Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Albums of the year

As nothing that’s any good is going to come out before 31 December apart from Bryan Adams’ Greatest Hits, it’s probably the time to name my five albums of the year (plus five more that deserve a mention):

1) Funeral – Arcade Fire
2) Arular – MIA
3) Get Behind Me Satan – White Stripes
4) Medicine Box – Sons and Daughters
5) Bang Bang Rock and Roll – Art Brut

Also great:
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
The Alternative to Love – Brendan Benson
The New Fellas – The Cribs
Martha Wainwright - Martha Wainwright
Silent Alarm – Bloc Party

They just like peace

Went to see Salman Rushdie talk and read from his novel at the South Bank centre last night. Unfortunately I have some kind of ultra-flu and was dosed up on these extra-strong cough sweets my boss gave me, so I can’t really give any credible or coherent insights about the man, except for the following thoughtsentence.

Yes, it’s true, he looks like an owl academic with beard and when he arrives onstage, he faces the crowd, and waves like a little boy – it’s surprisingly endearing - and he thinks the Indians and Pakistanis should just leave the Kashmiris the fuck alone, they’re not cowardly to like peace (as the old Indian joke goes), they just LIKE PEACE, what’s wrong with that? and the law banning incitement to religious hatred is, like, bullshit, because you should be able to criticise all ideas freely and that includes religion, as long as you separate the intellectual from the personal, just protect freedom of speech and all the other civil liberties follow and please stop going on about Midnight’s Children, that was 25 years ago...

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The new Lowe

Went to see Rob "West Wing" Lowe in Aaron "West Wing" Sorkin's play A Few Good Men on Friday. The play appeared on Broadway in 1989 before it became a Hollywood film starring Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Jack Nicholson. For those unfamiliar with the plot, naval officer-lawyer Daniel Kaffee (Lowe) has to defend two young marines accused of murdering a weaker recruit during a "code red" procedure (a ceremonial dressing down, which might include shaving the offender's head, or beating the shit out of him). The code red may or may not have been ordered by the marines' superior, Colonel Jessop. Courtroom drama and lots of shouting ensues.

The whole thing was enjoyable, watchable and surprisingly really good, though the characters are never quite more than the high-quality dialogue they speak. But Lowe has enough charm to keep the most jaded cynic smiling wistfully for days. If you've seen the film, what was strange about the play was the fact that the actors played it for laughs on a surprising number of occassions - and got them.

Contrasting strongly with the West End glamour of Rob Lowe's perfect hair was the grainy violence of the "initiation ceremony" footage of British marines that emerged on Sunday. It shows two naked marines fighting each other in the mud while others (also naked) stand around egging them on. When one of the men appears to refuse to fight, a superior officer, dressed as a surgeon (the other is in schoolgirl grab), kicks him in the head, knocking him out. The footage seems slightly speeded up, giving the whole thing the appearance of an old-fashioned silent movie, with the costumes adding to the surrealism. It looks like some weird ultraviolent playground. Media reaction so far has been flippant, unshocked - they are marines after all.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Dissing Devendra

Read my Devendra Banhart single review here.

No offence to Gorky's Zygotic Mynci's keyboard player is intended.

Dylan hits Brixton

"It's like one massive Dylan gig!" enthused my friend James, who's going to all five of the consecutive nights Bob Dylan is playing at Brixton Academy this week. "With gaps," added a nearby Mancunian.

I suppose you could take the formula one step further: for some people life is one big Dylan concert, with gaps. I don't think I'm quite one of those people, but on my way to the Academy I did actually start to feel quite nervous, in case something went wrong and I missed the whole thing.

I didn't, thank the good Lord. Dylan played a real crowd-pleaser of a setlist, but the amazing moments were during the songs you didn't think you'd be bothered about. Mississippi, Cold Irons Bound, Highway 61, Love Minus Zero/No Limit, Summer Days and John Brown were all extraordinary. Even though it's 'barely' two years since Dylan recorded it, Mississippi already sounds like a new song. John Brown came on like the dark Scottish indie-skiffle of Sons and Daughters and the graphic war-is-bad lyrics made everyone stand still. And Summer Days kept switching brilliantly between '40s swing and heavy guitar-thwacking.

There were a few letdowns - Stuck Inside of Mobile and Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine) got a bit boring even before he started singing them (I don't really like the latter - that riff's as annoying as hell), and I Don't Believe You was fairly forgettable. But that's nitpicking - by the time Like A Rolling Stone rolled round, with the house lights flashing up on the crowd for the chorus, the lowlights were a distant memory. Wish I'd got tickets for all five nights.

Setlist is here.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

What the Dickens

Congratulations to writer Charles Dickens, who's been included in Waterstones 200 Best Paperbacks of 2005 for his novel Bleak House. To be ranked alongside such greats as Ben Elton's Past Mortem and Dan Brown's Deception Point is a truly impressive achievement and Dickens himself, a little-read cultish writer, should feel proud of himself. Hopefully the exposure from his inclusion this list, as well as the television adaptation currently airing, will mean this underrated writer will be read alongside literary heavyweights like Harlen Coben and Michael Crichton.

Backstreet's Back, all wrong

Please watch this extraordinary webcam footage. Two masters of karaoke at work. I salute them.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Westlife Ho!

I've been thinking recently about shit Irish boyband Westlife, who were switching on the lights at Oxford Circus last night. Looking at the cover of their new number 1 album the other day (all their albums are number ones. I wouldn't be able to name a single one of them) you can see that they're not the sprightly young things they once were. "You're growing old, boys," I thought to myself. Then cruelly added, "And you've wasted your lives." If I woke up age 35 and found myself in Westlife, I'd wire the nerve endings in my right hand up to the Christmas lights, then get Bryan McFadden to flick the switch. That's how to spread true happiness to the world and his son this Christmas.

But speaking of waste, now I'm imagining one of my old teachers browsing the internet and somehow stumbling across this blog entry. He reads, sighs heavily at the sheer unoriginality of ridiculing Westlife. He remembers the promise I once showed as a young boy, and the words "what a waste" resound in his head; a solitary tear rolls down his mottled cheek. And another image springs to mind too: my girlfriend Sarah looking expectantly into my eyes, guessing at the complex and beautiful thoughts that are dancing around my head like delicate figurines. She reads this and weeps.

Unbelievable: by spending time thinking on the utter mediocrity of Westlife, I'm brought down to their level. That's how dangerous they are.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Album review: Chocolate Genius Inc – Black Yankee Rock (Commotion Records)

The music of Chocolate Genius Inc, aka Marc Antony Thompson, could easily be described as "genre-bending". However, despite his moves between New Acoustic Movement style folk, Marvin Gaye soul and quiet stoner rock, it could also be described as "a bit boring". A feeling of overly laid-back listlessness pervades his third album, making it tough for the listener to engage with many of the songs here. On the plus side, it's often so soporific, you can't be bothered to get up and switch it off. There are some inspirational moments, but CGI doesn't seem to be able to tell the difference between these and the mediocre ones. There's one line in 'Cry' that makes you think it has the makings of a classic ballad, but a general tunelessness brings it down to the level of forgettable background muzzzzic. 'Rats Under Waterfall' goes for the loveable eccentricity ticket, but comes across less Super Furry Animals recording in Rio, more crazy bearded man mumbling on park bench. The more up-tempo 'Forever Everyone' sounds like it might perk things up, but it's track 10 of 11 and is ruined by the ill-judged and flat vocal. "I lose momentum," he sings, on 'It's Going Wrong'. Yeah, me too.