Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Ghost: The Musical @ Piccadilly Theatre

What began as a sweet yet tragic love story has become a piece of ridicule, endlessly parodied for the infamous pottery scene and its sexual innuendo.  Now, it's been reworked for the musical stage into a magical show.

Ghost probably won't strike you as the ideal material for a musical and the show never quite escapes this preconception.  It's at its best when it focuses on the central love story between Sam and Molly that manages to remain tender and realistic despite the stylised (over)acting.  Sure, the murder mystery isn't so much a mystery, but the relationship between the protagonists is well played.  However, a number of ensemble numbers have been shoehorned in to justify the existence of the extended cast and whilst the robotic choreography looks great, these songs add little to the narrative.  Then again, that criticism could be aimed at the music as a whole - it's nice to listen to and well sung, but ultimately little more than superfluous fluff to condone the musical adaptation with some rather hackneyed lyrics in places.

The main attraction here is the set.  It's complex, folding in and out of each scene like a pop-up book.  The show maintains its film heritage with fantastic use of screens and projections that add a real cinematic quality and an urban feel to the setting.  The special effects are utterly convincing, bringing the ghost to life - well, so to speak; clever use of lighting and smoke had the audience totally fooled, even if the dummies didn't.  In particular, the subway scenes are imaginatively directed.  And if that's what it looks like, don't ever let me get dragged to hell...

As a whole though, the production feels like a mish-mash of different influences.  There's definitely a Matrix feel, what with the projected descending symbols in the office scenes, the gospel singing Oda Mae as the spirit guide (a.k.a The Oracle) and the rastafarian subway ghost as the fighting mentor (a.k.a Morpheus).  The music too follows this trend, mixing elements of Rent, Fame, Hair and We Will Rock You.  Overall the music has a contemporary feel that suits the modern setting and subtle use of Unchained Melody weaves its way through the orchestration.  It's not particularly memorable as a whole, but Molly's 'With You' was a particular emotional highlight and beautifully sung by Caissie Levy.  Why, then, did the writers decided to include a tap number with a cast of misfit ghosts just after Sam's death?  It's ridiculous and totally out of place, making a mockery of the intended emotion.  And whilst Oda Mae's gospel/funk numbers added some humour, they detract from the intensity of the narrative.

Though the production was slick, the show itself isn't as tightly focused as it could be.  Nevertheless, the set and special effects are enthralling and revitalise an overly parodied story.  It may not be top of your West End 'To See' list, but it's well worth a view.


Monday, 27 June 2011

Beyonce - 1+1

"You are witnessing a dream! I always wanted to be a rock star!"

Certainly this weekend's Glastonbury belonged to Beyonce as she wowed those fortunate enough to get tickets and those of us sitting green-eyed at home.  And now this week she will undoubtedly be topping the charts with her latest album '4', perfectly timed to capitalise on her success.  The album is book-ended by two utterly contrasting tracks: 1+1 and Run The World, which both featured on her Glastonbury set-list.

It's pretty unusual to begin an album with a ballad.  In fact, '4' feels a bit backwards - slower songs gradually making way for upbeat numbers to climax with Run The World as little more than an afterthoughtIt emphasises the change of pace for this album - sassy alter-ego Sasha Fierce is all but forgotten with a much heavier reliance on power ballads.  Beyonce is arguably at her best with sexy upbeat tracks, allowing a total performance with singing and dancing, but as a whole '4' is certainly a showcase for the star's vocal talents.

1+1 in particular.  It's a tender love song with a captivating vocal.  The production simply supports the power and emotion of the song, slowburning towards the climactic guitar solo.  Like many songs on the album it's got a very 80's feel (influences ranging from power ballads to funk to Whitney Houston), but it's totally modernised.

It's clear then who is on top.  Who runs the [pop] world?  Beyonce.


Sunday, 26 June 2011

Bridesmaids (2011) - Paul Feig

We've had the Royals and wedding season is in full flow.  But this summer it's all about boys vs girls; stags vs hens; The Hangover: Part 2 vs Bridesmaids.

The first scene in Bridesmaids immediately highlights the differences between the sexes: men like it hard and fast, women like it slow.

Of course I'm talking about the jokes.  The Hangover is a riot of non-stop laughs - crazy scenario builds on crazy scenario with little concern for narrative.  It's insane, random and shallow yet utterly hilarious.  But Bridesmaids has a secret heart - the jokes are all a facade.  In truth, it's masquerading as Bridget Jones 4, with all the Mr Wrong vs Mr Right, bitching women and BFFs you can imagine.  When the jokes slow down it feels...depressing.  It's not a film about a wedding but a film about a woman trying to find her purpose in life.  Of course, hilarity does ensue and there are enough shocking moments to keep the entertainment rolling along nicely - though as you'd expect these come more from the extra characters.  Our protagonist Annie (Kristen Wiig) is very much central to the film, relying on her dry delivery for many a laugh.  There are enough jokes to keep everyone amused, but perhaps it's the (overwhelmingly) female audience who will relate more to the scenarios and characters involved.

So who wins the summer wedding battle?  The girls clinch it, due to novelty over The Hangover: Part 2's formulaic approach.  But the overall war goes to the combined efforts of the Hangover boys - I'm sticking with the lads.


Saturday, 25 June 2011

Much Ado About Nothing @ The Globe

There really is no better place to watch Shakespeare than at the Globe, providing not only a theatrical experience but an historical one too.  The wooden architecture provides an authentic and magical backdrop to any of the Bard's works.

This Summer's season includes the witty comedy Much Ado About Nothing.  The plot may be a whimsical romantic comedy, but in the manner of Love's Labours Lost or A Midsummer Night's Dream the play offers plenty of depth.  Though written largely in prose rather than verse, it's still full of jocular language; amusing puns firing out from double-edged tongues.  The scenario lends itself to deception and mistaken identities as Shakespeare explores provocatively the roles of each gender in loving relationships.  The 'will-they-won't-they' subplot between Beatrice and Benedick is especially intriguing and still relevant to much modern drama.

This production was intelligently performed in traditional style, the colourful cast of characters proving consistently hilarious.  The actors were incredibly relaxed on stage and their enjoyment was infectious; their performances were natural with plenty of ad-libbing.  Much of this involved interacting with the audience and whilst this was always entertaining, the audience's reactions sometimes bordered on pantomime (call me pretentious but I don't condone booing at the villain...).  Of course, Beatrice and Benedick (Eve Best and Charles Edwards) stood out as the more interesting and witty couple, but there were comedy performances abound by the whole cast - Best and Paul Hunter (Dogberry) had especially good comic-timing.  Stephen Warbeck's music was well employed, the arabic feel of the clarinet and spanish guitar perfectly setting the mood.

Sure, standing for three hours is murder on your back but totally worth it for this thoroughly enjoyable production.


Thursday, 23 June 2011

Birdy - Shelter

Performing covers is a risky business and Birdy (real name Jasmine Van den Bogaerde) provides a perfect case study.

Her debut single offered an innocent version of Bon Iver's Skinny Love, but it couldn't stand up to the original, lacking the maturity to match Justin Vernon's dark melancholia.  But with Shelter her immaturity works in her favour, her fragility and vulnerability haunting the listener.  The XX's original sounds dry by comparison.  Again, the production is simply voice and piano, her voice sounding ghostly and pale.  It doesn't quite hit the gothic heights of Bat for Lashes or Florence and the Machine, but perhaps in time this will come.

Still, it begs the question: when will Birdy be releasing some original music of her own?


Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Bombay Bicycle Club - Shuffle

I have very little to say about this.  It's simply a brilliantly crafted song; a song that has everything you could want from a song; a song that will be played VERY loudly ALL summer long.  Splendid stuff.

It's available to download from tomorrow.  Bring on midnight.


Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Cher Lloyd - Swagger Jagger

" should get some of your own"

Here comes superstar wannabe Cher Lloyd and Will.I.Am with their swag bag, stealing ideas from all over the shop.  The melody is basically Oh My Darling Clementine; the "rap" is just Ke$ha style talking; the synth ripped from every recent dance track.  Essentially, this is just the dregs of Will.I.Am's Black Eyed Peas output that he crapped out on the floor and has been scooped up by Lloyd as she undeservedly grovels at his feet. 

More importantly, what the hell is "swagger jagger"?  As ever, Urban Dictionary proves most useful:

"A person who always cramps your style. A form of hatin'"

And there was me thinking she was singing about Mick Jagger.  "My swagger's in check", she sings.  In check it may be, but her musical ability certainly isn't.  Instead she's managed to write the musical equivalent of Chinese water torture - this song will get in your head, spread like a germ and slowly destroy you.

I'd genuinely rather listen to Rebecca Black Friday on repeat.


Monday, 20 June 2011

Sunday, 19 June 2011

1888 - Silhouette Theatre Productions @The Union Theatre

"1888 a dark era of change..."

Not so much in this production - a jolly, riotous laugh of a musical.  There are those musicals that offer cheesy, camp fun and those, such as Sweeney Todd, that explore the darker side of life.  1888 attempts to straddle the two but, in its current state, requires more focus to bring the disparate elements and ideas together.

Set in this infamous year, the plot depicts a group of London lowlives and high society players as they get swept along in the Jack the Ripper saga.  Unfortunately, these aren't the most interesting of characters and I can't help but feel a musical based on Jack himself would have been more thrilling.  The characters never truly feel in danger and the narrative lacks suspense and mystery.  Instead, the theatre is filled with vibrant comedy and music hall numbers that fail to merge into a coherent whole.  Structurally, the songs are not integrated into the narrative, acting more as stand-alone set-pieces, each introduced simply with a piano chord.  The lyrics in the more sinister moments were also rather grotesque, though overall a darker, more twisted mood would be welcome.  Perhaps the music hall numbers could have been used as a structuring device, Cabaret style, to help drive the narrative along?

The Union Theatre is a wonderful setting, its cobbled floors and musty smell offering an authentic 19th century feel.  The theatre space was very well dressed and clever use of staging utilised different areas of the room.  The cast brought the space to life with comedy performances and (I suspect) much ad-libbing.  Steph Hampton in particular had expert comic timing and a real sense of pathos - something the more tender moments were generally missing.  Simultaneously, the theatre worked against the cast, highlighting some tuning problems in the exposed singing (though Matthew Ibbotson's voice shone) and offering little space for the dance numbers.

Whilst the performances were entertaining, the show itself feels a little rough around the edges.  But, this being a new musical, it is still a work in progress.  With an overhauled narrative structure, an augmented cast and a less synthesised musical score, the show does have potential - it just needs an injection of dark change.


Saturday, 18 June 2011

Kung Fu Panda (2008) - Mark Osborne

The amount of Chinese stereotyping in this film borders on offensive.  But it's so charming you can't help but fall in love.

Right from the off, the visual impact of the introduction will grab your attention.  The hand-drawn style imitates traditional Chinese shadow puppetry and modern Asian anime for stunning effect.  This continues with the film proper, spectacular backdrops of mountains coated with cherry blossoms, haloed with swirling clouds.  The world is filled with anthropomorphic animals, all typical residents of China - tigers, monkeys, cranes and pigs - yet voiced by an array of American talent, from Dustin Hoffman, to Angelina Jolie and Seth Rogen. 

Central to this is Po, our protagonist panda.  In a bizarre twist of fate, the noodle selling panda is chosen to become the dragon warrior, to protect the land from the evil Tai Lung.  The plot takes inspiration from a number of martial arts films as Po learns the art of kung fu to fulfill his destiny.  Comedy is rife, but largely slapstick - the script offers little innuendo for the more mature viewer.  But this is a children's film after all and will undoubtedly appeal to the kid in all of us.

The only problem is with Po himself.  Jack Black is completely typecast and his "total awesomeness" grates quickly, jarring with the Asian context.  Sure, the plot, visuals and music are derivative of Chinese culture, but the film as a whole is so fun you'll be grinning from ear to ear. 

The sequel, out this month, never registered on my radar.  Now I can't wait.


Thursday, 16 June 2011

The Kooks - The Saboteur

So it appears The Kooks have spent the last couple of years smoking something very illegal.

In the past, The Kooks have been compared to many of their contemporaries, most prominently Arctic Monkeys and The Fratellis.  Together they were largely responsible for the Brit indie-pop invasion of the mid noughties.  The band's new material could be seen as something of a retaliation, harking back to their primary influences: The Beatles, The Stones and other British bands of the '60s and '70s.

The result is The Saboteur, a track that's more psychedelic prog rock than indie-pop.  It's far more experimental than what you'd expect from the band (especially considering their last big single was Always Where I Need To Be) and sounds almost Pink Floyd-esque in placesIt eschews traditional pop structure, instead choosing constant shifts in time, key and style, with more twists and turns than a Dan Brown novel. 

It's certainly a new direction for the band, but the jumble of ideas lacks cohesion and the pop hooks that are the band's trademark.  In some ways they've lost their core sound and instead have written a track that is more self-gratifying than enjoyable for their listeners.


Monday, 13 June 2011

City and Colour - Fragile Bird

Fragile Bird probably isn't what most City and Colour fans were expecting from songwriter Dallas Green.  There's a distinct change from debut album 'Sometimes', featuring largely acoustic tracks such as Save Your Scissors and Comin' Home, to third album 'Little Hell' (pictured).  It still contains hauntingly melancholic tracks (O' Sister in particular), but tracks like Fragile Bird exemplify a move away from the signature acoustic guitar.  What remains though is Green's fragile vocal and songwriting talent.

The opening distorted guitars immediately set the tone for a much rougher sound, with a much greater emphasis on bass and percussion.  There's even an electric guitar solo.  It's the total opposite of the treble heavy acoustic songs we're used to, as if Green is purposefully trying to mark a very clear change.  The country and blues influences prevail though - this is unwaveringly American in style and undoubtedly Green's work. 

Is this a change for the better?  The acoustic tracks will always be the more touching, but the new sound is a more hopeful distraction from the durge of melancholia.


Sunday, 12 June 2011

Spring Awakening UK Tour @ The Greenwich Theatre

I'm not a fan of Spring Awakening.  I know that may seem sacrilege after all the awards the show's won and it's popularity in the musical theatre world.  But it's never appealed.  For me, the show is just a bunch of juvenile teenagers jumping around complaining about the bitch of living.  Until now this view was unfounded, based largely on YouTube clips, although this production has done little to change my mind.  What it did prove, though, is the power of a truly talented cast.

The show was adapted by Sater and Sheik from an 1891 German play by Frank Wedekind, which proved highly controversial in its day due to the sexual subject matter.  It premiered on Broadway in 2006, making stars of Glee's Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff. 

So what's it about?  Sex.  Set in 19th Century Germany, the show explores the lives of a group of teenagers as they discover sexual awakening.  It covers everything, albeit briefly: from passion and lust, to homosexuality, pregnancy, rape and abortion.  By doing so, however, it feels disjointed.  The narrative flits from scene to scene and character to character but lacks depth in its characterisation and the emotional weight necessary to be truly shocking, straying at times too far into melodrama.

A key problem is the question of audience.  Adults may take the opportunity to look back fondly on their childhood but may also take the juvenile viewpoint.  Yet the predominantly teenage audience (the same age as the characters) clearly felt uncomfortable, sniggering through the more sexual moments.  As such, the show falls into an odd void.

Then there's the music.  The folk-rock style helps to bring the story into the twenty-first century and the many chorus harmonies are well arranged.  The two best songs are Mama Who Bore Me and its following reprise, which effectively sets the tone of the show and The Bitch of Living, which is catchy enough.  But tellingly, these are the first two songs - the subsequent numbers sound all too familiar.  This monotonous approach serves the lack of characterisation, which would benefit from more distinct musical styles.  The modern lyrics also seem at odds with the sometimes stilted language of the script.

It's therefore testament to the quality cast that, despite the show's flaws, I still thoroughly enjoyed this production.  Many members of the cast are fresh out of drama school, bringing the youthful exuberance needed to portray these characters.  Whilst Jonathan Eio (Melchior) and Victoria Serra (Wendla) stand out as the protagonists, the standard of singing was exceptional across the board, the performances enthralling.  The on-stage band were tight and, as a whole, the production was as slick and professional as you'd expect from a Broadway show.

The moral of the story?  No matter what the material, talent will always shine through.


Saturday, 11 June 2011

A Midsummer Night's Dream - ENO @ The Coliseum

There are two dichotomous schools of thought when it comes to opera direction - an artform (sometimes unfairly) renowned for its stuffiness, snobbery and over-intellectualism.  The first, like last week's (flawed) Go Traviata!, intends to dispel these views of the genre by striving to make opera accessible to all.  By contrast, the second school conforms to operatic misconceptions by smothering the plot in gratuitous pretention and over-complication.

Unfortunately, this production of Britten's masterful opera falls into the latter school - literally.  Not only does Alden's direction confuse the plot, it loses Britten's own intenions for the opera.

Rather than set the opera in an enchanted forest as expected, Alden shoehorns it into a schoolyard setting.  The notion behind this is to reflect Britten's "lifelong relationship with school and schooldays" and, presumably by extension, schoolboys - the crude 'BOYS' sign above the doorway is a clear indication of this male dominated, homoerotic world.  Innocence and experience is a key theme of much of Britten's work, from his operas to his settings of William Blake's poetry.  As such the schoolyard setting almost makes sense. 

Taking inspiration from the life of the composer is a clever and relevant approach to direction.  But instead of focusing on the plot of the opera, Alden focuses too much on Britten himself, thereby ruining the production.  Britten had "always loved the Midsummer Night's Dream" and in his opera it is the magical dream-realm of the fairies that he chose to emphasise.  This is most prominent in the music: from his choice of an all boy chorus and Oberon as alien counter-tenor, to the archaic Purcellian influence in the melodic ornamentation and ethereal use of percussion and celesta.  However, by re-setting the opera in gritty, bleak reality, Alden has all but ignored these elements of Britten's work, brushing over moments in the libretto which clearly allude to the magical setting.  This only highlighted the jarring conflict between Britten's and Alden's artistic intentions - and in this case, Britten's are the more important.  Even simple stage directions were neglected, leading to much confusion.  Other moments were overly static, threatening to bore many members of the audience.  As such, the schoolyard setting simply didn't make sense in the context of the opera.

On top of this was the addition of a random man following the action on-stage, as "long-forgotten memories of his schooldays come back to him in the form of a dream".  His inclusion was a distracting intrusion into the plot and his later reveal as Theseus was a redundant attempt to frame the dramatic action.

The pretentious direction clearly bypassed the audience who spent much of the interval fervently flicking through the programme for explanation - an audience which was considerably thinner in the second half. 

But those who did leave missed out on another act of Britten's sumptuous score, performed extremely well by the cast and orchestra.  As ever, diction was superfluous to some singers - but Iestyn Davies' performance as Oberon was exceptional.  Allan Clayton and Benedict Nelson too were excellent as Lysander and Demetrius respectively.  The mechanicals' mini-production of Pyramus and Thisby was probably amongst the rudest and overly sexualised plays yet seen on the Coliseum stage, but provided some much needed colour and humour to the opera.  Adam Silverman's stark lighting design must also be applauded, giving brilliant light and unnerving shadow to an otherwise dull grey set.

For Britten scholars, this production provided an intriguing collision of his work and his personal life.  Yet as a piece of storytelling, Alden's artistic concept belied Britten's work in an otherwise musically brilliant production.


Friday, 10 June 2011

Nicola Roberts - Beat Of My Drum

Look, it's everyone's least favourite member of Girls Aloud a.k.a ginger chav Nicola Roberts, here with her first solo single!!!  WOOP WOOP!!!

...and hopefully her last.

You see, besides the song being absolute dog sh*te, Roberts is missing one vital element required for all popstars, the big C: CHARISMA.  Just look at her at the start of the video - she may as well have nervoulsy agreed to strip naked for a crowd of millions.  Is there anything happening behind those eyes?  No.  Everything about the song and her performance is half-hearted, like she's just blocking the moves rather than going full-out.  Perhaps this is supposed to reflect a laidback sense of cool.  But it doesn't even reach laziness, it's just an absolute incapability to perform.  It's like she doesn't even want to be there, so what's the point?  Cheryl Cole may not have a great voice, but at least she has a personality and some sex appeal (well...vaguely).  Roberts has literally nothing going for her.

No Nicola, I will not be dancing to the beat of your drum.  I'll be switching this off thank you very much.


Thursday, 9 June 2011

Paramore - Monster

The new Transformers trailer is appaling.  What starts as an intriguing film about space turns into.....a film about a giant robot.  It's ridiculous.  But at least the soundtrack will have at least one decent track.

This is the first Paramore track recorded without the Farro brothers after their departure at the end of last year.  To be honest though, not a lot has changed.  This is standard Paramore through-and-through with their typical emo/pop-punk sound and Hayley Williams' signature vocal.  There's little development here which is disappointing - this track could easily be found on any of their previous albums.  More so, it proves that Williams is integral to the band's sound - she is Paramore, even without the brothers. 

But then you listen to the lyrics and it's difficult to imagine Williams singing about anyone other than Josh Farro, her ex.  Clearly the band's break-up is still an unhealed wound and the brothers' influence still bleeds into this track.

Though they've had limbs removed, Paramore still have legs and with Williams as their heart and soul, the future is bright for the band.


Monday, 6 June 2011

Incubus - Adolescents

I was shocked to read that Incubus originally formed way back in 1991.  That's two whole decades of music.  But the thing I love most about the band is their ability to evolve.  Each of their albums is totally distinctive and their influences are varied - from their early funk-metal days, to their acoustic songs and more recent asian inspired music.  Hearing Aqueous Transmission performed live was like feeling inebriated without an alcoholic beverage or spliff in sight.

This latest track is more a refinement of the band's sound, continuing from 'Light Grenades', but it proves the band's mature and sophisticated approach.  It employs varying tempo changes to great effect, which gives the chorus real power; Boyd's unique vocal soaring over the expansive guitars.  And then, following a sweet guitar solo, there's the oriental sounding middle-eight.  Sure, it's a little out of place, but it's a great contrast to the rest of the track. 

Adolescents is a slick, sophisticated rock track - like the sharply monochrome video.  Incubus are back and showing new school bands how it should be done.


Sunday, 5 June 2011

Go Traviata! - Go Opera

Go Traviata! takes 'verismo' to a new level.  Performed in an abandoned warehouse somewhere in East London, this production of Verdi's La Traviata puts the audience in full focus.

The stark white walls of the warehouse contrast sharply with the romantic plot and Verdi's sumptuous score.  Film images were then projected onto the walls, though I confess their meaning totally eluded me.  The audience enter and become part of Violetta's party as the ensemble perform all around.  The idea is to create an immersive and involving performance space; the traditional theatre stage with its fourth wall totally abandoned.  Undoubtedly, this was a unique and fun experience to be part of.

But equally, the staging often had the adverse effect, distancing the audience as they were forced to peer around each other in order to see the 'stage' action - an unnecessary barrier.  We feel part of the production, yet totally and awkwardly in the way.  It raises questions of audience etiquette, requiring us to lose all inhibitions and self-consciousness as we too are on show.  Do you stand rooted to the spot as convention dictates?  Or do you follow the cast and risk ruining another's view?  It's certainly an interesting experiment as I found myself watching audience reactions as much as the show itself.  At times I couldn't see anything at all (particularly the balcony section of Act 2), but luckily the music was enough to carry my attention.

And for such a young company, the singing was excellent.  This type of staging brings challenges for the cast too - particularly in terms of balance, timing and hearing the piano accompaniment, let alone the confidence to perform face-to-face with the audience.  But the cast coped well, each member singing to a high standard, especially with the many unaccompanied passages.  Praise must be given to Joanna Weeks as Violetta: an extraordinary young talent.  Her arresting and emotive vocal performance brought many audience members to tears. 

One final barrier remained though that prevented the company's vision of creating universally accessible opera: language.  It's certainly commendable to perform the opera in its native Italian, but many audience members were fervently glued to the librettos handed out, rather than becoming totally immersed in the action.  Opera lovers will appreciate the creativity of the young production team, whilst newcomers will likely (and ironically) be lost.

As a piece of storytelling, the production was flawed with language barriers and staging decisions detracting from the plot.  But as an overall experience, the production was a success.  Largely, this is because nothing compares to the awesome sound of opera singers breaking out into song mere inches away from you in full panoramic view.


Saturday, 4 June 2011

Kaiser Chiefs - Little Shocks

I'm sorry but this is utter cack.

Admittedly, I couldn't name you a single Kaiser Chiefs track that I do like.  But at least their previous singles were good for something - drunken students shouting in nightclubs.

With their latest material, the band are harking back to early '90s rock - there's a lot of Blur in this.  But it's just noise.  Out of tune singing.  Overly distorted guitars.  I think there's a chorus in there somewhere, but I couldn't be 100% sure.  It's nowhere near as cool as they think it is.

The only noise I can really hear when listening to this is the sound of my eardrums begging me to press stop.  It genuinely offends me.

The business model for their new album 'The Future is Medieval' is ingenious - head over to their website to create your own album, choosing ten out of a possible twenty tracks.  The only decent track though is Heard It Break (it's the heart at the bottom left on their website).  Why you'd want to choose ten tracks is beyond me.


Friday, 3 June 2011

Coldplay - Every Teadrop Is A Waterfall

The majority of Coldplay's songs fall into one of two categories: emotive, anthemic pop-rock or pretentious twaddle.  But I'm torn with this one.

It samples Peter Allen's 1976 "hit" I go to Rio, though it's certainly subtle.  The other clear influence is U2 - this track is totally smothered in it, particularly the guitars.  Things haven't changed much since the 'Viva La Vida' days.  Structurally, it's essentially one long crescendo, extra layers of sound gradually added.  But without a proper hook, the song ironically falls flat.  It's just not that memorable and no amount of layered guitars and synths will change that.

On the other hand, the overall sound is euphoric and will sound ecstatic at festivals across the summer.  It just doesn't quite reach the dizzying heights that Chris Martin and co. aspire to and ultimately feels self-indulgent. 

As such, Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall showcases the band's strengths and weaknesses.  The overall sound may be exhilerating, but it means nothing if the track is structurally flawed.


Thursday, 2 June 2011

Take That - Love Love

Initially, Take That may not be your first choice for the X-Men: First Class soundtrack.  In truth, this is a thumping track to accompany the credits, with lyrics that subtly invoke the film: "This is a first-class journey from the gods to the son of man / You're at the gates of human evolution don't you understand?".  It's no wonder their latest album is entitled 'Progress'.

Much has been said about Robbie Williams' influence on the band.  In my opinion he brings a sense of modern cool, which coupled with Barlow's songwriting ability is a winning formula - the band's evolving sound is a welcome mutation.  The track is well produced: the march-feel like a mutant call to arms, the falsetto hook lingering in your mind, the middle-eight synths adding an alien quality.

Cynics will say this is merely Kidz meets Muse's UprisingBut this is a great pop track in its own right from a band in the midst of evolution.


Wednesday, 1 June 2011

X-Men: First Class (2011) - Matthew Vaughn

I'll put this out there straight away: this is the best X-Men film.

Not that it was hard.  The previous three films were mediocre action films at best - I distinctly remember falling asleep during X2.  And I didn't even bother with X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

But First Class wipes the slate clean with a refreshed origins story.  Vaughn proved in Kickass he knows how to handle a great comic book film - here, he successfully merges reality and fantasy.  By setting it during the Cold War, the film has a grounding in reality and a greater sense of credibility.  It's an alternative reality that is easily believable, despite the mutant powers.  The prologue contrasts the childhoods of the central figures - Xavier and Magneto - establishing the basis for the story at large.  There's a little too much exposition, but a multitude of characters needs to be introduced, culminating in an awesome final battle.  Sure, there are some cheesy moments and the music is pretty melodramatic.  But after all, this is based on a comic book.  They even have the infamous yellow suits.  Coupled with the spectacular special effects and set-pieces, the film has everything you could want from a summer blockbuster.  It's wholly entertaining and bloody cool.

It does prove a little unsatisfying as the open-ending poses more questions than the film answers.  What will become of the newly founded 'X-Men'?  And which new characters will be introduced?  Hugh Jackman's short cameo is not enough.

But this was inevitable.  First Class is an honorable start to a sensational new franchise.

Shame there's no Gambit though...