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Written by Phil Robinson Friday, 04 July 2014 13:05
Features - Reviews
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With an increasing trend in television series being the ‘new film’ format, it is quite difficult to decide what is worth watching and what is best avoided like the plague. If you are one of many currently suffering withdrawal symptoms from Game of Thrones or eagerly biting the arm of your sofa in anticipation of The Walking Dead series five, you might be interested in HBO’s latest book to screen adaptation ‘The Leftovers’ which premiered a pilot on June 29th.

Co-created by the writer of the book; Tom Perrotta and Damon Lindeloff (better known for creating sci fi show Lost), The Leftovers introduces us to a world in which two percent of the world’s population mysteriously disappeared in the blink of an eye with no explanation. (Doesn’t sound bad to me!)

The pilot of the Leftovers focuses primarily on several interconnected characters in a fictional town of Mapleton (New York), three years after the main mass disappearances. By this point the characters (and the rest of the world) have had time to react, reflect and interpret what it all means. Justin Theroux plays the chief of police Kevin Garvey and probably the most central character so far, as we see him interact with the rest of the town. He also seems to be the main mediator between various forces at odds with each other, including his own family, himself, and his relation to them.

Unlike other shows such as the Dome and the Walking dead which address the notions of the end times and the apocalypse and how it affects people , The Leftovers is much more meditative and ‘quiet’: With no external antagonist to fight such as a zombie, a dome or a killer virus, the characters are left to their own desperate ruminations. Big existential ideas on the meaning of life and if there is a reason to carry on living a ‘normal life’ become some of the main themes. The show also takes a religious slant with a chunk of population believing it is the Rapture, and those faithful true believers that have vanished have been taken so by God. Expect to see creepy ever silent characters dressed all in white who belong to a cult group; ‘The Guilty Remnants’ who believe that those left on earth are just that; guilty, and they serve to remind others of what they have lost and Gods almighty power... Oddly by chain-smoking! But do they have another sinister agenda? What is wrong with the local dog population? And who exactly is Holy Wayne and what sort of bliss is he offering his devoted followers?

The Leftovers has a lot of material to play with and is doing so with delicacy, focusing more on atmosphere and tone than exposition. The music to the show, by Max Richter, also helps set the melancholy mood which reverberates throughout as one of sadness and contemplation. This is not to suggest the show lacks any real plot. Apparently Lindeloff has made some changes from the book to give the show more direction with certain plot arcs. What these changes will be we will have to wait and see as the story unfolds.

The show has attracted a lot of praise but also a lot of hate for not delivering enough explanations on the situation, which is an ironic shame as the key idea of the show is how people react to a world with no control and the unknown. Perhaps the general viewing public are so used to having every plot point spoon fed to them Avengers style and not so comfortable with giving a show the same attention you would give a book. But it is still early days and there is a lot the show could do well or fail miserably at. As with ‘Lost’ people loved the mystery, but hated the answers (or lack thereof).

The Leftovers may not be about ascertaining any particular answers, but if the journey the characters go on becomes more interesting than the disappearance phenomenon itself, it could still be a profound show worth giving time to.

The good:

  • Well acted
  • Atmospheric
  • Good amount of mystery and suspense

The bad:

  • Depressing for most viewers
  • Ambiguous
  • Some annoying teens in the show. (But I think that’s a personal bugbear)



Written by Jamie Brannon Saturday, 31 May 2014 17:32
Features - Reviews
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Franz Ferdinand, Birmingham Academy

Ten years on from their eponymous debut, Scottish art-rockers Franz Ferdinand have returned to the sound that catapulted them abruptly into the mainstream of new British guitar bands. New album ‘Right Thought, Right Words, Right Action’, won’t gain the commercial recognition of their debut. Not because it’s no good, but the musical climate has shifted away from guitar music.

However the new album has re-energised Franz Ferdinand and allowed the band chance to find their identity again, as tensions had surfaced when their ‘golden years’ had begun to dissipate.
Evidence of this renewed zest could be witnessed in tonight’s show at the close to sold out Birmingham Academy.

One constant that permeates their live shows is the symmetry the band have on stage, throwing shapes in unison, wielding their guitars as weapons, and sounding extremely tight as a unit.
Beginning with ‘Bullet’, Franz rattle off the hits with nonchalant ease, including the deliciously playful ‘Tell Her Tonight’, the slightly macabre ‘Evil Eye’, and an exultant airing of ‘Do You Want To’.

It’s when their biggest hit – the ubiquitous ‘Take Me Out’ – is unleashed that true pandemonium ensues, sparking carnage on the dancefloor. What’s more impressive is how this is then maintained for the remainder of the set, which finishes with a four-track encore, the highlight being the lead single off the new record, ‘Right Action’, a song that has breathed new life into Franz Ferdinand, and we are richer for it.

Written by Jamie Brannon Saturday, 31 May 2014 17:26
Features - Reviews
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Steel Panther, Wolverhampton Civic Hall

When you view Steel Panther’s live shows on YouTube, it’s usually in short excerpts. What comes across is a pastiche of ‘80s “hair-metal”, ironic misogyny, wild, brash dress sense and an infantile sense of humour. In a loosely compelling way, this suggested a full Steel Panther gig could be, at very least, a good night out.

However sustaining this brand of cheap, one-dimensional entertainment for a full ninety minutes is another matter entirely. Named the ‘Spreading the Disease’ (STD) tour, Steel Panther are dressed in their trademark spandex gear, attempting to belie the fact they are old enough to be the fathers of the many women who mount the stage and, in the majority of cases,  show their ‘boobies’, another tradition of a Steel Panther live performance.

The Achilles heel for Steel Panther is that beyond the relatively clever parody of ‘80s metal, the in between song patter and half-naked women, their canon of songs is inferior to the type of music they are lampooning. It’s if they consider the music a secondary concern to their decadent tomfoolery, a mere punctuation mark. The pastiche wears thin, though, especially after the third wanking joke.

For the record, songs like ‘Just Like Tiger Woods’, Let Me Cum In’, ‘Hair Solo’ and ‘Gold Digging Whore’ are generally met with appreciation, but the songs all morph into a whole entity, nothing really distinguishing itself as anything more than a Bon-Jovi B-side (heaven forbid!)

A bloated, tiresome and repetitive set comes to a climax with ‘Party All Day (Fuck All Night)’. From now on, a brief foray on to YouTube is all that is required to gain an understanding of the Steel Panther manifesto.

Written by Jamie Brannon Saturday, 31 May 2014 17:17
Features - Reviews
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Manic Street Preachers, Cardiff International Arena

A band like the Manic Street Preachers will never slip into cultural irrelevance, especially when younger bands fail to tap into the current political disillusionment around the UK, which has resulted in a nationalist party enjoying unprecedented election success. The Welsh veterans may not be as spiky, angst-ridden and destructive as in their youth, but then you can’t expect a band in their mid-forties to not evolve both musically and lyrically, something which has helped maintain the Manics lofty position as ‘National Treasures’.

Most recent album ‘Rewind the Film’ saw the band reflecting on middle age and their own significance “I’m sick and tired of being 4Real, only the fiction still has the appeal”, sounded like a band contemplating the exit door. Fear not, this current UK tour represented an opportunity to show that they hadn’t reached the 18TH hole just yet.

On home soil at the Cardiff International Arena, they produced a blistering, career-spanning 23-track set that showed the vitality that keeps them selling these types of venues.
Beginning with the ‘Holy Bible’s’ signature track ‘Faster’ the tempo and aggression was set out early, and they then ran through a flurry of hits: ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’, ‘(It’s Not War) Just the End of Love’, and ‘Your Love Alone Is Not Enough’ to great acclaim of hometown heroes.

After the four-track opening burst, they throw a curveball in the shape of new track ‘Europa Geht Durch Mich’, a disco punk-rock number, complete with Jah Wobble-esque basslines and a heavy lyrical focus on all things European. Given this was a precursor to their forthcoming twelfth album ‘Futurology’, it is remarkable how the Manics retain their capacity to try something different while continuing to make the make listener think from an intellectual standpoint.

With the back catalogue now so diverse and vast, it’s a set that’s schizophrenic in its ordering. This never more evident than when they play the glorious ‘Everything Must Go’ followed by the poignant, lilting ‘Rewind the Film’, which misses the seductive crooning of Richard Hawley, whose absence is somewhat offset by the majestic imagery that plays in the background, showcasing the melancholic beauty of the Welsh valleys.

As is MSP tradition, singer James Dean Bradfield indulges in a near to mid-set acoustic slot, playing a taut, gritty ‘From Despair to Where’, and the elegiac ‘This Sullen Welsh Heart’.
When his bandmates return, the mood intensifies with the caustic ‘Archives of Pain’, sounding immense as Bradfield indulges his guitarist ego with a faultless, sublime guitar solo – a set highpoint.

Another new track ‘Futurology’ is despatched to a largely muted reaction, but recalls the guitars of the ‘Everything Must Go’ era, and continues with the European theme that will define much of the next record of the same name.

A highly-charged Tsunami (always underrated live) leads us towards the end, followed by a snarling ’30-Year War’, an exuberant thrash-through of ‘Motown Junk’, before the obligatory climax of ‘A Design For Life’ – the Welsh anthem for those shafted in the principality by Thatcher’s brutal, soulless and devastating premiership.

Until new bands can come through and provide a fresh take on the Manics’ existential, intelligent and politicised rock, the future remains Manic.

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