Michael Jackson “SCREAM” (Album Review)

CD/digital download available: 29th September 2017

Vinyl record available: 27th October 2017

Produced by: MJJ Productions – Released by: Epic Records/Legacy/Sony Music


 

WELCOME TO YOUR DOOM

As Maestro of All Hallows Eve’s unofficial anthem, Michael Jackson has for many years been synonymous with the witching season. But it is not just on 1982’s monster hit “Thriller” (and that John Landis-directed 1984 short film) that the King of Pop got to indulge his love of the macabre in his music. While Christmas albums have long been a profitable tradition, this creepy compilation – the brainchild of the late star’s prolific Estate – is perhaps the first high profile Halloween-themed set. Executive producers John Branca and John McClain will hope Scream will rise from the grave to haunt record store shelves every October.

… Keep Scuttling!

Baby Driver (Cinema Review)

15 – 113mins – 2017


 

THE FAULT IN OUR EARS

Baby (Ansel The Fault In Our Stars Elgort) is a talented getaway driver who relies upon the beat of his iPod soundtrack to drown out his tinnitus and focus his acute reflexes behind the wheel. In debt to heist mastermind Doc (Kevin Spacey) for a mistake he made in his youth, Baby is counting down the jobs until his slate is clear and he can start a new, clean life with the girl of his dreams, Deborah (Lily James). Unfortunately, Doc has other ideas for his blessed go-to driver, but will this next robbery be one job too far?

… Keep Scuttling!

Toploader “SEEING STARS” (Album Review)

Toploader Seeing Stars

Released digitally on: 12th May 2017

Purchase link


 

IT’S A KNOCKOUT AGAIN

20 years after they first formed, 17 years after “Dancing in the Moonlight” gained them nationwide attention and 8 years since they reformed after an extended hiatus, Eastbourne alternative rockers Toploader have released their fourth long player, Seeing Stars, fan-funded via a successful PledgeMusic campaign (see HERE).

… Keep Scuttling!

Thriller Live (Live Review)

Norwich Theatre Royal – 13th-18th January 2017 – £8-£32.50

Directed and choreographed by: Gary Lloyd

Executive director: Adrian Grant

Official Show websiteTour Tickets


BOOGIE WONDERLAND

Recently recognised as the 17th longest running production in West End history, in the eight years it has been thrilling audiences I have seen Gary Lloyd’s spectacular tribute to the King of Pop on three separate occasions. Each time it has been on tour from its established base at London’s Lyric Theatre, and each time it has improved significantly, growing more confident, more ebullient, more honed.

… Keep Scuttling!

Release the Bats with JOHN CARPENTER (Live Review)

img_1985Troxy, London – 31st October 2016 – Doors: 6:30pm

Official WebsiteTour Dates


 

LOST THEMES FOUND ON STAGE

In the wake of original tour promoters ATP folding, the pre-show ticketing fiasco and the shit-storm which followed the apparent overselling (and under-conscious organisation of) the “upgraded” Manchester date two nights earlier, it would be fair to say there was a fair bit of concern and apprehension amongst the flock of John Carpenter fans snaking around the Tower Hamlets venue on Monday night. Even the stewards seems somewhat confused by exactly who required a re-printed ticket from the box office! Thankfully, everyone was only too happy to help.

… Keep Scuttling!

Lady Gaga “JOANNE” (Album Review)

Lady Gaga Reveals More 'Joanne' Song Titles

Label: Streamline / Interscope Records

Release date: 21st October 2016 (UK)


 

SMOKIN’ THEM ALL

“I confess I am lost…”

Three years in the waiting, Lady Gaga finally satiates her legions of little monsters with her follow-up to 2013’s critically-muted Artpop. Consciously stripping back the ostentatious gaud and circus-esque electro-surrealism she flaunted on stage as much as in the studio, LG5 – as it was known online before the official title, in tribute to her late-aunt, was unveiled – still has flourishes of beat-driven poppiness (A-Yo and John Wayne are rockier standouts) but on the whole this personal collection feels more mellow and repressed. Clearly crooning with Tony Bennett has had an impact.

… Keep Scuttling!

Kill Your Friends (DVD Review)

Image result for kill your friends film18 – 99mins – 2015


 

THE DEATH OF THE RECORD INDUSTRY

“Loaded dice and poisoned chalice all over the fucking shop.”

Taking the alias of his furry X-Men character to heart, Nicholas Hoult is chillingly bestial as ambitious A&R man Steven Stelfox in this dark-as-night hyperbolic evisceration of the greed, hedonism and backstabbing which fuelled the profit-over-sincerity mentality of the Britpop-barmy 90s music business.

“None of us have a fucking clue what we’re doing!”

Spouting satirical, fourth wall-breaking soliloquys to the screen, steely-eyed talent scout Stelfox spends the majority of the film “off his tits” on all manner of substances, disconnected from the callous circus which circles and consumes him. He’s a monstrous figure, but screenwriter John Niven – working from his own novel – does an admirable job of making this “smart, ambitious… lost” soul into an investible anti-hero, even if he’s not likeable enough to be charming. He is a murderer, after all.

“A sense of unravelling…”

As Stelfox’s clumsy control on his perilous situation spirals into a black hole of grave dancing, blackmail, framing and extortion, Kill Your Friends perhaps dips the satire to such distasteful and disbelieving depths that its hard to even classify this as a black comedy, but its a ballsy and compromisingly “haaaardcore” warning to those who would do anything to live the dream. And I’m pretty sure I know what its middle finger-brandishing reaction to anyone who found it ghastly and amoral would be: “Get fucked!”

CR@B’s Claw Score: 4 stars

Star Wars: Headspace (Album Review)

Release date: February 19th 2016 (Digital), March 18th (CD)

Label: Hollywood Records


 

DARTH PUNK

While the electro-rocking helmet-wearing duo from France have long brought some shiny sci-fi sensibilities to the dancefloor, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who felt that what the contemporary music scene was missing was an injection of space opera. But in yet another example of how ever-present Star Wars has become in modern society, that is exactly what we get with new club-friendly compilation Star Wars: Headspace.

What sounds like an underground mixtape cobbled together in some obsessive fan boy’s bedroom is actually a fully-licenced album endorsed by Lucasfilm and Bad Robot. Those concerned that this is no more than John William’s iconic orchestral score sped up and set to a synthesized drum beat need fear not, as Headspace contains 15 all-new compositions written and performed by such accomplished disc-jockeys as Röyksopp (pictured below), Bonobo, Rustie and Breakbot, and co-executive produced by industry supremo Rick Rubin (Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Run-D.M.C.).

True, the results are a mixed bag, but the majority veer on the decent and endearing side of experimental. Album opener “C-3PO’s Plight” by Kascade was clearly chosen to lead the pack due to its Bespin-high quality – mixing a summery, piano-led vibe with scant interpolations of goldenrod’s dialogue. Track 2, “Help Me!” by GTA is the closest offender to cheesily derivative, sounding mightily reminiscent of an Imperial March remix.

Track 6, “R2 Knows” by Claude VonStroke deserves special mention due to its extravagant robot rap by Barry Drift, which recounts an often cheeky summary of the original trilogy to music (let’s just say they broach the controversial topic of who shot first). The first time I heard it I winced in embarrassment, but a couple of listens later and I was gleefully chanting along with its catchy rhyming couplets!

A number of artists mine the same popular samples, so Darth Vader’s breathing and Leia’s “Help Me, Obi-Wan Kenobi” line are oft-repeated, while certain elements such as alarm and siren calls become noticeable in their over-use, but Headspace is not the absurd laughing stock it could so easily have been. Audacious, trippy and a lot of fun, I can well imagine Ponda Baba twerking the night away in the Mos Eisley Cantina to “Scruffy-Looking Nerfherder”.

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars

Xscape Origins (Book Review)

Written by: Damien Shields
Published by: Modegy, 2015.
141 pages.
damienshields.com         xscapeorgins.com


 

XPOSING THE BLUEPRINTS

Reaching #1 around the world, receiving healthy reviews, regular radio spins and music channel plays and introducing a new generation to the genius that is Michael Jackson, it is fair to say that Sony’s second major posthumous album, 2014’s Xscape, was a sizable hit. But for all its critical and commercial success, the album left a sour taste in the mouth of some long-term supporters.

Motivated by his dissatisfaction that the King of Pop’s “unpolished gems” were relegated to deluxe edition bonus tracks in lieu of what were essentially newly produced remixes by big name producers du jour (Timbaland, StarGate, J-Roc), lifelong Australian mega-fan Damien Shields began to research and compile a book through which he could shine a light on the work, energy and passion which his idol put into perfecting the original unreleased tracks and demo versions.

“A perfectionist has to take his time…. He shapes and he moulds and he sculpts that thing until it’s perfect. He can’t let it go before he’s satisfied; he can’t.”

Xscape Origins: The Songs & Stories Michael Jackson Left Behind (to give its full, synopsis-encompassing title) is that book, stitching myriad collaborator interviews, studio anecdotes, hard facts and song trivia into an easily accessible and moreish read. Shields self-deprecatingly reduces his input to that of “storyteller” in his ‘Introduction’, but he should be commended for his journalist talent in conveying what could be a deluge of baffling and boring details in a light and enlightening document. The fact that the book concludes with FIFTEEN pages of ‘Sources’ and ‘Acknowledgements’ cements the author’s exhaustive commitment to this defiant passion project.

Taking the album’s eight tracks chapter-by-chapter, Origin’s economic length is constricted by the source material’s skimpy duration. But within each chapter a wealth of knowledge is imparted – some of which I, as a diehard fan since the age of 7, was shocked to learn and surprised I had never heard before. That Shields was able to bag exclusive interviews with such A-list musicians and engineers as Michael Prince, Brad Buxer, Cory Rooney, Dr. Freeze and Rodney Jerkins (to name but a few) is a major coup – and shows how much their time writing and recording with Michael Jackson resonates even with industry professionals.

It’s just a pity that due to its antagonistic, record company and Estate-needling nature Xscape Origins will only ever be an unofficial fan-made curio, as the prose content is breathtakingly insightful. Sadly prose is all it consists of, where some photographs and pictorial documentation (of studio sessions, handwritten lyrics, etcetera) would undoubtedly have elevated this slim paperback into an even more compelling and well-rounded glimpse into the creative process of one of music’s most inspirational and enigmatic legends.

CR@B Verdict: 4 stars

Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off The Wall (CD/Blu-ray Review)


12 – 93mins – 2016


WHEN THE WORLD IS ON YOUR SHOULDER…

Back in 2012, The Estate of Michael Jackson went all-out with a mega-impressive, multi-platform cornucopia of releases to celebrate the silver anniversary of 1987’s Bad album. Mouth-watering for diehard fans (amongst which I count myself), the mix of CD, DVD, regular, deluxe, super-deluxe and standalone formats confounded and overwhelmed casual music listeners, and the project did not hit the sales target Sony Music were hoping for.

The outcome of this was that acclaimed director Spike Lee’s anticipated feature-length Bad 25 documentary was somewhat overshadowed by album, concert and bonus disc releases, to such a degree that when it finally saw a home video release the following year, it was quietly snuck out as a web-store exclusive which, to this day, is rarely in stock.

For these reasons, The Estate have taken a more stripped back approach in releasing Lee’s follow-up passion piece on the King of Pop’s seminal debut solo LP, Off The Wall. So, gone are the confusing multi-disc bundles chock-full of club-friendly remixes, demos and rarities, gone are the live album and concert tour DVDs, and gone are the fan-servicing super-deluxe packages replete with programmes, t-shirts and posters. In their place we get the new documentary (on your choice of either DVD or Blu-ray format) together with the original 1979 album, as the artist originally released it – oh, and a piece of chalk, to graffiti the gatefold ‘wall’ in any cover-inspired way you see fit!The loyal fanbase will bemoan the omission of additional content (after all, who doesn’t already own multiple copies of Off The Wall?), but there’s something to be said – in this digital age of self-compiled playlists and shuffle buttons – for presenting Michael’s definitive, untouched vision for a new generation to appreciate. Meanwhile, older generations have the opportunity to rediscover this culturally significant album which is often unfairly overshadowed by the monster industry-shaping landmarks which followed.

I will shamefully confess that prior to this sets’ release last Friday, it had been a good few years since I last played the album front-to-back, but what instantly hit me as I soaked it in anew, was the energy and youthful exuberance which shines through, not only on the disco-infused hit singles everyone knows (Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough, Rock With You, Working Day And Night), but even on the lesser-known album tracks – including saccharine-sweet McCartney-penned ditty Girlfriend, which is generally dismissed as an easy skip!

So, what of Lee’s mouthful-monikered film? The Do The Right Thing director sticks to a very similar style and structure as on Bad 25, editing knockout performance footage and archival interviews with the man himself alongside present day talking heads of friends, family, musical collaborators and famous fans to best tell the incredible story of Michael’s phenomenal journey from cherubic lead signer in a Motown pop band to artistic juggernaut and biggest star on the planet. Like before, the second half delves deeper into the creation process with a track-by-track examination of the 1979 LP.

Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off The Wall is a fascinating and inspiring film packed with production tidbits and behind the scenes anecdotes which is clearly crafted with L.O.V.E.. It benefits from a trimmer runtime than its ungainly predecessor (Estate executive John Branca allegedly requested a tighter edit) and fewer pointless testimonials from five minute wonders who never met the man. Sure, John Legend, Mark Ronson, Pharrell Williams and The Weekend do all feature, but their contribution is more insightful and heartfelt than Justin Bieber’s gushing over Bad.

What most touched me as the feature drew to a close was how – even after 25 years of fervent fandom – Spike Lee still managed to open my eyes to the spellbinding talent, humility and drive which made Michael Joseph Jackson a real one off; truly irreplaceable. I will happily admit to welling up on multiple occasions as it hit home – not for the first or last time – how much this special man has inspired, brightened and impacted my life. His work will continue to entertain and amaze and, thanks to documentaries such as this one, his legacy will continue to burn bright for generations to come.

Chalk this one up as a success!

CR@B Verdict: 4 stars