It is Time.

Don’t know how many of our regular or irregular readers were watching the Grammys last night, I’m thinking not all that many.

Green Day
Green Day

Right before the nominations for best album came the small piece of news that I, and many others have been waiting for for about the last five years.  Green Day‘s new album will be released in May this year, and it’s called 21st Century Breakdown.

No clues as to what to expect musically, though if you follow the link above to the official site and sit around for a while the opening bars of something which may (or may not) be the title track start playing.

Since American Idiot the band have parted ways with their long time producer Rob Cavallo who has worked with the band since from Dookie to AI. 21st CB will instead be produced by Butch Vig.  Formerly the Drummer of grunge band Garbage Vig has been working as a producer since the early eighties, and his credits include Nirvana’s Nevermind and Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream.  He has also worked on albums with Soul Asylum, Sonic Youth and Jimmy Eat World (Every CV needs a black mark).

Speaking with UK music magazine NME in December last year Billie Joe Armstrong suggested that the then un-named album could be taking a more power-pop direction, naming Cheap Trick, The Who and The Beatles as possible influences.  In a surprisingly honest interview Armstrong said “How do you take something… and try to expand on the idea of what is supposed to be three-chord mayhem?”

“How do you do it in a way where the arrangements are just unpredictable? So I’m pushing myself to be progressive in songwriting and being a songwriter.”

The new Album cover-art.  Similar in style to the single artwork from American Idiot.
The new Album cover-art. Similar in style to the single artwork from American Idiot.

As a Green Day fan, what does all this mean to me?  The change in style suggestion isn’t really all that shocking considering that it is possible to listen to any of the five albums from Dookie to American Idiot and find something musically different, though still very much Green Day, will anything from the new album be as much a departure as the segue from Eastern European folk to Mexican Mariachi in Misery from Warning?  I’m thinking possibly not.

I’ve been a Green Day fan for about fifteen years now, since a friend passed me a tape with Dookie on one side, and Kerplunk on the other.  While some bands never change I’ve seen Green Day grow and mature as I’ve grown and matured I’ve seen them come from the music of the minority to making an Album which has topped Charts the world over.  The only concern I have at the moment is when tickets for the obligatory World Tour go on Sale.

The Most Expensive Game Ever (TM)

Richie Sambora, Guitar Hero
Richie Sambora, Guitar Hero

As, already mentioned in these hallowed pages for me the stand out game of 2008 for me was Guitar Hero World Tour.  The reasoning behind this in honesty has very little to do with the innovation on show in the game but comes down to the fact that I’ve enjoyed GHWT more than any other game this year.

The game mechanics are pretty much unchanged since GH3 (well, since Guitar Hero really), the newly implemented slide bar on the neck of the guitar is  the only innovation and is ignorable.  The vertical difficulty curve from GH3 has been dispensed with, though it has been replaced with something more akin to a difficulty scatter graph, this isn’t as much of a curb on progression as in previous iterations though now that the game difficulty level can be changed mid play-list (My sticking point was Today by The Smashing Pumpkins, damn near impossible on medium, probably just me though).

If innovation was important to a GH game to be honest we’d still all be playing Guitar Hero, what matters to a GH game is the music, World Tour is no exception to this with a whopping 86 tracks, all based on master recordings, placing it well above main rival Rock Band’s 58.  Quantity is not always everything, quality has to be considered and this is where GHWT potentially comes unstuck.  Musical taste is subjective and while Activision has attempted to provide something for everyone, inorder to cover all bases it is possible to spread yourself thin.  I’d say that this is avoided, however I pretty much fit the demographic to which the playlist is geared, which appears to be a punk-metal Rockabilly with one foot planted firmly in the eighties and one ear in Seattle around 1991.

I refer to GHWT as the expensive game ever, and at £150 for the full band set  up this is more than I’ve spent on consoles in the past, the price tag is not where it ends however, The Guitar Hero frachise always ends up costing me money as it represents a large influence on my music collection.  The month following a GH release will often see me spending hundreds of pounds on albums.  GH is responsible for me listening to Avenged Sevenfold, Dragonforce (so therefore ultimately responsible for the stain on my buddy Poki’s living room carpet), Creedance Clearwater Revival and Tool.  GH is also responsible for rediscovering bands just by looking at their music in a different way, The Eagles for example it wasn’t until I played Hotel California on GHWT that I asked myself, “What else have have they done?”  Similar can be said of The Smashing Pumpkins, a band which I missed the first time around, also The Pretenders, Cheap Trick and Pearl Jam.

While the music in GHWT tends to throw up a few unexpected suprises I’d say that most are worth persevering as there’s a hell of a lot of triple A tunes to be had, some of the more obscure tracks may even suprise you.

All of this  subject to personal taste, I’m sure not everyone thinks that Livin’ on a Prayer is the best song ever written, and that is why you all fail.

She bangs the DRM

He milks the pun
He milks the pun

Apple made what is supposedly their last appearance at the annual Macworld conference in San Francisco yesterday.  In the final day’s Key note speach Apple’s senior vice president of world-wide product marketing Phil Schiller (how does he fit that title on his office door?) announced that apple would be removing digital rights management from all music sold on itunes.  The move sees 8 million songs DRM free with immediate effect, with the final two million to be DRM free by the end of March.

The decision to remove DRM from itunes has long been on the mind of Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs, who was sadly unable to deliver his usual keynote speech due to serious illness.  In 2007 Jobs published an open letter, ‘Thoughts on music’ in which he called for major record labels to drop DRM.  It’s taken time but Jobs has achieved his aim with Sony BMG, Universal and Warner finally reaching an agreement.

Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies are in layman’s terms a means of controlling the usage of digital media by preventing access, copying or conversion to other formats by the end user, meaning that though a buyer has paid for  a product, they are not free to use that product in any way they wish.  With regard to itunes the music files are encrypted preventing play on any product other than itunes or the ipod.  Files can also be played on only five different PC systems which must be authorised by the account holder from which the music was purchased.

With the dropping of DRM Schiller also announced that the current price policy of one price for all would also be changing, introducing a two-tier pricing system with DRM free itunes tracks costing an additional 30 cents, it is so far unclear if an increase in price will also be seen in the UK where currently plus tracks cost the same 79p as older tracks.  Mark Mulligan, a director with market analysts Jupiter Research, reacted to this by saying the end of DRM in its current form was inevitable,  “Ultimately, what we’re going to end up with is a new form of DRM. The more you pay, the less DRM you get bolted onto your music. Premium music will be DRM free, the cheaper it gets, the more shackles are attached,”

Following the successful launch of Amazon’s DRM free download service it seemed inevitable that apple would be forced to react or lose market share, however I’m a little concerned that they seem to deam it necessary to charge extra for this service, while the new style tracks are a higher quality, the difference is only really audible on high end equipment, so therefore a moot point  with the average itunes user.  While no increase in price has been announced in the UK the charge to upgrade previously purchased tracks to the new format is twenty pence I can’t help but wonder if a 99 pence price point is being considered in the future, 30 pence higher than many tracks offered by Amazon (starting at 59 pence, with most priced at 69p).

While DRM may not be an issue to the average itunes user, that doesn’t mean that they will be unaffected by the issue, while it currently looks like the major record labels are through itunes taking a step in the right direction apple will have to take care not to price themselves out of a market which in 2009 as the high street suffers is only going to get larger and more competitive as consumers seek new music at lower prices.

Needless Bureaucracy FTL (of live music)

Save our live music
Save our live music

Ordinarily I don’t concern myself with the goings on in London, there’s a mutual understanding there; they have no idea who I am, and I think they’re all insufferable gobshites. However, occasionally things start in London and go on to affect other places, which is why we need to nip this one in the bud.

I’m referring to form 696, or as I like to call it, the harbinger of death to live music.
Form 696 already applies in 21 London boroughs, and requires licencees to submit 8 pages of information on live music performers, including names, addresses, phone numbers and the ethnicity of it’s potential audience. Failure to comply will result in a fine and possible loss of licence.

The metropolitan police have stated that this is in response to incidents involving guns in 2006 and is designed to provide safety at the venues and pinpoint troublemakers, but almost instantly makes open mic nights impossible, and creates serious problems for small venues. I’m not a musician, but I would question why my privacy was at risk for performing live music, and a detterent such as this hardly encourages our musicians, which are sadly one of our few remaining exports.

Feargal Sharkey, of The Undertones fame is campaigning, as the head of UK Music, against form 696 and a petition has been started that I urge you all to sign. Furthermore there are fears this information allows the police to focus on music enjoyed by black and asian young people since the type of music and the likely audience needs to be disclosed. Mr Sharkey had this to say:

“In explicitly singling out performances and musical styles favoured by the black community we believe the use of Risk Assessment Form 696 is disproportionate, unacceptable and damaging to live music.”

More of 2008 in list-form.

One of us had to, and I thought I’d jump on the end of the year bandwagon.

2008 will for me be known as the year I stopped reading, apart from my usual cover to cover of The Hogfather in the run up to Xmas I can’t think of another new (or new to me) novel I read in 2008, there must have been one, but seriously I can’t think which.

2008 was also the year I re-discovered Heavy Metal, both the film and the genre.  In the first instance all thanks to a recent episode of South Park, and the latter just because every album I’ve heard this year has been pretty damned Awesome, also the fact that 2008 was another year without a new Green Day album (Unless you count Stop, Drop and Roll by the Foxboro Hot Tubs, which I don’t) led me down a darker more head-bangery route.

In Movies 2008 showed us all that Pan’s Labyrinth Wasn’t a fluke and when it comes to horror movies Spain is really where it’s at at the moment Rec and The Orphanage really push home everything that’s wrong with Hollywood horror movies and the current trend for SFX in creating what is essentially (Daily Mail Moment Warning) torture porn.  (Ban this sick filth.)

Gigs in 2008 were fewer and further between than I’d would’ve liked, but what are you gonna do?  This year was dominated by the fact that I finally went to see Bon Jovi (no, I’m not being ironic).  Bon Jovi was like a gateway to harder rock’s, the first hit my mum approves of but the rest is gonna cost me, sort of thing.  To finally see them live was akin to being ten years old again only with access to a hell of a lot of beer.  On that note my hero of the year award goes to Twickenham, the home of British Rugby, a fine venue for a gig, and sponsored by Greene King so therefore having the best gig beer tents ever.

Gaming in 2008 saw me first abandon my Xbox 360 in favor of PC gaming, then abandon my PC in favor of the Wii and DS, then abandon Nintendo and buy another 360 (the circle is now complete).  On all formats however RPG’s held sway.

Right.  Enough pre-amble, list time.

Movies.

  • Wall e (A Stanton)
  • The Orphanage (Technically 2007, but not released in the UK ’till 2008) (J A Bayona)
  • The Mist (F Darabont)

Games.

  • Guitar Hero World Tour (Activision)
  • Fable II (Lionhead)
  • The World Ends With You (Square Enix)

Albums.

  • Death Magnetic (Metallica)
  • Black Ice (AC/DC)
  • Along Came a Spider (Alice Cooper)

Disappointments.

  • The Kaiser Chiefs (Turns out they’re not all that great)
  • Living in a hotel (gets real old real fast)
  • Green Day (It’s been four years now FFS!)

Going Forward…

  • New Green Day album in 2009.
  • Blogging more, sorry Ralph-fans.
  • Fighting my crippling WOW addiction (just 20 more levels man.)

All the best for 2009 y’s all.

The old year is dead long live the New Year… 2008 in lists

Well one of us had to…

2008 was the year that:

  • I got back on the horse only to get kicked straight back off
  • I gained independance only for it to bite me in the ass
  • I had my first holiday in a decade when I really should have scratched the idea

So yeah, kicked scratched and bitten throughout the year, but I’m strangely optimistic about 2009. Maybe its a mix of a crappy end to the year and the sights of good things to come. I guess in fairness 2008 did have it’s up sides:

  • Finally understanding the relevance of ‘Swallow Tattoo’
  • Picking up a pen again
  • Renewing old friendships and making some new ones.

My most listened albums:

  • Los Campesinos – Hold on now youngster
  • Kings of Leon – Only by the night
  • Placebo – Black Market Music

Favourite Gigs:

  • Futureheads
  • Long Blondes
  • BOTY Final

Fabourite Books:

  • Duma Key – Stephen King
  • The Threat to Reason – Dan Hind
  • The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss

Eclectic light orchestra

I’m here to talk about music. While I’d like to think of myself as a child of the eighties, what this also entails is that I was a socially retarded young adult of the nineties. Between the age’s of 10 and 14 is the era in which I cobbled together what is for the most part still my opinion regarding what constitutes as great music.

The key factor that sets this era apart from all others was that I got my first record player, that’s right RECORD player, It’s from this era that my love of vinyl originates. After quickly getting bored with my own paltry collection of the time I quickly moved on to raiding my parents record collections. It was here I found some of what are still my favourite albums, Deep Purple’s Made in Japan, Led Zeppelin II and Houses of the Holy, Jailbreak by Thin Lizzy and, lest we forget 12 Gold Bars by Status Quo.

I’m not here today to give more praise to any of these albums, today I want to talk to you about the other Vinyl that had a profound influence on me, I’m here to talk about Now That’s What I Call Music 26.

This year is the 25th anniversary of the Now series of compilation albums, started as a joint venture between publishers EMI and Universal in 1983 the series has gone on to sell over 100 million copies world wide and currently stands at volume 71.

God forbid, I’m in no way here to suggest that any of the Now series had the same effect on the music industry as Led Zeppelin II did, but to me Now 26 had a lasting effect that many other critically acclaimed albums haven’t.

Now 26 is responsible for a phenomenon which anyone who’s been with me in a pub with a jukebox will no doubt have witnessed first hand, the eclectic mix. The secret to any good eclectic mix of music is to make the changes as aggressive and constant as possible so that eventually the bumps start to resemble level road. By trying to shoe-horn four months of music into forty tracks the editors of Now 26 have created an album which lurches across tracks from artist as diverse as Frankie Goes to Hollywood, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Belinda Carlisle, Radiohead and Meatloaf, and that’s just one disc of a two disc album. The lunacy becomes so profound that it starts to resemble genius.

While the Now series is far from perfect (Robbie Williams is the most prolific contributor to the series with 29 entries.) I wish them well and hope they long continue allowing young listeners to hear a wide range of musical styles before finally settling on one to call their own.

Now 26 was released at the end of 1993 and marks what I now know to be my last few months in the musical wilderness, February of the following year Green Day released Dookie and the rest, as they say is history.

Stuporcollider meets JoCo and Paul & Storm

This Friday my compatriots and I shuffled down to Nottingham to visit Game City 3 for several varied yet interesting reasons.
Firstly I would like to announce that Ado and I are now official World Record holders! (Well, maybe not but we were part of the 1227 zombies in Nottingham city centre). Pictured are the zombies who were not constrained by crippling bouts of self awareness and actually got together to do the Thriller dance.

Later on, after receiving several strange looks from our fellow ale enthusiasts at The Olde Trip, still bedecked as the undead we marched on the Britannia Hotel, an Overlook-esq nightmare of seventies decor. Despite my well documented love of city center hoteliers we had the ulterior motive of attending Game City’s hallow’een party, featuring the wonderful Jonathan Coulton and the hilarious Paul & Storm.

Walking into the event, I was a little apprehensive. Tables and chairs do not normally a concert make. However after six or so pints of Caste Rock brewery’s guest ale, Fine Ale Fantasy, things began to seem much rosier. After meeting Mr. Coulton and Mr. Paul guiding their merch proles in the fine art of stealing all my money we sojourned to the main room to see the acts.

I don’t think I can impress upon you how truly fabulous I thought this gig was. Paul & Storm were fantastic, and we apparently dance like we’re at a Dropkick Murphy’s gig. Jonathan Coulton apparently was suffering from cold. I didn’t notice but I was down the best part of 10 pints by this point, and you’ll be pleased to know that your fearless editor Ado managed to hold up Mr. Storm from appearing in one of his songs by chatting US politics. I can only assume they were discussing Mrs. Palin’s lovely wardrobe (lie.)

Afterwards I managed to get to say hi to the artists, and I keep the British end up by being really quite drunk, huge, short haired, hoody wearing zombie lumbering around making comments that I just can’t remember. Ado has a picture of me actually touching Mr. Coulton and not slobbering like a fool but he is keeping it ransom until I can pay him the fee of 150 vintage 80’s metal tour t-shirts.

WIN!