Tag Archives: death

Secret protest: How the OTHER nine songs in the Top Ten are subversive critiques of Margaret Thatcher

Britain is in turmoil! Following Thatcher’s death, a campaign to get Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead from The Wizard of Oz into the charts has been successful, but the BBC say they won’t play it in full on the Chart Show. So on the one hand you might reasonably have concerns about censorship, free speech and your right of dissent, but on the other you’ve got, well, Munchkin fury.

Avon calling

Now, Radio 1 censors songs all the time, generally for swearing or explicit sexual references. The radio edit of Azealia Banks’ 212 sounded like she’d borrowed Norman Collier’s microphone. But to ban a song that you might otherwise hear any Sunday afternoon on Radio 2, because of the motives of the people buying it, is some complicated new level of doublethink.

So if YOU were looking forward to listening to the Top Ten today and enjoying a silent gloat while Dorothy and the Munchkins established that the person in question was not only merely, but really most sincerely dead, what are your options now the BBC have spoiled your fun? What subversive messages are hidden in the rest of the songs in the Top Ten?

“I don’t know about you but I’m feeling 22!” sings Taylor Swift in 22. In a song recorded in 2012 that can only mean one thing – Taylor is positioning herself as the embodiment of the post-Thatcher political scene following the Iron Lady’s resignation in 1990. “We’re happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time… it’s miserable and magical!” Well it’s certainly been a mixed bag.

Thatch

In When I Was Your Man, Bruno Mars blames himself for Thatcher’s fall from grace. “My pride, my ego, my needs and my selfish ways caused a good strong woman like you to walk out my life.” But there’s a double-edged criticism implicit in his dirge. It was Thatcher’s own ideology that encouraged Bruno to selfishly individuate! And now they’re both paying the price.

The Saturdays critique the right-to-buy legislation introduced in Thatcher’s first term in What About Us? – “I’ve been watching and waiting, why don’t you give it or take it?” And Pitbull continues the socio-economic analysis in Feel This Moment – “Ask for money and get advice. Ask for advice, get money twice.” He goes on to tell us how he’s made billions in the free market before delivering the killer blow: “I’m far from cheap, I break down companies with all my peeps” – a clear dig at the Big Idea of denationalisation.

Justin Timberlake addresses the notion of individualism as he sings to his own reflection in Mirrors. “My mirror staring back at me, I couldn’t get any bigger with anyone else beside of me,” he croons in a savage satire of Thatcher’s belief that there’s no such thing as society. And what could be a more pointed attack on capitalist federalism than Nelly‘s Hey Porsche? “I don’t need nobody’s permission” he laughs, in a song that deliberately confuses material pleasure with personal objectification to devastating effect.

trouble at t'pit

Pompeii sees Bastille take the Roman city as a metaphor for the ruined industrial communities of the North. The dark clouds that roll in over the hills in the song are the coal dust of the abandoned pits. “Many days fell away with nothing to show… We were caught up and lost in all of our vices.” We’re warned of the cyclical nature of history too, that Thatcherism hasn’t died with the lady herself – “If you close your eyes, does it almost feel like you’ve been here before? How am I gonna be an optimist about this?” Sad. Pink takes a similar view of a nation’s devastated manufacturing base in Just Give Me A Reason but with a more hopeful tone – “Tear ducts and rust, I’ll fix it for us. We’re collecting dust but our love’s enough.”

And so to the song at Number One (according to the midweeks published on 10th April of course, as are all the songs I’ve mentioned – your actual chart experience may vary). Duke Dumont‘s Need U (100%) featuring A*M*E might seem like just another feelgood dance track. But it’s all there in the video. A man visits hospital with a tape recorder – of exactly the sort you could have bought in 1979 when Thatcher came to power – lodged in his stomach. We see him leave without receiving any treatment and learn that the video takes place in America. The implications are obvious – in a country with no NHS, medical help is the privilege of the few. Our hero tries to go about his life regardless, but constant misery ensues as his condition causes everyone around him to suffer potentially fatal choreomania. Eventually, exhausted, we see him undergoing an operation – but at what cost?! If Thatcher’s policies have led inexorably to the current dismantling of a free health service then are we all doomed to dance until we die? Enjoy tonight’s Chart Show!

Martine McCutcheon’s Perfect Cheese Moment

Martine McCutcheon Cheese Moments

The other week in ITV’s Midsomer Murders, poor Martine McCutcheon was killed to death by massive cheeses. How cruelly ironic that Martine, who’s spent so many years tirelessly promoting Activia yoghurt on British screens, should meet such a vicious dairy-related death. Here’s that perfect moment in full, soundtracked at last by her biggest hit.

My albums of 2012: Games & Puzzles special

Can YOU solve Plan B’s logic problem, spot the ball with Frank Ocean or help Usher find his climax? Find out in my Albums of the Year Puzzle Special!

10. Jessie Ware – Devotion

9. Bright Light Bright Light – Make Me Believe In Hope

8. Gossip – A Joyful Noise

Three very thoughtful, quietly euphoric albums to start us off. So let’s have a thoughtful and quietly euphoric teaser:

buffet riddle

You are queueing for the buffet at a music industry awards ceremony with Rod Thomas, Jessie Ware and Beth Ditto. You know that one of them always tells the truth, one of them always lies, and one can either lie or tell the truth as they choose. Rod says “The salmon en croute is nice! Don’t listen to Beth by the way, she always lies.” Jessie says “The profiteroles are lovely. And you can trust Rod, he always tells the truth.” Beth says “I do lie sometimes but I can tell the truth too if I want to! By the way the mushroom vol-au-vents are delicious.”

Which is the only food you can put on your plate with confidence?

7. Usher – Looking 4 Myself

I’m on my own with this one, I think. At least, I haven’t seen anyone else raving about it in end-of-year lists. Too much dance-pop for the R&B crowd? Too R&B for the pop crowd? Too cheesy for everyone else? Actually that last one doesn’t need a question mark. But I like it a lot. The centrepiece is of course Climax, a cleverly named song as Usher never actually reaches one. But can YOU help him get there?

ushers climax

 6. Angel Haze – Reservation

It’s not until you put an album on at work and everyone goes rigid with horror that you notice quite how sweary it is. The words in the puzzle are all taken from Angel’s lyrics. When fitted correctly into the grid, the shaded squares will reveal a special bonus word! What is it?

angel haze cross words

5. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange

franks ballsCan YOU see Frank’s balls in this picture? Mark with a cross where you think they are.

4. Plan B – Ill Manors

It’s a horrible world depicted in the film Ill Manors, with relentlessly awful things happening to everyone in it. The accompanying album is just as revolting and upsetting, but of course it’s all set to brilliant music. Plan B has drafted his plans for the sequel in the form of a logic problem – solve it if you dare!

ill manors

3. Tyson – Die On The Dancefloor

Here was a 2012 surprise – a concept album about morbidity delivered as a series of falsetto Hi-NRG bangers. Bloody great. So here’s a puzzle based on Tyson’s twin obsessions of disco and death.

tyson puzzle

2. Metric – Synthetica

I think Metric’s dark, sugary synth-rock is sounding better than ever, and these songs haunted and inspired me all year. Join the fun by solving the riddle to find a word associated with metric measurements.

metric riddle

1. Cassie – The Unreleased Classics Trilogy

CASSIE MYSTERYWell here’s a puzzle. A singer releases a very good first album and goes on to record stacks of even better material for a second album which six years later shows no sign of ever materialising. No don’t write in, there isn’t an answer to this one. But Cassie’s work since 2006 has now been collated and packaged up as a set of three downloads comprising 66 tracks. That’s right, my album of the year isn’t even a proper album and some of the tracks are years old. But to my tastes, out of this bonanza of material you could get at least two full albums that would wipe the floor with anything else from this year. It’s a collection of cold, sexy, sweet and surprising electro that at its best makes me think of Janet Jackson singing her way through Britney’s Blackout. But don’t take my word for it – it’s free!

If you want solutions to the puzzles, they’re here. And if you want a soundtrack to working them out, my songs of the year are in a playlist in the previous post. Happy New Year x

Monsters at Home: Shadow of the Colossus

What keeps the sixteen colossi of the Forbidden Land going in the long years they spend sitting around waiting to be killed?

club

Shadow of the Colossus is one of the first titles that’s likely to come up in any discussion of games as art. Its narrative, its design and its melancholy themes are tied closely and cleverly together for a slow-burning emotional impact. But as ever with artistic masterpieces, much of the nitty-gritty of daily routine is skirted over and left unexplained. Let’s have a look at the monsters’ secret home lives…

WHAT DO THEY EAT?

As a player wandering around the Forbidden Land the best you’ll manage to forage is the odd lizard tail. That’s about the size of a lentil from a colossus’s perspective so clearly it wouldn’t sustain one. These vast golems who collapse into natural rubble when defeated must have to chew up and shit out great chunks of the landscape itself to keep themselves nourished. The sods.

flying

How DO THEY socialise

If you’ve played Shadow of the Colossus (and a kiss for you, loyal reader, if you haven’t and you’re still reading this) you’ll know that much of the game is taken up with long contemplative treks through the lonely lands at the edge of the world as you search for your foes. In other words they live in total isolation, and as walking prisons for splintered segments of evil energy it’s probably best they don’t mingle all at once. But what’s to stop the big flying one heading up over the plains for a nice day out? Collecting the little boar-like ones for a gentle race over one of the bridges perhaps, or organising a bit of heavy-footed dressage for the larger quadrupeds. No-one should be alone with their sorrow.

wine

What do THEY drink?

When the colossi are defeated, the evil black force sealed within them oozes out to violate our protagonist, progressively debilitating his appearance with each “victory”. On the one hand this invites us to consider the consequences and morality of a traditional heroic narrative. On the other hand it suggests to me they’ve got carried away with the red wine.

What do THEY watch on telly?

These huge lumbering creatures of stone and moss are enjoying the recent revival of Fort Boyard on Saturday mornings, although they feel the Fort is something of an under-developed character.

rock garden

What DO THEY do for fun?

The big ones with their clubs as big as towers are clearly only hoping someone will turn up and bowl them a pagoda for a nice game of rounders. The aquatic ones with their constant electrical discharges are probably just trying to generate enough power to get a soundsystem going. In fact the twelfth colossus, blasting around in the water with that nice big flat rock garden on his head, could have a promising career as a party boat if it wanted.

shadow-of-the-colussus-stab

How DO THEY reproduce?

Any speculation about the sex lives of the colossi must inevitably turn to their secret, sensitive parts – the sigils that are the key to their defeat. These ticklish, glowing areas that act as seals to their enchantment are euphemisms of the first rank. Considering that you spend the entire game sifting through fearsome tufts and ridges to locate these erogenous zones and successfully penetrate each colossus with your weapon, it’s tempting to see the whole game as a glorified Joy of Sex manual. In which case, Shadow of the Colossus’s sex lessons can be summed up by saying – hold on for as long as you can and just keep poking.

Five December talking points that aren’t Kate Middleton’s uterus

At the moment you can’t move on Twitter for people talking about Kate Middleton’s pregnancy and even more people talking about not wanting to talk about Kate Middleton’s pregnancy. So here are five alternative conversation starters to get you through the month.

Pantone book

On 13th December Pantone will announce their latest Color Of The Year. That’s right, just one nail-biting week until we finally find out if African Violet can piss all over Tender Shoots or if Linen will beat off Grayed Jade. The Citrus Sarcophagus’s sights are firmly set on Lemon Zest or Nectarine, but there’s some rather more considered analysis over at Re-Do it Design.

Nick Lachey The Winner Is

On 15th December if you’re in the Houston, TX or Philadelphia, PA areas you could go and audition for NBC’s new singing gameshow “The Winner Is. I like the name, and the convoluted phrases it’ll lead to host Nick Lachey having to say.

“And the winner of The Winner Is is…”

“Sorry, the The Winner Is winner isn’t you.”

“The The Winner Is winner Ida Winner wins Winona Ryder’s rider!”

And so on.

The Krankies and John Barrowman

19th December will be the first anniversary of our hearing the Krankies’ revelations about their “any time, anywhere” sex lives, tourbus shenanigans and swinging sessions. Oh it seemed shocking at the time, but against the increasingly unpleasant reports about other children’s entertainers this year, perhaps we can just celebrate the consensual joy of it all now. My favourite detail remains Janette’s fling with the leopard tamer and Ian’s wry comment that he knew what she’d been up to when she came home smelling of leopards. Brilliant.

the-end-of-the-world-2012

21st December is, of course, the end of the world. But let’s not let that get us down. Britney’s shown that we can dance right through it and Jay Sean’s said it might not happen at all.  And as it marks the winter solstice it’s also the traditional day for an annual viewing of K9 and Company (see last post). I don’t know about you but if we’re facing apocalypse I’m going out with an unexpected karate chop and a “Put THAT in your leader, Mr Tobias!” too.

Joey McIntyre

On 31st December Joey from New Kids On The Block will celebrate his 40th birthday. I know! The passage of time, there. Why not use the last day of the year to think about YOUR lost youth, abandoned dreams, inevitable mortality and roads generally not taken? And don’t have nightmares, readers; on the night itself – in a special government initiative – Olympic songstress Emeli Sandé will visit every British citizen’s bedside to aid restful sleep with a soothing dirge. Happy 2013!

Chicken & Lantern: Series 4

Over the last year I’ve been bringing the forgotten animated 80s series Chicken & Lantern to a wider audience with these episode guides (Series 1, 2 and 3). And now, as they say, the dramatic conclusion.

It was a year of endings. The fall of communism, the final episode of Doctor Who, and the last time that Sonia would ever straddle the top of the UK charts. But for a few, 1989’s most significant loss was the sad demise of Chicken & Lantern. Their antics had been deemed quaint and irrelevant and their fourth season of adventures was to be their last. The production team tried various controversial creative approaches in the final run of episodes, some wilder than others and not all of them successful, but then they had nothing to lose.

Prunella Scales returned as the voice of Chicken, and the role of Lantern was taken up by Geoffrey Palmer, who brought a certain gruff world-weariness to the time-travelling festival decoration.

SERIES 4 EPISODE GUIDE

6 x 10 minute episodes

Transmitted on BBC1, Wednesdays at 4.45pm, 22nd November – 27th December 1989

Episode 1: Bird Down

In a bravura opening sequence worthy of a James Bond film, Chicken and Lantern make their escape from a Nazi-infested zeppelin high above 1930s New York, plunging through the sky onto the Empire State Building where they battle their way down through Cthulhoid monsters oozing from the walls of the carpeted hallways, finally reaching street level only to get caught up in a dramatic shoot-out between rival organised crime gangs. They race into the sewers, where they outsmart a ravenous alligator, and finally slide down a giant shaft to reach the centre of the earth where we see that our heroes have established a safe HQ that they can safely visit in any time zone. There’s not a word of dialogue up until this point, which greatly alarmed Geoffrey Palmer on his first day of recording. Especially when all that he or Prunella Scales were required to do in the final seconds of the episode was to grunt or scream respectively as the large time scanner screen in their HQ fills with the terrifying face of an enormous fox.

Episode 2: Cooped Up

The bizarre and infamous ‘live action’ episode. Having established a base of operations for the intrepid duo, no time was wasted in setting an entire episode there, and during a power cut at that. Still a great deal of money was clearly saved on animation by having Prunella Scales sat in a chicken suit in a semi-darkened room (lit only by the dim red light of the molten core of the earth,  diffusing through the skylight), whispering to Geoffrey Palmer who’s gamely done up in a whalebone corset, red tissue paper and golden tassles as Lantern. Chicken believes that the fox they saw on the screen will be their undoing and their end, and confides in Lantern of the nameless creeping dread that’s haunted her days and her dreams. She fears and welcomes her oncoming death in equal measure, she confesses, finally breaking down into sobs. As a means of introducing existential anxiety to a young audience, it couldn’t be deemed a failure. But then that wasn’t exactly the show’s remit.

Episode 3: Pecking Order

A time travel romp allowing C&L to pay homage to the programme that inspired it, this episode saw Chicken (now back to her flat cartoon self) spliced into chicken-related footage from 70s Doctor Who episodes, as she becomes separated from Lantern, unstuck in time alone, and tries to track down a fellow time traveller to get her home. At first appearing aboard the SS Bernice where she fails to attract Jon Pertwee’s attention from within a crate, she’s then whooshed to Paris in 1979 where she’s hurtled along her own timeline to the point of old age and death, before Tom Baker reverses the polarity to save her. Finally she pops up in a village church where, just as the Master is about to sacrifice her to a Daemon, Lantern (accompanied for no easily justifiable reason by Crow from Saturday Superstore) swoops in over Jo Grant’s shoulder and they all escape to safety.

Episode 4: Home To Roost

In an ill-remembered episode guest-directed by Peter Greenaway, Chicken and Lantern learn a complicated formal dance in an unnamed baroque citadel. These scenes are intercut with abstract, stylised scenes of a future metropolis filled with rotting foxes. The music was alright.

Episode 5: The Four Lanterns

A celebratory episode designed to clear up the confusion around Lantern’s backstory, which saw a return to the Shanghai setting of Season 1’s finale (where all of Lantern’s past and future incarnations live together as a family) and an ambitious attempt to bring all the actors who’d voiced him together. David Yip refused to participate and had to be represented by recycled sound clips from his earlier episodes. Bruce Willis had loved his time on the show so much that he gave his time for free, although as he was now a major star, and busy filming Die Hard 2, this amounted to a quick phone call with no script, during which he said a few phrases he thought his incarnation of Lantern might be likely to utter. So with two of the Lanterns speaking only in non-sequiturs – “No, dear Chicken! You’re doing it all wrong!”; “Suck my fiery wick, mothers!” – and so on, it was left to Burt Kwouk and Geoffrey Palmer to try to carry the complicated plot, which was some sort of absurdly hopeful epiphany in which Lantern reconciled all the contradictory aspects of his psyche.

Episode 6: Outfoxed

The ending was all that mattered. The story that led to it was almost incidental, save that in a metafictional twist that would only become apparent more than twenty years later when I was writing this today, the fox so intent on senselessly killing off our heroes turned out to be called Bertie.

But what sticks in the mind of everyone who sees it is the last few minutes and their terrible imagery. At least we didn’t have to see the worst of it happen onscreen. It was bad enough that Chicken should actually be savaged by the fox, and that Lantern should fall into a threshing machine while trying to save her. They were wise to cut away at the last moment and leave those fates suggested merely by sound effect with the occasional half-chewed wing or mangled shred of red paper flying across the screen. Although even that informed a generation’s trauma. A light-hearted soundtrack was added at producers’ insistence to alleviate the horror, but no-one would now agree that Spitting Image’s The Chicken Song did anything to make things better.

When the children had finished crying – if they ever finished crying – if they looked up at the screen again they would see their heroes, barely recognisable: Chicken just shreds and bits of bone, Lantern smashed and torn, his light sputtering. But that dying light signalled the start of one final juddering flight through time, and our heroes arrive on a sunny hillside by the opening of a cave in Ancient Greece, where a philosopher scoops up their remnants in his arms and carries them to their rest. The camera fixes and slowly zooms in on the firelit shadows on the wall of the cave, where we see that Chicken and Lantern are slowly becoming whole again as silhouettes. Plato (for it is he, voiced by John Gielgud) explains that through their adventures our heroes have become the best of every chicken, and of every lantern, and that they will live on forever, symbolically, as ideal forms. However much comfort THAT was supposed to be. The light in the cave slowly dies and the credits roll while that unforgettable theme tune plays out one last, sad time.

Whitney Houston: Didn’t We Almost Have All The Key Changes

What to say about Whitney? She always seemed distant, imperial, unknowable – not someone it was easy to imagine getting on with personally. So I’m not driven to write the sort of gushing OH NO SHE’S DEAD post I did when Amy Winehouse or Elisabeth Sladen died.

But her music’s been a huge part of my life for 25 years. I listened to her second album pretty much daily  when I was a teen, and I passed the first Christmas Eve I ever spent alone listening – tragically – to I Will Always Love You on repeat. So let’s celebrate those amazing songs, and in particular her way with a key change. Some turn their noses up at this forced way of adding drama to the closing parts of a song, but I’m a sucker for them. Here are my top five. 

(And despite the title of this post, there’s no Didn’t We Almost Have it All – that  song rocks back and forth between two keys all the way through, and I’m looking for the classic manoeuvre: a cynical shunt-up at the end that takes the final chorus (or two) to another level).

5. I Wanna Dance With Somebody

It’s a key change that comes out of the blue with no build up, so you could call it a cheaty and reprehensible one. Suddenly the chorus is kicked up the arse! But this is Whitney, and she makes what could feel like an enema sweet and joyful. We dance.

4. All The Man That I Need

Coming out of a (yes!) sax break, Whitney flutters around in the high ranges as she introduces the new key, which on this occasion comes with a FREE GOSPEL CHOIR. This is key-change as ecstatic rapture.

3. I Have Nothing

Absolutely magnificent – Whitney dicks about on the original dominant chord in a HUGE sweep on ‘DON’T… MAKE… ME…’ before launching into ‘CLOSE’ a couple of keys further up. Dramatics.

2. Where Do Broken Hearts Go

A proper gospel key change. Whitney repeats the last line of the bridge: ‘NOW I KNOW… NOW I KNOWWWW’ in the dominant chord of the new key to take us through, and it’s immediately followed by a modified chorus with a couple of heart-stopping pauses. Textbook.

1. One Moment In Time

Whitney’s Olympic moment. Stand aside, The World. In the most dramatic and swooping of bridges she tells us ‘YOU’RE A WINNER! FOR A LIFETIME!’, before her voice carries the modulation over martial drums: attacking the high notes to force the transition, before swooping immediately down by more than an octave to complete it. The chorus blasts in with a parp of heraldic brass. Glitter cannons are fired, tinsel showers fall, and we’re all winners – if not for a lifetime then at least for a minute and a half. God help anyone who attempts this at karaoke (I’ve tried). And pity whoever has to sing this at the Olympic opening ceremony in London this year. Pity us if it’s Jessie J. Whitney deserves better.