In 2006, Chris and his virtual band of hedgehogs set the world on fire. Now, they’re ready to do it all again – and no troll, no jerk, no pair of DIRTY, CRAPPED BRIEFS will get in their way.
While the first album had Chris singing karaoke-style over Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys songs, Chris’s tastes have broadened (like his physique) and now includes artists like Madonna, Meatloaf, and Bruce Springsteen. “Trollsta’s Paradise”, is sung over “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio, and is a blistering attack on the trolls and 4channers who have made his life a misery. Chris might hate black people, but that doesn’t mean he can’t appreciate gangsta rap, just as hating gay people has never stopped him from putting objects up his ass on occasion. You have to be open-minded about some things.
The next song is a remake of “Like a Virgin”, a topic Chris can speak on with some authority. Chris’s dulcet tones are hard to hear on this one, Madonna’s voice is about twice as loud as his mic volume. There’s one song that has Chris singing without any musical accompaniment – a creepy cover of Minnie Riperton’s “Loving You” where he sounds like Herbert from Family Guy. Doesn’t Herbert have a crush on a character called Chris? There you go, then.
This album comes from the period when he was dating a
girl troll called Ivy, and his new amorata finds her way into many of the modified lyrics. “I’m Sexy For My Ivy” is sung over Justin Timberlake’s “Sexyback”, which was a hit song merely three years prior to this “album” being made – remarkably early to the party by Chris’s standards. He has some trouble remembering his own lyrics and staying on the beat. I blame young love.
Ivy apparently owns a pair of hermit crabs called Crass and Champ, and Chris really took a liking to them. Meatloaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” gets redone into a song about the crabs making love at the beach. I don’t know if Ivy ever got around to telling Chris that Crass and Champ are both male.
The album is curious in that it could be interpreted as Chris finally starting to grow up. Hardly any of the songs are about videogames or pokemon or Sonichu. The only time Chris’s fictional characters get to strut their stuff is in the final song, “Punchy and Layla’s Dance In The Dark,” where they do a lot more than strutting. The final lyrics are “I’ll throw my best punches!
Hwah! Hwah!” Can someone get Layla to a battered woman’s shelter?
Surely no recommendation is needed, but suffice to say that the Hedgehog Boys have done it again. Get this album now, and please don’t put it up your ass.
The quality takes a bit of a hit on this one, mostly because of what HR departments call a “talent problem.” No Ballard. No Gira. Moore doesn’t contribute any prose. Coulthart doesn’t contribute any art. No Campbell or Burroughs. Whitechapel is MIA. At least James Havoc’s girlfriend doesn’t contribute a story, thank fuck for that.
Instead, the stories are written by creepy goombas from Creation and Savoy (Havoc, Britton, Mitchell…), authors that don’t exist according to Google, and Japanese cyberpunk writers. The results are uneven. Kenji Siratori doesn’t write a story so much as drop a bomb into the book, reducing clean virgin paper into a 5-page blast radius of sheer stupidity. Then there’s “visual art” by some guy called Wakamatsu Yukio. I personally fail to see how photos of Japanese women covered in dead goldfish could be considered Lovecraft-inspired, but maybe you go for that sort of thing.
Black Wurm Gism has a talent problem, and also a value problem. Even with all the stupidity and filler, the book barely makes it to the 180 page mark. The Starry Wisdom was nearly forty pages longer, and had a healthier content/filler ratio. Many of the stories are fairly interesting, but many of them can scarcely be considered stories.
The Starry Wisdom was dominated by conventional horror fiction, with a few experiments. Here the experiments dominate, with conventional horror fiction only briefly appearing like snatches of music emerging out of the atonal mess of an orchestra tuning up. DM Mitchell states that his intention was to steer Black Wurm Gism away from being a horror collection. He certainly succeeded – or failed, depending on your tastes. Personally, I would rather read JG Ballard than Kenji Siratori.
I liked the strange parts of Starry Wisdom, but Black Wurm Gism is obsessed with not making sense, and it leaves me cold. Why must everything be experimental and bizarre? Couldn’t they have included more than a few actual stories? If it’s an issue of content, what about William Hope Hodgeson…his work is now in the public domain now, isn’t it?
David Britton contributes a story from the Lord Horror universe. James Havoc co-writes a piece with “Herzan Chimera” (apparently comic artist Mike Philbin)…it’s funny seeing his prose straightjacketed into conventional style, like ape in a three piece suit. Otherwise it’s a steady trudge of obscurantist nobodies. Once the aforementioned fish-porn piece ends, we get the wonderfully titled but nearly unreadable “Machines Are Digging” by Reza Negarestani, a name I keep seeing in these kinds of books. He writes in a new genre called “theory fiction”, and it’s fairly clear why it’s a new genre.
If you liked the first book and want another fix, Songs of the Black Wurm Gism is what you’re looking for. But be warned: this time the china white has been cut with sawdust. It’s an inferior product, and I wish Mitchell had thrown Siratori and Negarestani and all the rest of these dickfucks away, kept the good stories, and released them in an updated version of Starry Wisdom. Horror collections live and die on the strength of their stories. Ten pages of naked women covered in fish is not a substitute.
I don’t like what HP Lovecraft has become. Read most modern Lovecraft-inspired books, and coinage like “literary strip mining” comes to mind – people insist on demystifying his mysteries, classifying what’s meant to be unclassifiable, and ruining or ignoring what was great about his stories. The Cthulhu Mythos (ew) is now a parody: as dull and overfamiliar as a Marvel comic book character roster. What everyone needs to do to Lovecraft is leave him alone, and stop scribbling graffiti over his tombstone. There’s something about being able to buy Cthulhu plush toys that makes him not seem cool any more.
With that said, The Starry Wisdom is a strong collection of stories. It doesn’t take itself seriously, and it doesn’t treat Lovecraft as some kind of holy canon. It contains a lot of tones and moods, a lot of experimentation, and a lot of subject matter that Lovecraft would have been appalled by.
JG Ballard’s “Prisoner of the Coral Deep”, Ramsey Campbell’s “Potential” and John Beal’s “Beyond Reflection” are fairly conservative, but most of the others are full of graphic sex and violence. Some authors take shock value to ludicrous extremes, packing in the sickness and depravity until the stories resemble nasty little transgression piñatas?. Others throw narrative away altogether, and instead try to evoke a strange mood.
Alan Moore contributes three stories – I’m not used to reading him unaccompanied by comic book art. As a stylist he resembles Clive Barker, with a lot of florid, overheated imagery. “The Courtyard” is the best of the three. Michael Gira’s “The Consumer” is a blistering missive written in all caps, reading it feels like being gripped in an enormous fist and shaken. Simon Whitechapel’s “Walpurgisnachtmusik” is intense and strangely synaesthesic – one of the few written stories that I can hear as well as read.
There’s some comix, too. James Havoc contributes “Teenage Timberwolves”, with artist Daniele Sierra backing him up from the shotgun position. Like all of Havoc’s work it manages to be stupid, outrageous, and entertaining. John Coulthart’s famed interpretation of “The Call of Cthulhu” is featured here, but I fear he indulges in some of what I mentioned before, like over-literalisation of Lovecraft’s work. When we actually see Cthulhu, the result is anticlimactic. Someone like Junji Ito would probably have fared better. To be fair, the book is too small to do justice to Coulthart’s art – lines and words pack the pages like sardines in a tin. Creation were many things, but purveyors of impeccable artisanship is not one of them. I seem to recall a certain Suehiro Maruo “artbook” consisting of low-res jpegs copied off the internet…
Some stories hit, other stories miss, there’s a story called “Hypothetical Materfamilias” that misses so hard that it just about circles the world and strikes the target from the other side. Adele Olivia Gladwell was apparently Havoc’s girlfriend, and I hope he got lots of anal in return for this because it’s retarded and annoying and resembles something Burroughs would write if he was twelve years old and in SPED class. Speak of the devil: Burroughs has a story in this book too. When I read his work I always feel like I’m missing a trick – like I’m the mark in some joke or con and he’s laughing at me from the other side of the page. I didn’t understand Naked Lunch and I don’t understand this one, either.
But there are so many stories by so many authors that you’d be hard pressed not to find something you like. Don’t even think of it as being Lovecraft-inspired – the connection is vague and best, and Starry Wisdom is better seen as a collection of extreme/transgressive literature. Lovecraft would have spat venom upon this book, but it works for me.
The Masterplan name, by the way, was suggested by a Brazilian fan in 2002 who was delighted that so many master musicians were planning together. They were a nearly a definitive heavy metal supergroup, made up of cast-offs from Helloween, Iron Savior, and Ark. Roland Grapow’s modern and progressive riffing style plus Uli Kusch’s dizzying technical drumbeats plus Jorn Lande’s continent-filling vocals equaled very, very good music.
Unfortunately, problems started setting in after their second album: slackening record sales, a feud between Uli and Roland, and worst of all, a singer who just didn’t care that much. Since then the band has been like a drowning man being pulled downstream and clutching at eddying pieces of driftwood. New singers, new drummers, new styles. After the dry, Scorpions-inspired Time to Be King, Novum Initium finds the band playing power metal, this time with Rick Altzi on vocals and an incredibly powerful new drummer called Martin Skaroupka. If Kusch was Les Binks then Skaroupka is Scott Travis – relentless double-bass flurries and lightning fast snare fills, amplified by a production job so dense and heavy that Novum Initium borders on sounding ridiculous.
There’s still a bit more midtempo material than is really needed, but Novum Initium regains the ground lost by Time to be King, and introduces.
“The Game” is ferociously fast, with many different sections. “Black Night of Magic” is a bit like “Kind Hearted Light” on the debut, except with the riffs stealing market share from the keyboards instead of the other way around. “Pray on My Soul” is an adequate midtempo unit-shifter. The ballad “Through Your Eyes” is musically well done, although the production is too heavy and compressed to work for this sort of song. It’s like the band is performing open heart surgery with a sledgehammer.
“Betrayal” features prominent sitar sections and an agitated chorus, but the best song is “Return to Avalon”, a simple tribute to Helloween that does not do a single thing wrong. It’s catchy enough to be memorised after your first listen, but it has enough contrapuntal intrigue and complexity for that not to be your last listen. The chord changes backing the final repetition of the chorus are brilliant.
The final song is the 10:17 title track. I had high expectations, and they were kind of met. It’s an impressive musical achievement, with Roland bashing out lots of low-end riffs and keyboardist Axel Mackenrott laying down atmosphere like a bastard. But it lacks the flying speed and majesty of “Black in the Burn” and feels like too little bread spread over too much butter (or whatever hobbits say). Still, that final chorus is a thing of beauty. I think it would have been better if they’d shaved two or three minutes off – I’m not picky where.
Masterplan is not down and they’re not out. They don’t match their first three albums, and they probably never will, again, but they’re still a massive threat. If nothing else, it beats the latest Helloween album, and that’s kind of the whole reason this band exists.
Something pro-choice people talk about is that pro-life billboards often don’t show the mother’s face, which apparently makes her into an object, or some sort of baby factory. That might be true, but the baby’s face is even less visible. In fact, you can’t see the baby at all. It’s hidden.
Once, art was like that. You only got to see the end result – the laborious and painful creation process was hidden from public view. A project was announced, and then you’d have no idea of how it was going. Maybe the creator was having the time of his life, or was reaching for the shotgun, or was farming the project off on to an unpaid and uncredited assistant. You didn’t know.
The internet in general and the webcomic in particular changed that. People would upload comics sequentially, page by page. If a update was late, you might get an apology and an explanation why. A bit destructive to the artist’s mystique, but it was interesting. Like if pregnant women had transparent stomachs and you could see the fetus twist and writhe and struggle.
The Blackblood Alliance was a webcomic I liked when my age was less than it is now (tautology). It was a story about talking wolves, with lots of action, and art heavily inspired by The Lion King and Balto. It was familiar and safe, but good for what it was. The creator, Kay Fedewa, would upload pages and talk about them and redraw them as her skills became better.
Unfortunately, not all pregnancies result in a birth. This one ended in a miscarriage. The first issue was completed, and then updates became less frequent, and then stopped altogether. From time to time Kay would announce on DeviantArt that she had turned a corner, was resuming work on the comic, was more inspired than ever, etc. Nothing happened. I heard rumors of personal trouble: the death of a mother. Either way, it was clear that Kay was no longer capable of finishing The Blackblood Alliance.
Maybe she aimed too high. She had big plans for the Blackblood Alliance, such as an MMORPG and a cartoon series. Maybe when those things failed, they took the comic down with them. I don’t know. I got to see part of the comic’s creation, but the really crucial parts remained close to me. Eventually she admitted defeat and handed the comic over to partner Erin Siegel, who has done a whole lot of nothing with it. I wonder if both Kay and Erin regard The Blackblood Alliance as something they did when they were kids – what excites you now won’t excite you forever. Mario Puzo actually wanted to write another book instead of the Godfather. When questioned about it years later, he said “subject matter rots like everything else.”
The fragmentary first issue of The Blackblood Alliance still exists online. Has the rest of it rotted in Kay’s head? Maybe. But that to me makes it really special – probably more special than if the comic had been completed. It’s forever a question mark, forever a mystery. The story is stuck in limbo: it hasn’t ended, and it never will. The internet was the way Kay chose to distribute the comic, but ultimately all it did was show readers exactly how a comic can wither and die on the vine.
McCartney wrote to Lennon “You took your lucky break and broke it in two”. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo takes its lucky break and breaks it into at least three or four. It starts out as an exciting story about journalism, white-collar crime, and ethics, and ends up trying to be American Psycho. The sleazy human interest elements ruin the story, which was a shame, because the story was great. Never have I seen a book so in flight from its strengths.
The story is about journalist Mikael Blomkvist, who has just lost a libel suit against a crooked industrialist. With his professional reputation in tatters, and a prison stint looming, he accepts a strange proposal. Forty years ago, the daughter of a legendary Swedish businessman went missing, and a member of the family might be guilty of her murder. Blomkvist must investigate the massive Vanger clan, and try to warm up a case so cold that it’s covered in permafrost.
“Businessman” is one of fiction’s ubiquitous code words. In a porno, it means you don’t satisfy your wife. In a family film, it means you’re a type-A workaholic who forgets his son’s birthday. In a Michael Moore film, it means you’re an amoral monster who probably belongs in a room with padded walls. Stieg Larsson takes no half measures, and provides us with a few businessmen of each description. Some of the Vanger family are nasty, which is troubling. Some of them seem nice – which is even more troubling, because they wouldn’t be in a book like this if they were nice.
The Girl in the title is Lisbeth Salander, a computer hacker. She’s an interesting and marketable character, but the book gives her little to do. She commits a few computer crimes and gets even with a rapist. This is mostly Blomkvist’s show, as the strange story of the Vanger clan uncoils like a snake in the grass. Each discovery raises new questions, and new dangers – some people aren’t happy to have a disgraced journalist rattling the local skeletons.
The book was fine up until this point, and then all manner of fecal products started hitting all manner of spinning blades. There’s a sudden and implausible serial killer plotline, and a Saw-esque torture dungeon…all I could think of was “what?” I don’t have an issue with anything in the book for it is, but they make no sense with what went before. Part of what I liked about Dragon Tattoo was its grounding in reality, and suddenly all of that was yanked away. The sudden twists and turns into B-movie gore porn only succeeded in giving me whiplash.
American Psycho worked at a certain level, but that was because you make concessions to it (it’s a heavily stylised book, it’s metaphorical, it’s told by an unreliable narrator.) Put elements of its plot in a John Grisham book and they’d just seem unbelievable and ridiculous. A book has to have a certain internal logic, an unspoken agreement of what can happen and what can’t. All Dragon Tattoo does is succeed in being a malformed literary chimaera.
The final pages just screw things up even more, with characters taking visits to Australia (??), while the reader gets bodyslammed with plot twist after implausible plot twist. The result is a huge, overstuffed, unconvincing mess: too many reveals, too many changes of motivation, too many themes, too many characters, and not enough sanity. Reading Dragon Tattoo is like going for a car ride and finding that your destination is a beach, an amusement park, and a zoo all rolled into one – with the rollercoaster awash in seawater and tigers climbing the Ferris Wheel.
I watched this more times than the first Lion King movie. I think I was trying to persuade myself that it was better than the original. It isn’t, of course, but it’s still quite good – probably Disney’s best direct to video movie.
The music is not as good as the first movie, and overall things aren’t as bright and colourful and fun. Here the palette is muddy and dark, especially in the final scene, which makes Africa look rather like a Stalinist gulag. The Timon and Pumba characters are given a lot of time…probably a bit too much. I find them distracting.’
But the story’s surprisingly good, picking up where the first one left off. Not a lot of kids movies show the consequences of the hero’s actions, but this one does, with large numbers of Scar’s supporters banished from the tribe and nursing their wounds in the desert. The plot is a bit similar to other Disney movies, but The Lion King wasn’t a paragon of originality either, and the sequel has some twists and turns that probably wouldn’t have worked in the original’s Biblical/Hamlet inspired tale.
The voice talent is mostly intact, except that Rowan Atkinson no longer voices Zazu (and believe me, he’s much missed.) The new villain is just a female Scar without Scar’s sense of humour. I wonder why they didn’t have survive Lion King‘s final scene and make a comeback. When I was 10 and saw the ripped-to-shreds character Nuka, I misunderstood and thought that was exactly what they had done. As it is, Zira creates continuity problems. Where was she when the events of the first movie were happening?
Rafiki’s still in fine form, and Nala and Kovu are good characters. We don’t have the very typical scenario of the main character being the least interesting part of the movie, which is fortunate – some of Disney’s legit theater-released movies can’t say the same. The characterisation is good enough that the real stick-the-knife-in-and-twist scenes in the second half of the movie come off well, and are suitably moving.
In 1932, Walt Disney released a short called Three Little Pigs. The short proved unexpectedly popular, with audiences identifying with the pigs and reviling the wolf (who they saw as symbolic of The Great Depression). Disney banged out several more shorts, and when none of them created the original’s sensation did he is said to have remarked “you can’t follow pigs with pigs.” Maybe not, but you can certainly follow lions with lions, and this movie is proof.
I haven’t listened to his album. For one thing, I don’t believe I’d like it. Second, it costs money. Ridiculous. Apparently, in the year 2013, they seriously expect fifteen to twenty dollars for this album. I tried to walk out of the music store with CDs stuffed in my pockets, but they called security. Sometimes I swear this whole “compact disc” format is just a racket to make money.
However, I’ve listened to a few songs from it, and I have some suggestions as to how modern music could be made better.
1. It is not necessary to have a black guy standing around going “ayuh” or “yeah” every few seconds.
2. Please keep the number of “guest stars” to a small number. I’m tired of song titles like “In Da Club ft IBleedCrystal w/ MC NeverLearnedtoRead & DJ IrresponsibleLifestyle.” Adopt George Bezos’s 2-pizzas rule. Could the album’s guest support be fed with just two pizzas? Actually, forget that. Most of the people on this album probably practice bulimia, and thus any number of guest stars could be fed with two pizzas.
3. Putting a hashtag in a song title should be punished by being bastinado’d. It would be a simple: hashtags in your songs equals bruises on your feet. That would solve the problem.
4. Jumping on a flavour-of-the-moment fad will only date your music and make it seem ridiculous to future listeners, like reverb-saturated snares date songs as being from the 80s, and “we built this city…” dates songs as being from a period with terrible taste.
5. Leave your shitty bonus tracks and shitty remixes on the cutting room floor. Stop using them as an excuse to release the same album three times.
6. You might not like the music you made as a child, but it has earned you millions of dollars, which should help dry the tears. And statements like “this is my first real album” are unwise, especially when said album is crappier and more boring than your past ones.
7. If your list of “urban” producers and songwriters looks more like the membership rolls of the Eight Tray Gangster Crips, maybe it’s time to dial back a bit.
8. If all the discussion about you revolves around your shocking antics and your “mature image”, it’s time to quit music and become a porn star, because that’s what people are really paying to see.
Murray Kempton once said “A critic is someone who enters the battlefield after the war is over and shoots the wounded”, and I’ve always felt the same way. Being a professional critic, even one with a Pulitzer, sounds unsatisfying and wearisome. You’re not a creator. You’re a parasite, feeding off someone else’s work. Even if you help guide a reader to an amazing artist, it’s the artist they’ll remember, not you. This is one of the final books by a man who performed this unfulfilling duty for nearly fifty years.
Roger Ebert was the best film critic of his time, and maybe one of the best writers, too. He was an optimiser, with an uncanny ability to fit twenty words’ meaning into ten words’ space. He was also a master of the dead-on metaphor. “…like an alarm that goes off while nobody is in the room. It does its job and stops, and nobody cares.” Or “…like taking a bus trip with someone who has needed a bath for a long time“.
It would be too to write this just by copying and pasting quotes from his reviews. Ebert was much more than just a critic, although he was very good at that. Most of the time, anyway. It’s true that in his final years he started playing softball with his ratings – I got the feeling that he loved movies so much that he didn’t have the heart to criticise them by the end. But those years are not found in this book, which collects all his vitriol from 2000 to 2006 or so.
The title comes from a famous incident in 2005, when he slammed a Rob Schneider movie and provoked an embarrassing reaction from said director. There’s two other another confrontations with irate directors mentioned in the beginning, then it’s on to the reviews. Ebert watched about 500 movies a year, and was indiscriminate in his taste. There’s underground art films, and Hollywood blockbusters, and even childrens’ movies.
The book’s worth reading as a sample of Ebert’s writing, but it’s also an interesting exhibit of the art of criticism. Ebert was perfectly happy to watch a movie he didn’t understand, or one that wasn’t aimed at him. He’d simply describe his reaction, and let that suffice as a review of the movie. As he himself said, “Even when a critic dislikes a movie, if it’s a good review, it has enough information so you can figure out whether you’d like it, anyway.” Although at one point (the review of the first Scooby-Doo movie) he just throws up his hands and tells you to go read someone else’s review.
Ebert was a powerful writer and a clever man, but I wonder whether he regretted any of this. He tried his hand at making movies in the early days. What if he’d stuck at it? He has a good understanding of filmmaking and storytelling, but whether that translates to actual cinematic success is anyone’s guess. Many of these reviews are better than the movies that inspired them, but they probably won’t be remembered as long – if at all. As I said, it must be frustrating being a critic. You’re like a eunuch guarding the sultan’s harem – you know all about it…and you can’t do it.
Aqua were a one hit wonder, and this is the album they released after the all-important “one hit” DMZ line.
Diagnosis: the band tries too hard. They throw everything at you, including the kitchen sink, the pipes behind their house, and parts of the Norwegian public water distribution system. The album fails to supply any songs as good as “Barbie Girl” and “Dr Jones”, and is quite dull most of time. The arrangements are overstuffed and undernourished, with too many ideas, and not enough really catchy hooks. Aquarius accomplishes the odd feat of being simultaneously boring and overwhelming.
“Cartoon Heroes” and “Goodbye to the Circus” are symphonic, but not in a way that improves the music. The orchestral sections are unnecessary, existing only for their own sake. “Around the World” is barely enough to keep you awake. “Cuba Libre” is an uninteresting latin pop song. Ricky Martin was big at the time, and the band rips him off with all enthusiasm of a foreman ticking a task off a list.
The best songs are “Bumble Bees” and “Freaky Friday”, which may have passed as crappier tracks on Aquarium. The outrageous sexual innuendo is still there and maybe even exaggerated a bit, while other lyrics have a kind of downbeat fatalism. “Welcome to the cliches, welcome to the part…We are what we are, what’s built up will fall, do what you want and be happy.” Slow down, you party animals. Male vocalist René Dif sounds muted and depressed. I guess discovering that your girlfriend is getting deep-dicked by your bandmate doesn’t do wonders for your self esteem.
There’s not much on this album worth listening to. What a disappointment. I was a big fan of Aquarium, it was well-realised and executed, didn’t take itself seriously, and had lots of great songs. There’s no great songs here, just one or two that that maybe pass muster. Some songs sound utterly terrible, like “Halloween”, with its painfully acted skits and annoying chorus. Mostly, though, Aquarius exists at the level of boring. Just listen to “We Belong to the Sea.” My brain just shuts itself off after a few bars. It’s like a fuse blowing.
If you want stupid late 90s pop music, go with Aquarium, go with Vengaboys, go with The Spice Girls, maybe even try Lene Nystrom’s solo album Play with Me. Even Aqua’s godawful comeback album sounds better than this. What we’re witnessing here is a band killing their career. They try, and try, and try, and it’s all for nothing.
Aquarius is desperate, and slightly disturbing. Aqua always did sound a little creepy, like music made by a robot. This album is where the robot realises it doesn’t have a soul and starts crying.