Friday 27 November 2015

La Soirée @ Southbank Spiegeltent

La Soirée @ Southbank Spiegeltent

Today’s cabaret shows are quite akin to the old freak shows of the Victorian era. They’re a place where we can go to see the weird and the wonderful, the impressive and the grotesque, the fascinating and the extraordinary. And with La Soirée, that comes with the comfort of sitting in the fine surroundings of Southbank’s Spiegeltent with a beverage (or five).
It also comes with the knowledge that you’re watching some of the globe’s best cabaret talent. The company comprises a multitude of varied performers, each the best in their field, with different performances made up of different acts. This particular performance spanned from the powerful vocals and kooky costumes of singer Frisky, to the impressive juggling and hula-hooping of Mario, Queen of the Circus, and much, much more.

The sheer strength of The English Gents, for instance, is gobsmacking as they balance on each other in increasingly intricate and gravity-defying poses. Later, Hamish McCann returns for one of the sexiest pole-dancing routines to “Singin’ In The Rain” you’re likely to see. By comparison, Melanie Chy’s hand balancing (impressive as it is) feels lacklustre. For more sex appeal, Yammel Rodriguez spins on a single suspended strap whilst smoking a cigar with a sultry glint in her eyes, and Bret Pfister’s hoop routine performed to Lana Del Rey is surprisingly emotive.

It’s Norway’s Captain Frodo who really pushes the boundaries, though. His act consists of fitting his double-jointed body limb by limb through two tennis racquet heads (without the strings obviously) and, later, sword swallowing. It’s the sort of act that has you squirming in your seat, repulsed by the way his body moves in such alien fashion, yet weirdly gripped to see what the hell he’ll do next. And it’s delivered with such light-hearted humour you can’t help but watch.

It’s not all physicality. Mooky’s clowning is something of an acquired taste, relying more on awkward audience behaviour than her own jokes. Yet Asher Treleaven provides all the humour required by reading out a passage from a Mills and Boone novel in stirring fashion, leaving the audience crying hysterically. I will never look at a dachshund the same way.

Best of all is Denis Lock’s bubble act, the other half of The English Gents. Somehow, he creates sculptures out of bubbles. Sculptures that dance in the still air of the Spiegeltent. Sculptures that twist and spin over the awestruck audience. MADE OUT OF BUBBLES. His dexterity and control are simply unbelievable, his creations spellbinding, the silent audience left gasping like excited children. And that’s exactly what the best cabaret acts should do. That’s why La Soirée is a place where freaks are celebrated, where talent inspires, and where audiences are thoroughly entertained.


Watch: La Soirée runs at the Southabank Spiegeltent until 17th January 2016.

Ticket courtesy of

 Image: Prudence Upton
 Image: Perou
Image: Sean Young

Thursday 26 November 2015

Where Will We Live? @ Southwark Playhouse

Where Will We Live? @ Southwark Playhouse

Where Will We Live?, from Changing Face Collective, is a real celebration of diversity. A verbatim play exploring gentrification in Brixton, its individual stories cover a whole range of cultures, ethnicities, backgrounds and skin colours. Brixton, we're told, is a melting pot of everything London has to offer, its own microcosm that lives and breathes with its community.

Yet there's anger here. Hyper-regeneration has hiked up house prices, meaning local people are losing their homes, their livelihoods, their friends and family. In turn, Brixton itself is losing its identity. This is a play of revolution lent a powerful potency by its verbatim script from actual Brixton residents, accompanied by restless percussion that adds a simmering sense of urgency. It gives voice to a community fighting and failing to be heard.

As a play, it suffers the fate of much verbatim theatre: individually there are some striking stories, but they don't gel into a cohesive piece. Instead they hang loosely together, but it's the percussion not the narrative that creates a driving force.

Further the politics feels a little over-simplified. Black and white are distinct binary opposites - black residents provide the heart, soul and rhythm of Brixton, whilst white residents are amusingly naive in their unwitting participation in the process of gentrification. Are the residents simply searching for a scapegoat? They certainly find it in Christopher Sherwood's two Councillors who essentially perform the same role: almost comically incompetent villains. The play's ultimate point is that Brixton is a place of equality, where there is room for all cultures, but the play itself doesn't give the myriad of opinions and views equal weight.

There's a fine line, though, between education, entertainment and guilt-inducing lecturing - a line that Where Will We Live? treads carefully. There are some credible and heartbreaking performances - in particular from Ayesha Casely-Hayford and Olivette Cole-Wilson. This play is political fire and deserves longer than its limited run.


Watch: Where Will We Live? runs at the Southwark Playhouse from 25th-28th November.

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Steve Jobs (2015) - Danny Boyle

Steve Jobs (2015) - Danny Boyle

Watching Steve Jobs, it’s clear that the man in question undoubtedly had a flair for the theatrical. So too does Ridley Scott, whose famously dramatic advert for the Apple Macintosh release in 1984 was considered one of the biggest marketing events of the time and remains, until now, the biggest cinematic event in Apple’s history.

That extends to director Danny Boyle and screenplay writer Aaron Sorkin, whose depiction of Jobs here is particularly theatrical. Divided into three distinct acts, the film details the events of three product launches in 1984, 1988 and 1998, something the company (and Jobs) has become renowned for. It’s a conceit based on repetition, as we witness the growth of Apple itself and the rise in success of Jobs, the screen literally morphing from scuzzy low-fi 80s filters to a modern clarity. Although we never see Jobs in action delivering his speeches, we see the juxtaposition of his innovative mind with the crumbling relationships he holds with his colleagues and family and, as the years progress, the film’s very structure invites comparison between each act.

It’s certainly a clever idea, creating a film that’s ripe for analysis and discussion. Yet it also feels cold, mechanical and forced. It’s as if Sorkin is trying too hard to be clever in his screenplay, a screenplay that oscillates between endless business and computer jargon spat like bullets in corridor arguments, and wry self-knowing humour – Jobs questions at one point late on why these people always wants to have conversations before an event. The irony of the action taking place in a Symphony Hall isn't lost, with reality dramatized like a musical theme and variation. What’s missing is Boyle’s usual flair for flashy visuals, pop culture and music (the score alternates between Kraftwerk-esque computer bleeps and melodramatic classical music). The result is a film that feels overly-structured, prescribed and lacks a sense of heart – we have little reason to emotionally invest in these characters or care about events, no matter how urgently Sorkin thrusts them in our face. This is far more his film than Boyle’s.

In so many ways, then, the film mirrors its subject matter, portrayed in a remarkable performance from Michael Fassbender (with amusing support from Kate Winslet as Jobs' assistant with a wavering Eastern European accent). The key quote from the film comes from Seth Rogen’s Steve Wozniak: “it’s not binary. You can be decent and gifted at the same time”. For Jobs, though, it’s very much binary. Here is a self-professed “conductor of the orchestra”, a man who thrives on seeing the bigger picture. He’s arrogant, condescending, manipulative. He understands people, their requirements, and how to distill that into technology. Yet he lacks emotional intelligence and fails at sustaining almost all of his relationships – specifically that with his daughter, Lisa.

In short, he’s an arsehole.

In many ways, then, Steve Jobs is a typical film about an overtly intelligent geek wedded more to his work than his family, and its structure and mise en scene mirror this. It’s a film about a man who refuses to admit his faults, who appears almost superhuman. And it’s about a control freak who overpowers everyone and everything he meets (similarly to how Sorkin’s style smothers everything else the film has to offer).

But most of all it’s a meditation on the meaning of genius. As the film’s final moments suggest, a genius is someone who inspires, with Jobs appearing almost godlike awash in celestial light. It’s the overblown climax to a film that is essentially porn for Apple aficionados. Jobs may have been an inspiring figure, but the film itself doesn’t provoke that same feeling.


Watch: Steve Jobs is out now.

Monday 23 November 2015

Adele - 25

Adele - 25

You know when a song or an artist just seems to get you? When lyrics, melodies and emotions have a profound resonance with your own feelings?

That’s the reason Adele’s ‘21’ was so successful. Her songs have such depth of truth, yet are general enough for everyone to relate to her. Except me. At 21, Adele was experiencing things I never had. Perhaps I was a late bloomer. Perhaps Adele was old before her time. Perhaps both. Now, a few years down the line, I can finally appreciate her songwriting. At times it feels like ‘25’ was written and performed just for me, like she’s cracked open my mind and expressed things more musically and poetically than I could ever imagine. At last I can say: “I get you Adele and she gets me”.

Thematically, with ‘25’ Adele continues to work in broad brushstrokes, with layered meanings we can interpret in our own way. It’s meant to be an album laced with nostalgia as she looks back and reflects on her past, a theme she originally depicted in breakout hit Hometown Glory. When We Were Young is her most obvious expression of this here, as if she’s singing through a sepia filter: “You look like a movie, you sound like a song”. Million Years Ago, meanwhile, is more an exploration of how her life has changed and the cost of fame she so doggedly eschews – addressing people from her past she sings “They can’t look me in the eye, it’s like they’re scared of me”. And with River Lea she looks to her past, specifically Tottenham where she grew up, as the cause of the emotional turmoil she’s suffered. For a handful of songs, it feels like ‘25’ has a very different emotional resonance than ‘21’ and for one brief moment (the Max Martin penned Send My Love (To Your New Lover)) it seems that Adele is finally over heartbreak.

It doesn’t last, though. Opener Hello might be ambiguous as to who is on the receiving end of her phone calls (a lover, or her past self?), but soon Adele settles into familiar heartbreak mode. Love In The Dark, specifically, is one of her most visceral and haunting break-up songs sung from the flip-side of her usual position – here Adele is the one being “cruel to be kind”. “It is the world to me that you are in my life”, she sings, “but I want to live and not just survive”, swelling strings and piano layering the tears to breaking point. Water Under The Bridge has more confliction of emotion: “If you’re not the one for me, why do I hate the idea of being free?”. Later there’s All I Ask, co-written with Bruno Mars - with its simple piano arrangement and key change it feels like the most melodramatic song on the album, something Adele has never been, though it’s questioning “what if I never love again?” lyric is a gut-puncher. Even I Miss You, the album’s darkest most sexually charged moment, is tinged with sadness (“I miss you when the lights go out”).

There is positivity here, though. With its laughing children, there’s no doubt as to who album closer Sweetest Devotion is aimed at, with Adele finding in her child the “sweetest devotion” she never found elsewhere. And for the rest of us, there’s the Ryan Tedder penned Remedy. Sure, it may be a little self-gratifying, but for many of us Adele’s music really is a “remedy” to our own heartbreak.

If the lyrical content is sometimes too familiar, then sonically ‘25’ has the same bluesy, gospel tinged sound and often lacks a raw edge. At times it even borders on Radio 2 easy listening mode, even though there’s nothing easy about listening to such emotive songwriting. Working with Greg Kurstin on Hello perhaps hinted at a more pop-orientated sound, its production equally at home on mainstream radio and beyond. That continues with Send My Love (To Your New Lover), by far the most ‘pop’ moment of the album. Later, Water Under The Bridge has a sort of Jessie Ware coolness to it with its muted guitars (also produced by Kurstin), but anyone expecting Adele to go full electro-pop or put a donk on her music will be left wanting. Of course she would probably never do that, but it does exemplify a lack of experimentation with ‘25’. Most of the album is a stripped back affair which allows the emotion to take the fore, but also exposes how the songwriting just isn’t quite as good as ‘21’, lacking that same emotional resonance and those memorable moments.

Even “not quite as good” Adele, though, is still a remarkable singer-songwriter, who makes music out of personal tragedy and is a voice for us all, a voice that is deep and rich and powerful and loaded with feeling. She is a soul singer not just in that her voice is soulful, but in that it cuts through to our own souls and strips us to our core. ‘25’ may not hit the dizzying heights of ‘21’, but then she was never going to do that, was she?


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Hello
* Send My Love (To Your New Lover)
* Love In The Dark

Listen: ‘25’ is available now.

Thursday 19 November 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II (2015) - Francis Lawrence

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II (2015) - Francis Lawrence

The Hunger Games series is something of a paradox in cinema. Where the books get worse, the films actually get better.

By the time we hit Mockingjay, the third and final book of the series, Collins seemingly scrapped her established formula and left us with a fantastical and sometimes nonsensical war story that quickly fizzles out and loses the tension of the previous books. Yet with the films, the war narrative is more obviously a twist on the formula. Just like before, Katniss is a pawn primed for some big event (Part I) and in Part II we finally see her in action. More so, the two Mockingjay films turn a dystopian fantasy into a frightening reality – more than ever Katniss is a soldier and the use of handheld cameras, night vision, militaristic action and war-torn rubble-strewn streets creates a sense of a complete yet grim world that is utterly plausible and always compelling.

Part II is very much a continuation of Part I and begins exactly where it left off – after agreeing to the war propaganda of District 13’s leader President Coin (Julianne Moore), Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) fully embodies the Mockingjay symbol, whilst eventually Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is rescued from the Capitol but has been psychologically re-programmed to fear Katniss (I saw the two films in a double bill, something that comes highly recommended). Vowing to save her family and loved ones, the determined protagonist sneaks off to the Capital to bring the war to President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and assassinate him – that is before things take a political and tragic turn. It’s a set up that allows for a clever riff on the formula, with the Capitol itself becoming an arena for Snow’s sadistic traps.

This in turn allows for the tense action sequences largely missing from Part I. One particular sequence in the sewers verges on horror film as director Francis Lawrence plays with expectations and will have you on the edge of your seat, whilst the use of sound alternates between rousing score and terrifying moments of pause and silence. The gloomy visuals throughout lend the film a sense of emotional weight and gritty realism rarely seen in films of this sort – you often have to pinch yourself that this is a film aimed at young adults.

And then there’s the ending. The films may improve on the books, but they still can’t alleviate the dissatisfying conclusion. As one character notes, “no one wins the Hunger Games” and that, seemingly, includes the audience. The overall outcome may be positive, but there are major sacrifices from certain characters that lack emotional punch and are clearly sign-posted throughout; the love triangle ultimately disappoints (#TeamGale); and the revenge story fizzles into politics. Then, just as with the final Harry Potter film, there’s an awkward epilogue that undermines the steely determination of Katniss as modern feminist role model, especially disappointing after so much of the film rides on Lawrence’s tough and believable performance. Elsewhere there are watchable performances from the supporting cast despite being side-lined, though the tragic death of Philip Seymour Hoffman has thankfully not affected the storytelling.

It’s all incredibly sombre and pessimistic, leaving you depressed and deflated. Perhaps, though, that’s the point. What began as a series condemning the media, reality TV and class divides has evolved into a comment on war, its futility and its psychological impacts – something far beyond the aspirations of most emo young adult novels/films. There’s undoubtedly an extra layer of poignancy to this latest film after the recent attacks in Paris; indeed, we live in a time of political strife, refugee crises and wars against terrorism. To that end The Hunger Games is the young adult franchise of the generation, the young adult franchise modern society deserves.


Watch: Mockingjay: Part II is out now.

Tuesday 17 November 2015

One Direction - Made In The A.M.

One Direction - Made In The A.M.

Are 1D better off without Zayn?

There's certainly an argument for it. Aside from blank pouty stares, Malik was essentially deadweight to the band - he offered little in the way of songwriting, occasionally sang some falsetto money notes, and refused to dance. So far, the band seem to be doing fine without him thank you very much, whilst Malik is free to pursue a career making his beloved R&B music that's probably doomed to fail.

On the flip side, perhaps he wisely got out early. If 'Made In The A.M.' is anything, it's the sound of a boyband grown tired and weary, dragging their heels onto the stage to perform to endless hordes of tinnitus-inducing fans. Perfect may imitate Taylor Swift in its construction, but it equally depicts the boys' superstar status and their inability to hold down a relationship. They are far from normal and one argument for their imminent hiatus is that they crave normality.

For better or worse, 1D have essentially turned into Coldplay with rock ballad after rock ballad. This is by far their most emotional album to date, with grandly evocative song titles like Perfect, Infinity and If I Could Fly coupled with downbeat melodies and an utterly dejected vocal delivery. Even the album's arguably most loving moment, What a Feeling, sounds wistful and distant.

Added to that are the constant farewells. This album campaign may have begun with the boys singing "nobody can drag me down", but the album at large suggests otherwise: End of the Day, Love You Goodbye, History. It's obvious this is the end of an era, seemingly inspired as much by the departure of Malik as their uncertain future.

It's commendable that the boys have written their own music and it's easy to see the progression of their songwriting ability across their output. 'Made In The A.M.' is their most complete and confident album to date, but what's missing is a sense of pop fun. Drag Me Down may be the catchiest and most radio friendly moment, but it's not until Never Enough that we finally hear the boys sonically let loose. It's followed by Olivia, with an amusingly descending hook that could only have been written by Mr Styles.

1D are meant to be a pop band. Yet what's missing from 'Made In The A.M.' is a Kiss You, a Diana, a Little White Lies or a Stockholm Syndrome. The boys may have matured over the last five years, but they've also grown thoroughly depressing. Money, fame and success clearly aren't everything.

Maybe Zayn was right to quit after all.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Drag Me Down
* Never Enough
* What a Feeling

Listen: 'Made In The A.M.' is available now.

Kate Boy - One

Kate Boy - One

Many Scandinavian artists are known for their icy cool. But for the most part, Sweden's Kate Boy have dropped the icy and kept the cool. They're closer to The Knife and Niki & The Dove than, say, iamamiwhoami.

There's still a sense of frigid cold and cool detachment to much of 'One', but it feels more grounded, more earthy. Its sound is dry, percussive, and almost tribal with a focus on shuddering rhythmic beats. That's only heightened by Australian-born Kate Akhurst's vocal, which ranges from deep and menacing to primal, animalistic calling and always sounds faintly threatening.

Just listen to Higher, the album's major highlight. The beats thump, the synths twinkle, the vocal is guttural, and the last minute is amongst the best pop moments of the year as it erupts in a wave of pure euphoria. Close your eyes and let the magic wash over you.

This same formula is repeated throughout, creating an album of shouted choruses and insistent beats. It makes the line "it's adrenaline that you're traveling" from Lion For Real seem like something of an understatement, the beats visceral to the point of erupting into your ears. Even if the lyrical content borders on shallow, there's a deep rooted dynamic energy to the music that provides plenty of feeling and is guaranteed to get your feet shuffling, from the wordless chorus hook of Midnight Sun, to the darkly dramatic Human Engine and its crystalline synth explosion, and the shuddering funk bass of Run As One.

That said, it's no coincidence the album is called 'One', and not only because it's the band's debut. There is a singular sound to the album that does begin to grate as repetitiveness sinks in. And considering their first EP, 'Northern Lights' was released back in 2012, it's disappointing to see a lack of development.

Equally, the band display economy of sound, creating a whole album of urgent pop from a limited palette. With electro-pop so prevalent in Scandinavia, Kate Boy have managed to carve a sound that's all their own, full of nagging hooks, a unique vocal, and production with an alluringly dark edge.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Midnight Sun
* Higher
* Run As One

Listen: 'One' is available now.

Monday 16 November 2015

Four Minutes Twelve Seconds @ Trafalgar Studios

Four Minutes Twelve Seconds @ Trafalgar Studios

The title may not give much away, but Four Minutes Twelve Seconds covers some difficult and poignant themes. The rise in popularity of social media and smart phones has coincided with a rise in revenge porn and depictions of rape. As teenagers grow up at an ever increasing pace, how can parents protect them?

That's the conundrum at the heart of this play from author James Fritz, that's recently transferred from the Hampstead Theatre. With its minimalist staging and fidgety electronic soundtrack, this is an intense and morally ambiguous one act play. When their son is beaten up by his ex-girlfriend's brother and father after a video bordering on rape appears online, Di and David are pushed to moral breaking point. Slowly the narrative unfurls as the layers are teased and peeled back through short scenes that often end before key moments of dialogue, keeping us guessing as we choose sides between a father who believes he is protecting his son and a mother torn between her family and her own moral code.

There's a clever void in the play: the absence of the son himself. It ensures we're never quite sure who or what to believe. Is the son a rapist? What exactly constitutes rape? What should his punishment be, and who should deal it? By not giving him a voice it means we never quite hear the truth. The power, therefore, is in the hands of Cara, the ex-girlfriend - only she (and we) can truly judge.

Except we do eventually hear the truth. Half way through we discover who really uploaded the video online. On a narrative level it's a disappointing twist that doesn't quite feel believable and loses a sense of mystery. Thematically, however, it throws things wide open, the themes of pornography and parenting expanded into a wider context of sexism. It's this that makes the show such a vital piece of theatre.

So too does the performance of Kate Maravan as Di. In a superb cast, her performance stands out as the backbone of the narrative. She may begin as a mouthy and overly-protective mother, but we slowly witness her fall apart as she questions the actions of her son and her own morality. We may not agree with her attempts at a resolution, but could we really do any better in her place?


Watch: Four Minutes Twelve Seconds runs at the Trafalgar Studios until 5th December.

Photo: Ikin Yum

Friday 13 November 2015

Justin Bieber - Purpose

Justin Bieber - Purpose

It’s ok to like Justin Bieber.

This might come as a shock to some people. After all, he’s the precocious little brat with floppy hair who sang that annoying Baby song and abuses monkeys. Right?

Still, it’s been six years since Bieber’s first single and in that time he’s grown up a hell of a lot. Well, sort of. But with ‘Purpose’ he’s turned a corner. He’s now, sort of, cool again.

That’s what happens when you come back with a song like Where Are Ü Now with Jack Ü. That song has informed the whole sound of this new album: a dash of Skrillex’s syncopated beats, a sprinkling of Diplo’s polished R&B production, and a whole dose of The Weeknd’s melancholic melodies and crooning falsetto. It’s not hard to see how, with his latest (and hugely popular) hit singles, Bieber has cornered the market for happy-sad dance-pop.

The key song here is Sorry. Sure, it embodies this 2015 ‘Bieber sound’, but more so it’s an apology in more ways than one, summing up his career so far and marking a turning point for the future. Is this simply a love song to a former lover? Is Selena Gomez laughing back at him? Is he apologising to his fans for all his bullshit mishaps over the last few years? Is he apologising to God after rediscovering his Christian faith? Or maybe it’s simply an apology to OG Mally, the poor little monkey left behind in Bieber’s dust?

The apologetic tone extends to other songs from ‘Purpose’ too: I’ll Show You in particular with its chorus lyric “This life’s not easy…don’t forget that I’m human”. And that, seemingly, stems from faith. Bieber still struggles to sing a ballad and it’s faith that results in the album’s most saccharine moments. On Life Is Worth Living, he again asks for forgiveness through a string of religious symbolism, whilst Purpose practically addresses God directly - “I put my heart into your hands, here’s my soul to keep, I let you in with all that I can, you’re not hard to reach” – before a spoken word section quite literally preaches to the listener. Children, meanwhile, is more of a banger but still preaches to us about making a difference for the next generation. It’s nice to see Bieber trying to make a statement with his music, but the religious enlightenment seems at odds with not only the heavy beats but with his general “bad boy” behaviour.

Look past that and there’s still a lot of great pop to enjoy here, mixing sensitive lyrics with contemporary sounds. Tracks like I’ll Show You, Company and Been You continue on from the singles with infectious rhythms and vibrant, polished pop-dance production. And whilst the collaborations aren’t the most original tracks, No Pressure feat. Big Sean has a pleasingly old school 90s Usher vibe (perhaps in a nod to his old mentor), No Sense feat Travi$ Scott is clearly inspired by Kanye West, and The Feeling feat Halsey is a decent electro-pop ballad.

Sure, the production outweights the songwriting, Bieber’s vocal isn’t always that strong, and the three singles already released are the best the album has to offer. But who would’ve thought at the start of the year that Justin Bieber, of all people, would go on to release three of the best singles of 2015?


Gizzle’s Choice:
* What Do You Mean?
* Sorry
* Where Are Ü Now

Listen: 'Purpose is out now.

Wednesday 11 November 2015

Ellie Goulding - Delirium

Ellie Goulding - Delirium

This. Is. Long. Seriously, it may have been a couple of years since 2013’s rebundled ‘Halycon Days’, but does that mean Goulding has to include every song she’s written since on this new album? The standard version of ‘Delirium’ is sixteen songs long. The deluxe takes things up to twenty two. The Target version extends to twenty five. And that’s before the inevitable rebundle next year or whenever that probably doubles the track list.

The thing is, even with such a long list of songs, ‘Delirium’ is really quite enjoyable. It’s perfectly reasonable that after listening for five hours and realising you’re still only half way through, you hadn’t really noticed the time going by as you sit back and enjoy the bangers. There isn’t a bad song here. There just aren’t many great ones either. And that's not necessarily value for money.

What’s also remarkable is that either Greg Kurstin, Max Martin, Ryan Tedder or Savan Kotecha appear on almost every track in either songwriting or production capacity. In short, that means Goulding has worked with the globe’s top pop talent, as if she’s taken all their scraps and put them together in one album. Of course, Goulding herself has co-written the majority of tracks. But where the present talent ensures a certain base level of quality, the album never rises above this.

Gone are the folky guitars of debut ‘Lights’ (remember them?). Gone are the experimental electronics and dub-step wobbles of ‘Halcyon’. Instead, we’re left with endless EDM pop that pretty much all sounds the same. It’s streamlined, distilling Goulding’s sound into a 2015 palette through the filter of the songwriters and producers responsible for so much other music that’s currently popular. ‘Delirium’ does nothing to experiment, to expand her audience, to prove to naysayers that she’s more than a pop artist with a squeaky voice.

Just as it’s hard to pick a worst song (though Keep On Dancin’s incessant whistling is incredibly annoying), it’s hard to pick out a favourite. So few of the songs stand out above the crowd. You’ll recognise a handful of tracks released in the run up to the full album: the throbbing Something In The Way You Move; X-Factor-esque ballad Army; and Ed Sheeran diss single On My Mind that thankfully brings something a little different. You’ll also recognise Fifty Shades slow burner Love Me Like You Do and 2014’s single with Calvin Harris Outside. The remains of the album may be new but already sounds oh so familiar.  Lost and Found is at least reminiscent of early Goulding, and Devotion puts a donk on the familiar.

A fair amount of trimming and a dash of originality could’ve raised this to 2015 pop highlight. Instead, ‘Delirium’ is distinctly middle of the road and will leave you feeling quite the opposite of its namesake.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* On My Mind
* Lost and Found
* Devotion

Listen: ‘Delirium’ is available now.

Monday 9 November 2015

Grimes - Art Angels

Grimes - Art Angels

Yes, ‘Art Angels’ is a more mainstream “pop” album than Grimes’ last album, the electronic squelchy ‘Visions’. But what does that even mean? After all, this is Grimes we’re talking about, the brainchild of Claire Boucher. This new album is just as experimental as the last. Did you really think she’d be tied to one genre? Or indeed, the concept of genre at all?

‘Art Angels’ is less focussed, but as a whole a more interesting album that takes in a huge spectrum of influences. Opener laughing and not being normal has a Baroque feel with its stately strings and Boucher’s almost choirboy falsetto vocals, introducing the album with a sense of quiet dignity before it all goes bonkers. There’s the West Coast jangling guitars of California; the punk screams of Scream; the pop rock of album highlight Flesh Without Blood; the folk feel of Belly of the Beat; the pulsing K-pop of Kill V. Maim; the ‘Ray of Light’ era Madonna influence of the title track; the dance vibes of Realiti; the video game bloops of World Princess part II. And more. ‘Art Angels’ is all of these things and none of them.

Really, Boucher has an ear for pop melody and that happy-sad thing that all good pop has, yet equally a complete punk disregard for style and genre. She doesn’t quite operate in a vacuum – after all, you can pick out her influences – but not once does she attempt to conform to expectations. She takes the familiar and twists it into something new and unique, yet retains a sense of melody and hook writing that’s not quite immediate, but definitely palatable to mainstream tastes. That may seem oxymoronic, but that’s Grimes. She doesn't always make sense (just look at the videos, or the cover art) but it's fun and enjoyable nonetheless.

At times, then, ‘Art Angels’ is exquisite. Flesh Without Blood is grade A pop full of infectious rhythms and a beat full of tiny details from hand claps to cartoon whip effects, whilst the lyrics and yearning melodies seemingly narrate a failing relationship (“if you don’t need me, just let me go”), even though she doesn’t “write about love anymore” according to Twitter. Pin absolutely nails happy-sad pop, its heavily processed beat juxtaposed with lyrics loaded with reminiscence (“falling off the edge with you, it was too good to be true”). Realiti is probably the closest to what we’re used to with Grimes, yet still sounds like nothing else. Butterfly later closes the album with a complete change of pace, all buoyant African rhythms and jangling guitars underpinned by a thumping beat.

It’s not a perfect album. SCREAM, for starters, is terrible. Venus Fly features Janelle Monáe, but is far from either artist’s best work. Life In The Vivid Dream is the only slow track, ending all too abruptly. And as a whole, ‘Art Angels’ is definitely a challenging album. But listen closely and it’s undeniably rewarding. Despite the occasional misfire, Grimes is a totally individual artist. And in this day and age, that is a rare and beautiful thing. That title couldn’t be more fitting.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Flesh Without Blood
* Pin
* Realiti

Listen: ‘Art Angels’ is out now.

Sunday 8 November 2015

The Winter's Tale @ The Garrick Theatre

The Winter's Tale @ The Garrick Theatre

The Winter’s Tale may not be a ‘problem play’ in the original sense, but it’s certainly one of Shakespeare’s most problematic and flawed works. But then, would you expect anything less from a play whose defining moment is a stage direction?

Part of the Branagh season at the Garrick Theatre, the title is taken literally in this production. The kingdom of Sicily is caught in an eternal winter – a winter of discontent no less – though it begins charmingly enough with a family Christmas. That, though, only makes the tragic plot more potent. The wind howls, the snow swirls, and marble halls are filled with ominous strings and haunting hymns, setting the scene for the play’s supernatural finale. This is the backdrop for what begins as a psychological thriller: Branagh’s King Leontes suspects his wife Hermione and friend Polixenes, the King of Bohemia, are having an affair, causing his maddening descent from benevolent king to jealous tyrant. This is a twisting, brooding play of the mind, with Branagh offering gripping and precisely delivered monologues, matched by Miranda Raison’s elegant Hermione.

Judi Dench, though, is the real star attraction – at least, it’s her face on the posters. Paulina, Hermione’s serving lady, is a key (if slight) role, but Dench gives a bold performance. Even when on the periphery, her stage presence is enough to grab our attention, though it’s nothing we haven’t seen from her before. The remaining cast are all excellent, delivering Shakespeare’s verse with great clarity (even from the back of the stalls).

Even this production, though, can’t compensate for the play’s inherent flaws. The pastoral second half is less a contrast, more a juxtaposition of a totally different play. Sixteen years later we move to Bohemia, a land of perpetual springtime. The sun shines and the common folk frolic in the fields singing bawdy songs. Branagh seems to have purposefully exaggerated the two kingdoms – the rustic Bohemia and the icy cool Sicily – which brings a sense of cinematic fantasy. But there’s no hiding the fact that, despite some lucid staging, the plot loses its way in the second half as Shakespeare frantically ties up the loose ends of tragedy into a neat comedic romance. All tension is lost as the play’s opening evolves into something entirely (and disappointingly) different.

There remains, though, a sense of magical atmosphere throughout. The infamous bear is frighteningly handled; Dench returns after the interval as ‘Time’ to deliver a monologue amongst fluttering snowflakes; Sicily is transformed from familial warmth to icy pillars of washed out majesty; and the final coup de theatre, the reviving statue of Hermione dressed as an ethereal snow queen, is beautifully staged. Branagh brings plenty of directorial flair to this production (raising expectations for next year’s Romeo and Juliet), but what begins as a richly dark, gothic tale of psychotic jealousy eventually fizzles out into Disney’s Frozen.


Watch: The Winter’s Tale runs at the Garrick Theatre until 16th January.

The Winter's Tale @ The Garrick Theatre

Friday 6 November 2015

Little Mix - Get Weird

Little Mix - Get Weird

Listening to ‘Get Weird’, it seems Little Mix are suffering from an identity crisis. Who exactly is buying their records these days? Is it still the fans who have become accustomed to their sassy bangers like Move, DNA and Salute? The girls’ third album has been lauded for its move towards pop. As if they weren’t before. What this really means is that Little Mix are now aiming towards a younger audience.

It’s an awkward shift – as the girls get older and sexier, their music does the reverse. It's why the silly video for Black Magic undermines the song's slick polish. It’s what makes this performance on Australian X Factor so uncomfortable. It’s why Love Me Like You is such an odd song, mixing cutesy production with lyrics that were reportedly a lot ruder. And that’s before you miss-hear that opening lyric.

Previous single Black Magic and the Prince-influenced Weird People are fun, bubbly pop tracks and the best the album has to offer – stomping beats, confident vocals and vibrant 80s production. But are they really Little Mix? OMG has a funky disco sound, but the vocal delivery is pure Charli XCX. A.D.I.D.A.S sounds like a Meghan Trainor knock-off. Lightning, Grown and Hair, meanwhile, sound like Little Mix on autopilot - inferior versions of DNA and Salute with a disappointing lack of choruses. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with some experimentation into other genres, but ‘Get Weird’ feels all over the place as the girls ape current pop trends. Ironically enough, there’s nothing weird or different about the album at all.

In the general absence of the major bangers we’ve come to expect, there’s a renewed focus on ballads – something the girls have never excelled at. I Love You has a subdued beat behind the vocals and a delicately evocative middle eight; Love Me Or Leave Me is an impassioned piano ballad with a huge chorus; and the deluxe version of the album thankfully includes a version of Secret Love Song minus Jason Derulo’s tacked on feature. Perhaps it’s because of the high profile breakup of Perrie Edwards and Zayn Malik, but the vocal performances on these songs are far above anything the girls have done before with rich depth of emotion. It seems that through heartbreak, the girls show a maturity that’s lacking from the remains of the album.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Black Magic
* Weird People
* Love Me Or Leave Me

Listen: ‘Get Weird’ is out now.

The Lobster (2015) - Yorgos Lanthimos

The Lobster

Hotels can be notoriously scary places, especially in film. Nobody in their right mind would choose to stay at Overlook Hotel, and a quick shower at the Bates Motel could leave you with holes in more than just your wallet. But few cinematic hotels are as frankly terrifying as The Hotel in The Lobster.

There might not be crazy twins, blood rivers or psychotic murderers, but you will still lose your mind. Love and relationships are the subject of Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ first English feature, set in a bleak, washed out dystopia where single people are taken to The Hotel and forced to find a partner within forty five days. Succeed and the new couple can move to The City. Fail and they’re turned into an animal of their choosing and left to roam the countryside alone. It is the most absurd, uniquely bizarre film you’ll see this year.

What makes The Hotel so frightening is its lack of soul. Run by stern matriarch Olivia Coleman (in superb form), the hotel guests wander like helpless children, devoid of personality, as if lobotomised. The strict regime of the prison-like yet supposedly idyllic retreat is so psychologically damaging, it strips the guests (literally) and reduces them to a single character trait. Partnerships only arise when these traits align in a match. Masturbation is disallowed, whilst the maid arouses the male guests to increase their sexual frustration. An alarm signals “the hunt” whereby guests are forced to sedate “loners” living in the countryside. It’s enough to drive guests to fake a partnership just to escape.

Yet the film’s wonderful style swings the opposite way. The dreary mise en scene, deadpan delivery and overly dramatic orchestral score combine for hilariously dry viewing. The script is full of knowing lines that heighten the film’s clear absurdity and black humour, whilst the performances of Farrell, Coleman and Ben Whishaw (as a fellow guest) are often laugh out loud funny.

This doesn’t last. Halfway through, the film turns. Escaping The Hotel, David finds himself living with the cult-like loners in the forest led by Léa Seydoux (of Spectre fame) – a mirror image of The Hotel where singledom is the order of the day. Flirting results in the “red kiss”, the slicing of lips. We’re left to image what the “red intercourse” entails. It’s here that David ironically meets his match (and the film’s narrator) in Rachel Weisz’s Short Sighted Woman, and the couple are forced to hide their true feelings. It’s also here that Lanthimos runs out of ideas. The plot meanders, the characters are less amusing, and the film’s stylistic joke runs thin as it begins to take its central conceit too seriously. The comical tone is dropped for something darker, more disturbing, and less engaging.

As a surreal satire of love, relationships and the modern obsession of finding our match, The Lobster is an extraordinary film. It explores the extreme lengths that people will go to in order to find love and asks us to question whether it’s easier to fake love when trapped in the wrong relationship, or to hide your true feelings for someone when you’re unable to commit. Love ultimately is a fickle and uncontrollable force – we are doomed with or without it. Conceptually, The Lobster is a provocative and confrontational look at fundamental human emotions, but its downbeat second half will likely leave you feeling cold.


Watch: The Lobster is out now.

Wednesday 4 November 2015

The Screenwriter's Daughter @ The Leicester Square Theatre

In his latest play, writer Larry Mollin focuses his attention on renowned screenplay writer Ben Hecht – responsible for the likes of Gone With The Wind and a number of Hitchcock films amongst others. Hecht was frequently uncredited for his work and was blacklisted in the UK during the 40s and 50s for political activism. His daughter Jenny, meanwhile, carried his mantle into the 60s as an actress working with the Living Theatre company - a girl with free-spirited political views, a child of her time. The Screenwriter’s Daughter fittingly brings these two characters together, detailing the narrative of their relationship.

So what we have is a writer writing about a writer. It’s almost too obvious that proceedings all get a little too clever. Mollin litters his script with quotes from Hecht’s films, theatrical and cinematic terms and language, and a thorough shattering of the fourth wall. It’s as if the characters are consciously players in a show but are incapable of escaping the script that’s been written for them, their destiny that’s already become history.

That’s one of the main issues with The Screenwriter’s Daughter. The tragic ending is inevitable, even for those who may not be familiar with the lead figures. Yet Mollin fails to draw any dramatic tension out of their lives, so there’s little reason for the audience to emotionally invest in these characters. Further, Anna Ostergren’s basic direction does little to elevate the script. The set divides the stage into two areas – a bed and a study – and the narrative essentially boils down to a series of acted out phone calls. It’s heavy on the dialogue, with no visual changes, very little music, and the peripheral characters simply standing and reciting their lines.

Mollin’s script does at least differentiate between the two lead characters through clever dialogue. Hecht’s speech is full of Hollywood jargon, whilst his daughter’s overblown words are those of a naïve dreamer, clearly highlighting the juxtaposition of their opposing views. The performances, too, reflect this – Paul Easom is a charming and naturalistic father figure, although Samantha Dakin doesn’t quite display the eccentricities of an anarchic revolutionary.

Strip the historical context, though, and what’s left is little more than a tragic tale of a young girl rebelling against her overbearingly protective father. What could have been an interesting look at a major player in cinematic history is instead rather tedious.


Watch: The Screenwriter’s Daughter runs at the Leicester Square Theatre until 29th November.

Photo: Henika Thompson

Tuesday 3 November 2015

Rotterdam @ Theatre 503

Rotterdam @ Theatre 503

Rotterdam is a play that tackles some major, complex issues of sexuality and gender fluidity. Yet where you might expect high intensity, Jon Brittain’s play is a genuinely funny, light-hearted comedy that’s provocative only in its frank views and normalising of difference.

Alice (Alice McCarthy) is in the process of coming out to her parents, repeatedly drafting an email that could change her relationship with her family forever. She’s interrupted, though, by girlfriend Fiona (Anna Martine) who comes out herself as transgender and wishes to live her life as a man named Adrian. What does this mean for Alice? Is she straight now? Or still gay? Do we even need labels, or can love conquer difference?

At times it does all feel a bit forced, like you can see the cogs of Brittain’s brain working, the puzzle pieces slotting together. There are the contrasting views of the two main characters and their obviously diverging trajectories: Alice’s Bridget Jones-esque formality and Fiona/Adrian’s quirky boyishness. There are the stock periphery characters both used for comic effect: Ed Eales-White’s gormless yet sensitive brother Josh who naturally has the simplest yet clearest viewpoint, and Jessica Clark’s seductive ‘other woman’ Lelani who represents everything Alice isn’t, the freedom she doesn’t have, and the eccentric fashion sense she could only dream of. And setting the play at New Year, itself a time of transition, feels incredibly trite. The ending then wraps things up all too neatly.

Further, there’s a second agenda here in locating the play in Holland. This isn’t just anywhere, it’s Rotterdam (as the song sort of goes). Whilst this does create a sense of distance and otherness for the audience, it also leads to a comparison between the two countries that’s only heightened by the heavily British accents of the lead characters. Perhaps Holland is meant to seem the more progressive, modern and accepting country, with Britain appearing uptight by comparison. It’s more of a secondary point though, a backdrop that merely hints at a wider context.

Yet there’s just something about Rotterdam, its honesty, warmth, and openness without prejudice. The heart-warming script is littered with amusing one-liners, drawing a sympathetic view of all perspectives in this complex web of gender fluidity. Martine’s sensitive portrayal of Fiona/Adrian humanises the whole process of transitioning, her struggles somehow relatable. Yet where you’d expect Alice’s lack of understanding to make her the villain of the piece, her predicament is totally understandable as she deals with not only her own sexuality but that of her girlfriend. It’s a beautiful and nuanced performance from McCarthy that highlights the play’s central theme of being comfortable in your own skin. Even if there’s a lack of chemistry between the leads, the individual performances are especially moving. Eales-White meanwhile is lovable as Josh, whilst Clark is truly convincing as Dutch native Lelani.

And in addition to the modern pop feel of Ellan Parry’s set design, there’s a brilliant Eurodance soundtrack that perfectly suits the vibrant, highly emotional, almost cinematic quality of the writing. To be fair, any play that uses Robyn is on the road to success.


Watch: Rotterdam runs at Theatre 503 until 21st November.

Rotterdam @ Theatre 503

Rotterdam @ Theatre 503
Photos: Piers Foley Photography

Monday 2 November 2015

New Pop Roundup

Here is a very strong line-up of new songs...

Grimes – Flesh Without Blood

Grimes Art Angels

Look, the album is out this week and this is the best song around at the moment. Except, maybe Adele.


Listen: Flesh Without Blood is available now. ‘Art Angels’ is released on November 6th.

MØ – Kamikaze

MØ – Kamikaze

After the success of Lean On with Major Lazer, Denmark’s MØ is set to return in a big way after her 2014 debut. Kamikaze is an absolute banger with a hugely infectious hook and her trademark quirky production. Listen to the lyrics (and watch the video) though and you’ll see MØ’s punk spirit is still well and truly alive, even with commercial success.


Listen: Kamikaze is available now.

Justin Bieber – Sorry

Justin Bieber Purpose

Say what you will about Bieber, but you can’t deny that he's released a string of A+ songs recently. He’s seemingly cornered the market on pop-songs-that-sound-upbeat-and-sad-at-the-same-time and Sorry might just be the best of the lot, with shades of tropical house in its laidback beats, synth horns and cooing falsetto. Working with Skrillex and Blood Diamonds, Bieber is clearly on to a winner.


Listen: Sorry is available now. ‘Purpose’ is due November 13th.

Jack Ü feat. AlunaGeorge – To Ü

Jack Ü feat. AlunaGeorge – To Ü

Jack Ü, meanwhile, have moved on to their next single which features AlunaGeorge (who really should be making a comeback soon). As with Where Are Ü Now, the urgent jungle beats remain, but now there’s vibrant choppy samples over the top and the sensual vocals of Aluna Francis. The beat drops are as huge as you’d expect.


Listen: To Ü is available now.

Ariana Grande – Focus

Ariana Grande – Focus

Look, I can understand why an artist may latch on to a good thing and attempt to repeat past success. But Focus is such a blatant re-tread of Problem that it’s hard to take seriously. Structurally it’s near identical, right down to the distinct LACK OF CHORUS and the super high note before its final repeat. There are trumpets. There are similar vocal riffs. There’s a hand clap beat. All that’s missing is an Iggy Azalea rap. The dance break in the middle is decent to be fair.


Listen: Focus is available now.

Ellie Goulding – Army

Ellie Goulding – Delirium

It’s clear from the releases so far that Goulding’s forthcoming 'Delirium' will be a more pop-friendly album than 2012’s ‘Halcyon’ (has it really been that long?!) and that’s no bad thing judging by the feisty On My Mind, the pulsing Something In The Way You Move and the folk touches of Lost And Found. Army, though, builds towards an expansive chorus that feels a bit too X Factor Live Final. Full album review coming soon.


Listen: Army is available now. ‘Delirium’ is released on November 6th.

St. Lucia – Dancing On Glass

St. Lucia – Dancing On Glass

It’s still incredibly annoying that St. Lucia’s brilliant album ‘When The Night’ was never released in the UK, but fingers crossed Dancing On Glass will usher in a new Transatlantic career for the Brooklyn-based artist. If you imagine a neon sun-dappled equivalent to M83’s nocturnal Midnight City you’re part way there, this being a similarly 80s inspired slice of thrilling electro-pop.


Listen: Dancing On Glass is available now.

Gwen Stefani – Used To Love You

Gwen Stefani – Used To Love You

Stefani’s comeback track Baby Don’t Lie also never saw release in the UK and so we’re left waiting for another smash like What You Waiting For (ironic). Now, though, we have this personal tearjerker that clearly reflects on her divorce with the chorus lyric “I don’t know why I cry but I think it’s ‘cause I remember for the first time since I hated you, that I used to love you”. Well we still love you Gwen, so let’s keep the new music rolling out yeah?


Listen: Used To Love You is available now.

Frida Sundemo – Heroes

Frida Sundemo – Heroes

Heroes is taken from the forthcoming release of film Kill Your Friends based on the novel by John Niven, with Sundemo also featuring in the film. With the book (and film) taking place in the ‘90s and its soundtrack mostly taking cue from that era, Heroes stands out as a modern icy Scandi cut that doesn’t immediately suit the dark undertones of the plot. Still, it’s a soaring, joyful electro-pop track that’ll no doubt sound great over the credits.


Watch: Kill Your Friends is released on November 6th.

Dua Lipa – Be The One

Dua Lipa – Be The One

The debut single from London newcomer Dua Lipa was the subdued yet butterfly-inducing New Love that matched her smoky vocals to fidgety beats and glorious sparkles. But you’d expect no less from producer Emile Haynie, who’s worked with Lana Del Rey and FKA Twigs (even if the video is a bit too hipster teen angst). Follow-up Be The One, though, is the track that will bring far more attention – its polished, crystalline electronic production sounding immediately radio friendly. Lyrically, though, this is a yearning tale of unrequited love: “when you’re gone, oh baby, all the lights go out…oh baby come on, let me get to know you…I could be the one”. Polished production and vulnerable lyrics? Dua Lipa, so far, as it all.


Listen: Be The One is available now.