Monday, May 28, 2007

Jukebox Juicebox #30

The Wombats “Backfire At The Disco” (2007)
I’ve never heard of The Wombats and rarely buy NME these days, but I’d hazard a guess that reviews of this song will inevitably include the phrases “live favourite”, “quirky indie pop” and “the next Arctic Monkeys”. I’m not sure how many of these actually apply, but Backfire At The Disco is a breezy number that underpins a tale of woe about a date gone wrong. Some frenetic guitar, timely whoops and a singalong chorus ensures that indie kids tanked up on cider or Newkie Brown will be chugging along to this on the dancefloor even now. However, it’s the remix by KGB (another new one to me) that really cuts the mustard, with a grimy bass, cow horns and a pulsing beat that come across like The DFA, which can only be a good thing. The lyrics and vocals sit extremely comfortably with the funkier, club-oriented sound and this one’s guaranteed to get the shake the bones.

Tracklisting: 1. Backfire At The Disco (original version) /
2. (kgb remix)

The Wombats MySpace page

The Maccabees “Precious Time” (2007)
An indie-on-a-major five piece from Brighton comprising Orlando, Robert, Rupert, Felix and Hugo? Suggests a bunch of rich kids trying to get down with the proletariat, doesn’t it? Relax, it’s not as bad as all that, but there is an inescapable sense of contrivance about the band and their music. Precious Time ticks all the right boxes, with it’s narrative focus on adolescent first love, a squalling guitar chorus and lots of chanting. However, frontman Orlando’s vocals are definitely an acquired taste; sounding like he’s literally got a frog in his throat, Antony (of …& The Johnsons fame) seems to be the obvious reference point. I can understand the appeal of this track, but it’s actually my least favourite of the three included here. The Real Thing kicks off with a handclap rhythm and acoustic guitar, building up to a real campfire rouser. The lyrics again focus on the obvious – trying to get over an ex-girlfriend – and the vocalists’ almost identical delivery to the previous song suggest a limited range. Still, it comes in at just under a minute and a half and, as such, doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. The best is saved ‘til last, with a great remix of X-Ray by South Central that pumps up the beat and distorts the vocals, producing a behemoth of a track that sounds like Franz Ferdinand on speed. Needless to say, the lyrics remain pretty by-the-numbers, but the infectious rhythm means that you’ll be too busy moving to give a damn. More remixes like this and I’ll remain interested in the band.

Tracklisting: 1. Precious Time / 2. The Real Thing / 3. X-Ray (south central x-ray vision ‘for those with eyes to see’ remix)

The Maccabees' MySpace page

Mark Ronson “Stop Me” (2007)
This is an inspired cover version, taking The Smiths’ Stop Me If You Thing You’ve Heard This One Before, adding epic strings, a heavy rhythm and a reprise of Diana Ross & The Supremes’ You Keep Me Hanging On. It recalls both the Now Voyager remix of You Got The Love by The Source featuring Candi Staton and the track that inspired it, Massive Attack’s seminal Unfinished Sympathy. The main differences here are the horn section, providing a counterpoint to the downtempo strings, and vocalist Daniel Merriweather. I’ve no idea who he is, but he takes the song to another level and adds a new dimension to Morrissey’s original lyric. Cover versions as they should be, enabling the listener to appreciate the song in a whole new way. Chicken Lips do not disappoint on the remix front, providing a pulsing electro beat and bassline that complements Merriweather’s performance. I’m less enamoured by the Dirty South remix – sounds a bit like Junior Vasquez on a bad day in parts and probably would have benefited from ditching the vocals at the risk of losing it’s most recognisable hook. A non-album track rounds off the EP: I don't know what the original of Queens Of The Stone Age’s No One Knows sounds like, but it’s a safe guess that this is yet another fairly radical reworking. Vocalist Domino comes across like a cross between Beyoncé and Amy Winehouse, whilst a funky guitar break, hip hop beats and saxophone provide a suitably jazzy backdrop.

Tracklisting: 1. Stop Me (featuring Daniel Merriweather) (album version) / 2. (a chicken lips malfunction) / 3. (dirty south remix) / 4. No One Knows (featuring Domino)

Mark Ronson's MySpace page

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Stripping Down #18

The Avengers United #78 (Panini UK)
“Breakout!” by Brian Michael Bendis, David Finch & Danny Miki (New Avengers (v1) #1-2)
“On The Matter Of Heroes!” by David Michelinie, John Byrne & Gene Day
(Avengers (v1) #181)

“The Sword In The Scabbard!” by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Vince Colletta
(Journey Into Mystery (v1) #117)

Six months have passed in the Marvel Universe but only four short weeks for The Avengers United readers since Earth’s Mightiest Heroes disbanded. Time, then, for a brand new team. In keeping with previous line-up changes, there are veteran Avengers (Captain America and Iron Man), familiar but unexpected additions (Spider-Man and Wolverine), a couple of revamped and reinvigorated B-listers (Luke Cage and Spider-Woman Mk I), plus a retconned Golden Age hero (The Sentry). Well… on the cover at least and even then, shrouded in shadow. As this is written by Brian Michael Bendis, the opening two episodes come across like an episode of TV show 24, with lots of talking interspersed with nosebleed inducing action as old Spidey foe Electro stages the eponymous prison break at supervillian penitentiary The Raft. David Finch’s art screams Hollywood blockbuster, though there is an over reliance on splash pages and static panels. More irritating is Finch’s inability to draw distinctive faces. If I reading this in retro Marvel UK style black and white format I suspect that, on visuals alone, I would struggle to differentiate between Luke Cage and The Purple Man, Jessica Drew and Mary Jane Watson. That said, it’s refreshing to see a genuinely new and interesting team of Avengers and this is a big, big improvement on the creative team’s debut with the disappointing Disassembled. In the classic strip, John Byrne takes over art duties, complemented here by some great inking from Gene Day. The story features another historic (albeit short-lived) line-up change, imposed by government liaison Henry Peter Gyrich, a great opening sequence with Wonder Man and The Beast, plus Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch in an intriguing cliffhanger. They sure don’t make comics like this anymore. I probably bang on in every review of this title about how little I enjoy Tales Of Asgard. It’s back this issue after a short break and – dare I say it? – isn’t all bad. The promise lies in the fact that, rather than the usual five page stand alone heavy handed moral, this is the first of a multi-part ‘quest’ storyline. Let’s hope it delivers the goods.

The Avengers United #79 (Panini UK)
“Breakout!” by Brian Michael Bendis, David Finch & Danny Miki (New Avengers (v1) #3-4)
“Honour Thy Father!” by David Michelinie, John Byrne & Klaus Janson (Avengers (v1) #182)
“The Crimson Hand!” by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Vince Colletta (Journey Into Mystery (v1) #118)

This issue’s cover boasts a gratuitous T’n’A shot of Spider-Woman, who has clearly has had several tucks and implants since she first hit the scene in the 1970s. Inside, the improvised team of heroes deal with last issue’s prison break and Captain America is inspired to make this assemblage a more permanent arrangement. Naturally, one of the team is working for an as yet unknown third party (shades of Emma Frost in the current X-Men storyline here); I’d imagine it’ll be a long while before this sub-plot comes to the fore. Despite a cover appearance last issue, the final new member – a certain hirsute Canadian mutant – doesn’t debut until the final panel. However, Breakout continues to be a promising start for the fledgling New Avengers. Travelling back to the late 1970s for the archive Avengers tale, the team attempt to save the lives of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, leading to a surreal battle with their adoptive father. Klaus Janson’s inking is characteristically heavy, particularly compared to Gene Day’s in the previous issue, but it still works well, allowing John Byrne’s clear storytelling to shine through. In the closing Tales Of Asgard, Loki is trying to off his half-sibling Thor before their quest has even got underway. No surprise that the God Of Thunder foils the God Of Mischief’s plot, but it’s a fun read that greatly improves on the laboured morals of previous tales.

Panini UK website

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Jukebox Juicebox #29 - You Can Go Home Again

Go Home Productions "Six Pack" (2007)
Hot off the decks is the ever reliable Mark Vidler's latest freebie EP in a 7" double pack format, with a free 7" flexi to boot, providing a whopping six slabs of bastard pop for your aural pleasure. The opening track mashes Marvin Gaye's Too Busy Thinking About My Baby with Kaiser Chiefs The Angry Mob with blistering effect, The Beatles' Penny Lane acting as a great reprise. Marvin Gaye could have made some classic rock music if he'd teamed up with, say, Jimi Hendrix or The Rolling Stones back in the day. In the absence of the real thing, this track is a more than welcome substitute. Hung Phantom pairs Madonna's Hung Up with Justice's Phantom and Goblin's Tenebre, proving that even without the ABBA sample, the former is a great track. Supreme Evil is built around a backing of ELO's Evil Woman, with Diana Ross and the Supremes' Stop (In The Name Of Love) and Michael Jackson's Bad providing the vocals. It's been said plenty of times elsewhere, but Vidler's skill lies in encouraging the listener to reappraise artistes or songs, particularly those that are (overly) familiar in their original form. Long Distance Good Luck Call is a good example, imbuing Lisa Kekaula's vocals on Basement Jaxx's Good Luck with an earthier quality when paired with Phoenix's dirty beats and guitar riffs. Revisiting The Beatles for the two flexi tracks, Vidler is a tad cheeky here, pairing the Fab Four first with Disney's Pinocchio (!) and Radiohead, then with Bill Conti's Going The Distance, aka The Theme From 'Rocky'. Pinocchiohead On LSD is initially a bit hard to get your head around as I've Got No Strings and Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds battle for supremacy over Creep's chugging rhythm, but perversely it's a success. The final track is the slightly better of the two, lending Hello Goodbye with an unexpectedly epic quality. I'd part with a few quid for this EP, so how great is it that all of these tracks are currently free to download?

Tracklisting [A]: 1. Marvin Gaye v. Kaiser Chiefs v. The Beatles: Too Busy Thinking About The Angry Mob / 2. Madonna v. Justice v. Goblin: Hung Phantom / [AA]: 3. ELO v. Diana Ross & The Supremes v. Michael Jackson: Supreme Evil / 4. Phoenix v. Basement Jaxx: Long Distance Good Luck Call / [flexi]: 5. Pinocchio v. Radiohead v. The Beatles: Pinocchiohead On LSD / 6. The Beatles v. Bill Conti: Goodbye Rocky

Go Home Productions "Pink Wedding" (2007)
If you're not subscribed to the Go Home Productions mailing list (and why not?!), you may well have missed this gem back in March (although a Google search is likely to unearth MP3s if you look hard enough). It pretty much does what it says on the label: Pink's Get The Party Started never sounded so good with Billy Idol's White Wedding (especially Steve Stevens' guitar hooks) underpinning the song; Sir William Of Idol himself drops in with the occasional "Pick It Up!" or "Dynamite!" Far more of a party track than Pink's original plodder, this is another prime example of why Mark Vidler is still head and shoulders above the increasing number of mash-up artists out there.

Go Home Productions "Nightbeatle (Beatleg Bootles 2)" (2007)
Probably a love it or loathe it mash-up, laying The Beatles' When I'm Sixty Four over Daft Punk's ambient Nightvision, I'm firmly in the former camp. When I'm Sixty Four has always been one of my least favourite Beatles tracks, yet Vidler transforms Paul McCartney's vocals from whimsical to wistful in this astounding (re)version. This mash up, with Nightvision's added synth washes, now sounds oddly reminiscent of 10CC's I'm Not In Love before (not meant as a criticism!) An unexpected pleasing spine tingler and another essential download. Get this while you can from the Go Home Productions website.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Stripping Down #17

Wolverine & Deadpool #137 (Panini UK)
“Enemy Of The State” by Mark Millar, John Romita Jr. & Klaus Janson (Wolverine (v2) #25)

“The Gehenna Stone Affair” by Peter David, John Buscema & Bill Sienkiewicz
(Wolverine (v1) #14)

“Great Men” by Joe Kelly, Anthony Williams & Andy Lanning (Deadpool #22)

Enemy Of The State concludes as S.H.I.E.L.D. race to foil Hydra’s plot to assassinate the US president and Wolverine faces off against his own team-mates…with fatal consequences for one. Actually, the death of an X-Man – Northstar – isn’t quite the shocking event that it probably was in the States. For UK readers, this is pretty much the former Alpha Flight stalwart’s first and last appearance as an X-Man, given that Essential X-Men have skipped the run of stories that Northstar has appeared in. As such, there’s been little chance to develop empathy for the character or understand his relationship, or contribution to, the X-Men. That said, there’s no denying that it’s a well written sequence within a wholly enjoyable series and proof (if any be needed) that writer Mark Millar is firing on all cylinders here. John Romita Jr’s art is similarly impressive, though it’s interesting to note his depiction of George Dubya as a lithe, canny, even 1970s period Charlton Heston-esque figure. Without having a clue as to Romita Jr’s political leanings, it’s difficult to know if this ‘heroic’ rendition of the US president is the result of patriotism, rose-tinted artistic licence or editorial pressure… Speaking of creative teams, the trio responsible for archive strip The Gehenna Stone Affair seem to be having fun. Writer Peter David is clearly poking at some of predecessor Chris Claremont’s more bloated narrative conceits, not least Wolverine’s questionable ‘Patch’ alias, which is wisely ditched this issue. Bill Sienkiewicz’s inking adds an abrasiveness to John Buscema’s otherwise smooth flowing visuals, to great effect. In the Deadpool strip, British artists Anthony Williams and Andy Lanning provide an excellent fill-in, as The Merc With A Mouth encounters Cable. Joe Kelly pulls together a number of plot threads in preparation for next issue’s much anticipated Dead Reckoning. Whilst frequently derided on the letters page as overly quirky or comical, Deadpool is in fact a real asset, delivering a surprising amount of light and shade, both in the stories themselves and Wolverine And Deadpool as a whole.

Wolverine & Deadpool #138 (Panini UK)
“Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D.” by Mark Millar, John Romita Jr. & Klaus Janson. (Wolverine (v2) #26)
“The Gehenna Stone Affair” by Peter David, John Buscema & Bill Sienkiewicz
(Wolverine (v1) #15)

“Dead Reckoning” by Joe Kelly, Walter McDaniel & various(Deadpool #23)

There’s plenty to enjoy in the lead strip, a sequel to Enemy Of The State. The story opens with a flashback to The Gorgon’s meteoric rise to power within first The Hand and then Hydra. The second half , set on the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, is split between the agency’s efforts to recondition Wolverine and a climatic aerial assault by Hydra’s horde of resurrected superhumans, Elektra and Northstar included. Gripping stuff, to say the least. The penultimate episode of The Gehenna Stone Affair is pretty much an issue long melee. Still, when it’s a John Buscema drawn melee, then the fun is in spotting how many different directions the hapless opponents will be punched or flung from each panel. Finally, Deadpool faces his Dead Reckoning though Tiamat, the mother of all alien adversaries, is still lurking in the shadows. As always, Joe Kelly’s script deftly balances exposition, humour and tension, making for a fast paced tale that doesn’t leave the reader behind. Equally importantly, the script gives all of the characters, especially Deadpool and cadaver-like precognitive Montgomery, room to breathe. Walter McDaniel delivers strong pencil art, though a trio of inkers don’t really get the best out of his work. Despite that, Dead Reckoning promises to be the best of a the series so far and that’s saying something.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Stripping Down #16

Fantastic Four Adventures #24 (Panini UK)
“Dream Fever” by Karl Kesel, Tom Grummett, Larry Stucker & Norm Rapmund
(Fantastic Four (v1) #526)
“Rock Bottom” by Geoff Johns, Scott Kolins & Andy Lanning (The Thing: Freakshow #1)
“The Return Of The Mole Man!” by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & George Bell
(Fantastic Four (v1) #22)

Dream Fever was always going to have a tough job, following as it does from Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo’s consistently inventive and enjoyable run. However, even compared to Karl Kesel’s previous fill-ins as scripter, this is a disappointment. Long-time adversary Diablo is again criminally underused and the story’s climatic sequence featuring Sue and Johnny fails to convince. In the archive strip featuring The Mole Man, even the usually reliable Lee and Kirby stumble somewhat, as the FF flee from complaining neighbours into the diminutive villain’s trap. The set up swallows nearly half of the story and the plot seems rather hastily wrapped up in the closing panels. The issue is rounded out with the debut of Freakshow, a solo adventure for The Thing. Geoff Johns’ script is… okay, albeit a little heavy handed with both dialogue and, on the strength of the opening instalment, premise. The ubiquitous Scott Kolins (is there a Panini Collectors’ Edition that hasn’t featured his work?!) produces some good visuals here. It’s interesting to compare Kolins’ relatively early style here, which avoids use of black fills and shading, with his work on last year’s Beyond!, currently featuring in The Mighty World of Marvel. I prefer the latter, particularly as Freakshow’s older, cruder visuals are helped little by David Self’s rather insipid colours. Hopefully, the series will prove to be more than a simple ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ moral. I also hope it encourages Panini to reprint more stories featuring The Thing, particularly some key Marvel Two-In-One tales and the current written by Dan Slott. Fingers crossed.

Fantastic Four Adventures #25 (Panini UK)
“Distant Music” by J. Michael Straczynski, Mike McKone & Andy Lanning
(Fantastic Four (v1) #527)
“Old Friends” by Geoff Johns, Scott Kolins & Andy Lanning (The Thing: Freakshow #2)
“The Master Plan of Doctor Doom!” by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & George Bell
(Fantastic Four (v1) #23)

The FF Reborn! proclaims this issue’s cover. Neither this nor the other strapline, The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!, are strictly true. However, as well as hitting the quarter century, Fantastic Four Adventures also introduces the new creative team of J. Michael Straczynski, Mike McKone and Andy Lanning. I’ve mixed feelings about Straczynski’s comic writing: I loved Supreme Power, but consider his take on The Amazing Spider-Man to be inconsistent. Still, the run gets off to a promising start with a smart bit of narrative misdirection. There are a number of other nice touches, including The Thing’s realisation that, whilst the rest of the team are broke, he’s a multi-millionaire and Reed’s discovery that the US government have been trying to replicate the creation of the FF almost from Day 1. Mike McKone’s pencils are spot-on, amply coping with the epic and small scale demands of Straczynski’s script. Andy Lanning again proves that he’s one of the – if not the – best inkers currently working in mainstream comics, the detailed inking unmistakeably his own without subsuming McKone’s own style. Freakshow, whilst not straying too far from the previous issue’s premise, introduces an interesting twist with the appearance of shape-changing Krees and Skrulls towards the end. And, thankfully, Lee and Kirby are back on track in the issue’s closing classic strip. Dr. Doom’s up to no good again, this time recruiting a trio of souped up thugs who inevitably prove to be no match for the fab foursome. All in all, a good mix of stories that makes for an enjoyable read.

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