Friday, August 27, 2010

Single Reviews 30/08/10

Woo-hoo! It’s a Bank Holiday Weekend! Which means inevitably shit weather, cancelled barbecues (or particularly soggy barbecues), crap telly, heavy traffic and the dark realisation that Christmas is fast approaching. So, if you’re reading this via a smartphone on a gridlocked M25 in a downpour en route to a barbecue that’s not going to happen, at least you’ve got the Single Reviews to cheer you up...

X Factor silver medallist Olly Murs is first up with his debut single Please Don’t Let Me Go, its title probably a pre-emptive beseech Syco-wards if this fails to ignite the charts. It’s everything you’d expect from Olly – a mellow pop strumalong with artificial ska flavourings. And most likely, it’s probably far greater than anything the insipid Joe McElderry will produce.

As repellent as The Cribs are when selling their unwashed, mucus-flecked labour club McRock, at least it rather suits them. However, their attempt at substance on Housewife, while musically quite impressive, suggests profundity lyric-wise perhaps isn’t their bag. Now then, be good little street urchins and kindly untie Johnny Marr...

Another X Factor graduate whose talent shadows that of Mah Liddle Jaw are sibling smilemongers Same Difference (mind you, even Chico’s talent overshadows Joe’s). The wholesome Colgate gladness they previously displayed is still present on Shine On Forever (Photo Frame), albeit sexed up a tad with a toothy nod to the dancefloor. But, oh, the sheer cheese of it.

And while they’ve not had much in the way of competition this week, Single of the Week is, perhaps predictably, awarded to Feeder for approximately the 312th time. In fairness though, Renegades stands up on its own merits, a brawny, marching rock anthem with a heavy, hypnotic immediacy to it, and serves as a reminder that the album of the same name – while not up to usual standards – is actually rather brilliant.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Honking Box: Big Brother's Best Housemates

Having got the villains out of the way, we’re now rounding up the 10 Greatest Big Brother Housemates of all time. Worryingly, the choice of baddies far outweighed the good guys – but presumably, that’s what makes for such compelling viewing (well, most years, at least), and if nothing else, makes these particular BB heroes all the more heroic.

Spare a thought for those almost-instantaneous evictees who never got a chance to shine – the likes of Anouska, Beinazir, Sophia, Jonathan and Rachael. We’ll assume Bonneh did all she was ever going to do during her brief stay.

Honourable mention must go to Shabby, Alison Hammond, Hira and her cupcake, the occasionally-brilliant-but-mostly-irritating Science, Monkety Tonkety, and the clear winner of Big Brother 11, Josie. But let’s focus on those who made the list...

10. Darren Ramsay (BB1)
He may not be as memorable as some of his fellow housemates, but Darren’s stint in the first series was a pleasure to watch. The youngest housemate but the only one with kids of his own, he freely hopped between immaturity and levelheadedness, making for a mix of hilarity, conflict and sincerity. And let’s not forget Darren’s ongoing antics with Marjorie the Chicken, which was some much needed comic relief in a pretty intense series.

9. Narinder Kaur (BB2)A surprise early evictee from the second series, Narinder’s bluntness, her one-liners and her penchant for an argument were the ingredients for a great value housemate. Pairing herself with the tiresome Brian Dowling might not have been Narinder’s greatest move on paper, but their chemistry, their exchanges and their renditions of Proud Mary made them quite the double act.

8. Eugene Sully (BB6)
Out-tickling Jon Tickle himself is BB6 runner-up Eugene. His uncontainable glee at recounting tales of his truly nerdtacular antics (for instance, the camera in Tupperware recording the cycle of a dishwaster FROM THE INSIDE) was strangely endearing, often verging on the hilarious (another round of “Sister can clear that up”, anyone?). The geek shall inherit the Earth, and this man shall be king.

7. Lesley Brain (BB8)
A lone beacon of class and intelligence amidst a cacophony of squawking, mirror-fixated harpies, it was a travesty to see W.I. member Lesley walk just 11 days into the series. Her razor-sharp commentary was clearly lost on her largely comatose contemporaries, but provided at least a few episodes’ worth of refined, amusing genius.

6. Helen Adams (BB2)
She was the blueprint for the Endearingly Stupid Housemate mould later used to induct Jade Goody, Brian Belo and um... Shanessa the rough stripper, but Helen Adams was in a class of her own. Charmingly naive, funny without even trying, and one half of a genuinely touching Big Brother romance, we blinking love Helen, we do.

5. Sam Pepper (BB11)
Arguably a contender for the Worst Housemates list as well, Sam Pepper stepped in at the last minute to become resident irritant, practical joker, Josie-nemesis and all-round archetypal Little Shit. At a time when the house energy was seriously flagging, Sam Pepper – for he must be addressed by his full name – spoke his mind, stirred up several hundred gallons of shit, and injected some much-needed hilarity.

4. Makosi Musambasi (BB6)
Prior to her shark-jumping Jacuzzi moment and ensuing pregnancy fake-out, Makosi was on the way to becoming the greatest housemate in the show’s history. Makosi found herself – purely by chance – taking on a disproportionately high number of secrets tasks, but boy, did she rise to it. Unique, candid, compelling and deliciously devious: Makosi, we raise a glass of Cherry Tango to you.

3. Marcus Akin (BB10)
While hypno-siren Noirin Kelly was the focus of Big Brother 10 with her abilities to spellbind her fellow housemates, the true star of the show was Marcus. The irrepressible dark horse entertained, irritated, disgusted and captivated viewers with his quick wit, his foul mouth, and his aptitude for shooting down his more idiotic contemporaries (hello, Sree) with cider-swilling finesse.

2. Anna Nolan (BB1)
While Craig Phillips was by no means an undeserving winner, his runner-up Anna Nolan was by far a more worthy champion. The Irish ex-nun – because all Anna Nolan blurb MUST reference this – was a lovable mix of human, humourous, hilarious and honest, which we’ll pretend has a hard ‘H’ for alliterative purposes. No discernible quirks, no desire for attention, no falseness – just a jolly nice housemate with a brain between her ears.

1. Aisleyne Horgan-Wallace (BB7)
And it’ll come as no surprise to regular readers that the greatest housemate in Big Brother history is the teeth-kissing, self-knowing, Sezer-bashing, Grace-hating, Nikki-narking, one-time Ghetto Princess herself, Aisleyne. Her post-BB profile, in which she rubs shoulders with Charlie Brooker, obviously underlines her aceness, but it’s her time in the house which truly demonstrates what a brilliant character she was. From her entrance wrapped up as a present, to her ongoing rows with Nikki, to her fake eviction and her stint in the House Next Door, to her Sophie’s Choice moment, to Machiavelli-gate, to her eventual bronze medal, Aisleyne was amusing, genuine, and comprehensively entertaining.

...Of course, this is all subject to change – as the late Jade Goody found out the hard way, a return to the Big Brother house can be absolutely catastrophic. Ultimate Big Brother kicks off tonight following Josie’s inevitable win, where Davina will be joined by BB1 mentalist Nichola Holt for a 2010 remix of her hit single, The Game. Maybe.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Honking Box: Big Brother's Worst Housemates

After eleven series, nearly 200 housemates and well over a thousand hours of tellytime, the institution of infuriation that is Big Brother is due to close. Cunningly, Endemol will be wheeling out some of the greatest housemates of all time for a final stint beginning Tuesday, so we’ve chosen to highlight some of its best and worst characters to mark the show’s climax. And where better to start than with the bad news...?

We’ve chosen to omit the more beige housemates, such as Steve, Elizabeth, Kara-Whocares and the majority of Series 4, focusing on the more active bastards as opposed to the aforementioned furniture. Also missing from the list is the original scoundrel, Nick Bateman, who, in hindsight, was actually a brilliant – if entirely loathsome – housemate.

Other housemates narrowly missing out on a place include Shabnam, Ahmed, Seany, Alexandra and her mans dem, Gracefucker Mikey, Little Man Sezer, jungle cats Jason and Victor, Charley, Casual Racist Emily, and ol’ Crab Eyes himself, John-James. But they shouldn’t feel too bad – there’s been a hell of a lot of villains to choose from...

10. Kitten Pinder (BB5)
Political-agenda lesbian Kitten stomped into the house, all guns blazing and calling for blood, merely because she failed to spot her girlfriend in the crowd. It gave her the dubious honour of being the first housemate to enter to a chorus of boos, and her time within the house only echoed this. Kitten was turfed out for rule-breaking, which gave her the opportunity to roar obscenities about the Queen live on Channel 4. The woman clearly needed medication, but Davina McCall’s expression made it all worthwhile.

9. Tom Oliver (BB10)
The perfect example of the perennial “Why did you even APPLY?” housemates, posh-boy and all-round vortex of relevance Tom entered the Big Brother 10 house halfway through the series, often a tool designed to shake things up. However, his contribution amounted to moaning, questioning himself, wearing vile flip-flops and pretending to fancy Noirin, before walking nine days later.

8. Nicole Cammack (BB9)
Brought in as the girlfriend of brilliantly-bastardly house-eel Rex Newmark, her arrival should have mixed things up something rotten. But Nicole’s presence was an utter atmosphere vacuum, her whining second only to that of Nikki Grahame’s, albeit without the volume, charisma or hilarity. Highlight: asking a blind man to carry a boiling chip pan to her on the other side of the room, because she couldn’t be arsed to get up and check for herself whether the food was done.

7. Mikey Hughes (BB9)
...And here’s the man himself! It’s perhaps unfair to say that Mikey’s disability carried him to the final of Big Brother 9, but it’s virtually impossible to determine what actually did keep him in. The ranting and the volume issues were bad enough, but in the show’s history, no other housemate has been quite so stomach-churningly disgusting to observe hygiene-wise, with weeing in a communal drinking receptacle apparently common practice in Mikey’s world.

6. Charlie Drummond (BB10)
Introducing new levels of shallow to the house, Charlie’s brainlessness and triviality made Brian Dowling look like Socrates. His main concerns were his reflection, toadying up to Lisa, and the trashier end of Girls Aloud’s back catalogue. And if that weren’t enough, his casual rendition of 3 Of A Kind’s Babycakes alone was enough to warrant life imprisonment.

5. Tracey Barnard (BB8)
A self-styled (mind you, how does one use the term ‘style’ when the subject resembles Worzel Gummidge?) crusty raver, Tracey brought the promise of comedy Prodigy-spoof psychosis to the house, yet did little other than sit stewing on the side like a used economy teabag, speaking only to criticise or to bark the words “HAVE IT!”, apropos of nothing.

4. Dennis McHugh (BB9)
Trumping even Charlie Drummond as the worst gayer in Big Brother history, the truly repugnant Dennis was rightfully frogmarched out of the house after spitting in lovable oaf Mohamed’s face. His superficiality, attention-seeking ways and generally vile demeanour could potentially have made Dennis the inadvertent official poster-boy for homophobia worldwide.

3. Lisa Wallace (BB10)
Unemployed, scab-riddled tramp whose unrelenting whinging and bitching redefined the concept of passive-aggressiveness. Her key tactic was to stir the pot, then run away and play victim when it threatened to come back to her – in short, the worst kind of bully. Lisa’s lone moment of glory came on a day trip out of the house dressed as an alien. Big Brother would’ve been wise to leave her there.

2. Sandy Cumming (BB3)
Grumpy old walrus who, for no apparent reason, thought he was above the whole thing and steadfastly refused to play the game. Having barely engaged with his fellow housemates – aside from the wormlike Alex Sibley and his painful, incessant droning – Sandy left them a parting gift of a binful of piss before dragging his flabby self over a wall and running for the hills. At least he left an impression of some sort, as his personality certainly didn’t.

1. Grace Adams-Short (BB7)
And the most odious, unpleasant housemate ever to pass through the slightly-unreliable sliding doors of the Big Brother house is, without a doubt, Horseface Grace. Adversary to Aisleyne, troublemaker extraordinaire and all-round bully, her parting shot was to throw water in Susie’s face and leggit out the door, proving her to be little more than a sad, insecure coward. However, she’s since paid the price, having had many a pint chucked over her (yay!) and been seriously attacked (boo). Presumably, she’s since grown up a wee bit as a result, but her jealousy, her bitterness and her superiority complex made for one of the bitchiest, most hateful reality contestants of all time.

And with that hefty serving of negativity out of the way, pop back tomorrow, when we’ll be unveiling the ten greatest housemates of Big Brother. Sneak preview: it doesn’t feature Belinda Belinda Belinda.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Single Reviews 23/08/09

With a new week comes a new batch of singles (except for the fact that’s not technically correct now the chart is made up from almost 100% downloads with no defined release date), so we’re here once more to sift through the slurry and bring you the gems (except for the fact we make a point to leave the slurry in as well). Sit back and let the scrunity commence...

Stateside electro-newbie Sky Ferreira opens proceedings with the bibbling, overtweaked One. It’s instantaneously maddening stuff, the scratched CD loop effect worsening an otherwise fairly passable iPod filler-outer. It’s not the greatest introduction to an artist, who, while not quite at Pixie Lott levels of dead-eyed pointlessness, doesn’t seem to offer much aside from autotune abuse and a range of porno expressions.

Those all-American mainstays of mom-rock, the Goo Goo Dolls, are back with their ninth album, preceded by the somewhat predictable single Home. It’s every inch the Goo Goo Dolls, all imposing melodies and elevating lyrics and typically radio-courting riffs – the quality is there, but it was perhaps foolish to hope for a drum ‘n’ bass breakdown and a guest MC.

One-time X Factor finalists The Unconventionals at long last get around to unveiling Strawberry Sunshine, a lightly-comedic, cheddar-inflected summer ditty which has been languishing on the release schedules for a good two years. They’re less likely to be associated with The X Factor than they are to be mistaken for the Mike Flowers Pops, and yet, they’ve got a million times more personality than eventual winner Leona Lewis. But then, so does a pitta bread.

And our Single of the Week is awarded to the debut solo effort from Brandon Flowers, the mightily-impressive Crossfire. It’s close to topping some of the Killers’ best material, its unashamedly grandiose pop melodies melding nicely with a wee touch of rock-lite sharpness. Not to say it’s at all disposable, merely a more diffused sound, which bodes incredibly well for forthcoming album Flamingo.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Honking Box Preview: Don't Stop Believing - The Final

There’s a delightfully hedonistic convergence of reality shows around this time of year. As previously covered in The Honking Box, we’re currently in the middle of a two-week period which sees the end of Big Brother, the return of The X Factor, and the launch of Must Be The Music, with Strictly Come Dancing just around the corner. However, one show has fallen by the wayside a tad.

Yes, spare a thought for Don’t Stop Believing, an equal-parts shrewd and shameless attempt by Channel Five (for it has a ‘Channel’ once more) to cash in on the instantaneous and all-consuming success of Glee. The format’s pretty simple: show-choirs compete live on stage for an unspecified prize, presumably something resembling ‘glory’ as nothing else has been talked up. And when we say “show choirs”, we mean one of two things: conventional choirs who’ve clumsily taken on choreography in order to participate, and conventional pop groups who’ve tried to hammer out some choral arrangements in order to participate.

As the final looms, we’re left with six groups. Truth be told, we’d been planning to provide some sort of rundown profiling each of them in our own lazily sardonic way, but the fact is, they all just sort of merge into one. Save for quirky kiddie choir Singer Station and brassy W.I. types Dale Diva, it’s near impossible to tell one act from another. It’s just one big heaving mass of jazz hands.

The judges, at least, are a mixed bag – Anastacia is hugely likeable, even if her attempts to make “I cared for it” an identifiable catchphrase are entirely futile, while Chucky Klapow, whose name always looks as though it should be written in upper-case Comic Sans MS, clearly knows his stuff. And Tamsin Outhwaite, while pleasant enough, can often be found sporting an expression that implies her agent is about to take a knee to the groin. However, Duncan James’ apparent belief that he’s some sort of performing arts deity – delivered with all the charisma of a wicker placemat – quickly underlined him as the dead wood on the panel.

Host Emma Bunton, bless her, resembles a lost lamb waiting for Bo Peep to despatch a rescue helicopter to hoist her to safety. She’s great on camera, sure, but her helpless attempts to coax an answer out of the judges – which are generally met with complete disregard – make her every inch the supply teacher in a Peckham comprehensive. However, the greatest Bunto moment of the series was her puzzlement at a tie between two acts, which saw ten seconds of dead air while she visibly took direction from her earpiece. Whenever Dermot O’Leary utters the word ‘deadlock’, you can believe he involuntarily lets out a gleeful squirt of jism. Poor ol’ Emma Bunton in the same situation has ten years knocked off her life.

Meanwhile, there’s the Don’t Stop Believing supergroup, an in-house show choir compiled from everyman soloists and erstwhile talent show competitors, with approximately three dozen new members added each week. One ‘notable’ member is professional quitter Nicola Ward, who walked out on Popstars: The Rivals, vile ITV1 dating fiasco Take Me Out, and Eurovision: Your Country Needs You to name but a few, but here she is, giving it another shot. They say God loves a trier, but even the Good Lord must be sick of the sight of this one.

It’s no major surprise that the format’s already been sold to broadcasters around the world, with its high production values and slick visuals, but with abysmal ratings and no discernible goal for either the winning choir or the supergroup to work towards, UK viewers haven’t quite mustered the interest. Channel Five had a great opportunity with this, and in fairness, they were right to be quick off the mark in order to ride the Glee wave, but it seems all that rushing has resulted in a rather clumsy affair. But hey, at least they can save face to an extent, given precisely no-one will remember Don't Stop Believing. Even on Monday.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Single Reviews 16/08/10

Expect to see a whole lot of reality TV round these parts in the coming weeks, with the demise of Big Brother and the return of The X Factor. So in preparation for the climax of the former and series seven of the latter, we’d like to be the first to get in there to say “At the end of the day” and “You either love me or hate me”, plus “You’re what this show is all about” and “It’s a no.” But for now, we’re all about the music, man – it’s this week’s Single Reviews...

Kicking off with our Single of the Week – and boy, is it a good ‘un – it’s One Night Only, who thankfully take the lead from the exceptional bits of their debut album as opposed to the (frankly dominating) iffy bits. Say You Don’t Want It echoes the immense, chord-loaded brilliance of Just For Tonight, albeit with a slightly harder edge to it.

The unstoppable vortex of personality that is Rihanna continues to fire her tired brand of forgettable R&B slurry all over the charts. Hard is, predictably, a wittingly-slutty serving of musical dishwater designed to pad out the playlists of uninspired radio stations the world over. It’s further proof that any remotely-talented female could’ve had Rihanna’s exact career blow for blow and it wouldn’t be one iota different.

And to close things, a slice of pigeonhole-evading pseudo-house from Caribou, and the splendidly weird Sun. Its infectious cymbal loop and distorted Caribbean leanings soon make way for twisted, unsystematic electronica, all combining to create a distinctive audio artwork and, if we’re honest, a fair bit of indigestion.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Honking Box Preview: Must Be The Music

For years, we've been quacking about how The X Factor should rejig its categories, returning to the initial groupings of 16-24s, Over 25s and Groups, with a fourth category for Bands. But alas, another show has gotten there first (also meaning we don't get to pitch it to Talkback Thames and enjoy a dip in Simon Cowell's Scrooge McDuck-style money vault).

Sky 1's fearless foray into the world of shiny primetime entertainment takes a sizeable step forward with Must Be The Music, a talent show which shuns the manufactured approach and reality cliches to allow true musicians to shine. A far healthier outlook than The X Factor or its forerunners, the openness to celebrate any and every genre, in any package, is commendable (particularly when you consider the logistical nightmare of setting up live band after live band during the audition process).

Sat behind the judging table is a rather impressive rollcall of artists - Jamie Cullum, whose likeability and unquestionable talent and musicianship make him a good choice; Dizzee Rascal, who not only adds a credible slant but whose current stellar profile will surely garner attention; and Sharleen Spiteri, who... um... well, let's face it, she's no Dannii Minogue. But hey, Summer Son was a good song, wasn't it?

Sadly, the presence of Fearne Cotton makes the whole thing a far less appealing prospect. It's all well and good being sniffy about her presenting style and enjoying a pantomine dislike of the woman, but her clumsy, sycophantic gushing is now approaching unbearable, whilst her dead, empty gaze has become a thing of true horror. Someone who actually has a genuine passion for music might've been a wiser choice, not someone whose USP amounts to bookending the name of her interviewee with "The" and "-ster".

But the chance to uncover an exciting new artist - be that a soul singer, metal band, classical pianist, folky guitarist or jazz girl group - is an intriguing new prospect, particularly from this type of outlet, and hopefully enough to transcend the God-awful gobshite of a host. Must Be The Music takes the artist-focused objective of Fame Academy, widens it enormously, and dresses the whole thing up in a high-gloss format. Not much wrong with that.

Whether it'll provide any true competition for The X Factor's bejewelled crown is, on the surface, unlikely, but with very different ideals and very different aims, it's not necessarily the intention. Though let's not forget that Sky 1's hugely entertaining Got To Dance absolutely wiped the floor with its BBC contemporary So You Think You Can Dance - if not in terms of ratings, certainly in terms of acclaim, relevance, talent, and the profiles of both the judges and the contestants. It's safe to assume a certain high-waistbanded music mogul is keeping a very close eye on this one.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Single Reviews 09/08/10

It’s been a funny old week in pop, has it not? Rappers running for President (and in a proper way, not in an Adam-Rickitt-running-as-Tory-candidate way); mutant mismatched boybands reaching No. 1; overrated trannies scooping so many MTV Video Music Awards nominations it can’t not be bribery. With that, let’s see whether the Single Reviews hold any more bizarre surprises for next week...

A Texan-sized portion of room-temperature Americana from Lady Antebellum is the starter this week, in the form of I Run To You. Like breakthrough hit Need You Now, it straddles a four-way partition between early Kelly Clarkson, sawdust-strewn hee-haw, wholesome Disney and stadium gospel, but without the big melodic immediacy it’ll need to turn any heads on this side of the pond.

Single of the Week is awarded to the Klaxons on their return to the pop fray, the refrigerated indie grandeur of Echoes. After a three-year absence, they still carry the same arthouse swagger that suggests they take themselves just a little too seriously, but it barely dents the plentiful positives of a mightily impressive single that brilliantly sells their uniqueness, making for an overall very welcome comeback.

And finally, a peculiar demi-ballad from The Saturdays. Throughout its duration, Missing You threatens to swell into a gargantuan rave affair, but never quite materialises, thus making the whole exercise feel rather pointless. Which, following a horribly flat second album and preceding a bizarre stop-gap glorified EP, kind of reflects the band as a whole.
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