Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Round and round and round...

This isn’t the first time I’ve done this, this ‘writing crap about crap’ thing. Oh, no.

In the past a number of outlets have supported my effluvia, from Tripwire magazine through the oft-mentioned Borderline to Comics International and even, a lifetime ago, the venerable British Broadcasting Corporation. The only change is that these days there’s no editor breathing down my neck, no deadline except the self-imposed ones and they can whoosh past any time they like.

It seems to me that in this long, seemingly unending and unendable series of positions as a media commentator, regardless of where the noise is being made, there always has to be a replay of what I’m about to do here.  The words may differ but the sentiment remains, enduring like Ayers Rock or maybe Blue Peter.

Ready?

This chapter would have lead off with the not-at-all-cliched phrase “It’s getting near to Convention Season”, but every day is convention day in this non-stop no-brakes no-filter modern world. Here in the jolly old U of K we’re about to embark on the annual festival of slightly shabby disappointment that is the Bristol Comic Con (which isn’t its actual name. Its actual name is something which I forgot at exactly the same moment I left for home after the last one I attended). Any second now we shall see the inaugural Kapow!, which I’d lay good money on also being the valedictory Kapow!, for there is only a limited amount of time during which the public will swallow Mark Millar’s self-promotion.  In the Colonies there’s a convention nearly every weekend and it wouldn’t surprise if some blighter was planning something for alternate Wednesdays just in case there's someone somewhere who isn't sucking on Geoff Johns' teat.

I’ve had the pleasure of attending many of these conventions, starting with - logically - my first, way back in the heady days when UKCAC was a major event, bringing top names from all over the place and gathering them in a dingy hall just off London’s top open-air gay hook-up spot, to my last, a grey and dismal weekend in a half-full railway engine shed where the only fun to be had that didn’t involve guessing either the weight of the panel moderator or how many years since the star showbiz guest last worked was in getting blind drunk and brandishing the award one had just won[1] out of the hotel bedroom window at the losers down on the street below.

I’ll admit that I’ve never attended a convention at street level, as a civilian. I’ve always been a retailer or a creative or a publisher, my badge has always been a different colour from those worn by hoi polloi[2], I have always had at least a little access to the rarified air in the professional areas. Yay me.

One thing that goes hand-in-hand with standing behind a table with a slightly smug air, as opposed to shuffling along in front of a table with a slightly malodorous fug, is that those among the shuffling humanity who hold artistic pretensions see you as their ticket to a finer life.

As a result, you’re continually bombarded with portfolios. Every other Herbert is slinging a black leather zip-up with many many plastic sleeves inside, and each of those plastic sleeves will contain something which in any civilised society should be banned from ever seeing daylight.

I make a point of asking people’s names when they show a portfolio; it’s only polite and when you’re getting around to asking questions, like ‘I am a retailer and have no publishing interests, so why are you showing me this… Dave?’ or ‘You do understand that this portfolio shows less talent than my dog, and he’s been dead these last three years… Harry?’, it’s good to add that personal touch.

Or, rather: I do this because I have yet to see a decent portfolio. I’ve seen some absolute friggin’ stinkers and I’ve seen a few that didn’t actively make me retch, but I’ve never seen one that made me blink, rub my eyes in amazement and offer the artist any form of work. If you’re offering constructive criticism, and even if you’re enough of a sadist to enjoy taking a fellow’s dreams and stomping them to death as you would a sick kitten, it’s a right and good thing to ameliorate the medicine with the notion that you’re on the artist’s side even if he’s quite obviously incapable of telling which end of a pencil is the sharp one. Using their name, preferably using it without simultaneously projectile-vomiting, is a form of contact, a metaphorical hand to cling to in this Sargasso of destruction.

If you’re planning a convention visit soon, and you’re planning to unleash your talent upon the world, do me a favour first. Take a long, hard, cold look at your work and ask yourself: is this any good? You’ll be biased, of course, as you should be. You’ll need an ego the size of a living planet if you’re going to get anywhere in this game. But put that aside and really critique your work. First question: is your grasp of anatomy as good as it possibly can be? Do your figures have ridiculously over-length legs (the most common flaw in portfolio work)? Have you got any sequential work in your portfolio, or is it mostly pin-up shots? If the latter, remember Rob Liefeld’s influence isn’t as great as it once was, but editors will always want decent storytellers.

And if you can’t see anything wrong with your ‘folio, ask someone else. Not your mates, not your Mum. An art teacher, perhaps. Or someone with a professional interest. Ideally, ask a professional artist, and not necessarily a comicbook artist. In fact, most definitely not a comicbook artist.

Listen to what they have to say. Take on board their advice. And if their advice is ‘please don’t ever draw again’, even if their advice is ‘please chop off your hands and your feet and possibly even seal up your own mouth with molten lead so you can’t hold a pencil even between your teeth because if you do I will hunt you down and kill you’, then listen to them.

I ask you to do this because there are far, far too many underskilled creatives around at present. And next time, we’re going to see what happens when a lack of ability meets an excess of ambition.

I can’t wait!






[1] Best Comics-Related Magazine, I think it was.
[2] No, there’s no definite article. Do you not know Latin, then?

Sunday, 27 March 2011

KEEP FALLING IN AND OUT OF LOVE...


I fell in love in the summer of '99. It was a beautiful day. The sun shone, no doubt the birds sang but I couldn’t hear them as I was inside a car travelling at fifty or so mph around the North Circular. I was bored with the radio. I decided to stop at Brent Cross Shopping Centre to buy a new CD. I just didn’t know what.

This was the first and the only time I’ve ever bought music having had no prior acquaintanceship with the artist. It was a gamble, but the copy of Uncut magazine I leafed through over a coffee in Fenwicks said the album, this ‘first’ album by a young singer who’d chosen to turn her back on the Nashville machine and make her own music her own way, was worthy of five stars.

This isn't it. 
Walked over to HMV. Didn’t expect to see her there. But there she was, blonde hair flying up and around a surly-looking face, all of it framed by a lust-red background. Scrawled across it, her statement of intent: I Am Shelby Lynne.

What the hell. Gamble a tenner. Never heard of her, never heard a note of her music. Didn’t even like country.

Got back to the car, put the disc in just as I was heading down the on-ramp. As the car hit that last stretch of three-lane before the tailbacks started, there was a sound like a drummer falling downstairs with his full kit, a sound that first made me laugh for half a second, then think I’d made a terrible mistake. But then, oh but then, she started to sing…

Since then, I’ve bought every record she’s made. The ill-advised we’re-gonna-make-you-the-new-Dusty Springfield Love, Shelby (where she first started to wear as little as possible on the album sleeve, an image continued retroactively on the re-issued I Am.. a few years later);

the stripped-down Identity Crisis where she shrank to microscopic size using her ex-husband’s scientific devices then murdered her best friend by literally stamping on her brain… No, hang on, different Identity Crisis… Where she went back to basic again while still staying within the commercialised country music perameters (and pulled off an astonishing channelling of Patsy Cline in Lonesome). The even starker Suit Yourself free of any big-label interference and the simplest record she’d ever made, with a bare-minimum band and some killer backing singers (and paid far better tribute to The Man In Black in Johnny Met June than her over-produced Nashville era cover of I Walk The Line could hope for. And let's not forget that she played - and played very well - Johnny Cash's mother in Walk The Line the movie but got ignored when everybody fell over themselves bigging up Reece Witherspoon).

Then the spectacular ‘Actually I am the new Dusty Springfield and to prove it, here’s a bundle of Dusty covers
Just  A Little Lovin’, taking Dusty’s kohl-rimmed smokiness and turning each of those songs into a tiny, intimate masterclass in what one girl, a guitar and a set of brushed drums can do.

It was then that she came over here to London to play a gig and promote JALL; one night at the Royal Festival Hall in the middle of Summer 2008. Sweltering day, my temper rising higher the later my date became. Eventually she turned up about an hour after the show was scheduled to start, with a friend, literally fresh off the plane from South Africa, in tow (I’d known about this in advance but had expected the friend to have gone straight back to the date’s flat). We picked up an extra ticket and went in; luckily we’d only missed the support act – and if you were that support act I’m sorry for being quite so dismissive of you. The date and her friend took the original two seats – I’d hate to leave a visitor to our fair land on her own in a strange concert hall – leaving me with the spare.

Ms. Lynne's promotional photographs
were always bound to attract
a certain type of gentleman
It’s a terrible thing that an artist like Shelby Lynne is as undervalued as she is, and an indicator of that undervalue is that in the circle of the RFH no more than the first six rows were occupied. The rest was yawningly empty, row after row of mocking beige seats. But that meant I could take my pick. Which I did.

Sitting and enjoying music with friends is a wonderful thing. But to sit in splendid isolation, watching one of your favourite artists perform without distraction, without someone else, someone unfamiliar with your entertainer whispering questions, giving their opinion…that is a thing passing sublime.

The first few songs – from the early albums – were overmiked, probably as the balance was designed for a full hall; the sound distorted by its own loudness, and I dreaded what might be to come. But by the time Shelby had got to the more reserved, intimate settings of JALL – and after she’d been delivered of a Jack and Coke with nowhere near enough ice for her taste - everything fell into place.



Look, the long and the short of it is that this woman could do no wrong for me. The next album, Tears Lies And Alibis wasn’t made available in the UK until nearly a year after JALL, but did I mind? No, I just paid big bucks for an import copy.

But.

Shelby’s most recent album is called Merry Christmas. It’s – yep – a Christmas album. OK, some of the songs are her own and I’m sure they’ll show the same levels of cynicism and disillusionment as her others, but nonetheless… A Christmas album. The first time I’ve not pre-ordered, or dashed to a shop on release day. Because I doubt that even this astonishing woman call pull off a Christmas album. As I said to the date; I don’t care what she looks like… A Christmas album?? Even I have some standards (and I don’t mean Little Drummer Boy).

Would you argue with her?


Even so, even though it’s only the end of March, I’m looking forward to December, because that’s the only time I’m going near this one. 

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

THIS WEEK



I can only be arsed to go and buy comics every couple of weeks. The shop’s a good half-an-hour away by bike. The effort involved is more than made up for by the long-standing friendship I have with the proprietor, Mr. Gary Ochiltree, and by the fact that no matter how much I tell myself that I’ll just pop in, pick up my order and pop out again, no matter how pushed for time I might be, every visit turns into a couple of hours worth of discussion, argument, bad jokes, swearing and all-round japery on all subjects under the sun with the usual exception of comics.

On top of that, there’s so very little being published today that gives me any sort of buzz. Maybe I’m jaded. It certainly feels like it’s all be seen before. It also feels like every mainstream title is constrained by the demands of the next great crossover; that’s why I stopped reading any Marvel comics about five or six years ago, and why I’ve recently informed Mr. O. that I’ll be having none of that Flashpoint business thank you very much.  Conversely, even out-of-continuity material is more than a bit lacking in interest these days. Is anybody surprised that DC’s First Wave line has bitten the dust so quickly, given that it’s been confusing, badly-written, and has hardly ever been on schedule? (Such lousy food! And so little of it!)

Anyways, this is what I picked up this week….

(All images copyright DC Comics, etc etc)





Knight and Squire 6: That title needs definite articles. Just doesn’t sound right without them. I so wanted to love this book, honest I did. The first two issues were outright joys, bringing a proper taste of English humour to something so quintessentially American as the superhero comic; just enough silliness, demonstrating examples of many different styles of English comedy (and this is without doubt post-war English comedy, with its roots in Surrealism and Oxbridge and dodgy seaside-postcard puns) without losing its footing as an adventure story.

It lost its way somewhere around the third issue and the fourth dragged quite badly; there was a distinct feeling that Paul Cornell (who is a very nice man) had been given the keys to the toyshop, played with all the good stuff straight away and then had to shuffle a couple of FuzzyFelt playsets around for a few hours before getting back to the Johnny Sevens and the Scalectrix. In short: the sense of fun dissipated.

Here we are at the end of the run, and although it’s still not a laugh riot (but how could it be, with one main character dead, another dying, and the biggest bastard in the whole DCU striding about in a snitty mood?) it’s a big step back up.

And it’s become clear that despite the title, this has been all about Beryl; Cyril’s done sod all except ride a motorbike and date a popstar. Beryl’s the one who’s done the thinking, who’s become more clearly defined as a character and who’s stolen the whole story out from under her boss’s ugly grey visor. And she picked up Cyril’s copy of Total Castle. Good for her.


The Spirit 12: One of those First Wave titles mentioned above and the only one that I think will be missed. Doc Savage has been meandering about like nobody’s business, but we can blame that squarely on Brian Azzarello’s seeming inability to write a story that doesn’t go all over the shop. First Wave itself has been delayed so often it gets admiring glances from Virgin Trains and is also written by Azzarello. 

Anybody foolhardy enough to take on The Spirit has mighty big shoes to walk in. Of course Will Eisner, but also Darwyn Cooke, whose run a few years back was the best Spirit since Eisner’s glory years. And here’s something: if Cooke could make the outdated and racist character of Ebony White work, why the hell couldn’t Azzarello? Where was the need to make Ebony a girl? Next thing it'll be "the only way I can see the Fantastic Four working is if The Thing is a twelve-year-old ballerina!" Jesus, it’s worse than having Claremont around.

Back in the present, David Hine’s been knocking out some half-way decent stories, nothing to bring a tear to the eye or make you give up smack, but better than the majority of the post-Cooke material. Good words here also for artist Moritat, who knows how to draw figures in motion and has a way with drapery not seen for a long time. More good words for colourist Gabriel Bautista’s use of the secondary levels of those primary colours that make up the Spirit’s customary suit and tie, and for Rob Leigh’s Eisner/Oda tribute lettering that still has its own style, and which I do believe is used on the cover of our next pick…


THUNDER Agents 5:   Oh, this book’s pretty much doomed, isn’t it? Just looking at the sales figures makes that much plain. That and the fact that it’s a bloody good superhero book, taking place outside the main DC line. It’s had Beautiful Loser written all over it since issue one. All your fault. You should buy books like this instead of another Geoff Johns travesty. But you don’t. Tossers.

First of all, most of this issue is drawn by Ryan Sook, which is A Good Thing. Second of all, it looks very much as if Nick Spencer has for the last four issues led us all gently by the hand into expecting a certain something, and then, with this issue, set about kicking the shit out of the entire edifice. It’s not one of those EVERYTHING YOU KNOW IS WRONG!!!! issues, but… yes, it is. Very much so. THUNDER Agents hasn’t been about the THUNDER Agents per se since it started, but it’s suddenly about something a lot more interesting and a great deal more subtle. If I’m reading it right. Which I may not be.

This is a splendid comicbook and you really should buy it. If there’s a niggle, it’s that Cafu’s art isn’t quite on a par with Spencer’s story, but that’s compensated for by the ‘guest artists’ that handle the secondary plotline/flashbacks that are so important to the book.


Special Month-Old Review!

Legion Of Super-Heroes Annual 1:  Oh, I loves me some Giffen. I love his writing (and we’ll come to his Doom Patrol just as soon as the run finishes, too soon, very soon) and by golly I love his pencilling. And here he is pencilling the Legion again. 80’s fanboy wetdream (well, this one’s, anyway). I’ve actually given up on the current Legion monthly, making it the first incarnation since the original Levitz/Giffen run that I’ve had no taste for. It’s seemed that Levitz, despite his association with, and obvious love for, the Legion, has suffered from the same malaise that struck Jim Shooter in the previous series: thinking that comics today can be written as they were back then. Admittedly, Shooter’s writing style has dated far far worse than Levitz’s, but the monthly Adventure Comics and Legion Of Super-Heroes have been lacking any kind of spark.

It looks very much as though being together with Giffen again has given Levitz a kick in the rear: this annual has a fairly routine plot – it’s another Emerald Empress origin story – but it gets into groove nice and early and it stays there all the way through. There are only a couple of actual Legionnaires present and there’s no need for any kind of longer-term foreshadowing, so Levitz isn’t bogged down by repetitive introductions or the need to shine spotlights on the rest of the cast; he can just get on with telling this one story and make it a good one.

Oh, and it’s Giffen in Kirby-channeling mood, not as blatantly as he did when he started out, but in the way he positions and proportions figures, so the women (and this book is very much about the women, in a good way) look like they’ve been fighting for most of their lives; they’re chunky but still feminine, they have real weight and power to them. And if that cover isn’t a subconscious tribute to Kirby’s Barda I’ll eat my hat, even though I don’t own a hat. 

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a paella to stir...

Monday, 21 March 2011

I would've said 'Xero', myself


Owing to some form of viral bastard kicking at the inside of my head and raking its fingernails down the internal surfaces of my eyes, I’ve spent most of today sleeping and/or sweating. Normal service will be resumed. Meanwhile…

On Sunday I was, as I sometimes am, being of assistance to my good friend Gary O (nephew of Harry O and great-grandson of O, whose Story was so entertaining) at the London Comic Mart. Wasn’t a very good one, it was at the wrong point during the month; one of the Sundays where T (Time elapsed between paydays) > M (Disposable income allowed between paydays) and where W (clemency of local meteorological conditions) < N (Desire to get up, go out, and spend money on old comics).

During a lull, a customer and myself were discussing this and that; the need for slabbing, that recent sale of Amazing Fantasy #15, whether Spurs would beat Real Madrid in the next round of the Champions League. General Bloke Stuff.

Then an excitable youth, there with his dad, asked the most important question of the day, possibly of the year. Which Superhero Would You Want To Be? Most of the admittedly small sample group of respondents answered 'Superman’, because he can do everything. Large response for Batman, with the usual ‘Superman can do everything but Batman does one thing really really well, better than Supes even. Plus he can do martial arts and he’s got like so much money.'

Best response: from a big fella with two full-sleeve tattoos (and very likely more besides; the sleeves were only the visible tats, the tip of the Ink Iceberg). Everybody in the comics is a wuss, he reasons, beside Darkseid. Darkseid, despot of Apokalips. Darkseid, granite-faced conqueror of all he sees. Darkseid, who wears that funny little skirt thing and nobody dares take the piss because he’d Omega Beam their ass right there on the spot.

Care to elucidate, chap? Tell us why old Stoneface is greater than anyone else? Why Darkseid, fella? His reply: Because Darkseid Is. The great propaganda poster slogan that really should replace Keep Calm And Carry On on the country’s tea-towels is also the only justification needed – if justification be needed at all – for The Great One’s supremacy.

Darkseid Is.

And the first person to append ‘A Big Gayer’ to that gets eternity in Armagetto. 

Friday, 18 March 2011

No time for a proper post, so...

I was on the train when I saw a girl reading a book. I could see it was called 'The Archaeology of Knowledge' but I couldn't quite make out the author's name. 

I asked her, 'What are you reading?'

'Foucault', she replied.

'Well,' I thought. 'There's no need to be rude.'


This has been tonight's Alan Bennett Tribute Joke.

Goodnight, everybody!

Thursday, 17 March 2011

From the Archives (1)


Every so often, something old. First, a Beautiful Losers column, reproduced and lightly edited from the original as published in Borderline Magazine #8, March 2002.


If they were music, they’d be the last two XTC albums. If they were film, they’d be Shiner or maybe something by David Mamet. Lionised by the critics, loved by a small handful of fans, completely ignored by everybody else. We look at comics series which should’ve done better than they did and which vanished far too quickly. These, then, are the Beautiful Losers.

Fifteen years ago. It had been a while since the twin Houses of Secrets and Mystery had closed their doors, and ever since those particular shutters had gone up, the prevalent wisdom was: Anthologies – Especially Horror Anthologies – Don’t Sell. Mike Gold was given the job of disproving this; the book he tried to do so with was called Wasteland.

Gold chose to ignore many conventions of the anthology; there was to be a regular creative team, there was no Cryptkeeper-style ‘horror host’ and the editorial mission was not to jump out and go ‘Boo!’ but rather, to quote Gold, to ‘crawl inside the readers’ head and kick the icky nasty thoughts loose’.

The writers of the series had worked with Gold at First Comics: John Ostrander had since become a familiar name in comics and was probably best known for his runs on Suicide Squad and Firestorm The Nuclear Man, neither of which were any preparation for what was to come in Wasteland. Del Close, Ostrander’s collaborator, was a writer, an actor, a circus performer, a theatrical director and a witch. They worked with a team of four artists; one would illustrate each of an issue’s three stories while the fourth provided the cover. The initial teal were Don Simpson, who was and still is known for his Megaton Man series; George Freeman, creator of the Canadian super-hero Captain Canuck; William Messner-Loebs, who at that time was known for his remarkable series Journey: The Adventures Of Wolverine MacAlistair; and a pre-V For Vendetta (so far as America was concerned) David Lloyd.

But was this ‘experiment in internal horror’ any good? To be honest, especially when looked at today, it’s a little weak. Freeman’s cover, using a format designed by Richard Bruning – the logo and credits in a black frame around the top and left of the main image – sets a trend that was followed n the following three issues, with alien imagery striving for an air of otherness that doesn’t quite come off. Inside, there was one slightly unnerving story about drugs (among other things), one unfunny science fiction comedy tale (which, owing to its controversial subject and denouement, became the main selling point of the book for a while) and the first of Close’s series of autobiographical stories, this first one involving sewer-set hallucinations.

The second issue was where things started to get interesting. The stories were: another chunk of Close’s life story; a twist-ending piss-take of Shirley Maclaine’s claims of reincarnation – this was the Eighties, remember – and a quiet little thing illustrated by David Lloyd, concerning a small boy telling child welfare officers that his step-father was a werewolf. The welfare workers talk to the boy and his family, and everything ends happily. Then, right at the end, one small caption; “One month later, the boy was dead.” No explanation or reason, just the reader left to wonder.

And from there, it flew. Issue three contained one story that satirised Harvey Pekar whilst discussing the nature of fear, and two absolutely cracking jobs by Lloyd and Freeman. Issue four ruminated on success and failure throughout its four stories, including a murder/suicide set to Shakespeare’s Sonnet LXVI. Issue five had ‘guest appearances’ form Swamp Thing, Doctor Fate and Wonder Woman, and carried issue six’s cover. A few weeks later issue five reappeared with its own proper cover. Issue six – labelled ‘The Real Number Six’ – had a plain white cover so as not to unbalance the artistic rota.

Despite these shenanigans, the creative quality of the book improved by the month. At a time when DC were pushing new titles such as Power of the Atom, Action Comics Weekly and The Wanderers, Ostrander and Close were taking on relationship breakdowns, Dickian solipsism, syphilis, the primal urge to reproduce, and the eternal question of whether God is full of shit. They were producing work the like of which would’ve out-Vertigo’d Vertigo before Vertigo had even been thought of (as a rough guide, Grant Morrison’s first issue of Animal Man coincided with Wasteland #9, as did the first issue of DC’s repackaged V For Vendetta).

George Freeman left; Timothy Truman came on board for a short run, as did Ty Templeton, whose ‘Dissecting Mr. Fleming’ was a small masterpiece. Messner-Loebs and Lloyd left; they were replaced by Bill Wray and, for one issue, the legendary Joe Orlando. The stories these illustrated took on greater themes; love, personal responsibility, existential loneliness.


It failed, of course. Or, possibly, it succeeded. One of Wasteland’s stated aims was to up the ante every issue, pushing its readers harder and harder until it could push no further within the bounds of a DC-published book. Gold, Ostrander and Close expected to lose readers every issue, not through the normal attrition of sales but through a continuing process of alienation, and had said that they expected Wasteland to last no more than eight issues. It eventually lasted for eighteen.

The final issue featured a cover that may or may not have depicted necrophilia, and contained the only full-length story to appear in the run. This ended as the first issue had begun; with a man deciding whether or not to ingest a toxic narcotic.

Anthologies – especially horror anthologies – still don’t sell. In 1999, DC’s Vertigo imprint launched an anthology series named Flinch. It lasted sixteen issues. 

Blimey, Is That The Month Gone Already?


Would be viral/meme thingummy on Facebook: 30 songs in 30 days, wherein the participant names a song that best fits a different daily category over a period of roughly one month. Starting with:

1. Your Favourite Song. What kind of dumb question is that? My favourite song tonight isn’t the same favourite song I had thirty years ago. It’s not the same favourite song I had this afternoon, for chrissake (Oblivious by Aztec Camera until about half past three this afternoon, when it was usurped by Panic by the The Smiths. The last couple of minutes of that song, with all the little kiddies joining Mozzer singing ‘Hang the DJ!’  over and over again, and if you listen you can hear the tiny differences in each go-round, which means they actually got a childrens choir in to sing ‘Hang the DJ’? Genius. Pure brilliant genius. Even better if you imagine the Mozzer in the studio at the same time, brandishing a sinister gladioli and waving an emphatic quiff and egging the kiddies on with a detached yet maniacal glint in his eye). Thirty years ago? God knows. Probably either something by Frank Sinatra or The Goodies. That’s the kind of kid I was.

2. A Song From Your Favourite Album. That’s just not fair. Again, your ‘Favourite Album’ is a mutable thing, changing with the seasons and infinite in its variety, man. For years my FA was Sergeant Pepper until I realised that loving Sergeant Pepper was pretty much received wisdom and that Sergeant Pepper is over-indulgent shit. There’s a terrible thing gnawing away deep inside about 95% of us that makes us, every time we take part in a thing like this, choose something that makes us look just a little bit cooler than we actually are. And I’d bet that no matter who you are, even if you’re some nightmarish hybrid of Brad Pitt and Alexa Chung, you’ll still be thinking “Is the first Strokes album still cool? Should my favourite album be something I bought in Papua New Guinea or somewhere else like that where not many people have actually been except me and my cool mates? Should it be something by one of my cool mates that isn’t actually out yet and probably never will be?” Straight answer; anything from Surfer Rosa by Pixies. Usually Gigantic.

3. A Song That Makes You Happy. Shouldn’t that be your favourite song? No, seriously, I mean to say, what’s the point of having a favourite song that doesn’t make you happy? Why have a favourite song that makes you feel pissed off, or psychopathically violent, or reminds you of your dead wife’s smile? Maybe these are upcoming categories. I don’t know, I’m taking them one at a time because I’m scared of overloading on Song Category Conflictiness. But face it, it’d be fan-flippin’-tabulous if several million Facebookers all over the world were trying to think of the song that reminded them of their dead wife’s smile. Yes it would. Don’t deny it. You know what always makes me happy? It makes me so happy that I have a playlist on my iPod labelled ‘Happy’ and this is the only song in it. Don’t Rain On My Parade. Streisand’s. Jesus no, not Darin’s What kind of freak are you? But why just one? What about Great Things by Echobelly? Mushaboom by Feist (now there’s a girl. Saw her standing alone on the stage of an almost-deserted Royal Albert Hall when she supported The Divine Comedy, several lifetimes ago, forcing people to come in from the bars and listen, just by playing her very own damn good songs on an acoustic guitar. Couple of years later she headlined the place herself)? I Think I Love You by The Partridge Family? Or the glorious opening few seconds of Roxy Music’s Pyjamarama, with its relentless crazyman drumming? All of those – not to mention near enough the entire oeuvre of Leonard Cohen – make me smile.

We shall continue with this at a later date. Set your alarms. 

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Frustrated Crooner? Me?

Tonight we have been mostly rehearsing I Get A Kick Out of You. Yes, the Cole Porter song. Why not? Why shouldn’t a rock band reinterpret one of the all-time greats in their own unique fashion?  (Alternatively: three barely-musically-literate old gits take a Ramones drumtrack and shout somebody else's beautiful, timeless lyrics over the top while making up something approximating a tune).

Now, I’m known for my love of classic songs and of Great American Musicals. Why, just last week I was happily discussing ‘Hello Dolly!’ with an eighteen-year-old girl. As you'd imagine, I was more than cheered when Guitar John suggested we cover this ‘tune he’d heard in the pub at lunchtime’. So I found the chords, and the words to the seldom-performed opening verse, printed the buggers out and skipped off round to rehearsals.

What I can’t understand is this: IGAKOOY (Yay! Dopey acronym!) – seldom-performed opening verse aside, surely one of the best-known songs ever ever ever? Surely there’s not a man-jack in the English-speaking world who doesn’t have at least a passing acquaintance with Sinatra’s version, or at least with the guitar-and-strings-led Gary Shearston[1] cover that hit the big number 7 in the charts, pop-pickers, back in 1974?

Then why is it that my two fellow musical adventurers have no idea how the damn thing goes? I can accept most of our failings as a band; the need to excise ‘extraneous’ chordage, the increased speed that is part and parcel of what we do - everything full-pelt all of the time, even the sensitive ballad what I did write - but being unaware of ‘Kick’, being completely bereft of any clue as to how the bridge (‘I get a kick every time…. I see… You standing there…. Before me’) is constructed… I despair. Really I do.

But then I grew up on steady diet of old Frank Sinatra records thanks to my father, and every Sunday afternoon at our old family homestead was occupied with Benny Green’s Radio 2 show[2] which examined the Great American Songbook, playing great songs by great singers and great interpreters of those songs way before the phrase ‘Great American Songbook’ was usurped by the straggly likes of Rod Stewart[3].

And as a result, I can argue for hours about the relative merits of the Gershwins versus Rodgers and Hart[4], or whether Coward was a songwriter or not (he wasn’t: he was a playwright who, regardless of the number of musicals he wrote, only dabbled in music[5]). Man, being able to do that’s a real babe magnet in this day and age, I can tell you.

So: as it stands, we have a version of IGAKOOY with no seldom-performed opening verse (but by thunder it will be performed, and I know exactly how!), a (shall we say) up-tempo main section, and a bridge that bears no musical relation to Porter’s original whatsoever. But we’re getting there. Give it another fortnight and I think we’ll have cracked it. That, or it’ll join our cover of Chrissie Hynde’s ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’ in the vast, never-to-be-opened mausoleum marked Not Doing That One Again.

We shall see.




[1] I do so like these footnote wallahs. In 1990 the Tamworth Songwriters Association  awarded Shearston the award for ‘Bush Ballad of the Year’. Your guess is as good as mine. Shearston is now a priest in New South Wales.
[2] Radio 2 on Sunday afternoons is now nothing but Elaine Paige and her god-awful sycophancy, or Paul O’Grady and his god-awful ‘comedy’, or John F***ing Barrowman and his endless quest for the perfect curtains. 
[3] Five volumes? FIVE F***ING VOLUMES? Couldn’t someone have thrown a thirty-years-younger woman at him, if only to slow the bastard down?
[4] No contest. George and Ira every time.
[5] Seriously. Hum me something from ‘Cavalcade’. See? 

Monday, 14 March 2011

Regardless of what you might think...


I am not an antisocial person. If I was I’d sit indoors all the time, shunning other human contact.

Which is pretty much what I do do. However, my defence is that if I were antisocial I’d be just that, with emphasis on the anti-. But I’m not against having a good time, I love a decent night out every so often, I even sing – live, in front of an audience, sometimes as big as thirteen people - once a month or so. That’s not the activity of an antisocial man.

What I am is asocial. Disinterested. Separate. People are fine. Some people are decent. Some people are outrageously lovely. And I’ll happily spend a few hours with almost any of them except for the ones I’ve met before and who turned out to be fuckwits or the ones I actively dislike. On the whole, though, I can take ‘em or leave ‘em. If my social activity was limited to a couple of nodding acquaintances and a brief chat about the weather with the Asian fella in the local Spar, I’d be fine with that. Got nothing against them, just don’t particularly need to have them around.

This came about, I think, because I lived on my own for a good five years and found, to my surprise and pleasure, that I liked it. Just as with stilton, good beer and the more obscure edible parts of animals (tripe con pomodoro, anybody?), something that made me cringe when I was a younger man had become something to embrace and savour.

There’s very little I like more than escaping into my own personal splendid isolation.  Mostly that involves just sitting cross-legged on the sofa, eyes closed, just listening to the world go round. Birds sing. Cars pass. After a while, everything becomes indistinct but at the same time pin-sharp, each sound blurring into every other, each being distinct and unique. Time passes in the same way it does during sleep; hours and minutes mean nothing, passing without distinction, skating by without distraction. No radio, no TV, no artificial markers of time’s passage to say “that’s enough sitting about. Go and clean the bathroom.”

Obviously – because you can’t have what you want all the time, because life just isn’t like that - things get in the way. When that happens, I get annoyed. Knock on the door? If I didn’t invite you for a specified time, I’m not answering. Phone call? Leave a message. It took me a good six months to get used to having a cat – again, something I’d not done in years – and for the first four of those I was continually planning to take it back to where it came from because it disrupted my peace, the bastard, with its mewing and yowling and chasing of small objects and bringing in of dead things in the wee small hours. Luckily, it’s turned out that the cat has much the same temperament as I, and will happily spent most of its day asleep in entirely a different part of the house, sometimes in an entirely different building. I like him now.

Does that answer your question? 

Sunday, 13 March 2011

We Have Been Here Before


(Warning: rude words in the footnotes. Just in case you're, like, a minor, or someone who thinks a combination of vowels and consonants can actually physically harm a body)


It says here on this website - http://www.huffingtonpost.com - that a copy of Amazing Fantasy #15 – first appearance of The Amazing Spider-Man with a hyphen, fact fans! - has been sold for over a million dollars. A MILLION DOLLARS! HOO HOO HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!![1]

Which isn’t really a great deal of money these days. You can’t retire on it, not if you want to live comfortably (insert your own political opinion here).

Can’t really say I’m surprised by the sale. Other key comicbooks have been sold recently for larger sums, and while some would say that the AF1 isn’t as deserving of the million-dollar price tag as the Action Comics 1 or the Detective Comics 27 that have hit the auctioneer’s block lately (and it’s at this point that I’m just going to assume that if you’re reading this you’ll have at least a rudimentary idea of the things I’m talking about, because if you don’t you’re going to get very confused very soon), I’d say it’s still very much a key issue[2] and one of the foundation blocks of today’s monolithic[3] Marvel Comics. Horses for courses, opinions are like pieholes[4], etc.

My take on it is that we’ve hit a point in the economic cycle where there are a number of relatively wealthy people who are aware of the resentment, bordering on hatred, that those who aren’t so fortunate hold for them (and rightly so if you ask this old Young Socialist). They’re also aware, as they’re quite probably from those professions where a knowledge of How Money Works is a prerequisite, that holding on to your money – the excess money, the money that’s over once you’ve bought the houses and the cars and the trophy women – isn’t as good an idea as it used to be.


 There’s a very real danger that we – and by ‘we’ I mean the developed capitalist world – is going to tip into a global depression that will make the last five years look like the opening day of Harrods’ Sale. There’s the first few hints of stagflation here in the UK, with the economy digging its heels in and just plain refusing to grow no matter how much that nice young man Mr Osborne  asks it to[5], and prices rising faster than that Japanese bamboo they used to use for unpleasant torture-y purposes.


 So the financially astute feller, knowing full well that we may well be looking at Weimar Republic-proportioned reductions in the value of coin, will be looking around for other ways to safeguard his hard-earned[6]. It’s the Alternative Investment Market, or rather the Alternative Alternative Investment Market. I last saw it in the early 1990s, when the Conservatives were beginning to head into the latter, decadent phase of their power and the medium-term effects of Thatcherist Monetarism were becoming evident; some were doing well, others who weren’t doing so well were making their disgruntlement known by rioting in Central London and throwing petrol bombs in Brixton.

General financial advice will tell you that it’s a good idea to put your money into bricks and mortar, and for the majority of people that’s true. For the majority of people the most important thing is to have a home for your family. But for some, the important thing is to keep hold of that excess money. And if the world does go to hell and you need a lottery win-sized amount of money to buy a pint of semi-skimmed, there’s no point in having your money in a bank where it’s going to be reduced by hyper-inflation to mere pocket change, and there’s not much fun to be had having a nice big house that’s surrounded by packs of feral schoolchildren willing to kill you and eat you as a packed lunch.

Instead, you need something that will retain a long-term value. Gold usually takes that position. Ideally though, you need something that’s easily portable, so you can take it with you and sit on it until things have recovered enough to make your goodies profitable again. A million dollars-worth of gold would easily exceed your luggage allowance on the last chopper out of Alderley Edge[7]. Several million dollars-worth of gold – ‘cause that’s what you’re going to need to transport – would need its own private jet. But a dozen or so comicbooks, although they certainly won’t be as easily liquidatable as gold, will slip into a briefcase, no problem.

I’m not saying that any of this is what’s actually happening; my economics knowledge is limited to one A-Level over thirty years ago and frankly, I’m ridiculously fond of taking the slightest of events and blowing it up into the kind of Doom that will inevitably come about as a result of any period of Conservative (or Conservative-led) government.

But, that said, there’s suddenly a couple of market-leading comicbooks out there, and now that the million dollar barrier has been breached, others will follow just as surely as Trevor Francis[8] was followed by Bryan Robson[9], prices will spiral ever higher, and before long we could be looking at the comicbook equivalent of Christiano Ronaldo[10].



But your boxful of X-Men #1[11] will still be worth sod all.








[1] My band does a cover of The BBC Song from the end of Austin Powers: IMOM. Therefore I’m comfortable doing a cover of one of the jokes from that film.
[2] If AF #1 is worth over a million, what price Fantastic Four#1, the comic that started Marvel Comics  - possibly the entire comics industry – as we know it?
[3] Strictly speaking, monoliths are, as the name implies, single stones and as such would not have foundation blocks. I can indeed be pedantic in my own disfavour.
[4] ’pieholes’ indeed. The word is ‘arseholes’. Even if you’re American.
[5] Only kidding. The man is a cunt, and incompetent with it.
[6] Which is probably nothing of the sort.
[7] A part of Cheshire much loved by overpaid professional footballers. Footballers, mind. Not ‘soccer players’.
[8] Sold by Birmingham City to Nottingham Forest for £1,080,000
[9] Sold by West Bromwich Albion to Manchester United for £1,500,000, two months after footnote 6
[10] Sold by Manchester United to Real Madrid for £80,000,000, thirty years after footnote 6. Cheating, diving scum.
[11] That’s the Jim Lee X-Men #1 from 1991. Not the original 1963 Lee/Kirby X-Men #1 (worth a shedload) and certainly not the X-Men #1 from 2010 (go and buy toilet paper, it’s actually meant for you to wipe your arse on). 


WIP (1)


Something I’ve been working on. Initially it was a scene from a spec script, now it’s that and a book based on the same material. The two feed each other. All I have to do now is overcome the habit of a lifetime and finish the thing.


When she was a young girl, Susan knew what she wanted to be. Whenever grown-ups asked her, she’d say ‘a nurse’ or  ‘a teacher’ or ‘like my mummy’. She said this because that was what she knew the grown-ups wanted to be told. She never told them, or her mummy or her daddy, or anybody else, that what she really wanted to be was a pilot of an aeroplane. Maybe a scientist. Maybe an explorer. Maybe a pirate.

Susan grew up, as the less fortunate do. When she was ten, the other pupils in her class noticed that she paid little attention to her lessons, and that she tended to sit at the front of the class, on the extreme left or the extreme right, where she barely fell into the periphery of the teacher’s vision. Soon after this, they noticed that Susan was rarely in class at all. Somebody mentioned this  - whether through concern or through jealousy remains unknown  - to somebody else who held a position of authority, A truant officer visited Susan’s home one afternoon, on a day when the sun and the rain were dogfighting for supremacy, and was met with Susan’s mother’s insistence that the girl left for school every morning and, what was more, on her return every afternoon was quite talkative about her day’s education.

Not wishing her mother to be seen a peddler of falsehoods, Susan returned home at the correct time that afternoon and found the conversation still progressing. A few minutes later the truant officer left, not only satisfied that Susan had been attending as was required, but quietly impressed with the young lady’s politeness, a trait obviously instilled by her delightful mother.

Every school day for two or possibly three years after this, Susan travelled, as far as she could while still returning home at a time that would cause neither suspicion nor concern. On each of these days she followed a slightly different bearing, and now knew every road, alley, park, shop and traffic light within a ten-mile radius of her home. At weekends and during holidays she would go further. Her mother insisted on accompanying her, on the grounds that girls her age should not go off on their own because you never know what might happen. Therefore Susan did not enjoy the greater range as much as she wished to.

Having explored as much as she could in her limited daily allowance of time, Susan decided to return to school. This she did more out of curiosity than duty. She was surprised to find that where she had previously found the entire process dull and rather trying, some lessons were now interesting and some actively enjoyable. She was surprised again, while surreptitiously eavesdropping on the conversation of some of her fellow pupils, to find that they had grown to become equally interesting and enjoyable. Thus Susan resolved to become a part of their social group. Within two weeks she was not quite the most popular girl in her year, but that was just as she wished it.

The question was phrased differently this time, but once again Susan was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. This time her answer, a permutation of paths and subjects and examinations, would roughly determine the shape of her life from then on. She understood that she had the intelligence and the drive to become a nurse or a teacher or a scientist or the pilot of an aeroplane and more importantly, that she could express this without fear of ridicule. Any girl could become these things. Susan, more than anything else, still wanted to become an explorer, or a pirate. But there is nowhere left today to explore, and piracy is frowned upon still.

Susan was offered a place at a prestigious university, a place based on her examination results and on an interview at which she dazzled a number of dons who had previously considered themselves unimpressable. It was a surprise to everybody except herself when she turned down the offer and chose instead to take a job at an independently-owned high street pharmacy.

She had been working in the shop for not quite three years. She was now wearing her fourth white coat. She knew many of her customers by name and they knew her, but at no time did she consider herself to have any connection to them or to her co-workers, with whom she got on just fine. A man entered the shop, looked at some bottles of shampoo on one shelf and some pain relieving pills on another, rocked a boxed tube of toothpaste from side to side in its place on a display, then sat down on the plain wicker-seat chair that was provided for the elderly to rest on while they waited for prescriptions to be filled. The man sat, one leg folded over the other, resting an elbow on his leg just above the lower part of his left thigh, thumb on cheekbone, fingers over mouth, looking at Susan. Every so often he raised his head a little then lowered it again. None of the other assistants seemed to mind him.

Susan looked back at the man. He was smart but not dandyish. His suit was the understated work of a fine tailor. His face spoke of refinement but not necessarily of breeding. She seemed drawn to him, but not attracted.

The man moved his hand from his face, sat up, raised one index finger, and began to speak. Susan understood this was not a conversation; she was to listen and not contribute.

“Each time you walk behind that counter you take a piece of plastic the size of a credit card, on which there is a magnetised strip. You insert the card into a reader which is attached to the cash register. This device records which of the staff is working at which register. Standard practise.”

(With this, he opened his hand and raised an eyebrow, not to invite comment but to demonstrate that what he said was nothing other than fact.)

“Given this, given the ubiquity of the Universal Product Code, and given access to the database in which these records are held, an interested observer can see which items have been sold by which member of staff.

“I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

(A small shift in weight. The interesting part was to begin here.)

“More cosmetics with a high retail price are sold in this shop than in any other in Britain. This distinction was achieved roughly thirty-one months ago and has been maintained ever since. If one could see the records of sales and compare it to a record of credit card usage in this shop - and I’m sure you can gather that when I say ‘if one could’ I’m letting you know that yes one could, and that yes one has - one would see that the majority of those sales have been to women, usually women of a certain age and a certain level of income. Women who can afford it.

“Now, if we perhaps use those credit card records to identify these women, and we perhaps phone them, possibly under the flimsy disguise of a market research company investigating why women might choose to buy one particular brand of highly-priced cosmetic rather than another… We discover that very few of them… very very few of them… in fact only three out of the several hundred who have bought highly-priced cosmetics in this shop… had any intention of doing so.

“The others – all of the others – bought their cosmetics on the spur of the moment.

“No intention.

“On a whim.

“And the little piece of plastic with the magnetised strip – remember that? – tells us that all of these unplanned impulse purchases of highly-priced cosmetics were made at cash registers manned by… Her.”

The man pointed at Susan’s co-worker.

“She makes an astonishing number of sales. And as a result she makes an astonishing amount of commission. Which is useful, because she’s a single mother and the extra money, well, it may not be essential, she’s doing okay, but we’ll say she finds it useful.

“Now, here’s the thing. I took, shall we say, a professional interest in her, and so I watched her. Not on my own, of course, not in person.  If I’d come into this shop before you would have recognised me today. You, especially, would have recognised me today. Other people have watched her. Quite a number of the old ladies who sit on this chair have been doing so at my request. My command, come to think of it.

“And of course there’s the CCTV footage. We‘ve been watching that, and do you know I believe we’ve cracked it. We know how she does it. We’ve found out her secret. Do you know what she does? You know what she does. She talks to you. Or, rather, you talk to her. A well-to-do looking woman walks in here and while she’s waiting to be served, or browsing, looking over the hair colourants or the sugar-free dental fixatives, you happen to mention to your friend about the really good write-up that such-and-such product got in such-and-such glossy magazine. And the well-off lady overhears this, and suddenly she gets this overwhelming urge to pick up a pot of crystal formula pearl gel crème or whatever, and she buys it, from her, who gets the commission and spends it on toys for her child.”

Susan looked at her co-worker, who seemed oblivious not just to the conversation, but to the man’s presence at all. When she looked back at the man, he was now standing at the counter, his face no more than a foot away from hers. He had a faint scent of something; citrussy, strawberryish.

“I know what you can do. I’m not here to tell you to stop. I don’t want you to stop. I want you to do it for a new reason. For a greater good. There are things out there, strange things, unusual things. Things to be investigated, explored, explained. Things, sometimes, that need not to be explained. And you, with this ability you have, you could help us do this. You could go to places nobody else has. You could see sights that nobody should see.

“And all the while you do this, you would be helping people. Helping them on a scale far greater than the unofficial redistribution of wealth you operate at present. Every day will be different; every moment will be a surprise. But. I have to tell you. You will be endangered. You may be injured. You may lose your life. And if you wish to do this, if you wish to see the things you have ached to see for as long as you have been able to think, you must do it now, this instant. Your family, your friends, your pets, everything, must be left behind. No goodbyes. Now. For ever.

“Well?”

Susan looked at the man and knew that everything he had said was true. And with the advent of this knowledge, everything she knew about herself changed: she seemed taller, more confident. More beautiful. She spoke, and was surprised by the difference in her voice, how she had suddenly become a match for this man who had in minutes made her what she wanted to be.

“Who shall I be working with?”

“My name is Bowman.”

“Mr. Bowman. I’m – “

“No. Not anymore. Your name is now Miss Novak.”

“Novak.”

Mr. Bowman gently nodded in recognition.

“Very well, Mr. Bowman. Yo ho ho.”

Mr. Bowman walked to the door. Miss Novak joined him; she left a white coat, and Susan, on the wicker-seated chair. 




Saturday, 12 March 2011

Time is running out, seems it happens every day

About ten years ago, I wrote a regular column for Borderline Magazine

Borderline was a comics magazine in PDF format, which grew from around 56 pages when we started to around 100 when we finally ran out of money. There’s a long and involved story to be told about Borderline, but  as it’s going to be told by my old friend and the editor of Borderline, Phill Hall, over on one of his various blogs I’m not going into it here (unless Phill and my memories are different, in which case there may be a blog battle). 

Recently,  the print magazine Wizard has ceased publication in the physical world and gone over to PDF. In the doing of it, they’ve made a shedload of PR noise about how ground-breaking  they are and how there’s never been a comics magazine in this format before. Oh yes there has, sonny! TEN! BLOODY! YEARS! AGO!

However, my bitterness can wait until another time.

The column I wrote for Borderline (in addition to being Staff Writer, Features Editor, Reviews Editor, and eventually  Publisher) was called Man On A Mission – a title thrown at me by Phill, just to give the poor bastard thing a name. The Mission was to find better comics, either through recommendation or, as it turned out and which was far more fun, by haranguing creators and consumers into demanding better of themselves.  And if improvement  didn’t happen, I was going to keep a promise I’d made to myself some time before.

I’m one of the age group who were around for Cerebus. Started with issue 36 and kept with it through to the end. Picked up as many of that initial missed 35 issues as I could find and/or afford, made them up with the Swords of Cerebus trades that predated what became known as ‘the phonebooks’.

At some point, probably in the mid-200s of Cerebus’ run, I said to myself: When this ends, it all ends. Just walk away from all of it. The end of Cerebus was going to mark my long-postponed maturity; I was going to do what any sensible man would have done a good twenty years beforehand. I was going to give up comics.

Didn’t do it. Cerebus ended, I kept going.

Still doing it today.

But over the last year or so, I’ve noticed that the number of comics I’ve been buying has slowly shrunk. I’m not excited by the greater part of the comics produced by the larger publishers. I’m taking fewer chances on new titles. I can’t be bothered to hunt down the more obscure material. Part of this is down to the fact that my supplier, Mr Gary Ochiltree of Krypton Comics And Books, is a very shrewd businessman who simply does not order anything that he can’t see a guaranteed sale on. As a result, there’s less – in fact zero – browsing of untried titles.

Add to this my uncanny knack of picking losers. When I was a teenager, my younger brother brought home the first issue of 2000AD. I read it, cast it aside like an unwanted kipper and pronounced that it wouldn’t last six months. But I’ll keep on falling for things that are doomed from the outset. One of my other regular gigs on Borderline was to write, solicit and edit something called Beautiful Losers, a semi-regular feature about failed comicbooks. Thriller. Chase. Slingers. Young Heroes In Love. Books like those. Loved by critics, shunned by readers, dead (or maybe born) before their time. 

Of the nine comics I’ve bought so far this month, four have been just announced as cancelled, one was the last part of a limited series and two are selling in such low numbers they’ll be lucky to see out the next six months. Only one of the four cancelled titles counts as a Beautiful Loser (Keith Giffen’s quite gloriously off-kilter Doom Patrol, since you ask).

I can’t be bothered to go into the West End to look for shiny new things (though the last time I did, something quite spectacular happened). If I do find something that piques, I say “I’ll wait for the trade” and then probably not bother.

Slow attrition is eating away at my comics consumption. Every month I love them less and less. I can scarcely believe I’m saying this, but… it looks like I’m finally giving up.

Let’s see. 

Friday, 11 March 2011

THE NEW REM ALBUM...

THE NEW REM ALBUM

…is no such thing. It’s doubtful there’s been a new REM album for a good few years now, possibly not since Green. There have been REM album releases but they ‘ve had very little new about them. To announce a new REM album is a bit like announcing a new summer or a new rainstorm; eventually one will come along and although it may initially be refreshing, in the end it’ll turn out to be warm or wet, just like the one before it and the one that follows.



Collapse Into Now, which is what this REM album is called, is admittedly a pretty good example of its type. It’s probably the best REM album in a few years, possibly since Automatic For The People (which I must confess is where I fell out of love with the band). It does what it’s supposed to do in a functional matter, but that’s to be expected. This is their fifteeneth album. Most other bands would be ecstatic to reach fifteen albums, especially with near as damnit the same personnel as they started with. REM aren’t exactly the Sugababes on that score.

The downside to the continuity of personnel is that continuity of creativity inevitably accompanies it. Being in the same band for as long as the three remaining REMmers have isn’t the same as going to an office and sitting in front of a spreadsheet for the same period, but there’s always the danger – especially with a band as successful as REM – that the writing and recording of a new album will become just as routine. And as a result of that, the need to turn out new product  within an acceptable timescale will be prioritised over the need to experiment musically. CIN doesn’t exactly sound like a band going through the motions, but there are times when it’s obvious that there’s a tried-and-tested formula to follow.

There’s a song that sounds a bit like Whats The Frequency Kenneth? (Alligator Aviator Autopilot  Antimatter) There’s one that sounds a bit like Everybody Hurts (Walk It Back). And there are a couple which, because of the use of arpeggiated strings and mandolins, sound quite a lot like Losing My Religion  You can’t blame them for this. Even the most ardent of experimenters and the hardiest of self-reinventors fall into some kind of routine. Even David Bowie, for whom every new album was an excuse to wear new skin, went through a few years of being crap (mainly because Bowie  was always a re-interpreter rather than an innovator, always taking extant styles and twisting them into something new, but he ran out of new things to be excited by, and ended up going all drum’n’bass just because it was, y’know… there).

As routines go, though, it’s a half-way decent  furrow. The song that sounds like both Everybody Hurts and Losing My Religion  (which is called Oh My Heart) is, yes, one of Michael Stipe’s muttery-vocal numbers. He’s been doing these since Murmur was released and possibly – this is purely my own supposition  - it’s a vocal affectation that was initially tried as a nervous, confidence-less experiment, was accepted and lauded, and so gained both momentum and life of its own to become Stipe’s signature style. Oh My Heart is not a bad example of it, though; it’s original in its unoriginality.

The two standout tracks are the ones that sound most like the REM of old. Mine Smell Like Honey is a not-quite thrash that channels  Near Wild Heaven and maybe Man On the Moon; and That Someone Is You is It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) after realising that jumping up and down, even for only a few minutes, isn’t something it can do anymore.  In the midst of its enthusiasm it namechecks both Young Marble Giants and ‘New Order covers’ which, given the proximity  to YMG, I take to mean Frente!’s version of Bizarre Love Triangle.

And that sums up Collapse Into Now. It’s music for people who danced (or rather swayed and stared at the floor) to Young Marble Giants and who originally preferred the New Order to the Frente! but have now changed their minds. It’s music for sitting back with a nice glass of red, or for the commute home when Radio Two’s playing Leona Lewis again. It’s for reminding yourself of yourself fifteen years ago. You remember, back then when albums like this, and bands like REM, were new and original and occasionally groundbreaking and, for a few glorious years, you hoped you were too.