Saturday, December 30, 2006

blur reform?

No idea whether this is true or not, but I do hope so. It is according to The Sun, mind, so...

"DAMON ALBARN and GRAHAM COXON have finally buried the hatchet and agreed to reunite. For the first time in almost five years Damon, Graham, ALEX JAMES and DAVE ROWNTREE are set to make sweet music together.

The kings of Britpop made their mark in the Nineties with No1 album Parklife. And their 1995 single Country House beat arch rivals OASIS in a huge chart battle. But by the end of the century Damon fell out with Graham over his persistent drunken antics. In 2002 Blur’s management revealed Graham had been replaced on tour by former VERVE guitarist SIMON TONG.

But that was short-lived and the lads went their separate ways — with Damon setting up GORILLAZ and THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE QUEEN and Graham releasing a string of solo albums. Alex set up a cheese farm at his country house while Dave worked on animation show Empire Square. But it wasn’t until Damon appealed to Graham back in April to reform for one last show that they considered a revival.

And Graham took a lot of convincing. A source said: “Graham left Blur under a hazy cloud. He was worried that returning to the studio with the lads would be like moving backwards. Graham is over getting smashed every night and he didn’t want to go back to an environment where he will be tempted. But he has finally realised Blur have grown up and have families now. They are a totally different band to the one in the Nineties. As soon as Damon has finished his tour with The Good The Bad And The Queen in February they are planning to go into the studio. It will be one step at a time. It may not be a long-term project — it will probably be one last final Blur album to bring closure to the band. Just how it should have been.”

Friday, December 22, 2006

a hiccup in time

I was going to introduce the following exerpt from Laura Barton's Guardian article today with some glib remark about how one day I will marry her and won't look for her articles with the same attention I do now, but then I thought that was really creepy, so perhaps I shouldn't say anything. Course, I have now, so sorry, Laura, if you're reading. Your article about 'Never Ever' by the All Saints was, however, typically brilliant. Here's a bit of it for the rest of you.

"We arrive at Smile too early, when they're still Blu-Tacking posters to the wall: Jules et Jim, A Bout de Souffle, Blow Up, Penelope Tree, Tretchikoff's Chinese Girl. And so we find a dark corner, stash our coats on the window ledge and watch the hepcats trickle in. This night is the hippest thing I have ever encountered in my young life. People wear neckerchiefs and chelsea boots. They play northern soul, Belle & Sebastian, a bit of Motown, 60s girl groups, plenty of Smiths. They dance with impassive faces and downcast eyes. They drink whisky. And then, shortly after midnight, amid all this heady coolness, the DJ plays Never Ever by All Saints.

Now, I never liked All Saints, I never bought their toggled-up combat panting. I loathed Pure Shores, hated Bootie Call, despised their sexless rendition of Lady Marmalade. But for those of you who do not recall, Never Ever was a quite magnificent confection that curtseyed to the Shangri-Las and the Dixie Cups, and began with the spoken lines: "A few questions that I need to know/ How you could ever hurt me so/ I need to know what I've done wrong/ And how long it's been going on ..." It was one of those songs that surprised you the first time you heard it and weathered repeated playing. But however great a song it was, it did not belong here, tonight. It was a chart song, and amid all the Martha Reeves and the Pastels and the Jimmy Radcliffe, it sat like a midwich cuckoo. I thought there'd be a revolt, I thought they'd hang the DJ, but instead there was a hiccup in time; a beautiful moment in which the whole room seemed to hold its breath. And then everyone cheered.

I don't really know why Never Ever worked that particular night. Maybe it was something to do with a certain seasonal bonhomie, with those festive weeks when we all wear our emotions like an endoskeleton, vulnerable to cheap TV and soft-centred ballads. But I suspect really it had to do with the power of a single song to take a sedimented familiarity and shake it up.

They are misfits, these songs, they ride in from the wrong side of town like the leader of the pack and sweep us into their arms. We fall for them not through some smirking irony but because, standing there in the candy store, they simply turn around and smile at us. And that's impossible to resist."

Here's the link to the rest of the article. Merry Christmas, by the way!

Monday, December 18, 2006

December lists, 2006

Okay, here's this year's entry in the "I'm hipper than thou" awards...

Assistant Blog Top Ten Albums of The Year
1. K'naan - The Dusty Foot Philosopher
2. Cat Power - The Greatest
3. The Lemonheads - The Lemonheads
4. Ghostface - Fishscale
5. The Young Knives - Voices of Animals and Men
6. Hot Chip - The Warning
7. Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther
8. Lily Allen - Alright, Still
9. Graham Coxon - Love Travels At Illegal Speeds
10. The Hot Puppies - Under The Crooked Moon

Feel free to leave comments / abuse below....

Awesome Stuff Which Didn't Make It
1. CSS - Cansie De Ser Sexy
2. The Futureheads - News and Tributes
3. The Rapture - Pieces of The People We Love
4. Tony Allen - Lagos No Shaking
5. Brakes - Beatific Visions
6. The Long Blondes - Someone To Drive You Home
7. Joanna Newsom - Vs
8. Peter Bjorn and John - Writer's Block
9. Bonnie Prince Billy - The Letting Go
10. Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not

Decent Stuff Worth A Mention
1. TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain
2. Tapes 'N Tapes - S/T
3. Thom Yorke - The Erasor
4. Tiga - Sexor
5. Victorian English Gentleman's Club - S/T

Stuff I Didn't Take To At All:
1. The Walkmen - A Hundred Miles Off
2. Secret Machines - Ten Silver Drops
3. The Gossip - Standing In The Way Of Control
4. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Shake Your Bones
5. Belle and Sebastian - The Life Pursuit
6. The Raconteurs - Broken Boy Soldiers
7. The Strokes - First Impressions of Earth
8. The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics

Best band in the world this year: bit of a cheat, seeing as they broke up, but a final endorsement for the peerless Sleater Kinney.
And worst band of the year: no question this time round: Kasabian.

Lots more lists of the year, here...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Mixed praise

It's always flattering to be described as a lovely boy, which I now have been, over on Ali's ace new Split Down The Middle blog, but I wasn't altogether sure that such a nice bit of praise was entirely compatible with Ali's realisation, shortly after she started drinking with me, Dave and Dan, that "boys believe what they want to believe, regardless of the facts, or the measured opinion of friends, or the niggling doubts, or anything. If they want to convince themselves that something is acceptible to do, they will do it". Having provided her with such an insight into the workings of a man's mind, we should perhaps hand back the plaudits and hang our heads in shame.

Had a cool evening though - me and Dave met up there after work and downed a couple of pints, although the speed with which we drank them was dictated not so much by drunken enthusiasm (it was Monday night, after all) but rather by the fact that Dave, glancing down at a chili pepper nestling in our bowl of olives, wondered aloud "do you think that's hot?", and then decided to find out. Dave is a blonde bombshell with a fine, pale beard which is only visible in good light, but if you ever want to see it, the trick is to feed him a chili pepper. His face turns purple and his beard is suddenly visible. Ace. I've never seen someone drink a pint of guiness so fast. The olives were hot, too, egged on and contaminated.

As Ali intimates, the theme for the evening's discussion was social, and socio-sexual (whatever that is) embarrasment, so we traded stories of little slips, mistakes, ill-judged comments, that feeling of waking up still quarter-cut in the morning and having to cycle through an evening of memories to recollect the moment when you allowed one blip to colour the evening - you forgot someone's name, or said something too loud, or did something transparent which your companions saw through, and laughed about. These are tiny things, but they're somehow almost as agonising as the big problems. I always fixate back on the slightest things, and if I don't remember them I conclude I've just forgotten. "Did I make a complete idiot of myself at your house last night?", I think of asking.

Dan and Ali had plenty more stories. When we looked up, it was after twelve and the remnants of our pints were being confiscated. Bah.

a blog worth sticking with

One of the blogs I've visited most often over the last few months is Mazen Kerbaj's beautiful Kerblog, which collects together his drawings and doodles - it's a wonderful site, full of great images, rich colours and hugely evocative detail; Mazen blogs from Beirut, so he's had plenty to draw and write about. Today's picture is vivid and gorgeous; other entries, like the one I'm reproducing below, are plain moving. Brilliant stuff.

(c) Mazen Kerbaj, reproduced without permission, hope that's OK.

You can see all of Mazen's drawings over at Flickr, too. Really really really worth a look. His website, meanwhile, is here.

Friday, December 08, 2006

more on blur and pavement

This is like a monthly column now, I know, but I'm duty bound to once more report on the various movements in the Blur camp and the ongoing speculation about a reunion. Damon's obviously pretty busy with his The Good, The Bad and The Queen project (in fact, they're on Jools Holland tonight) but Alex is, as ever, using his time wisely; not just living in a very big house in the country, but continuing to bug Graham about coming back. A couple of months back, he didn't seem to be getting anywhere, so when he said the following on BBC Five Live yesterday, I didn't think much of it:

"I saw Graham last week. There may be some news there but I don't want to rush anything."

But Graham's recent interview with Pitchfork gives much more reason to be hopeful - this is sounding positive:

Coxon was significantly less dour about the possibility of a reunion with Blur. The band's former guitarist admits he hasn't "spoken to them for a bit, [except bassist] Alex [James]. I'm going to see him tomorrow at his birthday...Alex will always be my friend. I guess they all will be in some way, but it's somewhat strange."

"I haven't been approached about it," reported Coxon about getting back together with the Brit-pop titans. But "I think about it, yeah. I think about it: would it be fun? Would it be a bit too scary? What would the dynamic be in a studio? Would I have to do promotion? Would I tour? You know, it's a lot of thinking. So I guess I still mull around and think about it every now and then."

So it's not completely ruled out, then? "No, no."
I know what the nay-sayers will say ("nay"), but having seen an absolutely electric reunion at the Dinosaur Jr show in Brighton this week, I'm feeling good about reunions right now. And Blur reforming is not the only possibility on the horizon either. Also speaking to Pitchfork, this was interesting stuff from Spiral Stairs, too.

So, Spiral, is there going to be a Pavement reunion?

"I guess, yeah, we'll see."

Um, what?

"[Laughs] I mean, I can't tell you. I don't know. I mean, yeah there's been some talk over the last year about kind of getting together eventually. But I think it makes more sense to let more time go past, you know? It would probably work well for a 20 year anniversary or something like that. But I don't know. I'm going to Steve [Malkmus]'s wedding, I think, so we'll see, maybe we'll have a reunion there."
Okay, I kind of need to wangle an invitation to Steve Malkmus's wedding, I think. Any ideas?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

birmingham, so much to answer for?

Over at The Art of Noise, Ben and Alison are arguing about the merits or otherwise of Birmingham's musical legacy - well worth a read, and don't forget to cast your vote:

Alison, for the prosecution:
"I'll focus, if I may, on UB40. Now there's no arguing that UB40 are popular, they've been going for three decades and have achieved #1 albums and singles in the UK and US, I just don't get why. The quasi-reggae beats meandering along behind Ali Campbell's stupid singing accent make for the most galling combination of sounds. They manage to turn Neil Diamond's desperate plea for alcohol to numb the pain of losing a lover into cheery golden wedding anniversary disco music"

Ben, for the defence:
"Appropriately enough for a city which thrived as a hub of manufacturing activity following the Industrial Revolution, Birmingham was where metal was first forged. (...) If you've ever had a metal phase, you owe it to Birmingham to vote against the prosecution. But even if the thought of sweaty, hairy, beefy men fills you with horror, you should still find Birmingham innocent."

Voting's closed on my personal attack on Belle and Sebastian, incidentally. And I lost. Bugger.

Monday, December 04, 2006

DBC Pierre and the Aztecs

Don't get me wrong, I love Michael Palin's travel programmes - they do a superb job of chronicling distant lands in amazing insightful detail. But where, if you sent Michael Palin to Mexico and asked him to research the Aztecs, he would talk of feathered serpents and folk mythology with a very BBC sense of ironic detachment, it's a great pleasure to watch DBC Pierre deliver the same lines, the same portents of dread, dead straight to camera with reverent seriousness. Palin may return from the Himalayas enthused, but he doesn't come back possessed. Actually, Pierre looks possessed at the beginning of his journey, never mind the end, if only by Mexican firewater, but it makes his 'The Last Aztec', a channel 4 film which I caught repeated on More4 tonight, brilliantly enjoyable.

A lot of TV history seems intent on proving which civilisation was the best or the strongest or most civilised - Egypt or Greece, Roman or Aztec. Certainly any sense of journalistic impartiality is absent in Pierre's film - he points out that "while we as a culture were chucking shit out of windows into alleys in London, these people had drainage, they had courts, they were living off spring water and vegetables. While we were dying of the plague and scraping around in the grime, these folk were wandering like gods". He reveres the glorious and magical history of the Aztecs.

Again, unlike Palin or his fellow TV journalist contemporaries, Pierre refuses to conform to type. For a start it's quickly clear, through a combination of his appearance and his driving, that our host is absolutely trashed. In truth, despite the historical content, the film is really a gonzo road movie in which Pierre's passion takes centre stage as recalls his childhood in Mexico city, the stories that fuel his imagination, and explores his thesis that the heart of Aztec Mexico is still throbbing hard under the surface of the capital city.

And indeed it is, literally - wherever tears appear in the world's largest city, he shows us, the ruins of the Aztec empire are exposed, and we watch archaologists uncovering sacred grounds, the bodies of Aztec children and shards of Aztec stone. This most spectacular civilisation, Pierre reminds us, was carved by a stone age society. Indeed, without not only steel, but also without wheels. He finds the place, locked away behind an iron gate, where Cortes, the Spanish usurper, met Moctezuma first - he was welcomed not as an invader but as a God. Once more, Palin might film the spot through the gate. Not DBC Pierre - he just bribes a policeman and gets in that way.

So, allowed in as Gods, the Spanish took the Aztec Empire, and Moctezuma was stoned by his own people for letting them down. Pierre is intent on mourning the collapse of the civilisation which inspires him so. "There's only one way to get over the decline and collapse of an empire", he tells us sourly, sitting in a seedy bar. "And that's to get completely lashed ". He throws back a tequila, shaking his head, looking around. "I can't say it feels any better". So he has another.

Incensed, he decides to take the Palace back for the Aztecs. He is approached by a local, outside. "Do I want an official tour?", he says disdainfully, preparing to storm the place, "what the fuck is that?". He banters with the guard on the gate, but gets no further. By now, anyway, his misanthropy knows no bounds, so what does he do? He drinks lots more, he reminisces about a dead girlfriend and the centrality of death in the Mexican character, and goes out at night looking for fresh corpses. When he finds some, he takes photos. By now I am thinking this is surely one of the oddest bits of TV I've ever come across. Back in the daylight, pissed, he wanders into a church, lights up, and starts rambling about Dracula.

Mexico, he tells us, has dreamt up a unique cocktail of death-fascination, where the pre-Spanish culture of death worship has combined with the Christian concept of mortality. He asks a priest about it, making sure he mentions Christians ripping the hearts from still-living children in the process. Yet Aztec magic still holds sway, and as Pierre decides he wants to climb a mountain to find the resting place of Moctezuma, he realises that he had better have his soul cleansed first. He buys some dried hummingbirds, for starters. It will ward off curses, apparently.

The Sierra Madras mountains are his destination, a magical realm, and he starts his climb, intent on finding spirits, "secrets from the past", living remnants of the Aztec world, and gold. Most people, as he climbs, are too frightened to talk of the spirits. Pierre has been here before, actually, and he seems scared too - after all, he points out, "the last time I left this valley, many years ago, my life went hurtling into a downward spiral from which I've only just recovered". He keeps climbing anyway.

But, just in case, he sacrifices a couple of chickens first. By the time's that done, he's "as clean as a whistle", he says, "a poet". And he needs to be cleansed. "There are many things that happen to you, physically and emotionally", he says, "which leave a smudge". The bit where the first chicken is beheaded - with kitchen scissors - is horrifying. And after all that, standing in the swirling mist, Pierre is still too scared to climb the mountain. So he gets absolutely slaughtered again, then turns back: the gonzo journo who turns back! Give him another beer and he'll do it, I was shouting.

For all that, an exhilarating programme.