Thursday, May 27, 2004


Missing: Not You, The Other One. Sarah and her site (a SWSL fave) seem to have gone AWOL. Anyone who has any information is requested to come forward. Reward: my gratitude.

Deep breath...

Casino Avenue is the place to be for profiles of the prospective candidates in the London mayoral elections; a league table of the most linked UK blogs is up on Troubled Diva, itself a big hitter - incidentally SWSL rather likes being a minnow in the cyberocean, thank you very much, and there's no envy here, oh no, for links and hits bring pressure to produce, my friends; Mike of Glamorama is indulging in an orgy of excitement ahead of the release of the new Libertines LP (ditto Phil of Danger! High Postage as regards PJ Harvey's new album); Paul of 1000 Shades Of Grey remembers ex-Newcastle-and-now-of-Portsmouth defender Andy Griffin's time on Tyneside by dredging up the story about the time he crashed his car into a Metro train; and Jonny's got a few issues with New Labour and hoovers.

... And finally: best of luck to Kenny's beloved West Ham in Saturday's First Division play-off final. It'd be good to see the Hammers back in the Premiership again, if only so we can take from them the six points they surely owe us for dumping Bowyer on our wage bill last summer...
Flaming 'Hell'

May I be the first to start the conspiracy theories about the Saatchi art warehouse fire? Jake Chapman, whose piece 'Hell' is one of many to have been destroyed, told the Evening Standard: "I hold God personally responsible and, on a scale of one to 10 of how annoyed I am, I'd say about 11." Nope, God had nothing to do with it, and neither did anyone from the Daily Mail. Personally, I'm more inclined to believe it was a brilliant K Foundation stunt, Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond seizing the opportunity to send a whopping £50m up in smoke, rather than just the paltry £1m they burnt in 1994, and passing critical comment on the Brit art scene in the process...
Quote of the day

"In many ways, Nasser Hussain's retirement from all cricket is absolutely typical - it was something most people in his position simply wouldn't do."

BBC cricket commentator Jonathan Agnew on former England captain Nasser Hussain's decision to retire from the game with immediate effect. He certainly went out in style, scoring a brilliant century on Monday to propel England to victory in the first test against New Zealand.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Pigeon's treat

The mottled grey pigeon tottered over to the gutter. Evidently a more discerning gastronome than his fellow feathered friends, he (I'm assuming here...) seemed desperate to find something more nourishing than the usual fare of flattened and scuffed cigarette butts and the unsavoury half-eaten remnants spilt out of McDonald's wrappers and cartons onto the tarmac. Dipping and bobbing his head he pecked and picked, pecked and picked, tossing bits of roadside detritus into the air with a dismissive flick of his beak before tottering on to peck and pick some more.

And then, after an extended forage, he raised his head up once more, his ungainly totter suddenly morphing into a confident strut, as he triumphantly held up high in his beak for all to see the sweet spoils of success : a scabbed and withered pigeon's foot.

It's a bird eat bird world out there.
Viva hate?

There was one reason to watch 'Later With Jools Holland' on Friday night.

It wasn't for The Ordinary Boys - predictably, they were ordinary (note to anyone who's smitten by them: listen to The Futureheads). It wasn't for The Beta Band - despite Nick's enthusiastic endorsement of their latest LP I found it hard to muster any kind of appreciation. And it certainly wasn't for the ivory-tinkling tosspiece of a presenter.

No, it was for the appearance of Mr Steven Patrick Morrissey. The three songs he and his band played from the new album - the single 'Irish Blood, English Heart' plus 'First Of The Gang To Die' and 'Let Me Kiss You' - are all decent without stunning you into submission, and my interest had wavered to the point of switching over by the time they wrapped things up with The Smiths' 'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out' (curses!).

But it was as one of the piano-stool-interview victims that Morrissey was at his wilfully awkward and entertainingly obnoxious best, refusing to engage in any kind of matey bonhomie with Holland and coming out with some wonderfully acidic observations. He claimed that Los Angeles is "a very pleasant place, as long as you don't meet people", and in response to Holland's suggestion "You look like you could be a politician", he said curtly "I've never been so insulted". Even better was his immediate riposte to the rhetorical question "Can you think of a better show to be on than this?": "'Badger Watch'."

I couldn't help thinking that someone involved in the making of the programme has a mischevious sense of humour, putting the man who once told NME "Reggae is vile" on the same show as a trio of reggae artists including Junior Murvin. The fact that he also called it "the most racist music in the entire world. It's an absolute glorification of black supremacy" might explain why he has his own fanpage on a white supremacist website. The kindest thing you could possibly say is that what he says (and sings) often leaves him open to misinterpretation along these lines, and you have to wonder about someone who is revered by people who despise Cromwell for letting Jews back into the country and who are so detached from reality as to believe that New Labour is a "thinly-disguised Communist farrago". Morrissey's refusal to distance himself from any of this hardly helps matters.
In denial

On the subject of "white power", I was disappointed to see that the BNP's Nick Griffin made an appearance in Nottingham on Saturday. It seems as though this is part of a campaign aimed at stirring up trouble in advance of the Euro elections next month. A friend and his Asian girlfriend who live in Ilkeston, a place where racial tensions have flared up in the past, had a BNP flyer through their door the other day. The picture was of the party's prospective candidate for the area, surrounded by his family and holding his baby boy. Above the child's head it read: "Daddy's not a racist". As far as cogent denials go, that's pathetic. You can dress it up all you like, but under that suit-wearing family man image it's the same old poisonous prejudice.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Enough is enough

Every day seems to bring more photos of abuse of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison at the hands of the American forces, and today is no exception. From the Guardian report: "Guy Womack, a lawyer for specialist Graner [an American military police officer], told ABC News the photo of his client represented 'gallows humour'." The photo in question shows this particular officer stood over a corpse giving the ubiquitous thumbs up signal, a broad grin on his face. The sheer grotesquery of it all beggars belief, as does the news that more than 40 civilians attending a wedding party have been killed by US forces. Surely Bush, Blair and their allies must by now realise their actions and current stance are indefensible?
Be thankful for small mercies: Part two

Perhaps on reflection it was a good thing that we exited the UEFA Cup at the semi-final stage, given the ease with which newly-crowned Spanish champions Valencia disposed of our conquerors Marseille in last night's final. We could have made it to Gothenburg, got our hopes up and then seen them dashed in spectacular style by the likes of Mista, Baraja and Vicente. Still, it might have been nice to at least have had the chance to win the trophy.

On the transfer front, it's still fairly quiet. Griffin's off to Portsmouth, and we seem content to sit around watching Birmingham sign a proven England international striker and Everton bid for Alan Smith. Not a cat in hell's chance of either of those two clubs winning anything next season, but they still seem to have ambitions - whereas we just have delusions of grandeur. Not only do we need significant signings to strenghten the squad, we need them to provide a bit of a spark and reignite a sense of excitement and optimism about our prospects for next season. As it stands, Shearer and Speed aren't getting any younger, and the more youthful members of the squad have hardly shown they're capable of taking the club forwards.
Wild things

Just as I'd hoped. After an uncertain start last week, the second episode of Peter Baynham's 'I Am Not An Animal' saw the series hit full stride. With hindsight the opening episode was there purely to establish the premises behind the show, so Monday's installment, which opened with the animals finding themselves outside the laboratory for the first time, effectively marked the real beginning of the series. The satire seemed sharper and the script tighter. Highlights included the Coogan-voiced horse Philip looking down his very long and middle class nose at the concept of steak and kidney pie in a tin, and the monkey Hugh wanking over ten pound notes ("I've found some bare lady pictures! Very soft stuff - just ladies' faces."). The confused animals' attempts to come to terms with the real world were priceless, Philip claiming they must be in some kind of horrible future where animals go around naked and are the slaves of humans, and it is only the latter who are free to practise film criticism.
Know Your Enemy #43

"Of course, anyone expecting a new Smiths album from this was always going to be disappointed. However, anyone expecting a good album from it is going to be disappointed as well. What we have is a man entering middle age, motivated solely by vengeance, and no desire to make good music any more. Yep, we hate it when our friends are AOR."

Reviewing Morrissey's new LP You Are The Quarry, Dom Passantino of Stylus reaches a similar sad conclusion as the Guardian's Alexis Petridis.
Quote of the day

"When the Grim Reaper swings his scythe, it's no use ducking."

Fred Elliott on 'Coronation Street'. And to think that this decent and noble philosopher is about to be duped out of loads of his hard-earned cash by some scheming harpy - it makes me sick to my stomach, I say sick to my stomach.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Be thankful for small mercies

From the SWSL report of Wednesday's match with Southampton: "Two minutes into stoppage time, Robert picked out Ambrose from a corner and the youngster fired in from distance, but an equaliser wasn't what we needed or craved". In the event, that equaliser turned out to be priceless.

Going into the final round of Premiership games this season I didn't hold out much hope of us scraping into the UEFA Cup. We had to do better away to Liverpool than Villa did at home to Man Utd. Our Premiership record at Anfield is appalling, we're still suffering from something of an injury crisis and I was fully expecting Ferguson to rest players ahead of next weekend's FA Cup Final, giving Villa an easier ride.

Consequently we owe Man Utd a grudging thank you (through particularly gritted teeth in my case). Except for Roy Keane they were at full strength and set about a shellshocked Villa with more relish that we could possibly have hoped for, goals from Ronaldo and Ol' Horseface putting them two up inside the first ten minutes. That's how it stayed for the rest of the game - even though referee Rob Styles did his best to coax Villa into life by sending off Darren Fletcher and Ronaldo, the effort they (and the crowd) managed to muster up was pretty laughable given the prize at stake.

Of course, defeat for O'Leary's side would have been irrelevant if we had lost too, but Ameobi latched onto the end of a Bowyer pass to finish calmly and put us 1-0 up over Liverpool at the break. Unfortunately, in the second half Michael Owen failed to break his habit of scoring against us and made the closing stages rather cagey and nervous, but ultimately we held out to secure a draw, and relief was etched on the faces of the two embracing managers at the final whistle. The result put us level with Villa on 56 points, but our far superior goal difference took us above them into fifth. Of course, had Ambrose not snatched us a draw from the game at St Mary's we would have been the disappointed ones.

So, where does this leave us? We secured European football by the skin of our teeth, and given that we've never really hit form as a team and certain players (Jenas, Bowyer, Viana, Dyer...) have been off the pace all season, that the teams above us all have arguably better squads, and that our away record has been appalling, that outcome and the UEFA Cup run have to regarded as positive achievements. But not for long.

We simply cannot expect to finish as high up the league again whilst playing so poorly. After finishing fourth and then third in the previous two seasons, we've taken a step back in more ways than one. There's a sense of simmering unrest at the club, and that needs to be resolved sooner rather than later. As Fat Freddie Shepherd has said, "A fifth place finish is not acceptable for us. Fourth place was the bare minimum. This summer we will have to look at everything from top to bottom." Not only does that mean that the future of several players is uncertain (Griffin, Caldwell and Kerr, plus reserve regulars Zola, Ferrell and Orr have all already been released), but Sir Bobby himself finds himself on shaky ground. Although UEFA Cup qualification at least means there should be some money available and some incentive to help attract the sort of big names who can take the club out of the current stagnation, it's perhaps more important that we fend off the money-laden vultures that are circling around a number of first teamers, Woodgate in particular - now arguably our most important player ahead of Shearer.

Rest assured it's going to be an interesting couple of months, but let's hope that we can learn from this season's disappointments and then come back in August reinvigorated and with renewed hope and belief.

(Read Paul's thoughts on the end-of-season climax and the prospects for this summer here.)
Blogwatch: in brief

Much of interest on the subject of politics: BykerSink of It's Wrong To Wish On Space Hardware has been discussing the relevance of the old labels "left" and "right"; Inspector Sands of Casino Avenue and Paul of 1000 Shades Of Grey offer their thoughts in the wake of Piers Morgan's departure from the Mirror following the publication of the faked Iraq abuse photographs; and Lord Marmite of Amblongus continues to pick his way carefully and critically through the fog of right-wing rhetoric in the build-up to the American presidential elections.

On a completely different note, Troubled Diva is intoxicated with Eurovision, while Matthew of Fluxblog is dedicating this week to posting music tracks by Brighton-based artists - of interest to Jonathan of Assistant, perhaps?
Respect due

Only the most mean-spirited of fans could fail to be impressed by Arsenal remaining unbeaten all season. Along the way they've played some unbelievable football, and in Henry they've had the league's outstanding performer by far. Consequently it's a source of some consoling pride that two of our best performances of the season came against the Gunners - a shut-out at St James's last month and a narrow defeat at Highbury earlier in the season, when three stupid mistakes from Newcastle players proved the difference between the sides. Of course, by that I mean the difference between the sides on the day - over the course of the season the gulf in class has been huge, as our pre-season aspirations of challenging for the title were made to look rather foolish.

Here's Kevin Mitchell of the Observer on Arsenal's triumph:

"When Preston's Invincibles performed their historic feat in 1888-89, a club playing at Plumstead Common in south London by the name of Royal Arsenal were just two and a half years old. At the time, football was played with no nets, no crossbars, no penalties, the goalkeeper was allowed to use his hands anywhere on the pitch and it was not even necessary for players on the same team to wear the same coloured shirts. Preston's run, over 16 games fewer, deserves to be acknowledged, but Arsenal's is an immeasurably greater achievement."

OK, that's enough of the niceties: Ashley Cole is still a cheating git, and keep your filthy hands off Woodgate!
Quote of the day

"Under her real name of Katie Price, [Jordan] has knocked fellow Brighton resident Lynne Truss off the top of the Sunday Times bestseller list. Ironically, the title of Truss's study of the apostrophe and proper punctuation, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, could have been a chapter heading for one of Price's tales of sexual encounters with footballers such as Teddy Sheringham and Dwight Yorke."

Maurice Chittenden writing in the Sunday Times.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Champions' League, we were having a laugh

Southampton 3-3 Newcastle. One for the neutral, as they say. Not one for the Newcastle fan, for whom the result made the extremely slim possibility of Champions' League qualification vanish in a puff of smoke.

In truth, despite the disappointment that greeted the final whistle, this was very far from being a poor performance. Following the disaster against Wolves I was looking for guts and fighting spirit, and that's what we had in spades at St Mary's - but our luck was most definitely out.

Ameobi opened the scoring after just seven minutes, making use of his size and strength to hold off Claus Lundekvam and then crash a shot into the bottom left corner. We survived a couple of scares before slack defending allowed Saints to get a shot in which Given could only parry straight into the path of the malingering Beattie three yards out - 1-1. The match ebbed and flowed with chances coming at both ends, Dyer causing problems on his return from injury, and then a few minutes before half-time Ameobi escaped a defender on the left and pulled the ball back for the onrushing Bowyer to fire in a left-footed shot for his second goal in two games. Sadly, once again the celebrations were short-lived, and once again we let ourselves down with some horrible kamikaze defending. A cross came in from the Newcastle left, Caldwell sliced his attempted clearance, Bramble stuck out a knee and the ball flew past Given. The half-time whistle came, leaving me to reflect on the fact that, despite Caldwell and Bramble playing like they'd never set foot on a football pitch before let alone played with each other, we still had a good chance of snatching the vital three points.

The players evidently felt the same, coming out for the second period and battering the Southampton goal with chance after chance. Caldwell hit the crossbar with a header, while Ambrose's brilliant long-range shot also rattled the woodwork. Before the match I'd rubbed my hands optimistically when I found out that Antti Niemi, probably the best keeper in the Premiership this season, was out injured and his replacement Alan Blayney was making his debut - but, of course, sod's law would have it that the rookie had an absolute blinder, denying Ameobi and Bowyer as well as an unbelievable save from a Shearer header. Though there were still occasional flashes of danger at the other end (Given pulled off a fine diving save to deny Fernandes), our defence looked more solid and the momentum was with us.

But time dragged on and, with only a few minutes remaining, as we desperately sought a winner, Saints substitute Leandre Griffit escaped Bernard's attention and slipped the ball through Given's legs into the net. For the most part we've got what we've deserved this season, but not this time - it was a cruel, cruel blow. Two minutes into stoppage time, Robert picked out Ambrose from a corner and the youngster fired in from distance, but an equaliser wasn't what we needed or craved.

To be honest, our chances of grabbing the fourth spot had effectively evaporated before Wednesday night - the appalling Wolves draw, lacklustre defeats to Spurs, Bolton and Man City, and all those points dropped late on at Birmingham, Blackburn and Portsmouth have cost us dear. Over the whole season we simply weren't good enough. Now we have to pick ourselves up, get a result at Liverpool and hope (and pray) that Man Utd do us a favour by beating Villa so we can sneak into the UEFA Cup at the last available moment. European football is imperative if we want to strengthen (or rebuild?) the side with players of the calibre of Smith, Kezman and Beattie, all of whom I'd love to see on Tyneside. If we can't steal fifth place, then it could be a quiet summer as we watch the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Man Utd and Liverpool put more distance between themselves and us via their dealings in the transfer market. We don't want to go the way of Leeds, but perhaps it needs another leap of faith on the part of the board - the sort of leap they took in splashing out on Robert and Bellamy three years ago.
"Nolite te bastardes carborundorum"

"Waiting is also a place: it is wherever you wait. For me it's this room. I am a blank, here, between parentheses. Between other people."

I'd forgotten just how good a novel Margaret Atwood's 'The Handmaid's Tale' is. If you can set to one side the apparently inconsistent circumstantial details that occasionally render her vision of the future puzzling or even incoherent, it's evocative, poetic, horrifying, acid and beautifully written. And a damn sight better than the Harold Pinter scripted silver screen version, with its clumsy feminism, wooden acting, irredeemably goofy lines and gratuitous plot alterations. However, as this commentary suggests, there is a problem with the novel in the sense that its dystopian world seems to implicitly and contrastively endorse contemporary America as some sort of feminist utopia - and that's questionable, to say the very least.

An interview with Atwood about her novel.
Further links relating to Atwood and / or 'The Handmaid's Tale'.
Animal magic?

Was anyone else left a little bit underwhelmed by the first episode of 'I Am Not An Animal' on Monday night? On paper, the animated series promises much. Written by Peter Baynham and produced by Steve Coogan and Henry Normal's production company Baby Cow, it features the voices of a stellar cast of comedy talent: Kevin Eldon, Amelia Bulmore, Julia Davis, Simon Pegg, Arthur Mathews and Coogan himself. True, there were moments of brilliance, but overall it felt a bit flat and tame - not much more than 'Creature Comforts' with a slightly darker edge. Still, it probably just needs time to bed in.

Peter Baynham defends his creation from the charge of getting laughs out of vivisection.
Henry Normal talks to the Times about the series and the current frenzy of activity at Baby Cow.
The Might Boosh, written by and starring surrealist fuck-ups Noel Fielding and Julian Barrett (both of whom contributed to 'Garth Marenghi's Darkplace') - another Baby Cow production which hits BBC3 next week.
Heaven knows I'm miserable now

"Morrissey fans expect to be shocked by what he has to say. He once bravely led the listener to places that pop music never dared venture before: this way, please, for child murder, regicide and the world-view of a racist football thug. Morrissey fans are certainly likely to be shocked by 'America Is Not The World', which takes four minutes to deliver the excoriating announcement that some Americans are overweight and that George Bush's foreign policy may not be entirely motivated by altruism. You can't help feeling deflated. Morrissey broke a seven-year silence in order to state the blindingly obvious? It is the first sign that his comeback may rest on shakier foundations than was first thought."

Alexis Petridis has a few harsh words for Morrissey's new LP You Are The Quarry.
Quote of the day

"The Unconscious will always expose itself. If the British tabloid press shows the nation's unconscious mind at work - a bubbling pit of prurience and anxiety - then the Hollywood block-buster reveals the deepest fantasies and paranoia of the American psyche. Either way, it's probably better to have our monsters oozing towards us across the sitting-room floor than bottled up in the basements of our minds."

Who else but J G Ballard, writing in the Guardian about American disaster movies as 'The Day After Tomorrow' prepares to hit our screens. Which reminds me: having enjoyed 'Super-Cannes', I must get round to reading the other novels in Ballard's trilogy, 'Cocaine Nights' and 'Millenium People'.
A helping hand

Another new kid on the SWSL block: Assistant, a Brighton-based blog written by a chap named Jonathan.

(Thanks to Kenny of Parallax View for the link.)

Monday, May 10, 2004

What's happened?!!

Aaaarggghhh! Blogger's changed. I fear change. I'm confused. Give me a couple of months and I might have got it figured out.

The second week of our season, way back in late August, was an unmitigated disaster. Defeat by Man Utd was followed by the crushing blow of failure in the second leg of our Champions’ League qualifier against Partizan Belgrade, and then by an unforgivably limp display against Birmingham resulting in a third straight loss at St James’s Park.

Now, as the second last week of our season is over, it’s clear that the nightmare has repeated itself. Almost a complete mirror image in terms of woeful inadequacy on the pitch and soul-destroying results for the fans. After the tame 1-0 defeat at Man City came Thursday’s devastating exit from the UEFA Cup, and now the embarrassment of an appalling home draw with Wolves that leaves our already slender Champions’ League hopes hanging by the thinnest of threads.

Sunday’s game was always going to be about how we would react to the pain and anguish of the Marseille result. And the answer seemed to be with casual indifference and indolence. Bowyer, who replaced Viana in the starting line-up after the Portuguese midfielder’s dreadful performance in France, got on the end of an Ameobi cross late in the first half to notch his first goal for the club – indeed, his first for 18 months. Otherwise we huffed and puffed but failed to blow in the defences of one of the weakest teams in the division, whilst at the same time allowing their forwards occasional sights of goal. At the interval, though, we had the lead and the three points were all that mattered.

However, the second half followed a depressingly familiar pattern. Laziness and sloppiness crept in, Robert being the most conspicuous but by no means only culprit, Speed was left to cope with the opposition midfield single-handedly and our defence began to wobble spectacularly. The one-time whipping boys relished the opportunity to get their hands on the whip, and Wolves came closer and closer to scoring until substitute Vio Ganea finally put the ball in the net with 20 minutes to go and with Carl Cort standing in a suspiciously offside position – if he’s distracting Given then surely he’s interfering with play?! Though we were still creating chances too, at that point they looked like the most likely winners, but much-needed help arrived with only seven minutes remaining in the form of a dubious penalty award from referee Matt Messias. On this occasion, though, even Shearer couldn’t save us, his spot-kick repelled by Wolves keeper Paul Jones who was having an inspired second half. In a desperate attempt to make amends, the skipper produced a couple of powerful efforts, but it wasn’t to be and our final home game of the season ended all square amidst a cacophony of boos (indefensible, even for displays this pathetic).

Unlike on Thursday night, this time our current injury list cannot be used as an excuse – quite simply, the players we did have on the pitch were more than capable of getting the win we needed at home to already-relegated opposition, and their failure to do so is not only a damning indictment of their collective desire and drive, but also an incomprehensible disappointment given the spirited win over Chelsea just two weeks ago. It’s time some of them woke up to reality, took a good hard look in the mirror and realised that they’re not the footballing geniuses they believe themselves to be and that they don’t deserve any kind of success by right.

The draw feels even more like a defeat when you take into account the manner of Liverpool’s 3-0 victory over Birmingham, free-flowing and clinical, and Villa’s hardworking determination in gaining a point at Southampton. We were spared the ultimate humiliation of defeat because Wolves didn’t quite follow the script to the letter – the team without an away win in any competition all season didn’t snatch all three points and Cort didn’t grab the winner against the side who paid £7m for him to make 28 appearances in three and a half years – but the point “earned” can only prolong the agony by giving fans hope that we can record back-to-back away victories over Southampton and Liverpool in the next week and pip the Scousers to the Champions’ League post. As a pessimist – or should I say perpetually disappointed and demoralised realist? – I assess the chances of this happening as slim to zero.

Right, you gutless clowns – it’s up to you to prove me wrong.

For Paul's rather more upbeat assessment of the match, click here.

(Alan Hansen on our current plight. Though I was fearing the worst, he's actually quite kind - he obviously hasn't been watching too many of our games this season. You could count the number of top-draw team performances on one hand.)
Thank you for the music

Sean O'Hagan in the Guardian on the fifty most significant moments in pop history. It's a list. You know you love 'em.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

French kiss of death

On Thursday night in the Stade Velodrome the sky really did fall in on our season. Alas, it just wasn’t to be.

Quite simply, we were Drogfucked. Didier Drogba, Marseille’s most impressive performer during the first leg of the UEFA Cup semi-final at St James’s Park, had another outstanding game, scoring once in each half to propel his side into an encounter with Spanish league leaders Valencia in the final and leave us down and out.

Most of the details of the match are hazy, recollected only dimly through the alcoholic fug, but the overriding impression of our first half display was that we simply carried on where we left off against Man City: lethargic, anaemic, spineless – the sort of performance that communicates nothing but white flag waving. I may have feared for our chances going into the game, but the players themselves seemed convinced of their own inferior quality. Given did as much as could be expected of him, Shearer battled manfully up front and Speed did his best to stem the flow of the Marseille midfield – but on a night when we were deprived of key players and so already knew that vital contributions were needed all over the pitch, three displays of modest conviction and effort was never going to be enough. And the less said about Viana and Robert the better. Drogba grabbed the only goal of the half after making a lightning break following a Newcastle free-kick that was knocked clear, beating Hughes with power and skill before slotting past Given.

Thankfully there was a marked improvement in the second half, Ameobi causing a few problems and a few chances going begging. Going into the last ten minutes, the score was still only 1-0, and we knew that an equaliser would probably be the killer blow – but only the most blinkered Newcastle fan could possibly argue that we deserved to get back onto level terms. For the most part Shearer and Ameobi had been well-marshalled by a strong Marseille defence, their midfield had been fluent with the ball and combative without it, and Drogba posed a constant threat up front. Just when the French side were getting jittery about the possibility of a fatal equaliser, O’Brien allowed Drogba to wheel away from him at a free-kick and fire home the decisive second unchallenged. The dream was not so much dead, as lying stretched out in a wooden box six feet under.

Of course there will always be a host of if onlys: if only Ameobi and Speed had taken very presentable chances in the home leg, if only we’d been able to field something approaching our strongest team – Woodgate’s importance to the side is underlined more strongly with every game he misses, Dyer’s energy and attacking intent might have made a crucial difference in midfield, Bellamy’s pace could have unsettled their central defensive pair… But the truth of the matter is that on the night the better team won. That much can’t be denied.

Not that that makes the pain of defeat any easier to bear. Heads were in hands once again, a shrug of the shoulders and a sigh not enough. 2004 – another year in the litany of so-near-yet-so-far catastrophes the fans have had to endure since the Fairs Cup glory of 1969, eight years before I was born. 1974 – FA Cup final defeat to Liverpool. 1976 – League Cup final defeat to Man City. 1995-1996 – 1st place in the Premiership conceded to Man Utd after holding a 15 point lead. 1996-1997 – 2nd to Man Utd in the Premiership again. 1998 – FA Cup final defeat to Arsenal. 1999 – FA Cup final defeat to Man Utd. 2000 – FA Cup semi-final defeat to Chelsea. How much longer must we wait for success? How much more ignominy can we take?

(To read Paul's thoughts on the whole sorry charade, click here.)
"Benjamin is nobody's friend. If Benjamin were an ice cream flavour, he'd be pralines, and dick"

The latest installment of Stylus's I Love The 1990s series, with occasional contributions from yours truly. This week, 1992.

Part One: the grunge breakthrough, Disney's 'Aladdin', Kriss Kross, US presidential election race, 'Beverly Hills 90210', 'Melrose Place'
Part Two: Pavement - Slanted And Enchanted, Barney The Dinosaur, 'The Mighty Ducks', 'I Will Always Love You' - Whitney Houston
Part Three: Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, 'Basic Instinct', 'Home Improvement', booty anthems
Part Four: 'Wayne's World', 'I'm Too Sexy' - Right Said Fred, the Goosebumps series, alternative rap
Part Five: Douglas Coupland's 'Generation X', grunge fashion, 'Singles', Michael Crichton, John Grisham, Madonna's 'Sex', 'The Simpsons'

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Bundle of nerves

What does it say about my current mental condition that the one song I can't get out of my head is The Icarus Line's cover of Spacemen 3's 'Losing Touch With My Mind'?

I'm putting it all down to nerves ahead of tonight's make-or-break match against Marseille. Our preparations haven't been helped by the news that, despite our current injury crisis, Lua Lua has turned down the chance to return to the squad for the last few games of the season, preferring to stay at Portsmouth, where he's likely to move permanently in the summer. Sir Bobby doesn't sound too impressed, but to be honest, as disappointing as it is, I don't really blame him for snubbing the plea - he's been treated like shit by the club and so he's quite within his rights to make that decision. All in all, it just goes to show how idiotic our January transfer dealings were - not that we needed any further proof, what with Nobby's Villa standing a good chance of pipping us in the league.

So, tonight's match: fingers, toes, arms and legs crossed...
Waiting for the great leap forwards

Terrible shame I couldn't make it down to the Savoy to join all those obsequious fawning tossers for the special evening do to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Maggie Thatcher's election as Prime Minister. The daft old bitch.

Anyhow, the occasion has inspired this article about protest songs (thanks to Inspector Sands for the link). Some of the post-article comments are awesomely stupid, especially this one, from a Mr Oliver Kamm: "Do you have any idea how silly you look taking seriously the affectations of pop singers to be social critics?" Look, let's get this straight. OF COURSE pop history is littered with examples of musicians leaping aboard political bandwagons in the transparent hope of securing credibility and sales. OF COURSE those who take up a cause out of a genuine concern are not always "well-informed" (whatever that means - and it often means "informed of the right way to think by the Telegraph and Daily Mail"). And OF COURSE some of the songs that arise out of this genuine concern are embarrassingly crude in their rhetoric. But the day that art responds to the demand that it should be divorced from the political and social reality in which it's produced is the day it dies.

Every song is political, Mr Kamm. Every song is a political comment on some aspect of life, whether explicitly or otherwise. Let's stop perpetuating this myth that pop music is trivial, shallow, escapist nonsense with no connection to reality, to be valued only insofar as we find ourselves singing along in the shower or humming the tune on the bus. It matters.

A propos of absolutely nothing in this post, here's a review of a recent Sebadoh 'turboacoustic' show.
New blogs ahoy

Two recent additions to my blogroll:

Lots Of Co
1000 Shades Of Grey

The former comes recommended by Largehearted Boy, while the latter is the so-newborn-it's-still-wet-behind-the-ears-and-smells-of-wee blog of my good friend Paul, who will no doubt use it as the means to spout all kinds of stuff about Newcastle Utd (oh yes, Pete and Inspector - we're taking over!), as well as on such subjects as DIY, mortgages, handkerchiefs and falling asleep after eating, what with being a 45-year-old man in a 25-year-old man's body.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Violent music for violent times


Last time I saw The Icarus Line, at the same venue in September 2002, they were playing as part of a Buddyhead* love-in with The Dillinger Escape Plan. On that occasion the first band on were fellow Buddyhead fuckups Shat, who featured two men in nappies and a vocalist with an array of prosthetic penises all over himself, and who played delightful little ultra-non-PC ditties called things like 'Gonorrhoea Fountain' and 'Nothing Would Be Finer Than To Lick Your Mom's Vagina'. This time it's a bit more sensible and restrained: support act Modey Lemon are introduced by a white guy with a huge beard wearing a turban, aviator shades and a fake gold dollar chain round his neck, who bangs a small gong while proclaiming: "Music is the sound that cleanses your pores".

The band themselves are a noisy threesome from Pittsburgh, but who are seemingly all over the map in musical terms. As soon as I think I've got a handle on what it is they do, something else seems to tumble into the mix - The MC5, Mudhoney, Motorhead... To call it deranged punk blues doesn't do it justice. There's none of the "look how fucking authentic we are!"-ness that sometimes grates with bands like The Black Keys, just stomping songs like 'Tongues (Everyone's Got One)' and another which shamelessly steals the vocal line from Black Sabbath's 'War Pigs'. With two guitars, buzzing keyboards and thumping drums (but no bass), they make an occasionally awesome racket and do enough to convince me that it might be a good idea to invest in Thunder + Lightning, their full-length debut for Mute, which surfaces on 17th May.

The Icarus Line, a dead-eyed Peel-endorsed fivepiece from LA, have just recently inked a major label deal with V2, though just how the label think they're going to reap a significant financial return on their investment is anyone's guess. The Icarus Line are hardly a commercial proposition, and you can be pretty certain they ain't gonna play corporate ball.

The opening of the set is rather low-key, though. They aren't in the familiar Red And Black Attack uniform (black shirts, red ties, red eye make-up) this time, and perhaps this contributes to the impression that the assault isn't as focused as it might be from the start. 'Caviar' grinds the set into gear, but it doesn't quite strike the right note and for the first ten minutes it's a bit ragged, even for a band as notoriously loose as The Icarus Line. But then new(ish) member Don Devore cranks into the fuck-ugly bassline to 'Up Against The Wall Motherfuckers', a recent single and the first track on their V2 debut Penance Soiree (released today), and the neck-snapping begins.

As with Modey Lemon, it's quite hard to say exactly what it is that The Icarus Line do. There's clearly a debt to The Stooges musically, attitudinally and also aesthetically (singer Joe Cardamone rocks the Iggy look hard) , but, rather than approaching Fun House et al with the cocksure swagger of light-fingered distressed-denim-clad fuckwits like Jet, they rip that sound a new arsehole thanks to an acquaintance with The Birthday Party, Black Flag, The Jesus Lizard and the sort of post-hardcore bands that have never made it to pin-up status. As Travis Keller** says in his band biography: "The Icarus Line?s sound isn?t one of a punk band in the classic sense, yet at times it feels like they are the only punk band left. You might say their ethos, sense of integrity, confrontational nature of their performances, and their belief in what they do is very punk rock. They sound like what dangerous rock music should sound like in 2004, and are here to fill the void created by nu-metal, mall-emo, jock-punk, frat guy rock, and teeny-weenie bopper dance music". I'm not quite sure what it is that appeals to me - they're obnoxious, messy, graceless and not particularly talented. It must be something to do with the primal quality of their music, and their antipathy towards, amongst other things, everything that attempts to pass itself off as "punk" - plus, of course, the fact that they rock.

There's little evidence in tonight's set of their seedier and sinister stoner side (stuff like 'You Make Me Nervous' from their last LP, the ferocious Mono), but we do get the brilliant single 'Feed A Cat To Your Cobra' (#7 in SWSL's Singles of 2002, dontcha know) and plenty of highlights from their latest offering: 'Seasick', 'On The Lash' and the single 'Party The Baby Off', during which band nutjob and Buddyhead co-founder Aaron North, sporting black 'Mask Of Zorro' eye make-up, walks along the bar and sprays Coke out of the soft drinks nozzle all over his guitar. All relatively tame behaviour by the high standards of a man who, when the band were playing in a Hard Rock Cafe at Austin's South By South West festival a couple of years ago, used a microphone stand to smash a glass case containing local hero Stevie Ray Vaughn's guitar, tried to plug it in before fleeing the clutches of security and subsequently received a number of death threats from incensed Vaughn fans - kinda like Ozzy pissing on the Alamo, really. That said, tonight North does also swing on the lighting rig, threatening to bring it down, and plays half a song whilst stood on his head against the wall behind one of the amps. It's all quite enough to make their tour manager have kittens - he's easy to spot, an officious-looking bloke in a smart ironed shirt who's obviously come as part of the V2 "package" and who's blatantly shitting himself every time North finds a new source of amusement.

There's no encore - bless 'em, they probably haven't got anything left. Needless to say, Penance Soiree is at the top of my shopping list.

*For the uninitiated, and for those who aren't faint of heart, Buddyhead is a treasure trove for juicy snippets of gossip, satirical made-up interviews with members of The Strokes, venomously foul-mouthed opinion and some of the most cuttingly dismissive and downright nasty reviews you could ever hope to read.

** It was Travis Keller, incidentally, who got The Icarus Line into an unsavoury spat with Fred Durst, after stealing one of The Limp One's red caps and auctioning it for charity without his knowledge or permission.
"One kid has a swastika cut into his hair, and many kids decorate their exercise books with racist graffiti"

An article in the Guardian about the BNP's policy of targeting schools to catch them young - even more troubling than the way that the tabloid media (and that very definitely includes the Daily Mail and the Daily Express, much as they'd like to think of themselves as above the gutter) has effectively legitimised and even endorsed casual racism through biased reporting on asylum issues.

(Thanks to Pete for the link.)
Quote of the day

"I never quite understood the modern concept of giving all the members one line each. If the song in question was about partying till you dropped then it might work. 'Dance To The Music' by Sly And The Family Stone pioneered this technique and in my opinion still sounds fabulous. But I think the relay approach seriously weakens the focus of the passionate ballads which are so often the staple fare of the genre. So the Olympic Torch song was born. Oh dear."

Robin of Speaking As A Parent on boy bands.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Desperation plus perspiration defeats aspiration

After last weekend's fantastic victory over Chelsea, Saturday's defeat away to Man City was as disappointing as it was predictable. We'd not lost for seven games, they'd not won for seven games and they'd racked up only three Premiership wins from a total of 17 matches at their new home this season - OF COURSE it was going to be 1-0 to them.

Things started brightly enough for us, though, with Robert in particular scaring the life out of City's brittle defence with some wicked crosses and dangerous set-pieces. Several gilt-edged chances came and went and at half time, when we could have been celebrating a decent lead, we were instead left to rue the fact that, for an England U21 striker, Ameobi still needs to acquire a goalscorer's touch. Nevertheless, the game was there to be won.

It was City who came out believing they could grab all three points, though, and when Anelka evaded Bramble to flight in a cross that O'Brien missed, Wanchope slammed his header past Given and the writing was on the wall. For once, it wasn't a Woodgate-less defence that let us down (the goal aside), though admittedly they looked familiarly fragile at times. The defeat was a matter of passion and desire - quite simply, though we both needed it, they wanted it more than us. Everywhere you looked in the second half there were half-arsed lackadaisical performances - Viana, Ambrose, Robert, Ameobi... Even though we'd had the luxury of a week off between games, we looked tired and drained of energy, and in the end City comfortably outmuscled us, creating all the chances and securing the three points which have since assured their safety and which gave great delight to several Manc friends of mine, who relished the opportunity to pass comment.

Nothing's decided yet, but, when you take into account yesterday's comfortable wins for Liverpool and Villa, I can't help feeling that the sky is starting to fall in on our season. The paper-thinness of our squad is being exposed at the most critical period of the season - Dyer, Bellamy, Jenas, Bowyer, Griffin and arguably our best player Woodgate are all out for the foreseeable future, while against City Robert picked up a knock which threatens his chances of appearing against Marseille and Ameobi has blistered feet and will be rested. We finished Saturday's game with youngster Martin Brittain on the right, making his Premiership debut, and out-of-sorts striker Michael Chopra on the left wing. To say the situation is not ideal going into Thursday's second leg of the UEFA Cup semi-final would be a major understatement. My fingers are still crossed, but it could be an unpleasant spectacle.

But, to return to the race for fourth, it seems ridiculous that, up until this weekend, teams like Fulham and Charlton (no offence, Inspector Sands!) could still harbour Champions' League aspirations despite having lost the same number of games that they've won. But then, as a Newcastle fan, I can scoff all I like about the travesty of having such a poor team as Villa ahead of us - the simple truth is that we've won only two games away from home all season, and have failed to score in any of our last four (not incredibly tough games, either - Spurs, Bolton, Villa and now Man City). That is fucking pathetic, and if we miss out on fourth spot then it'll be blindingly obvious where we've gone wrong.
A quick fix

Living in a student area as I do, takeaway flyers and menus are continually being pushed through the door. Generally they get binned immediately, but on Saturday I noticed a particularly strange one for a Chinese takeaway called Chasing Dragon. Really, that's the sort of name that might have crawled straight out of Chris Morris's head. I wonder if they do pot noodles to lure you in and then get you hooked on the harder stuff? I don't imagine I'll be giving them a call any time soon, and if I do it certainly won't be to order anything with mushrooms in...