Obituaries: Leslie Nielson and Peter Christopherson



The Guardian has today written a lovely obituary in clips for the late, great Leslie Nielson, so I’ll refer you there instead of writing my own. Indeed, there are few people who can make you smile at the merest thought of them.

I also realise that I haven’t written anything about Coil’s Peter Christopherson, who also passed away very recently. He telephoned the place where I worked once, about 15 years ago, and on saying his name I grilled him about music for half an hour before answering his question. He seemed really nice. I greatly enjoyed Coil’s performance with Foetus back in 2000. Again, I’ll link to The Guardian’s thoughtful obituary. I would add to that one thing: the only way in which I found Coil “shocking” was in how accessible they were. Their music was easy to enjoy and their live show – hypnotic beats and dazzling lights – was effortlessly entertaining. Perhaps the thing I’ll take with me about Peter  Christopherson was that people didn’t talk enough about how likeable he – or his music – ever was. Read Brainwashed’s affectionate tribute, including words from Sleazy’s musical friends and collaborators, here.

Perfect 10

The “perfect 10” ratings given to Kanye West’s new album have given many pause for reflection on the inherent ridiculousness of numerical review scores. When Metacritic lists a score of 93 on an album, it does suggest that it must be uncommonly good. I mean, that many people giving it 10/10? Really? For something to be that good, it really has to be as good as albums ever get. What worried me in this case was how few people seemed willing to really mention the music – what made it such a “perfect” album?

No album will ever be perfect, but I would expect a “perfect ten” to be strong all the way through. It would have to be more innovative than Radiohead’s The Bends, and stronger than My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, which was certainly inventive but was ultimately forgettable as a collection of songs. There’s plenty of great albums I just never got round to buying. You might be surprised that I’ve never bought Sgt Pepper, and I don’t really know why I didn’t, but I can’t miss what I don’t know. Many more, I’ve not owned long enough to know I’ll still love them many years down the line, or they have too many weak moments among the strong.

Pitchfork gave The Stone Roses a perfect 10, and that’s the opposite of what I’d call an “ideal” album – they were really only good for one single, and the album was ultimately quite weak and patchy, didn’t break any new ground and was – at least by me – quickly forgotten. A perfect 10 needs to do better – much better, at least, than the brief snippets of Kanye’s new record, which didn’t entice me to hear more. If I’m thinking of a “perfect 10”, it has to be something like

Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral

Primarily influenced by David Bowie’s Low with the thematic influence of The Wall, it’s not really surprising that I would love it this much. As a varied and consistent album, The Downward Spiral is stronger than anything NIN produced before or since. Over 15 years later, Trent Reznor’s breakdown album is still an absolute pleasure to hear.

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One

“Why would I want to read a children’s book?” Him Indoors remarked, smugly, quoting some comedian who also hasn’t read the books.

How many copies now? 450 million? That’s more than … well, almost anything. The Lord of the Rings has sold 150 million copies; A Tale of Two Cities over 200 million.

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Harry Potter is, quite neatly, Dickens meets Tolkein, and not a lot else. Sure, it borrows heavily from ancient myths and has quite unsubtle anti-Nazi allegory running through it. It takes a bit here and there from Narnia and has the sly, off-beat humour of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. Mostly, though, it’s just Dickens’ David Copperfield with 20% more Sauron.

Sometimes – like David Bowie – the reason something’s popular is just because it’s good.

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AudioSurf

I picked up this fun casual game in the Steam sale for £1.50 yesterday. AudioSurf is essentially like Columns – collect the colours in blocks of three. It looks a lot like Guitar Hero, but doesn’t require the twitch timing skill to hit the passing block at the precise moment – instead, you just have to have the reflexes to be able to dodge and weave past the nasty grey blocks while you’re collecting the others.

The fun with AudioSurf is that it rummages through your music collection and reinterprets each sound file as a set of raw data from which it builds each level. Each drum beat becomes a bump in the road, and musically dense sections become steep slopes. The rest of it is interpreted as fireworks and spinning lights for a rollercoaster ride through your record collection. Faster songs become harder levels, and the gameplay experience matches the type of song you’ve loaded in. Psychedelic songs by Foetus and Cardiacs become dizzying, unsettling experiences, and seem to confuse it slightly, since it doesn’t know where to place the emphasis. Slow, brooding tracks are good for relaxation but make less interesting levels. Lykke Li’s Get Some worked pretty well.

My Girl Talk level was – like the record – a varied but slightly shallow tour. Lady Gaga’s Just Dance had so  much bounce it was terrifying, and Disturbed’s Megadeth-a-like Perfect Insanity was immediately enjoyable but quickly forgotten. The Venture Bros soundtrack sounded pretty good, so I’m thinking funky soundtrack stuff and heavy rock has the best mix of strong rhythms and intricate layers of sound to build the best levels. Something like Faith No More would work really well.

AudioSurf is a popcornish colour-matcher that allows you to play your records: a very easy sell for me. Fans of Bejeweled should definitely investigate, though it’s been out for a couple of years, so you probably already have.

Coal Chamber feat Ozzy – Shock The Monkey

If we celebrated Thanksgiving in England, I’d be thankful for Him Indoors. I try not to gush – generally settling for one notch above indifference – but I’m really quite keen on the guy.

I arrived home a couple of days back to see him excitedly pointing in the direction of the kitchen. “Did you look on top of the fridge?”
I looked. There was a toy monkey that came free with PG Tips tea bags.
“You could pay four pounds and get the tea bags or you could pay four pounds and get the tea bags and the monkey!” He looked very pleased with himself.
“Oh, I was going to get you the monkey, but I figured that at 37 you’re a bit old for a monkey.
He stared at me incredulously. “Why would I not want a monkey!”

So, this goes out to Him Indoors. It’s not an amazing cover, but it’s the only thing by Coal Chamber that’s ever made me want to sing along, and it’s pretty damned catchy. Ozzy Osbourne provides guest vocals, and it’s a cover of a Peter Gabriel song.

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Lisa Germano – Happiness

The second album by American multi-instrumentalist Lisa Germano was one of the first things I was sent as a fanzine reviewer. It was initially released on Capitol in 1993, but re-released on 4AD with a different track order in 1994. It’s all there: the barely-there vocals, acoustic guitars – but just beneath the surface is a barbed, sour sarcasm that makes this confection all the more delicious.

“If I were your puppet, we’d get along just fine,” she sings on one of the stand-out tracks, and passive aggression is a running theme here. Other highlights include Everyone’s Victim and Sycophant – she’s clearly quite angry with someone.

It always surprised me that Germano wasn’t more popular, since Happiness was both accessible and interesting. She should have ridden the wave of Alanis Morrissette and Tori Amos-style snarky songwriters, but for whatever reason, just never quite took off. It’s a shame, because this is good. Non-standard instrumentation (such as the ever-present violin) and eclectic, intricate arrangements are what makes this unusual and compelling listening.

I lost my CD after a house move, and bought it again on MP3 as soon as I realised it was missing. I think that tells you all you need to know.

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American Gothic

I’m re-watching American Gothic, having recently bought the complete box set on DVD.

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Yes, Sam Raimi’s supernatural drama looks creaky and very of-its-time (contemporary to The X-Files and only just after Twin Peaks), but it’s still pleasingly engaging with a great sense of atmosphere.

Created by Nancy Drew star Shaun Cassidy, the series charts the adventures of young Caleb Temple (Tokyo Drift’s Lucas Black) whose father and sister are murdered by the evil Sheriff Buck (Gary Cole), who may or may not be the devil himself. As Buck attempts to lure Caleb to be his Antichrist, the spectral form of Caleb’s sister tries to put him on the road to good. This central conflict forms a weekly tug-of-war, as we see which of these otherworldly forces will triumph.

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Why video game soundtracks are underrated

If you say that you enjoy film soundtracks, most people wouldn’t react at all. Everyone knows that a lot of movies have great music. It’s even acceptable to admit to buying a television soundtrack, since many of them have cinematic-style scores.

Video games, by contrast, have no such respectability. Even though you might spend sixty hours wandering around a fantasy landscape and even realise that on some level a great deal of the lure is your enjoyment of the game’s music, there’s something a little silly about saying you love the score, because they’re just not taken seriously.

I think that’s a little ridiculous when you consider that just the same processes have gone into each, and that if you listen to the music on its own terms, it has just as much “worth” as music written for any other purpose. Take a listen to this piece (TES IV: Oblivion medley) by Jeremy Soule, for example:

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I defy anyone to say that’s not great music.

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Drive

OK, who the hell “disliked” Drive on YouTube? I mean, come on! The film’s a classic!

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I’ve just spent a lovely evening watching it for maybe the thirtieth time, and it just never gets old. Drive is a 1997 direct-to-video action flick about an assassin on the run from a Chinese government-backed corporation, and it’s at least three times as much fun as any big-budget no-brainer you’ve sat through lately.

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