Monday, June 30, 2008

Still Chasing the Shadows Away

Thank God Almighty! "Mamma Mia!", the movie, is getting good reviews. Posted today on Yahoo Movies this review is full of praise. Meryl Streep's performance as Donna Sheridan is described as one of her best (and she has had many!) and also that "it is no stretch to think of her performance in Oscar terms". "Mamma Mia" is the kind of film that the critics just love to hate. It is a great, big, colourful, fabulous movie that many critics in the more serious press often tear apart, similar to the harsh treatment that "Sex & the City" has been getting. However, it's the audiences that make a film a hit and the film has a loyal but hopeful fan-base from the stage show and the various classic Abba songs on the soundtrack. The "must see" factor is something that is only obtained by good word of mouth and reviews. Good early reviews are a clear indication that the movie will be a very big hit. In the US, it is now the 6th week in a row that revenue has been up on this time last year. One reason for the record breaking box office figures in the US is that going to the cinema is still one of the cheaper forms of entertainment and also that you don't have to drive far to the nearest cinema. The other reason is of course that there are a lot of good movies out this summer. It's wonderful to see actresses like Julie Walters and Christine Baranski in a movie like this. They are two of the best comedy actresses in the movie business. They play Rosie and Tanya, the best friends of Donna Sheridan as played by Meryl Streep. I love the photo below, especially Julie in her fab Bangles t-shirt. The Bangles play in Dublin's Vicar Street, on Wednesday, I can't wait! Meryl looks fantastic in the trailer and publicity pictures and after the box office failures of her recent movies "Lions for Lambs" and "Evening", she is back on track. Meryl has appeared, narrated in or been a character voice in 11 films since "The Devil Wears Prada" in 2006, amazing. The male leads are played by Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard and their performances, both in acting and singing are all said to be great too. Thankfully, the word embarrassing hasn't been used in relation to their singing abilities yet. Amanda Seyfried plays Sophie, Donna daughter who decides to find out who her real father is, prior to her wedding, by inviting her mother's 3 ex-lovers to the Greek Island where they live. Amanda is still best known for her role as Karen in "Mean Girls" (as pictured below with Rachel McAdams and Lacey Chabert). The success of "Mamma Mia" this summer, will really boost her profile. Dominic Cooper, playing Sophie boyfriend, will also get a lot of media attention from his role in the movie. Dominic starred in both the stage and screen versions of "The History Boys" and is currently starring in "The Escapist". No matter how funny the performances are or how colourful and well scripted the film is the most important thing is the songs themselves. Below is a video of Amanda Seyfried singing "Gimme, Gimme, Gimme (A Man after Midnight)". This was a song that I thought was the most adult thing I ever heard when I was a child. Oh, the innocence! It is clever of the film's producers to release this as a publicity video as it is a song which is loved by Abba fans and also known by today's generation after Madonna used it for her "Hung Up" single. What is also good is that the musical production is similar to the original but at the same time not a karaoke version. Mamma Mia opens nationwide in both the UK and Ireland on July 10th. The premiere was tonight, Monday, in London where it is showing just in Leicester Square from next week on the 4th of July. Mamma Mia opens in the US on July 16th.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Funny How Times Flies....

"Il me plait d'etre là avec tu je ne sais pas ou... ou le temps s'est enfui. Oh je t'aime mon chéri." So begins Janet Jackson's "Funny How Time Flies...(When You're Having Fun)". This translates as "I like to be with you. I don't know where... where the time has flown. Oh, I love you baby." The song is one of Janet's best songs of the 1980's but was never a hit single commercially. It was the 7th single from her multi million selling third album "Control" and was only released in the UK. It only charted at number 59. It was never released in the US where "The Pleasure Principle" would be her 6th and final single which by the time of it's release in the mid 1980's had made her into a Pop Icon of her own right. The video for "The Pleasure Principle" was the beginning of a tougher, leaner Janet. "Funny How Time Flies...(When You're Having Fun)" continued the theme of making her lover wait, a theme that was far more sweet and bubblegum in "Let's Wait Awhile" the most well known ballad from the album. "Funny How Time Flies...(When You're Having Fun)" was, I feel, the beginning of the determined path that Janet has been travelling over the past 21 years as her image and music became more sexual and direct while maintaining it's dance pop foundation. Her 1989 album "Rhythm Nation 1814" was the most perfect follow up to "Control". In a way similar to her brother's Michael's "Thriller" after the pop brilliance of "Off The Wall". "The Pleasure Principle" is the song on "Control" most similar to the dance songs on "Rhythm Nation 1814" while "Funny How Time Flies....(When You're Having Fun)" was the gorgeous predecessor to songs like "Come Back To Me" and "Lonely" from the same album. There was never a video made for "Funny How Time Flies...(When You're Having Fun)" so the clip below is audio only. This post originally appeared on my other blog All The Way To New York.

The Other Ms Amy

David Sedaris has a new book out called, When You are Engulfed in Flames. This is his first book since 2004's Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim. On Thursday 11th September David will be reading from his new non-fiction collection in the Westin Hotel, College Green, here in Dublin. That event is brought to his many Irish fans by a certain bookstore. More details here. "Me Talk Pretty One Day is still David's most well known book and I think that I am the only gay man who didn't love that book to death. But maybe I'll give it another go before reading his newest collection. A Sedaris who I really love is his sister Amy. She isn't as well known as her brother in Europe but America loves her and so it should. Amy has appeared in the greatest Christmas film of all time; Elf, one of the biggest films of all time; Shrek The Third, one of the most underrated Romance and Cigarettes and one or two of her own; Strangers With Candy. She is a regular guest on David Letterman show and also on the Martha Stewart show which turned out to be one of her funniest TV guest spots. Here that clip!

The New Pretenders

Here in Ireland this week the nation has been informed that we are now in a recession. One of the more amusing articles I read during the week of media gloom and doom was where a female journalist was asked by her teenage son; "mammy, what's a recession?". Yes indeed, in 2008, there are thousands, well at least 100's of pampered teens who haven't worked a day in their life and worse don't even know how to do it. We may finally see what years of "Heat" magazine, Big Brother instant fame, Colleen and her endless wedding party and MTV filmed 16th birthday parties will result in. There is one Irish Patron Saint that many girls, and some boys, have held a steadfast devotion to. That is Saint Nadine of the Little Lie that got to where I am today. Nadine is of course, Nadine Coyle, of the greatest female group of the last decade, Girls Aloud. The ones who best continued the Spices good work. When poor Nadine lied about her age on Irish television's answer to Pop Idol, it was the start of her brilliant career. For the past few weeks The Saturdays have been touring with Girls Aloud and their fab new single, "If This Is Love", is released on the 28th July. The video is featured on Perez Hilton's site today. Like all good popstars of today they were featured on Popjustice months ago. Once again we have a girl band who have gone for the 80's Top Shop/trashy call girl look and, on their single, the good old 1980's sample. However, even though all the gays born before 1980 will know the sample of the song used, very few of the gays and future girl fans, and some boys, born after 1980 will know it. Too clever. Here's the video! I love it. However! The lovely sample has already been used months ago on a mash-up of my favourite song of 2006. Here it is! It was a criticism of the music of Stock, Aitken and Waterman in the 1980's that their music never reflected the times that they were released in. When I was growing up in the 198o's there was widespread unemployment, every teenager I knew had, or couldn't get, a weekend job, very few people had millionaire lifestyles. But that's why I loved pop music then, there were loads of bands, like The Smiths and most Indie bands, whose music will always be a product of their time but the need for pop for the sake of pop should always be part of popular culture. Maybe that's why there was so much of it in the 1990's. The decade of so many girl and boy bands, it went into overdrive. I am so glad, now, that I was a teenager of the 1980's. I know I'm getting older when I can't listen to a lot of the music in the charts, even though the top ten is still the most poppiest as this week's chart shows again.When I like a pop artist or song these days it reminds me of songs I knew and bought back 20 years ago. If things are going to change economically then it's also a perfect time for a pop act like The Saturdays to come along. On the introduction page on their website there is a great line; "It's not gone unnoticed that music's needed a bloody good kick up the arse for some time now", The Saturdays being the solution. Pop that dosen't take itself too serious. The best kind.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

September

"Cry For You" by September has been one of the best pop dance singles of the year. The song was originally on September 's second album "In Orbit" in 2005. There were 4 other singles from that album; "Satellites", "Flowers on the Grave", "It Doesn't Matter" and "Looking For Love". "Cry For You" has many dance remixes available on the net but below is a great acoustic version of the song as performed on the television show, Nyhetsmorgon. One song that could be a great follow up to "Cry For You" is another song from "In Orbit". That song is "Midnight Heartache" and it features one of the most sampled songs of the 1980's. Have a listen below.

Superstar, oh, Superstar!

Last Sunday I went to see Dolly Parton in concert. What was extra special about the day was that the concert was held in Kilkenny, my home town. For the past few years there has been a concert in the GAA sports grounds of Nowlan Park, featuring big names like Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Shania Twain and Rod Stewart. I have never gone before but it would have been a mortal sin to miss Dolly. The weather has been just awful here in Ireland and the night before in Cork the worst of the worst happened, Dolly's hair got wet. She didn't mind as we all know Dolly is a trooper! The following evening in Kilkenny the mood in Nowlan Park was jovial, the age group was a good mix; mid twenties and upwards. When I arrived, the front part of the pitch was fenced off with only the Wheelchair section being the best area on the pitch to see the stage. As I thought to myself; "Now where can I get myself a wheelchair and blanket?" the barrier was taken down and it was so funny to see hundreds of people, mainly my parents age, running like bargain hunters at Harrods Spring sale, up to the area in front of the stage. The reason that the stage was cordoned off became more apparent. The stage-hands were still constructing the stage with only 20 minutes to go to show time. One man was still stapling down a waterproof covering over the electrics and another was swinging out of the roof pulling another covering into place, the concert would go ahead with only half the roof covered. There was no support but there was a delay of an hour but I think very few people up the front minded, the mood was great. My sister Emma was also right up the front with our friends Mary and Seamus. At nine pm with a full band, 3 fine backing singers (whom I dubbed Hilary Clinton, Toni Morrison and Armistead Maupin) the show began. Dressed in a trademark ultra tight glittery number in black and white, Dolly started the concert with a super version of "Two Doors Down" and from then on it was a mixture of songs she is so famous for and several from her new album; "Backwoods Barbie". Dolly Parton is 62 now but she has never stopped working and if she isn't recording her own material she is guesting on her contemporaries albums. Nobody covers a song like Dolly but sadly she didn't sing "Drives me Crazy" or "The Tracks of my Tears" from her new album. However the songs she did do were fantastic especially "Better get to Livin'" which was released as the album's first single earlier this year. The second single is "Jesus & Gravity" which she did at the end of the show. The title track of the album "Backwoods Barbie" is also a song which she will be singing in years to come. My favourite song on the new album, "Only Dreamin'", is below. This is so amazing live. Once again she proves herself as a gifted songwriter. Dolly sang several of the songs that she is most well known for, such as "9 to 5", "Here You Come Again" and "Islands in the Stream" with backing singer Richard being Kenny Rogers. Highlights were many, especially the wonderful "Shattered Image" from 2002's "Halo & Horns" album and "Baby, I'm Burning" from her 1978 "Heartbreaker" album, 30 years old! For me, the most gorgeous moments were the acapella bluegrass with all her band and "Little Sparrow" from the album of the same name in 2001. If ever there is a modern country song that is destined to be a future classic it's "Little Sparrow". Here in Ireland, it was obvious that the concert didn't sell out as there had been pages of full colour ads even up to the day of the concert itself. The tickets were €85-€90, which if they had been even €10 less would have better overall. Full props, sets, video screens and costumes had been promised but none of that happened. Instead it was a completely toned down show which I think worked almost better. Dolly had lots of chat and banter throughout the whole show and her humour and personality shone through for the entire evening. Every few minutes she would complain of the cold but this was funny more than anything else. Mid way a jacket was brought from her camper van. The only real bit of silliness was in the form of her muscled country boy dancer. If you ever wondered what happened to Jon Voight's character Joe Buck, in "Midnight Cowboy", well he ended up on Dolly's "Backwood Barbie" tour. Tonight, Saturday 28th June, Dolly sings in the MEN arena in Manchester and the tour continues for months to come. To close, here's one of my all time favourite performance's of "Jolene".

Wall-E

The most well reviewed film this year by far seems to be the new Disney-Pixar movie, "Wall-E". I have yet to read a bad review of this film. It has been said before but the Wall-E robot is similar to that of the robot "Number 5" or "Johnny 5" as he was known as in the 1986 movie; "Short Circuit". It's stars were Ally Sheedy and Steve Guttenberg. It made $40 million in the US and a sequel followed in 1988 which was called, yes! "Short Circuit 2". "Wall-E" is above. "Johnny 5" is below. Discuss! Short Circuit also had one of the poppiest soundtrack songs ever in the form of El DeBarge's hit; Who's Johnny. El Debarge had released their best known song "Rhythm of the Night" in 1985 as well as my favourite song by them; "Who's Holding Donna Now. "Who's Johnny" reached number 1 on the US R'n'B charts and number 3 on the Billboard Singles Chart. The video, which featured singer El Debarge, as well as the movie's stars; Ally Sheedy and Steve Guttenberg, is below.
Short Circuit is rumoured to be re-made. Why oh why! (Money.) Wall-E to me will always be Johnny 5's long lost cousin. Joshua Rich on the Entertainment Weekly" website is predicting Wall-E to achieve a $71 million opening weekend but I think it could be even more due to the universal good reviews the film is getting. Wall-E opens in Ireland and the UK on the 18th of July. The film's cute widget, from it's American website, is below.

Quantum of Solace

The latest movie site to feature a well put together widget is from the Sony Pictures website, for the 22nd James Bond movie; "Quantum of Solace". When "Casino Royale" became a critical and commercial success in 2006, this time round Daniel Craig hasn't had to put up with all the "would he a proper Bond?" as when it was first announced that he would be Pierce Brosnan's replacement. I loved "Casino Royale" and this one looks like it could be just as good. "Quantum Of Solace" was originally a short story, which incidentally has been selling well as part of a re-jacketed Penguin paperback edition already.. "Quantum of Solace" has been scripted as a direct sequel to Casino Royale as the story begins "an hour after" the end of the previous film. It is directed by Marc Forster whose most recent film was the Oscar nominated "The Kite Runner". He also directed "Monster's Ball" (2001), "Finding Neverland" (2004) and "Stranger Than Fiction" (2006). "Quantum of Solace" is released in Ireland and the UK on the 31st October and on November 7th in the US.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Ferras

One of the best websites that features pop music these days is the American site Chartrigger.
This site is run and updated almost daily by D'luv. It has been there that I heard most of the news relating to new music releases by my favourite artists including Cyndi Lauper, Donna Summer and Madonna. Each Thursday D'Luv publishes and has a commentary on the Billboard Hot 100 top ten singles and every Sunday evening he features the top ten singles in the UK chart.
Chartrigger is also a fantastic site for brand new music. One song that has been featured on Chartrigger is "Hollywood's Not America" by 25 year old singer/songwriter Ferras. D'luv writes about Ferras here.
"Hollywood's Not America" is the first single off "Aliens & Rainbows", Ferras' debut album. There are various videos for the song but one of the best and featured below is Ferras singing live on The Today Show.
He is currently touring America supporting Ryan Cabrera.
Ferras' very stylish website can be found here.

Please Don't Come Back From The Moon



Below is another post which was originally published on my other blog All The Way To New York.
There are some books that I have read and while or after reading them, the thought; "that would make a wonderful movie", goes through my head.
That thought really applies to the book reviewed below.

In the bookshop where I work we have five bays of Staff Recommends books. These books are a mix of everything from fiction to politics to children's books.
One fiction book that I added to the wall of books was something I discovered in my wonderfully stocked local library in Cabra, here in Dublin. The book was "Please Don't Come Back From The Moon" by Dean Bakopoulos, who is pictured above. It is simply one of the best American fiction titles I read in the past number of years.
I liked the title which is used from the composition by the jazz musician Charles Mingus.
The narrator, Michael Smoliji, who is in his mid teens as the book begins, lives in Maple Rock, a small Middle American town. One day the fathers, of the mainly young men of the town, get up and leave the town and don't come back.
One by one the fathers, all with wives and children leave, leaving behind worried wives and lost, confused sons and daughters. The premise of the book is what happens when the father figure is gone or absent. Who takes his place? Do they ever come back? Where have they gone and the bigger question, why have they gone?
At a beautifully written pace, Bakopoulos, using the completely convincing voice of his lead character Michael, tells the reader that the mother becomes the breadwinner until the eldest son can do so and what happens to their lives thereafter.
The first line of the book is "When I was sixteen my father went to the moon" and as the days turn into weeks, months and eventually years, each eldest son starts to believe that the moon is where their fathers have gone to. This is the only aspect of magic realism in the novel, as what the narration centres on is the reality and sometimes blandness of daily life in an American town where jobs are scarce, factories close down and as hope of Bill Clinton making a better America results in jobs in the local Mall. The theme of hope, a Clinton keyword, runs throughout the book. It is the female characters who become more determined to go to college or study, this is a book where the female characters are well written and each have their own significance to Michael, as he grows into a man, leaving the uncertain child behind, but never completely.
His relationship with his mother and younger brother Koyla is delicate but loving, deep down. Any little thing that Michael tries to do to better his life is noted by his mother and there are some subtle moments when the reader is reminded of the hope our mothers have for us and their never-ending love for us, no matter how often we may rebel against them.
As some of the mothers eventually become involved with other male characters who become unwanted father figures the fact is that any new stranger into the once safe and familiar family home is often tumultuous. There are also tiny but powerful moments like the smell of a familiar aftershave that draws the story back to the underlying theme of loss and uncertainty. This is America more in the vein of Rick Moody's "The Ice Storm" or the film "American Beauty".
This book was for me a real example of how fiction can also be a beautiful study of masculinity. This is a book where there aren't any characters who are gay but the word "faggot" is once used as a term of abuse but the word "pussy" is used more than once and is used, by characters, more frequently as a sharper term of abuse, a more razor like attack at other characters sense of maleness. Reading the book as a gay man it was like an insight to the mindset of the straight male and the fact that everyone has issues in their life that are not easy. I think some gay writers depict their characters as if their emotional crosses are the toughest to bear but a writer like Bakopoulos balances the scale on that theme.
At a later stage of the book Michael goes to work in a bookshop in a mall, something the author had done himself, and it's depiction was so accurate. It shows how, without wanting to or not having the skills to do other careers, we end up in jobs and we somehow end up staying in them for years and the time slips by. Retail and mall and shopping centre jobs become part of worldwide globalisation. The novel is much more observational than preachy, there are no lectures on these pages.
Throughout Michael's journey in "Please Don't Come Back from The Moon" there is not a page where we don't think of the whereabouts of the fathers and as this becomes a sub plot to Michael's own story, the hook has a curious aspect of keeping the reader engrossed.
Dean Bakopoulos's website is here and features more on the story of the book and his own background.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Movies.ie

A special mention to the Irish based movie website Movies.ie. The site features listings for cinemas and movie screening times all over Ireland, trailers of new and forthcoming movies, reviews of current movies as well as a large archive, all of which are rated by the readers of the site, who can also maintain their own personal movie blog within the site. There is daily updated movie news so all the brand new info on Captain America, the Iron Man Sequel and other casting and production news can be accessed on the website's opening page. Almost every day now there are interviews with stars in current movie releases. This week there are interviews with the following stars: Audrey Tatou ("Priceless"), Edward Norton ("The Incredible Hulk"), Adam Deacon ("Adulthood"), Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel ("The Happening") and Keira Knightley ("The Edge Of Love"). The interview with Keira is here. A great feature of the site is where it offers it's readers the chance to see preview screenings. recently all of these have been previews shown in cinemas in Dublin's city centre. In the last three weeks I have gotten to see Gone Baby Gone and The Incredible Hulk" through these preview screenings. The current preview offer is for the new Angelina Jolie and James McEvoy, guns and fast cars movie; Wanted. That offer is still on line as of today Wednesday. What I like about these preview screenings is that the movies to date have been commercial movies which are ones that usually become the biggest hits of the Summer and year ahead. "Iron Man" being just one of the films that audiences got to see at least a week before the film's general release date. Movies.ie seems to be a website that caters to people who simply love to be entertained when they choose to go to movie. There is also full coverage of arthouse cinema as well so the balance is there while the snobbery isn't. The Movies.ie website is here.

Little Miss Confident

Robyn has been announced as one of the support acts on Madonna's Sweet & Sticky tour. Robyn will play support at 9 venues starting in Nice on August 26th. There are no plans for her to play support in the UK where she recently toured as a solo artist. The full details of those European tour dates are here. Last year I went to see Robyn live in concert and a review of that show is below. She is amazing in concert and the combination of seeing her and Madonna on the same day, well, all I can say is you, lucky, lucky people. The review below was previously published on my other blog All The Way To New York. Andreas Kleerup is fiddling with the amp, he turns the volume way up and there is a whoomp! of sound, the crowd are knocked back and there is a collective burst of laughter, my ears are like something on a supersonic plane, I turn to my friend and say "We'll end up in St. James!". Saturday night in Dublin's The Village and Kleerup, the music behind the voice of Robyn are playing, their songs, mostly instrumental, so far are ok, but the sound isn't great and then they have a moment of perfection in the shape of the song "Thank you for Nothing". There is a loop video of scenes from "Miami Vice", the original TV show, playing on a screen behind Kleerup. I watch the screen thinking "wasn't Don Johnson beautiful!", the music though is subliminally art- techno gorgeous. On his myspace page Andreas lists Giorgio Moroder as an influence but there is also Fleetwood Mac and Michael McDonald, music heaven to me. The last song Andreas plays is a droning version of "Wonderful World", dedicated to Phil Lynott. There is a lengthy wait until Robyn appears. All week I wondered what she would look like, would she be dressed as an astronaut or a potted plant or even a yellow road digger as pictured above, but no, none of these, those photographs and images are all just for publicity. Robyn bounds out onto the tiny stage in a leather jacket, tight skirt, tights and a wonder bra enhancced vest. She is Kylie small and you realise the best pop princesses are all tiny. A few years ago I saw the Scissor Sisters in the same venue before all the hype exploded and they turned their debut album into a greatest hits album, this venue was also ideal for Robyn and you really hope, in equal measure, that more success will follow her and also that she keeps the sheer energy and little stick of dynamite quality that is evident every minute of her performance. Andreas and his two bandmates turn out to be brilliant musicians. There are two factors that made this concert pop perfection, the first is that the crowd, a wide age mix adores her and knows all the words of her songs, something she comments on mid way and then there are the songs. They are tight and loud, Robyn knows she's a good performer but this confidence is a mix of professionalism and someone still having fun after over a decade touring and creating. "Who's that Girl" and "Handle Me" sound wonderful live. There is also humour peppered throughout the show. When she introduces "Keep the Fires Burning", she says that the audience may recognise it as it was a song she wrote and became a hit for Beverley Knight, she says "I think she sings it really beautiful but I just think that I sing it better". This may sound cocky on page but it was really funny hearing her day it in her little Disney demented character voice. She also reveals that the great "Bum like You" song was written after seeing a documentary on the writer Charles Bukowski, saying that he was awful to women but "always gets the woman". On her website it says that "Konichiwa Bitches" is her signature song but of course it isn't, "With Every Heartbeat" is, sadly the sound went back to dodgy for this song but it still gave me goosebumps. "Cobrastyle" and "Crash and Burn Girl" were also simply amazing. She did 4 encores, two sets of two, one a Swedish folk-song version of her American hit "Show me Love", I had read recently that she prefers to just do new material but she said after the song, "it's nice what you can do with an old song",the last being acoustic versions of "With Every Heartbeat" and "Be Mine" accompanied just with Andreas on guitar. This seems proper as they have created the best pop song of the last 12 months in the form of "With Every Heartbeat". Another memorable moment was before the encore the crowd did a chant, myself and my friend couldn't make it out at first but it was "one more tune!". Boys kissed boys and girls kissed girls and straight couples looked happy too and for one evening Robyn world was a sweet place to be.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Viva, etc

I never thought that I would feature Coldplay on this site but I really like their new American single "Viva La Vida". I don't think I will stop saying that downloads killed the charts as due to this reason the song wasn't eligible to be a single in the UK where instead, "Violet Hill" is the current UK single, reaching only number 8 in the UK charts to date.
"Viva La Vida" is currently number 2 in the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, the highest ever charting Coldplay song in the US.
I never really liked Coldplay, I always regarded them as a band that people who would say they listen to and ridicule someone like Celine Dion, while secretly listening to her music at home. I loved "Trouble" years ago but bar "Clocks" not really anything since then.
"Viva La Vida" is Coldplay suddenly becoming U2 in a scary, good way. The song is one that will sell out tour dates and I think it sounds almost Christmassy.
Their album"Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends" is this week's number one album in the UK, selling 300,000 copies there to date and has recieved generally good reviews.
The official video to "Viva la Vida" is not the one below.
But it should be.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Icehouse

The next song on my favourite songs from the 1980's is also 25 years old this year.
In February 1983, "Hey Little Girl", by the Australian band Icehouse was released and made it to number 17 in the UK singles chart. I always thought that the song had made it at least into the top ten but like today, many of the best songs are not always top ten hits. The song fared better in the band's native Australia where it got to number 6 in the then ARIA charts, it was also a number one in Switzerland. I'm sure it is a song that many readers on this site know but for those who don't "Hey Little Girl" is one of the most atmospheric and haunting songs from that decade.
It is one of the first singles I ever bought but sadly my copy has disappeared over the years. "Hey Little Girl" was taken from Icehouse's second album "Primitive Man" which was originally recorded and released as a solo project for the band's singer Iva Davies.
Icehouse released several albums after the success of "Primitive Man". Their most successful album "Man of Colours" was released in 1987 and was a number one best seller in Australia and New Zealand. The single "Electric Blue" from that album was a big American radio hit at the time.
In 2006, Icehouse recorded a new album "Bi-Polar Poems" but, to date, it has not been released.
Icehouse also supported David Bowie on his famous "Serious Moonlight" tour and in 2003 Iva Davies collaborated with Christopher Gordon and Richard Tognetti to write the acclaimed film score for fellow Australian Peter Weir's film; "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World".
The video for "Hey Little Girl" is below. It matches the mood of the song perfectly. To this day "Hey Little Girl"'s lyrics are one that stay in the mind.
The chorus is both simple and unnerving.

"Hey, little girl, where will you hide,
Who can you run to now,
Hey, little girl, where will you go,
Who can you turn to now?".

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Summertime

Scarlett Johannsson has recieved a mixture of good and average reviews for her debut album, "Anywhere I lay my Head" which is a collection of songs originally performed by Tom Waits. As Tom Waits is the High King of the type of music that he does it was never going to be completely easy for Scarlett to have her album judged in a neutral, positive light. I have never been a fan of Tom Waits so I did not know what "Falling Down", the first song released from the album, sounded like so I very much liked Scarlett's version of the song when I heard it. I know several people who like Kylie, Madonna and Tom Waits all at the same time but I'm not one of them. One song that I have listened to a lot is another cover version that Scarlett did. Her version of "Summertime" features on a charity album called "Unexpected dreams: Songs from the Stars". It is a 14 track album released in April 2006, which contains songs by Ewan MacGregor, Lucy Lawless (television's Xena) and other actors from cinema and television. Jeremy Irons take on the Bob Dylan song "To Make You Feel My Love" is pleasant. This song was recorded by Billy Joel and I also heard the wonderful Irish singer, Mary Black, do a gorgeous version of it at her recent concert in Vicar street here in Dublin. Other songs that stand out are Jennifer Garner's "My Heart is so Full of You" and Teri Hatcher's "Goodnight". The album would make a nice gift if you are a romantic like me, it is basically a collection of lullabies, sung in the style of the 1920's. There are short music clips for all 14 songs on the album's Amazon page which is here Following on from her role in "The Other Boelyn Girl" Scarlett will feature in 3 other films this year. The first is Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" which got good reviews in Cannes last month and co-stars Rebecca Hall, Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz. "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" is awaiting a release date in Europe. The second is the film adaptation of the best selling self help book; "He's Just Not That Into You" which will do well as the book was written by the script writers of "Sex and the City" TV series and has a cast that includes Ben Affleck, Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore and Jennifer Connolly. "He's Just Not That Into You" is due out in October. The third film is "The Spirit" which is directed and written by Frank Millar and is another adaptation, this time from Will Eisner's drawings. Gabriel Macht plays the lead and Samuel L. Jackson continues to star in most of the fantasy/Sci-Fi movies released in the past few years. "The Spirit" is provisionally due to be released this December.

Oh, happy day!


Today I found the cure for depression. Below is a video that could cheer up the saddest heart.
It's amazing when you think you know most things about popular culture and some things just pass you by. One that had done so for me was, Jerry Springer: The Opera and the song I Just Wanna Dance from it. When the musical itself opened in London's West End it was one of the most controversial shows ever. The show did make it to America but not to Broadway after failing to get the all important financial backing. Thankfully some songs live on.
While looking at the great pop music site Fizzypop I came across the song and a video featuring a montage of the best and worst moments from musicals spanning several decades of cinema. It is simply one of the funniest and fabbest things I have ever since. It is fantastically edited and the inclusion of movies like Showgirls and Connie &Carla made me laugh out loud but it's the look on Kate Winslet's face as Titanic's Rose that made me smile the most.
The song, better known by it's proper name; I Just Wanna Fuckin' dance is sung by Shawntel in the Jerry Springer: The Opera stage show. Shawntel is described on Wikipedia as "an overweight, middle aged woman who dreams of being a pole dancer". It's like a John Waters dream come true.
The vocals on the song are by Alison Jiear, who in true tragic gay dance diva style was rumoured never to have been paid for her vocals on the remix of the song used in clubs all over the world.
There are other videos versions of the song but the video below reminded me of those montages you saw on the Oscars in the 1970's or 1980's.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Last Dance....

Many months ago when I read that there was going to be a new horror movie called "Prom Night" it reminded me of the 1980 film which starred Jamie Lee Curtis and was one that I was far too young to see when it was released in it's day.
The "Prom Night" of 2008 really only shares a name with the 1980 movie as the plots of both movies are quite different.
"Prom Night" (2008) is a 15a cert in Ireland which means if you are aged over 15 you can bring anyone under that age with you to see it. I am forever uncomfortable with this cert. While there is no intensely gory scenes in "Prom Night" it's theme is still adult, particularly the opening scene.
"Prom Night" (2008) begins with Donna (Brittany Snow) returning home to find her younger brother dead, unaware her father too lies murdered downstairs and after going to hide under a bed, then witnesses her mother being killed, stabbed by a manically obsessed teacher in Donna's high school, Richard Fenton (Jonathon Schaech).
A counselling session and a change of dress later and it's straight into the event of Donna's Prom Night. Her Aunt and Uncle are now her surrogate parents; who are there to tell her she's the "most beautiful girl in the world" and also frighten the life out of her as she stands in front of the bathroom mirror. Meanwhile Donna-obsessed Richard has escaped from his maximum (minimum) security prison three days previously and has arrived at the hotel that the Prom is being held in, checking in under an alias, his only disguise a baseball cap. It has also taken three days for the police in Donna's home town to be informed.
This all happens in the first five minutes of the film. From there on it is pure and utter B-movie. It is the "Showgirls" of it's day without the nudity or Elizabeth Berkley.
Donna goes to her Prom night with her perfectly handsome boyfriend Bobby (Scott Porter) and her friends Claire (Jessica Stroup) and Michael (Kelly Blatz) and Crissy (Brianne Davis) and Ronnie (Collins Pennie). The acting and script is so bad at this early part of the movie that it's like as if they met in the car park 5 minutes beforehand instead of being in High School all those years.
It is obvious by the grand entrance and upstairs suites that the hotel is a very expensive place to stay in. However! This is also a hotel where there are no security staff let alone cameras anywhere. It dosen't take Richard long to make his first kill and after the third or fourth murder, you wonder is he going to make his way through everyone in the entire hotel.
Despite the fact that the man who has murdered her entire family may (i.e., is) in the hotel with Donna, it is decided (solely) by Officer Hicks (Craig Susser) that it's best not to tell Donna this information. If ever a movie character would later have the guilt of the deaths of the young and the restless on his hands it's Officer Hicks!
There is no little or no interaction outside of Donna's immediate set of friends, so it is obvious who is on the quick exit list. As most of the murders take place in a hotel room, the movie for the first half should have simply have been called "Spider's Web".
The Prom Night party itself is a rather horrible affair. An awful mix of bad music, a name checking dj and various video montages of the students. When you consider the fact that Scott Porter who plays boyfriend Bobby is 28 in real life, these are teenagers a lá Beverly Hills 90210's Dylan and Brandon.
Brittany Snow is very pretty and does get to scream once or twice but this a Prom Night where the main character isn't even on the short-list to be named Prom Queen, Crissy has been instead. Therefore even the imagery of the tilted tiara on the movie poster, which we assume is Donna, doesn't even apply.
As the film processes the entire plot just gets more ridiculous by the second. Literally! For the majority of the film, not one student or teacher in the hotel recognises former teacher Richard as he wanders from hallway to hotel room to lift to reception area. A small child could make better plot twists here, than what happens in the last half hour of this movie.
By not having any gore there are no "Final Destination"/"The Omen" inventive style death scenes which seems to be the only way to make the teen horror movie different these days.
There is not one moment of tension in the whole thing. Jonathon Schaech is a bit unnerving in this movie but he is an actor who was once regarded by magazines like "Vanity Fair" as someone to watch out for after his roles in films like "That Thing You Do" and "How To Make an American Quilt". With the younger actors in the film, being in a horror movie is almost like something that has to be part of their acting résumé in Hollywood today.
When 2008 will be reviewed, "Prom Night" will still be one of the "number one" movies of the year as it made that position on it's release last April when it made $20 million in it's first weekend. This made back the film's entire budget in three days and it went on to gross €43 million in total in the US, which for now means that movies of it's type will continue to be greenlighted by studios in the US.
The only other movie to get truly awful reviews recently was the spoof comedy, "Superhero Movie", which stars Drake Bell and Leslie Nielsen.
In 1980, 28 years ago, Leslie Nielsen also starred in a horror movie.
That film was "Prom Night".

Mon Frére Talentueux

Last month my brother, Mike, moved to Paris with his girlfriend, Jane. Before he went to France he started putting a collection of his drawings, paintings and sketches on his own website which is here.
I've always loved his work and I hope you do too.

Friday, June 6, 2008

No Air

Last year the American singer Chris Brown starred in "This Christmas" which made nearly $50 million at the American box office. On the soundtrack was a version of "I'll be home for Christmas" by American Idol 2007 winner Jordin Sparks. She has already had a hit single with her debut single "Tattoo" which I liked a lot. One of the best pop songs of the year so far is "No Air", a collboration by Jordin and Chris. "No Air" is this week's number 3 in the Australian ARIA charts, the same chart placing it got to in America. "Tattoo" is still top 20 in Australia. While "No Air" was originally due to released in the UK /Ireland on May 14th it is now going to released properly in July, building on the success Chris Brown has had already in Europe and no doubt on the strength of Rihanna's "Take a Bow", a similar R'n'B ballad, which is still number one in the UK. "No Air" is a song that back in the days of CD:UK and "Top of the Pops" would easily have charted quickly in the top ten. Below is a performance of the song by Jordin and Chris on the most recent "American Idol" season. While they both seem to be singing over pre-recorded backing vocals in parts, it is live and is a great performance overall. Chris Brown seems to have been in the charts for years now but he is still only 19, Jordin is 18. Bless!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Yazoo



In 1982 I was 12 years old. The year is important music wise to me because it was the year that I first remember loving a pop song. The song was "Only You" by Yazoo. I would get to see Alison Moyet sing the song in Dublin's Olympia theatre many years later in the 1990's but I never thought I would get to see her perform it as part of the group Yazoo. On Monday night I did as Yazoo played the same venue as part of their "Yazoo: Reconnected tour".
It was a truly great concert experience. The stage was like a Top of the Pops set with strobe lighting, neon lit flooring, visuals on screens, one behind Alison and Vince. She was in great form throughout, genuinely loving the adoration of the Dublin crowd, a great big smile across her face throughout the gig. Vince Clarke however was at best robotic but it all helped to Tardis the audience back to TV screens showing Top of the Pops or The Tube.
Beginning with "Nobody's Diary", one of the all time great pop songs, the concert featured many songs from Yazoo's two albums. "Upstairs at Eric's" from 1982 and 1983's "You and me Both". The "hits", "Situation", "Don't Go" and of course "Only You" were saved for near the end but if you going to see them I would advise listening to the two albums again. It is truly wonderful to hear songs like "Midnight" "State Farm" and "In My room" sung live. "Tuesday" is a really tender song which you could imagine a singer like Annie Lennox singing now or back when the Eurythmics were also new artists in the charts with Yazoo.
Vince's synth is now replaced by a laptop but the sound was great throughout. There was no band just the two of them so that added to the whole experience. Vince is now most known for being one half of Erasure but he was also the man who wrote "Just Can't Get Enough" while he was an original member of Depeche Mode. He also wrote the much better song, "New Life".
The audience became a happy football crowd when "Only You" was sung which Alison introduced as "a song that has been very good to Vince" and she wished that it was one that she had written. Sadly, the audience went a bit Flying Pickets while singing the song. The fact that The Flying Pickets had a 5 week Christmas number one with "Only You", while Yazoo's version only got to number two, shows that the charts have always been a mad place.
"Only You" was also offered to Depeche Mode by Vince Clarke and when they turned it down it would become Yazoo's debut single. I still can't imagine Dave Gahan singing it. "Situation" was also the b-side of "Only You" and was, amazingly, never a single in it's own right in the UK in the early 1980's, a remix of the song would get to number 14 in the UK in 1990. "Situation" also opens with one of the best "laugh" introduction which, for me, is as memorable as Madonna's laugh at the beginning of 1985's "Angel".
The two clips below feature "Don't Go". One is from the time when the song was first released and the second is from May of this year and is a live performance which Yazoo did when they guested on Jonathon Ross's chat show. Ross was and still is, obviously a fan and rightly calls them one of Britain's greatest bands.
Yazoo's tour continues for the next few weeks in the UK and there will be one date in Barcelona and in July will also play American dates in Las Vegas, Oakland in San Francisco, Dallas, Washington, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. The website which lists all the tour dates, as well as details on the remastered editions of their albums is here.
In America in the 1980's they were know as Yaz. When I told a 20 something colleague in work that, I was going to see Yazoo in concert, he said "Didn't she sing "The Only Way is Up"?".
Not a million miles away.... I guess.




With This Tear

In less than two weeks time Prince will play Dublin's Croke Park stadium. It is a concert that I really did not want to miss and I don't think I will regret the crazy price I paid for my ticket. Dublin is in the middle of the big concert season with Bruce Springsteen, Westlife and Celine Dion all playing to huge crowds over the past two weeks. I recently heard Prince's version of his own song "Nothing Compares 2 U" which made Sinead O'Connor a global music star. Prince has written many songs for other artists, usually female. Chaka Khan's "I feel 4 U" is timeless and is better than his own version but "Manic Monday" by The Bangles is my least favourite of their songs. My favourite Prince songs sung by another artist are "Sugar Walls" by Sheena Easton which made her controversial and extra fabulous for a little while in the 1980's, the next is "When You Were Mine" by Cyndi Lauper which can be found on her debut album "She's so Unusual" and is just gorgeous, both songs I will feature on Strike Curious Poses at a later date. One of the least known Prince songs is "With This Tear" sung by Celine Dion. This is a song that was on her 1992 album "Celine Dion". The album was her 2nd album in English and is best known for "Beauty and the Beast", her duet with Peabro Bryson. The album features two great Celine ballads; "Where does my Heart Beat Now" and "If You Asked Me To". "With This Tear" is one of those songs that should have been a single in it's day. It was given to Celine as "a gift" by Prince. Prince, a few years previously, had collaborated with Madonna on "Love Song" which to me, is one of the most disappointing collaborations in music. Prince was originally meant to sing "Bad" as a duet with Michael Jackson too. "With This Tear" is a really beautiful song in which the singer remembers a lover who has now died. It is a song of remorse, guilt, sadness. The apt images used on the Youtube made video below were put together by Stewart who seems to like all the songs I like.