All of the below are reviews written for work, the only part of the job I enjoy. If I've actually seen the film or heard the CD I'm writing about, then I can't remember, but the general rule is no. It is, of course, easier to be rude about something, but the purpose here isn't anything other than to provide entertainment for staff working in the retail industry, and consequently in need of all the entertainment they can get. I often refer to myself as SOB here, as that's the name of the document in which these are published.
In a bit of inventive demography that deserves to have an award created just so it can win it, Blake fill the gap that no one knew was there. If G4 are too racy for you and Il Divo too Italian, then Blake are your boys. Close-harmony “pop” versions by four chaps who could’ve been designed by computer once the variables “can sing inoffensively”, “look like minor public school prefects” and “this’ll do until dad’s bank comes up with that job” had been plugged in. Parky, and a good few thousand of our customers are going to love this. Despite being as dyed-in-the-wool a rugby fan as you’re ever likely to meet, their version of Swing Low makes SOB feel a bit ill, let alone the cover of God Only Knows (not so much gilding the lily as cutting it’s head off, deep-frying it and using it to batter a dog). Laughably, they pretended they’d met on Facebook until that bit of PR was rumbled by the merest sniff of investigative reporting.
Clarkson Supercar Showdown
SOB is ambivalent about Clarkson. He gets paid such a fantastic amount of money for just mucking about that I should hate him, yet his undeniable way with words is endearing. He veers dangerously close to Littlejohn-style “hell in a handcart” hectoring yet there’s a sneaking suspicion he doesn’t believe half of what he spouts. This looks like a DVD about fast cars, a subject about which SOB cares little and knows less, but he’s well aware he’s in the minority. Someone should tell our Jez that “hands in/thumbs out” is a pocket stance with no credibility whatsoever, but it might be an improvement on the “baffled, palms aloft, what’s going on with this country?” look that adorns most of his
Drastic Fantastic – KT Tunstall
She’s being ironic, no? Light glinting on a glittery guitar, questionable cowboy/pixie boot hybrid, patented “rock chick” pose and a bloody awful font into the bargain. Yes, tonight Matthew, I’m going to be Pat Benetar, only without the sweatband. The existence of KT Tunstall is a fine example of entropy in action. Just as the question “What did happen to Sharleen Spiteri”? was vaguely forming in the mind of the public during a quiet Wednesday, up pops KTT to seamlessly fill the gap. A kind of Texas 2.0, if I can generalise wildly.
Rome Season 2
Whichever smart-aleck telly producer rocked up with the words “Cross Gladiator with Dallas and fill it with Brits acting their socks off” scrawled on a beermat that Monday has done alright in SOB’s eyes. Machinations a go-go, season 1 cliffhangers resolved, sex, violence, stone-cold psychopaths – Rome 2 has the lot and more. Some historical accuracy is obviously sacrificed for the sake of the rattling pace but then this isn’t a crammer and it might get more people to read Rubicon You’re bound to learn something via telly osmosis, even if it’s only that ancient Romans actually spoke like RADA graduates and if they wanted to swear they employed rather robust Anglo-Saxon phraseology, the language of love being ill suited to politically motivated familicide.
All The Lost Souls – James Blunt
James Blunt? JAMES BLUNT?? Did our forefathers die in vain? SOB is torn between giving full vent to his spleen and shrugging half-heartedly at the meaninglessness of it all. Nursery rhyme “love songs” with the emotional depth of a teaspoon and a justifiable reason for forcibly re-enlisting the ex-captain and dropping him over a war zone armed with nothing but a webcam, some peas and a t-shirt saying “Target Practice”. And that is without doubt the worst cover I have ever seen. James Blunt is one of Britain's biggest selling artists. No more words are needed.
In Our Nature – Jose Gonzalez
Contender for the title “The World’s Unlikeliest Named Swede”, Jose Gonzalez is back with his first CD since Borders’ favourite Veneer a year or two back. Just like the Hawley of last month, don’t expect any major departures in terms of style or tone, but that’s not a reason to doubt that this will be another low-key winner. Coming on like an Arctic Nick Drake is fine and dandy in SOB’s eyes, although the worrying trend for covering Massive Attack’s Teardrop continues, leading to the possibility that it’ll become the ‘90s version of Eleanor Rigby – the majesty of the original being perceptibly diminished by repeated re-interpretation. At the very least it’s less likely to make you want to remove your eyes with a spoon than Newton Bloody Faulkner’s version. Actually, I’ve just heard it, and it’s just as bad
I Can Make You Rich by Paul McKenna
Not content with making us all non-smoking beanpoles with no fear of spiders, Britain’s most unsettling self-help guru is back and promising us the wealth of Croesus. With his trademark intense-looking headshot and shades-of-omnipotence title, McKenna is less a man than a brand and this will sell by the skipload. Therefore this will work, but by degrees: it might make you a bit better off, it will certainly do no harm to the company accounts, but the copper-bottomed certainty is that it will make one Paul McKenna considerably richer than he already is, which is very. SOB waits in fear for the next title I Can Have You Killed. Does he still make grown men bark like dogs and eat onions?
Pictures / Katie Melua
“There are 9 million Katie Melua CDs in Beijing, that’s a fact, it’s a thing you can’t deny, like the fact that out the doors this CD will fly.
It makes you wonder, if the publics appetite, for balladry that’s trite, bordering on jazz-lite will ever tire
There are 42 shops in our estate, and a large proportion of, our customers will think that this is great”
Repeat to fade
© Two Cans of Special Brew and a Rhyming Dictionary Music Ltd
Or Sin City - The Thermopylae Years. Lurid, blood-spattered, and as historically accurate as Carry On Follow That Camel, 300 seeks to convince us that Spartans spoke with broad Scottish accents, the Men’s Health Abs Program is a lot older than we all thought and that Xerxes was 12ft tall and dressed like a drag queen show wrestler. Preposterous in the best sense of the word and LOUD LOUD LOUD
Best of Friends by Jools Holland
Now don’t get me wrong, I like Jools Holland. He’s an endearingly shambolic presenter, plays a mean Joanna and used to be in Squeeze, so top marks so far. Whether the world needs a compilation of duets pried from his earlier albums is debatable though. All the usual suspects turn up for a spot of identikit soulfulness, with sporadic splashes of trademark boogie-woogie. The soundtrack to a middle-aged regional manager’s dream party and a bit like a tape of Later….. with the indie bands edited out. It does feature everyone’s favourite chronic alcoholic and Colgate poster boy Shane Macgowan, a man who knows a decent duet when he sees one, so maybe I should just shut up, pop downstairs and hear it on the playlist like the rest of you.
Keats, as I’m sure I don’t need to tell anyone reading this, called autumn the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”. Well times have changed Johnny boy and “season of wrecked crops thanks to nothing but rain all bloody summer” might be nearer the mark now. So what better way to bring a little sunshine in than a superhero blockbuster? The addition of “comedy” sequences in one of the darker franchises makes for an uneven tone that raised a few purists’ eyebrows but, y’know, lighten up – it’s for kids and selling hamburgers. An element of plot fudging is probably to be expected by the second sequel, and introducing amnesia to cover it up is just plain lazy, but disregard that, disengage your brain and Bingo!
Still on Top – The Greatest Hits - Van Morrison
Contrary to astronomical orthodoxy, fading stars don’t die, they just release new “Greatest Hits” albums, despite not having had a recognizable hit since the release of their last “Greatest Hits” album. In Van’s case, this is about 18 years. On the plus side his voice could crack granite at fifty yards and some of his songs are genuine belters. Pity he stopped writing them years ago really. All the ones on this you know, you’ve heard too many times at unimaginative wedding discos to really like them anymore and the rest is from his later “twaddle” period. To include a head-meltingly bad duet with Cliff Richard but omit everything from the magisterial Astral Weeks is laughable. This will sell, make no mistake about it.
Long Road Out of Eden by The Eagles
It’s all gone a bit Traveling Wilbury’s again. This is the first studio album by the Eagles since 1742. Who knew they were still peddling their particular brand of sunny country-rock? Not SOB for sure, but then predictably I could never see what all the fuss was about with Hotel California. I guess you had to be there. Extra soft-spot points are awarded however, for Eagle-in-chief Don Henley having written top 80’s tune The Boys of Summer, guaranteed to have SOB listening to the roar of the metaphorical sports car of his youth disappearing over the horizon filled with fawn-eyed girls with sun-browned legs, a case of cider and the withered husk of his potential.
Raising Sand by Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
An altogether more intriguing prospect. We all know about Robert Plant – leather lungs, 70’s goblin fixation, blew The Charlatans off the stage at Isle of Wight in ’02 (maybe that’s just me). Alison Krauss, bluegrass stalwart and possessor of extraordinary coruscating voice, has a place close to SOB’s heart if only for her cover of the Temptations Baby, Now That I’ve Found You, as featured in unmissable Oz comedy The Castle. What’s this CD going to be like? No idea. In my store days, a gent came in quite flustered as he’d heard her on the radio and been so moved as to park his car practically on the pavement, dry his tears and rush into to buy everything we had by her. Now that’s a recommendation
Die Hard 4.0
Ooh, check out the bleeding-edge title. SOB can only assume that they’ve gone for this cos the film, like a certain operating system I could mention, has a crash of some sort every two minutes from the second you start it. Middle-aged wish-fulfilment a go-go, and impossible to take seriously. But not in a bad way.
Awkward Annie – Kate Rusby
The OOTW pendulum swings again this week, back to the bit marked Top Quality New Releases For Those Who Know Their Onions. There seems to be an EU directive that Kate Rusby should win every award she’s ever nominated for and the streak is unlikely to be broken with her new one. The usual mix of covers and originals, delivered in a voice scientifically engineered to make grown men cry. For the uninitiated, think a less wistful Kathryn Williams or an unimaginably less rubbish Norah Jones. Then double the class. Minus marks for annoying faux naïf cover art are outweighed by a big gold star for sheer quality. The CD equivalent of a cashmere kitten, only without the potential for allergies
Curse of the Golden Flower
This is the most expensive film ever made in China and can’t you just tell. In the way of Chinese cod-historical epics, Curse has a large cast of characters) involved in labyrinthine plots and counter-plots, family secrets, Oedipal flourishes and the kind of wire-work martial arts scenes that 5 years ago had us picking our jaws off the floor and these days has us idly scratching our knees and reaching for the fizzy cola bottles. Add in a sprinkling of mushroom poisoning, an enormous battle scene and the obligatory stunning visuals (in this case a carpet of chrysanthemums) and Bob’s your uncle, as they probably didn’t say during the Tang dynasty.
Harvest – Neil Young
It couldn’t last, loyal SOBbers, one week of genuine quality new release CD action and it’s back to the “classics” - every-home-should-have-one CDs at petrol station prices. Originally released in 1972, Harvest sees Young in country-folk-rock territory, a bit like if Willie Nelson adopted a falsetto voice and covered Aerosmith songs in a woolly jumper. Probably. As with previous weeks’ Rumours and Blue, there’s nothing I can tell you about this that you don’t know already so in the spirit of being back in primary school, let’s all just put our heads on our desks and have quiet time until the DVD bit turns up. Fingers on lips is optional but appreciated.
Notes on a Scandal
Isn’t that better? Something of a turnaround here as it’s the DVD providing the meat in this week’s metaphorical OOTW sandwich and a pungent, pastrami-style filling it is too. Adapted from Zoë Heller’s Booker-shortlisted novel, this manages to be both faithful to the source material and a decent bit of dark-hued entertainment in its own right. The piece is held together by a storming performance from everyone’s favourite Dame as the manipulative, detached yet oddly sympathetic Barbara, with strong support from Cate Blanchett (in ethereal, tortured mode) and Bill Nighy (in genuine class whatever role he’s playing mode). Add in a sharp script from Patrick (Closer / Peter O’Hanrahahanranhan) Marber and you’re quids in.
Lady’s Bridge – Richard Hawley
Now this is more like it – a proper new CD and a bona fide OOTW. There may be people out there who weren’t seduced by Coles Corner’s silken balladry but they’re probably all hanging out together in the woods somewhere drinking mud and as far as SOB is concerned, that’s where they can stay. Richard Hawley has a gift for melody and a way with words that in a sane world would make James Blunt eat his own head in envy and shame. Wisely taking the decision to stick with the formula so successfully realised on its predecessor, Lady’s Bridge is also suffused with sadness at the death of Hawley’s father, an emotional position well suited to Hawley’s Orbison-esque baritone. SOB, as may be becoming apparent, is a big fan, and will fight anyone who says different.
Pursuit of Happyness (2)
Life, as usual, gives with one hand whilst taking away with the other. The last in our series of available titles at pocket-money prices, this was gleefully put to the sword - sorry, objectively reviewed – in SOB w/c 7th May and the intervening weeks have done nothing to dull SOB’s ire. Those determined to find a silver lining in the No-New-DVD-OTW-Thunder-Cloud, will be gratified to learn that at least this spares you having to read a balanced, erudite, cinematically literate dissection of Mr. Bean’s Holiday – a film so bottomlessly awful that the great Jacques Tati wouldn’t so much turn in his grave as re-animate himself, remove his own femur and fashion it into a tennis racquet using Rowan Atkinson’s nervous system for strings. Oh.
Or, to put it another way, Mark Wahlberg has quality control issues. Choosing to follow up an Oscar-nominated turn in The Departed with this mishmash of derivative conspiracy theories and borrowed action tropes seems wilfully perverse. If you were to step into my imaginary movie bar and order a watered down cocktail of The Jackal (the remake), The Parallax View, The Recruit and Clear and Present Danger then I might serve you something like this, along with a list of clichés on a coaster for you to tick off. Crack sniper who’s turned his back on society? Check. Attempt on the President’s life? Check. Shadowy government agents who have their own agenda? Check, etc etc. Shooter includes dialogue along the lines of “Out of all the men alive on the planet, you’re one of the few who knows what to look for”, which should tell you all you need to know. SOB also ponders the wisdom of having the words “From The Director of Training Day” on the cover, as if that was an unassailable guarantee of thrills as opposed to a largely meaningless waste of ink. Still, that raw silk toilet roll doesn’t come cheap does it Mark?
In which Ioan Gruffudd swaps greying temples and a Lycra suit for a periwig and breeches to become William Wilberforce, abolitionist, and subject of William Hague’s recent biography. It also stars Albert Finney as John Newton, the former slave-ship owner who recants his ways and writes a song that SOB now can’t get out of his head. If you swap the words “slave trade” for “climate change”, William Wilberforce” for “Al Gore” and “stirring rhetoric in the Houses of Parliament” for “PowerPoint presentation in room 5C down the corridor”, you could easily draw parallels with our own time. Interestingly, in later life Wilberforce became addicted to laudanum. In today’s parlance, he was a smackhead, leading to the unutterably bizarre conclusion that he was the 19th century’s answer to both Nelson Mandela and Pete Doherty, all rolled into one.
Hand Built By Robots - Newton Faulkner
Every couple of years, someone seems to pop out of nowhere and rapidly become ubiquitous, leaving record company execs dribbling with pleasure and everyone else with the faintly disturbing feeling that they’ve fallen for it again. This year it’s the turn of the improbably monikered Newton Faulkner. For anyone unaware, and you will soon be in the minority, he looks like one of The Levellers (actually all of them), but sounds like Jack Johnson and uses his acoustic guitar as much as percussion as in the traditional manner. And, God help us all, he covers Massive Attack’s Teardrop in this fashion. Coming soon to both a coffee table near you and the soundtrack to a willfully zeitgeist-y twenty/thirtysomething drama, but even sooner to your in-store playlist, this should do really well for us, in the manner of Jose Gonzales and the aforementioned JJ. SOB is also proud to be the first to coin the phrase “David Gray for the dog-on-a-string brigade”
Jekyll Series 1
Sensing that the country was tiring of Yellow Pages adverts in which he plays a watered-down version of his own public image, James Nesbitt clearly decided to start acting again – so much so that he took on two roles at once. Putting a new spin on old stories can often be a tricky business and this one opts for conspiracy theories, gore galore and even the odd joke. What SOB finds difficult to believe is the twist that the good doctor has managed to hide his psychotically split personality from his wife and two children. Granted, Hyde might miss the fact that the dishwasher’s always used efficiently and socks on the floor are not tolerated, but surely Mrs Jekyll is keener-eyed (i.e. “Are those lips on your collar”?). At the very least she must have read the book at school…
One Chance - Paul Potts
In the fast moving world of current affairs, the summer months are traditionally known as the Silly Season. Real news takes a well-earned self-catering holiday on the Costa Dorada and the media is full of stories about recorder-playing pandas, sightings of the Virgin Mary in soup and atavistic local festivals (World Peashooting Championships, Witcham, Cambs this Saturday if anyone’s interested). It very much looks to SOB that the music industry is on the joke. Unless you count the re-release of The Levellers’ back catalogue, this is one of only two new CDs out this week. A former am-dram opera enthusiast and Carphone Warehouse manager made famous by the telly, this might be the nadir for CDOTW. For a brief second, SOB’s eyes lit up when he thought he had to review but the debut CD by Pol Pot. Alas, it wasn’t to be and that sound you can hear is me crawling under the desk to die.
Given that it’s called Coast 3, SOB can’t help thinking it should be subtitled The Revenge and carry the strapline “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the rockpool.” Ah well. Continuing the BBC’s policy of releasing factual documentary series on DVD within hours of the initial transmission date (see also Sandrine’s Paris, How We Built Britain etc) is this. Oddly, they’ve chosen a cover that looks like a how-to example in a Photoshop manual, leading SOB to question the wisdom with which his license fee is spent. Prepare to be humbled by the magnificence of Cleethorpes at sunset.
We’ll Live and Die In These Towns - The Enemy
Official CDOTW are thin on the ground these days but frankly, when there’s stuff this good around, who needs it? Hailing from the same town where SOB spent his formative years, bless them, The Enemy are already pumping out pop gems, being a bit bolshy and being featured in Observer Music Monthly. Which isn’t bad seeing they have a combined age of about 35. It’s enough to take a dewy-eyed SOB back to days spent lurking around the precinct in a Harrington jacket. They’re whole-heartedly doing their bit to widen the generation gap and that can only be healthy in SOB’s eyes, as he squeezes himself into a pair of skinny black jeans and orders another round of Bacardi Breezers.
Honestly, you wait years for a film about fin de siecle magicians starring a preposterously intense character actor and then two come along at once. A few years ago, Ed Norton was tipped to be the next De Niro on the back of electrifying performances in Primal Fear and American History X. At the moment it’s looking like he’ll become the next Sean Penn instead, which isn’t nearly as enticing a prospect, but fingers crossed he’ll get over that. This bears up well next to The Prestige and sees Norton doing his mumbling/tortured bit to decent effect as the titular prestidigitator of his day, being doubted, and then hunted by a sceptical Austrian policeman. A noted method actor, Norton used the real David Copperfield’s eyebrows to fashion the goatee beard he sports throughout the film.
Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles
It’s finally happened. SOB is lost for words but contractual obligations mean that the paragraph still gets written. While there isn’t a man, woman or child in the country who doesn’t know about this CD, the fact that we’ve sold over 3000 copies of this in the last 12 months alone means there’s still plenty of people who don’t yet own it. This year is the 40th anniversary of its release so expect even more publicity than it normally gets. In a spirit of cheerful iconoclasm, SOB thinks it’s hugely overrated and would gladly never hear it again. Does anyone actually listen to it anymore from start to finish or is it just something people feel they should own due to its unassailable position as a cultural cornerstone?
The Devil Wears Prada
The Setting: England. The Date: 1616. The grieving widow of England’s finest playwright makes a deal. In exchange for eternal life, Anne Hathaway, spurred on by the drunken ghost of Kit Marlowe, agrees to do Mephistopheles’ bidding. Bewildered, and slightly cowed by the fallen angel’s talk of silver screens and people 20ft high, Anne is nonetheless thrilled to discover that in 400 years time, not only is she still pretty darn cute, but that it’s so much easier to power-dress without all that hay getting everywhere. The devil smirks, brushes off his lapels, and goes home to watch the first season of Ugly Betty on DVD
Pan’s Labyrinth –
Fairy Tales for Adults often fall into one of two distinct camps – the magical realist (see Company of Wolves) and the wryly knowing (see The Princess Bride – and then stop watching films because that’s as good as they get). No prizes for guessing which one this falls into, although it swaps the feminist theory of Wolves for political allegory and frankly eye-popping brutality in places. Previously responsible for Devil’s Backbone and Hellboy here del Toro combines the Franco allusions of the former with the visual imagination of the latter, and then turns them both up to 11. Not for the faint-hearted, ambiguous and adult in the best possible sense, if SOB had three thumbs, they’d all be up. Still not as scary as the Ms Kelly cover though.
Icky Thump – White Stripes
Again, not an official CD of the week but the biggest release of the week by some distance so it gets the packshot’n’gags treatment in the absence of anything proper. Judging by their appearance on Jools Holland a couple of weeks ago, two things are abundantly clear. First, the songs on this album are up there with the Stripes’ best and that’s high praise indeed. Secondly, Jack White is an astonishingly odd character, combining a pub fighter’s physique with a drag queen’s cheekbones, unnervingly beady eyes and an accent that comes direct from Gone With The Wind. Essentially then, the human equivalent of playing consequences, which is exactly what we want in a pop star, and as if that wasn’t enough this record also features bagpipes. Take that Enriqué Iglesias, or Eric Churches as you’re known back home.
Blood Diamond –
In which Leo makes an unlikely pitch to be the new Meryl Streep, rocking up with an accent that says nothing so much as “I’ve had accent lessons” or more accurately “Oiv hid ixunt lissuns.” Set during the Civil War that engulfed Sierra Leone in the 1990’s, Leo is a smuggler; Djimon Honsou a fisherman. And SOB is a monkey’s uncle. In reality, this is a decent attempt to tackle a morally murky topic. While it obviously puts a Hollywood spin on the events that led to the Kimberly Process, making a serious film about a gut-wrenching subject without being too preachy is always to be applauded. Now where did I put my ruby-studded toothpick..?
Traveling Wilburys –
This one might take some explaining to the under-30’s. The Traveling Wilburys haven’t released a record since 1990. This is for several reasons, the most obvious being that two of them are dead. “So what?” I hear you cry, “that hasn’t stopped The Who”, and you’d have a point. Except in this case the dead members are George Harrison and Roy Orbison, which can mean only one thing. Yes, we’re in Supergroup territory. Jeff Lynne (ELO), Tom Petty (sans Heartbreakers) and Bob Dylan were also in on the wheeze and the two albums they put out (Volume 1 and, hilariously, Volume 3) are collected here along with a DVD featuring interviews, clips and videos. Considering the sheer songwriting ability assembled, SOB couldn’t hum a Wilburys track if you pointed a gun at him, but that’s not the point. These CDs have been unavailable for over a decade and already the buzz is practically audible. In the words of the Music team “If you could slice this CD open it’d have Borders written through it like a stick of rock”. This shouldn’t actually be attempted. As an interesting coda, Supergroups were outlawed at the turn of the century on humanitarian grounds as all post-Wilburys attempts featured That Bloke From Ocean Colour Scene
Bruce Springsteen/War Of The Worlds/Genesis
Again there’s no official CD of the week so instead we proudly present The SOB AOR Summer Special Hat Trick (brought to you in association with Father’s Day). Three CDs are released this week that couldn’t be more Dad if they started sporting cardies and tapping twice on the roof of your car before you drive off. First up is Bruce Live in Dublin, radically re-worked but still Boss-tastic. Next, we have 1-disc highlights of War of the Worlds, which sounds a bit wrong – after all, would you have 1-disc highlights of Blonde on Blonde? Sign O’The Times? Tales From the Topographic Oceans? Ok scrub that last one. But bestriding them all like a Dad-rock Colossus is the mighty ‘sis. Jesus, He Knows Them and He knows they’re rich. All the hits, all the ‘sis. If enough people buy it, they might stay in Switzerland next time. Non-stereotyped Dads might prefer the Clash Singles album (see Buyers’ News), but they’re too good to make jokes about.
Music & Lyrics
Oh how SOB has waited for this day. Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore, the Rom-Com equivalent of the Bader-Meinhof Gang, together at last. He’s a washed-up pop star commissioned to write a song. She’s a “neurotic plant lady”, whatever that means. He’s got the tune but can’t think of the words. How will it end? This is aimed squarely at the Wedding Singer / Starter for 10 80’s nostalgia market and isn’t nearly as bad as its own promo sheet makes it sound. No Grosse Point Blank, but that should really go without saying.
Sweet Warrior – Richard Thompson
Teenage popstrels, bewildering Vikings and disco-posh are all very well, but what if your needs are broader, your hankerings more melancholic and your tastes more, well, beardy? Step forward everyone’s favourite beret-clad Sufi and Dave Gorman impersonator. With a pedigree going back 40 years, Richard Thompson is English folk royalty. Except he lives in Los Angeles. From Fairport Convention through the Richard ‘n’ Linda years to his career-autumn renaissance, the acclaim has rarely been anything other than universal and that won’t change with this new release. His most famous publicity shot has him playing a bar chord on a chainsaw. Parsnip wine anyone?
Trip The Light Fantastic – Sophie Ellis-Bextor
Not strictly CD of the week, but as there isn’t one officially, SOB can’t resist plugging this. Is it because she’s posh and points her finger while she dances? No. Is it purely out of nostalgia for her mum on Blue Peter? Well maybe a bit. Is it because she’s so shiny as to be practically laminated, effortlessly showing Jude Law in AI that this is how to look like an android, yet also capturing a kind of golden-age-screen-siren vivacity that makes SOB want a lie down and a cold flannel? Bingo.
If the subject of the Rocky films were anything other than boxing, the premise of this latest instalment would be preposterous even by Sly’s standards. However, boxing it is and so the idea of a man old enough to qualify for a Stanner stairlift and a weekly visit from Meals on Wheels mounting a challenge for the world heavyweight crown is not only plausible but downright likely. Cue the dementedly grotesque spectacle of a 60-year old body builder attempting to re-live past glories and resurrect a career that’s been less than kind of late. Those of an allegorical bent may spot a parallel with real life.
Release The Stars – Rufus Wainwright
Normal service resumes this week, with the actual real proper and correct CD and DVD of the week. SOB blames the Bublé cover, on which the Quebecois crooner looks like a Thunderbirds puppet with half its face blown off. In contrast Rufus Wainwright appears to have opted for the only classical statue of Daffy Duck to promote his new set Release The Stars. Never knowingly under-produced, the big RW has apparently toned down the operatics a bit since the Want diptych, giving the vibrato the heave-ho and making the whole thing a bit more accessible. Baroque ‘n’ Roll, if you will.
The Pursuit of Happyness (1)
Will Smith’s transformation from cartoonishly non-threatening rapper to Hollywood’s equivalent of a National Treasure continues apace. This is the sort of film Morgan Freeman might have made 20 years ago, had he been possessed of considerably less dignity, talent and an unusually large gas bill that month. Inspired by a true story, it says on the cover, which translates as “nominated for an Oscar, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, honest-but-downtrodden-guy-makes-good, cute kid, uplifting score, etc etc”. Erin Brockovich for blokes.
Volta – Bjork
Well that’s a hell of a cover even by Bjork’s high standards. What it sounds like is anybody’s guess but SOB hopes that the aural matches the visual and this is the sonic equivalent of dressing up in two-hundredweight of melted fruit gums. Never afraid to walk her own path, Iceland’s premier pop elf is back and this year’s one-word title is Volta. As likely to include a sample of yaks giving birth in a sensory deprivation tank as it is to include a pop gem like Big Time Sensuality. Take that Joss Stone.
A tense and moving WW2 thriller from the director of Basic Instinct and Starship Troopers filmed in his native Dutch? Twenty years in the making, this is clearly a labour of love for Paul Verhoeven, so it’s only SOB calling it Anne Frank: The Showgirl Years then.
Favourite Worst Nightmare – Arctic Monkeys
What’s all this guff about “difficult second album” then? They’ve only been around for 18 months or so but Arctic Monkeys are unquestionably THE British guitar act of the decade, garnering critical acclaim and adoring fans the way other boys their age garner zit cream and rejections from Debbie in Home Ec. If the Foo Fighters’ guitar sound is a pint of Guinness (thick, creamy, grown up) then the Arctic’s sound is an alcopop Tizer (sharp, fizzy and liable to be spiked with something stronger if you don’t pay attention). This will be the sound of summer so don’t pretend you’re too old to enjoy it.
Somewhere there’s a parallel world, where hedgehogs are the dominant planetary species and humans are farmed, run over and kept as pets. In this world, children’s books are correspondingly theriomorphic and the equivalent of Mrs Tiggwinkle looks like Renee Zelwegger. If anyone else has a better explanation for this inspired bit of casting, SOB would like to hear it. Thought not. Despite being ostensibly a kid’s movie, this has a frankly terrifying cover with Renee looking more like Lizzie Borden than Beatrix Potter. Maybe that’s what makes it a PG.
In the absence of even a halfway-decent music release this week (Avril Lavigne anyone?), it’s just the DVD. Adapted from the book by wunderkind Christopher Paolini, Eragon, has all you’d want from a film with a dragon including John Malkovich (phoning in his performance and thinking of the fee), Jeremy Irons (visibly gasping for a liquorice roll-up and thinking of the fee) and Robert Carlyle (not braining anyone with a pint glass) not to mention an improbably good-looking cast of teens and tweens, some of whom may already be battling rather more quotidian evils in true Drew Barrymore style
Our Earthly Pleasures – Maximo Park
Top new CD from the band everyone at SOB towers is calling The Futureheads It’s Still OK To Like. This feisty and melodic follow-up to A Certain Trigger boasts a clean and beefy sound, courtesy of erstwhile Pixies producer Gil Norton. Paul Smith’s witty, intelligent lyrics are made all the more affecting by being delivered in mellifluous Geordie, rather than drawling transatlantic. Catch them at a festival near you this year, effortlessly bridging the gap between Franz Ferdinand-style sharp dressing and 5-a-side Kaiser Chiefery
Night At The Museum
Ben Stiller, Ricky Gervais and Dick Van Dyke (!) star in this chilling political allegory of reptile revenge across time, where the bones of long-dead dinosaurs re-animate and prove that hubris really does lead to nemesis where man is concerned. Actually, no they don’t. This is CGI family entertainment at its best with a ready-made market at Easter time. Maybe not as much fun as One Of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing, but so little in life is. It does have a cool tachegram cover though
The Very Best of The Doors
If you ask SOB, it’s a bit of a cheek calling your first album “The Very Best Of” but that’s modern pop groups for you. This Los Angeles four-piece is squarely in the revivalist tradition, carting a sound that could’ve been minted in 1967 straight into the early 21st century and flogging it for all it’s worth. After just one listen it’s clear they’ve got a few corking tracks, but some others suggest the jazz fags are best left well alone (yes, Stoned Immaculate, I’m talking to you). The lead singer’s penchant for adopting the DJ “Choon” pose augurs well and his resemblance to portly thesp lothario Val Kilmer surely can’t do any harm either.
Dun-duddle-undun-dun-dun-dun-dun-duddle-undun-dun-dun-DUN-dun-dun-dun-dun! Hokey, bloke-y and a little bit jokey, BOND IS BACK. After losing water, and then everyone’s interest for the last few years, Daniel Craig does a bang-up job of making the world’s favourite spy franchise relevant again, sticking a resolute two fingers up to those who doubted his credentials for the role into the bargain.
Wisely ditching the invisible cars and face transplants in favour of a grit-in-the-knuckle-wounds realism and a return to Fleming’s storylines (more or less), Casino Royale exceeded just about everybody’s expectations. This is genuinely the release of the year so far and as such has the OOTW spot all to itself. It’ll be all over FOS so expect it to sell at a rate that would make Auric Goldfinger consider a career in entertainment retail, if only for the product-placement opportunities
Neon Bible – Arcade Fire Arcade Fire generally garner the kind of critical acclaim reserved for God. Their debut CD Funeral was a mainstay of just about everybody’s “Best of the Year” lists – from the NME to the Sunday Times via Good Food magazine and What Toaster? If you haven’t heard them, they’re what Pink Martini would sound like if they spent less time in middle class cocktail bars and more time playing pinball with bikers. Sophisticated, engaging and so original they might as well have a patent, this is a connoisseur’s choice and no mistake. I saw them at a Dutch festival in the heady days of ’05 and they were awesome, although Health & Safety might have a word about the bloke playing a tambourine with his head. Oh, and it’s called Neon Bible, after a novel by unrecognized-in-his-lifetime genius John Kennedy Toole.