Celebrity Big Brother: TV hell or a fitting finale?

So, who have we got this time round then?

There’s the rather strange Stephen, the youngest of the Billion Baldwins; Jordan’s cage-fighting transvestite red-top magnet of a boyfriend Alex Reid (who looks as if he’s fought one too many cages in his time); Jordan’s ex and boyband warbler Dane Bowers (who apparently had a punch-up with Reid at Jordan’s New Year party – tabloid trashtastic, Channel 4!); Dynasty and Bad Girls legend Stephanie Beacham (god knows what she’s doing in there, she’s far too classy for this!); and worryingly thong-obsessed singer and actor Sisqo (please god this doesn’t mean The Thong Song is about to be re-released…).

Then there’s some strangely-named bloke called Basshunter who apparently had a hit single a couple of years ago; ex-Hollywood madam (and almost certainly recipient of some Pete Burns-esque ‘facial adjustments’, if her pics are anything to go by) Heidi Fleiss; glamour model and WAG Nicola T (who?); feisty British rapper Lady Sovereign (who once had a decent career ahead of her – what happened?); Katia Ivanova (famous for… er… dating Ron Wood from the Stones for about five minutes); and, last but not least, ex-football hard man, tough-guy actor and notorious nutcracker, Vinnie Jones.

Good grief. What can you say about that shower of celebrities (I use the latter term in its loosest possible sense, of course)? I mean, I know we’ve been stupified into compliance by too much Christmas food and bad telly (and it was really bad festive telly), but is there any sort of an excuse for this? Really?

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Albums of the Decade: Part Three

This is the third and final part of my list of albums of the decade (the first two parts can be found here and here). To reiterate: this is not a list of the ‘best’ albums of the decade, because ‘best’ is impossible to define. Neither is this listed in any hierarchical order. I just scribbled down my favourite albums of the last ten years in the order I remembered them, and this is what came out…

Antony and The Johnsons – ‘I Am A Bird Now’ (2005): A haunting, melancholy collection of fragile songs that linger long in the memory, this is a remarkable and brave album from the British-born singer-songwriter Antony Hegarty. If you can get past Hegarty’s stunning but unusual voice (many can’t), I Am A Bird Now offers a beautiful and poignant insight into his unique approach to art and his experiences of a mentally and physically marginalised transgender life. Also featuring  some quite delicious guest appearances from the likes of Rufus Wainwright, Lou Reed, Boy George and Devendra Banhart, this album rightly (in my view) won the 2005 Mercury Music Prize and gave Antony’s truly beautiful music the wider audience it deserved.

Queens of the Stone Age – ‘Songs For The Deaf’ (2002): In my book, any album that features the mighty Dave Grohl on drums (and vocals from grunge legend Mark Lanegan) has to be worth a listen – and that’s an especially valid point when the album in question is as downright kick-ass as this one is. The followup to 2001’s excellent Rated R, Songs For The Deaf has slightly shinier and glossier production values than its essential and raw-edged predecessor, but it still succeeds in creating a tight, compact, crunchy, irresistibly guitar-heavy, kinetically-charged groove that pulls no punches. This is a fiercely melodic concept album with a rich, dark seam of wit and a quirky intelligence.

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Albums of the Decade: Part Two

At long last (sorry), here are a few more fantastic albums from the last ten years that deserve your time and attention (you can read the first part of this list here). Again, these are not in any hierarchical order, and they are not the ‘best’ albums of the decade; all of these are just brilliant albums which I love and you need to get your hands on if you haven’t already. As ever, let me know if you think I’ve missed any, or if you (dis)agree with my choices…

Foo Fighters – ‘Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace’ (2007): This was an exhilarating and immediate return to form after the patchy In Your Honor. Echoes… is easily as good as 2002’s fiery and melodic One By One, but has the added bonus of an emotional maturity and depth that results in an ultimately more satisfying album; and, in The Pretender, it also has has a good candidate for one of the best album openers of all time. This is the album that finally and comprehensively confirms that Dave Grohl is a lot more than just the drummer from Nirvana.

Prodigy – ‘Invaders Must Die’ (2009): Another, possibly even more spectacular return to form from a band who have never compromised their genius, even though their last couple of albums veered off the paths of true greatness just a tad. It’s so great to hear the return of the Prodigy’s classic, proper, old-skool hardcore/ravey sound on tracks like Warrior’s Dance, only this time round it’s even more amped up by Liam Howlett’s deeply textured modern production – and surely the fiercely kick-ass single Omen was the true Sound of Summer 2009?

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Raging Against the X Factor

Fantastic. It’s Christmas Day again. You’ve stuffed your face with turkey and all the trimmings. The Christmas pud nearly set fire to the curtains (again). Crackers have been pulled, and various family members have insisted on taking embarrassing photos of you wearing a downright silly paper hat. You’ve just avoided a minor civil war over whose turn it is to do the washing up. You’ve opened all your pressies and expressed your dutiful delight at those horrible socks you seem to get from your auntie every year. Your uncle is now snoring in the only comfy armchair in the room, and you’re desperately looking round for a way to escape The Great Escape on telly again. Help!

Someone turns the radio on. You groan, knowing that, today of all days, all that will be playing will be schmaltzy, saccharine seasonal pop and horrible manufactured Simon Cowell/X-Factor tat. But wait! What’s this?

The DJ is playing the Christmas number one, and suddenly the living room is full of the sound of righteous rage, ripping through the speakers and terrifying your granny. “FUCK YOU, I WON’T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME! MOTHERFUCKER!” yells Zack de la Rocha fiercely, making your prudish auntie blanch as you sit there, grinning secretly at the sheer fabulousness of it all.

Actually, the very idea of Rage Against The Machine getting the Christmas number one is not as far-fetched as it may seem. In fact, it’s a very real possibility this year, due to the sterling efforts of Jon and Tracy Morter’s Facebook group and the Rage Factor! online campaign, which have been supported by hundreds of thousands of British music fans already and have raised thousands of pounds for charity in the process.

Reacting to the truly ridiculous fact that, since 2005, every British Christmas number one single has been by one of Simon Cowell’s X-Factor pop nonentities, and to last year’s very nearly successful campaign to get Jeff Buckley’s definitive version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah to the top of the charts instead of Alexandra Burke’s reality show recording of the same song, this year’s campaign clearly demonstrates how many people are heartily sick and tired of the same old bland pop music dominating the charts.

When I was young, there was always a mystery and excitement about who was going to get the Christmas number one. It was very rare that there was an obvious shoe-in for the position, unlike the situation in recent years. It would seem that I’m not the only one who would like to see a return to the good old days when we would be glued to the radio at 7pm on the last Sunday before Christmas, breathlessly waiting to find out who had won the coveted Yuletide top spot.

The campaign has rapidly caught the imagination of internet users, as well as those in the real world, and has attracted  comment and backing from musicians and celebrities including Bill Bailey, Phill Jupitus, The Prodigy, John Lydon (yes, that John Lydon), Stephen Fry, Ross Noble, Skin (Skunk Anansie), Enter Shikari, Matthew Wright (!), Lenny Henry, Fall Out Boy, XFM, Kerrang! and Metal Hammer magazines, Five TV and countless other mainstream media outlets. It’s taken on a life of its own – and maybe it’ll work this year…

So, to ensure that the Christmas airwaves are full of the festive sounds of Rage Against The Machine, you need to buy a download of Killing In The Name from one of the many digital providers listed on the Facebook page here any time between today (13th December) and the end of next Saturday (19th December)- and also visit the campaign’s JustGiving page to donate to the vital work done by the homeless charity Shelter over the Christmas period and beyond.

You know what to do…

UPDATE: WE WON! Yep, Rage Against The Machine’s Killing In The Name is officially the 2009 UK Christmas number one, by at least 50,000 copies! And, in the process, Rage fans have raised more than £75,000 for the homeless charity Shelter.  Great to see the music talking for a change – and a job well done by all involved…

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Albums of the Decade: Part One

It’s that time of the year again. End of year lists are listed and critics pontificate at length about their favourite cultural artefacts of the past twelve months. Normally, I’d be joining in with all this opinionated criticism by compiling a list of my albums of 2009, but I must confess that I haven’t really been paying much attention to the wonderful world of music this year. So, as the end of another decade grinds ever closer and I get ever geekier, I have compiled a list of my favourite albums of the ’00s instead.

Now, this isn’t a list of the best albums of the decade (you can find one of those here – there is some crossover with my choices, but there are also, in my opinion, some glaring omissons from The Observer‘s best of list); ‘best’ is such a subjective, relative, personal concept. My list of the best albums would doubtless be very different from yours, and for very different reasons (feel free to let me know yours!).

Instead, this is a list of my favourite albums from the last ten years. And it’s listed in no other order than the one I thought of them in; I haven’t got the mental energy to nitpick them into any sort of hierarchical order and they’re all bloody great anyway.

These are the albums that have taken up residence on my stereo and in my head. These are the albums that make me want to smile and sing and dance and play air guitar along to. These are the albums that keep me company on headphones while I go about my day. These are the albums that have become part of the soundtrack to my life over the last decade. I couldn’t give a stuff what the critics say about my choices – these albums are on the list because I love them.

As a 90’s kid, I may frequently be found in the pub, bemoaning the state of today’s music industry to anyone who’ll listen (and quite a few people who won’t), but the truth of the matter is that the last decade has actually produced some amazing music. And this is my choice of just some of it. Let me know what you think….

Continue reading “Albums of the Decade: Part One”

“Time is an illusion…” – Thirty Years of the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy

“Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so” – The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy.

Time was always flexible in the hands of the late Douglas Adams. Well known for his intimate distrust of deadlines (“I love the whooshing noise they make as they fly by”, as he famously once said) and his spectacular bouts of writer’s block, he was thus an incorrigible procrastinator of the first order when it came to writing, and, on occasion, apparently had to be locked into a hotel room in order to complete the final draft of whichever novel he was writing at the time, only to be let out at intervals by his publisher for ‘supervised’ walks in case he should try to make a run for it!

He was, however, also a complete and utter genius. And I’m not the only one who reckons so; not by a factor of at least 15 million worldwide – as wildly improbable as that may sound (and, after that, anything you still can’t cope with is therefore your own problem, as Trillian so wisely puts it). His books are held in great affection by people of all ages, all across the galaxy, and have now been translated into more than thirty languages (presumably not including Vogon, as they lack all sense of poetry).

The story of how this rather tall, very funny and, sadly, now equally late genius came to write the cult classic Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy novels, which celebrated their thirtieth anniversary on October 12th, is (unsurprisingly) equally unreliable time-wise. There are several versions of the moment inspiration struck, some which are more true than others. To a given value of true, of course.

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A New Blue Monday – the Continuing Misadventures of Madchester and the Hacienda

So it appears that New Order’s legendarily low-slung  and grumpy bassist Peter Hook has written a book. I must admit I was pretty astonished when I heard the news as I’d never had Hooky down as the literary type, although I was less surprised when I heard what the book was about (of which, more below)….

Hooky’s authorial outpourings are just the latest installment in this year’s exciting episode of the continuing saga of the 80’s and 90’s Manchester music scene; a long-running and often quarrelsome saga that refuses to go away, despite the fact that many of its protagonists have long since produced their best material and should probably have sloped off into quiet rock legend retirement quite some time ago.

So far this year, we’ve had the latest set of  rumours of a Stone Roses reformation (please god, never! I’d rather remember them at their incandescent early best than as the meandering stoner rawkers they had become by the end), rumours which appear to have been finally and firmly squashed by the recent news that Ian Brown – who did, after all, get custody of the talent when the Roses split – is to form a supergroup with the equally legendary Smiths/Electronic/Modest Mouse guitarist Johnny Marr. In fact, the Roses have been positively blooming this year (sorry…), what with the 20th anniversary special edition re-release of their truly classic and nigh-on perfect self-titled debut album getting rave reviews in the music press all over again, and guitarist John Squire’s solo art exhibition receiving column inches galore (admittedly, mainly only after it was noticed that one of the installations stated in no uncertain terms that he would play no part in any Roses reformation).

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