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No Doubt: PUSH + LOVE

Oh Gwen how we’ve missed you!

OK she never really left me – I sing ‘What You Waiting For’ every time I do karaoke and Phoebe’s got a weird second-solo-album Gwen doll as her and Nick’s east London lodger alongside Mitford the Cat. Then there’s her permanent place on our Pamflet party playlists. But it’s been over a decade since her last band-album and my pervading memories of it are hearing the wretched strains of ‘Hella Good’ on repeat out of a burger van near where I was camped/flooded at Glastonbury in 2003. Poor Gwen deserved to be heard somewhere so much better.

Since then she’s got married, then there was the eccentric/cool 80s L.A.M.B. solo thing (first album only) and sublime-making Stuart Price remixes and we even got to SEE her in 2007 live at Wembley… and of course there have been babies and some slightly dodgy fashion dabblings too.

But, finally, this week a NEW album, at last.

Push and Shove poses an important question – is it dignified to be a grown-up popstar? Gwen has swiftly answered this existential problem by kindof ignoring it. P&S is a return to her band, bringing all her confident shiny pop sensibilities with her and doing No Doubt with a new shimmer. The pure pop tracks like ‘Looking Hot’ and ‘Easy‘ are my first-listen favourites, but I find their ballads far more skippable – it would be difficult to better the unguarded hearbreak of ‘Don’t Speak’ for example or their superlative slowie ‘Underneath it All‘ (which always makes me think, Gavin’s not really lovely, is he? He’s probably a bit of a d*ck. Also Gwen looks a bit like Grizabella from Cats at the beginning of the video).

So I’m convinced that Gwen is still a perfect frontwoman, her place at the helm of the band unshakeable in spite of whatever’s happened to them all between albums. Similarly I think it’s  fine that they haven’t really changed all that much in style or content – why should a band have to? I apply this lack of criticism to most guitar-type bands I like/have liked these days. Innovation is not essential. That’s what New Bands are for. I don’t care that Santigold still sounds the same on her second album or that The XX are still making tinkly indie hipster love songs like they were two years ago. Sometimes things should stay the same.

[Right: My favourite red carpet Gwen-look ever. Below: My favourite Gwen look ever rendered as a doll. Silly.]

 

 

 


REVIEW! Not Like the Movies: Part of Me Part 2

SPECIAL GUESTPOST INCOMING >>> My friend Tina and I went to see Katy Perry’s Part of Me on Tuesday night. She’s a proper fan, I’m not. Which means THAT what she thought about the film  MATTERS...

[images above and below: tina at a katy perry gig, march 2011. v excited]

First off I should tell you I am a self-confessed Katy Kat who has been on the candy-coloured bandwagon since Katy’s first music video ‘Ur So Gay’ went viral. A kooky girl made up of Kate Nash wit, Alanis Morissette rasp and a good ol’ helping of Dita Von Teese. It’s no surprise after that introduction that I would be getting my ticket to Part of Me and moronically counting down the days until it was time to queue up for popcorn.

The film, which by the way has some rather impressive cinematography going on, follows Katy through her 124 performances of her California Dreams Tour, documenting over a year of her life. As a fan most of what is within the reel is familiar and there was a lot more concert footage than off the cuff Katy. However that’s not a criticism, in fact it jogged fond memories of when I was fortunate enough to see the tour in March 2011. Bit miffed they neglected to include the killer track ‘Circle the Drain’ from the final cut – a catsuit clad Perry is pretty essential don’t you think?

The one aspect of Katy’s rise to fame which ultimately differs from the majority of female pop icons, ignoring the multitude of wigs and cosmetics, is that she is wholly authentic. She’s a life-size alternative Barbie doll, without going to the extremes of Gaga’s mindboggling weirdness or the squeaky clean marketing facade forced onto 90s stars such as Britney and Christina. Call it a narrow escape or a blessing, but her final straw move to Capitol Records allowed Katy to be herself. Along with her family and friends, who were and still are at the centre of her brand, Katy just got it right. She’s a role model who young girls can laugh with, relate to through her quirky lyrics and be enthralled by her rotating bras.

A special shout out is in order to Katy’s grandma who gives a sparkling insight into a teenage dream that came true. Her comedic flair is just too good to be scripted and believe me when I tell you some of her retorts had me in stitches. Even after Katy’s adolescent struggle with her strict religious upbringing you can see how close knit and supportive her family are. Mom Perry might cringe at the lyrics behind ‘I Kissed A Girl’ but she is still front row rooting for her daughter.

It’s refreshing to see a female superstar that isn’t playing the good girl gone bad – she can sing about taboo subjects and dance around in corsets, yet everything she does has that air of playful child-like innocence. Perhaps that’s why it was so gut-wrenchingly hard to watch her world come crashing down through her separation from Russell Brand. In the film it feels honest, raw and from Katy’s view wholly unexpected, and although we only see one side of the story you do come away wanting to slap Brand silly. The breakdown prior to her huge Sao Paulo show is not really the talking point of the film. For me it is where, waiting in the wings, wreathed in tears she forces a smile on her face and goes on with the performance. Even if you believe the film is just another check in the promotional logbook for Katy, this resilience, dedication and selflessness is something Katy should be applauded for.

Does the film give us fans everything we want  to know? Not particularly. However unlike Britney’s For the Record, which made the grey area of Spears’ very public crisis pretty much black, Part of Me keeps it real.

In a nutshell I left the cinema with my Katy Kat whiskers freshly primed ready for the next chapter and safe in the knowledge that Russell Brand is a moron.

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REVIEW! Not like the Movies: Part of Me

[above: me & my katy perry chapstick]

Part of Me: my first 3-D film and my first full-on encounter with Katy Perry, she of plastic skin, perfect hair (wigs) and ecstatic pop songs. A diary of her 2011-12 California Dreams tour interspersed with pre-fame Katy footage and interviews with her friends and staff, it’s pretty much what you’d expect from a pop star’s tour video… Except that this is Katy Perry and this is in the cinema and in alarming, bubbles-popping-from-the-screen 3-D. And then there’s the massive dramatic irony in the fact that we know that by the end of the tour she and Russell Brand will have divorced.

As someone who’s more of an observer than a proper fan of KP phenomenon, liking a few songs, her carefree silliness and devotion to ridiculous costumes, POM to me is the about the hard work, misery, self-denial, make-up and Twitter-addiction (this must be the first film I’ve seen with Twitter in too. Web two dot nought!) involved in modern day pop stardom. It’s reality TV but with very little reality – the only time the poor (not at all literally) girl gets to hang out with her two best friends is when they come to see her on the Japanese leg of her tour and they visit a weird kitten cafe and take pictures of each other on their iphones. And then of course there’s the little matter of where the hell her husband is (which I won’t go into here).

Katy Perry likes to think she’s  following in the trailblazing tradition of Madonna, but come on, we all know that she’s far too nice for that. This is PG where Madonna’s iconic tour flick In Bed with…* was rated 18. Madonna is and was cold and prickly, her armour on and guard up, but Katy’s warm, bright-eyed and never takes herself too seriously. Madonna’s embarrassed by her fans, but Katy’s got to love hers because they’re tweeting in her face every second or she’s meeting them and politely answering their questions at pre-concert meet&greets. Awkward! What they do have in common though is all that hardcore stuff: ambition, focus and determination.

There are so many mega popstars in the world right now and, cleverly, Katy’s invited most of them to be in the film and say how amazing she is. How on Earth did she get away with that? There’s Adele, Jessie J and (pop BFF) Rihanna all doing talking head, we heart Katy bits. Even Lady Gaga reluctantly makes a cameo in a scene at the American Music Awards where KP is collecting a special award for being the second artist ever to score five number ones off the same album, ‘I’m smiling under this mask, I’m so happy for you, really.’

From beginning to end we’re in Katy’s rainbow-crazy, Willy Wonka world and we’re constantly told this is her vision, this is what Katy always dreamed of, even way back when she had dirty hair and was in her angsty Alanis Morisette phase. I believe her, I really do, but I was surprised to discover in the technicolour-live segments that Katy really can sing. If she’s never compromised her ‘artistic vision’, then why are so many of her studio tracks so overproduced that she could almost be mistaken any one of her contemporaries? Cheryl might need a bit (a lot) of programming, but does Katy Perry? It doesn’t sound like it. Maybe it’s all part of the kittie-cartoon sheen or maybe that’s just the standard popstar vocal polish these days, but whatever it is, it’s good to see that there’s someone real underneath it all.

* The making of this post involved quite a lot of watching In Bed with Madonna on Youtube as I haven’t seen the film for a while. Bloody hell, HOW many times has Lady Gaga seen it? I wondered…


I was there: Shut Up and Play the Hits at Sundance London last Friday

I haven’t always loved LCD Soundsystem. The first time I heard ‘Losing My Edge’ on the dancefloor at Trash in the summer of 2002 I did though, even if I couldn’t begin to describe what I was hearing. I think I maybe even asked the DJ what it was. When I got the vinyl, I played it until it ran out, its ridges scratched (better to have loved and played your record than never to have listened to it at all) beyond spinning. Then, later, after the first album I kind of forgot about them for a bit, nothing else quite living up to the searing disco purity of ‘Losing My Edge’ (as seen at Trash, below). >>>

They supported Daft Punk at Hyde Park in 2007, on that laser-spliced, electrified, era-defining afternoon, but I barely remember them being there among the robots. I think mainman/mastermind James Murphy was having a particularly grumpy tour that summer.

But then they came back with third album THIS IS HAPPENING. I saw them at Brixton Academy in 2010 and they made sense again – and James finally looked right, permanently and appropriately dressed in a black suit, tie and white shirt. (I also met and interviewed LCD and Juan MacLean keyboarder/vocalist/icon Nancy Whang, the first lady of postpunkindiedance in London in 2009 and talked to her about jumpsuits, djing and electropop.)

LCD invented the New New York. They were the scene, along with the YYYs and all the other 00s bands that made the city cool again, partying across Brooklyn, occupying lofts and warehouses and just plugging in and bringing us everything DFA  Records. With friends like Tiga and Soulwax and The Juan MacLean and Peaches and Holy Ghost! who wouldn’t want to participate in LCD’s ironic, post-indie transatlantic electroclash love-in? But now it’s over.

Shut Up and Play the Hits, the new documentary about LCD’s last ever gig at Madison Square Garden on 2 April 2011 should be going on release later this year around the UK. It intersperses concert footage with an intense James  Murphy interview by American hipster-scribbler Chuck Klosterman which takes place in the weeks leading up to the gig and a bit of the aftermath – the day after the ‘funeral’ as the singer calls it. The gig scenes are spectacularly rendered and it’s refreshing to see an audience actually dancing, crying, jostling and listening to the band/participating rather than just some bored arms stuck in the air taking crappy pictures on cameraphones.

James knows what it’s like to be a crazy music fan – he was obsessed with Bowie and a studied observer of every great rockstar ever. So it’s important to witness on screen the crowd’s worshipful thanksgiving for his own band, who seemingly, accidentally became brilliant.

And the documentary (which Murphy co-produced) will not disappoint the fans. It includes lines like, “’Losing My Edge’ is not a joke, it’s as serious as a heart attack” (Chuck K), James diffidently musing on his failings and achievements, speaking eruditely on the meaning and importance of Cool and finally, sobbing as he says goodbye to the keyboards/desks/guitars/drums that made LCD. Devastating.

The directors alluded to the fact that there will be a full length concert film at some point (this, at around 2 hours is merely a few highlights of an epic live outing) in the Q&A afterwards, but in the meantime, this poetic tribute to the great American band of our generation will just about do.


‘There is only one queen: Madonna’

 

Being a Madonna fan is difficult. You give a lot, you get very little.

I’ve had a few weeks to get to get to know her new album and am thankful for one thing – it’s not as bad as 2008’s Hard Candy. Hard Candy only had one good song on it – ‘Devil Wouldn’t Recognise You’ which sounds like a Justin Timberlake outtake, not a Madonna song (he was co-writer and producer on the track). There was one other, ‘Miles Away’ at which I could sigh and say ‘OK I suppose this will do’ and was good for a sing-song live, but Hard Candy was a contract-filler album, her last studio LP for Warner Brothers before moving to Live Nation so our expectations should never have been particularly high for it.

That means that we her fans have been waiting since October 2005, when ‘Hung Up’ was released, for some decent material from our pop queen. Since then I know she’s been busy getting divorced, moving continents and making a so-so movie, but imagine someone you knew and liked didn’t text you back or ever send you a birthday card and essentially ignored you for SIX AND A HALF YEARS. You probably wouldn’t be their friend anymore. So that’s why many reviewers have concluded that, quite rightly, most Madonna fans are crazy – how else to explain our rabid loyalty and blind love.

The Madonna fan, aged at least 30 and legally adult is not going anywhere. She had her major pop phase 20 years ago and isn’t interested in what’s new on Youtube. What has Lady Gaga got to show her that she hasn’t seen before? Her pop needs are mature; she wants to be entertained, dazzled, go to the occasional concert. She’s not about to replace MDNA in her affections with Katy Perry. Don’t be daft.

Madonna fans are like her neglected pets. Maybe that’s why she’s used the word ‘bitch’ so many times on the new album. Gaga has her affectionately-named monsters but we are just bitches. We are such masochistic suckers. Madonna only grudgingly loves her fans because they’ve made her ridiculously bloody rich. Sigh.

On MDNA it’s clear that she’s not speaking with a British accent anymore. There are tacky treadmill beats, awkward collaborations, sub-Britney dubstep-breakdowns and silly lyrics, but it’s redeemed by tracks like ‘Falling Free’ and ‘I Don’t Give A’ because they sound like Madonna in spite of everything.

The reason that I think that MDNA actually might be a quite good pop album is that my Madonna fan friends each have different favourite tracks and have admired and criticised different bits to me. And so, using this reasoning I will for the moment conclude that it’s not that bad. And quietly wait for some Stuart Price remixes to filter through the internet.


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