30 July 2007

Interval. Interval Time

Nuff said. 'Sometimes selling out is waking up', indeed. And Albini said signing to a major was always bad news...*

* Cue Kerbdog/Wildhearts/Cave In-style bad news.


I appreciate that I am hella late with this one, but bear with me por favor. Supergroup first aired in the UK last summer on VH-1, that wonderful summer of metal, wherein the channel got with the documentaries, talking heads and video countdowns, all on my favourite of genres. It was great. I also got Guitar Hero for the PS2 last summer, so it was a stellar time of kicking out the virtual jams and listening to the oldies on the Death Deck.

Anyway, GH is a topic for another time: today is where I talk about Supergroup, easily the best of that Metal Month, and my favourite ‘reality’ show of them all. I should probably state at this time that I am writing on it now because I missed the grand finale last summer, and it has been repeated this week on VH-1 Classic. The life I lead, eh?

I will happily admit that I am a big fan of eighties rock, referred to by the intellectually challenged as ‘hair metal’ (think about it for a second: every fucking metal band in the eighties had big hair. Even Slayer and Megadeth). As a result, I like Sebastian Bach a great deal, and I support (theoretically) anything he gets involved in. But before I bang on about him, I will mention that I love that gradual reveal at the start of some reality shows: like on The Ultimate Fighter or America’s Next Top Model, when the contenders get selected. UK Supergroup rip-off, Totally Boyband*, had a great reveal: band members turned up blind to a filmed press conference one by one – our reveal was their reveal, though it was less of a revelation to some: New Kids On The Block alumnus Danny Wood amusingly mentioned, ‘before I came on this show I had no idea who I’d be in a band with. Now we’re all here, I still have no idea’). This show had each band member driven up to their Las Vegas mansion and start jamming on the respective instrument.

This approach had mixed success. It was a success for me, obviously, and everyone involved knew guitarist Ted Nugent. I’d imagine everyone recognised Seb Bach, too. Personally, I would have had a hard time identifying Jason ‘Son of John’ Bonham, as I last saw a picture of him in Metal Edge in 1997 (when I was in Vegas, coincidentally enough) and, while I could spot them a mile off, I’m not sure this trad trio knew who either Biohazard bassist/porn dude/Oz actor Evan Seinfeld or Anthrax axeman Scott ‘Not’ Ian were. Anyway, I loved it.

The idea was to stick this lot in a house for twelve days, in which they would hopefully come up with a name, an original song and be tight enough on covers to play a set on the last day. they were initially such an incompatible mix that this did seem like a hell of a job for even seasoned veterans such as these. Along the way, they had to deal with publicists, stylists and other peripheral parties who would get in the way of rocking out.

Rather than critique the show, I figured I would just write about the little events and scenes that stuck out to me; we’ll see how that goes.

One of my favourite scenes of them all came very late in the series, when Bonham was attempting to learn the drum parts to Biohazard’s ‘Punishment’ anthem. He had expressed no small amount of trepidation at learning a song with so many changes (cut him some slack, his day job is playing with Foreigner), but got down to it and acquitted himself well. He is a really good drummer, after all. I fact, one of the most heartening things about the whole programme was the way each member expressed respect for the others: this peaked when Bonham, practicing the tune on his own with the iPod on, suddenly stood up at the kit and screamed along with the ‘I can’t deny reality / As life gets smothered!’ sequence. Also notable was infamously stubborn Nugent rocking the tune at the season-finale concert, as well as hard metal dudes Seinfeld and Ian singing backing vocals for Skid Row classic ‘Youth Gone Wild’. And Nugent playing ‘Punishment’ at the gig. It was all good really.

In fact, Nugent as a whole was a bit of a revelation. Prior to the show I only knew his music from the musical nod Dimebag Darrell gave ‘Cat Scratch Fever’ on that live Pantera album, and had the ranch living old school rocker pegged as a hunting/rifle right wing survivalist nut. And he pretty much is (well, I wouldn’t go as far as to call him survivalist), but I dunno; I can respect his forceful personality on an individual basis. He is a man who knows his mind and is unafraid of standing up for what he believes in. He had a ton of respect for his less famous Supergroup band-mates, became a surrogate father for Bach, and showed great respect for native Americans and various deities. Sure, he also seemed more than a tad sexist, and I wouldn’t particularly get on with him, but he came across as far more of a well-rounded person than I originally gave him credit for. I actually want to get his first album now, too, as ‘Stranglehold’s guitar parts were pretty engaging.

Scott Ian was pretty damn cool, as I figured he would be. He said one really funny thing, but I sadly cannot remember that right now. Hopefully it’ll come in time. Anyway, he represented something of a new school on the show, which is odd considering anthrax was about in the early eighties, but they were more progressive than any other thrash band. He is from New York, too, which I figured would lend a touch of bonhomie with Evan Seinfeld. In reality, viewers heard more about how Ian looked up to the Nuge when he was a kid, but that general element of modernity was a blessing in the face of so much of an old guard atmosphere.

Seinfeld himself was my second favourite player on the show. I have always had a soft spot for Biohazard (I even prefer them to Sick Of It All, and tunes like ‘Punishment’, ‘Authority’ and ‘A Lot to Learn’ (great video featuring what seems to be Richard ‘Jaws’ Kiel, for which the song was actually edited to be longer than the album version) are total bangers), and Seinfeld seems like a cool bloke. In fact, he seems to be something of a renaissance man, as he makes (presumably) way more money working with porn star wife Tera Patrick (SFW) than he ever did in Biohazard. Anyway, he’s got that combination of short chunkiness and slightly funny voice (and I mean before his vocal chord issues, so I’m not going poor taste or anything) that just seem really endearing to me. That and he really looked out for Seb in terms of dealing with band manager (and ex Bon Jovi/Skid Row svengali) Doc McGhee.

What was slightly odd was seeing the members of Anthrax and Biohazard in action. Now, I’m well aware that those bands are hardly Genghis Tron or Converge in terms of modernity, but the song Damnocracy came out with was very old fashioned in sound. I can understand that from Bonham, Nugent or Bach, but Biohazard sounded more modern than ‘Take it Back’ when they started. Even Doc McGhee said it sounded like it was from 1982. Maybe old age (and sex with a porn star) has turned Seinfeld into an old fashioned kind of guy. I have to admit, though, he has an ear for a tune, and the Ozzy-influenced melodies he was humming to Seb were really quite affecting. It’s just a shame Bach didn’t heed the advice to slur down at the end of lines.

I fully appreciate this is a thousand and a half words of rambling, but I don’t care; this was a fantastic show that I would definitely buy if it ever came out on DVD; especially if it came with the full, season-ending, gig as a bonus. I loved pretty much all the main characters involved, there were some moments of real emotional impact (Bach’s drinking as a coping mechanism with his father’s death, and the ‘adoption’ by Nugent of him), the pace never dropped nor did the rock star antics ever get old, and I just love pretty much anything to do with rock music. Proper rock music, that is.

I suppose I should write something of a ‘what are they up to now?’ thing, seeing as this was all filmed in early 2006. Well, Damnocracy (I really do prefer the more amusing Chesty Puller as a moniker) has a MySpace page, though sadly nothing much seems to have happened in the last year or so. Anthrax has reunited with old singer Joey Belladonna, which sucks as his replacement, John Bush, was great (indeed, the Anthrax song covered in the Damnocracy gig was ‘Only’, from the John Bush era). Seb Bach, seeing as he was fired from his own band, which has been touring with some sucker on vocals, has released a solo album produced by Roy Z. I really want to listen to that, actually, as Roy Z is a great invigorator of old rock souls, as can be evinced by his complete creative renaissance of Bruce Dickinson in the late nineties. Seriously, he’s like Rick Rubin, but for real instead of beig a charlatan. I presume Nugent is still shooting stuff and eating steak, while Seinfeld is shooting his wife and… eating… her (I’m sorry, I really am). I guess Bonham is still touring with Foreigner, but I don’t want to know, to be honest.

And I guess that’s that, other than to say, as soon as I get my turntable in, I’m getting the early Nugent and Skid Row albums in. And nobody is going to be able to stop me! I won’t go as far as to grow my hair, though, not again…

* Weirdly, the Viacom Ouroboros is about to air a Totally Boyband offshoot for America, Mission: Man Band. Considering it features someone from Color Me Badd, I think it will be essential viewing. Also, gotta love the ‘related product’ shill being an LFO album on Warp (for those unaware, there was an American ‘LFO’, a.k.a. Lyte Funky Ones).

26 July 2007

The Wildhearts - Fishing for Luckies

Round Records, 1996

Pretty much every circumstance surrounding this album suggests that it shouldn’t be much cop: released on the bands own Round Records label in late 1996 after they acrimoniously split from East/West, I bought it as a cut out for a fiver back when Way Ahead was still a music shop. It’s technically not a proper album; the sleeve-notes suggest listeners take it more as bric-a-brac of various songs written in various years and then collated. Instead, it’s the best thing they ever did, probably will ever do, and I would rate it above all but one or two British rock albums of the nineties.

Funnily enough it is that almost random feel to the collection that really appeals. I would say the pressure was off for this one but, as most of it was written at the same time as P.H.U.Q., that’s not strictly true. Nevertheless, this album represents a melting pot of ideas, both the most minimal and epic the band ever had. Some of the ideas work better than others, but it is rarely less than utterly compelling.

Further, this is also the album that opened my eyes to what an amazing musical mind Ginger was, and is still. Before I deal with the music, though, it’s best to clarify which version of the album I have, and am reviewing. It is not the original six song version that was released to fan club members. It’s not Fishing for More Luckies that their stupid record label sneaked out after P.H.U.Q. was such a surprising success: that version had nine songs.

My version was released in late 1996 on the aforementioned Round Records label. It differs from the original in quite a big way, actually. The four epic songs (between seven and eleven minutes in length) that form the heart of the album remain, with all other tracks completely changed, to a total of ten. Coincidentally, the inclusion of so many short, noisy songs to contrast with the epics is similar to Mike Patton’s contribution to the next years Faith No More album, in that he added a bunch of two minute noisy songs to what he thought was otherwise a bit of a grand rock album. More on that when I do my planned 1997 countdown anyway.

So, on this album, the originals are ‘Inglorious’, ‘Schitzophonic’, ‘Do the Channel Bop’ and ‘Sky Babies’. Added are hit singles ‘Sick of Drugs’ and ‘Red Light, Green Light’, as well as the thrashy punk rock songs ‘Soul Searching on Planet Earth’, ‘In Like Flynn’ and ‘Moodswings and Roundabouts’. The album culminates with the brief, lullaby-like, ‘Nite Songs’ followed by half an hour of a looped few seconds of laughter. I think I listened to the latter once all the way through. In fact, that is similar to the half-hour loop Brutal Truth attached to their grindcore classic Sounds of the Animal Kingdom, again the next year.

As I mentioned in the P.H.U.Q. review, the older songs on here were intended by the band to be part of a double CD release in 1995. Perhaps it was fortunate this was not the case. For a start, it means I get two great albums, but the inclusion of these insane epics would have aggravated what I see as an almost subconscious (Freudian) streak in Ginger to alienate the masses. On one hand he offers catchiness and anthems galore, and on the other he mixes in the kinds of noises and song fragments that would alienate the Oasis/Blur fan of the time. As we’ll see when I get to Endless, Nameless, this issue was to be infinitely emphasised the next year.

So the real meat of this album comes in the form of the four epics, cornerstones that are permanent through every issue of this title. Opener ‘Inglorious’ sets the tone for what will form the majority of the album (this quartet of songs account for over thirty-five minutes of the albums fifty-one minutes). I bought this about a month after I got Neurosis’s Through Silver in Blood and was quite taken aback by the similarities. When I stuck this disc in the CD player, the full CD length for ten songs struck me as odd from what was apparently a ‘Britrock’ band (think Skunk Anansie, Feeder, early Terrorvision et al). It transpired that twenty minutes or so was the then-usual ‘let’s fill the disc’ japery, but the songs that were long were true sonic adventures.

In fact I don’t limit the parallel to Neurosis either. 1996 was pretty cool for bands stretching their creative legs and seeing what could be done: the year was notable for career best records from not just Neurosis, but also Tool and Type O Negative, as well as epics from Swans, Burzum and Godflesh. There must have been something in the water that year. Anyway, ‘Inglorious’, while long, ushers listeners into the record in an un-frightening enough manner. In what is definitely a departure for the band, they decide to write the song as an epic thrash piece, from the quasi-classical, clean picked intro, to the staccato build, to the eventual shred-fest to close. All that’s missing is the extended soloing one might expect from such a song, but this – as well as the performance itself – is where the fact The Wildhearts is a punk rock band has influence.

And it’s brilliant, as the tempo builds and builds over the course of the song. The one point where the speed drops – when it has already reached breaking point – is one of those momentary breathers, effectively dropping you into the freefall of a cliff jump, where all concerned collect their thoughts before catching you and hurling you back into the maelstrom of riffage (with even an eight bar tribute to the excellent ‘Mouth for War’ by Pantera). To say it is energising would be an understatement, as it’s a pretty wild seven minutes.

The next semi-epic, still only seven-ish minutes, is the far sweeter ‘Schitzophonic’*, which ploughs an altogether far more pop-orientated furrow: the common-tone modulation in the first verse sounds in 2007 as almost a precursor to the excellent chorus of Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella’. Like ‘Inglorious’, this is an epic take on a traditional rock form – in this case power pop. While it is inordinately well-composed, and does enter into epic sounds as the song enters an aural ‘arena’ (sadly lacking overdub crowd noise) the guitars slowing to emphasise the epic stature of what’s going on, the title echoing while the riffs curlicue up again like swirls of smoke, the band is still on the launching pad; still on Earth.

The ambition grows with ‘Do the Channel Bop’, which is almost too absurdly good to be true. It begins, weirdly enough, with a portion of singing that actually sounds like a really good Liam Gallagher impression. At the time I chalked it up to bitter satire, but on further thought I realised it was originally released in early 1994 – before Definitely Maybe was even out. Maybe it was just a coincidence, then, but the similarity is eerie.

The track stops being the best Oasis song ever a couple of minutes in: at this stage, the boys from Manchester would just repeat things a bit and then leave the studio in order to ‘ave it. The South Shields boys, on the other hand, sent their song into orbit. And this isn’t even the song about space. One little touch I like, which really emphasises the sense of size on this record, is the chorus that sounds like the whole world’s singing on it, or at least a bunch of kids. The massed vocals motif continues when the song takes its aforementioned leap into zero gravity when wordless singing punctuates slo-mo synth jumps up the register that crescendo with switches to staccato guitar.

Despite the excellence on show earlier in the album, it is only on ‘Sky Babies’ where the listener becomes privy to the enormity of Ginger’s talent – and boldness. The track again starts life as a regular, albeit really good, rock song (though the intro, with various voices talking in as many languages, hints at greater ambition), and goes through the stage-after-stage format of the lengthy preceding songs.

However, after the rate of changes that would fit Metallica’s …And Justice for All set, including a thrilling, Coalesce-esque, segment of tech-riffing, Ginger sees fit to launch the song into the stratosphere, as it goes quite Floydy. The rhythm guitars are jettisoned from the mix like a brace of solid rocket boosters, as a slow, spacey, lead guitar line is accompanied by throbbing synths. The track alternated between such floaty concern and more earthy melody, as Ginger’s verbal rumination switches from a dreamy self awareness:

Back on my planet you cannot tell lies
'Cos everyone can see it by the look in your eye
Parties all last for a couple of days
No one sleeps 'cos beds are prohibited

…through sci-fi fantasy:

…Look into those eyes, it comes as no surprise
‘It's little more than science fiction’, the government replies
They could be taking our daughters, they could be taking our ladies
Making sky babies

…before a scintillating syncopated staccato** segment in which guitar pick strokes and vocal syllables/joint tokes synchronise as paranoia hits full flow:

This is it in layman's terms, phenomenon of UFOs
Is well acknowledged by the state but secret to the president
Employed to be a public face and keep the public feeling safe
But higher powers in government hide something a million times
The size of the killing of JFK, the CIA are aware that higher
Powers exist with untold knowledge of life and death dimension
It could alter public awareness of religion, which is the only faith
That keeps us all in true control, and that's why we can never know

With that off his chest, Ginger heads back on foot to Hookville, playing us out with the minutes-long sequence of adventurous desire that alternates each new line with the mantra of a ‘take me with you when you go’ refrain. I’m partly gutted that the song fades after all that, but am also fully aware that if it didn’t, each new segment would be followed by another. It’s a truly awesome piece of work.

The more traditional Wildies fare comes in the form of hit single tag team ‘Sick of Drugs’ and ‘Red Light-Green Light’, while punky speedcore is the name of the game for the invigorating, breakneck ‘Moodswings and Roundabouts’ and ‘Soul Searching On The Planet Earth (Different Kind Of Love)’ (longest title for the shortest track).

‘In Like Flynn’ alternates between punk rock angst and jaded cynico-grind: ‘back in '89, they said "You'll be fine / Just suck a little dick…” Why the hell did they wanna sign me? / I'm a liability / Goodbye East-West, God bless…’ It’s a generally aggressive coke high of boasts and firing shots off at their old label - ‘In our souls (arseholes) we trusted’. The album is rounded out by the aforementioned lullaby of ‘Nite Songs’ and, the more I think on it, the more convinced I am that it is the finest British rock album of the last decade and a half. If you’re a rock fan who hasn’t heard this, you owe it to yourself to get that remedied.

* I am aware the prefix ‘schizo-’ usually omits the ‘t’ found here. I am equally aware, though, that ‘schizophonic’ isn’t actually a word, and is therefore not misspelled.

** Oxymoron?

24 July 2007

The Wire: The Journey Begins...

So, after aeons of waiting, the time finally arrived. The 'time' in question was, of course, the temporal point at which I would start, at long last, being a viewer of that near-mythical beast, the most lavishly praised television show in the history of idiots like me staring blankly at cathode ray, plasma and LCD screens: The Wire. Well, the title of this post kind of pre-emptively sucked any suspense out of that little passage, didn't it?

Yes. As the above button with Brasseye, Seinfeld, Lost and Our Friends in the North will attest with just a solitary click, I am a viewer of much television. Being also a reader of the thoughts of other people about television, I couldn't help but notice the one show whose mind-boggling level of praise made the worlds critical appraisal of The Sopranos look like it was the return of Heil Honey I'm Home. Quite apart from every message board banging on about how great it is, the esteemed Charlie Brooker has gone on at length, repeatedly about how it is literally the best TV show ever. He even made a programme for Fox in which he knocked about for a bit in Baltimore talking to people about it.

Thankfully that Fox programme meant the FX channel was going to air the first four seasons, episode by episode, every week until it was done. Now, despite warnings that season 1 apparently wasn't that good, and the above-linked article comparing the show to a novel in its slow build, don't-expect-anything-life-changing-instantly formula, I warmed to it instantly.

That could possibly be due to a level of self-fulfilling prophecy, the massive hype and self assurance that I would love it leading me to love it. It could also be because I was expecting something slow and gradual because of the aforementioned warnings. I think that, partly due to my status of wannabe writer, I can be impressed with a programme that isn't overtly dramatic or ostensibly impressive from the beginning. I love the atmosphere of the show thus far, I can see the seeds of grand narrative (of which, due to contientious spoiler evasion, I am currently blissfully unaware) being sown*, and I very much dig the realistic, compelling characters and dialogue.

I won't go as far as to say its greatness makes the likes of Dexter unwatchable, but that may partly be down to my having seen more episodes of the latter thus far. I can certainly see how the Baltimore-set show massively trumps its Miami relation (they're both on FX in the UK, all right?) in terms of police department scenes and officer interaction. Obviously The Wire lacks any protagonists as obvious as a serial killer who works for the police (as far as I know~!~!~!), so any straight comparison right now is moot. I am incredibly excited, though, and might just pick the DVDs up. Or watch my seasons one and two of Homicide: Life on the Streets (David Simon created them both, see) in anticipation. I just wanted to mark the start of my Wire voyage, really.

I have a good feeling about this...

* And how grand it blatantly is!

20 July 2007

…And you Don’t Stop

As is usually the case with yours truly, I have set off on another journey of musical discovery and rediscovery. Worry not (or simply worry), as I have not abandoned either the long-dormant 2005 project, nor the impending 2006-07 telly project, let alone the sort of impending 1997 reminiscy-fest. Anyway, this one is based around the wonderful world of early nineties (and very late eighties) hiphop.

I have had a taste for the stuff ever since getting into Cypress Hill as a teen, arguably even when friends cooler than I showed me NWA tapes when I was nine (sadly I can’t really count the latter as my being a big fan, even if the Public Enemy ‘target’ symbol was emblazoned on the back covers of a number of my school books.

I like rap of all ages, natch, but the early nineties really appeals to me. Perhaps this is due to a misplaced romanticism of my youth in a middle school of massively varied ethnic make-up, of taping Tribe Called Quest and PM Dawn songs off the radio, and of when The Fresh Prince of Bel Air was actually good. Well, it’s probably entirely due to that, and my twin fixation with the media generated image of South Central LA, perpetrated through the likes of Boyz N The Hood, New Jack City, Death Row records and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (which in reality I neither would nor could endure), and my never-ending general California obsession.

Partly due to summer allegedly in authority for its quarter-year, and partly due to another ridiculous message board poll, I have decided to fill in the gaps in my period rap knowledge that are so large as to represent a void, with the actual artefacts of familiarity representing mere molecules of matter that are being sucked into my black hole of awareness. So I thought I might scribble some random thoughts as I go.

We all know about Wu Tang, Cypress Hill, Public Enemy, N.W.A. (and offshoots) and Illmatic. We should know at the very least of the biggest of the ‘cult hits’, such as Eric B & Rakim, EPMD, Ultramagnetic MCs, De la Soul and Gang Starr. The ever-excellent Woebot wrote a great post about some of the lesser-known albums, and this newly-discovered-by-me blog, When They Reminisce, is full of gems and nice writing too.

The big discovery for me thus far has been Ice Cube’s solo breakthrough album AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. I remember being aware of this when it came out, but I didn’t listen to it when I was ten. And for some reason, I decided I didn’t think much to Cube in general. Maybe I was being unduly influenced by the D.R.E and Cypress Hill, both of whom have had words to say. That and the majority of what I have seen of his film resume (Boyz… excepted, natch). Anyway, this was pretty damn good, a surprisingly intellectual example of what would turn into the bloated, posturing gangsta movement. Judging from her guest spot, I want to get some Yo-Yo in.

I’ve liked what bits I’ve heard of Ice T for a while, but I was recently recommended his Home Invasion set (Crazy Overlord holla!), and I am digging it greatly. I love how he comes at the gangsta angle from a rather arch perspective because it means he can go all-out. The problem with a lot of gangsta rappers trying to seem legit is that they end up blustery and sweary, but with no cool tales to tell. As far as I’m concerned, this particular avenue of rap is all about the characters – and nobody works a gimmick like Ice motherfucking T. His enunciation is also really good: I know this was an era in which perspicacity was prized, and the rappers had the verbal skills lacking from the likes of Diddy and Fiddy, but man alive – T might not have the smoothest flow, but he is on an almost Chuck D level of clarity.

Anyway, I’ll hopefully post thoughts as I go, rather than have this be an obsessive-compulsive treatise on my thoughts about everything I ever listen to. Before I finish, though, Masta Ace is excellent, The Low End Theory is way better than I even thought it was, and Six Feet Deep: better than …36 Chambers? Oooh.

UFC 73 postscript

A few things have come to light since the ‘publication’ of my UFC 73 post, so herein are those aforementioned things.

First off is the detail that I blanked on (and an ever-present issue when a writer gets cocky enough to work off fighter records in his memory as opposed to, you know, actual factual stuff you might get on FC Fighter’s database. Yes, Mirko Filipovic started in the UFC with a win over Eddie Sanchez on the same show Rampage Jackson debuted and not, as I erroneously stated, with the loss that came next against Gabriel Gonzaga in Manchester. And rather than try any ‘whatevz’ face saving, I will cop to that being an embarrassing error, especially as I saw the fight at the time. Mirko entered to the boss Pride FC theme tune and everything. Both thanks and no thanks, then, to my man Dave Walsh.

Of more import to the actual world of MMA is the recent revelation that both participants in the recent lightweight title fight, champion Sean Sherk and challenger Hermes Franca, tested positive for steroids. Given that the show ran in California (off the top of my head!), and they are very strict in their jurisdiction over the state’s recently regulated sport, this was hyper foolish. It should be assumed that, if one is fighting a title bout, one will be subjected to the wee-wee test, so I have no sympathy for either man. No, not even for the hyper-sympathetic Franca, who at least came clean in advance, so kudos for that.

Sherk is apparently going to challenge the finding. Good luck with that.

As the California State Athletic Commission rules dictate, both fighters are subject to a ban of a year and $2500. While this doesn’t really affect a fighter like Royce Gracie, who also tested positive recently and is hella rich and, by his own admission, only fights once a year anyway, this has big repercussions for the fighters and the UFC as a whole. Someone like Franca, who fights regularly and, one imagines, for low five figures if that (more mid four figures), is in a lot of trouble because of this. Unless he gets a lot of sponsor support, he’s getting a day job.

The Sherk issue is another tough one. He gets paid more than Franca and is (was?) one of UFC President Dana White’s golden boys. One would hope this strips him of the belt: if not for the Nandrolone positive, it stands to reason that the not-fighting-for-a-year deal would get him stripped. Then again, he was recently injured for the best part of a year and retained the belt for the duration so Jebus only knows. A year of inactivity is enough for me to remove someone from my personal fighter rankings so, if it’s good enough for me, it should surely be good enough for company owners Zuffa.

So what now for the division? Well, it’s safe to say the lightweights in UFC haven’t had the best of it as a division, what with Jens Pulver walking on a pay dispute, high profile matches ending in draws and the division not even existing for the longest time; I warned in my earlier post that Sherk’s reign could spell another death of the division, but I didn’t realise that would manifest in such a heinous manner.

Obviously it would be poor form for UFC to ditch the division again, especially as the last Ultimate Fighter series was all-lightweight, they are pushing Roger Huerta as far as he can go, and the commentators bang incessantly on about how exciting these fighters are. So what now?

I think, without wanting to delve too far into the murky depths of fantasy booking, a mini-tournament would be the best idea: have maybe four first round fights on one show, with semis and final on later shows. That way, whomever wins would have had decent exposure, and would be more qualified than Sherk was when he won the title, with his one fight in the division. The silver lining would be Sherk not being the champ any more. I know, I’m horrible.

16 July 2007

Dana's Next Top Model

In the fifth cycle of Dana White’s Next Top Model, we lucky viewers were privy to all sorts of entertainment. From impromptu haircuts, worries of expanding waist-lines, fear about contestants’ lack of height and talk of colonic irrigation to catfights in the garden and contestants hiding each others bedding, this season of DWNTM had it all!

Perhaps I am overreacting a tad, but the parallels are most definitely there: both TUF and the …NTM franchises feature egoists with varying degrees of talent competing for that infinitely important contract (less so for TUF, from which even middling performers find at least temporary future employment with UFC), being whittled slowly away, week after week, with the obligatory teary farewell (I hope and pray that TUF6 features the weepy letter-to-remaining-contestants idea), while professionals appear to help their charges but actually undermine them whenever possible. I eagerly await seeing TUF contestants in their pink nightdresses shriek with excitement upon finding that days Dana Mail. Perhaps I have revealed too much.

To the matter at hand, though, that matter being the recently aired Ultimate Fighter 5 programme, which was of course the most controversial yet! Well, it pretty much had to be after TUF 4 sang sad songs of declining viewer-ship amid such changes as the ditching of team coachers and the inherent rivalry stemming from bickering authority figures.

Thankfully on the latter count, the ultimate in bickering rivalry was at hand with the duo of ‘The Prodigy’ BJ Penn and Jens ‘Little Evil’ Pulver. I was a big fan of the Ortiz-Ken Shamrock feud, before it came time for them to actually fight, with its pool sharkery and general tetchiness, but this season was something else entirely. See, the subtext of TUF 3 was Ken desiring revenge following his massive (blood) loss to Ortiz at UFC 42. As that particular revenge was never going to happen, that narrative strand was somewhat moot. TUF 5 cast Penn as the would-be avenger, which was eminently possible, probable and, some would have argued pre-Upset Year, inevitable.

Underpinning the coach based battling, of course catalysed by that opening moment when Penn asked for a show of hands as to who wanted to be on his team – nearly everybody – was the cast of drunken, violent, borderline deranged gluttons. Needless to say, it was completely fantastic viewing.

I suppose the issue of Gabe Ruediger has to be addressed at some point, so here are my thoughts: He’s technically smart, but also an idiot. I hated the way he strove to have an answer for everything, whether he was talking to Wiman, DeSouza or even when Dana dismissed him. His inability to make weight was a sad state of affairs. If I was ever picked for a competition such as this (heaven forefend), I’d be so desperate to make weight that I would walk into the house at 154, just to be on the safe side. I figured he’d be one to avoid after he said he liked mind games. Unless you’re really, really intelligent, don’t go down that cul-de-sac or you’ll look like a self-important twonk.

And, as predicted, he failed; these mind games revolved around either implying his rivals were gay, or that he was. Great stuff, Cerebro. What’s really sad is that, given this is a house of fighters, such low grade japery actually has an effect. Other ‘it’s OK, they’re fighters’ stuff was the insane controversy caused by someone (Emerson?) crayoning ‘Team Pulver Sux!’ on the wall. Normally I hate the kind of people who think it’s wise to rip their tops off and start flexing when ready for a fight to kick off, but I think Nate Diaz is great so he’s let off. Ditto that being of pure anger, Manny Gamburyan. If it was Team Penn, though, my words of derision would have been harsh and plentiful.

That is not to say I don’t like Penn: quite the opposite, as I was cheering him on during the TUF 5 finale. I just felt sorry for Pulver since that opening episode popularity contest. I didn’t always agree with Jens and his coaching strategies, it has to be said. When Nate Diaz wanted to train a bit with Team Penn prior to his battle with fellow Team Pulver member Corey Hill, Pulver looked to feel as though a dagger had been plunged into his heart. I thought it perfectly understandable that Diaz didn’t want to train with his next opponent. That said, it’s not as if they hadn’t been training together for weeks anyway (would an extra couple of days be tantamount to divulging personal secrets?)… and on top of his Penn training, he still trained with Team Pulver, so… it’s all a tad moot really.

Speaking of Hill, I found the gangly MMA neophyte to be by far and away the most compelling character on the show. I think it was episode three that focused on the man, and it was the most entertaining period of the programme that didn’t directly involve fighting.

I loved the fact that he had no idea who Jeremy Horn was, even though – as an MMA fan – I should have been appalled at such a lack of respect for da bidneth. I loved the fact that he soaked up new knowledge like a sponge, to the extent that he took an off-the-cuff remark from Horn about the guard being ‘your home; your zone’ and turned it into a mantra, chanting ‘this is my home! This is my zone! Nobody comes in my zone or my home!’ – all the while walking with knees and elbows touching like a fantastic, giant BJJ crab. Needless to say I was dying to see him fight, if overflowing with trepidation at such an experience-lacking fighter being thrown in with relative veterans. With Ruediger eating his way off the show, Hill fought Emerson.

Corey ‘Buddy Rowe’ Hill vs. Rob ‘Rob Emerson’ Emerson was a bit of a dud fight, all things considered; especially for someone like me who was dying to see Corey finally fight. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t expect Corey to come away with the victory after the two pecked at each other for the duration, but then again I didn’t expect anyone to win it. I thought maybe the judges would elect to have massive tubes placed over both fighters that sucked them out of the building and deposited them in a desert with Jeremy Jackson and Bobby Southworth.

I couldn’t really tell, nor did I care, who should have won the fight, but Emerson seemed to throw some effective leg kicks while Hill flailed away a bit. Hill seemed to be the kind of fighter who would be unstoppable if he knew what he was doing. Like maybe if he trained with Anderson Silva for a while and learned about the Thai clinch. Hopefully he takes Jeremy Horn’s advice (now he knows who Horn is) and trains with ‘Gumby’.

I reckon maybe the judges looked for external criteria when awarding this fight to Hill. Like the fact that Emerson had already tasted defeat at the hands of Nathan Diaz and still lacked any kind of fire in this second chance bout. Maybe they were as entertained as the rest of us at Corey’s training rages and ‘nobody comes in my zone or my home!’ walking-guard mantra; Corey equalling more ratings than Emerson equals Corey staying in the competition. I was just glad he was on the same team as Manny, as that Armenian bruiser would be a nightmare for Hill in a fight. Maybe something like Sergei Kharitonov’s pulverisation of Semmy Schilt, but on fast forward.

On the same episode was Joe Lauzon eviscerating one of the random blokes who don’t get much camera time. Mike… Mark… Jim… Geraghty? He seemed to have a smart mouth that rather endeared. Sadly for Geraghty, he was – as we say in Streetfighter-playing circles – perfected. He got taken down, drubbed a bit down there, and got back to his feet, where Lauzon literally pounced on him and choked him out with a sleeper that was applied like it was a real pro-wrestling match. It was amazing stuff and, if you add that to how he mashed Pulver, I figured Lauzon a (the) favourite to win the whole thing.

Which, I suppose, brings us to one Manvel Gamburyan. Despite what Dana said, I always had faith in him; steamrolling one’s first opponent will do that for you. He was just so compact and aggressive with enough skill to make those attributes work massively in his favour that I didn’t see how anyone could be against him. When he won his initial fight, over Noah Thomas, I felt slightly sceptical about what a win over Thomas means in the grand scheme of things; the manner in which he did so, though, was a statement of breathtaking persuasion that was hard to argue with.

As the rounds progressed, wheat duly sorted from chaff, the questions remained: even Dana White repeatedly claimed the stout Armenian was too small to make it past each respective round. While he was indeed short, such a compact build, allied with his respectable skills, made it hard to imagine who would beat him any time soon, and how they would do so. As it turned out, nobody had the answer, as he overpowered and sucked the fight from favourites like Matt Wiman and Joe Lauzon.

…Which brings us neatly to one Nathan Diaz. I have to admit I rooted slightly for him from the beginning due to his being the younger brother of the ever-entertaining Nick Diaz, who has vanquished the likes of Robbie Lawler and Takanori Gomi but remains his own worst enemy. Nate seems to be equally self destructive in his genius. I usually hate people who try fighting others outside an official fighting framework, but I didn’t mind his topless chest beating post-Graffitigate. I also thought his attempt to goad Cole into fighting him, mere tele-visual weeks after the mass cull caused by the sword of Danacles, was both incredibly brave and so dumb that it crossed the line into demented brilliance. Like the musical career of OPM, then. And that’s not to mention his bizarrely-conceived beef with Karo ‘do these people not know I can destroy them?’ Parisyan, which would probably have involved some level of Parisyan grabbing Diaz by his lapels and throwing him onto his own head. Then possibly following with an eye socket lock that has a cool Japanese name.

Long story short, Diaz’s skills were sufficiently bill-paying, and he made it to the final by overcoming Emerson ‘Emerson’ Emerson, the aforementioned Hill*, and made it into the finale by besting a very game Gray Maynard. In fact, as tele-visually uninteresting as Maynard was, he had the better of their fight until a quick choke forced him to tap.

So when Manny met Nate in the Ultimate Fighter 5 Finale, viewers were pretty much treated to the two most impressive fighters of the tournament (aside from Joe Lauzon, naturally, who I would be hard pressed to bet against in his future fights). In keeping with the motif of the season, hyper-motivated dynamo Gamburyan had the best showing of the first stanza. However, in keeping with the other motif of the season, Diaz snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, albeit unintentionally, when Gamburyan’s shoulder suffered from what was later revealed to be a nagging injury.

A tragic end for Manny, then, whose ‘winning is my destiny’ intensity reminded of Diego Sanchez before everybody stopped liking the latter fighter. Hopefully he can heal up properly at some point, as his star should shine brightly. As for Diaz, there probably couldn’t be a more fitting winner. His combination of skills and divisive attitude mark him out as a potential lightweight Tito Ortiz, but with teeth. And a human-sized head. Meanwhile, Maynard and Lauzon performed well enough that they probably have a well-paid future lying underneath Sean Sherk for twenty five minutes soon enough (and knocking oneself out on a takedown is unlikely to hinder that, so the controversy surrounding Maynard-Emerson is neither here nor there in the big picture).

And so ended another season of TUF (with Penn returning to magnificently winning ways, lest we forget), with yet another on the horizon. Many have expressed their weariness at the constant grind of: house of fighters; they get annoyed; they fight in tournament format; someone gets prematurely kicked off; there is a finale. While there is definitely something of a template here, I have to admit that a bunch of jerks beating each other up every week is guaranteed to get me viewing with almost no potential downside. Here’s hoping the welterweights don’t let the side down then.

* It is a shame that after his first big episode the producers decided to look away from Hill for so long; he was incredibly compelling viewing, and his growth in skill would have likely had something of an Educating Rita/Pygmalion effect in the viewing. I cannot believe the 'this is my home and this is my zone' and 'Buddy Rowe shouts at Corey Hill' were the only bits of bizarre behaviour he exhibited.
I'm actually divided on him, coincidentally enough.

The proud MMA fan in me is glad he lost, because he was new to the sport and I wanted someone who lived and breathed MMA to win, someone who knew who Jeremy Horn is. On the other hand, I was well pleased to see such improvement in his performance, and the willingness to step in there with a proven fighter like Diaz. While the best fighter won in that case, I cannot wait to see what Corey does from here; his short bursts of ground and pound suggest he has an inherent aptitude (are there any other types of aptitude?) for MMA. I just hope the UFC does not keep looking away from Hill now the season is over.

12 July 2007

UFC 73: 'Stacked'

I shall endeavour not to get carried away with the mind-blowing stackedness of this card, despite Mike Goldberg’s grand proclamation that this is the finest card of fights ever formulated; my effort will be made retroactively easier by the actual broadcast PPV belying the paper quality of the show.

Still, viewers were treated to two title fights (a mixed blessing if ever there was one), a grudge match between two stars, the debut of an elite heavyweight fighter and even a freebie lightweight match. As a Bravo viewer, ergo one who didn’t pay PPV rates, this was actually quite the show. Not the best this year or anything (I terms of sheer thrills, that last Pride USA show is still king), but it was the finest Zuffa show in some time.

I had a very grave fear as this show approached: as big name and exciting as it ostensibly was, there was always the very real danger, with the three top matches featuring effective MMA wrestlers, of a touch of lay and pray. With two of those matches being five-rounders, that danger was profound indeed. But before we get into those, there was the little matter of a debuting Nogeira.

Antonio Rodrigo (shame on Buffer for the mispronunciation, and on Rogan for skipping the surname altogether) Nogueira is a fighter who fills me with massive concern. While he is indubitably one of the finest heavyweights this young sport has yet seen, his strategy seems to involve wading into enemy fire until he finds a way to win; this is a strategy that is visibly taking its toll on the man.

Against grapplers like Kiyoshi Tamura this was no problem, as he simply dominated them on the ground. Sadly, his career has not been filled with Tamura-level fighters, so he has endured lengthy assaults from Mirko Filipovic and Bob Sapp before finally overcoming them, not to mention the unreal ground and pound from Fedor Emelianenko, of the brutal kind there is no heroic rallying from.

This nearly came to a frightening head at UFC 73 in the closing moments of the first round of his fight with Heath Herring, a man he has twice comfortably defeated. That high kick thrown by Herring, which downed Nogueira like few shots have, seemed to be enough for Herring to steal a round Nogueira had handily won until then. Fair enough, as Heath was closer to finishing than Nogueira had been.

What the ‘Texas Crazy Horse’ will no doubt be ruing, though, is his inability to finish a clearly imperilled Nogueira, instead trying to wave the ex-Brazilian Top Team totem to his feet, thereby killing both time and his chance at a massive upset. (Indeed, Herring should have thrown caution to the wind at this stage; a win over Brad Imes will only buy so many lunches.)

With round one in the record books, and Nogueira slowly collecting his faculties, the flow of the fight ebbed irrevocably back in the favour of the former Pride FC heavyweight champion. Nogueira predictably enjoyed the best of the ground action, though it is to Herring’s credit that the Texan wasn’t as open to submissions as last time they fought, which ended with a glorious anaconda choke. By the end of the fight, Nogueira’s cleaner boxing style and majority of the offence meant he would be spared the indignity of the UFC debut loss that has haunted such names as Herring and Filipovic.

Sean Sherk is an incredible athlete. He maintains a sublime body in that it is incredibly thickly muscled but manages to avoid tiring over the five round course of a twenty-five minute fight. Joe Rogan commented that he was the epitome of a champion, an assertion with which, his hard work and high skill level accepted, I will have to disagree quite vehemently.

The main reason why I cannot agree with Sherk epitomising the MMA champion is because I see little inspiring in him, and I firmly believe a champion (certainly the epitome thereof) should be as much about inspiration as dogged perspiration. With that in mind it is hard for this fan to be inspired by a fighter who actually seems intent on working for a decision over a stoppage.

I’m not saying Sherk is lazy in the slightest, nor am I disparaging Hermes Franca. Franca, a representative of the last time UFC had a lightweight division through his battles with the likes of Caol Uno and Yves Edwards, and vanquisher of TUF 5 alumni Gabe Ruediger and Nate Diaz (I suppose Gabe isn’t technically an alumnus due to getting kicked off the show early) seemed a pretty logical opponent for Sherk. He was certainly more qualified as a lightweight than either Florian or, indeed, Sherk were when they challenged for the belt originally.

No, Sherk’s performance was near-constant domination of a very good lightweight veteran; a masterclass in technique and stamina. But for every easy takedown Sherk won, and for every time he passed Franca’s guard like a hot muscle shark through butter, I couldn’t help wondering why the stoppage neither arrived nor even looked like doing so. As outclassed as Franca was, I never actually feared for his safety of consciousness.

Sean Sherk used to be routinely referred to as a smaller Matt Hughes, but that is hard to believe. Against even top notch opponents like Penn, St. Pierre and Trigg, his wins have come inside the distance. While Sherk has the same stoppage rate at Hughes (seven out of their last ten wins), Sherk’s wins over high quality opposition – Diaz, Florian and now Franca – have been awarded by the judges. It is frustrating as a viewer to see a man so eminently skilled, so strong both of sinew and will, so unable to stop his opponents in the big show.

Rogan expressed his amazement at Sherk’s brilliance during the fight, and some writers have expressed the opinion that boredom during this last fight must be due to ignorance; there really seems to be something of the naked Emperor about Sherk. One wonders how much of this is genuine feeling, or whether it is instead an over-protesting reaction to the UFC attendees who boo ground work due to their own ignorance, or even the UFC matchmakers who reward people for clumsily trading punches in a bar brawl-style fight.

I love grappling. I am even a fan of Dean Lister, Ricardo Arona and Paolo Filho; I was bored by that match. I was bored because Sherk averaged one serious submission attempt per round, because his ground and pound was largely non-existent; I was bored because, for a man dominated, Franca made more of an active effort to finish the fight, with his knees and guillotine attempts. As technically great as Sherk is, I fear his reign may hinder the public thirst for lightweight mixed martial arts; that he is such a powerful champion renders the fear quite profound.

A champion I never fear watching is Anderson Silva. It is safe to say that after dismantling four straight opponents in the UFC, Silva has certainly arrived. I would have said that Nathan Marquardt represented Silva’s sternest Zuffa-based test yet, but then I thought Franklin would be a big test for him, before they fought.

Yes, on a card that fulfilled the promise of both Sherk-Franca and Ortiz-Evans (I’m not even going to bother with that one, other than to say I dread the rematch) bouts going the distance, I dreaded this one. Said dread was based in no small part on the Nate-Salaverry (and if Ivan has really retired, I’d like to wish him all the best, as he was one of my favourite fighters. It is rare that someone can deliver highlight reel submissions in the UFC, then blow kisses to his fans) fight that both still haunts my nightmares and got both guilty parties fired.

The ray of hope came in the vicious beating Nate gave to the tough Dean Lister, but my assumption was that Silva’s aggression would lead to the Nate of the Salaverry fight, rather than the Lister – or even the Doerksen – fight. Thankfully, both Marquardt and Silva came with fireworks in their fists, and Silva displayed the most terrifyingly accurate ground and pound bomb since ‘Shogun’ stopped Overeem at Pride 33. This fandom of Silva comes not simply from the fact that he throws bombs and pleases the great unwashed, but because he takes calculated risks in the heat of battle.

Calculated risks paid off for ‘Lights Out’ as Chris Lytle impressed against Jason Gilliam, though I am unsure to what extent a win over Gilliam should impress. The final moments of the fight were excellent, as Lytle worked two submission holds simultaneously. Though the tap was announced to be from the marvellous reverse triangle from top, it was the arm that Gilliam was gingerly moving post-match.

Lytle is a fighter I never groan about, but it is hard to say I am dying to see him fight again soon given the fact that 170 is so stacked with talent. With nothing against Lytle, i would much rather watch the imminent St. Pierre vs. Koscheck and Fitch vs. Sanchez bouts. A win or two over name competition should see ‘Lights Out’ re-ascend to a PPV position, wherein we viewers can discern what he really has left.

Less impressive was returning fellow TUF alumnus, and friend of Rich Franklin, Jorge Gurgel. Despite a fair amount of TUF hype, writing on his passion for the sport, and his ostensible talent, the Brazilian fighter is still yet to show he deserves placing among the elite in MMA. While he won a unanimous 30-27 decision, I fail to see how he won the second round over compatriot Diego Saraiva, who nailed him with numerous effective, if sloppy, punches to little riposte.

That said, Gurgel did just enough in the slower rounds one and three to secure the decision. He was a tad more consistently offensive on the feet, and delivered ground and pound that, while never particularly dramatic, logged unanswered points in a frustrated and neutralised Saraiva guard.

Though less auspiciously placed on the card than he was a couple of years ago, Stephan Bonnar attained temporary respite from the career freefall that has thus far seen consecutive losses to Rashad Evans and Forrest Griffin (the latter coming by a far clearer margin than their Finale 1 fight, and both hot on the heels of a controversial win over Keith Jardine) compounded by testing positive for horse steroid Boldenone.

While opponent Mike Nickels is far from career-saving in stature, Bonnar’s first round rear choke victory was an impressive show of grappling against a Machado purple belt. The ‘American Psycho’ has an appealing demeanour and, though he is unlikely to challenge the likes of Quinton Jackson or Mauricio Rua, his combination of second-tier skill and charming personality should stand him in good stead. Hopefully this is a sign he intends to keep his buttocks syringe-free.

In all, this was a fine card. Not the greatest PPV ever, as outlined above, but an incredibly solid card from top to bottom; it’s just a shame a couple of the marquee fights were rather damp and squibular. If this was Stacked, it seems rather a misnomer compared to the treats August promises, in the shape of Gonzaga vs. Couture and Koscheck vs. St. Pierre. The UFC seems to be on a roll – as long as they stop screwing UK audiences with TV-level cards, eh?

I'm sorry - I don't normally post vidz to my blog, but I was suitably impressed by this Super Mario Galaxy footage to stick it here. For the world to see? For my own reference?

Well, you don't need me to tell you the world doesn't read this blog. Anyway, excitement! I might have to get a Wii now...

I appreciate the VQ is slighty dodgy after being shrunk down (I even enlarged it a bit from the default html), so here is the big screen, looking gorgeous version.

11 July 2007

Writing Wrongs

Simon Reynolds recently linked to an Impostume post in which the latter wrote nasty words about what could be deemed the underground celebrities of rock music. Among them were Mike Patton, the Melvins and Steve Albini. I know, très controversial, and it’s not like such bland publications weren’t running similar Sacred Cows columns nearly a decade ago. Anyway, I read this, thought it was unnecessarily churlish and quite inaccurate and, resenting this idea of Curmudgeonism as Art and the accompanying backslapping from the historically excellent, recently disappointing Reynolds, dissed the post on a message board.

Impressively (worryingly?) I was tracked down and an email from Carl the Impostume was soon spotted lurking in my inbox. Cue a brief exchange of thoughts, including conversation on Leeds, and Carl persuaded me to pen (or key) something of a riposte. Well, he used the term ‘refute’ but, with that words implication of proof, and my being something of a relativist when it comes to things arty, I wouldn’t go that far in such a description of this post. That, and I am currently as in the dark as you are as to what the content here is going to feature. While I am going to disagree with Carl’s assertions and, at points quite vehemently, said dissent will not be blanket. Anyway, here goes:

Carl doesn’t like The Melvins: The first thing that strikes me about Carl, true or not (I don’t know) Is that he seems to be a jaded old bloke. I figure he’s in his late 30s/early 40s, and things just aren’t the same as they used to be. Well, he likes their MySpace tracks, so I guess he’s in love with the idea of having grown out of them. He hasn’t listened to the band in a decade and a half, and appears to be hoping beyond hope that he hasn’t missed out on much. Short answer is he has.

I recommend to Carl their Atlantic Records trilogy (that’ll be Houdini, Stoner Witch and Stag; how about the stubborn, malicious ‘Hooch’ as a major label debut single – gotta love that). Following their parting of ways from Atlantic (it would appear Melvins weren’t the next Led Zeppelin), they then released the weirdly, bizarrely great Honky. Sadly, they then signed with Ipecac, which is a no-go as we shall see below.

So Carl proffers the idea that main Melv. Buzz Osborne is a bit of a jerk. Well, that much appears to be true. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I listen to the Melvins, I listen to the tunes, the riffs, I rock out if and when appropriate, and I move on. What I don’t do is fret about Buzzo’s cultural theoretical philosophy on where his music stands. I can understand Carl’s defence mechanism that kicks in with the feeling that the band ‘…always seemed to be slightly above it, attitudinally’. And I feel that; it’s no fun to think you’re being worked by a band that thinks it’s beyond what it is you’re appreciating.

Personally, I try not to fret about it. I don’t worry that there might be a touch of irony in their product delivery. To be honest, I would probably rather a band is aware there is more out there and actively decides to make relatively primitive rock music than chug along blissfully unaware of any musical developments post-1980. Rather than get stressed, I’d be happy that a relatively smart band as the Melvins (and let’s face it, they’re not that smart anyway) is more concerned with rocking than anything else. One final, small, observation on this particular subject:

Hey man, what about the music, it’s all about the music at the end of the day, right? No it’s not, fuck that. It’s never just about the music, how could it be? That's like suggesting literature is all about the font. It’s about the whole deal!

I find this interesting, and largely agreeable. But mainly interesting, for reasons I will come to a bit later. Yeah, the time I have taken in formulating this post has resulted in theoretical ponderings on the nature of today’s metal. I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. But anyway, comparing music to font in the big picture is a tad too facetious for my liking. The equivalent of font would more likely be the mix… or maybe even the mastering. Assuming the rock band is the equivalent of an author (that’d stand to reason), surely the music’s equivalent would be the content of the book; the story. No?

…Zappa: I quite like Zappa. I’m not a massive fan, nor a hater, so we’ll skip this one.

…Patton: I will very happily state right now that I am categorically a Mike Patton fan. I think he is musically awesome, and a great personality. I am also of the opinion that a good fan is an artists harshest critic and, as such, I don’t think he has made a great album in at least half a decade (2001: Tomahawk was really good; The Director’s Cut was great). That is of course far from saying he’s a horrible man, the soles of whose feet could do with flogging. Frankly, I’m glad he is going of on sometimes unsuccessful, bizarre, tangents rather than working to appease an existing fan-base the whole time.

I have no idea where the wrong-headed Robbie Williams comparison comes from: not only are the two poles apart in terms of musical quality, but then we have the fact that Patton runs a rather good record label (Carl gives him Young Gods and Dälek, but I’d definitely add Kid606, Guapo, Mouse On Mars, The Locust, Venemous Concept…), and is ridiculously under-rated as an arranger. Whatever a listener thinks of Patton’s ‘chop socky’ aesthetic, his arrangement of the 1999, 2001 and 2005 Fantômas albums speaks for itself; I see no Williams comparison whatsoever. I dunno: I suppose they’re both financially independent, sex symbols in the nineties.

So Patton runs a tight label, is a really good arranger of music… oh yeah, he is also clearly the best vocalist in rock music, and has been for at least a decade. Granted, Impostume’s pimping of drizzly, largely instrumental/anonymous bands suggests to me that he is neither in the market for good singers nor anybody with personality. As much as I love Justin ‘He’ll Always Be J.K. To Me’ Broadrick, he has never been one to trouble the realms of public personality (not an inherently bad thing) or vocal talent.

It seems to me that the complaint stems from a need to complain rather than anything else; that the post was already railing against the bad people of cult rock, so why not rant some more. I could go on, like mentioning the ‘cut and paste abomination’ of Mr. Bungle. While their horror-ska debut hardly set my world on fire, their other brace of albums was excellent indeed. In terms of composition and musicianship, there is little that has been released in my lifetime to touch it.

I know, that in itself is a bit of a stigma: bands mustn’t play well, for fear of being called prog! Disco Volante is a classic that informed the sound of the great Noisecore movement of the late nineties, most notable Dillinger Escape Plan. Not only are the songs technically great, but memorable too. The band was so talented that one segment of the last song on that album, ‘Merry Go Bye Bye’, has what is still the best section of death metal I have ever heard. And I know Carcass, Mithras, Obituary, Morbid Angel, Nile et al. I don’t want to waste too much time on this point to be honest, as Carl never offered anything resembling a decent criticism of Bungle, so I shall leave it there, other than to say California was even better than …Volante, so listen to it.

…Albini: Again, not a massive fan, but I fail to see quite why Carl is so aggrieved. I fully get behind the dislike of such Albini nomenclature as Rapeman and Songs About Fucking. In fact, I don’t even like the musical content of the latter. I would probably have been all over it if I hadn’t been in primary school at the time of its release (I might still have liked it, if I’d only been exposed to it. But then the obvious resulting queries from an eight-year-old throughsilver would have proved a touch embarrassing to whomever was unfortunate enough to be the nearest adult at the time), but I wasn’t. As a result, living in the post-Merzbow/Masonna/Wolf Eyes world we do, it all seemed a bit quaint and quiet.

This means that, to the eternal chagrin of the eighties noise-rock aficionados, I am a bit of a disappointment in preferring Shellac (much like I infinitely prefer Fugazi to either Minor Threat or Embrace. Or Rites Of Spring). Anyway, my Big Black apathy doesn’t lead me to hate Albini, even if he, like Buzzo, comes across like a bit of a jerk. (I learned a long time ago not to be disappointed if artists whose work I admire aren’t equally stellar as people.) I can see where Carl is coming from, again. Albini does (did?) seem like a bit of a frustrated dork trying to get music to make him seem big. Not sure I would go quite so Freudian on the ‘music as impervious pork sword’ deal, but what can you do. I have to admit that, during recently reading a message board thread he was allegedly involved in, he does seem a tad sexist, but no more than your average person (which in itself makes me feel sad).

On the ‘two note song’. This ‘point’ has to be a joke. For those unaware, here be quotation: ‘"Terraforms" relentlessly dull and undynamic ten minute long, two-note thudalongs through which you could practically feel Albini smirking at your increasing dismay’. Obviously melody is the single most important attribute in underground rock (huh?). Clearly, there is no room in rock music for repetition/trance states (someone had better tell media darlings on Southern Lord records), and more notes means more quality. Someone tell Black Sabbath: their title track is inferior to ‘We’re Going to Ibiza’ by Vengaboys! My favourite piece of music ever is ‘Through Silver in Blood’ by Neurosis, which contains a section during which the guitar is hitting two notes for about a five minute period. It’s great.

Perhaps Carl is after something more immediate, with more going on? Might I suggest some ‘chop socky’ ‘cut and paste’, for therein lies more than two notes.

All that aside, I have absolutely no problem with a man that great bands actively seek out to record their music, in order to have it sound as they want it to. Shame, then, on Neurosis, Pixies, Nirvana, Mono, Melt-Banana, Dazzling Killmen, Weedeater, High On Fire, Jesus Lizard, Zeni Geva and Electrelane, among hundreds of others.

I see a problem with this so-called new strain of metal, which isn’t really metal. As much as I like Jesu and Nadja, they seem to amount to nothing more than early nineties indie with the loudness turned up.

Digression on ‘shoegaze’: This isn’t related to Carl’s post, but is as good an opportunity as any to address this inexplicably popular bit of nomenclature. Unsure as to the etymology of the term, I first noticed it in early 2002; that Magnet issue with the chimp-faced man from Ride on the cover. I don’t know about the reader but, in my experience, ‘shoegaze[r]’ is a term of derision. It implies indie musicians as socially inept, awkward performers who are unable to meet the gaze of onlookers. Yet this has somehow entered common currency – in non-diss form – to describe any band influenced by early Cocteau Twins/late My Bloody Valentine. Personally I prefer something like ‘dream-pop’ or just ‘indie’ (especially as indie bands nowadays seem to specialise in little else). I wish people would stop using it in a non-pejorative sense.

Anyway, so-called metal bands are now embracing the womb-like retreat that only the tops of their scruffy trainers can offer, and we are all supposed to love it. I quite like it in small doses, and I even have the grey vinyl of that Jesu ‘Sundown’ / ‘Sunrise’ release (how fitting is the colour grey for this overcast, maudlin subgenre?); the idea that metal can be filled with little else, though, is both laughable and contrary to the inherently eclectic/individualist/superficially rebellious nature of the genre.

I also like Oceanic by Isis, though that positive affect diminishes with every month, every wannabe album, that passes with the metal world trapped under its charmless shroud. The band itself had extinguished that avenue with 2004s Panopticon, an alleged concept album whose flimsy presence on my stereo was barely registered. (And how telling it is that Isis kingpin Aaron Turner’s own Old Man Gloom project released a near infinitely superior album the very same season in Christmas – an album blessed with quality, heaviness, actual (as opposed to implied) dynamic range and, perhaps most importantly, a sense of humour.)

The name of the game here is variety. My primary problem with what Carl writes in his post is that he seems to suggest metal should be one thing and not the other. I am of the opinion that metal needs to be this, that and the other; that is the precise reason the genre has been going strong for nearly forty years. I like slo-core, no doubt. Neurosis, Kayo Dot, World’s End Girlfriend and even Isis have produced some of the loveliest/nastiest, most dynamic music I have heard. A steady diet of nothing but that, though, would send me more round the bend than I already am. If I really believed the future lay in the undefined miserycore of Angelic Process, Nadja, Jesu and nothing else (combined with the patchily great dubstep movement), the noose would already be tied. And not just because the subgenre lacks anything resembling charisma in its entire featureless surface.

No, the reason why metal is so great is that, for as long as I have been alive, there has been a Maiden for every Sabbath, a Born too Late for every Reign in Blood - and so it has been in the last decade or so: Bungle and Fantômas existing alongside Neurosis and Eyehategod. Sure, Kayo Dot (seriously, miles better than any other metal band currently writing long songs) and Grails (awesome with no qualification from this end) have been providing goods beyond good of late, but so have the thrashier, OTT likes of Genghis Tron, Pig Destroyer, Trap Them and Converge.

I’m not even sure what I’m getting at here (other than the shouldn’t-be-necessary refutations herein), just that we might be better off saving the hate for subjects that really deserve them. I know for a fact it’s not too smart to diss an easy target like Zappa nearly a decade after dad-mag Uncut took a shot at him. I think we can both safely agree that we’re above Uncut’s level of ‘criticism’. I should also mention that my thoughts on slo-core are ever-evolving, as I don’t like to make concrete judgements very quickly. Updates will occur!

06 July 2007

I just want to say right now, before things progress any further, that it would be awesome if Nadal got the Roland Garros/Wimbledon double before Federer.

04 July 2007


Dir: Steven Shainberg, 2002

For some reason I decided a few weeks back to create a ‘Gyllenhaal’ tag, to which films of both Gyllenhaal siblings would refer. I decided that having never seen a film starring either Gyllenhaal sibling, but thought it might be nice to click on a tag and see references to both Jake and Maggie, pending mentions of them actually becoming extant. That’s right: in case anybody was unaware, there are a brother and sister knocking about Hollywood going by the name Gyllenhaal. They are in films. That’s about all I know at this stage, but I will keep you apprised as and when.

(I would say they are the modern equivalent of John and Joan Cusack, but I spent a good few years thinking Joan was a practical joke, being John in disguise. That is not, by the way, a slight on Joan, to whom I was slightly (weirdly) attracted while watching School of Rock; it’s just the way my mind works.)

So this, then, is the first step on my journey to full Gyllenhaal tag satisfaction and, if I may be so bold, is a positive start indeed. Not sure where I am going from here, but elements of the Gyllenhaal family tend to feature in films I want to see, like Jarhead, Darko and that Zodiac thing. Not so much the Maggie, then, though I might find myself watching something like Riding in Cars with Boys in the interest of fairness. I am nothing if not fair. Gyllenhaal!

Secretary, then. People see this as some kind of ‘quirky, sexy comedy’, but in reality it is a rather serious portrait of a modern (working) relationship. It is definitely amusing in places, but I found it more touching than anything else. I’ll get the big convenience (or, as an old tutor called it, the juggernaut) out of the way first, which is the coincidence that such a potential submissive (sub) as Gyllenhaal’s Lee Holloway just happened to apply for a job with a tender dominant (dom). However, seeing as we have no film without this coincidence, I am more than willing to let it go.

I haven’t really thought about a framework for this post, so I hope to just write things about the film as I think of them and then try to edit it into something that makes sense. Consider me the Holger Czukay of bloggery.

Maggie’s performance was excellent. I find her quite attractive, but I have a feeling I am supposed to find her attractive: Maggie is a good looking woman, but not too good looking; she is pretty, but not too pretty. She is the kind of woman that cinemagoers and blogsters can find somewhat attainable, even though she is rich, famous and surrounded by rich, famous men, ergo we like her. She played the shy sub well, though. I especially liked, at the point when she was comfortable with her boss spanking her bottom, her intentional – desperate – little transgressions.

Placing a worm in a letter, when even a typo would result in corporal punishment, was a thing of brilliance; that desire to transgress in order to be punished was perfectly pitched, just the right combination of mischief and desperation. Equally brilliant was, when boss E. Edward Grey (wonderfully played by James Spader, who I only knew from a cameo on Seinfeld) would circle the aforementioned typographical errors with red pen; upon seeing the returned, dried worm, he furiously and constantly outlined it in red in a great comic moment.

I loved their relationship as a whole, as contrived as it was. From the start we see their mutual attraction, too shy to be obvious, but too engulfing to keep totally secret. Grey obviously sees it at the job interview – delivered in a soft-Lynch kinda way, itself helped by the fact that the film was scored by the ever-excellent Angelo Badalamenti – and has no issue with bringing out the sub that’s dying to get out of Lee (who I should probably add had just been released from a psychological institution). Yeah, it’s a tad messed up, but in a brilliantly life-affirming way.

From what I can tell, many people might view this film as a bit of a sicko flick, but I find it incredibly touching. Lee is a fragile, bruised soul who has pretty much nothing in the way of a social skill-set; by bringing the repressed real Lee out of her, Grey is doing her a pretty massive favour. She is a woman who has to rehearse social interactions in the mirror before playing them out, and who seems to view even the most menial task as something to get excited about. She ends up wearing, as the pre-flashback intro informs us, a light stocks, and goes about her workaday (I love that word) business wearing it.

Much like Ugly Betty, which I also plan on blithering on about, there is an existing/past boyfriend, the generally unexciting, mediocre, comforting prospect of whom provides a threat to our protagonista from hooking up with the dude with which she should hook. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately for the purposes of actual narrative peril, he isn’t much of a rival and is just there as a symbol of Lee’s growth, I suppose. Pretty much the same as Ugly Betty then.

Speaking of ‘peril’, I have noticed the recent trend in film adverts for the written description of every detail of whichever ‘movie’ it is it is advertising. I don’t like it one bit, being firmly of the opinion that an age rating should suffice in terms of films content. For example, The Wild Thornberries contained ‘scenes of mild peril’ in its cartoon pores. There are also films that contain ‘scenes of animated fantasy violence’, which sounds a bit oo-er if you ask me, and probably more so than the film actually contains. I don’t need to be told if a film contains ‘language that might be considered objectionable by some’: if I go to see an 18-rated film, I expect nothing less. And I don’t care what the rating is; if a film does not contain ‘mild peril’ – at the very least – it’s not worth bothering with.

It’s a stupid, sorry state of affairs, and if a prospective cinema attendee cannot infer from an age rating that a 15 might contain scenes of a slightly sexual and/or violent nature, their troubles extend way beyond the confines of the cinema and they might want to consider seeking greater help than text on a telly advert can provide.

Anyway, marrying that rant to the review: I would love to see Secretary advertised in such a manner, if only to see the phrase ‘contains scenes of male and female masturbation’ on my telly; I’m sometimes juvenile like that. And I love the fact that the film contains scenes of male and female masturbation: almost every film containing adults has sex, but the act of self love is woefully underrepresented in films; certainly the films I watch. Maybe I’m too highbrow and need to watch American Pie or some shit.

Rather than merely being some jaded bit of sleaze, as one might well fear, one of the masturbation scenes provides the most poignant part of the film (of course, the other two such scenes provide the funniest and grossest moments). Lee is too introvert to express her feelings and desires externally, so she deals with her feelings for her boss in the most private of arenas. And it’s beautiful. Things get a tad more ‘niche’ when Grey bends Lee over, tells her to strip and then jerks off, but horses for courses and all that.

This leads to the deeper issues dealt with by the film: that Secretary is blatant in its displays of fetish – leading to a presumed level of shock from the general audience – is intentional, as it examines the fetish culture at work in the film through the private travails of the characters. I might add that this is fittingly no dungeon romp, as I imagine the majority of fetish enacting takes place in the kind of suburban mores represented by this film. So the discovery of sadomasochism is at once an awakening and moment of personal definition for the somewhat arrested Lee, while it provides both a thrill and an albatross for Grey, who hates himself for that very excitement he feels through his unconventional love practices.

The last act is a tad odd as far as I’m concerned, as Lee rushes out of her wedding to Other Bloke to declare her love for Grey, whose total immersion in lustful acts has rendered the currency of love somewhat moot, if indeed it was ever anything other than moot to him. This being Hollywood, albeit Weird Hollywood (you know: Lynch, Waters, The Ice Storm, American Beauty etc), his glacial resistance to normality – ergo happiness, according to the movie industry one might argue – eventually melts (after she stages a sit-in hunger strike, complete with wetting her wedding dress) and they find a perfect balance between freaky-deakiness and actually living lives that are not governed by lustful urges.

Overall, then, I’d consider this film quite the success; less a weirdo spectacle at which reasonable observers gawk and laugh than a genuinely moving, actually romantic, comedy in which two otherwise lost souls manage to find happiness with each other. I had originally decided to watch this one as something of a night off from my usual diet of far-eastern Shakespearean tragedy and monster movie satire, but Secretary proved surprisingly compelling and moving in a world full of contrived tearjerkers that do nothing of the sort. A very edifying start to my slow burning Gyllenhaal project.

02 July 2007

I have been a poor writer of late, for which I apologise. I have many posts near conclusion, and I need to pull my finger out really. Anyway, here is something I wrote in application for a Channel 4 job for which I applied recently. As I didn't get that, I might as well post it here. My thoughts on a Channel 4 programme. Hopefully getting something posted will gird me into action:

I wanted to write on the excellent one-off Mark of Cain but, in honesty, I have to give the nod to Peep Show. I am a big fan of comedy, watching whatever I can in the genre. As a result, it takes a really well-written programme with believable characters and unbelievable situations to really impress me; Peep Show impressed me from the beginning.

The initial episodes seduced me with their strange sense of the understated. From the theme tune that echoed Tom Waits compositions, to the point-of-view perspective, to the fact that both main characters were geeks (albeit to different degrees of overtness), Peep Show felt like something new; a feeling I hadn’t really felt in British comedy since Brasseye or Spaced. What I really liked about the first series was the wonderful dialogue, both internal and spoken, that defined the characters far more clearly than their embarrassing deeds ever could.

I was initially disappointed when the second series appeared, due to an ostensibly contrived effort to ‘sex up’ the show. I thought this due to the new, rock, theme tune (I have admittedly now learned to love ‘Flagpole Sitta’), and all the random sex and marriage that seemed to be happening. I was pleased to learn the error of my ways when I bought the DVD set last year: not only were the episodes I had seen better than I thought, but I had apparently watched only half the series. Watching some scenes, like the poker game, had me in stitches and were a revelation.

Whatever I thought of the second series, series three was complete salvation as far as I was concerned. Super Hans in particular was fantastic, especially in the episode where everybody was trying to get everybody else sectioned.

That reminds me of one of my favourite Peep Show facets: the way the characters were used, in a very subtle way, as mouthpieces for various social movements. So Jeremy is the Eternal Student, vocally opposed to what he sees as ‘the system’, but either unable or unwilling (or both) to actually do anything about it. In direct conflict with this is Mark, in an almost identical psychological situation, but on the right wing side of the coin; conservative (and Conservative) in world outlook, he is resigned to his fate as saloon-driving family man in the suburbs, but is brilliantly terrified of this eventuality. He tries to escape the straitjacket of destiny, but seems to intentionally develop self-handicapping strategies.

The lesser (in stature) characters are also perfectly pitched. Super Hans, while a caricature, is absolutely compelling. His character high point for me was, in a moment of unintentional (on his part) satire, when he referred to crack as ‘more-ish’, perfectly lampooning the current trend for euphemising addiction by the advertising industry. When the women are added to the mix – such as the devil/angel combination of Toni and Big Suze – that truest comedy cliché comes true: put great characters in any situation, and they write the comedy themselves.
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