Saturday, 31 December 2011

Sh*t, Damn, D'Angelo Is Back!

Lovers of soul will be walking with a little more bounce to the ounce with the news that legendary R&B Jesus, D'angelo has announced two live shows at the Brixton Academy in February (the first sold out quicker than you could scream "Good God Almighty!") and ends a 12 year sabbatical with a new album which has made George Michael look like Prince in the productivity stakes.

The flawed genius behind two of the finest R&B albums of all time has made his fans feed on crumbs since 1999, releasing the odd collaboration (Raphael Saadiq, Snoop Dogg, Common, Q-Tip, Mark Ronson) but dedicating the bulk of his time to the important business of rehab, legal wrangling, car crashes, prostitution raps, crack, coke, booze and God knows what else. There were disturbing pictures circulating of him looking like a fat tramp and not the lean, mean sex machine we had gotten used to.

The lack of new material was filled by a few profiteering bootleggers who released albums purporting to be official but were nothing more than off cuts, remixes and unauthorised live recordings.

Over a decade in the making and jonesing fans may have spotted a couple of leaked titbits on the net from the new album tentatively titled James River. Really Love was leaked by ?uestlove in 2007 and is a gently rolling acoustic number which at the time sounded like a work in progress. 1000 Deaths was leaked in 2010, a scuzzy piece of cosmic slop played in the vein of an old Parliament track. The middle eight is so funky you will need to take a shower after you've heard it. This is apparently the direction D'angelo has gone for the new album with ?uestlove commenting in an interview with Pitchfork that

"For all intents and purposes, this album is the black version of The Beach Boys' Smile – at best, it will go down in the Smile/There’s a Riot Goin’On/Miles Davis’ On the Corner category."

With so much speculation and rumour I guess we will only know for sure when it hits stores. Apparently the whole thing has been leaked online in the last few days but I'll be fucked if I can find it (a litle help here?).

It has been a frustrating time for fans of D'angelo as a barrage of young R&B upstarts have emerged to steal D'angelo crown as king of the swingers. At a time when R&B is turning more and more robotic D'angelo will be welcomed back by lovers of real music like a long lost son. Heres hoping he goes back to that looser, dirtier, organic vibe reminiscent of soul legends of old. I am willing to bet my house on the lack of auto-tune on this album.

Eleven years might seem like a long wait for new material but believe it or not there are worse culprits than D'angelo. Kate Bush took 12 years to complete Aerial, Guns N Roses took 17 years to release Chinese Democracy, The Eagles took 28 years to give the public the Long Road Out Of Eden but the winners are The Yardbirds who released Birdland in 2003, 35 years after Little Games.

The last time D'angelo played the Brixton Academy was in 2000 as part of the Voodoo tour. I was there and I remember being one of the very few "white" faces in the crowd. I have no problem with that but it was an unusual environment for me and I felt a bit self-conscious on arrival. Of course with music this good skin colour is an irrelevance.

D'angelo absolutely smashed his performance. At the time it felt like a combination between an old school James Brown revue and a Funkadelic style wig out. Having assembled about the best backing band possible with cats like Anthony Hamilton on B.V's, ?uestlove on drums, Pino Palladino on bass and Roy Hargrove on horns Voodoo and its predecessor Brown Sugar's jazzy ambience was scaled back in favour of an horn drenched upbeat funk. It was one of the best concerts I've ever been to.

I've managed to snag a couple of tickets for the upcoming shows (not cheap) and it remains to be seen with the ravages of drugs, alcohol and time have taken their toll on his genius and his waistline.

In the meantime enjoy this extended take on the classic Untitled (How Does It Feel?) from his Brixton gig over a decade ago for a taste of what is hopefully in store

Monday, 26 December 2011

Do The Unions Live In The Real World?

I am beginning to worry that I might be turning into Margaret Thatcher or worse a Daily Mail reader. The signs are all there. Knee-jerk reaction to strikes, criticism of public sector employees and a growing distrust of those lazy "continentals". Sometimes I wake up in the night in a cold sweat with a ghostly image of Mrs T's bouffanted visage licking my face.

Is it the impending spectre of middle age looming on the horizon or is just these austere times forcing us to lash out at those we perceive to have it better then us?

Last week we had our usual lads Christmas drinks meet-up and the normal good humour ended in acrimony after a heated discussion about public pensions turned sour when one of our teacher friends understandably got annoyed at having to work longer, pay more and get less of a pension whilst those that go us into this financial shitstorm seemingly emerging from the fallout without so much as scratch on their Maserati.

Those of us working in the private sector kindly pointed out that final salary pensions disappeared years ago as they were financially unsustainable. In the end everyone "agreed to differ" before punches were thrown.

Of course many public sector workers have the benefit of powerful unions whose sole purpose is to push for better pay and conditions. The reason I even bothered to blog about this today is because of the general strike by London Underground employees, stirred up by Aslef, means that today if you are one of the 90% of people travelling around London by Tube you are fucked.

So are drivers striking about working longer, having salaries cut or supporting sacked work colleagues? No. The union is demanding triple time pay and an extra day off for its employees working on Boxing Day. I think it is about the time to remind you that the average Tube driver earns £42000 a year rising to £52000 in 2015, twice the average wage. This was a deal that was negotiated as far back as October. Of course it extremely taxing and complicated to press a lever and keep a train on the rails so I can understand the need for a high salary.

To me this particular piece of strike action appears to be nothing more then bare-faced greed.

Did the unions spare a thought for their private sector brothers (many of whom don't get anywhere close to earning that amount) who are going to lose out on a days pay because they can't get into work? Bollocks have they.

Howard Collins, London Underground's chief operating officer, told the Today programme the number of drivers scheduled to work this year had been reduced by 200 to improve working conditions for Tube drivers. He added:

"I can't pay people twice. The salary for train drivers, including working Christmas Day and Boxing Day, is an all inclusive salary."

In this day and age when everyone should be knuckling down and getting the work done it is completely irresponsible for unions to throw their toys out the pram and manufacture strikes at the drop of a hat. It costs the economy and it costs those who rely on the public sector. It is almost like the unions have to justify there own existence.

If they are not careful this militant action is going to undermine public sector workers genuine and understandable concerns about their conditions and we will go back to the dark old days of the early 80's.

Monday, 19 December 2011

I'm So Ronery

If the internet, mobile communications and satellite TV were supposed to bring the world together Kim Jong Il showed that with the right type of censorship and careful brain-washing you can keep the people cocooned in a bizarre 1940's time capsule for an eternity.

Cut off from the rest of the world the temperamental tyrant managed to achieve demi-god status in his homeland despite totalitarian restrictions that subjugated the population to a monochrome hinterland where famine is the norm and dissenters are sent to concentration camps. If the outpourings of grief we are witnessing today are to be believed it seems a collective madness has taken over the country. Kim would give Derren Brown a run for his money in the illusionist stakes, such was his mysterious hold on the nation.

Intensely secretive he rarely made speeches, did not travel abroad and managed to avoid western intervention despite North Korea being on George Bush's "Axis of Evil". With numerous aggressions against neighbours Japan and threats to turn South Korean capital Seoul into " a sea of flames" it was only his nuclear arsenal that prevented the US delivering anything other then the occasional strongly worded rebuke (and you wonder why Iran are keen to get their hands on some nukes?)

You have to hand it to him. His powers of persuasion were phenomenal. Mourners have been weeping and wailing like their mothers had just died despite being treated like shit. Can you imagine such an outpouring of emotion if David Cameron kicked the bucket?

Of course, in the West his death has only achieved such a level of notoriety because in life he was such an oddball. Revolutionary Czech leader Vaclaz Havel died yesterday and barely gets a mention.

Such oddities include his convincing the Koreans that an undiscovered constellation appeared in the sky on the day of his birth, importing giant rabbits the size of dogs to alleviate food shortages, only eating rice cooked with wood from trees grown on the mountain he was born from and from his official state biography the ability to not need to take a dump (ever!)

Kim was also an avid film buff with a collection of more than 20,000 movies. He particularly liked Friday the 13th, Rambo and Godzilla. In 1978 he ordered the kidnapping of South Korean film director Shin Sang-ok and his actress wife Choi Eun-hee with the aim of building a North Korean film industry. They managed to escape the country and sought asylum in America.

Keen to develop a cult of personality his visage is seen adorning every building and is on every citizens lapel. Dictators are seldom fashion icons and Kim looked every bit the ludicrous despot with his collection of platform shoes, khaki jumpsuits, sunglasses and bouffant hairdo. In a certain light he looked like and wizened, oriental Liz Taylor.

One of the funniest stories I've heard about him is that at the opening of a new golf course in Pyongyang in 1994, he claimed he scored the lowest round of golf ever recorded carding a 38 under par including 11 holes-in-one. If that wasn't unbelievable enough it was his first time playing golf. Of course each of his 17 bodyguards verified the feat. The Guinness Book Of Records did not return his calls.

So Dear Leader, President for Life, Soul Brother Number One, The King of Sting and the Hardest Working Man in Show business. The man who held more titles then the New York Yankees will be sorely missed.

Oh, go on then. I'll show you the video.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Pick Up A Penguin

As I was drifting off last night listening to Five Live I heard a story that made me think I had overdone the cheeseboard.

It was a item about a pair of "gay penguins" Buddy and Pedro (could they have picked gayer names?) that were something of an internet sensation and the talk of Toronto Zoo as they had formed a "pair bonding" and regularly snuggled, groomed and defended their territory exhibiting typical mating behaviour even though one wasn't a lady.

The breaking news was not that they were "gay" but they had been split up by Toronto Zoo turing this into some sort of Brokeback Mountain scenario. Of course the zoo had no homophobic agenda but had split them up in an effort to get them to breed as there are only 60000 of these animals left in the wild.

Of course they aren't really gay as they never were witnessed to have had any sexual interaction (who knows what goes on behind closed burrows right?) but lets not let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Sure enough with within 72 hours of being introduced to a female Buddy had forgotten all about his mate Pedro and got down to business. Obviously these Magellan penguins have never heard the phrase "Bros Before Hos".

If living with a man is what classifies as gay these days then technically I was "gay" for about 5 years until my ex-housemate got married (to a woman). I think the word the media has conveniently overlooked in this case is the term "friends". I would like to clarify that no "snuggling" was involved in our relationship although I did let him borrow my hair gel a couple of times.

It also got me thinking whether homosexuality is an exclusively human behaviour. A quick Google and I was quite surprised by the results

Some biologists claim 'gay' animal behaviour has been spotted in 1,500 different species. Which kind of puts a spanner in the works regarding Darwin's theory of evolution and that animals aren't all hardwired to reproduce.

Apparently bisexuality is the norm among male chimps who form long-term partnerships with other males (includes sporadic sex) as it helps them to have strong allies when they challenge the troupe leader. Bonobo monkeys particularly like to get their freak on as males engage in a practice known as "penis-fencing" when they hang from trees and rub their penises together. Female Bonobo's engage in "scissoring" as well which...well you can use your imagination.

It's not just primates that prefer Steve to Eve. Giraffes regularly neck with male counterparts, Bottlenose dolphins engage in oral sex and males rub their erect penises against other males. As females only mate once a year male American Bison turn to their male buddies to release some pent up sexual frustration and more than half of the sexual encounters undertaken by young males are same sex. I imagine it's a lot like prison.

Walruses are typically bisexual and when the women are out of breeding season (you know what that like right lads?) males turn to each other for "comfort". They rub against one another, embrace and even sleep together in the water. It's a nice touch, after all no one likes it when instead of a post-coital cuddle your lover suddenly realises he or she has left the oven on and bolts out of the door (or is that just me?).

So amongst others cheetahs, cats, dogs, elephants, racoons, seagulls, salmon, tortoises, dragonflies, rattlesnakes and fruit flies have all shown signs of homosexuality.

When you think about it really isn't such odd behaviour now is it?

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Exploding Helicopter - Transformers (2007)

Those of you of a certain age will fondly remember wiling away the school holidays watching Timmy Mallett physically abuse minors on the garish Wacaday. The piece-de-la-resistance was the Transformers cartoon at the end of the programme that introduced a generation of kids to some overpriced but rather ingenious toys.

Keen to cash in…*ahem*...educate a new generation the franchise was “rebooted” in 2007 with a big-budget movie tie-in helmed by director Michael Bay in what turned out to be another fetid gust in his vaults of stink.

The “story” as such involves the Autobots fighting the Decepticons on Earth over the Allspark, some sort of all powerful Rubix cube that could bring their home planet back to life or be used to conquer the universe. Such are the wild leaps of logic, pedestrian dialogue and retina burning action the story is purely incidental as your I.Q. would have left the building within the first 30 minutes.

Shia Lebeouf (Sam Witwicky) plays an innocent dweeb who inadvertently gets caught up in robo-mess. He struggles valiantly to wangle a few laughs from the morass whilst wooing the delectable Megan Fox (Mikaela Banes) but is quickly engulfed by the all-consuming tide of dreck. You can only imagine that Jon Voight (Defence Secretary Keller) and John Turturro (Agent Simmons) have large alimony payments to fund. They really should be in better films than this.

Despite being a stinking turd of a movie I was clinging to the hope that a few helicopter explosions could justify the wasted two and half hours of my life. I was sadly mistaken. Despite over half a dozen helicopter sightings, including a sexy looking Decepticon attack helicopter named “Blackout”, only one gets engulfed in flames.

Leader of the Decepticons, Megatron climbs an LA building in order to retrieve the Allspark from Lebeouf. An army chopper hovers at roof level and just as he is about to hand the cube over to the authorities, Megatron launches a couple of heat seeking missiles that slam into the copter and send it spinning out of control. It plummets out of shot engulfed in flames.

Artistic Merit

To give Bay credit, Transformers will surely appeal to its target demographic: pubescent boys. In fact Bay has done a remarkable job at visualising the mind of your average 12yr old; a hyperactive, incoherent mess of toys, cars and confusing sexual urges.

Bay had plenty of opportunities to give us a proper chopper fireball yet he drops the ball. There is absolutely no excuse for a downed helicopter not to be shown in its fully exploded glory. Perhaps Bay was combing his fabulous hair. Very, very poor.

Exploding Helicopter Innovation

Robot shoots down helicopter with missile. Sure it has been done before. Bay hasn’t even got the imagination to do that right.

No of exploding helicopters:

1 (just)

Do the Passengers survive?

Doubtful, but as we don’t get the pleasure of seeing the copter slam into the floor we will never know for sure.


The exploding helicopter occurs during the final part of the movie alerting you to the fact that the film is nearly over and you can go and do something more worthwhile with your life such as alphabetising your spice rack.


To quote our friend Robert Davi in Die Hard, Michael Bay usually likes “helicopters up the ass”. Such is his penchant for moody shots of choppers riding into and out of the sunset you would bet your house on a top notch explosion. What we get is an inexcusable abomination. Also how does a helicopter survive a multiple missile impact without blowing up immediately?

Favourite Quote:

Jazz: What's crackin' little bitches? This looks like a cool place to kick it!
Sam Witwicky: How did he learn to talk like that?
Optimus Prime: We've learned Earth's languages through the world-wide web.

Interesting |Fact:

In the cartoon Megatron used to transform into a Walther P38 pistol that his henchman would be able to pick up and shoot but in the film he inexplicably turns into a plane. More liberties taken but at least they get to sell a bit more merchandise right?