Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Current Affairs

Let's delve briefly and slightly distastefully into the field of current affairs, shall we? Before I go and wash-up.

Re: Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross; about five hours ago I wrote the following - "Given that presenters have been sacked for being found to have taken cocaine in their own time (Bacon, Deayton), and the head of BBC1 went for allowing a program about the Queen to be edited in a controversial manner, I can easily see Brand and Ross going, too.

I don't think people are complaining at this particular instance of Brand and Ross being rude on radio, and I don't think it's right or fair to ay 'you are not the target audience of the program and didn't listen anyway so you have no right to complain either'. I think people are complaining about the fact that the BBC is not any old broadcasting entity, isn't commercial or private; it's a public service, paid for with what amounts to a tax, and therefore its audience is EVERYONE in this country (who pays said tax), and it has standards to uphold. Radio 2 used to be called 'the light program'.

I believe in the BBC. I believe in public service broadcasting. I still don't like ITV, never have, and bar X Factor don't watch anything on it and never really have. I also found bits of Brand and Ross' behaviour in this instance amusing. I'm finding it difficult to reconcile that with that I believe the BBC should be doing.

I think the underlying thing to all this is the economic climate; here is, in Ross, an astronomically well-paid individual, a figurehead of a national institution, bellowing 'he fucked your granddaughter' into the answerphone of an old man in the name of comedy and public service. What the fuck?"

About 90 minutes ago I found out that Brand has resigned from the BBC, effectively, I suspect, falling on his sword in order to save Ross. By accepting full responsibility, he... not quite exonerates Ross (who, lest we forget, may have been the guest but is most definitely the most senior broadcaster of the affair), but perhaps does enough to save his career at the BBC, especially given that Andrew Sachs (a man who has "never harmed anyone" aside from every single Spaniard who set foot in the UK between 1975 and... probably 1988, and who found themselves affronted by his terrific portrayal of a racial stereotype in the form of mimics the length and breadth of dear old blighty) has accepted the suspensions, resignation, and apologies, and said he'd like the matter to cease.

This is his granddaughter's Bebo page, btw. She seems like a nice girl.

I am still massively conflicted over how I feel about this; I love the BBC and am only too happy to pay my license fee. I like both Brand and Ross as TV presenters, from what little I've seen of them. But this incident was little more than two boorish egotists egging each other on in the most childish way possible, and I can't reconcile that with what I believe the BBC should stand for.

ANYWAY far more interesting than that, is Charlie Brooker's satirical zombie thing on E4, Dead Set, which last night featured Davina McCall eagerly eating someone's guts.

I am positively certain that this whole, five-part show arose purely from an off-the-cuff joke about the phrase 'dead set' and BB contestants and viewers being like zombies; why? Because there's precious little satire (producers are egotists! young thrusting media people are amoral! BB contestants are idiotic show-offs!) and absolutely no new ground broken in the zombie genre. SO FAR. Tonight might be a revelation, of course. But I doubt it. Aesthetically it looks exactly like Danny Boyle's terrific 28 Days Later, and so far the only salient point it appears to be making is that, well, sometimes people are just as bad / dangerous / etc as zombies. What it hasn't done is subverted anything, satirised anything, or shown of Brooker as anything but the mealy-mouthed wannabe he is. God knows what that makes me.

Brooker rose to 'fame' off the back of TVGoHome, an actually pretty funny spoof TV listings website in the late 90s that I read as a student. It was incredibly mean-spirited. He then coat-tailed Chris Morris, who had already jumped the shark, so to speak, when he ran a Jam sketch that featured bereaved parents dragging tiny coffins around a park on leads, as if they were reluctant pet dogs. I'd adored Morris up until that point, taken rape jokes and more as biting, incisive satire and dark humour. But infant mortality... no. The coffins-as-dogs sketch had been predicated by one about a dead baby and a plumber that got close to the point of no return; the bereaved, shocked mother begged, and finally bribed, the plumber to plumb the infant corpse into her central heating, so he'd be warm, and make a gurgling noise, as if he were still alive; it was bleak, and dark, but there was just a hint of humanity in there, which seemed to make it OK to my 20-year-old self. 9 years on, I'm not sure how I'd take it.

What am I saying? In Shaun Of The Dead, someone is berated for saying "the 'z' word", "because it's ridiculous". That, together with Simon Pegg's bleary-eyed obliviousness as he walks to the corner shop through a plethora of zombies he takes as fellow hangover suffers, subverted the zombie genre far more than Dead Set seems capable of. Instead, much like the remake of Dawn Of The Dead with Sarah Polley from a few years ago, it is a nothingness piece of circus games; entertaining, but no more - the DotD remake itself being a halfway house between 28 Days Later (look! zombies that run!), and it's direct namesake / progenitor (oh! shoppers as zombies!).

So until someone in Dead Set exclaims "fuck me; zombies!" and shows that they might just have seen a zombie film themselves by whacking the undead's heads off straight away without the "what are they?" learning curve first, Charlton (not Charles) Brooker will remain a poor man's Simon Pegg.

Which means the person coming out of Dead Set looking like a subversive genius on the verge of making a spectacular career about-face, is Davina. Go girl.

Dynamic Curepression

The suffix 'pression' usually has a place in Cure-related articles (and, incidentally, I swear this is the last post I'll make about 4:13 Dream, this is my closure.) Depression. Expression. And now, compression.

To get this out of the way early, here's my short review of the album: some pretty good songs (the same ones they've been writing for the past 20 years, but done well), Porl Thompson triumphantly returning, mysterious recorded-in-a-broom-cupboard-next-door-to-the-studio drumming and lots of COMPRESSION. Which needs BIG CAPITAL LETTERS because THAT'S HOW IT MAKES MOST OF THE ALBUM SOUND.

I'm not nearly as informed on this topic as the Official Rocktimists Champion of Dynamic Range Sick Mouthy, but this record doesn't exactly require a spotters guide sticker on the front saying 'features shitloads of compression.' Somebody did think it needed one which says 'new album' though; presumably as guide for the browsing public, who may otherwise have become confused upon seeing a Cure album they didn't recognise and started to mill around in circles, dribbling.

They may literally begin to dribble after the incomprehensible levels of loudness turn the inner workings of their ears to gunk, but that is an altogether separate issue.

Here comes the science part!! (urgh, sorry)

"the really loud ghost"

This is the waveform of "The Hungry Ghost" (track seven on 4:13 Dream) in Cool Edit Pro, my awkwardly-named wav-investigating program of choice. Can you tell what's wrong wi ... yes, of course you can. It looks like hell. Two fat blobs of sound with some vague apologies for range around either end. I haven't conducted a full analysis of the album to objectively locate the worst offender, because I couldn't be bothered - but I can tell you that "The Hungry Ghost" sounds as pummellingly bad as its waveform looks. Which is upsetting, because the song itself is just dandy.

For comparison, I looked for an older Cure track of similar length (for ease and clarity in side-by-side screenshots) which had some clear sonic range to it. "A Night Like This" from the Staring At The Sea singles comp worked rather well.

"a night (of sensible mastering) like this"

A distinct lack of those harsh rectangular blocks of mushed up sound, despite the song building to something of a climax and featuring a pretty piercing sax solo. It's essentially a pop song (a bizarre one, but nonetheless) so clearly there is less range than, say, a classical piece. Yet peaks and troughs are still visible, it doesn't flatline into loudness after about 20 seconds and most importantly IT DOESN'T SOUND LIKE SHIT.

Again, I'm not saying "The Hungry Ghost" is a bad song. It isn't. It's just sort of painful to listen to at any length, because everything has been maxed out far beyond the levels they should have and then pressed back together like a small child rubbing his hands around in poster paints. What was previously red, blue, yellow and green ends up as a uniform sludge.

a respected producer, yesterday

Why do this? Why why, and indeed, why? The Cure aren't really a commercial concern any more. They have no real need to compete in loudness for spots of airplay. They're in the perfect position to make whatever music they like, in whatever form they desire, because they're well known and still well-loved enough to shift thousands of albums. There is no reason to butcher the sound to this extent. None at all.

The only possible explanation is some kind of horrible CIA plot to have a selection of dynamically compressed Robert Smith vocals on hand for melting the brains of political prisoners or surly rogue dictators. Fuckin' feds.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Sound Of Life Today

There's a girl at work who spends large portions of the day stamping.  I don't mean she stands there stomping her feet on the ground like some mightily recalcitrant child in Tesco just been denied a Chomp, I mean she stamps documents with a stamp.  Stamping.

Stampy stamp stamp.

It's loud, it's incessant, it's annoying.

To be fair (at the end of the day) if I had to do the same, I'd do it as loud as I possibly could too.  I'd make sure everyone knew I was stamping.  I'd be breaking desks with the sheer force of my stamping.  Stamp.

Believe it or not, it's actually more annoying than my repeated use of the word 'stamp', or variations thereof. 

It has been joked ('joked') that when someone has a day off they should be provided with a dictaphone recording of the stamping, just in case they miss being in the office.  This got me thinking about how such a tape would be guaranteed to induce stress.  Now, if you're anything like me (and I pray to God for your sake that you're not), at least 90% of all your popular culture knowledge comes from watching The Simpsons.  In this particular instance I was reminded of the episode where Homer sends off for a self-help weightloss tape, (8F22, “Bart's Friend Falls In Love”, geeks) and receives a vocabulary tape instead.  With hilarious consequences.  (Reading this back, this looks like it was supposed to be sarcastic.  It's not.)  I was thinking how a story about someone who sends out 'office ambience' tapes labelled as 'stress-reduction' could be a good idea for my Nanowrimo story this year.

Other highlights from a possible 'office ambience' tape could include a fire alarm being tested, a phone ringing without being answered, and the annoying telephone voice of a co-worker.  Corporate accounts payable, Mena speaking.  Just a moment.

Other tapes could be made in this series, like the sounds of being stuck in traffic, and so on.  Subliminal tapes that could guarantee rising blood pressure, and immeasurable levels of stress.

Or, you could just make them listen to the new Kaiser Chiefs album.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

"That was the end of the joke, by the way": Strictly Come Dancing, week 6

And so this week we had the dance-off we should have had last week. Sigh.

Anyway, Mark Foster wound up going out, while Andrew Castle survived, and, well, it was comfortably the least close-run thing of the series. Having worked on his problematic arse, posture, face, feet, shoulders etc., Castle was finally starting to look at home in the main show; come the dance-off, he was veritably blossoming, the smile on his face suddenly becoming irrepressible as, for probably the first time, he finally felt everything starting to click.

Mark... wasn't. He'd blundered through OK when he was on the ballroom dances, but the pace of the Latin numbers well and truly did for him - though there was no repeat of the mesh-shirt-pelvic-grind disasters of last week, this week he was just incapable of keeping up. He tried to remember to perform, but forgot his steps; then he tried to remember his steps, but forgot to perform.

The dance-off also meant the judges got to uncork some truly choice sporting tripe in their comments. Arlene Phillips started the bidding by insisting that when Mark was a swimmer, he must have had a RIVVUM (Mark: "Well, I didn't have to turn round when I was a swimmer..."), but Len Goodman took the biscuit with his advice for the dance-off. "Androo, whatchoo've gorra fink is that you're love-for'y daahn, second serve... you've got to serve an ace! And Mark, whatchoo've gorra fink is that you've got 10 yards left to go..." At that point, I decided to nip to the kitchen.

Apart from that... well, it didn't feel like a heck of a lot happened this week, really, aside from lots of people who improved last week being less good. Chief among these was Christine Bleakley, who took on the paso doble and lost quite grievously, turning in comfortably her worst performance of the competition - her body shape was dodgy throughout, and the rest of her went with it, apparently due to her continually trying to remember to be angry and such.

Christine's anger, unfortunately, chiefly manifested itself as blankness, which meant she had something in common with John Sergeant. Then again, it resulted in John's best performance for a bit - at least he looked like he was going for a spot of attitude this week, even if he did wind up coming off a bit like Arthur Lowe as a result. Still too much leaning on the public vote from him overall, though - somebody really badly needs to take him to task about that.

And then, erm... well, it's difficult to say, really, mainly cos I can't remember very much. Austin Healey topped the leaderboard with 34 and was annoyingly good, again. Our Tom split the judges but carded 32, albeit that his reactions to their criticisms suggested that he thought he should have got rather more. Rachel Stevens also got 32, and was A Bit Stressed in the training montage, again.

All three of them did Viennese Waltzes, and this generally seemed to be a higher-scoring dance than the Paso Doble; not only did it sort of get Castle out of the mire, it also resulted in a heart-warming renaissance for Heather Small, who appears to have been re-invigorated by her two dance-off appearances. It can't have been a coincidence that her name was read out first in the list of couples that would be pariticipating again next week - her relief, and delight, was palpable. Heather seems acutely aware that in terms of having a base of voters to rally behind her, she's now some distance behind the rest of the field, and so she needs to make sure that she stays as close to the upper echelons of the scoreboard as she can.

If nothing else, this week was good for establishing who has cause to worry. At the moment, it's neither Christine nor John - both finished behind the previously-Teflon Castle on the judges' scores, but got saved by the public. Despite turning in his best performance of the series thus far, Castle was in the bottom two, and it seems fair to assume that without a marked improvement, that's going to be where he ends up from now until he eventually goes. Heather's 27 points this week saved her; the question is whether or not she can push on from there. If she can't, then she's in the bottom two next week as well.

It seems safe to assume, then, that these two will be the next two eliminated contestants. Who goes after them? Well, Jodie Kidd is the only remaining contestant apart from Andrew and Heather to have participated in the dance-off, and her Paso Doble suffered from a certain amount of clumsiness - at one point, Ian Waite picked her up and whirled her around, and her legs seemed to splay out in the manner of Bambi on ice (seriously, that is the best comparison point I can come up with). She's progressed in recent weeks, but whether that's firmed up any public support for her remains to be seen. The slightly suspect temperaments of Rachel and Lisa Snowdon also seem very likely to be tested in the coming weeks - they seem more likely to end up in jeopardy than Our Tom, Austin or Cherie Lunghi, all of whom have been consistently among the highest scorers with the judges, or Christine and John, who have now been proven to be strongly backed by the public.

It's interesting times ahead on SCD, basically. It's just that none of those interesting times happened during this week's episode.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Who Blotches the Blotchmen?

Anyone with an interest in Watchmen, William Carlos Williams, Maurice Sendak or just in skipping work for five minutes should scoot to check out this sweetly goofy comic.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Just Wanting to Have Fun, and other unrealistic intentions.

A friend made me go watch Cyndi Lauper last week.

A likely story, no? It's true. I agreed to accompany him after my navigation of the turmoil that was getting Leonard Cohen tickets earlier this year was unsuccessful. He blames me, and watching Cyndi was punishment, which I thought a little harsh.

Interesting link though: Leonard attracted a greater level of hysteria in Manchester and, I imagine, every town he played than Cyndi, but as unlikely as it may seem, the devotion / fanaticism that went hand in hand with paying upwards of £70 to see him seemed to be very much intact for Cyndi, too. I’d left the exquisitely gift-wrapped present I’d bought her at home (who does that for any performer? Why is anyone doing that? They have a robot come on with a giant arm, carefully disposing of anything that could be a bomb, a vial of poisonous chemicals or like, a severed finger, people), but at least ten people I saw around the auditorium did not.

Descending upon the architecturally magnificent Manchester Bridgewater Hall for the first time (how did that happen, oh ye of three years in Manchester?) briefly had me excited; its domineering angles, sense of formality and prestige, brought to the surface the niggling thought - aside from the obvious assumption that the performance would be naff, possibly embarrassing - that maybe we were in for just a really good show. It's that feeling you get from attending a gig you didn't really want to (reviewing Starsailor for the uni paper produced similar conflicts of pessimism based on back catalogue, and blind, baseless optimism). It's that feeling of going for dinner at the house of an aloof relative, finding you've bought the value can of beans but putting them on toast anyway. It'll be ok. It'll be ok, right?

Half-right. Her support act, a genuinely scary sub-cabaret piece who dismissed a perfectly decent guitarist after one song to spend the rest of her half-hour slot singing to a backing tape. Apparently one of her songs is in a Nivea advert at the moment, and she seemed to be fulfilling some sort of soul-destroying contractual obligation to mention the ad, the song, the product, the company... upwards of every other sentence. You know what it's like: the place was half full by the end of her set, and probably had barely a hundred at the beginning. She was kind of intense, too: shouting at the crowd, all-but instructing us to enjoy ourselves. Pretty scary, really. This combined with sitting second row (my friend is, you know, a really big fan) made it very difficult to head back to the bar as she (badly) aped Natasha Bedingfield, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, and various other people enjoyable for being great rather than grating.

"Are you all excited about Cyndi Lauper? You must all be really desperate to see her now, she's fantastic!" she bellowed on more than one occasion, as if she knew and was in on the joke. I'd gone from not total nonchalance about the whole evening to supergay Cyndi Lauper fanboy in about twelve minutes, and if the purpose of a support act is to get the crowd excited about the headliner, then that was some great work right there.

Cyndi herself: less remarkable, if anything. Squeezed into a leather suit, padded out with prehistoric layers of make-up from G.A.Y. nights gone by, struggling on and off the stage to be with "her community" as she referred to the mostly homosexual crowd throughout, being helped on and off seats: I was left with the troubling image of my ailing Nan competing on The Krypton Factor. Can't really blame Cyndi (who looks pretty well) for that though.

Her new, dance-y material went over just as well with the fawning crowd as the older material, and the initial hit of the first four energetic tunes was truly impressive, and looked as well-received from our second row seats as it did right at the back of the circle in the sold out venue. The Hits (the three songs I actually already knew: "Time After Time", "True Colours", her cover of Roy Orbison’s "I Drove All Night" and, inevitably, "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun") were all stellar performances, although the latter was dragged out way past the ten minute mark and I just don't believe that there's a girl alive who wants to have that much fun.

Talking point: before "True Colours", Cyndi's signature rainbow song, was given a lengthy introduction about the lyric's inception: she wrote it for an unnamed friend who died of AIDS "when no one knew what AIDS was". Visibly teary-eyed when recalling the death, she then appealed to the straight members of the audience ("if there are any") to accept their children's sexualities, no matter what, and not to disown them if they join the same community she thanked so enthusiastically earlier on.

Maybe this is churlish, but I don’t go to gigs to be lectured to about anything, and I certainly don’t go and see Cyndi Lauper for anything other than – if I may say so myself – almost altruistic levels of being a good friend. Troubled by the idea that “True Colours” is pretty much the best ever pop expression of that exact concept, we left the show one-part sated, one-part relieved to drink in a bar round the corner, sat opposite none other than the same terrifying Nivea ad girl who scared me into not going to the bar a couple of hours before. No shit.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

"You were my second favourite": Strictly Come Dancing, Week 5

Well, this week marked a threshold, in that this was the first time SCD's dance-off really made me upset. Don Warrington and Lilia Kopylova were comfortably my favourite pair in the competition, and I'd kind of hoped they might (might) go on and win the whole thing. They had a chemistry together, with Lilia working her hardest to bring out the grace and charisma Don had inside him, and Don equally determined not to let his partner down. They really properly worked as a double act, and it made their dances captivating.

Their American smooth didn't live up to their tango, admittedly. Unfortunately, Don's command of performance and character was rather blunted by the two compulsory lifts that the routine requires - you could see in his face that he spent the entire routine dreading having to hoist Lilia on top of his shoulders, lest he should drop her. He needn't have worried - the lifts were slightly laboured, but generally pretty safe - but the tension reverberated through the rest of his performance. Not enough to wreck it, seemingly - not, at least, until the public had their say and decided that, despite picking up 25 points and finishing as the third-highest scoring male contestant by a country mile, they'd rather be watching the three that finished behind him next week instead.

Thus did Don find himself in the dance-off with the similarly nerve-addled Heather Small, whose aggression and assertiveness seems to have dissipated after the knocking her quickstep took last week. Both came out re-energised, but Craig, Arlene and Bruno decided they all thought Heather was the re-energisedest, and just like that, Don and Lilia were out.

Now, not to get all Daily Show-audience on you or owt, but I really don't think I will ever understand anyone who would have somehow thought Andrew Castle was more deserving of a place in the next round than either Don or Heather. Andrew does not want to be there. He appears to have cribbed his movement and posture from the singer out of Heaven 17. His partner, Ola Jordan, appears to be chiefly concerned with informing him he is rubbish. His performance of the American Smooth appeared to consist of him stepping from side to side and clicking his fingers. A lot. At the end, he attempted to hoist Ola onto his shoulders, and made it look as though she was trying to mount a donkey. He readily admitted that he thought he'd been dreadful. But somehow, the public does not agree. Somehow, Andrew Castle is what people want.


Admittedly, his routine managed to be more varied than Mark Foster's. Having been told by Arlene Phillips to find him an acting coach (whilst pointing, repeatedly), Hayley Holt roped in John Barrowman in order to teach Mark the art of yelling. Newly liberated, Mark spent his entire routine with a huge smile on his face, which was nice to see. He also spent his entire routine shaking his shoulders and thrusting his pelvis. Occasionally, he would do some sidesteps whilst giving it some of the old Donkey Kong arm movements. At the end, for some reason, they lobbed in the looking-over-the-shoulder move that Gary Rhodes made all his own (because no bugger else would want it after that) in week 3. Oh, and did I mention he was wearing a see-through mesh shirt? Or that the house band was having a go at "Spice Up Your Life"?

(Amazingly, not the house band's low point this week. That will be along later)

Anyway, them two should have been the bottom pair, with Castle going, even though John Sergeant scored less than them - 16, the lowest score of the series so far, and one point behind the gruesome twosome. I am in two minds about John, to be honest. On the one hand, the feller is easily the wittiest, most entertaining participant in a programme that's a bit short on witty participants, and he always gets the loudest cheers in the audience by miles. When it was announced that he and Kristina Rihanoff were safe, Kristina's joy was unconfined. Usually it's the celebrity halves of the couples that are the ones expressing most relief; here, John cracked his mile-wide smile, while Kristina was jumping up and down, hugging him and punching the air as the crowd bellowed its approval.

On the other, I do wish he'd take shit more seriously. True, expecting A SIXTY-FAWA YEAR OWWLD MAYYNNN to do a samba at full pelt is perhaps a bit much, and he was sweating like a pig at the end of it, but there seems to be a certain amount of complacency creeping in with the feller, because he knows that the public vote will almost always save him. Entertaining as he is, as the field gets smaller and smaller, it's going to become increasingly difficult to shake the impression that John's taking up a space that could be occupied by more deserving participants.

For let us make no mistake, John's in a very strong position to progress in this competition. Public support is key, and one must stand out in order to get it, because the middle of the pack is becoming a very crowded place indeed. Now the male and female halves of the competition have been merged, the standard has got higher, with 7 out of the 12 couples scoring 30 points or over this week. Heather must be odds-on to at least be in the dance-off next week, if not gone entirely, and since Mark can't dance in see-through mesh every week, he'll probably follow her in short order - but who's next after that? If John and Castle's fanbases are strong enough to keep them in, then the likes of Jodie Kidd, Christine Bleakley and Rachel Stevens - all of whom scored 30 points this week, with each getting the exact same mark from each judge (which was rather weird) - must be looking over their shoulders with a certain amount of trepidation, knowing that, for reasons not entirely in their hands, their best may well not be enough.

But conceivably, any of those three could also have a solid shot at the title. Rachel, for instance, had a slightly off week by her standards, and is perfectly capable of getting in the top two or three next time. Jodie's progress through the competition has been rollercoaster-esque: having had major collywobbles about her height impeding her before her first dance, she pulled it off marvellously, only to then find herself in the dance-off, which she survived; she then got drubbed by the judges for not being passionate enough in her rumba, but this time wound up getting saved by the public; this week, her American smooth was praised, even earning her The Arlene Phillips Shit Pun Of The Night accolade: "I know you like horses, and I'll tell you what - you are the DARK HORSE of Strictly Come Dancing!" It's the way she tells them, really it is.

Christine has had ups and downs, too - it's just that everyone else's have been more dramatic than hers, so she ends up getting overshadowed a bit. She's probably got the best smile on television at present (behind Fulham and England's Jimmy Bullard, obviously), and her personality is utterly winning - her habit of thanking the judges after every comment, for instance. She's basically completely adorable, but while her dancing's been good, she's just not quite stood out from the crowd yet. She needs to start bursting into tears or something. She's enjoying herself far too much.

Her case wasn't helped by having two people burst out of the pack this week. Austin Healey slipped down the order a little with a couple of fudged steps in his samba, while a rogue 7 from Craig knocked Cherie Lunghi down to third, despite her routine incorporating a dazzling lift by James Jordan which saw him pick her up, rotate her head-over heels and then bring her to rest on his back.

This meant that the leaders of the pack thus far found themselves getting usurped, first by a resurgent Lisa Snowdon, who really does seem to run entirely on confidence. Having had her customary tearful crumbles in the training montage, she came out completely on top of her game in the American smooth. The smile stayed on her face throughout, and there was no doubting its heartfelt nature; she and Brendan Cole were in total concord this week, with Lisa moving across the floor with total assurance and no shortage of grace. Where once there was stuttering, now there was flow, and it was beautiful to watch. Obviously, once the dance was over, she was right back to being a gibbering wreck, but onwards and upwards.

And then, right at the end, there was Official Rocktimists Candidate Tom "Our Tom" Chambers. Previously, this column may have given the impression that we were regretting hitching ourselves to Mr Chambers' bandwagon. We would like to assure readers that this impression was complete bollocks. Turned out immaculately in a period American suit with pomade side-parting to match, which had the effect of making him look half-Guys & Dolls, half-Paul Heaton (it's a remarkably good look, actually), Our Tom proceeded to sweep all before him with a ten-ton whack of pure suave. There had been question marks over how he'd adapt to the ballroom dances after having done so well with his Latin numbers; turns out he's even better with his shirt buttoned up. He glides, he floats, he flows. He moves from one phase to the next with total ease and confidence. Where once he had the demeanour of a child actor suddenly discovering he has the ability to fly, Our Tom is now utterly at home on the dance floor. He and Camilla Dallerup seem utterly thrilled with each other, and look set to inspire each other to even further heights. He's finally managed to get his nose in front of Austin on the scoreboard, too.

So yeah, at the moment, seven potential winners - maybe even eight if John can survive long enough - separated by a five-point spread. As Len Goodman said, it really is impossible to pick this. I'd say that, if you've not watched yet, this episode really is the ideal place to start - your iPlayer link is here. Individual dances are available on YouTube as always, but I'd seriously recommend watching the entire episode this week, and maybe the results show too. All the elements that make the Strictly universe such an oddly compelling place to visit are present and correct, soundtracked, as Our Matt has pointed out in the comments, by Dave Arch And His Fantastic Orchestra And Singers. Aside from their assault on the Spice Girls, Dave and friends also had a crack at "Hips Don't Lie", "You Know I'm No Good" (during Andrew Castle's routine - how much more of a hint did they need, dammit?) and "Move Your Feet" this week, but most of all, there was this cracker from the Sunday programme. The professional dancers were out to demonstrate the paso doble, described on the official site as "very dramatic. Marching beat, matches movement of the bodies. Sharp movements. The dance should have elements of Flamenco dancing - this is all in the footwork."

Dave Arch And His Fantastic Orchestra And Singers chose to accompany it with this:

The full show also features Alesha Dixon performing her new single, which is excellent; Ian Waite bumping arses with Jodie Kidd, which is less excellent; and Heather Small's afro, which is about as subtle as the programme ever gets. Really, make time to watch it; except when Will Greenwood turns up again to advise Austin on his training. Skip the hell out of that bit.

(also, a correction: in the preview post, I said that Christine Bleakley wasn't the youngest woman in the competition. Turns out that actually she is: 28, two years younger than Rachel and Jodie. Lisa Snowdon is 37. Crumbs)

Sunday bloody Sunday

Never try and achieve anything before breakfast when you chucked a bottle of red down your windpipe the night before.

Apologies to anyone who's now listened to Mike's second podcast twice; here's the REAL THIRD ROCKTIMISTS PODCAST!!!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Rocktimists: One of us really likes The Cure

Yeah, look, at this point I'm pretty much resigned to writing about one band until November.

The Cure played 4:13 Dream in its entirety for MTV Italy on Saturday. This was exciting. For me. If a 1,500 word song-by-song run down of a new Cure record seems about as enthralling as sci-fi buddy-comedy thriller The Pod People, then you might want to be somewhere else for a while. In an attempt to entice everybody to stay, I've included some amazing facts about Rome throughout the piece.

Some new songs, then:

Underneath The Stars - This one's generating a lot of Best Cure Song In Ages talk, but that's not exactly difficult when new material only comes out every four years. It is sounding like a terrific opener though. The studio version was played on French radio and gave the impression that the drumming was a bit lumpen, but that may have been down to some crap mono broadcasting. Otherwise, great stuff. A ten hour build up of Cure-centric noises, oceanic imagery and a bunch of romantic signifiers being crossed off like a bingo card.

Cure cliché watch: "Together as now / Forever as one."

The Only One - Haven't really had any additional thoughts about this between my singles post and this one. I prefer it live because Bob's vocals are a bit more realistically buried, which I think aids the song somewhat. On record, the switch between verse and chorus is jarring, like they don't actually belong together.

Cure cliché watch: Well it's "High" really, isn't it.

The Reasons Why - Is this the first Cure song about suicide? No, because "The Drowning Man" was based on goth starlet Fuchsia Groan chucking herself off some battlements in Gormenghast. I am a horrible nerd. Anyway, that doesn't matter because this is actually quite splendid. Maybe it's the novelty, but I'm liking it more than "Underneath The Stars" at present. It's all about the Gallup bassline. There's also a snippet ("in the darkness for one second I am sure I see the smiling man") which I'm convinced matches up with "and for one moment I remember a song" from "A Strange Day," but perhaps it doesn't. A definite reference to Joy Division though, with the "hear them calling me" section.

Cure cliché watch: "I am falling through the stars/skies, in their arms/eyes."

Freakshow - Still sounds like Freakshow. Still sounds alright.

Cure cliché watch: "Oh it's the same sway / The same smile."

It is said that all roads lead to Rome, but in fact this is not the case. Half of them lead away, or to shops and airports and stuff.

Sirensong - Another decent tune. This is turning out rather well so far isn't it? Indebted to "Jupiter Crash," but with added slide guitar (A Gibson Electric Lap Steel Guitar BR-9, train-spotting fans) - used in a way which isn't completely infuriating. Hurrah.

Cure cliché watch: SHE SAID SHE SAID SHE SAID

The Real Snow White - Some tasty Porl/Robert guitar work happening here. Hopefully that'll translate to the album. Bonus points for leaving the comfort zone with lines like "It's simply minimum height." Of course, that doesn't mean there's a sudden shortage of ...

Cure cliché watch: "I made a promise" / Drug Song.

The Hungry Ghost - Definitely a Buddhist-ey 'the root of suffering is craving' vibe going on here. I'd complain about the very rich musician saying OH SIGH I'M SO TIRED OF ALL THE CONSUMER THINGS I CAN AFFORD UNLIKE YOU, but it's prefaced by a self-depreciating Smith saying 'pfft, work' in reference to what he does, so he's probably well aware of the hypocrisy. Plus, I broadly agree with the sentiments but I'm not about to throw away my mp3 player. Which makes me the hypocrite, I guess. It's another bittersweet pop lovely. The intro sounds familiar but I can't place it at present. Not too sure about "a pimple out of every pit" as a lyric either.

Cure cliché watch: "Make believe it's like no-one knows."

Switch - Ooooh lordy, it's a wah-wah guitar blitz. And some obvious drum loops. Whatever happened to everything being LIVE, huh HUH? (I don't care). Reminds me of "Shiver and Shake" but with less Tolhurst-bashing, and I like the way he sing-talks "My friends are as strangers / And strangers as friends" in the chorus. It skirts close to cliché-land but the delivery saves it. In any case, it had no chance because ...

Cure cliché watch: "And every day my world gets older and colder and slow."

Roman emperor Nero used to burn Christians in order to provide light for his garden parties. Thanks to the invention of electricity we now only do this for fun.

The Perfect Boy - Might be leaning more towards "Sleep When I'm Dead" or "Freakshow" as my favoured single at present. That could be because I like the live interpretation of "Sleep..." though. Bob sounds like he's straining for notes a little more than usual with this.

Cure cliché watch: It's called "The Perfect Boy."

This. Here and Now. With You. - Hmm, the first one I'm not too sure about. On quite a few of these new songs, Smith's firing out lyrics relatively quickly, following a melody or trying to create a hook. It works pretty well on "The Real Snow White," but nothing's sticking with me here. Something feels messy, like there's a lack of a core to hold the ideas together. Could sound better on the album I suppose.

Cure cliché watch: It's a 'me and my love on a windswept cliff the world can't touch us now this will be perfect forever' song. Again.

Sleep When I'm Dead - As mentioned, I like this better live than in single mix form. It has more energy to it and Porl's guitar hasn't been hidden at the back of the room underneath that pile of junk nobody ever moves. Supposedly the album mix makes it even LESS gutsy, but that might actually work. A fully floaty version could be great.

Cure cliché watch: It's a reworked mid-80s track, so technically none of the bits which now sound like clichés were Cure cliches at the time. Which mean, err, I guess it gets a free pass.

The Scream - Starts off with super-low vocals and sounding a lot like New Model Army's "1984." Really. Later, it gets especially excellent. There's a hint of (no ... but yes!) TRYING NEW THINGS here. Ok, it's just stealing the 'slowly building to insanity' thing from post-rock, but in Cure-land that's a big change. It's almost intense and unsettling. A bit.

Cure cliché watch: "Your eyes are too bright."

It is well known that everybody in Rome rides a scooter. However, few are aware that the vehicles are treated as family pets, often getting their own bed and chew toy.

It's Over - I'm annoyed that this one was renamed. It used to be called "Baby Rag Dog Book," which makes no fucking sense at all but is infinitely better than the boring "It's Over." I think in this microcosm of working titles we get a glimpse of Smith's rut of lyrical conservatism: why go back to the borderline Cure knock-off title "It's Over" when you have a much fresher, exciting one already in place? Is it down to fear, expectations, complacency? I don't know ... but it bothers me that other parts of this album may have been better before they were repainted with the default Cure brush. Hey, I love that brush, it's a great brush. But it's for picking out detail and trimmings, not slapping paint all over everything and calling it a day. All that out of the way, this track (name aside) actually rocks out like crazy. So that's encouraging.

Cure cliché watch: Renaming the song "It's Over," goddaaaaamn!

It was possibly a mistake to follow this performance with an encore of tested Cure classics for direct and immediate comparison, but hey.

For the full show in mp3 form and lots of other guff, visit the fine and upstanding Chain of Flowers news area.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

"Ain't that the age a girl gets really flirty?": Strictly Come Dancing, Week 4

So much for my tipping - Jessie Wallace is gone. She was bottom of the scoreboard for a second time, but this time the public couldn't/wouldn't save her, and she was deposited in the dance-off with Heather Small, who was third from bottom. Jodie Kidd was second from bottom on the judges' scores, but was saved by the public vote.

Ahead of these was Christine Bleakley, on 26 points, then Lisa Snowdon (32) and Rachel Stevens (33). However, on top of things for the second time was Cherie Lunghi - her rumba not only showed she could do the business with the Latin dances, it also garnered her the highest score of the series, a whopping 35 points. The oldest woman in the field has, rather surprisingly, found herself right at the front of the pack.

Three major themes emerged this week:

1) POSTURE - a word I've learned to dread from an early age, primarily due to mine being as crap as it is. This week, much of the judges' criticism was to do with contestants' posture. Jessie's bosom was too close to her partner, thus apparently throwing the rest of her posture out. Heather's hands were gripping too much. Christine's posture was apparently dodgy in ways I can't remember, and I'm fairly sure the same was possibly true of Jodie; given that the judges basically slavered over the other three, it seems more than likely.

Unfortunately for me, posture and frame are things I'm finding rather tricky to pick up on. For example - watching Jessie's dance, it was fairly clear that her feet were rather struggling to keep up with those of her partner, Darren Bennett. The pair weren't really in tandem - it felt as though he was having to pull her through the routine while she struggled to keep up. The posture thing wasn't quite as evident. Re-watching Heather's routine, things become a bit clearer - she seems stiff as a board, almost rigid from the knees up, again being led through by her partner. Except now I'm looking at the summary on the official site and no, apparently it's her feet that are the problem. Jodie's problem, apparently, was lack of emotion more than lack of posture - according to the judges, she was just transitioning between spots all the time. Going off a second watching, it's easier to see this - something about her seems a bit cold, slightly disengaged and, well, posey - but the need for a second watching disconcerts me a little at my inability to pick up on these things just by seeing them on telly. Still, by the time we get to the final I will doubtless be massively expert on this sort of thing. And John Sergeant will be the world's leading performer of the cha cha cha.

2) PERVS - I am becoming increasingly thankful that the interviews are shot solely from the waist up, particularly when they involve Vincent Simone and Ian Waite. Vincent brings to mind the opening scene of Gregory's Girl when he's being asked for his opinions on his partner, Rachel. He suddenly seems to metamorphose into a nervous, giggling 15-year-old boy. Ian's gone a bit further - both his routines with Jodie so far have wound up with him almost kissing her. The opening of their dance this week involved her running her hand slowly up his body and over his face while he channelled the video for Adam Rickitt's 1999 smash hit "I Breathe Again". You worry for the boy.

3) PICTURE, THE BIGGER - last week, the hints of competition were being sown among the men with Official Rocktimists Candidate Tom "Our Tom" Chambers openly declaring his rivalry with Austin Healey. The judges' comments so far have been all too keen to bear this out, with all of them picking out the pair as being the clear leaders during the men's group dance this week.

The same hints manifested themselves among the women this week, but in a markedly different manner - none of the girls would be so gauche as to declare their intentions of victory (schoolboy error by Our Tom there), but all of them seemed intent on not leaving the competition. They are not, it would appear, competing with each other so much as with themselves. With Gillian Taylforth gone from the field, the walls suddenly got a lot closer, and new sides to our competitors emerged. Heather adopted a facial expression not entirely dissimilar to Helen of Troy when faced with the judges' assertions that her hand was clinging. When Christine Bleakley's name was the last to be read out on the list of dancers that had made it through to next week, her demeanour was akin to that of someone who had just been revived through CPR. Rachel Stevens cried a bit in rehearsals, too, though I can't really remember why.

The most telling reaction, however, was that of dear departed Jessie, who was full of optimism in rehearsals, but struggled to keep it together as the judges dissected her posture and footwork, before meeting Tess backstage, where she couldn't hang on any longer and was lost in her tears, castigating herself for messing up and letting Darren down. Darren was chivalrous to a fault in his reassurances; Tess seemed to be adopting the tone of a newsreader announcing a pile-up on the M1. For the rest of the weekend's shows, Jessie's expression was that of a woman resigned to, yet still devastated by, her fate. The public saved her previously, but she didn't for one second imagine they would again, and she was right. Still, she picked herself up, clapped all the way through Heather and Brian Fortuna's performance in the dance-off, and then did her best to try and make amends with her own reprisal; it wasn't enough.

It is in the female contestants' anxieties this weekend that a unique trait about SCD is displayed: it actually is the taking part that counts, and for most of the contestants the prize is surviving for another week, being allowed one more dance. Winning the competition doesn't necessarily bring massive rewards - more or less everyone that has won has basically gone back to their day jobs, albeit with reputations renewed or enhanced somewhat (or, in the case of Alesha Dixon, with a newly salvaged career).

Next week sees the end of the gender divide - all 12 couples will compete against each other, performing either the samba or the American smooth (basically a spot of the ol' Fred & Ginger). The nine-time world Latin dance champions did their own samba on the Sunday show, and it was terrifying in its speed and precision, full of spins, twists, turns and physics-defying hip gyrations. John Sergeant's doing that next week, and he might well survive it.

Of the rest: Andrew Castle has the air of a dead man walking at present, and looks to be taking up the dreaded spot of 'most expendable'. However, having been saved by ver public last time, he might dodge the bullet once more, in which case your bottom two seems almost certain to consist of Heather and Mark Foster, with the swimmer's struggle to be interesting possibly saving him on the judges' cards. Don Warrington will be under pressure to try and prove his tango wasn't a one-off; Jodie's nerves will probably be shot to pieces after relying on the public to save her this week; Brendan Cole will probably be all fiery and shit about something or other; and up the business end, Austin and Our Tom will get to meet Cherie. Something tells me they'd better get worried - her rumba really was the best dance of the competition thus far, with a kind of sensuality and sexuality that was, frankly, off the chart, far beyond any kind of emotional punch that Austin or Our Tom have delivered.

There's also the fact that Rachel and Vincent have developed a pretty undeniable synchronicity, and the bar seems to keep being raised. This week was the most intriguing week so far - next week should be unmissable.

Albeit that the house band's rendition of 'Help!' to accompany Jessie's routine was possibly their worst effort of the series so far. If you sound like you're being backed by a primary school nativity play on tambourine, it's probably not a great omen.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Cornish Joint

“Cheer me up!” cries a wag in the crowd after one of Elbow’s really morose tunes. “Cheer you up? You’re in the wrong place. You need Rod, Jane & Freddie. Fuck… who remembers Rod, Jane & Freddie? You need primary colours, mate. This is a song about being scared your lover’s going to die from drug abuse,” deadpans Guy Garvey, and the band launch into “Powder Blue” from their debut album.

Garvey had never been to Cornwall before. The rest of the band had, he informed us. “Marc’s been arrested here. I’d best not go into it…” Cornwall, Truro in particular, is grateful for the visit. Staff from the Hall For Cornwall, last night’s venue, are proactively seeking out gig goers in the square and even the pubs outside the venue in the hours before the gig, eagerly exchanging tickets for wristbands so that people can get into the gig smoothly later on. There’s something charming, quaint even, about how well organised it is. The price of a balti up the road wasn’t quaint, though.

I’ve not seen Elbow before; they played Northampton in 2001 around Asleep In The Back, but their visit coincided with my leaving, and curiosity hadn’t been peaked enough then to make me see them. The intervening seven years have never presented a convenient opportunity. It’s a 90-minute drive from Exeter to Truro, so last night was hardly convenient either, but sometimes you just have to go.

The set was Seldom Seen Kid and Leaders Of The Free World heavy; I don’t recall anything from Cast Of Thousands. The aforementioned “Powder Blue”, plus “Newborn” (dedicated to the new daughter of an audience member, opening lyric altered to “I’ll be the duck in your bathtub”), and, to close the encore, “Scattered Black & Whites” from Asleep… all got an airing.

“Starlings” opened, and, I must confess, left me a little cold; the payoff seems small for the build-up, and the trumpets, while invigorating, seem to me to be little more than an experiment in dynamics. Which some might think was right up my street, but… no. “The Bones Of You” followed though, and won me over comprehensively. By the time “Station Approach” was wheeled out before “Scattered Black & Whites”, I was suckered.

If last night showed me anything, apart from how good Elbow are as a live band, and how charming, natural, and spontaneous Guy Garvey is as a host, it’s how orthodox Elbow have become over the course of their four albums; the first album is run through with jazzy rhythms, droning textures, and overpowering organs that owed a debt to Talk Talk, but by “One Day Like This” we’re in pretty conventional anthemic ‘rock’ territory, albeit executed with a degree of finesse, emotion, control, and character that leaves anyone else trying the same thing flailing around in primordial mud. I don’t mind this shift, even if it seems as though the band has evolved backwards perhaps, in some ways; but there’s something in the spooked repetition of “Any Day Now”, in the a little less predictable jazzy piano lines and ambient motion of “Scattered Black & Whites”, some more fragile and rarefied emotion, that’s missing from newer material. There is also, of course, masses of emotional tone and communicative energy in newer material that wasn’t even hinted at before. So it’s no loss; it’s just different.

In other news; initial interest in the Oasis album has died a quick and ignorable death.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Dave Stewart's Electoral Songwriting Roundup Special

Don't you hate it when the British press gets all besotted by the US presidential election? Yeah, terrible.

So anyway, with another debate tonight/tomorrow to help determine who'll seize control of the world's most unwieldy overdraft, let's see if Dave Stewart has somehow managed to get involved and embarrass himself.

Oh look, he has.

The information 'a song I originally co-wrote with Bono' should be enough of a warning in 2008, but please do sample a few seconds of the anaemic track for yourselves. It takes a special kind of supergenius to release something in support of one of the more energetic Democratic campaigns of recent times drained of all colour and life.

For no doubt extremely intellectual stylistic reasons, the rented celebrities have been forced to mope about and shake their heads like they've stumbled across a set of internal Diebold memos containing the election results. Barry Manilow seems to show the most interest, but his cheeky smile belies the darting, confused eyes of a man who's no longer quite sure what's happening in this room with all the bright lights. Meanwhile, Dave can't even be arsed to stand up.

Maybe everybody's depressed because the lyrics are so insipid? "And this is the ground / that keeps our feet from getting wet" really doesn't make any sense at all, even as a glib reference to Hurricane Katrina. I suppose it's trying to say that without any continents the world would just be a massive ocean, but at that stage a few damp toes shouldn't really be our primary concern. If there were no continents, the only election in progress would be the one between Flipper and Aquaman to see who gets to run the magical undersea city of Atlantis.

I don't have much interest in that particular race, but I will say in passing that Aquaman has known terrorist connections and is on record as being unable to connect with the Atlantian people by adorably balancing a beach ball on his nose: Flipper/Sebastian the crab '08.

Surely though, Mr Stewart couldn't be inadvertently shilling for the OTHER side too? But yes, he can be! Sort of.

I honestly have no idea whether this is supposed to be genuine, or some sort of oblique parody* Though perhaps I'm just suspicious because it's so difficult to find any pro-McCain songs out there. Obama has nicking his speeches, Obama girl doing her creepy stalker thing and, uh, some weird Les Mis ensemble which looks like it fell out of a Joss Whedon concept episode. McCain has ... some women covering the Eurythmics. Poorly.

It should be easier than this to spot satire, I'm sure. But with Saturday Night Live resorting to reading Sarah Palin stuff out verbatim it's hard to know what's real and what's real-but-hilarious-but-frightening-but-hilarious at present. The part where a static, glowing John McCain appears at the window and floats jerkily around above a hilltop church before zooming off into space is worth a look though. As is the point where they all just give up trying to match the cadence of the original lyrics and crap out "He walked the walk in Vietnam / He talks the talk on the Straight Talk Express" instead. Which is roughly 30 seconds in. Then it ends with a big VOTE McCAIN '08.

I'm baffled.

Either they support McCain and made a rubbish video. Or they made a rubbish video on purpose and secretly hope people will equate their production qualities with McCain's candidacy. If that's the case, though, why present it as otherwise supportive? OH MCCAIN GIRLS, YOUR SUBVERSIVE APPROACH HAS ME THOROUGHLY PERPLEXED.

Oh well. Here's a final song which helps explain the democratic process.

*Ok, now I do. Only six months behind on that one, congratulations to me.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

"I didn't like the headbutty bit": Strictly Come Dancing, Week 3

As always, the entire programme is available to watch on iPlayer, and the individual dances are all up on YouTube.

Thank goodness for that. There was a vague attempt to suggest that, having been crap at the two Latin dances he'd done thus far, Gary Rhodes might have been a bit better at doing Ballroom dances, but thankfully we have been denied the opportunity to discover whether or not that was true.

Of course, it might have been. Getting tuxed up may well have sorted out Gary's permanently arched back, splayed arms, missed cues, unawareness of what his partner was doing, and just his general air of attempting to get from the start to the finish, but probably not. It also seems highly unlikely that it would have done anything about his horrific rictus grin. It was weird, though, how much more at home Gary looked during his farewell dance - perhaps it was the rigours of competition and fixed routines that did for him. Throughout, he seemed like a man stuck on rails, trying to remember what he was doing, visibly counting his steps, seeming quite terribly out of sync with his partner. Karen Hardy looked to have arranged their routine so Gary didn't have many major spots to perform other than holding her up every now and then, but unfortunately it showed. Gary was clearly the worst dancer in the competition, and it was obvious that, if he ended up in the bottom two, he was gone. He did; he was.

In a way, Mark Foster finding his way into the bottom two was something of a surprise; after all, he had finished fourth this week, on 24 points, two more than he scored last week. However, the big man clearly hasn't clicked with the public just yet; as he says, all he's done in his life is swim. He's trying to inject some personality into his performance, but it's clearly a struggle. The opening of his performance saw him stalking around his partner, Hayley Holt, in a manner clearly meant to suggest passion and tension; the effect, unfortunately, was rather spoiled by him having his arms stuck out by his sides as though he was miming carrying two bales of hay. He's also not the most facially expressive of chaps - he managed to work some scowling and disgust into his routine this week, but it's still looking like a fair old effort.

Of the two who finished in between Mark and Gary, Andrew Castle looks like the one who has the most to be worried about. Reasoning that the tango is a dance of passion, he and Ola Jordan appeared to have themed their routine around domestic violence: it began with them miming her kicking him in the face; later, they paused in front of the judges and mimed him repeatedly headbutting her. This strategy was not successful, it is fair to say. Castle's ANGRY face was plastered on throughout, but the trouble is that it's not an awful lot different from Castle's PETRIFIED face, and the rest of his body movements were very strongly suggesting petrification more than anything else. His post-match comments - "Well, y'know, so long as we've entertained people, that's the real point" - suggested a man struggling very badly indeed.

The public saved him this week, though - cos, y'know, he entertained them, so that's the real point - but, with Gary gone, Castle and Foster look like hot favourites for next week's bottom two, since this week's other low scorer, John Sergeant, is quite clearly having the time of his life out there. As Arlene Phillips pointed out, however, this isn't the most useful state of mind to be in when dancing the tango. John was meant to be conveying passion, anger and drama, but was totally incapable of wiping his mile-wide Cheshire Cat grin off his face. Bruno Tonioli thought it worked; Craig (BOO!) Revel (BOO!) Horwood (BOO!) didn't. The Sunday results show revealed that, during their backstage discussions, Craig had attempted to make the point that John wasn't really that good, to which Len countered "'E IS A SIXTY-FAWA YEAR OWALD MANNN!" Either way, John's got the crowd on his side like no-one else in this competition. Whether that can pull him through when the pace of his routines gets upped remains to be seen, but for the moment he's more than getting by on charm alone.

However, this is all academic, since the men's half of the draw looks to be a two-horse race - at least, that's according to Official Rocktimists Candidate Tom "Our Tom" Chambers. Where all the other contestants' rehearsal montages were about their struggles to try and get to grips with that week's routine, all of Our Tom's clips this week were centred around him attempting to beat Austin Healey. Rocktimists has clearly latched onto a man with a winning mentality; we may also have latched onto a man who is a bit of an arrogant berk. However, he's not a bad dancer at all - feller's established a certain spark with his partner, Camilla Dallerup, and he's a lively, confident mover. However, their desire for points also led to them chucking in rather more spots than necessary, the most notable being an horrendously tacked-on bit at the end where Tom took a run-up, dived face-first through Camilla's legs then slid into a reclining position and did the finger-guns at the camera. We're not quite at the point where we're going to be asking Our Mike to move to a village a bit further away from Our Tom, but any more of that gubbins and, well...

It wasn't quite enough to topple Austin, though, which was presumably what Arlene meant when she said "You wanna know the results of the Tom-Austin jive-off? Let the sparring commence!", all the while rubbing her hands Lady Macbeth-style. Tom scored 33; Austin got 34, the highest score of the series thus far. Weirdly, he looked less comfortable than last week, mainly due to his dancing in a sleeveless shirt, which exposed just how ridiculously huge his arms are. The top half of his body was attempting to be dainty and looking oh-so-slightly embarrassed about it; his feet, however, were marvels of nimbleness, floating and picking across the floor with the greatest of ease. Here, clearly, is where being a former professional sports person brings its advantages - knowing how to move on your feet, how to keep your balance, change direction in an instant. His arms... not quite so much.

However, this was all before the final dance, and the emergence of a mighty dark horse - DON WARRINGTON, AC-TORRR. In the first week, Don had said he didn't want to go out before the tango; this week, it became clear why. When it came to conveying menace, passion and drama, no-one came close to him. The hesitancy of his first-week cha-cha-cha was banished, replaced by confidence, poise and a staccato rhythm that punctuated the dance brilliantly. Where Austin espoused the virtues of the athlete, Don had the command of the actor - he didn't have to struggle to remember what he was doing, because he already knew. He had got inside the character he needed to portray on the dancefloor, and the story he needed to tell. He and Lilia Kopylova worked brilliantly together, and the understanding they've developed led to the most thrilling piece of the evening, enough to yield 30 points - an 11-point improvement on his score of a fortnight ago, and enough to put him third. Doubts still remain over his ability in the other routines, of course, but that only serves to make him the most compelling participant in the men's half of the competition.

Overall, we had a more entertaining couple of hours than last week, but the Sunday show desperately needs a trim. There is no need for it to be fifty, or even forty, minutes long. The main attraction is the closing dance-off, and the reveal as to who is going. Of that which comes before, the featured musical guest of the week seems a sensible segment, even if, this week, it meant sitting through Andrea Bocelli. The professionals demonstrating one of the competition dances for the following week is also a good thing, though why they use all of them to demonstrate just one dance rather than having half do one of next week's dances and the other half do the other one is a bit mystifying, given just how badly they're straining to fill time. Certainly, the repeat performance of Saturday's group dance seems rather extraneous, and as for Bruce's interviews... well, when was the last time you wanted to hear Will Greenwood's thoughts about anything, really?

Next week - the ladies do either the rumba or the quick-step. Apparently Vincent and Rachel have been indulging in some light-hearted banter. "Yay."

Friday, October 03, 2008

Capsule Review #2: 'Street Kings'

Not much cop*.

*A pun or play on words. 'Street Kings' is about the LAPD.

It's In The Game

It seems to be the common consensus that whilst FIFA always sells more than Pro Evo, it is Pro Evo which is the better game.


This was undoubtedly true in the past, but with PES drifting along through the last few years, releasing seemingly the same game every year with very minor changes, FIFA has been steadily improving each time. Last year's iterations were pretty close, but this year is showing every sign that they may finally be switching places.

The problem facing EA is clear. After years of churning out the same product with superficial updates, they've only got themselves to blame for their reputation. The fact that Konami are now doing the same thing (but don't get called out for it) is pretty perplexing. No matter how fine your laurels, there's really no excuse for resting on them.

The zealotry that surrounds Pro Evo is such that any FIFA game is instantly derided as a case of the same old. It's their loss.

The players still look like zombies though.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Thank You, Just Thank You

No update today as Sick Mouthy of these parts introduced me to this time destroyer. Whatever you do, don't click the link without an hour to spare