Thursday, November 27, 2008

Vexatious, Plaintive

Nothing to do from 3pm on Saturday ‘til 9am on Sunday? Well, problem solved—hole up with a crate of Red Bull and watch an 18 hour performance of Erik Satie’s Vexations live over the internet from the University of Chichester.

The additional “elements of art and dance” sound worrying though—the point of an 18 hour performance of the same piano phrase over and over and over again is surely to focus attention minutely on the subtle differences that occur over time. Something made difficult by dance class hoofers getting in the way, even if they also are repeating the same movement 840 times.

Go here for an interesting article by Gavin Bryars about the time he performed the piece.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Glass Candy – Ms Broadway Remix

Glass Candy’s ferociously addictive “Miss Broadway” was my most played track of last year and also my introduction to Belle Epoque’s 1976 original. Strangely it’s the Belle Epoque version that sounds like it could be the scrappy, indie-band-goes-disco cover—the line-up is rock-band trad and ramshackle, the debt to the Bo Diddley beat more apparent and the strings thinner and more elastically expressive than the disco-correct arrangements by Blonde Redhead/John Zorn/Sun City Girls collaborator Eyvind Kang on the newer version.

Whilst Glass Candy work on an album for 2009, the new Italians Do It Better webshop has a compilation Deep Cuts that gathers together a new version of “Miss Broadway” (though she’s now apparently a Ms) along with a bunch of tracks that you may have heard before if you’ve made it yr biz to check out the Glass Candy MySpace.

One of these, “Geto Boys” drops the vocals from Glass Candy’s version of “Iko Iko” (more or less the moment they switched from post-punk to disco) onto the music music from the Geto Boys still staggering "Mind Playing Tricks on Me"(which in turn samples Isaac Hayes’ “Hung Up On My Baby”). An early version of “Stars and Houses” fronts that Canterbury prog was a precursor to disco and the new “Ms Broadway” buries the strings under echoed yelps, flatulent pulse and fake vinyl crackle (something which would bug me from anyone else, but here seems kinda sweet).

Glass Candy – Ms Broadway Remix

Belle Epoque – Miss Broadway

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"This is Week 10": Strictly Come Dancing, Week 10

So obviously this week's programme was overshadowed by John Sergeant deciding to depart the show on Wednesday, and the ensuing maelstrom that, er, ensued. Him and Kristina Rihanoff reprised their waltz from the first week at the end of Saturday's show. It was very touching, a reminder of how promising this whole series seemed to start with. There's never been any lack of chemistry between the two of them, and watching them knowing they were dancing together for the last time moved me ever so slightly.

I made the horrible mistake of going on iPlayer to watch episodes of It Takes Two, SCD's "behind the scenes" show that goes out weeknights on BBC2, to see what kind of debate was going on there. What I got was further bitchery from James Jordan, partner of last week's oustee, Cherie Lunghi, various judges chucking "coward" and "quitter" about like confetti, Claudia Winkelman being a seriously bodged devil's advocate... With the exception of The Snowflake, who said she was sad to see him go, and her partner Filthy Brendan, who said he thought there was a place for him in the competition after the dance-off last week, everyone that's still in the competition has basically kept schtum on the matter.

And now I've gone on Google News to look for stuff and sweet baby Jesus this is the worst shit ever, isn't it? Stories about it now number in the thousands. Various columnists are being all "IT WAS NEVER ABOUT DANCING THIS IS NOT REAL DANCING BOOOO", others are all "HE IS PLAYING US ALL FOR MUGS HE KNOWS EXACTLY WHAT HE'S DOING BOOOO", others still are "HOW COULD THEY FORCE OUT LOVABLE SIXTY-FAWA YEAR OLD MAYYYYN BOOOO"... In summary, then: BOOOO. The internet - the country - is drowning under the tides of bullshit being issued about this. There is, I guess, a wider issue about what we want our light entertainment to be. A year ago, no-one would have expected it to have involved John Sergeant, a man previously best known for his journalism and guest appearances on Have I Got News For You - then again, lest we forget, the entire reason for this programme's existence is because of Bruce Forsyth's performance on Have I Got News For You completely restoring his reputation as all-round entertainer par excellence. The reception that episode received resulted in several lightbulbs switching on around the BBC, and, well, here we are. No doubt the way in which this programme has made a star out of Sergeant - and whoever wins the thing now, he's almost certainly going to be the biggest name coming out of it (Rachel Stevens is the bridesmaid once more, eh?) - will be switching on those lightbulbs again. This is the most fuss that's been made over the programme since goodness knows when, and so one would assume that something will happen. No idea what, though.

Anyway - other stuff happened this week, too! Jodie Kidd's time was up after not really getting to grips with the jive; she and Snowflake wound up in the dance-off, and Lisa's quickstep pretty much trumped Jodie all ends up. Rachel Stevens carded the first perfect score of this year's competition with her foxtrot. I am not sure why. Phwoooarrr Austin Healey took on "It's Raining Men" with much gusto, then spent the rest of the programme repeatedly adjusting his buttonless shirt to avoid exposing his nips. And Our Tom did the tango, which meant he hadn't shaved, again. It wasn't quite as much fun as when he did the paso doble, and it didn't get him his blessed 10 that he's been banging on about getting ever since Austin managed it however many weeks ago that was now, but it's kept him in.

Aside from John's departure, though, two stories emerged from this week's episodes. The first was the fact that we may have a new John Sergeant to be dealing with, and it's Christine Bleakley. You may dimly recall this column tipping Christine to win the whole thing after week two, based on her gorgeous foxtrot, her incredible smile, and her being the contestant the BBC would probably be able to do the most with once the circus had rolled out of town for another year. Since then, she's not really done an awful lot - aside from carding a 34 for her waltz two weeks ago, she's been parked firmly in mid-table. This week saw her turn in her second-worst performance of the competition, a cha cha cha that seemed to involve her and Matthew Cutler not being entirely aware of what the other one was doing. They twisted for a bit. Then they twisted again for a bit. Then they twisted some more. The entire thing seemed to take space in an invisible three-metre square of the floor. He dipped her down to flash her cleavage at the camera. Then they twisted for a bit. Then they carried on twisting. Then they twisted some more. It was very, very boring. They scored 27, finished bottom of the leaderboard... and were saved from the dance-off by the public vote. This is the second time it's happened, following on from her somewhat dodgy paso doble in week 6, and it's perhaps worth noting that Christine's still never been in a dance-off. If she dodges it again this week coming... well, eyebrows might start getting raised a bit.

The second story was the judges having to react to "the media" deciding they iz alll bitchiz. Somewhat tellingly, the judge whose head emerged over the parapet on the Monday after John survived again was Arlene Phillips, co-creator of ITV's new Sunday night thingy, Britannia High. As such, she wound up copping much of the stick for Sergeant's departure, and became the figurehead of the press campaign to present the judges as mean ol' out-of-touch fuddy-duddies. Once John had gone, she back-pedalled somewhat and announced that she was disappointed to see him go, and claimed that the judges had in fact been quite nice to him (despite her imputations on It Takes Two that John spent most of his time in training reading the newspaper). Better still was Len Goodman's rather limp attempt to save face on the Saturday night programme by announcing that the judges "wish John the very best in whatever he decides to do next".

And then they decided to try and make up for the loss of audience interest after John's departure by all shouting at each other, with Positive Len yelling at Craig Revel Horwood because he "NEVAH BRINGS ANYFING POSITIVE" and was "REALLY GETTING ON MARR WICK!!!" You may remember this exchange from every single other episode of this series. With only six competitors left, the Sunday programme found itself horrifically over-stretched again, so there were more interviews with members of the audience in case we might give a shit what Felicity Kendal or Zara Phillips think about anything (though seeing Phillippa Forrester in the background while Brucie was talking to Kendal, clearly thinking that he should be talking to her instead, while Bradley from Eastenders fidgeted awkwardly - that was pretty entertaining). There was a group dance in which Arlene came off like a massively over-promoted drama teacher. John Barrowman did a version of that Andy Williams song that Heath Ledger did in 10 Things I Hate About You.

And so, to all intents and purposes, the show was exactly the same as it's been for the past few weeks now. The reason to miss Sergeant wasn't cos he was especially entertaining, or that his dances were better to watch than other people's, or that they were comically bad (this last one was hardly ever true, incidentally, and to say that he was the worst dancer in the competition when Gary Rhodes' rancid efforts linger in the memory...) - it's because he was a bit unexpected, a bit different, a bit of a break from the tired old claptrap of Everybody Hates Craig. Will the BBC realise that a change needs making? Might they possibly notice how thin the Sunday show is stretched, or how badly the show drags in its middle weeks? Or will they just hire, say, Ian McCaskill for the next series and hope lightning strikes twice?

(NEXT WEEK: every couple does two dances. This might make things more exciting. Fingers crossed)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Way of the Ancients – The Heart of my Bum

Way of the Ancients is a pseudonym for Thomas Bullock, who is someone I hold a grudge against. Why? Because though it may have only cost me 99p, the 7” of “Street Gang” by A.R.E. Weapons that I bought back in 2001 is the most disappointing blind buy I’ve ever made—really fucking weedy and crummy fake-Suicide biz that reeks of the fact that everyone involved is a class A wanker. Except, that is, hopefully for Bullock because away from fake-tuff scum-rock he’s been involved in a lot of music I rate highly—like Map of Africa, his Balearic-biker-rock duo with DJ Harvey, or the Rub’N’Tug Presents Campfire mix, a scuzzy way in-the-red record-skipping live recording with his DJ partner Eric Duncan.

“The Heart of my Bum” (hate that title) is a loose, drawn-out not-quite cover and not-quite edit (though it chops and loops the original recording, there’s also new material added) of Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” that homes in on the hushed organ and floor tom at the start of the track. A return to one of the beginnings of our world, created as a section of a soundtrack for a film by Aussie art team P.A.M. It’s included on the CD that accompanies the latest issue of Yeti mag, which also includes an interview with Bullock. Let’s quote him completely out of context and pretend that he’s talking about this track; “ suits the current momnt of free-for-all with the computers and moving stuff around. It suits the chop-it-up and regurgitate culture we have at the moment”.

Way of the Ancients – The Heart of my Bum

Yeti Magazine’s website is here, but I got my copy from Phonica.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"This is supposed to be a dance contest": Strictly Come Dancing, week 9

Thus pleaded James Jordan, yer man with the unsettlingly blue eyes holding up Cherie Lunghi in the above picture, as the pair were eliminated in this week's dance-off. They'd got the third-lowest score of the week, which saw them facing off against Snowflake Snowdon and Filthy Brendan - the second-lowest scorers - to stay in the competition, and so the camel's back finally broke and the rest of the competition turned, in an ever-so-BBC One-on-a-Saturday-night kind of way, on John Sergeant, with everyone ignoring him as they bid Cherie farewell at the end of the Sunday show.

Or that's what I've heard, at least. Maybe it's cos I was a bit under the weather this weekend, I dunno, but I just couldn't sit through SCD on Saturday night. I tried, but I think the tipping point came, oddly enough, with Cherie's routine:

Now, James Jordan is perfectly free to complain that this should be a dance contest, and people should vote for the dancing. However, if he's gonna do that, perhaps he shouldn't be starting his routine by pretending to play his partner's leg like the guitar bit in the intro to "Play That Funky Music". And if he's gonna pretend to play his partner's leg like the guitar bit in the intro to "Play That Funky Music", he could perhaps try doing it IN TIME WITH THE FUCKING MUSIC FOR CHRIST'S SAKES. It doesn't have to be a note-perfect thing or owt, no, but just pulling your arm up and down like you're in fucking Metallica or something and then getting pissed off when people at home are not digging your superior footwork or what have you... I mean, Christ on a fucking bike, eh?

Back in the realm of the programme itself, it was high scores aplenty, with Rachel Stevens rebounding from her dalliance with the dance-off last week to score 39 - one point off full marks, and the highest score of the competition so far - for her rumba. Austin Healey was one point behind after doing a tango whilst looking slightly unshaven. Our Tom got 36 for his cha cha cha, Christine Bleakley got 34 for her waltz, Jodie Kidd got 33 for her... something or other. Quickstep, I think it was. I remember Arlene Phillips saying something like "You looked like you were training for the 100 metres at the Olympics at the 2012!", so I'm fairly sure that's right. Her best dance so far, according to the judges; I personally thought it looked like Ian Waite was attempting to manoeuvre a particularly awkward door up a fire escape, but, well.

Anyway... this week, it'd be fair to say, I fell out of love with the thing. There is a show going on outside The John Sergeant Farrago; the trouble is, it's a bloated old trout that's getting more and more repetitive with every week. The Farrago itself offers up two sides, neither of whom are especially worth cheering for.

Except it's just ended now cos Sergeant's decided to withdraw in case he winds up winning the whole thing. The head of BBC One has said she's sad to see him go, and you can see why. I'm writing about this programme on a Wednesday (having started on, er, Monday), which is some exceedingly poor citizen journalism on my part. The Telegraph website has published no fewer than nine separate pieces on John Sergeant's participation in the competition in the same period. Opinions range somewhere between "yes" and "no". On Saturday, SCD got 9.5m viewers, ahead of 8.9m for I'm A Celebrity... Etc. Etc.!. Now Sergeant's left, one wonders how many of the viewers will go with him. The story once again becomes about who's gonna win. The BBC is going to have to rely on people giving a shit about Austin Healey, which is entirely possible - he's not been in a dance-off yet, so some bugger must be voting for him.

So we're back to a plain old light entertainment programme, and Strictly finally gets to stand on its own two feet again. Those feet, however, are looking increasingly unsteady. One of the less interesting recurring themes has been removed, but as to whether or not that makes any of the other recurring themes more interesting remains to be seen.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Art Of Noise: 5x5 II.

Here's me and four other panellists (including ex-Stylus and current PopMatters writer Ian Mathers), giving five current recipients of "A&R buzz" a Juke Box Jury-style Blind Tasting, over on the collaborative music blog The Art Of Noise.

Last time we did this, a full 18 months ago, we found ourselves waxing lukewarm over such future luminaries as The Ting Tings, Laura Marling and, er, Joe Lean & the Jing Jang Jong. So take heed: here's where The Stars Of Tomorrow are made!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Ali Renault - Our World Is...

Yesterday we posted a track from the excellent Veros Artists Volume Two, so today here’s a track from the similarly great first volume. I’ve chosen Ali Renault’s “Our World Is...” not only for its sly emotionality but so I can repost this utterly wtf statement from an interview with Renault’s mersh-Italo duo Heartbreak: “disco is the only music genre at this point in time that can effectively confront and remind people that to see a dead "foreign" body is as bad as seeing a "national" one”.

Ali Renault - Our World Is...

You can buy copies of the Veros Artists compilations mail-order from Phonica or Sounds of the Universe.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Binary Chaffinch – False Energy (Invincible Scum Remix)

The two volumes of the Veros Artists compilations that Dissident Records have put out this year contain some of the most energetically writhing and jolie-laide dance music released this year. Think thick and soupy low-end textures and hardware machine-drums that sometimes sound like slowed down hi-energy—possibly more like a dogged determination to see the dawn. Label boss Andy Blake says that “if you don’t like arpeggios and acid house then maybe you should stay home”.

They’re also amongst the most unfairly overlooked releases this year since not only do Dissident ignore MySpace and Facebook, they also don’t send out any promos or sell any “nasty little” MP3s. The 12”s that are collected on the Veros Artists sets were usually pressed in single-sided, single-song editions of 200 copies with the thinking that they would be found by the right people.
As Andy Blake says in an interview with the excellent (and strictly paper based) Faith fanzine, “I worked out that we could just about have a functioning label by doing runs of 200 so we just got cracking. With Dissident we can go from finished tune to shop in two weeks which means we can keep things interesting and exciting for us, and hopefully the tiny handful of folk who are into the label”.

The labels ‘hit’ thus far is probably “False Energy” by Binary Chaffinch, a solo project Milo Smee, who is maybe infinitesimally better known as the drummer for prog/metal/disco group Chrome Hoof. The original pressing was only 100 copies but it was reissued as the labels only dbl-sided twelve (I think) with an amazing Invincible Scum remix on the flip which sounds like Hercules and Love Affair lost in Vauxhall at 5am. For eight minutes, relentless low-end grinds the paste-diamond sparkle of the original into silt.

Binary Chaffinch – False Energy (Invincible Scum Remix)

You can buy copies of the Veros Artists compilations mail-order from Phonica or Sounds of the Universe.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Bon Bon Club – Lullabye

If there’s one thing that’s certain about Rocktimists it’s that we love The Cure. We're riding Robert Smith’s dick (white-painted with a little bit of smeary lipstick around the top) harder than anyone. So, in honour of their new album entering the charts at thirty-three, here’s an awesome bass, drums and vox version of their inadvertent Balearic classic “Lullabye” which reverse-engineers the originals tale of gynophobia with sweetly cooing female voices. It's taken from the recent 7” by Sheffield's The Bon Bon Club, which is the rhythm section—Screech and Reenie—of the recently split glam-popsters Long Blondes along with Claire from angular records post-punkers Navvy. You can buy it here.

The Bon Bon Club - Lullabye

Monday, November 10, 2008

Anything Could Happen

Here are three versions on the same song, The Clean’s “Anything Could Happen”. The two covers don't deviate too far from the original but as it’s one of my favourite songs ever—one that I can never skip past on my iPod without listening to—that’s no bad thing.

The Clean's take, released in 1982 on Flying Nun records, is like the early Postcard records period Orange Juice tracks of a couple of years earlier in that if you listen carefully you can hear the incipient birth cries of indie, especially in the jangly post-Velvet Underground guitars and classic pop structure. There's nothing twee here though—anything could happen and it's most probably bad.

Wingtip Sloat were part of the early-nineties wave of lo-fi bands (along with Guided by Voices and Pavement) that for me are a full-stop to what Casey Kasem on America's Top Ten always called 'the rock era'. This was the final gasp of analogue recording (here reduced to a 4-track), the last time that every city had an independent record shop with a rack full of seven-inches, and before notions of an 'underground' would be forever scrambled by the info-sprawl of the internet and blogs like this one giving shit away for free. Even though they existed on a diet of bonghits, watery brews and takeout tacos, Wingtip Sloat add US rock muscularity and distortion to the original template.

No-fidelity isn’t a thing of the past though. Now we're far enough from the nineties that Pavement are getting dbl-disc retrospectives of their albums there's a new wave of lo-fi. Times New Viking take “Anything Could Happen” further into tape-hiss illegibility by recording their version to one-track (a boombox) and ending up with a drum sound like a rock hitting a typewriter.

(Wingtip Sloat stay true to their obscurantist beginnings here with a single post blog).

The Clean – Anything Could Happen
Wingtip Sloat – Anything Could Happen
Times New Viking – Anything Could Happen

"You weren't just leaping on hot coals, you were jumping over giant stones": Strictly Come Dancing, week 8

The thought struck me while watching this week's episodes that, in recent times, I've essentially been writing the same post over and over again. John Sergeant not funny. Ian Waite sorta creepy. Bloody awful version of "Mas Que Nada". That sort of thing. It's been a bit worrying, really.

I was afeared that we'd be stuck with that situation again this week, and the inevitable departure of Heather Small suggested that we'd be stuck going round again. However, the circumstances in which it came about were rather unexpected...

Heather's tango wound up giving her 27 points - only good enough to put her third-bottom on the leaderboard, albeit with her joint-highest score of the competition. In all honesty, it was never likely to be enough to keep her out of the dance-off, but depending upon who she was up against, she might just have had a sniff of survival once she was in there. Unfortunately for her, the biggest shock of the series so far was about to happen, as she was joined by Rachel Stevens, whose American Smooth got her 35 points - her highest score of the competition thus far, and only one point off the week's highest score. The problem for Rachel was, in part, that there was a three way tie for first place this week, between Lisa Snowdon, Cherie Lunghi and Our Tom, meaning that, while they all received 9 points to go with the points they accumulated from the public phone votes, Rachel only got 6.

She survived the dance-off easily enough, mind, thanks in no small part to a breathtaking sequence of lifts by Vincent Simone, but knowing now that anything short of a top-three finish won't be good enough to avoid the risk of elimination left her looking devastated. Her smile during the reprise seemed more out of defiance than anything, and she seemed barely capable of stopping herself from crying, even as the judges unanimously voted to save her over Heather. It seems a bit early to say whether this series has been the making of anyone, with the probable exception of John Sergeant, but after this weekend, it might well have wound up being the breaking of Rachel Stevens. This blog's hardly been her biggest cheerleader over the course of the series, but watching her visibly wondering what more she has to do was rather heartbreaking.

Particularly given what she finished ahead of. Christine Bleakley found herself firmly ensconced in mid-table once more with a jive that featured all manner of high-kickin' action and a fair amount of off-time stepping, a rogue 5 from Craig Revel Horwood left Austin Healey with a lower-than-merited 29 points, though we're not really gonna miss him if he goes, and Jodie Kidd found herself back at the wrong end of things with a samba that featured some spectacularly ill-advised air-steel-drumming. One wonders why the couples continually insist upon shunting these horrible set-piece hand-jive moves into their routines - they always look terrible, and pretty much always result in crap scores off the judges.

All these are secondary figures, though, compared to John Sergeant. When Len Goodman declared that no-one knows who's going to win, one suspects that might be because no-one cares, since the real story of this competition is the immovable object at the bottom of the table. His 12-point cha cha cha was the lowest scoring dance of the entire series by a mile, though it didn't seem all that much worse than some of his other efforts. The judges then proceeded to cement his position in the competition with such constructive comments as "You have to admit that your dancing stinks" (Bruno Tonioli), "Disaster" (Craig, who gave John 1), and "You sure are fantastic at dancing terribly. That dance had nothing to say, so I've got nothing to say about it" (Arlene Phillips). The most pertinent comment was from Len, pointing out that every week John survives is a week where he's taking up a position that belongs to a more deserving dancer; previously, when John's been squeezing out the likes of Andrew Castle and Mark Foster, it's not been such a problem (you could pin the loss of Dear Departed Don on him too, but there's too many other people to blame for that), but now we've hit the stage of competition where the remaining competitors are actually Any Good At All, John is becoming something of a menace. He's the only dancer left who hasn't managed a score in the 30s. Or upper 20s. Or mid 20s.

And yet... as John pointed out, he's not necessarily done anything wrong. Half the final score each week is based on the public vote, and half is based on the judges' scores. On the strength of the latter alone, he'd have left some time ago; however, going by the rules of the game, he's still in with a serious chance of making the final. So, given that he's no hope on the one front, he works the other fairly shamelessly, and he's a fair bit better at doing that than all the other competitors. Furthermore, the judges' criticisms are starting to turn this into an us vs. them type affair - Arlene "I didn't get Spain/I didn't get Cuba/I wanted you to take me to the streets of Rio" Phillips' decision to preface her dance-off comments by saying "I appreciate that half the score is based on the public vote, but it makes it very hard for us judges..." didn't help matters, nor did Brucie's continual putdowns of their criticisms, a never-ending procession of "We loved it, didn't we?!?!" and "You're my favourite!" Much of John's vote thus becomes a manifestation of the public's barely-suppressed desire to smack Craig Revel Horwood upside his head.

AND YET... every week, John is turning up and doing basically the same dance, over and over again, pretty much entirely assured that the public vote will carry him through. And there are people in the competition who aren't just dancing well, but in a manner that's one hell of a lot more entertaining than watching Kristina Rihanoff leading him ever-so-slowly through whichever number they've been unfortunate enough to be lumbered with that week. Here's Our Tom's attempting to break the world record for sprightliness, for instance:

True, watching him and Austin Healey being the most tediously passive-aggressive alpha males ever is not exactly thrilling. But the dancing... delightful.

Still, assuming John survives next week - and given that the controversy about his continued survival made the cover of the Daily Express yesterday, we can probably take it as a given - everyone else is basically playing Russian Roulette. Rachel's already somewhat frail nerves are almost certainly going to be shot to pieces now, and mentally she's probably in the dance-off already. Who joins her really is anyone's guess, but I'll stick my neck out and go for Jodie Kidd, simply cos she's the most likely to score poorly with the judges out of the remaining contestants. Apart from John, obviously, but though he may be playing by the same rules, he's doing it rather better than everyone else...

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Friday, November 07, 2008

Cave – Machines and Muscles (Tour Edition)

The new seven-inch from Chicago’s Cave (which handily bundles a CD with the two seven-inch tracks plus two) isn’t as expansive or car-smash fucked as their earlier Hunt Like Devil LP but get beyond the fucking awful stoner-damage title (um, Butthash) and there’s still the joy of hearing them grabbing onto a chord and holding on as it attempts to writhe free. The slightly more restrained than usual “Machines and Muscles (Tour Edition)” shoves super-stupid snare-work under distorted two-note sequencer blat and then uses that wobbly foundation to balance organ arpeggios on. This is dunderheaded fake progression par excellence.

Cave – Machines and Muscles (Tour Edition)

Sunday, November 02, 2008

"I am the cockroach": Strictly Come Dancing, Week 7

And so Andrew Castle finally ran out of people to be more popular than. In the first week where each couple danced a different dance, Andrew had the bad luck to get handed the samba and then do his knee in training. This, however, still doesn't explain why he and his partner, Ola Jordan, felt the need to replicate the horrific shoulder-shimmying that very nearly did for Mark Foster a couple of weeks ago. It only served to make him look slightly pnuemonic, and once he'd started, there was no stopping - shaking and wobbling about like some kind of one-man Black Lace revival. Once he was in the dance-off, there was pretty much no way back.

As expected, Heather Small joined him, and barring a miracle she'll be gone next week. Her cha cha cha was far preferable to Castle's jiggling - and, unlike quite a few of the couples that remain, her and Brian Fortuna do seem to really love dancing with each other - but her legs were moving like inanimate carbon rods. It's possible that Heather just has trouble moving in heels, but her feet were so out of time that even I noticed it. Next week, her time will most likely be up, cos there's only one dancer worse than her left in the competition...

...and that's John Sergeant, who we were repeatedly reminded this week is Loved By All. Sometimes the presenters would remind us of this. Sometimes we'd have montages of the Great British Public reminding us of this. But best of all, sometimes John himself would remind us of this, ever so 'umbly pontificating that perhaps watching him dance was helping take people's minds off their credit crunch-induced depressions.

Seriously, this really has got to stop. Like... now. This week, John did the foxtrot. If you saw John do the waltz, this was the same. As was that time he did the tango. His was the last name to be announced as going through to the next round, presumably in order to try and make him sweat a bit, but it didn't work. Sergeant knows he's safe. Everyone knows he's bloody safe. Him ending up in the dance-off next week is Heather's only hope for staying in, but we all know it won't happen. If nothing else, Craig Revel Horwood's request that the public start agreeing with the judges a bit more effectively put the donk on it.

So, who joins her? Oddly enough, it might be Cherie Lunghi. Having made a bit of a mess of her paso doble last week, this week she found herself getting in a muddle with the salsa. An early missed step was again the cue for the house of cards to begin slowly tumbling, as her timing slowly but surely started to ebb away with her confidence. She wound up carding a 26 - in earlier weeks, a good score, but now it's a cause for fairly grave concern. A return to the ballroom dances next week cannot come too soon.

Christine Bleakley is also at risk - with every week, she seems to fade further and further into the scenery. Back in the first round, she seemed so promising, but the trouble is that she just hasn't progressed enough since then. She just isn't standing out from the rest of the field - or, rather, the rest of the field is standing out much more than she is. Rachel Stevens has a similar problem, but on this week's evidence she might be about to do something about it - Len Goodman's comment that if she couldn't dazzle on the jive, then he doubted she could dazzle on anything really seemed to touch a nerve with her. A fire may have been lit under an arse here, and the consequences might - might - be quite interesting.

We now appear to have four serious contenders for the title, though. Firstly, Jodie Kidd, who managed to survive getting necked by Ian Waite to put in a delightfully light-footed waltz for which she garnered 31 points - her highest score of the series thus far. Jodie's hook is that she is probably the contestant who's improved the most over the series. Following the minor calamity of her rumba in week 4, every week she seems to have got better and better. There's still plenty of dancers scoring higher than her, but she seems to just have that bit more momentum than they do.

That momentum shouldn't be underestimated, cos what I'd not realised when I started covering this programme is how long it would feel. I knew how many weeks it would go, and so on, but I'd no idea how much it'd drag on for. Jodie's arc at least feels like it's got some flux to it, like something will happen from week to week. Watching the judges swooning over Austin Healey every week, however... I mean, Jesus, we're barely halfway. Certainly dude has the quickest, nimblest feet in the competition. And yes, his quickstep was probably the best dance this week, though whether it was really worth the 10 it got from Len I'm not sure - the lad's face seems locked in an England's Stevie G squint-grimace hybrid, and even if he's hitting all the marks, it feels like that's all he's really doing. There's a good seven or eight weeks left of this, of watching Austin Healey and his perfect feet and pneumatic arms getting drooled over by all and sundry, and it's looking horribly like the feller's going to win.

Lisa "The Snowflake" Snowdon, however, might just run him very close. Her tango got her a second 35 of the competition, and was truly dizzying in the amount of spins she and Filthy Brendan Cole managed to pull off. Their speed, poise and synchronisation was more than a little breathtaking; more entertaining than even that, however, is the dynamic between the two. Having rid herself of her fear of low scores, Lisa is now all smiling, giggling and bubbly every week, thrilled with whatever feedback she gets from the judges and just generally over the moon all the time. Brendan, on the other hand, has the demeanour of a father trying to hide his disgust at his son's homosexuality. Every week he attempts not to explode with rage at not getting 10s off the judges; every week, his self-control wears thinner, and thinner, and thinner... thrills may well be forthcoming.

Which leaves us with Our Tom, who, for possibly the first time in the competition, was responsible for my favourite dance of the week. Having got shot of the side parting, Our Tom adopted a spikes 'n stubble combo in order to convey RAW LATIN SEX GRROWR for the Paso Doble. He also did the whole cape-wielding routine from the professional dancers' routine of a few weeks back, and dreadfully impressive it was too. He's not bad at the sexiness, Our Tom, and he's pretty handy with the drama too. As last week, he did make the odd mis-step, and the routine didn't entirely hang together; fortunately, the acting more than carried it through, and it was genuinely a thrilling watch. We knew Our Tom was driven, but we'd not seen him have to convey that in his dancing before - for a first go, it was excellent. Overhearing his reaction to going through to next week - "Oh no, we have to do the quick-step!" - was a bit less promising.

So at the moment, Strictly's on a bit of a knife-edge. We can be fairly certain Heather's going next week, but at least we're guaranteed a bit of a twist by finding out who joins her in the dance-off. The walls continue to close in for everyone (except John Sergeant), and hopefully the thinning of the field will bring about a bit more excitement than we've had these past couple of weeks. The programme could definitely use some.