Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Randomiser #29: 31 January 2007

Oh well, I was bound to miss one of them in the end... such is life.

Today's song: Hip Optimist, "Anafey"

This is from a Select cover CD with assorted off-cuts from Skint Records, who were terribly fashionable at the time since they had Fatboy Slim on their roster. With the benefit of hindsight, some of it has aged better than others, and this is firmly in the category of "others." It potters along inoffensively enough, but really, it's just a competent enough looping of a pleasant sound, with some fairly obvious vocal samples dropping in now and then. I mean, it's alright, but it's clearly filler material.

This album also included "Fire Like Dis" by Hardknox, which has unexpectedly resurfaced on an advert in the last few weeks. And it holds up rather well, considering it's now a decade old, possibly because it always sounded completely unlikely and over the top. But this... yeah, it's two minutes of okay ideas stretched out to about three times their natural lifespan.

Also today:
- The Beautiful South split, blaming "musical similarities." I imagine that's their way of saying that the band run its course a couple of albums ago and it's probably time to quit while they're ahead. There's some very underrated material in their back catalogue, though. So here's their first single.

Oh, and for the benefit of Americans, the line in the first verse is "I love the PRS cheques that you bring." The PRS is the Performing Rights Society. So, royalty cheques, in other words.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Randomiser #28: 29 January 2007

Today's song: Luke Haines, "Here's to Old England"

"God bless football hooligans and 1966 / The three day week and half day Wednesdays, the spirit of the Blitz / Well kept lawns and little gnomes / Dressing up in women's clothes / Two world wars and pubs that always close..."

This is from Luke Haines' recent album, "Off My Rocker at the Art School Bop", which was scandalously ignored considering that it's easily the best album he's made in years. I wrote about Haines before last year, and you may recall that he has a tendency to undermine the marketability of his amazing songwriting talents by writing bizarrely oblique lyrics, and songs about downright strange subjects such as artistic movements most people have barely heard of. "Off My Rocker..." is a remarkably accessible glam/pop album, which Haines has duly undermined, partly with that title, and partly by including such offerings as a song about the illicit hangouts of Jonathan King, and another expressing sympathy for the predicament of the Glitter Band.

This, however, is basically a list song sarcastically expressing Haines' devotion to his nation. ("I promise to do my duty and cheer the whole team on to victory.") Cynically wonderful.

Also today:

- In an early bid for the "data protection law violation of the year" award, the Halifax responds to a customer's request for a bank statement by sending her 75,000 of them - belonging to 75,000 other customers. How do you miss something like that? It's not like they just copied over her address in the database by mistake - they bundled them all up into a box.

- Proving that literal car crash television really does draw viewers, the return of Top Gear beat the Celebrity Big Brother final in the ratings. God knows it was more entertaining.

- The Last King of Scotland: very good indeed. Newly qualified Scottish doctor goes to Uganda for all the wrong (but commonplace) reasons, and ends up stumbling into the job of personal physician to Idi Amin. It's straining a point rather badly to open the film with a "based on real events" tag, since the lead character is fictitious and so is the central story, but Forrest Whitaker's performance is deservedly award-winning, and unlike some cultural purists, I have no problem with the idea that if you're making a film about Uganda for a British audience, a British point-of-view character helps get the point over.

Considering that we saw it on a Saturday night, there were an awful lot of multiplex-goers who thought Idi Amin would make for a good night out. No doubt the Oscar nomination helped, but it's nice to see this sort of thing doing so well. Mind you, I am in Scotland, and things with the word "Scotland" on them tend to do well here...

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Royal Rumble 2007

I figure one post a day is enough, so it's just going to be the PPV rundown today...

The Royal Rumble is one of the WWE's long-established shows, and it sells principally on the strength of the annual 30-man battle royal. Traditionally, battle royals tend to be godawful things in which 30 guys start off and do very, very little of interest until the ring has been cleared. The innovation of the Royal Rumble is to have the wrestlers draw numbers, and enter in two-minute intervals. This provides lots more opportunities for the wrestlers to do things in the ring, as well as making it easier to tell stories about guys overcoming the odds or, conversely, winning primarily through luck of the draw. When these things are booked well, they can be excellent fun. It would be a ridiculous way to determine a number one contender in the real world, of course, but hey, it's wrestling.

Originally, the winner used to get a world title shot at Wrestlemania. Now that we have three different brands and three different world titles, it's become a little more complicated, and the winner gets to pick whichever title he'd like to challenge for in the main event. It's undermined the simplicity, if you ask me, but if they're determined to have three world champions (an absurd idea, considering that each guy only defends against the people on his own roster) then it's inevitable.

Anyway, this is where the WWE begins the serious build to Wrestlemania, which is the biggest show of the year. At the moment, they've got very little set up, so they desperately need to hit the ground running tonight. Because the main event is guaranteed to run an hour, and all three brands have a full-length world title match, the undercard is pretty sparse.

1. The Royal Rumble. The one show of the year when the world title match is indisputably never the main event. Since the winner has to go on and headline Wrestlemania, there really aren't many options. As usual, most of the field are completely out of contention since they'd never be remotely credible in that role. Then there's a bunch of characters like Chris Benoit and King Booker who would be workable in theory, but in practice wouldn't make much sense from a storyline perspective. (Booker's spent months feuding over the Smackdown title already, and he's had several recent matches with Batista for the belt, so they need a fresh pairing.)

The obvious four candidates are the Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Edge and Randy Orton. They've already begun a storyline with Undertaker trying to get a title shot at Batista's Smackdown title, and being screwed out of it at every turn through the interference of Mr Kennedy (who's challenging for the title himself on this show). Undertaker and Batista would be the best marquee match on Smackdown, although it runs the risk of the crowd turning on Batista. It seems highly likely that they're going there for Wrestlemania, but they don't necessarily have to do it tonight. (If a Raw guy wins, then Smackdown will have to choose Batista's challenger another way, and so Undertaker gets a second chance. See what I mean about complicating the issue?)

Shawn Michaels is now back on his own after his DX partner, Triple H, suffered a legit leg injury. This is fine by me, since Michaels is much better playing his normal character than he is as an overgrown frat boy. Storyline logic says there's plenty of appeal to seeing Michaels win this match and go on to face John Cena at Wrestlemania for the Raw title. But there are two good reasons not to go there. Number one, Michaels was supposed to be in line for time off, as I recall, so do you really want to do a story that leads to him getting the belt and starting a new title reign in March? I'd be wary. Number two, it would mean both Raw and Smackdown having face/face matches, which may be excessive. It could happen, though.

Orton and Edge are the other credible contenders, in that they've just taken credit for getting rid of DX, they're both former world champions, and they're both plausible as Wrestlemania main eventers. Then again, Edge already feuded with Cena for several months last year, and Orton simply isn't as interesting. The problem is that Cena really doesn't have any obvious contenders lined up, so they need to make one for him.

My instinct is that it's either Undertaker or Edge, but it could be any of these four and I wouldn't be shocked. Look out, also, to see what they do with the notoriously awful Great Khali, who is only rarely allowed to appear on live television due to his spectacular badness. He's been presented as an unstoppable monster, and they'll want to preserve that here - so somehow, he's got to be eliminated, and eliminated quickly, without damaging that aura. Undertaker and Kane in tandem, perhaps?

2. Raw World Title, Last Man Standing: John Cena v Umaga. A storyline marred by inconsistent booking. At the last show, you'll recall, John Cena fought the undefeated ethnic stereotype, Umaga. Well, Cena won, but the story was that Umaga pummelled him for the whole match, and Cena just managed to catch him with a roll-up to retain his title. So Cena won clean, but not decisively, leaving room for a rematch. Fine.

This time, at the insistence of Umaga's manager, it's a Last Man Standing match (in other words, you can only win by knockout). Usually these gimmicks are wheeled out just to make a match seem slightly more special, but this actually makes perfect sense. Umaga thinks Cena only won by a fluke, so this is a gimmick designed to stop that happening. A reasonable, logical move by the confident villain.

And then, almost immediately after, they had Cena lay out Umaga in a matter of seconds. Idiots. The story here should have been "Can Cena possibly get Umaga down for ten seconds?" Now it's just "Who wins?", and that's much less interesting. Cena will retain (unless, conceivably, they've decided to go with Michaels/Umaga at Wrestlemania, but I doubt that very much). The match will be fine.

3. Smackdown World Title: Batista v Mr Kennedy. This is Ken Kennedy's first shot at the Smackdown World Title, and he won't be winning. I don't expect this to be terribly good, and hopefully they'll keep it short enough to disguise Batista's limitations and Kennedy's relative inexperience. (He's getting better, but he's not really main event material yet.) The storyline, loosely, involves Kennedy screwing Undertaker out of the title shot he should have had, and then blithering on endlessly about the fact that he's beaten six former world champions in the last year. This is technically true, but as any halfway attentive viewer knows, Kennedy beat most of them by DQ and count-out - and the title only changes hands on a pinfall or a submission, so the ability to get a DQ or a count-out is no good. If they have a good match, then the opportunity is there to make Kennedy a star, but I'm not holding my breath.

It occurs to me that a remote outside possibility is for Kennedy to win and then defend against Undertaker at Wrestlemania, but I just can't believe they'd have that much faith in him at this stage in his career.

4. ECW World Title: Bobby Lashley v Test. ECW has pretty much dropped off a cliff, and the ECW World Title is a bit of a joke. There are ECW guys in the Royal Rumble, but the chances of any of them headlining the biggest show of the year are zero. ECW is somewhat bereft of big names these days - Big Show has retired, Kurt Angle has left the promotion, and Rob Van Dam still seems to be in the doghouse after he got pulled over for driving while stoned during his last run as champion.

So Bobby Lashley is doing the rookie champion gimmick, and it's really not working. Nobody seems to care. Tonight, he'll be fighting Test. We saw this match on the regular ECW show earlier in the week and Lashley pinned Test clean. Yes, that's right, their build-up for the title match tonight was to do the same match, with the challenger losing clean. The mind boggles.

I can't believe a lifetime midcarder like Test would be in any danger of winning the title - even the ECW title - so Lashley will retain, and the match will probably be mediocre.

5. The Hardy Boys (Matt & Jeff Hardy) v MNM (Joey Mercury & Johnny Nitro, w/Melina). Finally, rounding off the card, a match which is implausibly being billed as the final confrontation between these two teams. The Hardy Boys and MNM were added to the Armageddon card in December at the last minute, and fought in a rather good four-way tag-team ladder match for the Smackdown tag belts. (Paul London and Brian Kendrick retained, so both these teams lost.)

During that match, the Hardys did the old stand-by ladder match spot where you use the ladder as a see-saw and whack the other guy in the face, silent movie style. Johnny Nitro, who isn't stupid, rolled with the blow and blocked it with his hands. Joey Mercury, who may have wanted to put in an impressive performance to shore up his career prospects, thought it might be a good idea just to stand there and get whacked square in the face with a metal object. Some thirty stitches later, he found out why it's not a good idea.

This really ought to be a slow build to a ladder match at Wrestlemania, but instead we've had a series of singles matches on Raw and Smackdown (all of which the Hardys have won), and Joey Mercury returning to the ring long before common sense should have allowed. This is just a straight tag team match, so either they've lost their minds and decidedly to end the storyline tonight - in which case the Hardys win - or they're going to build to a ladder match at Wrestlemania. In that case, MNM win, and they're just lying about it being the final confrontation between these two teams. (Although to be fair, they haven't pushed that line terribly hard.)

The match should be great - all four are good wrestlers, and they have decent chemistry. Incidentally, because the reunion of these teams was a last minute thing, Jeff Hardy is still carting the WWE Intercontinental Title around, because he's too busy in this feud to actually defend it against anyone other than Johnny Nitro.

Worth buying? Sure. It's the Royal Rumble. Cena/Umaga sounds fine, and the tag match should be good. The rest is a bit hit and miss, but overall this seems promising.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Randomiser #27: 27 January 2007

Today's song: Elvis Costello, "Man Out Of Time"

I don't know who produced this record, but by god, they've drowned it in echo... Anyway, this is from his greatest hits album, and I can't be bothered going to the other room to find the sleeve notes and check when it first came out.

Elvis Costello is one of those songwriters who's been around for so long that I tend to take him for granted as a fixture of the landscape. And then, every so often, I actually listen to this album, and remember that at his best, he's incredibly good. It's almost a shame that he chose to put out a double album, because he could have released an absolutely indispensible collection. Instead, his Best Of clocks in at something like 34 tracks, and to be honest, there's a bit of flab in there. "Man Out Of Time" is not the best produced record in the world, but it's a great song.

It doesn't seem to have a video, which is fine by me, because it gives me an excuse to post "Veronica" instead. This is easily my favourite Elvis Costello song, although admittedly the video falls into the trap of spelling it out for the slower members of the class. (And yes, Elvis is indeed singing ALONG with the backing track instead of miming to it. Which is... unusual.)

Also today:

- German man gives away €75,000 to a waiting crowd, after winning it on a radio competition. Apparently the deal was that you had to say what you'd do with the money and then the public would vote. He's keeping the other €25,000 to pay off his mortgage. Somebody, somewhere is already going to be working this into a lecture on the subject of co-operative negotiation.

This seems an excellent excuse to post Roman Coppola's video for Mansun's "Taxloss" - not an especially fantastic record, but a great little film. (Was it Blink 182 or Green Day who did a "throw away the budget on rubbish" video in the USA? Well, this is how you do it right, anyway.)

Friday, January 26, 2007

Randomiser #26: 26 January 2007

Today's song: The Detroit Cobras, "Hittin' On Nothing"

From their 1998 album "Mink, Rat or Rabbit" (and, lyrically, this would be the title track). As I recall, I bought this album several years ago because it was cheap and because I was listening to a lot of the White Stripes at the time. And to be honest, I've barely listened to it since. They're a covers act who specialise in doing 50s songs in a garage-band style. Which is to say, they're not going for fifties authenticity, but nor is it a polished, modernised version. It's more timeless.

They're very good at it, but it's the sort of thing I appreciate rather than enjoy.

Also today:

- Clive Goodman, the News of the World's royal editor, has been jailed for four months after pleading guilty to intercepting phone calls. He must have thought he had a half-decent shot at getting a non-custodial sentence, given the week's other major news story. Unfortunately (for him), his judge clearly wasn't paying as much attention to the Home Secretary's memo as some were. Terrible shame.

Clearly, prison overcrowding issues aside, the court was always going to have to come down hard on this one. It's hard to imagine a much more serious case without getting into the realms of industrial-scale fraud. Not surprisingly, the editor of the newspaper has resigned after it emerged in court that they were paying £100K a year to private investigators to perform blatantly illegal hacking - for stories with absolutely no public interest dimension whatsoever.

But tabloid newspapers have been doing this kind of thing for years; it's an open secret. It sticks in the throat, frankly, that the authorities only bothered doing something about it once the NOTW was stupid enough to try it on with the royal family. (And the very fact that the NOTW thought they might get away with that sort of thing demonstrates the extent to which some national newspapers seem to consider themselves above the law.) The interesting question now is whether the data protection authorities finally start enforcing the law properly against the tabloid newspapers in the light of this fiasco, or whether we go back to business as usual after a discreet interval. Sadly, my money is on the latter.

- Sham 69 have split. Hands up everyone who knew they were still together.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Randomiser #25: 25 January 2007

Today's song: Daft Punk, "Crescendolls"

Oh, hold on, there's a video for this....

Well, I call it a video. It's actually part of their movie Inter5tella 5555 (or something along those lines), which was basically a full-length video for the whole Discovery album. I suppose it's meant to be embracing the world of today's anime, although frankly, I always thought it looked more like a cast-off from Battle of the Planets. Breaking it down into a video for every track made for some terribly odd television, as well. I've never sat through the whole thing, and I can't honestly imagine it's worth hunting down.

"Crescendolls" is one of those tracks where Daft Punk hit on a good idea - and that's specifically one good idea - and then repeat it until dead. Fortunately, it clocks in at three minutes thirty, so they get away with it. I saw Daft Punk live at T in the Park a few years back when they were touring the first album, and they were stretching even the most minimal tracks out to outrageous lengths. It was one of the most boring things I've ever seen. At this length, though... cute.

Also today:

- Civil War: The Return.... uh, wow, that was bizarrely underwhelming. What a strange comic.

- I read with interest the ongoing dispute about whether Catholic adoption agencies should be subject to the equality legislation that would require them to accept homosexual couples. My initial reaction was to have some sympathy for their position, but the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that their position is not just wrong, but indefensible. Obviously you need to have a degree of respect for religious observance and to a degree that's going to involve tolerating beliefs that might otherwise be unacceptable. I would never, for example, support forcing churches to accept gay weddings if that was contrary to the religious beliefs of the congregation.

The difference here, though, is that "running an adoption agency" is not an act of religious observance. What you effectively have is an adoption agency that wants to ignore equality legislation simply because of the religious beliefs of the management. But the whole point of equality legislation is to force people to do things they wouldn't otherwise be willing to do, in the hope of engineering social change. What's the difference between a Catholic adoption agency, and an adoption agency that merely happens to be run by Catholics? What's the difference between a Catholic adoption agency and a Catholic school?

If you concede this point then it becomes a foothold for people to claim exemption from any equality legislation simply because they have strong views to the contrary. Running an adoption agency is an essentially secular activity. If the Catholic church wants to support adoption agencies, that's fine, but it has to do it on the same basis as everyone else. If you believe that religious beliefs should be a defence to equality legislation (in the context of essentially secular activities) then in reality you don't believe in equality legislation in the first place, and you should be directing your arguments there instead of seeking exemptions for one particular church.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Randomiser #24: 24 January 2007

Today's song: The Victorian English Gentlemen's Club, "Impossible Sightings Over Shelton."

Hey, this was a single. Let's chuck in the video.

The Victorian English Gentlemen's Club are a shouty Welsh indie band who, having equipped themselves with a name so long it doesn't even fit on MTV2's screen captions, thought it would be an excellent idea to release a single with a title so long that it doesn't fit either. All this is, er, terribly indie, as is the single. But it's a catchy, spiky track, which might wear its influences on its sleeve (to put it mildly), but at least does them well. Or, depending on your point of view, it's derivative schlock. And believe me, I can see that viewpoint, but I don't care, because for some reason I really like this. It took me ages to shift from my head the last time I listened to it.

Caution: the rest of the album is wildly inconsistent, and contains some extremely ropey material, not least "My Son Spells Backwards", which is a particularly inept piece of Pixies copying.

- DC have cancelled Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson's The Boys with issue #6, although there's been no official announcement as yet, and Newsarama had to get confirmation from Robertson. This sounds decidedly like a content-related cancellation of a creator-owned book, and I can't remember the last time DC did that (although there was some meddling with Authority a few years back, I think). It won't be good for their image, but then, The Boys was both (a) gratuitously obnoxious in a lot of its content, and (b) not desperately good, at least by the creators' standards.

Usually, big name creators who have a creator-owned book that DC won't touch end up doing it through Avatar, the indie porn-and-horror publisher. But there are financial implications for an artist in devoting his time to an Avatar book, and Image might be a slightly more attractive option - if they'll take it. Should be an interesting one to follow.

- The BBC reports that fans are upset by the announcement of a licensed Jimi Hendrix energy drink. Quite why this would upset them more than some of the tat already available on the officially authorised Authentic Hendrix online store is a mystery. It already offers a Jimi Hendrix lava lamp, a Jimi Hendrix air freshener, a Jimi Hendrix lightswitch cover, a "Happy Hendrix Holidays" ornament (which plays "Purple Haze"), and an official Jimi Hendrix kaleidoscope.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Randomiser #23: 23 January 2007

Today's song: Bjork, "Overture"

This is the opening track from Selmasongs, the soundtrack album to Lars von Trier's musical Dancer in the Dark. If you haven't seen it, it's an insanely over the top drama in which Bjork stars as a low-paid seamstress with failing sight, who struggles to support her son, and uses Hollywood musicals as an escape, leading to various daydream scenes where she imagines the scene around her as a musical number. Hence, you get an entire album of Bjork songs based, in theory at least, around samples of sound from the environments, which Selma is supposed to be building into the rhythm track in her head.

Depending on your point of view, this is either tearjerkingly intense, or (bearing in mind that it's Lars von Trier) sniggeringly melodramatic. Or both. I rather like it, and suspect that even if von Trier is playing his usual formal games, he's still basically sincere about wanting to make a real melodrama.


- My December Marvel sales column at the Beat. (Yes, December. Yes, I know it says November.)

- At the Onion AV Club blog, Nathan Rabin announces a year-long series of posts celebrating cinematic failure, and takes the opportunity to insist that this is not just an exercise in cheap mockery.

- Google unveils pretty floaty bubbles thing, which has something to do with statistics.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Randomiser #22: 22 January 2007

Today's song: The Chemical Brothers, "Three Little Birdies Down Beats"

Continuing the big beat theme, this is from the Chemical Brothers' debut album Exit Planet Dust, a title that made rather more sense when they were calling themselves the Dust Brothers. Of course, that was a suicidally stupid choice of name, since not only was there already a Dust Brothers in America, but they'd actually named themselves after said Americans. Silly people. So they changed their name to Chemical Brothers at rather short notice - in other words, they couldn't think of anything better - and kept the album title anyway.

Exit Planet Dust has rather a lot of slow-build tracks like this, whose titles betray the fact that they were probably intended as component tracks for DJs rather than as something to really listen to. The fact that the next three tracks are called "Fuck Up Beats", "Chemical Beats" and "Chico's Groove" is a bit of a giveaway. There are some very good tracks on this album, but stuff like this is more of a trial run for the much better albums the Chemical Brothers would make in future. Here, it's really just "take some interesting sounds and loop them till bored, then stick on an easi-mix run-out."


- Channel 4 has managed to blunder into another reality-show racism row already, after the first episode of Shipwrecked featured an 18-year-old public school girl who apparently claims to support the reintroduction of slavery. Apparently she'll be changing her views over the course of the series (which was filmed 5 months ago), but let's be honest, if she was even remotely serious in that, then they were fishing for controversy in casting her. And if she wasn't remotely serious... well, it's poor timing, to put it mildly.

- Incidentally, Media Guardian also points out that Channel 4 is offering the unedifying spectacle of Jade Goody (agents: John Noel Management) facing allegedly hard-hitting questions from the hosts of Big Brother and its satellite shows: Davina McCall (agents: John Noel Management), Dermot O'Leary (agents: John Noel Management) and Russell Brand (agents: John Noel Management). In fact, even the in-house psychiatrist turns out to be on the books of John Noel Management. Curiously, although Ricky Gervais isn't on Noel's books, Karl Pilkington is.

- Joe Quesada's current line on Dark Tower #1 orders: "It may be one of the largest selling non-superhero titles in recent memory. My prediction however is that even the huge number of orders that we've received won't be enough to cover the eventual demand, by a long shot."

Hmm. As a matter of policy, Marvel don't officially discuss sales numbers - even though they're easily available - but this doesn't exactly sound spectacular. In direct market terms, "one of the largest selling non-superhero titles in recent memory" is a pretty low threshold, and the fact that Quesada threw in that caveat rather than saying, for example, "one of the biggest selling titles of the year", is revealing.

The highest-selling non-superhero title on the December chart, even giving the broadest possible definition to "non-superhero", was newuniversal #1 at number 47. If you take a stricter definition, it was Anita Blake #3 at number 69. In fact, by my count, there hasn't been a non-superhero book in the top 10 since July 2003, when GI Joe/Transformers #1 sold 98,000 copies to make number 6. And that wouldn't even have been a top ten book last month.

Now, of course Dark Tower #1 will be a top ten book, and of course a big part of the agenda is to get a bookstore product at the end of the day. Even so, they were clearly aiming for huge direct market orders from this product, and gunning for a number one slot from the first issue. The fact that Quesada's now talking about it in terms of doing really well for a non-superhero book is intriguing.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Randomiser #21: 21 January 2007

Today's song: Fatboy Slim, "Kalifornia"

The one with a vocoder repeating "California is druggy, druggy, druggy, druggy..." for six minutes. It's from You've Come a Long Way, Baby, which irritatingly insists on appearing on my iPod screen with its rather dull American cover (a shot of Norman Cook's record collection). The British cover, with a picture of a fat man wearing an "I'm #1 So Why Try Harder" T-shirt, was apparently unusable in America for legal reasons - it's a photo of a random guy in the street, and they didn't actually have a release form for him. Not a problem in the UK, but in the USA they have this thing called image rights.

I've always liked this track - it's one of the songs from Norman Cook's commercial peak that deviates a bit from the formula, even if only to drop in an Underworld pastiche at the three minute mark. He's gone off the boil since then, but at this point in his career, he was making fantastic dance music that even curmudgeons like me had to enjoy. This really should have been put out as a single, but I suppose the lyrics were probably a sticking point there.

Between his Fatboy Slim output, Freakpower and Beats International, Cook's actually had a surprisingly varied career. And that's without counting his incongruous time as a member of the Housemartins. I can still never quite get my head around the fact that this was his first ever number one:

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Randomiser #20: 20 January 2007

Today's song: The Aphex Twin, "Xtal"

This is from his debut album, Selected Ambient Works 85-92, back when music critics with more buzzwords than sense were calling him the Mozart of ambient music. With hindsight, that's a rather grandiose description for someone who was making records like this - a pleasing, trancy little number which would have been fairly cutting edge at the time. In fact, it's still significantly ahead of the pack today, with a catchy hook and a nice organic sound to it. A lot of electronic music from this period sounds terribly dated nowadays because the synth sounds are awfully primitive, not to mention over-familiar. This still has a timeless, ethereal quality to it.

Subsequently, Richard D James went on to become one of those electronica types who shoves out seemingly random collections of music that make you wish he'd be a bit more selective. His double album, Drukqs, contained a horrific amount of padding, and these days I tend to regard him as a bit of an underachiever. But the ability is still there, when he chooses to put his mind to it.

Also today:

- The WWE has been on a firing spree, laying off a batch of wrestlers in order to slim down the ECW roster and make way for cheaper newcomers. Most of the list comes as no surprise, because they're people who haven't been seen on television in months (frankly, I'd forgotten that the Gymini were even on the roster). There's also a batch of minor ECW wrestlers who were supposed to be filling out the card on the planned ECW live shows, and became surplus to requirements when the WWE pulled the plug on that whole operation. At the bottom of the list, there are a couple of people who never made it onto TV at all; the WWE has evidently given up on them. And when you consider they just brought up Deuce & Domino, the 50s rockers... well.

The more surprising ones: Tatanka, the Native American Stereotype has been on TV quite a lot, and had a minor running storyline where he was becoming bitter over a losing streak. Sylvester Terkay has also been a fairly regular presence on ECW's show, although they've clearly been easing him out in favour of his partner Elijah Burke (who does all the talking). Neither of them are especially great losses to the show, but they were at least doing something.

Bill DeMott is one of the trainers in Deep South Wrestling, the B-list developmental territory. He hasn't been seen on TV in ages and he's a slightly surprising lay-off, because somebody's got to train the newbies, and he's at least got years of experience at it.

And the poor old Basham Brothers are also joining the unemployment line. That seems harsh, since they're actually good, and they were on TV regularly, playing Paul Heyman's riot cops. Naturally, they had to be written off the show when Heyman was booted, but since they were working masked, it would have been easy to bring them back in a new role. I don't understand the logic of this one at all.

History suggests that the more recognisable names on this list will be straight on the phone to TNA and booking their flights to Florida, where they will be breathlessly shoved onto TV while the commentators bleat about the latest thrilling defection from the WWE lower midcard. Reportedly, the Bashams both have a ton of untapped potential that the WWE writers never bothered using, so you never know - perhaps things will work out for them down in Florida.

- Sticking with wrestling, I'll leave it to others to comment on the death of Bam Bam Bigelow, since his career pretty much predates my having access to US television. Unfortunately, the premature death rate among professional wrestlers is terrifyingly high; to a large extent, the industry gets away with it because of a perception among audiences and regulators that it isn't really real, and therefore nobody gets hurt at all.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Randomiser #19: 19 January 2007

Today's song: The Fall, "Two Librans"

This is another track from a cover CD, although heaven only know why anyone thought the Fall would be a big selling point for their magazine.

The Fall - basically Mark E Smith and whichever poor bastards he's ordering around at any given moment - were famously John Peel's band, and they've produced a vast back catalogue of music that the majority of people find largely unlistenable and almost entirely baffling. The typical Fall song features the backing band chugging their way through a riff in whatever genre has taken Smith's fancy, while Smith yells seemingly incomprehensible gibberish over the top. Somewhere in amongst it all, there are some extremely off kilter pop songs trying to get out; "Two Librans" is downright catchy, even though you'd be hard pressed to identify the tune, let alone the subject matter.

YouTube is surprisingly light on Fall videos (or rather, their name is such a common word that it's almost impossible to search for them effectively), but here's the video for I Want You, Smith's collaboration with the Inspiral Carpets and, technically, his biggest UK hit. It consists of a pre-existing Inspiral Carpets record with Smith shouting over the top in his characteristic style. ("The Dutch East India Company in the USA of A / They make a pool with their sincere usury.") There's a bizarre stream of consciousness appeal to it.


- The Onion manages to sum up roughly 95% of modern comics in one paragraph.

- Meanwhile, 150 stores have signed up for the bizarre midnight launch of Dark Tower #1. Be the very, very first to glimpse an adaptation that Steven King blinked at! You dare not wait until morning to see Jae Lee's visualisation of some characters from 1982!

- Channel 4 continues to walk the fine line between milking controversy and asking for trouble. They've announced that they're doing the CBB eviction show without a crowd tonight (fair enough, but also an attention-grabber), and they're giving the proceeds of tonight's phone vote to charity (anything else would be suicidal, since they'd never be able to avoid charges of profiting from racism). But they're still going to have a post-eviction interview done by Davina McCall, who frankly isn't equipped for this sort of thing. She can't really do serious, except by nodding and looking concerned. The irony is that they've got Dermot O'Leary under contract, who actually could do this interview and get away with it, and frankly they should have pulled Davina off the main show a good two or three years back, since she's completely lost the plot. But I suspect they don't see it quite that way.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Randomiser #18: 18 January 2007

Today's song: The Arctic Monkeys, "A Certain Romance"

The British music press has always had a tendency to talk up mildly successful indie bands beyond their true level, which makes me highly sceptical of anyone they're pushing really hard. The Arctic Monkeys, despite their appalling name, are actually one of the better discoveries of recent years. Is "Whatever People Say I Am..." a classic album? No, but it's an exceptionally good debut album. It's got the tunes, the real-world connection, the grass-roots feel, the slightly rough-around-the-edges element, and it's got some damn good songwriting for a debut album.

In many ways, the Arctic Monkeys are the band that the music press tried to pretend the Libertines were. Except they can actually play, they write better songs, and they built their reputation on the strength of their music rather than on their antics in the London media social scene. (Not that the Libertines are bad, exactly - they're just several orders of quality further down the ladder than people generally make out.)


- The Celebrity Big Brother controversy is now reaching surreal proportions, with protests on the streets of India, and over 27,000 complaints to Ofcom - which is actually quite nice to see, because the previous record for mass complaints was held by religious extremists complaining that Jerry Springer: The Opera was an offence to their faith, and I take some pleasure in seeing it shattered by people whose complaint is at least a little more reasonable. Ratings are through the roof, of course, but this is looking increasingly like a staggering PR disaster for all involved. Today, Carphone Warehouse officially withdrew their sponsorship for the show, on the grounds that they refuse to associate themselves with racism. (They might also have figured that they'll get more, and better, publicity by going this route.)

Meanwhile, Shilpa Shetty seems to be on the fast track to canonisation. CBB has always been trainwreck television, but never on quite this scale. There's a thin line between courting controversy and committing professional suicide, and the show's producers seem alarmingly unaware of how close it is.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Randomiser #17: 17 January 2007

Today's song: Chuck Prophet, "Balinese Dancer."

"I got a Balinese dancer tattooed across my chest / I got a Balinese dancer, boy, tattooed across my chest / She's been my closest companion ever since my arrest." This is from Buy This Used Compact Disc, a bizarre indie compilation album put out a decade or so back to protest about attempts by major labels to suppress the second-hand record market in the USA. (They were refusing to supply new material to records with second-hand sections, or something like that.) Quite what was actually achieved by an album of off-cuts from bands like Babe The Blue Ox, I have no idea. I bought it because it was marked down to some ridiculously low price, and it included Sebadoh's "Gimme Indie Rock." Which was far and away the best known thing on the album.

I've got only a very faint idea of who Chuck Prophet is, but this is exactly the sort of thing you want to come up randomly on shuffle from time to time (which is why I bother copying over these oddball compilations in the first place). It's a country song and it's, er, very Mojo, but in a rather loveable way. He's in jail with only his Balinese dancer tattoo for company. What more do you need for a song?


- The great thing about satellite TV is that if you're willing to flick around the obscure channels long enough, you can find some compellingly unlikely imports. Most people with Sky have probably flicked past channel 148, BEN, at some time - it's quite near E4. BEN appears to run imported African shows, presumably aimed at African ex-pats.

And so I found myself watching the Bisi Olatilo Show, solemnly billed in the listings as a "Top Nigerian variety show from Africa's foremost multi-linguist Bisi Olatilo." BEN's definition of "variety" is clearly some way removed from mine. The show actually seems to be some sort of news programme, which reports on rather dull-looking events in a cheerfully uncritical way. It's difficult to imagine anyone actually watching it for entertainment. Nonetheless, an on-screen graphic proudly reminds viewers that the show won "TV Production of the Year" in 2004.

In this thrilling episode, Bisi Olatilo reported on the launch of the government's 2007 re-election campaign. The ruling PDP party are, it seems, great. In fairness, a bit of Googling suggests that the Bisi Olatilo Show is often a sort of Nigerian equivalent of what Hello used to be, complete with adoring in-depth reports on pretty much any society event that's going. (Galaxy Television Nigeria's website describes it as "a celebrity magazine show that celebrates the success and achievements of individuals in private and public offices.") So perhaps everyone's great in the world of The Bisi Olatilo Show, and it's not just the government. Or perhaps not.

Obviously, you can't expect Nigerian TV to look like European TV - you're looking at a rather more straightforward approach to production. But the reality is a twenty minute report that comes across as something like a late-eighties promotional video for the PDP, with a few buzzwords like "stakeholder" thrown in. At one point, viewers were regaled with thrilling footage of the party's new campaign offices in Abuja. It has a reception area, and a water cooler.

Across the bottom of the screen, there are captions to make sure we grasp the message. Here are a few, to give you a flavour of the production.

"The PDP is Set To Rebrand and Reinvent Itself as an Innovative, Agenda-Setting Institution."

"The PDP Can Proudly Look Back on 8 Years of National Progress Under Its Stewardship."

"All Patriotic Nigerians Fervently Hope for a Peaceful and Credible Polls [sic] in 2007."

And my personal favourite, which might possibly have been phrased better:-

"Corruption was a Major Theme at the PDP Policy Retreat This Year."

Do ex-pat Nigerians actually watch this stuff? Apparently, yes, they do - if only because there aren't many other sources of news on the homeland. But not surprisingly, they aren't totally thrilled by what they see. An ex-pat in Dublin describes the show as "a praise singing forum for the looters of the Nigerian economy." In London, freelance journalist Nkem Ifejika is even less impressed - while one of his commenters describes the show as "like having a tooth extracted." And they've seen more episodes than I have.

Bizarrely, the show also apparently has a gameshow segment which sounds like it's vaguely similar to Mr & Mrs.

If you don't wander the minority channels, you miss this kind of thing.

I was especially delighted to learn that the PDP's vice-presidential candidate for Nigeria 2007 is a chap called Goodluck Jonathan. Not only is this an absolutely fantastic name in its own right, but there surely has to be an emo band somewhere in the American midwest called the same thing. Perhaps they can record a collaboration.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Randomiser #16: 16 January 2007

Today's song: Momus, "The Sensation of Orgasm."

Momus is practically the definitive example of an uncommercial singer-songwriter. He writes highly intellectual, esoterically jokey songs which tend to be a bit on the dispassionate and arch side. He once did an album where all the songs were set in the Roman Empire. This is from "Ping Pong", and it's the sort of album that, shall we say, you really have to be in the mood for. This is a song about the effect of the sex drive on human history (no, really, it is) and to be honest, it's heavy going. It's music to stroke your chin to, and admire the epigrams. There are some rather good songs on this album - "I Want You But I Don't Need You" is a classic - but I suspect most people will find it terribly twee and self-consciously clever. Depends how much you like cleverness for its own sake, really.

- The comics sales charts for December are out. Does anyone know what's up with Exiles, which seems to have shed 10,000 sales overnight? It was solicited for the last week of the month, so I assume it's a distribution screw-up where a third of stores didn't get it until the start of January, but it'd be nice to have that confirmed.

- Thanks to organised online petitions, Celebrity Big Brother is now the second most complained about show in UK television history, with almost 10,000 complaints about alleged racism. I haven't been watching, to be honest. Technically the most complained about show in history is BBC2's airing of Jerry Springer: The Opera, but only 8,860 of those complaints came in after the show had aired, and the rest were sparked by a pre-airing campaign that completely misrepresented the nature of the show, so they don't really count.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Randomiser #15: 15 January 2007

Today's song: Tenacious D, "Car Chase City."

This is from the Pick of Destiny soundtrack album, and come to think of it, I never did get around to seeing the film. The reviews were a bit mixed, and judging from the album, there are points where it veers a little too far to hey-aren't-we-wacky. Mind you, it's also got some genuinely great moments, such as their attempt at politically conscious songwriting. ("And let me tell you something else about the government / They're fucking up the environment / They're taking all the beautiful fucking animals / And making them fucking extinct.")

I saw Tenacious D when they played Glasgow a couple of years back, and god only knows how they managed to get booked by a student union in the first place. They're a great live comedy act, which is really the point. I suspect one problem with the movie is that even though they plainly don't care that much about the plot, they end up having to write some songs that are basically just rock pastiches to bridge gaps in the story. This certainly isn't anything special on its own.


- Okay, apparently Americans do know about Thunderbirds. God knows how we managed to export that to them, but it's a strange world sometimes.

- I seem to be in the midst of a bout of 24-hour flu. Well, I'm hoping for 24 hours, anyway. The downside of being self-employed is that there's nobody to delegate work to, so anything short of "bedridden" means I just have to plough on regardless.

- They're closing Parliament Hall tomorrow so that the BBC can film a documentary segment there. I'd love to know who thought that it was a good idea to invite them in, not just during working hours, but on a Tuesday, which is the busiest day of the week and when the hall is normally packed solid with people waiting for their cases to start. Presumably the Scottish Court Service expects them to wait in the car park. If they want to film in daylight (which I could understand, because the stained glass windows will look a lot better), what's wrong with the weekend?

- ITV Play censured over spectacularly unwinnable phone-in quiz. Everyone knows that these premium-rate phone-in quiz channels are basically a tax on the stupid, and they're crying out for proper regulation. You might think that ITV Play, being a major brand name, would be slightly more trustworthy than most. But here we have them seriously arguing that there was no breach of the broadcasting code, rule 2.11 ("Competitions should be conducted fairly") in a competition where the question was to identify "things you find in a woman's handbag", and the answers included "a balaclava" and "rawl plugs." Really, if that isn't illegal, it should be.

- New Sophie Ellis-Bextor single: quite good, actually. Not sure about that video, though. What on earth was the pitch? "Wear this red dress and we'll wander around Venice for an afternoon. Make sure to point at things dramatically."

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Randomiser #14: 14 January 2007

Today's song: The Futureheads, "Meantime"

Spiky, northern indie throwbacks who like their close harmony vocals. There's a school of thought that says this is all a bit backwards-looking, and too self-consciously quirky (and there's more than a grain of truth in that, when it comes to their videos). But I don't care. I really liked the first Futureheads album, and if they're basically just reviving an old genre with modern production values, they're doing it damned well. It's a thin line, but they feel to me like they do this kind of thing because it's their natural style, not because they're a nostalgia act.

"Meantime" was a single - not surprisingly, since it's one of the more straightforward songs on the album. You'd think I'd be able to find the video on YouTube, but strangely, Futureheads videos seem to be very thin on the ground over there. Especially odd because it took me about thirty seconds to find the video freely available here in, of all things, Quicktime.

Okay, it's not what you'd call groundbreaking, but I really like this one.


- It's late, so not much... but here's the link to today's X-Axis, with New Excalibur, Wolverine: Origins and Warren Ellis' Thunderbolts. (To think, Ellis is the guy who used to mock superheroes as wearing "pervert suits" - and now he's writing Penance for a living. Mind you, I quite liked it, but that's no reason not to take the cheap shot.)

- Koopa did indeed make the top 40, at number 31. Since their midweek position was 17, that suggests an extreme example of everyone who cares buying the record on the first day - so maybe these new rules aren't going to change things quite that drastically after all.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Randomiser #13: 13 January 2007

Today's song: Mercury Rev, "Holes"

I didn't even know I owned a copy of this. Apparently it was on some cover CD that came with Total Film years back. They were terribly fashionable with the music press at around this time, largely for doing songs like this - fragile epics with a curiously timeless quality to them. And then you listen to the lyrics, and wish you hadn't. "Holes / Dug by little moles..." Dear me.

To be honest, I've never quite bought into Mercury Rev. It's the sort of record where I admire the craftsmanship, but it's a little too studiously "We're going to make a lushly arranged artistic classic" for my tastes. And this is essentially a very brief little hook of tune, looped with increasingly elaborate arrangement for the whole song - something that sometimes works, but here just kind of irritates me. The wavering vocals don't help. My head says it's technically very good; my heart isn't feeling it. I just feel like they're trying too hard to write a classic album.


- The predictive text on my phone seems to be getting downright weird lately. I'm sure "lilongwe" is not a word, and certainly not one common enough that anyone's going to be finding it useful. And when it does come up with real words, they tend to be things like "perchance" and "hogarth."

- Marvel announce midnight release for Dark Tower #1, apparently because (as we so often hear) retailers demanded it. This one seems to be rather better attested than usual, mind you, so fair enough. But I find it very hard to believe that people are sufficiently excited about a comic book adaptation of a Stephen King novel to make it worthwhile. He's not even credited as working on the book, for heaven's sake. Is there really that much demand for this thing?

- Pentagon now lobbying to stop lawyers from defending Guantanamo inmates. Speaks volumes about how little these people truly understand the democratic values they purportedly want to spread, doesn't it?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Randomiser #12: 12 January 2007

Today's song: Ted Sulkowicz, "Kid_Newtown"

Ah, now this is a track from the Tigerbeat 6 Inc album, which was basically a Best of Tigerbeat 6 Records thingie. It's one of a number of random electronica albums I picked up during a brief infatuation with glitch music a few years ago. (Eventually I found myself on the verge of actually buying a record by somebody called "No Human Intervention", and came to my senses.) This sort of thing is pretty commonplace on such compilations - it's a pretty sample looping for a few minutes with slight variations, but without the beat being quite strong enough to feel like proper dance music. It's quite probably a cast-off from somebody better known, although Google brings up some suggestion that he's actually an obscure amateur from Sydney. It's entirely pleasant, actually, and a cut above the usual standard for this kind of thing.


- My satellite TV is finally working again. Thank god.

- Today's irritating "has anybody actually read this" news story: "More than three quarters of UK bosses think their companies would benefit from an annual quota of staff dismissals, a report has found." This is apparently the result of a YouGov survey, but it's a survey sponsored by Hudson, who are recruitment consultants, and must have been delighted indeed to learn that people think there should be more work for recruitment consultants.

A miniature industry has emerged in pseudo-scientific surveys with misleading questions that generate superficially surprising results that lazy or desperate journalists can turn into spacefiller items. This is a classic example, because Hudson have chosen to push the "let's sack more people" angle. Actually, if you read on, it turns out that 77% of chief executives say they'd like to do this, but 75% say they don't actually intend to do it because it would create a climate of fear. (And that's before you get on to the question of where you're going to find all these improved replacements.)

So... the story is that in an ideal world companies would like to replace their weaker employees with better ones each year, but in practice they realise that it's an incredibly bad idea, for all the obvious reasons.

Earth-shattering news in anyone's book.

- The video for Rain Down Love by the Freemasons. No, I'm not linking to it because it's any good - I'm just wondering whether there's some sort of postmodern irony I'm missing here. I mean, obviously it's copied directly from Daft Punk's Around The World, but... why? It's so blatant that they can't possibly think people won't notice, but it's also so vastly inferior that you can't imagine why they'd invite the comparisons.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Randomiser #11: 11 January 2007

Today's song: Cex, "I Don't Think You Do Sin, Julia."

Cex is Rjyan Kidwell from Baltimore, and no, that's not a typo. He added the silent J as an affectation, or possibly as a joke. It's always a little hard to tell. Cex started off making decidedly above average laptop electronica, before starting to chafe at the extreme seriousness and self-importance of the "intelligence dance music fraternity", which led him to reinvent himself as a geeky rapper, and before making a bizarre career left turn and releasing some albums that hover somewhere between emo and folktronica. I'm a big fan of his Tall, Dark & Handcuffed album; the more recent stuff is, er, a bit sombre. This is from his purist-baiting early album Oops I Did It Again, back when he was still doing the laptop stuff and was, shall we say, still finding his own voice. It's a bit school-of-early-Aphex-Twin, but even in those days he did it much better than most.


- Two of the Starbucks branches in the city centre have had their windows smashed in. It's thoughtful of Starbucks to put all their stores so close together. It means the protestors don't have so far to walk. Obviously, with this sort of devastatingly effective gesture politics, capitalism trembles.

- In an ambiguously worded story, the BBC claims that obscure indie band Koopa "could become the first unsigned group to land a UK Top 40 hit thanks to new chart rules." I'd link to the song, Blag, Steal & Borrow, but frankly it's pretty average. You can find it on Youtube if you're that bothered. The BBC might mean that Koopa will just be the first unsigned band who achieve a Top 40 placing as a direct consequence of the recent rule change, but it reads more like the author thinks they're going to be the first unsigned group, period. (The kiddie version of the story certainly does.)

They're not. Leaving aside quirky examples like Bis (first hit released by Chemikal Underground with no deal in place, if I remember right), Pop Will Eat Itself (had a hit with a record that their record label released after dropping them) or anyone on Factory (who were too busy hiring designers to actually pay lawyers or draw up contracts, and did everything on a handshake basis), there have been plenty of hit singles by bands who released their own records. Everything by the KLF, for example.

It's really not that earth-shattering an achievement. That said, there's a germ of a story here, because it's true that the new rules mean you can make the charts with download-only releases, which are logistically a lot simpler than forming your own physical record label, and so it reduces the barriers to entry considerably. It is significant, at least somewhat, that bands as low-budget and obscure as Koopa can chart under the new rules, and it does flag up the serious question of what record labels are actually for in a post-physical world. But Koopa are no more "unsigned" than any other band who've released their own records without going through a record label.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Randomiser #10: 10 January 2007

Today's song: V-Twin, "Delinquency"

This is another track from an old Select cover CD, and it falls into that vastly oversubscribed genre, "indie bands who want to be the Velvet Underground." For what it is, it's perfectly listenable, but... I mean, what you can say about it, other than that they've got no apparent ideas of their own, but they do an entirely acceptable pastiche of other people's? It has lyrics like "Rock and roll's from outer space." But it's too obviously in thrall to its influences to really be anything special. Next!


- Somebody's going to try the Jack radio format in the UK, which basically involves having no presenters and playing seemingly random songs (although frankly, the choice described in this BBC story still seems pretty conservative to me). This sort of thing offends against my curatorial sensibilities - it's fundamentally a way of massively cutting your wage bill by getting rid of the presenters - but local radio DJs already have virtually no control over what they play, so in many cases you might as well replace them with a randomiser. It never did the Chart Show any harm.

- UK government announces mass closing of government websites, after finally figuring out that 951 might be too many. They seem to have a point; there are websites listed for departments nobody's even heard of. That said, a close inspection reveals that many of the sites they're getting rid of (such as Floor Targets Interactive or the Interactive Whiteboards Catalogue) are actually subdomains. Since many of these closed sites are reportedly being folded into other ones (some of the others are for obsolete and completed projects), I have a suspicion that they've pumped up the number by simply getting rid of some subdomains and replacing them with more complicated URLs. Which would look good as a press release, but wouldn't actually be a meaningful improvement. If the government must sell interactive whiteboards - whatever the hell they are - then I'm not convinced burying them in the Becta website will make anyone's life easier.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Randomiser #9: 9 January 2007

Today's song: A House, "I Am Afraid"

Hey, it's the first band I ever saw live! Actually, I suppose that's not strictly true, since the first band I ever saw live would have been their support act, the Jennifers, a teenage indie band remembered mainly for being a proto-version of Supergrass.

This is from "I Am The Greatest", the album which includes their best-known song "Endless Art." It's actually a fantastic, and hugely underrated album. It's clever, it's witty, it's tuneful, it's imaginatively arranged... it sold fuck all. It's an album worth tracking down, and it's a little unfortunate that "Endless Art" gave the impression that they were a novelty act of some sort. Watching the video (and you can see clips here), you could mistake them for a university-level version of the Barenaked Ladies, and they're really much more than that. "I Am Afraid" is one of their best songs - essentially just a resigned list of things they're afraid of, which seems to encompass virtually everything - and more people should have heard it.

- Morrissey plans to enter the Eurovision Song Contest. He mentioned this back at the time of last year's show, when the UK entered Daz Sampson's appalling "Teenage Life", a record which deserves to be locked in a lead capsule and buried with the nuclear waste.

Not surprisingly, Daz lost, since the Eurovision Song Contest has actually risen above that sort of thing in the last few years, with the occasional record that's actually memorable for the right reasons. For example, here's last year's winner, the ridiculous Viking rock band Lordi. Apparently they're big in Finland. (And how could you not love the band who released "The Devil is a Loser" and "Bringing Back the Balls to Rock"?) The 2004 winner, by the Ukraine's answer to Shakira, was rather good too. (Shame about the 45 seconds of random trumpet noise at the start of the video, but that's eastern Europe for you.)

And who could forget last year's breathtaking effort from Lithuania, We Are The Winners, which defies description. Although it's even better when you find out that they're a supergroup of Lithuanian indie acts. A UK equivalent would have been fronted by someone like Damon Albarn.

I'm not sure Morrissey is quite the man for this sort of thing. He did a Eurovision pastiche for a video last year, and it's, er, very seventies. It's also the sort of thing that would never get past the Song for Europe vote in a million years, and I can't imagine him writing anything that would. Why does he want to do this, anyway?

Monday, January 08, 2007

Randomiser #8: 8 January 2007

Today's song: The Divine Comedy, "Middle Class Heroes"

From "Casanova", the breakthrough album which launched Neil Hannon to mainstream success after Chris Evans (then at the peak of his radio career) threw his weight behind "Something for the Weekend." This is a pretty typical Divine Comedy album track - a remarkably elaborate MOR orchestral arrangement attached to something a hair's breadth from a comedy song. Hannon was very big on the ironically raised eyebrow at this point, although so was everyone else in the mid-nineties. He also seems to see himself, with some justification, as an heir to the witty songwriters of the pre-rock era.

The thing with Neil Hannon is that he's very, very good at what he does. It's just that a lot of people find what he does rather smug and irritating, and this is precisely the sort of song they'd point to as proving their point. He's done a lot better than this, but if you're not vehemently opposed to Hannon's whole style, it's a perfectly good album track.

- Civil War #7 delayed to 21 February; precisely nobody surprised. I've yet to see any remotely credible explanation for how Marvel ever thought the first rescheduled dates were going to be achieved - they involved a big delay before issue #4, a big delay before issue #5, and then issues #6 and #7 miraculously resuming a monthly schedule. Surprise surprise, issues #6 and #7 have been delayed. This sort of multiple rescheduling of major titles happens so often that, with the very best will in the world, it is impossible to believe that these schedules are announced in good faith by people who have seriously given thought to their achievability. I mean, they just can't be that useless or that unlucky.

- The overhaul of the UK singles chart (to allow random downloads and singles that aren't on physical release) turned out to be less dramatic than people were making out. Although most singles sold are now downloads, that doesn't apply at the top end of the charts, which is still built on physical sales. So the only really obvious sign of the new rules was the sudden reappearance of an old Snow Patrol single at number 9, which had previously been disqualified from the charts on the grounds that the physical single had been deleted. Several other old records reappeared on the chart under the same principle. There's also a new entry for a single that doesn't get a physical release for several weeks, and as predicted when people were talking up the effect of the changes, there's also an album track charting on the strength of random downloads. Unfortunately, it's at number 74, and it's "Stick to the Status Quo" from the soundtrack of High School Musical - not exactly the landmark record one might have hoped for.

- The other really surprising thing about the Top 75, looking at it for the first time in ages, is how slow it is. Admittedly, this is always a very quiet time of year, because for a while now the singles chart has worked by hyping up a single weeks in advance, and then releasing it. You can't do that over Christmas, and so January tends to be a dead period - which is why it's a great time to totally change the chart rules without everything completely turning upside down. But it's remarkable how many artists have got multiple entries on the chart, or incredibly long-running records. Shakira's Hips Don't Lie is still on the Top 75 after something over six months. Lily Allen has three songs in the chart. So do the Cast of High School Musical, the Feeling, Nelly Furtado, James Morrison (who has singles at 44, 46 and 50), and Razorlight (two of them in the top 30). Eminem, Snow Patrol, Justin Timberlake and Amy Winehouse all have two. Nine acts accounting for a third of the chart between them, because their old singles are still hanging around. That's a really slow-moving chart. It really needs the shake-up this rule change is supposedly going to give it.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Randomiser #7: 7 January 2007

Today's song: Baby Bird, "In the Morning"

Baby Bird - or Stephen Jones, to his mum - is best known for his unlikely 1996 hit "You're Gorgeous", which achieved international success despite a video set in a junkyard, because nobody listens to verse lyrics, and so nobody figured out that it was about a photographer exploiting a glamour model (and sung from the woman's perspective, for added oddity). Strictly speaking, that's actually a record by his band, Babybird. The precise spelling of the name apparently makes a difference somehow.

This, however, is from "The Happiest Man Alive", one of several albums of lo-fi demos that he put out at the start of his career. They contain a mixture of slightly twisted pop songs, outright novelties, and fragile little ditties like this one. It's very nice, and much more representative of his work than "You're Gorgeous" was.


- This week's X-Axis is up, with reviews of X-23: Target X #2, Civil War: Front Line #10 (with you-know-what), and Scalped #1 (it's a new Vertigo book, and yes, the pre-publicity passed me by too).

- My Sky+ box seems to have packed in. It's out of warranty, but fortunately, I have insurance, so in theory they ought to get it fixed or replaced before the replay of New Year's Revolution - a show I was actually going to watch. If they don't get it done in time then that would be a terrible shame, as I would be unable to see the show without, for example, downloading one of the files that invariably gets posted to one of those filehosting websites in the hours after the show. And if someone were to send me the details of that, why, I'd sternly disapprove. (Before somebody asks: no, I don't have filesharing software on this machine, and what with it being a laptop that I use for my work as well, and full of client-confidential information, there's no way on earth I'd ever even consider it, quite aside from moral and legal considerations.)

- Ken Russell has also quit Celebrity Big Brother. Cue usual selection of "Is show doomed" stories which always circulate at this stage; anyone who hasn't left by now probably won't. Mind you, general consensus seems to be that the production team is increasingly missing the point of the show. If they really want to create chaos one year, just tell the contestants that they're allowed to discuss nominations. The Americans have been doing it that way for years.

- There's an advert for Take a Break magazine running at the moment which features a dinner lady being serenaded about the merits of Take a Break magazine to the tune of YMCA by the Village People. Except, in tiny text at the bottom the screen, there's a disclaimer: "Not the real Village People." That's the best disclaimer ever. Last I heard, the real Village People had changed line-up so many times that they weren't the real Village People either. And I can't even imagine the sort of viewer who might be thinking to themselves, "Ooh, I'll pick up a copy of Take a Break magazine if it has the endorsement of the Village People... oh, hold on, they're just impersonators, I shan't bother." I especially can't imagine any such viewer seeing the advert, as I did, halfway through a documentary about Tom Watkins building a modernist house on the English coast.

- Pan's Labyrinth: as good as everyone says, although I'm amazed that it got a 15 certficate with all the knife stuff. But it's one of those rare films that you see in the cinema and you know it's a bona fide classic. That's how to do a fantasy film, and kudos for sticking to the roots of the fairy tale genre instead of watering it down for the kiddies.

- Ugly Betty: Oh, I see, it's a less subtle version of The Devil Wears Prada. I can't honestly say I ever want to see it again, but it's very well done for what it is, and America Ferrara is excellent. How the heck did Ashley Jensen, of all people, end up in this show...?

New Year's Revolution 2007

The first wrestling pay-per-view of the year used to be the Royal Rumble, which is at the end of January and tends to do very well. But with the recent proliferation in PPVs, we now have this oddity as well - New Year's Revolution, a Raw show which tends to continue the build for the bigger show at the end of the month, rather than actually resolving any stories.

Fortunately for me, it's a good card, and it's also airing on Sky Sports in the UK, which means I don't have to pay extra for it. Hurrah. So, let's

1. WWE Championship: John Cena v Umaga. Let's get the obvious point out of the way first: Umaga, the savage islander from Samoa, is an astounding throwback to the sort of thing that every other form of entertainment stopped doing 20 years ago. It's a sign of how far wrestling has retreated into its insular world that they see this sort of thing as part of the proud tradition of cartoon wrestling characters, without grasping that in those days, it was part of the proud tradition of everyone else as well. Still, I suppose it could be worse. At least Umaga is genuinely ethnically Samoan (although by birth he's actually from California), and "Umaga" is a proper Samoan name.

Leaving that aside, this is a rare example of a feud that's been built up rather well, over a period of months. It's old-school booking of a sort of that promoters tend to shy away from these days beause they think it's too obvious. In fact, it's just a classic format that works. Take one heroic champion and ensure that he always wins for months on end. Introduce a powerful new villain and ensure that he demolishes opponents for months on end without ever losing a match, all the while steadily climbing his way up the card. Finally, the seemingly unstoppable villain demands his shot at the title, and the honourable hero has to accept, because clearly the guy is good enough to deserve his title shot. So... beloved champion, undefeated challenger. It's really that simple.

Cena and Umaga seem to work well together, and Umaga's come a long way since his early days as a member of the midcard tag team Three Minute Warning. (He was Jamal, if you didn't know.) This should be a good match, and I'm genuinely intrigued to know who wins. Conventional wisdom seems to be that Cena wins because they can't have Umaga as champion... but I think there's more mileage in this feud, so they can't have Cena break the undefeated streak just yet. It'd be a waste. My money's on a screwjob finish - a DQ or something - to set up a rematch at the Royal Rumble in a few weeks time. Umaga winning, and Cena chasing him for the next couple of months before regaining the title at Wrestlemania, is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

2. World Tag Team Titles: D-Generation X v Rated RKO. The formula for this feud seems to run as follows: Randy Orton and Edge occasionally get some sort of advantage on DX outside a match, but whenever they actually wrestle, DX destroy them, because that's what they do. They've made it look a little more even in the last few weeks, but really, I think they need to give Edge and Orton a lot more credibility if this storyline is going to be worthwhile. They've finally put the tag titles into this feud, which should have happened long ago (because the tag titles were being defended by minor midcard wrestlers while DX were clearly the dominant tag team on the show), but nobody really seems to care about them, and Rated RKO have yet to actually defend them against anyone terribly meaningful.

All four of these guys are good - well, three are always good, and Orton's more hit than miss. The match should be fine as long as they don't succumb to the temptation to just have DX destroy the bad guys utterly, which happens far too often. The correct booking is that Edge and Orton defeat DX and retain their titles, to legitimate themselves as tag champions and, again, set up a rematch down the line. I believe this is the first time the teams have actually fought in a straight tag match on PPV, so we've got plenty more scope to develop this story. I'm bracing myself for some tenuously justified DX win, though - a lot of the matches on this show should logically end up with a heel win, so it's easy to see somebody arguing that DX should win this one to balance it out.

3. Intercontinental Title, Steel Cage Match: Jeff Hardy v Johnny Nitro. Although Jeff Hardy is notionally a singles wrestler, which is why he holds the IC Title, in practice he's spent the last couple of months doing reunion matches with his brother Matt as the Hardy Boys. Last month, they were inexplicably (and with no promotion whatsoever) put on PPV in a four-way ladder match against, among others, MNM - Johnny Nitro and Joey Mercury. During that match, they did the old standard see-saw spot where Jeff jumps onto one end of a ladder, and the other side smashes into the bad guys' faces. Johnny Nitro, who isn't a fool, got his hands up. Joey Mercury, who may have felt he had something to prove careerwise, thought it would be a terribly good idea to just let a ladder smash him right in the face without making any effort to protect himself. Thirty-odd stitches later, he worked out why this is generally considered a poor idea.

In most walks of life, being whacked in the face with a metal bar and taken to hospital would be considered a bad thing. In the world of professional wrestling, however, it means that you have a terribly good excuse to do a rematch, which should be great for Mercury's career. He's tentatively scheduled to be back in time for Wrestlemania, the biggest show of the year, and so common sense says they do a Hardys/MNM ladder match at that show. It should be great.

In the meantime, they have to keep the feud simmering over, and fortunately Johnny Nitro was chasing Jeff Hardy's intercontinental title already. So here they are in a steel cage match, to continue not only their own storyline, but the serendipitous new tag team storyline. Nitro is widely considered one of the most improved wrestlers of the last few years, and he works well with Jeff, so this should be a winner. Because they're theoretically building to further Hardys/MNM matches down the line, my instinct would be for Nitro to win here, although there's an argument for having Hardy retain. (The Hardys and MNM ought to be feuding over one of the tag titles; they don't need the IC belt; somebody else could be using it more effectively; Jeff should hold onto it so that he can lose it to a rising heel following interference from MNM.)

4. Women's Title: Mickie James v Victoria. Ladies and gentlemen, the women's division. With Trish Stratus and Lita retired, Beth Phoenix still on the shelf, and the rest of the division made up of swimsuit models and valets, Mickie James will defend her title against the only full time female wrestler still under contract. (Well, that's not entirely true - Jazz is under contract as well, but she never appears on TV.) This will probably be fairly bad, and mercifully short. My instinct here would be for Mickie to retain, since Victoria's a fairly minor character, and the highest-profile woman on the roster these days is probably Melina. Since Melina is a heel, they need Mickie to retain the title and fight her at Wrestlemania as babyface champion. With Victoria, there's nowhere to go but a rematch, which isn't a very interesting direction.

5. Ric Flair v Kenny Dykstra. That would be Kenny out of the Spirit Squad, inexplicably lumbered with a surname that's apparently some sort of American sports reference. (His real name is Ken Doane.) With the Spirit Squad disbanded and most of the members sent back off the OVW training league, they're giving Kenny what seems to be a good faith push as a rising solo star. Again, this has been surprisingly old-school stuff, as he repeatedly pins the respected veteran Flair, but refuses to show him any respect. If they're serious about this push, then Kenny should be winning here to clearly defeat Flair, and move on to another opponent. A Flair win is... acceptable, as far as an end to this story goes, but it kills Kenny's momentum. That's a bad thing, especially when his other storyline involves him petitioning for membership in Rated RKO and trying to prove himself to them. Flair has credibility to spare, and he'll make Kenny look good. As for Kenny, he's got a ton of talent even if he's a little lacking in experience. (After all, he's only 20.) This should be fine.

6. Carlito v Chris Masters. Inexplicable last-minute rehash of a feud we all thought was over, possibly introduced because they need a pointless match where the good guy can win. Chris Masters, originally introduced with a bodybuilder gimmick, has quite coincidentally dropped an awful lot of weight ever since steroid testing came in, something so noticeable that even the commentators have had to acknowledge it. Since he doesn't have a great deal else going for him, he seems to be clearly on the way out - the real alarm bell coming at the annual troops show in Iraq where his signature Masterlock was finally broken, after a couple of years, by some plant from the crowd in a feelgood moment. There's apparently been talk of sending him to ECW along with the underused (in the sense that he dutifully shows up at the arena every week but never gets to do anything) Gene Snitsky.

Carlito and Masters have fought several times before, and it's invariably mediocre. Conventional wisdom says that when there's no point to a match, the babyface should win, and that's even stronger when the bad guy is clearly in decline.

Worth buying? Yes. Six matches announced, of which four should be good and the other two should be short. I wouldn't be surprised to see some last-minute addition to the card, but overall this seems a fairly safe bet.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Randomiser #6: 6 January 2007

Today's song: Daniel Johnston, "The Beatles."

How appropriate, I think they're showing The Devil In Daniel Johnston on More4 in a few days. If you haven't heard of Daniel Johnston, he's a bipolar songwriter who had a bit of cult success a good 15-20 years ago. Kurt Cobain used to wear his T-shirts. He never crossed over to the mainstream, for two main reasons. First, a lo-fi aesthetic which was, shall we say, challenging. And second, he's an outsider artist with all that that entails - it's very much open to interpretation whether he's a talented songwriter in the conventional sense, or just mad in an interesting way. There's a lot of very direct, naive stuff in his songs - "The Beatles" spends a lot of time telling us how great the Beatles were as if this were a novel observation - and since Johnston is basically non-functional in the real world and prone to producing childlike drawings, you've got to wonder how far it's really an affectation.

His admirers will tell you he's a genius; I've never been convinced. Mind you, he's often interesting, and he does write a good tune if you give it a polish. "The Beatles" - which comes from a very good Rough Trade compilation album, and is the only thing I own by him - is one of his better produced records, and it's not bad at all... but I can never shake the feeling that I'm listening to an essentially middling talent whose appeal lies mainly in his fascinating mental health problems.

- Donny Tourette has already left Celebrity Big Brother, having presumably achieved his aim of raising his profile, and figured out that sticking around to meekly play along with silly games would not assist his cause. Can't say I blame him, really.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Randomiser #5: 5 January 2007

Today's song: "Jump Up", The Jimmy Lyons Trio


Now this is from The Wire Tapper 9, a cover CD that came with The Wire, an avant garde music magazine that I pick up from time to time, mainly to snigger at its reviews, which are often astoundingly pretentious. (They once gave a positive review to an album that consisted entirely of feedback from a mixing desk connected to itself.)

This is, er, free jazz. It's the sort of thing that they used to introduce in sketches on The Fast Show. You know the sort of thing - seemingly random trumpet squawks, a drummer doing all sorts of odd things, and a general sense that everyone involved is taking this very, very seriously indeed. Jazz.

And there's still five minutes to go. Do I have to listen to the whole of this? I suppose I do. Oh, somebody's applauding. It must be a live recording.

Here's the thing. I can admire the technical ability involved in this, and I realise that there's a subculture of devotees who absolutely adore this kind of improvisation and perceive all sorts of thrilling subtleties in the interplay between the musicians, the way they react to one another's contributions. That's great and all, but this stuff is also the very definition of inaccessible. You'd have to make a real effort to get into this stuff, and frankly, the musical subculture that produces it never makes that sound like a very enticing prospect. To plagiarise a line from the Rock Snob's Dictionary (where they used it about the Master Musicians of Joujouka), it's "the musical equivalent of oatbran, to be taken in as nourishment rather than as a sensual experience."

I'm sure the free jazz afficionados would strenuously disagree with that, but to be honest, it does nothing for me, and this whole genre almost invariably comes over as desperately serious music for you to concentrate at, rather than... well, anything playful. If I ploughed my way through a load of jazz CDs, I'm sure I'd get it in the end, but it just never seems like it'd be worth the effort.

Oh good, it's finished.

- Went to see Pan's Labyrinth, on the theory that I should catch it before it disappeared. Sold out. That'll teach me to wait until the only cinema in Edinburgh still showing it is the Cameo's broom closet. Still a few days to go, though.

- Meanwhile, Italy is re-examining its film ratings system after Apocalypto somehow got rated as suitable for all ages. I haven't seen the film, but from the way it's been described by critics, you have to wonder what it would take to get the Italian equivalent of a 12. On a related topic, I was interested to hear on Radio 5 that (at least according to rumour) the thoroughly inoccuous Miss Potter - a biopic of Beatrix Potter - apparently has one piece of ultra-mild swearing deliberately included to ensure that it didn't get a U certificate, because nobody goes to see U films. This is an interesting point; I certainly can't remember the last time I saw a U film that wasn't aimed at infants, no matter how inoffensive the subject matter.

For a while, there was a vogue among UK producers of comedy videos for insisting that the performer include some swearing, in order to ensure that they got an 18 certificate (which in theory restricts sales, but in reality apparently boosts them). Such are the perils of film rating systems, which think they're warnings, but end up being adverts.

- Probably of interest to nobody but lawyers, but the long-promised UK Statute Law Database finally went live a few weeks ago. The government has been putting legislation on the web for years, but this is a quantum leap forward, because it includes all the amendments and repeals, past and present - which means it's actually useful. Publishers charge a small fortune for this kind of thing, which really ought to be freely available. And now it is. Good. It's not 100% perfect yet - it's not completely up to date - but it's lightyears ahead of anything that's been freely available in the past.

I care far more about this kind of thing than a thousand space-filling articles about Second Life.

By the way, if you thought "no animals were harmed in the making of this motion picture" was a recent, Hollywood-liberal concept, here's the UK legislation on the subject, which has been on the books since 1937. The UK censors used to dutifully edit westerns under this section, on the grounds that deliberately tripping horses was cruel.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Randomiser #4: 4 January 2007

Today's song: "King of NY", Automator
This is from Revolutions 01, according to my iPod, and from memory, I think that's a cover CD that came out with long-defunct music magazine Select many years ago. (Select was great. Why can't we have a magazine like that today? I'd buy it.)

Automator is, of course, Dan the Automator, who was involved in the first Gorillaz album and made the fabulous Deltron 3030 album, as well as a whole load of other records I don't own because hip hop's not really my genre. There's a load of random stuff which I only added to this thing to liven up the Shuffle playlist, and to be honest, I think this is one of them. But it's a damned good record, this. I should get more of Dan the Automator's records. I've liked everything I've heard from him. (Oh, except that Handsome Boy Modelling School project, which didn't do much for me. Forgot about that.)


- Fox cancels The O.C. I haven't watched it in over a year, and apparently I'm not the only one. It's a classic example of a show that would probably have been remembered more fondly if it had been cancelled after two seasons, or maybe even one. The O.C. was basically a return to the escapist wouldn't-it-be-great-to-be-rich-in-a-nice-climate shows that they used to make in the eighties, except with a slightly improved social conscience, a scaling back of the bling compared with Dynasty (villains excepted), and better taste in music.

The show ran into problems in two ways. First, they'd somehow ended up with Ryan and Marissa as their lead characters, even though neither was an especially compelling performer, and both were regularly acted off the screen by the B-characters - especially Rachel Bilson, who was fantastic playing the stock "shallow cheerleader with hidden heart of gold" character, and actually made her multi-dimensional. Hell, Peter Gallagher was a more watchable screen presence than Mischa Barton half the time.

Second, they completely ran out of stories. They'd already done all their key romance plots in season one and found themselves with nowhere to go, except breaking up and repeating the cycle. (Season two of Green Wing had the same problem, but tried to pass it off as experimental comedy by being incredibly blatant about it and hoping that people would think it was ironic.) The O.C. must be the only show ever to do a lesbian angle primarily because they desperately needed to find some new pairings.

But it was a great little show for a season and a half, and it could probably have lasted a lot longer if they hadn't paid off all the main storylines so quickly. Shame, really.