Wednesday, 20 February 2013

R.I.P. Musical Talent - The Brits 2013

Well hello everyone! Today is 20th February 2013 - and those of you who pay attention to the mentally disturbed will know that that can only mean one thing.

It's Brit awards night!

And in honour of the blog I did last year, where I picked on the public-voted Best British Single as a highlight of mediocrity within the music industry, I've decided to do the same again.

Now if you didn't read it last year (and why not? shame on you!) or just don't remember, the rules are simple. I attempt to listen to all of the nominees and stop each song when I can't bear it any more, and I record the results below, for your pleasure / enjoyment / criticism.


How long did I last? 1:58

Impressions: This begins, as per always with an Adele song (or at least, the few Adele songs I've ever knowingly listened to) with a repeating Piano riff. It's not bad a bad riff, a bit moody. And then it gets ruined when Adele starts to sing. Well, if singing is the right word. Personally it sounds more like she is accidentally sliding her voice over notes without actually bothering to sing any complete words. Has anyone taught her about enunciation? Or as she would call it ... cia... (because she doesn't sing the beginnings OR ends of words).

And then the chorus starts - and promptly sounds almost exactly the same as the verse, and with this dull chorus came a depressing realisation that this is all that there is. And yes, it sounds like a Bond theme - albiet an an incredibly dull one. And you know that the song is a failure when  I'm sitting here getting distracted by thoughts of how good the film while simultaneously blocking out the music. And that, my friends, tells me that it is time to give up.

Rating: 5/10. It's exceptionally bland.


How long did I last? 0:37

Impressions: As far as I knew I'd never heard this song, so I prepared myself and pressed the play button. 

Oh god. 

Where do I start? Do I start from the overly protracted intro, where it's as if someone discovered the flange effect button on their mixing software and just let it run for what seems like an eternity? (I'm assured it was only a few seconds, but it didn't seem like that). And then for that irritating voice to kick in, and start trying to squeeze lyrics into a tune which fit as well as I would fit into a pair of dungarees designed for a teddy bear? Sorry, I can't take it anymore. Maybe it gets better? I doubt it.

Rating: 2/10


How long did I last? 2:49

Impressions: I have heard this song quite a few times. So actually, my first shock was that it qualifies for this years awards, because it seems to have been around for f*king ever. Now I know it is fashionable to bash Coldplay, and to be fair, I do bash them a lot, mostly because I dislike their earlier catalogue. But this is just average. I wouldn't throw the radio into the bath if this came on, but on the other hand I wouldn't ever seek it out (unless I wanted to listen to a song where the female singer sounds manlier than the male singer.)

It does however, utilise a lot of La-La-La-La's... which is never a positive thing for me. It's as if they were going to write more lyrics, and then forgot. And the less said about the Synth noise, the better. My other major complaint is - where is the chorus? The whole song sounds like build-up and no payoff. Yes I only listened to 2:49 of it, but surely I heard at least one chorus in that time, so why don't I remember it? (Answers on a postcard please)

Rating: 6/10


How long did I last? 0:43

Impressions: Aaah! A robot doing backing vocals! Oh no, it's just an 80's vocal effect. In fact, there's an awful lot of vocal effects - hello autotune, how I haven't missed you. And then the 90's club drums kick in. And I'm done.

Rating: 1.5/10


How long did I last? 1:47

Impressions:  Wow. 

Hello drums. 

You appear to be quite loud in the mix, or at least satisfyingly bassy. Oh and there's some oooh-oooh-ooohs. Really? This is nearly as bad as Coldplay's La-La-La's. You may notice I've not said anything about the song itself, focussing simply on the drums and some offensive non-lyrical lyrics. Well what is there to say? It's OK. Maybe I'm becoming less filled with hatred towards average music than I used to be, but it didn't particularly offend me - it was just a bit repetitive.

Rating: 6/10


How long did I last? 0:53

Impressions: I bashed Florence and the Machine a bit in this blog last year. And this year? I'm going to do much the same. Maybe it's a reaction to listening to it after Emeli Sande, but the introduction does sound like it was mixed by an engineer wearing tupperware on his head, who was overly concerned about the sound being too loud. And then the stupid dancey bass kicks in, and I lost any interest I thought I might possibly have had.

Rating: 3/10


How long did I last? 0:45

Impressions: Neety likes to have crap music TV on when she does things around the lounge - which is fair enough. But sadly that means that I have heard this song before, and just the mention of it's name while it was being cued up was enough to make me throw up a tiny bit in my mouth. But I shall press on... Oh hello - he's been taking lessons from the Adele school of non-enunciation!

Other than that, it is such a typical X-Factor arrangement of a song (start with strings and vocal, build up with slow drums and a bass... I didn't listen past that point, but I would imagine it brings in more instruments including the whole string section and band, maybe has a key change near the end, and then everybody listening dies of UTTER BOREDOM.) Seriously X-Factor, mix it up a bit, why not start a song with a Xylophone solo? Then bring in the Accordions and Sousaphones.  Go on, I dare you.

But no, this is awful.

Rating: 1/10


How long did I last? 0:17

Impressions: Oh dear god, where do I start. A guitar riff starts the song, and bless him, the guitarist is obviously trying to make it interesting. (Apologies if I seemed sexist then, assuming the guitarist was a man, it won't happen again. Unless it does.) Then the singing begins.

If you can call it singing.

Jessie J has what some might call a unique voice, which appears to alternate between outright yelling and then warbling like a nightingale with a microphone shoved down it’s throat that has been run over by a taxi containing Johnny Vegas in the early 2000s, James Cordon and the Incredible Hulk, so that all it can emit are screams of agony.

It’s very hard for me to believe that they can teach a human being to sing like that. Well, I say a human being, I don't believe she is a real human being. Maybe a messed-up clone, that's why her name is Jessie J. Jessie A - H obviously went wrong.. And then, if that wasn’t enough the sound of a cat vomiting begins, replacing what would, in most normal songs, be a bass drum…

Please god no more.

Rating: 1/10


How long did I last? 1:23

Impressions: Interesting. The opening string chords of this sound almost exactly like the opening of Aerosmith's "I don't wanna miss a thing". That was sneaky of Labrinth and Emeli Sande (or whoever wrote this for them) to pinch that before moving onto their actual composition. According to Neety, the lyrics for this are a bit wishy-washy (although I had trouble understanding what the hell he was saying in the first place, as he doesn't enunciate brilliantly and is a little buried by production). However, that wasn't my biggest problem with this song.

My biggest problem with this song (apart from the fact that it is the most X-Factor-y song I have heard in a long time that isn't from the X-Factor) is that they sing the following lyric.

"Won't you let, me, see beneath your beautiful, tonight." 

Excuse me? Beneath your beautiful WHAT??? A Beautiful is not a thing. If you want to see beneath someone's beauty, then say THAT!! BUT YOU CANNOT SEE BENEATH A BEAUTIFUL BECAUSE A BEAUTIFUL IS NOT A THING!!! And if they're saying they'll see beneath your beautiful tonight, well.... that doesn't make any sense either. And then they sing:

“Take it off now girl, take it off now girl.”

Take what off? You cannot take off a beautiful. And then, a little later he asks her to take off a perfect. Guess what? YOU CAN'T. BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT A THING. 

Beautiful = NOT A THING.


Rating: 4/10


How long did I last? THE WHOLE SONG. So in your face all you people who think I never like any popular music.

Impressions: I quite like this song. It sounds a lot like Maroon 5 (which is ironic as Maroon 5 now sound quite like generic X-Factor style pop...) it's just funky and fun. (I refer you to my earlier comment about mellowing in my old age) - Plus it has liberal use of a cowbell, which is always good fun.

SIDENOTE – If you ever want to see Neety miming a cowbell overenthusiastically, pop this song on!

It's musically interesting, and gets under your skin, which sounds about as appealing as a tapeworm I grant you, but it does get stuck in your head (in a good way). EVEN the stupid rap interlude from that Florida Man isn't that bad, although it does go on about a verse too long. It's almost as if Olly Murs (or whoever wrote/chose this for him) bothered to look at what makes listenable, poppy music rather than just what sold last week and tried quickly to attempt to replicate that.

Rating: 9/10


How long did I last? 0:23

Impressions: Well what a return to form after the surprise of the previous song being actually good. This is shit. Just saying. What is the appeal of this? Horrible cheap sounding synths, squealing vocals reciting lyrics that just seem to be utter rubbish. Depressingly, it's not the worst or even second worst thing I've had to listen to this evening, but it is joint third worst...

Rating: 1.5/10


How long did I last? 1:25

Impressions: I thought I would hate this. And don't get me wrong, it's certainly not something I enjoy, but in comparison with some of the other things I've heard here? At least it sounds like they are having fun, and I can see how it would appeal - although the female vocal is bloody irritating. 

Rating: 5/10


How long did I last? 2:38

Impressions: Again, due to Neety's excessive use of crap music TV, coupled with Mr Williams’ heavy rotation on said music channels, I've heard this quite a lot - and seen it's ridiculous video. Musically? It's catchy. Good use of instruments, a chorus that sticks in ones head, and it also shares one important thing with both Rizzle Kicks and Olly Murs - it feels fun - which surely is the point of Pop Music? But lyrically? I'm not suggesting pop music lyrics should be poems in their own right, but is it too much to ask for sentences that make some kind of sense? Because there are none in this song. Absolutely no coherent sentences whatsoever. They sound like they are, but they aren't. 

Rating: 6/10


How long did I last? 1:10 (Only because the organ section is about a minute long and I wanted to see where it went after that)

Impressions: Organ? At the beginning of a pop song? It might turn out to be good? Oh wait, now theres a pulsing bassline that means I can't hear ANYFUCKINGTHINGELSE with any clarity whatsoever. And Mr 80's synth is back once again - he's been making good money these last few years. And then drums kick in. And it sounds as if they stole the drum pattern from Hot Right Now (or Hot Right Now stole it from them - either way, it's a shit drum pattern.) And so, I turned it off.

Rating: 2/10


How long did I last? 0:31

Impressions: And when I told Neety the name of the band she delighted me with the phrase, "Oh goody, obligatory band name that sounds like a vagina!". After a good giggle, we started the song. I think this song is trying to imitate Motown, but it appears to be doing so without spending any time working out a good tune, rhythm or lyrics, and without the most important thing - a GOOD SINGER. OK, I only listened to 31 seconds of it, so maybe I'm judging on one singer and they apparently have more than one - but to be fair, if you have a bland singer, don't give her verse 1. I'm just saying...

Rating: 3/10

So in conclusion – please give the award to Olly Murs, while making all the other acts gather inside a bomb shelter which has the bomb inside…

Friday, 15 February 2013

The Great Playthrough: Game 40 - Flashback

Released on: Sega Megadrive, PC, Amiga, Mega-CD, Archimedes, SNES, 3DO, Atari Jaguar and many, many others
Played on: Sega Megadrive
Release Date: 1992

I know that as a review of my opinions and feelings about the game I ought to start at the beginning, work through my opinions and then come to a conclusion at the end. To announce any conclusions at the start of the blog would ruin any essence of drama and suspense within the writing. So I shall try my best not to give it away before the end of the post.

For those of you who don’t know, Flashback is a 2D platformer with a lot of puzzles and a great (very Philip K Dick influenced) sci-fi story. I remembered playing it on the PC as a teenager, and finding it great yet frustrating in equal measures. So I assumed that when I re-attempted it that I would, in my grouchy old-age, find it to be an average game – spend half an hour playing it and then give up, awarding it somewhere in the region of 6/10 and then move on to the next game on the list.

And did I?

No. Because Flashback became one of the biggest surprises of this blog so far. I absolutely adored it.

(Sorry to those of you who love the drama and suspense, but I couldn't contain myself any longer. If you want real Drama and Suspense then go and watch the first 3 seasons of Lost, and then turn it off for a few years – that’ll give you Drama.)

I didn't mind that the difficulty level is quite hard. I didn't mind that there is no battery save – you have to remember passwords! (And seriously, there’s something nostalgically retro about passwords that you have to pencil into the back of the instruction manual.) I didn't mind that there are three different types of jump and you have to learn each of them by reading through the manual. I didn't mind the repetitive, minimalistic music, and the backtracking to make sure you had found everything you needed.

I didn't even mind that I spent over an hour playing the first level, dying and re-starting at least 4 times.

It’s such a well-built game. Well-designed, beautiful graphics, and great controls (which I found much easier than I remember finding the controls on the PC version) and the plot is genuinely engaging – which is something I very rarely encounter in games. I want to know what happens, which is one of the myriad of reasons I am likely to go back to this game time and time again.

I really cannot explain quite how much I enjoyed this game, and I know that most of you will not have a copy you can play, to see how right I am, but for god’s sake find one. It’s one of the few intelligent adult platformers I can ever remember playing where I was so gripped and enthralled that I didn't want to stop. I had to stop after 90 minutes of play because I realised that the rules of the playthrough meant I should not be playing more than an hour, but sod it, I let myself have the next half hour, and even now, while writing this, I want to stop and go and play it again.

Seriously, it’s that good.

I normally don’t advise people to play games based on my reviews. I assume that most of you know what you like and a lot of that isn't going to align with what I like to play, but this one is different.

Play it. Play it now.

Rating: 9/10
Time Played: 1 hour 30 minutes
Would I play it again? Hell yes.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

The Great Playthrough: Game 39 - Singstar Rocks!

Another day, another playthrough blog. However, this time I’m not alone – no, this time I am joined by the ever-wonderful Neety! And why is this? Well today I am playing a game which is quite definitely not designed for single-player use.

Singstar Rocks!
Released on: Playstation 2
Played on: Playstation 2
Release date: 2004

Firstly, let’s get this out of the way. I don’t approve of the exclamation mark used in the title. It seems to be going out of it’s way to tell me how exciting and how much this game rocks, and frankly, that puts my back up just a little bit. (And yes, I understand that they have used the suffix Rocks to denote that this particular edition of Singstar utilises rock music – which as you are all (probably) aware, should be right up my street.  

Getting past that, I've played a Singstar game before – if you live with Neety then at some point in a drunken evening it does tend to become compulsory. But I’d never sat down to play it, as a game, sober. So this was going to be a new experience for me.

But as I said at the start of this, it’s not really a game designed for single-player, so Neety and I sat down to play some two-player competition.

And it was OK. Not the best game I've ever played – and that’s not because it’s a party game, or a music-based game. I love to play Guitar Hero, and will happily play it for hours at a time, and while I was playing, I couldn't figure out why Singstar wasn't entertaining me anywhere near as much as Guitar Hero or Rockband do.

Yes, part of it was the tracklisting, as bar a few songs, the majority of the set list was not to my taste – I'm not a fan of Bloc Party, or The Hives, or Snow Patrol… and also, why in hell is Gwen Stefani on the track listing for a game that is supposed be featuring rock music? Yes, she was in a ska-punk band, but when she left them she started to create some of the most hellish R&B inspired pap that I have ever encountered, so including one of those songs in this game made me feel physically sick.

But that wasn't my big reason for not enjoying the game a lot. My primary reason? I'm not very good at it – and it doesn't seem to be a game where skills improve.

Yes, there is a definite advantage to knowing the song that you are singing, but unlike something like Guitar Hero, where there is a right button to press and a wrong button to press – but instead, you have to sing along and, if your voice is like mine, it doesn't stay on the same note consistently. I have a definite tone to my voice (which is not something I dislike, particularly) but it means that it is very hard to stay exactly on the note…

I'm not describing this very well. Let me try and describe it in pictures.

If this is how Singstar displays a long, held, correctly sung note (the way it would be sung by Neety) is like this:


Then me attempting to sing the same note looks like this:

--_---_-_-_-      _---_--_---

There may be lots of little fluctuations, but the note sounds right to the human ear…. But not to Singstar.

And that’s my biggest problem with the game. I could talk about how well designed it’s party game elements are (which they are), and how it helped pave the way for music games on modern consoles (which it did), but at the end of the day it’s a game for which I cannot develop my skills. And that infuriates me.

So it’s fun, and all, but I won’t be going back to play it unless it is as part of a drunken entertaining evening.

Rating: 6/10
Time Played: 30 mins
Would I play it again? Only as a part of a fun drunken evening.

And if you enjoyed this? Come back tomorrow (Friday 15th Feb) at 7pm GMT for the next installment...

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Extra-ordinary > Ordinary?

A brief respite from gaming blogs (and for the three of you who didn't breath a sigh of relief, there is a new one of those following soon) but for today I wanted to write about something that's been on my mind for the last 24 hours or so.

I'm a big fan of the i, (The newspaper, not the letter itself obviously) and I often read it at work as it's the perfect antidote to the idiocy I have to put myself through on a daily basis simply to earn a half-decent wage

In yesterday's paper, I was settling down to read the FreeView column, which was written by Archie Bland and titled, "The difficulty of adjusting to a life less extraordinary", (which I will link to if it is online when I get home - am writing this on my phone, so browsing is limited (I am home now, and have just checked, but cannot locate the article anywhere.. oh well!)) discussing the retirement of Rebecca Adlington from competitive swimming at the age of 23. Now I have no problem with the article in question, and the sentiment and discussion of the topic was well handled - but there was one thing that stuck in my craw, and this being the era of blogging, I thought I'd point it out.

At the end of the second paragraph, after pointing out that retiring from competitive sports is different to retiring from anything else (I.e. you do it much earlier than most careers), he makes the following statement:

"If Rebecca Adlington is past it at that age, then what am I at nearly-30?"

And do you know what my first response was?

"Bugger, the deputy editor of the independent is younger than me"

It's the same response I first had when Matt Smith was announced as playing the Eleventh Doctor, that realisation that people doing the sort of jobs I always vaguely thought I might get to do one day are now younger than me, and the gap has therefore increased to ridiculous levels.

(And yes, that is me admitting that I would want to play the Doctor, just as it is me admitting I would love to just become a professional writer, let alone an editor!)

So, I guess my question is, If Archie Bland is worried about feeling past it at nearly-30, what does that make me at 32?

And the answer? I'm happy.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those people who are ridiculously happy all the time and wind up all of us normal people about it, just by grinning inanely, but I am happy more often than not nowadays, which I class as a win.

OK, at the moment my primary employment is a job that I don't enjoy and would happily walk out of to do most other things, but who cares about that?

In my 14 years of being an adult (officially I mean, I know that mentally I could still have trouble being considered as an adult), I have achieved a lot of my ambitions in some way or another.

Creatively I have co-written seven musicals that have been performed, as well as several pantomimes, a one-act play, a novel that can be purchased by anyone in the world (I said can be, not has been, but even that doesn't bother me too much!) I have recorded 2 EP's of original music, written a ridiculous number of blogs, several short stories - and you know what?

I can call myself a professional at these things! I have been paid for it in the past ergo I can consider myself a professional. OK, so the only payments have been royalties from the 10 people who have bought my book, and the £50 I was paid for a local school to do one performance of one of my musicals, but that means that I can state I am a professional writer and composer (just one who only makes, on average, £6 a year).

And who can forget that I am also an amateur film-maker, who created the masterpiece entertaining passable no-budget feature film "Norwich and Saggers: Smarter than the Average Bear" as well as a theatre technician, video editor, occasional actor and all round idiot.

But my proudest achievement? I'm marrying Neety in just over two months time And that it was will stay with me throughout my life
Do I hope to write more books? Yes.
Do I hope to make more films? Yes.
Do I hope to write more musicals? Why the hell not!
Do I hope to record an actual full-length album, which I have been proudly stating I am going to do since I was 17? Yes.

But if I don't achieve any of that? I'm not going to cry into my cornflakes or attempt to take my life by swallowing a sharp piece of burnt toast (I appear to be heavy on the breakfast metaphors today).

I may be one of the millions of citizens who has, from an exterior perspective a life less than extraordinary, but do you know what? It's not.

It's when you have an ordinary life that you understand how extraordinary it can be.

(Apologies for the upbeat and positive blog, sarcasm will return in the next entry)

Friday, 1 February 2013

The Great Playthrough: Game 38 - Super Hang On!

How cool am I!

Super Hang On
Released on: Arcade, Sega Megadrive, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amiga... Basically any non-Nintendo machine that existed at the time!
Played on: Sega Megadrive

Due to the random nature of choosing which game is next on this playthrough, my poor Megadrive has been much-ignored of late, a trait that I hope will be rectified soon. Because it's one of my favourite (non-Nintendo) consoles of all time. So it was with delight that I pulled out the console and spent five minutes locating the relevant cables for it, before plugging it in to enjoy it's horribly plasticky joypad once again.
As for the game itself? Well, Super Hang-On is a home conversion of the Arcade game that those of you who remember proper arcades will remember. It was the one with the silly fake plastic motorbike that you had to sit on and ride?

*Smiles as I hear people's memories click into place*

Also, it seems to be a running theme of these recent blogs about my love for arcade racers - so I had high hopes for Super Hang-On.

And my hopes were...mostly satisfied. The graphics are good - very retro, but I like that! The music's OK, and the fact that you can choose which piece of music is playing is a good thing (although the fact that there are only 4 different pieces can grate a little). All in all, my first couple of races were fun!

However, I did rapidly realise that the option for a difficulty level in arcade mode is a joke  - it changes the length of the race, but doesn't increase the ridiculously tight timescales that you have to reach the next checkpoint - so I was discovering quite quickly that I could make it to checkpoint 1, but would then run out of time before checkpoint 2. (Except for one time, on Medium difficulty, where I nearly made it all the way to checkpoint 3!)

The appearance of other racers on the track are simply a minor distraction, as the point of the arcade mode isn't to beat anyone apart from the clock - and as it was designed for the arcade, it's bloody hard work! Anyone would think that this was designed to make you keep pumping in coins until the machine was so heavy that it would crash through the concrete floor and not stop until it reached the centre of the earth.
In fact, I would like to postulate a theory that the centre of the earth is full of arcade machines so full of cash that they have sunk through the earth's tectonic plates and are now the new core of the earth.

*Presents theory to scientists.*


*Is sectioned, tied into a straightjacket and locked in a room where the key is thrown away*

*Escapes with the help of the imaginary cartoon squirrel that exists on my shoulder*

*Time-travels back to two minutes before now and persuades myself not to submit such a stupid theory in the first place...*

Sorry, I appear to have got distracted by my strange side-quest. So where was I?

Ah yes - because Super Hang-On started as an arcade game it has an unforgiving difficulty - although it is a lot of fun.

But then, I discovered Original mode! Which has a rival you have to race! And elements where you can upgrade the bike! And hire a mechanic!

Except... This was a less exciting game than the arcade game. I don't really know why, it just didn't grip me as much, and the handling was a bit worse (probably because you have to upgrade the parts of the bike!). And then something happened which ruined it.

I crashed the bike once too many times, and was informed that I had broken the frame of the bike, so I was forced to retire. The problem? The cost of fixing the frame was $1200 in-game dollars... How much did I get for entering the race? $400.... Could I race again? No, because the frame was broken.

*Gets stuck in vicious circle. Gives up and turns off the Megadrive*

And that was where my Super Hang-On adventure ended. Arcade mode is fun, but I can't play it for more than 20 mins or so, and Original mode just didn't grip me.

Rating: 6/10
Time played: 30 minutes
Would I play it again? Yes I would - Arcade mode only though!

Next up - It's a music-based game! Which one? You'll have to wait and see...