Friday, 5 February 2010

I Like... Printed Words / "I would define, in brief, the poetry of words as the rhythmical creation of Beauty"

I write for the music section of Reading University's student paper (Spark*)
Here's a few pieces of mine.

A recent poll, highly scientific I’m sure, has compiled the most confusing aspects of modern life for Britons; Politics, Kerry Katona and daylight savings all rated highly. Yet surprisingly Arctic Monkeys impenetrable Humbug was nowhere to be seen. To many Alex Turner and co. have made a gradual metamorphosis from ‘oh I know exactly what you’re on about lads’ to ‘what the fuck are you guys on?’ during their upgrade from the grimy streets of Sheffield to the way-out Mojave Desert. But put down your riff detector as Cornerstone provides a pillar of familiar solace, as Turner is still wielding his lyrical sword with much might on this deep and dark but exceedingly sweet, second single. A tale of a boy falling for a girl so badly, losing her (for reasons unknown) but being so desperate to rekindle the original spark that he’s looking to replace her with just about anybody, as long as ‘I can call her your name.’ But the twist in the saga being dream-girl’s sister agrees to be called ‘anything you want.’ The subject matter of awkward teenage kitchen-sink drama is long gone and musically it’s more akin to the gentle minimalistic echoes of Only Ones Who Know than the hostile, ominous tones of all else on Humbug. So forget all this, ‘Alex Turner’s sold out – he’s got long hair and dates an it-girl’ nonsense, he’s grown up and so should you. The Arctic Monkeys are done with narrating your regrettable Saturday nights out on the lash as, funnily enough, with age comes problems and complications; just to warn you. In essence, for those with a more refined palette, this is your new Mardy Bum.

It’s Saturday night, I’m in Swindon and so is Morrissey. Yes, as in the Morrissey. But of course the gig was not meant to be; he strides on stage and mutters, “Good evening... Probably,” and jumps into This Charming Man, but once the last note strikes our hero falls to the floor. Dragged offstage and taken to hospital. Gig over. It does beg the question, ‘What the hell was Morrissey doing in Swindon anyway? And booked to play at a leisure centre no less.’ It was criminal for a figure of such beauty to be dumped somewhere so devoid of culture (its okay for me to say that – I live there) and expected to shower splendour.

So now it’s Tuesday night and Morrissey has migrated to the more fitting and palatial setting of London’s Royal Albert Hall. Phew. That feels better. Now tonight’s gig was originally scheduled for March as part of his Years Of Refusal Tour but, due to unspecified illness, was postponed by seven months and cleverly rebranded as part of the promotion for his freshly released B-sides collection, Swords.

Tonight an amalgamation of singular souls seeking salvation turns to their Northern messiah and patiently waits. We are transported to the world of all things Moz by a stream of vintage, hand-picked videos (one suspects by Morrissey himself); My Boy Lollipop by Millie Small, Mighty Joe by Shocking Blue, Looking For A Kiss courtesy of the New York Dolls and one madcap interview with Lou Reed circa 1974. Then we head straight for the twilight zone as he arrives to the ominous, bordering on frightening, soundtrack of the film score from He Was Good In His Time against the back drop of an image of the Italian actor Walter Chiari in an ‘Uncle Sam I Want You’ pose. “Fasten your seatbelts,” Morrissey warns, “it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

Backed by his band of merry men, tonight all clad in matching pristine white shirts and slicked back hair, again we’re treated to This Charming Man, although a toughened up version of the original; it’s good, but if it ain’t broken - don’t fix it. The Smiths hits keep on rolling with a mesmerising rendition of How Soon Is Now? Complete with a crashing gong and Morrissey alike crashing to the ground to mock the previous gig’s events. “Thank you, Swindon,” he quips. He’s on fine form – attacking so-called celebrity chefs for not being vegetarian, cue The World Is Full Of Crashing Bores, making excuses for his recent medical troubles (“The doctor told me I shouldn’t smile. I told him I don’t”) and indulging in rather self-deprecating promotion (“I have a new album out. Another one I’m sure you won’t buy”).

Cemetry Gates sweetly swoons by with a dedication to his old friend Linda Stirling, The Smiths rarities, Nowhere Fast and Is It Really So Strange?, are given an airing but surprisingly album tracks from Years of Refusal are received with the most rapturous reception; particularly the mariachi-infused When I Last Spoke To Carol and pleading Black Cloud. However, it’s the hits that send Morrissey’s introverted disciples into disarray: the angst-ridden Irish Blood, English Heart show the Moz-father at his most aggressive and confrontational, whilst his encore of the gloriously stirring First Of The Gang To Die sees his voice soar like the mellifluous sound of a morning bird. He transforms from roaring tiger to purring kitten instantaneously, with his vocals sounding pitch-perfect throughout.

All night after majestically manoeuvring all over the stage, whipping and wailing between shaking the hands of as many adoring fans as possible, he rips his sky-blue shirt from his fine-for-a-fifty-year-old torso, lassoes it and cascades it into the crowd. With that, the final living pillar of pop leaves, whilst the battle for just a shred of his garment continues long after his departure.

Hard to conceive, but Michael Jackson passed away four months ago; but as a fan it has becoming increasingly difficult to accept this hard reality, what with his face being everywhere; from seeing what could have been on the big screen, the deplorable act of Sky 1 staging a live séance in a poor attempt to contact his spirit (I’m pretty sure the afterlife has more exciting past times on offer) and now seeing his personal possessions up close.

This official exhibition is a treasure trove of wonder for fans; you’re ushered into a dimly lit room to view a snappy montage that perfectly encapsulates Jackson’s lifelong performance prowess and then comes the goods.... Laughable Hard Rock Cafe or Planet Hollywood relics these ain’t. Each room is thematically based, a walk-in-wardrobe of Michael’s achievements if you will.

Visitors glance at the Motown contract signed (but not read) by Joseph Jackson which launched Michael and his brother’s into the ether, consequently are the crystal encrusted Triumph tour stage outfits and gold discs. These are just the beginning; throughout the exhibition there are honours upon plaudits upon awards. Letter’s from Ronald Reagan personally praising Michael, a Guinness World Record for biggest selling album, a gold-plated life-size MTV moon man for being the pioneer of the music video art, acknowledgements of his vast humanitarian efforts. I could go on. It does cause one to question what exactly reality was for Michael Jackson. How could he possibly be expected to retain any semblance of normality or humbleness when the whole world is constantly telling you you’re God’s gift to man?

Next come many of Michael’s trademark lavish stage costumes from the Bad, Dangerous and HIStory tours. Liberal quantities of sequins, extra-large shoulder pads and embellishment were, of course, the mandatory measures for any garment to grace the back of the King of Pop. Also on show are the costumes that would have made their debut during the This Is It shows - all of them being modified versions of his regular attire; a suit coated in Swarovski crystals with bejewelled loafers to match (natch), a trademark Beat It jacket but made more vibrant and heat proof to with stand the pyrotechnics involved in the show and trousers with a strip down the leg designed to magically change colour. What is striking is the skinny figure Jackson cut throughout his career and the sense of his extravagance that radiates from them – oh to touch or wear such sacred articles.

Of course Jackson’s short-films are honoured (don’t call them ‘videos’ – he didn’t like that). The rocket Michael and his pet monkey Bubbles jetted about in from Leave Me Alone sits on display alongside a large statue of the man himself from a HIStory promotional shoot, a robotic head from Moonwalker (FYI the best part of said film is when Michael transforms from man to robot) and a pair of boots created to allow Jackson to perform the physics-defying gravity lean from Smooth Criminal onstage which he designed and US patented in 1993. Also, a true treat is the costumes and props intended for the Thriller segment of the This Is It shows – those who have seen the film will know how frighteningly ghoulish this was, and even more so in real life.

Finally there is the Neverland room. Greeted by the gate that once adorned Michael’s self-made paradise, which stood as the ultimate testament to his power, fame and status, feels a little sullied by the fact I can pay £20 to see it. Beneath it is a customised vintage Jaguar that Jackson and his BFF Elizabeth Taylor used to cruise around town in; true superstar style. Alongside it are Michael’s personal regal and ornate possessions; oil canvas portraits of him as a king and a knight, a supersize throne and mirrored sculpture of Frankenstein’s castle. Every item resonates the once magical and majestic environment of the palace Michael Jackson called home.
The dream like state one becomes fixed into by the vast array of rare and dreamy articles on show is quickly broken by the abrupt ending of the exhibition and finding oneself in a tacky, tasteless Michael Jackson emporium. Now I love merchandise as much as the next pop fanatic but this feels wrong and leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth. This exhibition is an absolute must for serious fans (definitely not for those who jumped on the allegorical bandwagon after June 25th) but bypass the disrespect-to-the-max gift shop.

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