Thursday, June 23, 2011

Single Reviews 26/06/11

Free with this week’s Single Reviews! Your exclusive guide to Glastonbury! And here it is: It’ll be muddy, it’ll be expensive, it’ll be full of pretentious non-music fans who couldn’t even tell you who’s headlining, and the TV and radio coverage will be ruined thanks to the conceited ramblings of Fearne Cotton and Zane Lowe. We advise you leave the country, then return next week to pick and choose from the highlights. Hell, that’s our plan, anyway.

We open with Arcade Fire, who have opted to squeeze a few more coins out of their fans with a ‘deluxe’ album. Mind you, on the plus points of new track Speaking in Tongues, it’s probably a worthwhile purchase. It’s affecting, it’s engaging, and yet, it maintains a cool sharpness, even to the point that it somehow meshes wonderfully with David Byrne having what sounds like a stroke all over the end.

Single of the Week is lifted from one of 2011’s most impressive albums (overlooking the bizarre mum monologue, at least), courtesy of Glasvegas. For a band whose oeuvre is so grounded in crude realism, Shine Like Stars is a pleasing voyage away from such literal grit. While its feet are still very much planted on Glaswegian soil, the exhilarating magnitude of the chorus highlights a band more than ready for the global stage.

And we’re happy to report on the return of Melanie C this week, albeit only in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Still, she’s kind enough to give us a digital release over thisaway, ahead of fifth album The Sea. Hands-up shoutalong anthem Rock Me is boisterous but quietly controlled, designed to infiltrate your internal jukebox and steadfastly refusing to vacate. It’s a tad cheddary in terms of lyrics, perhaps, but it all adds to a welcome sense of fun, something Sporty’s fallen a tad short on for a good few albums.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Honking Box Preview: The Voice

So it was confirmed today, after much blathering in the gutter press solely with the purpose of attaching Cheryl Cole’s name to something, that the BBC have acquired the rights to produce the British version of The Voice, the Dutch format currently getting US audiences whooping like... well, US audiences. Have you seen the crowd on The Ricki Lake Show...?

For those not in the know, here’s a quick guide to how it all works (we really can’t be bollocksed typing out our own explanation when the good folk at NBC have done it with bells and whistles). But beyond the initial gimmick of blind auditions and revolving chairs, does The Voice actually have legs? Well, it’s pulling in US audiences beyond American Idol’s achievements this year, and presumably way beyond what The X Factor will manage, given the good folk of America will be sick to death of it before the titles even roll on the first episode.

Maybe it’s the snarky tweet-battles going on between coaches, maybe it’s the impressive vocal talent on display, maybe it’s the straightforward, gloves-off approach to singing. But a significant part of its success most likely comes from its stellar judging line-up.

There’s Christina Aguilera, who in spite of her fucking atrocious recent output and shocking contribution to the X Factor final, is quite the booking. Cee-Lo Green and Adam Levine are both pertinent, exciting and hugely successful in each of their fields. And there’s some country fella who we’ll assume does alright in the square states.

So who might we hope for from the BBC version? Let’s cogitate over some of the options...

Dannii Minogue
Her stint on The X Factor turned her into a national sweetheart for the media-savvy, garnering unfaltering support from the online world when we were all supposed to be adoring Cheryl. Widely noted for being the most hands-on mentor, her coaching style would transfer nicely to The Voice, as well as ticking the box of dance diva, should genre come into play. Also, SHE IS AWESOME.

She’s already appearing on the US version as the brains behind Team Aguilera, so who better to get the promotion to chair-mistress on the UK version? Granted, approximately four people in Britain even know who she is, but Sia – in particular, her haunting, inimitable mandolin-esque voice – demonstrates the aims of the competition with finesse.

Jamie Cullum
The only decent judge on Sky1’s recently-passed Must Be The Music, he may actually be a likely contender. He’s Radio 2-tastic, he fits the jazz niche very nicely, and can be ably assisted by his missus, renowned TV chef Sophie Dahl. And when asked to give her thoughts, she can just repeat that week’s theme ad nauseum, which was pretty much the entirety of her food show.

Not the most obvious choice, perhaps, but Skin is a rock vocalist with some serious chops and an abundance of personality. Would the BBC ever put her front-and-centre on a Saturday night entertainment show? Of course not. But this is our game, so don’t ruin the fun. Go Team Skin! Give a 50-something divorcee Twisted (Everyday Hurts) to wail through!

Josh Groban
Housewives go all damp ‘n’ giggly over him, he’s got some impressive pipes, and he also fills the seat of opera singer without being an out-and-out window-shatterer. Aside from anything else, he’s uproariously funny, as his Buzzcocks stint proved with aplomb, so even if he doesn’t get the gig on The Voice, he’s added to our Official List of Popstars We’d Like To Go For a Pint With.

Beverley Knight
She’s openly criticised reality TV more times than Katie Price has slipped a tenner to a paparazzo, but with The Voice taking an incredibly different viewpoint, maybe she could be talked round. She’s an endowed musician with a killer voice and some great ideas, as well as being quite the character. Hell, at the very least, it’d remind the British public she exists.

Hell, if Tulisa can do it, why not Dappy? He’ll just sit there pressing the button over and over, essentially turning the chair into an expensive roundabout. Then when he tries to give a standing ovation, he’ll be so dizzy he’ll faceplant the stage and go, as they say, viral. That’ll give The Voice a whole lot more attention than a certain reality show filling the scabloids with tales of fake sackings.

However, given the BBC’s meek, watered-down adaptation of So You Think You Can Dance, it’s likely we’ll end up with Pete Burns, Jade Ewen, Daniel O’Donnell and Sonia. Fingers crossed they learn from their mistakes and give The Voice the budget and the backing it needs to make a clout – in short, sending the Good Ship Cowell and all its overblown, contrived shark-jumpery packing once and for all.

Single Reviews 19/06/11

Welcome to the Single Reviews, in which we invite anyone who doesn’t like our opinions to go and count they money, get they game up, and get they own swagger. Ain’t no place for swagger jaggers all up in here, yo. Get on the floor, haterz, cos we got it in check. God bless Cher Lloyd: she really is the gift that keeps on giving.

With the Splendabots essentially dead in the water, The Saturdays duller than shite, and Girls Aloud still on that so-called ‘break’, perhaps Parade are the replacement girl group Britain is crying out for. The pert playground sassiness of Perfume is all good fun, if lacking in oomph somewhat. They’ve definitely got something you can’t quite put your finger on; but they’re also missing something else you can’t quite put your finger on. Not exactly constructive, is it?

But at the very least, Parade have trumped Soundgirl as the country’s next girlband hope. Don’t Know Why, in spite of the gentle bounce and swaying Caribbean inflection, relies heavily on its sizeable sample of Carly Simon’s Why, all but drowning out any of the playful attitude displayed on the trio’s debut I’m The Fool. And while it’s a passable example of genial pop filler, it sadly further demonstrates that Xenomania’s spell as producers du jour came to an end about seven years ago.

After their second album was such a monumental flop, it’s perhaps surprising to see Hard-Fi make a return this week via the equally-surprising Good For Nothing. It’s almost a shame that they’ve produced a song quite so impressive, as that title is just crying out for ridicule. Alas, no such luck – the verses march along modestly, luring you in prior to the instant grip of the burly chorus, all aided by parps of brass and a lot less of the gobby conceit they once peddled. Who saw that coming?!

And the surprises just keep coming, this time courtesy of a particularly bizarre incident which sees Owl City crowned our Single of the Week. The cutesy levels have been lowered significantly on Alligator Sky, which helps things massively, as does the sharp yet fitting contribution from Shawn Chrystopher. Let’s just be clear, though: for the record, it’s still about as twee as an Enid Blyton anthology. But a little sunshine never hurt anyone, eh? [insert clunky reference to skin cancer here]

Monday, June 13, 2011

Honking Box Review: Camelot

The Tudors began life as an exciting retelling of the notorious story of King Henry VIII; by the time it ended, it had morphed into the one of clumsiest, sloppiest dramas in recent memory. So when its creators decided to turn their attentions to the legend of King Arthur – already being retold by BBC One – we wondered whether they’d take an unceremonious dump on that as well.

On the merits of its first episode, however, it seems Arthurian legend hasn’t been defaced too brutally. The Tudors should have been bound by concrete historical fact, so when writers played fast and loose with the details (y'know, such as England's most renowned monarch being Irish), the entire show became a laughing stock. Camelot, at least, is rooted in myth, allowing for a bit more artistic licence.

And it's an opportunity they've grabbed with both hands. Specifically, a pair of pervy hands making the universally-recognised ‘grope’ gesture. Camelot doesn’t even bother to tantalise with cleavage – it goes all-out with shameless nudity every second scene. Throw in a liberal splattering of gore, and the occasional airing of the C-word, and the tone is determined pretty quickly.

But in spite of the soft porn aspect feeling entirely gratuitous, the show feels solid enough in terms of its narrative and production values to stand up as perpendicular as the laps of any male teenage viewers. It’s grand in scale, but not overplayed; and the lack of reliance on the original legend allows the actors to make some interesting choices.

Joseph Fiennes’ Merlin is intriguing, quietly twisted amongst the out-and-out heroics of his counterparts. And Jamie Campbell Bower may resemble a homeless Anneka Rice, but is wholly believable as a daring young king thrown in at the deep end. Meanwhile, the Arthur/Gwen chemistry that the BBC version is entirely devoid of is here in spades, even if the rutting-on-the-beach scene was perhaps going in the complete opposite direction.

But then, let us not forget that Camelot is a Starz production, a channel quickly forging themselves a neat little niche as purveyors of blood 'n' boobies. Take it on that level, and it does exactly as it sets out to do. For now, Camelot has set itself up as a modestly slick but easily-digestible drama; whether it morphs into a spiral of frenzied, side-splitting parody remains to be seen. With any luck, it’ll hold its worth. But if not, at least we can enjoy the potential hilarity of Jonathan Rhys Meyers rocking up to play Lancelot in a New Jersey accented monotone.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Honking Box Review: So You Think You Can Dance

We weren’t too complimentary towards the first series of So You Think You Can Dance round these parts. Perhaps they were reluctant to open with an X Factor-sized bang; perhaps they just couldn’t measure up when kicking off in the same week as Sky1’s Got To Dance; perhaps they just needed to find their feet. So, having given the second series a fair chance, has our opinion changed? Well, yes. It’s worsened.

The second series came to a climax last night, with a worthy winner in Matt Flint, but what next for him? A performance on the vastly superior US version, then back to teaching tap to 14-year-old girls? You’d be hard pushed to pick Series 1 winner Charlie Bruce out of a line-up, whereas the winner of the first series of Got To Dance, Akai, has forged himself an impressive career and a decent profile despite his win only reaching a fraction of the audience that Charlie’s did.

It comes down to a question of quality. A show like So You Think You Can Dance needs to be grand, noisy and attention-grabbing, but BBC One’s take on the format is flat, modest and almost unwatchable thanks to the constant rhetorical questions from Cat Deeley, disingenuously asking the audience how amazing they are.

There’s no atmosphere, no sense of event, and some insanely boring judges: Louise Redknapp, while likeable, is a peculiar presence – Eternal were hardly known for their intensive dance routines. Arlene and Nigel double up on the role of wizened old fart yammering on in technical terms lost on a mainstream audience, while Sisco Gomez makes up for a sorry lack of character by coming dressed as an S&M pierrot each week.

But such details are almost irrelevant – it’s the overall tone and lack of effort that accounts for its failure. It all feels very apologetic. If the BBC don't want to do big, visual entertainment, then why acquire the format? As interesting as it would be to see a UK version of The Voice, it's worrying to consider how the BBC might downplay it in order to thwart Middle England writing to Points of View moaning about how their licence fee shouldn't be wasted on entertainment, instead wanting it to fund grey, pompous Andrew Marr documentaries. The Voice judges will be an uninspiring line-up of Jonathan Wilkes, Carrie & David Grant, and a Saturday, sat on four office chairs on wheels, spun around by tapping the assistant floor manager on the shoulder.

The question now doesn’t relate to what will happen to Matt Flint, nor what will happen to the British version of So You Think You Can Dance – reports of its axing have been doing the rounds for weeks now, and with reason. The matter at hand is whether the BBC are going to bow to the pressure of what they should be ‘seen’ to be doing, and defecate all over the idea of Saturday night television as a result. Sure, cuts need to be made, but do they really need to devalue their shows and their viewers in doing so?

Viewers would much rather see one great show than two or three series of rueful schedule-fillers such as this. If they’re setting out to make a quarter-arsed show that’ll die on its arse, then they might as well cut their losses and scratch big entertainment shows off their remit altogether. Another show of this quality, and frankly, Andrew Marr’s History of Spoons might actually be a more appealing prospect.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Single Reviews 12/06/11

Welcome to this week’s Single Reviews, which we’d like to use to pay tribute to the pure comedy genius of Roy Skelton, a man who will always reign supreme during every pub conversation about 80s kids TV up and down the land. So before you read on, stop for a moment to enjoy this quintessentially-Zippy clip of Rainbow. “It wasn’t my fault! It was the silly spoon!”

Opening the show is a sickly portion of extraneous candyfloss courtesy of Alexis Jordan, a girl quickly establishing herself as a monumental relevance vacuum. It’s hard to imagine Hush Hush soundtracking anything other than the sleepovers of 7-year-old girls, but that’s no excuse for such piss-poor quality. Gawky teenybopper clich├ęs and e-number beats make this almost as big a ‘quick-switch-the-radio-off’ anthem as her reflux-inducing debut Happiness.

Cocknbullkid further underlines her utter brilliance – or, for those of you yet to experience her genius album, introduces it – with the lilting, gospel-flecked Yellow. It’s not her best effort, admittedly, opting for a smoother, more placid approach as opposed to her more electro-based antics. But hey, at the very least, it’s a nice gap-bridger until VV Brown stops tweeting cod-political claptrap and gets on with her sophomore album.

A largely pleasing comeback from Coldplay takes the form of Every Teardrop is a Waterfall. Its synthy intro could well belong to a grim DJ Sammy banger, but works rather beautifully beneath the simple strum, the peculiar noodling and the unmistakeable vocals of Chris Martin. A band like Coldplay could rest on their laurels for a good few albums, so kudos for the active progression, particularly when the results are this impressive.

And our Single of the Week is bestowed upon Nicola Roberts, the one-time Jim Corr of Girls Aloud, now stirring up some serious excitement with her debut solo effort, Beat of My Drum. Imagine a British, one-woman Daphne & Celeste possessed by the spirit of a dubsteppy Kate Bush, and even then you’re only a quarter of the way there. It’s doubtful the public at large will get the backwards loops, military beats and raucous choruses, but then, they didn’t take too warmly to Nadine’s MOR hogwash, so there’s still hope.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Single Reviews 05/04/11

This week, we’re going to use the Single Reviews to help out a young Geordie lady in need of a job. Skills on her CV include crying on cue, a mediocre singing voice, the ability to suck up to her superiors with panache, and the highly transferrable skill of filling a tabloid merely by batting her eyelids. Anyone able to help this poor lamb before she goes on Jobseekers Allowance? (We’ll try and find out whether she knows shorthand, if that helps find her something.)

For a change, we open on a positive note, with Single of the Week being awarded to The Vaccines. Currently looking as though they don’t have much competition for 2011’s Best New Band, the coolly emotive licks of All In White only cement their brilliance. It’s no Post Break-Up Sex, but the less direct, softer yearnings work marvellously, and demonstrate a band who can do multi-faceted whilst maintaining a sound that’s uniquely theirs.

A band who could learn a thing or two in that respect are The Wombats, who are almost on a par with Scouting For Girls at reusing the same hook, albeit without sounding like the audio equivalent of spinal surgery without anaesthetic. Techno Fan is a pop-saturated stompalong with an immediate appeal, but a sorry lack of originality, and thus, a shelf life of about half an hour. Think outside the box, people, think outside the box.

Katy B’s rising star continues its ascent via the unflappable girl power of Easy Please Me. A far more effective direction than the try-hard dubstep that broke her, the icy vocals and a subtle pulsing beat make for a distinctive, accomplished track. And above all else, it’ll go down as misheard lyrics sovereignty via the accidental “one thing I can’t stand is Africans” line. If Easy Please Me isn’t an advert that enunciation is everything, then what is?

And we finish up with old favourite (by which we mean ‘mortal enemy’) Nicole Scherzinger, who drifts even further from the punchy finery of Poison with the slippery, malodorous puddle of R&B anonymity that is Right There. It sounds every inch a vomited-out single from The Rihannabot, right down to the watery Patois leanings, and even a 50 Cent contribution can’t add identity to such an awful, overslick mess. Back to the go-go bar, slagflaps.
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