The Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes film will turn to be good.
It did apparently. Even Mark Kermode liked it. He says so in this video. He hates Guy Ritchie. That's proof enough for me. One mark.
Gallifrey will be resurrected in Doctor Who but the Tenth Doctor will end up regenerating in the process. The next Doctor will be Patterson Joseph.
Gallifrey is back in Tennant's regeneration story. Despite what Philip Rhys said, Matt Smith is the next Doctor. Half mark depending on what happens tomorrow night.
Keisha will leave the Sugababes
This was a joke. I didn't actually think it would happen. But there we are. In recent days, Amelle and Heidi have said that it was in fact they who left the group leaving Keisha alone. But since they're still calling themselves Sugababes as an anonymous commenter at No Rock and Roll Fun characterised it: "I don't see how this counts as unfair dismissal, we didn't sack the guy, we just started a new company and invited everyone except him to come and work for us. Oh, and we kept the same name and premises." Unless they're Sugababes and Keisha can start a group called THE Sugababes. Yes, that would work. One Mark.
The Independent will close or merge properly with another newspaper
The Indy is still going, though they have moved into the offices of the Daily Mail. But since that was already happening before I made this prediction I can hardly take any credit for that. No Marks.
A lost or previously unknown work by Leonardo da Vinci will be discovered
Two. A self-portrait in a manuscript and a painting of a young girl. There was also a portait of the artist by someone else. One Mark. I'm not greedy.
Three and a half marks. Not bad. Which is better than last year.
The Beatles back catalogue will officially be made available for digital download.
Hung parliament at next election, with the Lib Dems gaining real political power (Vince Cable chancellor?)
Blu-Ray "fails". Remains a niche consumer item like laserdisc.
BBC Two's remit changes to something akin to BBC Four, which in turn pushes BBC Four farther upmarket to become even more like a tv mashup of Radios 3 and 4.
Carey Mulligan will be nominated for an Oscar. I hope that hasn't jinxed her chances.
See you on the other side.
Bill Maher might score a few points in demonstrating the disingenuousness of religion, but his approach negates the benefits some people find in devotion and that simply telling someone they’re stupid does little more than strengthen their faith. Also, having gone mercilessly after Christian fundamentalism, Maher pulls punches when approaching the other monotheistic religions. What’s the point if you’re not going to be even handed about it?
Well deserved Best Picture Oscar which in its own way, was, in symbolic terms, the filmic equivalent of the Rage Against The Machine song becoming the Christmas number one. Running in the face of received wisdom that independent cinema set in somewhere other than the US or Britain cannot find a mainstream audience, Slumdog managed to be harrowing and sweet, experimental and conventional and just a damn good piece of cinema.
Did for Roddenberry ’s franchise what the Doctor Who reboot managed in 2005, to be respectful of the past reminding fans about everything they liked about the core concepts whilst simultaneously bringing in an audience that might not necessarily have been too interested before, especially women. It’s just a pity that Paramount have dropped the ball in solidly announcing when the next instalment will be and do we really need to have Khan back again, as rumoured? [full review]
Synecdoche, New York
Has a “debt to the great auteurs, giants like Tarkovsky, Bunuel, Resnais, Fellini and Tati, directors who treated their audience with intelligence and respect with work in which ideas took precedence over explaining the plot and offered a visual contract that asked us to use our own imagination and personal experience to explain the order of events and character motivations. Like Kaufman, they’ve also been accused of self-indulgence which isn’t necessarily incorrect; but everyone with a personal vision is self-indulgent and more often than not the really interesting, surprising work comes when that vision hasn’t been compromised.” [full review]
Vicky Christina Barcelona
“It’s all here, the trademark opening titles (that white on black font over jazz music he’s used since Annie Hall), the abrupt editing, the wordy dialogue laced with poetry and psychological self discovery, a clinical narration sharply revealing the thoughts and feelings of the characters, counter-pointing the apparent reality. It is closer to the art-house style, and nothing like the rather bland Hollywood experience that the blurb suggests. No wonder a couple of teenagers stalked out of the screening part way through.” [full review]
Wendy and Lucy
Spiritually similar to Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne Rosetta and Agnès Varda’s Vagabond, this story of another homeless girl lost to the landscape demonstrating the fragility of life and how, if one of the pieces is removed or doesn’t quite slot into place in the morning everything can fall apart. Though she’ll likely continue to be defined by Jen Lindley, Michelle Williams still continues to work producing heartbreaking little performances like this. When she shouts for her dog, it’s ten times more emotionally authentic and shattering than all two hours of Revolutionary Road.
In The Loop
“She’s very good. She’s about the funniest thing in these American scenes. Not quite The West Wing. Nope still not laughing. She’s good. Ha! That’s better. Who is she? I feel like I should know her. Must in some US tv show. No, can’t be that. (credits roll) Anna Chlumsky … Chlumsky … My Girl!?!” [full review]
Battling with Duplicity as the best Clive Owen film of the year, it’s quite a surprise that this architectural finance thriller hasn’t turned up on the best of lists of professional critics, despite featuring some of the best action scenes in some time (poor MOMA) and a coherently thematic approach to its use of locations. Perhaps we just don’t like to be reminded that we’re simply part of a machine, and that film simply keeps us distracted from knowing that from time to time.
Let The Right One In
Is it this best film of the year? I expect that plenty of critics have decided it must be simply because it’s such an antidote to the bile and chunder they have to sit through on a weekly basis. It certainly kicked me in the gut, and I was impressed by its texture, intelligence and wilful disregard for the norms of genre storytelling, especially in relation to vampirism. But I didn’t come away thinking it was the best film I’d seen this year. Does that make me ungrateful?
Which feels like it was released about ten years ago, which was probably director Gus Van Sant’s intention. The trick to the film is the telling of what could be for some viewers a controversial narrative and frame it in as conventional terms as possible. Some saw that as a missed opportunity, but many scripts and stories have been ruined by experimental direction and editing. Milk is respectful of its subject and that will be its legacy.
Monsters Vs Aliens
One of the year’s disappointments, this 3D digimation demonstrated that decent character design, voice acting and spectacle mean nothing if your script isn’t up to snuff. What the filmmakers failed to notice in attempting something akin to a Brad Bird post-modern nostalgia fest is that in The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, Bird was using the imagery of the then to chat about the now. Making a film rooted in the past is inherently pointless. Only Insectosaurus made this endurable.
Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist
A melancholic reminder that I’m not getting any younger. I imagined a teenager version of me being greeted by Nick & Norah and think it the best film of the year and like the similarly structured Adventures in Babysitting when I was the right age, watching it every week, in and out. Instead, I found some of the music a bit irritating, Michael Cera too much of a cipher and felt slightly grubby for fancying punkish pixie dream girl Kat Dennings. Which isn’t to say I haven’t ordered a copy from Amazon.
Rachel Getting Married
Like attending one of those weddings where you don’t know anyone and despite everyone seeming very friendly, inclusive and wanting to have a good time at no point do you feel welcome. But unlike those weddings, you’re not able to take a break and have walk about outside to test if anyone is actually missing you. So you’re simply stuck there, being alienated by the speeches, the horrible music and the general goodwill which seems to be in short supply just a couple of inches away from your skin.
Most people would look at The Reader and find it an uncomfortable reminder that when the Nazi’s were defeated the vestiges of its network were still threaded into German society. On the other handed I was reminded that I simply don’t read enough books. I’ve now set myself a target of reading at least fifty pages a day of something. Which explains why the reading box in the far sidebar of this blog is changing on a more regular basis.
Like being punched in the ears repeatedly or spending two hours on purpose with the argumentative couple who always seem to sit near me on long distance train journeys. Why the hell would people want to subject themselves to this as entertainment? It’s not thoughtful. It’s not telling us anything new about marriage in that period (certainly not more that Douglas Sirk). It’s just lots and lots of pain and shouting. About the most depressing film released this year.
The problem with simply listing my favourite films of the year is that, as usual, that I haven't seen half of anything which has been released. So instead I've decided, over the next few days, to offer a capsule opinion of all the film I have seen from this year according to the directory printed in this month's Empire Magazine. It should be longer. Let's begin ...
Angels & Demons
Not quite as pantomime entertaining as The Da Vinci Code and mostly consists of Hanks and co running from church to church before the kind of fake out twist M Night would disapprove of. But the anti-matter explosion is Baroquely awe-inspiring and not even Hitchcock developed a suspense sequence based around trying to escape from a malfunctioning library microclimate.
Anvil! The Story of Anvil
It was impossible not be swept along by the sheer injustice of seeing these apparently influential musicians eeking out an existence while their once cohorts continued to have exciting careers. Hopefully the filmmakers continued their association and we'll be able to see a sequel that investigates this mid-level band struggling with their own limitations in the, you know, harsh face of stardom.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Impressed by taking the modern filmmaking techniques in make-up and CGI and marrying them to script and direction with an old Hollywood sensibilities, even if Brad Pitt’s performance as Button mostly consisted of him regressing through his different screen personas right back through Thelma and Louise.
The Damned United
Not knowing anything about football and particularly Brian Clough, I was able to watch this without prejudice and simply enjoy a large collared, rose-tinted study in hubris and friendship which demonstrated that you can never assume anything is permanent because it can all too easily be taken away and that loyalty is just as important as success.
A fairly good demonstration of my theory that any play will work on film if it's shot simply and you use some decent, committed actors (see also Neil LeBute's The Shape of Things). Some criticised its lack of pace and moralistic tone. I revelled in the pleasure of seeing a compelling three-hander that actually gave its participants space to act, the camera resting upon their faces, and which offered no easy answers. Revealed Amy Adams as an actress with some range and depth and a potential successor Streep who, if she’s not careful, will spend the rest of her career playing jagged matriarchs.
Battling with The International as the best Clive Owen film of the year, like Benjamin Button this recalled old Hollywood in its treatment of character, its curious mix of screwball comedy, espionage and unreliable exposition not sitting well with some critics, especially with that ending. I loved it, though the rather prosaic approach to slipping between timeframes grated after a while. Soderberghian wipes would have done just fine.
Fireflies In The Garden
Which I gave twenty minutes of my time before deciding that writer/director Dennis Lee didn’t know how to structure a script, that he wasn’t going to have anything new or interesting to say about families and that it wasn’t worth sitting through the rest. We didn’t need to see the older Julia Roberts in the opening. Better to have her living totally in the flashbacks as a memory; it makes her character more significant. Also, if Ryan Reynolds is your viewpoint character, why cut ahead to his destination?
Feels like it was released about ten years ago, which was probably writer Peter Morgan’s intention. Cleverly turned the interviews into a kind of boxing film, with the build up to the fight, the pre-show sparring and the consequences for loss stacked up against each of the participants. It would be interesting at some point to see Sheen not playing a celebrity or overtly character based role; the idea of seeing him in a romantic comedy has its attractions, not least in imagining who would be his co-star. I suppose Miranda July would be out of the question [full review].
The Girl Cut in Two
Or Sky weather girl Lisa Burke turns up in the middle of Harold Pinter’s Sleuth and starts romancing Larry Olivier or Michael Caine depending on which version you’re watching. An expression of what’s wrong with film distribution in the UK, Chabrol’s film took two year to cross the channel from France. But to be fair the terse characterisation probably didn’t help in trying to package film or the wild vacillations in tone, between May-to-December romance and psychoanalytical pseudo-erotic thriller. Fun.
Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince
Still not as a good as Azkaban and mostly set-up for The Deathly Hallows, this instalment was the creepiest of the series so far, especially the scenes in the swamp and in the retrieval of the memory. Other than the first two, I’ve only watched each of these films once. I’m looking forward to taking in the epic sweep of narrative in one go when the dvds of the finale have been released, watching the kids grow-up into fine young actors.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
In an ideal world, like Woody Allen, studios would be throwing Gilliam money every year to produce a new film, knowing full well that the result will at least be out of the ordinary and different to anything else on the market as a way of demonstrating that they are still interested in funding independent voices. Instead, Gilliam has to scrape around to get the money together, never has enough time, has to deal with studio interference and unforeseeable happenstance which results in films which always just fall short of expectation but you love them anyway. Every single time [full review].
"When "Big Yellow Taxi" appeared, it wasn't because Counting Crows didn't have any ideas. (Though it wouldn't be too surprising if Adam Duritz's pea-sized brain was 85% dreadlocks, 10% water, and 5% actress phone numbers.) "Big Yellow Taxi" exists because the same nation that re-elected President Bush and demanded a sequel to Beverly Hills Chihuahua practically pisses their sweatpants at the idea of a modicum of change."It isn't. It's a fairly inoffensive cover version and which has the advantageous addition of a pop video in which Vanessa Carlton swans about looking like a 70s Sarah Jane Smith ("Eldrad must live!"). They're wrong about this too (Amelle's bit is her single greatest contribution to the band's career). Any list that fails to acknowledge Cowell and his cohorts is incorrect on a great number of levels. But the argument is funny which is why I'm still bothering to post a link.
"This is the Gate Theatre in Dublin. First night audiences are always an experience and in this theatre I faced the very first night audience of all in Dublin, that grand Capitol of eloquence and violent opinion. Where audiences enjoy and delight in the privilege of free speech and you can sometimes hear as much dialogue from the gallery as from the stage itself. Where first nights often end in literal riots and actors have been known to seek police protection from the public they are trying to entertain!"The post also includes an interview with Me and Orson Welles's Christian McKay, whose won plaudits for his imitation of the director.
Update: This isn't missing at all, so he doesn't need to. It was the first one transmitted by BBC Four. Which I'd known if I'd gotten around to watching it already. Here it is on YouTube. The Wellesnet post is a bit confusing because it says that this is the first episode on tv before saying that it's missing. That'll teach me not to read the title of a post. Thanks to Rob for pointing out me idiocy.
1. Where did you begin 2009?
At home. I have up on the new year celebration years ago. Too much expectation leading to too much disappointment.
2. What was your status by Valentines Day?
3. Were you in school anytime this year?
Oddly enough, yes. But only because a friend lives in a flat there now. Or he did. I’m not sure if it’s the past tense.
4. Did you have to go to the hospital?
To pick my Dad up from an eye operation. Cataracts. He can now see far better out of one eye than the other.
5. Did you have any encounters with the police?
Other than asking directions somewhere, no.
6. Where did you go on vacation?
Stratford Upon Avon, finally. Then London, finally. It’s been a busy year.
7. What did you purchase that was over £100?
A DVD PVR recorder. Which has been very, very busy over Christmas.
8. Did you know anybody who got married?
I did. Old work colleagues, old friends.
9. Did you know anybody who passed away?
No one close.
10. Did you move anywhere?
No… but I thought about it, a lot.
11. What sporting events did you attend?
Watched the usual runs about Sefton Park.
12. What concerts/shows did you go to?
RSC, finally. Then the Globe, finally. It’s been a busy year.
13. Describe your birthday.
Worked. Chippy tea.
14. What is the ONE thing you thought you would not do, but did, in 2009?
Stand for an hour on the plinth in Trafalgar Square reading blog entries to an audience of thousands. See also 6 and 12 with an addendum for standing in front of Lord Dudley’s tomb in Warwick.
15. What have been your favourite moments?
Rediscovering myself. A bit. Not enough yet.
16. Any new additions to your family?
Yes. My cousin welcomed someone new into the world.
17. What was your best month?
18. Who has been your best drinking buddy?
The twitterati of Liverpool.
19. Made new friends?
The twitterati of Liverpool.
20. Favourite Night out?
With the twitterati of Liverpool.
21. Other than home, where did you spend most of your time?
Work. I’ll have to do something about that.
22. Have you lost any friends this year?
Open to discussion.
23. Change your hairstyle?
Up and down, in and out. Currenly al-fresco.
24. Have any car accidents?
No, thank goodness.
25. How old did you turn this year?
26. Do you have a New Years resolution?
To be needed.
27. Do anything embarrassing?
Depends on how I’m really feeling about the whole plinth affair.
28. Buy anything from eBay?
Davros: The Collection. It was a third of the RRP.
29. Get married or divorced?
30. Get hit on?
Not sure. That may be a bad thing.
31. Been snowboarding?
32. Did you get sick this year?
Lots of colds.
33. Are you happy to see 2009 go?
Only because it’s another year towards the future. And the idea of next year being 2010 is freaking me out.
34. Been naughty or nice?
Nice. I think. I don’t know how to be naughty me.
35. What are you looking forward to most in 2010?
Watching the film 2010. It’s another sci-fi milestone.
Russell T Davies must have felt a similar preoccupation when writing The End of Time. After five or six years in your dream writing job, master of your favourite franchise, how do you draw a line under your tenure, and as it’s turned out your actor’s time in the title role, knowing full well that the series will continue after you’re gone, with a different writer and different actor? How do you fold the page in this giant televisual game of Consequences having left your mark on the story but beginning with enough of a next sentence that your successor doesn’t find themselves in a narrative cul-de-sac? Give your main actor the chance to do something new with the role? And do it at Christmas with all the tinsel that entails?
Perhaps the braver approach would have been for something quiet, a exploration on what it is to be a Time Lord, a surprising lurch to the subtle. Something akin to clearly best scene in this episode, the exchange between Wilf and the Doctor in the café, in which we finally discover why the Time Lord is so afraid of regenerating. It feels like dying, one man leaving and another taking his place, different face, different personality, same memories. No wonder it’s rare that different incarnations get along. Exquisitely played by both actors, it’s just as effective and affecting as the revelatory climaxes to The End of the World and Gridlock and one of the few moments when we see the aeons the Doctor's spent flying about time and space pushing heavily on his shoulders.
BorusaBut if the past five years have taught us anything, it’s that Davies isn’t about to spread a Bergmanesque meditation on mortality across a whole hour on Christmas evening. So instead, having won every other award on the planet, he decides to put in an entry for the Turner Prize by having John Simm’s version of the Master replicated across every person on the planet eradicating class and society in the process (giving the actor the eerie opportunity of experiencing the scene in Being John Malkovich in which the thesp entered his own mind) and having the fans squee up their turkey lunches by returning Gallifrey to the franchise in the most sign posted plot twist since M. Night Shyamalan decided to spend his career trying to replicate the success of The Sixth Sense.
I clapped. I cheered. I laughed. Yes, indeed I squeed. Regular readers will know that I tend to get over enthusiastic about these Christmas specials and finales in a way that is curiously absent when I sit through the average Hollywood blockbuster, grumbling about the death of cinema. It tends to be a glorification of the madness of what I’m seeing, of the version of Doctor Who in which the Queen or in this case Barack Obama can become a bystander (deal with that Mr Lance Parkin) as some surreal global catastrophe takes hold such as a giant space titanic smacking into the Earth or the planet is hurled through space to become part of an intergalactic game of bar billiards.
Except even in most of these stories, the general format of Doctor Who has gone unchanged. The TARDIS lands somewhere, all hell breaks loose and the Doctor ties things up with a bow at the end before dematerialising. With The Waters of Mars having restated the core storytelling principles in order to shatter them at the climax, The End of Time (part one) wilfully grinds up the resulting pieces, ignoring the format totally in favour of injecting something of the Homeric epic, mythology in the Greek sense of the word, of the audience witnessing events that have already passed, with broad stroke storytelling, third person narration, of man and superman, putting us in the position of witnessing events from the perspective of the Time Lords. We haven't seen anything like this before.
Irving Braxiatel And it works, at least for me, though I can imagine why you’d hate it. It isolates the audience from becoming too involved as we’re essentially watching Gods squabbling over some dirt and a tree. It’s Superman II meets Waiting For Godot, especially since in this case the Master’s resurrection has brought with it the power to fly, shoot laser beams from his hands and the kind of table manners which would make him a winner on Celebrity Come Dine With Me (perhaps he'll be defeated by Chicken In A Can). But somehow it seems right that now the Doctor is isolated from humanity, that the reflection of his story should be too.
The scenes in the dockyard – and how lovely to see the product of a quarry for a change – were truly Shakespearean, with the Master essaying the senility of Lear reminiscing about the old times and the edges of kingdom to a Fool who’s far wiser than he is, Eros Lynn's camera pointing straight into the actors faces as they squabbled in the dirt. Note the similarity with the Doctor’s similar speech about his home planet in The Sound of Drums, but there’s no CG flashback for blondie. Instead, we and the Doctor discover that the constant banging is “real” not a manifestation of his madness, presumably Ron Grainer’s estate banging on the door of Upper Boat looking for their royalty cheque.
But the writer is still conscious of the timeslot and knows that his story has to have a human element even so, and some humour. There’s June Whitfield pinching the Doctor’s bum. There’s Lucy Saxon reaping some revenge on her abusive husband by rendering his resurrection incorrectly (even if, as far as we can tell it led to her own death). There’s Donna milling about in the background being rude and funny. There’s Wilfred finally experiencing travel in the TARDIS, gaping that the size of it. There’s two cactus aliens which seems to have wandered in from The Sarah Jane Adventures who’re probably going to be the catalyst for the resurrection of humanity next week.
Liaison Officer Hossak There was plenty for us fundamentalist continuity clerics. Was the story that happened in the church in the 13th century some new adventure or a back reference? The aforementioned appearance from Obama which puts President Norris from the Virgin New Adventure Warhead out of a job (Davies with a different masterplan to Andrew Cartmel’s in mind). The mention of the fall of Torchwood was a nice touch even if it’s bound to have spoilt the Christmas of Ianto ‘shippers as they’re reminded of the death of their hero. We know Barrowman’s in it next week, so perhaps Gwen managed to send a distress signal before her leather jacket was suddenly filled with the visage of Sam Tyler. Mr Smith and K9 are going probably going fairly mental too.
As the opening half of a story it’s impossible to really say how good it will be until the conclusion (and they missed a trick not including separate title cards for “The End of Time by Russell T Davies” and “Episode One”). The Space Museum looks like it’s going to be quite mysterious until the second episode when I’m convinced you can hear even the floor manager snoozing through events (at least until Mark Ayres restores him out). Similarly it takes at least a couple of episodes (and the application of an eyepatch) for Inferno to warm up.
It wasn't quite the continuation of The Waters of Mars some were expecting with Timelord Victorious bending history to his will as though he has the key to time in his back pocket. But I'm not sure I would have wanted that. His marriage with Good Queen Bess is quite enough thank you. What we're heading for instead is a continuity heavy restating of the Davies approach to Doctor Who and the core elements of his mythology, something akin to Buffy's The Gift or Chosen than Battlestar Galactica's peekaboo. I used to think that the Doctor would regenerate in order for Gallifrey to return from the void. Now I’m wondering if we’re going to witness him destroying it yet again so that he can save time itself. Oh, the irony.
Next Week: “Stop, or the ginger-nut gets it!” or “How did you survive the Divergent Universe?”
Last year, there were gift bargains to be had on Christmas Eve, but presumably because of the facility for early online sales, the department stores have decided to return to the old model of having the "physical" January Sales in January (or as close as odds will allow). Which means, along with the snow, this has been one of the most traditional run ups to Christmas in years. With the exception of British Home Stores, none of the big in-shop sales have begun.
Which leaves the special pop-up BHS Christmas shop in Clayton Square with something of a dilemma because what do you do if you've managed to discount and sell out (or sent back) of all of the stock which was the reason for your store's very existence? Stepping beyond the cheap cards, crackers and novelty items, the shopper is greeted with this sight by way of an answer:
Pillows. Rows and rows of pillows. Three quarters of the shop, rack up on rack, mostly all the same and as pictured. For the few moments I could stand to be in a space that was sucking the sound out of the air, I watched shopper after shopper entering this slumber zone, offer a bewildered look and make their way back for the front door. Not too long ago (perhaps a few years) I (for some reason) was advocating a shop that simply sold one item for a week and then went on to something else. I was an idiot.
The lack of proper sales didn't stop me from my usual ritual of buying something in the afformented music shop with a sometime dog logo, this year Juno on dvd for £3 and the Children In Need single. No, not that one. All You Need Is Love by Bandaged ...
... which in the tradition of these charity records, throws up a zeitgeist exploding juxtaposition, in this case Paloma Faith (who's ace), one of the Corrs, Heather Small and plenty of blokes from Peter Gabriel's generation including Peter Gabriel himself, many of whom were in the same studio at the same time. But it's really entertaining and for a good cause and at least I feel like I've done something charitable this Christmas.
Join them as they board Tommy Boyd and Bonnie Langford’s Saturday Starship for a galactic quest to the planet Arg! Along the way, there’s an even more heightened mix than normal of appalling acting from your hosts, and cosmos-class features. Including...
The universal premiere of the Blake’s 7 theme plus lyrics, and an assessment of what actually makes a successful TV sci-fi theme song. Jon P’twee is defrosted to file a video game review, space buskers are given short shrift, and the space Monopoly board game is brought out for a thorough working over. There’s also the Davidson Dossier – new and exciting information about the Fifth Doctor; a look-back at Captain Zep: Space Detective; plus an exclusive peep ahead to this year’s Dr Who Christmas special… and a fleeting visit to Steven Moffat’s bedroom. Finally, there’s a guide to winning The Adventure Game, which culminates in a senses-shattering showdown on Arg!
As ever, while I trying to find the end of the cellotape on the roll, I watched Ken Branagh's film In The Bleak Midwinter. I've forgotten when I decided to make it a tradition, but it must at least ten years now and each year I see something new, or it effects me in different ways. I blubbed a bit this time, during the scene in which Vernon tells Molly that he doesn't mind selling tickets because he "likes being needed". I'm not feeling very needed myself lately. I'll have to do something about that. New year's resolution.
Clearly, Doctor Who's best moment this decade was returning to television. Believe it or not, there are still some fans who consider it the nadir, either because they don't like the way that it's developed under Russell T Davies or because they miss the small community nature of fandom as it was earlier this decade. They're wrong. The franchise thrives through its popularity and would otherwise have withered within a few years.
The departure of one of the franchises most unsung of companions, Charley Pollard, who travelled with the Eighth Doctor for the first half of this decade was a head spinner. The Edwardian adventuress’s tenure came to a close with Alan Barnes’s audio adventure The Girl Who Never Was. For reasons too complicated to describe here, at the close of the adventure the Doctor thinks Charley has left him voluntarily, and we’re led to believe she’s dead. For loads of fans that’s how the story concluded. Except for those of us who actually like the David Arnold mix of the theme and listened to the end, at which point we were greeted with a coda in we discovered Charley alive but marooned in the 51st century. A distress signal which is answered with the sound of the TARDIS materialising. The door opens. She gleefully steps inside but she’s actually been rescued by the Sixth Doctor and the adventures continue. Companions have often returned for adventures with a later incarnation (Sarah Jane Smith and ...), but this was the first time (I can think of) one had stepped backwards in relative time, with the added twist that she couldn’t tell this unfamiliar version of their collective future.
When the new series was announced and that it would be produced in Cardiff, my first reaction was to book an overnighter to the city. In other words, I visited the locations of the new Doctor Who and later Torchwood before they’d even been used, stood above the time rift even before Russell T Davies had decided where to put it. The excitement within the city was already tangible. I remember sitting in a coffee shop and listening to a barista talking about a job he’d been offered playing an alien because he’s tall “in some new series which is being film in Cardiff later in the year” and thinking what a good location Cardiff Castle would make (which it did eventually). The only problem is, like the people of Cardiff, it can be a bit difficult to suspend your disbelief when you see a street which is supposed to be doubling for some part of London, like the shopping centre invaded by Autons in ‘Rose’, when it’s quite clearly in South Wales.
Taking up more space on the shelf than is necessary and falling to bits just four years later, the first release of season one of the revival was in the slightly squat shape of a TARDIS which opened up to reveal the console room inside. Some fans complained that when it was sent through the post, the discs fell out of the inside and scratched and others that it gave them an uncomfortable reminder of the police box shaped tin that Trial of a Timelord was supplied in on VHS. But the fact that it existed at all just a few years after even the prospect of a new television series looked like a myth made it incredibly special. Plus it’s a useful place to store some of the tat which has been given away with Doctor Who Adventures comic.
Wait, what, how long?
Some of us have quite a soft spot for The Infinite Quest, the much maligned flash animated adventure which appeared in three minute chunks during kids show Totally Doctor Who during the revival’s third year. An episodic faff around the four corners of time and space, it recalls those classic stories in which the travellers would pitch up in a different location each week, but with an umbrella story governing their hippity-hopping, in this case stopping a manic space pirate Balthazaar from gaining an powerful jewel. Very much for kids, it still has some lovely Doctor and Martha moments, not least at the close of the story when the timelord explains how he managed to escape the clutches of the space prison Volag-Noc, then spent the next three years reforming it. Martha registers surprise and then it’s gone. It’s never been referred to since and it renders his big speech in Christmas story with Kylie, The Voyage of the Damned, inaccurate, but it’s a wonderful demonstration that for the Doctor, time is relative.
There have been a fair few gauges as to how the popularity of the new series has exceeded expectations, but there’s none more extreme than the idea that six million people would tune in for a special episode of Doctor Who Confidential broadcast at tea time on a Saturday to reveal who would be following David Tennant in the role. In the past this was the kind of information that would have sneaked out in a press release and an interview with shots of a press conference at the end of the nine o’clock news. Yet here we all were, out hearts thumping through a lengthy description of all the previous regenerations with Russell T Davies saying some nice things about Paul McGann before Matt Smith’s face filled the screen to be greeted with a collective “Who?” from the uninitiated and smugness and glee from those of us who’d bothered to watch the (swiftly repeated on BBC Four) Party Animals the year before.
I was in Sheffield Christmas shopping today and while filling out a form and handed over my debit card somewhere as collateral for something I was borrowing the following exchange occured:
Her: "You've come a long way."
Me: "Yes. There's not much snow in Liverpool and I decided I was going to see some this Christmas I'd best travel."
Her: "That's nice."
Me: "Everywhere you look in the Penines it's like a christmas card."
(pause for admin. then:)
Her: "I'll resist the urge to ask for two forms of ID because you're from Liverpool."
At first I didn't register what she'd said and continued the joviality. Then I thought about it for a minute and noticed the look of thunder on her colleagues face. Then I realised what the implication was. I was angry. But there wasn't much I could do. This wasn't the kind of place where you could make a scene. Also, having travelled all that way I just wanted to go into the place I was visiting and see their wares so I continued to be jovial like a chump, even though Jimmy Carr had suddenly walked into the room.
Me: "I'm leaving now ..."
Her colleague gave me a customer experience questionnaire and sheepishly asked me to fill it in. The woman then said as though to suggest the kind of thing I might be writing down:
Her: "The staff were rude to me..."
Me: "Oh yes, I'll be passing this on..."
Still jovial, but in such a way that they couldn't quite tell how serious I was being because I didn't know what to do, I carried on with my visit. It's disheartening to know that there are still some parts of the world were people think, at least initially, that it's perfectly reasonable to make jokes about Liverpudlians all being thieves actually to our faces and in a customer service environment.
And before anyone says that I'm overreacting, I do tend to have a thick skin for these things. But try changing the content of what she said to something even more derogatory, and imagine if it wasn't me but someone really sensitive who'd been standing there. I was embarassed. And it probably spoilt the visit because I had "it" and my own reaction to "it" at the back of my mind.
(EPIC BANTER FAIL) and probably (EPIC CUSTOMER SERVICE FAIL)
"This year has seen a bit of a sea change in the way music is offered and distributed to the public, and Rage’s victory shows that clearly. It was not available to buy in the shops, and had not been re-released by Sony. It was a song that went to number one because people wanted it there, and the fact that it has made it the top slot today could send marketing departments in record companies worldwide into a panicked spin. What do you do if your carefully concieved, hideously expensive campaign to push the next big thing to the top of the charts gets shoved aside because some scrote with a Facebook campaign decides it’s time Mr. Blobby made a comeback?"Only to add that the irony of both acts being at Sony meant nothing to me. What better way was there to show Sony the error of their ways than to present to them one of their own, more authentic acts? Meanwhile, PopJustice apologises for their very existence.
"The mention of Marley's funeral brings me back to the point I started from. There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. If we were not perfectly convinced that Hamlet's Father died before the play began, there would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a stroll at night, in an easterly wind, upon his own ramparts, than there would be in any other middle-aged gentleman rashly turning out after dark in a breezy spot -- say Saint Paul's Churchyard for instance -- literally to astonish his son's weak mind."It's in the midst of the opening section in which the author is making it clear that Scrooge's old partner Jacob Marley is dead and died before the story began, should the reader, or more specifically the Victorian reader less schooled in fantasy elements, suspect that Marley's Ghost could be anything other than an apparition.
Invoking Hamlet Snr cleverly reminds the reader of another, very famous and at the time still very accessible example of a ghost to prepare them for what the text is about to throw at them. It's rather like Back To The Future being cited in Doctor Who's The Shakespeare Code to explain how time travel works.
... she's never been out of work, but never quite managed to break out into being a household name, spending most of this decade playing someone's girlfriend or best friend, despite her vivid looks and range. She will be missed.
Note: This is by no means a complete list. No pasta. Or cake.
Wagamama’s Chicken Ramen.
The Loch Ness of noodle dishes in that you’re greeted with a giant expanse of murky liquid with vegetation floating in it and every now and then some meat bobs to the surface. This soup comes in a giant salad bowl and is exactly as Johnny 5 from Short Circuit might say, it’s a meal in itself. You have to drink the soup (starter) to get to the chicken and greens (main course). Comes with a giant wooden spoon and is great fun to eat. I always use a fork. Chop sticks are fine, but with food of this magnitude you need a heavy lifting implement to work through it in reasonable time.
Costco’s Aberdeen Angus Sirloin Steak.
I don’t remember when we stopped eating Turkey on Christmas Day but for as long as I remember my Dad’s cooked us a steak. At the turn of the decade we began to buy these from Costco, massive things. They looked like someone had simply chopped the cow into slices sideways and removed the bones. One of my old pen-friends visited in 2000 and her eyes popped out of her head at the size of these pieces of flesh that nearly filled the plate and she stopped contacting me not long after. I’m sure the two aren’t connected but you can never can be too sure. The size has diminished over the years (have to stay awake for Doctor Who) but Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without masticating one of these dripping with horseradish during the Queen’s speech. I suspect all of my vegetarian readers have just unsubscribed on mass in disgust.
Chicago Town’s Edge To Edge Miami Meaty Pizza.
I’ve had a long disastrous history with frozen pizzas. My favourite ever supermarket pizzas were the fresh discs supplied by Morissons during the 1990s, particularly the SupaDupas which came on a whole wheat base and covered in mushrooms. Since then I’ve tried all kinds of varieties but none of them have quite matched this bit of magic which, even if it's straight from the freezer, manages to cook all of the way around and right through evenly. It's moist, it's tasty (if a bit salty) and most importantly it matches the box. It might not have much to do with Italy, or Miami for that matter, but for the price it does the job and does it well.
Pan du Chocolat at the Musee d’Orsay Café.
I’m sitting in the café. On the table before me are an espresso and pain du chocolate, and they are all I can smell. Around me people are talking in a din of different languages. A Japanese girl is placed on the table almost but not quite opposite to me. She has brought an espresso as well. We smile at each other, and we share a few words: ‘You alright’ Yes.’ ‘Japanese?’ ‘English?’ But it’s obvious that is the limit my Japanese and her English so we sit in silence. I'm reading the English version of the guide book; hers is all in Japanese. Different versions of the same book. I put my book down and start to eat the pain. I can tell she is intrigued by it, so I pull off a chunk, making sure there is some chocolate and offer it to her. The girl takes it gladly and smiles giddily after eating. She tries to say thank you but can’t, so I just tell her she’s welcome. When she’s finished that piece I give her some more. We sit in silence just looking at each other, until our coffees are gone. We shake hands and go our own ways.
Necterines, tangerines and related citrus fruit.
Vying for supremacy with apples as my fruit of choice. This decade they joined the list of items which mean that I can’t completely prove within myself the non-existence of something contributing to the natural order of things and stuff. I’d be an agnostic if even agnostics could decide what that means (the wikipedia entry is a mess). It’s both a tasty food and a drink and is held together in a skin which means that it doesn’t leak its sticky liquid all over the place, which is probably how predators view everything below themselves in the food chain, but unlike an elk or zebra, a tangerine isn’t likely to make a futile bid for safety. About the only citrus variety I’ve never quite been able to understand is the bitter taste assault course of the grapefruit. Why do people do that to their mouths in the morning?
Henry Moon’s Game Pie.
My meal time experiences in Stratford-Upon-Avon were variable at best, largely because as well as detox my mind from the internet I decided to try and eat lots of healthy salads. That lasted until the Wednesday night. By Thursday I was desperate for pie and the Phyllius Fogg of the culinary world was on hand with this new taste. An oval dish filled with birds of a flavour I couldn’t identify, gravy and topped with a mountain of mashed potato but unlike similar dishes even when I thought I’d decimated the flesh, another piece appeared from underneath an onion. It tasted familiar and yet not at the same time and I was glad I was only drinking water with it so that my tastebuds could savour the culinary vacation they were experiencing. When asked all I could muster was “Lovely, thanks” which was understating things a little bit. In the donchyouknow parts of the world this is probably average, but for a mouth used to a frozen shepherd’s pie from Asda this was paradise.
Warburtons Seeded Batch Loaf.
A surprisingly disingenuous bread, despite its browness the Warburtons Seeded Batch Loaf contains about forty calories more per slice that their leading blue pack medium sliced white bread. It’s presumably because of all of those seeds which are surprisingly fatty. So although I originally began buying this for health reasons my addiction has stretched beyond that into actually risking my health by eating brown bread. Intensely versatile, it’s like flat toastable museli and there aren’t many toppings it doesn’t enhance. It also has the shelf life of nuclear material, toastable for at least two weeks after purchase. About the only drawback, if you’ll excuse the graphic nature of what I’m about to say, happens at the other end. Sesame seeds and barley do not digest very well at all.
Everyman Bistro’s specials board.
Or anyone’s specials board. The idea of the specials board appeals because of my acute inability to make up my mind about anything. It’s frankly much easier if someone makes it up for me. Just ordering whatever is on the specials board (unless it’s fish related) takes away the arduous j-word through the menu and the mental paralysis which inevitably follows as I simply don’t know if I want it with chicken or beef, what sauce or even if I want mousaka when the lasagne sounds so nice. The game pie listed above was a “special” and look how well that turned out. Soup of the Day is a particular joy because it focuses on a single food stuff and then tells you how it’s going to taste. Some day, someone should experiment with a restaurant were the indecisive patron can simply order “pizza” or “curry” and be happy with what they’re given. Culinary free will is overrated.
"The original plan had been for Bowie and Crosby to sing just "Little Drummer Boy." But "David came in and said: 'I hate this song. Is there something else I could sing?' " Fraser said. "We didn't know quite what to do."Or see the performance looped all day on television. Or on repeat in every city centre shop.
"Fraser, Kohan and Grossman left the set and found a piano in the studios' basement. In about 75 minutes, they wrote "Peace on Earth," an original tune, and worked out an arrangement that weaved together the two songs. Bowie and Crosby nailed the performance with less than an hour of rehearsal."
"And that was almost that. "We never expected to hear about it again," Kohan said."
Sisters of the Flame: "Let’s be honest, this is really a sisterhood in the Alicia’s Attic sense of the word – we only hear from two of them, with Olsson joined by Nicola Weeks as Lucie’s initial abductor Haspira (who’s just one vowel away from sounding like a Paul Magrs creation). I particularly appreciated the back reference to Tom and Paul's underscoring of the subtle differences between the two of them."
Vengeance of Morbius: "It’s a bit of a mess, but endearingly so."
Ambiguously all the announcer gave us at the end of the second episode was a "wait and see" and a trail for the Christmas tv special so lord knows when and if the next series will be broadcast. But rest assured etc.
Wittengenstein's Poker by David Edmonds and John Eidnow is a forensic analysis of a truncated but still legendary seminar in 1946 at Cambridge University between two great philosophical minds in which Ludwig Wittgenstein seemed to threaten visiting speaker Karl Popper with a red hot poker when the latter had the audacity to challenge the former’s ideas.
Evidently Karl saw Wittengenstein as his nemesis and the meeting as the defining moment of his career, whereas for Ludwig this was just one of dozens of similar evenings and simply wasn’t in the mood for the upstart visitor, who continued to see himself as the winner of the encounter even though Ludwig was known for his temper, known for waving things about and for leaving sessions noisily and unannounced in the middle.
At first it’s difficult to understand why two grown men would argue over something like the meaning of a sentence, but then as Edmonds and Eidnow begin to explore their Jewish heritages and the experience of their families in Vienna during the annexation by Germany, we're reminded that people have gone to war for much less and at least Ludwig threw the poker back into the fire before he did any real damage other than bruising a few egos.
Writing in a quasi-academic, generally accessible style, the authors are at their best when attempting to filter the truth of the ten minute incident from contemporary accounts including Popper’s own unreliable autobiography. If the book isn’t as lucid when describing the philosophical underpinnings, it’s because the work being carried out in that period has drifted into the realm of self-evident truth, underscoring the importance of the encounter within the intellectual history of the country.
Apart from the swearing, the best bit, as they're being faded out, is Shelagh Fogarty saying "We asked them not to and they did it anyway". Clearly forgetting:
(a) They're called RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE and
(b) The lyric is: "FUCK YOU, I WON'T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME!!"
The sad thing is, in this media saturated world, this is the modern equivalent of The Sex Pistols vs. Reg Grundy on Windmill, but all the BBC needs to do is issue an apology and neither Campbell or Fogarty will lose their jobs. As if more proof were needed that swearing has lost the power to shock.
Presumably that's the doodle Google will use if they ever decide to commemorate the birthdays of Timothy Leary or Hunter S Thompson. Incidentally, "Google's Accredited Pharmacy" is hosted at Yahoo!
For your six pounds (five for OAPS), you're given four revolutions. On the overcast day we were gifted it was difficult to see too far onto the horizon, but like visits to the Anglican Cathedral and Restaurant towers it's a chance to see the city from unusual angles, the difference being that those angles are forever moving. Spend too long looking in one direction and you've missed something interesting on the other side. You need the multiple trips so that you can focus on a different window and the roof related revelations it yields. I've flickr'd the photos I took:
Afterwards we visited the nearby Wagamamas for dinner. By the time we'd finished with the noodles night had fallen and I was blessed with seeing the wheel in its full majesty, the geometrics all the clearer. Firstly, reflected in the restaurants opposite:
Like the London Eye, it's dominating the skyline. Stand at the top of Hardman Street at night and the lights can be seen above the building were the old golden Kismet restaurant sign used to be at the bottom. We can see it from our flat, in the distance peaking above the cathedral. If like the London Eye or the wheel in Manchester it's to become a permanent fixture, it'll be a welcome contrast to all of the other verticals and curves that make up the redevelopment of the city's waterfront.
"Mostly they were middle of the range hacks who were not going to go on to do much else. Over 26 years, the hitrate is not high enough. There are people who have worked on Doctor Who and gone on to great things, like Douglas Adams. I just think most people thought this was going to be the big moment of their lives, which is a shame. As a television format, Doctor Who equals anything. Unless I chose my episodes very carefully, I couldn’t sit anyone I work with in television down in front of Doctor Who and say ‘Watch this’."... in 1995. He's since become slightly embarrassed about this.
Some of the best Doctor Who adventures this decade have torched the usual format in an attempt to do something different, something other than the TARDIS materialises, the Doctor overthrows an oppressive regime/repels alien invasion/causes some history to happen, the TARDIS de-materialises. There have been musicals, reality tv parodies, stories set in single rooms, that happen backwards or repeat themselves or take place solely in the form of emails. Here are three of my favourites:
So why was Blink voted the second best story of all time by Doctor Who Magazine readers? It’s certainly as atypical as some of the other adventures on this list, in that the Doctor has precious little screen time and we don’t see the climax to his side of the story. You could point to Steven Moffat’s writing, the willingness to text the audience’s ability to comprehend the complex narrative pinioned around a pre-destination paradox and the poetry of the dialogue (“I have til the rain stops.”), the strength of characterisation particularly in Sally Sparrow who within her forty-five minutes is just as interesting and strong a figure as the Doctor or any of his companions. There are the performances, far more naturalistic than we’re used to in the revival with Carey Mulligan’s understated deadpan a refreshing change from the heightened emotions seen elsewhere. The imagination fuelling story happening on the fringes, of the Doctor and Martha trapped in the 60s recreating Star Trek’s City of the Edge of Forever. The subtle photography presenting an overcast and more scuzzy image of the Whoniverse than usual. If we're looking for indications of what new nu-Who under Moffat’s guiding hand will be like, let’s hope it will be like this.
The Earth Arc
Or what happened after the first time Gallifrey was destroyed. In similar circumstance to the revival, the Eighth Doctor of the novels is forced to destroy his home planet to save the universe from an intractable enemy. But rather than leave him with the guilt, his then companion, Compassion, a living TARDIS (with me so far?) exiles a now mysteriously amnesia-gripped Doctor to the late nineteenth century his only direction to meet a friend in a café in 2001. The following six novels describe his journey through the twentieth century, focusing on his interactions with the world wars, the cold war and the space race as he attempted to reconstruct his identity and wondering what the enigmatic blue box, his only possession really is. Often very poignant, we watch as this figure so familiar yet so alien bluffs his way across the years instinctively knowing that he can’t be too special but desperate to help if the need arises. The best entry is Lance Parkin’s nostalgic 80s set Father Time, in which the Doctor gains a daughter and repels an alien invasion with a realistic interpretation of Thatcher’s Britain as a backdrop.
Big Finish’s What If? series from 2003 threw up a peculiar group of scenarios in dramas of varying quality but for my money the most unusual and enjoyable is this adventure in which to hide himself from the timelords at the close of 60s adventure The War Games, he commits suicide and returns as a female in the form of Arabella Weir and takes a mundane life on Earth, supermarket worker by day, alcoholic by night. Written and directed by voice of the Daleks and later Big Finish exec Nick Briggs, it’s rather like Human Nature played for laughs, the incongruity of the timelord (or lady) preferring to get pissed than deal with the world’s ills. In other words, Bridget Jones hiding in the working classes. Not hugely popular at the time of release, in retrospect, it has the intelligence and humour of some of the best Radio Four drama. Features somebody called David Tennant in minor roles playing one of the Doctor’s timelord pursuers and a barman (he was formerly Weir's lodger and is godfather to one of her children).
• Shine is the charity’s first night-time walking marathon in Manchester on Friday 17 April 2010 and is open to anyone over 16 and entrants can choose to walk either a 13 or 26-mile route.Cally also asked me to post the following question:
• Here is the route map: http://shine.cancerresearchuk.org/on-the-night/route-map
• The city will be illuminated for an inspirational procession of light. There will also be entertainment on the night to make the atmosphere at Shine even more unique.
• Shine is unique in that you can choose to fundraise for one of 12 different cancers, or you can walk to raise general funds for Cancer Research UK's life-saving work.
• The £30 entry fee will help fund vital research into a disease which affects one in three Brits at some stage in their lives.
• If you want to see who is talking about Shine or help raise awareness on Twitter then check out #shine2010
• You can also add a Twibbon to your Twitter page in support.
If people would like any more details they can also contact Cally at firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘Would you take part in this race, if not, how would you support the event in your own way?’Good luck.
The following short exchange happened on Twitter ...
@feelinglistless Right then, let's begin. What would you like to talk about?
@ThatNeilGuy Well, I thought we could talk about my decision early this year to tune out the news as much as possible.
@feelinglistless A bold move. What brought you to that decision?
@ThatNeilGuy I got sick of hearing partisan bickering all the time. Everything is so implausibly black & white in political discourse.
@feelinglistless Just for some context, where do you live?
@ThatNeilGuy I am in the US of A. In South Carolina.
@feelinglistless Was there a particularly story or report that turned you off in particular?
@ThatNeilGuy So political discourse in general made me angry. Why is compromise such a bad word in politics? Isn't life about synthesis
@feelinglistless -- but surely the news is simply reporting what it sees. I know that's slightly different in the US with network bias but ...
@ThatNeilGuy Everything seemed to come thru a lens of "bush is infallible and all democrats are antiamerican."
@feelinglistless Would it not be possible to simply just tune out politics?
@ThatNeilGuy Hard to not hear all news reports as "this politician says the other side is evil."
@ThatNeilGuy So I've stopped listening to top of the hour news reports. But I still get info from other sources.
@feelinglistless So it would be truer to say that you've stopped with broadcast sources?
@ThatNeilGuy Yes! If I had Comedy Central I'd probably watch Daily Show and get news slanted thru that lens, yet still be informed...
@ThatNeilGuy So I get most topical news from Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, a radio comedy quiz show...
@ThatNeilGuy Via podcast. And also learned about financial crisis stuff thru This American Life podcast...
@ThatNeilGuy And science news thru podcasts of Skeptics Guide to the Universe and This Week in Science.
@feelinglistless I should add though that the Today programme on Radio 4 tends be criticised for bias against whoever isn't in power at the time
@feelinglistless But isn't it true that it's impossible to present the news without some kind of bias or agenda political or otherwise?
@ThatNeilGuy Yes. And I am hypocritical, I know, for wanting the agenda to be more akin to my own. Like viewed as comedy.
At the turn of the decade I wasn’t entirely sure what kind of music I liked, forever standing in Vinyl Exchange in Manchester looking at the racks full of inlay cards, not have a clue what to buy, pocketed hands desperate to flick through the racks but paralysed by indecision. The stock answer was that I’d listen to anything but in truth the pregnant pauses of life accompanied by Alanis Morissette or Sheryl Crow albums with the odd film soundtrack on heavy repeat. Slowly it became apparent that in fact my approach to music was similar to most people’s approach to art, I knew what I liked, but I couldn’t simply acknowledge that. I was embarrassed by it. The whole of music history has passed me by. All I knew was that I hated country music and dance (without much of an inclining about either of them).
Across the decade, I’d like to think that has changed. Firstly there were the world music courses, reading Rolling Stone Magazine, the trips through the local libraries listening to everything from folk to R&B indiscriminately, then ploughing through all of the Proms in 2007, forced myself to experiment across the genres, slowly educated myself with cds and latterly Spotify as my Henry Higgins. Eventually I realised that I didn’t hate country music and dance, that there wasn’t much music worth detesting, prejudice and ignorance blown apart. The month of music writing contributed to this blog in 2008 is symbolic of that change, of embracing the eclectic. Now I’m the kind of person who can genuinely say they like Britney Spears’s early releases, Haydn’s Mass In Temore Belli and Miles Davis’s A Kind of Blue, which doesn’t make me deep, I know, just more receptive than I was.
Despite all of that I’ve also spent much of the decade listening to girly-pop, which I hadn't properly noticed until I was working my way through the 411 album the other day noting the influences and imitations. Honestly. For all my snootiness about the Simon Cowell axis of shit, I’ve somehow managed to amass a surprising knowledge of a genre which I’m only about fifty-percent appreciative of. I know all of the words to Avril Lavigne’s Let Go album. The Promise by Girls Aloud grew on me. Which means I have had to listen to it enough times for it to grow on me. And let’s not get started on the Sugababes saga which has threaded through this blog like poison ivy. I was one of the three people who thought Jewel’s only proper pop album 0304 was a good idea. I’ve heard of Gretchen Parlato. No one’s heard of Gretchen Parlato.
I’m not embarrassed by this. While strong musical tone of the nineties was indie music and Brit pop, the noughties saw a proliferation of purer pop music, most specifically by female artists. There’s been the odd boy band and revived boy (now man) band, and the three guitars and a drum kit model still ploughs on ahead, but its female voices have been the prevailing sound. For once, the zeitgeist caught up with me (or the other way around). The quality threshold hasn’t been brilliant. It’s the singers on the fringes of the genre that seem to work best in album terms, the Norah Joneses and Regina Spectors. Those in the epicentre tend to be sustained by their singles, a reaction to the increase in downloading probably. The aforementioned 411 album genuinely only has one and 1/8 good tracks, the one everyone’s heard of On My Knees and the unison singing that greets the opening of Chance.
It’s plaudits then for Norah Jones’s politically tinged Bush-era Wake Me Up with the opening refrain “Wake me up when it’s over, wake me up when it’s done, when he’s gone away…”. To Natalie Imbruglia’s White Lillies Island and its opening track That Day which comforted me through the rubbish commutes earlier in the decade. To Little Boots, A Fine Frenzy, Kate Nash, Joss Stone, Lilly Allen, Lady Gaga, Paloma Faith, Girl Aloud, Bananarama, Christina Aguilera, Jewel, Madelaine Peyroux and everyone I've missed for producing at least one good singable single each. To the Sugababes for being so consistently entertaining even if their music always hasn’t been. And to All Saints for setting aside their differences and trying again, even if the resulting album lacked the power of some of their solo efforts (particularly Appleton’s Fantasy). C’mon Siobhan, if Shazney can do it …
But my favourite singer of the decade, and the most consistently brilliant is Shakira. Oh yes. Most Europeans probably first encountered the Columbian hip-wiggling prodigy as be burst from the sea in the Whenever, Wherever unaware of her already lengthy career in her home country, but the depth of her subsequent English-crossover album, Laundry Service demonstrated that she wasn’t some thrown together new blonde sensation but an artist of real substance. Subsequent listens demonstrates that the key to her success is the fusion of the Latin American sound with more standard rock tropes laced with hints of dance music. It simultaneously sounds like nothing else but entirely familiar and if anyone sought out her earlier nineties material they’d find that the only thing that had changed was the shift in language.
But threading through her work is the undercurrent of intoxicating oddness, of the music and of her image. Hoots of derision greet her lyrics. A standard interview or profile piece will mention some of the linguistic hoops she spins through but the truth is that a large proportion of her words are poetry. Don’t Bother from her next album Oral Fixation Vol. 2 (whose title is easily explained by the previous overlooked in this country Spanish language Fijación Oral Vol. 1) is almost Dickensian in its subtle setting out of a character, the popular rival for a boy in her school. Unlike those purveyors of girly-pop whose albums are structured around singles and whatever else can be bunged on a cd, Shakira’s album are consistently interesting and refreshing right the way through.
And like the fusion of world music sounds within mainstream pop, Shakira constantly seeks to be different to the pack yet remain popular. So while she’ll collaborate with Beyonce she’ll also appear on album covers mimicking the Virgin Mary or Eve in Eden accompanied by a snake or on her latest a ferocious image of feminity. The other interview cliché is to mention how clever she is, and she is. When Evan Davis interviewed her at the close of the decade for the Today programme about her charity work, it was car crash radio simply because he’d expected a pop princess using poverty as a vehicle to sell records. It didn’t take the listener long to realise that there was far more to her than that.