Archive for December, 2008

Super Trouper, Pooper-Scooper

Posted in Grave News, Music, Pointless Nostalgia on December 31, 2008 by Johnnie

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Ah, Hogmanay. ‘Tis the season for anyone with a dodgy beard and/or a crappy ’70s hairstyle to pretend they’re in Abba.  And that, as they say, is just the girls.

Yes, it’s the time of year when hundreds of clearly inebriated people pay good (a.k.a. scarce) money to sit in the function room of a soulless country or suburban hotel, consuming a sub-carvery 3-course meal and a bottle of vinegary plonk, in readiness for the night’s star turn: four eejits in white, shiny outfits attempting to convince you they are Sweden’s finest export before flatpack furniture and Dime bars.   Everywhere you look, these patently talentless buffoons are trying to raise the spirit of Bjorn, Benny, Frida and Sexy Bottom, without the remotest shred of self-respect, knowing full well that their audience:  A) have paid upfront and B) will be too arseholed to realise the band don’t look or sound anything like Abba.

This is where I take serious issue with the word “tribute”.  Are the living bands at all happy with these (largely dreadful) impersonators?  Are the dead revolving and revolting in their graves?  There are thousands of these so-called “tribute” acts everywhere, impersonating everyone from U2 to Jeff Buckley (now there’s a Happy New Year party), all of whom must have benefitted fully from the sheer stupidity and gruesome opulence of the economic boom; surely to God these nixers (at least, it’s to be hoped they aren’t lucrative enough to be full-time jobs) are about to bite the stoor as people dig out their piggy banks for the first time in over a decade.  Who, in 2009, is going to cheerfully pay to hear the words: “Tonight, Matthew, I’m going to completely lose any semblance of my own personality and pretend to be Benny”?  And more like Benny out of Crossroads, apparently.

Anyway, next year, as everyone will be reading instead of going out, I’m going to write cheap “tribute” versions of great novels, starting with Wuthering Heights-esque and quickly followed up by Dracul-ish.  That should pack out Easons with punters desperate to avoid the real thing.

Happy New Year to you all, whoever you are – or think you are.

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How Green Was My Hobby?

Posted in Favourite Publications, Grave News on December 30, 2008 by Johnnie

adamdouglasAccording to the “special” Christmas Day edition of The Avondhu, the Green Party’s greenest candidate for the 2009 local elections, Fermoy’s Adam Douglas, is “concerned over fishing proposals”.  No wonder.  It’s almost guaranteed that fishing was his dad’s proposal; like most kids, young master Douglas no doubt wanted to go to Funderland instead.

Craig’s Lists 2008 – Albums of the Year

Posted in Music on December 22, 2008 by Johnnie

From The Sunday Business Post, 21st December

sdIt may be the age of instant, one-song downloads, but 2008 was chock-full of truly excellent and artfully-crafted long-players.  Glasgow’s Sons & Daughters got the year off to a fine start with the glossy, girl-group pop of This Gift, while soulful compatriots Glasvegas rose above the hype with their self-titled debut. Travis may have seemed unlikely to return with a cracking album, yet their new effort, Ode To J Smith, was just that.

jim-noirIn England, Elbow were worthy winners of the Mercury Prize with The Seldom Seen Kid, while Brighton’s Blood Red Shoes proved that a duo of drums, guitar and vocals could be greater than the sum of its parts with their debut, Box of Secrets.  The Duke Spirit made up for a patchy debut with their sumptuous follow-up, Neptune, while Mancunian retro-futurist Jim Noir gave us his thus-far tragically overlooked self-titled album, which brimmed pop perfection. Foals‘ debut, Antidotes, also came highly recommended.

rook2From the States, we had Fleet Foxes‘ eponymous harmonic masterpiece, while the virtually critic-proof TV on the Radio excelled with their fourth release, Dear Science. An unexpected highlight came from Austin band Shearwater,whose ornithology-obsessed fifth album, Rook, was filled with sweeping arrangements, swooping choruses and impeccable attention to musical detail. Meanwhile, Canada’s The Dears returned with a slimmed-down lineup but packed no less of a punch with their incendiary Missiles.

ladyhawkeFurther afield, New Zealand’s Pip Brown, aka Ladyhawke, released the pop album of the year with her eponymous collection of joyful, danceable, ’80s-retro nuggets, while from Africa, Amadou & Mariam released the equally jubilant, and thoroughly excellent, Welcome To Mali.

mk1In Ireland, it was a pretty good year, too. We had excellent albums from Jape, Saville, Halfset and the much-anticipated, rollocking debut from Fight Like Apes with their Mystery of the Golden Medallion.  But top billing has to go to Richie Murphy’s Michael Knight, whose flamboyant and meticulously-arranged second album, I’m Not Entirely Clear How I Ended Up Like This, should be sought by anyone with a penchant for Neil Hannon, or even Noel Coward. Wonderful stuff.

Craig’s Lists 2008 – The Worst Albums I Reviewed This Year

Posted in Music on December 22, 2008 by Johnnie

All reviews from The Sunday Business Post

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Jason Donovan: Let It Be Me Poor Scott from Neighbours; after Charlene (Kylie) went off to be a mega-selling pop princess and Mike (Guy Pearce) found Hollywood stardom, he did his best with the slim pop-pickings and Technicolor dreams, stuff that suited his limited voice. Now back on TV, with a certain retro chic and no little goodwill, Jason Donovan has stymied it all with this appalling record.  Carole King, Bobby Darin, Billy Fury, The Platters, Phil Spector . . . you name them, Donovan’s mauled them. This can only be for his original fans who have bought and heard nothing since Ten Good Reasons came out 19 years ago.  Karaoke arrangements, Fame Academy interpretations, and don’t even mention the wince-inducing high notes. Blue Velvet? Blue murder, more like. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes? No, I think it’s soap, Jason.

musicThe Music: Strength In Numbers The more things change, the more the Music stay the same. Six years on from their debut, and now with a new label, they’re still taking themselves too seriously, still rocking like Led Zeppelin attached to a disco pacemaker and, for all their perceived anxiety, still sounding like their lyrics and song titles are self-indulgent afterthoughts.  For their third album, the Leeds four-piece crank up the beats by recruiting Orbital’s Paul Hartnoll on knob-twiddling duties, but the effort only underlines why the Music were left standing by contemporaries such as Muse and the Rapture earlier on in the decade.  While the anthemic title track is undeniably punchy, and The Spike and The Left Side have a certain sonic verve, Robert Harvey’s primal wail displays a tiresome lack of versatility, right up to Inconceivable Odds, a dire, predictable ballad, tacked on the end like a school disco slowie. Hardly the definitive article.

morrisonJames Morrison: Songs For You, Truths For Me With his debut album, Undiscovered, James Morrison brought his treacly blend of Rod Stewart, Terence Trent Darby and gin-infused honey to multimillion-selling prominence. It’s little wonder, then, that his follow-up takes the same path; still labouring to make ‘soul’ whiter, sweeter and take fewer risks than a health and safety rep.  As before, the emphasis is on emollient emotion, with lovelorn lyrics written by predictive text and achingly evocative string arrangements. You can practically visualise the chest-beating self-effacement in Save Yourself, while You Make It Real could be a motivational note-to-self for Morrison’s vicarious love-pain dispensary.  This is an album of bespoke saccharine grandiosity, with no more slickly sickly example than Love Is Hard, a cloyingly earnest ballad, which probably came out of the production factory marked ‘‘killer final track’’. Soul-by-numbers never sounded more calculated. 

ansellJonathan Ansell: Forever A former member of X Factor vocal troupe G4, Ansell specialises in making ‘classical’ records for people who don’t actually want to listen to classical music. His second album, an unashamedly schmaltzy mix of showstopping arias and pop, carries the optimistic hope that we won’t wince at Queen and Daniel Bedingfield appearing alongside Verdi and Puccini.  But Ansell’s high-camp voice isn’t suitable for either discipline. His fluffy renditions of Libiamo and E Lucevan Le Stelle would evacuate Covent Garden, and none shall sleep after his musical-theatre murdering of Nessun Dorma. He’s happier on Aranjuez, whose subtle orchestration better suits his prime-time TV operatics; even O Holy Night carries a seasonal chill, if not of the festive sort.  The biggest letdown here must be for the England rugby league World Cup team, whose stirring, patriotic anthem Hearts Of England sounds like a disenchanted prelude to certain defeat.

kdKD Lang: Watershed The once-magnificent Lang returns with her first proper album in eight years, but the rest hasn’t done her creativity much good.  These 11 tracks, all set to the pace of a snail in rapidly drying cement, see Lang easing herself into the elasticised waistband of Ingenue-lite MOR, where the torch casts a shadow and the country grates. Lang’s rich, voluptuous vocals are very much intact, but any potential beauty within the structures of these ballads is routinely spoilt by sentimental strings, superfluous steel guitar and copious, gruelling banjos.  The tender, heart-melting chords of Shadow And The Frame almost rescue a shred of Lang’s former glory at the death but the miserable whimsy of closing track Jealous Dog ends the album on a low ebb.  Absolute torpor and twang.

innerpartysystemInnerpartysystem: Innerpartysystem Ever wondered what bad ’80s hair rock would sound like if it went electro? Of course you haven’t; why on earth anyone at Island Records did is beyond comprehension. Pennsylvania’s Innerpartysystem sound like the result of a twisted experiment to make an album sound dated, no matter when it was released.  For all their calculatedly fuzzy bombast and Patrick Nissley’s strangulated introspection, they rock like an emo Roxette.  Shockingly inert chord progressions fill out progressively ordinary anthems, each containing abysmal lyrics stating the entirely obvious via terrible metaphors. The album comes without a single redeeming feature, and if ever there was a case for judging a record by its song titles, this was it: Heart Of Fire, This Town Your Grave, This Empty Love and, worst of all, Die Tonight, Live Forever, all sound like leftovers from a video shop’s bargain-bin sale. Utterly excruciating.

79cortinaz79Cortinaz:  Hopioki Carlow quartet 79Cortinaz march ebulliently and belatedly into the fray with their bouncing debut but what they’re quite so cheerful about remains a mystery.  Hopioki’s sore-thumb standout is Deirdre’s Song, their four-year-old first single and the point at which their melodic aspirations apparently peaked; besides the promising intro to I Can’t Stand It and the chiming lament of She’s Awake, this album merrily plumbs new depths of barrel-scraping indie-rock mediocrity.  Witless opener Cindy Cindy is forehead-banging bilge, Drive Me Home is a sonic wince-fest with a vocal in need of industrial nasal spray, and Raspberry Bon Bons blows a last-gasp Bronx cheer in the face of good taste.  Producer Rat Scabies does his best to turn scraps into sustenance and roadies into rock stars but this album is an ideas vacuum; if they seriously believe Hopioki is okey-dokey, 79Cortinaz are heading rapidly for rock’s great scrap yard.  [N.B. They split in December 2008]

chumpsKaiser Chiefs: Off With Their Heads There’s a vogue among established bands to announce a third-album change in musical direction; more often than not, it involves a couple of leftfield experiments, followed by a quick scurry back to their comfort zone. And so to Kaiser Chiefs’ third effort, which distinguishes itself from its predecessors merely by its directionlessness.  Sure, the catchy single Never Miss A Beat charms and infects to the point of nuisance, while the meaty Half The Truth recaptures some of debut album Employment’s rascally vitality; but elsewhere there’s little ubiquitous producer Mark Ronson can do to stop the musical and lyrical rot.  Tomato In The Rain is typical of their poetic paucity, Always Happens Like That is a lazy mangling of early Blur, and the Robert Palmer-aping line ‘‘might as well face it’’ on Addicted To Drugs is simply humourless. Off With Their Heads is, at best, a stay of the Chiefs’ overdue execution.

roryRory: God Bless The Big Bang The former lead singer of Donegal rascals The Revs, Rory Gallagher picks himself a new sound, a shorter monicker and a sunnier outlook in a bid to make up for lost opportunities; the only problem being that his solo debut is a stinker.  Very much from the Mickey Harte school of variety show mediocrity, God Bless The Big Bang is an abject demonstration of abandonment of creative fire in pursuit of the straightforwardly dire. Gallagher’s old band’s cynicism about corporate codswallop (on songs like Louis Walsh) seems a world away on wishy-washy ditties like Walking In My Dreams and Happy Medium.  Whimsical titles like Daze And Knights only veil a lack of musical and lyrical imagination, most pitifully exposed on the Prince-paraphrasing emptiness of End Of The World Boogie (‘‘Dance like it’s the end of the world’’). Sadly, the rejuvenated Rory’s revs have backfired.

nkotb-theblockNew Kids On The Block: The Block This reviewer wouldn’t deny feeling a certain nostalgic warmth for NKOTB classics such as Cover Girl and Tonight. But, after 14 years away, the old Block are sounding a little chipped, and are hangin’ rather limp these days. Who would have thought a surefire notion like bringing in R&B heavyweights like AKON, Ne-Yo and Timbaland could end up sounding so lightweight?   Mid-tempo is the new rockin’ for all ageing boybands, and these 15 similar tracks merge almost seamlessly into a pool of laid-back, clinical gloop. Vocals are either heavily whispered (presumably attempting ‘sexy’) or rendered anonymous through an over-used vocoder, making it difficult to distinguish between Sporty, Scary, Baby, Sexy or Dorky.   Without any standout hits (neither Summertime nor Single work, although Full Service almost does), the Block is a real shrinker: it sounds worse every time you play it. A horrid, indelible new blot on the kids.

For Whom The Bells Jingle…

Posted in Grave News on December 21, 2008 by Johnnie

AbandonHope.jpgFriday, December 19th: At length, I took shelter from the howling wind and relentless rain under a dark canopy on Leeson Street.  It was a particularly dismal spot on this torrid night; a place where nocturnal revellers would smoke cigarettes, gossip and guffaw, and grimace at the cowering vagrants who nestled amongst the wheelie bins, those whose putrid emanations warned: ‘Abandon soap, all ye who enter here’. Yet, there was not a soul here now.  The wind was such that, even under this awning, the swirling rain continued to assault my sodden coat.  In desperation, I searched for an opening, some nook or niche into which I could escape the oppressive storm, but I found none.  Instead, I discovered a bolted door, whose thickness and solidity did not betray or yield to the feeble battering of my half-frozen hands.  It was only then that I saw the notice: DEATH RESTS WITHIN. I turned around, my back slammed hard into the door and I slid despairingly to the damp paving slabs, on to a soggy cushion of discarded cigarette butts.  I had seen that sign before.  Was it in some hideously prophetic dream? Alas, yes; a nightmare so hideous that I woke from it in a terrible, freezing sweat. Only one week into the festive season, during which I had lit up my home with a thousand colourful lights and heated each room to ward off the hideous frost outside, I dreamt that I found, on the floor of my hallway, directly under my letterbox, a large envelope, thickly stuffed with many sheets of paper; upon this envelope, just above my address, were printed those three awful words, in the same, ghastly bold font.  But that wasn’t all; there, on the top right-hand corner, as on this sign (I shudder to recall it), were the identical letters: ESB Networks.  I threw envelope to the floor, reeling back in horror, before slamming into, then sliding down, my living room door.  It was at this point that I awoke.  And, as I sat there on the cold, wet ground of Leeson Street, I realised with an icy shiver that I had experienced, in dream-form, and in the most horrible manner imaginable, a Scrooge-like premonition of the dark, recession-filled future design of Irish electricity bills.

The Future Of The Left..?

Posted in Favourite Publications on December 19, 2008 by Johnnie

marx_engels_lenin_svgAs a former teenage Civil Servant back in Scotland (Britain’s Official Secrets Act forbids me from stating where, which makes it seem way more dramatic than it actually was) during the Thatcher era, I get strangely nostalgic whenever I flick through that venerable journal, Public Service Review.  For those who may not have come across it, it’s a full-colour pamphlet, which comes out every couple of months, in typically lackadaisical fashion, for the sole purpose of providing entertainment during elongated Civil Service tea and toilet breaks.   It’s patently not for public consumption, as it rejoices in publishing photographs of public service employees, not serving the public or in any way working, but attending seemingly endless meetings and committees.  Flick through any given issue, and there they all are: picking noses, scratching ears, nodding off, chortling, quaffing tea, munching biscuits, listening intently to bearded speakers go on at length about “fair pay”, “negotiations”, “industrial action” (surely the funniest tautological oxymoron of all time), going on protest marches (I really wish marchers would chant “SIPTU-three-four, SIPTU-three-four”) and generally putting the public’s money to great and profitable use.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan; I used to be one of those narcoleptic cookie monsters. Even as an 18-year-old temp, I realised what was going on.  The Union reps would look after things like Health & Safety or Sports & Social, because it meant they could always justify swanning around the office with a clipboard, sucking through their teeth and shaking their heads and calling extraordinary meetings at the drop of a stubby pencil.  The union reps in my office were the usual woolly (literally, sweaterfests) lefty types, but were astonishingly protective of their positions.  Every time it came around to Union elections, they would heavily advise us not to vote for the Militants.  Now, I had no idea who anyone on the ballot paper was at all, until they pointed out which ones were the Militants – therefore, it was these hard-left, red-tied, sharp-suited Trotskyites who duly got my stroppy vote.  I realised what the scam was; if the soft-lefties were the Union reps, they wouldn’t cause too much trouble for management and therefore would be allowed to carry on floating about the office with their sweaty, furrowed brows, do-gooding clipboards and “Nuclear Power – No Thanks!” badges, avoiding all forms of gainful labour, just so long as they didn’t upset the apple cart too much.

Anyway, back to the publication in hand: in keeping with tradition, the festive edition of Public Service Review (front page headline: “United We Bargain, Divided We Beg”) features a grand and handy ‘Public Service Executive Union 2009 Calendar’ which comrades are asked to tear off, crease and then fold into an attractive desk adornment.  It comes with the following instructions:

  1. Detach back cover along perforation
  2. Fold along creases
  3. Engage locking tongues in appropriate slots to make tent shape

That should kill a good three hours, then.

You Have Kilt Me…

Posted in Grave News, Travel on December 17, 2008 by Johnnie

Well, if this doesn’t put the Ross back in your Cromarty, you’re already immune. It appears my old country wants its ex-pats back. Well, if Connery fancies paying taxes there again, and Lulu is prepared to go on a hunt for her long-jettisoned accent, maybe I will go back. For a weekend. The song carries a similarly realistic call to patriotic duty as Ireland’s last budget, and I expect the campaign will be every bit as effective as the new anti-drink-driving song.