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since 14/09/2009


Guitar Hero 5 (Wii) 30/10/2009

Hero we go again

Guitar Hero 5 (Wii) Introduction The relative ubiquity of a cultural phenomenon can usually be measured by its appearance on cult cartoons. Make it on to The Simpsons, and chances are you could already retire. In light of this helpful measure, we all realised Guitar Hero had hit the big time when it was hilariously parodied on South Park a few years back. The Activision people must have been rubbing their hands together in glee at that time: the game was riding the crest of a feverish, seemingly unstoppable wave. Everyone had to have that plastic guitar despite the fact that it cost more than some real guitars and sounds pretty lame when not plugged into a console. Their slogan at the time GH3 was released was “unleash your inner rock god”, an almost painfully tantalising invitation for any portly, NHS-bespectacled would-be rock stars who spend their weekends developing embarrassing air-guitar routines in the deluded belief that such a routine could somehow improve on Kiss’s “Crazy Nights”. The appeal has been broad, the success unfaltering. Predictably, the GH phenomenon has also provoked a backlash from “proper” musicians, most publicly from the White Stripes’ Jack White and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page. “You think of the drum part that John Bonahm did on Led Zeppelin's first track on the first album, 'Good Times Bad Times...” muses the Zeppelin axeman, “How many drummers in the world can play that part, let alone on Christmas morning?” Of course, what Page says is true. GH can never be a ...

Fiction 25/10/2009

The Boat to Camberley-Hey

Fiction Introduction This is my first semi-serious attempt to write a short story. In it, I have created a dystopian blend of crass corporate culture and what I hope is disturbing, unconscious imagery. I hope you enjoy the piece and I'd be very grateful for any critical feedback. Thanks for reading, Tim. The Boat to Camberley-Hey It was smarg o’clock in the morning and Wills, Pete, Bonesy and me had just finished the first Structured Discussion Session of the day. Today, we’d been talking about Iso-Tone-O lite™, the new drink from Iso-Tone-O™ where all the sugar was replaced with, like, saccharine. Our Senior Demographic Analyst, Vickers, had been chairing the session and asked about the taste, the ad that accompanied it and whether it made us feel good. Wills, Pete, Bonesy and me had all agreed that we kinda liked the Iso-Tone-O lite™ and it did kinda make us feel good, but not so much as regular Iso-Tone-O™ or Fruit Hit™. We all reckoned the idea of Iso-Tone-O lite™ was a bit, like, girly and namby-pamby and why would we want to be on a diet when we were young and thin and ate our three recommended portions of Krisper Health Bars™ every day? We’d been up most of last night in our PalPad and were not really in the mood to discuss Iso-Tone-O lite, so this morning’s Structured Discussion Session was, like, pretty short and Vickers seemed uncharacteristically peeved. Last night, Fagerli the Italian, a member of the Executive Board, had to come in to our PalPad, raging, and tell us ...

Daily Mail 17/10/2009

If you can't say anything nice... oh, forget it!

Daily Mail Weird things have been happening to me over the past couple of weeks. My voyeurism receptors have been going haywire and I can’t for the life of me comprehend why. Maybe there’s something in the air; the pleasant autumnal ambience calling for a starkly contrasting texture, a balancing of Yin and Yang. Maybe I’ve got some unidentifiable illness which has rewired my brain to seek out inherently nasty things. Maybe I’m just a sad pillock with nothing better to do. Whatever; why would you care? The point is that my renewed voyeuristic zeal has steered me towards that noble bastion of everything rotten and rubbish in Middle England. I am talking, of course, about the Daily Mail’s website. Before I begin this review in earnest, I feel I should address some of my own issues. Think of yourself, dear reader, as my unpaid psychoanalyst. I guess my problem is that I hate the Daily Mail for its hatred of – well – everything, but as anyone who has read any of my rants will realise, I hate a lot of things too. This makes me a terrible hypocrite and leads me to a guilt complex and lots of contradictory, neurotic impulses. Furthermore, I could describe my rants as those of a thinking Richard Littlejohn, but this is so utterly paradoxical it makes my head hurt whenever I consider it; I then need to pop a couple of Asprin and take a good lie down in a dark room until the thought passes. As you can imagine, this can actually be quite debilitating for me. So I got to thinking: maybe I should ...

Ignorance - Linda Asher 06/10/2009

Ignorance is bliss?

Ignorance - Linda Asher INTRODUCTION Anybody who has encountered Milan Kundera’s work will understand why he is such a well-loved writer. Among the best known Czech writers of all time, he writes with flair, philosophical sophistication and acute aesthetic sensitivity of a quality rarely seen even among the most respected literary figures. Read a paragraph of Kundera’s work and one is able instantly to identify it as his; he has a unique, inimitable style which slips fluidly and rapidly through subtle ideas, leading, as though through a dream-sequence, to a central theme; an essential, irreducible element of human experience. “Ignorance” is the tenth novel from Kundera, the third he has written in French. He has also written a number of important published essays, collections of poetry and drama scripts (He has studied film amongst other things, including aesthetics, literature and musicology). “Ignorance” constitutes the topic of this review. Having read a number of his great works, I had high hopes for this latest tome, but as I go on to show, these were not completely met. In any case, I have experienced what can only be described as gobsmacked awe at some of Kundera’s more brilliant moments; and there were a number such moments peppered throughout “Ignorance”. The reader will appreciate, then, why I have been so apprehensive about writing this review. I barely understand some of Kundera’s more difficult points, let alone possess the capacity to critique them. But the challenge has also made ...

Everything that starts with C ... 30/09/2009

Screw you, God.

Everything that starts with C ... What did you do with your Saturday night (26/09/2009)? Unless you had something better to do – such as sticking rusty pins into your eyeballs or licking out the urinals in a dismal nightclub – you might have caught Cha’Mone Mo’ Fo’ Selecta (E4); a truly miserable spectacle showcasing the very worst of what it means to be human. Last week, I wrote a review of the Sugababes’ latest single, in which I suggested that we would soon witness a rip in the space-time continuum, “opening a wormhole to an alternative dimension of interminable, churning shod into which we will all be unwillingly sucked.” I have taken “Cha’Mone Mo’Fo Selecta” as incontrovertible evidence that this process is now well underway. The idea of “Cha’Mone” is simple. Actually scratch that, it’s just shit: A bellowing, boorish prick wears a dumb rubber mask to pay a fitting tribute to the late King of pop (if by “fitting” we mean “dire” and by “tribute” we mean “pissing all over the poor bloke’s gravestone”). The bellowing, boorish prick in question is “Avid Merrion”; the pseudonym under which professional twat Leigh Francis spews his dribbling toilet-humour into our unfortunate living rooms. After watching this sloppy excuse for a TV program, I had to get a shower. Moving on, I suppose I should explain why I took such a dislike to this show. Well I can’t answer that fully; I’m only able to give my own perspective and after all, there’s no accounting for taste. It’s just that I just thought comedy was supposed ...

Yorkshire Tea 26/09/2009

Ah'll mek thee t' best brew this side o' Pennines.

Yorkshire Tea Tea – I just can’t get enough of the stuff. Whether it’s a frustrating day at work, an argument with your partner or flopping down onto the sofa to switch the telly on and get your daily hit of trash culture, nothing quite hits the spot like a good brew. Given the pleasure inherent in a good cup of tea, I’m pleased to have the opportunity to jabber on about a favourite brand in a review. Oh, and I’m putting off the much more challenging task of reviewing Milan Kundera’s latest novel, “Ignorance”. But that’s by the by. As a poverty-stricken postgraduate student (get your violins out!) I usually go for the cheapest brand of just about everything, even if I love the thing in question as I love my tea. But last week, walking down the tea / coffee aisle of my local generic supermarket, a rather fetching red and green box leapt out from the shelf, practically bellowing “buy me, Tim!” The box in question housed 80 small sachets of delight, otherwise known as Yorkshire Tea. And how can you not notice the Yorkshire Tea box? Behind the bold red, black and white logo is depicted the most charming nostalgia-fest I can imagine, especially as a Yorkshire lad myself: rolling hills with vast fields divided by dry-stone walls, a healthy smattering of sheep, a couple of tumbledown cottages; plumes of smoke lazily rising from their chimneys and a village church. Personally, I am hoping for a special edition box which plays the Hovis music at you constantly; that would really top the illusion ...

Catfights and Spotlights - Sugababes 21/09/2009

A spectacular fall from mediocrity

Catfights and Spotlights - Sugababes What I am presenting for you in the coming paragraphs is not in any way a review of the above album, so if you actually want to know about it, I urge you to look elsewhere. If, however, you wish to know about the pain my soul is experiencing as it is slowly and inexorably sucked down an existential plughole (you horrid voyeur) by this band’s latest single, “Get Sexy”, then read on. “One can never step in the same river twice”. This trope was coined by a philosopher – I forget specifically which one – to illustrate the ever-changing nature of existence. What the tweed-clad boffin had in mind was a questioning as to whether we can ever be the same person from one day to the next, given that it’s a different set of molecules which constitute us in the morning to those of the previous day. Our personalities and attitudes, of course, also change. Case point: if I were to meet that rambunctious, fatuous twerp that was my 16-year-old self, I would immediately want to poke his (my???) eyes out with blunt, rusted spoons, rip off his (my???) head and scream down his (my???) bloodied neck. Aaanyhoo, this raises further cerebrally punishing questions about death and personal identity: for instance, if we are not consistent beings living independently of the world; and are instead simply made up of an ever-changing array of condensed particles, can death really be said to exist, or is it merely the passing from one transitory state to the next? Was Nietzche’s version of temporality in ...

Billy Talent III (Deluxe Edition) [Digipak] - Billy Talent 19/09/2009

Guitar heroes become guitar villains!

Billy Talent III (Deluxe Edition) [Digipak] - Billy Talent Billy Talent are a Canadian four-piece outfit comprising Ben Kowalewicz (vocals), Ian D'Sa (guitar), Jon Gallant (bass) and Aaron Solowoniuk (drums). Although the band have failed to make a significant splash in the UK, both previous albums achieved triple-platinum sales in their native Canada, and they are pretty well known in the states too. Their ‘sound’ is pretty difficult to pin down. For the sake of simplicity, we might call it ‘punk-rock’, or ‘post-grunge’, although there are more fitting labels which might be applied, ‘scream-a-minute-psychotic-punk-jazz-freneticism’ being one. This manic style works particularly well live. The boys have been playing together for 15 years, since high-school, and it shows: they clearly have some great chemistry. Kowalewicz leaps around stage like a chicken with a firecracker up its rear end, howling like a bucket of rabid puppies being attacked with a blunt drill, while D’sa’s belting, jagged riffs are the perfect accompaniment. I also have to mention D’sa’s hair at this point: a ridiculous 1950’s über-quiff which gleefully defies physics and good taste in equal measure. That said, the approach Billy Talent take musically usually translates to recordings quite well, hence I was keen to see whether they were keeping the pace up in their new album. So without further ado, let’s take a look at their imaginatively titled (!) third album, Billy Talent III. First up, we have “Devil on my shoulder”. Billy Talent have a knack for opening ...

The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga 16/09/2009

The White Tiger: A very Indian Coo(p)

The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga In this debut novel, Aravind Adiga explores the dark underbelly of contemporary Indian society. I picked this book up one afternoon on holiday and finished it the following morning. Sleep and eating became annoying necessities: preventing me, as they did, from getting on with this gripping book. I think the technical term for that is ‘page-turner’. Adiga’s prose is beautiful and richly descriptive. He has a real knack for painting vivid pictures in the imagination, and hence does a good job of transporting us to the various sites. One could almost smell Delhi's smells, and see the glistening towers of the powerful, contrary to the atrocious slums of the poor. In spite of Adiga’s mastery of language, he is careful not to let the central message of the book fall hidden behind an aesthetic veil. The premise for the book is as follows: Indian entrepreneur, Balram Halwai, excitedly hears that Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, is visiting India “on a mission: he wants to know the truth about Bangalore”. Halwai is keen to offer the Chinese leader his wisdom on the topic, and writes a series of letters revealing both his rise to entrepreneurial success and the gritty nature of Indian society from his own perspective. What follows is a mesmerising narrative detailing Halwai’s rise through the ranks of Indian society. It is a tale of two Indias, ‘the light’ and ‘the darkness’, and it has everything a good story should have: struggle, hardship, power, corruption, brutality, depravity and ...

Jeremy Kyle 16/09/2009

Misery. And fighting. The Jeremy Kyle Show

Jeremy Kyle Everyone’s heard of the Jeremy Kyle Show (ITV 2) by now. A judge has called it a form of human bear-baiting and it recently caused another furore by ‘inadvertently’ broadcasting a swear word. The format is simple enough. Kyle, who looks like a cross between a particularly miffed warthog and a premiership footballer whose name I don’t know, invites contestants (‘guests’ is too genteel a word) onto the show to thrash out deeply personal problems in front of a TV audience of a few million, in exchange for his sagely advice and a night in a cheap hotel in Manchester with free run of the mini-bar (that’s probably not true, by the way). The problems typically consist of alcoholism, drug dependency, “am I the real father” scenarios, “my daughter is going off the rails” narratives, “Mum, your being a 70-year-old stripper is quite embarrassing”, etc. etc., All pretty pedestrian stuff once you’ve seen a couple of shows. Some of the guests though are suitably off-the-wall and can make for compelling viewing. Jeremy's advice, on the other hand, consists almost entirely of genuinely frightening split-personality explosions directed against any guest to whom Judge Jeremy has taken a dislike. I mean seriously – this is a man who can go from practically cuddling someone to stamping on their face with steam coming out of his ears in 3.2 seconds. This in turn makes the whole spectacle deliciously unpredictable. Turn JKS on, and you don’t know whether you’ll get a pouting “I actually quite ...

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil - George Saunders 16/09/2009

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil - George Saunders In the literary world, it seems George Saunders is a man who can do no wrong. Born in 1958 in Texas, Saunders’ CV would send even the most prolific writers into a cold sweat of debilitating insecurity. As well as having tenure as professor of creative writing at Syracuse University, Saunders writes a weekly column for The Guardian, has won the National Magazine Award for Fiction four times, has published 2 non-fiction collections of essays, five novellas / collections of short stories and in 2006, he received a MacArthur Fellowship, popularly known as “the genius grant”. Oh, and when he finds spare time you’ll see him appearing in a number of high-profile US magazines. Phew! Reading "The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil", I could see why Saunders is such a respected figure in the literary world. “Patriotism”, said the great novelist, wit and playwright, Oscar Wilde, “is the virtue of the vicious”. If you want to understand why the flamboyant genius’s words retain their importance more than a century later, I urge you to read "Phil" (I will be reviewing his "In Persuasion Nation" collection, which came with Phil, in a second review as I think each part deserves its own attention – watch this space). "Phil" focuses on the smallest nation on earth, Inner Horner, which is so small it can only accommodate one of its seven inhabitants at a time, while the other six huddle together in the ‘Short-Term Residency Zone’ of Outer Horner. Outer Horner itself has plenty of room and ...

XMI X-mini II Mini Speaker 15/09/2009

The revolution will not be televised - XMI X-mini II Mini speaker

XMI X-mini II Mini Speaker Revolutions: they aren’t usually very good, are they? Big promises by ego-crazed dictators, resulting in the butcher of millions of innocents. No, I’m not a massive fan of revolutions, so I was sceptical when the X-mini arrived on my doorstep, promising “audio revolution in a box”. On the back, the big promises continued: “Delivering on the promise of “sound beyond size”, the X-mini II capsule speaker is petite in size but massive in sound”. By this point I was becoming very suspicious. The look of the thing worried me a little too. Not because it looks bad - it has a very slick look; the vivid red of the speaker poking out from the round, black casing like some demented 8-ball. It’s also very small, which is obviously handy. It’ll easily fit in your back pocket. The packaging too is very attractive (although if you lose sleep over packaging, I’d recommend your getting a life). I was concerned because I’d only spent 15 quid on the thing yet it looked brilliant. They’d obviously spent all their money on the design: Was the X-mini II then a case of style over substance? Well actually, not at all. Plug in your ‘generic MP3 device’ and you’ll be rewarded with a surprisingly BIG sound – you see: it’s so big I had to write ‘big’ in capitals. Nor does it compromise on sound quality. It’s surprisingly crisp even at full volume with very little distortion. It’s also got a clever little thing called a “Bass Xpansion System” which allows you to pop the speaker out to unleash a bassier ...
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