Sunday, May 28, 2006

Stage Presence #4

“The Taming Of The Shrew”
by William Shakespeare
Bristol Old Vic, 27/05/2006

Bianca, the beautiful daughter of a rich Paduan merchant, seems fated for a single life, despite her many suitors. The problem is her sister Katherina, aka Kate the Cursed. At their father Baptiste’s insistence, Bianca cannot marry before her elder sibling. Despite Kate being Bianca’s equal in beauty, her independence and distrust of men mean that would-be husbands are non-existent. That is, until Petruchio arrives in Padua. Determined to secure a rich wife, he sets his sights on Katherina and proceeds to “tame” her. Meanwhile, another new arrival in town, Lucentio, has fallen in love with Bianca and contrives to win her away from rival suitors, Hortensio and Gremio. The play follows the deceptions, disguises, disasters and degradations that befall these characters, and examines how much people are willing to change who they are in order to gain society’s acceptance.

“The Taming Of The Shrew” is, on the surface, a incredibly misogynistic narrative, focusing on Katherina’s will being completely subordinated to Petruchio’s, following a series of humiliations inflicted on her by her new husband. It can be argued that Petruchio himself endures that same degradation as his “Kate”, starving both his wife and himself of food, sleep and rational behaviour in the name of love. However, director Anne Tipton uses her production to comment on the roles that people are prepared to play for an ‘easy life’. The contemporary setting of this production only emphasises society’s continued role-playing today. Tipton includes Shakespeare’s prologue, which I understand is often omitted from productions, but in this case proves to be essential to placing the narrative that follows in context. In this Induction, drunkard Christopher Sly is found unconscious by a group of City workers, who decide to convince him that he is in fact a rich Lord, amnesiac following a long illness. Securing the services of actors and placing the man in a classy townhouse apartment, Sly is at first bewildered by his change of circumstances. However, seeing the advantages of his new position, Sly quickly accepts his new role and settles down to watch the evening’s entertainment. At this point, “The Taming Of The Shrew” becomes a play within a play, and therefore even more clearly a fiction, not to be taken seriously. Given that Shakespeare has tackled such an uncomfortable subject as a comedy, I think the absence of this prologue would have a significant impact on the audience’s perspective.

Typically, the play almost immediately becomes more complicated, as key characters are introduced and proceed to adopt different identities. The lovestruck Lucentio asks his manservant Tranio to take his place, whilst he disguises himself as the schoolmaster Cambio in order to woo Bianca. Hortensio, one of his rivals for Bianca’s affections, follows the same plan, entering the household as music tutor Litio. Meanwhile, Tranio (as Lucentio) has promised a large dowry for Bianca, in order to defeat further rival Gremio. Tranio is forced to find someone willing to pose as Lucentio’s father Vincentio in order to cement the deal with Bianca’s father Baptiste. This identity swapping inevitably leads to highly comical sequences, particularly those involving Tranio and the ersatz Vincentio. Elsewhere, Petruchio poses as a uncouth boor, humiliating Katherina at their wedding with an unkempt appearance and drunken antics, not to mention his post-wedding subjugation of her will. Despite Katherina’s initial, spirited defiance, Petruchio’s relentless conditioning has it’s desired effect. Kate - as Petruchio insists on addressing her - slowly adopts her new persona, to the extent that she accepts that the sun is the moon, if her husband insists it is so. This transformation climaxes at Bianca and Lucentio’s wedding, where Petruchio wagers that Kate is a more obedient wife than either Bianca or the widow that the defeated Hortensio has given himself to. Sure enough, to the surprise of the gathering, Petruchio easily wins the bet. Kate then goes on to deliver a monologue, which seems to suggest that a wife should be obedient to “thy husband…thy lord, thy life, thy keeper”. This speech closes with Kate’s suggestion that a wife’s place is effectively with “hand below husband’s foot.”, as she supplicates herself before Petruchio. Petruchio’s reaction – to take his wife’s hand rather than heel it, before kissing her – suggests that he is not quite the bastard that he has been portraying himself as. Not only has Kate won her husband’s admiration, but seemingly that of her peers, a hitherto unlikely prospect. I liked the way that Tipton refuses to baulk from, what in today’s society, could be an unsettling narrative. In addition to Shakespeare’s explicit comedy, Tipton mines further humour by exposing the ridiculous attitudes of some of his characters. This has the advantage of tackling issues head on, but also provides the audience with an opportunity to make their own minds up about Shakespeare’s intentions for the characters and their actions.

There are strong performances from all of the cast, who enliven this production no end. Flora Montgomery and Richard Dillane make an engaging Kate and Petruchio: Montgomery expertly managing the transformation of her character from “shrew” to obedient wife; Dillane likewise balances borderline sadism with a passion that makes Petruchio’s behaviour clearer, if not forgivable. Samuel Roukin is excellent as Tranio, adopting a hilarious Loyd Grossman-esque enunciation when posing as his master Lucentio. A special mention also for veteran actor Geoffrey Beevers. Opening proceedings as the drunkard Christopher Sly, Beevers has the additionally challenging role of hapless suitor Gremio, whose character has neither the youth or cunning of his rivals Hortensio, Lucentio and Tranio. With relatively fewer sequences to play with, Beevers delivers memorable performances in both roles. In what is increasingly becoming a given with Old Vic productions, the creative team excel in stage design, lighting and music. Less typical is the striking choreography, which borders on the balletic at times and infuses the characters with an interaction and energy that matches the production as a whole.

“The Taming Of The Shrew” is a potential disaster, if mishandled. Rest assured, there are no concerns with Anne Tipton’s confident, thought provoking, often hilarious, always downright entertaining production.

(photo: Marcus Ginns)
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Reading Allowed #1

Robert Newman “The Fountain At The Centre Of The World”

I’m largely ambivalent about the suggestion that knowing something about an artist leads to a greater appreciation of their work. From personal experience, it’s one hell of a gamble, as likely to have a negative than a positive effect on me. Unfortunately, the former applies in the case of Robert Newman. During his rise to fame as part of the early 1990s comedy quartet The Mary Whitehouse Experience, I thought that he and David Baddiel were undoubtedly the more inspired half of the partnership. After TMWE disbanded, Newman and Baddiel found their star continuing in the ascendant, peaking with some unbelievably huge stadium gigs. And then, the pair split and, as far as I was concerned, Newman disappeared from sight. I only realised he’d been busy writing when, in 2003, I came across a review of “…Fountain…”, actually Newman’s third novel. Shortly afterwards, Robert Newman toured with a stand-up show called “From Caliban To Taliban: 500 Years Of Humanist Intervention”. I’d heard good things about it and was able to catch it at Bristol’s
Comedy Box . As a fan of fellow comedian and political activist Mark Thomas, I felt that Newman’s show lacked the engaging delivery and seemingly effortless pace of his peer, bordering at times on lecture. Newman had undoubtedly done his research, but a gradual loss of direction left me cold by the show’s end. However, when he announced that he would be signing copies of “…Fountain…” for sale, I was still keen to get a copy. In truth, I asked my wife to get it for me. Returning with book in hand, she casually mentioned that Newman had been flirting with the women in the queue and had looked rather crestfallen when she asked him to dedicate the book to me. Curiosity piqued, we couldn’t help but overhear Newman’s conversation with a couple of girls as we were leaving. He was explaining that he was waiting for some friends, but wondered if the girls would like to join him for a drink. They declined and we followed them down the stairs to the exit. Suddenly, Newman popped his head over the banister and called after them. Apparently, his friends had accidentally gone on without him, so could he join the girls instead? We carried on walking, so I’ve no idea whether this was resolved to their mutual satisfaction, but it left us thinking that Newman was a rather sad twat. Returning home, I popped “…Fountain…” on the bookshelf and, though I’d pick it up a few times in the next year, I’d recall the night at The Comedy Box and replace the book, unread. I stopped being a narrow minded idiot a couple of months ago and finally read it.

In brief, the plot centres on Chano Salgado, a Mexican political dissident. The murder of his wife and loss of his son have led to a withdrawal from collective action but Chano is inextricably drawn back in, his actions forcing him to go on the run. However, the authorities aren’t the only ones looking for Chano; his son Daniel has returned to Mexico, hoping to be reunited with his father. In addition to this, Chano’s long-lost brother, Evan Hatch, a powerful PR executive living in England, has a life-threatening condition that only a bone-marrow transplant from his sibling can hope to address. The novel charts their respective journeys through Mexico and England, converging on Seattle for the World Trade Organisation talks in 1999.

I initially found “…Fountain…” a bit of hard slog, not due to my previous prejudice, but because I found the central characters unengaging and difficult to empathise with. Newman has obviously gone to great lengths to provide, in sibling protagonists Chano and Evan, two sides of an opposing political argument. The problem for me was that I didn’t agree strongly with their viewpoints or care for them much as characters. The addition of Chano’s son Daniel, ostensibly as a catalyst for his father’s renewed political vigour, did little to rouse my interest, thanks to some frankly belief-suspending experiences. The lecturing tone of Newman’s stand-up show emerges in his writing from time to time, particularly in his tendency to belabour an explanation to the point of occluding it altogether. Describing the impact of the Ethylclad corporation’s toxic waste plant on the neighbouring Mexican community, Newman concludes “(In this instance the alphabet soup had been spelt out thus: ICSID through NAFTA through WTO. But whatever the arrangement of letters it was the same old toxins in the mulligatawny.)” You’ll notice the use of parentheses. Newman likes these. A lot. I found myself subconsciously trying to skip them after a while, as they often detract from, rather than add to, the narrative flow. In fact, I started to wonder if the brackets had been inserted by the editor at the draft stage, to indicate extraneous text to be excised from the published version, only for them to be overlooked at the printers.

Targeting the World Trade Organisation and (bad) globalisation is fair enough, but I’m not sure I was as enlightened by the novel’s end as Newman may have wished me to be. The final act, “The Battle Of Seattle”, is largely responsible for this; it sounds like a Pearl Jam song title and is every bit as turgid as their musical output. What could have been a taut, tense account of four days of protests, riots and unreasonable police intervention instead reads as an overlong sequence of contrived near-misses, as Chano, Evan and Daniel traverse the city in almost farcical fashion. Some judicious editing may have avoided diluting the political impact of this section. Good though it is that Newman avoids a ‘Hollywood ending’ with the three characters reunited and changed ‘for the better’ - now that would have been contrived – I finished “…Fountain…” feeling that nothing much had been learned, either by Chano, Evan, Daniel or myself. Newman’s use of symbolism doesn’t always help matters. Early on, Chano considers the eponymous fountain as “a seismograph…the fountain at the centre of the world, responding minutely to everything that’s going on everywhere on earth.” Even more helpfully, a community plumbing grid appropriated by Chano for his home is symbolically referenced throughout. At the novel’s end, there it is again, assisting Chano to conclude that “collective action” is much more effective than “doing things just for myself.” Well, duh.

It’s encouraging that there are writers like Robert Newman, with a passion for politics, the environment and, from a literary perspective, the use of language and vocabulary. That said, Newman could benefit from the realisation that an implausible fictional narrative is not required to make complex arguments and statistics accessible. Quite the opposite, in fact – check out Michael Moore and Al Franken, for starters. I don’t think Newman is a twat anymore, but I do think that, on the strength of “…Fountain…”, he’s got some way to go to be the important novelist that he could – and presumably – wants to be.

You can buy a copy of “The Fountain At The Centre Of The World” directly from Robert Newman’s
website . Posted by Picasa

Jukebox Juicebox #17 - Laissez Faire Go Home

DJ Mark Vidler, aka Go Home Productions, has been responsible for mash-ups for several years now. Typically slow off the mark, I stumbled across the Go Home Productions website more or less by accident, whilst looking up the Julian Cope quote I used for Jukebox Juicebox #13 - Remixology. I’d heard Vidler’s recent remix of Gang Of Four’s “To Hell With Poverty” and was vaguely aware that his mash-ups of David Bowie and Blondie/The Doors had been endorsed by the artists and received a subsequent official release, but that was about it. The Go Home Productions website – and accompanying MySpace page – are a veritable treasure trove, covering Vidler’s output over the last few years.

Mash-ups – ostensibly laying a vocal track from one song onto the backing of another, with a few more disparate samples thrown in for good measure – aren’t a world away from mainstream remixes, especially rap and r&b tracks. However, they can take a bit of getting used to, particularly when the main tracks are so familiar in their original form. My first encounters were the aforementioned Julian Cope’s “World Shut Your Mouth” wedded with Daft Punk’s “Revolution Rock”, followed by The Temptations singing “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” over Coldplay’s “Clocks”. These selections are now mysteriously absent - maybe not all artists or labels are happy with these reinterpretations? The Go Home Productions website’s download content also seems to change on a fairly regular basis, so equally enticing parings (such as Kelis and Duran Duran or Madonna with The Sex Pistols) are also unavailable. At the time of posting, there are about twenty mash-ups available, all of which are naggingly listenable.

Some of Vidler’s GHP mixes are pretty straight pairings: Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight” works surprisingly well with Rod Stewart’s “Maggie Mae”; Liberty X have never sounded cooler with The Residents as a backing band; 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love” goes from soppy to sexy, thanks to Marvin Gaye’s intervention. Much of the time, the resulting mix simply shouldn’t work. The fact that each track becomes increasingly addictive with each play makes listening something of a guilty pleasure. Echo and the Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon” welded to Abba’s “Voulez Vous”? Nelly Furtado singing with The Ordinary Boys? The Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” retuned to The Monkees’ “I’m A Believer”? Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Yet so right.

Vidler’s frequent cheekiness pays dividends. The already brilliant combination of Peaches’ “Rock Show” and The Strokes’ “Juicebox” gets a little push over the edge with “The Theme From ‘The Munsters’”. A second take on “Uptight” introduces The Killers’ “Somebody Told Me”, the latter taking the vocal lead over David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” during the outro. In one of the more extreme examples, Lennon and Radiohead are lightened up with a snatch of Willy Wonka’s Oompa Loopas! The ‘kitchen sink’ approach does overwhelm at times: “Wrapped Detective” stirs in The Police, Elvis Costello, Bob Marley, Peggy Lee, Bob Marley, The Hollies, even Lionel Richie, for a rather overseasoned mix. The mash-up titles would also benefit from the invention that goes into the mixes themselves. Whilst “Uptight Maggie”, “Karma In The Life” and “Rapture Riders” may give strong clues to the mash-ups origin, they’re not overly inspired.

All credit to Vidler for his consistently enjoyable output, though, which seems to be paying off. As well as appearing on Blondie’s most recent “Greatest Hits” compilation, “Rapture Riders” has been featured in an episode of cult US TV show “Alias” and is currently riding high (no pun intended) in the Australian charts. According to the website, Vidler is currently working on a Go Home Productions mash-up album, set for an imminent major label release this year. I'll definitely look out for it.

I’ve been checking out other on-line mash-ups since, but Mark Vidler’s sometimes jaw-dropping mixes are a great starting point. A word of warning, though: some of your favourite songs will never sound the same again.

Current Top 10 listening favourites (in no particular order):

1) Elvis Presley v. The Farm “Strung Out”
2) Peaches v. The Strokes “Juicebox Rock”
3) Liberty X v. The Residents “Kaw Liga X”
4) The Beatles v. The Monkees “Paperback Believer”
5) Stevie Wonder v. Rod Stewart “Uptight Maggie”
6) The Beatles v. Radiohead “Karma In The Life”
7) Echo and the Bunnymen v. Abba “Abba and the Bunnymen”
8) Beastie Boys v. Ian Dury “Triple Rhythm Stick”
9) Beach Boys v. Paul McCartney “I Just Wasn’t Made For The Back Seat Of My Car”
10) Ashanti v. Jane’s Addiction “Rock With Addiction (Awww)”

Mark Vidler / Go Home Productions website

Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Talking Pictures #1

“Freedomland” (2006)
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Julianne Moore
Director: Joe Roth

You know, sometimes I wish I paid a little more attention to a film’s production credits before handing over my money at the cinema. If I’d done this with “Freedomland”, I may have put two hours of my life to better use. On the surface, the involvement of Samuel L. Jackson and Julianne Moore was a considerably attractive proposition; however, had I dug a little deeper, the potential rot would have been apparent. Director Joe Roth and screenwriter Richard Price previously collaborated on 1986’s “Streets Of Gold”, a pretty mediocre boxing movie that was probably going cheap in my local video rental store when I saw it. A glance at their respective CVs for the intervening years is equally unpromising, birthing one-viewing-is-too-many yawnfests such as “Ransom” (1996) and “America’s Sweethearts” (2001). Need I mention that Roth also directed 1987’s “Revenge Of The Nerds II: Nerds In Paradise”? Some might say that I’m belabouring my point, but probably not Roth and Price, who do this with abandon throughout “Freedomland”.

The synopsis of “Freedomland” seemed promising enough. Playgroup worker Brenda Martin (Moore) staggers into a clinic, covered in blood, the apparent victim of a carjacking. The traumatised Martin subsequently reveals that her four year old son was in the back of the car when it was stolen. Veteran police detective Lorenzo Council (Jackson), self-appointed guardian of the housing projects where the alleged assault and kidnapping occurred, attempts to solve the case before the intervention of a neighbouring police force ignites a race riot.

“Freedomland” gets off to a strong start, visually, with a muted, detached credits sequence that evokes Brenda Martin’s traumatised condition as she walks to the clinic. However, almost from their first words, both Moore and Jackson’s roles come across as stock-in-trade, the actors’ not-insubstantial screen presence struggling to compensate for the flaws in dialogue and characterisation. Potentially strong support from Edie Falco, William Forsythe and Ron Eldard is also undermined, either by two dimensional plotting or unfocused direction. The inconsistencies in the plot and characters’ actions become increasingly irritating. There’s a very early example of this, in Martin’s willingness to be interviewed alone by Detective Council, even allowing him to remove keys from her pocket as her hands are bandaged. All this despite claiming her assailant was a black male. Subsequently, the (seemingly exclusive) black residents of the projects feel understandably aggrieved at the excessive police presence in response to the missing boy, given that a similar case involving a black child elicited a lesser response from the authorities. Whilst this is entirely plausible, what is less convincing is the residents’ reaction to the police’s search for the black suspect. Given that the crime occurred in a (seemingly exclusive) black neighbourhood - I didn’t notice any attempt to represent residents of other colours - it actually seems reasonable that the police would accept Brenda Martin’s description of her assailant and focus their search accordingly.

By this stage, both the writer and director seem to lose the plot so completely that it’s little wonder that the viewer isn’t far behind. To be honest, I even wondered if Roth and Price had been fired mid-production and their replacements had little idea how to resolve the film, so jarring is the first hour from the second. The second half’s resulting search for the missing child in a derelict children’s home (the “Freedomland” that gives the film it’s name) should provide necessary resolution. However, like me, you will probably have predicted the ‘twist’ and long given up caring by this point. Price’s screenplay is adapted from his own novel, so I have to question whether the source material was equally unsatisfying and, if so, how on earth it got the green light as a movie. With Samuel L. Jackson and Julianne Moore’s prolific output, I can almost forgive the fact that they’ll be involved in the occasional stinker. With a much slighter filmography between them, Joe Roth and Richard Price don’t get off so lightly. I’ll be keeping an eye on those pesky production credits in future, if only to spy Roth and Price’s names in the ‘small print’ and avoid wasting my time and money on their films.

“Freedomland”’s tagline is:
“The Truth Is Hiding Where No One Dares To Look”.
I suspect that there was a typo. Replace ‘dares’ with ‘cares’ and you’ll get a much more accurate summation of this film.
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Stripping Down #3

Essential X-Men #138
“The Arena” by Chris Claremont & Igor Kordey

(X-Treme X-Men #38-39)
“Here Comes Tomorrow” by Grant Morrision & Marc Silvestri (New X-Men #151)

Now, Storm’s one of my favourite comic characters but, with “The Arena”, Chris Claremont and Igor Kordey have sorely tested my loyalty. Though I’ve heard bad things about Chuck Austen’s writing on Uncanny X-Men, did it really deserve to be ditched from Panini’s UK newsstand title in favour of the apparently equally dire X-Treme X-Men? At least early issues of this tired, clapped out series benefitted from Salvador Larroca’s gorgeous art. As this issue demonstrates, his covers serve not only as a reminder of what was, but also as a warning of the horror that awaits within. The contrast between artists is immediately apparent and can come as a bit of shock. Larocca’s “Baywatch Storm" is immediately countered by Igor Kordey’s splash page. Here, Storm more closely resembles a character from a David Lynch movie (I’m specifically thinking of Juana, played by Grace Zabriskie in “Wild At Heart” as I write this). I’m still at something of a loss to explain Igor Kordey’s style; there’s very little attention to anatomical detail and characters often look stunted or deformed. There’s also a pervading ugliness that, though a refreshing change from the uniformly gorgeous and statuesque characters often to be found in superhero comics, can be unnecessarily distracting at times. Whereas veteran Richard Corben arguably adopts a similar approach, Kordey’s sense of storytelling and flow is considerably inferior and I find myself returning to a page to make visual sense of it. All of this would be perfectly fine, if I believed that this was truly Kordey’s intention all along. Rather, I’m left thinking that he simply doesn’t grasp the basics of visual narrative and no-one at Marvel has the balls to tell him. If only the story’s concision and clarity acted as a counter to this. Unfortunately, being Chris Claremont, excessive verbiage, exposition, clichés and the weight of continuity (naturally, only stuff that he’s previously written) are the order of the day. I feel slightly hypocritical regarding the latter comment, as I realise that I’ve just typed over three hundred words, without commenting specifically on “The Arena”...! I’ll keep it short and sweet, then. A tedious, overlong, non-event of a serial, Storm fights in an arena. A lot. And likes it. As a character, Storm learns nothing that hasn't been covered in previous storylines (invariably written by Claremont). As a reader, I felt that I was stuck in "Groundhog Day", in the worst sense, as the plot of "The Arena" seemed to go in circles.

If only Claremont had been keeping an eye on fellow US title New X-Men, he might have learnt a thing or two about comics writing in the 21st century. Grant Morrison has breathed new life into the X-universe, with gripping plots, great characterisation and a fresh perspective on characters that were previously considered overbaked. What a shame then, that the series has consistently played second fiddle in Essential X-Men to the inferior Claremont soap opera. Following on from last issue’s deaths of Jean Grey/Phoenix and Magneto, the story leaps forward 150 years to focus on the fate of the future X-Men and the mysterious Phoenix Egg. Morrison’s skill, as always, is to introduce a scenario with an economy that enables readers to empathise with new or substantially changed characters, without interrupting the plot’s flow or padding the storyline out in order to fit a six-issue paperback collection. I immediately engaged with lead character Tom Skylark and his pet Sentinel robot, Rover, even knowing that this storyline may be their first and only appearance. I also found Marc Silvestri’s art a considerable asset and pleasant surprise. I collected Uncanny X-Men in the 1980s, when Silvestri took over from John Romita Jr, and wasn’t overly impressed by either artist's work at the time. In retrospect, I think the common factor was inker Dan Green, whose style failed to bring out the best in Romita’s and particularly Silvestri’s pencil art. I guess the intervening years have also enabled Silvestri to hone and perfect his art. Certainly, Silvestri’s art is an excellent match for Morrison’s writing and I’m looking forward in every sense to subsequent instalments.

So, all in all, Essential X-Men #138 is a bittersweet feast: an appetising cover for starters, with an overcooked main; thankfully a delicious dessert erases all traces of the former. I’m just praying that another double helping of Chris Claremont and Igor Kordey in Essential X-Men #139 doesn’t give me indigestion…

Panini UK
comics website

Posted by Picasa

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Grant McLennan (1958-2006)

On Saturday 6th May 2006, Grant McLennan died in his sleep at home in Brisbane. McLennan was a founding member of arguably Australia's greatest band The Go-Betweens, as well as being an extremely prolific singer-songwriter in his own right. Having belatedly discovered The Go-Betweens in the late 1980s, just as they split, then re-discovering them through their stunning third post-reunion album "Oceans Apart" (see my review in Jukebox Juicebox #4), I'm extremely saddened by the loss of an incredible and yet always underestimated musical talent. I didn't hear about Grant's death until this weekend; so much has already been said in tribute that I almost feel that my words will seem like an afterthought. Grant may have left behind a huge musical legacy, but the world's an emptier place without his presence. Rest in peace, Grant, you'll be missed.

The Go-Betweens official website
Posted by Picasa

Monday, May 01, 2006

Jukebox Juicebox #16

Hard-Fi “Better Do Better”
The Hard-Fi phenomenon has pretty much passed me by, not helped by the rather crap name and uninspiring sleeve designs. Yes, I know, never judge a book by it’s cover and all that… Anyway, this single caught my attention and it’s melody has been nagging at the back of my mind ever since. A slower number than the snippets of their “Stars Of CCTV” album I’ve heard so far, the song focuses on the return of an adulterous ex-girlfriend. Richard Archer’s lyrics are refreshingly direct - ‘Can you see me again? / Yeah right, you’ve been kicked out / Do you think that I’m that stupid?’ - and emotionally frank - ‘I cried so much / My face has never been the same’ - as the narrator realises that the wounds are still open, but steels his resolve to reject the girl he once loved. The flipside offers a dub by Wrongtom and The Stoneleigh Mountain Rockers, which strips both song and lyrics down to the basics – ‘You’re back, sitting on my doorstep / Your face makes me want to be sick / …it's a physical reaction...’ – making “Better Do Better” even more raw, in every sense of the word. All this, and gorgeous flourescent yellow seven-inch vinyl too. A great single that will undoubtedly repeat Hard-Fi’s success to date. Slow dance to this with your ex at the local disco and they'll get the message.

Tracklisting: 1. Better Do Better (original) / 2. (wrongtom wild inna 81 version)

Visit the
official Hard-Fi website

Tiga “(Far From) Home”
The Canadian retro-futurist pop star is back with another slice from his “Sexor” album, featuring the seemingly unstoppable Soulwax. The original version sounds like the Human League fronted by Stephen ‘Tin Tin’ Duffy, whilst veteran producer Dave Bascombe beefs up the rhythm and melody for the ‘radio mix’ on the CD single. A clutch of remixes wisely retain the vocals, but take the song in wonderfully different directions. Chicken Lips deliver a downtempo but extremely funky take. French duo Digitalism kick off with an intro not unlike Toni Basil’s “Mickey”, but rapidly entering dancesloor-shredding Chemical Brothers/DFA territory. Speaking of the latter, the DFA provide a further trademark mix (which is no bad thing, of course). What really pushes this take over the edge is a keyboard hook that sounds naggingly like Abba’s “Gimme Gimme Gimme”, as recently used in Madonna’s “Hung Up”. Four words: It. Works. Better Here. A version of “Move My Body”, the original of which was an exclusive on Erol Alkan’s “Bugged Out” mix compilation, maintains the quality for the dancefloor, with vocodered vocals and a nagging electro rhythm. The 12” vinyl versions offer the full ten-minute DFA remix plus a further ‘Sexor Reprise’ by Tiga himself. A catchy song, offered in a variety of tempting formats. What are you waiting for? Indulge yourself!

Tracklisting [7”]: 1. (Far From) Home (original) / 2. (chicken lips remix)
[CD5]: 1. (Far From) Home (bascombe radio mix) / 2. (digitalism remix) / 3. (dfa remix (joakim edit)) / 4. Move My Body (version 2)

Discogs profiles:
Chicken Lips

King Biscuit Time “Kwangchow”
A quick Google search revealed that Kwangchow is “a city on the Zhu Jiangi delta in southern China; the capital of Guangdong province and a major deep-water port”. My knowledge of world geography and history is pretty poor, so I’m not really much the wiser. As King Biscuit Time is the solo project of former Beta Band frontman Steve Mason, I didn’t expect the lyrics to enlighten me either. Opening chorus ‘How do you find a head when you got no fluid? / How do you find your heart when you feel no love?’, confirmed that expection. It may sound like faint praise but, if you’re a fan of the Beta Band or The Flaming Lips, then you’ll love this unconditionally. For the unconvinced, it’s difficult to know how to sell "Kwangchow" – and bonus track “Tears Dry” – other than to say that Mason is producing a more concise, coherent and generally more enjoyable version of his former band’s sound. If you remain unconvinced, then check out the remixes. The Doctors Of Love (no, never heard of them either) beef up the drum, ‘teardrop’ keyboard and piano parts to create a song that Primal Scream would kill to inlcude on their forthcoming album. Meanwhile, the Suicide Dogz remix creates a naggingly familiar Eastern-sounding beat, frequently looping the vocals to hypnotic effect. An exclusive Suicide D.o.g.z. remix on the Poptones website cranks up the rhythm and dubs the vocals to birth a sweaty floorfiller. A promising taster for forthcoming King Biscuit Time album “Black Gold” and an introduction to a couple of remixers to watch.

Tracklisting: 1. Kwangchow (original) / 2. Tears Dry / 3. Kwangchow (doctors of love remix) / 4. Kwangchow (suicide d.o.g.z. – faudels hash den remix)

Watch the “Kwangchow” video on the
official King Biscuit Time website

Listen to the exclusive ‘let there be more light’ remix of “Kwangchow” by Suicide D.o.g.z. on the
Poptones website

Posted by Picasa

Tribe Wanted

I overheard one of the founders being interviewed on the radio and was sufficiently intrigued to check out the
Tribe Wanted website - sounds fantastic. However, fans of US drama Lost may be disappointed to learn that mysterious hatches, rampaging invisible monsters or polar bears are unlikely to found on this Fijian island...
Posted by Picasa