Monday, December 26, 2005

A list of favourites for 2005

Book of 2005: Nick Hornby's "A Long Way Down".
Hornby at his finest, without a doubt. A tale of human ineptidude and depression. Written like nobody else does. Or could.
Song of 2005: Gwen Stefani, "Hollaback Girl".
6 months on, and I'm not tired of it yet. Tacky genius. Still genius though.
Album of 2005: Depeche Mode, "Playing The Angel".
Dickhead of 2005: Pete Doherty, and with him the hordes of British press who -as per usual- managed a u-turn. From saint to sinner, whereas he'd simply always been a tosser.
Club of 2005: Club Bohemia, Islington, London.
I stumbled into it as I played a gig there with My Marilyn. Amazing place. I just hope it doesn't get too popular. It's still at its "best-kept-secret" kind of stage.
TV programme of 2005: Lost, Channel 4.
Years and years since it'd gotten all obsessed with a TV-series. It really is gripping. Tough for those who missed it cos it's gone to far too pick it up now!!!
Comedy of 2005: Extras, BBC2.
10/10. Dead-pan humour, cringeworthy to the extreme and very very funny. Ricky Gervais can wag the fingers to "that difficult second album". Second best: Worst Week of My Life. It makes you feel lucky...
Film of 2005: The Assassination of Richard Nixon.
Sean Penn deserves an Oscar. Absolutely outstanding. A grim tale of realism like you wouldn't think they'd still make in the 21st Century. In Hollywood. And in the US.
Actor of 2005: David Tennant.
Blackpool, Casanova, Secret Smiles and Dr Who. And that's just for starters.
Overrated band of 2005: Kaiser Chiefs.
They won't last. Just wait and see. There's only as many songs you can write with a crescendo of Ooooooooooooooooooh Ooooooooooooooooooooh Ooooooooooooooooh.
Underrated band of 2005: The Tears.
I thought that Bernard Butler and Brett Anderson came back in fine style. Obviously the press aren't ready. They need at least 15 years for their usual "revival" binge. And the 90s wait next in the queue.
Gig of 2005: Live 8.
Like it or not, it was massive. If only "The Chosen Ones" Bono and Geldof weren't so saint-like...
(Bad) event of the year: The London bombings (for the UK).
It tastes even worse when it hits home. Literally.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Tie the knot for Elton John

Give Caesar what's Caesar's, the old saying decrees. Normally the run-up to Christmas is stacked with vacuum jollity formulas. This time, though, we approach the festive season in the knowledge that this government (for once) deserves its credit for making the UK a fairer place.

This week the Gay Partnership Scheme comes into effect in Great Britain and Northern Ireland with thousands of civil ceremonies. After decades of struggle, at last, same-sex couples will enjoy the same rights for matters of inheritance, pensions provision, life assurance and maintenance where children are involved. The Scheme also provides next of kin rights for couples, such as in their dealings with hospitals.

Lots of organisations, what I refer to as "the religious freaks", continue to oppose the Bill as they preach their sheer hatred for homosexuality in the abstract name of God, whatever happened to christian compassion. Yet, praise goes to Rabbis with the Liberal Jewish tradition as they have publicly said they will conduct services for gay couples.

One thing for sure. Today those dark, seemingly interminable, days of Section 28, Norman Tebbit and Margaret Thatcher seem a touch more distant. We won't hold a candle for them.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Say no!

You’d normally think of people in poverty being single mums on council estates or a rented bed sit.

It’s a textbook case for the definition of stereotype. Department of Work and Pensions figures for 2005 clearly demonstrate how the largest category of people in poverty is that of homeowners, especially young first-time buyers.

The entire lending system in this country is going mad. People are offered credit cards after credit cards and loans after loans as they’re already in debt, while a new phenomenon is also setting in: the first generation of student loans zombies. Cue a dysfunctional housing system and we’re in for an explosive combination.

Official figures have shown that mortgage repossession orders during the past three months in England and Wales are skyrocketing: up 66% on a year ago! The figures show the total number of homeowners being taken to court by lenders pursuing mortgage debt rose 55% to nearly 30,000. That really is an appalling lot of people and it should make the news headlines. Except that the poor little sods called bank shareholders wouldn't be so happy about it.

Now according to some, blaming the lenders or the government is a lame exercise: people must take responsibility for their own actions rather than blame others and learn how to say no when the 14th credit card or umpteenth loan is being offered to you by an overenthusiastic Trish over the phone. Easily said, more so if you’re the “loaded” type. But how can you say no when you've gotta make ends meet and your mortgage or rent absorb all of your income?

There was a time when renting a council property was not considered the trampy plunge of today. Yet with the old Tory wish now fully into shape and social housing literally an under-funded, clogged up, and decaying last-resort, what are the other options?

The above-mentioned inflated private rents or living with parents before finding a place on the much touted property ladder. After all, isn’t it all so glamorous, with a Sarah Beeny here and a Phil Spencer there? Property Ladders and Location Locations? So, with mortgages being dished out left-right-and-centre, people enter the misleading path of their dream: “owning an asset”. Nevermind they may not be able to afford it, at worst, or may have no disposable income left, at best. And in the meantime banks and lenders make the fattest fortunes.

This government has preferred to encourage individuals to borrow instead, to fuel consumer spending and the economy. As the consumer credit levels reach their maximum, the harsh reality of this error is starting to show the cracks.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Depeche Mode, Playing the Angel

From Basildon to the world

Funny how tides turn. Twelve months, and from being the most mocked and ridiculed decade of all, the 80s have risen to perennial source of inspiration. Everybody from Girls Aloud and Gwen Stefani to The Bravery, The Killers et al., are drawing fashion tips, leggings, drum clips and stage posture from the era of new romantics and Rubik’s cube. One wonders whether this revivalist hangover may have hauled Depeche Mode out of early retirement and solo projects. Wouldn’t it be great if the former boys from Basildon gave it one more go to show The Bravery& co. how it should be done?

Their last few outings had been increasingly guitar-based, a fine display of scratchy electro rock-ism, with the entire Songs of Faith and Devotion and Ultra popping up by right in everybody’s best-of-the-90s list. This time, Playing the Angel is superb, vintage-Depeche Mode. More Depeche Mode than they’d ever been. Martin Gore, Dave Gahan and Andy Fletcher rummage through their formative years to settle a few scores. Side-A could easily be the best part of a “I Heart the 80s” compilation, except more mature, clipped, with robotic, dark disco grooves and infectious melodies. Gahan sounds more inspired than ever, the way he uses his vocals stretch to new territories as he nails down killer hook after killer hook. “John the Revelator” is simply addictive. A second go at the theme of “Blasphemous Rumours”, only this time they expose jihadism: “By claiming God - As his holy right - He’s stealing a God - From the Israelites – Stealing a God - From the Muslim too”. One can only hope they won’t have to do a Salman Rushdie and live in hiding for the next 10 years. “A Pain That I’m Used To”, “Suffer Well” and single “Precious” also inhabit groove-a-rama, shedding light to where Nine Inch Nails started while showing Killers and Bravery a lesson or two. If club-DJs meant business then you’d have shaken your botty to their beat on a dancefloor already. A haunting quality characterises the second part of the album with a nod or two at Bowie’s Berlin years, “V-2 Schneider” and all that wonderfully inspired icy business. Just check out “Damaged People”, for instance and you get why Depeche Mode doing a Bowie is refined grub.

Count how many bands can claim this level of magnitude in their third decade. Forget “Enjoy the Silence” and “Personal Jesus” for once; Depeche Mode are happening now.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The case of wine descriptions

I've always thought that most wine description are just extremely annoying. Muscular wines, feminine wines, cheeky wines, full of characters and zippy freshness. An exercise in idiocy.

This is what they write on the Oddbins price list for Winter 2005 to promote a Bonny Doon 'Cardinal Zin' 2003:

"Imagine running through a jungle, bare chested, taking a massive handful of ripe, juicy forest berry fruits and stuffing them all at once into your mouth, feel the sticky juices running down your arms and face, the berry pulp sliding sensually down your chest and the explosion of flavour in your mouth. Got it? Buy it".

And then check this one out: an Argentinian Tempranillo: "Aromas of forest fruit make way for hints of coffee and tobacco. The palate is medium bodied fresh and funky with red currant and cherry flavours plus touches of crunchy herbs and earth on the finish".

A wine that tastes of coffee, tobacco, currant, cherry, herbs and earth? As if. Enjoy.