Monday, 15 July 2013

Pet Shop Boys - Electric - Review

Ten months after their previous album, Elysium, (which I reviewed here) the mighty Pet Shop Boys give us another one word album beginning with the letter E (at this point they should make an E Trilogy, really). And this one is a slightly different beast. Elysium a bit on the contemplative side but Electric, released with a new company Kobalt on their own label x2, is...electric indeed, a pulsating dance-oriented beauty. Produced by Stuart Price (the man behind The Killers' finest pop moment Human), it's every bit as good as you'd expect a collaboration between the dance pop* producer and the dance pop** duo to be.

Electric is somewhat less lyric-oriented than PSB albums tend to be but that doesn't mean Neil Tennant's signature wit and wordsmithery lack completely. It's just somewhat diluted. If you want a higher concentration, revisit Elysium. Lyrics are really not so much the centre of the record but I don't consider that a negative, I merely observe.

Wish for a track by track commentary? Well, what do you's one:

Axis - Turn it up! Kay, whatever you say, sir! This is the song that introduced the album to us back in May. When I first heard it I was a bit confused...I waited for it to go somewhere but it never did. But going somewhere is not the point of the song, is it. Hardly any lyrics, just "electric energy". And after repeated listens it works. And just like most of the rest of the album it manages to sound simultaneously retro and futuristic.

Bolshy - I found this song a bit annoying at the very first listen. But most of it has grown on me since, at first thanks to the lyrics, suggesting the singer of the song is in fact a bit obsessed with a Russian person. You don't get many songs about that. You can also use this song as a starting point for learning the Russian language, since several lines sung by Neil get briskly translated by a Russian female voice. A special note: Bolshy features the sexiest sounding "oh!" I've heard in quite a while.

Love Is A Bourgeois Construct - The title almost sounds like a parody of a Pet Shop Boys song title. But it is probably the poppiest song on the album (!). The hero of the song is not a fan of love (until his "you" comes back to him). Also fanfares and male choirs. Pure pop.

Fluorescent - One sexy beast. It's reminiscent of the Scissor Sisters' Sex and Violence which, as the rest of the Night Work album, was also produced by Mr. Price. Hands down the hottest song on Electric. And it features the word "incandescent", which is kind of brilliant.

Inside A Dream - A pretty track. Very sound landscape-y. Which to me translates as a bit boring. It conjures up images of pretty people on a pretty beach on a pretty island by a pretty sea. And that's not so much a life I covet.

The Last to Die - A cover version of a five year-old Bruce Springsteen song I don't really know. Getting the "I know this is not the best or most inventive song I've ever heard but I'm a bit obsessed with it at the moment" feeling. (Well as much as you can get obsessed by a song about blood being spilled for a mistake.)

Shouting in the Evening - The weakest track on the album for me (it does have some good bits though). Very rave, reminds me of the kind of early 90's dance music that I pretty much hate. But I guess it was fun to make? If it was, good for the Boys.

Thursday - while the rest of the album sounds very dance 90's, Thursday is the song that would quite easily fit into Please. The bass, the house piano, Neil's lyrics containing "let's do it right" and "stay with me for the weekend". But it also features something new for the Pet Shop Boys - a guest rap section by a still somewhat young man called Example. Also on this track: Chris Lowe's showing us that he does, in fact, know the names of the last four days of the week, and that is pretty much the cherry on top. Thursday might be my favourite on the album at this point.

Vocal - well this song is about dancing to music in a club (or other places densely populated by dancing people). The current single from the album got a pretty spot on video that many fans disliked because of its simplicity (it showed people dancing). Interestingly, the song's "vibe" reminds me a bit of Robbie Williams's Summertime, only Vocal is about 50% less depressing, with 89% less lyrics. But it's equally great and melancholy.

I like the people, I like the song
This is my kind of music
They play it all night long
I like the singer, he’s lonely and strange
Every track has a vocal, and that makes a change

Electric is a perfect album for these summer days and summer nights. It's very alive, which makes it a perfect dance (if still slightly melancholy) counterpart to the end of things-themed Elysium. Get it, listen to it, dance to it. Camp at a music festival. Stop hating people. Get a dog. And/or a lover. Proper speakers.

A grill!

*I realise Stuart has produced non-dancy stuff. See pretty much everything he's ever done with the Killers, except Human, that is.
**I'm not good with labels in music, so I call everything pop-ish you can dance to "dance pop". Sorry.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

The Lone Ranger - Review

I saw The Lone Ranger two days ago and let me tell you something straight up: it is NOT a bad film.

Now that we got this out of the way and you already know this won't be an angry rant, let us proceed with the actual review/my impression of the film.

The positives: 

Depp's make-up, crow headpiece and outfit are a work of art. I don't care what anyone else says, it's beautiful. Full stop.

Johnny Depp gets his quirk on again but never takes it too far. You can see hints of Captain Jack a few times but other than that his take on Tonto is its own thing. It's ruthless, it's tender, it's funny and it's dignified in its madness. There is tragedy behind the quirks. I've never seen the original TV show so I have no idea how different the characterisations of Tonto & John in this film are from the show but this Tonto is a lone wolf. He doesn't "represent" Native Americans. He just happens to be one. One who wants to right a wrong he did eons ago. And I think Johnny Depp portrayed all this well.

Armie Hammer as the title character of the Lone Ranger (aka former lawyer John Reid) towers over the whole film. Dude is tall. He's also very handsome. And he can act. And most importantly he can do comedy really well. This man was the biggest positive surprise of the film for me.

Tom Wilkinson solid as usual, ditto Helena Bonham Carter (I kinda want that leg). William Fichtner gave a good, charismatic performance.

The main story of the film was never confusing, made sense all the way through and received a satisfying ending. If there's one positive in this whole "biggest flop in Depp's career" talk going around now, it's that it doesn't look likely this story will get weaker and more convoluted sequels. So yay.

Another of the positives of the film: it looked good. Apparently it features a hell of a CGI but honestly I wouldn't have been able to tell, it all blended well together and it was a joy to watch it on a big cinema screen.

Some people got confused by this but I personally love that the film is a blend of comedy and a serious take on something the US audiences know from old TV. Maybe it helps I really had little idea about the original and also the fact I do love a slight clashing of humour, drama and adventure, I didn't find it jarring.

The flipping action scene near the end of the film was AMAZING. Thumbs up to Gore Verbinski for pulling this thing off. The actors, the CGI, the choreography, the humour. I tend to find lengthier action sequences boring but this beauty kept me glued every second. Brilliant.

And I do think Hans Zimmer's score deserves a shout out as well. There were a few times during watching the film I thought - ooh, I like this theme, I have to get the soundtrack! I'm going to have to listen to the whole score on its own so I can compare where it stands with the rest of Hans's work but I did like a lot of what I heard in the cinema.

The negatives:

It's just fucking long. If you cut the framing scenes set in the 30's and John's sister in law/love interest & kid you wouldn't really lose much and the film would be tighter, shorter and probably overall better (in the 85% - 100% territory for me).

As the film is, it is definitely not flawless, though with some re-writing it could have nearly been. So the biggest fault I do not see with the main stars or with the direction but first and foremost in the script. But as you can see the positives still outweigh the negatives (however non-substantial those negatives are). The film is still well beyond average for me. And I'd urge everyone who likes good entertainment to give this film a chance. I can't grant you'll love it but you should not give up on it without giving it a try.