is unmistakable here. Fun that it is, it will probably infuriate a lot of people, and confuse anyone under thirty. Unless they know the story of the Monkey King all that well. Which they may have picked up a bit from Dragonballz, or seen the recent Jet Li, Jackie Chan film The Forbidden Kingdom.


Jul 08

Life Imitates Tharg part 374

FT + Proven By Science1 comment • 134 views

Can Electronic Cigarettes Beat The Smoking Ban?

“I think people need to be cautious,” warns Dr Roberta Ferrence, director of the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit. “It’s an unknown.”

“The concern is that the product will probably be promoted as something that’s safer than smoking,” she adds. “What needs to happen to make the dangers of smoking clear is for the product to be fitted with an electronic voice, perhaps one possessed of a piercing Mexican accent and a series of warning phrases such as “No no Senor Slade! Thees ees madness!””  .

Comics: A Beginner’s Guide: SF

The Brown Wedge7 comments • 854 views

I guess the place to start for SF comics, particularly on a British site, is 2000AD. Its title now makes it sound very unlike SF, but it’s been running future adventure stories for decades. It’s never been consistently great, but it’s had lots of great strips over the years: Alan Moore and Ian Gibson’s future-Locas series Halo Jones, Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell’s superhero strip Zenith, Pat Mills’ future-inquisition story Nemesis, with lots of artists, but most famously, Judge Dredd. I don’t know how many Dredd stories there have been by now, but nearly all of them are at least pretty good – Mills and John Wagner managed a strong standard for a very long time. It’s hard to know where to start with highlights, but the early Judge Death stories, with art by Brian Bolland, are wonderful (a sample is shown, a favourite comic moment of mine), and Mike McMahon’s art in the same era is as good as British action art has ever been – well, except he may have beaten it on Pat Mills’ Celtic fantasy series Slaine, also in 2000AD.


ABBA – “Take A Chance On Me”

FT + Popular57 comments • 5,572 views

#419, 18th February 1978

“Take A Chance On Me” couldn’t be more different from “The Name Of The Game”: here it’s the beloved who’s shy and afraid, and the singer who radiates confidence and amused self-security. “You don’t want to hurt me? Baby don’t worry, I ain’t gonna let you.”  The song is a typically ABBA-ish twist on a well-worn romantic situation: a rejected suitor pleading their case. Many writers would assume a hurt or hangdog perspective – instead “Take A Chance” is absurdly buoyant. Come on, it says, what’s the worst that could happen? It’s one of ABBA’s most straight-up joyous hits, brimful of an inspirational strength.

It’s also a step back from “The Name Of The Game”‘s complexity – the rhythm is “Dancing Queen” redux (though with a little more pep), and like that song it leads with its steamroller chorus. The simplicity here’s a little deceptive, though – that wonderful a capella rhythm line is as bold a stroke as you’ll find on any of their records, and the flashing, bubbling keyboards show that Benny and Bjorn had been paying attention to Moroder’s advances. But that’s really all secondary to the song’s effervescence, with the girls’ hammy semi-spoken bits summing the whole thing up: this is a band having casually brilliant fun.


Do You See + FT4 comments • 607 views

The tonal shifts in Mamma Mia are unsettling. The range of acting styles, from mugging through to camp are far broader than any film I have seen in years. The cinematography only occasionally lifts its head above competent and Meryl Streep should never, ever be allowed to wear dungarees again. But the soundtrack is terrific (even when being sung poorly by Pierce Brosnan) and the whole cast and crew seem to have such confidence in the quality of the overall product that it steamrollers you in its tracks. Mamma Mia is a terrifically entertaining two hours (even when it entertains for the wrong reasons: DUNGAREES STREEP), which is about 80% due to the songs.

Looking at this summers blockbuster fayre I think I have noticed a new trend. Namely the blockbuster aimed at middle aged women. Sex In The City and Mamma Mia seem squarely aimed at the 30+ female set, and unapologetically so. This is interesting because post-Jaws – this is an audience who have been generally ignored.


Jul 08

Popular Demographic Survey

FT + Popular136 comments • 3,745 views

Since there isn’t a great deal more to say about the last entry, time to scratch an itch I’ve had for a while about who exactly is reading this. I’ve kept the questions vague so as to avoid spoilers for records we’ve not covered yet.

Basically, I’d like you to answer these questions in the comments:

1. When were you born?
2. What was the year you were first regularly interested in what was at #1?
3. Do you still listen to music in the Top 40 on a regular basis (and if the answer’s “no”, when did you stop)? more »


FT + Popular68 comments • 5,090 views

#418, 11th February 1978

When pop’s weather changes, sometimes it’s the mediocre songs that tell you – left beached, suddenly seeming not just below-par but a bit ridiculous. Some records are the sound of a game being up. The hoofy hornsome jauntiness of “Figaro” wouldn’t have sounded good whenever it was released, but not so long before it would at least have fitted in better, just another bad mid-70s pop side, and why expect more? But in the context of 1978 it sounds risible in its complete paucity of ambition (those bastard horns especially). I like this a lot less than the much-despised “Angelo”: a pastiche that runs out of steam beats this horrid evocation of the holiday hustle. “Figaro” – well, “Figaro”‘s brass section – is like being woken at dawn, with a hangover, from an itchy bed by a Butlins Redcoat and made to party till your feet bleed. A single too far for the Brotherhood and their whole aesthetic.

Bruce Wayne, Auf Wiedersehen

Do You See + FT + The Brown Wedge/14 comments • 1,247 views

I was 16 when the Tim Burton Batman film came out. At the time it was the most-hyped movie I could remember for several years. It was the first major comic-book film to come out for a while, and the first since the new wave of comics – and specifically, superhero – respectability had hit in the mid-80s. That respectability had been kickstarted by a Batman yarn, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, and word was that this new, big-budget Batflick would cement the new, slick, media-literate, violent and intelligent take on superheroics that Miller had helped pioneer. The NME, which had a fair few comics nerds hidden on-staff, used the (sizeable) figleaf of Prince’s soundtrack to run a bundle of coverage. The serious papers nodded in approval at Jack Nicholson’s vicious, charismatic, Joker. In retrospect, it was probably the high watermark of “WHAM! POW! Comics Aren’t Just For Kids Anymore!”.


Jul 08

MumPop II: I Love It When You Call

FT4 comments • 265 views

So far I have spectacularly failed to fulfil my intended investigation into Westlife. To make up for it, last week I took my Mum to see The Feeling play at Somerset House (Mum had wanted to see Duffy, but that had sold out months earlier). The Feeling were my suggestion; Mum wasn’t familiar with their output apart from the odd mention on Radio 2. I’ve listened to both their albums (at least twice through each!) and generally approve of them as a Positive Thing on life’s tally. Mum caught my enthusiasm and declared she was ‘very excited to be seeing live music again’, but would there be anywhere to sit down or should she bring a folding chair?


ALTHEA AND DONNA – “Uptown Top Ranking”

FT + Popular70 comments • 10,572 views

#417, 4th February 1978

Even a dilettante like me is aware that the late 70s were a storied age for Jamaican music. The flow of talent and money between Kingston and London was starting to open up world markets to reggae, with Marley a superstar and punk drawing social (and increasingly musical) inspiration from roots and dub. In London, the sweeter sound of Lovers Rock was scoring occasional, deathless pop hits. In Jamaica, a fresh generation of MCs and singjays were starting to make waves, men who would become the stars of early dancehall. And in New York, techniques imported by reggae DJs were setting trends in motion that would transform pop’s vocabulary.

So far, so historical. And then sneaking past the Kintyre titan for a week in the wintry sun was this, the most wondrous of one-hit wonders. If you want proof of the appeal of “Uptown Top Ranking”, try this: I have never once, that I can remember, seen anyone decry it as inauthentic, or sold-out, or frivolous or unrepresentative of Jamaican music. Nobody resents it, in other words. How could they?