Monday, December 15, 2003

Daylight Robert-y

(Excuse the slightly inappropriate title for this post - I'm a sucker for a good pun...)

Since arriving on Tyneside in the summer of 2001, Laurent Robert has established himself as the most maverick left-winger in Britain after Tony Benn. Some days he traipses around the pitch in a daze of disinterestedness. Some days he at least displays ambition and effort - though sending the ball whistling way over the crossbar from 40 yards out for the umpteenth time and shouting his Gallic mantra of "Putain!" is not what you might call value for our £9.5m outlay. And on some days he's simply untouchable, more than capable of leaving you scratching your head and wondering why he's not in the French squad, even if they are the best side in the world, rather than just scratching your head.

Saturday, thankfully, was one of the latter, Robert singlehandedly destroying a shell-shocked Spurs side with two brilliant strikes from distance and then laying on two further goals for Shearer. For someone who, according to last season's official statistics, shoots more often than nearly every other player in the Premiership (including strikers), he's never really weighed in with a decent number of goals. This season, though, he's already got several to his name, and in important matches. As a creative force, too, he's a vital figure - when he's on his game, Shearer must lick his lips in anticipation.

As for the skipper, his first of the afternoon marked his hundredth for the club at St James's Park. For Shearer, at the age of 33, and in a league boasting such frightening striking talent as Henry, van Nistelrooy, Owen and Crespo, to be out in the clear at the top of the goalscorers' chart is some achievement.

A final word about the opposition. There's always a particular satisfaction in beating Spurs, especially when it's a thrashing, and I'm not entirely sure why. Perhaps it's something to do with the conviction of their fans that they're a big club who have some divine right to success - a case of recognising ourselves in them, then? At least we seem to be in a much healthier position to achieve that long-yearned-for triumph, and hopefully someday soon we might leave them to their misty-eyed reminiscences of the days of yore in favour of some glory in the here-and-now.
Christmas time: mistletoe, wine and lists

A word of warning to those who dislike great big fat lovely lists (actually, if this is you, then what the fuck are you doing here in the first place?!!): my end-of-year assessments will be appearing on SWSL in the course of the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, there's still work to be done - at present this involves putting pairs of singles onto my critical scales and weighing up which is better. Do I prefer Outkast's 'Hey Ya!' or Junior Senior's 'Move Your Feet'? Does 'Growing On Me' or 'Just Because' rock harder? Strokes or Sugababes? Johnny Cash or Justin Timberlake? Be patient, my friends: all will be revealed in time - and relish the fact that this year you can take me to task for my choices...
We got him!

Following the discovery of Saddam Hussein's whereabouts comes the news that another dangerous man has been tracked down. Glamorama has traced erstwhile NME hack Steven Wells to his hideout on Play Louder, where he has presumably been cultivating a copiously hairy beard and seeking refuge from the oppressive forces of anodyne journalism.
Know Your Enemy #33

"Chelski also suffered a humbling reversal at home to Bolton Wanderers, but a couple of footsoldiers from Roman's Army advised me on the tube that the one consolation for them was that we'd been turned over as well. When I patiently pointed out to them that Nationwide games last 90 minutes and we had in fact turned around our deficit to take all three points, their faces dropped as if Mr Abramovich himself had consigned them to a lengthy spell in the salt-mines. And you know how I hate to piss on anyone's spuds, particularly when they've had to queue up for three days for them."

Kenny, fresh from witnessing a brilliant Hammers comeback against the Mackems, on Chelsea fans. There seems to be an awful lot of them about these days, doesn’t there? I wonder how many remember the glory days of Kerry Dixon and co.
Quote of the day

"'Six months that saved a year' best describes t.a.T.u.: from January to June they became a tabloid devouring demon, claimed the top spot in Google's “nude upskirt oops” search, were arrested near Lenin’s tomb, and found time to piss off every other competitor in the Eurovision. They found time to release some music as well, the pick of their output being this East European techno torch song. Then one of them went off to have sex with a karate black belt, and they didn’t release their Smiths’ cover as a single. But, boy, was it fun while it lasted."

Dom Passantino on t.a.T.u’s ‘Not Gonna Get Us’, #19 in Stylus’s Top 20 Singles of 2003.
Three Of A Kind #11

The only three players to have scored Premiership hat-tricks against a former club:

Robbie Keane (for Spurs v Wolves)
Andy Cole (for Man Utd v Newcastle)
Paul Kitson (for West Ham v Charlton)

Ah, the joys of Stat Of The Day on ITV1's 'The Premiership' on Mondays - the source of countless brainteasers with which to entertain / irritate football-loving friends down the pub...

Friday, December 12, 2003

Welcome! Willkommen! Bienvenue!

Roll out the red carpet, to herald the arrival of more bloggers new to the SWSL blogroll:

Mo Morgan
Naked Blog
Speaking As A Parent

So - Graybo, Mo, Peter and Robin: welcome, come on in (no need to wipe your feet round SWSL Towers), and help yourselves to Bucks Fizz and Bombay mix.

If, tomorrow night, you find yourself in the vicinity of Littlehampton in West Sussex, and you come across a foul-mouthed and inebriated individual staggering along, do not approach him - it may well be Olav (he of It Makes No Difference notoriety), who will have been out celebrating his birthday and might well crown the night by vomiting on you. You have been warned.

Happy birthday fuckface.

In the draw for the next round of the UEFA Cup made earlier today, we managed to avoid the likes of Auxerre and Spartak Moscow, landing Valerenga of Norway instead. Apparently they flirted with relegation domestically this season, so we've got to fancy our chances of progressing further - though, as a seasoned Newcastle fan, I'm inclined not to expect anything...

Congratulations to our highly promising young England central defender Steven Taylor, who's off to Wycombe on a month's loan to continue his development with his hero, Tony Adams. One for the future, without a doubt.

... and finally: happy birthday Nobby! Hope you and the rest of the team give Spurs a good stuffing tomorrow.
Feel good hits of the 12th December

1. 'Hey Ya!' - Outkast
2. 'Memorial' - Explosions In The Sky
3. 'Get In Or Get Out' - Hot Hot Heat
4. 'Bowels Of The Beast' - The Raveonettes
5. 'Crawl Home' - Desert Sessions
6. 'TV Eye' - The Stooges
7. 'Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!' - Do Make Say Think
8. 'Rise Or Fall' - Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
9. 'Mahgeetah' - My Morning Jacket
10. 'Boys In The Band' - The Libertines

Tuesday, December 09, 2003


Never let it be said that SWSL is afraid to follow where other blogs have trodden long before - this time in publicly paying tribute to Mike, who has decided to put Troubled Diva on "indefinite hold, effective immediately", bowing out with justifiable pride and characteristic dignity.

Ever since I started blogging, I've looked up in awe at Troubled Diva - even more so since my original inspiration, Olav's irascible It Makes No Difference, was shut down by The Man in October. Here was someone based, like me, in Nottingham, with a brilliantly written and all-encompassing blog. Mike has always seemed streets ahead of the rest in everything he does - the range of content, the depth of knowledge, the wit, the Guest Weeks, the regular series... More than that, on a personal note, he's supported SWSL since its early days by reading, commenting and linking, and was one of the first bloggers to make me realise there is a genuine community out there. His site has been responsible for putting me and many others in contact with other people via their blogs.

Of course, he might very well claim (as in fact he has, in response to the influx of tributes and messages of goodwill) that Troubled Diva is / was "just" a weblog, one among thousands. Well, it's been a hell of a lot more than that to me, mate, as it has for many of your readers.

Anyway, in accordance with Mike's wishes, ahem, it's not all doom and gloom around here - hopefully this is more a celebration than a glum tribute. I'm looking not at the corpse but at the fucking flowers, as the man himself might put it.

So, would you all please raise your glasses in a toast - to Troubled Diva!

*clink clink clink*

Mike - SWSL salutes you. All the best.
'Hey Ya?' Hey yeah!

Why does it seem like I'm always the last to catch on? I FINALLY heard 'Hey Ya!' by Outkast on Friday, and, like everyone else was about two months ago, I'm loving it loving it loving it.

Next week on SWSL: Ben sings the praises of the wheel.
Ho ho ho!

I'm a firm believer in the credo of fun, but if you asked me whether my definition of fun would include being stood dressed as Santa with a couple of thousand other people dressed as Santa in a park in mid Wales in near freezing conditions early on a Sunday morning in December whilst being subjected to Jive Bunny records, I'd have said, "Are you a few baubles short of a Christmas tree?"

However, last weekend I expanded my definition of fun to include such activities. For I found myself taking part in the 2003 Santa Run, a fundraising event which has taken place in Newtown each year since 2001, and the standing around being subjected to Jive Bunny was required before the run got underway. Although the organisers are still waiting for confirmation, they're hoping that this year's event has broken three different world records for large-scale Santa gatherings. It was also good to see local Lib Dem MP and all-round good egg Lembit Opik lending his support and taking the time to chat to constituents on the way round - who needs a "Big Conversation" when you can have lots of little one-on-one ones with the people who've given you the right to represent them?

For me and my associates, the 4.5 mile "run" around the town was more of a gentle gambol in the sunshine which included a swift half of lager in a pub en route, and perhaps even better than the run itself was the ten hours of boozing that ensued in the town's many hostelries. The sight of hundreds of Santas staggering around in a drunken daze must play havoc with the imaginations of the local kids - I don't envy the parents having to explain it all, and assuage any fears that Santa has multiplied and descended into alcoholism.

Even if it turns out that the records haven't been smashed, it was a great day and has benefitted one severely underfunded local charity, Dial-A-Ride, and several hundred others to the tune of over £100,000. Next year's event promises to be even bigger and better.
Making a good point?

A few years ago, under Kevin Keegan, we never ever used to draw matches. It was win or bust - a seemingly constant cycle of thumping 4-0 home win followed the next week by agonising 3-2 away defeat. But not any more - Saturday's 1-1 draw at home to Liverpool was our sixth of the season in the league. Of course one point is better than none, but, as against Villa early last month, we deserved all three and so the one point haul is all the more frustrating.

Liverpool aren't a bad side, even when deprived of several first-teamers through injury, so we really didn't need to go gifting them the lead as early as the sixth minute, Bramble having one of his horrific rushes of blood to the head in clattering into his central defensive partner Woodgate and allowing Danny Murphy to run through easily and slot home. For the rest of the first half we looked sluggish, Ameobi in particular lacking sharpness in front of goal. The second half was a different story: although Liverpool fans would point to decent efforts by Sinama-Pongolle, Smicer and Hamann, the impetus was with us, partly thanks to the introduction of Solano. Shearer crashed home a penalty after Robert was brought down, and was very unlucky to see a late drive brilliantly palmed over by Kirkland, while we also had two shots cleared off the line with the keeper well beaten and Jenas miskicked comically when well-placed to score.

So, full credit for the rousing second half performance, but our reward in terms of points was scant. It's giving cause for concern that we can't seem to turn one point into a valuable three - something we could be rueing by the time we come to face Liverpool again, at Anfield on the last day of the season.

If after Saturday's result the Premiership was firmly beyond us, the one domestic competition that wasn't was the FA Cup. That was until the draw for the 3rd Round was made on Sunday afternoon, and we were paired with Southampton. Our record away to the Saints is terrible, and even the most optimistic Newcastle fan will have to steel themselves for the worst.

A final word on England's group for the World Cup qualifiers, starting in September. It's been a while since we took on any of the other Home Nations, so the prospect of games against both Wales and Northern Ireland is mouthwatering. Our group could potentially have been much tougher.

Last night I dreamt I was having my leg chewed off by a springer spaniel. No idea what it means, but, frankly, I'm worried.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Blogwatch: in brief

Like quizzes? Well, a couple of bloggers out there are offering you the chance to test your knowledge and skill. At Troubled Diva, Mike is inviting you to guess which "recreational substance" has been ingested to inspire which blog posting; while at Popdizzy, you can try your hand at Nixon's AID$ Awareness Quiz.

More inspired (by genius, not by chemical substances) posts over at LondonMark - the sort of stuff to make me sick with envy. But, hey, what's new, you might well ask.

Stuck for Christmas presents? Never fear - Razorhead has the answer: bee nesting kits.

Congratulations to Anna on her successful graduation!

... And finally: Kenny is chronicling his valiant attempt at making his way through Thomas Pynchon's forbiddingly voluminous novel 'Mason And Dixon'. Come on, Kenny, keep it up! Perhaps you should have asked for sponsorship before embarking on this test of endurance, though? 2p a page?
Thoughts inspired by going to a wedding on Wednesday

1. Stevenage is a fucking hell-hole.

2. Wouldn't it be great to get absolutely wasted in a train station pub?

3. Nobody, but nobody, likes musak. It can rouse a murderous lust in even the most mild-mannered of people, and I am not the most mild-mannered of people to start with.
Get your hands off our singer, motherfucker

NME really is getting desperate for "news" these days: "Justin Hawkins almost arrested at JFK Airport.". Tomorrow: "Justin Hawkins almost picks his nose." Or, more likely still, "Justin Hawkins almost gives NME an interview."

Monday, December 01, 2003

A blast from the past

"My girlfriend says that I need help / My boyfriend says I'd be better off dead / I'm gonna get drunk / Come round and fuck you up / I'm gonna get drunk / Come round and fuck you up / And you can't help my life / But you can hide the knives." As the opening lyrics to an album go, they're quite arresting.

The song is 'Knives', the band is Therapy?, and the album is Troublegum. Released in 1994, it'll always be something of a classic for me, even though it disgusted the majority of the indie press by representing a rejection of the Big Black stylings of their "youth" in favour of Judas Priest. A record full of clean-cut dark-as-night pop-metal, it positively revels in its own pantomimic excess and the sort of wickedly misanthropic soundbites that look good on (black) T-shirts. As far as the critics were concerned, it didn't help that they chose to include a cover version of the sacred cow 'Isolation' (this, incidentally, was my introduction to the brilliance of Joy Division) and relations got much, much worse when they took on Husker Du's 'Diane' on Troublegum's drug-fuelled follow-up Infernal Love, turning it into an eerily epic yet rotten-to-the-core string-laden beast...

A succession of less accomplished albums followed that: Semi-Detached and then, having been dropped by their label A&M, Suicide Pact - You First. By this time, I'd lost interest, so 2001's Shameless and the news that they had a new LP out, High Anxiety, passed me by.

So it is quite bizarre to find myself, almost by accident, seeing them live for the very first time on a Saturday night at Rock City. Little seems to have changed since their heyday - Andy Cairns is still portly and still worryingly fond of his leather waistcoat, Michael McKeegan still evidently worships at the altar of Black Sabbath, and, even though the drummer has changed (again), there is still the unmistakeable whipcrack snare drum sound. New material is wisely kept to a premium - judging by the likes of 'Who Knows' and 'Nobody Here But Us', their best days are very firmly behind them and they're sensible to be concentrating on former glories. Having a pop at 'Heat' magazine and at Radiohead (who are busy playing the Nottingham Arena) from the stage is hardly today's news, either - mere mention of the latter reminds me of what I'm missing out on just being here.

But the opening salvo of 'Nowhere' and 'Teethgrinder' hits the spot at least, and there are plenty of other moments - 'Church Of Noise', 'Dancing With Manson', 'Stop It You're Killing Me', 'A Moment Of Clarity' - when I'm transported back to the dark days of teenagerdom when they really mattered to me. Times might change, my tastes might inevitably move on, but I'll always look on Therapy? (and Troublegum in particular) with affection. Plus, 'Potato Junkie' has one of the finest lyrical couplets of any song I know: "I'm bitter, I'm twisted / James Joyce is fucking my sister"...
Ticking over

Two matches in the space of a mere 39 hours could have spelt disaster, but thankfully we emerged pretty much unscathed in terms of results and injuries - one Wolves fan, however, was not so lucky.

First up, on Thursday night, was the visit of FC Basel to St James's Park. Having won the first leg 3-2 in Switzerland, we were fully expecting to progress into the third round - and, aside from a couple of dodgy moments including a goal ruled out very narrowly for offside, we managed it without too much trouble, winning 1-0 on the night thanks to an own goal from the unfortunate substitute Smiljanic. Shearer had a couple of good opportunities, and we retained possession for long periods, denying them the chance to get back into the tie. Solid and unspectacular it might have been, but let's not forget that Juventus, Liverpool and Celtic all failed to keep a clean sheet against Basel in the Champions' League last season.

Then, on Saturday lunchtime came Wolves, and our big chance to avenge the bitterly disappointing 3-2 defeat at Molineux in the FA Cup back in January, a game for which I was unfortunate enough to be present. It finished up 1-1 - a fair result. Despite having a great deal more class and quality, we didn't really deserve to nick it, and although Shearer hit the bar before Blake opened the scoring and we had a blatant penalty turned down late on, they also had several good chances, including a Gudjonssen free-kick that hit the post and a Camara header in the last minute that flicked off the top of the bar.

It was a game that was there for the winning, and we should really have done better - but it was overshadowed by the horrendous cock-up with the pre-match pyrotechnics display during which Wolves season-ticket holder Denise Butler was hit in the face by a firework., mockingly dismissive of all the pantomime surrounding a Wolves home game back in January, was even more scathing this time around:

"A staggering bit of small-club stupidity ended in someone getting seriously hurt at the Molineux on Saturday lunchtime.

While Police scour Gloucestershire for terrorists they should switch their attention to the Black Country backwater of Wolverhampton where some some idiot is still at large who insists on filling empty soup tins full of high explosive and firing them into crowds of people. Surely they must have some link to Al Qaeda?

The fact that the missile whistled past the ears of Alan Shearer before entering the lower tier of the Billy Wright stand makes it all the more scary - that could have been the end of our no.9's career (and TV replays later confirmed if anything that Woodgate - and referee Bennett - had an even luckier escape.)

Of course, for the woman who it hit just below the eye it's no less serious and it's to be hoped she sues the Dingles for their every last penny. A totally avoidable accident which will hopefully signal the end of these tin-pot clubs and their tin cans full of pyrotechnics - when will the people who run the game realise we don't want dancing girls, music after goals are scored, pyrotechnics or flashy scoreboards - just entertainment in the form of blokes kicking a ball around. That's all.

So much for professional organised displays, eh?
Telling tales

All the best anecdotes should start - as one did that I was told this weekend - with the phrase, "Well, I woke up with sick in my mouth..."
In the dark

I watched 'Donnie Darko' again the other day, and I'm now more determined than ever to avoid the director's commentary which accompanies the film in the DVD version. I simply don't want (someone else's) explanation. For me, picking and chewing over the "facts" of the film involves an unfortunate but necessary compromising of the imagination. Certain details become more immediately evident on re-watching (just as is the case with the Coen brothers' fabulous 'O Brother Where Art Thou', which I just had to see again on C4 last night), but even then the film still seems to exert a strange and undefinable power over the viewer. I'm inclined to think that the commentary would detract rather than add to my enjoyment. Has anyone seen it, and would disagree?

At root, perhaps, is the question of whether the opinion of the artist (whether it be author, musician, director or whatever) is any more valid than your own, as reader / listener / viewer. Often artists appear to be particularly bad judges of their own work, and only seem to offer their opinions as the means of controlling how it's interpreted and understood. The degree to which the meaning of a piece of art can be controlled by its creator is contentious, and part of me, when encountering an artist who seems determined to stress one particular meaning, is all the more inclined to resist this pressure and reject whatever they're trying to suggest (I'm not implying that this is what Richard Kelly is doing with his commentary for 'Donnie Darko', as I haven't seen it - this is in general terms). Once that piece of art is out there in the public domain it's out of the artist's control. But, of course, I'm sure I'd feel more sympathetic and precious about the way my work was being understood and interpreted if I found myself in that position, and this lack of artistic control shouldn't be seen to mean that people have complete license to interpret something in any way they want.

Incidentally, wouldn't it be great if the Gary Jules cover of 'Mad World' by Tears For Fears which closes the film so beautifully made it to the #1 spot for Christmas? Well, just as long as it's anything other than Cliff Richard. Or Blue. Or the Pop Idol mob. Or The Fast Food Rockers.
The twat in the hat

The last few days in my house have been torture. Why? Simple, really: my live-in landlord S has rediscovered his copy of Jamiroquai's Travelling Without Moving. Really, it's enough to make you hanker for the usual dross - Kajagoogoo, Lighthouse Family and tapes of the Top 40 recorded from Radio 1 in 1983...
Razorhead = razor-sharp

Finding himself bored out of his mind on Friday afternoon, Razorhead of Ulterior decided to spend some time rearranging the letters of the names of some of his favourite weblogs. A pursuit born out of boredom, sure - but, to be honest, I'm scared at quite how perceptive his suggestions for SWSL are. Not only does he point out that "Silent Words" is an anagram of "Wonder Lists", which just about sums up most of the content found here in an extraordinarily neat way; he also suggests another anagram, "Sworn Idlest", which is eminently suited to SWSL's author...

So be warned: those who read your blog might know you better than you know yourself.
Wot, no Edd the Duck?

Didn't see the first "fruits" of Andi Peters's makeover of 'Top Of The Pops' (it's called 'All New Top Of The Pops' now, don't you know?) myself, but there are plenty of bloggers out there who did. For a selection of rather less-than-favourable comments, take a peek at Casino Avenue, Cha Cha Cha and Diamond Geezer.
The interlude becomes permanent

As of the end of this week, The Yes / No Interlude is no more. But fear not - the imperious Lord Marmite has a new home, Amblongus.

Meanwhile, welcome to another couple of very fine blogs:

Diamond Geezer (recommended by everyone, ever)
Said The Gramophone (recommended by Matthew)

Unfortunately I wasn't present at this weekend's blogmeet in London, attended by (amongst others) Vaughan, Anna, Adrian and D. Sounds like a good time was had by all.
Shit, I forgot to set the video

From Teletext last night:

"ITV1, 00.45
Cheryl Baker seeks inner peace

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Welcome! Willkommen! Bienvenue!

New to the SWSL blogroll:

It's A Lot Like Life
Not A Blog
Orbyn Dot Com
Sevitz Dot Com

Lori, Chris, Robyn and Adrian - a warm welcome to SWSL Towers! Come on in, help yourselves to punch and cheese footballs, and make yourselves comfortable!
Feel good hits of the 27th November

1. 'You Talk Way Too Much' - The Strokes
2. 'Rock Your Body' - Justin Timberlake
3. 'Dirty Eyes (Sex Don't Sell)' - The Raveonettes
4. 'Waterloo' - Abba
5. 'Favours' - The Delgados
6. 'Enemies Friends' - Hope Of The States
7. 'Rip It Up' - Razorlight
8. 'Air' - Sparta
9. 'Today Is The Day!' - Yo La Tengo
10. 'West End Girls' - Pet Shop Boys
You WHAT?!!

adrian mutu eyebrow
the mullets wichita contest
duck hunting st bernard mike smith
trisha and the icarus line
pigtails and pernod

Hey buddies, you took a wrong turning somewhere back there.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Victory march

So, at long last, we've won something. The Rugby World Cup. And I'm not really sure how I feel about it.

Yes, I was nervous during extra time and when the final whistle went, of course I was pleased. But even then I hadn't really been able to get into the whole spirit of things, and I'd been relatively indifferent to our progress to the final.

I'm guessing it might have been something to do with the fact that we were favourites from the start. For a change, we were expected to win. In each of the knockout matches we just seemed to grind out victories with a kind of inevitability - even when we were behind and apparently up against it (as we were against Wales, France and Australia), the thought never crossed my mind that we (or, rather, the quite brilliant Jonny Wilkinson) wouldn't turn it around and go on to win. Part of the perverse thrill of supporting Newcastle is that we can lose just as handsomely as we can win - if we find ourselves a goal down or a goal up, that's no indication of how the game will finish. That unpredictability is what I felt was lacking, and perhaps why, for me at least, the excitement was too.

I'm also already sick of the jingoistic triumphalist whitewash across the media - it's even worse than the anguished post-mortem that would have droned on and on had we lost. Of course I'm sure the same would be true if we won the football World Cup - but then that's a sport I really care about.

So, in many ways the sporting result that gave me the most pleasure on Saturday wasn't the rugby at all, but Newcastle's comprehensive 3-0 defeat of Man City at St James's Park, a fine recovery after the 5-0 thrashing we suffered at Chelsea and a result which takes us up (temporarily, at least) to sixth in the table - not bad after a catastrophic start to the season. A clean sheet, two goals from the returning Shearer, the welcome appearance of two other lynchpins of the side (Woodgate and Dyer) and a torrid second half for that moneygrabbing traitor Distin - all in all, an excellent afternoon. Keegan's been waxing lyrical about Anelka for the last few months - nice to see Shearer remind him in no uncertain terms quite who's the best striker he's ever signed as a manager.
Price war

I've just finished Max Barry's 'Jennifer Government', which came highly recommended by Kenny of Parallax View - here's the SWSL verdict...

The novel is a satire about the corporatisation of the world (unsurprisingly, the publishers have slapped Naomi Klein's glowing recommendation of the book on the front cover - it answers the inevitable call for fiction which takes the likes of 'No Logo' and 'The Silent Takeover' as a starting point). Set in the not-too-distant future, Barry's novel depicts a world in which everyone bears their employer's name as their surname, in which the National Rifle Association is a paramilitary organisation, and in which even the Police have corporate affiliations. Corporations join forces, offering loyalty points to consumers who remain faithful to their particular conglomerate. The two super-corporations US Alliance and Team Advantage, driven by pure profit-lust, are prepared to launch military offensives against the other - this after Nike's marketing men hit on the idea of shooting teenagers with the aim of making their trainers more desirable. The eponymous heroine is a Government agent assigned the task of preventing things getting out of control.

There's plenty that can be said against 'Jennifer Government'. As there's little to admire in the way of style or craftsmanship, I read it as a novel of ideas, but despite the subject matter it comes across at times like a disappointingly no-brain thriller - a book like Ballard's 'Super-Cannes' trumps it on both fronts. Some of the touches are just too obvious and smug (the Nike executive who's impaled on the sharp swoosh doorhandle of a Nike Town store, for example), and the book comes to a saccharine neat everything-tied-up sort of ending in which Jennifer prevails and the "baddie" John Nike gets his comeuppance, discovering he isn't above the law after all.

Nevertheless, despite my reservations, as a fast-paced high-octane romp it's an engaging read - and, as a vision of the future, it is, I suspect, worringly accurate. Our world and the world of the book are not as far apart as some people might like to think.
Now you're talking my language

The series 'The Adventures Of English', presented by Melvin Bragg, might be tucked away in a late-night slot in the darkest corner of the ITV1 schedule, but then I suppose I should be thankful this sort of thing hasn't yet been squeezed out of the listings altogether. Last night's installment was a fascinating insight into the ways that English has been used as a colonialist and imperialist tool of cultural repression, patronisingly prescribed by the "civilised" for the "savages", and how a plurality of new Englishes have been spawned, flourishing and escaping the control of the imperialist authorities who imposed English upon the native peoples in the first place. Not only was it emphasised that language is always indissolubly associated with politics and power relations, but also that even "standard" British English is a hybrid and mutant language that has over the years adopted and absorbed words from other languages spoken all over the world. In other words, it was far more interesting and informative than 'Holiday Airport'.

Gentry Boeckel on his Top 10 Albums To Fall Asleep To - you'll probably not be surprised to know that Spiritualized, Low and Sigur Ros feature in the list...
Text message of the day

Received at 11.05pm on Saturday night, from an associate of mine familiar to most SWSL readers...

"Me been caramel sik al over brighton. Simon with seachange me talk shit, cant remember at freebut, on train hav taste of bile in throat. God 4giv me 4 wot ihavdun."

Credit also to Leon for the following:

"In line with your penchant for eavesdropping, i've just overheard a classic line: 'she's a bitch. She only phones me when her mobile is charged up.'"

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Wot's Hot-To-Trot On The SWSL Stereo

The Strokes - Room On Fire

So, my thoughts - only about three months after everyone else in Blogworld had the brief affair with the album, stubbed out the post-coital fag and moved on to the next musical one-night stand. Well - it's The Strokes, isn't it? There are enigmatic and uneasy lyrics all over the place, choppy guitar patterns and pretty simple drum lines. Perhaps the reggae influence is more apparent than it is on Is This It, I'm not sure, and it's certainly a bit more aggressive in places. So far I've found it hard to get really excited about, having been subjected to all that absurd hype. But there's no doubting it's a very good album - they know how to craft a corking tune. A message, though, for those who think 'Under Control' is the best thing they've heard all year: get out more.

Explosions In The Sky - The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place

Like Nigel, I'm not sure whether the standard post-rock comparative touchstones of Mogwai and Godspeed! You Black Emperor do Explosions In The Sky any justice. There isn't the grandiosity or emotional and apocalyptic gloom familiar to Godspeed! fans; and they might only be a guitar / bass / drums fourpiece like Mogwai, but there's an extraordinary level of intricacy and complexity about the songs on this five-track album. Plus, as song titles like 'First Breath After Coma' and 'Six Days At The Bottom Of The Ocean' would suggest, they're a hell of a lot better at putting a name to the musical pictures they paint - you wouldn't catch them calling a song 'Secret Pint'.

(Thanks to Ian for showing me the light.)

The Raveonettes - Whip It On

Compared to this year's debut LP proper? Noisier, grubbier, blacker, more dead-eyed, less flush with love and lust. If Chain Gang Of Love is The Raveonettes' final answer to the mathematical quest to write a perfect set of pop songs, then Whip It On is them showing their workings - not the answer itself, but worthy of bonus marks anyway.

Yo La Tengo - 'Today Is The Day!' EP

I think I might at last be beginning to get Yo La Tengo. For ages the terms they're spoken about by the indielligensia had baffled me. Now the lead track of this EP might have helped me to understand. A reworked version of a song from their last LP Summer Sun, 'Today Is The Day!' is gloriously fuzzy - listening to it makes you feel like you've taken a load of tranquillisers and you're sinking into a warm bath. It also gives me the chance to mention Urusei Yatsura - incidentally, in connection with the post below, another fine Glaswegian band, only this time undervalued underachievers.

Razorlight - 'Rip It Up' (single)

If The Libertines listened to a lot of Television and were ever clean enough to record a song without everything going to pieces on tape (see Up The Bracket...), then it might well sound like this. In the meantime, I'll take Razorlight. And it doesn't bear thinking about what Bernard bloody Butler might do to Pete 'n' Carl.

Stellastarr* - 'Jenny' (single)

Alert! The following statement is akin to alt-rock heresy! But, as with Yo La Tengo, I've never quite understood what all the fuss about The Pixies was. After all, aside from a handful of classics early on, isn't their most acclaimed LP Doolittle rather weak? Yeah, OK, shoot me now. Anyway, the point is that Stellastarr* sound a lot like them, and to these ears it's not really that impressive. Although the single itself has the same sort of structure and sound as 'The Wagon' by Dinosaur Jr, it all seems a bit lifeless and, for reasons I can't explain (I mean, I'm a connoisseur of Kim Gordon's vocal "style"...), I can't abide Shawn Christensen's voice. Somehow live it didn't come across as being half so irritating.
Cultural abominations

Lately I've been wondering what the findings of the post-mortem into Newcastle / Gateshead's failure to be named 2008 European City of Culture are. The initial reaction when Liverpool was announced as the winner was "We were robbed". But then what can you expect from Scousers?

Joking aside, what is it that Newcastle and Gateshead lack in terms of culture and the arts? After all, when it comes to art, we can now boast the Baltic, one of the best exhibition spaces outside London, as well as the already well-established Laing Gallery, currently undergoing refurbishment to mark its centenary in April 2004. Next to the Baltic on the south bank of the Tyne, an impressive new concert hall is taking shape. The city is also home to the artily-oriented Tyneside Cinema and highly-respected poetry publishers Bloodaxe Books (well, they're based in Northumberland, but that's near enough...), and the RSC has had a residency in Newcastle at this time of year for the last 27 years. So what is it that's missing?

Simple - a real heritage of quality in the field of popular music. Liverpool, of course, have The Beatles, The Las, Echo And The Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes and, more recently, The Coral on their side. By contrast, the dearth of musical talent which Newcastle has foisted upon the rest of the country and indeed the world is absolutely shameful. The list reads like a Who's Who of almost unrelenting crapness: Dire Straits - you might well have a guilty soft spot for 'Money For Nothing', but the name says it all, really; Sting - ah, the irony of The Police releasing criminal records...; Prefab Sprout - bad, bad, bad; Venom - being namechecked in a Beastie Boys song does not a very bad black metal band a very good black metal band make; The Wildhearts - not a word of dissent from you on this one, Leon!; Lindisfarne - the horror! the horror!; and, worst of all, the fucking Lighthouse fucking Family. Add in Michelle Heaton of the predominantly useless Liberty X and Cheryl 'The Bruiser' Tweedy of Girls Aloud and it's enough to make you disown your roots and claim to be from Surrey.

All the more galling, then, that that hellhole down the road can throw up The Futureheads, a band so good they can even instantaneously erase the memory of Kenickie.

Look at other UK cities which have often been sneered at in the past in cultural terms, cities like Glasgow and Birmingham. We have the former to thank for making The Jesus & Mary Chain, Mogwai, The Delgados, Arab Strap and Primal Scream the bands they are / were, and the latter sired the likes of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Dexys Midnight Runners, Duran Duran, The Streets and, erm, UB40.

It's about time Newcastle contributed something positive to the world of music. Let's hope it's sooner rather than later.
Stringing us along

Did anyone else see the programme called 'Welcome To The 11th Dimension' on C4 on Sunday evening, all about string theory? Parallel worlds, branes, gravitrons - seriously mind-blowing shit. It's not surprising those who propound the theory aren't quite sure whether it's physics or philosophy. What made me dubious, though, is the way it seems to be able to explain several of the key mysteries of physics, including the Big Bang and the weakness of gravity - it all sounded as if these "boffins" (copyright The Sun) had sat down and written a lovely story which would make it all make sense. The crucial point is how do you actually verify this theory? How could you possibly test its hypotheses? As some of the interviewees conceded, it might all turn out to be a load of fantasy and nonsense. Intriguing fantasy and nonsense, all the same, though.
Quote of the day

From last night's repeated episode of 'The Armando Iannucci Show':

"So basically that's why I think Stonehenge is just a very very complicated ant-hill."

That particular show, on the theme of time, is stuffed full of brilliantly satirical and wickedly clever surrealism that makes you think his contribution to 'I'm Alan Partridge' and 'The Day Today' is undeservedly understated.