Monday, 31 August 2015

Guilty pleasures?

Guilty pleasures have always perplexed me. They exist – somewhere, sometimes. When you eat Christmas puddings all through the year, that’s a guilty pleasure. When you drink too much – before it smacks of addiction, that’s a guilty pleasure. Not necessarily, but could be. 

When it comes to art – there’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure. If you like a Katy Perry song, that’s you liking a Katy Perry song. Plain and simple. I’m not saying there’s nothing wrong with that (and who am I to judge?), but ‘guilty pleasure’ is just a silly excuse invented by confidence-lacking people to cover their gaping insecurities. 

Sunday, 30 August 2015

A Century Of Fakers

The leak of Spotify playlists is totally irrelevant, but it has revealed some interesting things. The Pitchfork founder in particular got found out. As it turned out, the guy is a closet Nickelback fan. This is funny and rather sad. Funny – because it is Pitchfork. Sad – because you can see how easily Facebook years will let that happen. Some people just have to build another life around themselves, something fake but ultimately more attractive. 

A century of fakers, and Stuart Murdoch put it so beautifully on a train from London to Glasgow (or that’s what I hear):

'Cause you’re making blinkers fashionable
And fashionably you’ll say
‘All is equal in love and war’
And ‘I’m sorry, but I’ve got some things to do’
And you pretend to read a book
You’ll never finish till the day
That the author dedicates it 
To a century of fakers…

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Shadows In The Night

It was around 2006 and the release of Modern Times that Dylan reached the point that very few living artists are allowed to reach. It’s no longer relevant if his latest work is a triumph or if it’s a complete disaster or if it’s merely okay. Funnily enough, you can’t even tell anymore if it’s any of those three.

Well, I laughed at some of that Christmas stuff. And got distracted too many times during Together Through Life. And now I had a chance to dream all through Dylan singing Sinatra. But that is all I can suggest. Oh, and perhaps I can also say this: last time he made me shiver with genuine, primordial excitement was during “Workingman’s Blues #2”. And that was, what, almost ten years ago. 

Other than that – roll on. 

Friday, 28 August 2015

McEwan's monsters

There are stories. Great stories you wouldn’t recommend even to a best friend who likes this writer more than any other person you know.

Ian McEwan’s recent article about his early writings got me thinking about those two short-story collections he wrote back in the 70s. First Love, Last Rites and In Between The Sheets. Perversity, pornography, incest, bestiality. This was the man, remember, who came to write Atonement and, most recently, The Children Act. Brilliant books. But decent books.

Two stories in particular seemed to me the most disturbing, harrowing literary creations I had or have ever read. I tried retelling “Butterflies” to a friend the other day and realised this is hardly possible to put into words. This is stronger than the mental rape that David Lynch does in Wild At Heart. This is so unspeakable you immediately wish to unread it (too late, this will stay with you forever, so please stay warned) and equally you wish to give this book to certain misguided, corrupted souls who would probably learn something.

And then he follows it up with “Conversation With A Cupboard Man” and suddenly you need Dostoevsky’s Notes From The Underground as a breath of fresh air. But it’s the last bus, it’s a little past midnight, and that story is all you have. 

To mature is to keep those monsters at bay. That is, to dissolve them in experience. 

Thursday, 27 August 2015


I was planning to skip this, seeing how Banksy leaves me completely cold (best thing he did was inspire Jesca Hoop to write one of her greatest songs), but the ubiquitous pictures got me in the end. Quite simply, Banksy is art for people who don’t want to try. But in an odd postmodernist twist, I would like to see it one day. When the queues disappear and suddenly it’s no longer relevant.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Royal Headache

At long last – an album as good as this.

I don’t even want to say The Jam since you might think of pale imitators. If this is The Jam, then these are some of the best songs Paul Weller didn’t write in the 80s (stuff like “Need You” and “Another World” in particular). They play soul punk music – direct, concise, with fantastic attitude. They are Australian, too.

Just great melodies all around. Choruses in the title track or “Carolina” are garage-rock bliss, and High also features “Garbage” which is vitriolic and “Wouldn’t You Know” which is a forgotten soulful gem from the 60s. 

You won’t get tired of it, however hard you might try. If anything – you’ll want more. The good news is that their 2011 debut is almost as good. Year’s most exciting etc. etc? Sounds about right. 

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Out Of The Past

This 1947 classic, one of the greatest ever examples of film noir, easily beats The Sunset Boulevard and Double Indemnity and The Maltese Falcon, but how do you enjoy something this old?

Indeed, how do you get over the dated nature of it all? Same of course goes for music, literature, visual arts – but to a much lesser extent. Cinema, technology-reliant as it is, seems a lot more vulnerable in that respect.

It’s a scary thought that these are not the right times for Pet Sounds or a film like Out Of The Past. But then I guess you simply have to approach certain things as a piece of history. And suddenly, the history will start making sense and the modern eyes and ears will not be too modern anymore. 

Mind you, this sounds a whole lot easier than it really is. 

Monday, 24 August 2015


Again, there are artists that you have an aesthetic connection with. This goes beyond plots and melodies. Very often you can actually see that in the cover, the concept or the track list. Luke Haines does that so effortlessly with his new album. Aesthetically, it hits me right where it should.

I’m also reminded of a Martin Amis essay on Nabokov in which he claimed that Humbert Humbert’s problem was not sexual, but rather aesthetic. It’s there that he is dysfunctional and distorted. And that is also true in the world outside art, in which we constantly crave for an aesthetic connection with people and things. Otherwise, we are not interested. 

And rightly so.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Fury Road

Deep down, people just love looking at freaks. And this freak-show of a film… Christ it’s completely demented. In other words, I finally did the inevitable the other day and watched Mad Max.

It wasn’t the hideous midget. Not one-armed Charlize Theron. Not the fact that nobody says anything that would make even remote sense. Not insane people spraying their mouths with silver and screaming ‘TO VALHALLA!!!’ No, not them. It was the fucking lead guitarist on a bunch of strings that got me.

Can I say hilarious? Because I’m not sure I can. 

Mad Max is like a feverish dream of a 13-year old kid who played computer games all day long and then blacked out due to complete exhaustion at some point after midnight. Entertaining but mostly ridiculous. There’s no way you will pin this down. And you just won’t beat that lead guitarist playing a goddamn Sepultura jam ad naseum.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Pulp: 10 best

A list of my own then. Having started on a hundred greatest songwriters, I got bored after number three and decided 10 best songs by Pulp would be a better idea. Note, please, that their best song is “Dogs Are Everywhere” (Sartre would have been proud), but it’s not on this list. That was a different Jarvis Cocker, and those were different times…

10. “Mile End”

Cocker was on one hell of a roll in mid-90s, and this was just a b-side of “Something Changed”. This delirious pop classic was also used in Trainspotting.

9. “Joyriders”

There’s always room for sentimentality when it comes to Pulp, and the pulsating opener from His ’n’ Hers was what made me a fan back in 1879 or something.

8. “A Little Soul”

This Is Hardcore was an even deeper, quirkier Jarvis Cocker. ‘I used to practice every night on my wife… now she’s gone’.

7. “Do You Remember The First Time?”

‘You bought a toy that can reach the places he never goes’. Who else can get away with a lyric like that?..

 6. “Bar Italia”

On an album full of fantastic pop songs, this was the perfect closer. Christ how can you not sing along when this one is on?

 5. “Sylvia”

High on adrenaline, late at night, when nobody cares.

4. “Underwear”

‘If fashion is your trade then when you’re naked I guess you must be unemployed yeah’. Musically, too, some of the best melodies I can think of.

3. “The Birds In Your Garden”

Not every songwriter (other than Taylor Swift, of course) can pen a long chorus and make it this tuneful and entertaining. From the wonderfully patchy We Love Life.

2. “Ansaphone”

How on Earth was this not on Different Class?!? With Cocker, even the fake telephone conversation works.

1. “Razzmatazz” 

Trashy euro disco. What a man.

Friday, 21 August 2015

'Songwriters' by Rolling Stone

I’ve seen enough pathetic lists in my life, but Rolling Stone has just topped them all. Really, you have to be fucking kidding me:

There are no words...

You need two things to make a list. First, you have to know what you are talking about. RS clearly doesn’t. I particularly appreciate seeing such songwriters as Radiohead and R.E.M. Yeah right. What are your fucking critirea? Also, you have to have some sort of taste to begin with. If you did, you would know that Taylor Swift isn’t a songwriter. She’s crap. 

I honestly think that my computer would have done a better job.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Inside Out

Inside Out does something very few animated films do: it doesn’t have a negative character. For a modern-day film targeting kids and summer box office – this is quite incredible. That it succeeds and remains entertaining all the way through just goes to show the brilliant imagination at work here.

And it is brilliant. Even more so after the Cars 2 disaster (wasn’t any good in the first place), Brave mediocrity (the scenes with the bear still flummox) and Monsters University modest greatness (much, much better than they have you believe). This is the sort of all-out inventiveness that made you fall in love with Pixar in the first place.

There was a small kid screaming, an old man grinning and myself admiring every second of it. There was even a pregnant woman sipping orange juice contentedly a few seats away. 

I don’t mind saying Inside Out is going to end up in my end-of-year top 10. For the record, I thought Toy Story 3 was the best film of 2010. Not just animated. Any film of 2010. 

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

J.M. Coetzee

This is odd, but Coetzee has come closest to making me walk out of the cinema halfway through the show. Either him or John Malkovich or whoever was responsible for the film adaptation of Disgrace.

A great novel, one of the greatest in recent memory, completely deserving of its Booker Prize, but Christ is it a gruesome viewing. Literary form spares you somehow, gets you off the hook and allows you to do something else (look out of the window, talk to your wife, feed the cat, go to bed), but the screen just freezes you dead. The screen destroys you. As does Disgrace

Its warmth is didactic and its humour (you don’t need much, you only need a little) is nonexistent. The girl I was with nudged me and implored me to leave with her red crying eyes. I stood up and we walked to the aisle. Maybe stay? She thought for a while and nodded uncertainly. We stayed. And survived, for another hour or so.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Can't Help Thinking About Me

It’s hard to imagine that David Bowie existed prior to Space Oddity. You see, I don’t think he did. For all the cuteness of “Love You Till Tuesday” and inane charm of “The Laughing Gnome”, that really was someone else.

I’m not even talking about poor songwriting (ah but it is poor, even if I still have a soft spot for the totally made-up 1966 single “Can’t Help Thinking About Me”). I’m talking about his identity, at the time when he was no longer Davy Jones but David Bowie trying to be Ray Davies. It’s not such a bad thing to emulate Ray Davies, but Bowie had to try a fake identity for it to work. 

And in his case – it always did. Even when the 80s took hold and it didn’t. If that’s not unique, nothing is. 

Monday, 17 August 2015

Talking Heads

Alan Bennett’s classic monologues that never get old. The timelessness has now become so clear that you are moved to tears by the sentimentality of “A Cream Cracker Under The Settee” and still jump from your chair at the word ‘fuck’ in “A Lady Of Letters”. 

And then of course there’s always time to puzzle over “A Chip In The Sugar” where it could really be Graham’s secret and not his mother’s. Which is the sort of thing that postmodernism does to you in the 21st century, at the decidedly old-fashioned Theatre Royal Bath.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

How Nights Out End

Good music you will never hear. Some of it out of sheer neglect, some of it happens to be buried too deep in the remote corners of the Internet. Interestingly, neither of these two reasons seems like much of an excuse these days.

Like you will never hear GUMS!, a Scottish band (Glaswegian – if you need a genre) whose members were once part of the now extinct Plimptons. Their new EP, How Nights Out End, is brimming with melodic quality (“Christina Gallagher” is a true Glaswegian gem) and even offers a little in terms of diversity. “What’s Left” is a distinctly Scottish accent against the background of a Motorhead groove. Intriguing.

I could say hopelessly old-fashioned, but do come on – what is old-fashioned anymore? I guess my only serious complaint is that “February” may just be too good for the most depressing month of the year. Or is that a sign of a good band. Next up is “Rottenrow”, an anthem trapped in humility.

It’s always easy to resist the unknown. No, you won't hear them. But with tunes so inescapable, what reasons have you not to? 

Saturday, 15 August 2015

The Quiet American

Strange though this may sound, sometimes the quality of a work of art doesn’t really matter. It’s a very rare instance when this is the case, but then how can you take quality over ideology in Joseph Mankiewicz’s 1958 adaptation of Graham Greene’s classic novel?

The film is quite good, possibly. Not as good as the 2002 version (even though you could argue that Michael Redgrave’s performance rivals that of Michael Caine), but definitely a success if you can disengage yourself from the blatant mutilation of Greene’s book which in Mankiewicz’s case was turned into an American propaganda film. 

Except one can't, and shouldn't. With The Quiet American this is simply unforgivable, and I’m willing to completely disregard Redgrave’s brilliant acting. The quality didn’t suffer, it was abused. 

Friday, 14 August 2015

My Idea Of Fun

Always exciting to see where it all began. Or rather – how.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Will Self’s first novel is the fact that it’s accessible. Not by anyone’s standard – but by the standards of Will Self. After The Book Of Dave, after Umbrella  – or anything else really. It’s still so dense it is bound to give you a literary headache at some point, but essentially this was the time when the man cared for your interest. Or, dare I say it, wanted to be liked. 

Or take another, equally fascinating route. Sweet Tooth or The Children Act will give you no idea about the incest and mutilations of McEwan’s early novels (and even THAT won’t prepare you for something like “Butterflies” or “Conversation With A Cupboard Man”). 

A rather interesting distinction that makes you think.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

It Girl

If there’s anything that the trailer of Tarantino’s new film made me think about (other than the fact that I saw Tim Roth rather than Christoph Waltz), it’s the fact that this song by Anton Newcombe won’t ever appear in any of his films:

Not anymore.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Love songs

A few years ago I wrote a very short but somewhat inspired piece about how Robert Forster is a better songwriter than Luke Haines simply because he can write a love song. 

Taking the question of love songs a bit further, I’d say there is a crucial difference between the way songwriters approach it. Some think love is a good enough reason to write a song. Others treat love as merely a means to say something else. Without any reservations whatsoever, and without even bothering with a boring list of exceptions, I should say that it is the latter category that I admire. 

Tuesday, 11 August 2015


You can live without them. Far too many artists never gave a fuck or chose to include everything worthy on the actual album. Like I say, not the end of the world and hardly a sign of severe songwriting ineptitude. Unless it’s some god-awful remix, in which case it’s just laziness and poor taste.

However, I have an utmost respect for an artist who can record a terrific B-side and then leave it at that. Of course, on occasion it simply goes to show that the artist in question has no control over quality and can’t tell good from bad, but that is hardly the case with songs like Nick Cave’s “Little Empty Boat”, Pulp’s “Ansaphone” or, say, Luke Haines’ “Car Crash”. 

Oh the number of fuckers who would kill for coming close to this brilliance:

Monday, 10 August 2015

Orson's Shadow

There’s not much in it – other than the clash of egos. But what egos. Laurence Olivier versus Orson Welles. That and the idea of Welles staging a seminal play from the Theatre of the Absurd and Olivier playing the main character. That in itself is a brilliant non-sequitur. 

But perhaps the most intriguing part of it, beyond the masterful acting and the intimate setting of an independent theatre (and the fact that I’m soaked through, with only a small bottle of white New Zealand wine to make me warm), is that it’s all about Rhinoceros. A play which in Orson’s Shadow has the intensely invisible role of Ionesco's odd-toed ungulates.

Sunday, 9 August 2015


In the Rose Hill sports village, Abigail was sitting on the grass smoking a silent cigarette and getting towards the end of Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn.

As I approached, quietly as I only could, she turned around and looked up at me. There was a certain deafness in her eyes, charmed and pretty in the setting sun, and I realised that for a few seconds, maybe minutes, I would be a character in her book. 

I confessed. She smiled.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

The Lotus Eater

How do you get over the fact that an artist doesn’t like his own work? How do you read When We Were Orphans when Kazuo Ishiguro himself thinks it was not particularly good? In view of this, it is actually irrelevant that you consider The Unconsoled a modern masterpiece and both The Remains Of The Day and Never Let Me Go among the most affecting books ever written. But perhaps an artist should never judge his own work – after all, Martin Amis may still be in love with Yellow Dog.

Likewise, I could never take Somerset Maugham seriously. His humble admission that he is an average writer is as inexplicable as it is ridiculous. So much so that every time I began reading his books I felt them to be exactly that – agonizingly average. Whether it was his own statement or the actual quality of his writing that had this effect, I don't know. And does it really matter?.. 

And yet there’s always the small issue of “The Lotus Eater”, Maugham’s short story from 1935. In the middle of a decisively ‘good, not great’ set of his best fiction, this was something else. The writing was all the same. The setup was hardly a hoot. But when the story takes turn for the darker halfway through, it suddenly becomes one of the scariest things ever written. Maybe it was the age, my age, how can you ever tell, but the psychological blow was devastating. If ever Somerset Maugham proved himself wrong…

Friday, 7 August 2015

Waking witches, dealing with gods

Normally I do not approve of a musician being called a genius (let’s reserve that for Einstein), but in case you were wondering why Kate Bush is the best thing that happened to music in the previous century, these are three points I would mention:

1. “The Man With The Child In His Eyes” was written when she was 15. And you won’t find many songs more moving and mature than that.

2. Whatever your opinion of folk music may be, “The Jig Of Life” rips to pieces all those bands toiling away in Ireland and elsewhere.

3. She may well be the only artist in the world who manages to thrill you by just laughing for more than a minute during a song (“Aerial”). 

I should put The Ninth Wave somewhere in there, but this has to suffice.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?

There could be films better than this. Theoretically – it’s possible. I seriously doubt that, but you just never know. However, there can only be one film you watch at 4 o’clock in the morning when you’re 16 years old.  

It’s somewhat incredible to rewatch it years later. Because as you do it, you realise that all those tiny little details, all those intonations coming from Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, the ones you know by heart – they do not simply affect you the way they did before. They are also well inside you, and have been all these years.

This should all sound awfully sentimental, and yet emotionally I still can’t get over it. Edward Albee’s plays have always done it for me. “The Zoo Story” got me into Beckett. “American Dream” got me through hospital hell. “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?” taught me more about human relationship than any other work of fiction. More in fact (and I do of course understand the blasphemous nature of what I’m about to say) than some real relationships I’ve had over the years. 

And I still find it transfixing. The jokes sting, and the drama drags you across the floor and whips you about the room. Because you still don’t know – which part of it is illusion and which part is reality. This ‘snap’ part comes at any point. At any point. 

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Who Is The Sender?

Bill Fay’s surprising comeback (after 38 years, I still can’t get my head around that number) is amazing for two reasons. First, the music is good. Second, the music is arguably even better than it was in early 70s.

Pretty much like Fay’s acclaimed 2012 album, Who Is The Sender? is a collection of gloriously spiritual piano-based ballads that will blow you away by the sheer class of the songwriting. “The Geese Are Flying Westward” sounds timeless, and he doesn’t let go from there. 

Spirituality is subtle and doesn’t nag too much. It’s the tunes and Bill’s beautifully frail voice that shine. Honestly: I don’t care who the sender is, but this really is a masterclass. 

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

African masquerade

They say that during an African masquerade a person dressed as a dangerous local animal (say, a hippo) can actually attack you. Physically shove you, knock you off your feet, stab you and cause a serious injury. With some (bad) luck, he might even kill you. 

Listening to the new album by Beach House, I realise I want art to be that way. 

Monday, 3 August 2015

Bad Woody Allen

I like it (I don’t) when somebody tells me: well, you like Woody Allen, but his latest movie is shit. As if that statement is somehow controversial. It’s true that Allen is my all-time favourite filmmaker but it’s also true that I’ve seen each and every one of his films and believe me – I do know when he misfires (which in this day and age happens rather too often).

A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (unfunny)
September (dull)
Small Time Crooks (pointless)
The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion (daft)
Melinda and Melinda (annoying)
To Rome With Love (unnecessary)
Magic In The Moonlight (clichéd)

That’s seven Woody Allen films I don’t rate. My affection for his style means that aesthetically I find even his most dire offerings perfectly watchable and even pleasing, but that does not negate the fact that the plot is slapdash, the dialogues are trite and there really is nothing wrong with taking a break between making films. 

So you see, I have no problem with Irrational Man being a bad film. Allen has earned the right to be bad when he (unwittingly, of course) chooses to. 

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Stravinsky's Apotheosis

We were introduced at a café near Cutty Sark. He was a music writer of some importance, 59 years of age, and he dedicated most of his life to writing about classical music. His knowledge was vast. Listening to him talk about Schoenberg was like listening to David Hockney talk about Picasso. Riveting. He was one of the nicest and most intelligent people I’d ever met. A complete madman though.

He had this oddball theory that every piece of classical music written in the 20th century was, this way or another, a representation of a sexual intercourse. Sipping red wine of some little known Italian province, he was looking directly at me and probably wondering if I was getting any of that. At various points during our lunch I tried different topics, but there was nothing else he wanted to talk about.

Stravinsky’s Apollon Musagete was his favourite example. ‘Perfect showcase’, he repeated a number of times. “Apotheosis”, the final part of the ballet, was talked about at great length, and he got me through every detail that he said reflected the last act of a coitus. Sometimes he would lose me and I would just stare at this really expensive tie that must have cost a fortune. 

It was daft, his whole theory, but I liked the way he talked, and wanted him to go on – wondering, as our conversation was reaching its climax, if there was a single act in the 20th century that did not resemble a sexual intercourse. Wondering what he thought about this horrible pop music blasting from outside the café. And what kind of atrocious gang-rape it represented.

Saturday, 1 August 2015


Whatever the creators of this documentary set out to achieve, they certainly achieved that rare quality of a film that can be summed up in two words: disastrously good. Come to think of it, there’s no other way you can think of this face, swallowing every close-up, this talent, so inescapable as to seem completely out of control, and this girl, glorious and tragic. 

Indeed, this felt like a message from another world. Too bad the message is lost in the fucking songs.