Lady Ho-Hum

Watching the careers of stella-star super-famous types wander up and down the hills and troughs of fame really could drive a person mad. Maybe it does, given the types who write celeb columns in the tabs and build themselves a ‘job’ from musing on the fickle nature of notoriety.

Two women whose pop careers have contributed a soundtrack to the lives of millions have reached the point where the mojo has clearly been diluted too far. It’s what homeopathy must do to those genuinely sick people. Madonna and Kylie Minogue, from two very different starting points, hit the same successful pattern; reinvent and reimagine the image at every possibility, and keep the music fresh and interesting. For Minogue, this was almost effortlessly easy – from pure pop in the late 80s to the indie-chic and mad-as-a-hatter dj cool.

Kylie has had her noticeable drop in form, with “2 Hearts” (not, sadly, a Doctor Who tribute) and “Wow” sounding slim and unremarkable. The instant ‘hit’ the listener gets from, say, “In Your Eyes”, with its pounding dance beat wrapping around the sweetest of melodies, is utterly absent from later works.

The slow deflating balloon that is Madonna’s output (or if you like, Madonna herself) has been whistling away since “Bedtime Stories”. Whilst “Frozen” hinted at a slight return, most of what has come since is second rate. “Music”, “Hollywood” – is this the same woman? If the artist seems uninterested, so will the fans, and that is a factor clearly happening today.

When Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta barged her way into the club of notable pop starlets reaching a certain age, it was a revelation. Lady Gaga had a sound of her own produced from the mashing together of all her influences – every male and female mainstream chart sensation with underground flavours all swept up into subversive, compelling and darn catchy dance/pop. Music snobs melted at the sound of “Bad Romance” and “Alejandro”, the strongest chart bound pop records in a world dank with the fog of RnB and shouty-voiced harridans. For a woman so clearly intelligent (designing the Lady Gaga character to be as provocative as possible), the media-game she played was complemented by albums stuffed full of decent, good old-fashioned sing-along-able tracks.

So…what’s happened? To much fame and fortune? Too much self promotion? Too little time to decide what actually works in commercial music? Because Gaga has done in a few months what it has taken her most obvious inspiration and model a while career; to flop from innovator to background noise. It has been quite the collapse – two singles into the new album and the muttering whispers from critics grows louder: has Little Miss Promotion gone and parked her songsmiths ability too far for her brain to walk?

The first PR disaster was “Born This Way”. Without any sense of irony, this was a bad-taste facsimile of “Express Yourself”, and one Gaga declared was “the newest gay anthem”. We all know gay people, and they tend not to like being told what is and is not done for their benefit. Rather than celebrate this anthem penned for them from the conscious Queen of fashion, the community she claimed to love turned against her. That aside, “Born This Way” isn’t a particularly strong song – the chorus is a yawning chasm of dreary and the verses far too derivative to pass comment. “Don’t be a drag, just be a queen” did not, notably enough, get adopted by anyone any time soon.

The new single, “Judas”, sounds like three different songs hastily stuffed into one. Is it high-NRG pop? Is it dance? Is it a new take on the dubstep scene? To my ears, there are three elements struggling for attention (which could be how Gaga’s head must sound in times of quiet).

There’s the pounding beats, fresh from Britney’s latest remake (and let’s be honest, Britney Spears is looking like a woman who knows she’s lived Madonna’s career in fastfoward. Calling a song “If I said you had a beautiful body would you hold it against me” is one step away from naming a sitcom “Three Irishmen walk into a bar…”

The other two options are recycled Gaga tropes. Spoken-word middle sections and the melody from “Paparazzi” create a song which appears to have been rushed out rather than considered. It’s confused and quite silly (and for a woman so controlling of her provocations, somewhat boring. There are far fewer Christians around to shock, for one thing).

There is nothing wrong with liking decent, honest and interesting commercial pop music, when and where it can be found. What interest Lady Gaga had to offer is currently bubbling at far less a temperature than she has shown able to produce so far. It should not be shrug-shoulders time so early in her career.

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For Great Justinz

Justin Bieber is the 12/14/18/22 year old starlet beloved by tweens and loathed by the rest of us. His schtik – young tyke discovered on YouTube raised to megastarstatus – smells fishier than Fleetwood Dock, nevertheless he has become one of the most successful young pop stars in modern times. Marketed to the nth degree as the Timberlake for those with channel-hopping attention spans, his legions of fans have an obsessive character which borders on the evangelical. No website is safe from the “Bieberatti”: entire towns could be filled by their number, their on-line enthusiasm blanking out debate on almost every other subject.

Bieber, of course, has very little to do with the music released in his name. Listening to any of his songs is very difficult. Not in a Mogwai or Inuit throat singing difficult, more overdoing the post-production by a year sort of way. Clearly his lyrics are meaningless, and obviously he has no sincerity in singing them. I can’t escape the view from the wilder parts of my brain that, like a washed up end-of-the-pier variety singer, he walks off stage after a gig to light up a cigarette and swear like a garage mechanic.

Created by the Internet, Bieber has his career shaped and ultimately decided by the on-line world. An infamous messageboard tried to send him to North Korea for a special gig, YouTube videos are hacked and replaced by hardcore pornography. His television appearances are rare, like terrorists in Afghan caves he only appears in website form. His autobiography will be the first tangible sign of his existence after his birth certificate, although this could feasibly be a hardcopy print out of a Licence User Agreement.

The ickle pop boy nobody likes has, it now seems, won over another audience without lifting a finger or singing a note – okay, that’s what he already does, what I mean is, through the work of an unknown DJ Shamantis, a reworked version of a Bieber single has become an instant internet phenomenon. Fittingly for Bieber, outside the walls of the world wide web, the new version of his song is totally unknown. He has failed where “Newport State of Mind” succeeded in that field, at least, a rare loss.

The track – which at over 30 minutes long is an average Bieber track multiplied nine fold – can be enjoyed here. Stretched to its absolute slowest using a music manipulation programme – the claim is 800% slower, something causing Doctors of Music Tech and Production some concern – the resulting soundscape is unexpected, immense, a touch pretentious and absolutely mesmerising. It’s SunO))) on ket, whalesong as re imagined by Tiesto, or both muddled up with Sigur Rós and Cocteau Twins.

If this is the only piece of ambient music the “Bieberatti” listen to throughout their entire lives, the experiment would be worth it. Okay, so there are questions to be asked from this – is this any less meaningless than the Hallmark card lyrics of the original and so on – although I lean towards the side of the argument which considers the track a successful reimagining. Think TATU taking on “How Soon Is Now”, for an obvious example.

Like all pop starlets, Beiber will fade. His celebrity is temporary, his songs will not last into the next decade if that. The Internet will create, form, and reject more like him. However, the ‘net can also make unexpected superstars at its own behest and will (I’m looking at you, Rick Astley, and no, I’m not linking to THAT SONG…). This “800% slower” version sound exactly like some of the best tracks of its kind in my collection, and if it’s taken to be superb or nothing more than Enigma for the 21st century, it has got more attention from the ‘fashionable’ side of music than any of the original material. Enjoy it for what it is, Beiber is ultimately musical candyfloss, 30 minutes worth of his stuff in real time would make you very ill…

Takeway Getaway

Thirty minutes from my house, a ‘hybrid’ takeaway sells kebabs, curries, (halal) pizzas and….BUTTER PIES. If that isn’t multiculturalism in action, what is? Okay, so it’s not high-end restaurant eating but it is an indication all the same. Economic migration into the country has signs of positive consequences across the country, none more so than in food and cuisine. If immigrants can continue to adopt and adapt English traditions like the good-old chippy, then all the better…No?

While “Save the Pub” campaigns enchant local newspaper journos and MPs alike, anything done to keep the Chippy seems not to have taken hold across the population at all. Unless I miss my guess, the traditional chippy has a future far less certain than the local pub. Some chippies within easy wandering distance of my flat have made the slow transformation into varied menus – samosas here, spring rolls there – or regenerations into Chinese, Turkish or Indian takeaways.

Who could be blamed for Chippies falling out of favour? Did they stand still while takeaways blossomed, stores such as Subways took over the High Street, or a general shift in food fashion moved away from the Friday fryers? Can the majority of Chip Shop owners be blamed for standing still while developing tastes moved from the rigid menu of fish, chips and pies?

I have a particularly fond taste for the ‘chippy tea’ of legend. Give me the chips and gravy from a Chinese down the road, gravy smelling slightly of red wine with the texture of emulsion paint. It’s not possible to buy such traditional fast food from an old fashioned chippy here unless I fancy an hour walk into the suburbs, or to wait until an “all night” chippy opens at gone midnight opposite a nightclub. No wonder takeaways and Café Nero and Subway and suchlike blossom if the chippy options become less convenient by the month.

Immigration into the country over generations has influenced and dictated our language, fashion and music. Our tastes have become far more varied and mature since the Britons of my father’s generation got their first taste of post-Empire curries. It could be we are living in an era where the totems of Britishness – the boozer, the chip shop – are turning into something different. Younger drinkers, for example, are less likely to meet up down the local for a few jars while the smoking ban is in place and the corner shop can stretch £20 far further than on-tap beers. The pub as a meeting place still exists, only altered, in transition, and so it seems proven with the fast food and snack markets.

In years to come, then, will the chip shop survive only as English options as an aside to the main curry house menu? Interestingly, certain elements of the old-fashioned menus are finding themselves reinvented by the fancier chefs. More evidence of the slow decline of the chip shop?

For too long, the health “agenda” has been far too dictating, too preachy. Making choices like fish and chips or steak pies or battered sausages was seen as almost a crime against the body. Health “chiefs” – who are they? Like the “community leaders” you hear about? – would decry the deep-fried menus; perhaps the message has actually soaked in, if you will?

All this talk of food is making me hungry. I think it may be best if I choose something quick, cheap, and within walking distance…Tesco it is then….

battle of the bulge

I am not your typical bloke. Maybe this is not news to most of you. I don’t subscribe to Men’s Health and I don’t have pet names for my favourite muscles. Gym membership is a complete no-no; there is just something about the concept of walking near one which leads me to consider being greeted at the door by a nice enough woman asking if I’m there to film a new episode of Mr Bean…

Okay, so a “significant” birthday is eleven weeks away, so consequently a bit of ‘stock taking’ has occurred with regards to my diet and such like. There’s no danger of my purchasing a wall-mounted Calorie Calender or having watercooler discussions about ‘points’ and ‘quotas’ and ‘green or red days’ or whatever other alien language seems to spurt from the mouths of people following strict diets. There are many aspects to Brown’s Britain I cannot stand – well, all of them, really – with the Nanny State ‘Minister For Public Health’ attitude near the very top. If children must eat a regular amount of fruit and veg, then let this be a matter for parents and schools and doctors.

Adults should not have the State dictating what can be eaten, drunk, or consumed, unless the developed Western democracy we live in, where ‘letting the terrorists win’ is changing how we behave, has suddenly developed an obsession with social engineering from which it cannot turn.

My paunch is all paid for. It’s not a beer belly, as such. If humans could live off a diet consisting in the main of sushi, Frijj drinks, and powdered soup, I’d be a very happy man. Okay, so in living memory I was steaming sea bass with soy sauce and lemongrass, while these days I have a tendency to rely on pizza, but what’s a man to do while he (still) settles down to living under his own roof?

There is a slight contradiction, I guess, in my stance. Not too much obsessed with my appearance, while too self-aware to consider lifting weights in public. That’ll be the typical bloke characteristic, that’ll be: eager to offer advice, eager not to accept suggestions. As long as I am not found vegged out in front of daytime TV surrounded by WKD bottles and packets of Fruit & Nut, I am confident enough to carry on pretty much ‘as is’. No Government Minister is going to force me to swap a pint of John Smiths for a bottle of Shloer.

Walking the ten-mile round trip to and from work isn’t quite cutting the pounds as maybe it once would have done, I notice. That said, I am not exactly noticing a change into Richard Griffiths. Thought that would be cool. I will not forget the bloke who worked in one of the first offices I temped in, who switched from “girl in every port” to dripping wet calorie counter in the matter of one weekend. Everything in moderation, and all that jazz. Little bit of what you fancy does you good, and such like.

It is perhaps also worth reminding that that nonsense about ‘body mass index’ suggests most professional sports people are morbidly obese. As long as such “official” bunkum is out there in the public domain I’ll remain a happy enough man…

Rage against the X-Factor

Iron Maiden did it. But then again, so did Bob The Builder. And moreover as much as it can be accepted that some damn good pop songs have come from the race to get to Christmas Number One – that oh so British tradition – how many times can a person actually listen to “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” before blood begins to seep through the ears?

Invariably associated with novelty songs and faded celebrity, the nature of Christmas Number One has changed over recent years. Yes, it is still more to do with different PR companies attempting to race each others fax machines, although in more cases than not, the same companies can often be involved in the race even if the media-led rivalry appears a genuine battle between different groups.

It’s always been about the chart place rather than the music, of course. Well, unless you actually really like “Merry Xmas Everybody”. Try hearing it in the middle of June. Go on, put it on Spotify in August, then see how good it is to sing “Here’s to the future now…..” in the middle of Aldi. At least the reality TV explosion has, in a strange round-a-bout fashion, attempted to make the focus of the chart battle actual songs…

This year’s battle is between yet another winner of the X-Factor, and Rage Against The Machine. Older readers may recall the battle in 2000, when Bob The Builder outsold Eminem to take the “top spot” of Number One at Christmas way back then. It was a similar media-led event; both records were hyped to the hills one everything from BBC Breakfast News to questions in the House of Commons. In the end, Bob beat Eminem and the world didn’t end.

Cliff Richard is the man whose rule over the Christmas charts was once without question, although this has all come to end once he played his best (and most cynical) card to date; putting the Lord’s Prayer to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne” reeks of Cowell-level commercial interests. Barmy and brilliant, the evangelical community bought it up by the Ark-load.

This year, the X-Factor winner has one of the weakest ever “winner’s songs”, in “The Climb”. It sounds like a parody record. Indeed I have known worse Eurovision records than “The Climb”, and that includes the Swiss entry from 1994. And the Luxembourg entry from 1989. And for that matter, the Hungarian entry from 1995. While hundreds of thousands of “The Climb” have been bought and downloaded, many hundreds of thousands more of “Killing in the Name Of…” have been purchased in retaliation. This could be the most “credible” song to hit number 1 at Christmas since the 2003 surprise winner “Mad World” from Donnie Darko. Before that, we’re looking at the absolute classic “Saviour’s Day” from 1990. No, I mean it. One of the best songs ever written, and I’m not a Christian. Come on – the melody, the lyrical flow, the lyrics….No? Just me…?

Maybe, just maybe, the race for Christmas Number One really has been a joke on the entire British nation. No other country does it. Not even the Americans, and by-and-large, Americans are mental. Whatever makes Britain turn into month-long chart speculators I do not know; it really cannot be just about the songs that make it. It must be about the spirit of the underdog, wanting the one-hit-wonders and no-hit-makers to have their little place in music history. There’s always be a little place in my heart for the commercial radio weather girls who find themselves as a new entry at number 124, or the one-time big star reduced to hoiking her Christmas single around every daytime sofa-show for the one big chance of a top-30 “comeback”.

I fully support the “Rage Against The X-Factor”. If Lordi can win Eurovision, and if Iron Maiden can themselves get “Bring Your Daughter…” to Christmas Number One, then the time has come for another national two-fingered salute to the expected and the assumed. Let us remember that Joe from the X-Factor has an entire life-time to churn out (or have churned out on his behalf) endless Westlife covers. This is the one chance for the sidelined, the leftfield, the alternative, the angry, the sagging-jeans-while-holding-a-skateboard, all of them, to unite against the manufactured schlop of reality TV.

And if anyone else points out that both Rage… and Joe are on the same record label, I may go cuckoo-bananas…It’s Christmas. Live a little…

In no particular order…

As expected, Tony Blair has scribbled all over the newsgrids in place for January and his questioning at the Iraq War Inquiry. The former prime minister told renowned investigative journalist Fern Britton that had he known about the lack of WMDs in Iraq at the time of the Parliamentary vote on any proposed Iraq invasion, “other justifications” would have been sourced and used. This is the infamously grey area barely above the level of lying so favoured by the political class: the world of “known unknowns” and suppressed legal advice and other such curtains drawn to hide the facts.

The media have not done themselves any favours against claims of “dumbing down” in recent months, not least in their coverage of the Iraq Inquiry. With barely any headline news, it has become pretty much established fact that the war had its genesis years prior to the World Trade Centre attacks, that “regime change” was far above any other justification for invasion, and George W. Bush did not necessarily require the firm handshakes or solemn prayers of Tony Blair before sending American troops into battle. How the media will cover Blair’s actual questioning in front of Chilcott will be interesting now the “big admission” has been so subtly placed into the public arena “a month early”.

The bigger story for both BBC News and Sky News this past week has been Tiger Woods’ “moment of madness”. Interestingly, BBC News placed Blair above Woods in the running order only after placing them the other way around for most of the day. Sky News was still preferring Woods to Blair at first thing this morning. It is quite the unfathomable thing that the pulling out of British troops from Iraq and subsequent uncovered allegations surrounding the war have had barely anything like the media coverage at the time of the invasion. Is it boredom on the part of the news teams? Focus Group feedback?

As I potted down to Tesco this morning for a croissant and the NonLeague Paper, I noticed each and every tabloid front page was covered self-generated X-Factor press releases and speculation. The stars may not be the best or most talented – and anyway, why do I care now Stacy has gone – but the genius of Simon Cowell to ensure his empire strikes at the top of every office coffee break, breakfast table banter and indeed chart rundown shows no sign of being reduced. That he is considering taking the X-Factor model into some kind of international Eurovision-style festival of amateur talent should come as no surprise and as a warning to anyone who would prefer a return to the days when the ability to sing came above the ability to manipulate an audience to telephone vote for you.

It’s Christmas early-pay-day-week. And I’ve yet to start any Christmas shopping. I’m playing “Christmas chicken”, it’s a bloke thing. In any case, there’s every chance that financial pressures will tighten so why not wait until every scarf, chocolate box and voucher is available at cheapness for the right to say the purchasing was genuinely all in the spirit of Goodwill?

Yep, I’m convinced. More convinced than by Blair, I’ll say that….

Big fan of the Saturdays

Unless a repressed memory of offering fisticuffs to the widest tighthead prop in Orrell has yet to move to the centre of my mind, I think that’s all the flashbacks from last night sorted. Good old fashioned Saturday, then. The paper, a brew, Soccer Saturday, and fathoming out what it is about the side of shampoo bottles that makes them such decent reading material while needing-to-do-what-needs-to-be-done-after-a-night-on-the-real-ale. Oh come on, I’m not spelling it out.

But yes, here is the old friend reunion. Mr Hangover. And like fingerprints, hangovers are unique, and can be used to link anyone with a crime scene. Like giving a group of strangers the impression I was dancing because of certain medications. Or maybe as a consequence of not taking necessary medications. Or drinking Corona.

Saturday mornings have long been my favoured day of rest. No more family home routines, of ‘big shops’ of legend and Going Live! and Des Lynam on Grandstand. Or the High School routine of bopping around town for endless hours on end, which on some occasions meant hanging outside the covered market topping up cans of cherry coke with vodka hidden in a paper bag. Classy lad, I was, at times.

And now it’s the morning for looking at BT Bills with a sense of bemusement and confusion, of aiming kitchen cleaner at ovens with the cap unmoved and wondering why nothing is coming out. For Sundays are the days of dust chasing and sock drawer sorting and washing-pile fathoming. Champion the Sabbath, I say. Listen to the Now Show repeat on Radio 4 (except when Mitch Benn is on. When he starts, flick to 5Live. I don’t like Mitch Benn. At all. I may have said this earlier while giving it to the warbling Joe ). Slump on the sofa with the Guardian and a brew. Draw up rough proposals on how BBC schedulers would be able to adequately promote live coverage of New Zealand’s World Cup match against Paraguay.

Not a time for thinking, much, Saturday. Unless you have something constructive to do, like get married or somesuch. Finding your way to Blackburn for whatever reason, as was the case with three Scouse-accented lads on the train this morning. “Ere, y’are, this must be Preston, like; it looks like Sunderland, ay, blud?”, as one of them commented.

Saturdays can be the ace day of the week, the cool brother, the decent teacher, that cheeky tap-in goal from the guy who has been hitherto the subject of every negative chant from rail platform to the stands. If Monday is the nightmare to top all – the RBS banker of the week, if you will – then let Saturday be the perfect dream. Well, unless that dream is broken by the piercing shrill of the mobile phone at 7am and the female voice of reason reminding you about the wedding later that day…

Dusk’s optimism

These are the shadows embracing, the firm embrace of dream-time loosening, loosening. What strength drawn through the light milk of translucent morning stirrs the consciousness; arms stretched and hands posed as to admire jewellery.

These are the thoughts of uncertainty which melt with the dawn, voices not your own, typeface characterised in colour. If this is the wariness of dawn its partner must be the optimism at dusk.

Your footsteps have been walked before, we call them the witness of strangers, only with the addition of clunking chains. Maybe the touch of fabric against skin, slightest whispers of leaves, twigs, branches, rustling in the chase. Footsteps of a Victorian gentleman starched and bearded: else a lost woman holding up her hand to shade light and deflect attention.

In our hands grasped, an orb, purple and shocking-pink; these are the reputations we do not realise are held by others. Heavy, unusually warm, our bounty we are eager to hide under a plenitude of x’s. Imagine the jagged donut-hole.

Our ironic egg.

from a fiction

Typewriters. There’s a meme. Orchestrated, drumming as would impatient people at bus-stops, fingers against timetables. Maybe the typewriters created the timetables. Smoke in the circles, circles as lines. But the typewriting people – me, as one, there are others – indicated something. There were voices, but I cannot recall them now. There’s a characteristic of dreams; voices and sounds rarely remain. If anyone says different, potentially they’re being untruthful.

So if not only typewriters, what else? A house, a very nice house. Three floors – maybe more? Certainly expensive. Wallpaper, patterned, ever-so-slightly raised, suggestive of a show-room. Carpet, white, I had to take off my shoes as I could see the mud I was bringing with me. There was two showers in the one bathroom….was there? Certainly [X] – who I have not seen for ages – was there, dressed in a manner I have never seen before in real life. So fantasy? No, plain sight, just ordinary. Not that kind of dream.

Something else. Or, “other”, then, but I cannot recall. There was three wake-ups this morning, for house, and for typewriters, and for some other interruption. My stomach currently swims with too many full bowls of Sugar Puffs and milk (my fridge houses only milk and pasta sauce). Was it family, in the third chapter of the dream?

I cannot recall.