Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Oven Gloves Was Perhaps Too Conservative











When Half Man Half Biscuit sang of Joy Division oven gloves they probably thought that they were imagining an untoppable piece of rock memorabilia tat that was completely missing the point of the music that inspired it.  It's time for them to rewrite the song though as even Joy Division oven gloves have some use; everyone cooks sometime. But what possible use can this twenty quid book collecting Joy Division manager Rob Gretton’s notes, diaries and fucking invoices have—other than making aspie pub bores even more intolerable?

Check the picture above. That’s “one of many 'things to do' lists that feature throughout Rob's notebooks”. Other extracts on the website—so one supposes highlights from the book—include “the poster text for Joy Division's gig at The Check Inn, Altrincham”, “a list of equipment made for insurance purposes” and “Another 'to do' list dating from September '79”.

At the risk of seeming crass, anyone who even considers buying this book needs to slip a copy of Iggy Pop’s The Idiot onto the stereo and then make like Ian Curtis.

Polaris Prize Pick in Pretty Perfect Shocker



The Polaris Prize would be easily describable to an alien as "Canada's answer to the Mercury Prize", only two out of three winners have been splendid (Patrick Watson might be two, only I've not heard it [and was too obsessed with another Patrick W last year to pay attention]).

The Guardian, sadly, seem to think this tastefulness is some kind of shortcoming, a lack of drama that, if continued with, might starve the Polaris Prize of a decent enough profile to actually improve an artist's career. I hope this isn't the case; partly because I'd love to see Dan Snaith receive the kind of sales and opportunities that Elbow are now rejoicing in, but mainly because, well, the Polaris Prize seems to be voted for by people who care. So what if it's undramatic? If you want drama, watch X Factor (which I must confess to having become vaguely addicted to this year, having never watched it previously; the sob stories!); if you want 40 minutes of beatific, shimmering, inventive, emotive, retro-progressive, psychedelic laptop pop, then buy Andorra.

For reference, I got quite inspired by Andorra on my old blog: "Dan Snaith’s always been good on the textural front, but this is his best, I feel; the dynamic shifts in “Desiree” and the subtlety in the arrangements to “Eli” and “Sandy” suggest that he was pushing to make this even more intricate and beautiful than usual, as if he was making a statement. The drum tones are amazing; the layering more so. It’s like Andorra has sonic mezzanines that intersect and allow differing views across the whole song. It’s absolutely breathtaking on headphones," and also "Dan Snaith’s fourth album, the second since his litigious name-change, gets close to being that thing; the Holy Grail of what I’m looking for in music, that record I can play again and again and again and never tire of, that makes everything else redundant. Poppy, psychedelic, groovey, jazzy, electronic… it’s all hear. The sound of summer. Every day."

In other news, I'm surprisingly finding myself enjoying the Oasis album. That must be the rocktimism.

Monday, September 29, 2008

From the Dept. of Accidents

The current, September 25th, issue of the London Review of Books must’ve gone to print before the news of David Foster Wallace's suicide broke, making the included letter from the author of this review possibly the cruellest inadvertent obituary ever.

The conclusion of the letter states that Wallace’s recent fiction "bears the stamp of a writer that may have come to the same conclusion that I did: some strategies for some writers become dead ends".

The letter has, understandably, been removed from their website.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Wire Watch—Part One in an Ongoing Series

Well, thankfully not really an ongoing series, but after HKM’s post on the sudden, belated ubiquity of The Wire as media reference point I noticed this crammed-in doozy from The Guardian review of the US equiv of Goldie Lookin’ Chain:

Rappers Shunda K and Jwl B, from Tampa, Florida, could have been a couple of characters written for The Wire: they're portly, punky, God-fearing lesbians, prone to stripping down to the waist on stage.

I must’ve missed that episode.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

"I don't make up this rubbish!": Strictly Come Dancing, Week 2



This week's episodes, along with all the individual dances, can be seen at the Strictly Come Dancing website. The individual dances are also available on Youtube.

She might only have been joint-second bottom after the dancing, but it always seemed fairly clear that Gillian Taylforth was going this week for the simple reason that, of all the female dancers, she was the most expendable - her partner, Anton du Beke, is probably more famous than her right at this moment, due to his being a team captain on SCD's Saturday night schedule partner, Hole In The Wall, upon which there may well be more once any of our writers can bear to sit through an entire episode of the thing (someone at the BBC has decided that you need to see Vic Reeves in a skintight silver lycra jumpsuit). Gillian would have needed to have finished in at least the top half of the leaderboard to have had a hope of surviving, and, while her foxtrot was hardly terrible (her 22 points would have been enough for joint fourth last week), she just didn't quite do enough to stand out.

The night's big surprise was seeing her joined in the bottom two by Jodie Kidd, who had oozed elegance during her foxtrot and totted up 25 points. However, where that would have been good enough to put her clear in third last week, this week she was only fifth, and unfortunately her routine featured the most toe-curling (dance-based) moment of this week's episode - the final movement of the routine sees partner Ian Waite bend over, kiss her on the cheek, then flash a gaping-mouthed H-From-Steps style gurn-grin straight into the camera. Words cannot quite convey the horror of it, so here's an embed:



Also, despite the fact that at six-foot-two Jodie has some rather sizeable physical obstacles to overcome, the thing with programmes of this nature is that they tend to be all about the JOURNEY, and apparently tall girl learning to dance isn't as much of a JOURNEY as Lisa Snowdon and Brendan Cole being all tension-y. Despite being both a TV presenter and top model of several years' standing, Lisa appears to have all the self-esteem of your average lemming. Nerves consumed her and swallowed her whole. Sure, she twisted and pivoted like no-one's business, but her face told an entirely different story - she had to keep remembering to smile, flashing up forced grins to try and act like she was relaxed, like she was into it... it was oddly uncomfortable. When Craig informed her that she had the most natural rhythm of any contestant he'd seen on the programme, she reacted as if she'd just been informed that she was an android.

However, as Len Goodman flagged up on Sunday, the bottom two had both danced the foxtrot, whereas Lisa and Jessie Wallace, the week's lowest scorer, had gone for the showier, more exciting salsa and wound up getting saved - the suggestion being that these slow dances were perhaps not the best thing to try and win the votes of a Saturday night BBC1 audience, who would be more naturally attuned to Jessie Wallace jiggling in a golden tinsel flapper dress. Jessie wound up with 20 points, and on this evidence isn't really much of a mover - admittedly, her choreography did basically consist of her jiggling, a lot, but her knee bending seemed a bit laboured, and she seemed to clearly miss at least one or two steps. The thing here is that this leaves clear and identifiable room for improvement, and the public have voted fairly resoundingly to save her on this occasion; given that whole JOURNEY thing, if she makes continual improvements week-on-week, she might not be out of the hunt for the title just yet.

Another thing this Saturday showed me is that I'm not quite as good a casual viewer as I'd previously thought, since I completely failed to spot that the clear winner of the evening was Cherie Lunghi, who carded a whopping 33 points out of 40 to get the best first-dance score of the competition. She was elegant, graceful and seemingly quite nerveless in her foxtrotting, but if you were to ask me to explain why she was any better than, say, Jodie Kidd, I'd be totally incapable of so doing. I do have an excuse, however - Cherie was dancing to the house band's rendition of "Sweet About Me", which they somehow managed to completely butcher. Yes, they took "Sweet About Me" and made it massively, quantifiably worse; the various intricacies of the song's arrangement were shunted up to the front so it sounded like a five-year-old in a dressing-up box, while the singer appeared to be going off a set of lyrics that had been hurriedly transcribed by someone listening to the original down a particuarly dodgy phone line.



Similar treatment got meted out to "Mercy" last week, and I don't doubt we're going to bump into "Chasing Pavements" at least once before this series is finished, too. It's a pity, because watched without the sound on, Cherie's virtues become more obvious: it's all in the upper body, particularly the extension of her hands and the rolling of her shoulders; also, her kicks seemed more natural and graceful than her fellow foxtrotters - Jodie, for instance, sort of looked as though she was doing the can-can.

It meant that, in what can safely be regarded as quite the colossal upset, she beat Rachel Stevens into second place. As previously stated, Rachel is a bit of a ringer - one could tell that she had a fair bit of dancing experience, her movements and ability to stick to choreography while performing within it stuck out ever so slightly from the rest. However, one thing remains unchanging: Rachel Stevens has the charisma of muesli. So technically it's all grand, and her smile is steady and unwavering, but there remains something obdurately dull about the woman, to say nothing of the incessant perving of her partner, Vincent Simone. No story was told, and I got the sense that the dance wasn't actually releasing anything of her; not that she was holding back, necessarily, but that if she has any wit, charm or invention, it just wasn't conveyed. Her technical prowess will get her through most of this competition, but she's going to need to really dig very deep to win the audience and the title.

Compare this with Heather Small. In terms of sexual chemistry, she and her partner, Brian Fortuna, had the whole field licked. Technically, there were hiccups, but sweet Jesus did they ever smoulder. It felt almost as though they were competing with each other; Heather looked to have a similar resolve to Andrew Castle last week, but where Castle was just trying to keep up with his partner, Heather seemed to be intent on matching hers, almost demanding Brian to show her what he can do, to push her further and take her on. Where Lisa Snowdon's nerves seemed to capsize her, Heather's simply spurred her on. Heather also looks to know how to work an audience rather better than most of her competition, too, as evidenced by her starting her routine stood right up in front of the judges' bench. She's been perfectly paired with Brian, who is calm and cheerful enough to help her work through her mistakes but also fiery enough to keep pushing her on; relationships were established, and their story was told on the dancefloor. Given that Rachel and Vincent couldn't seem to get beyond "You iz fit"-"Tihihi", I'm kinda hoping Heather and Brian's more charismatic showings win the public round.

But the overwhelming impression I took away is that this series is gonna make a star out of Christine Bleakley. There have been a wide variety of smiles in this series - nervous, performative, relieved, serene, smug, gurned - but when Christine Bleakley's smile took to the floor on Saturday night, it was radiant, luminous, illuminating. Her poise, her weighting, her balance all seemed totally immaculate. Her charms did verily overflow. Reader, it made me wanna stick my hand in a plug socket and see if the 18th century came out. Her presence was like nothing that had come before or after. When Matthew Cutler rested his hand on her back to start the foxtrot, it just seemed to fit, and they floated across the floor with complete regality. Christine seemed transported from the bundle of inexperience her preview video suggested - nothing matters when she's dancing. It felt like dancing had unlocked something inside her soul, a kind of natural calm and light, and it was incredible to watch. Various technical glitches meant she only carded 27, putting her third on the night, but everything seems like it will line up. With time on her side to hone and finesse the intricacies of performance, I don't see anything stopping her.

So overall, the dancing was better; the programme itself, however, felt slightly more strained. Last week filled up its two-and-a-quarter hours of airtime with little difficulty; this week, we got stuck with innumerable interviews (I think I might actually have yelled "FOR GOD'S SAKES, NO-ONE NEEDS DERMOT MURNAGHAN'S OPINION" at one point), as well as seeing the men do a group merengue two nights running. Watching John Sergeant seemingly miss every single step, as well as trying-but-not-quite-managing to lift Kristina Rihanoff into the air, was faintly painful once, but twice... yeep. On the other hand, Don Warrington seemed right at home, and with the tango coming up next week, I'm sort of crossing my fingers that we'll see him leap out of the pack.

The 'banter' between the judges was also beginning to annoy me ever so slightly. It seemed that whenever Craig opened his mouth, the other three all started shaking their heads in the manner of John Redwood denying allegations of being a tosspot. Then there was Len's utterly oleaginous assertion that "These three seem to like focusing on the negative - I prefer to look at the positive." Dude - eww. Arlene's horribly telegraphed puns continued to hammer her into the second-rate Sharon Osbourne hole; goddammit, Bruno Tonioli just might be the most likeable one of these people. Yikes.

And then there was Brucie, once more badgering the crowd into response. Whenever the laughter wasn't to his liking, he hectored them into giving him the reaction he desired. Every now and then, and you could call it showmanship; when it's happening on every single bloody joke, it gets desperate, and irritating.

Worst of all, though, was the band. I've mentioned some of their efforts earlier, and glossed over their attempt at "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You" during Lisa's routine (Arlene didn't feel that Lisa was taking her sufficiently onto the streets of Cuba, not thinking that perhaps the band making like Phil Fearon & Galaxy at one-quarter volume might not have helped this), but by a mile their worst offence came during a little set-piece number designed to showcase the three new professionals on display this series (Brian, Kristina and Hayley Holt). The band was asked to perform "Walk This Way" - the Girls Aloud/Sugababes version, naturally - but the singer appeared to be under the impression he was doing one of Homer's numbers from The Simpsons Sing The Blues. Tragically there's no embeddable video of this moment, but if you happen to have a copy of "Walk This Way" at home, why not pop it on, then hire a pneumatic drill and have a go at the pavement whenever the vocals start? It'll be roughly the same thing.

Anyhow - next week, the men get to dance either the jive or the tango. Jill Halfpenny, the winner of series two, was called upon to reprise her winning jive this week; judging by the pace and the number of steps it involved, the blokes may well find themselves in quite a pickle. See you then.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ee-Pee

A rubbish title, for which I apologise. But the EP I'm about to talk about is rubbish too, so there's some sort of karmic equilibrium at work there. Why even mention it if it's so bad? Well, because at Rocktimists we listen to our commentators. Of course we do. Let's glance back at August 15th: a giddy time when I was crapping on about The Cure, the global financial system wasn't quite collapsing and a gentleman named kyle was posting: "i'm going to hope you review the remix ep."

Hello kyle, I am reviewing the remix EP.



Somebody worked really hard lining up all four single covers in Photoshop


I feel slightly guilty about downloading Hypnagogic States without paying for it (and, incidentally, I'm a bit disappointed they wasted a decent title on this pish), as some of the money from each one goes to charity. I'll try to balance this out by buying all twenty eight John Grisham books from my local Oxfam, or something.

However, the EP is not worth £7.99, £5.99 or indeed anything beyond around 99p. As we shall see.

A few Cure fans were quite miffed about 1990's full-length remix-fest Mixed Up. I say this with some kind of authority, though in reality I have no idea if it's true - I was eight at the time - but this piece elaborates at length about the record (and that period) much more thoughtfully. Personally, I think Mixed Up is alright. The "Fascination Street" remix offers a terrific extended version of the original and some of the others have fun, interesting takes. None of them are offensively bad, although Oakenfold's "Close to Me" sounds like he did it in his lunch break. While eating a sandwich. And a chunky kit-kat.



Nestle kill babies


Three fifths of Hypnagogic States IS offensively bad. The entire middle portion sags so badly I was worried about the tracklist turning into one of Dali's clocks and bleeding off Winamp all over the desk. "Freakshow," "Sleep When I'm Dead," and "The Perfect Boy" have no redeeming qualities. They bring nothing. No, that's not true, they all bring rent-a-beats which would be superb for a DANGERS OF DODGY CLUBBING scene on Casualty or The Bill. Lame, tedious 'untz untz untz' stuff with a few half-arsed twinkling noises or worn out doppler effects on Smith's voice. "The Perfect Boy" also bungs on a drum intro which sounds a bit like the opening bass from "Close to Me" in a vain effort to associate itself with a better song. It does not succeed.

It's the complete lack of imagination which is most insulting. Switch out the drums and jumble up the vocals a bit, that's how remixes work isn't it? Well yes if you want them to be terrible. 65daysofstatic are the only ones who seem to have regarded this project as anything other than a frightful chore. Their offering is a glorious mess. Twenty minutes of drill-friction noise blasts, music boxes, soft piano and violin, mashing all four singles up into a gigantic test of listening stamina. It's ridiculous. It's almost magnificent. I'm unsure whether I ever want to hear it again.

Which just leaves us with Jared Leto's "The Only One." Not nearly as thrilling as the 65dos shenanigans, but the track which perhaps gets closest to presenting a decent variation while also retaining the spirit of the original. The problem (ok, one of the many problems) with the rest of the EP is that the Cure aspect is rendered almost irrelevant. 65dos could remove all the Smithery from "Exploding Head Syndrome," slap some new vocals on it and release it as all their own work - which does at least show they injected enough of their own personality when recording it. We're led to believe that AFI, My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy were involved with the other tracks in some way, but they may as well have just let a work experience kid fart around with a copy of Garage Band because any distinctive fingerprints were wiped clean at the scene of the crime. Yeah, the tracks still bear a slight resemblance to the Cure versions, but it's pretty much an afterthought. Take the identikit backing, plonk some Dave Gahan over it and wow! Suddenly it's a useless remix of Depeche Mode!

I have no idea if Leto put much of a personal spin on his effort, but what he does manage to do is stick some booming piano chords in as a skeletal bassline and paste in a selection of even-more-Cure-than-the-Cure guitar bits, which give the whole thing a convincing Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me era feel. Robert's mixed far too high, but otherwise it just about works. Hats off to Jared, there.

No, thank YOU


Now we can all forget this EP ever happened and move on.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Requiem For The Music Industry

Just when you thought the music industry could. not. get. any. more. fucking. stupid, all four major labels sign-up to a ridiculous scheme to release music on SanDisk Compact Flash memory cards.



Because another half-arsed "we can, so we will" physical format is just what the music industry needs to save itself from the terminal velocity descent it's locked into. Akon's new album will apparently be released via this new format, which they're calling "slotMusic". Why would you do this? Why?

EDIT: Correction - it's a micro SD card, not a Compact Flash. Which makes all the difference. Because these fit in mobile phones more often.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Welcome to Six Months Ago

2008 has been The Year 'The Wire' Broke -- even A. A. Gill reps for it now. That's that's no bad thing, in general, but this is some bullshit. I don't think series one was shown in the UK till 2005, so there's an element of making up for lost time, but still, would even The Times ride FX's dick to this extent? More than any other series this is a DVD -- or stored-up torrents -- thing. Once a week is too little. Spending a weekend in the Curzon Soho watching it is just weird, though it perhaps represents the symbolic moment when UK film culture -- the 'zon is housed on the site of London's first ever repertory cinema, 80 years ago -- finally recognized that US television of the past decade has pretty much wiped the floor with US indie and international art-house cinema.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

"THEY SAY HIPS DON'T LIE, AND YOUR HIPS CERTAINLY WEREN'T LYING!": Strictly Come Dancing, Week 1



In the end, I guess the right feller went. Though Gary Rhodes' routine was the one that I found most gruelling to sit through, poor old Phil Daniels just didn't look like he was enjoying himself out there. His face was strained, and he was seemingly trying to avoid looking at anything, never mind his partner. His movements seemed to require a great deal of struggle; at one point he had to drape his partner, Flavia Cacace, over his arm, and it looked like he was trying to paddle a Canadian canoe. Of all the contestants, Phil seemed like the one who would mind losing the least, and to that extent, yes, the right man went.

Had it been a choice between Phil and Gary rather than Phil and Don Warrington, however, then I might be feeling rather less gracious about the matter. The way the voting system on SCD works is as follows:

- Each couple performs in one of the two dance styles selected for that week (this week, the cha-cha and the waltz).
- The four judges (Craig Revel Horwood, Arlene Phillips, Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli) each award the couple a mark out of ten based on an arcane system of laws and commandments, then adjust it based on how petty they're feeling at that precise moment in time. These scores are added up to give each couple a mark out of 40.
- Once all the couples have performed, they are ranked in order of score. The highest-scoring couple receives 8 points, the lowest-scoring receives one.
- And then, the phone-lines are opened and the general public votes for the one they liked the most. The couples are then ranked according to how many votes they've received - 8 points for most, 1 point for least.
- The two rankings are combined, and the bottom two couples perform again on the Sunday results programme. The judges then decide which couple stays, and which couple goes.

And so it was that, despite receiving the lowest marks from the judges, Gary Rhodes was spared from the dance-off. Because, somewhere out there in telly-land, there are people who reckon that watching a man bend a woman over in the middle of their cha-cha-cha routine and mime "making pasta" (apparently) on her back is in some way entertaining. It is not. It is rubbish. Watching Gary Rhodes trying to prove he has a sense of humour is an experience roughly akin to when The Saturday Night Armistice attempted to put together stand-up routines composed solely of jokes from speeches made at political party conferences (sample: "The only Tory you should bet on these days is Frankie Det-Tori").

However, what one must not forget is that SCD is a reality television show involving judges, and where there are reality television show judges, there is always a Mr Nasty. Step forward Craig, an Australian with a face like a depressed guppy and a haircut like the sort of white-boot-wearing League Two "free-kick specialist" who never scores more than three goals a season. His comments tend to focus on the technical flaws of the performances, and (in this episode at least) seemed fairly accurate; however, he does seem rather too keen to live up to his "reputation for being our harshest judge", and so gets to make the cattier comments about the competitors and mark them at least a good couple of points lower than all the other judges. Craig awarded Gary and his partner, Karen Hardy, a score of 1 out of 10. This prompted much outrage and "Oh, Craig!"-ing from his fellow judges, who then proceeded to give Gary and Karen a mix of 5s and 6s. It also firmly swung the sympathy vote towards the apparently hard-done-by pair, presumably with the intention of sticking it to the pantomime villain.

This, unfortunately, wound up dumping Don Warrington in the bottom two. To be fair, his performance was also rather technically lacking: as one of the older, portlier contestants, Don rather struggled with the pace of the cha-cha-cha, but this led to a peculiar chemistry between him and his partner, self-proclaimed "Russian minx" Lilia Kopylova. It was as though Lilia was leading him into strange, unfamiliar territories - he wasn't sure where he was going, or what he was doing, but he seemed to be rather enjoying it. The clips from their rehearsals, with Lilia constantly nagging Don to think less, and Don seeming genuinely surprised when they got through a routine correctly, suggest a partnership that could well blossom over the coming weeks.

Similarly, Andrew Castle had the look of a man who wasn't completely sure of himself, and seemed to be kind of in awe of his partner, Ola Jordan. Both he and Don seemed to be gazing intently at their partners, trying to remember what comes next, trying desperately to keep up. There's a certain steely determination about Castle, though; a man hell-bent on getting it right, on pulling himself through and mastering the medium. There's a fire about him on the dancefloor that doesn't come through in his other television roles, where he often seems smug and irritating. When placed in this kind of situation, when forced into the unfamiliar, he becomes compelling, as he does his damnedest to prove himself. This can be considered the first miracle of the programme - it's kind of got me rooting for Andrew Castle. That, I did not see coming.

I didn't foresee the remarkable triumph of John Sergeant, either. Then again, I don't think many other people did; the man is quietly rather canny, and the stateliness of the waltz suited him down to the ground. Unlike the other couples we've mentioned thus far, he and Kristina Rihanoff seemed almost completely at peace. John floated serenely across the floor - at least, until they got to the bit of the waltz where the man is required to circle rapidly around the woman. Then, he started to seem a bit out of his depth, but he didn't really mind too much. The judges all praised the performance, and then decided to give it a mix of 5s and 6s, which seemed to contradict that a bit. John won't win - in the group dance on the Sunday show, his performance was more reminiscent of those scenes from sitcoms where a character is hopelessly out of sync with a thrusting young aerobics class - but he's by no means the dead duck that I had forecast.

His waltz got the same score as Mark Foster's. Mark was another to benefit from Craig's Cruella de Vil bullshit, with his performance being described as "D-U-L-L" by the former Lincoln City and Brentford ace. Bruno made the point rather better, pointing out that Mark has spent his life as a sportsman, not a performer, and that the two skills are not quite as close as one might think. The trouble is that Mark really isn't a very charismatic man - though his physique and stature were admired by more or less everyone, he just came across as being... dull. Determinedly dull, true, but dull all the same.

It initially seemed that Official Rocktimists Candidate Tom Chambers might be similarly uninteresting - his intro video featured some mad weak pseudo-flirting with partner Camilla Dallerup - but again, the dancefloor saw a different tale emerge: that of a man not exactly bereft of moves, but who was also in a state of disbelief that he was out on the floor and making a remarkably good job of things. As with Castle, Our Tom (as he shall henceforth be known) seemed to be emerging from his shell. His hyperactive hips and nervous energy made him greatly suited to the cha-cha-cha; how he will do on the slower numbers remains to be seen.

No such concerns for Austin Healey, however. His waltz was commanding and precise, but also surprisingly delicate and sensitive. He looked genuinely humbled when Len described his performance as "the best first dance I've ever seen from a man". Half his rehearsal clips suggested the pumped-up nobhead all previous form pointed to; but at the same time, he gave the impression that he was more than slightly appreciative of just how alien the world of ballroom dancing is to him, and how grateful he was to his partner, Erin Boag, for leading him through it. There was not a hint of the kind of shit-stirring we might have come to expect... except for when they brought up his rivalry with fellow former England rugby international and SCD competitor Matt Dawson. Given just how blackboard-scratchingly unfunny Dawson's appearances on any other television show invariably are, I can only hope this doesn't become a theme for the series.

One thing that will remain the case, however, is that we are almost entirely in Bruce Forsyth's domain. "Nice to see you, to see you -" "NICE!" and its new variant - "I am not doddery, doddery I am -" "NOT!" - got more than a couple of outings, and everyone joined in. He's quite the ringmaster, and even (or especially) at 80, it feels as though he just might be the best in the country. It's that experience that gives him his edge - he knows how to work an audience, and the audience loves him for it. He makes people feel at ease, and while his wit is sharp, it never seems cruel.

It's not quite perfect, though. I remember, back when I used to watch him hosting The Generation Game, he had this peculiar determination to always get the last laugh - if anyone other than him made a joke, he always had to make one on top of it. The kowtowing to Brucie can get a bit uncomfortable - he's not bullying as such, but his iconic status means the air of community about the programme can occasionally seem like a slightly forced united front, a little too cosy for comfort.

And yet it's that same positivity that's the most appealing aspect about the show. It almost seems inappropriate that couples get voted off - it feels like cutting things off, just as they're about to get good. Well, that and the house band started playing "The First Cut Is The Deepest" with wince-inducing sloth as Phil and Flavia took their last turn on the floor. But with SCD, the aim seems to be to inspire - unlike the audition shows of X Factor, there's no seeking amusement in the failings of others, no inviting people to be mocked for thinking they are capable of achieving something. It's rather inspiring, and rather beautiful. I think we're gonna enjoy this, you and I...

(and there's so damned much I've not talked about yet - Alesha's return, the various wee montages, the staging, the lights, the music - good thing there's still a fair few weeks to go, eh? Please drop us some comments so we can talk about it! If you've not seen the programmes yet, they're both currently available on iPlayer, and all the dances are available to watch on YouTube.)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Pun title

sub heading in bold // Glasvegas album

album cover image, centre aligned.
(obligatory sarcastic caption)

find 'interesting' angle to start from (comment on terrible band name?)

Fat Joe Strummer / Jesus And Mary Chain / Hype / Alan 'Fucking' McGee

Focus group approach to art / cynical exploitation of regional dialect fad (wiki link to list)

Youtube embed?

Try not to mention compression – taken as read.

Worth mentioning individual songs? (may need to listen again)

originality?

Pad out > 500 words.

Too much effort. Lazy album gets lazy blog post it deserves. Could reflect this by leaving as notes?
Too smug? Sleep on it.

So, where do we go from the Mercury?

STRICTLY COME DANCING 2008: THE ROCKTIMISTS PREVIEW



I'm not kidding. I have never successfully managed to watch a whole episode of it, but there's something about this programme that fascinates me.

Firstly, one must remember how much of a dog Come Dancing became before its resurrection, out of the blue, all those many years ago before Natasha Kaplinsky was known to anyone who didn't get woken up by BBC Breakfast News every morning (lucky swine rzzrt fzzrt). I vaguely remember watching it wither away at half-eleven on Tuesday nights, the entire enterprise looking tired and tattered as various couples, all of whom seemed to be from Slough, waltzed about a bit before having to be talked to by Rosemarie Ford while Bruce Forsyth tried to look interested.

Secondly, one must remember just how crap a job the BBC was making of Saturday nights before pulling this, Doctor Who and Let's All Save Andrew Lloyd-Webber's House out of the bag. Please tell me that someone else out there suffered through week after week after wretched bastard week of Fame Academy? Please? And this particular resurrection seemed to be sparked by the magic half-hour that was Bruce Forsyth's spot as guest host on Have I Got News For You, which seemed to single-handedly revive the art of the light-entertainer in Britain, resurrecting Bruce and marvelling at his incredible craft and showmanship. (There's more profound thoughts to be had about that, I suspect, and I don't doubt that other contributors to this place might well have them. They're probably not quite as positive as mine...)

Thirdly, what the fuck kind of a name is Strictly Come Dancing? Yes, I get the whole simultaneously reminding people that they quite enjoyed Strictly Ballroom while helping them forget how shit Come Dancing used to be, but... how exactly does one Strictly Come anything? (I'ma try and credit the internet with perhaps a smidge more maturity than I should on this) It is not a phrase that makes sense in, like, any way at all. (I should be able to remember the precise names of the parts of speech whose illogical combination means it doesn't make any sense, but I can't. Dammit)

Fourthly, there's something about the competitive element of the whole thing that genuinely does intrigue me, and it's the balance between competition and household names that seems to fuel its popularity. Fame is not a real guarantee of success here - it's been won twice by cricketers, for pity's sakes. It's a programme that gathers momentum through the weeks - compare this with, let's say, The Apprentice, which was flagging badly by the end of the last series as one realised that watching unpleasant people sell fish is much the same as watching unpleasant people sell cakes, which in turn is peculiarly similar to watching unpleasant people sell ice cream. It seems to thrive on the uneven nature of its playing field and the caprices of the voting public, watching contestants rise and fall through the weeks.

Fifthly, on the occasions I've seen bits, I've usually been sent scurrying from the room by the sheer blinding horror of the SCD house band. One of the big problems with Fame Academy was that the arrangements the singers had to perform along to were generally flat, lifeless codswallop, a vague approximation of pop cobbled together by people who don't really like pop very much at all; if you want to take things particularly far, you could view it as an attempt by music retailers to flog all those Best Of Top Of The Pops compilations they have littering their £2 bins via a kind of mass indoctrination.

Anyway - this year, I'm gonna try and follow it. Here. On Rocktimists. With any luck, each week I will blog about the episode as soon after it ends as I possibly can, and hopefully you and I can come to some kind of understanding about life, the universe and Anton du Beke's deeply unsettling smile.

THE PREVIEW



I'll have to check back after the programme to see precisely how SCD organises itself, but from what I can gather the early parts of the show see male and female competitors eliminated on alternate weeks; this year's series starts tonight, with the men.

Your red-hot favourite for the boot must surely be John Sergeant. He has an advantage over the previous news-men to have competed (Bill Turnbull and Nicholas Owen) by not being completely insufferable, but, well... has there ever been a time when he wasn't all stooped and hunched in posture? He looked fairly browbeaten back when he was not noticing Margaret Thatcher standing right behind him, and that was 20-odd years ago now. Even if they're opening with waltzes, one must surely think that his feet are likely to fail him.

His one saving grace, however, might be that the men's field overall looks rather ropey. It seems difficult, for example, to imagine Don Warrington or Phil Daniels managing to put much of a run together, and it'd hardly be a surprise to discover that, for all his novelty trousers, Gary Rhodes isn't much of a mover either. A swift glance down the list of past competitors reveals that SCD is no country for old men or women - Brian Capron, Gloria Hunniford, Esther Rantzen, Carol Vorderman, Willie Thorne and David Dickinson have all been early fallers in the past.

The rest of the men make a slightly more intriguing proposition. Andrew Castle is no spring chicken, but he is a former professional athlete, and, having once seen him waiting for a taxi, I can confidently say he has the straightest back known to man. Seriously, the feller stands like he's had a lamp-post shoved up his jacksie. He's strong, upright, and somewhat annoying. He will almost certainly fall out with at least one judge, possibly two. This ought to take him through to the middle weeks, if nothing else.

Sharing many of his qualities - former athlete, solidly built, tosser - is Austin Healey. For some reason, recently-retired sports irritants have a habit of doing rather well at this lark - both Colin Jackson (who, to be fair, isn't so much irritating as infuriatingly bland) and Matt Dawson have reached the grand final of SCD in the past. Mark Foster is also a recently-retired sportsman, but his prospects seem somewhat harder to calculate - he was Britain's flag-bearer in Beijing, but his performance in the swimming was rather disappointing to say the least, and so far as I'm aware he has yet to declare his position on the European single currency - this could be very crucial in terms of how the public takes to him.

Rounding out the hims, we have Tom Chambers, this year's obligatory cast member from Holby City (for our purposes, Holby City, Casualty and Hollyoaks are all exactly the same thing). Via a combination of mental arithmetic and guessing, he's going in week 7.

In any case, a winner looks much more likely to come from the women's side of the draw. Actresses Cherie Lunghi and Gillian Taylforth seem the most likely early casualties, through age if nothing else. Heather Small might also go swiftly, if only cos it's difficult to figure out where exactly her votes will come from - but lest we forget, it's been three years since "Proud" was last re-released. And we're hosting the Olympics in four years time. Never underestimate the dark hand of Lord Coe...

Similarly, don't be ruling out Christine Bleakley. She's not the youngest in the field, and it's hard to argue that she seems the most natural dancer, but one suspects that she's the one in whom the BBC has the most vested interest, being (as she is) the co-host of The One Show. Her fellow presenter, Adrian Chiles, is rather too well-known (and overworked) to compete on SCD, but Bleakley definitely isn't. A good run here, however, might well change all that, not to mention allowing a nifty bit of cross-promotion between the two programmes. We'd not suggest they're going to rig anything here - certainly not in this post-The Mint climate - but keep your eye out for winks and nudges...

It'll be interesting to see how Lisa Snowdon and Jodie Kidd do - models haven't exactly over-performed here in the past - but, in all likelihood, your main contenders are Jessie Wallace and Rachel Stevens. Stevens, at first glance, looks like a ringer of gigantic proportions. Having spent the majority of this decade a-singing and a-dancing, firstly in S Club 7, then in her subsequent solo career, one would imagine she might have just a teensy bit of an edge in terms of experience over her competition. This, after all, hardly hindered Alesha Dixon on her way to the title last year. However, Rachel has one major problem - she's Rachel Stevens. If ever there was a woman more thoroughly settled into the role of being second-best, she has yet to make herself known to me. There's just something very not-winner-ish about Rachel - a peculiar lack of charisma, wit, personality. She's basically a very nice girl who looks a lot like Felicity Kendal.

Which leaves us with my tip for the winner, Jessie Wallace. Do not underestimate just how popular she was in her days at Kat Slater - her on-screen pairing with suddenly-not-annoying Shane Richie dragged Eastenders clean out of the doldrums and back to the top of the British soap pile, until it sort of got run into the ground a bit. She's got actual proper stage experience and actual proper theatre training. She still turns up in the tabloids a fair bit. We dunno if she can dance yet, of course, but in terms of profile she currently trumps her opposition by a fair distance and, for now, that seems like the most solid foundations upon which to base one's tippings.

Now all I have to do is sit tight and wait for the appallingly-soundtracked festivities to commence...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Mike TD rocks, a little harder.



Here, have another podcast. (It's better than the first one.)

Current Listening



Quantifiably better than anything by Ride or My Bloody Valentine?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Ralf Little Must Have The Most Horrific CV In Television

I know a lot of people in Manchester. When I was about 16, I was… convinced, almost, that I should have been born ten years earlier and 200 miles north, just so I could have “been involved”. And all because I loved the coda of a Stone Roses b-side so much.

My girlfriend’s from Manchester. We’ve stayed there not all that long ago, in the city centre. There’s some amazing architecture; the way the city has evolved and regenerated has left it looking unlike any other city I’ve ever visited.

I don’t really have much interest in “Manchester bands” anymore; haven’t for years. When we stayed in Manchester we visited a popular ‘indie’ club called Fifth Avenue. At about midnight they played an old Oasis song, and the place erupted. To an outsider, it seemed… cheesy. Predictable. But people loved it, seemingly.

On Sunday night I found myself watching Ralf Little’s new vanity project on BBC3. Massive is a teenage wannabe-Manc’s wet dream; a sudden inheritance ends the demeaning office job and pays rent on a run-down canalside warehouse that becomes, in the space of thirty Johnny Vegas-adorned minutes, the beating heart of a brand new record label. That’s right; it’s a sitcom about starting up a record label.



I’d sat down to write something suitably acerbic about it last night, starting with the premise that writing a comedy about starting a record label in 2008 is like… I can’t actually think of anything so thoroughly, unabashedly anachronistic. But it seemed pointless and a little churlish. There was, at least, one quite funny joke about Animal Collective.

What struck me early on about Massive was that perhaps, like Life On Mars (which I never saw), it was a period piece. Bar the presence of mobile phones, the reference to Animal Collective, and the fact that Ralf Little’s character sported exactly the same G Star jacket as I’ve been rolling around Exeter in this summer, it could have been set at any time in the last 25 years. Large chunks of it looked like the bastard child of Phoenix Nights and 24 Hour Party People. It didn’t feel like my experience of music in 2008 in the slightest.

So I decided not to bother writing anything about Massive, which delicately drew the dichotomy between art and commerce that threatens every record label (or does it?) by juxtaposing unlistenable arthouse toss played by Jeremy-Paxman-mask-wearing faux-Frenchmen with two fat chav girls doing a cover version. Subtle, incisive, funny? Johnny Vegas was accused of onstage sexual assault not that long ago. In the name of ‘comedy’. Ralf Little was in 2 Pints Of Lager & A Packet Of Crisps. Lest we forget.

Then someone on I Love Music drew my attention to this borderline horrific but reasonably well-intentioned, perhaps, post at The Quietus, which doesn’t mention Massive at all but probably ought to. (It also doesn’t appear to know quite what point it’s making, either, but that’s by-the-by.)

One of the most confusing things about Massive was the spectacle of the 40-something former one-hit-wonder musician guy swaggering around in his giant flappy green parka and talking through his Adam’s Apple and his adenoids at the same time; I couldn’t tell if this was meant to be funny, tragic, sad, or cool. Or something else entirely. Was he an aspirational figure for the two young bloods keen to make their way in the music industry? Was he an awful cliché writ large as a warning?

Maybe I was hasty in suggesting that the Quietus piece didn’t know what its point was. I have nothing against Manchester, but it does seem to me that there’s a certain kind of person who’s desperately in thrall to some sense of recent history that the place has wrapped itself up in, some kind of scally romance. Friends who live there do talk about a certain kid of undergraduate who heads for Manchester as a seat of learning as much because of The Stone Roses as the facilities and courses at the universities in the city. Next year the Stone Roses’ debut album will be 20 years old. That’s akin to me choosing where to go to university based on where The Clash are from. The Clash are, have always been, ancient history for me. Are The Stone Roses, Joy Division, Happy Mondays, despite being as 'old' now as The Clash were then, somehow still a part of the present? If only in Manchester?

When we stayed in Manchester I passed Guy Garvey on a street corner, not far from the nightclub we visited. He wasn’t wearing a giant flappy green parka. His band also don’t appear to be obsessed with the recent cultural history of where they’re from, either.

Monday, September 15, 2008

1998: the third summer of love




dunno if the reynolds stans have performed the appropriate hauntological analysis on this amusing publisher's snafu, but anyways a bit o' field work for ya.

Absolutely the Final Word on the Mercury Prize

Vague apologies for my absence from here lately; I’ve had a busy couple of weeks. Thankfully, you probably didn’t notice, and the people who posted between my last entry and this are better writers than me anyway.

Anyway…



A colleague at my dayjob previously worked in marketing for Nationwide, and was involved with their relationship with the Mercury Music Prize. It was, I imagine, a pretty thankless task in many ways; simply the fact that the Mercury Prize is still named after its initial sponsor (the now long defunct Mercury Communications) and seldom referred to as the Nationwide mercury Music Prize has got to make representing the building society’s interests and representation difficult.

His involvement was at its highest in 2005, when Anthony & The Johnsons won; my colleague was pretty pleased, having got a copy of I Am A Bird Now through his involvement, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Nationwide as an entity was not so happy, though; how the hell were they meant to market their involvement with a predominantly mainstream British music prize where the winner was a gender-ambiguous New Yorker with a voice too extraordinary for most people to deal with? It’s noticable that subsequent winners have been far more brand-friendly…

Not least of all Elbow, whose Seldom Seen Kid I like a lot; they’ve been around the block, amassed critical acclaim but never really record sales, and are identifiable as the kind of remaining-men-together band-as-gang unit that so appeals to a certain kind of music fan. In short, they’re deserving. And they made a terrifically heart-warming acceptance spectacle – “this is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to us” quotes abounding, wine glasses (rather than lager sleevers or powder-dappled mirrors) held aloft alongside trophies, enormous grins – it was like watching a long-striving athlete hit Olympic gold after years of almost-nearly-theres.

Which is why Burial, despite being the bookies’ favourite, never stood a cat in hell’s chance; even though he confirmed his identity via his Myspace page in early August following months of speculation, he wouldn’t have turned up for the ceremony anymore than Banksy would turn up for the Turner Prize, and Nationwide would take to a no-show even less well than they’d take to Anthony Hegarty.

The thing is, I’m not sure I’m glad that Elbow won. Yes, I like the album, and yes, they’re probably consistently one of my favourite bands of this decade, but I’d like to think that the Mercury Prize any music prize that promotes itself as being purely about the music (maaaaan) wouldn’t be both so obviously in thrall to its sponsors and so content to award the most deserving, as opposed to the most brilliant. Because even though I can pragmatically accept the politic behind both those compromises in integrity, I also don’t think that Elbow are the best way to fully assuage them.

Which is to say that, firstly, I think the shortlist was poor (although a massive improvement on last year’s), and secondly, if one is going to pick the most deserving, then really pick the most deserving, and throw it Rachel Unthank’s way. But I can say that; I picked up The Bairns the day before nominations were revealed, following a trip-off from a certain fellow author of this blog (and costing myself about £4 more than waiting three days would have), and thus can write-off increased interest due to merely being nominated.

I’m blathering a little. But that’s what blogs are for, perhaps. Regardless, if I were a betting man, I’d nip down Ladbrokes and place a couple of bets; on Keegan being the next Newcastle United manager again, and on Glasvegas being bookies favourite for next year’s Mercury Prize. But not wining it. I hope. Which is to say that I have heard Glasvegas, and did not enjoy it one little bit. They’re like a rubbish Twilight Sad, who didn’t get nominated in 2007.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Trad Mercury Prize Stats and Slag-Off 2008
















To round off Rocktimists unexpected splurge of Mercury Prize coverage, here’s a reminder of why the award doesn’t matter beyond cash for the nominated bands and cheap gags for people like us. It’s the brains-trust that vote for the thing:

Simon Frith - Chair, music author
Jude Rogers - The Guardian, New Statesman *
Janice Long - Broadcaster, Radio 2
Mark Findlay - Head of Music, Global/Capital *
Conor McNicholas - Editor, NME *
George Ergatoudis - Head of Music, Radio 1 *
Arwa Haider - Music Editor Metro newspaper; Word *
Mike Flynn - Jazz Editor, Time Out
Charles Hazlewood - Conductor *
Kitty Empire - Chief Music Critic, The Observer
Dean Jackson - Broadcaster, BBC Midlands *

Points to note:

They’re not even all pop critics, as I’d assumed they would be before I first saw a list of judges, around the time of last years award. If we’re gonna get the upstanding fellers who run Capital and pick the music for Radio 1 we may as well be given Guy Hands. This is why Burial could never win last night. And if we’re given some no-mark from BBC Midlands the panel may as well include the first person in the street I hit by throwing Helicopter Girl promos out of my living-room window.

Anyone with an asterisk next to them was also on last years panel which means 70% of the people who picked the winner last night had their fingers in the biscuit tin last year as well. And it’s not as if the UK has a shortage of pop writers. The phrase ‘a safe pair of hands’ comes to mind.

Finally here’s a quote from Simon Frith about what the judges look for; “it's not really about the best record, it's about records of the year so there's got to be some sense that the records chosen represent the year in music. They've got a representational function rather than a valuative function”. So that’s it. We got Elbow because we deserved Elbow, and quite right too. So buck your ideas up or it’s or it’s cold porridge next year too.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Yay for ELBOW!

As it happens, I interviewed Elbow's guitarist Mark Potter on the morning of The Seldom Seen Kid's release.

You can read an extended remix of the published print version here.

Say It Like Holland: The! Mercury! Music! Prize! Liveblog! 2008!





















21:59 - OK, I’ve come in early from the pub and rushed making some spaghetti to watch the Mercury and liveblog it. Max content, minimal effort but it’s OK coz all the broadsheet blogs are doing it too.

The outcome will be a cinch though. Burial has become such an odds on fave that they can give it to someone dull as ditch and still have a surprise winner. Elbow have a suitably Gomez/Badly Drawn Boy ring to ‘em.

22:00 - I’m sucking spaghetti up and trying to not let it splash over my laptop. I’ve not even a cup of tea.

22:03 – the show’s only half an hour so how long before they give the award? Better this than a ninety minute snooze fest though. I remember when they got Tony Parsons on to talk about the question mark in the name ‘Therapy?’ Dark days.

22:04 - A list of nominees. No context. Who cares?

I was originally gonna bet £20 on Unthank for the win, but betting on who deserves it is a mugs game.

Laverne’s on screen—everyone’s fave cultural Blythe doll. Also on screen Simon Armitage, “national institution, wannabe rockstar” and utter fucking cunt. Some other guy too, a blogger.

22:05 - Clips of the clubbable playing live. Not whole songs, just clips. Neon Neon play a song about Star Wars. British Sea Power bring the usual fake smattering of art school (a choir and a hand cranked siren like Disposable Heroes of hiphoprisy when they were on The Word). Rachel Unthank head and shoulders ands y’know, ankles and toes above everyone else.

22:07 - Armitage likes the Wedding Present.

22:09 – One-upping ‘the Weddoes’, Har Mar Superstar is mentioned.

22:10 - Laverne pretending to be interested in Unthank. The best British album of the year is compared to an oral history project and labelled, erk, eccentric.

22:10 - Burial hasn’t shown. A sellout to the idea of selling out.

22:13 - Laverne reveals she was a judge for three years in a row! Coz Britain doesn’t overproduce actors and pop crits does it?

Apparently there are only two photos of Burial in existence. His mum might be surprised.

22:15 - Oh fuck, just been reminded that Jules will be presenting the award [jules]LATER![/jules].

22:16 - “If you go into a party and they’re playing that record you know your going to have a good time!”—Armitage on Adele. Just realised I have no idea of her second name which is a success for her.

22:17 - Radiohead on TV. I’m updating my iTunes. My most played song? “Sunshine Baby” by Clout. So great.

22:20 - Who will win? Armitage sez Elbow. The other guy sez Burial. Armitage is a walking copy of the Observer Magazine. Bet he’s got it.

22:21 – IT’S JULES! The black shirt, no tie. The elbowing moves. The speech w/out even the attempt of a joke. But some alliteration, like a teacher at a school prize giving.

22:24 - The winner is….. *the audience look vaguely interested* the sensational…. *camera pans around room of people looking at their plates* Elbow! ELBOW!

I called it!

ELBOW! Could anyone be less mercurial, but more Mercury?

Garvey comes to the stage and sounds overjoyed. I know the Klaxons were on pills when they picked up their award but this is that times ten. Then times that by a thousand. Not really, he’s as bored sounding as he is on his soporific Radio 2 show.

Holy shit. If the large hadron collider destroys the world tomorrow morning it’s all been worthwhile.

22:26 – Elbow appear and I’m off to make tea. They’ll play in a second.

Elbow?

Well, that's me told, then.

The Mercury Music Prize 2008 - A Handy Guide

Tonight sees the awarding of the Mercury Music Prize 2008 in London's fashionable [somewhere in London]. For the serious British music fan, there can be few calendar highlights that shine more brightly than the Mercuries, providing (as it does) an ideal opportunity to prove the breadth and depth of one's musical knowledge without actually having to listen to any music at all. Yes, via a simple mixture of disdain, cynicism, generalising and basic guesswork, you too can be a musical authority of at least equal standing to anyone on BBC 6 Music, or Neil McCormick.

Up and down the country, households are putting the finishing touches to the preparations for their MMP theme parties: mothers are adding the final layers of icing to the traditional Bobby Gillespie Victoria sponge cake; children are positioning buckets of water atop slightly-ajar doors, in order to help their fathers achieve the "Jools Holland look"; students are waking up with the warm glow of knowing that, after 12 long months, it's finally time to break out their M People costumes again. Alcohol supplies are being arranged for the ceremonial drinking games, with extra tables being brought in to hold the shots that are to be downed every time Jo Whiley describes something as "relevant".

What with Rocktimists not having been updated in over a week now, it seems only right that we join in. Welcome to our official guide to this year's runners and riders - will it help you pick a winner?

ADELE - 19



WHO?: Adele Adkins, winner of BBC News' Sound of 2008 poll, whereby ninety-zillion or so of the UK's foremost music-knowing-types suggest who will be the big new thing this year and then Jo Whiley pulls some names out of a hat. Was 19, but might be 20 by now - sometimes, the music industry just moves too damned fast to keep up with. Used to go to the BRIT School, the Croydon talent factory that also churned out Whitehouse, Melys and K-Klass. Possibly sings soul, possibly doesn't, kind of depends who you're asking.

PREVIOUS FORM: A number one album, a number two single, and a made-up award specifically invented so that she could win it at this year's Brits still aren't enough to prevent her having basically spent most of this year being overshadowed by Duffy. Still, she got nominated here, and Duffy didn't...

WHY WILL IT WIN?: ... and so the more cynical among you might suggest that the Mercuries could function as a consolation prize of sorts for the world not quite being hers yet. The prominence of British female solo artists was set up as the UK music industry's "big thing" for this year, and a Mercury would do rather nicely to help re-position Adele at the front of said pack.

WHY WON'T IT WIN?: There is kind of a feeling that Adele is rather too first-half-of-2008 these days. The bookies have generally stuck her at around the 40/1 mark, suggesting that Adele's not gonna be doing much more than making up the numbers here. Perhaps most tellingly, though, there's no single being released off the album to accompany her nomination, which is an admission that the promotional cycle for 19 in the UK is now over and done with; currently, Adele's attentions are focused on the US instead.

ROUN' MAH HOME-TAAAHN: Her Myspace is here.

BRITISH SEA POWER - Do You Like Rock Music?



WHO?: Third album from the Brighton-based Cumbrian manly men, famed for their liking of hedgerows, owls, socks, itchy jumpers, Kendal mint cake, and those really, really heavy diving suits that are made entirely out of lead and held together solely with "gumption". And Echo & The Bunnymen. Essentially, they're the band that 6Music was made for.

PREVIOUS FORM: Surprisingly, not much - they've never really been nominated for anything before, really, certainly not on this scale. DYLRM? reached number ten in the UK album chart in January and had kind of slipped down the back of the critical sofa since, until it cropped up on this list.

WHY WILL IT WIN?: This is quite definitely the one that no-one saw coming on the list. With odds of around 20/1, bookies are giving it a better chance than quite a few other things, and in a list that seems almost more notable for what isn't on it than what is, a suspicion lingers that BSP might be here for slightly grander purposes than getting drunkenly leered at by Lauren Laverne - could this be the sleeper hit of the competition?

WHY WON'T IT WIN?: That said, it has yet to be established why exactly BSP have any chance of winning this prize at all. The Mercuries, for all their capriciousness, don't really tend to rate shock value particularly high on their list of winning criteria, and that seems to be the biggest thing our woodland chums have going for them.

GRID REFERENCE: Here is their Myspace. It's not too shabby.

BURIAL - Untrue



WHO?: Dubstep artist who attempted to remain anonymous, until his appearance on the shortlist led to The Sun attempting to claim he was Fatboy Slim in disguise. This prompted him to reveal on his MySpace that he is in fact "Will Bevan from South London". As with everyone who has ever introduced themselves as being from South London, this actually means he's from Croydon.

PREVIOUS FORM: Many reckoned Burial's eponymous debut should have been shortlisted for the prize, but it flew a wee bit too far under the radar; no such problems here, though. Untrue is probably the most critically acclaimed record on the shortlist, if not of the entire year. That's still not been enough for it to crack the UK top 40 album chart, though.

WHY WILL IT WIN?: The bookmakers have this as being the odds-on favourite, with Ladbrokes offering 4/6 on it winning. If that's ever happened before at the Mercuries, I can't remember it. There's a reason why none of the bookmakers' websites appear to be featuring the prize particularly heavily this year, and it's got nowt to do with Portishead missing the cut. Has the added advantage of sounding fuck-all like anything that's ever won the Mercury before. Cutting-edge, "relevant", critically adored, not quite crossed over yet - "Will Bevan" looks to be holding all the cards.

WHY WON'T IT WIN?: People reckoned Amy Winehouse was nailed on for this last year, then Klaxons snatched it on the rails. The nails are not in the coffin just yet, but this is the overwhelming favourite at present.

SHAMELESS PUBLICITY NODE: Look at Burial's lovely face here.

ELBOW - The Seldom-Seen Kid



WHO?: Opulently melancholic rock from Bury or Barrow or "Manchester" if you're feeling particularly slack about your geography. This is now their fourth album or thereabouts.

PREVIOUS FORM: Elbow's debut, Asleep In The Back, was one of the favourites for the 2001 prize but lost out to PJ Harvey. The Seldom-Seen Kid charted at number five in March, and has re-entered the top 40 on three separate occasions since.

WHY WILL IT WIN?: Elbow are the kind of band that seem likely to get love from the Mercury panel, and their status as second-favourites suggests that bookies fancy that their consensus appeal might just pay dividends. Big Chief Rocktimists really likes the production on the record. The sleevenotes have a contents page. Also features Richard Hawley on one track, so perhaps a win here could be seen as compensation for Coles Corner getting robbed a couple of years ago. That, and they forgot to bloody nominate him this year.

Oh, and they're touring.

WHY WON'T IT WIN?: Because Burial's going to. Also, as lushly produced as the whole thing is, describing this record as the "best" anything is... well, it's a bit of a stretch, to put it mildly.

SUNDAYS WE GO DRINKING
: MySpace y'self here. Particularly recommended for people who only like listening to thirty seconds of songs.

ESTELLE - Shine



WHO?: Comeback of the year? Quite probably. Having basically been left high and dry after the underwhelming performance of her debut album, Estelle got picked up by Kanye West's mate John Legend and went to America to make her follow-up. This patronage resulted in her getting her first-ever number one single, "American Boy", which is still fairly comfortably the best song to have reached the top spot in the UK this year.

PREVIOUS FORM: Her first album didn't do much, but following her renaissance this year, Shine is the only album on this list to have spawned a UK number one single.

WHY WILL IT WIN?: It's pretty decent. "American Boy" is still rather excellent, and she's almost certainly the best interviewee of this year's bunch. Also, a win here might perhaps railroad her into saying something nice about the UK music industry for once...

WHY WON'T IT WIN?: UK artist gets left to languish in mediocrity by the British music industry, buggers off to America, bags a global smash hit. One senses this might not be the kind of message the panel will want to be delivering to the kids.

TELL 'EM WHA GWAAN BLUD: Again, for fans of curtailed snippets, her Myspace is here.

THE LAST SHADOW PUPPETS - The Age Of The Understatement



WHO?: Alex Turner out of The Arctic Monkeys does an orchestral pop side-project with his friend Miles Kane, lead singer of The Rascals, a band perhaps most noted for the way in which every piece of copy about TLSP name-dropped them without ever giving the impression that they'd heard a note of their music.

PREVIOUS FORM: Every album that Turner's been involved with in his career thus far has been at least shortlisted for the prize; he's also the only person on this year's list to have won the prize before, having triumphed with The Arctic Monkeys in 2006.

WHY WILL IT WIN?: It sounds a bit like Scott Walker.

WHY WON'T IT WIN?: It sounds even more like The Coral, and the fact that the strings were arranged by a filthy Canadian might not help matters. Also, no-one has ever won the Mercury Music Prize twice before. And they'll probably be all drunk and say something rude on stage and everyone will be all embarrassed and they won't live it down for ages. Bloody kids.

TWENTY LITTLE TRAGEDIES BEGIN: Myspace here, all songs full-length, no shoddy backgrounds, lots of grainy video. Marv.

LAURA MARLING - Alas I Cannot Swim



WHO?: Debut from straggly-haired London folke childe, thus far best known for being comfortably the most bearable part of Noah & The Whale's summer smash "Foive Yurrs Toy-ee-ime".

PREVIOUS FORM: Ah, 'cult followings', eh? She's yet to have any kind of hit on her own, and this album hasn't pierced the top 40 yet, but she's been getting buzz off Radios 2 and 6 all year, and this album's generally been quite well-received critically.

WHY WILL IT WIN?: At 10-1, Marling's clearly the value in the field; a Mercury would be just the ticket for pushing her full-on into the mainstream, and she's probably more chance of staying there than Burial does. Furthermore, this would allow the narrative of solo female UK talent blossoming to continue, but with the added benefit that no-one's ever going to accuse her of being an Amy Winehouse rip-off. Almost as much of a win-win situation as Burial...

WHY WON'T IT WIN?: ... but not quite. Not as folk as Unthank, not as out-there as Burial, a Marling win could too easily be taken as a fudge on the panel's part. The plaudits might well outweigh the pitfalls in this case, though. A small wager on her could well yield dividends.

SUN SUN SUH-UH-UN: Her Myspace is here, and is immaculately maintained, as you might expect of someone who is about 12 years old or something.

NEON NEON - Stainless Style



WHO?: Another two-headed side-project, this time involving Gruff Rhys from the Super Furry Animals (he is Welsh) and Boom Bip from Boom Bip & Doseone (he is not Welsh). An electro-pop concept album (by which I mean I haven't heard it) about the DeLorean sports car As Seen In Back To The Future.

PREVIOUS FORM: Despite being a good twenty or thirty albums into their career, Super Furry Animals have only ever been nominated for this prize once, for Rings Around The World in 2001. Boom Bip has never been nominated, because he is American. Stainless Style is another of this year's list that has yet to make an impression upon the UK album chart.

WHY WILL IT WIN?: Erm... it's on the list, innit? And Back To The Future is pretty great.

WHY WON'T IT WIN?: This is another album that seems to lack any kind of compelling reason why anyone would think it was the "best" at anything - the Myspace clips are, y'know, alright, but really not much more. The odds are middling; the chances are slim at best.

Actually, "I Lust You" might just be giving the coffin a very big nail - Richard X did this an awful lot better. In 2003.

THEY TOLD HER ON ALDERAAN: Their Myspace is here. It is quite pretty.

ROBERT PLANT & ALISON KRAUSS - Raising Sand



WHO?: HOW DARE YOU NOT KNOW WHO THE SINGER OUT OF LED ZEPPELIN IS! DO YOU NOT REEEEEEEAD MOJO? FILTH! FILTH! He's the one with the beard, by the way. Alison Krauss is a country/bluegrass singer from America. No, I don't know which bit of America. Are they not all basically the same?

PREVIOUS FORM: Neither of these has been nominated for the Mercury before, but in commercial terms, this is one of the most successful albums here - it entered the UK chart at number four last November, re-entered at number two in December, and has sold very steadily ever since. Also, feller was kind of in Led Zeppelin. They were pretty big back in the day.

WHY WILL IT WIN?: Another album that has received mad critical love, with the general opinion being that it's Plant's best work in goodness knows how long. Also, Led Zeppelin reformed, and people were kind of happy about that.

WHY WON'T IT WIN?: This album got to number two in both the UK and US at the back end of last year. It's also about as British as NASCAR. Put simply, there is no album in this list that is less in need of the prize than this one.

BUYING THE STAIRWAY TO HEDNESFORD: No MySpace, but the official site is here and, marvellously, will let you stream the whole album for absolutely nowt. It's sounding rather good thus far, btw.

THE PORTICO QUARTET - Knee Deep In The North Sea


WHO?: Let's ask their label: "Their dance friendly, melodic brand of hook-heavy post-jazz was honed busking across Europe and playing in unusual spaces; churches, galleries and chill-out zones. A weekly session at the South Bank and residency at the Brixton Ritzy earned them a cult following and inspired London 's hippest jazz club, the Vortex , to start a label to release their music. Sessions on XFM and Radio 1 followed and a storming set at the Glastonbury Festival had Q hailing their ‘ danceable chamber jazz soundscapes' that ‘ should make them a Glasto fixture '."

PREVIOUS FORM: "Their unique sound has won them fans from Gilles Peterson to Radio 4 and Notion to BBC Music Magazine . Knee-Deep was Time Out's Jazz, Folk and World music album of the year for 2007." As yet, it's not got them into the top 40.

WHY WILL IT WIN?: You've got to think the token jazz entry will wind up winning one of these days...

WHY WON'T IT WIN?: "They describe their ethos as like an Indy band that plays post-jazz". There have almost certainly been worse descriptions in press bios of the other acts on this list, but I haven't read them yet. One day, though. One day. Also, the songs on their MySpace are a bit... dull.

A BIT... DULL: Their MySpace lies this-a-way.

RADIOHEAD - In Rainbows

WHO?: This explains it better than I ever could. Actually, maybe it doesn't, but quoting their press bio wouldn't be as much fun. Basically, without them, Muse would probably never have happened.

PREVIOUS FORM: Another of the acts that got diddled by PJ Harvey in 2001, Radiohead have also previously been nominated in 1997 and 2003, and singer Thom Yorke received a nomination for his solo album The Eraser in 2006. Four nods, no wins. Still, this did go to number one in the US and UK, so they can comfort themselves with that, perhaps.

WHY WILL IT WIN?: Well, quite apart from changing the music industry forever by allowing fans to determine how much they wanted to pay for downloading In Rainbows, then promptly announcing that they'd not be doing that again, this is now Radiohead's fifth go at winning. Much like the token jazz act, surely one day their prince will come...

WHY WON'T IT WIN?: ... but will they really be arsed if it doesn't? Thom Yorke's performance at the 2006 ceremony was that of a man who looked rather fed up with the whole thing, and it's hardly as though this award will boost their credibility at all. Another act that doesn't need the win (albeit that that's not stopped the panel in the past), and probably won't get it.

PIGS, CAGES, ETC.: Amazingly, Radiohead have actually got a Myspace. Their official site is prettier, though. Also needs more blingee.

RACHEL UNTHANK & THE WINTERSET - The Bairns

WHO?: Second album (so far as I can tell) from minimal gloom-folk sisters Rachel & Becky Unthank and friends. They're just a teensy-tiny bit Geordie.

PREVIOUS FORM: First time at the Mercuries, no chart success to speak of, but it was Observer Music Monthly's 17th most favourite album of last year. They also won the "Horizon Award" at the Radio 2 Folk Awards. I have no idea what "Horizon Award" means, though, and suspect I don't want to find out.

WHY WILL IT WIN?: As with jazz, so with folk - it must happen one year. Also, of the albums I have heard, this is easily my favourite. Atmosphere, beauty, character, love, pain, using "gan" instead of "go" - it's everything you could ask for, completely intoxicating, best record on the list.

WHY WON'T IT WIN?: That didn't help The Delgados in 2000. Also, what with Burial being backed to odds-on, a triumph for the canny lasses might well get spun as robbery on a grand scale. We can but hope.

UP WI' SMOKY SHIELDS: Their Myspace is here, features four songs, all awesome.

In summary: mortgage on Burial, overdraft on Marling, crossed fingers on Unthank. Neon Neon all the way, then.

Monday, September 01, 2008

L'esprit de l'escalier

In amongst the unnecessarily large (and largely unnecessary) collection of photographs of himself kissing his wife, Richard Ashcroft's Alone With Everybody, features some other equally telling pictures of the album's progress chart. Along with bars representing the various instruments used in each song, there are 8 different vocal tracks listed. Vocal ad-lib to fade. This is completely irrelevant to the rest of this post mind you, but I thought I'd shoehorn in the seemingly obligatory Verve reference early. Get it out of the way.

If you're reading this blog, I think it's probably safe to assume you're aware of dynamic range compression. An interesting (at least to me) parallel can be drawn up with the current argument raging through the video game industry. For the people who don't care about audio fidelity (or indeed aren't even aware it's an issue) read the 'casuals'. For the audiophiles whose raison d'etre seems to be the crusade for better audio quality read the 'hardcore'. The Wii being dynamic range compression itself. As analogies go it's not exactly Harry Hill's allegorical aquarium, but I'm running with it nonetheless. Those who self-identify as the hardcore are quick to complain that Nintendo doesn't care about them, that they turned their back on them with the release of the Wii. They are right, and they need to get over it. 3 or 4 years ago Nintendo found themselves backed into a corner not unlike the one I have just written myself into, but rather than conceding defeat, they came up with the best comeback the video game industry has ever seen.

The figures cannot be argued with, they were well beaten. The ocean called, and it wanted it's shrimp back. Nintendo found themselves in much the same position as Sega did a few years previously. Sega threw in the towel, utterly demoralised by seeing their superior machine destroyed by lesser competition. Many expected Nintendo to do likewise, encouraged it even. But nobody expected what came next. They had something big up their sleeve, their own waggle based Jerk Store. Sony and Microsoft just didn't see it coming, caught up as they were in their own recipriversexclusive marketing practices, competing with each other to define their products as Media Centres, or Blu-Ray Players. The Home Entertainment Hub. They chased after the same target audience with machines with such high functional equivalence as to completely cancel each other out. A niche target audience at that. The Wii went after a different demographic; the casuals.

Eschewing their competitors quest for higher graphical fidelity, for hi-definition, for exponentially increased processing power, they decided to release what is essentially the same machine as the Gamecube. A smaller (more Jonathan Ive) case and the control method the only discernible differences. Where Sony were banking on the millions of people who bought Playstation 2s to upgrade to the Playstation 3, and Microsoft were banking on the same people to upgrade to the 360, Nintendo decided to ape the approach of their DS. Back to basics, fun for all the family.

Dad's doing it wrong.

As a business model, it's flawless. Why fight stronger competitors in a crowded market, when you can ignore the market and target everyone else? Research and development budget went on developing the revolutionary control scheme, not on securing chip sets from Intel or the like. Here's the real genius though; by utilising existing hardware Nintendo are able to sell each Wii at a profit. Despite the much higher price points, Sony and Microsoft make a significant loss on each console sold, hoping to recoup that money through software sales. Tighter licensing agreements mean a higher profit on third-party releases too, something which keeps the profits high as the seemingly unending stream of waggle-based sports and mini-game compendiums stem the tide between Nintendo's trademark molasses slow drip-feed of releases.

But this is where the hardcore aren't happy. They feel betrayed by Nintendo turning their back on them. The familiar (and tiresome) 'Sell-out' argument is one that rages here, and one that does not need to be repeated. Nintendo is a business, why shouldn't they seek to maximise revenue? The video game industry is now stuck in somewhat of a pickle. Do Microsoft and Sony follow suit, and try to eke out a similar market share with their next products, aping the control scheme and other Nintendo innovations, or do they carry on as before with the march of progress, something that the hardcore value above all else?

The most galling thing for them must be that there isn't even any such thing as a Jerk Store.