Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Pure class

I know that attacking Katie Price is like shooting fish-wives in a barrel, but I couldn't resist. Especially when seeing this picture of her after a night out in Brighton. Apparently Katie got suitably refreshed and commandeered the DJ booth like a one-woman hen party, before retiring to a local food establishment to tackle those late night munchies. Unfortunately, Katie's high spirits saw her start a food fight. According to one onlooker, “She was throwing chips and one girl got so annoyed with her that she threw a sausage back.”

I'm sorry, there are just too many easy jokes here, so I'll do the mature thing and look the other way. But please feel free to add your own in the comments box.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Money talks... or does it?

Here's a great quotation: Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital. And a fascinating illustration of this point came out of the US recently, courtesy of foam-at-the-mouth reactionary right-wing industry blog Big Hollywood.

In the 2009 Movieguide® Magazine’s Annual Report, Dr Ted Baehr reveals the stunning fact that American audiences prefer movies without violence, sex and bad language. He certainly sounds convincing - after all, he breaks down each element of offensive content and looks for correlation with the movie's box office results.

Take the following example:
No nudity: $36,274,503
Some sexual nudity: $29,132,665
Extensive sexual nudity: $19,874,327

It certainly makes a compelling case for the success of movies where the cast remain fully clothed. Or does it?
Bollocks. And I don't care if that means I lose some of my audience.

What this disingenuous dickhead neglects to mention, is that the content he finds offensive also has a bearing on the rating that the movie receives. And the rating a film gets dictates everything from how many screens it appears on and where it's advertised, right through to who can actually buy a ticket. It doesn't take a genius then, to see that the bigger your audience, the better your chances of making money. Films aimed at kids will have twice the audience of a film aimed only at adults.

And yet the conservatives fall over themselves to quote this filmic fidiot every year to prove the point that Americans don't want adult content in their movies. Although I can't help but marvel at how ironic it is that the most successful R-rated movie of all time was none other than Passion of the Christ, a film described by one critic as a 'primitive and pornographic bloodbath'. Sounds lovely.

Bonus track, schmonus track

I went off on one recently, about the idiocy of a music industry which insists on releasing and rereleasing slightly changed versions of the same old albums, based on an expectation that fans will keep on paying out for pretty much anything. Turns out, maybe that's not as ridiculous as it sounds.

Take Josh Freese for example. He's a drummer who has toured with Guns n Roses, Nine Inch Nails and The Offspring amongst others, and now he's releasing his second solo album. It all sounds like angry dirge rock to me - the soundtrack to a million guyliner-wearing teenagers furiously self-polluting. But we're not here for the music, we're here for the marketing.

Whilst most artists these days are happy to offer two or even three different 'bundles' of their latest albums, ranging from bare bones right through to bonus tracks, mixes and videos, Josh has taken things one step further.
Fans can pay $7 for the digital download, or $15 for the CD/DVD double set. Or they can pay $50 for the CD/DVD, a T-Shirt and a personal phonecall from Josh himself. Or they can pay $250 for the CD, T-Shirt, a drum head and a lunch date. And so it continues right up to the $75,000 option which includes the chance to go on tour with Josh and his band, a month of Josh as your personal assistant and a limo-trip to Tijuana... The full list is here and makes for an amusing read.

He maintains that all of these offers are genuine, but doubts how many takers the high-end options will garner. Still, it's worth noting that the $250 option sold out in 48 hours.

Be prepared

Her Madgesty is back in Malawi, stalking the desert like Shita of Native American legend, looking for children to devour, sorry, adopt.

The child in question is the aptly named Mercy, and according to the press coverage, was being 'prepared' for adoption by Madonna. Are African babies like fridges, and need to be left to stand for eight hours before they can be used? Or perhaps they needed time to fit her with a Kabbalah bracelet and wean her onto mung beans and tofu. Either way, I hope someone shows the poor kid some mercy.

It's economy, stupid

In times of financial crunchery, it's a case of all hands on deck. We're in this together, so we all need to do our bit to watch those pennies and spend wisely. Clearly no stranger to frugality, Prince William has also been feeling the pinch, and has asked staff to book him on economy class flights.

According to a senior courier quoted in the Telegraph over the weekend, '...his default position from now on will be to turn right when he enters an aircraft.' I'm not sure how that works on helicopters (since his position references aircraft, and not just aeroplanes) but good for him.

Apparently, William is 'acutely aware that this is no time for ostentatious expenditure'. Which is good to hear, as he and Kate were actually in the process of jetting off to Courchevel when this story broke. Maybe Bognor was all booked up?

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Down at heel

Poor, poor Chantelle Houghton. All she ever wanted to be was a celebrity. Unfortunately, she was born without any distinguishing characteristics or special talents. She's not even particularly attractive, looking like Paris Hilton in a funhouse mirror. Still, in this day and age, unremarkable mediocrity need not be a barrier to fame. So Chantelle entered Celebrity Big Brother as a non-celebrity, and emerged the biggest celebrity of all, simply by virtue of not being a celebrity. Honestly, it's all so meta it hurts.

Whilst inside the Big Brother compound she fell in Love (copyright OK Magazine) with Preston from the Ordinary Boys, and was soon engaged. Unfortunately, the marriage lasted about as long as mayonnaise on a warm afternoon. Chantelle picked herself up and did what any heartbroken divorcee would do, she got a ridiculous boob-job and painted herself orange. Thankfully, Cupid was only taking a quick comfort break and soon Chantelle was back in a serious (worth talking about to the glossies) relationship. With a footballer no less. Sadly, this wasn't to be either, as she gave Jermain Defoe the red card last month after spotting a picture of another girl on his mobile phone. They'd been together four and a half months - do they make a card for that?

Anyway, she's seen the error of her ways. She told the News of the World "Expensive shoes don't make you happy, they really don't." Wise words indeed. "Most of these WAGs used to have nothing and now have their expensive bags, tans and outfits." Good lord, it's like Germaine Greer with a double D-cup. Apparently, to Chantelle, monogamy and trust are where it's at. And yet... "One day they'll wake up as a 40-year-old and think: 'I've got a whole house of Louboutins and Jimmy Choos but I'm not happy'." Now, isn't this a case of the 'lady' (sorry, mean) protesting too much? The fact that she has to go back and list the specific shoe brands she has in mind, suggests that she's missing the platform peep-toes more than the guy who bought them for her.

Still, she's emerged from the experience older and wiser, vowing to turn her back on the WAG lifestyle. I'm sure it's just a matter of time before Medicins Sans Frontiers' phone starts ringing.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

A Nation of Idiots (Part 2)

Flicking through the channels today, I stumbled across a repeat of the BBC's entrepreneurial X-Factor, Dragons' Den. In case you haven't seen it, a bunch of wannabe inventors put on their cheapest suit and nervously stutter their way through a business pitch in front of five way-too-smug potential investors. Looking like they were rounded up and kidnapped back in 1993, the 'Dragons' scrutinise the poor hapless fools in front of them, before giving them a grilling about their business plans.

Pulling all of this together is genial host Evan Davies, once likened by Jeremy Paxman to Tigger, and apprently one of Britain's most influential gays. N.B. The 'apparently' refers to his level of influence, not his sexuality, which seems to be well documented - like here in a Times article which even makes passing reference to a Prince Albert. And although he might be a fine economics editor for the BBC, as a presenter on Dragon's Den he's unbearable.

I appreciate that not everyone who owns a TV is a high-flyer in the city, I'm certainly not. But are we all so far removed from the world of pin-striped business that we need an explanation of what just happened, after every line of dialogue? Here's how it goes:

Wannabe Entrepreneur (let's call him Dave): "Basically, I'm looking for £100,000 in exchange for a 20% share in my business."
Theo Paphitis: "I'm not sure you've got your numbers right."
Evan Davies: "Theo is concerned that our Dave hasn't got the numbers in order."
The Paphitis: "Because of that, I'm out. Deborah?"
Evan Davies: "Theo is out. Now it's up to Deborah to help Dave raise the £100,00 he needs."
Deborah Meaden: "Have you safety tested the product?"
Dave: "Yes."
Evan Davies: "Deborah discovers that Dave has had the product safety tested."

And so it goes, on and on. It's like having someone read out stage directions while you're trying to watch a play. And it's yet another sign of how we're allowing ourseleves to be conditioned into stupidity.

When people talk about the dumbing down of TV, I'm not sure they're talking about the content. It's the format that seems to be getting more fidiotic. Just think about how many shows now start with a recap of last week, then show what's coming up on tonight's show, before the opening credits. Then they tell you what's coming up after the ad break before the ad break, and some of them even recap again about the things they promised in the coming segment. Once you've edited out all of the highlights, recaps and 'coming up's, most of these shows have halved their running time.

It's bad enough on the commercial channels, where they at least have logical breaks. But when the BBC follows suit, you know they've had to invent breaks during which they can pause and recap. I'm starting to feel like Leonard Shelby in Memento, with no ability to form new memories. I need to be reminded what's happening every six or seven minutes.

Now, coming up in tomorrow's post...

Friday, 27 March 2009

Grief is the new black...

I didn’t intend to be writing about Jade Goody again, especially not in the same week. But I felt the need to comment on some people’s reaction to her passing.
First up to bat is Katie Price, a woman who could give a flesh-eating disease lessons on how to be a parasite. No doubt unhappy that Jade’s front-page death-throes relegated her from the cover of OK magazine for a month, she’s doing some very public grieving for her brave friend. No doubt keen to stake her claim as ‘our girl’ in the magazine, Katie has spoken out about creating some kind of legacy for Jade, in honour of her brave battle and the work she did raising awareness of cancer.
It seems that everyone is too polite to bring up the articles Katie wrote (well, spoke into a dictaphone) condemning Jade as a vile racist bully. Or the ones attacking Jade for making her cancer so public. Because if anyone knows about the line of taste that separates one’s public and private life, it’s The Artist Formerly Known as Jordan.

HolyMoly also shared with readers a stunningly awful tribute penned (or finger-painted) by Big Brother winner Craig Philips. In it, he expressed his sadness at Jade’s tragedy, and shared his hopes that other ‘females and males’ (who’s he missing out here – SheMales?) will be more aware of cancer and ‘other life threatening diseases that have proven to strike anybody at any time’. Craig’s right – Jade’s public battle with cancer has made me more aware of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tularemia and Bubonic Plague. So thanks for that. But there’s another purpose behind Craig’s kind, if rather mangled, words of comfort. He also kindly reminds us that he’ll be talking about Jade more in his forthcoming autobiography. Someone, hold my place in the queue at Borders.

Finally, Russell Brand has also been at it, although he actually wrote a thoughtful and considered piece on his blog, based on a genuine affection for Jade. In fact, the only bit that threw me was his words of warning about how he hopes that ‘that the people who aspired to be like Jade observe the price she paid’. But it wasn’t fame that gave her terminal cancer. It was a bunch of aggressive cells in her cervix. Let’s keep some perspective shall we?

Thursday, 26 March 2009

I pity the fool that watches this...

Actually, that's not strictly true. This is comic genius. Except that it's not supposed to be funny.

Infomercials are a uniquely American phenomenon. If you've ever flicked through the channels late at night and come across two shiny people having a very loud conversation about cookware, you've experienced the pleasures of the infomercial.

The format of two people discussing the merits of a product, with one advising and the other learning, is nothing new in advertising. In fact, it's one of the oldest formats around. Back in the eighties this was knows as 2Cs-in-a-K. Which stood for two c***s in a kitchen. And going by this fantastic example, the term has never been more relevant.

I admit that critiquing an infomercial is a fairly futile exercise (much like looking for hypocrisy in the Daily Mail I imagine), but something about this one stuck out. It's customary to match a grounded host with a larger-than-life celebrity, and the dialogue is always condescending, but this one is a work of art.

As you watch this five minute snippet (the full version is 30 minutes long) please be sure to note:
The audience reactions, which feature acting that would be considered too broad for Ballamory.

The dialogue - my favourite quote is "My taste buds is going wild" but I'm sure you'll find your own favourite.

The user testimonials. I love Kevin Szeredy, who confidently claims that the FlavorWave is the only over he needs, whilst standing in front of a lovely chrome double oven.

And finally there's the logic. I believe Mr T sums this up best when he says "Wait a minute Darla. You can't cook fries and fied chicken without oil!" The thing is, the big guy's right. If it's roasted in an oven, it's not fried. It's roasted. Fidiots.

The only thing missing from this televisual treat is that long-established staple of the cooking infomercial - the Cornish Game Hens. Americans can't get enough of those game hens, despite the fact that the only thing these ridiculous counter-top cookers will ever be used for is maybe the occasional burger or hot dog sausage.

One final thing - as our friendly host kindly points out, you get to see your food cooking. Admittedly this is a thrilling prospect for us all, but the speeded up photography actually puts me in mind of the grotesque decomposition footage created by film-maker Peter Greenaway in A Zed and Two Noughts. Here's the snappily titled Swan Rot to remind you (scored by the amazing Michael Nyman):

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The Gaily Mail Part Two

Following on from my previous post, I wanted to touch upon another article in the Daily Mail this week.

It seems that the great enemy of Middle England, the PC police, has its knives out for people who want to indulge in a little harmless harrassment or bullying. That's right, the bleeding hearts don't want you screaming hateful invective across the street or harrassing someone out of their job.

Obviously this upsets the Daily Mail, presumably because half of its content would be reclassified as illegal. So they did what any defensive and misleading publication would do under the circumstances - they commissioned a Gay to write an article speaking out against the legislation. In an act of surreal self-denial worthy of Jews for Jesus, Christopher Biggins has penned a thought-provoking piece in defense of homophobia. And he must be mad because he treats homophobia with the contempt it deserves, by placing it in air-quotes.

In a diatribe peppered with phrases like 'regime' and 'brave dissidents' (shit, now I'm doing it...) he spectacularly misses the point again and again. He uses misleading examples of gay-influenced humour and even manages to invoke the credit crunch as reasons not to stifle our most talented comedic icons. Jim Davidson must be firing up Windows 95 as we speak.

Now, if one was to challenge the Mail on this hopeless piece of word-fartery, they'd no doubt scream (in a really shrill voice) that this is the voice of the gay majority. Except it's not really. Biggins lived 80% of his life in the closet, denying his true self and misleading the public about his life. But embiggened by the advances that other people made (not to mention the sacrifices that went with them), he felt he could safely come out of the closet in his silver years and act like he'd been here all along.

Well I'm sorry Christopher, but people who arrive late for dinner don't get to choose the menu for everyone else.

The Gaily Mail Part One

So the hot topic at the Daily Mail this week is the hyper-sensitivity of those troublesome homosexuals. Apparently we're a bunch of kill-joys who can't take a bit of harmless ribbing (for your pleasure).

Poor Chris Moyles has been wrapped on the porky knuckles for his hilarious 'spoof' of Will Young's hits 'Evergreen' and 'Leave Right Now'.

Determined to deny the world one of its greatest comedic minds, these limp-wristed do-gooders have complained that lyrics such as "Mmm I like to wear a silly hat, I get camper by the hour, oh would you look at the muck in here. I'm Will Young and I'm gay." might be considered offensive by some. How very dare they? Can't they appreciate subtle, nuanced humour when they hear it? And who cares if it's about as funny as tax legislation.

But what's really interesting, is that in covering this story, Daily Mail Reporter (well, wouldn't you want to cling onto your anonymity?) must have been faced with a strange conundrum. Three ideal figures of hate, but a single agenda-led approach to maintain. Well, to help poor old DMR next time around, I've prepared a simple triangle diagram to help them decide who to bash. The only rule - you can only ever cover one side of the triangle. So choose your two preferred targets and judge away...

Sunday, 22 March 2009

A change of pace now. There's great news for anyone who grew up on Saturday evening Sci-Fi on the BBC. Way back in 1984, Doctor Who took a break from our screens, and instead we were treated to a high-budget adaptation of John Christopher's series of children's novels, The Tripods.

Over two consecutive summers we followed the adventures of Will, Henry and Jean-Paul (Beanpole)as they resisted the control of the tripods and sought to bring down their extra-terrestrial rule over the Earth. Unfortunately, the BBC baulked at the production costs and cancelled the third series, leaving me and millions of other guessing how it would all end. Years later, I finally relented and bought the books to find out once and for all what happened next.

And now the great news. Alex Proyas, driector of The Crow and I, Robot, has announced that he's working on a big screen adaptation of the novels. As well as giving us a chance to see the stories told with slightly more convincing special effects, another generation of kids will be introduced to these great stories. It also means that the legal restrictions preventing the BBC from releasing series 2 on DVD are no longer a concern, which is why the boxset is on sale from tomorrow. Hurrah indeed.

But there's a note of caution here. What really struck me when I read the books was how similar the plot was to L Ron Hubbard's Godawful sci-fi dreck Battlefield Earth (don't read any further if you don't want to know what happens...)

In both stories a futuristic Earth is controlled by alien overlords who have eradicated technology and subjugated the human race. They live in specially built cities, protected by huge bubbles that allow them to replicate their home planet's atmosphere. A young man infiltrates the city, wins the trust of his alien master and conspires to end the aliens' tyranical rule by destroying the city. Battlefield Earth was published in 1982, a good 14 years after John Christopher's original tale.

There is one key difference though - Battlefield Earth was utter shit. Problem is, the movie didn't do well. In fact, it bankrupted the production company that made it. I just hope that audiences give the Proyas film the benefit of the doubt, so that we finally get to see the third book adapted after 25 years of waiting...

Celebreality claims first blood

Well, it's finally happened - Jade has died aged 27. Now don't get me wrong, I think it's tragic when anyone dies at such an early age, so I'm not trying to diminish what is a true tragedy for her family. But what about the rest of us? How should we be feeling?

There are those who speak of heroic Jade for managing to raise awareness of cancer. Now call me cynical, but I thought most people were already aware of cancer - given that one in three of us will be affected by it in our lifetime. Perhaps they're speaking about the fact that since Jade's diagnosis, cervical smears have seen a 20% increase. So just like what happened when Kylie Minogue and Anastasia were diagnosed with breast cancer. The simple fact is, public figures get sick like the rest of us, and in doing so remind us to get those worrying bumps and lumps checked out.

The issue I really wanted to talk about is something I touched upon here when I discussed the other knock-on effect of Jade's illness. Never before has terminal illness been put to such lucrative ends. And let's not forget that, unlike Jane Tomlinson who raised £1.5 million for cancer charities, the similar amount of money Jade raised was for her kids' education. I don't know, maybe public school fees have shot up under New Labour, but that sounds like an awful lot of money. Still, she was a mum doing what she thought was best for her kids, so I certainly wouldn't dream of knocking her for that.

In actual fact, the true focus of this story should be the press, and Jade's agent Max Clifford. Jade's final weeks were planned like a proper PR campaign, with urgent press releases issued daily to cover every twist and turn. The cancer spread to Jade's brain and the press were by her bed to take the picture. 'Jade rushed to hospice' screamed the headlines, then a few days later she was back at home feeling a little better. Then she was confronted in her room by a woman with a hammer. Then there was the Christening, and then she told the boys she was going to Heaven, and we were there for every moment of it. Because this wasn't a life, it was a live soap opera, for Jade and for everyone who picked up a paper or magazine to find out the latest. It's no wonder that EastEnders and Coronation Street see their ratings spike whenever a character (even an unpopular one) is about to die.

But who can blame us? This is an era of celebreality where famous people surrender their privacy (and often self-respect) in to sustain their celebrity status. Whether it's Jordan and Peter arguing about her bleaching her arsehole, or Lisa Scott-Lee launching a make-or-break bid to enter the top ten, these people actually invite us to peer behind the curtain of fame and have a good root around. The problem with all this consensual voyeurism is that it's neither celebrity or reality that we're witnessing. It's stage-managed desperation.

I can't help but wonder whether this is why Jade chose to die under such staggering scrutiny. Her entire adult life has been spent in the glare of TV cameras on 'reality' TV shows. The same cameras that turned a no-one from Bermondsey into a 'celebrity'. But these reality TV shows could only ever be an approximation of reality - at the end of the day, the cameras stop rolling and everyone goes home. Did Jade think that this was 'reality' that she could control? Redo her lines if she said the wrong thing, or reshoot the ending if it wasn't working?

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Let's get 'serious'

Sad news this week about Natasha Richardson, who had an accident on a learners' ski slope and died hours later in hospital. The news was reported on BBC Breakfast this week, and a theatre critic from The Telegraph was wheeled in to eulogise the late actress.

As you'd expect from a theatre critic, he focused primarily on Richardson's board-treading career, with a couple of obligatory references to her film appearances in Gothic and the remake of The Parent Trap. He also made an embarassing faux pas when talking about Richardson's husband Liam Neeson, saying that it's commonplace for American film actors to be intimidated by well-respected British theatre actors. No-one bothered to point out that Liam Neeson is actually Irish.

But still, he bumbled on (and on and on) repeatedly pointing out that Richardson was a serious actress. She appeared in films, but mostly uncommercial ones. Which means that they went largely unseen. And although she did appear in a couple of 'popular' films, she remained at heart a serious actress. He must have mentioned Natasha's 'seriousness' about five times. And it all became rather annoying. Because what he was really saying (and given that this was a Telegraph critic we should hardly be surprised) is that anything that gives enjoyment or finds an audience is ultimately unworthy of respect. And should not be taken 'seriously.'

OK, so nothing here is rocking any boats, but I felt it needed saying. After all, the whole point of this blog is to talk about popular culture. Art doesn't have to be po-faced and serious. And popular culture doesn't have to be empty vacuous bullshit. Quality comes in all shapes and sizes, and you limit your opportunities for enjoyment if you close your mind to the variety on offer. Seriously.

Pour some Sugar on me

Just days to go now, before we all get to feel a little better about ourselves. Sir Alan Sugar and his comedy sidekicks (like Phil and Kirsty in 30 years' time) are back with a new collection of pinstriped pricks to pick apart.

If you've ever questioned whether you're any good at the job you do, five minutes of The Apprentice will make you feel like Donald Trump should be polishing your shoes.

I often get accused of overusing cliches (if I've heard it once I've heard it a million times) but the scowl-faced muppets on this show make it an artform. Work hard play hard, not here to be liked, use it or lose it. It's all here and then some.

I've yet to see an episode where anyone displays any actual talent in their professional field. OK, I'll concede that Ruth Badger had a certain rough-edged set of sales skills, but if a butch Brummy bruiser started bellowing at me, I'd probably buy a car too. I've also yet to have a 'favourite' contestant in a final. The closest I've ever come to that is having someone that I would least hate to win. And that was Michelle Dewberry, who fucked it up nanoseconds after winning by getting pregant with the nauseatingly idiotic Syed.

Last year's stand out star was the impossibly posh Raef, who could give the Royal family lessons in haughty superiority. We were also spoiled for comedy lookalikes, so much so that we didn't learn anyone's name until about the eighth episode.

Even though the BBC didn't invent the format, they have to be applauded for their exceptional casting department, their aerial photography and the voiceover guy who does an admirable job of keeping a straight face when talking about Sralan's formidable business empire. I wonder if they'll still be using those ridiculous Amstrad email phones this year?

To get you in the mood for 2009's Best Bullshit Bingo players, here's the BBC's highlights from last year:

Not a lot of people know that...

...Michael Caine's a Fidiot. Sorry, that's short for fucking idiot.

He's in town (London for those who live elsewhere) filming Harry Brown, playing a grizzled ex-military man who goes vigilante in response to petty gangsters terrorising his neighbourhood - which all sounds alarmingly like Clint Eastwood's recent Gran Torino. Anyway, he's filming on the mean streets of 'Ackney and is horrified at the crime and violence he's seen "very close at hand".

You see, Michael understands society's ills and knows what's causing all the problems. It's drugs. Not the good kind of drugs that actors and film makers and pretty much everyone in the media industry use, but the ones that people on council estates use. Discussing his recent experiences, Michael told The Sun "We were shooting in Hackney and someone local came up to me and said, 'Welcome to Crackney!'" Now call me old fashioned, but if I was in Hackney and managed to get some lighthearted wordplay AND a friendly welcome out of a complete stranger, I'd be over the moon.

But not Michael. No, he longs for the good old days. Apparently, young Maurice Micklewhite grew up in "a gentler time", when the vicious gangsters at least had the decency to hold 'professional' status, and chose who they hit and robbed. Similarly, Michael's disgusted that these drug addicts commit random violence. In Michael's day, one would fight the people in the next street, which was much better. And there were alcoholics who got pissed, but at least they didn't do drugs. Some addictions must be better than others I guess. We just won't mention the fact that around 3.5 million people used drugs in the last year, whereas 8.2 million people have an alcohol disorder.

So to sum up, the good old days were when people got drunk, had fights and the gangsters were more organised about who they attacked. Certainly sounds like heaven to me.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Can we have our eighties back please?

That Sonia post, as chuckle-worthy as it was, actually cast my mind back to the music I listened to in my formative years. The late Eighties were a great time for pop - the Pet Shops and Erasure were on fine form, house music was successfully merging soul, funk and disco, and SAW ruled the airwaves. Between the three of them, Stock, Aitken and Waterman managed a staggering run of over 100 top 40 UK singles. But success does not always guarantee happiness, especially for those who miss out on their share.

Pity poor 'Mixmaster' Pete Hammond. He worked with SAW throughout their golden period, contributing his trademark sound to every record that left the Hit Factory. He was always credited as having mixed the track, but he feels his contribution was greater. And to be honest, the evidence that has emerged recently suggests he may have a point...

SAW fans like me were delighted to hear that he'd resurected his trademark sound last year in remixing bouncy Danish popsters Alphabeat's single Boyfriend. Then we heard the track, and marvelled at how it wouldn't have sounded out of place on Bananarama's Wow! album. See for yourself...

Alphabeat - Boyfriend

This year, a second piece of evidence came to light - Pete's stunning remix of Velvet's Euro-hit 'Chemistry'. Again, the cowbells and handclaps take pride of place, as do the ropey sampling vocal effects. If I close my eyes, I'm sipping cider through a straw and begging my Mum for a pair of Pod shoes.

Velvet - Chemistry

So there you have it - he was the missing letter. SAW should have been SHAW. Or WASH. On second thoughts, that sounds a bit gross.

M'Lud, the prosecution rests.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Too close for comfort

Mickey and Sylvia got it right in 1957 when they famously sang 'Love is Strange'. Because it is. It's weird and frightening, obsessive and confusing. So all those compilations that weigh down the CD shelves between Valentine's Day and Mother's Day kind of miss the point with their 'raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens' view of love. Thankfully, there are songs out there which understand the darker side of love, although frequent airplay has, in most cases, negated their power and impact. So here are three of them that will make you think twice, next time you get that floaty, fluttery feeling in your stomach. If you're lucky, it won't be love, just amoebic dyssentary.

Every Breath You Take - The Police

Predictably found on pretty much every Romantic compilation ever pressed, this is actually a disturbing and oppressive song about a jilted lover turned stalker. Director Lewis Teague understood the song's haunting power when he used it on the soundtrack of his Stephen King anthology Cat's Eye, during a scene when James Woods' paranoia takes hold at a dinner party.

Possession - Sarah McLachlan

Another one that sounds like it ought to be a love song, but is actually a doom-laden threat. "And I would be the one to hold you down, kiss you so hard I'll take your breath away."
Here again is the theme of suffocation, literal and metaphorical. Cheery isn't it? In this live performance, Sarah McLachlan talks about the inspiration behind this cold but beautiful song.

You'll Never Stop Me From Loving You - Sonia

And now for something truly terrifying. Look past the rigor mortis grin, the ginger top-knot and the horrendous choreography, and you'll find a song of pure, unadulterated horror. I'd like to think that when Glenn Close's character in Fatal Attraction wasn't losing her mind to Madame Butterfly, she was probably dancing around her trendy apartment like this little scouse nutter.
"Even when you're home you won't pick up your phone and take my call...
When I know that you're alone I wander to your home to catch a glimpse or two."
This woman needs medication and restraints - she's a danger to herself and others.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Please Sir, Can I Have Some Cancer?

According to Digital Spy, Michelle Bass has been 'rocked by a cancer scare'. Now, I'm not for a second trying to suggest that cancer is anything but a terrifying ordeal for everyone it touches, but seriously, is this what it's come to?

For those finding fame's fickle finger pointing elsewhere, cancer is now the ultimate inroad to lucrative interviews, front page spreads and exclusive magazine deals. Tellingly, Michelle comments that, although she wasn't on the same Big Brother as Jade Goody, she knows her because they have the same agent. Colour me surprised.

What's particularly creepy is the fact that, following in Jade's footsteps, the press have been notified before tests are conducted to determine whether the cancerous cells have spread.

On the same weekend that Kerry Katona announces the breakdown of her marriage, and the launch of her new TV show 'Kerry Katona: The Divorce', I find myself wondering how long until we'll be able to press the red button to decide whether our favourite celebrities live or die.

The record industry hates you

Many of the music blogs I visit are all about highlighting great new music. For people like me, it's often the only way to discover new schlager and hard-to-find mp3s of long-deleted tracks. They share music through links to download services such as ZShare or Rapidshare, and in doing so, they're breaking the law.

In setting up this blog, I made a conscious decision that the music I post would be YouTube performances, to avoid any contentious music rights or illegal file sharing issues. But I resent the music companies for putting me in this position. After all, if I want someone to hear how good a song is, I'd rather they hear a high bit-rate version, rather than a youtube clip where the audio's been compressed into oblivion. Still, unless I want the piracy police knocking down my door, I've no option. Which is pretty damn stupid.

As marketing budgets shrink and record labels look for ways to slash spend, they need grass roots campaigners to do the hard work for them. It's the passionate fans and dedicated listeners who go out there and drum up support for the artists. But to do so, they have to share the product, so that people know what it is. And yet the short-sighted music companies think that these people are the enemy.

That may sound melodramatic, but they really do treat music fans with contempt. For example, they get pissy around filesharing and downloads, and then release 'special editions' of the year's best selling albums, on the back of a few scraps of extra content. They expect that the fans will buy a whole new CD for a couple of new tracks.

There's another issue as well. Music rights. So much of the music I discover online and enjoy is from outside of the UK. And yet the labels think it's smart to restrict availability. They block tracks on Spotify, they limit regions on iTunes, or they just flat out fail to release stuff in the UK.

This means that once people's appetites have been whetted, they're keen to consume, but told they're not allowed. Is it really any wonder they turn to filesharing, torrents and illegal downloads to find the music they love? Given the option of a legal alternative, this problem would disappear overnight.

As Seth Godin pointed out recently at a seminar in London, music companies are in the music business, not the CD business. They need to remember that, and focus their commercial efforts around the content, rather than the medium. If they made it available in every region, and updated those otherwise unavailable back catalogues, there'd be a whole lot less piracy.

In the meantime, we're stuck with YouTube clips. Happy viewing...

Five more from the PSB

OK, so I started my top ten Pet Shop Boys tracks, only posted five, and then forgot about it. So here, belatedly, is the rest of the list.

6) A Red Letter Day (Motiv8 remix, original version from 'Bilingual'

Apparently one of Elton John's favourite songs by PSB, this track was heavily influenced by Russia, rather than the warmer latin themes that run through the rest of the Bilingual album. A sweet song about someone waiting to hear their partner say they love them, this is probably the catchiest song on Bilingual, and the most obvious choice for a single. Rather than the album version, which features the Moscow choir and a much moodier arrangement, I've gone for the Motiv 8 remix, which is much more mid-90s poppers-o-clock, and suits the relatively upbeat (for the Pet Shop Boys at least) tone of the song.

7) Here (PSB Extended Mix), from 'Disco 3'

Another remix - but one by the boys themselves, so we can only assume that this incarnation was part of their original vision for the song. In an interview in 2003 they said that the album version felt like a "day one sort of recording" and that it had disco potential.

The song itself was originally written for the musical 'Closer To Heaven', and talks about the non-biological families that we find ourselves becoming a part of. "We all have a dream of a place we belong, where the fire is burning and the radio's on" sings Neil comforingly. The tune is anthemic, and in this remixed version has a wonderfully joyous reprise of the main melody. Definitely the stand-out track on both 'Release' and 'Disco 3'.

8) You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You're Drunk, from 'Nightlife'

The boys were obviously in a long title kind of mood when making 'Nightlife', what with this and 'I don't know what you want but I can't give it anymore' surely making for two of the longest single titles ever released. And a weird alternative to their one-word album titles. Anyway, what of the song? It actually reminds me of Sue Townsend's fantastic Adrian Mole diaries, in particular a moment when the troubled teenager comments that his mother never shows him affection when she's sober. As Neil and Chris admit in the sleeve notes, we're left hanging as to whether the inebriated sentiment is sincere or not. But I'm a romantic, so I'll assume that they mean what they say, but they need some social lubricant to get the words out.

Here's the boys performing it on Top of the Pops.

9) I Want A Lover, from 'Please'

Urgent, impatient and coldly electronic. This is about as sexual as Neil Tennant gets, which admittedly feels a little like being molested by a robot. He's picked someone up in a bar and he's keen to whisk them away as quick as possible. There's a real raw sense of mid-Eighties irresponsible promiscuity to this song, which makes it feel like a compelling time capsule of a long-lost era.

10) One In A Million, from 'Very'

It's hard to pick a stand out song on 'Very' since there were so many fantastic nuggets of pop joy. But this feels particularly anthemic, as it portrays someone begging their partner not to leave them. As with many of the boys' most upbeat tracks, this is actually about a relationship's end, and someone's denial about the state of affairs, but still manages to leave you with a big goofy grin on your face. And that's the magic of the Pet Shop Boys - you don't always know what you're supposed to be feeling, but you're always feeling something.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

A nation of idiots

Sometimes I despair for my country. I can't think of a nation that celebrates and endorses mediocrity quite as well as the UK. Would any other nation rally round a piss poor tennis player or a short-sighted ski jumper unfamiliar with snow, who flew with all the grace of a lobbed brick. Likewise, when a competition takes place on TV, we think it's a good idea to root, not only for the underdog, but the shittest competitor. After Jon Sergeant-gate gripped the nation, I thought we might all take a reality check and remind ourselves that competitions are supposed to identify the most talented. But no. As ITV's Dancing on Ice spirals to its inevitable conclusion, we face the extraordinary likelihood of Coleen Nolan being hoisted into the rigging on invisible wires for the final. Don't get me wrong, Coleen seems quite likeable, if a little half-hearted. But I just don't get why the British public seem to enjoy keeping the inescapably hopeless in talent contests. I foolishly thought that we'd seen an end to all that when we bade farewell to Todd Carty, when in fact he simply bequeathed his status of 'most shit' to the dumpy Coleen.
I know it's only Dancing on Ice - it's not like anyone died. But look back at other shows and you see a worrying pattern emerge. Eoghan Quinn. The MacDonald Brothers. What is it with us? And who picks up the phone to vote for these hopeless shitheads? Do they think they're being ironic? Or do they genuinely enjoy watching someone perform with all the talent and finesse of farting pig?
Anyway, rant over. Just remember, next time some god-awful TV presenter reads out a list of torturous puns imploring you to vote for your favourite, please remember that some people have to sit through this shit week after week, and would rather be entertained than mortified.

Sweden decides

Well, it's all over bar the shouting. Sweden has selected opera singer Malena Ernman to represent them in Moscow this year. Although I think I would have preferred Alcazar as ambassadors for the schlager nation, I think Malena is a wise choice. It's catchy as all hell, impeccably performed and distinctive enough to stand out from 20 or so other songs. Sung in English, with a chorus in French, it has twice the chance of connecting with audiences lyrically, even if the lyrics themselves aren't exactly challenging. Most importantly though, opera aside, this song is schlager through and through.

The song was written by Fredrik Kempe, who has a strong schlager heritage, having composed and sung Finally five years ago at Melodifestivalen. Since then, he's also written Cara Mia and Hope and Glory for Måns Zelmerlöw and Hero for Charlotte Perrelli, which won last year's competition but fared poorly at Eurovision.

If you listen to La Voix though, you'll hear how closely it follows the well established schlager template: verse chorus verse chorus bridge key change chorus high note. Plus, there are camp dancers,a wind machine and even a swirly camera effect - thanks for that SVT. It's a great song and a fine ambassador for schlagerhood, let's see how it does in Moscow...

Friday, 13 March 2009


The pop world is all about triumphant returns. Kelly Clarkson is currently riding high on the crest of a comeback that would have Lazarus jealously complaining to his agent. But there's another recent comeback that's got me even more excited. Let's hear it for Alcazar, or at least, the half of Alcazar that remains. The fact is, their current line up is exactly what was needed, if their current Melodifestivalen entry is anything to go by.
It's easy to forget that Alcazar have only actually released two albums, they seem much more prolific than that. But two albums it is, although a third is just days away. If I'm really honest, their albums haven't been that great - a couple of fantastic singles, one or two quirky album tracks, and a whole lot of dull shit.
But then there's Stay The Night. Far and away their strongest melody, and a thumpingly good arrangement (Amii Stewart's on the phone - she wants her drums back), they sang the hell out of it and danced their little heinies off. If I'm honest, this is the one that ought to win tomorrow, simply because of how much they put into it.

Nice colour scheme too.

Welcome to my blog

OK, so no-one's reading yet. That's fine, I hardly expected to rule the internet with a blog that doesn't even know what it wants to be. Anyway, as Sweden prepares to select its Eurovision entry, I wanted to take a look at some of my favourites from this year.
First up was something of a surprise for me. Jonathan Fagerlund has skirted around the periphary of my brain with a couple of tuneful but low-key songs. Pleasant enough in a tuneful McFly sort of way. And yet, as I listen to the Melodifestivalen CD on a pretty much continuous loop, I find myself coming back to Jonathan's unsuccessful entry.

With a shout out chorus, irritatingly memorable lyrics (driving in the fast lane, living out loud) and a pleasingly inoffensive arrangement, this track is a real grower. And I'm loving it. Not sure he looks too great in the video, but then, we can't all be Måns Zelmerlöw now, can we?