It has pilot-episode-by-numbers so deeply encoded into its DNA that it's as if it was automatically generated by screenwriting software. On top of that it boasts an absolutely stupid premise, hilarious sub-CSI "sexy" archaeology, stultifying attempts at emotional depth and the least atmospheric riff on The Da Vinci Code meets The Last Crusade that it's possible to imagine. The one-dimensional villain and his nil-dimensional henchmen are rivalled only by a cast of heroes written so thinly and played so unconvincingly that it's nearly impossible to believe you're not already watching the Dead Ringers spoof. I'm hard pressed to find a single redeeming feature. Shame on you Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah.
The support act was a man called Corn Mo, playing solo without his band. This was one of the most complete WTF experiences I've had at a live gig. While I can see that in some hard-to-pin-down way his songs share a certain sense of deadpan irony with Ben Folds, he was just...bizarre. He spoke like the breathless Open University guy from The Fast Show, looked like Bill Bailey, sang like Freddie Mercury, and played an absurd set of observational songs accompanied by an accordion or an organ. To finish he sang along to a CD of one of his band's tracks, which had a far more overtly rock/metal flavour and so ended up sounding like a Darkness song. The audience appeared to love him. We felt like Derren Brown had secretly set the entire thing up to mess with our minds.
Mercifully Ben Folds then rescued us. Songs played included (not in this order): Underground, Kate, Battle of Who Could Care Less, Narcolepsy, Army, Lullaby, Annie Waits, Zak and Sara, Gone, Rockin' the Suburbs, All You Can Eat, You To Thank, Jesusland, Landed. He also played several others from the upcoming album due out in September, which some YouTube research reveals to be probably: Errant Dog, Free Coffee, Kylie from Connecticut, Hiroshima(?) and one with the line "If there's a god out there he's laughing at us and our football team". The new ones sounded good, insofar as you can tell from one listen at a concert. Free Coffee was particularly good.
Oh, and there was a song about Newcastle, its "weird-ass" white footbridge, eating a dodgy meal and not being understood when ordering beer. I assume this was written specially for the evening but it was so slick it was pretty hard to tell!
We were standing a little way back on the raised floor behind the sound desk, where the view was great but the actual vocals seemed a little boomy at first. Since he kicked off with a song I didn't know it took me a little while to get into the gig. Maybe I was still reeling from Corn Mo. However as things progressed and Ben's piano playing became ever more virtuoso (his hands were just a blur at several points) I started having a really good time. He had an organ by his side which he would often play with his right hand while his left stayed on the piano. For other "effects" he dropped bits of metal and shakers onto the piano strings.
Ben wasn't particularly talkative and what he did gabble into the mike wasn't always that easy to catch, but the sheer energy of the songs came through well. He was supported by a drummer and base player in a "Ben Folds Five" arrangement making for some extremely faithful renditions of his early material. Their backing harmonies were fantastic, and they delivered "hand me my nose ring / show me the mosh pit" from Underground with aplomb.
The show ended with Not the Same, for which Ben got the audience to do the aaaaahAAAAAH bits in a three-part harmony, then started conducting the audience with his hands. Hugely good fun. The audience were singing along throughout the evening and generally very appreciative (although there was a distracting amount of loud chatter from the back of the room in some of the quieter songs).
If you're thinking "Dude, didn't that DVD come out, like, aeons ago?" you'd be right. You'd also be a geek but we can't help that. I wrote this last year as a reflection on both the new movie and the original series, and (my feelings on Babylon 5 being somewhat conflicted) it wound up being longer, more personal and more retrospective than normal. It's been waiting in the wings until now, but I'm quite fond of it.
Now get the hell off my space station. And, y'know, go and read it.
( Spoilers for Doctor Who - Episode 5: The Poison Sky )
( Spoilers for Doctor Who - Episode 3: Planet of the Ood )
( Cut for length )
The gig lasted about three hours all told, ending about 11.30. Overall it was a fantastic experience.
The night sky was so clear and brilliant I actually made a brief pit-stop on the way home just to stare at it. I can't remember the last time I saw so many stars away from light-pollution. The constellations were almost lost amidst the background stars. It was a truly gob-smacking sight, and a fine end to a fine evening.
Since I went out to, ahem, party hearty immediately after last night's Doctor Who season premiere I haven't really had a chance to comment very much, but it's been thoroughly dissected here, here, here and here amongst other places.
( Belated spoilers for Doctor Who - Episode 1: Partners in Crime )
Next week's episode does look much better, but then I'm pre-disposed to like anything set in Pompeii.
Having purchased an iPod recently I'm feeling a renewed interest in all things musical and have invested in a few albums of varying quality. Inevitably therefore comes the rambling post about a shedload of music.
I've put up a few tracks to download here and there. Tracks removed as they were killing my bandwidth allowance. :-)
( Josh Ritter - The Animal Years )
( Roddy Woomble - My Secret is My Silence )
( Crowded House - Time on Earth )
( Suzanne Vega - Beauty and Crime )
( Matt Nathanson - Some Mad Hope )
( Newton Faulkner - Hand Built By Robots )
( Hue and Cry - Seduced and Abandoned )
( Deacon Blue - Raintown / When the World Knows Your Name )
EDIT: My wife demands your sympathy for having been subjected to my 80s nostalgia.
Coming up in the next few weeks are the new Counting Crows and R.E.M. albums, which (on early evidence) could tentatively represent a return to form for both bands.
(Okay these turned out less brief than planned so I'll spare you by putting them behind the cuts.)
( 1. The Devil You Know – Mike Carey, 2. Vicious Circle – Mike Carey )
( 3. The Big Sleep - Raymond Chandler )
( 4. Air – Geoff Ryman )
(Films 1 to 4 are here).
Brief reviews below. No real spoilers here, but cut for length
The books I read in 2007:
( 1. Magic for Beginners )
( 2. Coalescent )
( 3. Exultant )
( 4. Circle of the Moon )
( 5. Transcendent )
( 6. Never Have Your Dog Stuffed )
( 7. Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets )
( 8. The Character of Cats )
( 9. The Ladies of Grace Adieu )
So, only nine books. I enjoyed them all, but I do feel like something of a failure in the Read more books, dammit! stakes. Maybe next year.
EDIT for obligatory statistics: Hey, I only read 9 books but 33.3% were by female authors. Go me! Then again another 33.3% were by Stephen Baxter so it's possible the small sample size is skewing the data. ;-)
( Janet's books )
( Spoilers for the Doctor Who Children In Need Special 2007 )
( Edit )
Interfering with our Wii-ing has been a flurry of cinemagoing this weekend.
( Ratatouille )
( Stardust )
1. Blink (5/5)
2. Human Nature (Part 1) (5/5)
3. The Family of Blood (Part 2) (5/5)
4. Daleks in Manhattan (Part 1) (4/5)
5. The Lazarus Experiment (3/5)
6. Smith and Jones (3/5)
7. The Shakespeare Code (3/5)
8. Utopia (3/5)
9. Evolution of the Daleks (Part 2) (2/5)
10. The Sound of Drums (2/5)
11. Gridlock (2/5)
12. Last of the Time Lords (1/5)
13. 42 (1/5)
I maintain that this year was a lot more solid than Season 2. If I total up my scores I gave both seasons 39/65, but that doesn't really reflect how I feel about them. Last year saw very few episodes that weren't marred by a silly ending or some moment that felt embarrassingly juvenile. It was that awkward feeling of having to squint slightly to ignore the bad bits in otherwise enjoyable episodes. This year the episodes that were solid were consistently solid from beginning to end, and it's surprising how much that lifts the 'felt' quality of the show. Martha's occasional slips into unrequited love were also a lot less annoying than the cloying Doctor-Rose dynamic of season 2.
Then of course was the run of three superb episodes in a row from 'Human Nature' to 'Blink', which showcased everything that works about the series and without which I'd be feeling less charitable about the overall lack of excellence that surrounded them. I suspect that these three episodes are pivotal to my enjoyment of the season, but they're not the whole story. I was already feeling more positive about the year before they aired.
As for the dregs, while there were a few episodes that required squinting of Olympic proportions, there were actually no more stinkers than last year, and even a nominally poor offering like 'Evolution of the Daleks' was sneakingly enjoyable and nostalgic; unlike, say, 'Rise of the Cybermen'. Only '42' failed to engage me on almost any level, although even there Martha's scenes in the life pod provided at least something of interest.
I'm still trying to decide whether 'The Last of the Time Lords' falls into the stupid-but-fun category, or was a full-on unwatchable stinker of the 'New Earth' variety. Martha did significantly help the episode, as did the epilogue, but as the season finale it ended the year on an unfortunately sour note.
We saw Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End tonight. Maybe I was in the wrong mood but it left me slightly bored: a self-indulgent hodge-podge with no real structure. It's hard to feel much engagement when you can't follow who is double-crossing whom, and on what ship, and why. The last third of the film does pick up a little and there are a few charming moments--including a couple that haven't already been done to death in the trailers--but they're not enough to stop the film from feeling leaden. For what it's worth there's an extra scene after the end credits (assuming that you can outlast the cinema staff in a tense battle of wills).
I also finally got around to watching Superman Returns on DVD last night. The opening credits leave the impression that the film will be a fetishistic recreation of the original Richard Donner film, stunningly beautiful, and interminably long. The opening credits do not lie. The plot is very straightforward but takes over two and half hours to langorously unfold, leaving the characters to carry the film. Unfortunately the direction and performances take their lead from the arch and slightly sappy tone of Superman: the Movie, leaving everything feeling unreal and reminding me why I don't particularly like the original Superman movies in the first place. (So why I bothered watching this one is anyone's guess). I still don't understand why I should care that Clark Kent is mooning over Lois Lane, and the very youthful Brandon Routh just isn't the Man of Steel. The real treat is to see Superman's powers rendered believably for the first time, particularly in the stunning plane rescue sequence. That nearly validated my decision to see the film. That, plus Kevin Spacey playing Gene Hackman playing Lex Luthor.
I'm also a bit disappointed with it: there are a few songs that, as yet, seem as anonymous as passing strangers on the street. I still couldn't tell you much about them despite the fact that I've bumped into them for three days straight. 'The Ballad of Amelia Earheart' is one such, as is 'Houdini And the Girl'. It's not that they're poppy, just... slight. There are also some songs that feel lyrically or structurally awkward, like 'One Mississippi', which is something I don't normally associate with his writing.
Clearly his mission statement on this album was accessibility. Even more than All Maps Welcome this is by far his most eclectic mix of songs, with tracks that could sit comfortably on each of his past albums but also frothier tracks that, until now, I really wouldn't have associated with him at all. The saving grace is that he does accessible quite well. Even the up-tempo happy ones have twists and quirks that sound like Tom McRae songs--just up-tempo, happy Tom McRae songs. 'Bright Lights', for example, is just the kind of thing I didn't expect to like. It's great. They're not as satisfying as a lot of material on his earlier albums, but they're enjoyable on their own terms. And if they feel a little bit thin at times then there's always the more typical stuff like the sparse 'Got A Suitcase, Got Regrets' or the stumbling bitterness of 'Keep Your Picture Clear'. 'On And On' is strangely addictive too.
It's far from perfect, but there's lots to enjoy. Apparently he's already written his next album, and there's no reason it shouldn't be great, but I do hope for something a touch darker next time around.
( Spoilers for Doctor Who - The Lazarus Experiment )
Watching the teaser for the next episode I swiftly came to the conclusion that it would be the most surreal episode ever. I now realise that it was actually a teaser for the whole second half of the season, which may explain why it seemed quite so insanely packed with different elements. While it's impossible to get a clear idea from a random mish-mash of scenes, it does leave me with a good feeling about what's still to come.
I'd comment on the Life on Mars finale but it's been covered in many other places. It's odd for such a lightweight--if extremely skilful and enjoyable--series to have such a controversial ending. Like The Prisoner, Twin Peaks and even Quantum Leap before it the conclusion casts a strange shadow over the series. Right now I feel fairly ambivalent towards the finale, but I suspect that in a week's time I'll either hate it or have come to regard it as a work of genius. At least it wasn't dull.
Although there's a dearth of good TV on at the moment until Veronica Mars and Heroes make their long awaited returns, I'm quite enjoying House, Bones and CSI: Original Menthol Flavour (although so far this year CSI is not matching its superb sixth season).
We've also been watching The Dresden Files, an entirely formulaic piece of television involving a down-at-heel P.I. who's also a wizard, and his Tim Curry-esque mentor, who's a ghost. It's exactly what you'd expect: vampire of the week, werewolf of the week, skinwalker of the week. I'd place it somewhere above Charmed and occasionally up to the standard of below par Angel, riding on the rumpled charm of its lead performance and the feeling that everyone involved is giving it slightly more effort than the show strictly deserves. I have to say that the second half of the 12 episode season has shown a notable improvement with a lot of input from Robert Hewitt Wolfe and Hans Beimler of Deep Space Nine fame: the plots have become less obvious, and the story arc involving Dresden's father has moved forward very rapidly. I would only recommend it if you're in an undemanding mood and predisposed to like this kind of thing, but on those terms I *would* recommend it.
The one thing I can't recommend about The Dresden Files is the main theme music, one of the most anodyne themes-by-numbers I've heard since the 1980s. They try to funk it up mid-season with some up-tempo trumpets in the background, but it's the very definition of polishing a turd.
I have to say I'm loving this Idlewild album. It's entirely rekindled my enthusiasm for the band after their oddly lacklustre last effort (which I did enjoy in parts, but which was so turgid at times that it didn't really feel like an Idlewild album). I posted the first track last time, so here's the second track: Everything (As it Moves). The rest of the album is relentlessly up-tempo but blending from rock to pop (and even an unusually anthemic dance-tinged sound on 'No Emotion', which seems to be the first single) resulting in an album that feels energetic without sounding one note. It pulls off the tricky feat of seeming both familiar and fresh. The exuberance of the music is offset, as ever, by the solemn, overly-introspective lyrics; for some these might feel a tad pretentious but for me this is just about the perfect combination of cheery music and smart language. It all seems effortless. If you like the band and you haven't already bought Make Another World you should rush out immediately1.
1 And buy it. Not just rush outside. Look, at least put some shoes on first.
( Idlewild - Make Another World )
( Ray LaMontagne - Trouble )
( Joe Purdy - Only Four Seasons )
( Tim Finn - Imaginary Kingdom )
( Grant-Lee Phillips, Counting Crows, Crowded House... )
From all of this you may suspect that my musical tastes are irredeemably middle-aged. It's true *sob*.
In between my slumbers I've been reading Magic for Beginners, the short story collection by Kelly Link. Possibly it's the illness but so far the stories are some of the more profoundly disorienting experiences of my life. ( Weirdness )
1 She told me to say this, but it's true.