Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Friends: Farewell and/or Good Riddance?

Wouldn’t it be intriguing to see some statistics on how many times each episode of Friends has aired on Channel 4? Well, don’t get too excited – after some frantic Googling, Asking and Wikipedia-ing, it appears such numbers are not in the public domain. But it’s safe to say they go well into triple figures, taking into account airings on Channel 4, E4 and their respective plus ones, since as far back as 1994. Hell, we wouldn't be surprised if it was knocking on quadruple figures.

Alas, those numbers – whatever they may be – will remain at their current total. Back in February, Channel 4 announced they weren’t renewing the rights to Friends repeats, and that moment has now arrived. As of last week, Channel 4 screened its last Friends, while the E4 showings come to an end this Sunday.

While its initial screening was warm, emotional and conclusive, the final episode doesn’t carry much clout these days. The fade-out on the peephole in Monica’s empty apartment doesn’t invoke anything resembling sorrow, because you know that after the break, a bouffant bride will thunder into Central Perk a decade earlier, and kickstart the whole timeloop once again.

But that’s not the case this time around. Once the Warner Bros end board vanishes on Sunday, that’s it. The Bing family really have moved to that house in Westchester; both Ross and Rachel, and Phoebe and Mike really have dissolved into their own private worlds of domesticity; and Joey... well, legend has it he moved to LA to pursue his acting career, but the rumoured footage of this has been seen by just a hallowed few.

As foreseeable and as familiar as Friends is when you’ve seen each episode two dozen times, it made for the perfect hangover/I’m-bored/I-have-writer’s-block/dinner-is-taking-too-long/it’s-too-cold-to-leave-the-house TV. Knowing that, at almost any point during the day, you can flick around and find that welcoming informality, it was kind of comforting. And somehow, it was still entertaining. The Barbados episodes, or Jennifer Aniston trying not to laugh when Ross is playing the bagpipes, or the all-too-rare appearances of Frank and Alice never fail to raise a cackle. And there will never come a time when the adventures centered around Phoebe’s 3D painting Gladys are anything other than uproariously funny.

But, when you look at it objectively, it’s good that Channel 4 are dropping Friends. Brilliant, in fact. While the convenience of having Friends on tap will be missed, the series has fallen prey to some of the worst editing in the history of British broadcasting. Entire jokes mercilessly ripped away, punchlines hacked from the dialogue, and mid-sentence words replaced with an eight-frame burst of audience laughter made Friends not so much convenient viewing as downright fucking infuriating viewing.

Sure, there were compliance issues that had to be dealt with. But ending a scene on the plaintive line “Didn’t you ever read Lord of the Rings in high school?” followed by a bellow of laughter from the studio audience is just plain lazy. The cut line featured the word ‘sex’. WHO WILL SAVE US FROM SUCH FILTH??!?! Thank God for Channel 4 and their Christian reversioning team, ready to tackle the sinful digi with round-ended safety scissors and a roll of sticky tape, and an approximate timecode of the offending term.

But aside from waving goodbye to the butchering of many a classic line, the pros of the show’s departure keep coming thick and fast. Hopefully the screentime and budget allocated to the Channel 4 Friend-Spend will be spent on original, entertaining (and with any luck, British) programming; and of course, we’ll be spared the dreadful spate of sponsorship bumpers that have bookended Friends during its UK run.

All that said, while the show may be waving goodbye to Channel 4, it’s certainly not disappearing altogether. Those needing their Friends fix will already be aware that there’s DVD boxsets going for all of two quid each; episodes are regularly available on Virgin Media On Demand; and Comedy Central will begin airing the whole lot all over again this Autumn. With any luck, they’ll be leaving the material the way it was intended, and not blindly taking a blunt scalpel to the scripts. As for Channel 4, thank you for the chuckles. Now let’s see how you fill that gap. (N.B. Buying the rights to air re-runs of Joey is cheating.)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Single Reviews 28/08/11

Welcome to the Single Reviews, where this week we’ve got the proverbial streamers and party poppers out in celebration of Mutya Buena’s partial triumph over the ghastly Splendabots. Granted, she’s not yet in the position to ban them from releasing their bilge under the good name of the Sugababes, but surely world domination isn’t far off. Other things we’d quite like Mutya to take control of: Louis Walsh’s job on The X Factor; music commissioning at the BBC; the Coalition; the so-called disaffected youth; and the British weather.

First under scrutiny is Barbadian band – yes, a proper band wot have instruments, NME! – Cover Drive, who unveil themselves to the good folk of Britain with debut single Lick Ya Down. Where Rihanna’s occasional foray back to her roots generally amounts to flashing her cameltoe in some battyriders whilst miming to some heinous cod-reggae, Lick Ya Down has a feeling of authenticity, whilst successfully looping in an inviting pop melody and a forceful rock energy to the mix. As new bands go, they’re an interesting prospect.

Single of the Week goes to a man who, not content with making one of the best songs of 2010, is looking to match the feat this year with Cry Baby. Granted, it’s been knocking around the ol’ Creative Zen for a good while now, but Cee-Lo Green bears a unique aptitude for an immediate, captivating and uplifting anthem, with Cry Baby no exception. Brass-heavy with a Sixties twist, and delightfully heartless in tone, if this isn’t butchered for Big Band Week on this year’s X Factor, it’ll be a crying shame. Or a blessed relief.

Ed Sheeran’s initial promise as potentially the most exciting artist this decade has waned slightly with his reworking of You Need Me I Don’t Need You, turned from an acoustic, attitude-packed, rapalong strumfest into a frenetic, cocky anti-climax, garnished with broken rhythms and peculiar beatboxing. But the wit, the charm and the capability exclusive to Sheeran are still very much present, and even if he has morphed into some sort of Official Bebo Mascot, this is still testament to an almighty talent.

And finally, a woman whose singles pattern thus far has been shaky – namely a ratio of two good to one dreadful – balances things out with another stinker. It’s fair that Jessie J felt the need to address the things she addresses on Who’s Laughing Now, but it’s executed with an intoxicating jumble of clumsily literal lyrics, iffy rapping, irritating runs and, scarily, what appears to be an overt Blazin’ Squad influence.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Sloppy Dog Liveblog: Celebrity Big Brother 2011

Well, who'd have thunk we'd be liveblogging the start of a brand new series of Celebrity Big Brother? Yes, after its 'final' series on Channel 4 last summer, here it is, back one channel up the spectrum with a shiny new house, a shiny-faced new host, and a big ol' tabloid monster behind the scenes weaving his publicity-generating sorcery. Hit refresh for updates as we find out who's going in...

So what differences will Channel 5 present us with? We'd hazard a guess at fuckloads of ad breaks, but aside from that, it's all there as we know it - Marcus Bentley, baying crowd, bells and whistles. And of course, a lack of Davina McCall, but that's no bad thing. Except for the fact that in her place is Brian Dowling. DAVINA, COME BACK!! WE MISS YOU, YOU BIASED OLD HARRIDAN!!!

And here's Brian himself, looking marginally less like Eamonn Holmes than when he entered the Ultimate Big Brother House last year. His voice is shaky. Understandable. Mind you, he did two years of live television when presenting SMTV, so maybe he's actually better-equipped than you might think. That said, he also topped up his live telly experience with The Vault, so the less said, the better.

And we have our first housemate! Kerry Katona, looking rather like Sarah Harding mid-facelift, is entering to the strains of Swagger Jagger. Are they trying to whip the crowd into a wheezing pit of venom?! Well, even more so, anyway.

They're giving half the presenting duties over to the disembodied voice of Marcus Bentley. Wise choice. Meanwhile, Kerry is mooching around the house on her own with her shoes off, pondering whether to open a bottle of champagne. Not such a wise choice.

And next in is Tara Reid, who in her VT looks like Christina Aguilera pre-Dirrty. Is that a theme tonight? Making dog-rough celebrities look like popstars before they went hideous? There's also a flash of her American Pie co-star Thomas Ian Nicholas, whose name always induced a few chuckles. Any more first names you could chuck in there, mate?

Hmmm. She seems a tad less coherent as Brian tries to squeeze a few words out of her. Let's hope she's a bit more interesting once she's in the house. With any luck, Kerry won't have guzzled all the champagne just yet. Unlikely, but.

"I'm Kerreh!"
Bonnuh lives on! Everyfin and everyfin!

Poor Brian. He's staring at the autocue like it's a Weeping Angel.

And we have our third housemate. It's a guy from My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. Genuinely NO IDEA.

Apparently he's called Paddy Docherty. He is entirely unintelligible. God help the subtitling team with this one. And if the late rumours of Nadine Coyle entering the show are in any way true, they'll have to quadruple their manpower. Mind you, they coped alright with Jackie Stallone...

Anyone who thought the move to Channel 5 would mean a house resembling a God-awful hipster commune in Shoreditch with milk-crates for furniture is nom-nom-nomming a hefty portion of humble pie right about now. Even the stairs are awesome. THE STAIRS.

Next in is Amy Childs, who was grown in a Petri dish using a trace of fanny batter from one of Jordan's discarded catsuits. She is the utter pinnacle of irrelevance.

Amy and Kerry seem to know each other. Tara points out that Amy talks very highly. Paddy is saying something but just sounds as though he's gargling with gravel.

Wonder what's happening on Torchwood? Poor Dr Juarez. :o(

Darryn Lyons, self-styled Mr Paparazzi, is the next 'celebrity' in. It's all well and good sneering at the low-level talent they've rounded up for this series, but seriously, the Channel 4 series had some housemates far less deserving of a celebrity status. Faria Alam, anyone?

Back to Darryn, and he's getting a rather chilly reception. He's entering the house to Dirty Picture, which is rather apt - not just because it relates to his industry, but because he looks like something Ke$ha would skin and wear as a cape for her Good Morning America performance.

Tara recognises Darryn Lyons from somewhere. Presumably from some sort of coverage of the Royal Wedding, though it actually came out as "I... er... saw you... on Princess William! It was about you!"

Next up, some wife of a politician or something who claims she hasn't told her husband she's going in. Riiiight. Either she's a liar, or her stuff is being furiously loaded into bin-liners as we speak.

Oooh, Someone's Wife Sally has just had a pop at The Daily Mail. She's our favourite so far. If only we knew who she was.

Oh good Lord. I've finally witnessed that Haribo ad everyone's going on about. END IT! KILL IT WITH FIRE!!

Are you freakin' kidding me? Yer one out of Waterloo Road?

Apparently his name is Lucien Laviscount, which makes him sound like an end-level boss in Castlevania. The crowd is making big oestrogen whoops at him, thus cementing him as the most likely winner thus far.

The blank expressions from all the housemates on meeting Lucien is priceless. Except Tara, whose expression is no less confused than when she stepped foot on the walkway 45 minutes ago.

And next in the house, all the way from Baywatch, is Pamela....... BACH! Oh. Somewhere in Endemol Towers, a celebrity booker is being given one hell of a bollocking about attention to detail.

Pamela is completely OFF HER TITS. If her kids were previously most embarrassed by that video of a drunken David Hasselhoff face-down in a vodka-fuelled stupor, they're about to discover a whole new level of parental humiliation.


No, seriously. Is there a single person in this world, apart from his own mother, that knows who this Bobby character is? He's entering the house to Moves Like Jagger, which is ironic as he's not much more than an inanimate waxwork. He asks Brian, "Who wouldn't like a house full of beautiful women?" - sadly, Brian passed up the chance to reply with "Me. I'm a massive gayer."

And the final housemate(s) is/are Jedward. So THIS is the crescendo? We sit through this line-up of plebs, expecting the Pamela Anderson/Charlie Sheen/Nadine Coyle pay-off, and the headline act is JEDWARD?

In fairness, they come across rather entertaining in their VT.

Scrap that. This shit gets real old real quick.

So, that's that. A truly sorry line-up, and a complete failure as far as guest booking is concerned. However, the proof of the pudding is in the clever editing and night after night scrutiny, so there's every chance this might turn out to be the most entertaining series of Celebrity Big Brother yet. Let's face it, this lot have nothing to lose, so their inhibitions are already non-existent. But in terms of quality and production values, it looks slick, exciting and noisy for all the right reasons. And if nothing else, it bodes rather well for the regular Big Brother series.

But wait! Apparently there's a twist of some sort. Our money is on Makosi strutting in and declaring herself Empress of Elstree.

And here's the twist: Big Brother summons a housemate. Kerry Chipshop volunteers to go to the Diary Room, and is met with a corridor of mirrors. She only looks marginally baffled, which is understandable as it's probably what she sees when she's been snorting the Shake 'n' Vac anyway. She's been told she has to throw a diva strop as part of her secret task, to which her response is "fuck a duck" repeatedly. Well, it'd give the Daily Star something to fill its pages with.

Brian teases yet another twist for tomorrow night, there's a video recap of the housemates as the credits, and that is that. Big Brother, Channel 5 stylee. Thanks for joining us. A pleasant surprise in some respects; a crushing disappointment in others. But fear not - The X Factor starts in two days' time...

Single Reviews 21/08/11

This week on the Single Reviews, we lay into a Britpop pioneer doing whatever the opposite of pioneering is; a so-called twat in a hat; an actual twat, who’s not in a hat, but has really noticeable hair plugs and a nails-on-chalkboard voice; and a generous heap of praise for a band we’ve already heaped generous praise upon approximately 237 times this calendar year so far. Sitting comfortably? Good.

We open with a surprisingly impressive new release from Olly Murs featuring Rizzle Kicks, the vastly contagious Heart Skips A Beat. Think a more cheery Dub Be Good To Me as reimagined by the Ordinary Boys – on paper, it sounds grim, but the results somehow make for Murs’ best single thus far. Unfairly, ol’ Olly seems to be the target for a heavy dosage of disdain, and yet the odious Joe McElderry can do no wrong (apart from, y’know, his musical output). This song might’ve changed things were he not dancing like an utter bellend in the video.

Another reality alumnus who’s crafted something above and beyond what we’ve come to expect is Will Young, whose truly atrocious chart spell looks set to be broken with Jealousy. The melancholic refrain and subdued, seductive beats courtesy of Richard X make for a track which easily overshadows all his previous efforts. And yet, there’s no disguising that infuriating, unlistenable, seagull-playing-a-vuvuzela voice, which, however you dress it up, could still grate concrete from half a mile away.

Serial recipients of Single of the Week and general hope for indie in 2011 The Vaccines clock up yet another of our hallowed awards with the sharp, speedy merriment of Norgaard. Admittedly, had we not wanted to be pointed and laughed at by the rest of the internet, it might’ve gone to Olly Murs, but Norgaard’s inviting bounce makes The Vaccines more than worthy recipients. Even if it does only last a rather pathetic one minute and 39 seconds. ONE MINUTE AND THIRTY-NINE SECONDS.

And finally, to the surprise of precisely no-one, the more talented Gallagher brother trumps the less talented one in their respective post-Oasis musical hissy-fits. Beady Eye obviously aren’t much competition, but there’s a lot to be said for The Death of You & Me, the debut single from (full pretentious title alert) Noel Gallagher’s High-Flying Birds. It’s essentially The Importance of Being Idle 2.0, but the measured, untroubled strum, memorable chorus and quietly madcap instrumental tick all the boxes. All the same boxes for the past 15 years, but they’re ticked nonetheless.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Single Reviews 14/08/11

‘Sup. It’s a rather busy one this week in terms of pop culture – aside from the traffic-stopping event that is the Single Reviews, it’s the return of both The X Factor (minus its two worst judges, but also its best) and Celebrity Big Brother (evicted from its semi-detached new build and rehomed in a council estate). We may do something in the way of liveblogging, dependent on whether we can be arsed, so keep an eye on the Twitter/Facebook feeds. For now, enjoy some songs being torn into...

As healthy and exciting a notion as The Voice is, it’s produced a rather grim side effect in the pairing of Maroon 5 featuring Christina Aguilera. Admittedly, the majority of Moves Like Jagger is decent enough, meeting Maroon 5’s original remit of funk-laden, rhythmic rock, a welcome return after their lengthy spell as stalwarts of Magic FM. But the entirely superfluous middle eight from Xtina sits awkwardly, weakening the song significantly and bringing the princely sum of fuck-all to the party. Can’t she just admit defeat and do Celebrity Big Brother instead?

Single of the Week is awarded to Aberdeenshire singer-songwriter Emeli Sandé, whose introduction came as hooksmith to a selection of interchangeable grime children. Thankfully, debut solo single Heaven is light years away from her bland chorus appearances. The refined, inconspicuous beats conjure up memories of vintage Massive Attack, while Sandé herself boasts that rare achievement in having a belter’s voice where there’s genuine, soulful character amongst the big notes. More of this, please.

The monumental blandness that drab Irish girlband Wonderland have peddled thus far somehow surpasses itself, with new single Nothing Moves Me Anymore outdoing all previous beigeness with its slow, lacklustre insignificance. There are some impressive vocals on display, sure, but when you build an entire concept around the privileged wife of the worst Westlife member, the results are never going to be particularly appealing.

And finally, if you thought our reviews of Wonderland and Christina Aguilera were negative, you’re in for a rude awakening and a veritable tsunami of bile, as the Arctic Monkeys have another sorry offering out this week. If you can get past the disgustingly pretentious title, Hellcat Spangled Shalalala is by no means their most loathsome effort, relatively deferential and arrogance-lite. And it does boast something resembling a melody, even if it’s looped until it becomes unbearable. In short: nice try, but fuck off. Many thanks.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Honking Box Review: Thundercats

Nostalgia is a dangerous thing. A television show two or three decades old can be remembered with a fondness few shows of today can replicate. And aside from the warm ‘n’ fuzzy aspect, it’s big business. Bagpuss merchandise, Rainbow club nights with DJ Zippy, the reboots of Charlie’s Angels and Knight Rider and The Bionic Woman. And of course, the lucrative DVD releases, such as the long-awaited Thundercats boxset.

And it’s here where nostalgia shows its ugly side. Turns out your memories were replaying through a quality filter, masking the fact that it was actually quite shit the first time around. Thundercats, which some would argue was the defining cartoon of the 80s, has not stood the test of time. Shoddy animation, weak dialogue and wafer-thin plotlines may not have been a concern to our 6-year-old selves, but the act of revisiting Thundercats saw the rose-tinted spectacles brutally devoured by the Living Ooze.

So with the Cartoon Network giving the series a from-scratch overhaul, there’s not actually a lot hanging on it. Sure, it’s a big deal, but in terms of matching the original, they’ve not got much to worry about, particularly if the first three episodes are any indication.

Visually, it’s very nice indeed – a slick anime style which maintains its quality, unlike the inconsistency of the original which very clearly revealed when the animators were due their tea breaks. Each character’s image has been largely upheld, save for a few appropriate tweaks here and there. Oh, and they all have hairy shoulders.

Thundercats purists will perhaps be a tad irked by the fact it’s not quite canon – where the original series saw an established team of Thundercats escaping Thundera for a life on Third Earth, the reboot sees the actual formation of the group in a convincing hotch-potch manner, as they trek across Third Earth (on which Thundera is merely a walled city) in search of the Book of Omens. Following? Good.

Lion-O and Tygra are now brothers; WilyKit and WilyKat are a pair of street urchins; Snarf, mercifully, cannot talk; Lynx-O makes a fleeting appearance, in the interests of political correctness; Cheetara is some sort of ballsy second-in-command to Jaga, who is not dead but imprisoned by Mumm-Ra, whose partner in crime is rogue Thundercat and all-round bit-of-a-git Grune; and Panthro is dead. Panthro! Dead!

It’s all well and good picking out the details of the update, but overall, it just feels far more intelligent. There are undercurrents of terrorism and segregation, without being overtly moral, and the general narrative is one that forces you to give a bit more of a shit than the original ever did. It salutes the original concept with grace, yet stands alone as an entity in its own right. There’s no word as yet regarding any UK transmission dates, but some creative Googling will allow you to judge for yourselves. Whether it’s going to captivate a generation of kids in 2011 the same way the original did is the big question, but for those of us who should know better 24 years on, it’s definitely worth cracking open another crate of Berbil candyfruit in celebration.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Single Reviews 07/08/11

Amongst the line-up for this week’s Single Reviews: a really good artist doing quite a crappy song; a really crappy artist doing quite a good song; and a boring song being really good, in a strange sort of way. It’s all rather back-to-front, truth be told. The kind of bizarre parallel universe type stuff where, say, something like Swagger Jagger can be on course for Number One. *shudder*

Charlie Simpson
– yes, he of the choreographed jumps and mile-wide dental gap – somehow produces something remarkably good to kick us off. Parachutes ditches the manufactured stabs at emo in favour of an out-and-out Coldplay tribute, and with surprisingly decent results. It’s a shame his voice still conjures up the same feeling of polystyrene being roughly diced with a knife and fork. And when a song by Cheryl Cole on the same subject trumps yours, it’s time to accept you’ll never achieve the muso credentials you’re so desperate for.

After several years floating in a dreary limbo of overproduction, Britney Spears clawed her way back to brilliance with her last single Til The World Ends. Sadly, the quality takes a dip – albeit only slightly – with I Wanna Go, all tinned beats and housey twiddles and jittery vocal effects. The whistle hook adds a nice something, though, and serious kudos must be awarded for the best video she’s done in a long while.

Perhaps we’ve put a bit too much stock in their return, but the comeback of Kids In Glass Houses is a largely disappointing one. Animals is dripping in character and packed with an untouchable fervour, and there’s definite progression which should be praised. However, the bizarre fusion of dirty Kasabian moments and amplified poodle-rock doesn’t make for a wholly enjoyable affair, and hopefully is not too strong an indication of their upcoming third album.

The newly-slinky Jennifer Hudson – because all coverage of her must reference her weight loss – gets all neck-snappy with the understated feline strut of No-One Gonna Love You. It’s unflappable and it’s sophisticated, but somewhere amongst the vocal runs and handclap beats and layers of ad-libs and Alicia Keys-esque tinkles, there’s a tune dying to make itself heard. But that’s probably true of most R ’n’ B, so within that particular sphere, ol’ J-Hud is one of the less guilty parties.

And finally, we wind down with our Single of the Week, which comes courtesy of Elbow. The unruffled, quiet splendour of Lippy Kids may not be the stuff of repeated plays, and for a single, it’s perhaps a tad on the lifeless side. But within its own sphere, its piano-led stillness makes for an intriguing, assured but humble indie mantra. Plus it’s easy to believe Elbow were probably desperate to do something which wouldn’t become a clichéd soundbed anthem for decades to come.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Little Jackie - Made For TV

It seems each time we dissect a new effort from New York songstrel and general bastion of brilliance Imani Coppola, we’re berating the criminal underperformance of her previous work. So, in keeping with tradition, 2008’s first outing from Little Jackie – Coppola’s exceptional pairing with entrancing production alchemist Adam Pallin – sold a fraction of fuck-all. Seriously, do you people not have ears?

But, resilient as ever, Little Jackie follow up the barbed magnificence of The Stoop with the independently-released Made For TV. And while its sudden appearance may be a surprise, the towering quality within is most definitely not.

The rhythmic, frantic horns of Take Back The World sets the tone instantly, an album of bouncy brass covering subjects no-one else could even dare to pull off: from the acceptance of cougar status on 21st B-Day Party to the joys of a marriage of convenience on The Pact, it’s social commentary with an entirely individual voice.

The Bond-theme slink of 31 Flavors takes proceedings from Bedford-Stuyvesant to Monaco on a sonic level, yet lyrically, it’s unashamedly mischievous and radiantly human. Such impudence is something explored further on Cockblock: “I made a promise to my pussy that next time I’d wait / I’ll just sit home and masturbate.” A touch of the Lil Kims on paper, perhaps, but the breezy, carefree delivery of Coppola turns it into a comical, congenial reflection.

In fact, throughout Made For TV, Coppola’s matchless brand of screwball genius shows no signs of dissolving, although once again, it’s balanced skilfully by the absorbing, authentic beats of Pallin. The zany substance of solo albums Chupacabra or The Black & White Album prove Coppola’s wondrous waywardness knows no limits, but when tethered firmly to NYC by Pallin’s classic compositions, the results, frankly, are pure genius.

Not that this is news to us. The Stoop demonstrated an unparalleled flair, and while its numbers may have been few in terms of sales, those lucky enough to encounter it know of its positives all too well. And Made For TV forms the perfect follow-up; it carries all the same components, but bedecks proceedings with a more lush, even slightly more settled atmosphere. Whether it’ll turn heads on any large scale is sadly a question for the insular, back-slapping world of radio, but decades from now, Made For TV has the potential to be unearthed as an early 21st Century classic. And should this very blog still exist somewhere in ghost form, we’d like to take this opportunity to smugly say we told you so.

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