Wednesday, 30 December 2009

I've made it!

Yes, folks, it's happened. You know your blog has made it when you receive a "DMCA takedown notification‏"! In English, this means that some official record company bod has objected to me sharing an mp3 and gone crying to Blogger like the big baby that they are, DESPITE my little friendly disclaimer at the bottom. Some people, eh?

The problem here is the "offending" blog was my Top 10 albums list...with 10 mp3 links...and no specification which link it was. I said e-mail me directly - it's not hard, you know. I've got to bloody well guess now haven't I? And I'm guessing it was the Depeche Mode mp3, ironically enough. Favourite band they may be, but they will come with baggage. Namely being on a major record label in the USA with the sort of unforgiving attitude towards even the slightest bit of friendly sharing. I believe the same happened to The Vinyl Villain shortly after he posted his first and only DM mp3.

Consequently I've replaced the link with the video for Fragile Tension. Mainly because the vid for Hole To Feed is somewhat on the fucked-up side. All the other links are staying because I'm confident they're safe.

It amuses me as the RSS feed of the blog is already stuck in my Facebook note feed, so that mp3 is still there for folk on my friend list. Oh well. Never mind, etc.

What do you think about it, Jarvis?

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Albums of the Year 2009

10) STEEL PANTHER - Feel The Steel (Island)


It's probably heresy to include such an album in a serious review of the year. There's no way anyone could possibly consider a full-on comedic pisstake of the idiotic excess of '80s glam metal in an end-of-year spotlight - it's bad enough it was enjoyed in the first place! Well, comedy or not, this is certainly one of the most enjoyable records of the year, both in daft, exaggerated lyrical output ("What'd you have to do for that backstage pass, 'cause I found a poisoned laminate inside of your ass..." - Girl From Oklahoma), to gloriously questionable song titles - Asian Hooker, Fat Girl (Thar She Blows) - to some of the best glam metal hooks heard in many a year. The sound of men old enough to know better, and doing it anyway 'cause they're bloody good at it.

Check Out: Eyes of a Panther

9) VITALIC - Flashmob (Citizen)


If there's one thing we've learnt in recent years, is that it's never a bad idea to give anyone of Gallic persuasion some synthesizers, samplers and all the rest as they'll probably get it absolutely right. Pascal Arbez's second offering under his Vitalic pseudonym picks up where debut OK Cowboy left off - subtle bleeps and beats juxtaposed alongside robotic lady vocals and introverted rhythms. With a sound more interesting than fellow countrymen Justice and Chromeo, the likes of Terminateur Benelux, Your Disco Song and the title track prove that Arbez is the natural successor in a line including Jean Michel Jarre and Daft Punk. French hands are good for something after all.

Check Out: Station Mir 2099

8) ALICE IN CHAINS - Black Gives Way To Blue (Parlophone)


There are rules in this business. Your first album after fourteen years should be a tepid and slack-jawed affair with only a hint of the fire that kept you going in your classic period, even if there has been a tragic event since. The last thing we should expect is such an assured belter that draws on history whilst adding something new. AIC's return effort takes that distinctive sound but applies it to an epic assurance where there was once utter despair. Check My Brain and Lesson Learned are righteous classics while the title track and Your Decision reminds us that a delicate touch was as much their forte as their riffs. A justified comeback.

Check Out: Lesson Learned

7) MANIC STREET PREACHERS - Journal For Plague Lovers (Sony)


If the headlines were a bit predictable ("The Holy Bible, the sequel", etc.), then the album wasn't. Yes, it was the most caustic and visceral they'd been after a lengthy period of daytime-radio friendly material, but it was by no means a complete retreat to a time when they were the UK's angriest rock band. If anything, delving into missing guitarist Richie James' remaining lyrics book allowed the band to tap into the unique catharsis that they had left behind and apply it to the maturity and assured grasp of songwriting they've developed since the mid-90s. As a result, tracks such as Me and Stephen Hawking and All is Vanity summed up all of the Manics' best attributes from the last 20 years.

Check Out: All is Vanity

6) FLORENCE + THE MACHINE - Lungs (Island)


As much as it's easy to disregard folk who blindly follow hyped artists like they eat cake, we shouldn't forget that those who purposefully avoid said artists are just as foolish. Now and then, there will be a damn good reason why there's hype and Florence is it. Even before the album's release, her live show with her band The Machine was getting justified good press for it's energy and great tracks - tracks which are kinda folk, but a bit rock, and very pop, and slightly dancey, and just plain unique. It translated to an album that was as breathtaking and beautiful as it was epic and hard-hitting. "Worth a listen" doesn't even come close.

Check Out: Howl

5) BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME - The Great Misdirect (Victory)


I have no idea where to start. Is it the Grand-Guignol-organ inspired madness that permeates through the lurching death metal of Disease, Injury, Madness? The jazzy honky-tonk that underpins the ragged hardcore of Fossil Genera..? The sublime bliss of the Western-tinged semi-acoustic Desert of Song? Or do I go with the truly epic brutal prog that is Swim To The Moon? What I will say is this is as good and awe-inspiring as previous effort Colors, and that enough is all you need to know.

Check Out: Desert of Song

4) DEPECHE MODE - Sounds Of The Universe (Mute)


If anything, SOTU is a relief. Previous album Playing The Angel was solid but seemed to tread water and felt frequently uninspired. While nothing on their twelfth album can be described as a radical departure, there's definitely some newly-discovered life in these synthesized bones. The likes of Fragile Tension and Peace are respectful additions to their established canon, but it's tracks such as the grandiose Wrong and disturbing Corrupt that prove that something a bit different is still in reach. There's also the likes of Come Back, which could be their most impassioned offering since Condemnation in 1993. The best thing is, there's nothing to suggest they should call it a day just yet.

Check Out: Come Back

3) LA ROUX - La Roux (Polydor)


It's guaranteed that duos and synthesizers are winners. Soft Cell; Eurythmics; Yazoo; Pet Shop Boys; Erasure; La Roux. Granted, the final name may be twenty-odd years too late, but Elly and Ben are worthy additions. At worst, they're a fantastic '80s tribute act. At best, they're a talented partnership that have mastered the art of colourful songwriting in one shot. Such a triumph will always yield the obvious classy singles (In For The Kill, Bulletproof) but will throw up more aggressive fare in Tigerlily or something as dreamy as Armour Love. Debut of the year, but only just.

Check Out: Tigerlily

2) CONVERGE - Axe To Fall (Epitaph)


British metal fans will probably be a bit fed up with the ignorant criticism "It's just noise" after recent events in the national singles charts. However, it's always been a compliment with Converge, as they have spent the last fifteen years taking the concept of noise and twisting and fucking it into something uniquely primal. The applause that Axe To Fall justifies is not that they continue to do it so well, but that a cleaner, more pristine sound still results in one of the harshest things they've done. Dark Horse, Reap What You Sow and Cutter are relentless bouts of the kind of calculated-but-unhinged savagery we've come to expect, but better. However, it's the unsettling one-two climax of Cruel Bloom and the disturbing ambiance of Wretched World where Converge prove that whatever they do, they are rarely bettered. The other argument of its comparison to the legendary Jane Doe is not one I want to get into right now, but give me a couple of years.

Check Out: Reap What you Sow

1) METRIC - Fantasies (Last Gang)


Simplicity is the key. Stripping rock music to its core and just nudging the vitriol away with a bit of warmth and reason. Taking the bare elements of pop music and adding some epic flourish. You could end up with Fantasies, but it's unlikely now as it's been done and probably won't be done again. These Canadians continue to confuse logic by not being bloody huge already. This is rock music without the headache. Pop music without the feeling of a saccharine overdose. Dance music without the established boundaries. There is no question that this band should be loved and adored by everyone, but they're not. And maybe that's part of their mystique and appeal.

The whole thing is proof that with the right ingredients, magic can be conjured up. Help, I'm Alive is epic beauty without an epic touch. Gold Guns Girls is what a driving compilation really craves. Satellite Mind and Front Row are perverse little bastards that you know you want more of while Sick Muse and Gimme Sympathy are very different but still the two best pop songs you'll hear all year.

Whether they'll be as effective without Emily Haines' dreamy vocals is worth a debate, but there's no denying this is a fantastic group effort. Beautiful, inspired, sexy, magic and pretty much every other positive adjective you can think of - Fantasies should be the album to convert you to this stunning and individual band.

Check Out: Satellite Mind

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Boogie days

Cheers to Rol.

List 10 musical artists (or bands) you like, in no specific order (do this before reading the questions below). Really, don’t read the questions below until you pick your ten artists!!!


1: Lostprophets
2: Depeche Mode
3: The Knife
4: Rocket From The Crypt
5: Ladytron
6: Lamb of God
7: Pantera
8: Alexisonfire
9: Crystal Castles
10: Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine

PS - Facebook readers - visit the original blog cos there be videos embedded. Yay.

What was the first song you ever heard by 6?

The title track of the second album As The Palaces Burn - Autumn 2003 on a Metal Hammer mag compilation. I wasn't too sure at first - I was impressed by the scything viciousness but craved a bit more brutality. I quickly realised that the aggressive approach of a deranged heart-surgeon was as good as a hooligan with a sledgehammer.

What is your favorite song of 8?

Really not sure of this one. At the moment, I'm loving Sons of Privilege off new album Old Crows/Young Cardinals more than anything. That'll do for now.

What kind of impact has 1 left on your life?

Where do I start? Seriously, I haven't got a clue, and a few words can't really sum it up.

The band themselves struck a chord being the young British geeks they are who preferred Star Wars over Rock 'n' roll excess. I probably also started to wear clothes that actually fit me as a result of listening to them. I'm not ashamed of it - someone had to do it!

Apart from that, let's just say that I've met people through this band who, honest to God, I love. I don't ever say it, and I don't really talk to them enough - mainly because I'm just a bit crap socially - but these are people who I don't ever want to lose contact with and now hold in higher regard than other folk I've known for as long or longer.

What is your favorite lyric of 5?

Seventeen , Light & Magic (2002)

They only want you when you're seventeen,
When you're twenty-one you're no fun,
They take a Polaroid and let you go,
Say they let you know, so come on


Not from a sing-a-long fun point of view, 'cause that would be just a bit weird. From a poetic view, however, it stands out a bloody mile.

How many times have you seen 4 live?

Never. *Sniff*

What is your favorite song by 7?

Tough one, again. Just like the band. I'm going to put it out there and say Heresy off Cowboys From Hell.

Is there any song by 3 that makes you sad?

I wouldn't say so. There's a particular melancholic euphoria about a lot of their work, but no sadness, not for me anyway. I get sad that most people haven't heard them, though. Not to worry, here's an education.

What is your favorite song by 9?

Air War - Cracking. Not an official video but it bloody works.



When did you first get into 2?

At either end of 1998, at ages 17/18. That probably makes no sense but it's fairly true. At the beginning of that year, I picked up latest album Ultra. I'd always liked what I heard from the band since I first heard Enjoy the Silence at age 10 in 1990 but I never became a fan. As '98 started, I was quite the metalhead, but became aware of Depeche's influence on a few rock bands I was into at the time. Being aware of their '80s pop history swayed me.

I enjoyed Ultra but didn't dive headlong into them as it was metal, metal, metal at the time. At the end of 1998 at Art College, I discovered a small indie record shop in Epsom. They still had a lot of MC cassettes, including all of their '80s albums @ £2.50 each. I started with 1984's Some Great Reward and scooped up the rest just after new year. They became my favourite band a handful of years later.

How did you get into 3?

My first exposure was coming across Heartbeats - yes, a song made famous by some folkie with a load of colourful bouncy balls. This is actually the far superior original. However, it was through reading the second volume of Phonogram that I became curious about them and started digging a bit more. For secondary reference - Phonogram is brilliant and I recommend it for any passionate music fan.

What is your favorite song by 4?

Born in '69. Essential



How many times have you seen 9 live?

None. Yet. Roll on the second album.

What is a good memory concerning 2?

If anything, seeing them for the first (and only so far) time back in 2001 on the Exciter tour. Don't get me wrong, their music is as good as it gets for me, but as none of my mates share those feelings, I've not had any "good times" socially where this band have been the center of great attention. If that makes sense to you.

Is there a song by 8 that makes you sad?

Nope

What is your favorite song by 1?

Last Summer - does it for me every time.



How did you become a fan of 10?

Fan is probably the wrong word. Again, they're a band I liked through Top 40 listens due my early teens, but I never got into them - they never really fit into any big trends at the time, even though they had a solid fan base. What's attracted me in recent years is their identity - I can't think of any band that they sound like. JimBob's poetry is inspired and for me, they remain one of the most English of bands all things considered. So here you go:

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Ant's Comic Den: Spider-Man Trades.

In recent years, various friends have casually commented that they should "try comics out". Not with any great enthusiasm, but the kind of positive curiosity you might associate with indulging in an increasingly-socially acceptable bedroom fetish. Why not? - let's try something different, that kind of thinking. Normally they don't, but a handful of mates have dipped their toes, with a couple gaining a taste for certain characters at the very least. However, they have chosen to focus on stocking up on the trade paperbacks - collected editions of the monthly titles. This backs up my thinking that unless you get into the monthly purchasing cycle before your mid-teens, it ain't going to happen as you discover other things. Like being sociable, drinking and meeting women - all things that no comic book fan has ever done in their life cause God said they couldn't. No, really.

Still, there are the trades, and for a few years now, it's been possible to keep up with major characters' monthly adventures simply by getting the trade when it's released a bit later. Add to this a trade history that will showcase classic and signficant storylines and there's no reason not to have a healthy library devoted to one character. On that note, this post is dedicated to Marvel Comics' Spider-Man. A character who I've been a fan of for 25 years and have nearly all the issues from that period. I would gloat at how much it's worth, but I'd be lying as it's the '60s issues that would allow me a mortgage deposit. If ol' Spidey has always tickled your webbed fancy, but his back issue history scares you a bit, just pick up these ten trades for now and work from there:

1: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN OMNIBUS, VOL. 1

Collects Amazing Fantasy #15, Amazing Spider-Man (ASM) # 1-38, ASM Annuals #1-2 + other small stories from other titles.

Essential. This is where it all started. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's original run from 1962-66 is all here with a few extras. The origin, Peter's high school shenanigans, first appearances of too many classic villains. Owning these stories in some format is a necessity to being a Spider-fan. This one handy hardcover (HC) volume is a few bob, though, but panic not. The same stories can be found in the first three volumes of the ASM corner of Marvel's "Masterworks" range, or if you're a tight arse, the first two volumes of the black-and-white "Essential" trade range of ASM.

2: SPIDER-MAN VISIONARIES: JOHN ROMITA SR.

Collects ASM # 39-42, 50,68-69, 108-109.

This '60s ASM collection showcases Romita Sr's interpretation of Spidey - one that would provide the template for Spidey artists for almost the next two decades. These college years are as essential as Parker's high school as his circle of friends solidified and love started to blossom. If you want more of the Lee/Romita run, it can be found in volumes 3-5 of the ASM "Essential" range.

3: SPIDER-MAN: DEATH OF THE STACYS

Collects ASM #88-92, 121-122

Two tragic stories in one edition, the events in here may have you wondering why some folk are so damned insistent that comics will always be throwaway kids' entertainment. They are also a lesson in why Doctor Octopus and Norman Osborn's Green Goblin will always hold a more significant place in Spider-man's rogues gallery than others.


4: SPIDER-MAN: WIZARD MASTERPIECE


Collects ASM #229-232, 248, Spectacular Spider-Man (SSM) #107-10

Industry mag Wizard knows its stuff. Enclosed within are four '80s stories widely regarded as Spidey's best. His scraps with Juggernaut, Mr Hyde and Cobra showcase Webs at his bantering best, while the poignant "Kid Who Collects Spider-Man" is in a league of his own. Spidey also dons his black costume to face off against the psycho serial killer Sin-Eater.

5: SPIDER-MAN: BIRTH OF VENOM

Collects ASM #252-59, 298-300, 316-17, Web of Spider-Man (WSM) #1

Spidey has bought back a nifty new costume from some other planet. Alas, it turns out to be a parasite. Whoops. A two-arc collection with Parker's possession followed by Eddie Brock's. Every hero needs his evil mirror-image villain - Spidey finally gained his.


6: SPIDER-MAN: KRAVEN'S LAST HUNT

Collects ASM #293-4, SSM #131-2, WSM #31-2

It wouldn't be unfair to regard this as Spidey's most macabre story ever. J M DeMatteis' stark journey into Kraven's damaged psyche wasn't common in 1987, but still stands very tall today, more so than similar examinations of villains in recent years. Dark and frequently disturbing, this is also not one for the claustrophobic


7: SPIDER-MAN LEGENDS: TODD MACFARLANE VOL 2

Collects #ASM 306-14

Todd MacFarlane may be a big shot in all areas of comics and toys now, but there was a time when he was just a young hotshot artist with a highly original take on the Wall-Crawler. This collection starts a few issues in to MacFarlane's ASM run when he was at his best and includes his take on baddies Mysterio, Lizard and Green Goblin during the company-wide "Inferno" crossover. You can get his sole-created and violent "Torment" trade but this has way more substance. Probably because David Michelinie is a better writer.

8: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN BY J MICHAEL STRACZYNSKI: ULTIMATE COLL. VOL. 1

Collects ASM Vol 2 #30-45.

"Babylon 5" creator Straczynski teamed with John Romita Jr in 2001 to start a classic run on ASM, which includes these first sixteen issues. Granted, it followed up a 90s' full of symbiotes, clones and a forgettable John Byrne rehash, but the new characters and ideas introduced here are incredibly logical and overdue for a literary character this old. You'll see what I mean. It also includes Marvel's moving tribute to 9/11.

9: CIVIL WAR: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN

Collects ASM # 532-38.

There have been a few significant events in Spidey's title in the last five years, but this deserves inclusion purely for the revelation within - an event that is almost anathema to such a major character. It also includes a brief look at the "Iron-Spider" costume provided by Tony Stark during his time in the Avengers.
It's also worth picking up the main Civil War trade while you're at it.


10: ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN: ULTIMATE COLLECTION VOL. 1

Collects Ultimate Spider-Man #1-13

Marvel's Ultimate Universe is pretty much a new-millennium update of the classic Marvel Universe and was a good jumping-on point for new readers in 2000. The first year of issues here are regarded as being almost perfect. Great writing, great art and a brilliant first meeting with the Kingpin. You'll think of this wher you hear any "fat" jokes afterwards.



Just to be clear, there's plenty more out there, but these get my vote for the most essential. I appreciate there's sod-all from the '90s, but there isn't currently a great deal out there save for 1993's "Maximum Carnage" trade - damn good, but a bit flawed. However, the 2-year "Clone Saga" is being released in staged volumes from next year, which in retrospect, is overdue, I think.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

The OC, Part 2: You Stay Classy, San Diego.

Yes, alright. Whatever. I have returned home and this particular offering is 2 weeks overdue. But as I was on holiday, and thus automatically supposed to be avoiding internet log-ons save for Facebook checks, this is late. Ok?! Tough.

So, off to Comic-Con to be surrounded by large redneck males of a sweaty variety and hormoneally-rampant Twilight fangirls. A plesant journey along the Pacific Coast also yielded a view of some power station or other shaped like Tits. This only gets a mention as it was featured in a rather funny film once and thus generated the kind of geeky "wows" in a similar way that visiting the "Dawn of the Dead" mall would. Or maybe that's just me.


After checking into our Marriot hotel on the north end of the city, we had nothing to do except go into the city and wander and get our weekend passes sorted. An initial fret over cabbing it downtown each time was quashed by the discovery of a tram line close by that took you right outside the centre. And into the paths of a main road, the main Amtrax West Coast railroad and best part of 130,000 geeks and Cosplayers. The convention Centre is huge, by my stanrads anyway. A nifty glass building that is probably about a third of a mile long. With two floors, it seems to be at least five times as big as Earls Court. The upstairs is a mass of rooms for panels and gatherings but it's the downstairs exhibition hall that hits you. About 5000 booths of companies, retailers, creators, promoters. If it's geek, it's here.


The next 4 days were just me geeking out really. I attended various Marvel Comics preview panels and managed to get into the "Kick-Ass" preview. And despite intitial skepticism, the footage did indeed Kick Ass. One to watch, especially as it includes a perfect interpretation of the scene featuring a 10-year-old Hit Girl slicing and dicing drug dealers in a downtown apartment. To the Tune of Banana Splitz. That's in the film, not the comic book.

I was lucky enoguth to meet and shake hands with some favourite creators who you've probably never heard of but I'll gush anyway.

Frank Cho - Liberty Meadows, Shanna The She Devil, Mighty Avengers
Josh Howard - Dead @ 17, Black Harvest
Scott Kurtz - PVP
John Romita Jr - Amazing Spider-Man, Iron Man, Daredevil, Kick-Ass

And some bloke called, er, Stanley? Stan? Lee? Stanner? Something like that, anyway.
He was nice.

And then there's The Mighty Boosh. Chuffed enough that they were doing a panel and a small show in town on Friday that we were off to, Friday night yielded a bit of a shock when we bumped into them staying at our hotel! Out of all the hotels, etc. After letting them finish their post-flight meal in the lobby, Andrea said hi to Noel and Julian in as controlled a way as she could, whilst beckoning to her British friends. They said hello with handshakes and after a few words, indicated their jet-lagged-ness. "I'm so jetlagged", said Julian. And he was. Our paths crossed occasionally after that.

Also:

- we visited Hooters - nice Tits, not-so-good food.
- visited a submarine and old ship. Well, Matt did, being the military geek he is.
- I got told by a Suicide Girl my accent was adorable. Yeah, well, wait til you see my **CENSORED***
- Matt requested an "offensive insult" be inserted into a Penny Arcade trade by it's creator for his mate's gift. He wrote "Cunt Puncher".
- saw Elvis:

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

The OC, Part 1: It ain't half hot, Mum!

Whoever told me that jet lag ain't so bad going backwards wasn't entirely on the ball. Or maybe they didn't take into account almost a lifetime of not flying and then undertaking a mammoth 10-hour flight to the other side of the planet practically via the Arctic Circle! Add to this a natural dose of genetic anxiety, worry, and post-9/11 fear and it's quite surprising that my co-traveller Mat didn't wallop me one. Still, as a pilot himself, he probably had perspective and understood my attitude.

As it was, the flight was spot-on, helped by Virgin Atlantic's cool on-board entertainment. I finally managed to see In The Loop, so happy there. Take-off and Landing weren't the experiences I feared they would be, and you can forget the "humourless immigration official" cos they were quite pleasant and friendly and have no objection to Jaffa and Battenburg cakes being brought in. Hour and a half, tops. Then came the reunion with my close mate and host Andrea and a drive to her gaff in Irvine, Orange County.

A chilled Chai at the local Starbucks in the OC nighttime humidity preceded a pre-sleep chill out at our digs, combined with a chat to the family. Lovely people. Although booze and snacks were avoided due to the general feeling of my internal organs being in the wrong places. Nighttime didn't bring much sleep, only basic rest, but helped until I got a decent night the night after.

A "lumberjack slam" at Denny's was the official breakfast - basically an American fry-up with pancakes and toast. It successfully defeated me so I know my limits for now as I work on expanding the stomach further. The rest of the day was spent heading to the coast. Stopping off first at a cove in Corona Del Mar, near Newport Beach, to get my feet's first taste of the Pacific Ocean and a climb over rocks that would not be permitted in Margate as we can't actally look after ourselves. I didn't recognise anything from "The OC" initially, but no doubt we'll be back.



This was then followed by a 6-mile coast drive to Laguna Beach to marvel at the hideousness of the seaside Hollywood so emphasised by the god-awful MTV show. Except it wasn't. Yes the rich swines' houses are easily spotted on the surrounding hills, but the beach and centre were just awash with happy families and all sorts. A cool mix of affordable boutiques and art galleries, Laguna Beach was quite pleasant.



The drive home was via those aforementioned hills, so it felt like a California version of leaving north from Brighton through the South Downs. After a steak meal at Chilis compete with the most gorgeous garlic bread ever, we headed to the Irish-themed pub, The Auld Dubliner, for a Guinness.

Today, we're off to San Diego for the Comic Con. I will no doubt elaborate further on this whole experience and the culture shock a bit further down the line.

And if you're wondering about the giraffe, his name's Stephen and he's another co-traveller. I'll explain later.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

By George

Use the word "Patriotism" to a lot of people in the world who can speak English and chances are that they'll picture the kind of extreme American images and speeches that would give a Fox News executive a hard-on. In fact, it wouldn't be surprising to find that the US Republican party have trademarked the word and its offshoots, seeming as they like to ram home the fact that that being a Patriot is the only way to be a decent human being with a US passport.

But the fact remains there's nothing wrong with being a Patriot in the most straightforward of ways. Our history, culture, political status, social attitudes and everything else will always contribute to our upbringing and so it should be guaranteed that we have a grateful affection to where we come from, especially if we're lucky enough to live in a democracy. We should love our country, but I should concede we should not automatically be proud of it - that's a different thing entirely.I'm the former, but definitely not the latter.

If you're scratching your heads over my slightly highbrow topic, it's because today is St George's Day and, as England's patron Saint, a reason to celebrate being English. Except about half of English folk don't have a clue about it, while a significant proportion of them have never heard of St George. His origins and history is questionable, but the fact remains he is the English patron Saint. It still appears to be socially unacceptable to mark the day, yet us English get St Patrick's day rammed home every March. I love Guinness, but I have no Irish heritage so do I have a right to celebrate March 17th?

The Scots, Welsh and Irish are encouraged by the man to be faithful to their flag, but not the English. Why? The Empire? It was British, so scratch that. The only reason a lot of folk can give is due to the fascistic impulses of the lardy English football hooligan community - a picture all too indelibly marked on the conciousness of our media and the face of a Turk. Does it come down to the fact that the English, a nation that gets on with it with a bit of a moan but no overwhelming melodrama, doesn't need a national day - we're English all year round, what's the point of a special day?

Anyway, the point of this is Happy St George's Day - if you care that is. I'm marking this day on a childish principle right now - most other countries have a national day of sorts, so this is ours. No fuss, just a respecful nod, which to me really is the English way, I guess.

I can't leave without throwing up some tracks that , to me, are wholely English. Enjoy and, as usual, dig deeper.




SAXON - Wheels of Steel (live)(1980)

Classic English Metal. 'Nuff said.


CARTER THE UNSTOPPABLE SEX MACHINE - The Only Living Boy in New Cross (1992, The Love Album, 1992)

Shamefully overlooked Sarf Lahndon Grebo drum loopers with daft haircuts.


THE STREETS - The Irony of it All (Original Pirate Material, 2002)

Three English staples - the self-righteous pub thug, the stoned student hippie and Garage.



SHAM 69 - Hurry Up Harry (That's Life, 1978)

"We're going down the puuuuuuub" - It doesn't sound as good if it's not sung in an English accent

NEW ORDER - World in Motion (1990)

Well, I couldn't resist

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

I don't know what I'm doing...

In anticipation of the release of The Damned United later this week - joint book and movie review to follow - and foreign football fans' asking "Derby Who?", here's a brief funny lifted from the BBC's "Alas Smith and Jones" show from 1986.



I's like to insert some witty remark about how things change. Alas, most of them are still as close to the non-league as they were then, save for Burnley.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Depeche Mode Week - Day 7: Sound of Final Orders

Made it. Shan't be trying this again methinks.

Anyways, the end of this week has bought us to the here and now, just in time for new album Sounds of the Universe, out April 19/20th. Based on the rumours and what bits I've heard, it stands to be their best since 1993's Songs of Faith and Devotion. First single Wrong is one unsettling mindfuck of a record. At first listen, it's a bit "hmmmm", with an apparent lack of dynamics. Just give it a couple of listens. Trust me.

As for the video? It just shows that Americans should join Europe and have their reverse gear next to them on the floor...

Monday, 23 March 2009

Depeche Mode week - Day 6: Walking in Clarke's shoes

In what has evidently been a very long week and thus a completely failed experiment, day 6 of this brief guide to Basildon's finest brings us closer to the bloke that scarpered - Vince Clarke.

Having knocked up the first LP Speak and Spell succesfully, Clarke decided Depeche wasn't for him. No animosity but it almost single-handedly had the music press wiping this new lot of the board straight off. We know that turned out to be a false move, but what happened to 'ol Vince? Well, if the name isn't familiar for whatever reason, then you do actually know.

First off, he tapped up a mate from Basildon by the name of Alison Moyet, a fairly streetwise lass that scared the crap out of the Depeche lads, all told. Taking the name Yazoo, (or Yaz to you American lot) Clarke kept the synths and went along with Moyet's belting voice for a few pop nuggets including Nobody's Diary, Only You and this catchy little gem:



Alas, this didn't last long. They parted ways, although it did allow Moyet to gain some respectable success as a solo artist. Have a dig, but I recommend this first off. Don't ask me about the video, I have no idea...



Back to Clarke, who had tinkered with the idea of a project whereby he teamed up with someone for one single then moved on for another. This brainstorm yielded Never Never under the banner of The Assembly with Feargal Sharkey, he of The Undertones teenage-kicking fame.



And that was it. Lord knows what his relationships were like in those days.

Then something happened. He met a lad called Andy Bell, a kind of cross between Alison Moyet and Jimmy Somerville. It worked, big style, and Erasure was born. Mind you, it wasn't instant. 1985's debut album Wonderland was pretty much a commmercial disaster and went quite unnoticed in a pop landscape that was overkill in new acts. It wasn't until the year after, when this baby's chorus hit the radios:



What followed was a string of uber-camp synthpop hits that lasted well into the 90s. Blue Savannah is widely regarded as one of the best pop songs ever:

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Although, for my money, Drama! remains their high point:

Monday, 9 March 2009

Depeche Mode Day 5 - Cover well?

Yep, I know, I missed a day. Well, 4 days actually. I failed - but that's what you get for having a social life filled with "Watchmen", The FA Cup and ogling at Strippers at my mate's 30th.

So, where was I? Ah, yes - cover versions, helped along by The Saturdays recent foray. Quite a lot of them, in fact. A bit of research bequeathed an entire website that would probably yield a few thousand for me to look at. Sod that, obviously.

What's evident is the covers out there generally nod towards the influence Depeche have had towards rock and dance. The former is mostly represented by a goth crowd while the latter is pretty varied, but seems to consist of a lot of efficient Germans who approach their love of Depeche like they approcah their competitiveness in beating the Brits to the sunbeds in Kos. However, as I'm a bit of a headbanger, I'm probably only in a position to judge the effectiveness of the long-haired brigade's attempts. So with that, here's a critique inspired by Clint Eastwood:

THE GOOD:







Solid, no question. The song is recognisable, and so are the band, which is the best combination. I'm all up for a band doing something interesting with anyone else's song, as long as they don't compromise themselves or try to ape the original too much. Good job. And Christina Scabbia's well fit, innit.

THE BAD







Maybe not a total butchering, but it all sounds so pointless, expecially when you consider his impressive cover of Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams. It's Marilyn on auto-pilot and not trying, and his sickly egocentric voice doesn't fit the song. Or maybe the whole thing sounds bad when you consider Johnny Cash's far superior version.

THE UGLY







Ouch. Proof positive why Rammstein were right to sing in their native German.

Here's a better example of the song covered far better by Shiny Toy Guns

Having a dig on Youtube or Spotify yields a few interesting results here and there, especially from the teens in their bedrooms - another reason to rue this otherwise useful method of communication. However if you want to spend the money, you'll be easily able to track down "For The Masses", a pretty respectable collection of covers from some credible names. It's worth it just for Locust's loungecore version of Master and Servant.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Depeche Mode Week - Day 4: The Albums

ESSENTIAL

Violator, 1990


There was no excuse really. After a decade of slogging it out and making nothing but either steady or massive progress, there was no reason why they should have got this wrong. The material could have been ok, so-so, alright, and then they would have returned again. But with the maturity gained through regular touring and recording, coupled with a confident grasp of everything they had successfully used so far, the omens were great. It was also handy that a hugely popular electronic-based scene (rave) had given them more ideas for appropriate sounds. Violator was a magnificent achievement - crisp, clean and uplifting as well as dark, unsettling and pained. No more was this in evidence on the two big singles Personal Jesus and Enjoy the Silence. The balance between synths, stripped guitar licks, Gahan's vocals and Flood's production was as perfect as they had ever got, and ever did again. It's a cliche, but after Violator, everything did change and was never the same again.


RECOMMENDED

Black Celebration, 1986


By the time Black Celebration was released, Depeche were established chart artists in the UK if not big-time pop stars. A Best-of album released in 1985 single-handedly stirred the "split" rumour pot, but the truth was Depeche were now used to doing things their way and writing what they wanted to, and were lucky to have an indie label in Mute who backed them up. Gore's experimenting with harsher industrial sounds and darker moods culminated in Black Celebration, an album that wavered from epic, gothic synthesized pop (A Question of Lust, Stripped) to chart-unfriendly stripped-down cabaret (It Doesn't Matter Two, Dressed in Black) Seeing them as original outcasts, the rest of the world got it, even if the UK did not. It's been cited as a major influence by Linkin Park, but don't let that put you off.


Songs of Faith and Devotion, 1993


They got there just in time. Before the band fell apart amidst the drugs, booze and mental breakdowns, they successfully convened to record a group of tracks that were almost prescient. Far more impassioned than ever before, songs such as I Feel You and In Your Room became grandiose examples of elctronic-based rock that tipped its hat to the Grunge school of emotion. Relying on heroin ever more, Gahan bears not just his soul but his very being into this album, suggesting that deep down, he knew he could fall apart at any time, something that is most evident in the pained gospel of Condemnation. It remains their most ambitious album to date.


FOLLOW-UP

Speak and Spell, 1981
They were one of many, but Depeche nailed down this synth-pop thing straight away with their debut, having barely entered their twenties. Catchy fare such as Just Can't Get Enough and New Life fit into the system well, but Photographic and Tora!Tora!Tora! hinted strongly at was what to come. Chief songwriter Vince Clarke got cold feet around the time of release and left to pursue a different approach, but that didn't stop the rest of them

Music For The Masses, 1987
Their worldwide profile was growing as was their confidence. It was no surprise that this opus was their most majestic yet, adding a controlled rock approach to their canon as well as a some applied orchestration. Yes, they had the solid and familiar likes of Behind the Wheel, but there were now tracks such as Strangelove and Nothing. It was prophetic too, as the accompanying tour was their biggest to date.


WILD CARD

Construction Time Again, 1983
The use of synthesizers had added something interesting to Pop since the mid-70s, offering up some bizarre efforts along the way. While CTA was not the strangest of the period, It still raises an eyebrow today. Gore's pilfering of German industrial methods gave us original pop nuggets like Everything Counts and The Landscape is Changing. It also served up the quirky bassline of More Than A Party and the pacifist chanting of Pipeline. Ideas a-plenty, if not easy listening.


NO RUSH

Exciter, 2001
Clean as a whistle and happy-as-larry by the time of Exciter's release, it's not surprising to suggest that a more apt title would have been Relaxer. It's clean digital approach was minmilistic and added weight to the argument that Depeche were just happy to be alive and to have survived the 90s. It's not a bad album, but when the strong tracks I Feel Loved and The Sweetest Condition sound out of place, you realise that they probably could have got away with more time writing the songs.


THE REST

A Broken Frame, 1982
Regarded by the band as their worst album, their sophomore effort is now a good retrospective of a band starting again and having a go anyway. As much hit as miss, it gave us the dreamy instrumental Nothing to Fear at the very least.

Some Great Reward, 1984
More controlled than the previous effort, Gore was by now a confident songwriter with a better sense of how to apply his ideas. People are People and Master and Servant proved his knack for blending mechanics and a good pop hook. The sublime Blasphemous Rumours hinted at something more

Ultra, 1997
Stark and harrowed, this was proof that there was life in the now-grizzled dog, but only just. With the trendy moody trip-hop being used to good effect, the likes of Barrel of a Gun and Useless summed up the previous four years perfectly.

Playing the Angel, 2005
Unremarkable, but reassuring at the same time. This is just an example of Depeche doing what they're good at. Suffer Well, Precious, and Lilian are almost off the conveyor belt, but by this stage, that's as good as giving anything new and fresh.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Depeche Mode Day 3 - Just Couldn't Get Enough

Keith Richards. Jimmy Page. Nikki Sixx. Rock monoliths, the lot of them, with the common theme being that they were all one-man narcotic factories. Overdoses didn't stop them, and in the case of Motley Crue's Sixx, went home to overdose again after being released from the ER. Impressive, but let's be fair, twattish. Should such a pub conversation ever take place about these drugged-out rock Gods, the same names will always pop up. But not Dave Gahan's, mainly thanks to Depeche's outsider profile.

There was nothing special about Dave's drug use. It's more a case that it took a decade to get to it and then perfect immediately. The first ten years of Depeche featured regular, but restrained, casual drug use. It was only after 1990's landmark Violator album hit paydirt that it all hit the fan in many ways.

A quick recap: Following the Black Celebration tour, Depeche served up Music For the Masses in 1987, offering up a less claustrophobic affair that also widened their symphonic and rock scope. Only a bit, mind. It also resulted in a bigger world tour that saw them sell out California's Rosebowl Stadium, an event documented in their "101" live/album/vid/DVD/whatever, and something that no-one from Basildon had ever done before or ever will again. It was probably as good as it was going to get.

Except it didn't, because 1990 saw the release of the critically acclaimed Violator and a little incident in West Hollywood:



Insert "LA couldn't organise a signing in a record shop" joke here. Whether it was a riot is open to speculation, but it probably gave the Fuzz good practice for two years later. It also proves that Anericans can find 10 defferent ways of saying "Depeche".

So, Violator, then. Big album, big tour, bigger success. The only way to cope with all of this is to become a bona fide Rock Star, do lots of drugs or go a little bit nuts. Or all of the above if you fancy, with gallstones. It was probably bad luck that the everyman Rock Grunge scene kicked in just after, giving Gahan access to new tattoo ideas and a case-load of heroin. I blame it on the Janes Addiction PR girl becoming Gahan's second wife. What follows is a generalised transformation:

1981:



1990:



1993:



Granted, the latter photo doesn't give the impression of a heroin addict, but it's not the cherub from 1981 either. Either way, there are a couple of pix hidden here and there that give a better idea of Gahan's lifestyle at the time.

This makes 1993's Songs of Faith and Devotion a painful listen looking back. A great record that leapt a huge distance from previous efforts, it was a quasi-goth-rock-gospel-techno beast with Gahan entering into full Rock God status.

In Your Room, (Songs of Faith and Devotion, 1993)




By spring 1996, Gahan had become a complete Junkie, had all contents of his house nicked during a second stint in rehab, slashed his wrists on at least two known occasions, and had one major overdose that was only avoided thorugh a Nikki Sixx-friendly "Kickstart My Heart". This may sound all very normal in the field of rock excess, but it just seems bizarre and surreal when you consider they happily managed without it for a decade previously. As for the rest of the band, Martin Gore drunk too much but found it easy to quit. Andy Fletcher feel into depression and missed four months of a tour for a pleasant stay in hospital, while Alan Wilder got the aforemetioned gallstones. He then quit the band shortly after. Well, wouldn't you?

I'll come back to this little history at the end. Album reviews tomorrow - Yay!

Monday, 2 March 2009

Depeche Mode Week - Day 2: Peroxide and Bondage

I've heard it said in the past that while the UK is focused on singles, the US market is more concerned with the full studio album. I have no idea why there should be a difference in mentality, but it seems true. The US will measure success over time on album sales, with singles as a pleasant addition. Perhaps us Brits just have a short attention span and can only focus on ooo, cool, new Wolverine Trailer! Brilliant.

So, where was I? Yup, The US market, which also gives a lot of oomph to the tours as well. Think of the big British groups that have had big US success. They normally are the ones that disappeared across the Atlantic for weeks on end and slogged it out. They don't appreciate people wandering over there and forcing a single down their throats without working for it, something you can get away with in the UK and only just in Europe. It's this thinking that explains Mode breaking the US a good seven years after Just Can't Get Enough.

OK, let's backtrack. It was all going fairly well in Blighty for Depeche. They survived after Vince Clarke's departure, roping in Alan Wilder to tour with them and eventually record as well. Martin Gore's songwriting improved over the next three albums, and the Top 10 got a few more hits. In addition, there was much experimental jiggery pokery with the advancing electonica thanks to a German industrial fetish, and a sudden cascade of Socialist jabber. A few examples while we're here:

See You, (A Broken Frame, 1982)





Aaaa, doesn't ickle Dave look cute in his little bow tie? Come back, leather bondage look, all is forgiven! Incidentally, It may be worth noting that wandering round Selfridges singing this doesn't result in the cashier drones spontaneously finding cool Moog sounds out their tills, and will more than likely result in your sharp upending through the front doors by a large man named Biff.

Everything Counts, (Construction Time Again, 1983)




In which Dave's voice breaks and they go to the beach via a really, really, really long flyover.

People are People, (Some Great Reward, 1984)




In stark contrast to the British Leyland factory, the sounds of machinery and drilling are backed up by people talking about how we should be nice and all that. Can't argue with the sentiment, but a bit too obvious even for me. Perhaps we should go for something more subtle from that album, like Master and Servant?




Ok, maybe not.

So that takes us to 1986, just after a quick "Best of" and a small break. It all culminated into the album "Black Celebration", or as it was cheekily referred to in the album's recent documentary, "The songs aren't good enough, there aren't any singles and it'll never get played on the radio".



Grossly unfair, but not surprising. Even considering Depeche's more quirky use of electronica than their peers, it still needed work on the listener's part. While the title track nodded towards the period's movie soundtracks from the likes of Tangerine Dream, the likes of It Doesn't Matter Two and Dressed in Black were stark, drum-less offerings of neoveau cabaret. As well as the magnificent Stripped (see later this week), we got A Question of Time, the boys first video with Anton Corbijn. More on him later:




Overall though, it felt like an album as a piece of art, as opposed to collections of songs like previous albums. It just all clicked, and remains a fantastic piece of work. Even with their fanbase, UK sales merely regarded it as a new Depeche album. On the continent and the US, though, it went further. Depeche's more punchy electro and lack of yacht-sinking stood them apart from their British new wave peers, and the alternative radio stations started to take notice. A lengthy US tour followed, and phase 2 started big style.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Depeche Mode Week - Day 1

This is a bit of an experiment, I'll be honest. Not so much writing about the mighty Mode, but managing to do it every day for a week. Still, worth a go.

Yes, Depeche Mode, a band who, depite their longetivity, still seem to exist outside of the mainstream. The biggest cult band ever? Possibly, depending on your viewpoint of the word "cult". The fact remains, despite 28 years of pulsing dark electronic pop, iconic videos and a herculian drug intake from vocalist Dave Gahan, they are still just an 80s Pop group to most of the general public, at least to those who have heard of them. Just can't get Enough, their first big hit from 1981, and just before they'd hit their twenties, is still the only track most people could hum, a fact exacerbated by idiot DJs at horrific 80s chain clubs like "Reflex" who remain oblivious to the fact that they had plenty of other Top 10 hits in that decade, let alone after. As a result, I wouldn't be surprised if some folk think of them as "One Hit Wonders".

To be fair, though, this is probably due to the quality of the song. In pop terms, it is a classic, and probably songwriter Vince Clarke's best. A hook, a chorus, a simple catchy melody, all done in a Casio-friendly format that fitted right into it's time. You can't really hold anything against it. However, you can say whatever you like about the ickle leather Village People look. Be my guest.



It's because of the song's inherent POP-ness that I welcomed the news that new chart fitties The Saturdays would cover it for Comic Relief. Ok, I couldn't slag the news off as it's for charriteeee, but I could have been left unhappy by the end result. In the end, I'm not, mainly because it would be quite the achievement for any chart act to cock it up. I've heard better versions, certainly, but this is a respectable turn, as are the ladies in the video, homina homina. It keeps the original vibe, sounds good, fun and helps a few needy folk at the same time. Ok, I'll raise my hands - I like The Saturdays anyway, but I still would not want them touching any of Mode's later material. Not without a full vamp-out anyway.



Next: Why Depeche Mode are better than U2. No, really.

Incidentally, if you're reading this on my Facebook note stream, go to the original Blogspot as videos don't transfer over, it appears. Rubbish.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

These boots were made for grooving.

If more folk did this instead of going to the Nuremberg rallies...sorry, X-Factor auditions...the country would be in a better state. And I do genuinely do believe that.



Oh, Victoria....

Friday, 6 February 2009

29 years young...

That's right. Another year bites the dust. Still, as I'm feeling less than creative right now and the need to rant is pretty minimal, I thought I'd just big up some top tracks that have collectively got my metaphorical musical mojo aflame. Ahem.

The Pipettes - Pull Shapes (We are the Pipettes. 2006)

Wonderfully delicious and delightful surf-pop girly harmonies coupled with the kind of pop-nous that makes you realise that Pop music, when done properly, can trump everything else in attaining the perfect high.

The Pipettes - Pull Shapes

Ladytron - International Dateline (Witching Hour, 2006)

A stripped back synth-bassline throbs underneath a starightforward drum loop and slowly creeps into the consiousness with menacing aplomb. Oh, dear, it's in your head already isn't it?

Ladytron - International Dateline

The Charlatans - Weirdo (Between 10th and 11th, 1992)

If you want to suvive Madchester and keep up the shindig well into Britpop then just play with the formula a bit. The heaviest Hammond Organ riff ever as an intro? Ok then.

The Charlatans - Weirdo

Municipal Waste - Lunch Hall Food Brawl (The Art of Partying, 2007)

The possible result of youthful 80s Thrashers being placed in stasis with a steady support of Thrash, weed, Thrash, zombie films and a bit of Thrash and being let loose in the new millenium with some updated music tech. Possibly.

Municipal Waste - Lunch Hall Food Brawl


The Saints - Know Your Product (Eternally Yours, 1978)


Not-quote-Punk Aussie Punksters with added doses of horns and groove. Never that big so you can big up these lost treasures and be all elitist-like.

The Saints - Know Your Product