Tuesday, July 31, 2007

At last, a decent rap album

He barely registers on the cultural radar, but Chicago-born rapper Common comfortably shifts a million copies every time he releases a CD.

You might have seen him in gangster movie Smokin' Aces (he plays henchman to mob supergrass Buddy "aces" Israel) but his music is as far from the gun-toting posturing of gangsta rap as it's possible to be without adorning Will Smith's big-toothed perma-grin.

"I feel as a black man, with so much going on in our community and being put down so much, we need spiritual encouragement," he told the Chicago Tribune this week. "Sometimes children don't get enough encouragement to live a healthy lifestyle."

His socially-concious lyrics deal with topics like urban violence, conflict diamonds, and (gasp!) love. It might sound terribly worthy but Common tempers it all with a sense of tabloidy humour - referencing Finding Nemo, Jennifer Aniston's breakup with Vince Vaughn and that music video with OK Go! dancing on a treadmill

It doesn't hurt, of course, that he's best buddies with Kanye West - who produced his last, Grammy-nominated, album, Be - and who returns on his latest release Finding Forever.

West gives the album an expansive, commercial sound, with some very recognisable samples (Nina Simone) and some big name pulling power (will.i.am and Lily Allen). The record doesn't quite live up to its predecessor, but tracks like The People, Drivin' Me Wild, and Break My Heart are among the best hip-hop you'll hear all year. Imagine Curtis Mayfield crossed with the laid-back, conversational style of Nas and you're half-way there.

Here's the video for The People:

You can also download the superb, Lily Allen-featuring, Drivin' Me Wild from Hipandpop.com.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

End of an era


With the sort of reckless abandon not seen since the Los Angeles' DMV gave driving licences to Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie, the BBC has suddenly decided to stop making its slate of video podcasts. As of last week, these free, excellent, downloads are gone - evaporating into the ether without so much as a bye or leave (incidentally, what does this phrase even mean?).

According to the man in charge, some of the "vodcasts" may reappear later in the year, but others may not.

I don't really get it. Why spend a year courting your audience, only to dump them on your doorstep while secretly hoping they'll get back together with you in October? Why couldn't the "evaluation" of this trial have run simultaneously with the trial itself? It seems a particularly perverse way to carry out your business. But, hey, that's the BBC for you.

Chief among the losses is Storyfix - the corporation's sarcastic look at its own news coverage. I understand the weekly download was roundly hated by the very presenters it lampooned. For that reason alone it was a marvellous and excellent invention. The music wasn't bad, either. (I wonder which gifted genius of modern composition was responsible...)

But sources on the Storyfix team tell me that it won't be one of the shows making a return later in the year. Apparently, budgetary constraints mean it is finished, kaput, no more, the end, annihilated, broken, gorn, dead and buried. Fin.

If you want to see what in the name of heck you were missing, here is the excellent last episode: A compilation of the best bits of the last 12 months of news aimed at a viewer with the attention span of a goldfish raised on MTV and red bull.

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Rihanna: Please Don't Stop The Music

Rihanna's latest video leaked onto the net about a week ago. Since then, I've been desperately trying to find a version without horribly distorted audio so that I could put it up here... Honestly, can't these American kids illegally ripping off music videos from the TV work out how handle the audio input controls on their PC. The education system is a shambles, etc, etc.

Anyway, here it is at last and I can honestly say it probably wasn't worth the wait. The treatment for the video was clearly photocopied from an old Beyoncé document someone lifted out of the wastepaper basket at Sony's "will this do" department. Where is the synchronised dancing? The costume change? The Michael Jackson looky-likey? It is really not good enough at all.

The song, however, is better than Umbrella. No, really.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

We have moved to Springfield

That's mrsdiscopop and me visiting Apu in the Kwik-e-Mart, courtesy of the splendid "make your own Simpson" thingamawhatsist on The Simpsons' Movie website. Hours of fun guaranteed*

* Terms and conditions apply. Your home may be at risk if you do not have fun. Fun can go up as well as down. Although going up and down is pretty good fun in itself. Especially on a trampoline. Or a big wobbly jelly.

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Some distracting materials from the internet!!!1

Because Fridays are all about mucking around on the web and waiting for the moment you can run out the office door and go to the pub. Don't forget your jacket.

  • The Spice Girls are (still) back! They have all put on something black and lined up in front of a man with a camera, who pressed a button and took a photo, which he sent to their record label, who asked the Spice Girls to approve it, which they did, and then the proof was scanned and given to a press person, who sent it to journalists, who put in on the internet. And then I copied it and pasted it here. Look:

  • While appearing on Conan O'Brien's US chat show to promote his new comedy I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry, Adam Sandler was asked to introduce a clip from his new movie. Conan then played a scene from a gay porn film, featuring men who get off on fattening each other up. Nice:

  • Play your favourite 1980s aracde game here. Paperboy is still a work of unfettered genuius.

  • Uberblog Pop Star Poetry imagines Ray Winstone meeting up with Amy Winehouse:

    To The Ivy for lunch
    With Quentin Tarantino
    We rap about political
    Subtext in The Beano

  • Onetime discopop fantasy figure Mary Louise Parker bares (almost) all to promote the upcoming season of Weeds. But is that really her bottom?

  • "Angelina Jolie is the best woman in the world because she is the most famous woman in the world". Esquire magazine writes the worst celebrity profile in the world.

  • Listen to the fantastic remix of Justin Timberlake's Lovestoned by dance supremos Justice. A gazillion better times better than the original, I swear.

  • Take a look at this clickable map of Lindsay Lohan's slow-motion self-destruction and ask yourself the following question: "Is this the future of interactive reporting, or just sickening voyeurism?"

  • What are Tom and Katie doing in this photo?

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  • Thursday, July 26, 2007

    Yes, yes, yes or no, no, no?

    Here is Girls Aloud's first performance of their new single, Sexy! No No No, from Channel 4's T4 on the Beach.

    I still reckon it's missing a chorus. What do you think?

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    Wendy & Lisa: Really quite good

    I finally got round to watching last year's TV sensation Heroes when it debuted on BBC2 last night, and it looks very good indeed.

    In one of the best-written opening episodes of a multi-character TV drama I've seen in a long time, every individual had room to breathe and establish their personality tics without the whole thing seeming crammed in or forced. My only fear is that it'll end up being another Lost - with tons of cliffhangers and no actual plot.

    I really, really hate Lost.

    Anyway, for me, the very best moment of Heroes' opening episode was right at the start - when it revealed that Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman's had composed the score. For those of you who don't know, Wendy & Lisa were the mainstays of Prince's band, The Revolution, back when he was proper good (1980-86, fact fans). Not only did they have brilliantly ridiculous hair but, without them, there'd be no Kiss, no Raspberry Beret and no Purple Rain.

    Prince, renowned for his prolific work rate, developed a working practice whereby he would record the basic tracks of a song and leave Wendy & Lisa to polish them off. Their influence can probably be heard most strongly on the psychedlic pop of the Parade album, and on fan favourite Sometimes It Snows In April in particular.

    After Prince disbanded the Revolution, Wendy & Lisa went off as a solo act, releasing two average albums and one stonkingly brilliant one in the late 80s and early 90s. They never achieved mainstream success but, in my teens, I was more into them than the purple midget himself. The acoustic rock of their third album, Eroica (named after Beethoven's 3rd Symphony, don'tchaknow?) is still worth hunting down now, 17 years after its release.

    Unfortunately, there ain't much Wendy & Lisa material to be found on the web - but here are a couple of choice youtube snippets.

    Strung Out - acoustic performance of 1990 single

    Kiss - Prince dances around Wendy, who desperately tries not to laugh

    Heroes - behind-the-scenes look at composing the theme tune

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    Wednesday, July 25, 2007

    What movie could this be?

    Owen Wilson? Present
    Jason Schwartzman? Present
    Plot involving dysfunctional siblings? Present
    Giant robots that can transform into cars? Not present
    Angelica Houston? Present
    Will Smith bitch-slapping some alien ass? Not present
    Whimsical 60s soundtrack? Present

    Why, it must be the new Wes Anderson film! Hallelujah!

    The Darjeeling Limited

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    Tuesday, July 24, 2007

    I finished it!

    Only two days behind mrsdiscopop, I have just got to the end of the seventh - and final - Harry Potter book... Hence the lack of updates around here (ahem).

    I know a lot of people who've given up on the Harry Potter series along the way, and frankly I don't blame them. The last couple of books have been bloated, angsty and turgid - desperately in need of some good editing and, well, a bit more plot.

    But Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows blows all of the other books out of the water. It is gripping, dramatic and bursting with action. Fans who have paid close attention to the first six novels will find it particularly rewarding as, by the end, you really come to appreciate how intricately JK Rowling has woven the plot for her septology of sorcery. And don't forget that she wrote the final chapter years ago - before she even started work on some of the later books.

    If you're going to read it, try to avoid the plot spoilers before you pick up a copy. I had to go to great efforts to ignore all the fuckwits who emailed the BBC with "details" of what happened, and it really does make a difference to approach the novel with fresh eyes. Although I can confirm what John Oliver said on the Daily Show last week: Harry is decapitated by Ron, who turns out to be Voldemort's robot son.

    I jest, of course... and with a hearty "fuck you" to the sort of people who think revealing the closely-guarded plot will raise them any higher than the lowest rung on the ladder of playground notoriety.

    The following cartoon made me do a chuckle, though:


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    Friday, July 20, 2007

    Ahoy! It's a new Girls Aloud single!!

    Zap! Coming out of nowhere like a bolt of lightning aimed straight at your genitals, the new Girls Aloud single premiered on Radio One this morning.

    It is called Sexy! No No No and it is very, very loud. On first listen, I'd say the verses are better than the chorus - which is a betrayal of everything we have come to expect from the fab five. But maybe it will be a "grower", as they say.

    The whole shebang kicks off with Cheryl's voice squeezed through a vocoder and sounding very spooky. She has been "sitting back" with "no chance of falling", which proves she has a sturdy chair.

    Then - woooooosh! - the chorus kicks in. Like the "tell me more, tell me more" bit of Summer Nights from Grease, the girls are all asking Cheryl whether she put the moves on some poor sap in a nightclub (that's chatting up a bloke, not smacking a toilet attendant in the face), and she keeps replying, "no no no". This will probably be quite a good bit in the video.

    It all goes a bit whirly after this, with the verses and the choruses all blending into one another. At one point Nadine sings "From top to bottom, I'm as warm as sunshine"*. I do hope she isn't running a temperature.

    Look... I'm not really explaining this very well. Why not listen to it?

    Girls Aloud - Sexy! No No No (Radio One exclusive first play)

    For all you pervs out there, here's a link to the faintly disturbing home-made video for the track I posted earlier

    * UPDATE! Some bits of the internet say this lyric is "From top to bottom, I'm a woman, sunshine". Which is precisely nine times more ace.

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    Thursday, July 19, 2007

    Reverend and the Makers: New single

  • Reverend and the Makers are an indie band you can dance to, like Franz Ferdinand, The Klaxons or Girls Aloud (nb: joke).

  • Their last single, Heavyweight Champion of the World, was not based on Roald Dahl's book Danny, Champion of the World, but it was rather good nonetheless.

  • Shockingly, frontman Jon McClure is not a real minister.

  • We know this because he once called Jonny Borrell (him out of Razorlight) "a cash and fame whore". A real minister would just have said "I am terribly sorry but I do not understand what you are talking about, son" and offered you some tea and a plate of nice biscuits.

  • McClure's brother is the bloke on the cover of the Arctic Monkeys' first album who has surely had more than his allotted 15 minutes of fame by now. This is a sad indictment of our celebrity-obsessed culture, etc.

  • Earlier this year, the band were so unimportant that Wikipedia kept deleting their page. Now their entry on the online encyclopaedia is roughly 2,000 words too long and has a whole load of quotation marks in "places" where they "should not be".

  • Their new song has the sound of someone chewing gum mixed all the way through it, but it is also rather good.

  • You can hear Radio One's first play of the track below. It is called He Said He Loved Me. Although Annie Mac said it was called Chew. Maybe she is involved in the corporation's sinister drive to lie repeatedly to the public.

    Reverend and the Makers - He Said He Loved Me

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  • Wednesday, July 18, 2007


    Mrsdiscopop and I have been to the cinema twice this week. Once to see Harry Potter (plot in six words: like the other ones but angsty) and once to see Die Hard 4.0 (plot in six words: a whole ton of shit blows up).

    While both movies weren't a complete waste of £7.00, the best thing we saw on either visit was this thing right here:

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    Tuesday, July 17, 2007

    Hooray for Robyn!!!

    I've been banging on about tiny Swedish poplet Robyn since last November, and it looks like the rest of the world is starting to catch up.

    After a couple of false starts, her new single, With Every Heartbeat, is all over Radio One. I even heard it in the all-important "first song after the news" slot this morning. She's also booked to do a live lounge session with Jo Whiley on 8th August (here's hoping she does her version of Prince's Jack U Off) and she's playing the very swanky Bush Hall in London - the venue where Lily Allen launched her album last year - on 7th September.

    All of this off the back of a self-produced, self-released album. Now that really is nothing short of a miracle given the parlous state of the music industry at the moment.

    However, there is still work to be done. With Every Heartbeat comes out on 30th July (digital) and 6th August (if you can find a record store any more). Let's pool all of our 79 pences and send it to the top 10. You know it makes sense.

    Shame the video is such a ropey load of twaddle, though.

    Click here to read my collected Robyn ramblings

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    This isn't Avril Lavigne's new single...

    ...but it might as well be.

    The band is called Paramore, and they're from a place called Franklin in Temmessee. Apparently, they're not just an attempt to cash in on the radio-friendly teen-punk market and are serious musicians with a credible sound.

    Everything I've read about them mentions that they're Christian. This has no impact on their music, but people seem to think its novel - despite the fact it's a massive religion with roughly 2.1bn followers worldwide. It's like pointing out the band have eaten a Big Mac, or own a television.

    The lead singer is 18-year-old Hayley Williams, who is possessed with a powerful set of pipes, as well as a rather striking singing voice. Apparently, the song is based on a true story about a girl who used "sex to manipulate one of my friends, in particular, to the point that none of us - in our little circle of friends - recognized him." She doesn't mention if this guy turned into a honking great purple dragon who ate kittens and could shoot toothpaste out his nostrils, but that seems to be the jist. (Are you sure about this? - Ed)

    Anyway, the band's second album, Riot, is meant to be good if you like that sort of thing. I'm holding back judgement until I hear a few more tracks, but I thought I'd share.

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    Sunday, July 15, 2007

    Free Prince album in 'not at all bad' shock

    Cripes, who'd have thought that the free Prince CD mounted on the front of the Daily Mail would be any good? Not anyone who's listened to, let's say, Chaos & Disorder or Old Friends 4 Sale - two of his contractual obligation albums from the end of the 1990s - that's for sure.

    But Planet Earth, while not a return to form (he's been perfectly on form since 2001's Rainbow Children) is a genuinely great slab of late-period Minneapolis midget.

    Eyebrows were raised when he chose to give the album away with the apallingly reactionary, right-wing middle-class, essentially racist Mail On Sunday but actually, it's not a bad fit. This is one of Prince's safest, whitest, records in a long time. As a point of reference, it's more like the pretty melodies of Diamonds and Pearls than the extended funk jams of 1999.

    Opener Planet Earth sounds like it's going to be awfully twee until the chorus kicks in, drills its way into your brain and then kicks up a gear. In a sign that Prince is enjoying himself, he does a guitar solo and that scream he's been perfecting since the end of Let's Go Crazy in 1984.

    Guitar and The One You Wanna See see him return to the hillbilly country-rock of early tracks like Delirious and When U Were Mine, and Mr Goodnight features one of the great man's less terrifying attempts at rap.

    The only real mis-steps are the pseudo-funk of Chelsea Rodgers, which calls to mind Leo Sayer's buttock-clenching attempts at disco, and All The Midnights In The World -a jazzy little ballad that the phrase "noodling away at the piano" was invented to describe. By me. Just then.

    If you bought the CD and are thinking "hey, this Prince guy can hold a tune, I wonder what else he's done" then a) Purple Rain, Kiss, Raspberry Beret, Gett Off, Little Red Corvette and 1999, and b) where in the name of the sweet baby Jesus and all that is pure and good in this world have you been?

    You can get hold of Prince's back-catalogue so easily it would be insulting (and, hey, illegal) to put any of it up here. But if you're interested in investigating further, here are a couple of his forgotten gems - songs he wrote for other bands that are of equal brilliance to his solo work, but which have been unfairly sidelined by the sort of people who write "The 100 greatest songs you need to have on your iPod or generic MP3 player" lists for Rolling Stone and Q. Enjoy!

    Download "Prince wrote this" (zip file with six MP3s)

    The Time - Jungle Love
    Sheila E - The Glamorous Life (club edit)
    Martika - Love... Thy Will Be Done
    Bangles - Manic Monday (nb: this has exactly the same melody as 1999 in the verses)
    Sheena Easton - 101
    Chaka Khan - I Feel For You

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    "My lipgloss be cool"

    Lots of people on the internet are wetting their knickers over this song by L'il Mama, called Lipgloss.

    I fucking hate it, so what am I missing?

    Look, you little hooligan, it's my lipgloss IS cool, my lipgloss IS popping. Got that? Good, now go out and mug some grannies for their tea money and stop bothering me.

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    Friday, July 13, 2007

    Badger news

    UK military spokesman Major Mike Shearer said: "We can categorically state that we have not released man-eating badgers into the area".

    Find out what's going on at the Bee Bee Cee's news website

    Get your geography on

    Here is an educationally instructive video for those of you who need something to memorise for the weekend.

    The countries of the world, sung by Yakko Warner

    PS: Do you think they mis-spelled Israel "Isreal" to make some kind of political point?
    PPS: What happened to South Africa
    PPPS: stands for "please press play soon"

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    Thursday, July 12, 2007

    Natalie Imbruglia: Glorious

    Natalie Imbruglia's Torn came out at the same time as I moved to London ten years ago, and soundtracked my first year in the big city. It remains one of my favourite pop songs of all time in the world ever in perpetuity ad infinitum. With or without the video (but preferably with - *sigh*).

    I can't quite believe it's been an entire decade (or that Natalie is the same age as me - surely she's been around for donkey's years?) but it looks like Sony have noticed, and are trying to flog a few more copies of her biggest hit by sticking it on a "singles collection", due out next month.

    Now, I'm a bit of an Imbruglia buff - with a B-sides playlist on my iPod and everything - but I think most other people would find it easier to remember what her character was called in Neighbours than to name one of her other hits (Shiver, Big Mistake and Wrong Impression are the biggest ones - fact fans).

    That aside, I hope she gets a profile boost from the retrospective. Natalie's actually quite an interesting songwriter and she has a new album scheduled for next year. I'd hate to see it canned if the singles compilation stiffs.

    The obligatory new single is called Glorious, and she premiered it - along with a new haircut - on the Graham Norton show last week. It has one of those shimmering monsters of a chorus that are Nat's stock in trade and will almost certainly be inescapable if you're the sort of person who listens to Radio 2. Here's the performance in all its badly-lip-synced, second-verse-omitted glory:

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    Wednesday, July 11, 2007

    The arrow of unmistakable truth returns

    Tuesday, July 10, 2007

    Amerie: Gotta Work video

    This is still my favourite song of the year so far. You can tell Amerie has been studying her classic soul - Gotta Work has echoes of the Isley Brothers, Aretha Franklin and the best bits of Motown. And, boy, can she sing.

    The video is your bog-standard R&B affair - a woman in hotpants, some faintly aggressive dancing, slow-motion hair flicking - but it has a few excellent moments involving a chair and a man banging a dustbin. Nice sunglasses, too.

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