07
Jan
18

FILM REVIEW: Star Wars, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

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The purpose of arts criticism is to answer two questions:

1. Who is this for?

2. Would they like it?

This is a film made with hardcore Star Wars fans in mind at every turn; but it’s one that laughs in the face of their expectations, undermines their desires and if you’re a fan who hasn’t seen it yet… well, chances are pretty good you’re not going to like it.

The Last Jedi is by a wide margin the most daring film in the franchise’s forty-year history. Rian Johnson has shown himself to be one of Hollywood’s more interesting voices, as anyone who has seen the flawed but fantastic Looper can attest. The Force Awakens was a film that may as well have been called Star Wars: The Star Wars Movie for all the tropes it happily dusted off, so it’s great to see chances being taken as Last Jedi also steals the crown of ‘biggest bummer in Star Wars history’ away from Empire.

When George Lucas originally conceived these stories, he was transferring the imagery and ideals of Westerns, Samurai movies and sci-fi serials into new settings and formats. These were stories of black hats and white hats, heroes and villains, good and evil. Last Jedi is two-and-a-half hours of misery, and may as well have been shot in grayscale. Characters explore their own moral compasses, flip back and forth between sides (sometimes genuinely, sometimes not), contradict each other’s stories. No-one is a true hero or villain outside of the woefully underwritten Snoke (Andy Serkis, doing his usual motion-capture best with no material whatsoever).

The film picks up with the rebels on the run and the First Order on their tail relentlessly trying to annihilate them. It’s down to the ever-peppy droid BB-8, the constantly incredulous Finn (John Boyega) and newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) to hunt down a codebreaker/safecracker as their only hope of survival. Rey (Daisy Ridley) meanwhile, has tracked down a grizzled Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to try and convince him to join the resistance.

This is truly the rebellion’s darkest hour, and most of the more daring choices Johnson makes as director and writer are the bleak ones. Although not a bloody movie (it’s a 12A/PG-13) there is a lot of death, and Johnson is admirably ruthless in his story choices. This is one of the main things the fans are unlikely to appreciate.

Another truly divisive quality, but which in my circles is going to elevate Last Jedi above any of its older siblings, is that it has a liberal streak a mile wide. Finn, BB-8 and Rose visit Canto Bight casino. Something the original trilogy excelled at was the grime and grit of the lower classes; the dive bars, the shady scrap dealers, the dirty dealings. Canto Bight is the logical opposite end of that, flooded with 1%er war profiteers gambling, drinking. Like any casino, it’s a monument to hideous, opulent vulgarity.

The leftist agenda doesn’t stop there either. Several excellent new creature designs are debuted here, and Johnson’s camera shows great sympathy for their plights. So too does Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), who goes through his own tiny character arc over the controversial porgs. Best of all, the main cast has a pleasingly high percentage of women and people of colour, including one interracial romance in which neither participant is white. In some ways, Last Jedi is a film about there still being hope for the freaks and weirdos of the universe.

Another great strength of the movie is the performances. Benicio del Toro’s charismatic hacker, DJ, nearly runs off with the entire movie, practically leaving smears of grease on every frame he’s in. Boyega, as he did last time round, performs like the only person who knows how insane the events occurring around him are. The true revelation is Hamill. Looking as weatherbeaten as the clifftops he calls home, he’s practically Shakespearean in his brokenness, calling upon a deep reservoir of resentment and misery I wasn’t aware he possessed.

Unfortunately, the movie has its problems. It’s half an hour and one pitched battle too long, making an already gloomy outlook even more of a slog and almost crushing the small chinks of light. An early scene with Leia (the late Carrie Fisher, bringing gravitas to every line) teases a brave twist that isn’t followed through on, and will split audiences. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) finds out the true cost of being the hero, but seems to lack any real emotional consequences for his catastrophic decision making at the film’s outset.

Ultimately, The Last Jedi is excellent, but who is it for? To understand just how crazy some of its story choices are, you have to be reasonably steeped in the universe’s DNA, but the majority of the people who are will surely find these same choices aggravating.

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24
Dec
17

YEAR REVIEW 2017: WWE

WWE churned out more content than ever this year, standalone tournaments, NXT, single-brand pay-per-views and some fantastic YouTube content. Here is Braun Strowman, the Elf among Men. Christmas is on me!

I am still a list addict, so without further ado, here are the 20 best matches WWE has put on this year… and five highly dishonourable mentions.

Dishonourable Mentions

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5. Jinder Mahal (c) def. Randy Orton in a Punjabi Prison match to retain the WWE Championship, Battleground, 23rd July

It still doesn’t seem real that career jobber Mahal’s name is in a list that includes greats like Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin and Bruno Sammartino. There was actually a lot of car-crash fun to be had with Mahal in a Tommy Wisseau kind of way. Orton relished murdering the Bollywood Boyz on television in ever more violent ways (this time one of them took a spill off the bamboo cage) and for absolutely no reason, The Great Khali returned for a single night just to help Mahal win the match in one of the strangest bits of semi-continuity in WWE history.

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4. Kairi Sane def. Shayna Baszler to win the Mae Young Classic Tournament, 12th September

Taped in front of a crowd that had already sat through Smackdown! Live and 205 Live, nobody cared about the perfectly serviceable match happening in front of them. Add to that Shayna, still very green, struggling with selling convincingly, and unfortunately this watershed moment in women’s wrestling ended with a whimper, rather than a bang.

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3. Bray Wyatt def. Randy Orton in a House of Horrors Match, Payback, 30th April

Shot in near darkness and seeming all the more embarrassing with no crowd around to react, Orton and Wyatt slowly traded weapon shots around a dilapidated shotgun house before taking a limo back to the arena. Randy’s facial hair was a different length when he emerged, making it painfully obvious that the video inserts had been shot on another day.

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2. Roman Reigns def. The Undertaker, Wrestlemania, 2nd April

Roman has had more coronations than you’ve had hot dinners, and it is darkly comical that Undertaker’s (possibly) last ever match threw him on the futile Reigns babyface bonfire. Weirdly though, the crowd reactions were incidental to the failure of this match, as at this point Undertaker is simply pathetic in the ring. Pot-bellied, thin of limb and just not the intimidating powerhouse he was even two years ago, an atrociously botched tombstone spot left both men looking like idiots.

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  1. Team Raw (Kurt Angle, Braun Strowman, Finn Balor, Samoa Joe and Triple H) def. Team Smackdown (Shane McMahon, Randy Orton, Bobby Roode, Shinsuke Nakamura and John Cena), Survivor Series, 19th November

On paper this seemed like the cream of WWE past and present plus the best that TNA, Ring of Honor and New Japan had to offer. Even the entrances should have been a clue; Cena, still billed as a free agent, showed up wearing green instead of blue, Angle was more athletic tape than man, Triple H was far from his usual ring shape. The match showed promise in the early going but within minutes, Balor, Joe, Nakamura and Roode were eliminated. Angle’s in-ring work was slow and depressing. An obviously checked-out Cena ate a still rare clean pinfall having barely put in five minutes’ work, and the announcers barely even acknowledged it. The rotten stench of Survivor Series 2001 began to pollute the broadcast as the teams came down to Angle, Strowman and Triple H against Orton and Shane. Simply to build the rumoured Triple H vs. Kurt Angle match for Mania last year, four young guys were jobbed out.

20 Best Matches of 2017

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20. The Usos (c) def. Breezango to retain the Smackdown Tag Team Championship, Backlash, 21st May

The best wrestling cards have always been a three-ring circus and sometimes what you want is some comedy. Tyler Breeze spent most of this match in disguise as a janitor and an old lady, which would be fun enough without Corey Graves wondering aloud who the stranger in the ring was, and the fans booing like crazy when Breeze’s identity was revealed.

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19. The Hardy Boyz def. The Bar, Enzo and Cass and The Club (c) to win the Raw Tag Team Championship, Wrestlemania, 2nd April

A big pop is one of the most fun things in wrestling, and while this ladder match wasn’t a classic of the form, the rapturous response to the return of the Hardys, who only the night before had dropped the Ring of Honor tag titles, made this one of the highlights of the year.

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18. Abbey Laith def. Jazzy Gabert, Mae Young Classic Round One, 13th July

Full Sail seem to love the Alpha Female, and in a match like this you can see why. A fearsome powerhouse in the Chyna mould but able to back it up in a way that so many imitators can’t, Laith played the perfect David to Gabert’s Goliath.

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17. Randy Orton won the 2017 Royal Rumble match, Royal Rumble, 29th January

Although not even in the top ten great Rumbles, like the best of its kind this year’s Rumble had peaks and troughs, memorable spots and a standout performance or two. Braun Strowman won over 50,000 fans by demolishing everything in his way. Chris Jericho pulled his favourite trick of going over an hour. Brock and Goldberg’s planet-sized conflict tore the field apart. Luke Harper came out to silence, before holding the crowd in the palm of his hand when he finally turned on Bray Wyatt. And disappointing though Orton was as a winner, at least it wasn’t Roman.

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16. Sanity def. The Authors of Pain (c) for the NXT Tag Team Championship, NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn III, 19th August

With the face/heel alignments increasingly blurred and nobody really expecting much, Sanity unexpectedly tore the house down, dragging the Authors to their first defeat and one of their finest ever showings. Alexander Wolfe in particular went ballistic, throwing himself over the top rope onto the Authors with abandon.

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15. Kurt Angle, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins def. The Miz, Braun Strowman, Kane and The Bar in a Tables, Ladders and Chairs Match, Tables, Ladders and Chairs, 22nd October

Dragged out of the closet to replace Reigns, Angle’s victorious return at the end of the match, dropping Cesaro through a table then locking eyes with Miz in the ring, gave him one last great moment. The rest of the match was the kind of entertaining mess that WWE have shown themselves capable of delivering when plunder is involved; Miz played the part of the weaselly ringleader perfectly, before he and his team apparently killed Strowman in a garbage truck live on television.

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14. Pete Dunne def. Mark Andrews, United Kingdom Championship Tournament (Night Two), 14th January

In under a year, Pete Dunne has managed to rack up a catalogue of fantastic matches, this one being a particular highlight for Mandrews having escaped the TNA ghetto. The ultimate underdog, Mandrews threw everything he had at Dunne before finally falling to the Bitter End.

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13. Kairi Sane def. Tessa Blanchard, Mae Young Classic Round One, 13th July

Few matches in this tournament ran long, but Blanchard clearly went into this aiming to make both herself and the WWE-debuting Sane look like a million dollars. Sane, on the other hand, with the Full Sail audience already behind her, dropped that first mythological elbow and from then on had the audience in the palm of her hand.

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12. The Shield def. The New Day, Survivor Series, 19th November

WWE has a spotty history with stables, and these two teams hadn’t tangled since both were less established. Now the respective top dogs (big dogs?) of their brands, an inter-brand show couldn’t pass by without them meeting. The result surprised nobody, but like so many matches in wrestling history it was the journey, not the destination, that mattered.

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11. Kairi Sane def. Toni Storm, Mae Young Classic Semi-Final, 14th July

Having both impressed already, Storm and Sane had a lot to live up to. A slightly botched plancha threw Sane face-first into the metal entrance ramp, but these two pulled out all their tricks in front of a crowd that was partisan for both talents. In one of the sweetest moments in WWE this year, after doing the honours, in-ring cameras captured Storm chatting to Sane in Japanese.

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10. Braun Strowman def. Roman Reigns in an Ambulance Match, Great Balls of Fire, 9th July

When you focus on Reigns’ in-ring work, particularly when there are no disqualifications, he can bring it. Strowman on the other hand is that rarest of things; a hoss that has both the office and the fanbase behind him. And this was just the beginning of Strowman’s vehicular destruction this year.

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9. The Usos def. The New Day (c) in a Hell in a Cell Match to win the Smackdown Tag Team Championship, Hell in a Cell, 8th October

A common fan complaint these days is that the WWE product is PG. Forget that; this showing elevated both teams, the kind of violence that can only happen with a high level of trust. The weapon shots were stiff, the bumps were rough, and like Edge and Christian two decades back, the Usos went from heels to tweeners overnight.

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8. Bray Wyatt def. John Cena (c), The Miz, Baron Corbin, AJ Styles and Dean Ambrose in an Elimination Chamber Match to win the WWE Championship, 12th February

It’s hilarious to think that it was within the last twelve months that Bray Wyatt looked not just credible, but world-beating. Cena, entering the match during his record-breaking 16th reign, was pinned fourth, leaving the vacant title up for grabs between Styles and Wyatt. Two nights later the three would have another outstanding match on Smackdown; sadly Wyatt was just keeping the belt warm for Randy Orton.

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7. The Authors of Pain (c) def. DIY and The Revival to retain the NXT Tag Team Championship, NXT TakeOver: Orlando, 1st April

A masterpiece needn’t be perfect. Sure, this match ran longer than needed, and it was a strange choice having the babyfaces eliminated first. The Authors are still pretty green, any combination of these three teams is incapable of having a bad match.

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6. Toni Storm def. Piper Niven, Mae Young Classic Quarter Finals, 14th July

Friends for many years in various promotions, Storm and Niven could have gone through the motions; in some ways they probably did, they just likely have world-class motions to go through. A highlight of the whole tournament was Storm stealing Niven’s patronising chin punch.

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5. Brock Lesnar def. AJ Styles in a non-title match, Survivor Series, 19th November

Lesnar has disappointed repeatedly this year, having matches with Strowman and Joe that lasted less than ten minutes and ended anti-climatically. Many predicted the same for Styles; luckily for all of us, Styles has been essentially bulletproof since coming to WWE, and while this wasn’t quite a classic and the winner was predictable, it was a better singles match than Brock has had in years.

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4. Aleister Black def. Velveteen Dream, NXT TakeOver: WarGames, 18th November

Nothing about this should work. The story was perfect in its simplicity; all Dream wanted was for Black to say his name. Dream harried Black for weeks before the match was set. The match itself was far better than it had any right to be for two such opposite characters (Black a veteran indie darling, Dream a home-grown WWE boy), and after the pin the storyline ended perfectly.

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3. Brock Lesnar def. Roman Reigns, Samoa Joe and Braun Strowman to retain the Universal Championship, Summerslam, 20th August

Even as the accusations of laziness stack up against Lesnar, he has shown willingness to bring it in a multi-man match. Joe and Reigns were largely afterthoughts here, collateral damage as two forces of nature collided. Lesnar hasn’t seemed this fired up in a long time.

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2. Brock Lesnar def. Goldberg (c) to win the Universal Championship, Wrestlemania, 2nd April

A weird choice, perhaps, but Lesnar/Goldberg III felt like the hardcore punk of professional wrestling. Brief, brutal, all highs and no lows. During the entrances, fans were ambivalent, bitter memories of Wrestlemania XX at the forefront of everyone’s mind. But this was the sendoff Goldberg’s character deserved, and Lesnar needed.

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1. Pete Dunne def. Tyler Bate (c) to win the United Kingdom Championship, NXT TakeOver: Chicago, 20th May

Let’s be honest; you could choose any of the three matches these two men have had this year and justifiably let them occupy the three top spots in any order. Close friends for years on the international indie scene, team-mates in British Strong Style but fierce rivals in WWE canon, that they’ve locked up three different times for the same strap and haven’t once got boring is nothing short of miraculous. Words won’t do any of these matches justice. Get on the Network and watch them!

21
Oct
17

NETFLIX REVIEW: Star Trek: Discovery, Episode Five

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Mainstream media has been going through the rehash, reboot, recycle phase for many years now, but you can make excuses for Star Trek as a franchise that’s been ongoing in some form or another for over five decades.

A proper, canonised addition to the universe set before the original series, Discovery has so far received mixed reviews.

Released weekly by Netflix as they continue to experiment with formats, episode five, ‘Choose Your Pain,’ might have ended up being somewhat of a make-or-break for the series.

Spoilers follow (TW: sexual violence)

The episode follows two strands, one pure Trek that tells us a lot about a lot of the crew. The other is an example of the series’ darker edge, lurking under the surface before but now becoming impossible to ignore.

The former storyline finds Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) finally losing patience with the abuse of Ripper, an alien life form the crew have been using to navigate across seemingly impossible distances. Ripper is showing signs of wear and tear, and Burnham is concerned for the his well-being. She clashes with acting captain Saru (Doug Jones) when he demands they keep using the drive despite Burnham’s warnings. Together with science officer Stamets (Anthony Rapp) they rebel without quite amounting to a mutiny, to protect Ripper but still achieve Saru’s.

The latter story is something else entirely. Saru is acting captain because Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) is kidnapped by Klingons and thrown in a cell with, of all people, classic original series character Harry Mudd (Rainn Wilson).

It really is an episode of two halves, and that’s what makes it so frustrating. Burnham and Stamets bonding over the same problem albeit with completely different motivations rounds out Stamets’ character beautifully from the uptight prick that slated Burnham on sight earlier in the season. Rapp’s performance as Stamets is pleasantly underplayed and the reveal at that he’s gay lets Star Trek keep pushing boundaries the way it always has.

It’s within this part of the plot that problems begin. Cadet Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is one of the best things in the show, but this episode makes the bizarre choice of letting her drop not one, but two f-bombs, a Star Trek first. The series claims to be rated 12 on Netflix, but between this f-bomb, an s-bomb elsewhere in the episode and the quite astounding amount of unpleasant violence, it’s hard to see how that was achieved.

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On the Klingon ship there are a whole load of grim events. The episode is titled after the Klingon approach to torture, wherein the prisoners have to decide whether to take the beating themselves or nominate their cellmate. Mudd (who it must be said, Wilson manages to lend subtlety to, reminiscent of the character’s history without being a cartoon or a ripoff) obviously always lets others take the fall.

Even in the movies, Trek was never really this brutal, and it only gets worse as the episode goes on; Lorca’s damaged eyes get assaulted, it’s all but outright stated that a female Klingon has been repeatedly raping an Ensign in the same cell, and it all culminates in an explosively violent escape.

What has happened to the mainstream film and television industry that means that everything has to now be dark, regardless of whether that makes sense? Even on its worst days Trek has been a beacon of hope, a future with utopian ideals, unity, acceptance. Even as it told the story of decades-long, intergalactic wars it didn’t need to resort to f-bombs, torture and rape.

Stamets, Burnham and Saru have the kind of moving, powerful philosophical conversations that have been associated with Trek since its earliest days, while Lorca swans off to commit some casual murder. Where before it seemed like the early episodes were a long setup for a different perspective on the same universe, this was the first time that it flat out stopped feeling like Trek any more.

The first four episodes had some dark tones to them, but remained on the right side of the barrier for violence and language. Hopefully there’s still room in the remaining ten episodes for this to be the exception rather than the rule.

25
Sep
17

NETFLIX REVIEW: GLOW

What a strange time it is to be a wrestling fan. Simultaneously at a peak of visibility but nowhere near the cultural phenomenon it was in the 80s and 90s, wrestling is simultaneously cooler and more niche than ever.

Bravo Netflix, then, for having the gall to take a shot at making a wrestling show. Kind of.

Precious few will remember the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling promotion’s brief existence in the mid-1980s; a trashy, poorly made and low-budget show, it briefly appeared on cable before sinking without trace, the brainchild of former WWA announcer David B. McLane.

Apparently, while spitballing ideas for another show with a feminist thrust, the story of GLOW caught the imagination of Orange Is The New Black creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch.

GLOW though, is not a direct adaptation. The names aren’t even the same – this is not a true-to-life story of David B. McLane by any stretch.

Instead, the wrestling TV show is used as a setting the same way a women’s prison was in OITNB. The characters and stories are all original, with their wrestling characters mostly copies of their forebears.

Alison Brie of Community stars as Ruth, a down-on-her-luck actor who’s out of money and opportunities when her agent tips her off about GLOW. Her best friend, Debbie, is a retired soap star stuck in a tepid marriage. Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron), a cult movie director trying to rebuild his reputation, takes on GLOW as a project on the condition that his passion project gets made by the same producer, Bash (Chris Lowell).

Ruth is not the most sympathetic of protagonists, but Flahive and Mensch have shown themselves to favour characters painted with shades of grey rather than black and white hats. Sylvia may be even worse, a pervert, a cokehead, a hack, but somehow is the soul of the show. Gifted with so many of the best lines in the show, he comments on the action almost like the only reasonable person in the room. But with a liberal streak a mile wide and a stack of principles he occasionally chooses to honour, he’s not just entertaining but possibly one of the most well-rounded characters to appear in a television programme in many years.

The show is not for the faint-hearted; the language is more colourful than a Pride parade, the sex scenes grimy and unglamorous, the drinking and drugging plentiful. It also touches on some very dark themes, particularly hard-hitting female ones that a show made by Hollywood’s typical cadre of white guys would either ignore entirely or mishandle appallingly.

It’s not even really a show for wrestling fans. The industry is treated with a surprisingly high amount of reverence and respect, sure. A number of actual wrestlers show up – Awesome Kong has a recurring part and shows pretty impressive comedy chops, John Hennigan, Joey Ryan, Chris Daniels, Frankie Kazarian and bizarrely Alex Riley all have one-shots. Perhaps most surprisingly, Carlito and Brodus Clay appear in multiple episodes as part of a traditional wrestling family in the Anoa’i mould.

However, the show also doesn’t talk down to the audience inevitably drawn by the pro-wrestling content. The gym the ladies train at is called Chavo’s, after Chavo Guerrero Jnr. who served as a consultant for the in-ring scenes, and there’s some fun dialogue using wrestling insider terms without deigning to explain to the uninitiated what a face, heel, gimmick or selling are.

It’s already been renewed for a second season, and with a clutch of story threads left dangling after the finale, if you haven’t already, take this chance to binge on season one.

24
Sep
17

MUSIC REVIEW: Three Headed Monkey – I Can’t Win On My Own

Preston’s local music scene has been punching above its weight for years, and one of the key reasons for that is Alan Gillhespy.

As well as heading up Nirvana tribute act the Pat Smear Test, he produces local talent, organised the Harvest arts festival and fronted Go Around Captain.

From the ashes of Go Around Captain come Three Headed Monkey, but despite featuring some of the usual suspects it’s an altogether different sound and a different band. Four compact, weighty anthems with  outsized hearts, it’s a searing, confident debut.

Thanks to a gleaming, thick mix by Chris Clancy, the guitars and drums sound thick and crisp, far more muscular than you’d expected a local band to achieve.

Gillhespy may have a penchant for comedic song titles (previous entries include ‘Prise Ballz,’ ‘Peter Jones Wants A Four-Minute Egg’ plus this EP’s ‘Doors Are Fart Scissors’ and ‘C!£@stipation’) but his lyrics skew towards the sincere, with a whiff of prime period Idlewild about them.

Agile riffs battle for attention with soaring, emotive hooks (‘Forgive yourself/I can’ Gillhespy croons) and  a thudding rhythm section. Song wise, it’s a revival of the lurching, segmented compositions that characterised the British post-hardcore scene at the turn of the millennium.

With melodies this strong and music this tight, if there’s any justice Three Headed Monkey will expand out of the North West until the whole country takes notice.

24
Sep
17

THEATRE REVIEW: The Time Machine

Seen 17th August 2017 at Edinburgh Fringe Festival

H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine has been through countless iterations and interpretations since it was first published in 1895, but this latest one may top them all.

Adapted by Laurence Owen and Lindsay Sharman for the Fringe and touring the UK in 2018, it’s a one-hour two-hander which puts a welcome new spin on a property already woven into the fabric of sci-fi history.

The show takes the form of a production for the fictional Radio Woking fifty years ago or so. Owen plays the erratic voice actor and creator, Sharman the uptight producer and Foley artist.

Over the course of an hour, the story is told through the lens of Post-War Britain via Freud and radical socialism, with a few outstanding songs and Theremin to boot. It’s a cheerful, inclusive adventure that’s by turns funny and tragic and everything in between.

For those unfamiliar, the story in the play (within the play) is of a mysterious scientist in 1890s London, who creates a time machine and invites a group of colleagues – a silent man, a Marxist, a tabloid journalist – to hear a by turns fantastical and terrifying story of the future.

Both stars weighed in on the writing of the music and the script, but Owen gets the lion’s share of the glory. A gifted voice actor, he impresses early on with ‘Stuff and Nonsense,’ an overture of sorts that finds him leaping from persona to persona, questioning his own protagonist’s narrative. Sharman unfortunately has a lot less to do on stage, but nearly steals the show with a very brief romantic subplot and some fun sound effect gags.

As well as the bigger, sweeping sci-fi epics in the soundtrack, it’s littered with fun gags like The Who Sell Out-style toothpaste adverts and a fictional, novelty pop hit in the style of ‘Monster Mash.’

Audio of the radio play within the show (not to be confused with a recording of the show itself) can be found here, but to get the real experience you must see it live when The Time Machine tours next year.

Familiar enough to be cozy, out-there enough to make well-trodden ground fun again and edge-of-your-seat suspenseful, you’re unlikely to spend a better hour in the theatre soon than The Time Machine.

22
Jul
17

RIP Chester Bennington

We are living in a time when awareness of mental health is at an all-time high. More people than ever are opening up about their mental health issues while others are increasing their own awareness of depression, taking mental health problems more seriously as illnesses that cannot be helped.

Every life lost to mental health as things finally start to improve at a noticeable rate is all the more tragic when the world may be an easier place to exist in a few years down the line.

One of the lives claimed by suicide this past week was Chester Bennington, vocalist of Linkin Park, found dead on the 20th July 2017.

Linkin Park hold a quite bizarre place in the music world. Writing for RockMidgets.com in 2007, I once described Linkin Park as being the Bon Jovi of nu-metal; prettier boys than their peers, with more family-friendly lyrics and poppier production.

Nu-metal, for those playing along at home, was a strain of metal that emerged as grunge returned to the underground. Characterised by drop-tuned guitars, angry lyrics that appealed to teenagers and (most of the time) there being a DJ and/or rapper in the lineup, it was a genre that would dominate the charts for a few years.

But Linkin Park had one more thing in common with Bon Jovi – they’re survivors. Nu-metal was never a genre that commanded the same kind of respect as grunge or punk or even glam, but even by the standards of their own times Linkin Park were disrespected. Yes, these six lads were seen as lacking in credibility when compared to Limp Bizkit.

Yet as the Stainds and the Taproots and the Alien Ant Farms of the world fell by the wayside, Linkin Park simply refused to stop selling out stadium tours even as record sales dropped.

Not that any of this mattered to me at the time. I was 11 when Hybrid Theory (2000) came out, and I remember getting the CD for my birthday. I’d been raised on my dad’s music, so I was familiar with the rock pantheon and was a Beatles obsessive. Linkin Park were the first band that were mine, all mine.

As I transitioned from classical guitar to rock when I got to secondary school, it was a Hybrid Theory songbook I practised from (in the wrong tuning because I didn’t know much theory at the time). I had a hoodie with the album cover on it.

Linkin Park were mesmerising to a generation of mosher kids, and the charismatic centre of that was Chester Bennington. Startling to look at with flame tattoos on his wrists, spiked, blonde hair and a banshee howl of a singing voice, he was the face of the band from ‘One Step Closer’ onwards.

Hybrid Theory in truth will be the largest part of Bennington’s legacy. Criticised constantly since it came out for the banal and juvenile lyrics, that didn’t stop the album going diamond. A generation of kids grew out of those lyrics, but could never quite shake the stadium-sized hooks of ‘With You’ or ‘Runaway’ or the ever-lampooned ‘Crawling.’

Even that music video gives an indication that Linkin Park may have been a touch underrated as a group, depicting a girl in an abusive relationship choosing to walk away from it. Compare that to the carnival horror of a Slipknot video or the skateboard buffoonery of a Limp Bizkit atrocity.

Hybrid Theory remains the biggest selling nu-metal album of all time, and the best-selling debut of any artist this century – the press could laugh all their wanted, but Chester Bennington was laughing all the way to the bank.

None of their subsequent records captured the public’s imagination in the same way. In some ways it’s understandable – the three-year wait for Meteora (2003) failed to justify its minimal progression from its predecessor. Four more years passed by before the alt-rock angst of Minutes To Midnight (2007), an album with a mortal determination to remove anything that made the band remotely interesting.

With a smaller public spotlight than before, though, the band began to spread its wings again. A Thousand Suns (2010) was a concept album about nuclear annihilation; dark but resolute, political and painted in shades of black and chrome, its harsher digital edge failed to break a million in sales, and it deserved better.

On its follow-up, Living Things (2012) they threw colour back into the mix, resulting in their poppiest record yet, and their strongest batch of hooks since Hybrid Theory.

I spent these twelve years defending Linkin Park at every opportunity. Even I could see their faults from an outsider’s perspective, but they’d been mine since I was a kid, dammit, and I was never going to let them go.

Even I was disappointed with the sterilised riffs of 2014’s The Hunting Party; by the time One More Light came out in May, I hadn’t got the bandwidth to invest in it. What a terrible fan I now feel like.

Somewhere, the millions of people who bought Hybrid Theory will most likely now be dusting off those baggy jeans to honour Chester.

I’ve read enough articles and seen enough documentaries to know that Chester Bennington has saved lives through his music.

Unfortunately, he now shows us once again what Robin Williams did; that millions in the bank, a family that loves you, a world of adoring fans and a creative outlet sometimes still isn’t enough to save people from depression. So I say again.

Thank-you for waking up today. Thank-you for existing. People care that you’re around. And if things are getting too difficult for you, call whichever number:

UK – I have never heard a bad word said about Samaritans – dial 116 123 from any phone.

US – National Suicide Prevention Hotline can be reached on 1-800-273-8255.

If you’ve given Hybrid Theory a spin and want to hear more of Chester’s work since the news broke, here are ten of the best Linkin Park songs from post-2000.

1. P5hng Me A*wy feat. Stephen Richards (Reanimation, 2002) – On the stopgap remix album Reanimation, Mike Shinoda mixed in new harmonies by Taproot’s Stephen Richards with Bennington’s previous vocals.

2. Somewhere I Belong (Meteora, 2003)  – Included only for sentimental reasons really, because I can so vividly remember watching the documentary about the making of this video.

3. Lying From You (Meteora, 2003) – With a bit more grit in their production style, Linkin Park could’ve been a contender in heavier circles; this riff is colossal and Bennington’s scream is put to great use.

4. One Step Closer (Live in Texas, 2003) – Linkin Park could be hit and miss as a live act, but one of the best choices they ever made was in flirting with the remix version of ‘One Step Closer’ when closing gigs with it. It also features, of course, Chester’s most iconic lyric – ‘shut up when I’m talking to you.’

5. The Little Things Give You Away (Minutes To Midnight, 2007) – On a largely weak album, this closing track showed the limitless possibilities of layering Chester’s voice on top of itself, as melodies and countermelodies twist gracefully over each other.

6. QWERTY (Songs From The Underground, 2008) – Often bootlegged at the time but never included on a studio album, ‘QWERTY’ is one of the band’s heavier moments.

7. The Catalyst (A Thousand Suns, 2010) – You could fairly argue that there is more ambition wrapped up in this one song than in the entirety of the band’s prior career; it’s a six-minute odyssey.

8. The Messenger (A Thousand Suns, 2010) – Sometimes simplicity is the way to go, and the lyrics to ‘The Messenger’ may not be anything particularly deep, but they speak in universal language to those needing hope in difficult times.

9. Victimized (Living Things, 2012) – Nestling in the band’s softest record was this perverse little treasure, with some of the most serrated vocals Bennington ever recorded.

10. Rebellion feat. Daron Malakian (The Hunting Party, 2014) – Although Bennington and the band would collaborate with other artists frequently, it’s a shame there was never much opportunity for him to work with a filthier band; your Machine Heads, say. Malakian, late of System Of A Down, adds his unique crunch to this track and it shows how well Bennington’s vocals could have slotted in elsewhere.




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