Weekend reviews: Courteeners and Foals

The Courteeners: Anna

The Courteeners are very much part of that English brand of lad-pop. They belt their songs and drawl their words, embracing their arrogance and winning over crowds with pithy pop ditties like “Not Nineteen Forever” and “Take Over The World”.

But Anna, The Courteeners’ third album, hits a brick wall. This isn’t standard third album confusion either, but rather third album bewilderment. It’s as though the guys sat down, charted a map of the current pop music landscape and declared that ‘80s was in, and vaunted English lad-ism was out.

The outcome of that conclusion is so-so. “Lose Control”, Anna’s lead single starts well but soon descends into an insipid mix of ‘80s synth and stadium rock. And while Anna’s eleven tracks are an easy listen individually, they’re unvarying and forgettable together.

That said, this is easy enough music to sing along to: not because the lyrics are particularly catchy but because every song seems to include around 100 ‘ooh-ohhhs’.

3/5

Foals: Holy Fire

When Foals released their first album Antidotes, I was in my final year of secondary school. Their second album, Total Life Forever, came at a time when I was starting to understand what college was about, and now their third album coincides with my first year as a graduate. Having spent the same amount of time navigating the education system and outside world as Foals have creating albums, there is, for me at least, an odd affinity: Foals’ albums are still associated with times rather than meaningless gaps of time.

Like most, I love music that wrings my brain of everyday thoughts and floods it with summer nostalgia. Normally Friendly Fires are my go-to group for that kind of fanciful dance-about pop – the kind that relocates you to a warm day, with a cold drink, maybe even at a festival like the ones in the O2 adverts. And here, there’s whimsy pop in abundance, particularly in songs like “Inhaler” and especially “My Number”, both of which were made public before the album’s release.

“My Number” isn’t worlds apart from Foals’ earliest output, songs like “Mathletics” and “Hummer”. But where “Hummer” and Co., were slightly more rigid and a little difficult to dance to, “My Number” is that dependable brand of soft pop. The chorus of “cos you don’t have my number” is a great sing-along chant while the trill of the electric guitar keeps the whole thing finger-tappingly upbeat.

Oddly, “Preclude” and “Inhaler” remind me a little of Jane’s Addiction’s 2004 album Strays, as though they share a musical chromosome of sorts. Incidentally, Foals’ last big hit, “Spanish Sahara” was used in the season seven trailer for HBO’s Entourage whose theme track is Jane’s Addiction’s “Superheroes”.

Meanwhile the fourth track, “Bad Habit”, draws a leaf from Temper Trap’s books with its easy-going jangle of guitars, and could undoubtedly soundtrack the next of those aforementioned O2 adverts. But despite the opening tracks’ enthusiasm, the album isn’t an eleven-song list of sing-along tracks to gyrate to while vacuum-cleaning the house. Final track “Moon” for example, is five minutes of chiffon-like pop that chars itself into your memory while “Late Night” is the album’s central break-up track, which builds, then ebbs away.

Like Total Life Forever, Holy Fire tails off somewhere in the second half. Regardless, this is still a great album; where Total Life was inspired by technological super-intelligence, Holy Fire avoids the esoteric and instead favours everyday tales of breaking up, and that person not returning your calls. But more significantly, Holy Fire consolidates a new stage in Foals’ career. This album sees the group leaving behind their arcane ‘math-rock’ roots to channel a new style that could easily propel them to UK pop star status.

4/5

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Digital Mailing Lists and Online Look-Books

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Gosh, which one am I?

God knows why but every so often I suddenly think that inking my digital signature into an online clothing store’s mailing list is a good idea. And nine time out of ten I’m wrong. What’s more, getting my name crossed off that list usually winds up being infuriatingly tedious and kind of like the online equivalent of a Chinese finger trap.

So wait. You said nine time out of ten. Does that mean you’ve made an exception somewhere online?

Yes, there was an exception, and the exception was Topshop. But Topshop’s the only one! I spend a lot of time pissing about on the website, so I suppose it’s only natural that I’d enjoy scrutinising weekly look-books featuring the same washed out ankle grazers I almost bought, paired with a jumper I wouldn’t have considered, and all browsed from the comfort of my phone.

So what’s your point?

Well, one of the kickers that come with shopping looks is that looks never have to deal with the real world. I mean, Office, meet my Galactica sequined playsuit. Playsuit, meet my gawping colleague.

If magazine features were people, then this would be where one would sidle over and cock its hip and say in a reminding voice, “But with the right accessories, you can turn that sensible day-time look into a night-time one that’s kickin’!

And what would you say?

Well I’d say thanks Ms. Magazine Feature but there are several problems at hand that lead me to believe you’ve never tried and tested your own advice. Firstly, is one expected to lug a suitcase from home to work to the club?

And if not, if we perhaps “layer” the different looks as you advise, then what’s the call of duty if the heater in work’s been turned up and you find yourself forced to expose some sequin?

Trying to comfortably incorporate multiple looks into one day is difficult, even in college. Truthfully, I have no real advice. In College I found that adding a white fur headband and red lipstick garnered both side-glances and pettings from strangers.

So that’s it, that’s all you’ve got?

Well, if you’re interested in sage advice, then mine would be thus: wear black. Black works. Black dresses and boots work. So do black dresses and boots and modest black cardigans for the office.

Black mascara is also good. At the moment I’d recommend Benefit’s “They’re Real”, which really is flake-free.

Obv no one will ever look as good on the job or in the club as The Good Wife’s Kalinda Sharma but a good mascara, some black clothes, good shoes and maybe a piece of statement jewellery will at least help you maintain that you did rock it from AM to PM.

Or at least from 8am to 11pm.

 

One-hundred years of Grand Central

In University I studied History of Art and Architecture and in my final year I took a course on architecture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. One of the essay questions I received in my second term (and avoided answering) was something horribly convoluted (despite looking marvellously simple) like, ‘Is a building just a building?’

Had I stuck with that question (instead of taking the easier option and arguing something-or-other on Frank Lloyd Wright), it probably would have resulted in some very questionable defence, which, when broken down, was about as concrete as ‘I’ve tasted real butter and I can’t believe it’s not real butter’.

Anyhow, now that I’m out of college and not being marked out of 70, I thought I might as well take a light-hearted stab at that question, with Grand Central Terminal (the station’s proper title!) in mind.

This month, Grand Central, located in New York City’s Midtown, turned one hundred. Externally, the building is a stunning example of American Beaux Arts Classicism, while the station clock, which faces onto 42nd street, is the world’s largest example of Tiffany glass (according to Wikipedia). More significantly however, Grand Central consolidated train use and travel as a very central part of modern American life.

New York City has forever been the backdrop to countless films and TV programmes, including Sex and The City, Girls, Gossip Girl and The Sopranos – let’s not forget Medow’s undergrad years in Columbia. But where New York’s been a backdrop, Grand Central’s been the film-set where some of the best-known scenes in celluloid history were made.

There’s Carey Grant fleeing New York in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest; Al Pacino running, ducking and firing a gun on an escalator, trying to dodge thugs and make a train to Miami in Carlito’s Way, and the beginning of Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin’s friendship in ‘80s classic, Midnight Run.

So, is Grand Central simply a building? Technically no, because it’s a train station, too, (remember!) But I’d also argue that it’s one of the most remarkable film-sets on earth.

True colours in political dramas

This post will have to be work in progress, firstly because I’m short on examples and secondly because copyright laws on YouTube have made it damned near impossible to post the examples I mention so far.

Last night I started House of Cards, the new Netflix series, which I plan to review and wholly recommend everyone watch. The series, which is loosely based on the BBC trilogy by the same name, follows the devilish Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), a Congressman and House Majority Whip, who feels hard done after being passed up for the role of US Secretary of State.

Instead of getting mad however, Frank takes the politically sound route and chooses to get even, stacking figures against one another, exposing sensitive stories and leaking closely guarded White House information to the press. But his ruthlessness isn’t revealed by mere action but rather through a series of sideways remarks addressed to the viewer and always delivered in a candid, collusive Southern drawl.

I am now on episode 5 but last night I watched episode 3 where Frank delivers a highly charged requiem speech, beginning with “I Hate God” followed by a rationalisation of that statement in which he explains how necessary anger is in grieving, and how that process ultimately draws people closer to God.

Brilliantly, he describes, through a voice inflected with rage and despair, a charged tale about his father, who died suddenly at the age of 43.

“My father dropped dead of a heart attack at the age of 43,” he begins, “And when he died I looked up to God and I said those words [I hate you]; because my father was so young, so full of life, so full of dreams, WHY would god take him from us?”

This is when he looks into the camera and sneeringly remarks, “Maybe it’s best he died young, he was just taking up space.”

Underwood’s thought tracks are so persistently dirty and insidious that it’s practically impossible not to be drawn into the series.

Earlier this year, I also started HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, another series that I love which focuses on the smarmy Republican figure, Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (Steve Buscemi); Atlantic City Treasurer and a New Jersey bootlegger.

In episode one, season one, there is a scene not unlike the House of Cards one discussed, where Nucky delivers a strong anti-alcohol speech at a meeting organized by the Women’s Temperance League.

With eloquence, Thompson tells the story of a family driven to desperation by a hard-drinking father during a cold Atlantic City winter. He tells the story of a young boy, so hungry and desperate for food that he resorts to eating rats. He finishes this story by revealing that, not only did the family survive that cold winter, but also that he was that boy.

Nucky leaves the meeting to a standing ovation and outside receives further praise from Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt), Nucky’s right-hand in all matters illegal, who praises Nucky’s gripping tale of survival and reflects on the First World War where he was often forced to eat dog meat. Bluntly, Nucky informs Jimmy that the whole story was a lie:

“The first rule of politics is to never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

Rabble-rousing on O’Connell Street

Some time towards the end of last year I saw Tom Murphy’s “A Whistle in The Dark”, a DruidMurphy production staged as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival. The story centred on an Irish emigrant, his English wife and the Irishman’s dysfunctional family, all of whom had come to stay and none of whom showed any signs of leaving. But “A Whistle in The Dark” wasn’t a family vignette. It was a magnifying glass hovering over a combustible situation and shining a spotlight of white heat. It was insidious like a family argument and by the end I wanted to stand up, walk in and tell everyone to just STOP.

I was thinking about “A Whistle In The Dark” recently as I walked down O’Connell Street. In one of Whistle’s many heated scenes, a family member trying to talk up Dublin exclaims, ‘O’Connell Street is the widest street in the world!’ That line provoked giggles from the audience and circled the family’s ignorance and insecurity with a thick felt pen.

Of course, O’Connell Street is not the widest street in the world; it’s the widest street in Ireland. I walk up O’Connell Street most week mornings, then down again that evening. My trip starts at Daniel O’Connell and ends at Charles Stewart Parnell. And between these two figures stands (amongst others), The Spire, Jesus in the box, and, my favourite, Big Jim Larkin.

(image via bangortobobbio.blogspot.com)

George Bernard Shaw famously described Jim Larkin as being the greatest Irishman since Charles Stewart Parnell. Sadly, if a statue’s appearances were a measure of greatness, then Parnell’s legacy would presumably be about as inspiring as a bowl of rice. What’s more, Parnell’s outstretched hand – historically a sign of excellent oratory skills – now looks slightly fascist, as though he were half attempting a Heil Hitler salute. It’s only a coincidence but it’s an unfortunate one all the same.

Jim Larkin however, erected some 68 years after Parnell in 1979, by Oisin Kelly, is a life-size bronze stationed on a 4.5 metre granite plinth. The statue, which is modelled on a photo of Larkin addressing a crowd on O’Connell Street in 1923, captures a variety of emotions: his wide-set stance and high-flung arms electrify him, as though he has reached the end of an invigorating and rabble-rousing speech. But the statue also has a sense of jubilance about it, as though some hundred years after the Dublin Lockouts (a century this August!), Larkin is celebrating a truly historical victory.

Oisin Kelly’s figurative statue was the second and last commemorative statue to be erected on O’Connell Street in the twentieth century, only preceded by Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Charles Stewart Parnell. But unlike Parnell, where each little detail from his pulled jacket buttons to the loosely hanging and creased trouser cuffs are delineated; these intricacies are virtually overlooked in Larkin’s case. Funnily however, the exclusion of these minutiae makes the statue’s impact more effective over all.

There’s a timeless maxim that goes, ‘show not tell’. Jim Larkin lacks any pernickety details, for example it’s difficult to attribute any kind of age to the figure or tease out the kind of shirt he might be wearing or whether his trousers have pockets. Yet the hollowed out apple-size hole for the mouth; the cut-away hollows-for-eyes, and the hands, which morph into jacket sleeves and evolve into a loose garment that flaps outwards and articulates a body in motion at the height of an electrifying speech are more significant and telling than any ruching of fabric or button detail.

Public art is about engaging people in a sense of ‘place’. In secondary school I often found history tedious because without modern resources like YouTube, the subject seemed depersonalised. Oisin Kelly’s Larkin however is provocative and reiterates the power a stationary object can have in unravelling great scenes from the past.

There is a plaque included on Larkin’s plinth, which reads: The great appear great because we are on our knees: Let us rise.” One hundred years later, that quote combined with Larkin’s gaping, howling mouth, still stands to remind workers to free themselves from the tyranny of their employers.