Nightman Listens To – Madonna – American Life!

220px-AmericanLife2003.png

Greeting, Glancers! We head back to my middle year of University – 2003. It seemed like every album was an attack on funny wee George Bush and with such a torrid time we should really have had a new wave of powerful, excellent rock music. We never got that – just an endless success of rubbish ‘The’ bands, and the dying grunts of nu-metal and pop-punk. Bush always seemed to me to be a permanently bewildered moron with the face of teddy bear who just lost his bowl of porridge, but the people get who they vote for.

Wikipedia tells me this was a concept album, so without reading any further I assume that Madonna also got in on the act, especially with a name like that. I’m certain I’ve heard the title track, though I can’t for the life of me think of what it’s like now – and I’ve probably heard a few of the others. I know all too well the evil of Die Another Day – otherwise known as the worst thing ever – so I’m just going to skip on by it if that’s okay with you. Much of this will be new to me, so hold my hand as I dive in.

American Life: No, I don’t think ever heard this. Very electronic, not Ray Of Light style, but much more barren. It’s not bad, so far. Plaintive lyrics. Some obvious auto-tune on the vocals in places, but elsewhere they’re good. I quite like the melodies, and as a whole it’s a pleasing song, but – aw what the hell is this. She goes off on one near the end, has a rap section which sounds exactly as you’d expect from a white person who’s never rapped before. I can only guess that she’s being satirical here with her lyrics during the rap, but it becomes doubly ironic because you know she indulges in half of the stuff she’s being critical of and poking fun at. It’s like, oh I don’t know, like if a hair metal band tried to make fun of a cheesy pop song, I’d be shouting YOU ARE THE EXACT SAME.

Hollywood: So, she’s continuing that satirical tone here, this time poking fun at people wanting to be famous? I get she’s mainly targeting those without talent or those who think it is the single most important thing that anyone can achieve, but yeah… it still doesn’t work when you were one of the exact people. I’m not saying Madonna’s not talented, hell I’ve shown I love enough of her songs to prove otherwise, but there’s absolutely no ignoring the fact that she exploited herself for fame just as much as anyone else and was ruthless in her pursuit of it, possibly preventing people more deserving than her of getting there. Lets give her the benefit of the doubt though and say she’s mocking her younger self and rejecting all of the stuff she used to love, in the hope that today’s youngsters will do the same. The song is okay, a bit weak, a bit repetitive… it’s moderately catchy fluff and absolutely doesn’t need to pass the three minute mark.

I’m So Stupid: A more promising start, with broken up guitars and stuttering mystical vocals. This has a bit more love and imagination chucked at it – all those quirks with stretching notes and messing with time are different from what other mainstream artists were trying now or are attempting now. Is it more interesting, than good? I like it anyway, doesn’t go down the simple dance music route.

Love Profusion: It’s another video where Madonna walks towards the camera. This time it was directed by Luc Besson. This song is pretty cool, no messing around with the melody and the production doesn’t try to upset the rhythm or become master. Everything compliments everything else. It isn’t much more than verse and chorus melody slapped together, but it doesn’t need to be as both main parts are strong and everything else bolsters matters.

Nobody Knows Me: Phat funky beatz. I’d rather we had normal vocals, but there you go. I was hoping for an explosive verse after that intro, but it’s too tame. It’s very singular – one level. The melody and rhythm simply repeats over and over, lyrics are okay, but the repetition is annoying. The background beats and music is ever-changing, but if the main melody stays the same then the impact of everything else is lost. I usually don’t mind when a melody is repeated, as long as everything else builds upwards towards some sort of climax, but this doesn’t really go anywhere and feels like an excuse to experiment aimlessly. As an experiment, it’s not bad. As a song, it’s not great.

Nothing Fails: More stuttering guitars. This is much more to my preferences. When the melody is strong and honest, it doesn’t really matter what else you craft around it. Well, it does, but the core is still good. Depending on what else you add it can become a masterpieces, or merely an okay song. This is pretty good and I’m happy to see that even when she makes an experimental album or something with such heavy production that she still falls back on something sweet and simple. This is another example of the surrounding studio trickery complimenting the main stuff rather than taking over. The refrain section is a nice surprise, with the backing vocals and strings coming in like a choir and reminding of Like A Prayer. 

Intervention: Another guitar intro, followed by another interesting melody, so another potential favourite. Yes, this is quite lovely. Melodies have that touch of tragedy, the surrounding instrumentation isn’t overwhelming, rarely moving from sparse and instead relying on backing vocals and harmonies to fill up the space. That’s two very good songs I wasn’t aware of in a row – cool.

X-Static Process: With a name like that, I can only assume the worst. But no, it opens in a similar vein to the last three – guitars, soft vocals. One minute in and it hasn’t changed at all. Finally a backing vocal comes in and the two pieces interact or argue like a confused mind. The backing track hasn’t really changed at all. There’s a little bit of new stuff just after halfway. It’s another good one, ladies and gents. I don’t like it as much as the last two, because this one really doesn’t want to add any frills, but still another positive surprise.

Mother And Father: Back to a more electronic intro. Strange vocals. Like the fifth song to mention Jesus. Melody is repetitive, but this time it’s annoying. Thankfully this one changes things up by not having just the one melody – the others are better than the main ‘there was a time’ one. A strange song with some highs and some lows – I’d drop the rap parts and the deeper vocal pieces, but credit again for trying something different even if it doesn’t work for me. Even with the dodgy parts, I can see me listening to this again due to the good parts.

Die Another Day: Nope

Easy Ride: Ooh, a lovely intro with all the heart-tugging strings I love. The verse has potential, it’s not something which grabs me immediately but I think it could grow on me. More strings – always helps. We’re finishing with another good one. It’s another brave move for such a famous artist – another sign that she does whatever the fuck she wants, and when she pulls it off the results can often be fantastic. Like I say, this is probably going to a grower for me – I can sense its potential rather than it hitting me with obvious and immediate quality.

An average to less than average start followed up by some gems. There are quite a lot of songs here that I hadn’t heard before which will now be on my playlist, and that’s why I’m here – to grow that personal memory bank of songs to love over and over and leave discussion of artistic merit until I’m more familiar with them. I’m not sure what I expected from the album, but I didn’t have high hopes. Those fears were mostly pushed firmly back under the bed and I’m left with an album which doesn’t have any huge missteps (aside from Die Another Day obviously) and a collection of songs which never drop below average. The weaker ones have merits and while the stronger ones don’t yet reach the heights of my personal favourites, perhaps they will after more listens. I know this should give me confidence going into her next album, but I’m always cautious about these things, always waiting for things to go badly wrong. Hang around for my next Madonna post, and find out with me. For now, leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Easy Ride. X-Static Process. Intervention. Love Profusion. Nothing Fails.

11/22/63

Sven_Frenzel2

There was a period in the 80s and 90s when it seemed like everything Stephen King had ever written was being adapted for the big or small screen. Then we had a lull for around a decade or so as both his written and adapted material slowed a little. In recent years we have seen a resurgence – a thirst for more King material to watch, leading to remakes and new adaptations to the extent that it seems like rarely a month passes without a new release or announcement. 11/22/63 the novel is one of King’s most heralded recent works, a highly personal, highly relevant tale given the current political climate in the USA. It has all those good old King staples – a writer with romantic tendencies, childhood or nostalgia for the past, and just a hint of the supernatural. It’s a long and engaging read, detailing a few years in the life of a man who discovers a portal which can transport him back to the late 1950s. No matter how much time he spends there, only two minutes pass in the present. If he does something in the past it can change the future, but if he subsequently returns to the past all his changes get wiped – any time he goes through the portal, he always returns to the same point and place in time. With some narrative and character changes, the TV mini-series adaptation takes the same central idea and runs with it, creating an interesting, authentic, tense and sometimes tragic tale of one man’s decision to change the course of history.

James Franco stars as Jake Epping (a role he plays relatively straight), a teacher and writer who is recently divorced and drifting through life. When he visits his friend Al, he is shocked to see that Al suddenly looks incredibly sick. Al tells him that he has cancer and will be dead soon and tells Jake about the time-travelling portal in his cafe. This first episode is largely spent explaining how the portal works and in convincing Jake to travel back with a single goal – to prevent JFK from being assassinated – the belief being that the world would be a better place today had he survived. Al has failed in his attempts due to the onset of his cancer and his doubts over who killed JFK – Oswald, the FBI etc etc. On top of that, the past doesn’t want to be changed leading to certain supernatural or deadly events as time seeks to correct itself. By the time the second episode rolls around, Jake has taken on the mission in full spirit, though he has five years to kill before the day of the assassination comes around. During this time Jake must fit in – get a job, research everything he can about the people surrounding the assassination, and work out how to stop it.

There’s a definite nostalgic feeling in these episodes set in the past. I wasn’t around in the 50s or 60s, and I’m not American, and yet the wistful, seemingly carefree nature of those times shines though, albeit with a dark underbelly. The pacing, for such a sprawling tale, is just right and the changes made to the plot are fine (one of the biggest changes being the introduction of Bill Turncotte) – I certainly had no issues with them. If you haven’t read the book and have no interest in doing so, this won’t impact you although I would encourage everyone to read it as it is one of King’s best in recent years. Oswald is shown in a, I don’t want to say sympathetic light, but in a human light at least – a flawed man driven to make his own bad decisions – his wife Marina caught in the middle. The romantic side-plot of Jake and Sadie is rather sweet, but then I’ve always enjoyed these sort of relationships – as seen in other efforts like Back To The Future, Goodnight Sweetheart and a myriad of others. The cast are all in top form, credit going to Franco, George Mackay, Sarah Gadon, and Lucy Fry, and the various directors and writers all craft a relatable tale which begs that always prodding question – what would you do? With a running time over 6 hours it takes a certain commitment to watch, but if you like the premise or indeed the history or the surrounding conspiracies, then this will likely pull you in during the first episode and keep you locked in the past until the credits roll.

Let us know what you think of 11/22/63 in the comments!

It Comes At Night

1260268_it-comes-at-night-film

I’m sure it has been said before, but I’ll take the bait – ‘what comes at night’? The cynical part of me wants to say that the name was crafted carefully to cash in on a resurgent horror market, and certainly the backlash the film received by the horror community supports this theory. The realist in me acknowledges that this feeling is a symptom of a larger problem; the growing disparity between fan and critical consensus as exemplified by the juvenile antics on such adolescent sites such as Rotten Tomatoes. This insidious ownership of a product you have zero claim in, this growing distrust of critics by the public concerning things which don’t really matter, is like a disease swarming from city apartment blocks to backwoods retreats where the custodians of opinions board up their windows to prevent unwarranted discussion with the outside world and the comfort of a hazmat suited confirmation bias is the only thing blocking your own enlightenment.

I’ve written before about the subjects of fanboyism, the role of the critic, and the toxic entitlement as consumers feel to the point that we feel like we have to protect the movies or music or videogames or books we love. I get it; we’ve all had that pang of thinking what the hell does this guy know – he doesn’t like (insert favourite thing), what a moron. I know! I’ll go and review bomb everything he’s ever written – that’ll teach him! And it will teach him – that you’re the moron. We like different things – Critics just tend to be able to speak more knowledgeably and with greater experience about these things than most. Maybe they come to a film with a certain approach. Maybe they come with a certain bias. You’re lying if you say you don’t, or an even bigger moron than you already appear. With the explosion of the internet, every twat with an internet connection and an interest in movies can call himself a critic. I’ve written thousands of reviews and I in no way consider myself to be a critic. I just like watching, talking, and writing about movies.

While there are few certainties when it comes to opinion or something as intangible as movies and criticism, there are instances when a critic just simply gets it wrong. There are plenty of critics, or just plain fans and reviewers like myself who I more often than not disagree with, and there are plenty who I by and large agree with, or at least respect. Am I going to quiver and mewl like a newborn lamb with its throat caught in the jaws of a wolf, because someone gave a movie I rated a 91, a mere 76? No, because I’m not an asshole. At the time of writing, It Comes At Night has a Critical score of 87, and an Audience Score of 44 on RT. Look at any popular Horror release of the last few years, and in almost every case you’ll see something similar. The Witch, The Babadook, and the newly released The Joker all have a large gap between audience and critical feeling. Do I care? No – I barely find it interesting, but I acknowledge it’s a talking point. I know people get deep into the impact these scores have – advertisers using the higher score in trailers, audiences in turn being hyped up for something they later hate or getting up in arms because something they consider to be better gets buried because of the lack of critical interest. It’s all valid. But in this day and age, it’s all pointless. My advice? Take a step away from it all. Sites like RT exist only to get money. Critics are paid for their work. You simply sit and watch. Just ignore the reviews – the movie still exists, as do you, so let the two of you be the only relationship that matters.

It Comes At Night is a horror movie. It attempts to scare and disturb the viewer, and it attempts to make the viewer think by loosely placing us in the secluded house our protagonists eek out their final days in. As the film opens, we know the world has gone to hell due to the spread of some killer disease. It’s a premise we’ve seen since the dawn of time and a fear we all have, because it is a real, valid threat. Old gramps has somehow contracted the thing, so it’s out to the yard for a bit of marshmallow and OAP cooking. That leaves Mum, Dad, and pervy teenage son who live with no clear purpose beyond trying to not get sick. Oh, there’s a dog too – because there’s always a dog. One night they catch another survivor breaking into their house, tie him to a tree, and beat some good old fashioned truth out of him. Seeing he isn’t sick and cautiously believing he’s legit, they allow him and his wife and son to move in. As time progresses, they help each other out, yet the mutual distrust is still bubbling under the surface.

And that’s it really. Something happens near the end which propels us towards the bleak conclusion. The scenes of the pervy son seem shoe-horned in, his nightmares edited in such a way that they realized they wouldn’t be able to sell the movie without some actual generic horror. If they are supposed to be ambiguous or prophetic or suggestive, they’re not, and horror fans will be more than familiar with each stunt pulled. It’s still interesting – none of the performances are outstanding beyond some screaming in the final moments, but the coldness does add to the overall tone of hopelessness. As much as I hate to use the term ‘elevated horror’ because as far as I can tell that term simply means horror without humour, that’s what they’ve gone for here. The house is suitably shadowy and the director does manage to squeeze out some memorable shots and some low-level tension, but for me it neither scares nor does anything particularly new or well. The characters feel as empty as the first victim in a slasher movie and with no end game in mind the film simply drifts towards its inevitable conclusion. Credit for ending it the way they did, rather than leaving a glimmer of light. Did I like it? I didn’t hate it? It didn’t make me care enough to go and check out how anyone else felt about it. Put most simply – in my opinion, it’s neither 44% bad, nor 87% good.

But let me know how you felt about it in the comment – are you more on the critics’ side or the fans?

Honor And Glory

Honor-and-Glory

Well there you have it. I’ve finally done it; I’ve watched the greatest movie ever made. Honor And Glory holds that title and it is a film of many contradictions – an 80s action movie made in the 90s; a Cynthia Rothrock vehicle which she is barely in; a martial arts film in which it looks like the fights were choreographed by a Tory MP; a film which made me laugh more than any comedy of the last ten years; a film made with such ineptitude that those who made The Room watched it and shook their heads in shame. Stop whatever you’re doing now and find it. Go, watch it now. I’ll wait.

See? What did I tell you? WTF was that? Where do we even begin? I watched Cynthia Rothrock movies when I was a kid, though I really only remember the China O’Brien series. She was hot, cool, and could kick ass – pretty much the only things I was interested back then. She made a bunch of films with similar titles to what JCVD was making in those days, if not outright sequels – Rapid Fire, Tiger Claws, No Retreat No Surrender 2. It must have been difficult trying to make her way in those days, to make a legitimate case as a leading lady, an action heroine. If there hasn’t been a documentary made about her, then someone needs to get on that. Honor And Glory opens with a very unusual scene – one which seems less strange as the movie moves from weird to bizarre to buck nuts with each passing minute. Starting out in Hong Kong, where Rothrock is on some sort of FBI mission (is that even allowed), she is attacked by some guy while getting a drink. Hey, isn’t that Liu Kang? Yes, yes it is, but it’s okay he’s a good guy in this film too, he was just keeping Rothrock on her toes. Turns out he’s a detective called Dragon Lee, because Bruce Nunchucks was already taken. After watching this I just had to start taking notes about all the wonderful, ludicrous crap which was happening. Those notes make up much of what follows below, but it got to the point where I was pausing the movie every thirty seconds to write something down so I eventually gave up. If it hasn’t been done already, someone needs to do a scene by scene essay on this monstrosity.

What was the budget of this thing – twenty bucks? It looks like it has been shot with the sort of home camcorder my parents got so they could record me refusing to take part in any of the party games at my 8th Birthday. The film moves to America for one of the most hilariously bad acted scenes I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing – and it was a pleasure. There’s a group of, I think, military top brass meeting to discuss a major security incident which could have world-destroying consequences, yet they appear to be conducting this game-changer in a reconstituted broom closet. Believe me, I wouldn’t trust any of these guys with closing my fridge properly, never mind the safety of the free world. Each actor seems to have the same voice, the same delivery. I wouldn’t be surprised if they realised they needed some plot establishing scene and literally grabbed the first 6 guys they found walking by, stuck them in a room, and got them to read the lines.

We then get an even funnier scene where some random disgruntled onlooker attacks a News Reporter by throwing a can of Dr Pepper at her. Why couldn’t she be like everyone else and just yell ‘fuck her right in the pussy’ like everyone else? The ill-flavoured soda tin flies through the air, going nowhere near Joyce The Reporter, yet Joyce somehow kicks the can without looking behind her and it flies back and hits the perp in the face. I rewound five times and laughed every time. Then they have a full blown ninja-off in the parking lot, complete with hilarious sound effects – each blow accompanied by a tornado woosh of air and landing with a boom John Bonham would have been proud off. Why the hell aren’t her friends helping her out? Once the fight is over they nonchalantly appear and say something like ‘lets go Joyce’ as if these brawls are a daily occurrence. Oh, Joyce and Rothrock are sisters – we know this because they also have a fight in a parking lot, juggling a set of car keys enthusiastically between each others’ ankles.

Next we meet the big bad, whose first appearance I annotated with ‘who’s this coked-up loon-bag’? It’s another boardroom scene, but somehow worse (better) than the previous one. Here is the next section of notes I jotted down – they speak for themselves: WTF is wit the jaunty kids sitcom soundtrack. The ‘World’s Greatest Bodyguard’ looks like a rejected MC Hammer dancer – why is he cupping his cock, scared it’s gone AWOL again? The bad guy praises him, then admonishes him in the quickest cock tease to cock block switch I’ve ever seen. We’re 13 minutes in and I’ve already laughed more than I did during the entire Hangover Trilogy. So Rothrock is looking into illegal arms dealing, Joyce is a reporter investigating the corrupt loonbag Jason Slade, and their dad in somehow involved too? Fuck knows.

As terrific as all this is, we haven’t yet met Mickey – taking over from Burgess Meredith as ‘best character ever called Mickey’. Why isn’t Mickey in every movie ever? I no longer care about whatever story this film is failing to tell, I just want The Adventures Of Mickey, as he stumbles from one well-meaning mishap to the next, getting the shit beaten out of him by whoever he meets. He even drives a KITT! Why there wasn’t a spin-off series about him is the greatest crime of the 20th Century. This was his only film-role? For shame. After his introduction, surely the film will go downhill. No, we get some scenes of the top brass being killed along with bizarre dialogue like ‘consider this your resignation’. Did that guy even work for you? Why even say that, just pull the trigger. Why refer to these guys as The Three Stooges – there’s only two of them! We are treated to the most caring, relaxed neck-break in cinema history – the dude’s just sort of nuzzled and has his throat caressed for a few seconds, then he’s dead. He blinks after he dies too.

We get some more vital time with Mickey as he sits eating lunch, talking to himself, but getting the words wrong. He grabs a camcorder, hops into KITT and goes to do his own bit of sleuthing for reasons unannounced. I hope he doesn’t get caught because he sure as shit won’t be able to talk his way out of it. Then again, he’s an amateur and seems to be filming a gate closing. More scenes and notes: There’s a sped up kata scene, the most awkward doorstep scene I’ve ever been party to (and I’ve kissed girls on their doorsteps in front of their dads). Cynthia beats up Mickey (!) only to be reminded that she actually knows him (!) and says ‘oh, sorry Mickey, lets go inside for a party’, to which he replies ‘that’s ok’ in super chipper mode. Have any of these writers or actors ever actually met a human? Look at Slade, standing there fondling his balls and drinking a Heineken. Ooh, an original Q-Bert arcade machine, that’s probably worth a few bob. We get to the final showdown, and it’s Slade and some Japanese guy whose entirely personality is encapsulated by the fact that he holds a coin, but they’re fucked because they’re up against Cynthia Rothrock, Liu Kang, fake Eddie Murphy, and a woman in a blue trenchcoat. There’s fisticuffs. It ends. The film features neither Honor nor Glory.

Just in case you were thinking all of this magic was the product of an untrained director being let loose on the streets with a bunch of cameras and equipment he’d never seen before, a quick look at Imdb provides some startling results. I didn’t recognise the director’s name – Godfrey Hall is a name more reminiscent of a Key Grip from the 60s who’d worked his way up on British crime capers. But it’s a fake – it’s really Godfrey Ho, a name I did recognise as someone who made a tonne of action movies in the 80s, especially dubious knock-offs. Just to give you an idea of his pedigree – in 1986 he made the classic Ninja Terminator and followed that up with 16 more movies. In 1986 alone. Yes, 17 films in one year, 14 of which have the word Ninja in the title. In other words, 1986 was a slow year for Ho so in 1987 he completed 24 features, and not to be outdone,  in 88 he was particularly inspired and made 39 films. Fellow movie bloggers out there – why not run a Godfrey Ho blogathon? I fucking dare you.

Well, that about does it. I’m fairly positive that is the most that anyone has ever written about Honor And Glory – this review is probably longer than the script. Though I imagine this is the sort of film which will have a dedicated fanbase who write and vlog about it all the time.

 

Nightman Listens To – Roxette – Crash! Boom! Bang!

Greetings, Glancers! We’re back with another selection of choice pop rock cuts from one of Sweden’s finest exports, Roxette. Fans of the band who happen to be following this series may have noticed that I’ve skipped Tourism. Why? Well, it’s basically a live album, although it does have a few new songs never before heard on any of their studio albums. Maybe I’ll cover those at some point, maybe not. What I am doing is listening to their fifth album, one which I know I’ve heard many times but which I can only honestly recall four songs from, at least by looking at the track listing. The album came out in 1995, so by that point I was mostly past caring about them but wouldn’t moan too much if my brother was in control of the car stereo. It’s another long album – fifteen songs topping an hour – so this could take a while. Enjoy!

Harley’s And Indians: I won’t go as far as saying it’s experimental, but it does have a different sound than what we’re used to from the band. If anything it sounds like some of Bon Jovi’s more cowboy inspired hits. The central guitar riff is fairly fat, on the heavy sit of country rock, yet the melodies are pure Roxette. Per takes lead on the vocals with Marie only chiming in slightly in places. There are some dubious insensitive lyrics in there but I’m not sure if they are there for satirical or comedy value. The chorus repeats a few times more than is necessary, we have a suitable harmonica ending, and it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Crash! Boom! Bang!: I knew I’d heard this one before, but couldn’t for the life of me remember what it sounded like until I hit play today. Here’s a weird one – whenever I get a big sudden swoosh of nostalgia when listening to Roxette, it always, always takes me back to me getting dressed in the changing rooms of my local swimming pool. WTF’s that about? Anyway, this came flooding back, and I remember singing this one quite a bit – you know me and my ballads. It’s not quite a top tier ballad by their own standards, but it’s still good. It has a dark tone throughout, lyrically and musically, I appreciate the string interlude in the middle, Marie blasts the vocals with a yearning quality, and there’s a slight hint of mystery and reticence.

Fireworks: This was a single but I don’t have any memory of it, despite the funky intro. Actually, the chorus sounds vaguely familiar but that could be just because it’s similar to something else. Per takes the lead again in the verses, not quite rapping his way along, while the chorus sees Marie taking over and the song adopting a style closer to pop. There’s a dreamy, slow, section in the middle where the band sing ‘they’re coming to get you now’…. who? Fireworks?

Run To You: This is one I remembered just from the name, even if my memory of exactly how it sounded has been clouded by time. It’s a soft rock pop song with some mid-nineties production stuff going on. The melodies are strong enough to cut through anything which could date it, we have plenty of strings again though here they seem unnecessary. Minor key verses, happy choruses… it’s a simple, sweet song.

Sleeping In My Car: Here’s another weird one for you – I can remember the first time I heard this one. it was in the car again, it was played on the radio, and we were driving around the roundabout near our local shopping centre (mall). This is obviously the big single from the album. I think we knew the song was coming up and we were anticipating (me less so) how the band would sound, if they still had the goods, or if they had lost it. I think all of us were fairly impressed. It had abandoned the 80s sound of their previous hits and was now completely 90s, but it was still clearly Roxette. The guitars and melodies were front and centre, and it had a chorus which instantly hooked you. It’s still good now, far from amazing, but good.

Vulnerable: This is the last song from my initial look down the tracklist that I remembered. I do remember thinking this one was more suited to a boyband, which was usually a way teenage me used to say a song was crap. I know I still kind of liked it anyway. It is very nineties hearing it now, but as always I like the strings. Would Marie have been a better choice for the main vocal here? It’s fine, it’s too simpering and whimpering for my liking, even as a ballad, but it’s not terrible.

The First Girl On The Moon: I just had a giggle to myself because the intro to this almost, almost sounds like The Everlasting by the Manic Street Preachers. This one was a surprise because I have no memory of it but actually enjoyed it. It’s a slow one, starts off acoustic, a quaint story, Marie leading the vocals. Some piano comes in for the pre-chorus, actually there isn’t really a chorus so to speak. Just to further the weird Manics comparison, there’s an ‘ooh aah’ vocal piece in the middle. It’s barely three minutes long so feels like one you could play plenty of times and not get bored. Great production on this one.

Place Your Love: This starts off acoustic too, but with Per on main vocals. For the chorus we get the harmonies that made the band famous, though it’s not the best chorus. Was this influenced by Oasis? It feels like it was, however unlikely that sounds. The whole building of tambourine and organ feels like Oasis. It’s simple too. The chorus improves as the song progresses, with wider harmonies and increased backing instrumentation.

I Love The Sound Of Crashing Guitars: You know a band has jumped the shark when they begin writing songs about their own instruments or dinosaurs or something. We can forgive Roxette for such matters… they’ve always been kind of quirky like that. The lyrics are mostly nonsense, the music isn’t anything special, but the melodies and production keep things from being too embarrassing.

What’s She Like: It’s another I don’t remember, even though it seems like one I should – it’s typically the emotive power ballads that stick in my mind – for whatever reason those seemed to capture my imagination as a kid. This is in the style of Things Will Never Be The Same or It Must Have Been Love, but doesn’t quite reach the peaks of fist pumping or teeth gnashing or cheese as those. Melodically and tonally it’s very similar, it starts out quietly and builds gradually. The only thing which feels out of place is the middle eight which takes the song out of minor key territory almost seeming like a different song entirely.

Do You Wanna Go The Whole Way: Always. As a great man once said, there’s no sense in going off half-cocked. Unfortunately this one isn’t overly inspired, though it does start out in a promising manner with lots of strings. The lead riff is kind of catchy and interesting, the lyrics are unintentionally funny – to me at least, but melodically it’s a little too plain to stand out. There’s a slower, trippy section in the middle which tries to changes things up, but I think it hurts the song and isn’t needed.

Lies: This is a weird one, starting off with a fat, fast riff, losing pace with a dull verse, then merging into a garage tinged pre-chorus, before a cheesy pop chorus. It feels like a bunch of ideas for different songs slapped together to make a whole when they didn’t know what else to do, but it’s not terrible.

I’m Sorry: This one feels like a holdover from the 80s, with leading synths and melodies not dissimilar to other hits. I generally don’t like percussion led songs, unless the percussion is something extraordinary – this one doesn’t have much in the way of instrumentation in the verses, and the choruses are even a bit light. The melodies aren’t strong enough to save it, but again it’s brevity means I can’t complain too much.

Love Is All: A long one. Matron. Roxette aren’t known for their long songs, so I’m not sure what this will be like. It begins in classic epic style, with a slow, quiet, drawn out instrumental intro. Marie’s vocals come in, very angelic, repeating a soft hymnal. My immediate sense, even if it isn’t a true comparison, is of a psychedelic Beatles song. The lead vocal melody is simple but sweet, so it doesn’t get annoying even though it’s repeated. Repetition is the name of the game here, with the same few melodies growing and building and being modified slightly – Per takes over vocals at one point for example, while the backing instruments change frequently. It’s a mantra without enough significant variation to stop it becoming monotonous. There’s a change close to the three minute mark as we get some organ and guitar before the mantra continues. It seems like the song is going to fade out after four minutes, but then it soars back in again in Hey Jude style for a celebratory two minute coda – it seems like this was custom built for a set closer.

Go To Sleep: A ballad to finish. It avoids being cheesy and it doesn’t have the big chorus that you would expect. I wouldn’t go so far as saying the last two songs are experimental, but you ca tell that the band were playing with new sounds and techniques. This is another sweet and plaintive song which reminds me of quite a few mid nineties ballads – the ones which avoided going fully for the heartstrings but were content to meander in dreamlike sorrow or joy.

I think a couple of songs could have been trimmed from this – there are quite a few in the middle and second half which, while not bad, end up being to the detriment of the album as a whole. It’s a long listen in a single sitting so it would’t be long before you are drawn to pulling out your favourites and focusing on those instead. The album ends strongly, with two good songs – keep those, the singles, and a few others and you’d have a good album. It’s fine as it is but doesn’t have enough great songs to truly recommend it as a package. Regardless, if you’re a Roxette fan there is a surplus of material here to get your teeth into.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of this one!

Nightman Listens To – David Bowie – Tonight!

220px-Tonight_(album)

Greetings, Glancers! We’re back in Bowieville today with an album I know absolutely nothing about. Most of the Bowie albums, even though I had not previously listened to them, I was at least aware of their name or their popularity or success. This one I don’t recall ever hearing of, so my first assumption is that it was not well received. Lets check the tracklist… oh. Is this a cover album? It seems like at least half of the songs are covers… that usually means a quick rush job to capitalize on success and keep things ticking over while you plan your actual next album. Right, all signs point towards this not being great, but I hope I’m wrong.

Loving The Alien: Well, this certainly starts out with an 80s vibe – that dreadful 80s drum sound is here in full force, but the overall 80s vibe isn’t too cheesy, instead hitting the right nostalgic chord with me. The vocals… I’m not sure yet whether they are okay are annoying…. bit of both really. Great bridge between verse and chorus. It’s just a tad odd, not enough to put most people off, but just odd enough for people to mutter ‘wtf is this’ to themselves while still liking it. I haven’t, or can’t pay attention to the lyrics here… seems to be something about religion? A good guitar solo/off kilter string section in the middle, leads to a longer instrumental section which is mostly a repetition of the main melody along with strings. Then a guitar solo. Just an extended jam to close. This was perfectly fine – not amazing, not bad, interesting.

Don’t Look Down: Neon drenched steamy US detective show. With added reggae. I’m not a fan of the whole white boy reggae thing. I don’t think I’ve heard the original. It’s slow. Pretty one-note, doesn’t change much from minute to minute. Nothing wrong, but I wouldn’t choose to listen to it again.

God Only Knows: Hmm, well it’s different enough from the original. Very deep vocals, made into more of a drone than what The Beach Boys did. I like the string parts and the stutters. Added horns.

Tonight: You know it’s the 80s when people duet with Tina Turner. More reggae, so not to my tastes. I would enjoy this song much more if they didn’t go for that style, as it’s quite sweet and soothing. I think I’ve heard the original, but can’t remember it at the moment.

Neighbourhood Threat: So, it’s A View To A Kill. Man, this reeks of a lost 80s power rock classic. Again, I’ve probably heard the original, but can’t recall it. Still, this is my favourite on the album since the opener.

Blue Jean: There is a consistent sound and tone throughout the album, I’ll give it that. And even with all the 80s stuff, it never becomes too 80s.

Tumble And Twirl: This one is a little bit reggae, a little disco, and a little 80s rock. Too many horns for my liking. Turns into a bit of a dancing bonanza. Goes on a bit.

I Keep Forgettin: This isn’t overly different from the original, retaining a streamlined old fashioned rock and roll feel. Definitely feels like a bit of random B material.

Dancing With The Big Boys: With all the Iggy covers it only seems fitting to close on a song which features him. Drums feel like the opening to another Bond song. Guitar kind of follows that line of thought. Too many trumps for my liking, as is the case many many times. This comes across as just another average, forgettable rock song.

So, a consistently 80s sounding record without falling into the usual trappings of 80’s guff. It still sounds like a Bowie album, even if a lot of the songs are covers, and unlike many of the other stars of the 70s who struggled to keep up with the new decade. I’d likely only listen to two of the songs again, and the rest is miscellaneous take it or leave it stuff. Not good, not bad, very indifferent. At least it wasn’t an embarrassment, but it’s not one I’ll remember. Let us know your thoughts on Tonight in the comments!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Loving The Alien. Neighbourhood Threat.

Nightman Listens To Bon Jovi – Have A Nice Day

Have_a_Nice_Day_Bon_Jovi_album

Greetings, Glancers! We’re back with another slice of MOR tunes courtesy of those mulleted 80s minstrels Bon Jovi. Last time around we checked out Bounce, and since that album the band released two curios – This Left Feels Right which was basically updated versions of classics, and that one about millions of fans which was a boxset of some sort. Have A Nice Day was their ninth studio album, and their first of original music in three years. I’ve heard the title track on this one but beyond that I don’t recognise any of the other songs listed below. Maybe listening with refresh my memories.

Have A Nice Day: This has always been a straight-forwards, no nonsense rocker with an inspirational set of lyrics with just enough rebellion to bridge the gap between chart sensibility and those looking for something just a touch harder. It’s a step down from It’s My Life but for most people probably not noticeably so. You should know the score with their hits now – big chorus that forces you to shout along.

I Want To Be Loved: This opens like a very specific Bryan Adams song but soon transforms into what feels like an under the radar Bon Jovi hit. It’s very middle of the road and commercial but it continues the inspirational theme – not giving up, always fighting and all that. The verses aren’t the most adventurous but they do build nicely and allow the two part chorus to be the focal point. It’s another good chorus but the song as a whole never reaches that top gear to tip it into their upper echelon songs.

Welcome To Wherever You Are: A soft intro, so assuming we’re in ballad territory. This one has a video, so assuming it was a single. Nice enough verses, again with a focus on the self – don’t be hard on yourself, you’ll be okay, you’re in control, chin up etc. It’s another B grade Bon Jovi song – good, probably feels better to me than it actually is because it hasn’t been over-exposed, but not any chance of it being promoted to the A grade status.

Who Says You Can’t Go Home: Bon Jovi have always been a band about lifting your spirits up – musically, lyrically, and making you feel good, but this is four songs on the trot which are specifically about those very ideas. This one has a very nineties video which adds a nice touch of nostalgia for me. It sounds very much like a song I can’t quite put my finger on, but it’s so damn happy that I don’t care. I believe I have heard this one before and while it’s most likely a B Grade for them, it’s fresh enough, charming enough for me to allow it to sneak in to their A Grade. A nice surprise and good to see that they can still make music at this point in their careers that I would gladly hear again.

Last Man Standing: Faster, heavier, and with a different atmosphere that the previous tracks. I would have preferred the verses to have a little more of the oomph of the intro, but by and large the atmosphere and energy is continued. The chorus is a marginal let down for me – as a standalone chorus it is fine, but as a chorus to follow that intro and verse, it doesn’t feel as impactful. Still, this is five decent songs so far that I don’t have anything truly negative to bring up.

Bells Of Freedom: I realise that the album has had, not on the nose patriotism, but a definite sense of the spirit of the USA thanks to the inspirational sounds and themes. I haven’t clicked play on this yet, but I expect this one to be more up front with a name like that. It actually opens with a bell, then acoustics and vocals fade in. The verse is good but the chorus feels an awful lot like This Ain’t A Love Song. It isn’t exactly on the nose, but the lyrics do evoke all of the traditional apple pie USA stuff without explicitly calling them out. With a better chorus this could have squeezed into the upper tier Bon Jovi stuff, but it doesn’t quite get there and is more lower B tier for me and the fact that it is dragged out pushes it more towards average.

Wildflower: A brief intro suggests another softer ballad. Piano and drum led verses are a little different and the chorus doesn’t get much heavier. It adds some dynamics thanks to some strings and guitars and it all fits together coherently. I like the melodies throughout, Jon tries a little too hard to add unnecessary vocal tics, but on the whole it’s another decent song.

Last Cigarette: Five songs to go and I’m not sure they can maintain this momentum. Hopefully they can, but the album runs the risk of becoming too samey. This starts with single chords and vocals, followed up by an edgier drum and vocal piece, and then straight into an upbeat chorus – it all works. The rest of the song follows this format with some additional energy sprinkled on top. The guitars haven’t been at the forefront in this album, with only a couple of basic solos not really worth mentioning so far – there’s one here too. The band goes for a strange childlike choir section after the solo, unusual for them, but they pull it off before closing out with another chorus.

I Am: Instantly with the atmosphere. This is quite funny to me because it sounds very close to a British band you won’t have heard of but which I love, called Haven. Not the vocals, but that intro and some of the melodies are scarily close to a couple of their songs. This is more like the Bon Jovi stuff I enjoy – understated yet powerful at the same time. I’ve no idea how well known or popular this song is but it’s another one I wasn’t aware of which I think goes well with their best hits. The lyrics are once again concerned with the self, with positivity, encouragement.

Complicated: Gets straight down to business. The verse is quite similar to the opening track as well as It’s My Life and the verse feels too by the numbers. The band landed on the word ‘complicated’ and built a simple chorus around it, making sure it rhymed and scanned okay but with little imagination. As a radio rock song it does the job, but it lacks any of the adventure of their hits. When a band has been going for a while, you can tell the songs which didn’t take a lot of care in construction from those which did.

Novocaine: A breathless, wordy verse kicks things off, slowly builds to a decent drawling chorus. Standard drug/love metaphor lyrics. I like how there are very few breaks in the vocals between sections. I like this – not sure how many more times I’d want to hear it though. A strange whispering, talking section closes it out.

Story Of My Life: Closing with a ballad it seems. Piano intro. Are they going to go full piano or – no, there’s the explosion. It’s a booming end, with jubilant melodies and the same care-free energy which has symbolized their career. No complaints about this one, though I think the chorus could have been more emotive. A good end to a good album.

A very consistent album without a single weak link. There isn’t a standout track for me – a couple of quite good ones, a couple of weaker ones that it’s clear not a lot of effort or thought was put into, and the rest are better than average without quite hitting the heights. As I mentioned throughout, the whole thing is designed to be uplifting, comforting, and very easy to get along with – sing and dance easily. As much as I like to make fun of the band – I give them more credit than most – but to be this far into their career and still making worthwhile songs while retaining what made them popular in the first place, gives a warm sense of security. I have many favourite bands who burned out after a couple of albums, so for the big Bon Jovi fans out there it must be wonderful to hear the band still putting out stuff which they should love. I believe this will be the last album I’ve definitely heard tracks off, and while I’m not sure if it was their last big hit, every other album they’ve released since will be almost 100% unfamiliar to me.

Let us know what you think of Have A Nice Day in the comments!

Nightman’s Favourite Songs Of All Time: California Dreamin’ – The Mamas And The Papas

California Dreamin‘ is a song that, up until recently, I wouldn’t have considered one of my favourite songs. Not because I never liked it, just because I never much thought about it. Typically when I talk about my favourite songs, they are the ones that have somehow shaped my life or my musical taste or are by one of my all time favourite artists. In this instance none of those statements fit. So why is it featured in this series? Like some song posts to come in the future, it’s simply because the some is so fucking good I can’t ignore it. I’ve been listening to it more and more in the last year and pining for someone to start a new pop movement where the songs are as strong as this. The song has always been there in my life, not because I purposefully put it on or had an album with it but more simply because it was released a good eighteen years before I was born and was so popular that it continued to be played on radio stations and in movies and shows as I was growing up.

That seems like a good place to start – the song was released in 1965 and over the next couple of years became one of the seminal counter-culture hits. It’s one of those songs which makes me yearn for the USA – as many problems as it has always had, sometimes something comes along which makes you want to be a US citizen living and breathing and existing in the same world that the song talks about. It was a hit single in the States and made the Top 40 in The UK, before a re-release in the late 90s saw it finally crack the Top 10. It’s one of those songs which is predominantly 60s but yet endures in each new generation both in its original form and thanks to copious cover versions. While The Mamas And The Papas version is the best, cover versions include Sia, The Beach Boys, America, and Nancy Sinatra have all had a turn yet it was some dodgy German techno thing which garnered the song its first Number 1 placement.

At barely over 150 seconds long, the song is a perfect example of how to do a pop single with no fluff. Perhaps more important, it’s a perfect example of how to do harmonies – in my mind it’s one of the two best examples of this type of harmony ever written, the other being Help! The song even has a lazy pace and a fake-out psychedelic intro in its short running time. That intro strikes me, quite clearly, as the band having no idea how to start the song and getting to the main melody in a smooth way, so instead they just said ‘fuck it’ and cobbled together a few seconds of bizarre psych guitar before blasting straight in. Those melodies? Forget about it. A few seconds in and I’m hooked forever.

Lyrically, it’s the writer yearning for the warmth of California while in a colder part of the country. I’ve never been to California, but the song paints such an idyllic vision of the place that it make it sound like paradise – coupled with the hundreds of movies and shows I watched growing up set in California, hell even the name California has a mythic quality to someone from the dreary, grey, bomb-drenched shores of Ulster. Hearing this song as a kid made me think of long sunny evenings, beaches which stretched as far as they eye could see, and carefree living – feeling which still pervades now even with the cynical mind of a grown-up.

I’ve probably mentioned it countless times on this blog, but the three main elements for me in any song are melody, lyrics, and emotion. This song ticks all three boxes – while I don’t think the band here showcase amazing technical skills or vocals, the lyrics are evocative, the melodies like glue, and it’s all wrapped up in an authentic package. Get those three right, and all of the other important components of music should follow naturally. Get those three right, and even if the other components don’t work, I’ll probably still love your song. Check out my Nightman Scoring System(c) posts for more information on how I break down songs into twenty different components. For now though, click on one of the links throughout this post and enjoy some nostalgic, sun-drenched, melancholic pop.

Let us know in the comments what you think of California Dreamin’ and if there are any other Mamas And Papas songs you think I’d enjoy!

Amazon Vine Freebies – May/June 2018

Time for another dirty double!

Furry Family

Family Sucks

Loving Family

SEALs Family

SEALS Family Part Deux

Warring Family

Family Pains

Flower Family

Fizzy Family

Sunday Best

Sucker Punch

  • Vialli Design Cristallo Double Walled Whisky Glass 300ml

Suck Of Whiskey

Suck My Neck

Suck My Kiss

Suck My Blubber

Suck My Face

Suck My Hole

Suck My Brick

Gaming Family

Fab Family

Nightman Listens To – Bryan Adams – Get Up

Greetings, Glancers! We’re here, we’ve finally made it. At the time of writing this is Bryan’s latest album and so you won’t be hearing my thoughts on him for a while after this post. Thank Jeebus you say… and yet, you keep coming back for more. Now, the album contains thirteen tracks but four of these are acoustic versions of other tracks on the album. That leaves a pretty pathetic nine songs – I’m not going to bother with the acoustic versions, unless someone tells me they are radically different. So, for potentially the last time, lets do this.

You Belong To Me‘: What is this country wank? Aside from the twang guitar riff the rest of the song is okay – it’s incredibly simple and feels exactly like the sort of song which took a shorter time to write than the song actually lasts. It’s brief, the vocals are fairly clean as opposed to his usual gravel style, and the drums, bass, and guitar do exactly what they need to do to complete the song. It’s quite hooky, but quite forgettable.

Go Down Rockin‘: This has a similar vibe to Place Your Hands by Reef. There are no risks here, it’s old fashioned rock, sounds like it could be on a car advert featuring some Coupe zipping along a beachfront. It has a hooky chorus too, the lyrics don’t have anything we need to discuss, and even at under three minutes there’s too much repetition – still, it’s fairly fun.

We Did It All‘: Has some unusual (for Bryan) chord changes and rhythms in the verse, the chorus being more traditional and stronger. I quite like the chorus, tending towards that old school soft rock ballad style. There are some swirling effects which feel disorienting, the piano merges nicely with the rhythm guitar tone, but the lead guitar lines in the chorus feel misjudged and could have taken the song to another level if reworked. It does peter out towards the end.

That’s Rock And Roll‘: This starts out like another relic from the 50s. Then I guess that’s the point once I hear the lyrics. This is way too tame to really be considered rock and roll, even those tracks from the fifty had a fiery energy, burning passion, while this is just a pop song with 50s rock guitars and rhythm. The lyrics get worse as the song goes on, to the point where he’s explaining how to write a simple song… there’s a reason we progressed. Fuck those claps too.

Don’t Even Try‘: Right, so the whole album is going for a fifties vibe. The album so far is just a vanity piece, something which feels like a collection of bonuses that he should have given away for free or kept as an extra disc on an honest new album. All musicians reach that point when they decide to just do a covers album or force the fans to hear the artist’s inspirations reinterpreted. Having said all that, I quite like this one, though it’s about 60 years late to the party.

Do What Ya Gotta Do‘: Honestly, these songs are almost direct rip-offs of songs you already know, it’s quite funny. This one has a bit of The Who in it too, I like the refrain, again it has its hooks, not enough, and it’s incredibly simple. This was the shortest yet, barely scarping past two minutes.

Thunderbolt‘: This one has a bit of experimentation, I guess. The riff and backing is quirky, the drums sound very distorted, but there’s almost nothing to distinguish the chorus and verse making the two or so minutes feel very repetitive and annoying.

Yesterday Was Just A Dream‘: Finally. This one feels like a genuine Adams song and not something he’s nicked from his favourite childhood records. It’s quite sweet, and I like the melodies all the way through. I’d happily listen to this song again, but the rest of the album has left a sour quality which may taint anything good.

Brand New Day‘: We finish with a song that sounds like it could be a single (no idea if it was or not) and another which feels like a genuine Adams song, though it does have the fifties beat. The vocals in the chorus and pre-chorus sound like they have some silly filter on. More unnecessary clapping in the middle.

Well, that was… something. A bad something. Compare anything here with something like Thought I’d Died And Gone To Heaven and…. well, there is no comparison. Fair enough he can do whatever he wants, as any artist should, but you have to ask yourself if anyone else is going to want it. It’s a bit of a crap ending if he doesn’t make another album. I’m sure he had fun making it and the songs aren’t really bad, they’re just retreads of stuff done better sixty years ago.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Get Up!