Thursday, September 26, 2013

Yuppie Rock

And now we come ... to Yuppie Rock.

In a way, this series might be a bit redundant. One could argue that most '80s music is Yuppie Rock. In fact, one could argue that Yuppie Rock is merely an extension of Yacht Rock; the two genres may, in a sense, be indistinguishable. But for my purposes, I would suggest the difference in this fashion: while the term "Yacht Rock" conjures up images of mellow suburbia in general, and Southern California in particular, "Yuppie Rock" conjures up images of fast-paced urban living in general, and New York City in particular. If Yacht Rock is "smooth," Yuppie Rock is "sharp." Yuppie Rock is a little more "tightly wound." Yacht Rock was still suffering from a bit of a '70s hangover. Yuppie Rock crushed all those pet rocks into fine Colombian powder and shoved it directly up Jimmy Carter's ass.

Just what is a yuppie, anyway? defines "yuppie" as "a young, ambitious, and well-educated city-dweller who has a professional career and an affluent lifestyle." Can't argue with that. I was always under the impression that "yuppie" stood for "young urban professional," but according to Wikipedia, pinning down the actual origin of the term is a thornier matter:
Joseph Epstein was credited for coining the term in 1982, although this is contested and it is claimed that the first printed appearance of the word was in a May 1980 Chicago magazine article by Dan Rottenberg. The term gained currency in the United States in 1983 when syndicated newspaper columnist Bob Greene published a story about a business networking group founded in 1982 by the former radical leader Jerry Rubin, formerly of the Youth International Party (whose members were called yippies); Greene said he had heard people at the networking group (which met at Studio 54 to soft classical music) joke that Rubin had "gone from being a yippie to being a yuppie". The headline of Greene's story was From Yippie to YuppieEast Bay Express humorist Alice Kahn claimed to have coined the word in a 1983 column ... The proliferation of the word was affected by the publication of The Yuppie Handbook in January 1983 (a tongue-in-cheek take on The Official Preppy Handbook), followed by Senator Gary Hart's 1984 candidacy as a "yuppie candidate" for President of the United States. The term was then used to describe a political demographic group of socially liberal but fiscally conservative voters favoring his candidacy. Newsweek magazine declared 1984 "The Year of the Yuppie", characterizing the salary range, occupations, and politics of yuppies as "demographically hazy".
So, like "Generation X," "Yuppie" is is essentially an amorphous journalistic invention that can be pulled out of a hat for cheap rhetorical effect when the situation calls for it. Well, if "yuppie" can be exploited as a nebulous term of cultural shorthand, wait 'til you see what I do with "Yuppie Rock."

Yuppie Rock is sort of like pornography: I know it when I see it. And yet, there seems to be a unifying contradiction at the heart of the genre. Although its target audience may have been conservative, most Yuppie Rock musicians themselves were quite liberal. For every nine generically romantic love songs, there was always one Political song with a capital P. So, if you're amused by the spectacle of white people holding their guilt in one hand and a latte in the other, then roll up your sleeves, folks, because we are going to have a good time.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Captain Sensible's "Happy Talk": Punk Goes Rodgers & Hammerstein?

Well, if you thought the Jam's journey from "Down In The Tube Station At Midnight" to "Beat Surrender" was strange, clearly no one ever told you about Captain Sensible and "Happy Talk."

Captain Sensible was the original bassist for the Damned. If the Clash were revolutionaries, the Sex Pistols were anarchists, and the Jam were mods, then the Damned were the band that didn't give a shit about any of that crap and just wanted to have a good time. The Damned's main claim to fame is that they were the British punk band of "firsts": first to release a single, first to release an album, and the first to tour America. While being "first" didn't necessarily make them the "best," I have to say they were pretty great, all things considered - and by "all things" I mean "not being able to play their instruments in the least." In his AMG bio, Ned Raggett refers to them as "the band initially judged 'least likely to'"; ironically, their career lasted decades, as they gradually learned a chord or two and even branched out into goth rock. Personally, I'd rather listen to Damned Damned Damned than Nevermind The Bollocks any day.

The funniest part about the Damned is that their drummer went by the name of Rat Scabies and their bassist went by the name of Captain Sensible. Here are their priceless "bios" from the original Damned Damned Damned liner notes:
CAPTAIN SENSIBLE: Age 25. Instrument: guitar. Hobbies: cricket, psychedelic music, jazz. Philosophy: "I'd rather be poor and keep playing 'til I'm 60, 'cos I actually enjoy all this rubbish."

RAT SCABIES: Age 23. Instrument: drums. Hobbies: breaking things. Ambition: "Plenty of booze, plenty of women, all the drugs I can take and somewhere to live while I'm doing it."
Which brings me to "Happy Talk." "Happy Talk" is a cute little number sung by the Tonkinese character Bloody Mary at the beginning of Act II in Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific. It is, quite possibly, the last song anyone would ever associate with punk rock.

Somehow, in 1982, Captain Sensible went solo, and when he did, his debut single was a tacky synth-pop cover of "Happy Talk."

So ... was it a joke? Was he serious? The Damned, after all, were the ultimate punk pranksters. And what could be a bigger prank than covering a show tune? Ultimately, the world may never know. But I'm assuming it was a joke. The thing about joke singles, however, is that they're supposed to stay a joke.

Only, Britain didn't get the joke, because the song went to #1. Wait a second. Isn't the Queen supposed to step in and prevent this sort of situation from occurring in the first place? Or is that now a parliamentary power? I'm not up to speed on those sorts of procedures.

Perhaps the funniest part of the whole thing is that Captain Sensible wasn't even the Damned's lead singer. So here's a riddle for you: is a joke song funnier if it goes to #1? Does that make it less of a joke, or more of a joke?

You decide.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Children Of A Lesser Mod: Favorite '80s Jam Songs Not To Top The Charts

As is the case with many bands, one could argue that the Jam's best songs weren't necessarily their biggest hits (although some of their #1's, like "Going Underground" and "Town Called Malice," were probably in the running). Allow me to discuss three such instances.

"That's Entertainment" is a song that, as Rolling Stone's Rob Sheffield put it, "can break your heart even if you have no idea what Weller's saying." And I certainly have no idea what Weller is saying. He reportedly wrote it in fifteen minutes after returning from a pub. It is almost literally a modern-day folk song. Wikipedia writes, "The minimalist, slice-of-life lyrics only list various conditions of British working class life ... culminating in the laconic, ironic chorus of 'That's entertainment, That's entertainment!' " So, is it an ode to the common man, or a condemnation? Rather than try to figure that out, I prefer to simply let all the images wash over me as I drown in a grey English phantasmagoria.

Curiously, the Jam's most well-known song was never even released as a single in the UK; demand was so high that it ended up charting at #21 as an import single regardless. However, like many Americans I imagine, the first version of the song I heard was actually the demo version released on the Snap! compilation, not the original studio release, and, historical rock purity be damned, that's still the version I prefer.
A police car and a screaming siren
A pnuematic drill and ripped up concrete
A baby wailing, stray dog howling
The screech of brakes and lamp light blinking
That's entertainment

A smash of glass and the rumble of boots
An electric train and a ripped up phone booth
Paint splattered walls and the cry of a tomcat
Lights going out and a kick in the balls
That's entertainment

Days of speed and slow time Mondays
Pissing down with rain on a boring Wednesday
Watching the news and not eating your tea
A freezing cold flat and dirt on the walls
That's entertainment

Waking up at 6 a.m. on a cool warm morning
Opening the windows and breathing in petrol
An amateur band rehearsing in a nearby yard
Watching the telly and thinking about your holidays
That's entertainment

Waking up from bad dreams and smoking cigarettes
Cuddling a warm girl and smelling stale perfume
A hot summers' day and sticky black tarmac
Feeding ducks in the park and wishing you were faraway
That's entertainment

Two lovers kissing amongst the scream of midnight
Two lovers missing the tranquility of solitude
Getting a cab and travelling on buses
Reading the grafitti about slashed seat affairs
That's entertainment

"The Man in the Corner Shop" is one of Weller's Kinks homages that, if you ask me, actually sounds as graceful and lilting as a genuine Kinks song, with the best "la la la" since "Death of a Clown." Although it seems to be about class envy, whenever I hear this one, I just imagine Mr. Micawber and Uriah Heep accosting me in a London alleyway.
Puts up the "closed" sign does the man in the corner shop
Serves his last then he says goodbye to him
He knows it is a hard life
But it's nice to be your own boss really

Walks off home does the last customer
He is jealous of the man in the corner shop
He is sick of working at the factory
Says it must be nice to be your own boss really

Sells cigars to the boss from the factory
He is jealous is the man in the corner shop
He is sick of struggling so hard
Says it must be nice to own a factory

Go to church do the people from the area
All shapes and classes sit and pray together
For here they are all one
For God created all men equal

While "Beat Surrender" was the official Jam "farewell" single, I've always felt that their second-to-last hit, "The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had To Swallow)," which only peaked at #2, has the feel of a true, proper farewell single. Imagine if the Beatles had released "Get Back" after "Let It Be." Precisely.

But beyond the question of mood, "The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had To Swallow)" strikes me as a more powerful artistic achievement and a better representation of just how far, stylistically and emotionally, the Jam had come. Paul Weller had been trying desperately to create a "real" soul song, but with "The Bitterest Pill," by jove, I think he'd finally done it. The lyrics describe a predicament of torment and anguish: the classic "my girl is marrying another" scenario. But how!
In your white lace and your wedding bells
You look the picture of contented new wealth
But from the on-looking fool who believed your lies
I wish this grave would open up and swallow me alive

For the bitterest pill is hard to swallow
The love I gave hangs in sad coloured, mocking shadows

When the wheel of fortune broke, you fell to me
Out of grey skies to change my misery
The vacant spot, your beating heart took its place
Now I watch smoke leave my lips and fill an empty room

For the bitterest pill is hard to swallow
The love I gave hangs in sad coloured, mocking shadows
The bitterest pill is mine to take
If I took if for a hundred years, I couldn't feel anymore ill

Now autumn's breeze blows summer's leaves through my life
Twisted and broken dawn, no days with sunlight
The dying spark, you left your mark on me
The promise of your kiss, but with someone else

It's like he turned Wordsworth or Keats ... into a soul ballad. Forget mod revival, this is Romanticism revival. The imagery (much of which, I have to confess, I've only untangled after posting the lyrics just now) is so incredible, I don't even care that most of the words don't actually rhyme (Place/Room? Take/Ill?). How can love hang in "sad coloured, mocking shadows"? "Twisted and broken dawn"? Even the record sleeve is majestically gothic.

Then - then! - there's the arrangement and the production, in which the band pulls out all the stops. An elegant piano all but announces, "Class of '77 this ain't." The string section soars so eerily high at the end of the verses that it almost sounds like a mellotron or a synthesizer. Weller even brought in a female singer to give it that special Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell touch. "Screw the other guys, I'm making the ultimate soul ballad, damn it." But, as AMG's Stewart Mason writes, "Rick Buckler's typically stiff and less than subtle drumming, which is oddly over-emphasized in the mix, keeps the song from drifting off into the land of adult contemporary." The Modfather? Adult Contemporary? Surely you jest.

I wish I were. For then ... came the Style Council.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Return Of Belinda's Birth Father! (Now That She's, You Know, Rich And Famous) AKA "It's Everything But Partytime"

Hey, so remember Belinda's birth father? You know, the one who abandoned her family when she was about seven years old - just about the age where it would be the most traumatic? Not the alcoholic who beat the shit out of her; that was her stepfather. You've got to keep the crappy father figures straight. Well, in all likelihood, Belinda had probably forgotten about her own birth father too. Until one evening in the summer of 1982, that is. From Lips Unsealed:
...I had received word through our record company's office that a man claiming to be my father wanted to me meet at our show in Baton Rouge. Apparently he had told local press there that he was my father, explaining he had been shown a photo of me as a little girl in the Vacation tour program and it matched a photo he kept in his wallet.
Sure, buddy, and I'm the tooth fairy.
Reluctantly, I agreed to meet him after the show. Then I had to work through the anger I began to feel toward him for handling a matter as private as our reunion in such a public forum. I didn't like the way he made a big stink out of it in the paper. On the bus, as we arrived in Baton Rouge, I kept saying, "It just isn't cool."

I was angry with him for more than talking to the press. I harbored long-standing feelings of resentment and hurt toward him for disappearing without any explanation when I was little, never sending child support to my mom or making contact on birthdays and holidays to see if I was alive. I also chafed at the nerve he had coming back into my life now that I was famous.

How could I trust any of his motives?
"Hi Belinda, so nice to see you! Oh, you're a big rock star now? What a surprise! Say, let's get together and catch up! Maybe you can buy me dinner?"
I ran through various scenarios of what seeing him would be like. Each one gave me the creeps. I wished I hadn't said yes.

My stomach was in a knot through the show, especially toward the end when I began to think about confronting my father. He had brought his new family, a wife and two daughters. Afterward, as they were ushered backstage, I locked myself in our dressing room and snorted coke till I rendered myself emotionally numb and stupid enough to face him, not that I was any good at expressing my emotions anyway.
There you go. That's how you prepare yourself for an awkward family reconciliation, folks.
At our reunion, I was friendly to everyone, probably too friendly and trying too hard in order to compensate for being loaded. My father took me aside and tried to deliver what he must have thought was a heartfelt explanation of why he left - basically his side of the story. As soon as he began to blame my mother, I tuned him out. I pled exhaustion and ended the evening.
Some people just know how to get on your good side.
However, they wanted to see me again before we left and so all of us met the next morning for breakfast and hung out for a spell afterward. This time, I was hungover instead of high, but still pleasant. As we parted, my father's daughters, the ones with whom he replaced me, said they loved me.

"I love you!" they called.

Waving good-bye as they got in their car and drove away, I thought, How can these people love me? They don't even know me.
Good question, Belinda. Very good question.

In the film version of Belinda's life, the song that needs to be playing on the soundtrack during this particular scene would have to be "It's Everything But Partytime." A rare Jane/Gina collaboration, the sixth track on Vacation exudes an eerie, hallucinatory atmosphere that the Go-Go's never quite replicated anywhere else in their catalog. Humming away in the background is either a very odd synthesizer or some heavily processed backing vocals, but I can't tell which - and that's cool! You can practically hear the drugged-out exhaustion seeping through the speakers. "It's Everything But Partytime" is like if the Go-Go's tried to make a Pink Floyd song. On the lyrical side, Jane apparently laid down a challenge for herself: to see if she could write a song where every word ended in "ing":
This is the place for celebrating
This is the crowd that's fascinating
This is the time for concentrating
To hear some words worth translating

He's rapping 'bout his meditating
She's dying for some medicating
And though I shouldn't be complaining
What's lacking here is entertaining

We're all looking for a good time
But what we get is empty rhyme
When everything's right but nothing is fine
It's everything but partytime

Talk about decorating
A room that needs sophisticating
When conversations become straining
No one's good at interest feigning

According to Belinda's typically erudite pre-song comments in a November 1982 Berlin concert clip, "it's a song about parties - not good parties, bad ones." But that last couplet right there ("When conversations become straining/No one's good at interest feigning") could pretty much serve as the final word on Belinda's little inadequate family get-together. Hell, the phrase "When everything's right but nothing is fine" could probably be her career manifesto. I mean, here's your birth father, finally willing to be a part of your life after all these years, you're band's on top of the world, and yet, underneath that smiling, water-skiing exterior of yours ... well, it's everything but partytime.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Mods And Ends: The Jam And Their Four UK #1 Hits

Raise your hand if you know what a "mod" is. Put your hand down Jimmy, you're just trying to pull my leg. Right, that's what I thought. See, in order to explain what the "mod revival" was, first I would have to explain who the "mods" were - a task that is probably beyond my capabilities. Something about scooters, quaaludes, soul music, and Keith Moon. It doesn't really matter, just as long as you know the important part, which is that the music was good.

Well, the music was good the first time around, and it was almost as good the second time around. Which brings me to the Jam.

"The who?" you say. No, actually the Who were one of the original mod groups, not one of the mod revival groups. I'll be here all week. But seriously, mention the Jam to most Americans and they're likely to give you a blank stare in return. I think it's fair to say that few British groups have ever experienced such a discrepancy between their UK success and their US success as the Jam. Normally I'd use this factoid as an opportunity to bash the taste of my stateside peers, but honestly, with the Jam, I kind of see what the deal was.

The Jam may deserve the title of "Most British Band Ever." They were more British than Mary Poppins, Harry Potter, and Paddington Bear combined. Let's face it: no one can understand what the hell Paul Weller is saying. Not even Paul Weller can understand what Paul Weller is saying. And when you do understand it, the lyrics are stuffed with slang and jargon and they make no sense. Also, I know the Jam were trying to revive the classic British pop of the mid-60s, but compared to the Beatles, the Who, and the Kinks, a lot of Jam songs aren't really that ... catchy. I mean, they're catchy, but they're not catchy. "Stayin' Alive" - now that's catchy. For a band that supposedly excelled at the three minute pop single, a lot of their songs kind of sound to me like drunken, two-chord football chants. I actually like the Britpop bands the Jam inspired more than the Jam themselves. And I know people have accused Oasis of ripping off pre-existing songs, but the Jam sure did a lot of that sort of thing themselves. That said, there are about six or seven Jam songs that I really like, and when I like a Jam song, I definitely like it.

The Jam were one of the core members of the "Class of '77," which included the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Buzzcocks, The Damned, Wire, Generation X, and ... am I forgetting anybody? Funny how, out of all those groups, the Jam went on to achieve the kind of chart success usually reserved for Bucks Fizz and Shakin' Stevens. For whatever reason, Paul Weller (otherwise known as the Modfather) just seemed to have his palm lovingly placed on the crotch of the British public. Which is interesting, considering he spent half of his time insulting it, but they're gluttons for self-loathing.

The Jam were like the Police, if the Police had never made it through Customs at Heathrow. They both were trios with one main singer-songwriter who completely overshadowed the other two members, they both started out in the punk scene in the late '70s but ended up branching out into more eclectic territory, they both became superstars in the early '80s but broke up at the height of their popularity. The difference? The Police wanted to sound like they were from someplace cool like Jamaica, and the Jam wanted to sound like they were from some shitty town in industrial England somewhere.

Like the Police, at first the Jam pretended to be punks just so that they could "make it," and then they gradually admitted that they were actually mods. By 1978, Weller's songwriting started including phrases such as "a pint of Wall's ice cream" and "toffee wrappers and this morning's papers." Add in the exploration of more carefully crafted production techniques, as well as the band no longer hiding their instrumental prowess, and you've got the default spokesmen for a generation of British youth, or something to that effect. Highlights from this late '70s period are many, but in a pinch I'd go with the haunting anti-racism mini-epic "Down in the Tube Station at Midnight," the forlorn "Strange Town," and its surreal, folky B-side, the "The Butterfly Collector."

By the time 1980 rolled around, the Jam were on fire, but if you'd think they managed to top the charts by somehow compromising their sound or their lyrical stance, well, you would sorely be mistaken. "Going Underground," their first #1 hit, boasted some of Weller's most bitter, vitriolic, and politically caustic lyrics yet. Essentially, this song is his very artful and poetic response to Thatcher's political ascension; in other words, "Don't blame me, I voted for the other guy". Kerry voters, this one's for you.
Some people might say my life is in a rut
But I'm quite happy with what I got
People might say that I should strive for more
But I'm so happy I can't see the point

Something's happening here today
A show of strength with your boy's brigade
and I'm so happy and you're so kind
You want more money, of course I don't mind
To buy nuclear textbooks for atomic crimes
And the public gets what the public wants
But I want nothing this society's got

I'm going underground (going underground)
Well let the brass bands play and feet start to pound
Going underground (going underground)
Well let the boys all sing and the boys all shout for tomorrow

Some people might get some pleasure out of hate
Me, I've enough already on my plate
People might need some tension to relax
Me, I'm too busy dodging between the flak

What you see is what you get
You've made your bed, you better lie in it
You choose your leaders and place your trust
As their lies wash you down and their promises rust
You'll see kidney machines replaced by rockets and guns
And the public wants what the public gets
But I don't get what this society wants
I'm going underground

We talk and talk until my head explodes
I turn on the news and my body froze
These braying sheep on my TV screen
Make this boy shout, make this boy scream!

Q: Can you top the charts by railing about how much you loathe society and wish everyone in it would just get lost? A: If you're the Jam, you can. Also: I like Bruce Foxton's little "bass rumble" homage to the end of "And Your Bird Can Sing."

Speaking of Revolver, the first thing anyone ever says about "Start!" is that Weller nicked the bass line straight from "Taxman." This is true, but he also nicked the choppy guitar part, and the guitar solo, which people don't point out as often. Basically "Start!" is sort of an early form of sampling. It's not a cover version; it's a new song which is heavily indebted to a pre-existing song. That's fine with me, but the thing is, if you're going to rip off an old song, your new song better be just as good, or even better, than the old song. All "Start!" makes me want to do is go listen to "Taxman." I mean, if you're going to sample "Pastime Paradise," you better come up with "Gangsta's Paradise," you know what I'm saying? The lyrics, however, concerning the intimate struggle for interpersonal communication, are worlds away from the lyrics of "Taxman" and might actually be the most interesting feature of the song:
It's not important for you to know my name
Nor I to know yours
If we communicate for two minutes only
It will be enough
For knowing that someone in this world
Feels as desperate as me
And what you give is what you get

It doesn't matter if we never meet again
What we have said will always remain
If we get through for two minutes only
It will be a start!
For knowing that someone in this life
Loves with a passion called hate
And what you give is what you get

The Jam already possessed a '60s American R&B influence "once removed," given that the original mod groups of the '60s were obsessed with '60s American R&B, and the Jam were obsessed with the original mod groups. But by 1981, Weller was cutting out the middle man and trying to go straight to the source. However, as Elvis Costello or the English Beat also demonstrated, enthusiasm for a genre doesn't necessarily endow one with the ability to convincingly perform said genre. Keep in mind that most soul singers don't sound like they have a corned beef sandwich stuck in their mouth. And so the Jam's version of R&B comes off as kind of strange and awkward, but I find it oddly compelling. On "Town Called Malice," Weller stole the bass line from the Supreme's "You Can't Hurry Love" (hey, if you nick the Beatles, you might as well nick Motown while you're at it), and as with "Start!," the original may have been stronger than the song it inspired. On the other hand, the Supremes' lyrics certainly never read like this:
Better stop dreaming of the quiet life
Cos it's the one we'll never know
And quit running for that runaway bus
Cos those rosy days are few
And stop apologizing for the things you've never done
Cos time is short and life is cruel
But it's up to us to change
This town called malice

Rows and rows of disused milk
Stand lying in the dairy yard
And a hundred lonely housewives
Clutch empty milk bottles to their hearts
Hanging out their old love letters on the line to dry
It's enough to make you stop believing when tears come
Fast and furious
In a town called malice

A whole street's belief in Sunday's roast beef
Gets dashed against the Co-op
To either cut down on beer or the kids new gear
It's a big decision in a town called malice

The ghost of a steam train echoes down my track
It's at the moment bound for nowhere
Just going round and round
Playground kids and creaking swings
Lost laughter in the breeze
I could go on for hours and I probably will
But I'd sooner put some joy back
In this town called malice

I know I'm quoting a lot of lyrics, but not only are the Jam's lyrics pretty good ("Stop apologizing for the things you've never done"?! "A hundred lonely housewives clutch empty milk bottles to their hearts"?!), I need to paste them here or otherwise you'd be lost. Trust me. At any rate, despite some of my misgivings, ultimately I think "Town Called Malice" does a splendid job of capturing the spirit of of early '80s England in a way that few songs ever have. Not that I would know, I guess. That just seemed like a fun thing to write.

I do know that, as far as Britain was concerned, the Jam could do no wrong, but by 1982, Weller was getting fed up with the limitations of the Jam, the other two guys were probably getting fed up with Weller, and so the band released "Beat Surrender" as a "farewell" single. It feels to me like Weller's attempt at making a "Land of 1,000 Dances" or an "Uptight (Everything's Alright)," but it came out sounding more like the theme from Laverne & Shirley. At this point, the song could have been three minutes of Weller passing gas and it would have reached #1, but it's not exactly one of my favorite Jam singles.

"What are some of your favorite Jam singles, Little Earl? You know, maybe like, some of the ones that didn't reach #1?" Funny children, I'm glad you asked, and I can't wait to tell you all about it, but you'll have to wait until next time.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Goombay Dance Band and Nicole: Germany Invades Britain ... With Cloying Folk Music!

Where Hitler failed, German '80s musicians succeeded.

While Kraftwerk may have brought the more modern side of German music to the British public, two other artists managed to bring the village hootenanny side of German music into the UK charts. According to Wikipedia, the Goombay Dance Band's music was "a mixture of Caribbean soca or calypso and western pop." Or, to put it another way, "Seven Tears" might be the "Fernando" of the '80s. Although I suppose it doesn't sound particularly "German," listening to this song, for whatever reason, makes me want to put on a pair of lederhosen and build a cuckoo clock.

By contrast, listening to Nicole's "A Little Peace," Germany's first Eurovision Song Contest winner, makes me want to frolic in a fresh, dew-covered meadow with the Von Trapp family. Seriously, where did they find this girl? Nicole is like the perfect vision of everlasting Aryan purity.

But, just as I'm about to blame Germany all over again for the slaughter of millions, the beatific sound of Nicole singing "I feel I'm a leaf in the November snow/I fell to the ground, there was no one below/ So now I am helpless, alone with my song/Just wishing the storm was gone" fills my ears and makes me forgive all. Oh Germany, how can I stay mad at you?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Play it Again, Zrbo: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

You may recall that back in 2009 I wrote a fairly long review of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Recently I played through the game again and after re-reading my review I still have many of the same thoughts. It's still a masterpiece - I would go ahead and call it the most ambitious game ever made - but that doesn't mean it's the best or even most enjoyable game. I'd describe it more as really interesting.

Game director/producer/writer Hideo Kojima is still in desperate need of an editor. I spoke in my review of the outrageously long cinematic cutscenes that the player has the... um.. delight of getting to watch. It's true that part of watching these scenes are what gives the game it's charm, and yes, Kojima at least occasionally gives you something to do during these cinematic sequences (such as being able to view a flashback from a previous MGS game, or being able to take over a video camera), but it doesn't stop them from being occasionally interminable. I realized how quickly I got tired of Drebin, the arms dealer who acts somewhat like the Cheshire Cat (and who looks suspiciously like Wesley Snipes). Each time you defeat one of the game's bosses, Drebin calls up to deliver some overly long monologue on how the boss got the way she was and what she represented. Each story is overly detailed and long winded. They're a total bore and the explanations are frankly, just kind of silly. Here's one if you really feel like watching.

Drebin's back... sigh

Kojima's tendency for overly long and unnecessary explanations was most notable to me during the final movie-length cinematic that follows after you beat the game. For the entire game your character, Solid Snake, has been trying to figure out what the villain's big plan is. It's a completely over-complicated, overwrought mess that I won't go into here. By the end Snake's figured it all out, you watch about a full hour long cinematic that includes all the various characters, with each character given plenty of time to have their piece and say goodbye and then the credits finally appear to roll... Then the game drops a surprise by cutting to yet another cinematic, and brings back a character who at this point should be completely, irrevocably dead, who then proceeds to explain to you yet a whole other very different explanation of the events that just transpired during the game. My mind was so fatigued with explanations by that point that I barely followed anything this character was saying, I just wanted the game to be over. Someone has uploaded the entire shebang to Youtube, which you can watch here (skip to minute 57 to get to the fake credits).

I think part of the problem here lies with the fact that for all intents and purposes, Metal Gear Solid 4 was supposed to be the grand finale to the series, and since Kojima didn't plan on coming back to these characters, he wanted to make sure that each one of them got to say something and that anything that needed to be said was said.

And, inevitably, for whatever reason (money? fame? boredom?) Kojima has now gone ahead and announced Metal Gear Solid 5. Of interest is that instead of keeping long time voice actor David Hayter as the voice of Snake, Kojima has brought on board Keifer Sutherlund as the new voice. Now, Kojima is notorious with playing mind games with his fan base (MGS 2 is basically just one big mind fuck), and I know myself and a few others believe that this is essentially all a long con and that David Hayter will be there in some form or another.

So that's it. Metal Gear Solid 4 is an extraordinary game. The cutting edge graphics have been surpassed by this point, it's funny how they actually look a little dated to me now. The soundtrack is still phenomenal, but I went through that in my original review. I'll leave you with the opening cinematic of the game, with Snake's now infamous monologue (at least among gamers) on how war has changed, set to the beautiful "Love Theme":