Nightman Listens To Bryan Adams – Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron

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Greetings, Glancers! I was in two minds over whether to include this in my Bryan Adams series because it is a soundtrack album. I remember mocking this quite a bit when it came out – the movie looked pretty bad, and here was Bryan Adams singing an entire album about horses. What could possibly go wrong? Well, I’ve decided to include it because I haven’t heard any of it before, aside from some early promo stuff. I’m already listening to his other albums to I may as well dive into this one. Who knows, maybe I’ll be surprised?

Here I Am‘. It sounds familiar. Yes, this must have been the single. I have heard this. Doesn’t seem to have anything to do with horses. Annoying turn of the millennium drums for the chorus. Still, I like it. Catchy, sweet, inoffensive, fine. Even a little solo in there. Goes a little wonky towards the end with bizarre backing vocals and unnecessary padding.

‘I Will Always Return‘. Opening with evocative piano and wind. Ballad. Yearning. Nice melodies. Nice bridge. Nice chorus. Nice all round then, and short too.

You Can’t Take Me‘. Carpenter synth. Where did that come from? Well, it didn’t last long, as we break into some weird 80s rock noise. Verse okay, still sounds like it was written in the 80s. Good melodies though, I like it. Could do without that strange 80s instrumental piece though. Gets more punchy as it goes along.

Get Off My Back‘. A light rock start. Fun. Upbeat. Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough. Sounds again like a standard Adams rocker. Fairly plain, but nothing bad. Like meh, but not as negative. I usually hate whistling in songs, but that last piece was catchy.

Brothers Under The Sun‘. Atmosphere. Dream sounds and words. Strings and synth. More nice melodies. Eerie. Similar melody and mood to Little Susie. The lyrics here are hopeful and positive, which doesn’t fit with the music but adds a deliberate melancholy. Pretty good.

Don’t Let Go‘. Synthy start. Soft again. Is that Dido? Or Sarah Maclaclan? McLachlan? Who knows. Verses a little plain. Chorus a bit better – nice again, not memorable on first listen. Sarah or whoever singing more. Seems a little padded too.

This Is Where I Belong‘. Whip noises. Growing. Voice and piano. Didn’t we play this one already? Maybe the lyrics are similar to a previous track. Nice again. That seems to see a recurring vibe – nice, gentle. There are a few songs left, and while nothing has been bad yet I’m already feeling this could really have been an EP as the songs are now at risk of running into one another.

Sound The Bugle‘. Synth. Sparkliy twinklies. Sad piano. Seems very similar to something I’ve heard elsewhere. Is this movie all death and despair? So many of the songs are on the darker tone of average. Good melodies. Soft. Quiet. Second chorus brings the noise. And strings, yay! A very odd sudden end.

Nothing I’ve Ever Known‘. A single guitar. Sad. Nice. Lovely. Verse not as good as intro. Okay chorus, veering awfully close to Blunt territory.

So, I skipped the Zimmer tracks and some of what appear to be reprises or shortened versions of the tracks above. I don’t feel too bad for laughing at the time of release, but of course it was unjustified. The songs here are good – none are going to change my world and I doubt I would listen to any of them again, but I wouldn’t turn them off or tune out if I hear them. It has made me want to watch the movie though. So, nothing memorable for me, but nothing bad – just a nice collection of movie soundtrack songs. Let us know in the comments what you think of this soundtrack. Share your favourite movie soundtracks too, and let us know if the movie is any good!

 

 

USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage

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This should have been called USS Indianapolis: Men Of Cloneage, amirite! Coz they all look the same! Seriously, some of the flaws of this movie could have been avoided if they had simply cast some actors with more distinct faces. Throughout the movie I couldn’t tell who was who, which one wanted to marry the blonde, which one was the thief, which one just got eaten etc. In all seriousness, this is a powerful story, one of my favourite true stories of all time actually, and it deserves to be told well. Unfortunately this film doesn’t deliver – its low budget is very noticeable and negative, the performances are forgettable, and too much of the movie is spent attempting to introduce the characters so that we are invested and affected by what comes later – though these early scenes are horribly and confusingly edited in such a way that it simply becomes frustrating and we lose interest. I found myself sadly thinking, just get to the sharks already.

A bit of a personal backstory. When I was young, one of my favourite books was Maneaters by Rupert Matthews. It’s a collection of true stories based on horrific encounters between people and animals – bear and tiger attacks, snakes, sharks etc. One of the stories was about the USS Indianapolis, and that story makes up the bulk of this film. In 1945, the US Military has crafted a couple of atomic bombs and would like nothing more than to drop them on Japan. The A-Team were several decades away, so they decided to send some of the bomb parts via battleship to The Philippines – a mission so secret only the top brass knew about it. The unlucky ship going on this mission was the ship of the title, knowingly being sent into enemy territory without an escort to defend them from submarine attacks which they could not foresee or withstand. They successfully completed their mission, but on the return journey the Indianapolis was spotted by a Japanese sub who torpedoed the hell out of it. Within minutes the ship was in the water. I can’t recall the numbers, but there were over 1100 men on board, and around 900 went into the water. Stranded, cold, and bleeding, with barely any life rafts and thousands of miles of ocean all around them, things were looking bleak. And then the sharks came. And came. And came.

If you don’t think you know the story, you’ve probably heard it famously delivered by Quint in Jaws, thanks to John Milius, Robert Shaw, and Howard Sackler. Yes, Quint tells Brody and Hooper about where one of his scars came from – after he went into the ocean when the Japanese struck. It’s one of the most famous moments in Jaws, chillingly delivered. One of the first stories I ever wrote featured a character haunted by his involvement and memories of the event. I saw Mission Of The Shark when I was young – a TV movie starring Richard Thomas and Stacey Keach, also based on the event and it was then that I learned about the court case aftermath and the dubious plots. Maneaters you see, only focused on the immediate human event – one man’s recollections of what is was like to be trapped, surrounded, and feeling hope ebb away. It’s then that I thought ‘why doesn’t someone famous and powerful actually make a good movie about this?’ When I first heard about Men Of Courage I hoped that movie had finally come, but as reports about the movie, then previews, then reviews came, my hope ebbed too.

The second half of the film is considerably stronger than the first. I was worried it was going to go downhill due to horrible shark effects, but in most cases the sharks are very good. Am I right in saying some were real too? There were some moments which appeared to be ridiculous and not how sharks would actually behave, but on the whole it was fine. The problem is that this section of the movie felt too short. It was low on tension, there wasn’t much emotion, and by that point I didn’t care about most of the characters or differentiate between them. The movie is basically in three large parts, or five smaller chapters – Meeting the team, the mission, the sharks, the court case, the end. I appreciate the attempts to introduce the characters, but as mentioned it simply doesn’t work. Cage’s Captain is really the only character we care for as he is the focal point throughout the five chapters. Cage’s performance is either restrained or flat – it essentially could have been anyone. I appreciate that when making a film like this, you can’t possibly focus on everyone, but you can give us a subset of characters and get us emotionally invested from the outset – make them likable, or real at the very least. Make them stand out, with their own lives, past, fears, and flaws. I’m repeating myself, but the film tries and fails.

To its credit, the film does also show things from the opposing side. We meet several of the Japanese crew and see them as humans forced into a position no-one would ever want to be in. The film neither shies away from pointing the finger of blame squarely at those who actually were to blame. Even though the film essentially ends on a downer, we get some real life footage of the rescue and brief moments from the remaining survivors and other archive footage to re-iterate the courage of those involved. A little over 300 men survived the ordeal.

There was one fantastic moment late in the shark section where the music swells and the camera swings around some of the survivors in long shots to give an eagle eye view of the vastness of their struggle – we see some in rafts, some dead and floating away, some exhausted and gripping on to what they can, and some simply drifting among the ever present shark fins, past caring that they could be the next to succumb. That’s what I want to see – the real struggle, the real pain, and by virtue of surviving, the real courage.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of USS Indianapolis: Men Of Courage. Did you enjoy it more than you expected to, or was it another poor attempt at telling a tragic tale?

Best Writing (Original) – 1969

Official Nominations: Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. The Damned. Easy Rider. The Wild Bunch.

William Goldman’s screenplay for BCATSD picked up the official win this year, and it’s difficult to argue against the win. The easy dialogue couple with the charm of the actors ensures that the film is quotable and doesn’t feel dated. BACATAA has a name too long to type repeatedly, but Mazursky peppers his frank script with a lot of modern humour which was a revelation for audiences at the time. Even more shocking, for the handful who saw it, was The Damned with its explicit sex and discussions on power, corruption, and politics. Easy Rider too was a revelation, with Fonda, Hopper, and Southern’s script striking a chord with America’s youth like no movie before or since with much of the dialogue being ad-libbed on the spot.

My Winner: Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid

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My Nominations: Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. Easy Rider. The Italian Job. Medium Cool. Take The Money And Run. The Wild Bunch.

I add a few notable films to my list – The Italian Job is of course extremely quotable, Medium Cool is a timely piece and relevant today as the quest for morality and integrity within journalism rages on. Take The Money And Run is one of Woody Allen’s earliest hits, more manic than what he would later produce.

My Winner: The Italian Job

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Let us know in the comments which film of 1969 do you think has the Best Original Screenplay.

TTT – Johnny Depp Movies

Greetings, Glancers! Ladies keep your pants on as today we look at my favourite 10 Johnny Depp movies. I’ve been a big Depp fan since as long as I can remember. I’m not sure what the first movie of his I saw was, but I’m farily positive it is something from this list. Depp has been a megastar since the early 90s and a star long before then, and he was my personal pick for that wonderful hetero-male schoolyard question – ‘if you had to shag one man, who would it be’. Kids these days.

Johnny Depp is known (increasingly so in recent years) for picking offbeat characters to portray, usually those on the fringes of society, or quirky, or with romantic burdens. These are the roles which he seems to enjoy, but he has also featured as more serious, straight types – most performances though he gives himself entirely over and even though you know it’s Johnny Depp you can feel the character rather than the actor. Below are my top ten Johnny Depp films – a mixture of performances that I think are his best while also thinking of my enjoyment of the whole film, with a greater focus on the performance. This top ten is actually fairly interchangeable – Number 1 is the only 1 that remains fixed, while the others are all essentially the same ranking, and quite a few other films not included are roughly similar in quality in my eyes.

10. A Nightmare On Elm Street

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Depp’s first major appearance was in my favourite horror movie of all time. A Nightmare On Elm Street sees the young star playing a typical teen boyfriend and his role doesn’t go much further than the tropes and expectations of the genre. This is Nancy’s and Freddy’s movie, but everyone remember’s Depp for his failure to stay awake and his gloriously bloody demise. He doesn’t quite have the look yet, or the star power, but the film is so good and he is an integral part, so it has to make my top ten.

9. The Libertine

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Has anyone even seen this movie? I feel like nobody has because nobody ever talks about it. Sure, it isn’t the best movie in the world, and is probably in the lower half of Depp’s filmography if we’re talking about good movies, but Depp’s performance is excellent – dirty, horrific, and with the venomous charm of a street addict looking for a final fix. Depp stars as the Earl Of Rochester, The Libertine of the title, a notorious pleasure seeker and dandy. As the film progresses, the hedonism comes back to bite the character in the body, if not the soul, and he begins to wither to an emaciated husk. Even as he falls to bodily corruption, he flies his singular flag, acting like a 17th Century punk hero who burned brightly for a few moments, then was snuffed out – except here he portrays the character as mostly unlikable and dastardly. It’s one of his bravest, most visceral performances.

8. Donnie Brasco

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I’ve spoken about this movie before, covering it in my favourite Al Pacino performances. Depp and Pacino work well together, and while Pacino’s weary, fading performance grabs the eye, it is Depp who goes through the changes – the loving cop husband seduced by the darkside. People never gave Depp’s ‘serious’ performances the credit they deserved at the time, and now moan about how every film now is some bizarro freakshow. You can’t have it both ways! Or more accurately where Depp is concerned – of course you can. Depp can play any sort of role, and here it is one of his finest straight shots. He gets to play a normal human, flawed and wretched like the rest of us, but without the need for grandiosity or make-up, and with all of that stripped away he still knocks it out of the park.

7. Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl

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As everyone knows, the sequels drastically went downhill while becoming increasingly convoluted, but the original Pirates Of The Caribbean Movie is as perfect a popcorn movie you’re ever likely to see. A fun adventure filled with larger than life scoundrels, daring escapades, laughs, romances, and good performances all around. Depp steals the show entirely in what may now be regarded his most famous role. Jack Sparrow is more of a Pirate to the public conscience now that Blackbeard or Long John Silver or Old No-Eyed Skip Stumpy Stump. His maniacal performance deservedly got an Oscar nomination, probably should have got the win, and is brimmed with swaggering confidence and anxious ticks.

6. Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street

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After some time away from bestie Tim Burton, Depp joined forces with his sullen goth pal once more to bring this musical to stinking life. I was genuinely shocked at how dark and depressing the film actually was, and that was after me already knowing the story since childhood. It’s one of the few instances where I felt kind of shaken leaving the Cinema, and that is as much down to Depp as it is the denouement and the gorgeous look and feel of the thing. Depp channels and then exorcises his Ichabod Crane and merges it with some malevolent, swamp monstrosity. The Demon in the title is key – this is a man, and a performance, possessed by something unspoken and arch, a foul parasite that destroys whatever it comes into contact with – and yet you still somehow manage to feel sorry for him.

5. Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas

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Going full Depp, is that a thing? It is now. Yes, Depp goes full Depp in Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, chewing the scenery as much as his own face, and making merry with Del Toro and go as they ravage Vegas to pieces in their quest for half-assed gonzo reporting and the finest highs the world can offer. It’s well documented that Depp and Hunter S Thompson were pals, and Depp takes his look, mannerisms, and speech, mangles them in a stoned haze, and tosses them through the looking glass to craft another colourful character and performance that can never be forgotten once seen.

4. Benny And Joon

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This was pretty much ignored at release and beyond, except for a few years after the turn of the century when everyone remembered it existed. Since then it has vanished from people’s minds once more. Or so it seems to me. It’s a gentle comedy, a quiet romance, and features Depp being just off centre enough to still be adorable but not off-putting. The film is never laugh out loud funny, or heartbreaking, or anything extreme – it is light and airy, without becoming preachy or sentimental. It’s simply a sweet story, with Depp showing us a different side to what he was known to at the time, recalling the physical comedians of the past.

3. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

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It’s Johnny at his most hearthrobby, whatever that means. DiCaprio rightly gets the plaudits for his performance, but Depp, Lewis,and all the rest all give it a damn good go to complete a touching portrayal of daily struggles. Depp is able to carry a lot of the film as the ostensible lead, and he doesn’t have the suit of armour or make-up to hide behind as in his previous hit. There is nothing inherently quirky about his character, name aside, but it is the situation he finds himself in which borders on the unusual. Depp is a strange mixture of passive, accepting, and keen – willing to be the father figure and brother, yet accepting of his lot even as he hopes for more.

2. Ed Wood

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Depp’s other film of 1993 allowed him to unleash his more madcap and exuberant side as he plays the title character in the cult biography. Teaming up with Burton after their earlier success, Ed Wood was a much smaller movie and for many years remained that Tim Burton or Johnny Depp movie that no-one had seen. Even with the critical acclaim which was given to the film and its stars, it was a commercial failure which has luckily found a cult audience in the years since. What is key to the success of the film is that it does not outright mock or laud its titular figure – it simply presents a captivating story of people with a dream and a will – people who will never succeed, people who have already succeeded but been spat out, and people who remain enamored by an industry that doesn’t care about them. Depp’s Wood is stellar, ably backed by a terrific Martin Landau – another instance of the supporting performer getting the plaudits over Depp when both performers deserve all the praise. Depp’s character is child-like in both enthusiasm and despair, a most human Peter Pan, and is just out of place and time enough to be noticeable – he is someone for the powerful to swat away and the needy to cuddle and protect.

  1. Edward Scissorhands

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Once again my Number 1 should not surprise anyone – Edward Scissorhands is in my mind a flawless film and one of my all time favourites. The only criticism I have ever been able to lay at its feet is that it just isn’t long enough. This is a star-making performance by Depp, creating an emphatic 90s outsider and anti-hero, and showcasing his ability as a physically expressive actor and someone who is able to play the audience for laughs and tears in equal measure. Much of the credit of the film goes of course to Burton – the ideas of isolation, the frivolous horrors of suburban America, and the bizarre realities and feelings of the outcast are his – but all of these are portrayed through the script, the colours, and the performances, with Depp at his best as Edward.

Ten great films and ten great performances – 10 films every film fan should see. I think seven of these performances are worthy of Oscar nominations/wins, so once I get to the 90s in my Oscars rundown, you’ll see most of these popping up. Let us know in the comments what your favourite Johnny Depp films and performances are!

Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP

*Originally written in 2004

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Progressing from Guns’N’Roses as `The World’s Most Dangerous Band’, Eminem burst into middle class homes across the world as `The World’s Most Dangerous Musician’. His first album was vulgar, crass, offensive, full of foul language and obscene lyrics, it covered taboo subjects, and was full of violent imagery involving fights, drugs, and guns. Naturally it sold millions and terrified parents and politicians everywhere. The critics failed to see the underlying reasons for the success; it was clever, full of energy and invention, and packed with great music. The Blond rapper from Detroit had a lot to live up to for his second album, not that he cared, and with The Marshall Mathers LP he created a monster, surpassing his first in every way- it is shocking in its violence, hilarious in its unashamed attack on celebrity, musically intense and original, and is easily one of the albums of the decade.

`PSA 2000′ opens the album in similar style to the Slim Shady LP. It sets the tone for the rest of the album with Eminem’s trademark humour and attitude coming through. For those who don’t know it is a spoken word announcement proclaiming how he doesn’t care if you hate his album

`Kill You’ has an ominous tone throughout with it’s dark, yet funky bass and screamed vocals. It covers a multitude of topics deriding those who criticize him, especially those who see him as a violent influence to their kids. Naturally he responds by saying he will kill them. Lyrically it is much angrier than anything in the first album- the dark side of fame has struck him and he raps about the hypocrisy of radio stations, TV shows etc whose ratings are bad so they invite him on expecting controversy. This is a strong first song which sets the darker tone of the album, with only subtle hints at humour 6 foot underneath.

`Stan’ needs no explaining as it was one of the biggest hits of the decade. On first listen it was a revelation- a brilliantly clever story, flawlessly written lyrics and music, it’s haunting chorus which blends seamlessly into each verse. The story of a disgruntled and psychotic fan going too far again shows the down side of fame, how becoming an idol brings shadowy responsibilities that you either don’t want or release you had until it was too late. Unfortunately as it became such a big hit thanks to certain big Radio stations with 1 in the title who played it roughly 48 times a day it lacks the impact it once had. Of course these radio stations played a severely censored version and on top of this Dido inexplicably became popular. Her song which was sampled in Stan is bland and poor when heard on its own, but as part of Stan it works effectively. Now that her song has been played to death it unfortunately gives a second knife in the back of Eminem’s epic.

`Paul’ is another funny spoken insert, featuring someone’s reaction to hearing the album. At only a few seconds long it is throwaway material but still great fun and the album doesn’t sound whole if who skip it.

`Who Knew’ is a more juvenile version of Kill You, mixing funny lyrics and ideas with satirical and harsh ones. Again he explains his hatred of the hypocrisy of American parents, media, and politicians who have blamed him for everything to murder, suicide, and the decline of the American youth. He explains his side in a clever way, replacing the elegance of rhetoric with his own unique blend of madness. Musically it is fairly simple, with a slight bass beat in the background and some synth style strings which are reminiscent of, ironically, Psycho.

`Steve Berman’ continues the spoken interludes and features a record company producer/suit who hates the album. As always it is done in a jaunty style with some funny background music as Eminem sets himself up as a `me against the world’ figure.

`The Way I Am’ is as close to soul baring and honesty as we get on the album, another angry attack on fame, those who hate him and those who love him a little too much. He spits out the words with venom and typically doesn’t hold back. Musically it is as melodic as he gets, with piano and bass mixing together and some church bells in the choruses which add a dark tint.

`The Real Slim Shady’ was the first big hit off the album, similar to what My Name Is in commercial sensibility and melodic and lyrical content. A circus like loop repeats throughout, the chorus is a huge sing along favourite, and the verses are a hilarious destruction of celebrity. He speaks obviously of the split personality which people see in him, and of the thousands of imitators who started to appear, and his anger over being mentioned by other vacuous types now because he’s famous.

`Remember Me’ features various guest rappers, mostly rapping about themselves and their own experiences. This is more typical rap than Eminem’s own work on the album, features great lyrics but fairly bland stoner noise. Eminem’s verse is the best of the lot and raises the song by virtue of his delivery. There is more name dropping, more screaming, and more goodness.

`I’m Back’ sounds quite commercial with its memorable lead line and catchy chorus. Again the target is fame and the hounds which follow whoever is the flavour of the month. Again he dismisses all the nonsense, and injects plenty of humour into the lyrics with various imaginings and one-liners.

`Marshall Mathers’ stands out with Kim and Stan as a classic- musically and lyrically it wreaks of brilliance and is swamped with emotion. The confessional lyrics speak of further pitfalls of success- how family members he never knew now come to see him. He covers, Axl Rose style, many objects of his rage from boy/girl groups, useless celebrities and whoever else stupidly falls under his radar. Of course it is all tongue in cheek, but you can taste the annoyance from his relationships with his mother and wife and accusations of selling out now that he is `a big star’.

`Ken Kaniff’ is the final spoken word piece, and the best/worst depending on which way your wind blows. It involves a sexual encounter between 2 characters which ends badly when one mentions Eminem. Juvenile and funny the first time, but not integral to the album.

`Drug Ballad’ has a funky bass line helped along by some female vocals throughout. Eminem speaks of his love of drugs and booze which has become an addiction. He speaks of various experiences as well as what will happen/is happening if he doesn’t stop. The chorus is as catchy as the singles on the album, the lyrics are clever although will be disagreeable to most.

`Amityville’ isn’t one of the best songs on the album. Lyrically it is tongue in cheek, but this time it sounds more like it is trying to offend just for the sake of it. Rather than targeting something genuine and slicing it apart, Bizarre and Eminem find everything taboo and recite like a love of exploitation. Musically it isn’t very memorable, although the ending has some nice additions.

`Bitch Please II’ gets back on the musical tracks with some nice background sounds and catchy melodies. The guests (Dre, Snoop) are more effective this time, the lyrics are more direct with each member adding their own flavour. Silly in parts covering the pride of gangsta stories but with all the humourous content you can’t possibly take the content seriously. As with the rest of the album though, the style and music must be seriously respected.

`Kim’ is the best track on the album, absolutely brutal in content and delivery, heavy metal in style in attitude, emotion, pain, and anger dropping from every word. Every word is shrieked in a demented way, shivers will fly up and down your spine, the chorus is catchy, the guitars and piano are haunting, and the words are utterly horrific. Basically he imagines taking his wife out of the city and murdering her after she cheated on him, the lyrics delivered with frightening authenticity. There is no humour in stark contrast to the rest of the album, it is basically 6 minutes of harrowing rage ending with the sounds of a body being dragged away. Within a few seconds you will forget that you are listening to a song; one of the best songs of the decade.

`Under The Influence’ features D12 rapping along to one of the most memorable melodies on the album, and an extremely infectious chorus. The lyrics are on the `lighter’ side, full of vulgarity and humour and as with the rest of the album pretty offensive if you don’t realize the tongue in cheek nature.

`Criminal’ is another song with South Park-esque humour (and references). Eminem raps about the criminal life that certain areas of society believes he is part of. Murder, bank robberies, kidnapping etc are all flown through with jolly glee, but the message is all about freedom of speech versus conservatism and red faced commentators who have never actually listened to the music.

Eminem’s second album was a huge chart success as well as being a critical favourite. On the flip side the inevitable controversy was huge with celebrities, parents, politicians, fellow rappers, women and gay rights’ groups all ganging together in disgust. There is plenty here to offend, but whether or not it should not be listened to is a futile question given that there is so much to enjoy. It is undoubtedly one of the most important and best albums of the decade bringing hard edged rap into the mainstream, giving a well deserved slap in the face to watered-down music of all genres, and a wake up call to all artists to raise their game or get left behind. Hypnotically weaving its way through the various part’s of Eminem’s psyche it is best to simply relax and enjoy. If you are easily offended you won’t listen and probably won’t be reading this; for those who are not will be treated to an album full of force and aggression, but with a lot of heart, humour, wit, and skill too.

The Gathering – Accessories

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*Originally written in 2006

This ‘between albums’ release is a large collection of live, alternate, and demo versions of some of the band’s biggest songs, as we as some covers that many fans may not have heard. This double album is interesting for the more avid fan but I wouldn’t recommend any new listeners getting this first. Some of the live versions give an idea of how the band like to have fun with their performances- changing parts, adding parts, or playing with an orchestra, and some of the demos are useful in highlighting how a song goes from initial idea to completion. Perhaps the best songs here are the few covers- they tell us of the band’s influences and when played feel like originals by The Gathering. This is a good collection but it isn’t essential by any means.

In Motion 1 Live: This live version of the Mandylion classic has an extended introduction with a sound clip which sets a tone of night time- I’m not sure of the relevance but adds something different to a song they perform every night. The song is not quite as heavy as the album version, just one guitar here and the sound quality is fairly distant. Anneke sings strongly, not showing any flaws or fear from being outside the recording booth.

Leaves Live: This blends in seamlessly from the previous song and is as good a live version as you will get anywhere. The musicians are all on top form, occasionally making a few changes and having fun on stage while Anneke again blows the front row back a few feet. The only problem is the same as the last song, that it seems too distant, maybe it’s the lack of crowd noise or maybe it’s that the volume isn’t high enough. Either way, the solo is still breathtaking and glad to see Rutten doesn’t resort to any Malmstein-esque twiddles with it live.

Adrenaline: This is the best B-Side the band has done and it’s tragic that it never appeared on any of their first albums with Anneke. I assume that it just sounds too upbeat and up tempo to fit in with the darkness of Mandylion and NB. Looking past that though, it has been a live favourite since its first play, and is one of their few songs that really gets the crowd jumping and dancing at speed. Lyrically it is nothing out of the ordinary, but melodically it is brilliant, musically catchy without being flashy- fairly heavy with crunching chords and synth but mostly free of solo work. Anneke gets a chance to wail and scatter her voice all over the place and everybody gets to smile.

Third Chance Alt: I’ve always seen Third Chance as the darker partner to Adrenaline, the album version was very good but this is exceptional. It is quick, angry, filled with urgency, but mainly stands out because Anneke sings in a higher register than on the NB. The notes she reaches and the style in which she does is enough to make me grin and shiver every time and I would recommend it over the album version every time. The quiet middle section and build up to the ending is all the more effective now because of the higher register, the ominous synth, and the urgency of it all.

Strange Machines Live: It is a bit of a come down after the energy of the previous song to hear this. The Gathering are a great band because they are constantly trying new things, not only with new songs but with their classics. Like Metallica’s S & M, they get a full orchestra involved here to play possibly their most famous song. Also like S&M, it should work brilliantly but doesn’t. Maybe it’s the sound quality, but it just sounds flat, almost empty. There is none of the energy of the album track, and certainly none of the energy from their normal live plays. Part of my problem is that the brass is the main focus, whereas I much prefer strings swelling in from all sides. This could all be personal preference and it may well work for you, but I don’t think it woks like it should.

In Power We Trust The Love: This Dead Can Dance cover is one of the few cover songs I’ve heard which makes me search out the original band- I think the Gathering version is better if only because the song suits Anneke so well. An ethereal, soothing number which builds through various phases- the type of song The Gathering have been making throughout their career except with this we get some great lyrics, something which is rarely a part of the Dutch band’s repertoire.

When The Sun Hits: Being a big Manic Street Preachers fan, I suppose I should hate this Slowdive cover. I’d never listened to that band before I heard this cover, but it’s pretty good. The Gathering is known for downbeat sounds, if not quite shoe-gazing, so again this suits them. Again it is interesting to see Anneke sing some different lyrics, the type which the band would never write. The song has a sleepy quality and is one of the better ones in this collection.

Confusion: This demo from the EROC sessions isn’t too dissimilar from the final version on NB. The sound is slightly more tinny, and Anneke’s voice sounds like there are more effects on it. Aside from some additional synth and slight differences you are on familiar territory.

Shrink Alt: This version of Shrink is played on strings rather than piano, has lots of background sound clips, and has a dual vocal from Anneke.

Frail Live: This live version of Frail is pretty similar to the album track, soothing guitars and flawless Anneke vocals.

 

Cyclist: This instrumental theme for ‘The Cyclist’ movie is interesting as it doesn’t particularly sound like anything the band has done before. Having not seen the film I can’t see how well it works, but as a stand alone piece of music it is fairly good, lots of brass and percussion with a lead piano part. I like the string section coming in towards the end, but it isn’t a track I would listen to often.

Leaves Orchestra: Like the earlier Strange Machines this doesn’t always work, although it has a much more bombastic feel to it. It sounds like Anneke enjoys competing for prime position with the full band behind her, and some of her vocals are strained to extremes. I’m not a big fan of brass taking the lead so personally this isn’t a favourite, plus this cuts my favourite part from the original- the middle guitar solo and end.

Life Is What You Make It: This Talk Talk cover is the weakest cover in the collection, mostly because the original material isn’t as strong as the others. Nevertheless it is a decent song which sounds like a slight departure from what the band would usually play. There is a nice messed up guitar part in the middle, and lots of drum based effects and Anneke sings as well as always without having to try too hard.

Amity Live: This is an average live version of Amity let down mostly because Anneke sounds drained and here vocals aren’t great, especially towards the end. Mostly it is musically the same as the album version, with some different effects.

New Moon, Different Day: This opens the second disc- rarities. There isn’t anything too startling or exciting here, a slightly different version of the one we all know.

Kevin’s Telescope: This instrumental abandons the darker intro of the final cut and instead focuses on the light melodies of the verse and the emotion of the chorus. If the vocals were added it still wouldn’t be too different.

Shrink: This seems to be a slightly more up tempo take on the song, and the piano tone isn’t as dark. This is pretty good but again not anything surprising.

The Earth Is My Witness: We are on familiar ground with this one as not much seems unusual. There are a few differences- guitar parts, effects etc, but the structure of the song is the same.

Diamond Box: This is quite an odd one – an instrumental with plenty of effects and sound clips. The main part reminds me of a computer game level set in a dank sewer, or something with a slightly Eastern twist. For some reason it reminds me of Banjo Kazooie. It’s worth a listen but it isn’t one I come back to often.

Nighttime Birds: The main difference here is some background guitar work and less dense effects. Otherwise the song is the same length, same style.

On Most Surfaces: Again this is very much the same as the main version, a slightly more swirling and extended introduction and background guitar work being the main differences.

Hjeimar’s: This is a strange instrumental piece which consists entirely of some eerie guitar work. Just as it sounds like it is building towards something it is cut short. I’d like to hear what the band could come up with by extending this short piece.

My Electricity: This is a strange version of My Electricity with low sound quality but some nice dual vocals. The accompanying guitar seems too metallic though to fit (even though it is acoustic).

Probably Built In The 50s: This is another odd take on the original with Anneke’s voice being heavily cropped, and with some extra distortion on the guitars. This is quite a bit different from the original and is worth a few listens to appreciate the differences. Some great singing and a high tempo middle.

Illuminating: This version is slightly shorter than the main one but is mostly similar in sound and style. The introduction features different drum sounds and the synth isn’t as deep and brooding.

Red Is A Slow Colour: This is a much more distorted take on the original, with clipped vocals and less subtlety. The chorus is different as the guitar tone changes from distorted to a twang, and rather than the effects beats we get some interesting chord strumming and odd background phaser sounds. There is also a strange middle interlude with all manner of noises clashing together- a nice sign of the experimentation which would go on to make the finished album a classic.

Travel: The band like trying different things with their songs, especially when played live and Travel is one which is constantly tweaked. This version is completely different from the final one- it sounds like a very early version as many of the lyrics are missing. Mostly it sounds like a heavier take on the second half of the complete song, but extended to over 7 minutes.

This is definitely a collection for existing fans only as I don’t see anything here which would particularly charm any new listeners. Most of the demos and alternate takes are the same, with a few additional instruments and lower sound quality, but some of the outtakes and B-sides are interesting as they show the band’s creative process. For the live versions I would stick to the main live DVDs and CDs, or better yet catch them live if they ever come to Britain again. For a band with such talent I wish they would have recorded more B-sides and covers but that seems to be a dying art. This is a good album, but too long to listen to repeatedly- just pick your favourites.

If you have heard Accessories, let us know your thoughts in the comments!