Friday, 30 September 2011

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

For my at-home film fest this year, I watched the entire second season (22 episodes) of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.  This was originally broadcast on Satellite TV here in the UK a few years back so as the only person on this isle that does not have a Satellite Dish disfiguring their house, it passed me by.  Nevertheless, watching it years later on DVD has its benefits, one of which goes, ‘OK - I’ll watch just ONE more episode…’

…Six episodes later I rise bleary-eyed from the sofa to get a coffee fix.  Yes, it is that addictive.  The plot has more twists than the Hampton Court Maze and the acting is superb – especially from Summer Glau as Cameron the Terminator whose unnervingly spooky not-quite-human mannerisms are very unsettling.  All in all, it is cracking stuff, which means of course that those haters of quality TV, the Fox Corporation, immediately cancelled it.

It has become abundantly clear that the business model that is Television is now completely broken.  Programming exists merely to ensure that as many viewers as possible are available to watch adverts.  Advertising is now the real reason why television exists, with the programmes between them being a subservient lure.  Quality programmes that attract an enthusiastic core following are not, by their very nature, a strong enough enticement to casual ‘viewers’ (i.e. those that merely have the set on while doing something else) to satisfy the real paymasters; the advertisers.

Science fiction and fantasy programmes seem to suffer particularly badly from the core viewer syndrome.  Look at the number given the chop (programmes, not viewers) prematurely, Buffy (although reprieved after season 5), Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, Tru Calling, and now The Sarah Connor Chronicles.  The real reason these projects were canned was because their viewers don’t watch adverts like good little consumers.  We actually prefer good drama.  Shame on us.

Which brings me to another subject: Torchwood.  What the hell has happened to it?  The current series, ‘Miracle Day’ sucks.  After three episodes of a 10 episode run, I’m bored out of my brain.  Seems the mix of UK and US locations/writing/actors just doesn’t work.  The best of US produced Sci-Fi/Fantasy (see all those in the canned list above) are fabulous pieces of TV.  Ditto, the UK series, Dr Who being the prime example, which are also magnificent.  But try and make a hybrid and what do you get?  Torchwood.  I may not stay the course.  I’m going to cancel it before someone else does for the first time ever.  Yay me!

Friday, 16 September 2011

Marina and the Diamonds - Fear and Loathing

Some time back in the mists of blogdom I raved about Greek Welshwoman, Marina and the Diamonds.  Time has passed since her last release, ‘The Family Jewels’ and she has been a bit quiet of late.  Well, she’s back and if the phrase, ‘A game of two halves’ was invented for anything, it was made to apply to her new material – an album track labelled ‘Part 1: Fear and Loathing’ and a single release, ‘Part 2: Radioactive’.  Videos for both have just been launched on her YouTube site.

It appears that they are supposed to be linked but I’m buggered if I can see what the connection is.  ‘Part 1: Fear and Loathing’ is by far the better of the two.  It is a smouldering ballad wallowing in a massively atmospheric backdrop, the type of which she seems more than adept at writing.  This sort of tuneful yet slightly dark song suits her unique vocal delivery down to the ground.  It makes you realise that there is no one around currently who sounds exactly like her or has her peculiar accent.  I find it very endearing, but that’s probably just me.

It takes a few listens to get all the hooks but this in itself is a plus as there is nothing worse than a song that you can sing on first hearing – there is nothing left to know.  If this is a taste of what’s to come on the new album then bring it on.

Unfortunately, ‘Part 2: Radioactive’ rather lets the side down.  The polar opposite of Part 1, it is the type of up-tempo electro-pop that everyone and his dog is putting out at the moment from Katy Perry to Jessie J and it just doesn’t stand out from the crowd.  In fact, I struggle to stick with it all the way through which is a dreadful shame as these types of songs on her debut CD all had tremendously hook laden tunes but this is just not strong enough.  I just hope that this one is not representative.

Either way, I shall await the new material, to be entitled, ‘Electra Heart’, with much agog-ness as ‘The Family Jewels’ was close to being my Album of the Year, 2010.  Second albums are always a bit of a decider for me as to whether I stick with them or not so there is much resting on Ms Diamandis.  I hope she pulls it off again, as I consider her a rare talent.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Garbage - Best Live Act?

Isn’t it funny how some things just sort of creep up on you with all the impetus of an unstoppable, developing realisation.  Since the burgeoning force that is YouTube hit our computer screens I’ve been diving in and out watching clips of favourite bands like there’s no tomorrow, but when it comes to a bit of live rock ‘n’ roll, the type where you can turn the volume up to 11 and shut the world out for four of five minutes, I find that I am returning more and more to the live performances of one band; Garbage.

It begs the question; are they one of the world’s greatest live bands?  I think they probably are, but I doubt they would feature on any ad hoc list should a consensus of the great general public be taken.  I’ve not turned up one bad performance from Shirley and the Boys.  I’ve said before that I consider Shirley Manson one of the best live singers in rock and until I hear a really bad performance from her, I shall stick to this view.  The band members are no slouches either.

The band is a classic example of a deliberate sleight of hand.  Ask yourself: what do a bunch of session musicians, that is, Butch Vid (drums), Steve Marker (guitar) and Duke Erickson (guitar, keyboards & bass) do when they want to form a band and the following is apparent?

  1. They are slightly over the hill age-wise to be pop stars
  2. Let’s be kind, they are photo-genically challenged, and
  3. They have a need to put out some killer material but can’t sing for toffee

Answer: they employ a fiery, feisty extremely photogenic Scottish singer, 10 years younger than them, to hide behind, to divert the attention of the paying public and of course, to sing.  The thing is, the guys are extremely competent, experienced rock musicians and adding Ms Manson has just put a cherry on an already excellent cake.

I bought their first two albums, ‘Garbage’ and ‘Version 2.0’ in the mid-90s and played them to death but curiously never bought their later work but that has now changed with the purchase of ‘Bleed Like Me’ from 2005.  It’s a cracker – what took me so long?  It may almost be their best album.

Here’s a track from the album, ‘Why Do You Love Me’, performed at Glastonbury 2005.  This whole set is worth seeking out on YouTube as the band is on top form.  If anyone knows how Shirley can manage to keep singing without being out of breath after all that running around, please let me know.  Perhaps she IS a cyborg after all…