The Clovehitch Killer

Horror Movie Review: The Clovehitch Killer (2018) - Games, Brrraaains & A Head-Banging Life

Society has always had this bizarre obsession with serial killers, with murder in general. Is it some primal curiosity or survival instinct – we’re happy we were not the ones involved, or we want to get close enough to the fire without getting burned? Is it more morbid than that – do we want to understand how and why these people exist and if they live next door? Or do we want to feel sympathy for the victims and those left behind? Whatever the reason, TV, Books, Music, and Movies have shared and perpetuated this obsession from day 1 and I am not susceptible from going down this rabbit hole on occasion, especially if presented as an engaging and interesting story.

The Clovehitch Killer is viewed from the eyes of a teenager called Tyler, a typical kid in a typical Christian American town where the hierarchy of life roughly follows God>Church>Father>Family>Work>Guns>everything else. The town harbours a dark past – the mystery of the Clovehitch Killer who murdered 10 women in living memory and was never caught. In his father’s truck on a perfect innocent date, the girl Tyler is interested in finds a violent bondage photograph and accuses him of being a weirdo, a fetishist, an other who must be shamed and ignored. This quickly spreads through church and town and Tyler finds himself a pariah, with only his family to support him even as they have their own questions. Tyler has questions too, knowing the photograph isn’t his but not knowing why it was in his dad’s truck, his dad the respected community leader and All American Scout Dude.

Tyler teams up with another teen outcast called Kassi to investigate the history of the Clovehitch Killer and the fact that he may still be lurking in the town, waiting to strike again, or to prove that he never went away at all and has simply been better at covering his tracks. All evidence points towards Tyler’s dad, but could he too be an innocent victim?

The film isn’t as gory or exploitative as some, instead focusing on the teen crime-fighting elements and on the different characters of the town which may look familiar to anyone who doesn’t live in a big city. The film racks up the tension in the final act, and although it is light on twists and the truth is revealed well before the end, it’s how we tie up the loose ends (pun intended) which holds our interest. It’s always a treat for me to see Samantha Mathis in anything, and both Charlie Plummer and Madisen Beaty are good as Tyler and Kassi. But it’s Dylan McDermott’s film, giving a performance which veers between perfect dad, to creepy, to hilarious fluidly. It’s not a film with anything big to say about the nature of killers or small town society, but it’s a worthy addition to the canon of both themes and is worth anyone’s time when you fancy a taste of morbid curiosity.

Let us know in the comments what you think of The Clovehitch Killer!

Disney Songs – Lady And The Tramp

Greetings, Glancers. We’re back today with another Disney listenathon, this time with 1955’s Lady And The Tramp. This isn’t one of my favourite Disney entries – I didn’t grow up with it or anything and probably only saw it once during my childhood. Still, like all early Disney films, they’re iconic and important enough that you feel like you know it even if you’ve never seen it. Off the top of my head, there’s only one song I can think of from the movie, and I wouldn’t class it as one of their better ones. Lets see what else there is.

Bella Notte: Oh great, I suspect we’re in for more choral voices. The dreary strings, to give them more credit than I usually do, have much more romance than the songs from previous soundtracks. Here come the vocals, and while they are still not to my tastes, they aren’t quite as dreary and whining as those older movies. The little instrumental section at the end is quite lovely.

Peace On Earth: These vocals are hilarious to me – they seem, even in the 1950s, to be about twenty years out of date, and of course make me think of South Park. The backing vocals are terrible, but the melodies – a play on Silent Night – are nice enough.

Baby’s First Morning/What Is A Baby/La La La: A soft and soothing, twinkling song which perfectly encapsulates…. how a dog must feel when a baby is born? There isn’t much to it, just sweetly sung questions in lullaby form.

The Siamese Cat Song: Is it racist? Who even knows any more. They’re definitely playing up to stereotypes. As a song I always quite enjoyed this. It does always piss me off though that cats are always evil in Disney movies. Cats are awesome. Dogs? Dogs are great too, but they’re kind of also dicks.

What A Dog/He’s A Tramp: So, I always hated the intro of this one – not the music, the ‘what a dog’ line. Just the way it’s spoken – it’s so theatrical and slurred that it makes me ill. The song itself is fine, all those old-timey insults. The soaking jazz/swing stuff is right up there with my least favourite musical style so listening to this standalone is never good for me, but in the movie it is just about bearable.

Nothing from this soundtrack would make my personal playlist of Disney songs, though as is generally the case all of the music works when watching the movie. Regardless of who’s making it, a song from a musical movie has to be something truly special for me to take it seriously outside of the scope of the film, has to be great for me to consider listening to it on its own merits. Let us know in the comments what your favourite track from Lady And The Tramp is!

She Dies Tomorrow

She Dies Tomorrow (2020) - Projected Figures

I try to watch as many Indie/under the wire horror movies as I can get my hands on as that’s often where the most innovation and passion can be found. The Evil Dead? Halloween? Night Of The Living Dead? I have faith that the next classic could be right around the corner, being made by some unknown team. Trawling through a load of Indie films also comes with its risks – many of them are absolute dreck, badly made, badly acted, and with an unfortunate focus on bad special effects and make-up. Those are of course the extreme edges of the spectrum, with the vast majority of the films I’ve seen lurking somewhere in between, mainly ranging from inoffensively forgettable to great ideas lacking in the final execution. She Dies Tomorrow falls squarely in the middle of this category.

There is a great idea at the centre of She Dies Tomorrow – that of a woman who suddenly acquires the crystal clarity knowledge that she is absolutely going to die tomorrow. The kicker is that, when you express this knowledge to someone you pass it on to them. It has loose connotations to Rimgu, It Follows, and Pontypool. It’s a great group to be part of, and it’s a great idea with a hundred different ways to possible tell that story. The problem is, we take a decidedly arthouse approach and don’t really tell any sort of story. It’s not a horror movie by any stretch and instead revels in a stasis of naval gazing and half monotonous adventures. It’s partly amusing to see these generally irritating characters’ non interactions, the ‘disease’ being passed on, and their reactions. But it serves little purpose, not from a plot perspective and seemingly not from any wider social context. At a stretch you could argue it’s about mental health – but what’s the message? Talking about your depression makes others depressed? That everything is pointless? That we shouldn’t worry so much? That death is horrible? That filmmakers shouldn’t be left to their own devices if this is the end result?

It’s certainly a slow watch, and right or wrong the film is being promoted as something it’s not to an audience who will likely despise it both for what it is and for this trick of marketing. It’s worth a watch for those who like to ponder, and there are a few laughs and decent performances, but it’s so hollow that you think it’s the sort of film that anybody could have made with any set of actors – there’s no voice in front or behind the camera discernible through the thoughtless-provoking meandering.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of She Dies Tomorrow!

The Predator

The Predator (2018) Original One-Sheet Movie Poster - Original Film Art - Vintage Movie Posters

John McTiernan’s 1987 classic, Predator, is one of my favourite movies of all time. I don’t say that lightly; I mean, it’s in my personal Top Ten. It’s a perfect movie for me, not only because I’ve seen it countless times and have an unholy amount of nostalgia attached to it, but because it really is a flawless mixture of action and suspense, violence, fun, and casting. Like many original movies from the 1980s, it spawned a franchise which never lived up to the original. However, the Predator franchise has not been overly milked, has not relied on a single star, and has more hits than misses. When reviews for this fourth mainstream entry began to appear, they were fairly savage – even subsequent fan reviews were not positive. Plus, there was all that stuff about that guy and those scenes being cut. A film a dearly wanted to see upon release passed me by, and it wasn’t until a few years after that I finally sat down ready to be disappointed.

You know what? It’s not that bad. It’s the funniest Predator movie by some stretch, and I’ll gladly watch anything written or directed by Shane Black. He’s a Predator original, but he’s consistently one of Hollywood’s most entertaining writers. I wouldn’t go as far as saying this is a family oriented Predator movie, and it does have a strange balance of tone, but as someone who first saw Predator before I was 10, I was more than happy to see some of this movie’s more juvenile aspects.

Look, the autism stuff is ridiculous. It’s by far not the first time such a trope has been abused in media – it’s a trope after all – but it is a little tone-impaired in this day and age. Moreover, it’s entirely inconsequential to the story. Rather than making the lead character’s son (played well as always by Jacob Tremblay) be autistic, why not just make him a child genius? He can be smart and still hit the beats of being bullied/socially awkward/whatever else you want to add to make him more interesting. The key point is that the kid is intellectually gifted and seems to be able to figure out Alien technology.

We come in as a US sniper (McKenna) and his team are in the midst of a hostage retrieval mission. A Predator is there, for reasons we discover later, and it wipes out almost everyone before McKenna is able to knock it out. He steals some of its weaponry and armour and posts it home, before some shady Government officials turn up and take both McKenna and The Predator to some Area 51 type place. It turns out that the Government has known about this race of aliens (and others…) for decades, and their experiments discover that this particular alien somehow contains human DNA.

Meanwhile, McKenna’s booty ends up at his home where his young son begins experiments of his own on them, inadvertently triggering some sort of tracking device alerting the species to his location. The lab Predator escapes, McKenna finds himself leader of a new crew of misfits, and an even greater Predator threat heads to Earth. Groups collide and carnage ensues.

There’s probably one of two ideas too many in the script – even that brief synopsis is a mess. Predator succeeded partly due to its simplicity – a group of soldiers on a jungle mission are pitted against a powerful, almost invisible killer. Done. Each idea is fine in principle – the government stuff clearly there to set up further Aliens crossovers, the DNA stuff enhances the lore, the family stuff is good for character building and humour, and the ‘super’ Predator vs regular Predator thread furthers some of the mythology uncovered in Predators. Thrown altogether, along with the various different characters and it’s a boiling stew too hot for anyone to handle.

It’s a bit of a shame, because Dekker and Black’s writing elsewhere is on point – the usual snappy dialogue and free-wheeling insults we expect. Good cast too – Holbrook is good in everything, but is a little wooden here, Munn is an appropriately sassy foil, Sterling Brown literally chews the scenery, and we have Alfie Allen, Yvonne Strahovski, Thomas Jane, and Trevante Rhodes are fun alongside others. The cast, and the group we see in Predator is another reason for its long-lasting success. We like these guys, we like spending a couple of hours with them, and we’d like to know more about their past escapades. Black knows this, and while his attempts to mould a similar group are a little too reliant on quirks and humour, it’s a good stab at pulling together a diverse group all fighting the same cause. We even get cast nods to previous films, with Jake Busey as the son of Gary Busey’s character from Predator 2, and Francoise Yip from Aliens Vs Predator Requiem. Nothing of consequence, but fun additions.

In terms of action and violence, there are plenty of entertaining scenes and set pieces. I wish they would stop trying to make Alien dogs a thing, but elsewhere we are treated to suburban and jungle based mayhem between man and alien peppered with blood and energy. The best moment is of course when Jacob Tremblay gets hilarious bloody revenge on a couple of bullies. The climax is fun, even if most of the cast are dispatched with too quickly instead of more evenly through the run time, and we’re left with a controversial final scene where we learn what the regular Predator’s purpose was in coming to Earth. It doesn’t make a lot of sense considering we first see the Predator killing a bunch of humans when it seemingly came to help us. Script re-writes and re-shoots decidedly harmed a more cohesive final product.

Apparently there were several attempts at an ending, each hoping to set up various sequels, from Arnie’s Dutch appearing and announcing there’s a looming war between humans and Predators, to Ripley and Newt somehow showing up. Personally, I like the idea of having Dutch come back as that way you could also have tied in the survivors from Predators and even Danny Glover from Predator 2. In any case, any and all sequels are likely dead in the water, especially after Prey’s release has taken the franchise in a different direction.

So, The Predator didn’t deserve its negative reaction, at least not all of it. It’s far from a perfect movie, but when placed alongside other deep-cut entries of long-lasting franchises it’s a hell of a lot more entertaining than the fourth Die Hard, the fourth Alien, etc. It’s fun enough more most of the cracks to be covered in a first watch and it’s loyal to the franchise rules and expectations even if it likely didn’t turn out to be the story the writers originally hoped for.

Let us know your thoughts on The Predator in the comments!

Nightman Listens To – Roxette – Travelling!

Travelling (Roxette album) - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! While it seems like they’ve had more, we’ve finally arrived at the 9th and penultimate Roxette album. Only one more after this and we’re done. We’ve had highs, we’ve had lows, but the journey isn’t quite done yet. This is another album I know next to nothing about and I haven’t heard one second of music from it. Wikipedia tells me that the album is a sequel to  Tourism, which is nice, but also that it didn’t sell very well. Looking at the tracklist, it seems there are a number of live tracks of older songs included for some reason, so I’ll be removing those from my listen-through. Lets do this.

Me & You & Terry & Julie‘ has a sort of countdown before a lovely folk pop Country guitar intro leads into a rather pleasant verse. Then out of nowhere, a jubilant Marie chorus blasts our ears off. It reminds me quite a lot of Show Me The Wonder. The two parts have no transition whatsoever – I had to check quickly if they were in fact different songs – and yet both parts are done very well and in classic Roxette style feature sweet pop melodies. It then closes with a melancholy mirror of the intro. An interesting opening song, and one of their best in many albums.

Lover Lover Lover‘ opens with a middling tempo – again I’m getting the same melancholy pop vibes as the Manics have showcased in recent years. Liberal use of brass, which you know I don’t usually enjoy, works here. The brass is not the focal point, but used as the backup it is best suited to being. The guitar has a Country tambour in places, the melodies are instantly tactile, and while it isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, the duet sound revitalized. If they keep this up we could have a treat in store – given how not great the last few Roxette albums have been, evenif we get a few more songs with this quality I’ll consider the whole thing a win.

Turn Of The Tide‘ sweeps in like many a quiet ballad of yore. Marie is involved heavily in each of these songs before. Her voice sounds strong and clear, and the melodies have been suited to her ability to soar sweetly. This is a faintly gorgeous song with an easy nature, yet the emotional weight it now carries is quite hefty now that she has passed on. Three for three.

Touched By The Hand Of God‘ has a swirl, then a pop rock guitar crunch. It’s the first Per lead, and he sounds even more youthful than ever. The verse has small jangling piano parts at bounces along at a fair rip, but the chorus is a step up bringing another sweet set of hooks. An okay song, elevated by a strong chorus. Lots of twinkling synth capering in there too.

Easy Way Out‘ opens like a 60s Hippie dream – folk guitars, piano, and I may have imagined flutes or tin whistles. A Per lead again, it’s all very sweet, Marie does some slight but effective harmonies. The second verse brings a spring of Country guitar. A little instrumental/solo section in the middle helps things along. It’s a sit by the campfire, making daisy chains kind of song, if you’re into that sort of thing.

It’s Possible V1‘ opens briefly like a very specific Iron Maiden song – same echoing guitar and tone, this comparison evaporating as soon as the verse begins. Brief is the order of the day – brief riff, brief simple verse, brief catchy chorus, and short and sweet middle 8/instrumental. It takes the old form of Per verse, Marie chorus. It’s short and basic, not the best song on the album but not bad.

Perfect Excuse‘ starts out like a quiet ballad, sole piano which grows more melancholy as it moves along. Some minor guitar parts accompany as Marie’s vocal starts. It’s pretty obvious what conclusions we can draw from the lyrics and her performance here, but it is beautiful, sad. It sounds like there’s another woman singing harmonies too, unless it’s a dual Marie vocal. Strings join in – can’t have a ballad without them. Lovely.

Excuse Me Sir, Do You Want Me To Check On Your Wife‘ is… well, with a name like that I’m already imagining a weird slice of Per experimenting. Fortunately, it doesn’t begin that way and instead feels like another poignant piano piece. The lyrics are amusing, are they personal? I love the way the song builds from verse, into the title lyric, and then into the chorus, with Per and Marie exchanging lines.

Angels Passing’ fades in rather abruptly with a collection of, what sounds aptly like harps. A soothing Per verse and angelic Marie backing vocals mark this as another sweet and short effort. A shade under three minutes its over shortly after it begins – a nice sustained note to finish.

The Weight Of The World‘ is, you may have guessed, another piano and soft guitar led track. Minor key melodies and introspective lyrics. It’s Per for the lead again – that’s one of the major things I’ve noticed on this album – that his vocals aren’t annoying me like they sometimes can. Marie takes over for the second verse and chorus. It’s a quietly powerful song – it doesn’t try to peak or force its will, but rather is confident that it’ll make its mark.

See Me‘ closes the album – another ballad. Piano, guitar. Minor key. Marie lead this time. The minor key verse leads to an ethereal chorus. It’s a song which strips the author bare and simply says ‘here I am, see me’. In that vein it works well as an honest love song. Melodies strike a chord again.

It’s Possible V2‘ must be a bonus track, another version of an earlier track on the album. It dispenses with the chugging guitar and takes a more pop or folk approach. Aside from that, it’s pretty similar – melodies still work.

Well, where the hell did that come from? My issue with Roxette in pretty much all of their albums has been that (the early albums at least) have a set of excellent singles, then filler album tracks. As the albums progressed, the strength of the singles lessened and the the fillers became more overblown or uneventful. SO it’s a surprise then that this is probably their best album. It’s consistent – any number of the songs could be singles, and there isn’t really any filler. The album doesn’t have a Joyride or a It Must Have Been Love, but that would have been the icing on an already sweet cake. Any experimental nonsense has been abandoned so that good old fashioned honest and personal songwriting can be the focus, with special attention to melody which was always the band’s greatest strength. I imagine this could be an emotional experience for the die-hard Roxette, I could feel it even being a passing fan. It feels like a perfect send off for the band, and even if the next album is crap, we’ll at least have this one, and their previous hits to enjoy forever.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Me & You & Terry & Julie. Lover Lover Lover. Turn Of The Tide. Easy Way Out. Perfect Excuse. The Weight Of The World. See Me.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Travelling!

Nightman Listens To Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia (2020 Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! Ok, I know I didn’t get through many of the 2020 albums in 2021. You didn’t think I really would though, did you? In an ideal world I’d like to do this sort of series every year, to give me a flavour of what’s popular these days. Actually, in an ideal world I’d like to have the time and money to do nothing but listen to music and watch movies and post shite about them. In any case, if the 25 albums (or was it 30) I picked from 2020 are as good as they’re supposed to be, then they should be considered timeless classics and it shouldn’t matter to me when I listen to them or to you when I talk about them.

Dua Lipa then. I don’t know anything about her, I don’t know any of her songs, but I think I read somewhere that she’s a Liverpool fan. I don’t know if that means she’s from Liverpool, if she’s English, or if she’s from outside of the UK but has heard of Mo Salah and is therefore a Liverpool fan by proxy. I know she’s popular though – I recently started properly using Reddit after years of occasionally looking at it – and joined the /music and /popheads subs. She’s mentioned quite frequently in the Popheads one, though the Music one is mostly filled with Boomers and Ween fans and would likely dismiss her. I’m willing to give everyone a shot, so by the end of this post she may have a new Gen X/Gen Y/Millennial/WhateverthehellIam fan. As always, I take a gander at the album cover to get some almost certainly inaccurate feelings about the artist and her art.

I’ll assume that’s her, because most popstars will feature themselves on their album artwork, at least until the point they become famous enough that they can sell based on their name alone rather than their appearance. It’s a striking enough image, suitable and colourful enough to appear as a small jpeg on your phone and lacking any fine detail. But I like it, particularly the huge blue moon in the background. I’m not convinced that those gloves are a good match for that steering wheel – the gloves seem lacking in the grip department, while the steering wheel a highly glossed wood – lets hope she isn’t doing 42mph in a School Zone. Does any of this tell me anything about what the music will be like? Of course not. Lets find out, shall we?

Without giving away too much about what I think of the album, I’m going to jump in now and say that so far the most overt, traditional Pop albums I’ve listened to as part of the 2020 series have been the ones I’ve enjoyed most. Fine, the Bad Bunny album was crap, but the Bob Dylan, Deftones, Biffy Clyro, and Code Orange albums didn’t have much impact on me. I still crank out a handful of the Chloe X Halle tunes. Am I losing my Metal cred? I don’t hold much stock in such matters and have always been up front in my love for good Pop music – good music, regardless of genre. Future Nostalgia? Good. Pop. Music. Future Nostalgia is an apt title – you can hear the 80s and 90s Pop influences in certain tracks, and Dua Lipa’s music seems like the logical continuation of, say, Madonna. I can’t say that I’ve listened to much Top 40 music in the last 15 years so I’m sure there are many artists filling in the gaps between Madonna and Dua Lipa, but you can see the pattern of influence.

There are any number of floor-filling bangers here, great for blasting in the club, on the radio, or in the house. Crucially though, there is also humour and intelligence, both in lyric and composition. That’s where Pop becomes something elevated, something more interesting to me; I can enjoy a catchy jingle as much as anyone, but if there’s a bland message and a lack of emotional connection, no matter how you dress up the song with Production and Performance, I’m not going to care about it beyond a cursory acknowledgement of its existence. I do have issues with the album – issues others won’t give two shits about – but which affected my enjoyment; Most of the songs revolve about love and relationships. Madonna, to continue with that example, could sing about shagging till the cows came home, but she would throw in a few songs each album which overtly were not about romance. If we look at my favourite modern Pop artist – Sia – which Dua Lipa’s vocals have more than a passing resemblance to on Future Nostalgia – Sia will cover any number of topics unrelated to love even in her most successful works. Future Nostalgia doesn’t have many non-love related songs – it is bookended by two future Feminist anthems in the title track and closer Boys Will Be Boys, but even those are done through the lens of a woman’s relationship to men. Boys Will Be Boys is the closest to being its own thing as it sings of empowerment and fear, taking that hateful phrase which politicians and sexual predators use to dismiss criminal and violent behaviour against women, and twisting it around to rip that defence apart. I’m not sure how much of this song was written by Lipa versus Justin Tranter – a lyricist known for his advocacy in this respect – but it’s entirely possible that Lipa pulled Tranter in for this album because of his past work. In any case – powerful message, great song.

While there may not be many overt non-romance based songs, several songs are at least presented in a more refreshing way, usually with a more empowering female perspective – Dua Lipa calls herself a female alpha in the opener, Cool and Physical are pure exaltations of feeling and confidence, coming across as sincere versus more generic fare, while Break My Heart takes a more pensive, apprehensive approach due to past hurt. Even when the lyrics are generic in structure and theme and content, there are at least jokes or nods to past works from Olivia Newtown John, Bing Crosby, White Town, or INXS. I could be picky and state that the songs aren’t the most structurally interesting, but that would be a valid criticism for the vast majority of music released each year so I don’t believe it would be fair here – it’s a pop album, so you want the familiarity of verse, bridge, and chorus loops.

My second more genuine criticism – still a personal thing – is with some of the vocals. Lipa can sing, alternating styles and strength between and often within songs, but she isn’t immune to some of the quirks which piss me off about most modern singers. The way ‘body’ is sung with a hard, almost double or triple D sound in Pretty Please (one of the weaker songs) reminds me of that fucking awful Royal Navy advert song with the ‘awrite guvna, reDDee, steDDee yip yip aye’ lyrics. Christ that thing is on every 15 minutes and gets muted every time. She overdoes the screechy Sia thing in Hallucinate and repeats probably the one trait which annoys me most in vocalists over the last fifteen years or so – adding these unnecessary Y-type vowel sounds to words which don’t need them, while simultaneously doing a little vibrato. Why is this a thing, and why do so many singers do this? Why does it annoy me? All unanswerable, but listen to the middle of Hallucinate and how ‘dark’ and ‘start’ are pronounced as ‘doweek’ and ‘stoueet’ respectively.  You should know by now that certain accents or pronunciations in songs are enough to make me never listen to the song again, and I admit that when Lipa begins her Cockney shtick in the album’s opening verses I was already moving the cursor towards the top right corner of the window. Thankfully, these moments are few and far between, and elsewhere the vocals are excellent.

Aside from the performance and personality of Dua Lipa, and aside from the infectious melodies which should be the principle hallmark of any pop song, the album’s production is one of the keys to its success. The warm production firmly places many of the songs into the power-pop region, adding force to its synth and drums, and turning songs which I may not normally have much affinity for into something I can enjoy, sing, and leap about to. Hallucinate is a good example of a song and genre I typically would not give a second glance, but the production allows it to level up while Level Again would be typical repetitive pop junk if not for the use of strings and samples. Cool, probably the best song on the album, would still be a good pop song but is again taken up several notches by the, well the modern synth based off an 80s formula. Cool is a banger for the ages, striking that fine balance I look for in any song – emotion, melody, and an artist giving a peak performance.

The album stumbles in the middle, perhaps due to the fact that each of the opening four songs are so strong. It picks up again with Break My Heart and those closing three songs are each high points in different respects while not hitting the heights of any of the the first four. Comparing it to a similar nostalgic pop oriented album which I’m familiar with, Sia’s We Are Born was nowhere near as successful as Future Nostalgia, but edges this out in terms of quality. Future Nostalgia isn’t far off, but is lacking some of the additional emotive force and variance of genre to Sia’s early classic. In any event, fans of Future Nostalgia who may be reading this, should check out We Are Born and will likely enjoy it too. I was surprised I liked this as much as I did – again, most of the modern chart pop songs I’ve heard in recent years have been, for lack of a better term, apocalyptically shite and creatively barren, but this is brimming with spirit, wit, and love. I had not heard any of the songs till I put on the album for the first time, and at least six of the songs here will be added to my pop playlist.

ALBUM SCORE

Sales: 4. You should know by now that attempting to judge album sales now is a complete shit show, but the best estimates show that via a combination of physical sales and streams it was one of the top ten selling albums of the year. Depending on whether you compare this against albums of the past in pre-streaming days, I could see people giving this a 5 or a harsh 3.

Chart: 4. Hit the number 1 spot in the UK and Australia, along with various other territories, made the top ten in the US. I think to get a 5 here, you really need the Number 1 spot in US and UK, or if not both some other exceptional metric.

Critical: 5. Almost all overwhelmingly positive across the board, never less than a 4 out of 5 equivalent rating and the album and many of its songs feature on year end Top Ten lists.

Originality: 3. Maybe I’m a little harsh here, but it’s not the first album ever, or in this generation, to give a modern twist on a particular sound, vibe, or genre. It does it well, but it never reaches the point of being revolutionary.

Influence: 3. I say this every time, but this is incredibly hard to judge without time having past. Based on its sales and success I can see it being influential on other artists, but given the lack of revolutionary traits and the fact that it is a retro influenced album, I don’t know how influential it can be.

Musical Ability: 3. Another tough one to judge because the focus is on Dua Lipa as a musician and primarily a vocalist – I don’t know how much influence she had on the actual music beyond composition, and the vocal have their own category. The contributing musicians do their part, but nothing exceptional.

Lyrics: 3. Do I go 4 here? It’s tricky because I’m very picky with lyrics. Old tropes are both avoided and embraced, and the fact that most of the songs are still under the overall umbrella of ‘Love’ means I can’t honestly give a 4 – if there were revolutionary statements about romance or some beautifully shattering, unique, and incitement lines on the subject I would push to a 4. They are stronger than your average pop, but that’s an incredibly low bar to step over.

Melody: 4. A very solid, high 4. Some of the songs in the middle of the album prevent this from possibly reaching a 5, but as a whole most songs have potent melodies, and a few of those melodies are striking and effortlessly infectious.

Emotion: 3. I did have a 4 for this originally, but downgraded to a 3 because most of the emotion which came across to me is really down to the sincerity I felt – that can go to the authenticity score. There’s emotion, but not peaks, not a lot of variance of emotion.

Lastibility: 4. It already feels a little timeless. That could be due to how recent it is and the blend of modern and the nostalgia. Looking again at Sales and success, and how much I enjoyed it, I can see me and others continuing to listen for many years hence. 

Vocals: 4. Not quite a 5 due to some of the quirks I mentioned, but a very solid 4. Good performance, a lot of charm, and plenty of different vocal styles.

Coherence: 4. It’s very coherent. You can argue that it lacks say, a slow ballad, or something to break up the endless loop of up-tempo pop/dance tracks, but I don’t think that would impact the coherence. While there are different styles, it’s still a nostalgic synth based pop/dance album, primarily concerned with feelings of love and empowerment. 

Mood: 4. It creates a mood. A dance mood, a fun mood. Not exactly the sort of mood I go for, but it’s there. I could equally go 3 here.

Production: 4. Great work. Not revolutionary, but it nails the desired style and fits the theme of looking forwards and backwards.

Effort: 4. I’ve no idea how much effort went into this, but it was a step up in success from her previous album, the number of singles, the quality of the output. Go 3 here if you want.

Relationship: 3. As mentioned on the Chloe x Halle post, there’s only so much I can relate to here, being a 30 something white bloke from Northern Ireland – who has never been into dance music, clubbing, or much of what is talked about in pop music. I am however a music fan, I think I understand emotions, so that is what I relate to here. 

Genre Relation: 4. It relates to other modern and older pop music but, for me at least, excels over much of what is new and some of what is old. 

Authenticity: 4. Everything comes across as authentic and sincere – any pop album is designed to sell, to make as much money as possible for all involved while heightening the status of the performer. That’s the business. But Dua Lipa uses the album as a platform for good, for progress, and it doesn’t feel like a cash-in using the buzzwords of culture today. Lyrically, musically, and based on her performance, this all feels authentic. 

Personal: 4. I can argue that I both over and underscore pop albums. I can underscore based on the overwhelming response by actual critics, but I can over score purely because it’s a modern pop album which managed to speak to me and given me some enjoyment – it’s an anomaly when a modern pop album does this, and so I maybe bump up my score a little. But it’s a good album, no doubt. 

Miscellaneous: 3. I saw some of the music videos. Lots of fashion. Lots of dancing. Nothing to interest me. Standard 3 score.

Total: 74/100  

Easily the highest score I’ve given to a 2020 album in this series so far, and easily my favourite listen in the series.  In starting this series I wanted one album which I could enjoy from start to finish – this kind of gets there in that even the weaker tracks don’t piss me off – and it’s an album I’ll definitely return to.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Future Nostalgia!

A Wish For Christmas

Watch A Wish for Christmas | Netflix

It’s that time of the year again. What time of the year, you ask? Lacey time! Yes, each Christmas my wife and I sit down with various bottles of booze and watch a succession of Lacey Chabert festive movies between all the traditional TV treats. This year it has been difficult to find time to do this, between work and daughters who want to stay up and play Roblox in the same room, and a son who refuses to sleep. I’m sure a few of you regulars will have noticed my movie review output has been decreased recently – my music content too. In truth, I haven’t felt much desire to write about anything in the last few months, but that happens me every so often. It’s not the end of the blog or anything, just more important stuff has taken precedent, and few of the movies I’ve watched have interested me enough to write a full blown post about them. Before we get to Lacey, here’s a snapshot of what I’ve been watching recently:

Doctor Sleep

Hide And Seek (Korean)

Castlevania Season 3

You Season something or other (wife likes it)

Tiger King Season 2

Thirteen Ghosts

Doctor Strange

Crawl

The Promised Neverland

The Devil Next Door

Get Back

Hopefully I’ll get my mojo back next year, but I don’t have any push to write anything about anything above. On the other hand, I’ll always gladly write about any Lacey Christmas movie because they’re easy to talk about, easy to enjoy, easy to ridicule. And they’re just as much a festive tradition as avoiding your family, getting drunk and falling on your ass, and buying all of your presents in the Pharmacy on Christmas Eve.

Lacey is a single woman with some sort of big city career – she’s a web designer, maybe? What’s important is that she is somewhat timid, a bit of an overly kind pushover who allows herself to be trampled on by friends and co-workers alike. Yet she’s full of ideas and hopes and dreams, without the knack for putting those across to the boys up the ladder. When her latest idea is stolen by her boss, who then gets public credit, attention, and plaudits for it, she throws in the towel and storms out of her office’s Christmas party. Fortuitously, jolly old Saint Santa has been observing all of this and allows her to make a special wish (which will only last a few days). She wishes that she could be brave, confident, and just like that she sasses her way back into the party, confronts her boss about his IP theft, and mic drops her ass outta there. All of this makes an impression on the Company Director and the two embark on a cross country jaunt of self discovery and forgiveness while trying to secure some business deal and maybe, just maybe falling in love.

Like Lacey’s other Christmas movies, this is silly throwaway stuff with an extra side of forced giggles on her character’s part, but it’s also perfectly pleasant and charming. There are even some genuine laughs to be found, as Lacey’s amusing attempts to assert herself are part Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, part Housewives Of Some Shitty City, and part The Standup Comedy Stylings Of Lacey Chabert. The rest of the cast are largely insignificant – there to do a job, do it well, and go off to the next thing, but even with that there are some unusual attempts at creating humour – the dude with the mistletoe – and some interesting veterans and unfamiliar faces, from Mark Brandon to Donna Benedicto.

It’s not going to change your world. It isn’t going to interest your friends. You’re not going to watch it again. But it might help get you in the Christmas spirit and it might warm your cockles if watched with a like mind and a couple of bubbly drinks while the snow threatens to swarm outside the window.

The Haunting Of Goodnight Lane

Ryan's Movie Reviews: Ghost of Goodnight Lane Review

I get it; it’s hard being an actor skirting the outer rim of the A List. You’ve had a taste of fame and success, and you have a bunch of weirdo fans obsessing over you but you don’t quite have the clout to be on the cover of the best mags, appear on stage at the best awards ceremonies, star in the top grossing blockbusters, or pour from the lips of every water cooler denizen keen for the latest nugget of Hollywood goss. But you make a living. You have enough to get by, to be happy and to feed your family, and you’re content with the performances you’ve given and the legacy you’ll leave behind, even if there is that one final splash you’d love to make.

There’s an argument which states that the movie business doesn’t survive due to the big hitters,  rather it’s the smaller films which are underseen and rarely make much money, but often propel the next big name upwards and keep the industry’s moving parts churning. If it feels like I’m trying to make a point, I’m not. I’ll continue anyway. When you’re a fan of these types of performers and these types of movies, you have to wade through a detestable amount of wank to find something worth the stench. The Haunting Of Goodnight Lane contains several not quite A Listers who’ve had their taste of glory, didn’t make a lot of money, and you won’t hear people talking about it unless someone makes a viral meme from one of the very gif and meme-worthy scenes within. It’s a very odd movie because on one hand it looks very cheap, but on the other it stars Billy Zane, Lacey Chabert, and Danielle Harris, and it’s your standard haunted house movie, but everyone involved seems to know how cheesy it is and plays up to the nonsense to create an entirely entertaining slice of whatthefuckery.

Set in the admittedly sort of interesting location of a low budget recording studio, it follows the employees of studio being tormented, possessed, and murdered by an annoying little girl ghost who’s having a strop because the studio replaced her old home and now it’s being sold or something. It’s hard to say because little girl ghosts get pissed off as irrationally as little girl non-ghosts. Billy Zane’s Alan is even more pissed off because he just wants to keep his deadlines met and schedule moving so that he can drink and bang the models. He also seems to be highly amused that he has landed this gig an is masterfully hamming up every single piece of dialogue he is given, and reacting with gloriously overwrought passivity to everything going on around him. It’s a comedy masterclass.

Joining him on his one man stand up show is Lacey Chabert as some sort of employee who wants to understand the girly ghost, Danielle Harris as a model/actress/dancer type and a bunch of unfamiliar faces there to have their faces smashed into nails in walls or exposed electric fans. There’s a smidge of gore here and there, plenty of jumpscares as the ghost seems to have a deep knowledge of cameras and computers, and an unnecessary backstory to fill in just why she’s so evil (spoiler alert – her daddy was Chuck Manson). There’s also the girl’s surviving relative, a grandmother who is inexplicably some sort of crazed medium instead a woman wracked with the pain and guilt of losing both a child and a grandchild. It doesn’t matter – you get gratuitous boob shots, shaky-head Tool video twisty twisty bits, and the cast having a lot of fun making what feels like a boozy weekend shoot by a bunch of mates done for fun in between filming something important.

It is fun. It’s silly, it doesn’t amount to much, but it is fun. I laughed more than I usually do at the big hit comedies which are supposed to make me laugh and it was cool to see Lacey in something that wasn’t a Hallmark movie. Danielle is always great, Billy Z deserves all the praise for his line about the ghost hating doors, and it’s short enough that if you hate it you won’t lose much of your life by watching it. Enjoy?

Nightman Listens To – Madonna – Rebel Heart!

Rebel Heart - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! Wellity well, we’ve almost caught up with Madonna’s output. I know I’m slow at getting these things out (for anyone who even still reads them) but there’s only a couple of albums to go. And give me a break, I’m also doing Jovi, Adams, Roxette, The Stones, The Beach Boys, and of course my Top 1000, Non-Beatles, and 1966 series. A more diligent blogger would of course just pick one artist and pump out posts about their work over a few week period before moving on to the next thing. But I can’t focus on one thing for too long. And as I say, no-one even reads these things anyway and they’re not exactly the most exciting reading given that they’re unimaginative reactions as I listen for the first time. A smart blogger would of course switch to YouTube and make gargantuan gasps and wide-eyed stares at the camera in faux shock as if I’ve just stumbled upon a kitten in a waistcoat shaving a cow with a cigar. My hope is that people simply Google Madonna (or whoever) one day and stumble upon my posts, and read through them all in a single sitting, tutting at how I’ve misunderstood their favourite song. In any case, you’re stuck with me.

So, Rebel Heart. I know two of these songs – one I’ve only heard once and don’t really remember, while the other was an instant hit for me and has become one of my favourite Madonna songs. Beyond those, I don’t know much about the album. It’s another which seems packed to the gills with collaborations, something I generally don’t approve of and something which tends to show an artist is creatively flailing around, hoping someone else will save them from mediocrity or pull them back up from their mire. I’m hoping that’s not the case here, but given the (lack of) talent Madonna has aligned herself with on this record, I’m not holding out for greatness.

Living For Love: A blippy bloppy warbling beat emerges. Then deep Madonna vocals. Melody – fair enough. Then a beat. Then piano and a different melody. Am I getting some sort of Gospel feel from the melody? Then the beat returns. Then the song does that horrible chorus fake out thing that every was doing a couple of years ago. Maybe they’re still doing now, I don’t know. It’s well produced and it doesn’t follow a simple set pattern. At least the chorus drop isn’t as bad as most. There are a few other voices in the chorus, it does seem to be going for a Gospel approach. There’s too much space between the different vocals, space which could have been packed with additional voices for ore impact. Then it ends abruptly. It’s a decent opener, not horrible, not overly memorable.

Devil Pray: An acoustic guitar opener, with an almost Latin tone. Then weak ass hand clap beats screw up a perfectly good vocal. I will never understand why artists choose that sound for their beat. The lyrics aren’t great from what I’m picking up on the surface. Decent pre-chorus, but again the chorus drops instead of peaks. It’s frustrating as the song is fine – it’s not extraordinary – it’s a B grade song which falls to C because of those stylistic choices which are clearly made for modern sensibilities and not me. Her vocals are patchy in places too. It stretches out for another minute, presumably for dancefloor purposes, adding lots of beeps and sounds which don’t do anything.

Ghosttown: Is the one I mentioned at the top that I loved. It’s A Tier Madonna. It’s a great song all round, even if I’m not in favour of all the musical and production choices. However, you could record this a hundred different ways as long as you keep the central melody, and you’d have a great song each time. It’s a perfect pop song, something Madonna knows a little something about, plus it has plenty of emotion ensuring it makes it up to the next level up the ladder.

Unapologetic Bitch: Although the sound isn’t my go to, this starts well but then drops into a slower Reggae style thwomp. I would have preferred keeping the pace and intent of the intro. It reminds me too somewhat of The Delays. The lyrics are quite sweary which is unusual for her – it’s your standard woman scorned stuff and that sort of lyric only works for me if it goes deeply personal, like Alanis. Credit for the little rap portions (getting Chas and Dave vibes from those – rabbit rabbit rabbit) and for how the rhythm of ‘unapologetic bitch’ works. The chorus gets nuzzled into your brain.

Illuminati: It’s not the first time Madonna has done some rapid fire name-checking. Not names I give a shit about, but she’s gonna do what she’s gonna do. This is quite experimental for her – the verse doesn’t have anything obvious to grab hold of, then the chorus becomes quite sweet. At least it’s interesting, which is more than can be said for most pop stars of her, or any generation at the moment. There’s a John Carpenter synth vibe here and there. Once again, credit for trying something different, but I can’t say it all works for me. I don’t dislike it by any means.

Bitch I’m Madonna: This is the other one I’d heard. Some of the melodies are fine but the lyrics are abhorrent and the production is all over the place hitting all the black boxes of modern pop I can’t abide – silly sounds? Check. Dropping the momentum at the chorus? Check. Random newb warbling in the background? Check. Wafer beats? Check. Self interest? Check. Emotionless? Check. Catchy? Kind of, I guess. Bland and repetitive? For the most part, yeah.

Hold Tight: This seems much better. A more classic sound and vocal while still adhering to modern norms. It’s a simple approach this time, and a simple melody to go with it. The beats and production isn’t what I would choose again, pandering too much to today’s sound and quirks which will likely date the thing in a few more years. I would have gone all in on the backing vocals on this one to give a booming transcendent feel. It’s almost one of her better songs, but still good.

Joan Of Arc: A pondering guitar intro gives way to a lovely vocal and melody. It’s instantly more touching and honest. I feel like this is already going on the playlist. The drum beats could have been toughened up and rounded out, but that’s a minor issue. I think this will grow on me over time and it’s another example of a Madonna song which would work in any generation, with any production as long as the melody and purity is kept intact.

Iconic: With a name like that, this could go well or very badly. We’ll see. Oh balls, this is another .feat thing. This time it .feats a rapist, so that’s something. Verse is right up the middle, the little hey-yays are bordering on annoying. Decent pre-chorus. Of course the chorus loses the momentum and does that thing I won’t shut up about. At least there’s some sort of Halloween tone to that chorus. Some day in the future, someone’s going to re-do all the songs from the 2010s, but fix the chorus so that it doesn’t do the beat drop thing, and on that day every single one of those songs will take 10 large steps upwards in quality. Some bloke I’ve never heard of raps in the middle of everything else going on. It’s not very bad, but it’s a long way from good.

Heartbreakcity: Thankfully this one feels more streamlined – a lone piano line without tweaking. A neat military parade beat drops and the chorus builds and feels similar to Ghosttown. It’s another spiffing melody at times, but it doesn’t quite sustain that quality over the whole running time.

Body Shop: This is, what? Eastern folk inspired, with a child-like nursery rhyme quality? There’s some sort of tribal trance rhythm. In other words, she’s playing with conventions again. I can’t quite pick up many of the lyrics or what it’s all about during first listen. I don’t like the little ‘yeah’ shouts in the background, but then I never do. Without those I’d be willing to listen to this more. It’s a curio which is almost ruined by those repeated ‘yeah’s as they increase in frequency towards the end to the point that I had to stop the song early.

Holy Water: A more dance influenced, near rap from Madonna. It has some sex noises in the chorus. I could do with some more bass in the verse – something really dirty would have made it grind in a more sweaty, sexy way. At least the chorus doesn’t collapse like so many of the others. It’s nice that she’s still singing about her vagina. And that she’s referencing and sampling herself. An interesting one for sure, but I’m not sure there’s enough melodic quality for me to listen to it again.

Inside Out: There’s a dirtier fuzzier bass which should have been in the previous song. This is a stronger second half than the first. The verse is solid enough, then the chorus goes all Sia. That’s always a good thing. It’s not top tier Sia, or top tier Madonna, but definitely good enough that I’ll happily hear it again.

Wash All Over Me: Sole piano keys open and traverse the verse and a fair melody spreads itself out. The chorus is better, but it’s lacking something – a key change, another push? I don’t know, I just feel a tiny sense of frustration that it doesn’t go the way I wanted it to. It’s a good song to end the album with – a B song which doesn’t unleash the sadness or hope or whatever extra emotional push it is I was hoping for to shunt it into A.

So… it’s another good album. Solid. There aren’t as many true stand out tracks which I see making my long term playlist, but there is a long list of songs which just miss out and a short list consisting of average or crap. It once again confirms that when Madonna keeps things simple and builds a song around a melody rather than an idea or trend, that’s when she’s at her best; that’s when she still makes great pop songs. The worst moments are when she goes too experimental to the point that the song stops being a song, or when she copies what others are doing (chorus drop). There are some annoying quirks – backing shouts and vocals being the main offender, but when the song is good I can mostly overlook those. We’re almost caught up with Madonna now and I must admit that I didn’t expect to enjoy her post Ray Of Light stuff as much as I have. Sure there has been some crap, but there have been plenty of songs added to my playlist – and a few of those are from this album.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Ghosttown. Hold Tight. Joan Of Arc. Inside Out.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Rebel Heart!

Anneke: Live In Europe

*Originally written in 2011

Live In Europe | Anneke van Giersbergen

Although Anneke had released a live album the previous year with Danny Cavanagh, this is her first solo live release. An accomplished live performer whose energy, passion, and voice is as strong on stage as in the studio, this was undoubtedly an album to look forward to for fans when it was announced. The main issues to overcome with these sorts of albums are whether the songs selected will please as many fans as possible, whether the songs selected transfer well to a live performance, and whether it feels like a cheap cash-in or a genuine, love-filled release.

‘Intro’ is a mixture of applause and guitar noise from The World alongside other assorted backing sounds, building up the crowd nicely.

‘The World’ opens the gig, an opener that I’m not 100% convinced by – it has a nice build up, but isn’t an immediate crowd pleaser or one which will whip the audience into a frenzy. There are a number of other tracks in the Anneke canon, even on In Your Room which I feel would work better as an opening track to a live show, but regardless it is performed well, has an edge, and gets things going.

‘My Girl’ comes in straight after the first track with no time for catching you breath in between. The focus seems to be on the heavier side of Anneke’s tracks so far, with the distorted guitars giving this one a bit more bite than the studio release. Anneke enjoys herself here, in particular belting out the ending ‘ooh-ahhs’.

‘Who I Am’ is, as Anneke explains, a song written with Mr. Devin Townsend – a figure Anneke continues to partner with fruitfully. This is a fun song, with bouncing rhythms, catchy verses, and eventually a fantastic chorus which lets the vocals soar. A highly enjoyable song which I’d love to see get a studio release.

‘Day After Yesterday’ is one of my least favourite Anneke songs, and even though it is played and performed well here, I don’t think it translates well to the live setting, at least not how it is arranged here. Perhaps an even slower, colder, ghostly version, with a backing choir would convince me otherwise.

‘Hey Okay’ on the other hand is one of my favourite Anneke tracks, although it sounds a little flat here, not really picking up until the guitar solo comes in. Anneke sounds a little breathless singing here, and I’ve heard better live versions on YouTube.

‘Fury’ is my highlight of the album, an awesome, up tempo rock song with nice guitar work and excellent vocals. It’s another that I’d love to see a studio release for, thanks to its brilliant chorus and impactful verses.

‘Beautiful One’ is another strong track (and a better opener in my opinion) which is given new life in the new setting. The song lends itself to a variety of potential arrangements, here going for a much more bombastic chorus with crashing guitar work and angelic vocals.

‘Adore’ again is one of my favourites, and it’s great to see it here as live shows and special re-recorded albums never feature my favourite tracks. This one I imagine isn’t the easiest to sing with its diving and rising melodies, but Anneke does a stellar job on it. It isn’t too different from the studio version, a few less instruments and less complex, but a few added vocal flourishes.

‘I Want’ also translates well to the live arena, with bouncing rhythms which threaten the crowd into jumping along. Another fun song, there isn’t anything complicated here, or much I can say to criticize it.

‘Laugh It Out’ is an interesting one in that it never stays in my memory long, but I always enjoy it thoroughly when I hear it, having forgotten all about its existence. More great verse and chorus work, another one with a fast pace, this one sees Anneke shouting goodnight to the crowd towards the end – another one which it would be nice to see a studio version of.

‘Witnesses’ seems on paper live a totally bizarre choice for a live release, but it surprisingly works well. It’s a raucous recording, I enjoy her pronunciation of ‘universe’ and it has an extended, bruising ending.

‘Shrink’, while obviously being the closer to Nighttime Birds seems like an odd choice of song to close this album with, given that the rest of the songs were on the heavier, louder, more distorted side. It’s a little jarring for this to be thrown in at the end, being such a soft, slow song. And although the rest of the band come in and try to do something a little different with it, those changes don’t always work, and within the context of the album, they don’t save it from being a strange closing track. I’ve never heard a legitimate heavy version of the track, maybe they should have went all out and done a full on rawk version, although that could have been a failure.

An essential release for Anneke fans, albeit let down by a short running time, the absence of some great songs (subjective of course), and a fairly average recording quality – there is a lot of  hissing and extra distortion in the background, the vocal mic seems much too loud and at times the volume isn’t consistent. That being said though, these are mostly minor complaints – what we do have is a great bunch of songs performed with relish, a few nice exclusives, and another worthy purchase. There isn’t a lot of audience interaction, and I don’t hear much noise coming from the crowd between tracks, though again that would be subjective and something I enjoy hearing on Live records that others may hate. Hopefully we’ll get a much fuller live release in the future, one with a stronger production, and hopefully an accompanying DVD!