[Album review] "This is Gonna Hurt" – Sixx:A.M.

Album Title: This is Gonna Hurt

Artist: Sixx:A.M.

Year: 2011

Running Time: 48m 49s

Track listing: 1 This is Gonna Hurt; 2 Lies of the Beautiful People; 3 Are You With Me?; 4 Live Forever; 5 Sure Feels Right; 6 Deadlihood; 7 Smile; 8 Help is on the Way; 9 Oh My God; 10 Goodbye my Friends; 11 Skin

Many side projects don’t create more than a ripple on the musical landscape so when Sixx:A.M. (lead singer James Michael, Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx, and guitarist DJ Ashba) sold almost 350,000 copies of their 2007 debut album “The Heroin Diaries”, many people (most notably record executives I’m sure) sat up and took notice.

The record served as a “soundtrack” to Sixx’s New York Times Best-Selling book of the same name – a memoir chronicling Sixx’s addiction to cocaine and heroin in the mid-80s. And, just like the debut, new album “This is Gonna Hurt” follows the same template. The new book of the same name has reached #4 on the NYT list while the album debuted at #10 on the Billboard Hot 100.

“The Heroin Diaries” was a fascinating project. It mixed powerful rock tunes (“Life is Beautiful”, “Pray for Me”, “Courtesy Call”, “Heart Failure”) with more mid-tempo rockers and ballads (“Tomorrow”, “Accidents can Happen”) and punctuated it with semi-spoken-track numbers that acted as an album narration (“X-Mas in Hell”, “Intermission”, “Life After Death”). “This is Gonna Hurt” is a more conventional record.

This is Gonna Hurt
The title track draws on Sixx’s own experience with being down and out (“Feels like your life is over/Feels like all hope is gone”) but offers a message of hope (“Rise against your fate/Nothing’s gonna keep you down/Even if it’s killing you”) and, ultimately, redemption (“There’s a devil in the church/Got a bullet in the chamber/And this is gonna hurt…Keep your secrets in the shadows and you’ll be sorry”). Fast, crunching guitars meet irrepressible melody.
Rating: ****

Lies of the Beautiful People
The lead single and #2 mainstream rock hit takes a not-at-all-thinly-veiled swipe at those who think “real beauty’s on the outside”. Inspired by one of his photo subjects – Amy Purdy, an athlete who lost her legs at 19 – Sixx rails against the media-driven obsession with glamour and external beauty. Lead singer Michael laments how many of us are “outside the velvet rope/standing there all alone”, are “grotesque and ashamed” and insists that the beauty we are force-fed (by the likes of People Magazine’s “100 Most Beautiful People”) is “a far cry from the truth”.
Rating: ****

Are You With Me?
It might be doing a disservice to “Are You With Me?” to suggest that this could be mistaken for a Daughtry track. The singer recounts the early days of a relationship (“Laughing like we’re crazy/Nothing mattered, nothing fazed me/We were younger then”) but acknowledges that things are not what they were (“have I judged a book by how its bound/am I lost or am I found/and are you with me?”). He encourages his partner to “come back from the dead/you’ve been inside your head for too long…Find the places that scare you/Come on I dare you”. Yes, it’s radio-friendly and familiar but it works.
Rating: ***1/2

Live Forever
Sticking with the subject of relationships, “Live Forever” compares the carefree early days (“You and I never really gave a damn/We spent our lives running through the wastelands”) to how the protagonist feels now (“Now, you’re the only thing left worth dying for/You give me a reason I can’t ignore/And make me wanna live forever”). From being “so independent, so high on ill intentions” to being “everything I’ve been waiting for/for all these years and a thousand more”). “Live Forever” is an exceptional rocker with a soaring chorus.
Rating: *****

Sure Feels Right
“Sure Feels Right” takes it down a notch, a pseudo-country ballad with reflective lyrics (“The traffic’s backed up on the 405/And the smog’s so thick you could cut it with a knife/But it gives me time to think about my life”). With snappy references to diverse subjects like Sunset Boulevard, Sex Pistols, Jesus and Hollywood vampires. Nothing wrong with this whatever.
Rating: ***1/2

Deadlihood
So just who is the “you” in “Deadlihood”: “I swear you told me, that you’d be my life support/Guess I misunderstood, you were my deadlihood”. Maybe it’s not a you – maybe it’s an “it”. Maybe it’s heroin. It could be the “insanity” that’s driving him insane and now its “star is burned out for good/Somewhere in Hollywood”. Sonically dramatic, convincingly powerful, this is another fine track.
Rating: ****

Smile
A gentle acoustic ballad that wonders “What’s an angel like you/Ever do with a devil like me”. Michael shines on vocals (as he does throughout the album) and it’s punctuated by a sweet guitar solo by DJ Ashba.
Rating: ***

Help is On the Way
If “Smile” is anything it is perfectly placed on the album as a buffer between “Deadlihood” and the rocking “Help is On the Way”. The hand-clap intro, ‘do do doo do’ refrain and soothing bridge give the track something a little different. The singer talks about troubled times – like when he feels he is “a paralyzed soul” and “a left out only child” who is “so unaware that my heart’s about to stop”. But he says we’re all the same and that “everybody cracks and bleeds/So hit your knees and pray/That help is on the way”.
Rating: ****

Oh My God
After lashing out at the “beautiful people”, Sixx and Co take aim at society as a whole with the socially conscious “Oh My God”. Using the street birth of a baby (presumably to a homeless, teenage mother) as a symbol, the band underline our apathy towards such reality (“the truth is that we’ll never know her name/’Cos as long as we can fill our glasses up, we’ll look the other way”) while also addressing major global events (“it’s not far from here to New Orleans/Where the seemingly forgotten people are still foreclosen on their dreams”). The song reaches a stadium-anthem level crescendo (think U2 or Bon Jovi) with the chorus of “Oh my God, this is insane/How’d it get like this?/Or has it always been this way?”. Epic.
Rating: ****1/2

Goodbye My Friends
The piano intro suggests a halcyon ballad might be on the way but a thrusting riff and dramatic, brooding verse (very reminiscent of Muse) carry us to the hard-hitting bridge (“Isn’t life lived right at the edge/And when it’s not that’s when you’re dead”). The subject, seemingly in his final moments of life with “friends and lovers” gathered around him and “piles of roses” at his feet, tells us that there’s no need for be mournful (“Goodbye my friends/To hell with the sorrow/We have made amends…by this time tomorrow/It will be the end”). Fantastic arrangement, great guitar work again from Ashba – another winner.
Rating: ****

Skin
“Skin” is a beautiful piano ballad. For those scared to be themselves, afraid of what others think, Michael suggests that you should “paint yourself a picture/of what you wish you looked like” and urges the fearful to “come in to focus/step out of the shadows…kill them with your kindness/Ignorance is blindest”. “You are not your skin”, he sings as the final chords close out the album.
Rating: ****

Summary
If “This is Gonna Hurt” doesn’t find itself in the mix at Grammy time, I’m a monkey’s uncle. Sixx:A.M. are an act that are comfortable in their material, tight and focused as a band and, quite simply, write excellent rock songs. There will be trolling I’m sure about how the social justice and anti-A-List stuff is all just populist fakery from Sixx. But this would be a distraction and an irrelevance. A great record is a great record and this is one of the best in my collection.

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[Movie Review] Stepfather III

Starring: Robert Wightman, Priscilla Barnes, Season Hubley, David Tom, John Ingle

Director: Guy Magar

Genre: Thriller/Horror

Cert: 18

Released: 1992

Terry O’Quinn received much acclaim for his performances in the first two “Stepfather” movies where he played a disturbed sociopath, dedicated to creating and being part of the perfect family unit.  While the first film was an outstanding cult chiller, the second one was more campy, notable only for O’Quinn’s turn.  The talented actor (who found international fame as John Locke in “Lost”) was – one would assume for either artistic or financial reasons – not involved in this direct-to-video second sequel in 1992.  So in steps Robert Wightman (briefly John-Boy Walton in The Waltons) as the maniacal titular character.

Changing the actor while not changing the character means that there needs to be some form of explanation as to why he looks different (unless it’s the Donna Reed/Barbara Bel Geddes switcheroo I suppose).  Director Guy Magar’s explanation, while being a reach, makes sense: The Stepfather (aka Henry Morrison, Jerry Blake, Bill Hodgkins, Gene Clifford) has escaped (again) from a maximum-security mental hospital.  Having been featured on every news broadcast around the country he decides to have plastic surgery so as to evade capture and continue his search for the perfect family.

The movie opens with a hooded man being operated on by a backstreet plastic surgeon who promises that’s he’s “the best there is” while he cuts and slices his patient without any anesthetic and with a bottle of whiskey nearby.  Some days later the bandages come off and The Stepfather is back … almost looking like a different person altogether.

We cut to a small Californian town where local gardener Keith Grant (Wightman) dresses as the Easter bunny and hands out eggs to the local community’s children at the urging of local priest Father Brennan (John Ingle – TV’s “General Hospital”, “Days of Our Lives”).  His unassuming charm interests single mother Christine Davis (Priscilla Barnes – TV’s “Three’s Company”, “Licence to Kill”, “Mallrats”, “The Devil’s Rejects”) and before long the two are involved in a whirlwind romance that leads to marriage in what seems about 4 days.

Her wheelchair-bound son Andy (David Tom – “Stay Tuned”, “Pleasantville”) is less impressed though, telling Father Brennan that there’s something not quite right about his new stepfather, who had no friends or family at the wedding and seems to change his back-story frequently.  No matter how hard Keith tries, he can’t make that connection with the crime-obsessed Andy who already suspects that Keith could be the escaped “step father” that he has seen on a TV news report.  The youngster uses his computer expertise (using the Internet and Photoshopping before they were common) to investigate Keith’s background.

Becoming disillusioned with his already-disintegrating relationship with his new family, Keith lines up Jennifer, a single mother who he has just rented his old cottage to.  But with Andy digging deeper and Father Brennan increasingly suspicious with Keith’s behaviour, time is running out for The Stepfather to make everything right.

“Stepfather III” came in for a bit of a battering at the time of release as one might expect.  Certainly when I first viewed it almost two decades ago I wasn’t that impressed.  But, on second viewing, the film – in the context of the franchise – has stood the test of time quite well.  I mean, come on, “The Stepfather”, quality film though it was, was a B-movie – shorn of gloss and rough around the edges.  And that’s what the third movie is – hampered slightly by a less-engaging lead man, admittedly.

In fairness to Robert Wightman he puts up a good fight in the role where O’Quinn set such a high watermark.  His syrupy, southern-accented, nice guy act is a little clunky but when required to go a bit mental, he pulls it off very well.  His facial mannerisms and general appearance is close enough to O’Quinn that you can almost buy in to the storyline that this is O’Quinn with a different face.

He’s in good company on set though.  David Tom does a convincing job as Andy and Priscilla Barnes was a good choice as The Stepfather’s lover (as were Shelley Hack and Meg Foster in the previous movies).

The violent scenes are not as hard-hitting as some of the ones we have seen previously and the entire film is undermined by the fact that we’ve seen it all before – and better.  But for a largely-disregarded, low budget thriller, “Stepfather III” is no embarrassment and worth a watch.

AT&T. Absolute bollocks.

I thought mobile phone companies in Ireland were bad until I came over to the US.  My experience so far has been with AT&T and, in spite of the best intentions of the eager foot soldiers in the stores, the company itself leaves a lot to be desired.

Right now they are in the news for attempting to push through a merger with fellow GSM-carrier T-Mobile, something that I agree would be very bad news.  T-Mobile was going to be my next carrier once my contract (a ludicrous two-year imposition that most carriers tie you to in the US) expires in early 2012.  But if the government approves the merger then I may have to go CDMA (Sprint, Verizon) as T-Mobile will probably end up adopting the totalitarian approach of their larger cousin.  And we know consumers are not happy with AT&T.

In the year-plus I’ve been with them they have capped data plans, increased termination fees and locked down Android phones.  I also experienced, when travelling through the Dakotas, virtually no data coverage whatsoever in five days.

The latest show of might from my good friends at AT&T is them denying me the right to use my Motorola Atrix (my phone that I own) when travelling abroad unless I agree to an expensive roaming plan with themselves.  On a call with one of their representatives I asked him for my unlock code so that I could use my Irish SIM in the phone, and I was given a four-point response as to why that was not possible.

It was basically a patronising list of items that were none of their damn business: if you use a foreign number then friends and family won’t be able to reach you in an emergency (bollocks as all my friends and family have my Irish number), you won’t be able to access voicemail (bollocks as I use Google Voice for voicemail) and two other reasons I can’t even remember.  Probably because I was repeating the mantra: ‘you’re a stupid c*nt, you’re a stupid c*nt’ in my head.

He finished off his little spiel by telling me that I could avail of great deals with a roaming plan from AT&T (how convenient).

Not being particularly satisfied with the response, I took to Twitter, and some helpful AT&T lad responded to my tweet by investigating for me.  Sadly his response was not particularly useful either.

So according to AT&T my phone (and let’s be clear – this is my phone, bought outright in an AT&T store and not subsidised by them) cannot be used by me.  If I want to, I can go out and buy an unlock code online for about $25.  But I don’t see why I should have to.  I don’t see what right AT&T have for locking it down in any manner whatsoever.

But do they have any leg to stand on?  Is their roaming plan such an absolute steal that I am rendered a total clown for not biting the bullet and switching on roaming?

Not likely.

This is what AT&T would have charged me to use my phone in Ireland.

This is my mobile activity while using my Irish phone in Ireland with unit and total costs for both carriers (Irish per minute call costs averaged out as they varied depending on which network I called).

So in total I spent the equivalent of about $30 while away for the week, sending 95 texts within Ireland, 8 texts abroad and spending 12 minutes on calls.  The cost of that to me had I unlocked my phone and availed of AT&T ‘best roaming rates’ would have been over $70.  Even if I’d bought their ‘World Traveler’ package for $5.99 and taken advantage of 99c rather than $1.39 per minute call rates, I would only have saved $4.80 (12-times-40c).  So it would have actually cost me more.

It’s incredibly short-sighted of AT&T (and other carriers – let’s face it, I’m sure many of them behave like this) to alienate their customer base for a quick buck.  My mobile bill is about $90 a month – more than the $70 they battled to try and squeeze out of me in this fiasco.  Losing my custom in early 2012 will cost them a lot more than $70.