Monthly Archives: March 2012

My ABBA Top 25: #5 – #1

OK time to finish this off. Thanks for the interest, if anyone’s been reading the studio album reviews, or the rest of this countdown, hope you’ve enjoyed it! I’ve got a few more artists catalogues that I’ve written up in the past, so watch this space!

5. S.O.S.
From ABBA

Onto a titanically amazing track from my beloved “ABBA” album. It’s like a song made of hooks, isn’t it? That piano intro, the wall of harmonies in the chorus, just little riffs here and there.

What a cute video too *blue-steels at the camera*. DRIPPING with drama, and a great mix of production considering how their more rocky-soundings never quite compare to the out-and-out pop moments.

 

4. Soldiers
From The Visitors

Firstly, !!? at this video

ANYWAY, onto what I felt was the PINNACLE of The Visitors. Not only is this JAM-PACKED with deep’n’meaningful lyrics about the threat of war at the beginning of the 80s, it’s such a beautiful song.

That uneven marching beat, the mournful verses, then onto the devastating chorus. That chorus is a thing of BEAUTY and pitched perfectly. The harmonies work like magic. It’s difficult to imagine that a song about burying your heads in the sand against the threat of war would be so UPLIFTING.

It’s always a great but bittersweet feeling when some of an act’s best work ends up on their final album. It’s great to go out on a high, but who knows what they could have made if they’d spent a few more years?

 

3. Fernando

THIS SONG … well this defeating Soldiers illustrates a point. The power of nostalgia for a long-lost time is that much more potent than Soldiers’ documentation of the uncertainty of the (then) present.

Personally, I don’t know about you lot, but I never fought in the Mexican Revolution. But such are ABBA’s skills that this song makes me feel like I was, and even feel regret that those days are over. RIDICULOUS.

That beautiful intro, those military drums over a tenderly sung first verse from Frida (gorgeous hair for once). It’s a very sentimental song, and totally draws you into this story between two old people reminiscing about a long-passed battle.

Obviously I’m not alone in loving this one, since Fernando is ABBA’s biggest selling single worldwide, and a well-deserved one at that.

 

2. The day before you came

I came within a SHADE of picking the oddball for my all-time #1, but in the end, it’s an honourable runner-up position for this late entry.

What a fascinating song, and at the risk of repeating my earlier description, I TOTALLY get it. Poor Ag is just going through the motions, living her life on auto-pilot. Not even that sad, just empty and numb. It took her meeting with the song’s subject to realise her situation.

The song itself had a bleak tone despite its happy ending (probably). Frida certainly has a face that could curdle milk in that video. As I said for Soldiers, it’s bittersweet when an act is producing some of their best work shortly before the end of their career.

I love this song, the lyrics are captivating, with Ag not even really KNOWING what she did yesterday, but presuming it was much the same as every day. The music is strikingly sparse, with that odd pigeony sample and a few synths beeping in the background. Her vocals are wonderful, particularly in the emphasis she puts on some of the sections. The sinister synths fade in and out, there are bursts of opera… what an odd song.

It makes the question of their aborted next album almost too hard to consider. Can you IMAGINE?

 

1. The Winner Takes It All
From Super Trouper

Not QUITE, John. But I hope you won’t judge this countdown just for its champion, particularly when this towering work of genius sits on top of it. While ABBA are very famous for their upbeat pop music, I think it’s really the tales of heartbreak, misery and desolation that they really excel at.

The song details the end of a drawn-out war of attrition in a collapsing relationship. The underlying theme is just that she’s just so TIRED. The other guy came out of this better than she did, or at least so Agnetha thinks. But we are all invited to the pity party, and she’ll cry if she wants to.

I don’t think I need to explain why I think this song is so great, it’s just one of those timeless classics that will always define the blockbusting moments in their back catalogue. It’s fitting that my winner comes from my clear favourite album, the poptastic Super Trouper.

I guess that’s it… apart from one more song

So I’ll say…

I thought this would be a nice finish to it all, considering this is what drove me to buy ABBA Gold in the first place, for my sins!

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Album: Madonna – “MDNA” deluxe tracks (2012) & album thoughts

Last week I wrote a review for MDNA (go see, I thought it would get more hits… link). But tragically I hadn’t yet got my mitts on the deluxe edition bonus tracks. Now I’m the proud owner of the actual CD finally, I thought I should tie up the loose ends and get this out there. Then a quick thought about how I feel about MDNA 10 days on. Happily it looks like it’s going to storm a transatlantic No.1 despite its pretty hopeless outcome on the singles front. I’d just like a nice hit single in the UK though thanks.

08 Beautiful Killer – A bit of beautiful filler now (!). It feels like a distillation of this album, generic dance beats, simple nursery-rhyme melody, shoehorned references to guns and bad guys, and another gun sound effect. So far, so trashy. There seems to be a trend of these sort of oxymoronic (emphasis on moronic) song titles, just sounds more interesting I guess. Just off the top of my head I can think of Beautiful Liar, Beautiful Monster and that Beyonce one about a Beautiful Nightmare (I know it’s called Sweet Dreams but you know). Anyway I do quite like it for what it is, everything it is has been done well. I can see why it might have been surplus to requirements for the album (though why not ditch Superstar??), but it’s certainly a welcome inclusion to this expanded version.

10 I fucked up – Oh my God how did they miss this off the album? This is amazing. Tender, regretful and still somehow in keeping with the sound of the album. But it’s got STRINGS! How gorgeous. The vocals are undemanding but the whole thing just makes me melt. WHY ISN’T THIS ON THE ALBUM when Superstar is?!?? It beggars belief. I mean fair enough you couldn’t exactly release it as a single without extensive editing but it’s really wonderful. That speed-up halfway through just makes me die. Heartbreaking and blissful.

07 B-Day song – From the sublime to the ridiculous now, with a song truly worthy of the off-cut status given to it. M.I.A. is a main feature of this beyond-retarded birthday song. It’s got some sort of crap charm to it, a sort of nice shitty 80s female rock-band vibe to it. It’s grown on me a lot but I mean HONESTLY! Madonna has a fair few laughably crummy songs in her rarities wardrobe, and this is a welcome addition.

09 Best Friend – I LOVE this beat, shuddering and ice-cold. Reminds me a little of the beat behind Bjork’s “Hunter” which isn’t a bad thing. More deadpan vocals, but this is a really solid track that again fits perfectly into the MDNA sound. Bridges the gap between this and Hard Candy really, and has an interesting story inside. She’s spent most of the album bitching (or murdering) her ex-husband it seems, so could this be about that too? Anyway a joy to listen to, really well put-together.

08 Give me all your luvin (Party Rock remix) – Oh goodie, a remix… I’m not a big fan of the 8-minute long minimal house beat thumping away anonymously under the guise of a beloved song, but fortunately this is nothing of the sort. LMFAO are behind this one, fresh off their collaboration at the Superbowl earlier this year. It’s a decent remix, I still prefer the original as it makes one of the unique elements of the album sound quite generic. It reminds me of some  Stuart Price remixes actually, but that just makes me wish she was still working with him. Most of the song remains intake and it’s a fun change of pace, but that’s about all.

So what about the rest of the album? It’s growing on me even MORE, even the ropier moments are getting better. I’m looking forward to a long car journey with this up loud, think of the BASS!!

Updated rate – original review
10 Girl Gone Wild
09 Gang Bang
10 I’m Addicted
08 Turn up the radio
10 Give me all your luvin’
08 Some girls
07 Superstar
08 I don’t give a
07 I’m a sinner
10 Love spent
09 Masterpiece
08 Falling free

Very restrained, as you can see! Well don’t get at me, I love this crazy old cow. Christ knows what’s going through her head, much to the frustration of the fans who just want her to get another smash #1 worldwide and prove she still CAN. I still think she can (though maybe on the next album).

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My ABBA Top 25: #15 – #6

Right, time for another helping of Swedish pop glory, as I run down another ten of the best from ABBA.

15. Me and I
From Super Trouper

SYNTHS!!! Oh goodness I love this one, it’s MAJESTIC. I’m expecting people to think this is a bit of a WTF moment in an all-time countdown, but what a lovely song, and a perfect example of the upbeat pop that made Super Trouper such a joy.

Some really iffy lyrics here, but it’s a wonderfully fun track about SCHIZOPHRENIA

 

14. Intermezzo no 1
From ABBA

DON’T START ON ME. I was really rather obsessed with this during the mid-point of my ABBA extravaganza, and I don’t expect anyone to agree with my love for this instrumental.

It’s just so vibrant … just makes me smile every time I hear it. Completely OTT, some really dated electric guitars, but full of energy. I still feel like this should be introducing some sort of telethon or 70s variety show, in the most fabulous way possible.

 

13. Summer Night City

Time for normal service to be RESUMED, and a late bloomer for me. Keen followers of my ABBA travels will remember that I wasn’t THAT fussed about this in its original form, but the extended intro really turned that one around for me.

Dramatic strings, a slow opening and then WHAM – right into an unstoppable disco BEAST. Love that video too, really helped me make sense of this song. Still not entirely sold on the chorus vocals, but still LOVE THIS (now).

 

12. Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A man after midnight)

From one dramatic string intro to another, and an altogether more NOTORIOUS sample thanks to a certain pop singer with nan hands.

This is treading a tightrope really, it’s been hailed too much as a camp classic, and that’s fine but it can make me cringe without notice. Right now it’s pretty great, but I’m AWARE it might turn at any moment.

LOVE THOSE STRINGS

 

11. Kisses of fire
From Voulez-Vous

Random album track time, and one of their catchiest songs IMO. The harmonies hit like a sledgehammer, and that chorus is just dreamy, “Kisses of fire, BURNIN, BURNIN”. Sure, I’m not hugely keen on rhyming with “returning” but we can’t have anything.

This performance is great isn’t it? What a hot mess, are they all on drugs? Is there an AUDIENCE?

Anyway, a GLORIOUS closing track to Voulez-Vous

 

10. I do I do I do I do I do
From ABBA

“ABBA” was such a fun album, seriously where it all kicked off for me, and possibly running it close with The Visitors for my 2nd favourite. Maybe I’ve got the rose-tinted glasses on already.

One of the crowning glories for that album was this ridiculous drunken aunt of a song. Put me in mind of Muriel’s Wedding quickly, I just think this is brilliant.

 

9. Chiquitita
From Voulez-Vous

They love the Spanish influences don’t they? A bit of Spanish guitar kicks this one off, with a gentle song of support for poor CHICA. Agnetha’s vocals are so delicate and wonderful, and it builds up into a beautiful chorus, warm enough to melt even the most grossly oversized snowman.

INSPIRATIONAL

 

8. When I kissed the teacher
From Arrival

I didn’t quite get into Arrival, certainly not to the degree everyone else seemed to. It was a good album but lacking some of the killer tracks that seem to pepper most of their albums.

But WHAT an opener, an engaging intro makes way for an energetic track with some fantastic ba-da-badada-badada backing vocals. That last 30 seconds or so where it just MAXES OUT.

(shit video)

 

7. One of us
From The Visitors

Wow… big budget! Luckily the only real hit from The Visitors doesn’t need amazing set-pieces or DISGUSTING Frida haircuts.

I will admit that I got into this via the A*Teens version about 10 years ago, I don’t think the original was big enough a hit to really make it into the public consciousness like some of their big hits did.

I love the sentiment behind it, apologetic but reluctant to make it obvious (until later) that it’s really HER who’s going through all this shit and feeling bad. I feel I could have expressed that better but hopefully you follow.

Anyway, not a bombastic pop song like many of my favourites, but The Visitors didn’t rely on those kinds of tactics, did it?

 

6. The Name of the Game
From The Album

A rare appearance from “The Album” now. While its stablemate “Take a chance on me” suffered from overplay over the years, as a midtempo I think The Name Of The Game managed to avoid the same fate. As with many of their songs, I discovered it first through other versions; in this case it was Will Young’s perf on Pop Idol.

Love this video, not a lot going on, but some really lovely natural shots going on there. I love the second half, where the chorus is bolstered with additional lines (“Your smile and the sound of your voice”). GORGEOUS

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When Japanophilia & OCD collide

I feel like I’ve been neglecting my blog this week. I’m SO close to getting March as my most-viewed month ever (after last month, onwards and upwards), but I’ve been distracted. I SHOULD have been distracted by studying for tonight’s Japanese exams from my evening class, but I winged it and passed them. Not far to go now until a GCSE is within my reach! OH!! My teacher asked me if I might be interested in teaching English to newly-arrived Japanese workers in my town. If it works out this could be a really big thing for me! Watch this space…

The main distraction, however,  is the latest in the long line of Final Fantasy games: the clunkily-titled Final Fantasy XIII-2.

They don’t often do full direct sequels to the main Final Fantasy games (i.e. the Roman numeral ones), with 2003’s much-maligned Final Fantasy X-2 being the first, and now Final Fantasy XIII getting the “-2” treatment. FFX-2 took the beautiful world of Spira from FFX and crafted a sort of epilogue to the adventure as well as some closure for the characters we grew to love. It was criticised a bit too frothy and carefree after the relatively doomy parent game, and even though I loved it I would never say the sequel had improved on the original, it was just different.

However FFXIII-2 is certainly showing that it can be done, and while FFXIII was a bit of a chore for me – a painfully linear, bloated and po-faced entry – they have really learnt lessons from the fan reaction, and perhaps the reception for FFX-2 and made a game that I’ve been struggling to put down.

While the main characters from the first game are there, they are only there as cameos or occasional helpers, or alluded to in the extensive dialogue. You control Lightning’s sister Serah (formally an attractive but OTT crystal statue) and new boy Noel. I want to review this game after I’ve finished it. Anyway, there are dozens of locations in different time periods to visit (you are time-travellers), with paradoxes to resolve and plots to progress. More importantly there are LOADS of side quests, quite at odds with the restrictive feel of FFXIII. The bitty nature of the game is ensuring I just do “one more bit”, and then a whole evening has vanished.

I’m hurtling through the game at the moment, and just tidying up some pending side-quests before I press on and go for the final push to the end of the story. Not that that’s even the end, there are multiple endings, and plenty of achievement points to harvest. I’ll have to blog first, play later…

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Lost in a moment

I’ve started watching Lost again. I LOVED it the first time around, and people can say what they like about the ending but it totally worked for me, I felt rather peaceful after the finale in a really strange way, and thought it was a really well executed finish.

So naturally I dutifully got the box set, to take pride of place among my other box sets for shows I’ve really loved: Friends, Buffy, Futurama, most of the new Doctor Who. But 15 months later I finally get the urge to watch it. I’d been putting it off because I only really majorly got into the show from Season 2, and thought the first season would be a real drag by comparison. I’m glad to report that this isn’t the case so far, and what I’m lacking in mystery (from seeing it the first time), I’m getting back from being able to analyse the events and exchanges in context of what’s to come.

Like someone smugly and knowingly giving hints to a person doing a crossword, I have that superior feeling when my internal monologue goes “oh Jack, if only you KNEW!” after an issue with Kate, or watching Sun feign ignorance when she can understand her fellow islanders’ attempts at contact. So I will look forward to hopefully enjoying the rest of the show just as much.

I was watching the episode “White Rabbit” yesterday while I did my ironing, where Jack recalls his daddy issues directly before the flight to Lost island. For some reason this set me off crying quite a bit, and I’m still not sure why. The issues in the story are nothing I have experienced, and my Dad is alive, so I don’t get it.

I remembered being at the hospital, Dad had just had a stroke and I was among the first visitors. It had that terrible facade of boredom that hospital visits have for me (and I’m sure a lot of people agree ), it makes it easier to want to leave if you think it’s just because you’re bored, rather than the likely reality that hospitals just terrify you with their atmosphere of pain, sadness and grief.

He was trying to hold it together as always, I don’t think he could speak much, and was on a lot of medication but he was upright. I remember him picking his arm up with his other arm, and letting it drop lifelessly to his side as if it was just something funny like getting pins & needles. But then he starting sobbing silently for a few terrible seconds before letting out this awful noise. I couldn’t handle it, Mum said I should leave them for a minute, which I did, half jogging away until I got outside the ward. I just broke down then, hands on my face, just as one of my sisters arrived. I’m so glad she came then. This is all just so vivid now, it makes me wonder how it has been so long since I thought about it.

That’s a bit of a depressing detour isn’t it, apologies, but I just felt I had to get that out. It’s odd how our emotional triggers are so unpredictable, maybe that’s just the power of good writing.

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