Sunday, 30 August 2015

Inside Out (2015) - Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen

Inside Out Pixar

If Inside Out proves one thing, it's the masterful ability of Pixar to tell stories.

The concept is a bizarre one. Inside our heads live tiny characters that represent our key conflicting emotions and control us through an elaborate control panel. Memories are stored in bowling ball-like orbs that collect each day and are later stored. Key memories are stored separately and power up personality islands. Then there are lightbulbs of ideas, a Hollywood-esque dream studio, an Imagination Land of abstract thoughts, and a thought train to link them all together.

Yet somehow, within minutes, this all makes perfect sense. The opening exposition is carefully constructed to slowly layer each element, introducing this cartoon world of pop psychology piece by piece. From here, the narrative is perfectly paced: it's a hugely enjoyable fantasy journey through human emotions, whilst also providing exploration and development of character that builds towards an emotional climax. It's clear that story arc is of primary importance in Pixar's work, forming a central core to the film that's established before the aesthetics.

Really, this is two parallel stories in one. On the outside, we have ten year old girl Riley dealing with moving home, losing friends and generally learning to grow up - notions that children and adults can relate to. On the inside, we have the cartoon world of the brain, its colourful and emotional inhabitants who must learn to do what's best for Riley. What's so clever is how these two strands relate. The writers have managed to convey quite complex psychological concepts in an imaginative yet understandable way. As with all Pixar films, Inside Out is an entertaining adventure for children, whilst adults will dig deeper into its layered narrative.

What Pixar also do well is to tap into the zeitgeist. Having a girl protagonist who's something of a tomboy (she plays ice hockey) fits well with the current wave of feminism, whilst remaining a neutral avatar for the whole audience. Meanwhile, comedienne of the moment Amy Poehler voices lead emotion Joy - her voice instantly recognisable and well-suited to the character.

Inside Out doesn't quite have the distinct aesthetic charm of Pixar's best - the characters feel a little too generic - but it tells a thought-provoking story that's joyful and sad in equal measure. You will probably shed a tear.

4/5

Watch: Inside Out is out now.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Ella Eyre - Feline

Ella Eyre - Feline

Jess Glynne's debut 'I Cry When I Laugh' was released last week and has swiftly hit the top of the charts. That's despite the singer suffering from 'Featured Singer-itus' a not so rare condition where a featured vocalist fails to produce satisfying solo material.

Ella Eyre is bound to suffer the same fate.

In fact, copy and paste this review of Jess Glynne and switch her name to Ella Eyre and every Clean Bandit mention to Rudimental. There. Done.

Just as Glynne spent her album attempting to imitate the success she found with the dance-classical band, Eyre has gone through the exact same process, filling her album with the D&B meets London Soul sound of Rudimental. Together, If I Go, Always, Good Times - they all sound the same and they all sound like Rudimental. And that's just the first four tracks.

And as with Glynne, it's not to say Eyre isn't a talented vocalist, with a rich soulful tone that lends itself to more than just one genre.

Also, THAT hair.

The key difference between Glynne and Eyre is that where Glynne released her album off a string of solo number ones, Eyre is yet to find solo success at all. Instead, she's still best known as "that girl with the big hair who sang on the best Rudimental song that won a Brit award".

That in itself is a real shame. Eyre deserves more. Sassy pop track Comeback and the shuffling Deeper are both great singles that failed to light up the charts. What went wrong? Joe Public currently has no clue as to the personality of Ella Eyre. And after listening to the mediocre 'Feline' they'll be left none-the-wiser.

It might seem unfair to compare Glynne and Eyre. But when their albums are released within a week of one another, the very nature of the charts forces a comparison. And judging by past success, it's clear who will come out on top.

2/5

Gizzle's Choice:
* Comeback
* Gravity
* Deeper

Listen: 'Feline' is available now.


You Won't Succeed On Broadway If You Don't Have Any Jews @ The St James Theatre

You Won't Succeed On Broadway If You Don't Have Any Jews @ The St James Theatre

Pick a musical. Any musical. The chances are, the composer was Jewish. No, really.

Monty Python may have coined the phrase for their musical Spamalot, but You Won’t Succeed On Broadway If You Don’t Have Any Jews only proves the truth behind the joke. The show, arriving in London after performances in Tel Aviv, is both history lesson and entertainment.

Beginning with the 1930s and composing brothers George & Ira Gershwin, the cast take us on a tour – revue style – through the annals of musical theatre history, right up to present day. Along the way there are songs from some of Broadway’s biggest hits: Oklahoma, Guys and Dolls, Cabaret, Les Misérables, Rent, Hairspray and, of course, Fiddler on the Roof. Each decade is introduced by voiceover and projected animation, providing an interesting (if a little patronising) dash of education alongside the music.

The cast comprises names big and small, including West End star Sarah Earnshaw; the first British Fantine in Les Mis Jackie Marks; Sophie Evans of BBC series ‘Over The Rainbow’ fame; and Lloyd Daniels who recently swapped (minor) ‘X Factor’ fame for Joseph’s famous coloured coat. The twelve strong singing cast are joined by six dancers who add some welcome visual interest.

As with this form of revue show, there are a few inconsistencies, wobbles and odd directorial decisions. For instance, Sophie Evans gives a graceful rendition of (what else?) “Over The Rainbow” that’s almost ruined by distracting interpretive dance; David Albury croons “Summertime” with a smooth tone but too many pop riffs; and Yiftach Mizrahi runs out of steam alongside the dancers in “Luck Be A Lady”.

More often than not, though, the risks are successful – Danny Lane, in particular, offers a stunning turn singing “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”, a song usually performed by a woman. And after the exuberant Act One finale of “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof, the second act is a much stronger affair – clearly the cast are more comfortable with modern material: from full company numbers such as “Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast and “One Night Only” from Dreamgirls (sung brilliantly by Earnshaw), to smaller ensemble numbers “Four Jews in a Room” from March of the Falsettos and “Getting Married Today” from Company (again, stolen by Earnshaw), to an emotional revisiting of “I Dreamed a Dream” by Jackie Marks that’s later toppled by Rebecca Wicking’s heart-wrenching “Papa Can You Hear Me?” from Yentel. As a whole, the cast are superb and a joy to watch, ensuring this is an entertaining evening of song, dance and fun.

If there’s one major flaw, though, it’s the glaring and somewhat offensive omission of Leonard Bernstein (who’s only passingly mentioned in relation to Sondheim) and Marvin Hamlisch (whose score for A Chorus Line also receives a mere passing mention). I can only assume this is for some sort of legal reason as no musical history lesson - Jewish or otherwise - is complete without them.

4/5

Watch: You Won’t Succeed On Broadway… runs at the St James Theatre until 5th September.

You Won't Succeed On Broadway If You Don't Have Any Jews @ The St James Theatre

You Won't Succeed On Broadway If You Don't Have Any Jews @ The St James Theatre

You Won't Succeed On Broadway If You Don't Have Any Jews @ The St James Theatre
Photos: Pamela Raith

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Thoroughly Modern Millie @ The Landor Theatre

Thoroughly Modern Millie @ The Landor Theatre

Being based on a 1967 film set in the 1920s may not seem all that modern, but it’s surprising how the musical Thoroughly Modern Millie (which premiered on Broadway in 2002) has remained relevant. A comic pastiche of classic Broadway musicals, its narrative follows the young Millie Dillmount as she moves to the Big Apple and plans to marry for money rather than love. The feminist agenda – an independent woman taking control of her destiny – is as ripe in 2015 as it ever has been.

It’s a shame, then, that this production feels half-baked. For such a whacky show, the cast lack energy as they perform on a mostly empty Art Deco stage. Francesca Lara Gordon’s Millie doesn’t quite have the zany yet ditzy attitude to carry the plot; Ben Stacey’s Jimmy lacks masculine charm and presence; whilst Chipo Kureya’s Muzzy Van Hosmere isn’t the scene stealing diva you might expect. By contrast, Steph Parry’s Mrs Meers, with a dodgy (intentionally) Chinese accent that borders on racist, feels over-egged – an outdated villainous character from the show’s past that undermines its modernist themes.

Musically, the show follows this characterisation. The capable band is minimal, playing a reduced orchestration that lacks oomph; likewise, there are some sweetly sung vocal performances (from Gordon especially), but it all feels too underpowered, too nice, too polite. The showstopping numbers don’t have the razzmatazz or emotional depth to really wow.

That’s not to say the cast lack talent – far from it. They just need to be pushed harder by director Matthew Iliffe, to heighten the characterisation, to boost the vocals, to raise their game that bit further. This is a young cast who don’t quite fit their assigned parts, though on the periphery Christina Meehan shows great comedy in a variety of roles, both Charlie Johnson and Thomas Inge are supremely skilled dancers, and Sarah-Marie Maxwell has the characterisation of the giggly, klutzy Miss Dorothy Brown on point.

It’s in the ensemble numbers that the show eventually comes alive, though these are too few and far between and sometimes feel too big for the limited space of the Landor Theatre. Sam Spencer Lane’s Charleston-inspired choreography is fast-paced and lively, performed with energy and sharpness by the cast, whilst the tap numbers are skilfully danced. These moments prove that Thoroughly Modern Millie is thoroughly entertaining, though it could be so much more.

3/5

Watch: Thoroughly Modern Millie runs at the Landor Theatre until 13th September.

Thoroughly Modern Millie @ The Landor Theatre

Thoroughly Modern Millie @ The Landor Theatre

Thoroughly Modern Millie @ The Landor Theatre
Photos: Richard Davenport

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Jess Glynne - I Cry When I Laugh

Jess Glynne - I Cry When I Laugh

Featured singer-itus. It’s a condition that few featured vocalists have ever managed to avoid, becoming mere extras in the annals of music history rather than fully-fledged popstars in their own right. Jess Glynne, sadly, is unlikely to escape that same fate.

That’s not to say Glynne is untalented – far from it. She’s leant her vocals to a number of different tracks on the strength of her talent alone, coming to the attention of many on Route 94’s My Love, before truly breaking through on Clean Bandit’s Rather Be. She sings with a powerful, reedy tone and husky upper register that’s immediately recognisable. Vocally Glynne really lets loose on ballad Take Me Home – a welcome respite from all the dance beats. It’s hardly Adele though.

The main issue with ‘I Cry When I Laugh’ is Glynne’s frequent pairing with Clean Bandit. When Rather Be (and later Real Love) emerged last year, the band’s mix of classical and dance music sounded fresh. Fast forward a year and on her solo material Glynne is still trading on that same template – annoyingly catchy vocal hooks, bright strings, house piano and deep beats. Nestling her own tracks amongst those of her collaborators only highlights the lack of soul and distinct personality on the album, her music mostly plastic imitations of Clean Bandit. The fact there’s a duet with the Queen of Boring Emeli Sandé simply fuels the fire.

That’s not to say there aren’t some decent tracks here. Not Letting Go with Tinie Tempah (one of the songs of summer 2015) is criminally only available on the deluxe edition, but elsewhere Real Love is as strong a pop song as ever and the acoustic version of My Love is beautiful in its simplicity. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find the disco funk of You Can Find Me, the stuttering beats of Why Me, and the staccato horns of It Ain’t Right. Equally there are the identikit singles Hold My Hand, Ain’t Got Far To Go and Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself, plus the weirdly Indian influenced, sadly-not-a-cover-of-Taylor-Swift Bad Blood.

There’s very little here you won’t have heard before: whether literally (in terms of previously released singles and features), or sonically. The album boasts a surprising amount of number one singles and no doubt this album will ride that wave to the top of the charts. But Jess Glynne’s time is now – as a solo artist she doesn’t have the personality or longevity to stick around.

3/5

Gizzle’s Choice:
* Real Love
* You Can Find Me
* Why Me

Listen: ‘I Cry When I Laugh’ is available now.


Tuesday, 25 August 2015

FKA Twigs - M3LL155X

FKA Twigs - M3LL155X

It’s so hard in this day and age of pop to come up with a new sound, yet that’s exactly what FKA Twigs has done, culminating in last year’s debut album ‘LP1’. Sure, you can hear influences in her spectral R&B sound (from the likes of Björk to Aaliyah), but her music is unique, instantly recognisable and utterly fresh.

That remains true for this new EP, ‘M3LL155X’. Far from being offcuts from the album, these five songs are amongst her best yet (some were even written before the album). Sex remains high on the agenda – opening track Figure 8 alone features elongated groans and lyrics such as “I’ve a baby inside, but I won’t give birth ‘till you insert yourself inside of me”. For the most part, though, the sex is tinged with jealousy and issues of control. “Stop playing with those other girls, you know it makes me jealous baby” she sings on I’m Your Doll before the chorus of “I’m your doll, wind me up…dress me up…love me rough”. In Time then deals with the aftermath: “In time, your hands on my body will resonate through me like they did before”. These lyrics are often accompanied by a lower vocal range, quite literally adding depth to her music and sounding more relatable than before.

Then there’s the production, as off-kilter and abstract as you’d expect and filled with tiny touches that reward repeated listening. That said, ‘M3LL155X’ contains some of her most accessible music to date – or perhaps we’re just becoming more accustomed to her sound? Either way, more than ever her music sounds like R&B stretched, squeezed and morphed through her own twisted filter: from the clipped beats of Figure 8, to the melodic hooks of I’m Your Doll and Mothercreep, and the vogueing of Glass & Patron (“hold that pose for me”).

In Time, though, is the real highlight of the EP and the closest Twigs gets to typical R&B with its traditional structure, regular beat and earworm chorus. If ‘M3LL155X’ proves one thing it’s that Twigs is surely capable of spanning multiple genres and audiences. And with the EP accompanied by an extended video that's as dark and bizarre as we've come to expect, there really is no end to her talents.

5/5

Listen: ‘M3LL155X’ is available now.




Saturday, 15 August 2015

Carly Rae Jepsen - Emotion

Carly Rae Jepsen - Emotion

I confess I'd discounted Carly Rae. Call Me Maybe may have been the biggest hit of 2012, but album 'Kiss' that followed was a squeaky, sickly sweet affair. And does anyone even remember her 2008 debut 'Tug Of War'? With 'Emotion', though, she's proven she's more than a one-hit-wonder - she's a bona fide popstar.

What a popstar needs is not just one catchy hook-laden chorus, but a whole album's worth. And that's exactly what Carly Rae has delivered with 'Emotion'. You will have already heard the fizzing I Really Like You - a cutesy, anthemic little pop number that you should already really really really really really really like - but there's also the giddy rush of Run Away With Me and its glorious saxophone riff, the bubbling title track, the widescreen joy of Gimmie Love and so, so much more.

Perhaps too much more. The deluxe edition is seventeen tracks long: an extensive collection of songs that does dip a little in quality towards the end. Yet as the title suggests, she covers a variety of emotions over the course of those songs, predominantly falling in and out of love. Mostly this is a frothy but always enjoyable pop album that's quite simply fun to listen to from start to finish.

The overall 80s sound certainly takes a cue from Taylor Swift's '1989', though lyrically it doesn't quite have the same depth. Yet the similarities are understandable with the likes of Max Martin, Mattman and Robin, and Shellback behind the production. There are even writing credits as varied as Sia, Dev Hynes, Ariel Rechtshaid and Greg Kurstin. So it's quite the team behind 'Emotion' - some of the best writers and producers in modern pop, in fact. The result is an impossibly polished 80s-influenced album, delivered through the effervescent personality of Carly Rae - just on the right side of adorable/nauseating.

Sprinkled liberally throughout are plenty of unexpected moments too. There's the excitable "yeah" in I Really Like You that comes in a beat early; the plunging bass notes of Gimmie Love; the silky, hushed vocals of the Prince-influenced All That; the chromatic chord change in the chorus of Making The Most Of The Night; or the 90s house feel of I Didn't Just Come Here To Dance.

Most unexpected of all? It's this good.

4/5

Gizzle's Choice:
* Run Away With Me
* I Really Like You
* Gimmie Love

Listen: 'Emotion' is released on 21st August.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Julio Bashmore - Knockin' Boots

Julio Bashmore - Knockin' Boots

2015 has already seen some brilliant British dance albums in the shape of Jamie XX's 'In Colour' and The Chemical Brothers' 'Born In The Echoes' amongst others. 'Knockin' Boots', the debut album from Bristol-based producer Julio Bashmore, could just top them - at least until Disclosure release their forthcoming 'Caracal' next month.

Bashmore first broke through in 2012 with his deep house track Au Seve, though 'Knockin' Boots' is the sound of the past - a recreation of vintage house sounds, inspired by its Chicago roots in the music of Frankie Knuckles and the French House movement of the 90s. This may seem derivative, but with so many dance artists following Disclosure down the deep house path, it's refreshing to see an artist change tact and celebrate the genre's heritage.

And so we have the giddy joy of the Daft Punk inspired She Ain't; the hard disco funk of Rhythm of Auld; the smooth vocals of For Your Love; the chopped spoken vocals of What's Mine is Mine; the African grooves of Umuntu; and the sun-dappled synths of Simple Love. In Bashmore's own words, house music is essentially "chopped-up soul music" - in no track is that clearer than lead single Holding On, with its warm synths, skittering beats and harmonious vocals.

The album flows like a DJ set, so whilst you'll find some lighter tracks with tuneful melodies and synth hooks (Holding On, Let Me Be Your Weakness), there are also harder tracks with dry beats and rhythmic samples (What's Mine is Mine, Bark). These tracks can become a little repetitive and lack the invention of elsewhere. What you won't find on 'Knockin' Boots' are the electro-pop hooks of Daft Punk, or the chart-topping collaborations of Disclosure.

What you will find is a serious dance album. Bashmore isn't concerned with pop or crossover appeal, instead he's delivered an authentic dance album that combines house music past with the polish of the present, with plenty of his own flourishes. Equally, it's an infectious, funky rush of an album: a serious history lesson disguised as fun.

4/5

Gizzle's Choice:
* Holding On
* Let Me Be Your Weakness
* Simple Love

Listen: 'Knockin' Boots' is out now.



Thursday, 13 August 2015

The Who's Tommy @ The Greenwich Theatre

The Who's Tommy @ The Greenwich Theatre

1969. The Who release their seminal album ‘Tommy’, a ‘rock opera’ concept album concerning the titular “deaf dumb and blind kid” who we all know from Pinball Wizard. It was a breakthrough hit for the band - only furthered by their performance at Woodstock the same year – that paved the way for future rock bands with its harder sound, and broke away from the pop norm established by the Beatles. Its legacy has proven to be hugely influential.

Cut to present day and an early 90s Broadway musical based on the album is being revived in London twenty years after it was first seen here, forty years after the film also based on the album was released, and fifty years since The Who were established. But does it really evoke the spirit of the band and of the album?

The Who first blasted onto the pop scene with the rebellious My Generation, but the only act of rebellion here is the disregard for storytelling. The show follows the same (loose) ‘plot’ as the concept album, using the same songs in mostly the same order (with plenty of repetitive reprises). It follows the life of the eponymous pinball wizard: traumatised into a state of psychosomatic catatonia after witnessing a family murder, molested by his uncle, and bullied by his cousin, Tommy discovers a talent for playing pinball. Soon he finds fame which evolves into a bizarre cult. It’s understandable that in album form this story would be told in an abstract manner, but theatre audiences expect more. Here, the plot is hinted at through strange lyrics, stunted dialogue, elaborate dance routines and (of course) music, but it’s mostly left for the audience to decipher any form of meaning or feeling towards the characters – if indeed there is any at all.

One of the major criticisms of the album is that whilst the songs may work individually, the overall narrative arc doesn’t always flow. The same can be said here. Translating the plot from one artform to another requires more than has been offered here – the story deserves to be fleshed out and visual spectacle would provide aesthetic interest beyond the barebones staging, simple lighting and white-washed costumes. Equally, the abstract storytelling proves more enticing than a standard jukebox musical, it’s just underdeveloped.

Settle into the groove of the show, though, and there are some intriguing individual numbers. That’s largely down to the talented cast who perform with the high energy and strong vocals the music demands. It’s certainly better suited to male voices than female, but the impressively piercing tenors of Ashley Birchall (Tommy), Giovanni Spano (Cousin Kevin) and Danny Becker (ensemble) in particular more than fit the bill. The choreography is sometimes frantic but always exciting.

The cast are let down by the band, however. The Who are known for the high volume and distorted guitars that since became standard practice for rock bands, with guitarist Pete Townshend and drummer Keith Moon regularly smashing their instruments. Here the on-stage band sound far too polite. Sure, they aren’t meant to distract from the performers, but the music fails to live up to the band, lacking flair and bite. Watching the guitarist mime smashing his guitar at the very end post-bows sums up the show – this is The Who, but not as we know them.

3/5

Watch: Tommy runs at the Greenwich Theatre until 23rd August.

The Who's Tommy @ The Greenwich Theatre

The Who's Tommy @ The Greenwich Theatre
Photos: Claire Bilyard

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

A Naughty Night with Noël Coward @ Old Red Lion Theatre

A Naughty Night with Noël Coward @ Old Red Lion Theatre

Playwright, composer, director and performer Noël Coward was known for his flamboyance and comedic wit – two things that are missing from this ‘naughty’ night from Proud Haddock Productions.

It comprises two of Coward’s plays – We Were Dancing(1935) and The Better Half (1921) – that both concern extramarital affairs. In the former, a married woman falls in love with a man she’s just met, though they soon realise they have nothing in common and their spark soon fizzles. In the latter, a woman is stuck in an unhappy marriage and encourages (in a back handed manner) her husband to embark on an affair. Both plays, then, explore the superficiality of marriage and the impossibility of women, set in the elegant high society of so much of Coward’s work. The women are in control and the men merely helpless pawns in their love games.

The total running time is just over an hour for both plays, meaning these are little more than frivolous sketches. Together they parallel one another and suggest an overarching theme, but even in the short running time they feel like one joke stretched out. These are far from Coward’s best work – if anything they are a snapshot back in time, providing an intriguing look into his lesser known work, whilst failing to prove their relevance.

Each play is led by an excellent performer. Lianne Harvey amuses as Louise Charteris in We Were Dancing, evoking a naïve and hopeless romantic caught between two men – her past and future. In The Better Half, Tracey Pickup offers a tour-de-force performance as Alice, setting a frantic pace that drives the narrative flow. And in both plays Tom Self provides some musical accompaniment using Coward’s own songs. As a whole, though, the cast lack the chemistry to really bring out the comedy, producing titters rather than laughter from the audience. The two plays are bizarre and the performances border on eccentric – but the night as a whole is not bizarre or eccentric enough to really come alive.

2/5

Watch: A Naughty Night with Noël Coward runs at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 29th August.

A Naughty Night with Noël Coward @ Old Red Lion Theatre

A Naughty Night with Noël Coward @ Old Red Lion Theatre
Photos: Ben Coverdale