Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Review catch up: Prison Break

409: ‘Greatness Achieved’

Writer: Nick Santora
Director: Jesse Bochco

Synopsis: Michael, Lincoln, Sucre and Bellick tunnel into the Company's headquarters. Gretchen meets with the General. Michael's condition continues to deteriorate. The police question T-Bag regarding Andy's disappearance. Wyatt propositions Sara while Mahone awaits his shot at his son's killer.

Review: Scriptwriting 101: If you want to kill a recurring character, ensure that sufficient empathy is engendered in the viewing audience before the act occurs, so that maximum emotional resonance is achieved. Ideally, this process takes place over the course of weeks, seasons even, rather than simply forty short minutes… but unfortunately, American television writers return time and time again to the formula of ‘oh shit, we want to get rid of this guy but no one really cares all that much about him… quick, throw in a few lines about his twisted family life and how difficult things have been for him, show how repentant he is… yeah, that’ll do it.’ The moment Brad Bellick started waxing poetic about his regrets in the first few scenes of ‘Greatness Achieved’, it was painfully aware that he was about to get knee deep in some serious shtick. Which he did. And died for his troubles. Poor soul. Aside from this unfortunate predictability, this episode is a masterpiece of dramatic intensity: the ‘tunnelling’ sequence harks back to the hallowed first season, T-Bag’s situation becomes increasingly desperate and in what is unquestionably the absolute highlight, Mahone gets to lay waste to Wyatt in true, horrifying style. The writing is superb, maintaining our interest in the characters, as well as focusing our attention on the ever-spiralling plot, and, as usual, the acting is top notch. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, William Fichtner can do no wrong. ‘Greatness Achieved’? I’d say so, yeah. 9.4

410: ‘The Legend’

Writer: Karyn Usher
Director: Dwight Little

Synopsis: Sara is left with no choice but to take Michael to the hospital as his condition rapidly worsens. Sucre and Lincoln are faced with unknown territory as they are left in charge of the operation. Agent Self makes a surprising ally.

Review: After a moment’s mourn at the passing of Brad Bellick (you know, the one who regularly beat the main cast up in the first and second seasons) – oh Wade Williams, we will miss ye – it’s back down to business as Sucre and Lincoln are forced to face the perils of the Company’s headquarters without Michael, who needs some very important surgery. ‘The Legend’ is a bit of a step down from the rollercoaster ride of suspenseful hair-pulling that was last week’s episode but it certainly has more than its fair share of merits: the ‘mine’ sequences are nail-bitingly intense and once again contain echoes of the kind of quality we were treated to in Prison Break’s first year. Robert Knepper also puts in a stellar performance as a truly torn T-Bag, whose new life as Cole Pfeiffer shows him a side of himself he never knew existed. It’s a fantastic character dichotomy and one that succeeds, again, in engendering sympathy for a conventionally reprehensible individual. Good stuff. 8.5

411: ‘Quiet Riot’

Writer: Seff Hoffman
Director: Kevin Hooks

Synopsis: Michael risks his life by breaking into the Company headquarters along with the others. Gretchen tries to get the last card with a meeting with the general. Trishanne's days may be numbered.

Review: Before I blow so much smoke up this episode’s ass it’s untrue, let’s just get one gripe out of the way: would anyone in their right mind really let Michael jeopardise the entire mission by coming along on the crawl into the Company in his current condition? Come on! He could blackout at any second! Sarah would drug the guy, cart him off to hospital and have done with it. None of this ‘oh yes Michael, you can climb in and get Scylla, even if it does mean you’re probably gonna keel over and set all the alarms off AT ANY POINT.’ Hmph. Anyway, back to the plaudits. ‘Quiet Riot’ is a fantastically written and directed piece of work that succeeds in placing the viewer squarely on the edge of their seat for every single, excruciatingly silent moment. The decision to have no dialogue for a good ten minutes is an absolute masterstroke as it focuses our attention squarely on the dramatics of the scene and, more importantly than that, what could potentially go wrong. I don’t know about you but I was literally squirming when watching the cons exercising their plan, which just demonstrates that Hoffman and co. have achieved exactly what they set out to do. Oh, and Gretchen’s attempted proposition of the General? Priceless. 9.3

412: ‘Selfless’

Writer: Kalinda Vazquez
Director: Michael Switzer

Synopsis: Sara takes a hostage in a bid to secure Scylla. Michael and Lincoln finally meet the General while one of their members switches allegiance.

Review: And it was all going so well, too… Kalinda Vazquez’s ‘Selfless’ is, for the most part, a thoroughly enjoyable episode. The decision to parallel Michael’s apprehension of the General with Sara’s bathroom abduction of his daughter works sublimely on both a character level, demonstrating just how far from their original personas the two have come, and a dramatic one, as the two strands feed off one another and therefore intensify the already substantially heightened level of tension. There’s some absolutely cracking dialogue here too; when presented with the opportunity to have the two heavyweights locked in a room together, the writing staff truly do not disappoint. And how about the look on the General’s face when Michael pulls out all the Scylla cards, eh? Marvellous. It’s just a damn shame they had to go and ruin it all with that last, truly, truly awful minute and a half. Look, I realise that a reboot was needed if the season was to continue. But did Self really have to swerve? Yet another freaking corrupted government agent? In my review of the season opener, in which the character actually states that “not everyone in the government is corrupt, some of us actually want to get the bad guys” (or words to that effect), I said that if they turned him, that’d be the last straw, the end of my association with the show. And while that really was my inner drama queen bounding straight out of the closet, I reserve the right to be thoroughly miserable about it for the rest of the season. I mean God, I liked Don Self. His character was refreshing in his straightforward, no frills drive to actually, you know, do good. That little thing that cops are supposed to do. Having yet another law enforcement representative switch sides is just tiresome and reeks of what it is: a bunch of writers having written themselves into a corner, desperately hunting for something to get them out and hitting upon the first convenient thing, rather than, you know, actually thinking about it for a bit and coming up with something creative. Meh. Spoiled the whole episode for me, that did and I’m sure it’s going to ruin the rest of the season unless they do him off in the next couple of weeks. Excellent ‘til 39:47, hugely disappointing after that. Two full points off the score. 7.4

413: ‘Deal or No Deal’

Writer: Christian Trokey
Director: Bobby Roth

Synopsis: The General works to regain Scylla. T-Bag gets a new partner. Michael and Lincoln have an important meeting.

Review: Given that ‘Deal or No Deal’ comes from the pen of the man that brought you ‘Five the Hard Way’ (you know, the one with the penis-less old codger who wanted Sucre to bang his wife), it is perhaps unsurprising that it is a bit of a disappointment. The episode is like a poorly sewn patchwork quilt: its narrative strands seem to collide clumsily into one another, forever clashing and not really fitting together. Everything feels like an erratic, pointless run-around: Homeland’s chasing Michael, Michael’s chasing Self and the Company’s chasing just about everybody. And if they’re not doing the chasing, they’re running away, like Self (for a large part of the episode, anyway) or Sucre and Sarah, whose brief moment of ‘my God, we’re getting out of the country’ feels like a hastily written filler sequence, designed to plug the gap in a woefully under length script. The reveal that Michael still has a piece of Scylla is far too convenient for my liking too, reading more as a necessary scripting get out clause than a believable development arising from established parameters within the narrative. And what about that scene with the brothers and the Homeland representatives, eh? Switch, switch and switch again! They’re all ready to abandon their moral codes at the drop of a hat and align themselves with whomever, or whatever, is most beneficial to them… just like Don Self did last week and no, I haven’t forgotten about the horrific taste that left in my mouth either. Not a good start to the second ‘block’ of the season. 6.2

414: ‘Just Business’

Writer: Graham Roland
Director: Mark Helfrich

Synopsis: Gretchen and Self wind up with Scylla (and a buyer). Michael battles with the Company for Scylla. Mahone asks some familiar faces for help. T-Bag continues to hold a couple of innocent people hostage.

Review: While I’m still not warming to the all new, bad ass, double crossing, good for nothing, scumbag version of Don Self, ‘Just Business’ managed to keep my attention squarely away from my distaste of this particular plot development long enough to actually allow me to enjoy what I was watching. For the most part, anyway. There’s still a little too much convenient bait and switch going on for my liking (Self and Michael are enemies, now they’re allies, now they’re enemies again) and the Mahone plot was little more than an exercise in how to fill ten spare minutes, but the main thrust of the narrative, the recovery of Scylla from the angle of three different parties, is well executed and manages to inject sufficient tension into the proceedings to be enjoyable. There’s also some wonderful intrigue to enjoy as Lincoln gets handed a mysterious folder labelled ‘Tombstone II’ (what is that, some sort of instruction manual for an X-Box game?) and T-Bag plays a game of identity crisis with both a ‘Bible salesman’ and himself. Credit to Robert Knepper (again): he really makes these scenes come alive and demands your understanding and sympathy. Despite being a murdering paedophile. No mean feat, that. 7.8

415: ‘Going Under’

Writer: Zack Estrin
Director: Karen Gaviola

Synopsis: Michael receives medical attention. Charles Westmoreland helps uncover the real secrets of Scylla. Lincoln and Sucre do everything in their power to retrieve Scylla before it's gone forever.

Review: Well, this is nothing short of a fan boy’s wet dream… season one flashbacks? References to events that have occurred throughout Prison Break’s four tumultuous seasons? Setting a third of the episode in Michael and Sucre’s cell? CHARLES WESTMORELAND? Wowsers. I certainly didn’t see this one coming and, well, thank the television critic Gods for that. ‘Going Under’ is a thoroughly refreshing surprise, taking a minor break in the main narrative drive from all the back stabbing and running around that has become the crux of the show as of late, so that we can have a closer examination of the ins and outs of Michael’s psyche. As well as letting him solve the mystery of what Scylla actually is. Wentworth Miller gets to flex his acting muscles in this one and he does a damn fine job, admirably matching up to the much-missed skills of Muse Watson. Oh, it’s good to have Charles back. He’s fantastic, isn’t he? Though it was a brave decision to kill a character so beloved at the end of season one, retrospectively, I’m not sure it was the right one. It would’ve been great to see DB on the run, looking at how he coped with life outside of the four walls he’d been cooped up in for the better part of his life. Still, no point whining about that now. His presence turns a good episode into an excellent one, making what could have been a somewhat tiresome psychological trudge into a captivating exploration of what makes Michael tick. Cudos to Zack Estrin for taking a chance and deviating slightly from the tried and tested formula. Oh, and for getting rid of Sucre too… hopefully for good. Don’t get me wrong, I like the guy and all but was anyone really buying that he’d continue to stick around? Nah, didn’t think so. But wait! There’s more! Michael and Lincoln’s mother worked for the Company! What’s the betting she’s alive? I’ll eat my hat if she’s not. 8.8

416: ‘The Sunshine State’

Writers: Paul Scheuring, Matt Olmstead & Nicholas Wootton
Director: Kevin Hooks

Synopsis: Lincoln and his team travel to Miami looking for Scylla. Michael learns some shocking secrets about his past while Sara searches for him.

Review: Yup, she’s alive. Well, nobody saw that coming ten thousand miles off, did they? The resurrection of Michael and Lincoln’s mother, and the positioning of her as the ‘enemy’ from which the brothers must wrest Scylla, smacks just a little too much of desperation for my liking. Much like the decision to turn Self earlier in the season, it seems that the production staff were scrambling for the most dramatic twist imaginable in order to inject the remainder of their season with characterial angst and marry emotional investment in the core cast with the minutiae of the action. Unfortunately, they hit upon just about the most fan-frustratingly ludicrous plot development imaginable; now the entire Prison Break audience is screaming, “WTF?!” at their screens and throwing their bird books down on the coffee table in protest. Wasn’t this woman supposed to be a gentle soul, the kind who wouldn’t take kindly to a man like Mahone? (Season two reference there, fellas). And okay, so perhaps the boys didn’t know the real Mrs. Burrows… but does her role within the Company mean she knew about her husband’s betrayal of the agency? The plot to flush him out that ensued… i.e. the framing of her son, the placing of him ON DEATH ROW? Are we really expected to believe that she chose to brush these pesky little things aside? Or are the writers going to explain it away with one of the following empty explanations? 1. She really doesn’t care about her family and has always been a Company agent, through and through. 2. She ‘knew’ Michael would come through for Lincoln and save the day because he was always the intelligent one and her favourite and blah blah blah blah blah. I vote for the latter, actually. It’s all just far, far too convenient; it reads as a need to dramatise the plot, rather than the drama arising naturally out of it. And that’s never a good thing. Oh, there’s the rest of the episode to consider and we’re running out of space. Um, Gretchen nearly dying = good, Mahone turning up to help = well, a bit silly but okay, Self/T-Bag/Linc/ho-bag working together = more annoying bait and switch, got on my nerves, Sarah rescuing Michael = thoroughly unbelievable but a guilty pleasure and Michael having his ‘personality carved up’ = best thing about the episode, fantastically written and played by all involved. It’s just a shame you walk away from ‘The Sunshine State’ with such a gosh darned bitter taste in your mouth. 7.1

Review catch up: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

207: ‘Brothers of Nablus’

Writer: Ian Goldberg
Director: Milan Cheylov

Synopsis: The Connors get robbed, which puts them on high alert. Meanwhile, one Terminator gets very close to John, while another Terminator terrorizes Agent Ellison.

Review: Um. Is that it? Really? After a ludicrously pant-wetting teaser in which Ellison is confronted by a Triple 8 version of himself, who is then slaughtered by Cromartie, ‘Brothers of Nablus’ proceeds to do absolutely diddly squat in its remaining forty one minutes. The primary drive of the narrative is about the Connors being burgled, for Christ’s sake. They spend the entire episode running around after a bunch of snot-nosed thieves and no one actually gives a damn. There’s this whole other little story thing going on too, in which Cromartie hunts for John and almost, you know, kills him, but it’s so bogged down in psuedo-psychological character examination and nefarious navel gazing that it loses all of its potential drama and significance. Painfully underwhelming. 4.1

208: ‘Mr. Ferguson is Ill Today’

Writer: Daniel T. Thomsen
Director: Michael Nankin

Synopsis: John and Riley face some fatal aftermath on their trip to Mexico. Sarah and Ellison finally meet up.

Review: Taking a leaf out of Pulp Fiction’s book, ‘Mr. Ferguson is Ill Today’ plays some satisfying mind games with the viewer by structuring its narrative around the perspectives of the individual characters involved, rather than simply presenting events in a conventionally linear fashion. This perhaps gives the episode a memorably distinctive sheen that it otherwise wouldn’t have had – the plot is ultimately wafer thin – but given the depressingly lethargic slump into which The Sarah Connor Chronicles appears to have driven itself recently, it’s refreshing to see the production staff actually, you know, giving a damn. There are thrills, spills and automobiles to be found here, as the action quotient is cranked up about seventy thousand notches with Cromartie’s ceaseless pursuit of John and, for once, the whole thing actually feels somewhat suspenseful. Hell, it actually had me on the edge of my seat at the end there. Good stuff, nay, better stuff. This is what the show can, and should, be. 8.7

209: ‘Complications’

Writers: Ian Goldberg & John Wirth
Director: Steven DePaul

Synopsis: Sarah experiences de ja vu when she has disturbing nightmares, meaning trouble for Sarah and John. Derek and Jesse look into a Skynet collaborator.

Review: Now this is how to do a character piece. Goldberg and Wirth’s ‘Complications’ takes a fairly simple premise and hits a home run right out of the park, largely thanks to a combination of solid, gritty dialogue, masterful dramatic pacing and, well, the ceaseless talents of Adam Busch. Oh, how I loved him in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and… oh, sorry, where was I again? Ah yes, Derek and Jesse’s story actually manages to be considerably interesting for once. In fact (pigs must be flying), it’s the highlight of the whole episode, keeping the viewer guessing throughout, uncertain as to where to position our sympathies and allegiances. The twist is also far less telegraphed than normal and comes as a genuine surprise, albeit one that’s less likely to have you falling off your chair and more likely to have you let out a brief “oh!” It’s a shame that Sarah’s story can’t be anywhere near as interesting; another trip to the psychiatrist and a few dodgy (but supposedly ‘revealing’) dream sequences take us on a round trip to nowhere, proving that, once again, the show’s producers would rather chase their own tails haphazardly and contemplate the meaning of human existence than actually, you know, move the plot forward a bit. Still, at least it’s the B storyline. 8.3

210: ‘Strange Things Happen at the One Two Point’

Writers: Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz
Director: Scott Peters

Synopsis: Sarah catches up with the Turk. Jesse faces some problems in her plans. Ellison has a surprise meeting with someone powerful through Weaver.

Review: It looked, for a moment there, like Terminator might actually have jump-started Sarah’s story again after a lacklustre couple of weeks of being kidnapped and having funny dreams about dots. She managed to spend a good thirty minutes of this episode getting down to duplicitous, detective-like business and, yay of yays, beating people to a bloody pulp but, ultimately, for what? It was all a bleeding con and she’s right back where she started… looking at ink splodges and wondering what to do with herself. It’s especially frustrating for the viewer, who has to endure week after week of this diabolically slow-moving crap, just desperately waiting for something, anything, to be thrown their way in the form of plot development. To be fair, that’s exactly what we get with the B and C stories, admittedly: the staunch curveball of Riley as an impostor is especially pleasing, and the transformation of Weaver’s AI into Cromartie shows distinct promise for the future. But how far down the line will it be before either of these actually progress anywhere? Become, you know, significant? Two weeks before the bloody season finale, I’d wager. Another frustrating exercise in water treading, then… but at least it’s got the best episode title ever conceived. 7.6

211: ‘Self-Made Man’

Writer: Toni Graphia
Director: Holly Dale

Synopsis: A Terminator sent to the wrong time causes catastrophic results changing history (hah! That’s generous!)

Review: What? Hold on a second. Eh? Rewind that back to the start for me would ya… I’m not sure I quite believe what I’ve just sat through. Thirty minutes of Cameron talking to a bone cancer victim about suspected terminators, suicide and donuts? Fifteen minutes of John and Riley being teenagers and, like, making out and stuff? Really? Is that ALL ‘Self-Made Man’ gave us? Are you sure? I just don’t want to believe it. After all the interesting developments in the over-arching plot that occurred in last week’s episode, you’d at least expect some form of pay off somewhere. Guess again. Nada. Zero. Zilch. Toni Graphia’s episode actually manages to have absolutely no relevance to anything that’s happened in the past few weeks AT ALL, and also does nothing to advance any other existing plot in any way, shape or form (oh come on… we all knew John and Riley were doing the naughty). That’s no mean feat, guys. Complete and utter irrelevance is difficult to achieve. Oh sure, this is all nicely executed; the cinematography and attention to detail in the construction of the mock-newsreel footage, radio broadcasts and all the other mediums that Cameron and her disabled friend use to piece together Stark’s life is impeccable and looks fantastic… but did it not just bore the shitting pants off you? The viewer solves the ‘mystery’ that the pair work through in about ten seconds flat at the start of the episode, so we spend the remainder twiddling our thumbs, waiting for, like, the relevance to kick in. Which it never does. Ever. And no, I don’t care about Cameron’s emotional development. She’s a freaking robot. And I care even less about John and Riley. As the oh-so-wise Bis once said, ‘give me action and drama and less of this inane, pointless drivel’. Okay, so they only said the first bit but I bet that’s what they would say if they were sat down with this episode. Honest. 5.0

212: ‘Alpine Fields’

Writer: John Enbom
Directors: Charles Beeson & Bryan Spicer

Synopsis: Sarah and Cameron attempt to save a family whose fate links in with Derek in the future. Jesse fights for her life.

Review: The show still pointedly refuses to address those big revelations that it smacked us upside the head with in ‘Strange Things Happen at the One Two Point’ (Riley’s from the future! The AI’s inside Cromartie! Sarah… likes the three dots a bit too much!) and Thomas Dekker isn’t even in this episode, which sets the ‘hot young totty’ quotient at absolute zero, but despite these major, major drawbacks, ‘Alpine Fields’ actually manages to be quite good. Enbom’s script is a lovingly crafted piece that carefully flits between past, present and future without ever seeming pretentious or becoming confusing. The triple threat thrust of the narrative – which Field is the 888 after? vs. will the mother survive and give birth? vs. how will future Derek and Jesse survive? – gives the episode considerable weight and, you know, actually makes things interesting for a change. Definitely one of this season’s stronger moments. 8.5

213: ‘Earthlings Welcome Here’

Writer: Natalie Chaidez
Director: Felix Enriquez Alcala

Synopsis: Sarah's continued obsession with the three dots leads her to a blogger with intimate knowledge of the symbol. Meanwhile, Riley and Cameron face off.

Review: Okay guys, big mid-season finale here. Terminator’s gonna be off the air until the middle of February right, so we need to keep viewers literally wetting themselves with anticipation for its return… we’re gonna need a huge episode with a massive cliffhanger… what can we possibly have happen? Natalie Chaidez pipes up, “Oh I know, Sarah whines about the three dots, goes to a UFO convention, meets a male-to-female post-op transsexual, talks, talks, nearly gets shot, talks a bit more, makes a cup of camomile tea, then ends up at a shadowy ‘military facility’ where she ends the episode staring up at three dots in the sky. Oh, and Riley tries to off herself.” Well, how utterly fantastic does that sound, guys? I mean really… what an episode! I think I might be about to overload on sarcasm! Jesus, what were the production staff thinking? Aside from the occasional gleefully bitchy exchange between Cameron and Riley, and a bit of quality acting from the guy that plays Ellison as he tries to teach the AI about God (euck! More religious mumbo jumbo!), this was something of a car wreck that went nowhere, said nothing and succeeded in being unnecessarily bizarre at the same time. We were all expecting some sort of action-packed narrative-progressing bonanza before the break and instead we got a load of boring gumf about UFOs. Well, UFOs being military craft used making technology from the future. But the pace is so snail-like and the story so bogged down in self-examination and, excuse me while I vomit, attempted ‘poignancy’ that any excitement that may have been generated from this is completely and utterly lost. Another example of The Sarah Connor Chronicles trying far too hard to be something that it’s not and failing miserably; if the show carries on like this for the remainder of its second season, yo-yoing between fairly good and dismally bad every other week and flatly refusing to move any narrative strands forward at all, it won’t make it past the Spring. 4.7

Monday, 29 December 2008

Review catch up: Desperate Housewives

Given that I never like to leave a job unfinished, I have decided to bring myself, and my loyal readers (hah!) bang up to date with those television shows that I started reviewing and then devilishly abandoned a couple of months back. I know, I'm a scamp. I promise to maintain them in 2009. Honest, I do. In fact, I might even give them their own website; crazy, huh? But enough small talk... we begin with Desperate Housewives which, well, went a little bit doo-lally...

506: 'There's Always a Woman'

Writer: John Paul Bullock, III
Director: Matthew Diamond

Synopsis: Gabby is over the moon when Carlos' client makes them an offer they can't refuse, but a startling discovery leaves her second guessing. Lynette grows suspicious that Tom is cheating on her. After breaking up with Jackson, Susan tries to surprise him, only to find the surprise is on her. Meanwhile, the bond between Bree and Katherine grows. Finally, Mrs. McCluskey enlists the help of her sister Roberta (guest star Lily Tomlin) to dig up dirt on Dave.

Review: A strong episode that jump-starts a host of fresh narratives. Lynette's is of particular note, if only for the 'phew! What a relief!' moment when we find that no, Tom's mid-life crisis does not extend to banging the town harlot... over the past few seasons, the Scavos have seen just about enough adultery-teasing thank you very much. The decision to throw a statutory rape storyline into the mix is a brave one and shines the spotlight very firmly on the talents of the (new) actor playing Porter; hopefully, he'll impress. Elsewhere, Frances Conroy is superb as creepy fruitbasket Virginia Hildebrand, and her obsession with the Solis family makes for some satisfying comedic moments, and Lily Tomlin instantly makes the role of Roberta her own with one Southern accent, a bottle of liquor and a fag jammed into her mouth. 8.6

507: 'What More Do I Need?'

Writer: Matt Berry
Director: Larry Shaw

Lynette and Tom uncover the unsettling truth about son Porter. Gabrielle suspects Carlos' best client, Virginia (guest star Frances Conroy), has ulterior motives. Bree's moment of weakness could bring her great embarrassment and shame. Katherine's not-so-little secret is unveiled. Susan learns of Jackson's true passion. Finally, Mrs. McCluskey's sister Roberta (guest star Lily Tomlin) unearths a disturbing fact about Dave.

Review: Treading water slightly, 'What More Do I Need?' nudges the housewives' narratives forward a few baby steps, rather than putting the pedal to the metal and sending them joyriding around Wisteria Lane. Still, there's much to enjoy here, particularly Felicity Huffman's work as a rather demented Lynette Scavo, whose determination to put an end to what she sees as a violation of her son is so believable, it's almost too difficult to watch. Bree's 'moment of weakness' is rather fun too, giving Marcia Cross a chance to let her, often underestimated, comedic talents shine through. And how about Andrew, eh? Still looking pretty hot in those suits... 8.2

508: 'City on Fire'

Writer: Bob Daily
Director: David Grossman

Susan's daughter Julie (former main castmember Andrea Bowen) comes to visit with her surprising new boyfriend (played by Steven Weber). Gabrielle learns that Mrs. Hildebrand (guest star Frances Conroy) has made her and Carlos heirs of her entire fortune. A reporter looks to expose Bree's imperfections. Lynette learns Porter and Anne Schilling (guest star Gail O'Grady) plan to leave Fairview and disappear. Finally, everyone has gathered at a club to see the guys play in the annual "Battle of the Bands" when a fire erupts, threatening the lives of those in attendance. Some will fall as a hero will rise.

Review: And so to Desperate Housewives' annual 'big sweeps episode', the one that 'threatens to change the lives of the central characters forever' (just as it did in all the past seasons, but, um, well, actually didn't all that much) and promises to be a season highlight, full of action, drama, revelations and, hopefully, mindless gay sex featuring Shawn Pyfrom and Jesse Metcalffe... *ahem* In the past two seasons, the hype machine went into overdrive for 'Bang!' and 'Something's Coming', respectively and, well, justifiably so. Those remain two of the best forty five minutes of television that the creators of this show have ever put to film. 'City on Fire' tries to be the equivalent - really, it does - but, let's be honest, it just can't quite match them. A middleweight in heavyweight territory, would be an appropriate metaphor. There's some clever manipulation of plot structure, interesting character developments and a brief "oh my God, they're actually going to kill Mike" moment to enjoy but, sadly, the gravitas of the fire just doesn't compare to that of, say, a tornado; and the drama of the situation is nowhere near as intense as the claustrophobic psych-fest of the supermarket robbery in 'Bang!' Of course, it is perhaps a bit unfair to judge 'City of Fire' in this fashion; it is a well written episode with a host of excellent scenes and, at the very least, a cameo from Tokyo Police Club to enjoy. It could just have done with a little bit more... oomph. And if Mike is Dave's target, I swear to God... 8.7

509: 'Me and My Town'

Writer: Lori Kirkland Baker
Director: David Warren

For Gaby and Carlos, injuries sustained in the fire lead to a fortunate discovery. But for most, the consequences are less forgiving. Lynette and Tom vow to protect son Porter at any cost. Susan must learn to let go of the man she loves. Orson's attempt at a good night's sleep puts Bree in a most precarious, though amusing, position on the day of her big cooking demonstration.

Review: Oh God. They're going to do it, aren't they? They're actually going to do it. I knew that whole 'five years in the future' thing was going to prove to be a little too convenient sooner rather than later. Please, please, please, Marc Cherry... don't have it happen. Don't ruin the chance to spend at least the next season or so exploring what was an incredibly brave decision on the part of your writing staff. Don't have Carlos regain his sight. It'll be a complete 'jump the shark' moment, truly. At least we don't know for certain yet... he's just going for the operation. And thus far, it has thrown up some wonderful acting from Eva Longoria and Ricardo Chavira. But I'm still not happy. Oh, yes, I almost forgot, the episode. Pretty good stuff, nicely, and creatively, structured (again) around the hospital. Felicity Huffman proves she's the best damn thing to have ever happened to this show for the millionth time. Dave goes a bit loopy, which is nice. And Andrew gets a boyfriend! Wah-hey! And he's a hottie! Double wah-hey! Now if only we can spend next week watching them doing the ugly, I'll be happy. Wah-hey! 8.5

510: 'A Vision's Just a Vision'

Writer: David Flebotte
Director: Larry Shaw

Lynette takes extreme measures to protect her son. Carlos realizes the extent of Gaby's sacrifices for their family. Bree wants to prove to Andrew that she has accepted him for who he is. Katherine finds happiness, as Susan and Mike recognize the fate of their relationship. Meanwhile, Dave starts to lose his grip.

Review: I knew it. I bloody knew it. Desperate Housewives: shark. Shark: Desperate Housewives. Jump! Despite some wonderful dialogue and superb acting from our regulars, Carlos and Gabby's storyline is a freaking shambles. I'm sorry, but it had to be said. He's been blind for eighteen episodes. EIGHTEEN FREAKING EPISODES. That's less than a conventional season of American television. Really, what was the point? Sure, it's made for some fresh storylines, breathing a new lease of life into the Solis' narratives, but surely that could continue? There's so much more mileage left in it. It's a completely wasted opportunity... much like Dave's story, which seemingly unleashed its big reveal at the end of this episode, and it was... he's after Mike. Well there's a surprise. Big whoopie-do. Did anyone really not see that coming? It was about as telegraphed as the sun rising. And did it have to be the idiot plumber again? The one with the established sordid past again? Surely it would've made things a tad more interesting had it been, say, Tom or Carlos? *sigh* Maybe I'm jumping the gun; maybe, given Dave's apparent descent into whacked-out hallucination-land in 'A Vision's Just a Vision', he was blabbering and not actually revealing his true intentions. Or maybe I'm just indulging in a spot of wishful thinking. I suppose we'll have to wait until the New Year to see. But I'm not happy right now, people. Not happy at all. Well, except for the part of me that is absolutely in love with Andrew's story, that is. Nicely written, at times pleasantly comedic and surprisingly moving, and well played by all.. and not a whiff of a stereotype to be seen. Well, not on Andrew and his beau anyway. We'll just forget about Bob and Lee, shall we? At least I'm getting what I want on the Shawn Pyfrom front, I suppose (well, except for his naked body on a platter), but still... grrrrr. Bloody predictable writers. I shake my fist at you. *shake* 7.7

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Ten sexual indie boys (2008)

Screenaged Kicks has become something of a bile-filled whinefest recently thanks to the predictable onset of my "bah bloody humbug!" mentality, so today I thought we'd take a well-deserved break from ill-tempered cynicism and have a look at some pretty boys. Inspired by NME's publication of their 'twenty hottest men', I present to you ten guys making indie music in 2008 that set my sex on fire.

10. RUSSELL LISSACK, Bloc Party (guitar)

There's just something about that floppy fringe...

9. CHRIS PURCELL, Hadouken! (bass)

He's the one on the far right. Come to think of it, Nick, the one in the middle, ain't too bad either... shame their music's so fucking awful.

8. JACK LAWRENCE-BROWN, White Lies (drummer)

On the left, this time. Shockingly cute, this one (check out the Christmas NME for a better photo...)

7. HASSE MYDTSKOV, The Kissaway Trail (drums)

Blondie, in the middle. Though he wasn't blonde when I saw them support Editors. Still mighty fine though... and what a fantastic name, eh?

6. STEPHEN ANSELL, Blood Red Shoes (drums/vocals)

Well it's pretty obvious which one is Stephen, I reckon. And in the buff too, yummy. This highly energetic young man has absolutely perfect bone structure and massive eyes that just make you want to jump his bones... *ahem*

5. SAM POTTER, Late of the Pier (keyboards/synths/vocals)

In the foreground. Again, while I'm certainly not a fan of Late of the Pier's music, that doesn't mean I can't appreciate the beauty of its keyboard player and occasional vocalist. I think it's got a lot to do with the puppy dog eyes and excessively messy hair. He's especially hot in the video for 'Bathroom Gurgle' actually, all shirtless and painted and singing 'find yourself a new boy' all seductively and that... think I might have to go watch that now as a matter of fact...

4. ALEKSANDAR DAMMS, Maths Class (bass)

Well hello Mr. Broody... how about I take you back to my place and cheer you up? No? Okay. Maths Class are a bit... weird... but the efforts of their ludicrously sexy bassist make them worth watching. For a few minutes, anyway.

3. CONOR OBERST (vocals/guitar/just about everything you can imagine)

Still as beautiful as ever, Conor Oberst proves that you don't need a hillybilly drawl, mullet and explosion of facial hair to write some of the most powerful country songs your ears are ever likely to hear. And just look at those cheekbones, that hair, those eyes... *splurge*

2. KIERAN WEBSTER, The View (bass/vocals)

He's a bit of a guilty pleasure, this one. Despite (a) being a bit irritated by his vocal contributions to The View's music, (b) finding him to be somewhat irritatingly immature in certain interviews and (c) and not being a particular fan of The View in the first place, I can't help but acknowledge the striking, unquestionable hotness of this man's face. And everything else about him, for that matter. Certainly the looker in the band, I imagine Kieran has more women hanging off his arm than Kyle Falconer's had illegal substances pumped into his body. But we'll just forget about that for now and start imagining what it would be like if he and Conor Oberst were trapped in a broken elevator together for seventy two hours, sweaty and stir crazy and relentlessly horny... *snaps out of it*

1. JACK BEVAN, Foals (drums)

Ah, Jack Bevan. What a pretty young man. What a handsome young man. What a cumtastically sexy young man. It should be criminal to be this attractive. This is what I want for Christmas next year... or my birthday, if anyone can do that. Jack Bevan, in a box. Gift wrapped. With a bow. And some chocolate syrup. Mustn't forget the chocolate syrup.

Well, at the end of all that boys and girls, what have we learned? Well, too much about my personal proclivities and private fantasies very probably, but also that my taste in men is exceptionally predictable and usually involves those that look cute. And about 18. Still, I can't help it. Beards and moustaches and things just look unsightly and, um, er...

I might do a 'ten sexy rock/punk guys' too, if I feel up for it. Or if I can find ten, that is. I struggled to get the indie dudes, to be honest. I tend not to be attracted to members of the bands that I like. But we'll see.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

On being old.

It suddenly dawned on me this afternoon, whilst cursing a particularly lethargic pensioner who was paying for the privilege of their bus journey with threepenny bits, that, in exactly one week's time, I will officially be over the hill. Far away. Past it. Old. Oh sure, twenty six might not be the end of the line; hopefully far from it, in fact, but nonetheless, very soon, I will be able to proudly claim that I am over a quarter of a century in age. And, more importantly, I will no longer be able to use my Young Person's Railcard. At 26, the British rail service no longer considers you to be 'young'. The next one available is the 'OAP Railcard'. Fuck.

This is nothing short of pant-wettingly frightening. How did I manage to survive this long without realising that time was going so gosh darn bleeding fast? Where did my university years go? What happened to my youth? How did I so quickly leave my teens behind and start on the road to, oh my God I daren't type it, thirty? It feels like only minutes ago since I was filling in UCAS applications and having a Dawson's Creek-influenced cod-psychoanalytic 'therapy' session on the Fire Exit staircase in my secondary school's Sixth Form block. Now I'm thinking about 'work in the morning', attending friends' weddings and, heavens above, moving out. Yes, in 2009, I am dead set on leaving the home I've known for the better part of the last twenty five years and making it on my own. With two others. Who aren't my parents. But still, big change. Big mature change. Big adult change. Big old change. Eeeep.

And as if these very 'grown up' features of my private life aren't enough to scare the living daylights out of me, there's the ever-increasing awareness of my development into a grumpy old codger to worry about too. Of late, I have begun to realise that I'm getting ever more impatient with the world. People? I can't bloody stand them. Well, most of them. Well, the ones that get in my way when I'm at the top of an escalator in a jam-packed shopping centre, insisting on standing stock still and staring blankly into space, as if rendered temporarily comatose by some extra-terrestrial laser beam of lethargy. Yeah, that's right, just block everyone's access love, that'll make you some friends. Or how about the families of about seven or eight that insist on walking side by side in a line, practically holding hands, thereby taking up the entire walking space, and then have the temerity to move at a pace that would embarrass a snail? Would it really kill you fuckers to collect together in a group, say, with two or three people side by side, in front of and behind the others, so that all of us other shoppers (yes, believe it or not, they do exist) could get by? I don't know about you, but I always seem to be in a mad dash to get to where I need to be when shopping; my time is precious and I don't need to contend with gormless buffoons loitering around with their tongues lolling out of their mouths in the middle of the flaming high street. Snap out of it and get out of my fucking way, you twit. That's what I really want to say. But I don't. Instead, I just huff a bit, perhaps let out a self-satisfying tut and weave my way around the offending party after a minute or so of excessive irritation.

These are not good signs. Moaning is starting to become second nature. People are starting to become the enemy, not the swathes upon swathes of potential friends that I used to view them as (um... maybe). This is all very Grumpy Old Men. And it's worrying; how long before I start bitching about the price of milk or, Christ in a bathtub, whining about how 'music just isn't what used to be'? All those things I swore I'd never do when I was young, free and innocent. They're all on the horizon, it seems. Of course, I could chalk all of the above up to inherent Christmas cynicism; I've never been a huge fan of 'the Holiday season' as, more than anything, I find it to be a rather irritating exercise in mass panic and thrift spending that I begrudge, but somehow ultimately do, get caught up in. Maybe my excessive moaning and groaning of late is just down to that. Yeah. That's got to be it. I'm not really that old yet... twenty six is still a darn sight younger than a great chunk of the population, that's for sure. And I still have my health, relatively speaking... well, apart from the crown I'm having to have to replace one of my damaged teeth, which is going to cost me £198. ONE HUNDRED AND NINETY EIGHT FUCKING POUNDS, THAT'S MORE THAN A LOT OF PEOPLE EARN IN A WEEK AND £198 MORE THAN IT WOULD COST ME TO GET MY FUCKING ARM AMPUTATED YOU MONEY-GRABBING BASTAR......

Oh dear.

Friday, 26 December 2008

THERE'S A SALE ON THIS BLOG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yes, you read that right bargain hunters, for two weeks only, that's a measly TWO weeks, fourteen ultra short days, EVERYTHING, and we do mean EVERYTHING* MUST GO. We've slashed the cost of viewing each individual journey entry by UP TO 90%! That's 10% less than a 100% reduction! We must be stark raving bonkers! We're practically giving away our content! You simply won't believe your eyes when you see the kind of bargains we've got on offer! In fact, you might keel over and die, so HEARTSTOPPINGLY SHOCKING are our prices! But don't mind that, start clogging up our bandwidth RIGHT THIS VERY INSTANT. Really, what better do you have to do on Boxing Day? No one does anything on the day after Christmas - YOU COULD BE SPENDING. Looking at all those posts that you just couldn't afford to before the 25th. And you don't want to miss out, do you? What if it's all gone tomorrow? BEAT THE RUSH - get on board today!!!!!!!!!!!

Okay, so that was slightly ridiculous. But excuse me while I let out one gigantic eeeeeeeeeugggggcccccccccckkkkkkkkhhhhhhhhhhh. Bloody January sales. Sorry, bloody freaking Boxing Day sales. Reports of idiots queueing up outside Selfridge's in London at seven o'bleeding clock, while others fight over handbags in the Trafford Centre. For the love of your family, people, what in the hell are you doing? Have you actually stopped to take a good look at yourselves? Only nine or ten hours since you were cuddled up next to your loved ones watching inane shite on the television, post the most gargantuan Christmas meal you've ever had the fortune to force down your gullet, you're out on the high street, scurrying around like lunatics, trying to spend EVEN MORE MONEY THAT YOU DO NOT HAVE in some sort of freak panic buy insanity. You already maxed out your credit card buying little Timmy that ultra-sophisticated games console he's always wanted in time for 'the big day', as well as everything else on the blighter's list; just because everything else you might want or need is now reduced well below its actual value, DOESN'T MEAN YOU HAVE TO BUY IT.

And if you really must, does it absolutely, positively have to be on Boxing Day? All right, all right, perhaps they'll sell out in the days to come because all the other freaks queued up at 7am on the 26th... but if we put an end to this store opening insanity, they wouldn't have a chance, would they? Whatever happened to Christmas being a relaxing time, spent with family and friends? Why does the high street need to open its doors AT ALL after the 24th? Sure, keep the supermarkets open so essentials can be re-stocked but HMV? Waterstones? The fucking Magic Box?! Close 'em all 'til after we've wrecked our town centres at the New Year. Then we can have our January sales. Our poor, hard-working retail staff might actually get a chance to spend a bit of time with their loved ones. And we'd all feel a darn sight better, being able to put our feet up by the fire with a nice warm mug of tea, safe in the knowledge that it's at least another seven days before the mad rush to get the best handbag begins.

Oh, and while I'm at it, I propose that we close the Pope until the New Year too. That way we might be able to get through 'the most magical time of the year' (thank you Coca Cola... I think) without some twit in a big hat spouting bigotry and hatred in the name of his favourite deity. Come to think of it, how about we just lock him away for good, huh? I mean, who'd really miss him? We could throw in this imbecile too:

I'm sure they'd got on just famously together, locked in a closet. Then we could get back to worrying about the bargains, the credit crunch and UFOs in our back gardens. Or, indeed, that fake toothpaste we've all been buying. I knew there was a reason I always bought Macleans.

* = 'Everything' refers to all posts contained within the sale, which is approximately 0.0004% of the total content.

Screenaged Noise: Jimmy Eat World: 'Last Christmas'

Yup. Still Christmas.

Thursday, 25 December 2008


I was having a brief perusal through my last.fm journal (as you do) and I came across last year's 'best of' music lists. For anyone that's interested, I've posted them in the comments for their respective 2008 counterparts; so the 2007 'top 75 singles of the year' is in the 'top 75 singles of 08''s journal entry.

Also, The Gaslight Anthem's The '59 Sound joins a highly prolific cast of musical genii with its award of 'best album of the year'. Listed below are the LPs that won the accolade in years past, right back to 1994. Granted, I only started doing this in, like, 2004 but there's no harm in being retrospective...

Screenaged Kicks' Albums of the Year: 1994 - 2008

2008: The Gaslight Anthem: The '59 Sound
2007: Bright Eyes: Cassadaga
2006: My Chemical Romance: The Black Parade
2005: Bloc Party: Silent Alarm
2004: Green Day: American Idiot
2003: Muse: Absolution
2002: Interpol: Turn on the Bright Lights
2001: Jimmy Eat World: Bleed American
2000: Idlewild: 100 Broken Windows
1999: Jimmy Eat World: Clarity
1998: Eels: Electro-Shock Blues
1997: Foo Fighters: The Colour and the Shape
1996: Manic Street Preachers: Everything Must Go
1995: Weezer: Weezer
1994: Manic Street Preachers: The Holy Bible

For the statisticians among you, the Manics and Jimmy Eat World are currently the only artists to have had two albums of the year (94/96 and 99/01 respectively). Weezer very nearly did it with Pinkerton in 96, but were just pipped to the post. 2003 was also an extremely close call: in fact, if I could make it a tie between Muse (the winners) and Brand New's Deja Entendu, I would. But I can't.

Top 75 Singles of 2008

I was fortunate enough to receive a rather lovely leather-bound notebook-type-thing as one of a fabulous range of Christmas presents this year and I've been frantically scrawling in the first few pages all day, trying to compose some form of 'singles of the year' list. I had the 75; it was just positioning them all that proved somewhat tasking. However, here I am, about 7,000 hours later, with the final list. Please - be gentle.

75. BAYSIDE: No One Understands
74. JACK'S MANNEQUIN: The Resolution
73. BOMBAY BICYCLE CLUB: Evening/Morning
70. IN CASE OF FIRE: This Time We Stand
69. R.E.M.: Until the Day is Done
68. RED LIGHT COMPANY: Scheme Eugene
67. VAMPIRE WEEKEND: Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
66. THE KISSAWAY TRAIL: Smother + Evil = Hurt
65. COLDPLAY: Viva La Vida
63. DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE: No Sunlight
62. FLEET FOXES: White Winter Hymnal
61. THE OFFSPRING: Hammerhead
60. OASIS: The Shock of the Lightning
59. GOLDFINGER: One More Time
57. VAMPIRE WEEKEND: Oxford Comma
56. R.E.M.: Hollow Man
54. FUCKED UP: Year of the Pig
51. EDITORS: Push Your Head Towards the Air
50. DIE! DIE! DIE!: Sideways, Here We Come
49. FUTURE OF THE LEFT: Manchasm
48. THE FUTUREHEADS: The Beginning of the Twist
47. FALL OUT BOY: I Don't Care
45. PANIC AT THE DISCO: Nine in the Afternoon
44. BLOC PARTY: Talons
43. EMMY THE GREAT: We Almost Had a Baby
42. R.E.M.: Man Sized Wreath
41. CONOR OBERST: Souled Out!!!
40. RED LIGHT COMPANY: With Lights Out
39. BLACK LIPS: Bad Kids
38. LOS CAMPESINOS!: My Year in Lists
37. IDA MARIA: I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked
36. TOM GABEL: 100 Years of War
35. RISE AGAINST: Re-Education (Through Labor)
34. WHITE LIES: Unfinished Business
33. INDOOR FIREWORKS: One Track Mind
32. BE YOUR OWN PET: The Kelly Affair
31. VAMPIRE WEEKEND: One (Blake's Got a New Face)
30. THE KING BLUES: Let's Hang the Landlord
29. THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM: Old White Lincoln
28. WEEZER: Troublemaker
27. BLOOD RED SHOES: This Is Not For You
26. CHRIS TT: We are the King of England
25. KINGS OF LEON: Sex on Fire
24. ANTI-FLAG: The Bright Lights of America
23. THE SUBWAYS: Girls and Boys
22. DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE: I Will Possess Your Heart
21. LOS CAMPESINOS!: Death to Los Campesinos!
20. FRANK TURNER: Reasons Not to be an Idiot
19. THE KING BLUES: My Boulder
18. WHITE LIES: Death
17. FOALS: Olympic Airwaves
16. THE CRIBS: I'm A Realist
15. BLOOD RED SHOES: Say Something, Say Anything
14. GLASVEGAS: Geraldine
13. R.E.M.: Supernatural Superserious
12. FRANK TURNER: Photosynthesis
10. AGAINST ME!: Stop
9. BIFFY CLYRO: Mountains
7. WEEZER: Pork and Beans
5. FOALS: Cassius
2. GLASVEGAS: It's My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry
1. FRANK TURNER: Long Live the Queen

Screenaged Noise: Pansy Division: 'Homo Christmas'

It's still Christmas.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Top 30 Albums of 2008

Having hummed and hah-ed over this for the past couple of weeks or so, I now present to you my favourite thirty (yes, thirty!) albums of 2008. Despite my overall impression of the musical year being a somewhat lacklustre one, it seems that I've listened to a whole heck of a lot of stuff and surprised myself somewhat by just how much of it I have come to love. There's several that didn't make it for one reason or another - Goldfinger's Hello Destiny, The Futureheads' This Is Not The World, Ryan Adams and the Cardinals' Cardinology, We Are Scientists' Brain Thrust Mastery, Jack's Mannequin's The Glass Passenger, to name a few - but let's not dwell on those. Instead, let's get right down to business with a nice old list. No, I'm not going to wax poetic about the albums in the list, mostly because it's Christmas Eve at 10.00pm and I can't be arsed, but also because there's only so much smoke I can blow up musicians' arses before I start to get a bit, well, bored. So here it is, the top 30 of the year, in all its naked, ungarnished glory...

30. BAYSIDE: Shudder
29. FLEET FOXES: Fleet Foxes
28. THE WALKMEN: You & Me
27. BE YOUR OWN PET: Get Awkward
26. THE SUBWAYS: All Or Nothing
25. BLOC PARTY: Intimacy
24. BRITISH SEA POWER: Do You Like Rock Music?
23. THE OFFSPRING: Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace
22. FUCKED UP: The Chemistry of Common Life
20. STEPHEN MALKMUS & THE JICKS: Real Emotional Trash
19. LAURA MARLING: Alas, I Cannot Swim
18. ANTI-FLAG: The Bright Lights of America
17. FRIGHTENED RABBIT: The Midnight Organ Fight
16. CHRIS TT: Capital
15. RISE AGAINST: Appeal To Reason
14. THE KING BLUES: Save The World, Get The Girl
13. DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE: Narrow Stairs
12. LOS CAMPESINOS!: We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed
11. VAMPIRE WEEKEND: Vampire Weekend
10. R.E.M.: Accelerate
9. ALKALINE TRIO: Agony and Irony
8. LIGHTSPEED CHAMPION: Falling Off The Lavender Bridge
7. FOALS: Antidotes
6. LOS CAMPESINOS!: Hold On Tight, Youngster
5. GLASVEGAS: Glasvegas
4. CONOR OBERST AND THE MYSTIC VALLEY BAND: Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band
3. BLOOD RED SHOES: Box of Secrets
2. FRANK TURNER: Love, Ire and Song

Screenaged Noise: Standstill: 'I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Clause'

Well, since it's Christmas and all...

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Worst Ten Songs of 2008 (part two)

5. CRYSTAL CASTLES: Courtship Dating

Okay, can someone explain Crystal Castles to me, please? I really don't get it. She howls inaudibly into a dodgy Fisher Price microphone, with her hood up, while he boots up his Spectrum ZX81 tape deck and presses 'record'. With his hood up. I'm sorry folks but I fail to understand the appeal of such a concept. I hear the horrific buzz phrase 'digipunk' bandied about rather a lot whenever there's discussion of this, ahem (excuse me while I nearly choke on my use of the word), 'band' going on and, frankly, that just offends me. Okay, so they might do things on their own terms (which usually involves assaulting members of their own audiences at live shows) and yeah, fair enough, they come from a staunchly independent, DIY background, but even punk allowed for some semblance of enjoyment: sure, it was abrasive, often far from instantly accessible, but at least, for the most part, it had a melodic sensibility. An understanding of the importance of entryism: all the best punk bands essentially recorded pop songs, only sped up a notch: the Pistols, Buzzcocks and especially The Clash. Crystal Castles just make a bloody racket. And yes, I am aware of how utterly fuddy-duddy that sounds. I desperately don't want to seem like a musical conservative, bemoaning the good old days of straightforward, conventional band formations and musical compositions. I'm all for experimentation... really, I am. I swear. It's just unfortunate that, a large proportion of the time, all it produces is a right load of old wank. I started thinking it was my old age; that, upon entering my mid-twenties, I was beginning to lose my understanding and appreciation of the musical Zeitgeist and that this was the beginning of my departure into the world of daytime radio and NOW 2008 CDs. Until I remembered Add N To (X). Waaaaay back in 1999, when I was a wee sixteen years of age, this lot were being rammed down my throat as 'inspirational' by a fawning music press. They were shit. Shitty Shitty McShit Shit. And I knew that then. I hated their pretentious keyboard wankery, their insistence that the sound of decades-old computers loading up was somehow enjoyable to listen to; I saw this so-called 'musical radicalism' for what it really was: the desperately hollow sound of a bunch of chin-stroking face munchers with way too much time on their hands and smoke up their arses. So Crystal Castles, this really is nothing new. And it really is nothing even remotely good. Please... give it up and get back to your crack houses. Thanks.

4. WILEY: Wearing My Rolex

Oh Jesus Christ, please, MAKE IT STOP. NO MORE. That punctured beat that sounds like the gramophone's about to spontaneously combust. Her supposedly sultry voice, constantly repeating the question 'what would we do?', that actually sounds more like she's been drugged out of her mind, ready for Wiley to have his wicked way. His trumped-up, smug-as-fuck, self-aggrandising vocal delivery; you know, the kind that actually says, "Yeah you little insignificant runt, bitches just drop off my cock like a month's worth of congealed smegma. WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT? EH?" It's enough to drive you to murder, honestly. And to make matters worse, the whole thing's about how poor Wiley, after having undoubtedly brandished his gigantic wanger at the nearest big-tittied ho-bag in his favourite club, discovers that his latest conquest is actually a bit of a bunny boiler and, heaven forfend, a gold digger. Oh poor, poor you Wiley. What an absolute cunting shame. I hope she takes your fucking Rolex and shoves it where the sun don't shine.

3. THE TING TINGS: Shut Up and Let Me Go

Now then. While 'That's Not My Name' is unquestionably an absolute car-wreck of a song, for which everyone involved should be strung up by their big toes for the rest of their days, it was featured in my list of worst songs of 2007. Yes, it was a single last year and, according to the rules (that I made up, natch), that means it's exempt from inclusion in this year's run. I probably should've made an exception, given how unforgivable it is, but hey ho, there's always this one to moan about. Yes, The Ting Tings have done it again; not content with irritating an entire cosmos once with the line 'THAAAY CALL ME STAAAAAAAAAAAACY!' and twice with 'the drums, the drums, the (MOTHERFUCKING) drums!', they've managed it a third time with the incessant squawk of the bloody singer's delivery THROUGHOUT THIS ENTIRE SONG. The way she sings 'shut up and let me go! HEY!' just makes me want to throttle her with her own microphone wire.* It certainly doesn't help that the music is a plodding trudgeathon of epic proportions, so deathly empty and devoid of soul that you begin to question whether these two are actually human beings at all, but rather manufactured space-robots from the planet Zargaton, sent by the Blue people to put an end to all life on Earth, one Ting Tings record at a time. By jove, I think I've cracked it.

* = Of course, I'm not actually advocating her murder. Really, I'm not. *tumbleweed* Look, I need help, okay? I just can't take it anymore...

2. MGMT: Electric Feel

NME's band of the year, this lot; winners of 'best album' AND 'best single', although not for this bucket of diarrhoea, thankfully (but it did manage to make it into the top ten, funnily enough). The other MGMT singles, while also considerably rubbish, do have one thing, and one thing alone, going for them: a catchy hook. 'Time To Pretend' goes 'doo doo - doo doo doo doo doo - doo doo - doo doo doo doo doo'; 'Kids' goes 'der der der der derrr derrr derrr der derrrrrr'. Inspirational. 'Electric Feel', however, has no such catchy six second keyboard part. Instead, it has a pace lethargic enough to bore snails, production so overblown you can almost taste the cocaine, and lyrics so asinine that you'd be embarrassed if your six year old wrote them for his primary school poetry assignment. 'Oooo girl, shock me like electric eel/Baby girl, turn me on with your electric feel'? Really? Is that the best you can do, guys? And NME, you consider this to be the best that we, as a race, could do in this joyful year? My God, the state of the nation is worse than I thought. MGMT then: an offence to modern music. And yes, my objection to them is rather more to do with their prog-influenced, stoner manifesto ("we just want to make music that allows people to have a good time, man! Fuck that political shit!" etc.) than anything else but can you honestly, hand on heart, tell me that this is any good? Didn't bloody think so.

1. THE VERVE: Love Is Noise

Now I've heard some shite in my time but this just takes the biscuit, cake, trifle, blancmange and ice lolly. What in the name of all that is good and wholesome IS that sample? 'Ooooo ooooo aahhh ahhhh AAAAAAA AAAAAAAAAAA AAAAAAAAAAAA AAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!' THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE FOUR MINUTES TWO SECONDS. Jesus tap dancing Christ. Dear fucking God. As if the sound of Richard Ashcroft's Messiah complex on overload wasn't bad enough; this just demands that the listener pick up the nearest blunt instrument and repeatedly thwack whatever instrument they are using to play the song until it explodes and is NEVER ABLE TO BROADCAST THE SHITTING VERVE TO THE WORLD AGAIN. Irritating doesn't even begin to describe it. If ever any dodgy experimental psychologist feels the need to repeat all those world class experiments where they lock people in a dark room with a CD player playing the same thing on repeat, and wants to understand how human beings could be driven to digging their own insides out with their bare hands, 'Love Is Noise' would be the perfect choice. Really, I never want to hear this again. In fact, I want to forget that I ever forced myself to listen to it in the first place. Just look at those lyrics: 'Are we blind? Can we see?/We are one - incomplete/Are we blind? In the shade/Waiting for lightning - to be saved'. Bloody hell, he thinks he's a fucking prophet or something. Actually, scratch that, he thinks he's the Second bleeding Coming: 'Love is noise and love is pain/Love is these blues that I'm singing again'. Well Ashcroft, sorry to burst your bubble and all that, but you're not. Not even fucking close. You're just a washed up, mediocre musician with an inflated ego who's well past his sell by date, writing empty epithets that say and mean nothing. Let's face it, The Verve were never even that good anyway. 'Bittersweet Symphony' is the most over-rated song this side of 'Wonderwall'. Get back to supporting Coldplay or something will ya and leave our charts, and our festival headline slots, well and truly alone. In other words: bugger. Right. Off.

Worst Ten Songs of 2008 (part one)

Okay, so we all know that two of the greatest crimes ever committed against humanity occurred in 2008; two acts so despicable, so thoroughly wretched and unforgivably inhumane that they drove entire nations to their knees, uniting us all under a wave of collective horror and shameful regret. "Why?", we all asked, "Why did we let this happen? How has it come to this?"

I'm talking, of course, about the release of Nickleback's 'Rock Star' and Kid Rock's 'All Summer Long', two of the worst recordings ever composed by man or beast. These works are so horrific, so completely devoid of any artistic merit or aural pleasure whatsoever, that they stand apart from anything else ever recorded. They're in a league of their own hideousness, towering over your Westlifes, your Mariah Careys and your Panteras and laughing down at all of us meagre mortals as we find ourselves forced, once again, by the unstoppable power of chart radio, to listen to their Satanic whining.

It is for this reason that they have been excluded from the 'Worst Ten Songs of the Year 2008'; not because they are, in any way shape or form, better than the load of claptrap listed below, but because to compare them side by side would be unfair. Truly, Nickleback and Kid Rock redefined what it means to 'be shite' this year and, by their own standards, have elevated themselves above and beyond any conventional means of assessing doggerel.

Oh and, while we're at it, a quick note: you won't find any pop music in here, guys and gals. 'Pop' is disposable and therefore, by its own low standards, acquits itself. The ten tracks below like to take themselves seriously... and that's where the biggest danger always lies.

10. BLACK KIDS: I'm Not Going To Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You

All over Radio 1 like an STD during the festival season, 'I'm Not Going To Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You' contains surely the most irritating vocal duo to ever be given a set of matching microphones. The male lead whines on and on, repeating the same assertion that he refuses to give 'your' boyfriend dancing lessons over and over and over and over (like a monkey with a miniature cymbal? Oh wait, that's a completely different God awful load of shite...) while an eight year old brat counts to four in the style of a girl having her windpipe crushed. Oh yeah, and she keeps shouting at us all to 'Dance! Dance! Dance! Dance!' which, quite frankly, is the furthest thing from my mind when listening to this claptrap. 'Stab! Stab! Stab! Stab!' is more bleeding like it.


Best thing to happen in 2008: Brandon Flowers got the razor out and assaulted his bum fluff. Worst thing to happen in 2008: his band went and made a new record. Day & Age, shamefully, manages to be even worse than the depressingly mediocre Sawdust, and this lead single is the perfect encapsulation. 'Human' sees The Killers laying down their instruments, picking up a synthesiser and one of Elvis' favourite microphones and proceeding to take one massive shit all over the eardrums of an unsuspecting planet. 'Are we human?/Or are we dancer?' asks Brandon throughout this four minute exercise in eighties-throwback futility. The answer, unfortunately, is that you are neither Mr. Flowers: you are a wanker.

8. BLOC PARTY: Mercury

Given that I love Bloc Party with all my heart and soul, it pains me to admit that 'Mercury', the first single from the band's third album Intimacy, is absolutely, unequivocally and resolutely fucking awful. But awful it is: from the cod-grime flavourings, through the irritating 'rising' trombone noises and horrifically distorted bastardisation of Russell's ordinarily sublime guitar work, to Kele's pathetically unconvincing attempts to rap and, Godddddddddd, those incessant vocal 'samplings', 'Mercury' is just a categorical failure on all levels. How anyone can take any enjoyment from listening to this doggerel is beyond me. Still, the rest of the album's quite good. Honest.

7. MYSTERY JETS: Two Doors Down

Oh God. It's this lot again. The same bunch of pointless hippies who gave us such horror shows as 'Diamonds in the Dark' and, lest we forget, 'You Can't Fool Me, Dennis' in 2006 (seriously, I'm having palpitations just thinking about them...) came back with a vengeance in 08 with new haircuts, new matching outfits (well, for this video anyway) and a new fondness for Duran Duran. Well, at least, that's the conclusion I've drawn from being forced to listen to this sorry excuse for an eighties 'pastiche' at every indie club I've dared to set foot in this year. Yes, I'm absolutely certain that the emo-coffered tosspot who fronts this second rate novelty act would tell us all that the plinky-plonky keyboard chorus and unhealthy smattering of brass instrumentation is "meant to be, you know, like, ironic and stuff." Well, he can fuck right off and get back up his own arse... it's just a load of old bollocks.

6. PENDULUM: The Other Side

For a reason best known to a power higher than I, Pendulum actually became a bit popular in 2008. Sold out UK tours? Jam packed festival performances IN THE NME TENT?! At 7pm?! Just what in the holy fuck is going on, people? Surely you all have more sense than this? Surely you realise that this bunch of money-grabbing bastards are engaging in one mass music industry swindle, peddling out EXACTLY THE SAME SONG over and over again, in what must take all of approximately three minutes (just enough time to change the lyrics around a bit), in an effort to make a quick buck? Is it not obvious? The only reason I can think of as to why Pendulum continue to get away with this, and haven't already been locked up in a dingy Australian prison cell for the rest of eternity for crimes against aural decency, is that everyone who listens to their music is completely off their tits. Yes, that's GOT to be it. There's no way a clean, sober individual could ever derive enjoyment from this repetitive, nay offensive, bullshit. Is there? For the sake of all our souls, I truly hope not.

Part two (5 - 1) coming soon... if you can stomach it...

Screenaged Noise: Idlewild: 'These Wooden Ideas'

One of the greatest bands to have come scurrying out of Edinburgh since the dawn of time itself, Idlewild have been making consistently marvellous music since around 1995. To date, they've released five full length albums (Hope Is Important, 100 Broken Windows, The Remote Part, Warnings/Promises and Make Another World) and one EP (Captain), each of which has its own distinctive style that sets it apart from the others, and yet they all manage to be, at the very least, 8/10 pieces of work. It is 1999's 100 Broken Windows, however, that remains the true jewel in their crown: referencing the notion of 'ideas', postmodernism and Gertrude Stein IN THE LYRICS ALONE, this is a twelve song synthesis of everything that's good and kooky about British indie-rock. 'These Wooden Ideas', the third single from the album, even manages to encapsulate this in its utterly barking video. Click below, if you dare.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Top 10 Gigs of 2008 (festivals excluded)

Right. Out come the lists. In the first of what promises to be a bulky run of festive remembrance, I look back over the myriad gigs I've been to in 2008 and waffle on a bit about the ten very best ones. Please note that I've decided to omit festival performances from the running as, having been to two this year (T In The Park and Leeds), and with there being so much to comment on between them, I'm gonna do a separate 'top ten festival sets' list.


Manchester Academy 1, February 20th 2008

Equal parts thrillingly acidic and eye-wateringly beautiful, Jimmy Eat World's eighteen song Manchester set captured the essence of the Arizona four piece perfectly. From a rabble-rousing rendition of opener 'Big Casino' through to the arms-around-mates loveathon of 'The Middle', by way of an orgasmic 'Get It Faster', fanboy-pleasing 'No Sensitivity' (not marred a single iota by the power cutting out towards the end) and spine-tingling '23', this was JEW at their very, very best. And we all got to take it home on CD at the end.

Sheffield Academy, July 9th 2008

While the Manchester date the previous night saw the 'pol playing to a capacity crowd, there was something about the Sheffield gig that set it apart from its predecessor. Perhaps it was the fact that Paul Banks' mom and dad were in the wings; maybe it was because it was the last date of the tour proper before the inevitably shorter festival performances; or it could just be, you know, that Carlos could actually be arsed. Whatever, the Sheffield Academy show was an absolute belter from start to finish. Daniel's guitar parts soared over us all, Banks' vocals gave us chills and those on-screen visuals were just about the best we've seen all year. Plus, they closed with 'Obstacle 2' - need I say more? Actually, yes, the drummer handed me his tie. *hearts*

KOKO, London, August 20th 2008

The date: Wednesday August 20th, three days before the legendary Reading and Leeds festivals. The venue: KOKO, a converted theatre in the centre of Camden Town. The event: well, it's only Alkamaline Trio's first show of their own* in the UK in two and a half years. A sold out crowd greets the three piece with complete and utter devotion, showering them with applause, bellowing back every word to every major, minor and delightfully obscure track in the twenty song arsenal that the boys throw headlong at us, and it doesn't go unnoticed. Matt seems genuinely touched by the (surprising) warmth of this London MASSIVE; so much so that he tells us all that it's reaffirming in the wake of the loss of Jerry Finn. This is very much a fan crowd - a collective of disparate individuals united by their love of a heart with a skull in the middle - and we really wouldn't have it any other way.

* = they played the Give It A Name festival in May but that doesn't count...


Northumbria University, Stage 2, February 16th 2008

And the award for most bizarrely chaotic crowd of the year goes to the bunch of mad bastards watching this lot back in February. Seriously, I still don't think I've quite recovered from the spectacle of seeing around 200 tweeXcore boys and girls slam dancing into one another at 600mph to the sound of guitars, drums and XYLOPHONES. Los Campesinos!' curious brand of boy-girl shout-sing punk-twee clearly has the power to turn the most placid of pacifists into wide-eyed, vein-bulging lunatics. By the end of the night, we were all a sweat-drenched, bruise-covered bloody mess, while Gareth and co had stage-dived about twenty times each, climbed the speaker stacks and bellowed the absolutely immense 'You! Me! Dancing!' to the heavens with such gusto that half of them had lost their voices. An unequivocal mess, then, but a THRILLING one.

The Duchess, York, August 29th 2008

Despite not playing a single Bright Eyes track and thereby alienating approximately 90% of his audience, Conor Oberst pulled not one, not two, but about three thousand out of the bag at this intimate show in the heart of York in the week post-Reading and Leeds. Within about fifteen minutes, he'd won everyone over to the Mystic Valley Band's soulful country stylings and was thus given free reign to do just about whatever he damn well pleased. So all the tracks from the band's eponymous album were belted out, Conor's cracked, fragile voice sounding angelic in the sweat-drenched haze, and a few traditional covers were thrown into the mix too - including a heartbreaking reimagining of 'Everybody's Talkin'. It was the tender rendition of 'Milk Thistle' that was the highlight though, Conor taking centre stage for a solo performance so poignant that even the bar staff were crying into their cash registers. There's a reason the setlist for this is stuck up on the door into the backstage area of The Duchess TO THIS DAY. Legendary stuff.

The Sage, Gateshead, March 1st 2008

Prefaced by an hour long documentary on the life and times of the man behind the band (and the steely thick glasses/hillybilly beard), rather than, you know, an actual support act, this decidedly unusual event took the live performance playbook and tore each page out, one by one, right before your eyes. Between song banter? Scratch that, put 'read reviews from tabloid newspapers' in there instead. Have your band play the songs you've carefully crafted over the last ten years? Forget it - all we need is Mr. E and one other trusty sidekick. Play the hits in lieu of the release of a 'best of' record? You've got to be kidding - bring out the better album tracks and throw a couple of singles in there for prosperity, but reimagine them by way of a liberal use of all manner of weird and wonderful instruments. Oh, and play an Academy venue? Nah, let's stage it all in a concert hall where the punters have to sit and muse on the poignancy of the performance. Rather like theatre, one might say. A Saturday night to remember then, characterised by ingenuity, playfulness and the absolute and undeniable charm of one bearded man and his acoustic guitar.

Manchester Academy 3, December 4th 2008

No frills, gimmicks, emo side partings, skinny jeans, cheap pops or intro music... just straightforward punk and roll right out of the gate. THAT's The Gaslight Anthem's manifesto. These New Jersey troubadors have no time for dicking around: they've got a twenty two song rollercoaster ride through the highs and lows of gin-soaked melancholy to dazzle us all with. Which they did. Admirably. This was one mighty fine demonstration of the band's unquestionable genius, proof positive that the hype that surrounds the bunch going into 2009 is more than well deserved. Whether inserting other people's lyrics into his own ('What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?', 'Geraldine'), axe-grinding alongside his insanely energetic fellow guitarist
or looking on with sheer joy as every soul in the building bellowed back every line to every song twice as loud, lead singer Brian Fallon was having a wail of a time, delighting in the chemistry that exists between band and audience (it's the kind that has crowdsurfers stage diving back into the pit, over and over again). The Cheshire cat grin on his face was symbolic of the atmosphere: bloody chuffing ecstatic. And we even got a stellar set from The King Blues before all this too. Christmas come early, for one and for all.

The Cockpit, Leeds, October 21st 2008

Well, what about this for a love-in, eh? The first date of Mr. Turner's second UK tour of 2008, a veritable treasure trove of treats featuring the delectable Emily Barker and Chris TT on support, was nothing more than one collective, sold out, 700 person-strong toss off, in which a ragtag assortment of cardiganed indie boys, slam dancing hardXXXcore girls and suited and booted old school punks splattered their loads all over Frank, and his band's, faces OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND... well, you get the picture. And who wouldn't? With tunes as sublime as 'The Ballad of Me and My Friends', 'I Knew Prufrock...' and single of the year contender 'Long Live the Queen', you just can't help but be enveloped in the warmth that's emanating from both the stage and the pit. This has been a hallmark year for Frank. By way of jam-packed festival shows, Radio 1 play-listing and plain old fashioned word of mouth, he's reached this point - sold out tours setting him in the direction he belongs: megastardom. Here's to the future, then, but for now let's celebrate this for what it was: an absolutely fucking awesome show.

The Corporation, Sheffield, April 16th 2008

Much like The Gaslight Anthem before, or rather, in the chronology of the gigging year, after them, Against Me!'s raison d'etre is the deliberate absence of gimmickry in their well-renowned live shows. There's no time for splitting the crowd down the middle, no need for invocations to collectively hand clap along, no... these precious seventy five minutes are to be spent powering through as much unrelenting punk rock as your poor eardrums can handle. And then a little more just for kicks. What sets this set apart from Gaslight's though, is the delicious fury with which lead singer Tom Gable imbues every song. Yes, that includes even the more countryfied numbers: just check out the rage in his voice, the throbbing of the veins in his arms, as he physically assaults the band's anthem-to-friendship 'Don't Lose Touch'. It's as if someone's
holding the band at gunpoint, threatening to off them unless they prove their worth and state their manifesto with absolutely everything they've got. And it works. 'Up The Cuts' launches us headfirst into the throng, taking no prisoners, then 'Piss and Vinegar' nearly mows everyone down with its wall of accusatory anger and abrasive guitars, then 'Unprotected Sex' gears up for another round, then 'New Wave', 'Thrash Unreal' and by the time we get to break-out radio hit 'Stop', the bodies are slowly piling up, one by physically exhausted one. It's one hell of a ride, and one you never want to end; but end it does, all too soon, in a mess of ear-shattering feedback and congealed band-sweat. Within less than sixty seconds, we're all demanding their immediate return to these hallowed shores, and, more probably than not, they're backstage delighting at another city well and truly slain. Can we have them back in 2009 please?

King's College ULU, London, April 9th 2008

Now what was that I was saying about hallmark years? 2008 has been one heck of a crazy one for Brighton's Blood Red Shoes. They finally released their much-delayed debut album 'Box of Secrets' and lo, it was super fantastisch, their singles have been all over every media outlet worth its salt and, as in years past, they've gigged like an absolute bastard, playing just about every two bit shithole that'd have them. Oh, and they headlined T in the Park too (keep the fact that it was the Relentless tent under your hat, would ya?) But it was this rather more small scale show that was their defining moment: taking place a meagre week prior to the album's release, in the upstairs room of King's College's student union (we had to get into a lift to get to it), where there's zero air conditioning, no barrier between floor and stage and 'security' is a foreign concept, this was a night to remember. Steven and Laura were on top form: he bashing the life out of his kit and nearly keeling over from exhaustion, she stalking the stage like a banshee, shreiking her lines and being effortlessly, hands down, the coolest woman in the world. And then there was the crowd: galvanised by the no holds barred environment, they redefined the word 'energetic', moshing like there's no tomorrow and ending it all with an impromptu stage invasion, in which one lucky punter got to bash a cowbell to death and the rest either went insane through excessive dancing or stage-dove into oblivion. And then Steven demolished his drumkit. We walked away, overcome by the head-battering brilliance of it all, stunned at what we'd just been a part of. In fifty loud, angry, violent minutes, Blood Red Shoes did what the likes of the Smashing Pumpkins couldn't do in two and a half hours: they bridged the gap between band and audience, delivered a blistering set and, most importantly of all, they made us feel alive. And that's why this small scale, barely noticed performance is the gig of the year. Now take all your arena tickets, tear them to shreds and get on down to your local waterhole. You never know, BRS might just be blowing the roof off the place.