Sunday, July 30, 2006

Top of the Pops 1964 - 2006

Well, there we have it. A cultural deity is dead. The final episode of Top of the Pops has just aired, and it somehow feels appropriate to pen a sort of obituary. A word of warning – this won’t be typical Sloppy Dog fodder. No hiding behind a collective self-reference, no intentional distancing from the subject matter, no ‘Ump style pictures of Andi Peters with “CUNT” in huge red letters across his face. I’m genuinely rather depressed.

When the Beeb made the decision to axe Top of the Pops, reactions seemed to flit between “isn’t that a shame?” and “so, they finally put it out of its misery”. I personally fall somewhere between the two, holding the notion that it should never have been allowed to sink to the depths it reached. What on Earth happened to what was once a fucking awesome show?

Anyone who accepts music’s ‘rapidly changing landscape’ as a valid reason is a complete moron. The industry is at an incredibly exciting stage, where more people than ever are being introduced to brand new music in brand new outlets (Sandi fucking Thom notwithstanding). If anything, the call for live music television is at its most fervent, as a tool to showcase this. Why TOTP couldn’t move with the times is baffling.

The final episode runs like a timeline, highlighting the supposed “best bits” throughout the years. And most of them are 1999 or earlier. But that’s not to say that the latter decades haven’t provided the MTV generation with our own iconic moments. Lest we forget the Spice Girls’ legendary debut appearance, “live” via “satellite” from Japan (the Spice Girls being another institution that went mysteriously down the shitter, incidentally).

It’s sad to think that we’ll probably be the last generation to submit ourselves to the weekly revelry, taking it with us to school or work the next day, and beyond. But personally, Top of the Pops was a great deal more than entertainment. It was a career goal.

I was lucky enough to begin my TV career at Top of the Pops, being granted a brief internship at the age of 21 after years of incessant pestering. However, on setting foot inside my childhood aspiration, I wasn’t whisked into a daydream world of platinum discs, day-glo show propaganda and creative young musos. Instead, a rude awakening came in the form of a bog standard office populated by bored thirtysomethings simply earning a crust.

A kick up the arse much needed for a kid who was expecting floor-to-ceiling razzle-dazzle, certainly. But the disappointment was overwhelming. How could people be so complacent with such exceptional jobs? In hindsight, they were hardly Médecins Sans Frontiers, but at the time, it was both frustrating and gutting. That said, the one thing I took away from my internship was an even bigger thirst to make great television (hear that, Viacom bigwigs? Surely that promotion is long overdue with an attitude that positive?).

On hearing that Andi Peters was to captain the good ship TOTP, there was little doubt that the show’s golden age was getting its second wind. By this stage, I was working at CD:UK (another one that’s gone tits up – it’s not me, is it?) as a junior researcher. It’s fair to say that the floors of the CD:UK office were awash with bitten fingernails as the impending re-launch drew closer – after all, Andi Peters had one hell of a magic touch. This was the man that created the entire T4 strand from sweet FA. The man that brought hangover TV into new levels of magnitude. Shipwrecked! As If! Dermot O’Leary! There was reason to be scared.

However, the morning after the big night illustrated otherwise. Gathering backstage at CD:UK at stupid o’clock for a pre-show briefing, Riverside Studios rang with hysterical laughter at such a botched train wreck of a show.

Between my brief spell and the relaunch, there had been a staff cull. According to an associate working close to TOTP at the time, it wasn’t so much “out with the old, in with the new” as much as “out with the old, in with a selection of pretty young boys and bitchy, pinched women”. Auntie’s music department was less a thriving hotbed of buzzing ideas, more the Ku Bar on a 2-for-1 woo-woos night.

It’s easy to blame Peters for the demise of the show (so lets! Boo, hiss, etc) but the downward spiral was already gyrating wildly. Slashed budgets, supposed lack of support from the channel, Fearne Cotton, being dumped into a comparative graveyard slot – it all played a part. But moreover, it’s a painful inability to understand music.

It was a pleasant swansong to see a miscellany of presenters gathered for the finale, especially with the aforementioned Cotton left in Fiji. While permacreep Sir Jimmy Savile was the childhood bugbear of Kat (Official Sloppy Dog Sibling™) and DLT is the mortal enemy of Plymouth correspondent Dame Dot of Devon, it made the show feel like an event – how TOTP once felt on a weekly basis. But the overall problem is that even the last ever show was a near-shambolic Poker Night Live-quality excuse for a production. Human error is to blame, be it the current team, or BBC bosses, or Andi bastard Peters. To summarise, this could have been avoided.

So, having vented my cod-modernist spleen, what’s the next step for us Pops purists? Do we stand amongst chuggers on Carnaby Street with a clipboard, gathering signatures demanding its reinstatement? Do we sit begrudgingly in front of The Hits, allowing microphones and Marshall amps to forever fade into smoke, mirrors and undue prominence? Or do we accept the natural passing of an institution, and hope that its brand carries on in the form of its sister shows and magazines?

For now, all we can do is mourn its passing. And unless the BBC can provide us another programme in their repertoire that can boast the same acclaim as Top of the Pops, let’s hope they realise where they went wrong with something they once did very, very right.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Single Reviews 31/07/06

Siiiiiingle Reviews! Get your lovely Single Reviews here! Five for a paaaaahnd!

(Yes, we're aware that announcing the Single Reviews in the style of an East End market trader bears no relevance to anything. It's a dry day as far as ideas go, and we make no apologies.)

Failing to match the splendour of Steady As She Goes are the Raconteurs with follow-up Hands. Promising at parts, but all in all a schizo mess, inexplicably flitting into morose madness at regular intervals. Kinda makes us want the White Stripes back. Side projects are all well and good, but you've got to do better than this, Jack.

Vapid, cheap, futile, flashbulb-engulfee Paris Hilton illustrates her – ahem – passionate musicianship in Stars Are Blind. Aside from sounding like a cross between Jenny Frost and a Costcutter Gwen Stefani, the excruciating lack of feeling suggests she learned each syllable phonetically. Almost as funny as her home movie. Almost.

Scooping our Single of the Week honour are Captain, with the suitably-titled Glorious. Partly 21st century folk-rawk, and partly zoomed-in-on-a-DeLorean 80’s big-haired riff fiesta, it was always going to be a winning formula. At the other end of the scale, Everytime We Touch by faceless house worm(s) Cascada jiggles oafishly onto a thousand sticky dancefloors in Warrington, providing the stereotypical soundtrack to the regurgitation of one too many Reefs.

And finally, the gimmick parade is in full swing courtesy of Frank. Girls wot play instruments! A band wot has its own telly show! Sadly, no amount of novelties make this even slightly bearable. While they’re not quite the reincarnation of 21st Century Girls, I’m Not Shy is a watery, atonal disarray of pouts-without-prowess. Maybe the ugly reincarnation of Thunderbugs instead?

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Single Reviews 24/07/06

It’s back to a normal service this week, with our trip to Switzerland no longer providing excuses for the lack of updates. Although it is providing us with an excuse to eat Lindt and Milka chocolatey goodness for breakfast, lunch and dinner. *greedy scoffing noises*
We won’t share it though, so don’t bother asking. Can we interest you in a few Single Reviews instead?

We’ll get the inevitable over with – Feeder have a new single out, it’s fucking awesome, and it’s blatantly going to be Single Of The Week. Last time Feeder were bestowed with the esteemed title, it was greeted with a chorus of “oh, big surprise” type nonsense, which we hope to have pre-empted on this occasion. BTW, it’s called Save Us, and it rules. Buy it.

Had it not been for Feeder, perhaps the glorious Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol would have scooped the title. Unhurried, sincere and stirring, it’s arguably their best effort since Run. Oh well, they’ll just have to settle for multi-platinum album sales and a series of sell-out tours. Meanwhile, Get Together is a nifty little shuffle on from Hung Up and Sorry for Madonna. A lightly-trippy funk-fête, Get Together shows she’s capable of doing good things sans gimmicks. Still doesn’t justify the ticket prices, mind.

Finally, we come to Ain’t No Other Man, the comeback single from scumwhore supreme Christina Aguilera. We actually liked Stripped-era Aggie, but this faux-forties pissfest serves as a pedestal on which to warble, preach, screech and warble some more. We know you’ve got a voice on you, love – but seriously, holding one note is sometimes better than howling thirteen.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The 'Ump: Fergie

To those of you who are yet to encounter the solo debut from Black Eyed Peas fluffer and all-round bag of noise Fergie, we suggest you try to avoid it as long as possible.

A Sloppy Dog insider had the misfortune pleasure of chilling wit’ da Peas when recording Monkey Business in London. During this time, our spy was exposed to Fergie’s solo material, which, we’re informed, at the time sounded “good – a bit slow and Joss Stoney”. Which begs the question: why does London Bridge sound like a comedy one-man band falling down a spiral staircase?

We keep hearing comparisons to Nelly Furtado’s ace Maneater and Gwen Stefani’s untouchably fan-fucking-tastic Hollaback Girl, but personally we’re finding it hard to distance it from Jentina’s Bad Ass Strippa. We’re especially intrigued by the lyric “I’m a lady, but I’m dancing like a ho”, and feel that “I’m a ho, but I’m looking like a bloke” would be far more fitting.

We’ve never been Fergie-haters, and were only alerted to the dangers circa My Humps, but in the harsh light of day, we now realise that being part of one good song (Shut Up, shamefully) does not make up for said Humps, or London Bridge, or the worst styling since Cat Deeley wore those denim dungarees with a gold lamé blouse on CD:UK (if you remember this, you’ll realise that wasn’t an overly gay bitchy comment, merely a frightening observation).

Stacy Ferguson, you unsightly bulldog: you are hereby officially dubbed The Ultimate Godmother of Pramface, And Roughest Woman In The Music Industry (Apart From Mary J. Bilge – Not A Typo). Take your absurd mammaries, your Elizabeth Duke get-up, and never utter our dear city’s name again.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Swissed Off

Good morrow, dear readers. You'll have to forgive the lack of updates this past week, but we've been off on our travels. Switzerland is officially ace, as illustrated by this lovely artsy-fartsy picture of pretentiousness:

However, this is The Sloppy Dog. We don't do classy.

That's better.

A tres quick round-up of things, then...

We won't be doing Single Reviews this week, as it's already Tuesday. But if we were, Single of the Week would be a toss-up between Eleanor, Put Your Boots On by Franz Ferdinand, and Smiley Faces by Gnarls
We're miffed to return to find that Nikki's been voted off Big Brother, the crazy biatch. But Aisleyne's still there, so a world of yay for that. Mikey and Jayne must die. This is not a suggestion. It is an order.

However, we're chuffed to bits to see that Rooster have only managed a No. 33 placing with their REALLY REALLY GOOD ROCK SONG. It's proper rock, y'know, seriously. Also, Nylon haven't fared much better, crashing in at the dizzy heights of No. 29. It's almost as if Bellefire were never dropped. Twice.

Newsflash! While in Zurich, we were lucky enough - courtesy of our Upper Norwood correspondent - to see the eternally-fucking-brilliant Melanie C as part of the Live @ Sunset festival. We're happy to report that she (a) looks awesome - way slimmer but not stupidly thin; (b) sounds awesome - she could effortlessly sing the backpacks off a million Canadian tourists, a LONG way since those screechy Say You'll Be There ad-libs; (c) can see the funny side of a couple of thousand Swiss-Germans fighting for pac-a-macs during a thunderstorm-accompanied Let's Love; and (d) the venue was very nice. She also has hair down to her waist now, if you're interested.

Anyhoo, a normal service shall resume later this week. Til then, we bid you both auf wiedersehen and adieu, as Zurich can't make its mind up over which language it speaks.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Single Reviews 10/07/06

Before we crack on with the Single Reviews, we should address something. This week, it was pointed out to us that The Sloppy Dog has a rather negative outlook on life, and that we should make an attempt to be nicer to people. Having thought long and hard about this, we had decided to be a bit more jovial. But then we realised Rooster had a new single out, so it’s back on with the bitch hat, and a resounding “fuck right off missus, you look like Sandi Thom” to the young lady who pointed out just how nasty we are. Viva maliciousness!

So, let’s crack on with the aforementioned Rooster, a band so inexcusably contrived they make Clea look like The Ramones. Their wretched, dull-as-fuck, air fix McRock is wheeled back out of the trainee salon on new single Home, the audio equivalent of a retarded tourist stood on the wrong side of the escalator. Rooster, you are cordially invited to stop existing.

Thankfully, there’s a couple of decent tracks adorning the shelves this week. That’s No Way To Tell A Lie by James Dean Bradfield is a foot-to-the-accelerator work of skill, making the wait for new Manics material a mere shrug. And despite our inner pretentious muso’s protests, Rogue Traders claim Single of the Week. Usually, attempts to marry rock and dance go arse over tit (see Garbage and Bodyrockers), but Voodoo Child successfully straddles the line between thumping house beats and live, raw licks. And anyone who can count Living Legend™ Harold Bishop as an actual real-life friend deserves our ultimate admiration.

Busta Rhymes ropes in rent-a-pillock Will.I.Am and a frustratingly underused Kelis on the unexceptional I Love My Chick. For such an innovative rapper, he doesn’t half churn out some ropey unimaginative shite. Good video, mind – Gabrielle Union is tres ace. Even more in need of an idea or six is estate urchin Shayne Ward, whose third single Stand By Me is as morose and mushy as the first two. While one thing we REALLY don’t need is a UK Timberwank, surely this poor sod is capable of being more than a male Beverley Craven?

Finally, meet Nylon, the biggest girlband in Iceland (insert ‘Atomic Kitten doing the weekly shopping’ joke here). We particularly enjoy the fact that one of them looks like Gillian McKeith, but music-wise they’re actually rather bearable, in an absolute-centre-of-the-road kind of way. Their UK debut Losing A Friend is an annoyingly-catchy melodious lament-in-a-training-bra – just the sort of thing Atomic Kitten would have swapped a year of Giro books for.

Start being nicer? Us? It’s physically impossible.

Susy Thomas - In The Morning (Season Records)

You know, it’s about high time we appointed a new Fave Brit Female™ here at The Sloppy Dog. Since bloody Melanie C bogged off to Europe to avoid the scabloids, we’ve been in need of someone to counter the male-fronted indie bands that dominate the Sloppy Dog stereo.

Step forward potential applicant Susy Thomas, a singer/songwriter hailing from Portsmouth. Clad with guitar, just the right amount of Elle-friendly gloss and an evident fervour for music, she’s certainly an exciting prospect at first notice.

We’ll be honest with you – she’s got one of those Cerys Matthews / Neil Tennant / Billie Holiday / Shakira voices. A proper like-it-or-don’t jobby. Here at The Sloppy Dog we fall into the former category, and not just because we sit within slapping distance of her big sister. (While we’re doing disclaimers, that’s not irony about Melanie C – we heart her.)

Of course, rich, distinctive vocals are as much use as a chocolate teapot without the songs. Thankfully, In The Morning is a collection of authentic, expressive bursts of sunlight. Lead single Mirror For Me chugs happily along drenched in captivating melodies, a fine contrast to the dreamy sway of Because You’re Near. It could be argued that the semi-acoustic, mid-tempo refrains throughout the album make for repetition, but it could be argued just as strongly that theme counts for a lot.

An interesting aspect comes from the ability to dodge the probable security of tried-and-tested standards set by the success of preceding female musicians. Rather than spewing fire and oestrogen in the face of anyone unfortunate enough to come within 50ft, or at the other end of the scale, taking the route of willowy, fluted, earth-goddess warblage, Susy Thomas transcends the pre-determined labels and carves out her own little niche.

Even more admirably, the overall tone of In The Morning carries an unrefined, raw honesty while somehow holding an element of mystery simultaneously. She knows something the rest of us don’t, and evidently she bloody loves rubbing it in our faces. Works damn well too – the quiet enigma contained within In The Morning leaves you wanting a hell of a lot more.

This week’s Celebrity News with award-winning political broadcaster and journalist, Bonnie

Hellur! It’s meh, Bonneh, with this week’s Celebriteh News, and everyfin and everyfin. Ya bastards!

So, I ‘eard, right, that Keef Richards is gunner be in the next Pirates of the Caribbean moveh. He’s gunner pleh Johnneh Depp’s dad. I fink he’d be right good in a pirate film, he looks right like a skellington and everyfin. I quite fanceh Johnneh Depp, he looks like this lad I got off wiv once behind the bowlin’ alleh.

Big oop to Freema Agyeman who’s been announced as the new girleh in Doctor Who, replacing Billeh Piper. I asked meh agent if he could get meh an audition, but the best he could get meh was a PA at Yates alongside ‘im off the Halifax adverts. The bastard! I can do anyfin and everyfin, meh.

Finalleh, Chris Martin out of Coldpleh, right, has filmed his appearance in Extras alongside Rickeh Gervais. I fink that’s a really good fing, cos he needs a break from singin’ like a laydeh and talkin’ about poverteh. Poverteh’s a right good fing anyway, cos if everyone and everyone were fat, the Earf would, like, tip ovah, and everyfin.

And everyfin, and everyfin.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Single Reviews 03/07/06

You’ll have to pardon the lack of updates this past week – we’ve been busy mourning both the defeat of England (didn’t we tell you pessimism is the way forward) and the passing of TV overlord Aaron Spelling. But grief shall not stop us – it’s off with the black armband and on with the party hat. Single Reviews ahoy!

Jose Gonzalez launches this week’s reviews, with another offering from his covers album (yes, it’s a covers album – this dude is little more than Jane McDonald with wistful anguish). Where he stripped the The Knife’s Heartbeats of all verve, his take on Kylie Minogue’s Hand On Your Heart more than delivers. The tinny SAW beats are torn apart and pissed upon, to reveal a rather fine pop song at the root.

2 for 1 offer in our white urban aisle! First up, Jamie T sparks interest with his quirky acoustic-hop Sheila. Unfortunately for him, we can’t quite take this in the desired context – from where we’re standing, Sheila will always be a nice Irish auntie who enjoys golf and small dogs. And secondly, the hyped-to-bejesus Smile by pramface princess Lily Allen completely does justice to the hard sell. We want to hate this, but we just can’t.

And to wrap up proceedings, two singles with tough acts to follow. Bob Sinclar chooses to keep to a tried-and-tested method, with World, Hold On composed of approximately 80% Love Generation. Nice results, but predictable. Comparatively, Razorlight finally chase the mahoosive Somewhere Else by taking a stab at a more developed, mature sound with a cheekily-chugging riff loitering below. In The Morning is our Single Of The Week, proving that change is good. Except when it means no more Spelling magic or World Cup drink-ups. Can we have our black armband back?
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