Metallica back on tour

Will I or won’t I…again?  Eh…I think I’ll skip it this year.

Metallica on Tour

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A credibility issue

One hit wonders, apparently.
One hit wonders, apparently.

It must have seemed like déjà vu for Morten Harket and Magne Furuholmen, two-thirds of rock band a-ha, as they sat on the GMTV breakfast time couch in London on Friday morning.

The scene was set when presenter Emma Crosby – somewhat understandably given the universal reference point – started the interview with a “Take On Me” reference. She then proclaimed that the Norwegian “masterminds of pop” are back, introduced a video package which included the aforementioned 1985 hit single and three clips of the band performing newer hits on the very same breakfast show from 2000, 2002 and 2005.

“Does that bring back fond memories, looking at that?” she asked, as if it were an achievement for them to remember songs they recorded in the last decade.

The baffling statements continued. “I bet your fans are over the moon that you decided to come back together and do this album and the tour,” she said, seemingly oblivious to the fact that this was their fourth album and tour of the decade and as recently as 2006 had achieved a top ten UK single.

“Was it a question of digging out the guitars and drum kits or have you been performing?” was next out as Magne just about managed to keep a straight face.

“What kind of reaction have you had from your fans that you are getting back together?” was a step too far for Morten. “Well, we have been doing this for 25 years so, uh…,” he laughed.

After an awkward exchange about what songs are their “favourites” (a redundant question in any interview which is akin to asking parents which of their children they prefer), co-presenter Andrew Castle then returned the topic to “Take On Me” to which Magne cordially explained is a song they’ve now made their peace with and joked about starting a gig with it some time.

“Will you enjoy it more this time around?” Emma asked, which is like asking U2 or any other band on the planet if they will enjoy their 2009 tour any more than their 2006, 2002 or 1999 tour.

The interview mercifully came to an end and they turned their attention to an online webcast to answer some mainly sensible questions from fans (part 1 and part 2).  The difference in demeanour between the two “interviews” was noticeable.  Maybe fans should always write the questions for inane interviewers.

But herein lies the problem for a-ha, a band still wrestling to find credibility in spite of spending half their lives as professional musicians. Unlike many other artists of their era, a-ha have never been dropped from a record deal and they clearly still make money for their employers – they have sold almost forty million albums worldwide.

But record sales are distinct from peer group respect and it has become customary for interviews of the last four or five years to try and rubber stamp a-ha’s credibility by wheeling out the names of contemporary acts like Coldplay, Keane, U2, Bloc Party and Robbie Williams, all of whom have cited admiration for the Norwegians.

In a 2005 interview with Metro, Magne addressed this very issued:

“It’s always tough to gauge your own history but it’s a good thing when people you yourself have respect for give you credit for what you’ve done. It means a lot more than some idiot critic saying something condescending about the group based on them not knowing much about us.”

Four years later Magne had to make similar points again in Metro in an article entitled “A-Ha: We’re more than cheekbones”.

“That’s part of the vindication on our part that we get credited for the music that we left behind these days. That’s the inheritance you want to leave behind, not the frustration of being an awkward pop star or a misplaced poster boy.”

You feel he’ll be making the same points again in 2013. No matter what the band achieve they will for ever attempt to become bigger than “Take On Me”.

Like many maligned pop stars, a-ha have no such credibility issues in Germany with their latest album hitting number one and the title track being their highest charting single since “Take On Me”. They are comfortable there, safe in the knowledge that interviewers and critics take them seriously. They command prime TV slots and have no need to defend their legacy.

The Scotsman sat down with the band and conducted one of the most honest interviews I’ve ever read. Journalist Paul Lester describes the band as a “Joy Division for anxious, adolescent girls” and as “doyens of exquisitely dolorous synthpop, sung with soaring yearning by Harket”.

The band may have been all that but they were marketed as pin-ups. Guitarist and chief-songwriter Paul Waaktaar-Savoy describes how their vision of being The Doors-meets-Soft Cell evaporated very quickly.

“When my wife saw the first album and the poster it came with, she went, ‘Uh-oh’.”

Three years after that debut album a-ha were still making bad decisions. The 1988 hit single “You Are the One” owed nothing to The Doors or Soft Cell and the accompanying video (complete with sailor suits) can only be explained away by an early mid-life crisis.

Maybe that was the nadir because the band got moody, grew their hair and sported bandanas for their 1990 record “East of the Sun”. As their fan base lost interest, so too did a-ha, moving further from their roots in the search for credibility on the gloomy “Memorial Beach” in 1993.

About this period, Harket tells The Scotsman:

“We were at the peak of denouncing ourselves and what we had been. When you’re at war with yourself you will go under. I don’t think we were focused. We were fighting too many demons, and trying to avoid things.”

Over fifteen years later a-ha still find themselves trying to change perceptions but at least now they seem comfortable in their own skin.

Read my review of the new a-ha album here.

[Movie Review] The Condemned

The CondemnedStarring: Steve Austin, Vinnie Jones, Robert Mammone, Tory Mussett, Rick Hoffman

Director: Scott Wiper

Genre: Action

Cert: 18

Released: 2007

Dropping ten death row inmates on an island and giving them thirty hours to slaughter each other sounds like it’s the last thing that network television would choose to cover. With that in mind the only choice for TV producer Ian Breckel (Robert Mammone) is to put it out live on the Internet. His target is to get a Superbowl-level audience of forty million to cough up to $50 each for the privilege of seeing these condemned men and women kill each other, with the last person standing receiving their freedom and a pocketful of cash.

Jack Conrad (former wrestler, Steve Austin), on death row in an El Salvadorian prison, is chosen after he batters the Arab prisoner that Breckel initially selected in a bid to please his Middle East demographic. Conrad, billed falsely as a KKK member and bomber of a school for handicapped children, joins Ewan McStarley (Vinnie Jones), Kreston Mackie (footballer Marcus Johnson), wrestler Nathan Jones and six other men and women, all of whom have bombs strapped to their legs.  If you can’t kill your nemesis with your fists or a weapon then you can activate the bomb and make use of the ten second delay to escape its blast.

While the assembled criminals fight for survival, the FBI seem unclear how to track down Breckel’s illegal game. Special Agent Wilkins (Sullivan Stapleton) manages to identify Conrad and uncovers information about his former lover, Sarah (Madeleine West). Sarah hasn’t seen Jack in over a year and immediately logs on to the site so she can watch the slaughter for herself. Yeah…let’s just leave it at that and get on with the critique.

When World Wrestling Entertainment decided that producing movies was a natural extension to their sporting soap opera, hopes were probably not very high at the outset. Even with that in mind, “The Condemned” is a failure on just about every level.

Movies can require a level of ‘suspension of disbelief’ but “The Condemned” asks for far more than is realistic. For a start, it seems completely ridiculous to suggest that the FBI would be unable to use modern tracking techniques to locate where this vast network is running from. I mean they roughly, kind-of-know but the sub-plot amounts to three C-list actors looking tense in a fairly nicely furnished office. Are you telling me that an intelligence agency, responsible for investigating highly organised terrorist gangs around the globe, would not have noticed tonnes of television equipment being shipped to an island? And, independent of that, they couldn’t have the site shut down?

The entire nerve center, a mass of TV screens and television production equipment run by Breckel, technicians Goldman (Rick Hoffman), Eddie (Christopher Baker) and Breckel’s reluctant girlfriend Julie (Tory Mussett), is located on the island too. Perhaps there is not much wrong with that but the fact that finding it for Conrad was about as hard as putting on a pair of shoes indicates that not a lot of thought was put in to Breckel’s master plan. Sure, they try and paint over the cracks by having Conrad block his GPS and be a bit wily but, trust me, it’s lazy and – in the context of the film – absurd.

Director Scott Wiper, whose previous directing outings have barely registered and all of which he has starred in, attempts some social commentary along the lines of how it is us, the audience, who are in fact “the condemned” for wanting to watch the show. That’s all well and good but it’s the ham-fisted manner in which this message is delivered which raises jaded sighs rather than wide-eyed realisation. It’s bad enough that Conrad’s friends gather in a bar to cheer him on but to rubber stamp it with a reporter Donna Sereno’s editorial on the same subject is a case of a director ignoring the golden rule of “show, don’t tell”.

Aside from Breckel talking about the Internet like it’s 1996, the dialogue is actually okay in parts. It’s clear early on though that witty répartie is not safe in the hands of the unskilled “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. I could imagine Bruce Willis being able to raise a laugh by revealing that the reason he blew up a building is because it was “blocking his sun”. Austin just says it.  He doesn’t have a lot to say but one-liners are not his forté. Vinnie Jones, who impressed me in the only “proper” acting role I’ve seen him in (“The Riddle“), resorts to cartoonish villain here and it’s painful.

The fight scenes are pasasble but the camera darts around too much for us to really work out how good, or otherwise, the choreography is. Some of the transitions between scenes don’t feel right either.  You are left feeling like you missed something – maybe not something of consequence but just a small set-up scene that makes the narration seem more cohesive.

Needless to say, not a great piece of work.  Obvious reference point here is Battle Royale.  Watch that instead.

3star

Believe you, me.

Tom DunneTom Dunne – musician, broadcaster, journalist, humanitarian, impressionist.

The former musician has carved a nice little niche for himself as the housewife’s favourite on Irish radio with latest listenership figures suggesting that about 69,000 people are tuning in from 9am to midday, Monday to Friday.

Who is Tom Dunne?

He forged a successful pop career in Ireland in the late eighties and early nineties as lead singer of Something Happens.  He found further fame as presenter of alternative music show Pet Sounds on commercial radio station Today FM for nine years until 2008 before moving to their sister station, Newstalk.

The move was viewed with great interest since – as the name suggests – Newstalk is a talk radio station.  It was also viewed with great relief by many as Dunne, playing the unintentional misogynist, replaced two female presenters, Brenda Power and Orla Barry.

A few months before his Newstalk show started in September 2008, I was at a table quiz that was won by a, um, table called The Tom Dunne Fan Club.  Yes, Tom Dunne’s persona had now taken on mythological qualities.  Never a person to listen to commercial radio I was therefore excited to hear what this new show – a mix of chat and music – would be like.  Anything would be better than the tiresome cackling that used to infest the latter part of the morning (see above).

Top bloke

First of all let me say that Tom Dunne comes across as a top bloke.  He’s warm, always in a good mood, can display genuine moments of wit and is an all round likable guy. The slots with John Fardy and George Byrne, who discuss movies and entertainment every week, are often worth listening to.

But, like many DJs, there are facets to his broadcasting which stick in the throat.  The bearability of any public figure is calculated by how much you enjoy their upside, deal with their quirks and tolerate their flaws.

After a couple of months of tuning in to Tom, I found myself being jaded by the show, only returning when there was really nothing else to do.  So what’s wrong exactly?

The verdict

1. The family man

The only thing duller than someone talking about themselves is them talking about their kids.  It’s one thing to do it at an extended family barbecue, it’s another thing to do it frequently on national radio.  Tom clearly loves his family very much but the lengths he goes to in order to include references to his daughters is tiresome.  When I mentioned Tom to my dad he gave the very same reason as to why he stopped reading his newspaper column. Even my mates know not to bore me with news about their kids.  Sorry, Tom.

Edit: Today’s discussion – his daughter is walking.

2. Greetings

Tom takes a number of calls during his show and they almost always start like this:

Tom: How are you today?

Caller: Fine, Tom. And yourself?

Tom: Very well. Very well, indeed.

What a waste of airtime.  He’s not the only one who does this and I realise it is just politeness but let’s mix it up a bit.  I look forward to some day hearing a DJ who, when asked how they are, responds glibly ‘awful!’ and then moves straight to the point of the call.  Keep the small talk for the accidental meeting with the neighbour you have nothing in common with.

3. The anachronism

Tom recounts a lot of activities from his personal life which can be good points of discussion and are not particularly objectionable.  Sometimes he will bring a debate he’s had with his father-in-law over dinner to the airwaves or ask listener’s opinions on how they might handle a particular domestic situation.  Whatever it is you can be sure that when Tom is done recounting the anecdote and then opining on what might occur if it happened in his environment, he will then sum up the whole thing with the closing remark “believe you, me”.  Sometimes he will repeat this for effect.  Only slower.  My grandmother used to say things like this along with the phrase “hen on a griddle”.

4. Sex obsession

I wouldn’t call myself a prude but I don’t believe that overt sexual discussion belongs on daytime radio.  Tom seems to enjoy getting middle-aged authors (usually English or Australian) on air to discuss a book that lifts the lid on women’s liberation through sexuality.  More disturbing than that, it seems Tom is particularly clued in, like he actually cares about women’s sexuality.  It’s all about getting your leg over, you blouse!

5. The Bruce Springsteen Show

I’m pretty sure Bruce could maintain his lifestyle based on royalties paid to him by the Tom Dunne Show alone – in fact “Tunnel of Love” has just finished right now.  But Tom goes through phases where his “pet sounds” are almost on constant spin.  At the beginning of his tenure it was the very ordinary Glasvegas who were on every day.  I’m not joking you.  And as for every Irish musician ever being “absolutely brilliant”…?

6. Joe the Producer

Joe the Producer sits in every day on the ‘coffee break’ (sponsored by Bewleys).  Nothing really happens.  It would be a reason to flip channels – if there were anywhere to flip to.

7. Weekend plans?

Very few people who call a radio show are interesting.  I know I wouldn’t be if I were on air – I’d be as trite as the next person.  So I have no interest in finding out what Seamus from Tullamore is doing at the weekend or if Ciaran from Blackwater is going on holidays this year.  Stop asking them Tom.  How about asking them which Olsen Twin they’d do – if they had to.

8. An inane trip in to someone’s personal family life

Tom: Are you up to anything this weekend, Peadar?

Peadar: Ah, my youngest is two on Sunday. We’re going up to the park.

Tom: Really?!  Is it a boy or a girl?

Peadar: A boy.  Peadar Junior.  We’ve a four year old daughter called Claire too.

Tom: Aw, lovely!  It’ll be a nice weekend for it they say.

Peadar; Ah, i hope so.

Tom: Well I hope you have a great time. Lovely talking to you, Peadar.

Peadar: Thanks Tom. Love the show. All the best now.

Me: Yawn.

9. Chuckling

Tom chuckles too much although he remains utterly charming through it all.

10. The parody

Occasionally Tom effects a grandiose accent, comical and out-of-place, recalling broadcasting legends Alan Partridge, Stuart Hall and Terry Wogan in one fell swoop.

11. Sponsored by Sky

At least Brenda Power would have called Sky out on their ever-increasing subscription fee that flies in the face of decreasing utility and labour costs.  What chance that I could have an on-air discussion about the show’s sponsors?  But, hey, that Sky Plus is really awesome.  Even George Hook thinks so.

How about getting a bit “Gerry Ryan”, Tom?  Let’s insult some people.  Let’s have some controversy!  When talking to a middle-age English author about hormones, make a joke about hearing “whore moans” when in Fitzwilliam Square last weekend!  That would be awesome.

Otherwise the show remains one I dip in to the hope that there is an interesting discussion on subjects of relevance to me – not the correlation between the menstrual cycle and sexual desire.