Friday, 24 June 2016

Dinosaur Park @ Wilton's Music Hall

Dinosaur Park @ Wilton's Music Hall

One of my earliest memories is seeing Jurassic Park in the cinema at the age of six, head firmly in my mother’s lap as I practically shat myself watching velociraptors terrorise a couple of kids in a kitchen. As horrifying as it was to watch, the film is a piece of PG entertainment that brought families together. And it still does.

That’s what Dinosaur Park, a comedy from Superbolt Theatre, is capitalising on. It might be advertised as “The Jurassic Parody”, but that’s only half true. In reality this is a family drama wrapped up in a love of cinema. Its conceit is a memorial viewing of the film in honour of a dead mother, but when the actual video tape goes awry her two children and ex-husband are forced to act out the film on-stage instead. And, paralleling the relationship between Sam Neil’s Grant and the two kids he’s forced to protect in the film, the (appropriately named) Park family are brought together through communal appreciation of the film.

Gradually the lines between film recreation and reality blur, as we witness flashbacks of family life told through quotations from the film. It’s all rather sweet, but as a family drama it lacks some bite owing to the stereotypical portrayal of characters – the geeky son, the insular daughter tied to her diary, the father fumbling his way through parenthood – and the cartoonish portrayal of the film undermining any drama. It’s also disappointing that (wavering) Bristolian accents have been used seemingly solely for comic effect.

The show is at its best, then, when it’s mimicking the film. Scene changes come with the three-strong cast hilariously depicting the physicality of different dinosaurs; the gentle parodying of the film is delivered in strong comic fashion, with some spot-on perceptions of certain characters and scenes; and the use of props is charmingly done, from a toy helicopter hovering over the stage accompanied by the sound of a glockenspiel playing the theme tune, to a backpack used as a T-Rex head in one of the film’s most iconic moments that’s surprisingly realistic. There’s even room for a feminist reading of the film (all the dinosaurs are female and can’t be tamed) that is especially perceptive. Throw in some 90s cultural jokes and a very entertaining contemporary soundtrack, and Dinosaur Park makes for an enjoyable evening. It might not be as revolutionary as the film it pokes fun at, but it’s a loving recreation with a touching little family drama to boot.

3/5

Watch: Dinosaur Park runs at Wilton’s Musical Hall until 2nd July.

Dinosaur Park @ Wilton's Music Hall
Photos: Geraint Lewis

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Red Hot Chili Peppers - The Getaway

Red Hot Chili Peppers - The Getaway

A 33 year career in music is nothing to be sniffed at, especially if you can stay consistently relevant in that time span. That is sadly not the case for the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

2002's 'By The Way' was probably the band at peak mainstream appeal, but not since 'Californication' have they done anything particularly interesting or novel. That was 17 years ago.

Incidentally, 'Californication' marked the return of on-off guitarist John Frusciante. He left the band for a second time in 2009, before they released their tenth album 'I'm With You' in 2010 with previous collaborator Josh Klinghoffer. Did anyone even listen to 'I'm With You'?

And will anyone listen to 'The Getaway'? The answer is a resounding "no", the moral of the story being the Chilis are nothing without Frusciante. This eleventh album - an apparent return to glory - is so painfully average, they may as well have recorded the literal sound of a dead horse being flogged.

Without Frusciante, it falls on bassist Flea to try and create some interest with funk basslines that vaguely hint of better days; drummer Chad Smith shuffles along nicely enough; and the vocals of Anthony Kiedis are tired and lifeless as he slowly morphs into that puppet of Iggy Pop on the insurance ads.

The result is an album absolutely devoid of thrills. Perhaps the only exception is Go Robot, which attempts to update the Chilis sound: an initial funk groove is gradually accompanied by subtle use of electronics and hand claps, even if - in typical fashion - the lyrics are just a thinly veiled sexual metaphor.

Elsewhere, though, the music doesn't funk, it doesn't rock, it doesn't even pop. It simply limbers along for 13 tracks, the corpse of the 90s dragged out at half speed without a jolt of electricity. Go Robot aside, not one track is noteworthy - for good or for bad.

'The Getaway', then, is not the sound of a band ageing gracefully. The Chilis have committed a worse crime: of being unimaginably, boringly mediocre.

1/5

Gizzle's Choice:
* Go Robot
* Nope, that's it.

Listen: 'The Getaway' is out now, if you really, really must listen.




Sunday, 19 June 2016

Nick Jonas - Last Year Was Complicated

Nick Jonas - Last Year Was Complicated

Usually it's the female popstars who take up the headlines - the Britneys, the Gagas, the Katy Perrys, the Taylor Swifts. But recently there's been a resurgence in male-focused pop. Bieber's comeback was the talking point of last year. Drake is currently dominating the charts. And even Zayn has released an impressive album this year.

Now we can add Nick Jonas to the list. It's been two years since his self-titled solo debut, an album that brought us the smash hit Jealous. With 'Last Year Was Complicated' he's proving that he's finally a "real man".

Taking those contemporaries as reference points, this is a slick album of cold, metallic synths, heavy beats and subtle hints of hip-hop. It's not the most original of sounds, but it's irresistible. Mostly, though, the album is about sex. Jonas has Champagne Problems that sees him doing the nasty rather than breaking up with his girl; he's not afraid to get Close with Sweden's Tove Lo; he touches his girl with "no hands" on Touch; and on Don't Make Me Choose he begs not to choose between his left and right hands, what for is anyone's guess...

He's not afraid to show some emotion - on Chainsaw he threatens to rip up his whole house now "you're gone", sung with a yearning melody over finger clicks. Later he sings "I'll never get over getting under you" on Under You, neatly combining breaking up with sex - his two favourite subject matters.

There's even a song here called Bacon that sums up the whole album as he revels in late nights alone, presumably chomping on some bacon. The lurching beat and rap from Ty Dolla $ign only emphasise this image of manliness, the only thing he loves "more than being with you" is "no ties", "no drama in my life", because apparently women are only good for sex and drama.

Yet who is this hyper-masculinity aimed at? You'd be forgiven for thinking Jonas is determined to rake in that pink pound as he constantly features in gay media, and seems to revel in his newfound status as sex symbol. Is this album really aimed at gay men so shallow they'll lap up this macho image?

More likely, Jonas is actually on a similar trajectory to those women he aims to beat to the top of the charts. Where so many female popstars have shaken off a cutesy young image to become sexually empowered women, Jonas has done the same with this album. Now he's finally a man - it just took some objectification to get there. Welcome to 2016 everyone.

3/5

Gizzle's Choice:
* Close
* Chainsaw
* Bacon

Listen: 'Last Year Was Complicated' is out now.


Thursday, 16 June 2016

Dawn Richard @ XOYO

Dawn Richard Blackheart

Dawn Richard is still far from a mainstream name here in the UK, despite her profile in the US as part of Danity Kane and a successful solo career. Yet despite only performing to a small but dedicated crowd at XOYO, this was a superstar performance. “You made it feel like home,” she said as she thanked fans at the end.

What was clear from the outset was the sheer energy of Richard’s performance. Ably accompanied by two on-stage dancers, she hit every accent on every beat with hair flicks, drops and choreography. And it was all delivered with sexual flair: coquettish smirks at the audience followed by impressive athleticism.

What was most impressive, though, was that she maintained her vocals throughout. She may not have the depth of tone of some of her contemporaries, but there’s a purity to her runs and riffs that are sung with total accuracy and strong emotion. That’s true whether she’s singing dance anthems like the appropriately titled Dance and Calypso, or a cover of Wild Horses that samples Crystal Castles’ Not In Love and had plenty of punch.

Still, it’s dance music that Richard excels at and here she’s created quite a niche. Her fusion of RnB, hip-hop, DnB and dance is irresistible, whipping the crowd into a frenzy. There’s an air of experimentation to the production too, ensuring this rises far above the usual EDM fare even if lyrically this isn’t always the richest material. This gig was an invitation into her world – a world of sex, metallic synths, and heavy beats performed with fierce conviction that sits somewhere between the likes of Aaliyah, Beyoncé and FKA Twigs.

That world was certainly consistent, but it does have its limitations. The setlist barely let up, relentlessly driving through over a mere 45 minutes. And it consisted mainly of songs from most recent album ‘Blackheart’ – a nod to preceding album ‘Goldenheart’ would’ve been welcome.

Regardless, Richard proved herself an almighty force with soaring vocals and euphoric beats that deserved a far bigger stage to match her energy – in her final song she even walked through the audience so we could bathe in her glory even closer. “You never lost faith in me,” she sang on opening song Faith. No matter which side of the pond you’re on, there’s no reason to doubt her.

4/5 

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Tegan and Sara - Love You To Death

Tegan and Sara - Love You To Death

Yet again, Tegan and Sara have proven that the very best pop comes in small, compact packages. As with 2013’s incredible ‘Heartthrob’, ‘Love You To Death’ has just ten songs that all hover around the three minute mark. And there’s not a bad song amongst them.

And in many more ways, this album is a sequel to the last. It continues the perfectly polished, 80s influenced pop aesthetic of ‘Heartthrob’ and its focus is again on love songs. Yet here the songs are more insular and self-aware, the twins questioning their own thoughts and feelings. “When did I become that girl?” they ask on opener That Girl, “nobody hurts you like me”. For a generally upbeat album that fizzes and bubbles, Tegan and Sara sure like to write dark lyrics – but then, that juxtaposition is what makes happy-sad pop so alluring.

“Put a little of you into my heart / Took a chance and you tore it apart,” they sing on standout Dying To Know, “I’m dying to know, is the one you ended up with everything you wanted?”. Lyrically it might mirror Adele, but it’s accompanied by clipped, processed beats and syncopated synths. Stop Desire may seem like the giddy rush of falling in love, but there’s an edge to the emotion – “I didn’t wanna be so invested / I played it cool and then I overdressed it”.

This reaches a climax with 100x, the album’s core ballad. It’s a gentle, piano-led break-up song that sees the girls lamenting “I swear I tried to leave you at least a hundred times a day”, the lyrics amongst the most raw they’ve written, refreshing in their position as villain rather than victim, heart-breaking in their truth and honesty. And where in other songs the lyrics are masked by pop hooks and vibrant synths, here the emotion is laid bare. It’s an arresting listen and a brave move to unveil such vulnerability.

Things eventually change though – on U-Turn, the girls finally relax. If ‘Love You To Death’ is about personal character development, then this track summarises it all as they learn to “write you the love song you’ve earned” rather than selfishly focusing on themselves.

All this is to say that ‘Love You To Death’ is an album of honesty, reflection and growth; raw human emotion wrapped up in a colourful pop package. There’s more though – with this album the girls are more open about their position as LGBT advocates. There are small moments, like their open use of female pronouns. There’s a nod to equal marriage on BWU, the girls noting “I don’t need a ring to prove that you’re worthy”. And there’s the darker side of gay romance on Boyfriend – “you treat me like your boyfriend,” they sing, “but I don’t want to be your secret anymore”. That said ‘Love You To Death’ shouldn’t be viewed as a gay album, it is simply pop at its most open and honest.

The only downside is what’s come before. ‘Love You To Death’ doesn’t quite have the novelty factor of ‘Heartthrob’, on which the girls experimented with a new pop sound. And there’s the small matter of Taylor Swift and Carly Rae Jepsen – Tegan and Sara have a similar sound, but don’t quite have the mainstream clout. That deserves to change.

4/5

Gizzle’s Choice:
* Boyfriend
* Dying To Know
* 100x

Listen: ‘Love You To Death’ is out now.




Friday, 3 June 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) - Bryan Singer

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) - Bryan Singer

The X-Men series has always thrived for its themes and concepts – specifically, its position on equality and diversity that no doubt strikes a chord with so much of today’s politics. But X-Men: Apocalypse fails miserably in its execution.

There are a couple of cool moments. As with Days of Future Past, Evan Peters’ Quicksilver steals the film in a single scene: as Professor X’s school explodes in slow motion, the processed beats of the Eurythmics kicks in and he swaggers in to save the day with typical cockiness (shout out to pizza dog). And the film does eventually reach a suitable climax: Professor X (James McAvoy) trapped in a literal battle of minds with Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac, not that you’d recognise him with that blue butt-chin), until Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) steps in and finally unleashes her full potential in a kickass display (let’s just ignore her “American” accent shall we?). Director Bryan Singer does know how to deliver a decent action sequence with plenty of nods to the comics and previous storylines that fans will lap up.

The rest of the film? It’s about 5% close-up shots of people gasping as they wake up from deep sleeps, 10% excruciating one-liners that overstate the obvious and will have you guffawing in your seat, and 85% posing – LOOK AT ME I’M A SASSY SUPER HERO IN A RUBBER SUIT AND A CAPE, WATCH ME POUT MOODILY IN SLOW MOTION.

Most of the film revolves around Apocalypse – a mutant revived from Egyptian times – assigning his “four horseman” sidekicks by, essentially, giving them a makeover complete with revealing costumes, awkward haircuts and a lot of coloured contact lenses. The remainder of the mutants are moody teenagers struggling to come to terms with their powers, but with so many of them there’s little room for character development, each of them defined by their powers alone (or the typical representation of the character – Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), for instance, is as whiny as ever).

The film’s budget seems to have been primarily spent on CGI and costumes. There are plenty of exploding buildings and crumbling cities, but crucially very little of the mutants in action. Admittedly the climax does a good job of visualising telepathic powers, but it’s not until this point that any of them really get to unleash anything exciting or of worth. Alexandra Shipp’s Storm is criminally underused and Lana Condor’s cameo as Jubilee disappointingly involves no fireworks whatsoever.

Instead we get lazy performances from some great actors (I’m looking at you Fassbender, Lawrence and McAvoy), a boringly simple plot, and some ridiculous anachronisms. Another strength of the series – especially this reboot – is its real world setting that grounds the action in a plausible reality. And whilst Apocalypse does a good job recreating the 80s, the clashes of comic book fantasy and history are hilariously awful. This is a film in which Olivia Munn’s Psylocke arrives in a ruined Auschwitz dressed in a booby rubber swimsuit. It is simply ludicrous.

That, though, is what makes the film strangely enjoyable. This is one of those summer blockbusters that’s so bad you can’t help but laugh. Perhaps the filmmakers know this, suggesting it really shouldn’t be taken seriously. At one point Jean Grey even comments that the third film in any trilogy is always the worst. As cringe-worthy as that line is, she’s not wrong.


2/5


Thursday, 2 June 2016

Fifth Harmony - 7/27

Fifth Harmony - 7/27

Album number two, and I still don’t really know who Fifth Harmony are. There’s the one with the eyebrows. The one with the squeaky voice. And the one with two right feet?

Fittingly, then, for their lack of personality, ‘7/27’ is little more than a checklist of generic pop styles. Lead single and album highlight Work from Home sets the tone with its pop-R&B sound and featured rap from Ty Dolla $ign. Elsewhere there’s the stomping sax-tinged opener That’s My Girl; synth-banger The Life; tropical house banger Write On Me; obligatory Rihanna cast-off (probably) All In My Head (Flex); R&B throwback Gonna Get Better; happy-sad non-chorus banger Scared of Happy; the funky Prince-esque Not That Kind Of Girl…etc.

The checklist continues with the songwriters and producers, offering a distinct lack of surprises: Stargate, Benny Blanco, Kygo (there’s the tropical house influence) amongst others, plus a writing credit from Tinashe. These songs are meant to be a popular basis for the girls to reveal some personality. But what personality? Yes they can sing, they can dance, they can harmonise. But not once do they rise above ‘basic’.

The thing is, ‘7/27’ remains an enjoyable album. That may be down to the team behind the band rather than the girls themselves, but the album delivers a consistent collection of bangers that neatly sums up contemporary pop tastes. Sure, it may not be outstanding, but there’s equally not a bad song here. The “work work work” hook from Work From Home is amongst the most infectious pop tracks of the year. Listening to The Life makes me want to sip on a Mai Thai and get sweaty on the dancefloor – and I don’t even like Mai Thais. Gonna Get Better is a slick modernising of a 90s R&B sound. And Scared of Happy is amongst the girls’ best work, amalgamating the pop-dance-R&B-tropical house sound of the album as a whole, however convoluted that might sound.

Then again, it could be anyone singing these songs. Perhaps the girls will finally find some personality by the time album three comes along – if they make it that far.

3/5

Gizzle’s Choice:
* Work From Home
* Gonna Get Better
* Scared of Happy

Listen: ‘7/27’ is out now.