28 February, 2015

Reading between the lines

You tell us, mate! Most of the dishonest debate has come from people on your payroll
- which I'm sure is a complete coincidence.
In translation:
Would someone with some intellectual authority, however dubious, please validate my pre-existing assumptions? Pretty please? I’m scared.

22 February, 2015

Who loves ya, Rudy?

It seems it was Rudy Giuliani’s turn to be the comically failed candidate embarrassing the Republican party this week.

In case you haven’t heard, here’s what he said at a private event for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker:
I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.” 

Predictably enough, teh left responded with outrage and the hashtag #ObamaLovesAmerica, which completely missed the more important points.

Notwithstanding the McCarthyist tones of a “love test” for office; even notwithstanding the dog-whistle racism of “He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up,” (and if you’re going to go down that path Rudy, I want to know exactly what you mean by the way you were brought up, because being a Catholic born in Brooklyn with an Italian name, it might mean something different if you know what I mean…)

No, what this really means is that the Republicans officially have nothing. They are not even pretending to have anything to say about policy. All they have left is to go personal and go the full stupid.

Rather than listing all the reasons he does too love America, what Obama supporters should be saying is: Is that all you’ve got?? Have you no policies? Have you nothing to offer beyond fetishising patriotism?

Unable or unwilling to argue policy and alternatives, Republicans are reduced to sneaking around like an ex-boyfriend saying, “Aw c’mon baby, I know me and my friends wrecked your house and spent all your money and took you for granted and humiliated you. And I know that new guy is trying to look after you and he talks to you like an adult and everything, but he don’t love you like I do.”

That should say it all. No rebuttal is necessary. You can’t make them look any worse than they do themselves.

The subject of the event, Scott Walker matched the stupid by saying he’s not sure of Obama is a Christian. Scott, get thee to Wikipedia! Or better still, Article VI, Clause 3 of that constitution thing you’re always banging on about.

Any questions, Scott?

12 February, 2015

The 2015 Grammy Awards - a (delayed) live ’blog

3:30 DACCAAAA! You've got to give credit where due: they transcend fashion. Audience look genuinely starstruck.

9:00 Um... "T-swizzle"??

16:00 Ariana Grande. Generic, over-earnest soulful ballad.

19:00 It's pretty sad that Jessie J can sell You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling better than Tom Jones. He may have the voice, but I get the feeling he's never had his heart broken.

22:00 Best pop vocal is Happy. I'm cool with that. It's a great pop song. Pharell is honoured to be grouped with the other nominees and was sure one of the others would win, so DRINK!

25:00 Miranda Lambert. I don't think you can call this a country song just because it's sung in a serthern accent. Nice to see a woman almost fully dressed though.

32:00 Kanye. Why is he performing to a backing track when it would have been so easy to have Paul play piano on this? Could lose the auto-tune.

40:00 Madonna. I really prefer her when she's singing rather that leading aerobic workouts.

43:20 Why does the get-off music sound like the speaker is about to be killed?

44:25 George Harrison is a recording academy lifetime achievement honouree? What was it Stella McCartney said? I'm sure George would be the first to ponder how long you have to be dead before having a lifetime achievement recognised.

45:30 None of the Best R&B nominees sound remotely like rhythm and blues to me. Is R&B like NPR where the letters don't stand for anything any more?

49:00 Ed Sheerin. Ironically, this is sounds like rhythm and blues.
51:15 You know, you don't expect to hear a tone like that coming out of a Jackson superstrat!

54:30 Jeff Lynne sounds great. Don't know why they had to cut The Evil Woman off though. Or add Ed Sheerin, who seems to have left his guitar out in the rain.
1:01:00 They said everyone would be talking about this duet between Adam Levine and Gwen Stefani. I'm not. 

1:05:00 Annie Lennox is selling Hozier's own song better than he is.
1:07:30 I Put a Spell on You seems apropos of bugger all but bloody awesome all the same.

1:14:30 Full points for being a very different version of Happy but why? To prove it could be done? Bold, but messy.
Carry your bags, mister?
1:16:00 Message from Barack Obama against domestic violence. Interesting. Obama has an clever way of telling you you're not doing enough and making it seem like a compliment. There's something through-the-looking-glass about the President of the United States telling musicians they could be doing more to make the world a safer and more peaceful place.  

1:24:00 Katy Perry. A little over-earnest for may tastes but can't argue with the sentiment.  

1:28:00 Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. Not sure whose credibility is damaged more by this.  

1:33:30 Usher. Nice to have just the harp accompaniment and let the song stand by itself. Would it be too bad a pun to comment on this possibly being the first time there has been harp and harp used together.  

1:34:00 5 seconds each for Boulez and Buddy Guy's lifetime achievement recognitions? Pathetic! 

1:39:30 Eric Church. Sounds like there might have been more to this song but for me it got lost in the generic nature of a country song about someone's home town.

1:42:00  Brandy Clark and Dwight Yoakam. Also a big generic country but nice enough, and definitely live.

1:46:00 Four Five Seconds. This is the first time I've heard this song, mainly because I really prefer to avoid hearing music for the first time on YouTube if I can. Not bad. Paul and Kanye are basically surplus to requirements here though.

1:52:00 Sam Smith and Mary J Blige. Not terrible. Not great.

1:56:00 Juanes. Nice stuff. I quite like this. I've already forgotten how Four Five Seconds goes.

1:56:50 Prince: "Albums, remember those?" I do, but I'm old. Hey wait. He's announcing an award. What's going on?

1:58:05 THAT moment. Well, what a beat-up that was! All Kanye did was move towards the mic, then grin and walk away. Beck got it. He even invited him back. It was actually an amusing moment in a ridiculously scripted show.

What West said afterwards is not relevant to this review but I don't recall him giving any of his awards to more deserving artists.

1:59:15 30 seconds for the music educator of the year award. Better than nothing, but this is important.

2:01:00 Well, that was awkward.

2:05:00 Sia's performance was confusing but rewarding when they finally revealed it was actually on stage.

2:05:25 The producer of the year award is announced as having been awarded earlier. This is an insult.

2:09:00 Acknowledgement by Dave Grohl of David Letterman. Nice touch, and thoroughly deserved.

2:13:00 Beck was excellent, with more than a shade of Nick Drake. Chris Martin brought very little other than the collaboration which seems obligatory this year. I might have to get this album.

2:16:00 Sam Smith again? Nice enough guy, but come on! I almost thought he was going to thank Tom Petty.

2:28:00 Beyonce. Seemed a bit overdone to me. They stopped just short of saying "Please feel deeply moved by this."

2:31:00 John Legend and Common. Now THIS is moving!

2:35:00 Oh, and it's over. Not so much as a 'thank you and goodnight.'

Well, I might as well post this since I've written it but apart from a few moments, I have an overwhelming sense of meh. I might go back to not watching.

05 February, 2015

In (reluctant) defence of Tony Abbott

It’s been most amusing to see everyone pre-emptively writing Tony Abbott’s prime ministerial obituary this week. This morning, regular Liberal spinner Niki Savva joined the chorus in a piece that reads exactly like it was written by a left wing columnist about Abbott prior to the 2013 election, or a right wing columnist about Rudd prior to his 2010 replacement.

While just about every criticism of Abbott by both his colleagues and his (former) cheerleaders in the media has been completely valid, the simple fact is… I can’t believe I’m actually going to say this… It’s not Tony Abbott’s fault.

For sure, since becoming prime minister less than 18 months ago, Abbott has effectively trolled the country by attempting to introduce punitive policies that he never mentioned before, delegating most of the hard work, defying mathematics, dodging accountability, talking rubbish, indulging his fetish for royalty, and expecting others to defend him for it. In general, he has focussed more on enjoying the spoils of the job he demanded we give him on the sole grounds that he was neither Julia Gillard nor Kevin Rudd, than on actually doing the job. None of that is in question.

The real question is: Why the hell is anyone surprised about any of this?

To anyone who has paid the slightest attention to Tony Abbott’s behaviour over the last ten, twenty, thirty, forty years, everything he has done as prime minister should seem perfectly familiar – predictable even.

Tony Abbott hasn’t changed a bit – not in the last two years, not in the last twenty. The deferring to others for policy guidance, the inability to advocate for his policies in the face of the mildest questioning, the use of government to further damage already defeated political adversaries, the curiously generous career prospects for his family, the freezing out of any disagreeing voices, the whingeing to other leaders with bigger problems, the reintroduction of knighthoods and the awarding of one to Prince Philip? These are not brain snaps; this is Tony Abbott functioning normally. Anything else would indeed be a surprise, albeit a welcome one.

The government and the nation find themselves in this position because we, or enough of us at least, chose to expect just such a surprise. Egged on by the likes of Savva’s publication and its tabloid stable mates, the majority of us chose to suspend the disbelief that if we just gave Tony Abbott everything he demanded (well, except control of the Senate, you absent-minded meanies!), then he would stop throwing tantrums and behave like a grown-up. We knew what he was like, anyone who didn’t know should have, and we gave him the job anyway.

Now, instead of recognising our national mistake, we have miles of columns that can be summarised as:
Liberal Party in ‘dogged opposition does not automatically translate into competent government’ shock!

As enjoyable as the schadenfreude of the last two weeks has been, the truth is it’s not Tony Abbott or Peta Credlin who should be replaced. They’re doing what they believe they were put there to do. Those who really ought to be considering their positions (or having their positions considered for them) are all those in the media who chose not to apply this level of analysis two years ago. It’s everyone who poo-pooed, or simply ignored the warnings that Tony Abbott showed little evidence of being the steady pair of hands that many wanted to portray him as. It’s everyone who ever repeated the line that Abbott would “grow into the job,” and now blames Tony for being Tony instead of their own, ideologically driven lapse in judgement.

Don’t blame Tony for being Tony. Blame anyone who expected him not to be.

04 February, 2015

What happens next

A few days ago, a rejected former leader of the party in government gave a speech in the US on effective leadership while, by complete coincidence, the prime minister’s leadership was beginning to look very shaky.

Does this sound familiar to anyone? Haven’t we seen this show before?

For those who haven’t, here’s what happens next:
  • Spill motion next week to clear the air.
  • Abbott re-elected unopposed.
  • Claims this settles the matter once and for all.
  • Those who argued for change in leadership are isolated in the party.
  • Leaks and speculation continue, especially on slow news days.
  • Prime Minister Turnbull by Christmas.

Enjoy your popcorn!

23 December, 2014

The Bonus Discs - New deluxe

On October 13th last year, I went to my nearest record store which, thanks to modern technology, is now a bit over an hour’s drive away. I had been reliably informed that the particular chain had a habit of placing stock in the racks as soon as they received it rather than keeping it embargoed until the official release date. I had nothing else to do that day and it was worth it to have the new Paul McCartney album as soon as it came out.

By coincidence, my dearest happened to be in the US at the time, so I asked her to bring my back the Target exclusive version with a bonus DVD. There were other editions exclusive to other big box stores in the US but she wasn’t near any of them. No doubt, there were fans who grabbed them all. Being a bit of an audio nerd, I also bought the high-resolution version from HD Tracks for the greater dynamic range. I didn’t bother with the standard edition – and seriously, who does this? Who thinks to themselves, “I’m going to buy the new album by one of my favourite artists, but I’ll save a couple of dollars by getting the version that has three less songs on it,”? Still, the beancounters at MPL and/or Starbucks clearly thought it was a good idea so what do I know?

So this deluxe edition is actually my fourth copy of New.
Hello, I’m Bill and I’m a hopeless fanboy.

It’s not that the album isn’t worth buying more than once – it’s excellent. There are four separate producers, including two second-generation Beatles producers; Ethan Johns, son of Glyn who worked on Let It Be, and Giles Martin (if you don’t know who his father is, then I’m very disappointed in you). As the DVD reveals, the original intention was to try out these producers – the others being Paul Epworth and Mark Ronson – and see who he actually wanted to make an album with, but having done a whole record’s worth of material, the album was compiled from all four sets of sessions. Despite the contrasting styles, the album flows extremely well. Somehow, it doesn’t suffer from the too-many-cooks problems that made Flowers in the Dirt, which was also promiscuous with producers, sound like less than the sum of its parts.

On the whole, the DVD is good value, with nearly two hours of material. The documentary on the making of the album is quite insightful and rather cleverly plays the complete album through the program. The middle of the disc compiles just about all the promotional junkets for the album, the most interesting of which is Bang & Olufsen interview. There are short pieces on the talk shows and pop-up gigs he did, but they don’t include any of the actual interviews or performances. Show Paul arriving, waving fans, gushing host, two seconds of performance, Paul shakes hands and leaves. Repeat seven times.

Johnny Depp sitting.
The DVD concludes with four official videos plus behind-the-scenes documentaries for three of them. The first compilation of McCartney promotional clips was called The McCartney Years. If there’s ever a second volume, they could almost call it Johnny Depp Sits On Things.

Johnny Depp Sitting. Again.

This deluxe edition also comes with a bonus audio disc that includes four live tracks recorded in Tokyo, and three unreleased studio tracks. The three new songs are decent, but wouldn’t have fitted the flow of the album proper.

Worth paying extra for?  If you don’t already own the album, it’s totally worth paying extra for, but who are we kidding? If you have the slightest interest in this deluxe edition, you already have the album so the question is if it’s worth buying a second time.

The way I usually look at deals like this is that most fans who are interested in the extra discs would gladly pay $25 for them as a standalone release, so why complain about getting a spare copy of the main album to play in the car or where-ever? The other side of that coin is, why bother including that redundant copy of the album when anyone who is interested is bound to have it already? I think the answer to that question is obvious: This way, it counts as sales of the New album rather than as a separate release.

Milking it? Well, yes and no. The 7 tracks on the additional audio disc are all perfectly decent B-sides. If New had been released 15 years ago, there would have been three or four singles released off it, each with two or three additional non-album tracks. Fans would have diligently bought them, spending about as much as the price of this deluxe edition, and getting a redundant, if not butchered copy of each A-side. Now that the market for physical singles is essentially dead, those extras are marketed differently.

There remains the issue of appearing to fiddle the sales figures but again, this isn’t really anything new. Back in the 90s, it wasn’t unusual for a single to be released on two different CDs, sometimes three, each with different bonus tracks. When the hardcore fans bought all versions, the title registered two or three sales for one buyer. A little detail that is rarely mentioned about the time Blur and Oasis went head-to-head releasing new singles on the same day is that while Blur may have beaten Oasis to Number 1, Country House was released on two CD singles, Roll With It was only released on one.

If you’re the kind of fan who is happy enough to have the regular album, you won’t miss anything that’s on the additional discs here. If you’re the kind of fan who has to have everything, this deluxe edition rewards your additional investment.

22 November, 2014

The Bonus Discs - Wings at the Speed of Sound

The remaster of the second album by what is generally regarded as the ‘classic’ lineup of Wings sounds just as good as its predecessor. Steve Rooke, Guy Massey and Simon Gibson have excelled themselves here. There is a real intimacy to the sound, even on the big arrangements like Silly Love Songs and Beware My Love.
The remainder of the deluxe package is a little disappointing. This is not so much a reflection on this particular edition as it is on the whole notion of massive boxed editions of single albums. The B-sides of the singles released off Wings at the Speed of Sound were also album tracks and evidently everything that they recorded for the album was released at the time. It makes sense given that the album was recorded between two tours, but it does mean the cupboard is almost bare when it comes to previously unreleased goodies to fill the bonus disc and DVD.
The bonus tracks that were on the initial CD release, Walking in the Park with Eloise, Bridge on the River Suite, and Sally G have been removed now that they’re available on the bonus disc of Venus and Mars. I heartily approve of stripping the albums back to their original track-listings. I find it annoying when the album reaches its natural conclusion and then a few B-sides play. It’s much better to shift them to separate discs.
However, having moved those three tracks to the album closest to when they were recorded, all that’s left are demos.

The “John Bonham version” of Beware My Love has already been milked for all it’s worth. The truth is, it’s not a complete version of the song but a first-take demo that happens to have John Bonham (who was a big fan of Wings’ drummer Joe English) sitting in on drums. It’s interesting but not quite the meeting of 70s giants it’s been made out to be.

The other most interesting demo on the disc is probably Paul’s vocal version of Must Do Something About It - a greatly underrated song of McCartney’s. It’s the finished backing track with Paul doing a guide vocal for Joe, who sings on the album. What’s most interesting about it is how dull Paul’s vocal is. Seriously, that’s not a criticism. Everyone knows Paul can sing the hell out of a song but rather than sell the song himself on the guide vocal, he gives only enough to show how the song goes and leaves it to Joe to do the vocal interpretation. It may come as something of a surprise to those who have Paul pegged as a control freak.

On the DVD? Well, not a whole lot. There’s the original promotional film for Silly Love Songs which has not been remastered, so there’s some added retro authenticity. The only other content is two short tour films, Wings Over Wembley and Wings in Venice. Wings Over Wembley is supposed to be a record of Wings’ three dates at Wembley arena at the conclusion of the 1976 world tour. The film is introduced as an “impression” of those dates and unfortunately, that’s all it is. All it shows is a few snippets of interviews and soundchecks. The film has been edited down from its original version and it beggars belief that they wouldn’t include the full version.

The book is as beautiful as always. It includes plenty of previously unpublished photos, including plenty from the 1975 Australian tour. Paul evidently has very fond memories of being here. HINT HINT!

The bulk of the written content is taken verbatim from an interview in which Paul actually seems rather reluctant to participate. The banal nature of the questions might have had something to do with that. I am sure you will be just as surprised as I was to learn that She’s My Baby is about Linda and the “Phil and Don” mentioned in Let ’Em In are the Everly Brothers. The most insightful part is the reflection on Jimmy McCulloch’s two Wings songs both being songs to himself warning of his self-destructive behaviour.

As with Venus and Mars, there are several pockets with heaps of little trinkets including stickers, tickets, photos and reproductions of handwritten lyrics and studio notes. While it’s very clever that they can copy these pages all the way down to the coffee stains and cigarette burns, it would be much more convenient to simply have them as pages in the book rather than individual objects.

On both Wings at the Speed of Sound and Venus and Mars, all McCartney songs are now credited to Paul and Linda. There’s no indication as to whether this is correcting a historical inaccuracy or whether this is a latter day Lennon/McCartney arrangement, not that it matters either way. The demo of Silly Love Songs does reveal Linda’s contribution.

Worth paying extra for? The remaster is definitely worth it. The additional CD is worth a few dollars extra for curiosity value but the book and DVD? Nah.

Silly Love Songs - initial 1989 CD release
Silly Love Songs - 2014 remaster
Silly Love Songs - 2014 remaster hi-res