Monday, June 25, 2007

Don't Move A Muscle For Thought Activated Television Is On It's Way

For the ultimate in laziness, why not have a colourful and heavy device strapped to your head so that from now on, you can change the channel on your TV just by thinking about it
It is the invention that couch potatoes have yearned for ever since the television was invented. The extremist of these beings will tell you sure enough that to lift a finger and push down on a button on the remote control is seriously hard work. It can damage your fingers, nails and just about any muscle in your body to have to work under such conditions...(?)

So, our friends in Japan have answered the potatoes calling and produced a device that will not just look similar to a crash helmet dipped in paint but will help make those precious fingers and nails just that little bit more safe.

Eastern scientists at the forward thinking Hitachi empire have already sorted out how to embrace the power of thought - illusionists have been doing it for years, so it wasn't very hard for the men in white coats to come up with the technical version. So far, by using this strange device which resembles something out of Dr Strangelove, a toy train can be moved, along with the helping hand of lots of different coloured wires and a near by electrical socket.

They say, it is only matter of time and some more money, that they will be able to transfer that power to change the channel on an ordinary TV.

It is known as optical topography and it can literally read minds - that is to say, it is a hypersensitive piece of equipment which can measure the blood flow to various ares of the brain which is triggered by a thought or an imagine in our minds.

As well as deciding how much blood flows to create a physical reaction of a thought in the mind, the device sends tiny infrared lights into the brain which travel along optical fibres to a computer which then records the actions taken by the brain - the thoughts.

All the computer is doing is decoding a signal from the brain. Each certain signal will determine which channel the person is thinking of, thus the computer will read that code as a certain channel and change it on command from the brain.

Yet, joking aside, this ingenious piece of technology will not only allow people never to get off the sofa again, but computer keyboards will work in the same way. We will be able to think text and have it appear on a screen in front of us.

The real clever bit is that severely physically handicapped people who do not have the ability to communicate by any other means will be able to 'talk' to the outside world. We will be able to know what they want, how they feel and what they think...

Now, that's clever....

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Computer Age Takes It's First Limbs And Soon We Will Have No Backbones

It is a wonder what will happen to the human race over the next thousand years or so. Whilst aimlessly wandering around the Natural History Museum recently (and free, I hasten to add, but not for much longer if the Tories have their wicked way,) and as I strolled passed the giant shape of the largest animal of Earth, the ‘big,-can’t-think-of-another-word, whale,’ it suddenly occurred to me that us mere mortals who are standing upright, destroying the world, will have to evolve yet again and what for this time?

What reasonable notion will jump to the fore, leaving us no choice but to move with the times and change the way we sit and move our limbs? The computer. They may be a part of out past time right now. We socialise on them, we shop, move house, go on holiday and even meet up with old friends and find new lovers, but the human race will have to adapt to our new friendship we have with the QWERTY keyboard and the 15 inch screen. Our back bones will be the first on the list for Mother Nature to scratch off with her eco friendly finger nail, that’s if she has any.

We will be more curved I feel in the way we stand as from now on, we are only going to sit, hunched over a desk for most of our lives. After all, we certainly don’t have to get up and do anything these days. Wait for it, there will be the day when we can pee through a tube so we don’t have to got to the toilet, just in case we miss that vital snore at 2am on Big Brother Live on line. She will also take a good look at our knees, so not only will we be forever peering at the floor, as if looking for that contact lens, but we will permanently be sitting down..

She might even come up with a plan that will mean we will never have to get up again. So what is in store for all these plastic, unreal, Barbie doll types we see flexing their abs on every shopping channel on Sky? Will they finally give in to the yearning of the Pc or will they burn themselves out of existence simply through shortening the 10 second abs down to ‘abs-done-before-you-are’ theme? Who knows, yet I think we can safely see them attempting to take a feel-the-burn class for your fingers. We are heading for that downward spiral into technology Hell if we are not too careful. Cascading through a surge of deeper, darkening Ad words before coming to an abrupt halt at the bottom of the online ocean, stuck forever in the sludgy sands of Google.

It can’t be all as bleak as that, so what can we do to stop our feet healing up and our knees to become permanently locked in a right angle? We can still believe that there is more to our web like existence than a Pentium processor. We can press that circular switch on the tower, and swing round to take a look out of the window. The sky may not be it’s bluest today, but it’s till worth checking out to see if your knees and feet are still working ok….

©m.duffy 2007

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Unsurpassable Mr Barratt...

Starting as a series of short monologues of only eight minutes long first shown on BBC2 in 2000, ‘Marion And Geoff,‘ was a show, through no fault of it’s own, which became mild cult viewing. Hushed and unadvertised, the series was meant to be a time filler in the avant-garde BBC2 evening schedule. Eleven of these short scripted pieces were produced giving us a personal, but brief insight into the life of the unknown cabbie, Keith Barratt.

He first comes to our screens in the throws of a divorce and it is in this, that he represents a state of mind that just simply isn’t normal. What he is actually experiencing is what many of us would give up breathing over - a messy divorce with a wife who mentally abuses him along with her new lover who is possibly the father of one of Barratt’s two children. Sons he adores, yet he is not allowed to visit. Just some of these aspects would have the rest of us seething, bitter and at least, mildly aggressive yet, Barratt is calm, uplifted, optimistic and full of understanding. All attributes, we couldn’t possibly be in this sort of circumstance - this is the key of this torturous comedy. He fills our despair for him with lines such as ‘…if it wasn’t for Marion, I wouldn’t have met Geoff,’ whom he sees as a ‘smashing guy.’ (I hear your screams!) There was something critically exceptional about a certain type of person who can, in an extraordinary way, be contented, unnaturally like the captain of a sinking ship, as it slips into the deathly, icy waters. Undoubtedly, the word, ‘Fine’ has got to be the most misused word in our language. Add another two ‘fine’s’ on top of it and you have the makings of a person contemplating suicide, murder or both. Yet Barratt takes this flippant word and decorates it with flowers and a red carpet leading up to it and even worse - means it.

The camera sits in the same position, (on the dashboard on the passenger side,) and he talks freely at most, yet what holds our gaze is the flickers of realism that sometimes appear in his expressions. Deep inside, he is crying out from behind his iron exterior and throughout his journey of acceptance and understanding, we can see him come across failed attempt after another to see his children. His wife, would, quite frankly have him disappear for ever since successfully turning his children against him. Unknown to Keith, they don’t really want to see him anyway.

So if it isn’t enough that the programme is named after his estranged wife and her boyfriend, our key character bases his entire existence around the two people who have systematically destroyed his life, yet he praises them. We wonder if it was this peculiar, unnatural outlook on the world and it’s failings that lead to the infidelity of his wife in the first place. Not unlike the extreme’s in which Gordon’s Brittas’s wife is driven to by her irritating husband in the BBC’s ‘The Brittas Empire,’ another situation comedy of the early Nineties which featured around the same annoyingly bright character.

Rob Rydon and co writer Hugo Blick gave us perfectly timed pieces that quickly became addictive for the viewer. We found ourselves tuning in every Tuesday night at ten to ten to find out how Keith was, along the bittersweet path to seeing his ‘little smashers.’ (The affectionate and misconstrued term he used to describe his children.) Each time we visited him, like invited, amateur psychiatrists, Keith was sitting behind the wheel of his trusty cab, waiting for his customer of that day. He talked as one would to a friend - a friend who knows the people he is talking about. We quickly drew up visual conclusions as to what these awful people were like. (The other of the show’s producers, the diverse, Steve Coogan appeared briefly in one episode in the second series as Geoff.) We, the cringing viewers, found we wanted to throttle Marion and her bit on the side, but all Keith wanted to do, is embrace them.

The second series saw Barratt in a higher position. Swapping his cabbie licence for a cap and suit, he began working for a wealthy American family and their brattish kid who finds joy in putting down at any given moment, this tormented driver. This time, the show gave us 20 minutes more per episode of excruciating viewing two years after the first pain ridden series in 2003. Before this second shot at the soul took to our telly’s, Rydon reverted to the West End stage to torture the world in 2002 for s short run of monologues. (the second most watched show through the hands of an audience since Derren Brown’s 2006 tour.)

Eventually, the BBC decided that enough was enough, and since Rydon had wanted to close the story before it got too suicidal, the hapless character was given a spoof chat show in 2004. Despite the old cliché of most loved fictional character taken to greater strangulated heights of the showbiz emporium, it actually worked. Only because it wasn’t allowed to run too long. Barratt, the chat show host got to ask minor celebrity couples about marriage, relationships and sex. Only aired in that one year, it ran long enough not for the genuine novelty of the character to wear off into ghastly cheese ridden commercialism.

In Conclusion…

We have never experienced such tortures in a comedy situation before as we do in ‘Marion And Geoff.’ We witness his personal thoughts, his fears, (very few) his feelings for a better future where they can all be happy together (yes, all of them,) but we know this will never be. It is, about as black as comedy gets. We applaud him for his courage against a world that the rest of us would emigrate from, and the
struggle we have with this extraordinary concept of this unique character is the unquestionable force of which we are drawn in by. We are friends with Keith. We know him and agree with him (and hate ourselves in the morning.) We admire his emotionless views and cry out when his situation is laid bare in all it’s unfulfilled despair. He is harmless and it is this, if anything, that we warm to.

Much is still to be learnt from Keith Barratt - as unbelievable as it may seem.

Keith Barratt - Rob Rydon

Written by Rydon and Hugo Blick
Direction - Blick/Steve Coogan/Henry Normal.

Series one - September to November 2000 BBC2 DVD £13.97 on and £15 from the BBC shop.
Series two - January to March 2000 BBC2. £19. BBC Shop.

By the compilation of I and II on DVD from the BBC shop for £26.99.

©m.duffy 2007
Ciao and dooyoo

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Well, Dye My Hair Orange And Call Me Ziggy!

Throughout music history, I doubt there will ever be another artist to will produce the same amount of albums as David ‘dye my hair orange and call me Ziggy’ Bowie.

The controversial and predominately dance album, ‘Let’s Dance,’ was his staggering 23rd album by the time it was released in April 1983. Since the days of strong make up and new romantic themes twenty years before Boy George, Bowie had never ceased to stun, shock and amaze audiences across the world. Taking on various visual characters over the years, the famous of these being Ziggy Stardust and The Thin White Duke, it would have seemed that these guises were now far behind him and that what we saw, standing in front of us in the early eighties was the real man himself.

Notably, the best era of his life, (depending on how old you are) the eighties seemed to open up yet another twist in the extraordinary career of this now sneering, hardened young man from his equally sneering native Brixton. He had already embraced the eras of glam rock and new romantics, both of which, he had literally invented, so the vast stage of dance music was just another challenge to try, and very successfully he did.

Incorporating some of his most powerful compositions, ‘Lets’ Dance,’ was to be the most poignant of his releases during the eighties decade, but it was towards the eighties, that his song writing talents took an awkward nosedive, but only temporarily. However, one could argue that ‘Let’s Dance’ was actually the height of his career and that it was going to be an album that he never quite reached the dizziness of again…

With no actual track listing on either the album cover or the inner sleeve (apart from a tiny list in the corner which only becomes visible at a later date), the album has already thrown you into immediate confusion and at the mercy of it’s artist. (We take this review, primarily from the vinyl release) so, whilst feeling increasingly giddy from reading the disc, whilst it spins effortlessly around on the turntable, we discover the list as follows;

1. Modern Love
2. China Girl
3. Let’s Dance
4. Without You
5. Ricochet
6. Criminal World
7. Cat People (putting out fire)
8. Shake it.

Perhaps the initial strike of worry here is that it only features eight tracks rather a cheat for the purchaser by today’s standards, but this was how vinyl was in ‘the good old days.’ Nevertheless, the content of the album is a pure dedicated moment to the decade that we celebrate so much (we were spoilt with the four hour programme on ‘things that embarrassed you about the eighties’ which appeared on TV last week.) The first track; funky, jumpy and hand clapping-ly exhausting, it is fitting for the awful picture of Bowie on the front cover complete with long shorts and boxing gloves. If this track won’t have you jumping around with leg warmers and a ra ra skirt by the end of the first chorus, I defy that you ever remembered the eighties in the first place. This particular track marked a point in time when music was undecidedly dull and lifeless. We were, at the time, surrounded with synths and electronic outfits, and the sound of the real band with real musicians had faded away, or at least, just on a long holiday, so with the arrival of the refreshing sound of Bowie’s thunderous drum beats and swirling guitars in this album, it was a light relief to hear ‘happy’ dance music again. This particular track was uplifting, and dare I say it, jolly. Released in March 1983, a month in front to the album release, it flew to number one, his fourth in his career so far.

On the other side of the proverbial coin, we had the nest track being, the extreme, sultry subject of ‘Chine Girl,’ a collaboration, originally with Iggy Pop way back in 1977. Surprising actually, when it’s freshness seems almost fitting, musically today, as it was then. It’s back drop, dripping with sex also heralded the very banned video, which naturally, boosted the sales of this as a single even more. Released in quick succession in June 1983, in sat, impressively at number two. With it’s slight slant on an oriental backing loosely tapped out on synths, it was appealing due to Bowie’s super sexed, deep vocals and those infamously darkly spoken words, ‘oh, baby, just you shut your mouth..’ Funny, how the only thing that springs to my mind on hearing his track, is the incredible length of the young lady’s nails! A strange track, that is instancing even if it does feature a guitar solo that sounds incredibly like Chris Rea’s ‘the Road To Hell.’ Nevertheless, it is a track that steals the show on this album.

The slightly more upbeat, Let’s Dance,’ may have you believing that it could be a take on some Black Lace B side with a title like that, but, I found, in my youth that it did nothing to want me to get up and dance. Perhaps I still had, in the back of my mind, the shamefully bad acting of Patsy Kensit on ‘Absolute Beginners,’ where the track, ‘Modern Love,’ came from. However, this track oozes yet more sex appeal which I must admit, never did anything for me since my mother, at the time, with her short hair and striking cheek bones, was stopped in London as asked for her autograph , when she declined, the person promptly told her that ‘Let’s Dance wasn’t that good anyway…’ Enough of that, this track is frighteningly strong in it’s simply drum a compliment and ordering lyrics. ‘Put on your red shoes and dance the blues,’ he shouts, okay Dave, what ever you say. With that gravely voice and a face to match like he has just eaten something similar, you are hardly going to argue…

It would appear that ‘Without You,’ is somewhat disappointing after we are treated to the very best of what is on offer so far. Perhaps labelling the same as a Harry Nilsson record was the first mistake and using the same disjointed beat of ‘Ashes To Ashes’ as it’s opening bar was the second. However, this track is unassuming and inoffensive in that it shows no apparent equality to the previous tracks and dose not wish to stand in the same vein anyway. It is merely a track thrown on in the middle to allow you to go and put the kettle on. Whilst Bowie reminds us that even in his’ old age’ here, he can still hit those very high notes without the request of any sharp implement to the going area.

So, surely we shouldn’t be even more disappointed when we hear ‘Ricochet,’ but we are. Pushing towards the military aspect of Bowie’s, sometimes, compositions, it is disjointed and angular in it’s sound. It is held together loosely by the seems and hangs in the air life a damp shirt on a breezy day. The introduction to a brass section that appear to be playing along to a totally different track does not do the track any more justice that it urgently needs. Please avoid, this track will not have to in the same frame of mind when discovering a dynamic invention…Thankfully this track didn’t even appear as a B side to anything…

‘Criminal World‘, on the other hand, offers a similar theme to ‘Let’s Dance,’ at the break. Since this perhaps is the only good reason for listening to this track, I should leave it there, but I must admit, this track, will irritatingly grow on you after a few plays. It is not actually too bad, and perhaps judging on the excellent of the first three tracks, the rest of the album should have been built up on just these three themes, not unlike The Housemartins’ début album, ‘London 0 Hull4,’ where they took the popularity of ‘Happy Hour,’ and built the entire album around just that one track. It was an immediate success, and I think that’s what Bowie should have done here. These last track show no apparent reason for appearing on this album in the first place. Again, ‘Cat People,’ gathers a little more in the intelligence department, although this is short lived perhaps only on this particular track. It is a short enlightenment to the initially three tracks. Using the same hollowed guitar break as ‘Modern Love,’ this track is perhaps the nearest we get to that perfect fou8nd at the beginning of the album. Pleasantly recognisable as a Bowie classy hit, this track will get your feet tapping again after a long break so far…
Released as a single in April 1982 (strangely a while before the album0 it only got as far as number 26.

The final track on this mixed album is ‘Shake it.’ No, not an early Fleetwood Mac hit or even a remote track by The Swinging Blue Jeans,’ it is, unfortunately rather like listening to ‘Let’s Dance,’ in a minor key. I got the idea, on hearing this track, that Bowie had come to the end of his budget for the album ant they had to come up with something quick and cheaply to finish off the album. The stretched backing which has of course, been pinched from the title track, does not give out any impression of a classy Bowie hit. We can remember the painfully cringing project entitled, ‘Tin Machine,’ which the great man brought to us from 1989 to 1992, and we have, what I consider to be a taster of that right here. Some fairly mediocre backing singers were brought in here to jazz up the dullness of this track, yet they fail to do that successfully. This track appeared as the B side to China Girl.

This album can only be summarised as this; it hangs completely off the success of it’s first three tracks. It would appear that Bowie if far better working alone on a composition rather than allowing a small team of writers to write for him. This comes to the fore in his interpretation of a song. If it is a track that he has given birth to alone, he performs it with better voice, character, and a strong element of perfection and quality. When it is the ‘brain child’ of someone else, it is comes through in his performance. We get to hear both solo work and team writing in this album, and when listened to on a couple of a occasions, it becomes more and more apparent that this is the case, particularly with this album.

‘Shake it, Modern Love, Let’s Dance, Without You and Ricochet,’ - all written by David Bowie.
‘China Girl’ - written by Bowie and Iggy Pop
‘Cat People’ - written by Giorgio and Bowie
‘Criminal World’ - written by Peter Godwin, Duncan Browne and Sean Lyons.
EMI 1983
Produced by Bowie/Nile Rodgers

©m.duffy 2006.

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Glittering Era Of Big Hats And Lots Of Penguins...

Folk rock legends, Fleetwood Mac changed the face of this genre when they applied themselves with the diversities of Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks in 1975. This young, talented, but fairly broke couple joined the group after the bands long, established career with Christine Perfect (McVie) as the only female vocal. Domineering the folk rock world with their bluesy sound mixed in with the sultry, low tones of Perfect up until this time. The Nicks/Buckingham outfit launched the group on a unsuspecting, wider audience allowing the alternative talents of the song writing duo to unfold.

In this album we find the very greatest song writing accomplishments from this English/American band up until the time of its release in 1988. Only a year after the incredible success of their 87 album, Tango In The night, it was a wise decision to launch this greatest hits album with immense gusto on the public. Including hits from their ’white album’ in 1975 which was the debut album for Nicks and Buckingham up to Tango In The Night, it was a quick scan across the years of the full five member outfit. It was also the same year in which the master behind their success, Lindsay Buckingham decided to leave to peruse a long awaited solo career which was only accepted with optimism by a limited audience. We saw the entry of Billy Burnett, son of the legendary fifties swooner, Johnny Burnett, and guitarist Rick Vito. These two well accomplished guitarists appear on the inside cover photograph with the remaining members of the Fleetwood Mac. It was a brief union with the two young men and after a tour, Fleetwood Mac went through a transition where they came to realise the great gap in their creativity was the unusual, and departed, Lindsay Buckingham.

Presented in no chronological order, these tracks skim over the very tracks that paid their bills. The highest ranking singles of that period are all here, although many Fleetwood Mac followers, myself included, would argue that their very best and most imaginative work is very much absent.

Perhaps, and I say this with in trepidation, the first track we hear on this fairly standard album is the very over rated ‘Rhiannon.’ Marked in history as the single with the most haunting sound of Nicks’ croaky and witch like voice, it failed in my mind to have any lasting effect. I would have preferred to have seen the appearance of ‘Gold Dust Woman’, from the ‘Rumours’ album. Firmly seating itself along the bench of mysterious, tribal drum based singles, it is still a favourite amongst Fleetwood Mac fans. Released originally in March 1978, it was not surprising that it failed to make any indentation at the time. Failing to even make the top forty, it now only has come into its own in recent years as being probably one of finest of Fleetwood Mac tracks. With it’s unmistakeable guitar riff at the opening, it reveals a tune that couldn’t possibly be mistaken for anything else. For anyone lucky enough to have witnessed them live, it was a chance where Nicks would perform the most gliding of dances across the stage covered in floating scarves. A trade mark which caught in quickly with the help of this record.

Undoubtedly, the most optimistic, feel good record by any artist in the twentieth century was ’Don’t Stop.’ Lyrically born out of emotional break ups and fraught tensions among the members at the time, it appeals to anyone wanting to cheer up and look forward to better things. Fast, catchy and most sing able, this track it a welcomed relief after the minor keys of the previous song. Led, vocally by Buckingham, he wasn’t the world’s greatest singer, however, he could put his entire being into a song and chant it with vast amongst of energy and strength. It is just merely his vocals on this track that are endearing, fascinating and so full of happiness and hope that keep this jumpy, finger clicking track timeless and ageless. Even in the event of it failing to crack the top thirty in April 1977, it was uplifting enough to stay on our minds for decades to come.

The equally forward thinking, ‘Go You Own Way,’ follows in hot pursuit on this album, continuing in a happy theme. It is just as vibrant and glowing in its musical anthem. Very much, lyrically in the ‘it’s over’ subject, it still holds us in that bright light of joyful wisdom. Stronger in lead, Buckingham sings a more powerful melody and the great agile chants are only left to the chorus. Including a spiralling guitar riff at the break, it is as definite and conclusive as its subject. Strangely, we remember that back in February 1977, we didn’t think much of it. Scraping into the top forty as if no one was looking, it failed to amuse us enough to buy it. We find this hard to believe as this track, again, marks the dignity of the band as well as proving themselves to be craftsmen and professionals at their work.

Winding down, we now take a glimpse at the strong vocal led album, ‘Mirage’ released in July 1982. The face of Transatlantic music was changing rapidly and this album showed us the path that Fleetwood Mac chose to follow. This track is a predominant piece of vocal led harmonies that was the very basis of the ‘Mirage’ album. The thunderous instrumental qualities had been dropped, albeit briefly. In this track we find another side to the band. Not only were they all accomplished musicians, individually, but they could also come together with immense tight knitted voices and use themselves as the back bone of a song. ‘Hold Me,’ was, in verse, a strong yet soft union of the voices of Buckingham and Christine (Perfect) McVie. Woven together like voices of Siamese twins, this track is light, airy and laces electronic keyboards with acoustic guitar. Released in July 1982, it surprisingly failed to enter the chart successfully despite it’s unique production and perfectly formed vocal performance.

Another of their ‘hits’ (and I really can’t stand that word) is ‘Everywhere,’ taken from their 1978 Tango In The Night album. Led by Christine McVie, her voice was just soft and graceful enough to carry this whispery tune. Atmospheric and mysterious, this track epitomised the essence of the Tango album. A slight right hand turn for the band musically, it transported the band firmly into the grasp of the young set. Released in April 1988, it towered over all at number four. The highest position for the band since the arrival of Nicks and Buckingham. Dressed in swirling keyboards and a messy backing of the band’s vocals, it is unlike anything ever heard before its release.

Nick’s, ‘Gypsy,’ seems bland in comparison to the rest of this album so far, but as it sinks into our ears, we realise that it was just as much a atmospheric and polished piece as the others. Nick’s crackled, country sounding vocal was as mysterious and as ‘Celtic’ as the subject matter. She brought to the band her ballet styled glides of dance to the stage and her fascination with witchcraft, fairies, ghosts and anything magical entwined her song writing capabilities. The musical backdrop was always just as fitting, as with this record. Released in September 1982, it sat at a miserable number 46. It was a pity but the public weren’t quite sure how to accept this occult style of song and sound.

Probably the best track on this album is the inclusion of a very little known song. ‘As Long As You Follow,’ is led again by Christine who is in haunting heaven. This track bathes you in dreams and relaxes you with its soothing slide guitar giving it a touch of country and at the same time, it will dip you in melted chocolate. Allow this track to lap you with the waters of gentleness. The backing arrangements of the rest of the band’s voices will make you think that they quickly invented surround sound and multiplied vastly over night. Soft and sincere in its subject, it is a moving piece yet inoffensive. It is Fleetwood Mac proving to us that at the time of this albums release, they could till pull a brand new rabbit out of the hat with ease. Released in November 1988 with an exceptional live cut of the rock anthem, ‘Oh Well,’ as it’s B side, it climbed rather pathetically to number 66. Not fitting for the Yazz filled charts at the time of the late eighties, it fell on deaf ears. It is within this set on this album, that it truly belongs and nestl4es in cosily very well.

The slightly up tempo-ed ‘Say You Love Me,’ is a quick jaunt back to Christine’s days with Chicken Shack as the feel of this song is very much the same, (pre Fleetwood Mac for this singer/song writer) this track has been taken from the ‘white album,’ of 1975. Stripped of all puff and fluff from the other tracks, this is certainly dated in its production yet it still stands the test of time as a song in itself. Piano based, Christine is at the keyboards and leads both the lead and the backing vocal. Slightly folksy, it is a camp fire song, with lots of swaying and joining in. Simple in its subject, it is far from the same in its quality. Chirpy and reluctant to give us any more than it has to, it is a pretty, for want of a better term…Released in November 1976, it only managed number 40. All of these flat positions will come to the listener as a massive surprise. It will also make you wonder how on Earth this band ever became as big, internationally as they did…

The boring, whining ‘Dreams,’ appears next, and one can’t help but remember back to recent days when The Corrs literally took this song, ripped it into shreds and threw it around the studio a few times. Then allowing the bruises to show, they promptly released it as a single of their own. It is still only the very fact that Nick’s vocals of here, a very young, squeaky quality, that we still remark on this track as being ground breaking. Personally, it never did anything for me…In July 1977, it reached number 9, so we must have liked it at the time. All I know is that I was too young to buy records at the age of five….

Dancing our tango, we are thrown forward a decade as we are launched into ‘Little Lies.’ Given the first class vocal treatment by Christine McVie, it is laced with the haunting backing vocal of Stevie Nicks. Full in it’s base drum beat and neatly decorated with tiny bells and dancing keyboards, juts the percussion element in this track was worth an Oscar. It is enchanting and provocative (but not as much as ‘My Sharona by The Knack..’) and it will cast a spell over you in the shape of a tall, lanky Mick Fleetwood shaking fierce looking Maracas and chanting..’you will enjoy this record…!’ Released in September 1987, it reached number 5.

Perhaps the most captivating song of the album is the ever distant ‘Sara,’ (pronounced, Sarah) This track it a strong tribal drummed theme that grows ever more cloudy and mysterious as the song continues. Stevie’s young, gypsy voice is swathed in soft, whispered backing vocals led by Buckingham who was a man who could do feminine whispers one minute and bear like growls the next. Stevie’s voice trails off to much that you actually feel that she’s walked away from the microphone and ground out of the building. She is practically standing outside in the street by the end of the song…. I jest, but it is hard to capture this track in a simple piece of prose. It is to be listened to for its amazingly crammed in content. Fleetwood Mac very rarely leave any room left for more percussion improvement and this track is no exception. Released in December 1979, it went straight over our heads and landed itself at number 37. Perhaps it had been a little too deep and meaningful for us to really appreciate it.

Perhaps ‘Tusk’ could break the hardened prog rock audience of the mid seventies with a bit more gusto. It certainly worked as we all rushed out to get this tribal motioned piece with its experimental brass section and whirling chants of muttering voices. It all sounds awfully like some extreme Yes piece, but somehow ‘Tusk,’ cut the mark with us. The title came from, apparently, the word that Mick Fleetwood calls his manhood, for want of a better expression! First appearing on the double album of the same name in 1979, it shot straight to number one. Led, creatively by Buckingham, it gave us an insight to the future solo workings of the artist. He had, however, found his experimental behaviour slight clipped in the band, thus prompting his departure in 1988. This track uses the same set up as some of The Beatles working for Sgt Pepper. Creating a back drop of crowds of voices, it chants it’s title at repeated moments. Released as a single in October 1979, it only reached number 6. Still, a piece of creative Mac and still treasured amongst fans.

Ending the set, Stevie gives us a performance that would have also suited one of her successful solo albums. Laced with the atmosphere of the members of Fleetwood Mac, it is still a strong Nicks piece. Most average music fans will find this track too middle of the road and too dull, yet Nicks fans (like myself) will be pleased with its appearance. It engages in the usual mass of swirling noise that became the back drop of the very flat and equally received 1990 album, Behind The Mask.’ This terrible album was about the worst composition that the band had come up with so far. The event of Buckingham leaving was strong enough t o allow the creativeness of the band to come crashing down to the ground. Any decent Fleetwood Mac fan will notice the disappearance of Buckingham in this track. It lacks the punch and the unique originality that Buckingham brought to the band. However, it is fundamentally a Nick’s track. Listeners may feel free to use this particular track as a taste of her solo work if already not experienced.

As with all ’greatest hits’ albums, one gets the impression that you’re actually listening to the band but only listening to the bits they want you to hear. It’s a ’Hey, this was all our good stuff, so forget the bollocks we gave you in between, this is everything we want to be remembered for, and we are strapped for a little cash, so please feel free to buy this, even though our fans will have all of these tracks already…’ It is this piece that I have chanting in the back of my mind when ever I see someone drudging out another hits album. Fleetwood Mac, I guess, for this time, could be forgiven as it was their best release until almost ten years later with ’The Dance.’ It also marked, and celebrated the arrival home of Buckingham and ’Say You Will,’ followed in 2003, just after a …wait for it…another hits album….arrrrgggghhhh!!!!!

In conclusion, it is a record of all their best single releases, but as you can see, those releases didn’t amount to much at the time. Personally, their best work in the 1975 to 1988 period is very much missing. If you could possibly dig deeper into your pockets, then the albums worth purchasing here are the very ones where these songs came from…or for those of you who are lazy and just want a brief history, then you may, buy this one. It will guide you, although, quickly, through the life of Fleetwood Mac….

But there was a hell of a lot more to them that this…….

….But that’s another album…..

Stevie Nicks - percussion/vocals
Mick Fleetwood Mac - drums and general mucking about
Lindsay Buckingham - guitars/vocals and anything he could get his hands on
Christine McVie - writer/performer/pianist and generally nice all round person
John McVie - ex husband of Christine and a fairly good guitarist….

All songs written by Fleetwood Mac
1988 Warner Bros Records

Songs taken from;

‘Fleetwood Mac’ 1975
‘Rumours’ 1977
‘Tusk’ 1979
‘Tango In The Night’ 1988.
Bought on vinyl at a record fair for three pounds, also on CD for six pounds 2001

©m.duffy 2006

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

After The Boys Of Summer...

Don Henley is, of course, better known to many of us as the front man and the voice behind The Eagles. After a ‘Long Run’ of Country rock hits throughout the seventies, the need to spread their individual wings by 1980 had become to great for most of the band. Henley was the most successful of the bunch although a fleeting brush with the law came his way before he could actually get any solo efforts of the ground. A young girl was found drugged in his home in California. He was fined, rather heavily and took some rehab to please the judge. Noticeably, it was a stumbling block in the shape of a thirteen foot brick wall and any solo releases were put on hold until the following year.

Henley was one of five of the members of The Eagles who went on to make solo records. His collaboration with Stevie Nicks with her single, ‘Leather And Lace,’ proved to be somewhat of a trampoline for him. Already well known, he had enough experience behind him to create one of the most successful solo careers from such a big, world wide rock band.

‘Building The Perfect Beast,’ was only his second album release. Reaching an average number 13 in the album charts in February 1985, it appeared that because it had included the biggest hit, ever for him, ‘The Boys Of Summer,’ that it was likely that Henley could have followed this album with something even better. The truth was, that this was about as good as it was going to get for the solo artist and that a reunion with the rest of The Eagles, eventually, was bound.

As it was ‘The Boys Of Summer’ with it’s credited drum machine intro and atmospheric synthesizer on top of traditional modern pop rock managed the same scoring in the singles charts (number 12 in December 1984) as another ex Eagle, Glenn Frey’s ‘The Heat Is On,’ only a month after in January 1985. Frey had produced, in his single, all the optimism and forward thinking that Henley’s hit had very much lacked. There was something rather sombre within ‘The Boys Of Summer.’ It’s desperate theme of man chasing after woman who has had her eyes looking afar all Summer long, is wearing and very much haunting to the listener. The video that accompanied the track was also a little disturbing. It showed a video film clip of a young couple dancing around on a sandy beach while someone watches on a big screen. With it’s effect rather like swooping vultures and knee shaking heights from the tops of mountains, it stays in the mind with an unhealthily image. Obsessive and morose, this track is excellent in its true form and has become one of those classic themed anthems for every year between now and September. The verses tell of the singer watching ‘you,’ and noticing the things you are doing and the clothes you are wearing. In any other situation, it is something that one could be arrested for, yet in a Don Henley track, it is about full on, hurting love and all very one sided. You want to shout at the record player and yell, ‘Don’t bother! She’s not worth it!’

Perfectly edited that this mean song would be the first track of the album. The cover can be seen as a little unsettling as well. A sepia effect photograph shows our man, with arms folded staring straight at the listen with firm, deep seated eyes. Looking older, and not so countrified since his days as a long haired cowboy in The Eagles. He had brought to his solo career and grittiness in his voice and a dirtiness in his songs. This album is harder and more defiant than anything I ever heard by The Eagles. It will entrance you and probably turn you away from The Eagles Greatest Hits. Anything before will just not sound the same. Usually, when a front man leaves a band, he takes the fundamental elements of that band with him. With Don Henley, we hear nothing of The Eagles within his own music. Like The band had just been a dream, we have a man standing before us, presenting us with something that you wonder may have been suppressed for that decade of Country dirge.

Since we have settled back comfortably from the first daring track and perhaps turned the front cover of the record away, we can try now to digest the true meaning behind the words, Don Henley. This next track speaks in a different tone altogether. What we do hear is a little on the shoowop shoowop side. Leaving behind the genre that put The Eagles into the same category as Bob Dylan and Poco. Henley now gives us a touch gentler and more romantic than the desperation of ‘The Boys Of Summer.’ A nice low guitar riff sets that optimistic feel that we so urgently needed. Tuneful and dated in today’s standards, we now get the impression quite firmly on our minds of how old this album actually is. He is now giving us an insight into his own experiences of how to go about romancing a young lady. The usual do’s and don’ts of life. The backing track of ’You Can’t Make Love’s’ ooo’s lightens us and we sway to this delightful rock love song.

Take your partner’s please for this next 80’s fusion of fast rock and roll. ‘Working on the Highway’ by The Boss springs to mind here. Henley strains his voice to octaves that Aled Jones would have proud of. This catchy, furiously swinging track is foot tappingly fun. Jive or Line dance you way around the room, just please remove anything breakable from the room first, like the dining table… ‘Man With A Mission,’ transports us back to that desperate to find love theme again, but in this high in the sky feel, we have to let him off…

Bringing us back down from the ceiling with an almighty bump, we now drag ourselves through the statutory ballad that artist just can’t do without on a standard rock album. ‘You’re Not Drinking Enough,’ will undoubtedly, lead you to drinking heavily just to get through the track. We had ‘Desperado,’ Thanks Don, we don’t need any reminding…. Perhaps he should have given this track to Bon Jovi if you really wanted to do some damage. Even I think Aerosmith stuck their noses in the air at this one. That strangled, Steven Tyler vocal doesn’t suit our Henley boy here. The Stones could have retired on this track, although, I feel ‘Wild Horses,’ was probably the best ballad to drink to for just the enjoyment. This track will just leave you with a hangover before hitting the bottle.

The title of this next track is something we would all agree with. ‘Not Enough Love In The World,’ is the sort of statement one would come out with after drinking too much to frown the sorrows of the previous track. The mood is taken up a notch and we can dry our eyes now for a brief moment. A middle of the road feel to this rock track, that really isn’t the way we would normally perceive as rock. Released as a single in July 1985, the Americans were less than impressed with this flat track. Any Don Henley fan would appreciated it. Other mortals will be bored with it almost immediately.

‘Building The Perfect Beast,’ was obviously a title that Henley was rather impressed with. As the title track of the album and at the same time, it managed to appear no less than twice as a B side to other tracks, he must have felt that it just wasn’t making the grade enough to be a single all by itself. It’s Lord Of The Rings feel to its intro escapes quickly into a hard rock riff. We are suitably impressed until someone decided to plug in that synthesizer and we are left with something that reminds us heavily of Thomas Dolby. The backing vocals, deep and whispered, we get the impression of a factory trying to build a large metal object with lost of heavy stuff and steam. Not a memorable track, even as a B side. Henley’s vocal takes on that successful Glenn Frey theme that worked for him, but not for Henley. The break fills us with dread with those sectioned trumpets and silly vocal sounds. We wonder if Henley had actually thought about this track before recording it. It is distorted and makes hardly any sense. Best to skip this one I think and put on ‘The Reflex’ by Duran Duran instead. The only artist/band ever to make something worth listening to on the same theme was Pink Floyd, which, still didn’t make any sense, but I believe that was the point.

On the same vein, we are now subjected to ‘All She Wants To Do Is Dance,’ but in all honesty, I wonder what sort of dance the ‘she’ is supposed to be doing to this track. Slowish, and heavy going like trying to run through sand, the young lady in question is going to find the funky chicken abit of a handful, which doesn’t leave her with much of an option. Released in the same month as the album, it was probably a poor mistake on Henley’s part. It held no sparkle to be a hit. It failed to do anything in the U.S. Apart from ‘The Boys Of Summer,’ which also managed number 12 over here. None of the other releases from this album failed to make a dent in our charts in the U.K.

‘Sunset Grill,’ sounds rather like an order in a Little Chef. Perhaps it should have been as this track is poor at the first, yet the bridge of the verses doesn’t sound too bad. Henley has been at the depression pills again, well, he has already said it himself, ‘You’re Not Drinking Enough…’ At a staggering six minutes and 22 seconds long, it becomes painful and we are not just talking about those notes that are just too high for the aging vocals of Mr Henley.

‘Driving With Your Eye’s Closed,’ is not something I suggest you ever try, although turning your lights off at night driving through the lonesome lanes of Surrey is somewhat scary. Speaking of scary, this track will not fill you with any promise either. I do believe that there is little to the album that is actually worth the effort. If you adored ‘The Boys Of Summer,’ as a single and never got around to actually buying the single and have always hated yourself for it, then I suggest that this album is a good buy. However, if you just liked the track as an average thing but were curious as to what an album by Henley would be like, then I suggest you try listening to something else. I would recommend, if I may, ‘Inside Job,’ that was released in June 2000, or perhaps, best stick with any old Eagles albums…

‘Land Of The Living,’ is what we will be desperate for when listening to the final track of this album. At least our lovely young girls as backing singers give us a little light relief. However, Henley tries his hand at a touch of reggae which doesn’t fill our ears with too much dread. It’s listenable but not on a UB40 level. The instrumental track is soft and this gives the idea of an acapella theme at the break. Probably the most down to Earth track of the album. Short in length, it would have been better if the whole album had been perhaps on this theme throughout.

In conclusion, I must add that I was a little disappointed with this album as a whole. Henley should be, on our minds, some rock God in his own right, however, with a small collection of Eagles records within arms reach, I feel that I should have stuck these on instead. Henley, may have had a successful career and be better known for his work than the other four who left for solo careers from the band, he hasn’t lived up to his famous name with this album. I guess there is a moral to this album. When having such an explosive hit as ‘The Boys Of Summer,’ then if would have been wise to stick with that old title of One Hit Wonder.

Then, at least you would get a mention throughout the rest of time on Channel Four documentaries…

We breathed a sigh of relief when The Eagles reformed in 1994, quickly releasing the very impressive ‘Hell Freezes Over.’

They , after reuniting, promptly released everything they had ever recorded from the early days.

Building The Perfect Beast 1984
Words and Music by Don Henley, Stan Lynch, Danny Kortchmar, J.D Souther, Mike Campbell and Ben Tench.
Produced by Don Henley, Danny Kortchmar and Greg Ladanyi
Greffen Records
Mike Campbell - guitars/synth/perc.
Steve Porcaro - synth.
Danny Kortchmar - synth/guitar
Larry Klein - bass
Don Henley - drums
Guests appearances from Lindsay Buckingham and Patty Smyth.
Bought originally for seven pounds, Woolworths, 1985
Now available in CD shops for around the five/ten pound mark.

Also on dooyoo 2006
©m.duffy (sam1942) 2006

Friday, June 01, 2007

Taking The Reins; The Embarrassing Truth Behind The Female Mind.

Taking a leaf out of the ancient theory of ‘door kept open’ for material, the largely credited, ‘Smack The Pony,’ did just that. Appealing to the most daring of new comedy writers, this brave sketch show embarked on a journey through the female psyche exposing her for all her foibles, faults and intimate thoughts. Reading through the long, endless list of material masterfuls, is a bit like running ones eyes down a school board of past Sports captains. With the idealists at the helm, ‘Smack The Pony,’ engaged the minds of the audience and endangered lives at Channel Four staff.

Where as female comedy writers had stepped into the safe zone of placing humour on the shoulders of fictional characters, the performers of the ‘Pony’ club threw themselves onto the fire for all to laugh at instead. Life had been a notably safe haven for the inspired writers at the Beeb when a certain Miss Victoria Wood had been on the throne. Casting a wise eye across the set we find the comfortable characters of Mrs Overall and Babs. Although these extraordinary women made us laugh, chortle, guffaw and generally titter at their outrageous and highly amusing scenarios, we still had yet to tread the unreliable waters of our own misgivings. In short - it was only the most sturdy of relationships that could survive an episode of ‘Smack The Pony.’ Yet, wait to be shocked; there were just as many male writers collaborating on this show as there were females…

Setting out on it’s ambitious four year run, the show could only grow from strength to strength and judging by it’s ratings, the spell was already working before the end of the first series. Writers Fiona Allen and Doon Mackichan teamed up with well established comedy actress, Sally Phillips to engage on their stripping of the mysterious female allure. Since these new comers were already attuned to the preciseness of what tight knitted observational humour should entail, they instantly knew how far to go. Obviously to the moon and back, was just simply not enough as their goal was not to shock, but to force the audience to laugh nervously.

Like most comedienne writers of the more recent generation, they have had to rely on a good old wrench up the ladder from someone more well established. Phillips, perhaps the innovator for Catherine Tate’s style of humour, first found herself playing a brief role along the cracked path of Steve Coogan’s ‘Alan Partridge.’ It was also here that Scot girl, Doon Mackichan made her acquaintance with modern humour in the factious chat show. From a slightly different angle, Allen found a great wealth of experience by taking on minor key roles in sketch shows including ‘Goodness Gracious Me,’ and ‘The All Star Comedy Show.’ The show was set to be a platform where these new age writers could simply vent off their diversities for half an hour each week. What actually transpired was to be and Emmy winning cult show from which now, future female writers consider to be one of the most important benchmarks in British comedy history.

What the trio of young talent gave us was an edgy feel to the way we appreciate sketch show comedy. Since the days of afore mentioned, Victoria Wood, the world had come a long way along the A road of observational humour. Where Wood had touched upon an area more inclined to be of a class breaking nature, Allen, Phillips and Mackichan shoved Wood into a ‘Jean Brodie’ Basque and set her out to dry. ‘Smack The Pony,’ had shudderingly dealt with the unspeakable, the inscrutable and the damn well shoved under the carpet. Whilst using the very title of the show as a slang term used in female masturbation, it was fairly obvious (or not to most of us) how far this type of unfelt comedy would intend to go.

After the first series, one could get a feel of the pattern that was being repeatedly used. As a loose tribute to the previous ‘Not The Nine o’clock News,’ the show would end with a mock up of a recent music style of anthem - a running ending snatched by many a comedy show which never fails to delight audiences. Another key slot was a quick firing video shot where the trio posed as women looking for dates - a video dating link in it’s tackiest form. An idea originally conceived by Victoria Wood, in which she, along with other characters posed as members of the public venting a personal niggles on screen. Another link to this sort of ‘on the street’ one line humour was also given ground by university chums, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. In their show, they devised a series of one lines, thrown away by members of the public half way through their interviews. Effective and used to the hilt since Python, roots to any remedy of comic humour can usually be traced back to someone or show which appears totally unrelated. ‘Smack The Pony,’ was, in that sense, no different.

Touching on the very personal issues of what women seemingly experience from time to time, it was not primarily a show for female eyes only. One could almost hazard a guess that there were many a man watching through slatted blinds and frantically taking notes. A lot could be learned about a woman’s mind through the eyes of some serial flaunting cheap gags on the fairer sex on Channel Four.
Something that sounds all too familiar on the channel that taste forgot, even so, ‘Smack The Pony,’ how ever it was taken, was undoubtedly a new turning point for female humour, shifting the pattern for female writers to delve more into the realms of comedy possibility.

Everything was out in the open for thirty minutes each week and the format of this well adjusted show in disguise certainly rolled around mischievously through the fields of modern unpredictability. We were subjected to skits dwelling on the dullness of parties, lousy sex and bad jobs. Each only showing us a few seconds of cringing time, these skits were loving crafted to reveal the truth behind the complexities of the female world. Some held our gaze through the masterful play on words in flittish dialogue, whilst others, silently step over our souls to stamp, whole heartedly on our pride. What other show made us howl like banshees on a thirty second skit of the extraordinary lengths a woman would go to park her car in an empty car park ? Gliding and dancing around each space not making up her mind until deciding on horizontally park across four spaces and walk away without a second glance - perfect visual and factual comedy.

Since the event of such factual genius, the road has laid bare over some considerable time. What seems to have taken shape since has been a reflection back to the good old days of fictional characters in general scenarios. A void seems to have been widened and the future of observational comedy in it’s direct sense is a free for all.

Until then, we have guys in drag, wheelchairs and bondage to keep us amused, well, some of us, at least……

But, there is always Green Wing….

Written by
Fiona Allen
Doon Mackichan
Sally Phillips

First aired on Channel Four 1999 to 2003
The Best Of Smack The Pony can be found at; for £17.99
Kelkoo for £12.99
HMV for £11.99

©sam1942 2007