I promised myself that I wouldn’t dislike this album.
It’s so cliche and faux-intellectual. ’Oh, dear. Their debut album was sooooo good and this just isn’t nearly as good. They should have done the same thing they did in their first album.’
The sentiment, I am sure, originates from the same hipster bullcrappery as ‘I knew them before everybody else knew them’. The new is never as good as the old. The popular is never as good as the obscure.
But, holy Zeusidon, I’m having a lot of difficulty liking the new album.
I wasn’t as glowing in praise as everybody else with the original album, Lungs. Sure, there were some amazing songs on that album. Even songs which didn’t become singles were powerful contests between the Florence’s voice and the Machine’s beats. The lyrics were clever, flirting between playful and profound. Waves of sound would crash chaotically in that haphazard way that only happens when the musicians are firmly in control.
But there were some real dog songs on that album. I routinely skip ‘Kiss with a Fist’ and ‘Girl with One Eye’ because they suck. There is no excuse for how bad they are and the rest of the album is so good that it makes their mediocrity all the more inexcusable.
Ceremonials is an album of ‘Kiss with a Fist’ and ‘Girl with One Eye’ songs. One song is obviously out of tune; another is littered with flatly dumb lyrics. It’s as if they were too busy rolling around in their mountains of money to be bothered writing anything decent. ’Don’t worry,’ you can hear somebody in the band management say, ‘No matter what you produce, people will buy it. They will eat your shit sandwich and call it a banquet.’
It feels as if there has been a change in the creative engine of the band. Lungs had songs written by most of the band and was produced collaboratively. Ceremonials was produced by Paul Epworth alone, and most of the songs are Florence Welch and Paul Epworth affairs. The only good songs on Ceremonials are the progeny of other members of the band. The superb ‘No Light, No Light’ is a co-creation of Isabella Summers who was behind all the best songs on Lungs (with the exception of ‘The Drumming Song’).
In short, Lungs wasn’t as good as people remember it being. People remember the really good stuff on that album and forget the occasional mutant horror. The variety on the album befuddled the audience, like genetic diversity in a population makes the species more resistant. Ceremonials has very little diversity. The same producer throughout and mostly Welch-Epworth creations means that it catches some crippling disease in the first song and the rest of the album crashes with it.
In short, get the new Like a Version album instead. Holy crap, it’s good.
Music videos occupy a weird space these days. In theory, they’re supposed to be excellent enough to draw your attention to the music. Why do companies seem hell bent on preventing people from accessing the videos? Some even go so far as to charge people to download them. It’s entirely nuts.
Anyway, here’s my selection:
1. Washington – Sunday Best
2. Clare Bowditch and the New Slang – Modern Day Addiction
3. Goldfrapp – Alive
4. OK Go – WTF?
5. Sia – Clap Your Hands
There are some things in life when you think that something is going to be really, really good, and it turns out to be really craptacular. The Phantom Menace, A Confederacy of Dunces, most films starring John Malkovich, the entire life of Neil Gaiman (including his ‘Hey, I’m sorry for upsetting people with my crappy behaviour, but you guys are a bunch of disabled feminists’ girlfriend, Amanda Palmer).
These things serve to remind us that we cannot take enjoyment for granted — the material world is a place of misery and disappointment created by a malicious deity who didn’t want humans to understand Gnosis. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about.
On the other hand, there are things which do the opposite of this. We come across them not expecting much and discover that they’re beautiful, wonderful, mysterious, and completely lovely. There’s a richness to them which you’d never have suspected, and you feel slightly silly for having doubted how magnificent it is.
Of course, I’m talking about Monkey: Journey to the West.
It’s a… I’m not quite sure what to call it. It’s a theatrical-musical piece, styled on Chinese/Japanese opera. I must admit to having an amateurish love for Japanese opera. It’s terrifying, confusing, and bewildering; I really don’t have the necessary skills or knowledge to appreciate it fully, but I still love watching it when I can. Monkey: Journey to the West combines these styles with electronica.
And it’s amazing. It probably helps that it was composed by Daman Albarn. Seriously, the only thing that guy has ever done wrong was be a mime artist (apparently trufax).
So it combines this wonderful artform with the story of Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en. Most people remember the old Japanese television adaptation (with Tripitaka being played by a hot lass, causing much sexual confusion). In this version, we have the birth of Monkey, his affronts to Buddha and Heaven, his imprisonment, the commission of Tripitaka, the release of Monkey, three battles with monsters, then the enlightenment of the pilgrims.
So both form and substance are perfect. It’s challenging and refreshing — entirely enjoyable and I really can’t recommend the album recording enough.
If there is one criticism to be had, it’s a remarkably academic one: for the battle stories, Albarn chose to represent four males subjugating ‘wild’ women. All three of the conflict arcs covered this ground and it’s just unfortunate and unnecessary. Sure, it’s a scientific fact that an evil female is a thousand times more interesting and attractive than an evil male or a heroic female, but it seems like repressed misogyny if every opportunity is taken to have the heroes smack up women. Albarn’s never seemed particularly misogynistic (quite the opposite), so it seems really weird and out of place.
Note that he’s not the first nor will he be the last to follow this path. Most of The Odyssey is filled with tales of a guy battling against barbarian women. Polyphemus and the suitors are the only male ‘bad guys’ I can recall. From memory, even the demonic whirlpool is a chick. Oh, and to top it off, we get a speech from Agamemnon telling us how evil women are.
Hating on women is just the literary thing to do, really.
A friend of mine linked me to this supertacular awesomeness. You should be aware of this awesomeness. You can thank me later.
My top ten songs for the year (in no particular order):
BAT FOR LASHES – Daniel
DATAROCK – Give It Up
EDITORS – Papillon
FLORENCE and THE MACHINE – Drumming Song
FRANZ FERDINAND – No You Girls
KAREN O AND THE KIDS – All Is Love
LA ROUX – In For The Kill
METRIC – Help I’m Alive
THEM CROOKED VULTURES – Reptiles
FLORENCE and THE MACHINE – Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)
Best movie of the year:
Where the Wild Things Are
Admittedly, I’m yet to see District 9 (I bought the DVD yesterday) and Moon. Star Trek was more awesome than anybody could have expected but still didn’t manage to be as absolutely perfect as WtWTA.
There were some right stinkers this year as well. Coraline was probably the worst new film I saw this year. Everything that WtWTA did well, Coraline managed to foul up (even though both films were largely exploring the same territory). Dragonball Evolution managed to be disappointing despite the already low expectations (it wasn’t even fun). And Up! was an exceptional waste of time. I still can’t work out what the plot was.
The biggest disappointment was X-Men Origins: Wolverine. What a bafflingly confused pile of crap that was.
Boxxy. It was a good start to the year.
Best new book:
It was a bit of a shitty year for fiction. A new Dan Brown novel and Eoin Colfer’s attempt to impersonate Douglas Adams rather ruined the year for me.
Unseen Academicals by Pratchett was a lot of fun. It’s interesting to see the continuing development of Vetinari, and I wonder if there’s much more development in store for him.
In comic books, I really liked Messiah War.
Best new video game:
Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks. It won’t break any records and it probably won’t go down in time as a classic game, but it is so much fun.
For sheer brilliance, special mention should be made of Batman: Arkham Asylum. I bought it for my younger brother (who has an XBox) and it’s mesmerisingly good.
In the dark and mysterious days of pre-history, you’d go out hunting with your fellow tribespeople, kill something awesome to eat, and then take it home with your fellow tribespeople to be cooked. Living hand-to-mouth, there was no separation between your working life and your home life.
Thankfully, we became more civilised and we better understood the need to have Work and Private lives. Work was where you went to get paid. Private was where you spent the money you made at Work. If you wanted a better Private life, you adjusted your Work life to fund better things. But there was a clear and obvious barrier between Work and Private unimaginable back in the pre-historic age.
Technology has a cunning talent to make savages out of the noblest society. When I go to work, I know that several people have read my FacesBook status, or seen the pictures of me drunkenly playing the ‘Break Down the Heteronormative Framework at this Party’, or seen the inappropriate comments of my friends saying all kinds of curious things. My Private and my Work blur at the edges.
And it can lead to all kinds of fun. My younger sibling posted particularly morbid lyrics as his status. A friend of my mother saw the update, called my mother, and asked if my brother was okay. Mother dearest called my sibling and gave him a serve. During a previous relationship, I decided that I didn’t want to profess my relationship status. This sent a message to all of my girlfriend’s friends stating that she was no longer listed as in a relationship.
And then there are those clever folk who managed to mix Work and Private a bit too much. Examples like these have caused people to opine that we need to start being more careful about what we do in our private lives because our work lives can so easily discover them.
Aristotle wrote that we’re creatures of the polis. As social monkeys, we make friendships at our workplaces and the like, so it would make sense — now we’re in the age of Social Networking where everybody must know my every thought at every moment — that these social networks would extend to our occupational networks. But it also seems reasonable to think that we should be able to relax in the Private Spheres of our lives. If I go out for a fun night on the magic sauce, I shouldn’t have to worry that one of my friends will upload the pictures to FacesBook. I’d think that my colleagues would have the good sense to think: ‘Yes, Mark exists outside of work. I’m okay with that. What he does there is fine.’
The two examples linked above show what happen if you’re a complete nerk. Bitching about somebody who’s on your list of friends is a good way to be on the wrong side of drama, and leaving evidence for people to use against you should only be done if you’re this week’s baddie on NCIS.
So instead of being more careful about our private lives, perhaps it’s time for the workplace to stop treating its staff like they’re forever and always chained to their workplace identities. Of course, in the end, it’s not the workplace that suffers: it’s the individual who is sacked, or whatever.
In much happier news, TripleJ’s Hottest 100 has begun for 2009. Go vote.
In other news, the top fifty videos are on Rage right now. Go watch.
I like the internet. It’s a good procrastination tool for when you have things to do which you really ought to do but oh God it’s far too warm for that kind of thing.
In an age a long, long time ago, remixing the words of a politician was a rather laborious affair. So much so that remixes of that sort were a massive novelty, thus the popularity of Pauline Pantsdown‘s ‘Backdoor man’ and ‘I don’t like it’.
Now, anything and everything can be remixed thanks to the wonders of the internerds.
Ever wondered what would happen if you mixed Nine Inch Nails with the Ghostbusters? Wonder no more!
Thought that Jean-Luc Picard’s cry of defiance in Chain of Command (part two, series six, episode eleven) needed to be commemorated with a dance track?
The possibilities are nearly endless, especially with the ability to manipulate the meaning of the words. Shatner on the Mount:
And then you have the ability to turn media incidents into catchy beats. From Bill O’Reilly’s freak out:
Clare Werbeloff’s encounter with Channel Nine earlier this year became:
But, for me, the zenith of this artform will always be the ungodly love child of Japanese Ronald McDonald with U.N. Owen was Her (Project Shrine Maiden):
This spawned an entire genre of clips:
And then you have a wave of cover versions making crappy songs into significantly less crappy songs. Lady Gaga’s Poker Face as a rock cover doesn’t completely suck:
Then again, since the year 2000, cover versions have generally been superior to the original (as opposed to the cover version before the year 2000 — including Jeff Buckley’s). Consider Johnny Cash’s version of Hurt:
Lilly Allen’s version of Womanizer:
And Elbow’s cover of Independent Woman:
Maybe we’ve just become better at recycling?
My top ten for 2009:
Daniel, Bat for Lashes
- Completely messed up video.
Give It Up, Datarock
- Sure, I’m a huge Datarock fan already (hunt down a copy of them doing a cover of Mongoloid).
- It’s people running. I don’t get it… but it’s people running!
Fonz, Eugene McGuinness
- Old concept, but fun.
Drumming Song, Florence and the Machine
- Another creepy one.
Would that I had space for No You Girls, Franz Ferdinand.
Who am I kidding? We all know that Empire of the Sun will win.
Fie on them.