On the record – Still trying to shed the Disney image (Weeks 13 to 16)

This is the fourth update of my On the record adventure, wherein I try to listen to a new and an older album each week and report back my findings. I’ve been loving the process, and this time I think I started to expend a bit in terms of genre. We’ve got some modern pop, electronic stuff, brilliant country crossover, older pop classics, and some marvellous guitar rock.

As always, my picks are first – albums from either this year or last – whilst Mr C’s selections are second, with his choices coming from any other time in album history. He picked out some brilliant records this time, I think.

Title Artist Year Notes
Week 13
Communion Years & Years 2015 Enjoyed this far more than I thought I would. I like a couple of their songs but wasn’t sure my enjoyment would stretch to a full album. Good, interesting melodies with some fun rhythms – perhaps not groundbreaking but certainly fun to listen to.
Love Angel Music Baby Gwen Stefani 2004 This is more the Gwen I know and love. Gloriously irritating, who else could get away with chanting random fruit spellings at you? An eclectic mix of R&B and electric pop with oddities and intricacies to make each listen add something new.
Week 14
Super Pet Shop Boys 2016 Great start to this album, it sounds just as you hope a Pet Shop Boys album is going to be. The middle didn’t thrill me so much, it all seemed to get a bit maudlin and overly familiar. Overall listenable, but not one to add to their classic collection.
Come On Over Shania Twain 1997 Totally forgot about this album, I love it so much, every song is a classic for me. Shania is my original pop country princess – only trouble is I have to be careful where I listen as it’s impossible not to sing along!
Week 15
Red Flag All Saints 2016 Better on the second listen, the first couple of songs are great, but the rest doesn’t feel quite so strong. I like that they experiment and don’t just go for middle of the road tunes, but they don’t all work – oof, Ratchet Behaviour.
American Idiot Green Day 2004 Brilliant rock tunes, catchy, sing-a-long greatness with some heart-wrenching moments in there too – I can totally see why it was made into a musical. The structure of the album confuses me though, with some songs back to back on a single track.
Week 16
Revival Selena Gomez 2015 Really good album, even better on the second time around. Bit over the top in terms of adult content in places, it does feel like she’s still trying to shed the Disney image. But otherwise good, catchy, upbeat and modern songs.
Thriller Michael Jackson 1982 It feels like a short album, just nine songs, but every single one is perfect. The BFF relationship with Paul McCartney boggles my mind a bit, but Thriller makes up for everyone and everything. Could be one of the best songs ever, I reckon.

Picking the tunes with DJ Dench

I pick and choose my way through Desert Island Discs, but the wonderful thing about it is the timeless nature of all the interviews. The BBC have made the full archive available indefinitely, so you can listen to anyone at any time. I subscribe to the podcast, but often don’t get around to listening until well after the interviews have been aired.

I just recently listened to Dame Judi Dench’s show, and fell even more in love with her than I already was. Rather than joyously recounting stories for each of the brilliant songs on the list, Dame Judi gradually comes to the realisation that all her songs are actually quite depressing. It’s really fun to hear, as each track passes by, Judi’s reaction that she maybe should have taken a look at the eight songs as a whole.

It’s even better, right at the end, when host Kirsty Young asks the beloved Judi which track she was save from the waves.

“Which one would I save? Hmm. I don’t want any of those. I don’t want to go to the island and I don’t want to take any of those with me.”

Highly recommend listening to this one.

Starstruck

It felt like an incredibly long wait, but finally, a couple of weeks ago, I got to see the new Star Wars film. Actually, it emerged onto my chosen digital media platform about four months after it graced the cinema screens, so whilst it felt like the anticipation went on forever, that window is thankfully getting smaller. I managed to avoid all but the most obvious spoilers – and for the most part they were things that only made sense after you’d seen the film anyway. (There are no spoilers in this post, btw.)

look-to-the-stars

Naturally, I’ve seen it one or more times since that first occasion, and I love it. I’ve been a Star Wars fan for about a year, and I can categorically state that a) I’m obsessed and b) I’m now even more obsessed.

I always have a slight hesitancy about talking about it though, because as a new fan, I hate to be one of those people. You know, when you’ve liked something for soooooo long and then someone else comes along and is all “Isn’t it so good? This bit, and this bit, and this bit?” And you’re like… yea, twenty years ago.

You don’t tend to take to them kindly, really. And I know I’m being that person but I can’t help it. I came to Star Wars late, and I love it, and the rest will just have to fall into place.

The fact that I was somewhat tardy in my arrival to Star Wars fandom had me in two minds. At first, I thought it was a shame I hadn’t had more years to watch the films over and over, to indulge in the books and comics and great things that came from the series. Now, of course, things have changed. Disney have wiped the slate relatively clean so that only the films, the TV series, and newer books and comics are canon. In that case, I’m incredibly grateful to have arrived at the franchise when I did – just early enough to get a good grounding in the first six films, but not so early as to get carried away with expanded universe stuff that was only going to get cast aside.

Now that I’m up to speed again, and can start reading things that have the word Star Wars on, I’m looking for more. I’ve spotted an amazing visual dictionary or two on Amazon and am keen to investigate the comics as part of my limited introduction into that world as well.

This incredibly handy list of what is canon these days will be my guide.

On the record – Violently happy, you know (Weeks 9 to 12)

I’ve gotten into a brilliant rhythm with this album adventure, and I’ve started listening to other albums and things as well as the ones I have on my To Do playlist. It was also seriously exciting to watch something like the Brits and know who half the people were and have already heard half the things that were sung. This is progress, for sure.

So, here are another four weeks’ worth of albums with my modern picks first and Mr C’s classic album choices second.

Title Artist Year Notes
Week 9
Phase Jack Garratt 2016 After listening to James Bay I was hoping this would be more lovely indy stuff but it wasn’t really. It was a bit too keyboard-heavy, slightly too experimental for my tastes. Solid work but I won’t seek it out again.
Graceland Paul Simon 1986 Loved this, it was infused with African influences which made it intriguing, tribal, wide-ranging and just a little bit jaunty in places. Clearly, You Can Call Me Al is the classic here, but I enjoyed pretty much all of it.
Week 10
I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it The 1975 2016 Upsettingly long title, and the song of the same name is in sentence case when the rest is in title case, grr! Otherwise, great start and finish to the album, but the middle gets a bit wishy-washy. Instrumentals that are nice but go on too long.
Debut Björk 1993
Was scared of listening to this one, because, you know, Bjork. But I actually loved it. Great instruments, a real ear for the sound of things, and some fun lyrics too. Violently happy, you know.
Week 11
Storyteller Carrie Underwood 2015 A good album, some songs are far better than others, but none are the weakest link. Brilliant stories for some of them – Choctaw County Affair and Church Bells being two specific examples. Storyteller is an apt name for this album.
What’s the Story, Morning Glory Oasis 1995
Love this, it really tells of the time it was released. Some of the songs sound very similar, but the standout singles are incredible. Roll With It, Wonderwall and Don’t Look Back in Anger are three brilliant songs and to have them consecutively makes some of the best ten minutes of music ever!
Week 12
This is What the Truth Feels Like Gwen Stefani 2016 A good album, listenable and so very Gwen Stefani, but I must admit none of it particularly stood out for me. There’s some great echoes of Madonna, Taylor and maybe even some Selena Gomez which makes it funky and fun but I couldn’t pick a song to recommend.
Survivor Destiny’s Child 2001 Some really brilliant songs at the start of this album, but it tails off to real downbeat ending. Whereas the ladies are kick-ass at the beginning, they are all loved up and slightly pathetic by the end. And I could barely get through the self-indulgent thank you track at the end.

My to do list inspired by the music this time round:

  • Learn how to play You Can Call Me Al on some kind of instrument – it is too much fun!
  • Stop being scared by Björk.
  • Listen to more Oasis, they’ve got a big enough back catalogue and I should know more of it.

Putting your name on the line

Whenever I mention one of those counter-top grill type machines, I always say “It’s so good I put my name on it,” because, you know, George Foreman. I don’t really know who George Foreman is but that’s the kind of advertising that really sticks because it’s a catchy line and it was a new idea.

I realised, watching quite a lot of TV over the past few sickly days, that you couldn’t get away with this any more. Celebrities are endorsing products left, right and centre, and whilst they might not have actually branded their names right into the goods themselves, they’ve all but sold out in every other way.

It’s not new for celebrities to attach themselves to products, of course, but it feels like it is happening more and more, and getting more and more cynical. It’s scary when you see really, properly, hugely famous names advertising things like Sky or BT and other such services. Is it that making movies doesn’t pay enough anymore? Or is it that they really believe in the products? Is it a mixture of the two?

Who knows?

The real difference is that George Forman was invested in the product, whereas George Clooney probably doesn’t care that much about the Nespresso machine he’s keen to brag about. Would he go so far as to put his name on it? I doubt it.

 

Silly season

I quite enjoy the BBC’s seasons, where they focus in on one particular subject across a majority of their platforms. But the latest one, called Sitcom Season, has me scratching my head. I love a good sitcom, new or old, but part of these plans involve bringing back a whole host of classic comedies and revitalising them for the new generation.

For example: “Porridge, the classic prison sitcom, returns nearly 40 years after Norman Stanley Fletcher served his time. The legendary Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, who created the 1970s series, will write the one-off special episode, which sees Fletch’s grandson, also known as Fletch, imprisoned for a series of cyber-crimes.”

It feels such a shame to bring back these classics like this. There’s a reason these sitcoms have such a beloved status, and that’s because of the nostalgia attached to them. Many of them are of their time, get away with things you probably couldn’t nowadays, and were original, fresh and inspiring.

The BBC already tried this with Still Open All Hours, and whilst they keep making series’ which means the viewers must be there, the quality certainly isn’t. I watched the one off special and thought it was okay, a nice little idea but certainly not one to be repeated. Sadly, twelve full episodes followed and they haven’t lived up to the expectations.

I don’t like to add to the voices that wail “Are there no new ideas in the world?” because as we’ve established long ago, everything is a remix. But it does feel like the sitcom season could focus more on introducing new ideas, running fresh pilots, even giving other previously aired comedies a chance where they have been canned too soon.

Celebrating the sitcom is welcome, always, but rehashing the same old content is something that should have a serious question mark after it.

Apple finally remember they have books on tape

I haven’t really used iTunes for its intended purpose in a long time. It’s very handy for adding id3 tags to things and it’s a nice way of perusing the store for all its many digital wonders, but in terms of syncing devices and storing my stuff, the iCloud has been far more useful.

One of the problems with this strategy, however, is that it meant I couldn’t get my hands on any audiobooks that I’d bought from the iTunes store. Up until now, they have been locked away on the desktop, with no means of getting them onto a phone or other device without using a cable. Whereas with most items, you can look through the iTunes store and see whether you already own it thanks to that little “cloud with an arrow” symbol, audiobooks had no such luxury.

In the meantime, I switched to using Audible directly. The audiobooks on iTunes come from Audible anyway, but if I couldn’t find them when I needed them, I decided I may as well go direct to the source.

Thankfully that has been rectified recently, and now you can sync audiobooks via iCloud, see which books you already purchased and download as needed on whichever device you so choose. It is tucked away in the iBooks app, but at least it now exists!

apple-audiobooks

It’s only a small change, but it’s brought back a few books I hadn’t realised I’d bought and opened up another avenue for investing in brilliant audiobooks. It may still be easier to go directly through Audible, but all the same, it’s much better now this part of the store has been brought in line with everything else.

What the entire debacle has proven to me though, is that it’s all very well providing an incredible and far-reaching eco-system where everything is in sync and accessible, but you have to keep it all up to date at the same pace. Leaving anything behind, such as the audiobooks system, is a stark admission of which parts of the store are important and which are simply afterthoughts.

For a company as big as Apple, it feels a shame that some parts do get left on the backburner for a while, but equally, they have so many things going on, it’s not really a surprise that things slip through the net either.

Hey Flash, wanna hear a joke?

Zootopia looks like one of those films that is going to be almost unbearably cute. A world of animals of all shapes and sizes, all getting along? Hello!

More than anything though, the films many trailers have opened my eyes to the world of sloths – who knew these creatures were so adorable?

The way his face lights up at the joke… so… slowly. It’s amazing.

Actually, it reminds me of a video tutorial I saw once about creating digital cartoons – how to manipulate the face to show sadness or happiness, and to go from one state to the other. This is almost a textbook version of that, and I love it!

Also, Priscilla’s glasses are excellent.

Smart cookie

Apple have increasingly upped the comedy in their ads, as well as bringing more and more celebrities on board to cameo.

Their latest effort also raises the amount of cuteness and awesome to almost unacceptable levels. Potentially, the best ad ever.

Way too fast and a little bit too furious

If things had worked out differently, I don’t think I would have ended up watching any of the Fast and Furious films. I like pretty people driving gorgeous cars as much as the next person, probably more so, but I wasn’t convinced they could make one feature length film out of such a thing, let alone seven.

Yet, those seven movies later, I’m an emotional wreck.

Paul Walker’s death was meaningless to me at the time, but is now steeped in so much poignancy it physically hurts to think about. The iconic stunts in their unbelievable and ridiculous nature still manage to take my breath away. And hearing any suped up car makes me do a double take of joy rather than disgust. I have genuinely never been so affected, so bruised by films, to the point where I have absolutely needed to take a break from the big screen. I’ve only just worked up the strength to post the Film Watch review and that’s over a week later.

How is it that a series of films that had potentially some of the worst acting in history has gripped me so? Can it be possible that a bunch of stories littered with as many plot holes as bullet holes had me riveted to my seat? What is it about this group of misfits wreaking havoc on any city they descend upon that has had such an impact on me?

The answer is: I have no idea. But what a journey it’s been.

fast-and-furious-7

I blame Apple entirely. I was vaguely aware of the films being made and released but they were never on my radar as something to dip into. Then a series of events occurred that led me on this emotionally challenging path.

Firstly, the seventh film was released and stayed in the charts for so long that Mr C and I started wondering if we were missing out on something. Then, I realised the Rock was in the series and Mr C realised that Ana Lucia had found work post-LOST. And then, most crucially of all, the iTunes Bundle of all seven films was loaded with behind the scenes extras and reduced to less than £35. It was inevitable, then.

If you’ve watched the entire series, you probably know how this part of the story goes: I liked the first film, Mr C was slightly less enthusiastic. The second was a similar story, but sadly missing Vin Diesel. By the third film, we really were starting to wonder if we should have put the £35 towards buying our own muscle car and doing a better job with it.

You need those early films to plant the seeds of what comes later, but it’s not until the fourth film that the genius and the real heart of this series starts. By F&F4, the misfits are starting to find their way towards each other, and rather than just racing for the sake of it, they’re now driving those fast cars for a significant, albeit far-fetched, reason.

Sometimes it was chasing Mexican bandits, occasionally it was driving a safe through the streets of Brazil, and other times it was battling a tank on the highway, all of it was ridiculous but brilliant. Vin Diesel was consistently convinced that giving people a sharp look and reminding them he was part of a “family” would stop them from shooting him, and somehow it always did. Brian went from being a cop to a criminal to a cop to a criminal, whilst somehow a Brazilian policewoman became a criminal’s girlfriend before deciding to join the FBI when he dropped her. Is that even logistically possible?

I could write and write and write about the plots and the characters, and it would all sound insane. The more you try and put into coherent sentences, the more it sounds like you’ve had one too many Coronas.

There were good things too, obviously. The way they all stand up for each other, and for what they believe in. The moments that proved loyalty above all things is rewarded in the end.  That Mia didn’t try to hold Brian back just because they had started a family. The way the Rock burst open his own plaster cast with his ridiculous arm muscles.

But still, despite the dodgy dialogue and the over-the-top bad guys, despite the implausibly long racing sequences that require extensive runways and stretches of straight roads 100 miles long, despite the fact we’re supposed to believe Vin jumped from a moving car across a bridge, caught his girlfriend in mid-air after she was thrown from a tank and both landed safely on top of another car, despite ALL OF THAT, it’s some of the best work I’ve ever seen.

I wish there was a way to bottle what was created during these films. I wish there was a way the future sequels could continue in the same vein. But more than anything, I wish I could just go back and watch them all again, from start to finish, and revel in every single second of it. Because I might laugh at Vin Diesel and his extended family, but boy, it was so good to feel for even the smallest moment like it might include you.