Friday, April 29, 2011

Single Reviews 01/05/11

Welcome to this week’s Single Reviews, where we’re going to take this opportunity to wish the very best of luck to two wonderful people on this momentous day. Yes, a very Happy Birthday to Status Quo’s Francis Rossi (yes, he's still alive), and to pramfaced S Club bellower and one-time henchperson of St. Jade , Jo O’Meara. (Them posh ones doing something or other today can bog off. But thanks for the day off.)

Sticking with the theme of waving Union Jacks to celebrate something largely pointless, Blue step up as the UK’s representatives at this year’s Eurovision, via the generic-but-passable I Can. It’s radio-friendly, affirming and quintessentially Blue – namely, if it weren’t Eurovision, no-one would even notice it. And whether it’ll make much of a splash at the competition itself is doubtful, but it’s a significant improvement on that Pete Waterman shitshower from last year.

Lady Gaga is up next, with the extraneous claptrap of Judas. For an artist so apparently ground-breaking, the industrial gay disco squelch is sorely predictable, while the “Juda-Ju-da-ah” hook shows she’s gone full-circle to a Smack The Pony parody of herself. The few glimmers of brilliance that have shone out from beneath her artificial, over-manufactured facade and rancid arrogance are but a distant memory, a deserving chaser to the Born This Way backlash.

Ahead of his debut solo album, Rearrange clearly illustrates that Miles Kane was the brunt of the brilliance behind The Last Shadow Puppets (unsurprising, given the other half was an Arctic bastard Monkey). A bewitching Sixties beat engages from the outset, while the deliciously distorted riff and contagious chorus cement the deal. An easily-selected Single of the Week.

As is the norm with BeyoncĂ©, she’s heralding a new album release with a gargantuan, cacophonous booty-bouncing anthem. But no-one could’ve seen Run The World (Girls) coming: a noisy, empowering beast of a song, boasting exhausting tribal beats, swizzled vocals and a chant-along chorus. And while it won’t win listeners over quite like Single Ladies or Deja Vu did, no-one will be in any doubt that B’s back.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Honking Box Preview: Masterchef

It’s almost alien to think of the origins of Masterchef, that sleepy Sunday afternoon studio format where Loyd Grossman and a couple of anonymous critics droned over a few colourless plates of slow-paced 90s fare. But its evolution into a prime-time rumble has continued to thunder forwards with the current series, which has exploded into a fierce, dramatic, big-budget battle, the culmination of which hits our screens tonight.

In the overhaul, someone's also had a quiet word with Gregg Wallace and John Torode, and made the polite suggestion of a few quiet words of their own. Yes, the eardrum-bursting hyperbole has been reduced by a good 85%, making the whole thing infinitely more watchable.

And perhaps the disdain for Gregg and John has lessened partially due to most viewers directing their bile elsewhere, namely at Jackie, an animated Disney villain's corvine sidekick made flesh. Her snippy manner and pretentious menu made her the comedy baddie of the series, cemented only by the spells she cast on many a judge, causing them to sweat, hiccup, and vomit live frogs. Hey, it ain't Jackie's fault. She did warn you that her authentic Asian street fare was too sophisticated for your clunky, uncultured Western palate.

But with Jackie dispatched back to her organic hemp tent to slice off a few more digits, the final three is comprised of Tom, the everyman option resembling a knackered Matt Cardle; the endearing Italian weepathon Sara; and comedy US teen movie geek and Heston-wannabe Tim. It’s a line-up of deserving candidates, each hugely likeable, incredibly talented, and most importantly for Masterchef, equipped with their own ‘journey’ narrative.

Tonight’s final episode, however, feels as though it might be a tad flat and small-time. After Monday night saw the trio whisked off to Australia to conjure up a menu from fantastical ingredients that sounded like they should have been accompanied by a Quentin Blake illustration, and last night’s episode dropped them slap-bang in the middle of a Manhattan lunch service, heading back to dozy England to prepare three courses for Gregg and John is not what you’d describe as climactic.

Still, with the result impossible to call, the final outcome itself is enough of a mystery that geographical location or batshit-mental ingredients aren’t required to stir up excitement. Kudos to whoever was in charge of the rejigging of the format; to whoever told the hosts to come down a few decibels; and to the finalists, who genuinely haven’t had it easy. Let the deliberation, the cogitation and digestion commence.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Guillemots - Walk The River (Geffen)

It’s perfectly normal to have half an opinion formed before consuming new music, but the third release from Guillemots makes the situation a unique one. Between their disappointing track record with albums as a band and last year's astonishingly good solo effort from frontman Fyfe Dangerfield, the expectations are simultaneously high and low: a rather extraordinary position to be in. But, as Walk The River will demonstrate, Guillemots are a rather extraordinary band.

The crushing disappointment that was 2006 debut Through The Windowpane may have come as a result of the ludicrously high positioning of the proverbial bar set by its lead single Trains To Brazil. So you'll forgive us for approaching Walk The River with serious caution, given the two immense trailer singles: the boldly random title track and the soaring choruses and thumping beats of The Basket. Mercifully, perhaps even surprisingly, the remainder of the album does a remarkable job of matching – perhaps even surpassing – its tasters so far.

Walk The River is, peculiarly, almost cohesive in its incohesiveness – the simple sing-song melodies chased by intricate, gloriously weird mazes of sound. The meat-and-potatoes indie sensibilities backed by angelic harmonies and electronic shimmers. The epic serenity of Sometimes I Remember Wrong, complete with quietly dramatic two-and-a-half-minute intro, is the polar opposite of the speedy, assured Ice Room.

Aside from a couple of brief occasions where momentum is lost during slower moments, it's nigh on impossible to fault such a lovingly crafted album. Content-wise, Walk The River is deep, emotive, stirring stuff. But the aptitude for creating an intense, seductive hook creates an immediate connection, and from thereon in, it's game over for the listener: for 65 minutes, you belong to the Guillemots. And while previous albums may have been patchy at best, they make perfect sense in hindsight, depicting the long road to achieving an album of this towering standard.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Honking Box Review: Sing If You Can

Anyone familiar with TV Go Home, the uproarious listings satire on which Charlie Brooker first sharpened his solid gold fangs, will be acquainted with spoof formats including When Liquids Coagulate (“real-life coagulation caught on camera”), Scissors Paper Stone (“A televised hand invites you to compete against it”), and of course, Unpopped Popcorn Kernal Avoidance Live.

Now, in 2011, either TV Go Home has been printed using the same ink Penny Crayon wields and its fantastical parodies have come to life, or the commissioners are taking the serious piss. Sing If You Can, the big-money highlight of ITV1’s Saturday night schedule, sees a handful of quasi-celebs performing karaoke whilst enduring bizarre challenges, such as being draped in snakes, spinning wildly on a giant turntable, or being buggered by a giant laboratory-forged scorpion named Victor. (In fairness, only two of those challenges featured in the first episode, but let’s not forget there’s still a couple more weeks of this absurdity to go.)

Guest-wise, it wasn’t particularly stellar – aside from Jodie Prenger and Brendan Cole, Sing If You Can boasts a whole lotta yesterwho. So for anyone wondering what happened to Zoe Birkett, she’s now appearing on peculiar karaoke gameshows as Zoe Birkett who came fourth in Pop Idol, and resembling Sad Sack with a horsehair weave. But this is all irrelevant, as precisely no-one was wondering what happened to Zoe Birkett.

Elsewhere, Brigitte Nielsen – who was a surprise article of awesomeness on Celebrity Big Brother – managed to show off a decent enough voice, but was nowhere near as goose-loop mental as she has the capacity to be. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what is supposed to happen when Brigitte Nielsen is given the opportunity to express her DE-GE-DE in song form:

No such excitement here, sadly. The audience sport expressions ordinarily utilised by individuals on jury service, whilst uncomfortably wielding felt-tip “I Love Sing If You Can!” banners which were cobbled together by the production team half an hour earlier.

The hosts actually make some sense: the genuinely lovable Stacey Solomon actually comes across far less burbling and hapless than you might expect, and Leigh Francis in character as Keith Lemon at least implies that the whole thing is some sort of knowing piss-take, even if the jokes that pour out of him are flatter than a deluxe album’s worth of Rihanna vocals. But there’s just no excusing such appalling content.

Admirably, the aim of the whole shitshower is to raise money for charity, though it’s difficult not to be horribly cynical about the whole thing and wonder whether the charity aspect is only included to give some sort of backbone-cum-excuse to what is otherwise one hour of a single camera trained on a lone used sanitary towel.

It’s almost impossible to believe Sing If You Can is a real show. Lowbrow is all well and good – Total Wipeout, for instance, does it with big foamy finesse – but there comes a point where you wonder just how much lower than low you can get. How such blatant throwaway gimmickry actually made it past the commissioners is a genuine mystery, but if this is what counts for primetime entertainment now, then let’s just resign ourselves to it. Fearne’s Concentration Camp All-Stars! With team captains Dean Gaffney and Chloe Staines! Sponsored by Britain’s most repugnant eaterie chain Fire & Stone! Coming soon to ITV1! (Joking we may be, but if Sing If You Can is any indication, don’t rule it out.)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Single Reviews 17/04/11

Welcome to this week’s Single Reviews, which we’re aware is one of very few updates recently, but hey, real life and all that. In the midst of our distraction, we also missed the chance to cover the release of Feeder’s charity single in aid of the Japan earthquake. So, we’d like to make Side by Side a retroactive Single of the Week, and prompt you to download it from or iTunes – aside from it being an awesome bit of music, all profits go to the Red Cross.

We kick off by sticking with a charitable theme. Sort of. Supporting Record Store Day 2011 – which sadly, is probably an increasingly futile cause – are The View, whose version of The Tweeds’ I Need That Record has been selected as the official anthem. While in principle, such a campaign warrants a thumbs-up, taking the track on its own merits, The View actually do a rather fine job. In fact, it probably trumps a good 95% of their own catalogue. Perhaps a future as a covers band would serve them well...

Nicki Minaj continues to peddle her gritty-but-girly brand of hip-hop. This particular slice comes with a sizeable dollop of British indie, with Girls Fall Like Dominoes sampling The Big Pink’s Dominos, and to great effect. Lil Kim has had plenty to say about Minaj pirating her entire career or some such guff, but on the strength of Girls Fall Like Dominoes, you’d be hard pushed to find a single example where she's done anything even close to this kind of innovation.

And perhaps surprisingly, Single of the Week is awarded to none other than Britney Spears, a woman whose output for the past six years has failed to demonstrate anything other than trivial, robotic irrelevance. While Til The World Ends isn’t exactly a dramatic departure from that particular area, its thundering house beats and hypnotic hook prove difficult to resist, going some way to evoking distant memories of what was once an exciting, engaging popstar. Remember that? Go on, try. Remember?

Friday, April 08, 2011

Single Reviews 10/04/11

In a week where Big Brother climbs out of its fresh grave in search of brains and where ‘LOL’ has made it into the dictionary (but ‘lolcat’ has not – blasphemy!), we continue to turn pop culture on its head by saying something nice about Mika in this week’s Single Reviews. Not really! He’s not even around anymore. Hopefully he’s been dropped. Down a well. But we digress.

While the return of The Strokes probably has the NME offices cracking open the party poppers, it invokes a mere “oh, ok then” round these parts. Their absence doesn’t display much in the way of progress, with Under Cover of Darkness utterly drenched in the quintessential Strokes sound. But what they do, they do very well indeed.

Out-grottying Ke$ha – if such a thing is even imaginable – is California rentahook Dev. In fairness, Bass Down Low proves she’s got very much her own style, and brings to the table an attitude not many could pull off. But it’s difficult to imagine a whole album of aloof, understated beats and surly monotone ramblings about different alcohol brands.

But such laidback stylings are a Godsend compared to the try-hard cheddarfest of Girls Will Be Girls, the debut – and probably only – single from one-time X Factor contenders The Ultra Girls. And being passed up by Louis Walsh in favour of Kandy Rain and Jedward seems to have been the right decision, peddling cheap, garish, throwaway pop which might as well be vintage Girls @ Play.

And we end with our Single of the Week, taken from an album already looking like a contender for one of 2011’s best offerings. 1983 may not wield the same sophistication as previous single Animal, but it underlines Neon Trees as bona fide candidates for greatness with its monstrous pop chorus and brawny rock foundations. We’ll just overlook the slightly sucky video.
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