Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Honking Box Review: Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe

Ordinarily we'd probably steer clear of giving too much credence to a show examining the best and worst television has to offer. For example, much as we'd have liked to address Harry Hill's TV Burp recently (more specifically, the Japanese choir singing Neverending Story, and the ScorpiPat), we feel it only draws attention to the fact that The Sloppy Dog's Honking Box is… well… just that. In comparison, it honks.

But an exception must be made. Charlie Brooker, telly scrutiniser extraordinaire, has been the best thing about Mondays for the past month. Granted, Mondays rarely consist of sunshine, riches and bottomless tubs of Phish Food, but that's made Screen Wipe all the more appreciated.

Last night's edition saw the series come to an end, after what felt like an approximate two-episode run. In that respect, we'll liken it to Fawlty Towers rather than It's Now Or Never with Philip Schofield. And although it's back later in the year, we were presented with one hell of a series climax (that's "a jolly good final episode" to those of you whose lives haven't been devoured by American pop culture, if there's any survivors).

Aside from Brooker himself, a man we admire so much we consciously have to remind ourselves not to get all Single White Female up in his bizniz, we couldn't have been more entertained and more sycophantically agreeable had we executive produced the whole thing.

Stewart Lee slagging off the horrendous Skins! Our exact thoughts on Primeval! Clips of the legendary Knightmare! With bloody Treguard and everything! Grace Dent! An examination of the benchmark in twattery that is the Coke Zero ad! Fucking AISLEYNE!

…and breathe. Until Screen Wipe (which may actually be all one word - we really should check these things) returns to our screens later in the year, rest assured The Honking Box will fulfil all your televisual bitchery wants and needs. Albeit in a comparatively low-rent Happy Shopper stylee.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Single Reviews 26/02/07

Dear trampy tabloid ‘journalists’ scouring the internet for stories to steal: please leave Britney alone. Aside from the fact she’s clearly unwell, she also provided us with Before The Goodbye and therefore can be forgiven anything. Plus, as luck would have it, she actually looks quite good bald, and can certainly pull off hair loss better than Will Young. Thanking you kindly, love from The Sloppy Dog. Meanwhile, to all nice people here to enjoy the Single Reviews: voila...

It’s not much of a competition over in Resurgence World this week. Though Rocksteady gave the impression of immense comeback victory, only 12 people agreed. The final nail in All Saints’ coffin is the ungainly Chick Fit, an anaemic dub jumble establishing there is no correlation between the amount of oafish drums and quality. Wiping the 90’s themed floor with the Saints are Take That, who follow the omnipresent Patience with the Britpop-meets-Broadway jollity of Shine, although the crass vaudeville video is pretty much on a par with Chick Fit’s thruppenny cheapfest.

Also bearing the cross of Nineties success not translating into 21st Century cyber-splendour are The Bluetones, although rather inexplicably. Surrendered displays the heartwarming melodies that made If... one of the best songs of ALL EFFING TIME, whilst being inventive enough to verify it’s anything but trading on past glories. An undisputable Single of the Week.

Charlotte Hatherley makes the most of her departure from Ash with I Want You To Know. Chequered floor boppery gets into a satisfying scuffle with robust riffs, all stamped with Char’s brand of she-balls and flammable glamour. Nice.

Amidst a bevy of wearisome woo-hoos courtesy of Akon, The Sweet Escape sees Gwen Stefani trilling her desire to leggit, a sentiment we echo on prolonged exposure. Sounding not unlike an overproduced skipping rhyme, it’s further evidence of the clichéd second album curse.

Lastly, after the odious Sheena Is A Parasite, it’s good news that The Horrors can only go uphill. That’s no compliment, mind – the mixture of inane hollering and hi-NRG Casio-clouting psychosis make Gloves an aural interpretation of being stuck on a Waltzer because the toothless gypsy has fallen asleep at the controls. The opening bars alone almost invoke the stench of candyfloss, petrol fumes and sibling-vomit.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Single Reviews 19/02/07

Seen the papers this week, folks? Apparently the Spice Girls are to reform. Of course, the timing couldn’t be better, with two of them in full solo swing, two of them pregnant, another two recent mothers, and a whole spate of 90’s regrouping currently boring Britain to tears. Note that this news came via “a source close to the band”, who aren’t actually a band. To summarise, we won’t even bat an eyelid until the press conference. In the meantime, Single Reviews, anyone?

The Magic Numbers launch proceedings this week with This Is A Song, a track we’ve already gushed about with validation. While the marathon album version has the chance to tick each archetypal box, a heavily-clipped radio edit fails to do so, resultantly sacrificing a slight portion of the Numbers’ magic. See what we did there?! Oh we are clever, aren’t we, children?

Beyoncé takes a desperate stab at that evasive Oscar by throwing her entire self unreservedly into Dreamgirls – but, in doing so, takes a piddle all over her music output. Like standing beneath a waterfall of treacle, one can only hope Listen was created in character as Deena, as there’s no other excuse for such a step back. A ballad this chewy and ersatz-affirming is generally reserved for talent show winners.

The hungrily-anticipated return of the Kaiser Chiefs is a disappointing one, with Ruby demonstrating that the vigorous quirk previously peddled with ease has evaporated into a hapless Home Counties chutzpah. We’re aware of the preposterous levels of hypocrisy we’d reach if we suggested you could listen to The Feeling a bit too much, but it would appear the Kaisers need a reminder of which band they actually are.

Next up, The Sloppy Dog takes its first ride on the Mumm-Ra bandwagon, though we’re keen to state its not without reason. While the Thundercats reference in itself is enough to roll out the red carpet, the inventiveness, the artistry and the plain old entertainment of What Would Steve Do? easily commands a Single of the Week. But frankly, we wouldn’t trust the judgement of any Steve we know...

Finally, the porcelain princess more commonly known as Sophie Ellis Bextor makes a comeback with the notably rather ace Catch You. Ditching the aloof, tongue-in-cheek homofocus of some of her back catalogue in favour of a heavier, far more musical approach, it’s arguably the best single of her career. (Disclaimer: we maintain Posh could kick her arse.)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The 'Ump: The Brit Awards 2007

Before we begin, note how we've chosen to cover the Brits via The 'Ump rather than a Honking Box column - a testament to the perenial pissing-off these supposedly hallowed awards invoke. Bearing in mind we're writing the main body of this article on Wednesday morning, is that being realistic or excessively negative?

Let's face it, we were never going to have massively high expectations for the show, bearing in mind the nominations themselves threw up no surprises. Kissing up to 'cool' industry darlings such as Lily Allen and the Arctic Wankeys has become the key element of the Brit Awards, supposedly in some vain attempt to appear trendy. Maybe demonstrating the presence of a brain between their collective ears would be slightly more effective? Meanwhile, banishing the genre categories altogether was an utterly stupid idea, although given that they never quite seemed to grasp the point of Best Pop, maybe it's not such a bad thing. James frickin' Blunt, indeed.

And yet, pairing down the awards to be more concise and inclusive, they STILL fail to get it right. Seriously, Justin Timberlake for Best International Male? Are we forgetting that the only reason anyone even knows his name is because he stuck it in Britney Spears!?

Even more sickeningly, TWO awards to the Overrated Apes, who couldn't be there on account of being SO FUCKING COOL, kids. Perhaps their puppetmasters have banned them from such events, in case the charisma deficiency that swamps their music spills over into their regular talking voices. Oh look! A VT where they're in costume as Wizard of Oz characters! Aren't they ironic? Well, actually, no. We've just read Wicked, and it would turn out these particular characters are actually all a bit shit. Apt, then.

Of course, a live event celebrating a year's worth of the cream of British music is hardly the perfect opportunity for us to hear another selection from Russell Brand's endless supply of scrotal tales, but in actual fact, he held it together rather well. But every ying has its yang, or in this case, has its beak-nosed cocksucking goblin bitch. While Brand's quick wit and Dickensian yarns entertained and amused, backstage lurked Fearne Cotton, which not only negated the good work being done out front, but appeared to be an entirely pointless exercise. You could just picture a team of sweaty AFMs frantically rounding up Orson, The Fratellis and James Morrison (that's a grand total of nine drunk men) and desperately attempting to retain them in the backstage pen long enough for them to be able to hear a sycophantic troll in leopard print read out some phone numbers.

Other 'highlights' included a maroon-crested Joss Stone, who strutted around the podium pleading us to send our love to Robbie Williams, seemingly in the style of 3 Non Blondes' Marcia Brown. And while it was nice to see Take That completely show up their former bandmate, they were also responsible for the most unremarkable performance in Brits history.
So, all in all, a decent enough show, generously peppered with some fucking horrendous decisions. In fairness, we'd probably only be truly happy with the Brit Awards were we the sole decider of each winner, but even then, you can't please everybody (Lord knows a few people might not be too chuffed with Melanie C collecting eight or nine gongs). Still, you wouldn't expect a bit of originality and diversity to be so unfathomable, would you? What's that? You would? On account of the Brit Awards being a farcical display of in-shagging amongst a barrage of drunken, blinkered fat cats? Hey, you said it, not us...

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Single Reviews 12/02/07

Well readers, this is a huge relief. We were worried that perhaps a snowdrift or frostbite or full-on hypothermia or an attack from newly-indigenous polar bears would prevent us bringing you this week’s Single Reviews. Seriously, London, it was a light dusting. Calm the fuck down.

Love or hate Akon (we imagine ‘hate’ will be the option most of you go for), he at least tends to carve his own niche which is commendable. However, the commonplace R&B whinges of I Wanna Love You combined with the dull-ass routine rap of Snoop Dogg fills in said niche with Polyfilla.

Next up, allow us to introduce you to an up-and-coming band called Snow Patrol, whose 2006 single Chasing Cars barely registered on the airplay charts. It’s depressing how runaway success can really put you off an artist, and not in a pretentious we-saw-them-first type way, but in an undiluted overkill way. Open Your Eyes is undoubtedly a decent track, but given it’s already developing an omnipresent soundbed standing, it’s only going to taint things further.

As if news of her pregnancy wasn’t enough, Emma Bunton hammers home the grown-up status she’s desperately pushing with All I Need To Know, a gentle floaty ballad with a resolute oomph deficit. Ticks the necessary boxes, sure, but it still isn’t Maybe. Incidentally, an artist with a dire need to grow up comes via the non-rock, tabloid-fellating, theatrical posturing of Donny Tourette and the entirely inept Towers of London. The utterly unmusical I’m A Rat reads like the “he’s behind you” of Tourette’s ham-fisted Widow Twanky, leaving nothing but the promise of lower and lower profile reality shows.

Finally, in yet another example of how the new singles chart has all but dissolved the release schedule, the exceptional Lil Star by the combined splendours of Kelis & Cee-Lo has yet to see the light of day in the real world. However, thanks to the wonder of the download, it’s been creeping up the charts for weeks now, and not without reason. After the tenuous Bossy, this cosmic-gospel anthem sees Kelis at the top of her game once again, claiming our Single of the Week. We just don’t know which week.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Honking Box Preview: Ugly Betty

A few months back, we were warned by a selection of Stateside friends to be patient with new comedy du jour Ugly Betty, as apparently it gets off to a rather bumpy start. And several episodes in, we're yet to encounter any of this supposedly rocky content. It's no surprise that we're generally rather quick to judge, but rarely does that result in anything other than bitter hatred.

Yes, we wholeheartedly, um, heart Ugly Betty. We love the dialogue as sharp as Shane MacGowan’s incisors. We love the telenovela permanently gracing the Suarez household's own honking box. We love Ashley Jensen getting the opportunity to shine away from the apparent squillion-watt glow of Ricky Gervais. We love everything about Betty's trashy sister Hilda.

And most of all, we love the way America Ferrera plays Betty with a song in her heart and her train tracks a-flashin'. It would be so easy to fall into the clichéd portrayal of a frumpy girl with a desperation to belong, but giving Betty an unashamed zest and her own brand of confidence is one of the key charms of the show.

For all its joys, we're not overly keen on the mystery of Fey Sommers, an aspect of Ugly Betty which seemingly is a pre-requisite on the back of similar enigmafests in Lost and Desperate Housewives. That and the fact we'll never be able to take Alan Dale seriously - how are we expected to believe his appearance as a sinister Murdoch figure, when we've seen him take eternal helpings of The Slaegin from three incarnations of Lucy Robinson? Murderous businessman schtick is beaten by "I hate Erinsborough and I hate YOU!" every time.

Bearing in mind this tiresome riddle aspect is our least favourite aspect of the show, perhaps we've picked the wrong week to sing the praises of Ugly Betty. Tonight's episode has a particularly dark theme, not just addressing the ongoing Bradford Meade puzzle, but also following the backstory of Betty’s father and his not entirely lawful presence in the States. Quite how he managed that is beyond us – if the crazy security bitch we encountered at JFK Airport is any indication of the US immigration behemoth, the man’s a genius.

On a lighter note, we get to also join Hilda on her first trip to the Mode offices, which we’re informed is true comedic platinum. We're hoping in particular to see Amanda and Marc facing off against five foot eight of brash Brooklyn finger-snapping.

Lazier sources have been citing Ugly Betty as the successor to Friends, but having been watching vintage Ally McBeal on the God-awful TMF, and with Desperate Housewives peaking week after week, it’s probably fairer to say it continues in the same dreadfully-labelled but excellently-executed dramedy vain. And even outside of its pigeonholing, Ugly Betty stands up proud as a tremendously entertaining show years ahead of its time.

(Shhh! Just don’t mention the fact that Betty isn’t actually ugly. They’re hoping we won’t notice…)

Monday, February 05, 2007

Mika - Life In Cartoon Motion (Island)

You've heard the song ad nauseum for the past month. It hasn't left your skull – having initially claimed squatter's rights, it has since developed its own civilisation and evolved a million years. You've also probably been mowed down several times by the marketing juggernaut and its reckless desperation to shine every available spotlight on the supposed Next Big Thing™.

In fairness, we'd be worried if people's ears didn't prick up at the arrival of Mika, PR or no PR, bifro or no bifro. Love him or hate him, you'd have a hard time denying he's drastically different, both musically and stylistically. But, as far as we're concerned, that's where the tiniest iota of respect comes to a sudden halt. The vile, uncomfortable lead single is the perfect window into the car accident at the end of the plastic rainbow, with Life In Cartoon Motion managing to annoy and offend to an extent that only Grace Kelly could pre-empt.

And beneath the day-glo caterwauling, there remains little in the way of substance. Billy Brown addresses the tale of a bloke who realises he's a gayer. Well, who'da thunk it?! In this day and age?? Hardly ground-breaking stuff from any source, but from a man whose entire schtick is a kaleidoscopic mess of limp wrists and high notes? Please. Is it really too much to expect a Number One musician to think outside of the box?

Relax, Take It Easy shows the promise of some kind of pleasantly understated, disco-lite He-Annie, before its true nature is revealed as one of Jake Shears' stolen wankerchiefs used to fertilise the drying eggs of Tina Cousins. Elsewhere, absolutely nothing can justify the helium/valium compound of Lollipop being created, or, even more embarrassingly, performed by a male. In the highly unlikely event that Mika was born with testicles, he deserves to have them unceremoniously chopped off for crimes against his gender. And generation. And species.

With such a fervent, pungent combination of cockiness and cheese, we steadfastly refuse to believe that Mika isn't a winner of an overseas version of the Pop Idol format. And please note, by saying "overseas", we're not attempting to be, in any way, 'racial'. On the topic of geography though, the Lebanese/French/English/American spiel puked any which way by more tired media outlets is supposedly some sort of excuse for his awkward aural schizophrenia. Life In Cartoon Motion suggests Mika's mindset is somewhere in Cuckooland, or some sort of alternate reality where he's so well received he manages to top the charts on downloads alone for a fortnight. Oh…

It's probably safe to assume Mika will be as colossal a hit as Grace Kelly would already suggest. We won't even begin to fathom the reasoning behind this, as, in conclusion, we think the easiest answer would be that we just don't 'get' it. So if it's your cup of own-brand Red Label, good for you. But fuck us sideways, this shit is phantasmagorical levels of bad. We'll be in the underground bunker if anyone needs us.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Single Reviews 05/02/07

It was pointed out to us this week that the submissions deadline for the 2007 Bloggies has closed. Next year, dear readers, don’t point it out, just bloody submit us. In the meantime, we’re backing Go Fug Yourself, so vote here if you can be arsed. And remember next year. Seriously.

The gimmick of the posthumous hip-hop star is severely drying up, with 2Pac’s contribution to Pac’s Life barely registering alongside the sizeable involvement of T.I. and Ashanti. Bearing in mind they’re respectively a clichéd dial-a-rapper, and a tone-deaf minion even hairier than Cat Deeley, that’s shameful stuff. But as 2Pac’s dead ten years, it’s safe to say it’s not exactly his fault.

*Just* getting away with squeezing the final drop of aural nectar from Twelve Stops And Home, The Feeling cautiously tread the frozen lake of overkill. Luckily, it’s via the exquisite Rosé. While the poignant lament loses a fraction of its impact in trimmed single form, this wouldn’t be The Sloppy Dog if we weren’t kissing the collective arses of The Feeling – a firm Single of the Week. But no more sugah til we get some new material, y’hear?

Fresh from Nick Lachey’s woeful tale of abandon last week, his former missus Jessica Simpson takes the comparative high road in an upbeat 80’s gorgonzola-romp. However, much like the Sugababes vs Girls Aloud anti-climax, A Public Affair carries precisely no weight sans the help of its video. If only the song was as cameo-severe (i.e. as little Jessica as possible), it might be something other than ghastly.

We’re always suspicious of the bands we’re supposed to be doing backflips over at the mere mention of their name. In that vain, the Gossip have got the NME foaming at the genitals, which, let’s face it, is the kiss of death. Sadly, Jealous Girls does little to counter this, and simply adds to their repertoire of garage-crafted rec-rock.

And last up, Simon Webbe continues his campaign to be taken seriously after managing VS with his fifth solo single. While still firmly situated in the beige pastures of Radio 2, My Soul Pleads For You heads back towards the R&B-in-short-trousers peddled by Blue, though not so far that it loses all credibility. Can someone point Craig David in the direction of the proverbial drawing board?

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