Posts from 7th October 2003

Oct 03

2003 – Year Of The ‘KICK ME’ Sign

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2003 – Year Of The ‘KICK ME’ Sign: As if critics weren’t having an easy time anyway (blah blah manufactured pop idol blah blah White Stripes blah blah bling bling blah blah dance is dead), the world of pop is trying its hardest to turn its back into a comfy foot-cushion for the idle reviewer. On the front page of ALONE we find:

Britney Spears – Me Against The Music
Black Eyed Peas – Shut Up
Speedway – Save Yourself
Kosheen – Wasting My Time
REM – Bad Day
Blue – Guilty
Delta Goodrem – Not Me Not I
Pink – Trouble

…and those are the ones which require not even the tiniest remotest bit of ‘wordplay’ to turn into a diss. We have also recently had Starsailor’s “Silence Is Easy”, Travis’ “Re-Offender” (the nerve!) and the jaw-dropping open goal of Radiohead releasing a single called “I Go To Sleep”. Regardless of the quality of these records, what are pop stars up to? Pull your socks up, pop, and make the rest of us work for our jokes!

BRITNEY SPEARS FT. MADONNA, “Me Against the Music”

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BRITNEY SPEARS FT. MADONNA, “Me Against the Music”

who knew the maternal instinct was so strong in madonna? oh, sure, the named might’ve tipped us off, but if her foray into children books wasn’t enough (and for some, it apparently is), she has become something of a mother figure to britney, counsels her not to smoke, date fred durst, and so forth. but if she really had her girl’s best interests in mind, she would’ve advised her against a) naming her album ‘get in the zone’ (what zone? the diet? autozone?) b) recording this song and c) inviting herself, madonna, to guest on it. last time they hooked up, so to speak, as everyone recalls, it was in service of that dog of a tune of madonna’s “hollywood” on the vmas. at least that was mitigated by the kiss; nothing quite rises/stoops to that level on “me against the music.” the opening banter alone is about as natural as the rapport between celine dion and frank sinatra on that hideous cover of “all the way.” and just as one has forgotten her presence, she appears mid-song to reassert it, as awkward as when one’s own mother calls out “i love you” across a crowded room full of one’s peers. when i first heard the (madonna-less) version of this song during the nfl kickoff festivities, it sounded like a chic song — dancefloor friendly, prominent rhythm guitar and choral presence — and i can’t help but feel how much better it could’ve been if it were. madonna knows nile rodgers, worked with him during her formative years. she should’ve facilitated that meeting. after all, what are moms for?

THE JOHNSTON BROTHERS – “Hernando’s Hideaway”

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#38, 11th November 1955

“All you see are silhouettes / And all you hear are castanets / And no-one cares how late it gets / Not at Hernando’s Hideaway” – late night Spanish-themed drinking dens are romanticised by the Johnstons. Perhaps some of the staff in certain of London’s current nightspots remembered this song from their boyhoods and let it influence their choice of career? Sordid present-day realities aside this is an evocative, neatly-produced novelty, which only starts to irritate after half a dozen plays. Castanets are all over the place of course, but you also get struck matches, mysterious knocks, vocals conspiratorially down near the mic and flashing string flourishes.

I saw Insomnia recently

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I saw Insomnia recently on DVD, and it’s a well-made film that manages to quieten both Robin Williams and Al Pacino. The Christopher Nolan connection becomes obvious after you’re told about it: To Pacino’s insomniac detective, awake for days on end in Alaska, every scene is like the segment of Memento that starts with Leonard running, uncertain as to whether he’s chasing or being chased. And they both feature a moment where our bewildered hero feels solid ground beneath his feet for a second and strikes out to make a difference, trusting to… something.

One the highlights is a car-ride near the end, when Pacino is completely losing it, everything blurring and snapping. It reminded me of Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, a horror/adventure game on the Gamecube. Rubbish colonated title aside, it’s a distinct improvement on the usual Resident Evil cobblers: The story is proper Cthulhoid monsters from before time, and is told via a series of flashes back through time, which both provides varied locales and reduces the incentive towards ammo-hoarding safe gameplay. Besides the health gauge and ammo, you also have to keep an eye on a magic meter, and your overall sanity. The last one is the real fun, and it’s arguably worth playing the game with as little sanity as plausible to watch the effects that happen. Sudden appearance of monsters, impossible spatial anomalies, and at one point the “end of demo” screen. Like in Insomnia, they only distract you for a second, but they slightly derange for longer. For long enough.

Some Bits About The New Strokes Record

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When I was smaller I once read an album review of a New Album by A Beloved Rock Band. It was not a positive review, in fact it was a very bad one. It concluded by saying that Beloved Rock Band had frittered away what little natural talent they had possessed and had now made perhaps the worst record of its year. The reason the record was so bad was that Beloved Rock Band were ripping off a whole host of other bands, an absolute litany of bands who I’d never at that point heard of. I was a little shaken and felt a bit foolish for investing so much time and emotion in Beloved Rock Band but I went and bought New Album anyhow and, surprise surprise, I loved it. In fact New Album became Best Album Ever for a good few years and I still play it a lot.

This might have been when I realised that reviewers do not always compare bands in reviews in order to educate you. About 45% of the time we do it because we’re too lazy to describe the music (my particular curse, this) and about 50% of the time we do it because we want to slap you down for being younger than us or having heard less than us. It’s not our fault: it’s a reflex and an understandable one given the awful burden of useless knowledge most of us carry about. But it’s something you might want to bear in mind when you read the reviews of Room On Fire by the Strokes, a great record which sounds unmistakably like’The Strokes.

Now I’m bigger I’ve wasted a fair amount of time listening to old records, some of them by the bands Beloved Rock Band were compared to and found wanting. I liked hardly any of those particular records, as it happened. There are times — like when I’m listening to Room On Fire – that remembering any record for more than six months seems colossally stupid. Don’t do it! Throw it away! It’ll only spoil the other ones!

Room On Fire is a record where everything repeats itself anyhow — drums, keys, voice, all holding the song’s pulse steady as it motors on to the next one. When the Strokes’ songs stop doing things or pause for breath the Strokes’ hands keep tap-tap-tapping and strum-strum-strumming along: wind-up music. That’s what keeps the songs glued together while the band come up with a new hook, something which happens about every thirty seconds. Then they get bored and start coasting again, but their coasting is sexily inarticulate and moody. I used to think that by not saying anything at parties I was being mysterious but actually I was just being rude. But I thought that because I’d been to parties where quiet people had seemed really mysterious, I just didn’t realise how rare it was.

In Words And Music Paul Morley makes the distinction between artists like The Strokes, who are non-fiction, and artists he likes, who are science-fiction. I think that’s witty and intelligent and I know exactly what he means too but he’s wrong. The Strokes are crime fiction.

The Strokes should call their third album ‘Autopilot’ and make it sound that way too.

I was going to write a review of Room On Fire and put some of this stuff in it. I’m not going to bother: the Strokes are too straightforward to review well, as we will all no doubt find out soon enough.

The majority of the reviews for Bright Young Things

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The majority of the reviews for Bright Young Things have spent an inordinate amount of column inches telling us that Stephen Fry’s version is much sweeter and more generous than Evelyn Waugh’s source novel. Well duh. One is called Bright Young Things, one is called Vile Bodies, you don’t have to be a brainbox of Fry’s proportions to notice a shift in emphasis. It also really does not matter. The number of people who might be turned off because it does not quite match Waugh’s dripping satirical outlook is about the same number of people who went to see The Girl From Brazil (recent Hugh Laurie movie).

It looks great by the way, all swirling cameras and pounding jazz. Because these middle class fops were so decadent, with their loud all night parties and their drug taking the “just like the noughties” comparison is left begging and is a cheap and pretty worthless jump. The most interesting parallel might be that the direction suggests that because of their very decadence, these people were given World War 2 as punishment. This is a bit of a leap of faith, and the idea that we were sent 9/11 or Gulf War 2 as punishment does not work at all. The contortions to get a relatively happy ending for these rather unpleasant characters do seem a little bit overworked too, like a farce that has forgotten that it is also supposed to be funny. Having sold you’re fiancee once, you don’t make things any better by buying her back – she has still been treated as a commodity.

The lasting effect of Bright Young Things is one of an entertaining spectacle that nevertheless falls flat. This may again be due to its source material. The Stephen Fry connection does not help, the only other period drama that I can compare it with that celebrates this social scene is that from PG Woodehouse. And in comparison with Jeeves And Wooster, Fry’s Waugh comes across as Woodehouse without the gags.

It is good fun to though see The Deal’s Tony Blair play the fruitiest of gay characters against the actor who recently played Jeffery Archer in that true story. And that people called Fenella will always be posh.

Interweb Psychic Health Index

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Interweb Psychic Health Index: Arbitrary test of the Interweb’s well-being #1. Comparison of no. of people on top naughty file-sharing system *ou**ee* sharing i) Buju Banton’s much condemned dancehall anthem “Boom Bye Bye” which advocates shooting gay men; ii) Sex Boots Dread’s much ignored roots anthem “Tickle Tune” which advocates having sex with them.

“Boom Bye Bye”: 48 people.
“Tickle Tune”: 2 people.

This is 2 more people than last week, mind you.

As it happens “Tickle Tune” will likely be among the records played at the Fourth Freaky Trigger Club Night, which doubles as FT Co-Editor Tim Hopkins’ public birthday celebrations and takes place tomorrow. It starts at 6.30-ish and goes on until closing time probably. The location is London nitespot PARKER’S PLACE, on Parker Street off Kingsway near Holborn Tube, given a quite positive write-up in last week’s Evening Standard but don’t let that put you off. Entry is of course FREE. At around 8’o’clock the tracks from the next Freaky Trigger Focus Group will be played (covering July-September this year) – so come along before then and cast your vote.

National Poetry Day (Thursday 9th October) highlights:

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National Poetry Day (Thursday 9th October) highlights:

(Apologies in advance for UK-centricism.) This year is the 10th National Poetry Day, and the theme is ‘Britain’ and national identity. That should bring in the punters…

The big guns can be found at St Paul’s Church, Bedford Street, London, for a Poetry Society reading in association with Faber & Faber and Penguin – Lavinia Greenlaw, Roger McGough, Andrew Motion and Don Paterson. It starts at 7pm and is cheap at the price (‘6).

Radio 4 will feature National Poetry Day content all day, including a programme announcing the winners of A Poem For Britain. The competition was the brainchild of evil poetry populiser extraordinaire Daisy Goodwin, who earlier this year launched this national search for new poetry summing up 21st century Britain. I dread to think, frankly.

More interestingly on the theme of ‘Britain’, the Poetry Society has developed a Poetry Landmarks website, which takes the form of an interactive map of British poetic heritage and activity, each Landmark nominated by the public:

Again there will be a tie-in Radio 4 programme, presented by Ian McMillan.

It’s also worth looking out for the Poetry Jukebox Tour (2nd October – 27th November), marking the launch of 57 Productions’ and their 2nd CD of performance poetry.

Last night I ate a Springbok.

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Last night I ate a Springbok. Not a South African egg chaser of course, rather the South African antelope which burst across the veldt with uncanny speed and grace (but not so much speed and grace that they don’t get caught I guess). What was such an unusual animal doing on my plate in a relatively unassuming restaurant in Crouch End? Well the Boom Bar does sell itself as a South African restaurant and this is one of the things it flogs to prove it. Useful if the World Cup Dining Club ever restarted I guess.

How else does it prove its South Africaness. Well, not to denigrate an entire nation whose population are reknowned as rude, but it is not via the service. Okay, Monday nights are quiet (four tables on the go) but the waitress was fantastically friendly, helpful to my unsure about spices mother and genuinely interested in our choices of food. The menu does a few other comedy items on it, ostrich and special South African sausages, but it is generally a well thought out mixture of well cooked meats and a few other items with a more African flavour. A generous specials board tempts one away from the set menu, but the set is such good value it is a good way of easing yourself into the cuisine. (Set menu £15 per head which is two courses, plus coffee and a drink – Castle Lager or a glass of wine). My parents, usually a bit wary of the unfamiliar, loved it.

And the Springbok? Well it was delicately casseroled, served with rice and was smashing. Not quite as strong as venison, but you got the similarity. It was if anything a little bit too subtle, easily pepped up by the side chutney the wholethingg came with. I’ll be going back to the Boom Bar, with ostrich in my sights, and if the Rugby World Cup goes tits up – a revenge eating of another Springbok.

Third Factory

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Third Factory – a poetry weblog which showed up by near-coincidence in Freaky Trigger’s referrals, checked night and day by teams of obsessive monkeys. It makes the Wedge look like a cesspit of philistinism, but on the other hand none of the galaxy of poetry weblogs it reveals have Vic Fluro writing for them.