Month: August 2010

Number One, #5

I deliver this missive from Murcia, Espana. I should be holidaying but I love you guys too much and I’ve missed two hott new Number Ones already. Here are some words on them. #1. Roll Deep – Green LightJust wholesomely rubbish enough to work, I think. The central metaphor strained to breaking point (“Stop/Take a Look, left and right/Is it clear for me to go?”), a video which is just the various differing-values-of-ridiculous members (my favourite? Either the guy with the shades and top-knot, or the guy who looks like a chubby Jon Tickle) in front of block colours, genuine road signs, and the occasional shot of an actual traffic light. I’m hardly desperate for the opportunity to dance to this, but I probably wouldn’t change stations if it came on the radio. It is, if I’m being completely honest, the kind of song I guiltily catch myself enjoying in the shower before realising I’ve been singing along for the last two minutes without noticing. #1. Taio Cruz – Dynamite Meanwhile, something about this is more insidious and lazy. I briefly considered just cut-and-pasting an old review for one of the other generic-R&B Number Ones, but I’m wearing that particular rant a bit thin, I think (in conversation moreso: the words generic and R&B having been sighed so frequently recently that I’m starting to get a little self-conscious about it). So I’ll try instead to point out what makes this particular selection so offensive to my tastes in an easy-to-read point-by-point style: -Repeating ‘throw my hands up/ayo’ in a way that caters to the lowest-common dancefloor denominator and has absolutely nothing to do with the song. -The phrase “I’m wearing all my favourite brands”. Humanity as it currently exists has been proved obsolete; please welcome Homo Nikeus, the very pinnacle of capitalism’s long evolution process. -Being yet another song about what precisely the protagonist plans to do in the club. -Using autotuned vocals in a way that adds precisely nothing to the qualities of the music except sounding a bit weird. Except, oh, guess what: it sounds completely unsurprising given that approximately twenty-three thousand* songs have used this particular. -Actually, scratch that first criticism. The song isn’t actually about anything, is it? It doesn’t even have the usual novelty hook, or twist on the formula and instead chooses to be a series of small semi-coherent collections of words on the general theme of being in the club. More terrible dynamite/explosive analogies next time, please. -Somehow managing to make its presentation of girls in the video more leery and touching-yourself-behind-a-reflective-screen than the current par for music videos. -Ending on a completely unearned self-congratulating applause when, in fact, the sound of someone miming putting a gun to their head would be much more apt. Two mediocre-to-poor Number Ones, anyway. Roll on this week’s hot pick, selected entirely at random by the atrophying twitch-reflexes of the discerning music-buying public. *Values accurate to the nearest twenty-three-thousand.

Grounded: Why Superman Has To Walk

I don’t know if you know (frankly, I’m not sure why you would) but recently the Superman comics reached the 700 mark. They took the opportunitity to begin not only a new story, but a new direction for Superman. He would be walking the length of the USA to reconnect with its people. Walking. As in, on foot. The idea has been pretty thoroughly mocked. And rightfully so: it’s a bit stupid, really, like the time Captain America gave up on Civil War because he was out of touch with the modern American man. It’s been pointed out that the writer, J. Michael Straczynski, has done a very similar idea with his last three major iconic-superhero stories, bringing Thor and Wonder Woman to ground so he can get a handle on them. Thing is, it also kind of makes sense. Superman is a power fantasy figure. He was designed by two fanboy kids, from not-well-off immigrant backgrounds, as their protector. Superman is the genie in the bottle of guys like them, the bespectacled awkward working-class guy. He is the purest example of superhero as Metaphor. I have to admit that these thoughts are all tangled with the fact I finally read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay this summer, and Shuster and Siegel have become stand-ins for those two characters in my head. ‘Escapism’ is a word I am trying to avoid.* Meanwhile: It’s a fairly accepted maxim that good Superman stories are thin on the ground these days. If it weren’t for Morrison – more on him later – I believe it would go ‘noone’s written a great Superman story for decades’. The last film was a wreck. The big touchstones are ‘imaginary stories’ (aren’t they all) which rework Superman (Red Son: as a Commie, Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow: as a disappeared legend). One possible reason? Nowadays, the average comics reader doesn’t have much to fear. The geek is king. We sit atop culture, defining the newest trends. We’re able to snobbily say, huh, you’ve only just heard of Scott Pilgrim? like the indie-gurus of yesteryear. And, as all those Bam! Pow! headlines will tell you, they’re not even kids anymore. There are no bullies to fear, at least no more than their average fellow man has. Ladies and gentlemen, the metaphor at the heart of Superman has been spent. We don’t need him anymore. Grant Morrison did the best possible version of the Kryptonian Super-Jesus for the modern age in All-Star Superman, taking the idea to its logical extreme, as Morrison is wont to do, and painting him as just that: an outer-space saviour for the entire world, never faltering in his love. But that can only be done for so long and so, as the Superman serials roll on and on and on towards the next one thousand issues, writers have to make do with what’s left. In this case, Straczynski has chosen ‘he’s one of us’. The jocks are no better than us, anymore, and Superman is no better than the Common Man. Looking from the outside, testing with one foot, we can see that the metaphor bends a little under strain, but holds. To go further, I need to examine the Metaphor in its natural habitat: Issues #700 to 702 of Superman. The metaphor, and the couple of ways JMS chooses to bend it, are fascinating. The line between Clark Kent and Superman is blurred – Clark Kent casually chats on the phone, as Superman strolls down a street. Superman, the old immigrant, asks new migrants: “Could you possibly have picked a worse time to immigrate here illegally?” Clearly, it was different when he did it. Or is he drawing a line between him and his past? The Superman iconography is testing the waters, trying to reinvent himself so he can remain a successful icon in the modern world. Elsewhere, though, it’s business as usual. Superman gives a lot of speeches, without really saying much about the metaphor, or himself, or the ideas behind the story. They seem to work their magic on the people Kal El meets, though, who are consistently inspired by his presence. Which comes off a little cheesy, particularly when he helps the skinny little kid who wants to play basketball. It’s predictable, but does return to the idea of Superman as liberator of the weak geek (in this case, the geek who wants to, and successfully manages to, integrate into normality.) Meanwhile, there’s some disturbing ‘fighting for over here, over there can look out for itself’ rhetoric from Superman, which seems a bit contradictory both with the character – it’s the kind of thing that makes sense out of the mouth of Daredevil or Batman, overcome men doing what they can for their slice of land but not an all-powerful alien who has come to save us all – and the message of these comics. An attempt to tie it back into that idea, that ‘there’ can become ‘here’ only compounds the issue. It’s all a bit confused. The life of the everyman isn’t below Superman – he’s happy to clear out a stockroom to pay for a steak sandwich** – but he’s also treated reverentially by both the public and the text. His opinion is treated differently to that of the man on the street, he’s the only guy who can stop a girl from suicide (which might sound familiar to anyone who’s read All-Star, where it actually makes 100% sense). I think it’s an attempt to bring human concerns and stories back to Superman, but only manages it in a temporary, revolving supporting cast. Not in the big man himself, or even his human friends. Straczynski takes a genuinely interesting idea, but one that requires following through straight and clear. Here, he muddles it and interesting ideas fail to translate into interesting comics. And you have to be reading as a meta-fictional thing, a setting I can really only tune my brain to because […]

Number One, #4

Today being Thursday, I realise this is ridiculously delayed, for a combination of good personal reasons and a less professional but nonetheless all-pervading dread of this week’s song. But if this has any chance of being the semi-regular feature I want it to be, I have to finish it before next week’s. Which hopefully won’t be delayed. Flo Rida – The Club Can’t Handle Me (feat. David Guetta) A week or so ago, young Miles came to me – I am, after all, a doctor of Pitchforkism, just as I am a doctor of love – with a problem. This song, Club Can’t Handle Me by Flo Rida and David Guetta, two artists whose previous music he had no love for him, it worked for him. So I listened to it, and found I was not suffering from the same affliction. It’s not as obnoxious as I remembered, as I reluctantly gave up my LCD Soundsystem and typed in those words into Spotify’s search bar, huffing like the petulant indie-child I am. It is, dare I say it, actually a little fun, and I can see why it would make sense for someone, but that person is not me. Except for the bit at the beginning, where Flo (presumably this is how we are to refer to this ridiculously monickered gentleman) shouts out to his track companion “I see you D. Guetta, let’s get ’em”. This bit is solid gold.

Scott Pilgrimfest, Vol 1: vs. Miles vs. Finest Hour

So, it’s the Summer of Scott. The comic’s final chapter dropped a few weeks ago, the movie hype machine crushes all in its path, and I’m addicted to the Plumtree song that gave Mr Pilgrim his name. So, I’ve reacted in that particularly Alex Spencer way, which is to think of four or five things I can write on the topic as the SoS (as absolutely no-one is calling it) unfolds. First, a simple review of Vol. 6, the final chapter. Or it would be, had I not decided two heads – two sexy, messy-haired heads – would be better than one and asked LookiMakeMusic‘s very own Miles ‘Davis’ Bradley. A perfect segue about me fighting through the last level of Mario Galaxy 2 is interrupted and wasted. The conversation is peppered with synchronicities, then talking over each other, then silence. But, hey, you’ve used IM before, you know the ropes. Spoilers of pretty much all of Scott Pilgrim follow. Also: some salty language, due to Miles being a very naughty man, and Scott Pilgrim being a bit of, no other word for it, a dick. A quick trim of the fat, a few bits added to make more sense/make me look better, and I present the results… Miles: Do you want to do some scene setting before we get going? Because I want the world to know that I am eating some really pretty bad “Hairy Bikers” brand lemon-flavoured crisps. And that directly to my right is a copy of Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and the new Stars record.Alex: I am on a family dining room table. I have just made some pretty frickin’ gourmet orange/pineapple squash.…So, Miles, which Scott Pilgrim character do you fancy most?Miles: I don’t know any more. Probably Ramona. But Knives has “come of age” in book six and is finally dressing like a human being, so that helps.Which Scott Pilgrim character do you fancy most post book six, Alex?Alex: Kim Pine. Obv. She is my grumpy freckled Dreamgirl.Miles: Ah, this was the first book where I liked Kim. And I’m not sure if that’s me. Or if it’s Kim getting nicer with age. But up until now I have hated, HATED, the fans who wanted Kim and Scott to end up together. After this one, I can certainly see where they were coming from.Alex: Interestingly, this was the first book I liked Knives (that much). Relevantly: “no longer a child in the eyes of the law”, right? That was the moment I started diggin’ on this bookMiles: I think mine: “J’Accuse – French”.Alex: Oh, that was brilliant, actually. Did you think this was a particularly funny book, as Scott Pilgrims go?Miles: Relevant: I had the longest and most serious relationship of my life break up a little while before the book came out and in the time between that and me reading it for the first time, I behaved somewhat poorly for a bit, so it’d be fair to say that the whole thing kind of emotionally beat the shit out of me. But in between the crying and “oh God, me too” moments, I laughed and giggled a LOT.I’d say it’s one of the funniest, if not the funniest.Alex: It’s definitely funnier than Vol. 5, aka ‘The One Where Everything Goes A Bit Wrong’.Miles: It’s important to be a dick sometimes so you can relate to popular works of narrative art.Alex: I think that was my only issue with Finest Hour, actually: I don’t have much relatable experience (5 being a lot closer to certain bones).Miles: See, your problem is you’ve never been a dick.Alex:I think Phonogram did all the ‘I have a cock/have been a cock’ lessons for me and made me, annoyingly, a better person before I got to notch up any experience in it.Miles: Whereas for me with the first series of Phonogram I was busy being virginal, yearny and theoretical and for the second series of Phonogram was I being happily monogamous and pleasant.[a moment of spooky synchronicity follows]Miles: So it turns out the entire series was a moralist lesson in being nice.Alex: So… Scott Pilgrim: is the pivotal message Don’t Be A Dick?Miles: Well, maybe. Or perhaps it’s more like: When you have been a dick, it is important to recognise you have been a dick and not run from it. Or, as the Dali Lama says, “When you lose, don’t lose the lesson”.Alex: Which is what makes Scott the good guy, and Gideon the baddie?Miles: In the end, yes. There’s been a fair bit of talk about the sympathetic/unsympatheticness of Scott in the build up to the film’s release. And it’s interesting to me how people react to him differently. And the running joke with the MemoryCam in book six adresses the matter in a manner that is laugh-out-loud funny but always followed by that moment of “Oh, yeah…” And you wonder if you should have cheering for this guy in those moments.Alex: (Memory Cam is the most perfect part of the book. Probably the series.) Miles: Although you know what I think the best gut-punch is? The end of the Scott/Envy exchange that very, very quickly cuts to the heart of the matter of the way that relationships end and the… I don’t know, the many different ways they are interpretted from the inside and out – “I remember you breaking my heart.” The feeling is somewhat mutual.” Having read everything leading up to that with Scott painting it as straightforward ‘Envy became terrible!’ that bit’s absolutely mind blowing in a quiet, sad wayAlex: You say different people react differently, right? So, for you, how is Scott?Miles: I think he means well, I think he’s perhaps a bit too… in thrall to pretty girls. He is a dick to Knives at the start, and The Lisa Miller Incident is… he does not look good. But I’d say that makes him human rather than actively a dick. A little oblivious, a […]

Number One, #3

I am doing this, for the first time, before knowing the result. The chart unfolds before us. Ooh, exciting, eh? So, in the meantime, let’s catch up on the missed weeks of hott Number One Hits. Looking at what I’ve missed, I see I’m going to hate myself for doing this… FOUR WEEKS AGOKaty Perry – California Gurls Again. One time too many, by my reckoning. Was it even still sunny? THREE WEEKS AGOThe Club is Alive – JLSWhat exactly keeps the pop-Frankenstein that is JLS alive baffles me. What sustenance feeds this monster? The hearts of young gullible girls, and mid-twenties girls who should know better, snatched late at night? When it lifts – argh – it lifts its shirt, to show what lies beneath, is the correct response not to be repulsed? The Club is Alive is a perfect example of this shambling undead mess. Look how it masquerades as one of us, so desperate to convince us it is ‘Alive’ at it assembles itself from a set of below-adequate parts. A weird The Sound of Music sample, as shown to be pop-poison by Gwen Stefani not all that long ago. Bargain-bin electro-effects, cheap tinny synths and melting voices. The refrain “you can be the DJ, I can be the dancefloor/you can get up on me” which apart from its failings to make any sense as an analogy, doesn’t even sound snappy. 1, 2, 3, bleeding 4… You question which element, exactly, came first and was considered good enough to have a song built around it. This is not just poorly reanimated pop, it is the Tesco Value Frankenstein, a sellotaped-together selection of dull, unattractive parts that do not add up to a whole.(The chart countdown reveals that it won’t be this All Time Low song that makes #1. Phew.)TWO WEEKS AGOAirplanes – B.o.B. (feat. Hayley Williams)So, if M.I.A. is Maya, this guy is Bob? That’s just not good enough for pop music. Fittingly, neither is this. Which is where I could finish. It’s certainly not as deserving of my ire as JLS, being a moderately good song. Bringing in mediocre female rock vocals in actually hurts the song, which when Bob’s flow gets going – apart from the annoying tendency to drop at the end of a line – has a certain urgency to it. But the chorus sounds like generic R&B trying to do Evanescence and, that being the bit we’ve all heard over and over for the last month, makes this song’s ubiquity … a bit hurtful, really. Did we not learn the first time, people? (And it’s not Eminem which … I’m actually a bit gutted about. I haven’t had chance to take any of the new Eminem stuff apart yet, and I am hungry to do so. Know this, Mr Mathers: I continue to be Very Disappointed in you.) ONE WEEK AGOWe No Speak Americano – Yolanda Be Cool vs D-CupThis is more like it. Summer novelty hit which I can’t actually quite get my head round. It’s like – along with that Stereo Love song – an attempt to reclaim the viral europop people used to bring back in their heads and their mouths from holidays on the Mediterrenean and have to find on tape back at home, if only to inoculate themselves. Where that song takes a pure retro route, however, this one is that phenomenon described to a DJ of five years in the future, whose record collection only stretches as far back as this January. It bends, flexes, plays with the raw materials in its metallic paws. It is an effortless Number One. I am congratulating it more than I probably actually like it as a song, because it is a Pop Hit Designed Only For Chart Domination and it is only proper and right that this was achieved. And we return, just in time for the announcement of This Week’s Official UK Chart Number One. And it is… TODAYNeYo – Beautiful Monster The radio announcement that convinced me I had to return to this idea, right now, was that the three possibilities for a number one were NeYo, Flo Rida and Tinchy Stryder. The way they meld into a generic internet-R&B-superstar-name-generator mush. It’s the names, for one. I forgot to add the name on first posting, and I genuinely had to check which one it was. I can’t tell them apart even by their ridiculous monickers, and the music – of course – doesn’t help. The Worst Bit:The lyrics, in the opening particularly, are delivered slowly enough to be actively painful. The My-First-Metaphor, the obvious rhymes, are so easy to spot you’d have to be politely looking away not to notice.The Best Bit:There are ’90s videogame noises which build, chopping, under the song at various points. There’s one bit where it actually sounds like it’s building to strobing lasers and , but it doesn’t go anywhere more than a slightly louder repetition of the chorus. But for one moment, there’s a thrilling promise. …I’m almost upset I used up my Frankenstein’s monster analogy on JLS, but maybe it would have been too obvious, given the title. It really does sound like one of the parts that was found at the roadside and stitched together for that monstrosity, though. But here’s the thing: while it was never going to reach the Gaga One, the pop-deity its title oh-so-subtly invokes, Beautiful Monster doesn’t even have the balls to be as terrible as JLS’ beast.

The Alan Moore Effect

Last week, Alan Moore released a comic. This is A Big Deal in comicdom, at least to a certain section of people. Alan Moore is the man who wrote Watchmen, V For Vendetta, and did a lot of pretty revolutionary stuff in the world of sequential man-punching-man art. It’s like … a new Prince release in pop-world, let’s say.* And so its fitting that the particulars of this latest work are a little strange. Moore eschewed the traditional Big Two publishers long ago so it perhaps shouldn’t be so big a surprise that this is coming out through Avatar Comics, a pretty small creator-orientated publisher. But, as traditional Big Important Comics release methods go, it’s about as conventional as Prince giving away his new album with The Daily Mirror.** It’s not getting reviewed in a lot of the mainstream places, there’s no real marketing push. It is an event only to people who decide to let it be an event. Which is unusual enough in the world of comics. But what’s more unusual, what really seems to have taken people by surprise, is the actual content of this, Alan Moore’s (apparently) Final Comic. Which, oh yeah, we should probably start referring to by name as the comic itself actually matters, a bit: Neonomicon. What is actually unusual about Neonomicon is quite how usual it all is. Neonomicon*** is a supernatural-horror police-procedural. CSI crossed with Lovecraft; the fantastic grounded in the earthy. Which is a nice premise. But, given this is a man who is deified for his unthreading of comic conventions and masterful interweaving of new narrative techniques, it’s hardly innovative. It’s told very straight. There’s no particular cleverness, no obvious Mooreisms to speak of. Unless, of course, you’re hip to the theory of ‘Diegetic Panelisation’.**** The relevant video is here, which I found through Rich Johnston’s Bleeding Cool. Its presentation is ridiculous: all sweeping Inception score and “I don’t know about you, but that scares me”, post-Matrix ponderousness and naughty, naughty swears. Not to give much away, I don’t put much stock in the Diegetic Panelisation theory. Okay, let’s break this down. Like in panels. -The idea is that Moore is drawing our attention, very subtly, to the artificial nature of his story. This comic is a comic. He does this, mostly, through his uses of panels and gutters. As the video wisely does, I shall steal from Scott McCloud at this point: Moore’s repeated use of a four-panel layout is suggested as a kind of primer to the game we’re meant to be playing. The thing is, this isn’t stuck to that slavishly, or even broken at key moments to emphasise the point. Definitely not enough that it stands out, the four-panel ‘widescreen’ approach being a fairly common part of modern comics. -The game that this sets up, the theory goes, is to establish that long screen-shaped rectangle as our viewing window. This is echoed within the art itself. This is interesting. However, spotting panels within panels eventually becomes just that: a game of spot-the-rectangle. A single screen within a panel is interesting. Pointing out how often the art uses (real world examples of) rectangles ignores a dozen obvious criticisms. This is going too far. -Even if this is what Moore has chosen to explore, it would actually be a little disappointing. I mean, haven’t we all read Grant Morrison by now? Comic characters becoming self-aware, panel borders as physical boundaries, the escape off the page are hardly new ideas. Not to spoil them for anyone, but go and read Flex Mentallo, Animal Man, The Filth… Comparing this to Magritte’s fist assertion that this is not a pipe is reaching, to say the least. And reaching is the recurring theme of this theory. What it all reeks of is desperation. The Great Bearded One is Serious Grown-Up Comic’s greatest totem and today, as he semi-rejects the medium, new work by Moore gets sparser and sparser. And then one comes along and it is just so  … plain. And so the defence mechanisms kick in, antibodies are released, and geekzyme breaks down the work until it fits into the hole deemed fitting. The thing is, being fair, parts of the theory actually make sense. The ‘literary in-joke’ comment stuck out even on first reading, some of the panel-within-a-panel stuff actually makes sense (especially in the otherwise arbitrary use of a geodome surrounding the city setting). The graffitied painting that plays a key part in the plot has edges designed to look like a gateway, like those illusions where the graffiti makes it look like the pavement is falling away to reveal what lies beneath, all of which lends credence to the ideas of depth and flatness. Most of all, it makes for an interesting reading of the comic’s final, sharpest moment. Which is, as I read it, simply a use of comics’ uniquely graphic-but-not-reality images to produce a simple trick, a trompe l’oeil. I think there’s even something to the idea itself: the story does to be headed somewhere. But even if this reading is spot-on, it’s hardly ‘woah’ stuff. A lot of what is pointed to is essentially that Alan Moore knows the form: which should be a surprise to about no-one who has ever studied/analysed comic. (And I’m a bit of a hypocrite for knocking over-analysis, as this blog is testament to. And faith in a bigger meaning is what kept me clinging to Lost for ever and ever. Meanwhile, I consume everything I can find on Inception – which I didn’t even love, that much – and Grant Morrison’s Batman stuff.) Our analyst is clearly talented. There’s a lot of good observation in here, from the hand-drawn wobbly borders to the very particular structure of the art. And, hey, it’s made me look again at this comic and I’ve ended up spending most of this post analysing his analysis, rather than breaking down the actual comic. I just think that shows how there’s not much to […]

My Beautiful Face, again

I am genuinely honoured to present to you the work of one Jessica ‘Hot Lips’ Kim, done at my mild nagging that she fills her unemployment with my face. She has opted for an 80’s Amiga-game look, if I am not mistaken. This is A) not inaccurate, B) awesome. Thanks, Jess!