Friday, March 16, 2012

So, where have you all been...?

What? It's not you, it's me?! Oh, uh, yeah...

Well, I've managed to resurface before the 5th anniversary of my last posting. So much has happened since then: birth, death, several other life changing situations, just short of a gazillion new albums from the ever-prolific Julian Cope.

Oh, and an unquenched thirst for more music in general, having finally upgraded my Walkman to an iPod in those missing years.

Here are a few tracks that have been keeping me going in the last half-decade, with the dubious appeal of having been re-edited by yours truly:

Monday, August 27, 2007

Jukebox Juicebox #34

Julian Cope “You Gotta Problem With Me” (2007)
It’s been a couple of years since Julian Cope released a brace of albums – Citizen Cain’d and Dark Orgasm – that signified a return to form of sorts. The Arch Drude has not resting on his laurels in the meantime, finishing the Japrocksampler tome, overseeing the deluxe re-release of Jehovahkill on Island as well no less than four albums on his own Head Heritage label (live compilation Concert Climax, Rite Bastard’s twin slabs of psych-prog, early solo demos collection Christ Versus Warhol and another ballsy rocker from side project Brain Donor). You Gotta Problem With Me follows the template of previous Cope releases, with thirteen songs over two CDs (or “sides”, in a nod to vinyl albums of old). Given Cope’s justified stance against environmental greedheads, and the album’s running time of under an hour, I question the necessity of the album’s 2CD, jewel case plus cardboard slipcase packaging. That said, it looks great and, as ever, the CD booklet is chock-full of photos, lyrics, poems and short articles/essays. But the important thing is the music and whether Cope has delivered another modern classic. Well, it’s fair to say that You Gotta Problem With Me will be no surprise to anyone who has followed Julian Cope’s self-released albums and a disappointment to those praying for a return to the commercial heyday of Saint Julian, Peggy Suicide or even Interpreter.

As with Dark Orgasm, the album opens with a nod to Jehovahkill, Doctor Know’s musical template in this case being Upwards At 45 Degrees, an urgent vocal and downtempo guitar leading to an inevitable three-minute wig-out. It’s a good, if not spectacular, start with Cope’s opening line ‘I may flake out tonight if I cannot get my way’ a warning of things to come. If fact, things kick in as early with track 2, Cope’s unintelligible mumbling (translated in the CD booklet) on the two-minute Beyond Rome coming across like an intro without a song. The equally brief Soon To Forget Ya starts off unpromisingly with a lengthy spoken word piece, a frequently used Cope device that’s never been a personal favourite. Things pick up in the second half with an insistent acoustic-led refrain of 'Don’t fall in love ‘cause you know that I’m sure to forget you', Cope adopting a bizarre early David Bowie cockney accent. Possibly anticipating dissent in the ranks at this point, Cope screams 'Shut the fuck up' at the title track’s start. It’s an unapologetic rock song, though the "parental advisory" lyrics and intentionally annoying interference and screeching permeating You Gotta Problem With Me will inevitably preclude mainstream radio play (as it that matters). The political passions are still burning, most notably on They Gotta Different Way of Doing Things and Can’t Get You Out Of My Country which, oddly enough, are also the album’s grooviest moments. The former’s swinging rhythm questions attitudes to women and homosexuality in the Middle East, with some typically wry observations (‘some guys were holding hands / they said “it’s tradition, we are not gay” / but there were no women out on the streets / and I wondered what Allah would say’). Can’t Get You Out Of My Country has a Doors-sy vibe reminiscent of Cope’s own Reynard The Fox. Again, static interference is laid over the song in great swathes, for no apparent reason. If the album was on a major label, you’d suspect that Cope was attempting to sabotage an obvious single choice; as it’s not, it suggests a need for greater external influence on the production side of things.

It's fair to say that much of Cope’s recent work has suffered from frustratingly inconsistent production and You Gotta Problem With Me is no exception. The intriguingly titled Peggy Suicide Is A Junkie has a bass-heavy sound, with vocals pushed so deep into the mix that they’re almost indecipherable, undermining any potential lyrical value. By contrast, A Child Is Born In Cerrig-Y-Drudion benefits from an unfussy acoustic arrangement, vocals to the fore … and from having full lyrics available in the CD booklet. Subsequent track Woden is even better, with an urgent, repetitive acoustic chord sequence and Cope adopting a faltering falsetto. It sounds like it could have been inspired by 1984’s O King Of Chaos, which wouldn’t be a surprise as a great version was included in Cope’s live set last year. Ballad Sick Love sounds like a rough demo, with rough synth piano, harmonica, deep vocals and climatic squalling guitar, yet for all that it's an effective song. Vampire State Building is built around the funereal elements of Beethoven’s Symphony No.5, casting the USA as the titular Vampire State and George Dubya as Nazi Doodle. Hidden Doorways, on the other hand, is a far more personal reflection on Cope’s role as ‘savant guardian’, noting that ‘it’s the promise of death that keeps me alive’. The song is built on a drum machine backing and a naggingly familiar new wave guitar riff - I’m thinking the bridge from John Cougar Mellencamp’s Jack And Diane, which is an unexpected influence if true. Final track Shame Shame Shame is sadly not a cover of Jimmy Reed’s 1963 smash, but another acoustic song in the same vein as Woden. Another overtly political number (‘[…] genocidal leaders […] rape our heads and feed us pure damn lies, brazen compromise’, ‘let there be instant karma on every battery farmer’) it’s a powerful song, though feels a little out of place as the album closer. The song attempts to address this with a climatic rock out, but even this is undermined by a premature fade out after less than a minute.

On reflection, You Gotta Problem With Me is an frustrating contrast of songwriting genius, self-indulgence and patchy production that will challenge even the most committed Julian Cope fan. "Side Two" is perhaps to best way to approach the album as a first-time listener, as it’s the most immediately accessible clutch of songs, but it's worth sticking with the album as a whole as it will grow on you. Looking ahead, let’s hope the forthcoming re-release of a deluxe edition Peggy Suicide inspires Julian Cope. And a decent producer wouldn’t go amiss either.

[CD1]: 1. Doctor Know 2. Beyond Rome 3. Soon To Forget Ya 4. You Gotta Problem With Me 5. They Gotta Different Way of Doing Things 6. Peggy Suicide Is A Junkie

[CD2]: 1. A Child Is Born In Cerrig-Y-Drudion 2. Woden 3. Sick Love 4. Can’t Get You Out Of My Country 5. Vampire State Building 6. Hidden Doorways 7. Shame Shame Shame

Buy the album on Julian Cope's official website

Previous Julian Cope reviews on Bellyflop:
Citizen Cain'd / Dark Orgasm
Live In Bristol, 20 Feb 2006
Live Japan '91

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Jukebox Juicebox #33

Robert Forster & Grant McLennan “Intermission” (2007)
In the wake of Grant McLennan’s untimely death last year, a reappraisal of his solo career (and that of fellow Go-Between co-founder Robert Forster) is long overdue. A single CD and thirteen tracks apiece seems rather miserly, particularly given McLennan’s prodigious solo output. And ignore the ‘best of’ sub-title - listen to these compilations as primers rather than comprehensive overviews. It’s immediately apparent how effortlessly the songs complement one another: you can shuffle the tracklistings or even compile your own pseudo-Go-Betweens album from these songs; the end results will still sound perfect. A lazy shorthand summary of the music on Intermission could describe Robert Forster’s CD as earnest and intelligent (alt.) country, McLennan’s as simple, acoustic-led folk tales and love songs. The country and western references in the Forster’s songs are easy to spot: liberal use of slide guitar, pedal steel and violin; lyrics that dwell on past relationships and rekindling the fires of lost love; even a C&W cover version in Frisco Depot. Yet, Forster’s songs have always opted for complexity over simplicity and this is obvious after just a single listen. Danger In The Past, the title track from his 1990 debut solo album, is a prime example. The narrator’s account of being drawn back into the life of a friend who has recently been hospitalised (sectioned?) is hauntingly beautiful. The repetition of the title throughout the song emphasises the poignancy of the verses, notably the choice line “…I took your hand and I told you never show your problems in a country town.” I’m reminded of The Modern Lovers’ Hospital and I think it’s fair to draw parallels between Jonathan Richman and Robert Forster. On a different note, Danger In The Past (both the song and album) was produced by Mick Harvey, whose contributions on piano add a melancholy that underpins Forster’s searching lyrics. Forster’s final solo album included here, 1996’s Warm Nights, similarly benefits from an influential producer and guest musician, Edwyn Collins. In keeping with the album’s title, Collins brings a warmth to the three songs included on Intermission, his distinctive guitar enabling high point Cryin’ Love to rock out in an early 1970s style. I feel compelled to offer some criticism and it is that the album is topped and tailed by Falling Star. Despite being a great song, two versions are not required, especially given the limited selection of tracks on offer. Personally, I would have ditched Mick Harvey’s original version from 1990, as the version on 1992’s Calling From A Country Phone benefits from a superior, more spacious re-recorded take. It also seems somewhat out of place to add a cover version though, given that 1994’s I Had A New York Girlfriend featured nothing but covers, inescapable. I’m not heard Mickey Newbury’s 1971 original of Frisco Depot or, for that matter, Waylon Jennings or Scott Walker’s versions from 1972 and 1973 respectively. It’s impossible to guess whether Forster’s languid take observes or ignores any of these though, to a certain extent, it’s a moot point as in my opinion it’s the compilation’s only slight dip in quality.

Unlike Forster’s ‘mix and match’ approach, Grant McLennan’s CD2 follows a strict chronological progression through his four solo albums. Things get off to cracking start with 1991’s Haven’t I Been A Fool and Easy Come Easy Go, their immediacy and accessibility begging the question why both weren’t mainstream radio smashes and blasting out of car windows everywhere that summer. Black Mule, the final selection from debut solo album Watershed and recently featured on last year’s stunning Go-Betweens live DVD/CD That Striped Sunlight Sound, is a great example of McLennan’s lyrical skill. Evoking Australia’s past in the song’s main tale of a prospector, McLennan switches in the final verse to a man “walking down a Beirut Street” who is blown up by a car bomb. This juxtaposition of observations that “life can be cruel” should jar, but somehow works. The similarly wonderful Hot Water, a violin-led ballad, opens with the line “I read about your death in the paper when I was buying tomato seed”. The narrator reflects on a past spent “carrying our flowers to the barricades watching them cops kick down the door” whilst living in a present “seeing my payin’ horses foam” under a “big old sun”. It’s a moving song, McLennan’s economy of lyric and melody understating the true depth of his writing. The closing trio of songs from 1997’s final solo album In Your Bright Ray demonstrate that whilst McLennan’s songs had not evolved in the way that Forster’s arguably had, his basic template had been refined and near as dammit perfected. This is evident in the closing title track, which could just as easily sit on The Go-Betweens’ 2000 comeback album The Friends Of Rachel Worth. And that in essence is why entitling this compilation Intermission is so appropriate. Robert Forster and Grant McLennan’s solo ventures provided an opportunity for the artists with room to breathe outside of The Go-Betweens, to develop and hone their formidable songwriting skills; in retrospect, their reunion seemed inevitable. Another good title for this compilation would be Chrysalis, but Intermission really says it all; the fact that it was chosen by Grant McLennan makes it even more apt. Whether you are familiar with The Go-Betweens or not, you really do need to check out this beautifully packaged compilation. And, once you’ve fallen in love with it – and believe me, you will – then the desire to explore the rest of Robert Forster and Grant McLennan’s back catalogue will be a natural next step.

[Robert Forster CD1]: 1. Falling Star 2. Baby Stones 3. 121 4. I’ve Been Looking For Somebody 5. I’ll Jump 6. Beyond Their Law 7. I Can Do 8. The Circle 9. Cryin’ Love 10. The River People 11. Frisco Depot 12. Danger In The Past 13. Falling Star (Original Version)

[Grant McLennan CD2]: 1. Haven’t I Been A Fool 2. Easy Come Easy Go 3. Black Mule 4. The Dark Side Of Town 5. Lighting Fires 6. Surround Me 7. No Peace In The Palace 8. Hot Water 9. I’ll Call You Wild 10. Horsebreaker Star 11. Malibu 69 12. One Plus One 13. In Your Bright Ray

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Stripping Down #24

Essential X-Men #153 (Panini UK)
“Chasing Hellfire!” by Chris Claremont & Andy Park
(Uncanny X-Men #454)
“World’s End” by Chris Claremont, Alan Davis & Mark Farmer (Uncanny X-Men #455-456)

It’s been a busy year for resurrections (or should that be resurr-x-ions? Sorry, couldn’t resist!) Following Colossus, Marvel Girl, heck, even Donald Pierce last issue, we now welcome back Betsy Braddock, aka Psylocke. Fittingly, Alan Davis, who drew her first adventure as an X-Man two decades ago, is back to chronicle her return. Ahead of that, Chris Claremont wraps up his rather yawnsome reunion of The Hellfire Club, assuming that anyone’s still interested. Andy Park’s art has been decent enough, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t race through the issue to get to the first part of World’s End. As you’ll expect from Alan Davis and long-time collaborator Mark Farmer, each page appears to be effortlessly eye-catching. In fact, Davis and Farmer’s work is so consistently good that it’s easy to overlook how good it really is and Dean White’s colour art only enhances the visuals with effective use of palette. As for the story itself, Claremont uses a favourite device in an early scene to set things up. During a Danger Room session, Wolverine tests the team’s non-super powered combat skills, a sure indication that this will prove to be a life-saving exercise mere pages later. However, the spotlight is on Psylocke and her inexplicable return. The team are understandably sceptical, given that they’d cremated her corpse (though, interestingly, this seemed to be less of an issue when Colossus return in similar circumstances). New recruit X-23 also gets a look in, treading the same path of the enigmatic wild card as Rogue, Marrow – whatever happened to her? – and Sage before her. The pair inevitably team up to rescue their captured colleagues at episode two’s cliffhanger. New alien race The Hauk’ka, basically dinosaurs in human form, are well realised by Davis and Farmer; Claremont is usually good at developing this type of would-be world beater so I’m intrigued to see where he goes with this. World’s End is not an edge-of-your-seat read, though Alan Davis does seem to bring out the best in his jaded writing foil, so it’s satisfying fare at least.

Ultimate Spider-Man & X-Men #70 (Panini UK)
“Silver Sable” by Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Bagley & Scott Hanna (Ultimate Spider-Man #87)
“Breaking Point” by Robert Kirkman & Salvador Larocca
(Ultimate X-Men Annual #2)

Wow, what’s happened to Mark Bagley? After seemingly constant criticism of the uniform, inexpressive faces of his character art, I was a little taken aback this issue. Mary Jane looks like Mary Jane! Kitty Pryde looks like Kitty Pryde! Silver Sable looks like…oh, you get the idea. The point is, at long last, the characters in the story are distinct from one another, rather than generic mix’n’matches that rely overly on the colour artist to distinguish between, say, the blonde or the redhead. Bagley’s clearly honed his craft over the years but his figure art has always seemed to lag behind, say, his work on buildings and hardware. Not so here. I mean, we’re not talking about radical, cutting edge stuff here but credit where it’s due. There’s an awkward exchange between Peter and MJ – the latter having just discovered his relationship with Kitty Pryde – that captures MJ’s emotions perfectly. That said, it’s difficult to identify the narrative spark that ignited this creative blast as this is arguably one of Bendis’ dullest Ultimate Spider-Man scripts to date. It’s a riff on 1963’s Amazing Spider-Man #5, with Silver Sable (in place of Dr.Doom) kidnaps Flash Thompson, mistakenly believing him to be Spider-Man; the romantic sub-plot involving Peter, MJ and Kitty Pryde also steps up a gear. This is the second of five chapters, and it’s difficult to say at this stage whether the plot will pick up or be stretched even more thinly. Silver Sable’s a rather inconsequential adversary so far and although I’m pleased to see X-Man Kitty as Peter’s romantic interest, I hope she’s used more effectively in upcoming storylines. Here’s hoping that next issue’s script is on a par with the surprisingly good art in this. In the X-Men strip, the good news is that Dazzler, comatose since being impaled by Lady Deathstrike ages ago, finally wakes up. The bad news is that, following Magician’s betrayal of the team in the last few issues, Nightcrawler has flipped his wig. Kidnapping Dazzler from her hospital bed, he transports her to an isolated cavern, convincing her that he is rescuing her from an attack that has devastated the team. Just in case you’re wondering why the furry blue German has cracked up, the story kicks off with a flashback to a Weapon X mission, where Nightcrawler was used to depose the leader of a small country with extreme prejudice. Of course, given Dazzler’s somewhat abrasive relationship with her team-mates, the X-Men aren’t entirely surprised by her sudden disappearance and Nightcrawler’s suspicious behaviour goes unnoticed by all but Wolverine. Robert Kirkman’s run so far has been good, but this is disappointing; like Nightcrawler’s play acting, there’s a lot about this story that fails to convince. Guest artist Salvador Larocca is also below par: the minimal layouts here match the Ultimate X-Men house style yet are a pale reflection of his far superior work on the mainstream series currently appearing in Essential X-Men. Unusually, it’s Spider-Man that nudges ahead as the most enjoyable strip in this issue.

The Avengers United #81 (Panini UK)
“Sidekicks” by Allan Heinberg, Jim Cheung & John Dell (Young Avengers #1-2)
“Death On The Hudson!” by David Michelinie, John Byrne & D. Hands (The Avengers (v1) #184)
“Set Sails!” by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Vince Coletta (Journey Into Mystery #120)

I have to admit that the very concept of The Young Avengers didn’t inspire confidence. However, a few pages in and any misgivings I had were promptly disspelled. In a smart move, the team themselves don’t appear until halfway through the first episode. Instead, the public reaction to the new team – ‘Who the #*&% are The Young Avengers?’ - is discussed by J. Jonah Jameson, Kat Farrell and Jessica Jones and, latterly, Captain America and Iron Man. Allan Heinberg cleverly uses this device to anticipate and address reader misgivings and it works. When The Young Avengers make their dramatic debut on page 12, crashing through the glass roof of a church, I was looking forward to seeing the characters in action. Characterisation and dialogue are real strengths; Heinberg doesn’t give away much, yet there are intriguing hints at Patriot’s focus-bordering-on-obsession, Hulkling and Asgardian’s mutual appreciation and the unveiling of Iron Lad as a teenaged Kang at the close of the first chapter. As the knowingly ridiculous aliases imply, the series doesn’t take itself too seriously and provides a welcome contrast to Brian Michael Bendis’ Avengers series. I’m looking forward to seeing Cassie Lang (aka the deceased Ant Man II’s daughter) make her proper debut next issue, not to mention an appearance from big, bad, grown-up Kang. Back in the 1970s, the team continue to thwart The Absorbing Man’s efforts to flee the United States. As with The Korvac Saga, David Michelinie continues to question The Avengers’ right to act as both judge and jury, with a more empathetic impression of Crusher Creel emerging at the story’s climax. This period continues to be a rich vein of Avengers’ history and well worth mining. In Tales Of Asgard, I suspect that the Norse Gods are wholly dependent on their immortality as it takes them forever to get anything done! After several issues, the mission to save Asgard finally gets underway though not before Volstagg gets into trouble with his wife and Magrat The Schemer and Kroda The Duellist are put in their place by Hogun The Grim. Jack Kirby’s rough pencil art are crudely inked by Vince Colletta but that doesn’t impede the vague air of excitement now that Thor and his crew have set sail. Let’s hope that the quest lives up to prolonged preamble…!

The Astonishing Spider-Man (v2) #6 (Panini UK)
“Skin Deep” by J. Michael Straczynski, Mike Deodato & Joe Pimentel / Mark Brooks & Jaime Mendoza (Amazing Spider-Man (v1) #517)
“Unusual Suspects” by Paul Jenkins, Phil Winslade & Tom Palmer (Daredevil/Spider-Man: Unusual Suspects #4)
“And Death Shall Come!” by Stan Lee, Gil Kane & John Romita (Amazing Spider-Man (v1) #90)

The vibranium-coated Charlie Weiderman goes over the edge as he blackmails Peter Parker and exacts revenge on his high school bully. The approximation of the Lee/Ditko-era’s Peter Parker – Flash Thompson – Liz Allen triangle in the ongoing flashbacks rather heavy handedly explores Spider-Man’s ‘path not taken’ through Charlie. The story itself is well paced, with typically good dialogue and impressive art… well, the Deodato/Pimentel portions, anyway. However, the concept is tired and Straczynski doesn’t add anything new, all the more disappointing given that he previously raised the bar on this series. After an enjoyable few issues, the Daredevil/Spider-Man series also wraps up in slightly underwhelming fashion, as Copperhead attempts to recreate hell on earth and humankind’s last hope is… The Owl?! My struggle with the story was the lack of information about the principal characters and an inability to place it chronologically. A prime example is The Owl, who bears little resemblance to the character who appeared in Break Out a couple of issues previously. The necessary exposition I’d awaited from part one never arrives, though I think writer Paul Jenkins could have incorporated it without slowing the narrative pace. Instead, I felt that I needed to have done my Marvel homework before reading Unusual Suspects in order to get the sense of it. Gripes aside, I did love the two ‘epilogues’ which see Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson get one up on The Kingpin and show that Spider-Man is not the only one with a sense of humour, as Daredevil proves at his expense. Phil Winslade and Tom Palmer’s art on Unusual Suspects is stunning to the end, with some wonderfully mind-bending panel layouts and one of the best renditions of The Owl to hit the comic page. Completing the issue as usual is the archive tale, featuring Spider-Man’s final battle with Doctor Octopus and the death of Captain Stacy. Printed out of context, it’s difficult to gauge the extent of Peter’s respect and affection for his prospective father-in-law and therefore the impact of Captain Stacy’s death is lessened somewhat. Still, in purely narrative terms, this story has it all: Stacy’s selfless sacrifice; his last gasp revelation that he’s known Peter is Spider-Man all along; an accusing anti-Spidey crowd, convinced that he’s murdered a public hero and, naturally, Peter Parker’s own guilty conscience that he is responsible for this tragic sequence of events. Add to that Spidey’s efforts, despite repeated pummellings, to bring Doctor Octopus to justice and this story packs a dramatic punch. The combined efforts of artistic heavyweights Gil Kane and John Romita should also be acknowledged. A rather patchy issue overall, story-wise, The Astonishing Spider-Man remains on the right side of entertaining, thanks to it’s consistently powerful visuals.

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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Stripping Down #23 - Cabot

Here's a sneak preview of my first proper comic strip in, ooh, ages. Yep, the unexpectedly long gap between my last published comic work - 2000's The Art Of Falling Apart EP - and something new will be imminently plugged by One Day In Bristol #2 (of 2). The first issue premiered at May's Bristol Comics Expo (which I missed) and has since sold out. The script is by Sam Morgan, who's written some good short stories for Dead By Dawn, and pencilled by Lauren Seymour, with inks by moi. It's fair to say that I was initially daunted by the task. Lacking both decent graphics software and the nerve to potentially ruin some nice layouts, I decided to work on photostats of the first few pages. I soon realised that (a) it was extremely difficult to redraw stuff where needed; (b) I needed a heck of a lot of Tippex to tidy things up afterwards; and (c) a single page was taking about four times longer than it needed to! Anyway, as my sense returned and my confidence grew about halfway through the seven-page strip, I took to inking directly over the pencilled pages . The above examples (pages 1 & 3 respectively) contrast Lauren's original pencils with my inked pages. That it's far from the best comics work I've ever done is indisputable. However, it's inspired me to carry on with a four page comic strip that I've been working on for a little while that draws heavily on Patrick McGrath's short story The Angel. Spookily enough, early drafts set the story around Cabot Tower, a local landmark which features prominently in Sam Morgan's story. Well, when I say prominently, I mean that one panel features an enormous phallus adorning one side of the tower, courtesy of infamous graffiti artist Banksy (sadly, not reflected in reality).

Anyway, I haven't seen the fully lettered Cabot - Andy Richmond's taking care of that - but I'll post an update when One Day In Bristol #2 finally hits the shelves...

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Stripping Down #22 - Small Press, Big World

Trixie Biker: Enter Jack Narcissus (WaterCooler Comix)
by Matthew Craig

Deva City’s premier superhero is back, along with her trusty bike Dixie and The Go-Go-Pixies. I enjoyed this more than #1, mostly due to a smart script that satirises the current trend for recycling pop (pap?) boy bands like the Backstreet Boys and Take That. Matthew Craig’s storytelling is simple without being simplistic and, as before, his enthusiasm and obvious affection for the characters greatly compensate for the artistic shortcomings. I like the fact that Craig have moved forward, both narratively and stylistically, and I’d like to see him continue to develop both – particularly the visuals – in future issues.

Visit Matthew Craig's website
to purchase a print copy or rummage through a veritable treasure trove of online delights! You can also read my previous review of Trixie Biker here.

Man Man And Friends 1-2
(Banal Pig Comics)

by Gareth Brookes

Each 16-page issue is chock full of Brookes’ rapid fire stick figure comic shorts. Mixing obvious gags with acute observations, the abundance of material ensure that a laugh is only a glance away. I’d be interested to see Brookes’ frequently on-the-ball humour paired with more substantial art but, for now, this is great value (and fun), packed with potential.

Available via the Banal Pig Comics website

Trouble Bruin / Newstreet Bootleg (WaterCooler Comix)
by Matthew Craig

Matthew Craig’s Trouble Bruin benefits from a more reflective approach than his other superhero creation Trixie Biker. There’s a pathos underpinning the occasional but overt humour which, over thirty-four pages, enables the reader to empathise with the characters, particularly father figure Eric ‘Capability’ Brown, aka Blue Ted. Craig’s art is somewhat limited in range and whilst this doesn’t detract from the story, at times it doesn’t quite meet the demands of the script. My only gripe is that there currently isn’t a follow-up story/ issue; having read what is essentially an extended prologue/origin tale, I wanted to see more of the adult Trouble Bruin. Although I think Craig was right to avoid the usual device of using a modern day narrative to frame an origin ‘flashback’, having a subsequent Trouble Bruin tale on sale would have been desirable. Hopefully, the further adventures of Trouble Briun won’t be long in coming. As compensation, limited copies of Trouble Bruin came with a Newstreet twelve page ashcan edition, introducing another of Craig’s superhero creations. There are two four-page shorts contained in this bootleg, the first seeing Newstreet foil a bank robbery. It features Craig’s most accomplished art to date and hopefully points the way forward for his style. The second sees the super-confident Asian Brummie learn a lesson in humility when he encounters Trixie Biker. This crossover strip is not as visually striking as it’s predecessor, but it’s good fun. Judging by the final pages of each story, the character seems to have undergone a last-minute change of name from Street Walker to Newstreet. A wise move. More please!

Both available via Matthew Craig's website

Melanchomic (Glaikit Comics)
by Andrew Waugh

A collection of predominantly single page ‘slice of life’ strips offering wry observations on the trials and tribulations of being a single male. Waugh’s basic style relies heavily on repetition, but is surprisingly emotive given this (self-imposed) constraint. Despite the occasional – and openly confessed – filler, there are plenty of enjoyable strips. Personal favourites are Juicy Fruit, The Fine Art Of Pulling and Women’s Parts. The penultimate page is a house ad for The Guttest Story Ever Told, a peaen to/piss-take of ‘80s movie stars including Steve Guttenberg (obviously), Lou Diamond Phillips and Rick Moranis. Sounds unmissable.

Drop Andrew an e-mail at or visit his MySpace site if you want to find out more.

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In Lieu Of A Review...

...aka a few of my favourite things in recent months:

Zadie Smith White Teeth (2000) - A funny, engaging, exciting debut novel. Believe the hype.
Neil Gaiman & Andy Kubert 1602 (2003) - aka What if the Marvel Universe came to be in the 17th century?

Daniel Way, Javier Saltares & Mark Texeira Ghost Rider (2006) (in The Mighty World Of Marvel) - One of my favourite characters, back in a (Johnny) Blaze of Glory.
Karen Ellis Planet Karen (2006-)
- Small press that shows the big hitters a thing or two about comics.


Soulsavers It's How Far You Fall, It's The Way You Land (2007) - Imagine the Paris, Texas houseband if it comprised members of R.E.M. and Portishead, with Ennio Morricone as musical director and Johnny Cash as front man...
Talking Heads Fear Of Music (1979/2006)
- Their best album, no question.
Death From Above 1979 Sexy Results (MSTRKRFT Remix) (2005)
- To steal from Nina Simone, this is funkier than a mosquito's tweeter.
John Cale All My Friends (2007)
- A stunning cover of LCD Soundsystem, that John Cale makes all his own.

Kiss Of The Spider Woman (Bristol Old Vic, 09/06/07) - Not as good as the Raul Julia/William Hurt film adaptation, but impressive nevertheless.
Marcus Brigstocke (The Comedy Box, Hen & Chicken, Bristol, 20/04/07) - "Intelligence and humour not mutually exclusive" shocker!
The Prestige (2006) - Apologises for The Illusionist with it's inventiveness and manic lead performances
Heroes (2006-) - TV superheroes done right, in spite of Jeph Loeb's involvement!
Doctor Who (Series 3) (2007) - David Tennant as The Doctor vs. John Simm as The Master? 'Nuff said!
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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Jukebox Juicebox #32

The White Stripes “Rag And Bone / Icky Thump” (2007)
I have this strange connection with certain bands, in that I like their songs that I hear, read their interviews, articles and reviews with interest and yet don’t get around to actually buying any of their records. Perversely, I’ll often pick up records that I’ve never heard by bands I know little or nothing about, often for the flimsiest of reasons, but that’s a whole other story. So, this happens to be the first White Stripes I’ve bought, even though I’ve been a ‘fan’ since I saw the video for Fell In Love With A Girl donkeys years ago. I haven’t even got around to downloading anything by them; the best my iPod can muster are mash-ups of 7 Nation Army and The Doorbell Song, pairing the duo with Alter Ego and Jay-Z respectively. In fact, the impetus for getting this record without having heard it was that part one – the one-sided, etched red vinyl 7” of Rag And Bone – was a giveaway with the 9 Jun issue of NME. Icky Thump was released the following week, seven days before the album of the same name. Rag And Bone is my favourite of the three songs here, mainly for the subject matter, the ‘in character’ dialogue between Jack and Meg that bridges each verse and a guitar hook that sounds uncannily like Mud’s 1973 smash Tiger Feet. In fact, there’s a 1970s (by way of the 1950s) feel pervading this EP, the antiquated guitar licks and muffled rhythms evoking the ghosts of blues and rock ‘n’ roll. Yet at the same time, The White Stripes continue to sound fresh and exciting. Icky Thump reminds me of Led Zeppelin of all things, with Jack’s vocals recalling Robert Plant, some mighty Jimmy Page-esque riffs and a naggingly insistent keyboard and drum combo. Exclusive B-side Baby Brother is unabashed blues rock, the reference point here being Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and The Cramps. It’s short and sweet but lacks the inventiveness of the previous two songs.

Tracklisting [2 x 7”]: 1. Rag And Bone / 2. Icky Thump / 3. Baby Brother

LCD Soundsystem “All My Friends” (2007)
The idea of getting artists to cover rather than remix your songs for a single release is nothing new: Pulp, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, The The, even Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine have done this in the past. However, it’s still a relatively unusual move and the choice of artists is always interesting. It’s common knowledge that James Murphy, aka LCD Soundsystem, knows his stuff when it comes to music and this is reflected in the artists covering All My Friends, one of the stand-out tracks from recent album Sound Of Silver. One is a veteran musician who has enjoyed a renaissance in the past few years, the other one of the current leading lights on the retro (old but) New Wave scene. John Cale is the revelation here, somehow managing to make his cover, not LCD Soundsystem’s, sound like the original version. Cale is in fine form vocally and the faithful but faltering reproduction of the song’s one note keyboard riff on a guitar is incredibly effective. Despite matching the original’s duration of seven and a half minutes, it doesn’t feel nearly long enough…! Franz Ferdinand’s version is a tad shorter, with a guitar hook that oddly enough recalls Wish I Was Skinny by late, lamented 1990s indie band The Boo Radleys. Producer Erol Alkan clearly has an ear for the mosh pit as well as the dancefloor and ensures that the song’s frequent peaks are suitably rousing. Alex Kapranos’ distinctive vocals carry much of the song, though the climatic group chorus does give the impression that the band have lost their sense of direction and aren’t quite sure how to wrap up the song. On the flip side of each 7” single are the original LCD Soundsystem takes: you’re probably familiar with the album version by now; there’s also an edit, clocking in at just under six minutes. The latter cuts the lengthy repetitive keyboard intro, but is otherwise identical and therefore slightly redundant. Make no mistake though, this is a brilliant single – go for the 7” package, not only for the John Cale version which is only available here, but also for the ultra heavyweight vinyl – you can not only hear the quality, you can feel it!

Tracklisting [2 x 7”]: 1. All My Friends (john cale version) / 2. (album version) / 3. (franz ferdinand version) / 4. (edit)

James Yorkston “Woozy With Cider” (2007)
I stumbled across the Jon Hopkins remix of Woozy With Cider whilst surfing the net. It was enough to encourage me to make the short hop to eBay, where copies of this promo CD are currently doing the rounds (the official releases are limited to 7” and 12” vinyl only). Jon Hopkins’ gentle, piano-led take remains the standout, complementing Yorkston’s dry, self-deprecating, spoken word vocal and surpassing the (still very good) original version. Steve Mason, aka King Biscuit Time, doesn’t mess too much with the blueprint, introducing some keyboard chords and vocal effects, whilst Kode9 adopts a similar approach though reduces the lyrics to little more than the odd refrain. Quiet Village, which includes Matt Edwards aka Radio Slave, offer up an effective ambient dub mix that unfurls to nearly ten minutes. My second favourite mix of Woozy With Cider has to be by the intriguingly named Dusty Cabinets, a brooding menace underpinning Yorkston’s narrative on this dark dancefloor version. Bonus 7” B-side Sunday Jacket is a mellow, acoustic number but relatively unmemorable. However, mixes/tracks 2, 3 and 5 alone make tracking down the 12” or CD worth your while.

Tracklisting: 1. Woozy With Cider (original version) / 2. (king biscuit time remix) / 3. (dusty cabinets remix) / 4. (quiet village remix) / 5. (jon hopkins remix) / 6. Sunday Jacket (with The Big Eyes Family Players) / 7. Woozy With Cider (kode9 remix)

Paul Hartnoll featuring Robert Smith “Please” (2007)
I almost overlooked this in my local Virgin Megastore which given the limited number of CD singles on sale these days is saying something. Behind the nondescript cover are a trio of mixes of the title track featuring veteran miserablist and The Cure frontman Robert Smith. To be honest, neither the lyrics nor the mixes really inspire. Statik’s downtown, downtempo and downbeat remix unfortunately accentuates the whiney qualities of both Smith and backing vocalist Lianne Hall's vocals, which is not good. KGB transform the song so that it sounds like it’s been drawn from The Cure’s back catalogue, which at least is an interesting approach. As for the original mix of Please and exclusive ‘B-side’ Old School Tie, they unashamedly sound like outtakes from Orbital’s final album that Hartnoll just couldn’t bear to throw away. Whilst recycling is a good thing, it’s less justifiable when applied to largely forgettable variations of EP tracks from the last century. The mix to seek out isn’t included on this CD, but should still be easily available for download. Hartnoll’s own Remember 1992 Mix also sounds like old school Orbital but thankfully of the uptempo, crowd pleasing variety. The trademark chunky chords and pulsing beats are present and correct, whilst Smith and Hall's vocals are split, providing a more successful ‘call and response’ dynamic. On the whole, Please is a disappointment that, despite the fusion of two great talents, fails to capitalise on either’s strengths.

Tracklisting: 1. Please (original version) / 2. Old School Tie / 3. Please (statik remix) / 4. Please (kgb remix)

Related websites:
The White Stripes
LCD Soundsystem
Sounds Like Silver - LCD Soundsystem Remixed
James Yorkston
Paul Hartnoll

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Stripping Down #21

The Avengers United #80 (Panini UK)
“Breakout!” by Brian Michael Bendis, David Finch & Danny Miki
(New Avengers #5-6)

“The Redoubtable Return Of Crusher Creel” by David Michelinie, John Byrne & Klaus Janson (The Avengers (v1) #183)
“Gather, Warriors!” by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Vince Coletta
(Journey Into Mystery #119)

A blistering conclusion to Breakout!, as the team clashes with Wolverine, Sauron and his band of mutates, plus Black Widow Mk II and a highly suspicious S.H.I.E.L.D. operation in the heart of The Savage Land. This is probably the most enjoyable mainstream superhero series that Brian Michael Bendis and artist David Finch excels at drawing mean dinosaurs and reptiles. There’s plenty of action, some good dialogue and a neat set up for the new team. Speaking of which, the characters are a good fit so far, at times echoing the tension of the Captain America / Hawkeye / Quicksilver / Scarlet Witch dynamic from waaay back. ‘The old order changeth’ and in this case, it’s definitely been for the better. I’ve almost forgotten the Chuck Austen run that came before…! The 1970s strip provides a welcome change of pace from the epic storylines both in the lead strip and in previous archive instalments. Ms. Marvel and The Falcon officially join the team, with mixed feelings, whilst David Michelinie is smart enough to recognise the popularity of the ousted Hawkeye, giving him a large slice of the story in the second half. The plot revolves around Crusher (The Absorbing Man) Creel’s efforts to sneak out of the U.S. and start a new life (of crime) down South. Of course, kicking off his plan with a robbery and kidnapping isn’t the smartest thing to do and it attracts the attention of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, promising the inevitable slugfest next issue. John Byrne and Klaus Janson are well matched on art duties, whilst Michelinie’s script is dripping with humour, mostly courtesy of The Beast (who, you have to admit, is far too serious in The X-Men these days). As usual, Tales Of Asgard wraps things up. It’s ostensibly an introduction to the now infamous Warriors Three, though only Volstagg gets some lines and more than one panel in this chapter. The urgency of Thor and Loki’s mission is emphasised by a grim warning of ‘the war to end all wars’ Ragnarok. Light but fun storytelling that won’t ruin your appetite.

Marvel Legends #7 (Panini UK)
“The Lonesome Death Of Jack Monroe” by Ed Brubaker, John Paul Leon & Frank D’Armata (Captain America (v5) #7)
“The Sons Of Yinsen” by Joe Quesada, Frank Tieri, Alitha Martinez & Rob Hunter (Iron Man (v3) # 31)
“Wrecking Havoc” by Dan Jurgens, Erik Larsen & Klaus Janson
(Thor (v2) #28)

A break from the regular Captain America story, flashing back to Jack (Nomad) Monroe’s last year on Earth. His seemingly callous murder by The Winter Soldier in Marvel Legends #3 is seen in an entirely new light as it is revealed that Monroe’s days were already numbered. Having followed Nomad’s appearances in Captain America during the 1980s Mark Gruenwald/Paul Neary run, I missed the character’s solo series and subsequent appearances in the Marvel Universe so don’t know much about the breakdown that led to him becoming an incarnation of superhuman serial killer Scourge. However, it seems that this, and a degeneration of the super soldier serum that granted Monroe’s powers, is slowly killing him. Ed Brubaker presents a poignant first person perspective of a man experiencing both physical and mental deterioration. It’s not difficult to empathise with Monroe’s desire to go out fighting (crime) as Nomad, though there are signs throughout the story that the drug ring he is pursuing is nothing more than a delusion. That this ultimately proves to be the case underlines the quiet tragedy of a man who railed against his status as a perennial second stringer in order to make a difference. Taking all of the above into account, the Winter Soldier’s actions are more akin to a mercy killing than a brutal murder. Whether the Winter Soldier proves to be Cap’s long dead partner Bucky or not, it’s clear that he may be operating on the side of the angels after all, albeit with more extreme methods than the Sentinel Of Liberty. A brief mention for guest artist John Paul Leon, who never fails to impress. His loose, almost indie style here is a stark contrast to regular artist Steve Epting’s uber-dark photo realism, yet it perfectly suits Brubaker’s intensely personal narrative. Just one criticism and that’s the rather sloppy editing that allows the titular character’s named to be misspelt Munroe throughout the contents page. Come on, show a dead guy some respect…! In the aftermath of The Mask In The Iron Man, Tony Stark finds he has a brand new heart, though not without it’s own limitations, and decides to ‘go retro’ with a return to a former, iconic, suit of armour. Frank Tieri joins Joe Quesada on writing duties but the latter is still clearly in the driving seat judging by the rather clumsy plot and dialogue. This is yet another story centred on a foe long thought dead - this time Iron Man’s very first adversary, Wong Chu – that had this reader thinking “so what?” Likewise Alitha Martinez is a competent artist, heavily influenced by the early Image house style, but I’m already missing predecessor Sean Chen who seemed the ideal artist for the Iron Man series. This is the least impressive of the issue’s three stories, so I’m hoping things pick up next issue. Following the Blood Oath mini-series, we pick up Thor’s regular series more or less in line with Iron Man’s, i.e. a few years behind both Captain America’s current run and the Collectors’ Edition line as a whole. I’ve heard good things about Dan Jurgens’ tenure on the title, though this is very much old-school Thor in the style of Stan Lee, Gerry Conway and subsequently Tom DeFalco, with an emphasis on unsophisticated (melo)drama, humour and of course fighting. In this instalment, Thor and The Warriors Three are assaulted by The Wrecking Crew, who are seeking to reclaim their Asgardian-enhanced abilities. This they do, with apparently dire consequences for Hogun The Grim. Jurgens ticks all the narrative boxes, but I had been hoping for something more, whilst Erik Larsen and Klaus Janson’s perfunctory visuals do little to excite. Whilst not as much of a disappointment as the Iron Man strip, this series will need to up it’s game in the next few issues.

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