Sunday, 8 December 2013
Saturday, 30 November 2013
The latest issue of Iconic is out now. And it's a really good one.
Firstly, let's look at that cover. What you're looking at is a never-before-seen shot taken by photographer Scott Christopher (whom also took this rather newsworthy image) and I interviewed for the issue.
Another enlightening interview I conducted was with Craig Williams - the director of the forthcoming documentary Michael Jackson: The Last Photo Shoots. He's a fascinating fella with other MJ projects on the go that fans need to know about...
And to complete a triumvirate of world exclusive interviews is a talk with Jonathan Morrish who (as fans will know) worked for CBS/Sony as Michael's PR from 1976 until 2001. He rarely speaks about Michael so this is an interview not to be missed.
Elsewhere in this business-themed edition is a definitive guide to the ATV Catalog, an article on a lost Michael Jackson perfume and an intriguing investigation into MJ's HIStory album track 'Money'.
Do not delay, get your issue here.
Sunday, 17 November 2013
Thursday, 14 November 2013
Wednesday, 13 November 2013
Like the rest of the world, I too have an opinion on Lady Gaga and her latest album/app/manifesto – ARTPOP. And the fact that everyone has their two cents at the ready to greet Gaga’s latest release is, of course, a testament to the Lady’s uncanny ability to generate intrigue and irritability in equal measure.
ARTPOP is the album that could have never been. Had a hip injury, subsequent surgery and a rest period of six months not derailed her Born This Way Ball world tour, Lady Gaga would have only wrapped up the globe-spanning jaunt in March 2013 – with precious little time to produce the 15-track, Jeff Koons sculpture-fronted ARTPOP.
Born This Way was a mess, something that was seemingly confirmed by the album’s utterly unappealing motorbike metamorphosis artwork. It was the kind of mess that isn’t made up purely of garbage, but more like the type of heap one accumulates when desperately trying to have a spring clean: should I keep this? Should I not? Oh, I may need that at some point for some reason in the future. A mish-mash of essentials and disposables. There was good amongst the bad, and treasure amongst the trash (the Clarence Clemons-featuring ‘The Edge Of Glory’ and roaring ‘Marry The Night’ were both distinct highlights).
The chief downfall of Gaga’s Born This Way was the multifarious vision behind it. In her self-appointed role as liberator of the underdog, Lady Gaga took it upon herself to write anthems for the freaks, the geeks, the gays and Mexican immigrants (see ‘Americano’) in the hope of liberating pretty much everyone everywhere who has ever experienced oppression in any form. It was a noble quest but too far-reaching and a little hard to swallow from a woman who had previously admitted to wanting nothing more than to be famous, and so accordingly named her previous releases The Fame and The Fame Monster.
With ARTPOP, Gaga has responded wisely by producing a rave-pop record that acknowledges that she is indeed a massive pop star, first and foremost. Unlike Born This Way there is barely any genre experimentation and her penchant for Euro dance ruthlessly dominates which, in turn, makes one half of ARTPOP an entirely worthwhile unified vision of glossy brilliance and the other a rather monotonous affair.
So, the bad news first… Lady Gaga, we get it; you like fashion, sex and weed, but unless you are going to do something new with such boring topics, please don’t bother at all. Having recently stated that outlandish attire allows her to deal with her “insanity”, one would hope for anything more illuminating on the subject of the sartorial sphere than what Gaga gives us here in the form of ‘Donatella’ and ‘Fashion!’ (the latter not to be confused with the similarly vacuous ‘Fashion’ of 2007). Equally yawnsome is ‘Sexxx Dreams’ which, not-so-scandalously, touches upon the subject of sex! And – cover your ears, Ethel – female masturbation! ‘G.U.Y.’ (an acronym for “Girl Under You”) has some beginner’s attempts at gender politics but the beats outshine the lyrics with ease. And no matter how tearfully Gaga sings “I need you more than dope” (on ‘Dope’), it’s still the lowest compliment I can imagine anyone dishing out or receiving.
And onto the good news… The same enticingly bonkers sensibility that produced ‘Paparazzi’ and ‘Bad Romance’ is still alive and well in the form of the self-produced galactic throb of ‘Venus’ and wandering EDM of ‘Aura’ – although step lightly when it comes to the misplaced musings on burqas in the latter. However where Gaga does successfully serve up a well-meaning message is ‘Do What U Want’: “You can’t have my heart and / You won’t use my mind but / Do what you want with my body”. If only someone had communicated the actual, liberating moral of the song to Gaga’s collaborator, R.Kelly; whose body, his body is telling him "yes", and remains fixated on the corporeal with a phoned-in-from-the private-jet couple of verses. It’s a shame too that Gaga chose to illustrate this metallic R&B jam with cover art that depicts a barely dressed, airbrushed arse-only shot (the deformed gruesome guise she tries on for ‘Dope’’s promotional picture is far actually intriguing and challenging).
“Do you wanna see the girl who lives behind the aura?” Gaga asks on ARTPOP’s opening number. Honestly, no. The idea and artifice of Lady Gaga is wildly more captivating than the Stefani Germanotta that lies behind and, thankfully, Gaga knows this too. On ARTPOP Gaga graciously accepts her pop queen crown and puts down her homemade freedom-fighter megaphone. Gaga plays the fame game well and to stay ahead of Miley, Rihanna, Katy et al – all of which blindly followed her, sometimes literally, naked ambition – she must continue to distort and disfigure pop music and it’s accepted conventions, as she does just intermittently on ARTPOP.
Written for Rock's Backpages
Friday, 18 October 2013
Taken from IDOL Magazine Issue #6
Photography by Eli Schmidt
I meet Cody Critcheloe at a London hotel, on his day off between European tour dates. He s curled up in a lounge chair dressed in a neon yellow twin set. I can't help but notice he bears a notable resemblance to a young Alice Cooper, but he's so meek and unassuming. It's initially difficult to reconcile him with the outlandish, dissident art collective he's been leading since 1996.
Cody Critcheloe is the head of Ssion (pronounced "shun" - we'll get to the name later). Ssion is a communal art group that produces music, visuals and films of the seemingly contradictory punk pop kind. The energy is raw and DIY. The delivery is accessibly glossy. With revolving cast members, 30-year-old Cody is the one continual presence. "It's a spearheaded collaboration," Cody explains.
However, when asked to define himself and what he does, it's not so easy to pinpoint: "I'm a musician, an artist, a director - all of the above. I guess it depends on what I'm doing at the time." To get a clearer idea of who Cody Critcheloe is, refer to the subversive spirits he lists as his idols: Kathleen Hanna, Courtney Love, Little Richard, Prince, Dead Kennedys. "Anyone who comes along and is fucking shit up and causing some trouble," he says.
While it cannot be denied that Cody has an eye and talent for visuals (he's directed videos for CSS, Santigold and Peaches as well as his own fanciful shorts), Critcheloe admits that music is the beating heart of Ssion. "The music is the vehicle for all of the visual stuff and gives life to Ssion. I love directing, drawing and making videos but those things wouldn't exist or exist in the same way without the music." Ssion's music has evolved over the years. For those who got wise to Ssion via the 2011 LP Bent, Cody's punk background may come as a surprise. Compare and contrast the technicolor alt-disco fest of Ssion's 2010 track and video 'Clown' with 2006's 'World's Worth', which features rough garage guitars, Cody snarling the chorus "you only wanna come" whilst dressed like a cow, thrashing around against a background of barely censored porn snippets.
As many mutations as Ssion's music may undergo, one thing will remain unchanged: the baffling but brave band name. "Ssion is such a good name," Cody says, smiling. "I love the way it looks. The name has been the one thing that's constant. And considering how much my opinion changes on things! But I will always love that name." He admits to some "ridiculous" band monikers in his high school days, such as a punk trio called The Khaos Kittens, but Ssion is the perfect stylishly perplexing name for the artistic statements that Critcheloe makes.
Ssion made their musical debut back in 1999 with a self-released cassette called Fucked Into Oblivion. The aforementioned Bent album earned Ssion some long overdue attention. It must have felt like a significant step forward, right?
"I didn't see it as a breakthrough," says Cody, "because everything's so slow. It's more about being successful over time. I don't see it as necessarily a bad thing. I mean, you don't want to peak when you're 23." Bent is an underground gem of a pop record and the most accessible of Ssion's back catalogue, which was Cody's unashamed goal: "I wanted to make the most pop record I could." The title too was a perfect fit: "I was like, 'Oh, it sounds like a Pet Shop Boys album.' I liked the negative connotations of it too. It's a good pop title - it's easy and direct."
Bent was another self-release for Ssion. As Cody frankly states, "There was no one who was interested in putting it out. There was no label. It was a very do-it-yourself operation." So with a lack of traditional outlets, the decision was made to give the album away for free online: "It reached a lot of people. There was an insane amount of downloads within the first week." This release method for Bent was a DIY move that recalled the ethics of Cody's punk background. Speaking of which...
Where did Ssion's visionary frontman come from anyway? Was he hatched from a disco ball incubated by Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol?
"I'm from Kentucky originally," Cody relays. It was a secluded, small-town upbringing. It was the isolation of his hometown that allowed Critcheloe to discover and nurture his creativity. "It just pushed me further in that you have to make do with what you have. It was really good because you don't get jaded by things so you stay excited and remain idealistic." Cody made a move to Kansas City, and that's where Ssion was first formed. "It's a cool city. It's really small but has a lot of very proactive art communities."
Although Cody lives in New York, KC will always have the edge over NYC for him: "I still do a lot of my work back in Kansas City because it's a lot cheaper, and I just love the way it looks. It's a way weirder environment and is so much cooler than New York." Ssion is sometimes referred to as a New York outfit, yet Cody says his work isn't about New York. "I do not come from New York, and we're not a New York band."
But the city did provide a significant performance platform. Ssion played a three-night stint at the Museum of Modern Art PS1. Cody had the opportunity to stage the kind of pop-punk spectacle he had only fantasised about.
"It was the first time I've ever had that type of budget to do the kind of show I've always wanted to do. We spent two months putting the show together in Kansas. It was really awesome and well received. I would love to travel a show like that. That is my dream." Ssion's headline European tour, 10th to 30th June 2012, couldn't be more removed from their large-scale installation and performance piece at PS1: "The show we're touring now feels rooted in punk rock. It's been one of the best tours we've ever been on."
In fact, touring is a part of the job Cody really loves. Talking about life on the road, he declares, "I love it. I'm actually more apprehensive about when we get off the tour! Even when touring sucks and it's a nightmare, I would still rather being doing it."
After the tour, Cody isn't planning on taking a break. "We will definitely be doing another record but right now it's all about figuring out what direction I want to push that in."
In terms of film projects Cody has big plans: "I would like to do something more along the lines of a short film. I like the idea of it having specifically a soundtrack, as it means I could move away from writing pop songs in the traditional way and have a bit more freedom to experiment - and have more fun with the format."
As I sit listening to Cody running through all these ideas, he continues to develop them during our conversation. "I don't necessarily want to make a musical-type movie," he continues, "I would prefer it to be more about acting and to have dialogue. I just don't want it to be like a bunch of show tunes!" Anything else? "There's some photography and art-related projects I'm interested in." As we're wrapping up, I remember that this was supposed to be his day off. "I have down time - but I don't do very well with it."
Friday, 11 October 2013
Calling all Klaus Nomi fans.
I know you're out there.
Please pick up the latest issue of Classic Pop magazine as dear Klaus is the subject of a "Pop Art" feature written by yours truly.