James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 21: Urban Hymns

James Proclaims (4)

We’re now at the part of the A-Z Challenge that is all about ‘U’.

“About time,” ‘U’ must be saying.

And I’m sorry I had to make ‘U’ wait.

However, there are 20 letters that come before ‘U’ in the alphabet.

But they’ve had their time and now we finally get to ‘U’.

U2020

U is for Urban Hymns

The_Verve,_Urban_Hymns

If the phenomenon known as Britpop was beginning to decline by 1997 then someone forgot to tell Richard Ashcroft.

Because ‘Urban Hymns’ was about to launch a dysfunctional and fairly unknown band called The Verve very firmly into the spotlight.

Although they’d enjoyed some moderate success with their very decent second album, ‘A Northern Soul’, they had, to that point, been largely overlooked by the record-buying public, who had bestowed greater fortunes on inferior bands.

If you’d asked me before 1997 if I’d heard of The Verve, I could have answered yes, but mainly because their song ‘History’ was on a compilation album I owned, back when owning compilation albums was a thing. I liked the track, but this was pre-Internet, or at least prior to the ubiquity of the Internet (which is a weird thing to write but it really was) and I couldn’t very easily check out the rest of their material. I had no intention of buying their album on the basis of one song. I just didn’t have enough pocket money for that kind of frivolity (actually I would have had a Saturday job by then but I thought pocket money made for a funnier sentence. I’ve now ruined that by adding this, but I don’t want you to think I was some kind of workshy teenager who relied on his parents to pay for everything. I was and I tried to, but they made me get a Saturday job anyway). Also, The Verve split up after they released ‘A Northern Soul’ so it didn’t seem worth investing any time in them.

But then they reformed and released ‘Urban Hymns’. And it was one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums in British music history.

The success wouldn’t last especially long, the band were a pretty self-destructive entity and rather that reap the rewards of becoming the band of the moment, arguably the only band that could stop the direction of British guitar-based music becoming dominated by Coldplay and their ilk, the Verve split up. Again.

Richard Ashcroft went on to enjoy some success as a solo artist and they did reform one more time and released a decent enough fourth album in the mid-noughties, but really their moment in the sun was ‘Urban Hymns’.

But what a moment it was.

It’s a brilliant album from start to finish, but a few tracks still stand out from the crowd.

‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ secured them their only UK number 1 in the singles chart, but the album and the band are probably most synonymous with the opening track, ‘Bittersweet Symphony’.

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 20: Tellin’ Stories

James Proclaims (4)

We’ve finally got to the 20th letter of the alphabet, which means the end is in sight.

But we’re not there yet.

First we have to stop for ‘T’.

I prefer mine with milk but no sugar.

Cos I’m sweet enough (ah that office banter that we’re all missing out on because of the lock-down).

But there’s no time for hot beverages because we must press on with the album of the day.

T2020

T is for Tellin’ Stories

Tellinstoriescover

The Charlatans have to be contenders for the most underrated British band of all time.

At least they appear to be underrated by me.

They were around during the pre-Britpop days of Madchester, they were around during the heady days of Britpop and they’ve pretty much been around ever since.

But when I think of Madchester, I tend to think of The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays and when I think of Britpop, the first bands that leap into my mind are Oasis, Blur and Pulp.

For some reason The Charlatans are not a band I really think about, until one of their songs pops up on my playlist, or I catch them on the radio or TV (which still happens from time to time).

Then I remember that I really like them.

Because they are a really good band.

And 1997’s ‘Tellin’ Stories’ is a great record.

‘One to Another’ was the biggest hit of the album, but I slightly prefer ‘North Country Boy’.

So we’re having that today.

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 19: Spiders

James Proclaims (4)

If this were an A-S of albums I liked when I was young, then we’d already be at the end.

But it’s an A-Z, so we aren’t at the end.

Because ‘Z’ comes after ‘S’ in the alphabet. But if you look at ‘S’ in the mirror, it looks like a kind of curvy ‘Z’.

I’m sure there’s a point in there somewhere.

S2020

S is for Spiders

Spidersspace

The demise, in the noughties of so many of the bands associated with Britpop, might not have been that surprising given the ever-changing tastes of the music-buying public.

But for Space, it must have been quite surprising that they were ever that big in the first place.

To describe their sound as eclectic would be to do them a disservice. They are absolutely bonkers.

Bonkers in the best way possible though. They were one of many bands that I saw live in the nineties and they definitely seemed to be the group that were having the most fun.

While other nineties bands, even those who have struggled to recapture their former glories, have at least managed to maintain some kind of platform to put out their music commercially, Space appear to have struggled and the only two studio albums you can still easily get hold of are their debut ‘Spiders’ and it’s immediate successor ‘Tin Planet’.

I couldn’t comment on any of their post ‘Tin Planet’ material, but those first two albums were both records that I played a lot in my youth.

Though notionally labelled as Britpop at the time, they really weren’t like anything else out there.

But they were great, and ‘Spiders’ in particular is an album that I enjoyed immensely when it was released.

I could pick any of the singles from this album to play us out today. ‘Me and You Versus the World’ was the biggest UK hit, but ‘Female of the Species’ is probably the track that first brought them to public attention and certainly the reason I bought the album.

So I’ve gone with that.

 

 

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 18: Return To The Last Chance Saloon

James Proclaims (4)

If you’ve been looking forward to this A-Z getting to the eighteenth letter of the alphabet then here we ‘R’.

But where exactly ‘R’ we?

At the letter ‘R’ of course.

I’d have thought that was abundantly clear from the way I just cleverly substituted the letter ‘R’ for the word ‘are’ above.

And then even more cleverly, I explained what was an obvious and poor joke, in order to increase the number of words in this preamble.

Anyway, on to the music…

R2020

R is for Return To The Last Chance Saloon

Bluetones_RTTLCS (1)

In 1996 The Bluetones exploded onto the scene with an album that stormed to the top of the charts and marked them out as heirs apparent to the Britpop crown.

That album was called ‘Expecting to Fly’, and I loved it.

What I loved slightly less was this, their follow-up album, ‘Return to the Last Chance Saloon’.

I wasn’t alone in not fully embracing the Bluetones sophomore effort, because, while it did OK, it really marked the beginning of the end of The Bluetones brief time at the top table of British music.

But, while it didn’t enjoy the commercial success of its predecessor, it’s not at all a bad album. It doesn’t have as many standout tracks as ‘Expecting to Fly’, and it certainly doesn’t have anything as radio-friendly as their breakout hit ‘Slight Return’ from that first album, but it’s arguably a more coherent work as a whole.

With thirteen songs, it’s probably a little longer than it needs to be, but there are some good songs on ‘Return to the Last Chance Saloon’ and with the benefit of hindsight, The Bluetones might just have been victims of the overall demise of Britpop.

The stand out track from this album is called ‘If’.

 

 

 

 

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 17: Quench

James Proclaims (4)

And so to ‘Q’ in my A-Z of albums I liked to listen to when I was young.

‘Q’ is always one of the more difficult letters in an A-Z challenge.

And it was quite the conundrum in this challenge too.

Not as difficult to solve as ‘X’ in the end but still quite tricky.

Fortunately there was one album from 1998 that came to the rescue.

Q2020

Q is for Quench

Quench_(album)

Born out of the remnants of 80s band The Housemartins, The Beautiful South were oft labelled as ‘everyone’s second favourite band’.

Which is a back-handed compliment if ever there was one, the obvious implication being that  most people quite liked The Beautiful South, but no-one really loved them.

And they are an easy band to like – even my mum had a couple of their albums. In fact I suspect it was her copy of ‘Quench’ that I listened to and eventually ripped to my iTunes.

But as much as they were quite easy on the ears, they always had a bit of an edge about them and the songs are often much darker lyrically than their radio-friendly melodies might suggest.

That said, they do fit rather more into the ‘like them’ rather than ‘love them’ category for me, so maybe the label of ‘everyone’s second favourite band’ is fair.

Quench was a pretty good album, but maybe not all that distinguishable from the rest of their output.

But it’s nice enough to listen to all the same.

My favourite track is Dumb, because it takes me back to the late nineties and sitting under a table (for reasons I’m not entirely able to recall) in a pub with my housemate, completely drunk and bellowing the chorus (no doubt tunelessly) as loud as we could. Happy, irresponsible, days.

 

 

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 16: Pablo Honey

James Proclaims (4)

If only there were a way to get to the sixteenth letter of the alphabet without referencing the immortal Blockbusters joke, “I’ll have a ‘P’ please Bob”

But there isn’t, so I did.

Obviously the above reference may mean nothing to you, particularly if you didn’t watch the quiz show Blockbusters in the 80s and 90s, when it was presented by the late great Bob Holness.

But let us not dwell on that now, because it has no relevance to the rest of this post.

Except that it is now time for us all to have a ‘P’…

P2020

P is for Pablo Honey

Radiohead.pablohoney.albumart

It would be almost unthinkable to do any kind of 90s retrospective on music without including Radiohead. But I assumed I’d probably go with ‘OK Computer’, given that it is oft regarded as one of the greatest records of all time.

And ‘OK Computer’ was an album that saw me through some pretty dark times in my younger days and for a very long time it didn’t leave my CD player.

But actually the same could be said for Radiohead’s debut album, ‘Pablo Honey’. It is, admittedly, regarded by many critics as by far their weakest album and, from what I’ve read, it doesn’t appear to be beloved by the band themselves.

But whether it’s as good as the rest of Radiohead’s back catalogue is not really the point. When it came out there were no other Radiohead albums to compare it to, and frankly I was around fourteen years old at the time, so I liked it for what it was.

And what it was, was a pretty decent collection of rock songs.

It might lack the innovation of later Radiohead albums, but it was certainly more accessible. Lets be honest, even the most die-hard Radiohead fan would have to admit that some of their later stuff is hard work. ‘Kid A’ grew on me eventually, but it took a long time.

I loved Pablo Honey the first time I heard it, and I still love it now.

If anyone else had released it, it would be probably be considered a great album in its own right and it seems unfair that it suffers in the shadows of it’s more accomplished siblings.

And it does contain one of the stand-out tracks of the nineties in Creep.

 

 

 

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 15: On

James Proclaims (4)

And so to ‘O’ that most circular of letters.

And when you think about the great albums of the nineties, there really could only be one choice for the letter ‘O’.

So it’s almost beyond belief that I’ve gone with a different one.

But I stand by today’s choice.

It was an album that I loved as a teenager.

We’ll deal with the album I should have picked for today in a later post (tomorrow’s post in fact), but for today let’s just enjoy this one.

O2020

O is for On

Echobelly_on

Echobelly were another of those bands that will forever be linked with nineties Britpop, which is a double-edged sword, insofar as they enjoyed quite a bit of success during the height of Britpop but have probably been unfairly tarnished with that brush ever since. They’ve certainly never really had anything like the same levels of popularity in the ensuing years. The health problems of lead singer Sonya Madan immediately following on from the success of second album ‘On’ no doubt stunted their ability to capitalise on their early hits, but in truth, the fickle world of popular music was unlikely to accommodate Echobelly beyond the Britpop era.

The are still going though and still perfectly good at what they do.

If the lyrics of some the tracks on ‘On’ deal with the seedier side of life, it is nonetheless a pretty optimistic and uplifting album.

And no song exemplifies this optimism more than lead single ‘Great Things’.

I couldn’t find the video for it but here’s a performance from one of the great music TV shows of the nineties ‘The White Room’:

 

 

 

 

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 14: 1977

James Proclaims (4)

And so we are officially in the second half of what really is a self-indulgent set of posts about the music I liked when I was younger.

If you’re just joining me, then welcome. Although you are going to have to work hard to keep up with the others.

If you’ve been with me since the start then don’t quit now, you’re doing really well.

Anyway on to the letter du jour.

Which is ‘N’.

N2020

N is for 1977

Ash1977cover

In 2017 I went to the Reading Festival for the second time in my life. The first time was back in 2000. What prompted me to go to another festival after a 17 year hiatus? Well, mostly the fact that I live down the road from the festival site so I didn’t need to camp and had access to my own bed (and more importantly perhaps, my own toilet) for the duration of the festival.

The line-up of the Reading Festival is often hit and miss so even though I’ve lived quite close since 2013,  I don’t go every year.

But I did in 2017.

And it was pretty good for the most part.

Back in 2000 I knew most of the acts, even the more obscure ones. In 2017 I pretty much knew the headliners and that was it. Because I was older and that’s what happens when you get older.

Anyway, on the bill that year was one Liam Gallagher, ostensibly performing as a solo act, but mainly singing Oasis songs.

And, as previously discussed on this blog, I was a massive Oasis fan.

So you’d imagine I’d have watched the entirety of his set. But, while I did watch some of it, I left before he had finished.

Because, on one of the smaller stages, buried so deep in the festival listings that you could be forgiven for missing them completely, were another band I loved in the nineties.

And that band were Ash.

And they were totally worth missing some of Liam’s set for.

They were awesome.

They were so good, that I bought tickets to see Weezer later that year, partly because Ash were supporting them. (Although I do also really like Weezer, as we’ve also discussed previously.)

Ash never set the world on fire (which is ironic if you think about it), but they’ve always been an easy band to like.

You could argue that once you’ve heard one Ash album, you’ve kind of heard them all.

And you might be right.

But what an album it is.

I quite like all of their albums though, but I do get them mixed up.

Still, my favourite is still their debut, 1977, which is so named because that is the year they were born. It’s also the year that the first Star Wars film came out.

Coincidence?

Well yes.

And largely irrelevant.

Except that they do sample some sound effects from that movie on this album.

Which only makes me love them more.

And although it is a fantastic album, the only song I could pick to play us out was the utterly brilliant ‘Girl from Mars’.

 

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 13: The Man Who

James Proclaims (4)

The halfway point of the alphabet lies somewhere between ‘M’ and ‘N’.

Which is where we’ll be at the end of this post.

For we are on ‘M’ today.

I’m not sure if the fact that we’re almost halfway there is a source of comfort or distress really.

M2020

M is for The Man Who

Travis_-_The_Man_Who_album_cover

Yesterday’s entry was an album by James, a band who inexplicably have a person’s name (and my name). And Travis are a band who have a person’s name too. Namely Travis. Whoever he is.

Maybe he’s The Man Who. Although in fact he isn’t.

Anyway, weird band name and weird album title aside, ‘The Man Who’ is an album that inspires mixed feelings to say the least. Travis’ first album, ‘Good Feeling’ was an altogether more raucous affair and it was exactly the kind of thing I liked.

This is more melancholic and, well ‘ballady’. And I didn’t love it when it first came out.

But then it grew on me and I did love it.

But I can’t help but feel it was the record that paved the way for the likes of Coldplay, Keane and Snow Patrol to dominate the guitar-based music scene in the early noughties. Britpop was already on its way out by the time Travis released this record. The Spice Girls and a resurgent post-Take That Robbie Williams seemed to be dominating the charts by the very late nineties and early noughties, and popular music was…well much poppier.

But there was still a place for indie bands and Travis were the band that was supposed to keep flying the flag.

So ‘The Man Who’ was maybe not the record we indie kids needed them to produce.

Still, it was immensely popular and they headlined the 2000 Glastonbury festival off the back of it.

Seriously, they headlined Glastonbury.

I was there.

It’s hard to imagine Travis being that big now, but they really were back then.

Indeed it’s something of a Travis-ty that Coldplay went on to be a much bigger band than Travis.

A year before they headlined Glastonbury, they made the news at the 1999 version of the same festival, after the weather, during what had been a previously dry weekend, turned somewhat wetter during their rendition of their biggest hit ‘Why does it always rain on me?’

I’m not sure if it happened again the following year.

I was there, but I was also drunk.

Anyway, it seems as good a song as any to play us out today.

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 12: Laid

James Proclaims (4)

And so we’re at the time of our A-Z journey through nineties music nostalgia when we ask, what the ‘L’?

And ‘L’ is coming, make no mistake about that.

But what fresh ‘L’ is this?

L2020

L is for Laid

James_Laid

I could hardly do a series nineties nostalgia posts predominantly about indie music without including a band that is called James could I?

The fact that they happen to be a fantastic band is really just a bonus.

If I’m honest, I wasn’t as big a fan of James in the nineties as I should have been. I love their music now, but I didn’t know too much about them back when they were arguably at the peak of their powers (although they’ve churned out some pretty good albums in recent times too).

I knew a few of their bigger hits even back then though and I remember them being pretty well-regarded by the NME and Melody Maker, the two publications that largely informed my views of music back then.

Anyway, regardless of whether I was a fan or not at the time, ‘Laid’ is great album and if I’d purchased it when it came out, I would definitely have liked it.

It’s one of my favourite albums now and my tastes haven’t changes that much since then. Or at all in fact.

I could go with any of the singles to sign off this post, but it would be hard to ignore the titular track, ‘Laid’.

So here it is:

 

 

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 11: K

James Proclaims (4)

We’re up to ‘K’ in the A-Z of albums that I listened to a lot in the nineties.

I’m not sure if there’s anything more to say.

I’ll throw in this sentence as a bit of ‘filler’ before we get to the ‘big reveal’.

Although  I always reveal the album in the title of the post, so I’m not sure why I do these preambles really.

But it’s done now.

So lets move on and see what we have today.

K2020

K is for K

KulaShaker_K

If Kula Shaker released the album ‘K’ today, they would no doubt be accused of cultural appropriation.

But back in the nineties, the idea of over-privileged British guys singing a song entirely in Sanskrit based on a Hindu prayer was…

…no we were all a bit uneasy about it then too.

But for all ‘K’ might be a bit misguided at times, it is not a bad album at all.

I played it a lot at the time and theirs was one of the many gigs I went to.

And they were awesome live.

I don’t know if that makes cultural appropriation acceptable, and I can’t even draw on my superpower of being half-Indian (which I am ethnically if not especially culturally) here to say that it’s OK. But surely it would be worse if they were rubbish?

The most obvious choice of song to see us out today would probably be the aforementioned Sanskrit song, ‘Govinda’.

But I preferred the stupidly-titled ‘Hey Dude’.

 

 

 

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 10: Jollification

James Proclaims (4)

And so to ‘J’ in this self-indulgent amble down the memory lane of my music-loving youth.

‘J’ was a pretty hard one to select, because, frankly there wasn’t much to choose from.

And I didn’t expect that to be the case, because while I anticipated ‘Q’ and ‘X’ to be problematic, I expect more of ‘J’. It’s the first letter in my name for goodness sake.

But there was so little to choose from that I was always going to have to compromise.

For a while it looked as though Alanis Morrisette was going to take the spot with ‘Jagged Little Pill’ but, while I do think that is a superb album, I’m not certain it’s one I feel much in the way of nostalgia for.

Whereas, I do feel a bit of nineties nostalgia for my choice, even if I don’t especially think it’s a brilliant album.

J2020

J is for Jollification

Lightningseedsjollificags0

It’s hard to imagine that people who like The Lightening Seeds really love The Lightening Seeds. Equally it’s hard to imagine that anyone that doesn’t like them can really be bothered to hate them.

They are just that kind of band. Largely inoffensive, eminently radio friendly but maybe just a bit bland at times.

I can’t imagine making any kind of effort to buy tickets to any of their gigs, but if they happened to be playing at a festival I was already planning on going to, I’d probably catch their set.

I’m definitely in the camp of ‘like them, don’t love them’.

By far their biggest hit was in 1996, when they teamed up with comedians Frank Skinner and David Baddiel to record ‘Three Lions’ – the official song of the England Football team for the Euro 96 Championship. Although England bowed out in the semi-finals of that tournament, the song took on a life of its own. It still seems to be the go-to song for England football fans.

Being Welsh, I’d hardly describe myself as a huge England fan, although Wales’ failure to qualify for many tournaments has meant that I’ve tended to cheer on the England team over the years. Until they inevitably get knocked out. Which they always do.

But Euro 96 was one of England’s better goes at a major tournament and for a time, even the half-hearted ‘fans’ like me got quite excited. I did really like ‘Three Lions’ anyway, but it became so intrinsically linked with the buzz of Euro 96 that even hearing it now invokes a mawkish nostalgia.

So big was ‘Three Lions’, it’s sometimes easy to forget that The Lightening Seeds ever recorded anything else.

But they did.

And you might not love their other stuff, but you probably won’t hate it.

If you’re making a commercial, or putting together a montage showcasing the best bits of a sporting event, then there’s every chance they’ve got a song that would work quite well.

And 1994’s ‘Jollification’ is as good an example of their work as any other.

It’s probably why I feel nostalgic about this album. It does genuinely appear to be made up of tracks that were on TV ads in the nineties. They may not even have been especially memorable ads but I watched a lot of TV in the nineties so The Lightening Seeds must have found a way into my subconscious via the ad-breaks.

The songs in question are pretty good though.

However, the biggest hit of the album wasn’t on an advert that I recall.

But it was on the soundtrack of the 1995 film ‘Clueless’. Which is a soundtrack that also features Supergrass’s ‘Alright’ from yesterday. And some other good songs too. Indeed, being on that soundtrack seems to put this song in pretty good company. And the movie itself was quite good if I recall correctly. But I may be wrong about that, it’s been a while since I saw it last. If indeed I’ve ever seen it.

Anyway the song that is both on that soundtrack and also on the album ‘Jollification’ is called ‘Change’.

And because I wrote about it quite a lot, even though it has nothing to do with ‘Jollification’, here’s ‘Three Lions’.

 

 

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 9: I Should Coco

James Proclaims (4)

Day 9 of this A-Z malarkey and it is time for ‘I’.

The letter ‘I’ obviously.

Not me.

If it was me I’d have said ‘it is time for me’.

Because ‘me’ would be the correct pronoun to use in that sentence.

That’s just basic grammar.

But it’s not time for me, it’s time for ‘I’.

I2020

I is for I Should Coco

I_Should_Coco

When Supergrass released their debut album in 1995, they seemed like they might just be about to become huge.

And outside of the Britpop ‘big 4’ of Oasis, Blur, Pulp and Suede, they may well have been the best of the rest.

But like so many bands of that era, they shone brightly for only the briefest of times really. Their subsequent albums are all fine and they occasionally popped up in the top 40 singles charts in ensuing years.

But Supergrass were really all about the summer of 1995 and that happened to be the summer I turned 16 and completed my GCSE exams.

It was one of the most glorious summers of my youth (when viewed through my rose-tinted nostalgia spectacles) and ‘I Should Coco’ featured heavily on the soundtrack.

No song more so than their very summer-friendly single ‘Alright’.

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 8: How To Make Friends And Influence People

James Proclaims (4)

It’s always been my personal belief that the eighth letter of the alphabet should be ‘H’.

Which it is.

I’m not saying I’m responsible for that fact. That’s not for me to say.

If others wish to credit me then that’s up to them.

But, which album has the honour of representing ‘H’ today?

H2020

H is for How To Make Friends And Influence People

Terrorvision-HowToMakeFriends
Terrorvision were a British band that enjoyed most of their success during the ‘Britpop’ period of the nineties.

But Terrorvision were not ‘Britpop’ so much as ‘Britrock’.

They were also not a band that ever took themselves too seriously. Nor really did the British Charts, as Terrovision rarely troubled the top ten.

By far their biggest hit, ‘Tequila’, came in 1999, but aside from encouraging lots of impressionable young people to drink tequila when they might otherwise have not, (ahem), it really came at the end of their modest period of success.

And although their 1996 album ‘Regular Urban Survivors’ did enjoy more sales than this 1994 effort, ‘How To Make Friends And Influence People’ was really the album that brought them to the attention of my friends and I.

I’m not sure, revisiting it now, that it really deserves to go down as one of the great British albums.

But it was a lot of fun back then and it was equally fun revisiting it for this post.

‘Discotheque Wreck’ and ‘Pretend Best Friend’ were both favourites back in the mid-nineties but the track that first brought them to my attention and remains a regular on my playlist is ‘Oblivion’.

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 7: The Great Escape

James Proclaims (4)

And so to the seventh letter of the alphabet. Which was ‘G’ the last time I checked.

And it’s probably safe to assume it still is.

G2020

G is for The Great Escape

Blur_thegreatescape

No-one enjoys a bit of pedantry more than me, but I think it’s reasonable to ignore the definite article in the album’s title and claim with conviction that this is a more than worthy candidate to represent the letter ‘G’.

1994’s ‘Parklife’ was the album that really catapulted Blur into the public consciousness, and arguably the album that confirmed the arrival of Britpop as a ‘thing’, but ‘The Great Escape’ was a solid follow-up and in itself a fairly era-defining album thanks, at least partially, to the faux-rivalry with Oasis that accompanied its release, as it came shortly after Blur’s ‘Country House’ went up against Oasis’ ‘Roll With It’ in the singles charts.

The obvious result of the ‘Battle of Britpop’ was that both Blur and Oasis sold a lot of records, which was great for the Britpop movement as a whole. We were all encouraged to pick a side though, and in that sense I would definitely have been on ‘Team Oasis’.

But I would hardly let a silly thing like that get in the way of me enjoying a great album.

And ‘The Great Escape’ was one of my favourite albums of that time.

Incidentally, although it could be argued that Oasis enjoyed the greater commercial success overall, Blur definitely won the ‘Battle of Britpop’, because it was their single that made it to number 1 in the charts.

And if neither song was particularly representative of the best work of either band, Blur’s ‘County House’ deserves to play us out today because of its undoubted place in British pop music history. Even if it is for a pretty stupid reason when all is said and done.

And actually, even if I was ‘Team Oasis’ I did prefer ‘Country House’ to ‘Roll with It’ if I’m honest…

 

 

 

 

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 6: Fuzzy Logic

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And so on to day 6 of this alphabetised meander through the musical memories of my youth.

And what the ‘F’ have we got today?

F2020

F is for Fuzzy Logic

FuzzyLogic-SFA

The Super Furry Animals were a Welsh band, who sometimes had the audacity to sing in Welsh, but the commercial nous to mostly sing in English, which presumably did help them sell more records.

Not that they were ever a huge commercial success but they did have a solid fan base throughout the UK. Wales was, understandably, where they enjoyed their biggest following though.

As it happens, Wales was where I grew up, mostly in the nineties, and I loved them.

Not because they were Welsh, I rarely take a particularly patriotic position when it comes to my musical tastes, but because they were actually pretty good.

They were probably a bit too quirky to ever trouble the mainstream, but they didn’t ever seem too bothered by that fact, releasing the kinds of records that seemed to please themselves for the most part.

They knew their way around a melody though.

‘Fuzzy Logic’ was their debut effort in 1996 and, while perhaps not their most accomplished work, is my favourite album, and of all their releases, it’s the one that invokes the most nostalgia.

Mostly memories of underage drinking and of my friends and I singing the chorus of the opening track of the album ‘God! Show Me Magic” loudly on our way home from the pub.

But my favourite track is the first single they released from the album, the delightfully-named ‘Hometown Unicorn’.

 

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 5: Everything Must Go

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And so, on the fifth day of ‘James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young’ we arrive at ‘E’.

And for this there were a few contenders.

But there was one that invokes so much nostalgia it was ultimately the only choice I could make.

E2020

E is for Everything Must Go

EverythingMustGo(1996album)Albumcover

The Manic Street Preachers fourth album was their first release as a trio following on from the tragic and mysterious disappearance of lyricist and rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards.

Although Richey’s musical contributions were questionable, his lyrics and personality were a fundamental part of the Manics DNA up to that point. Plus they were all friends from school, so the band felt his loss on a personal level.

‘Everything Must Go’ could therefore have been something much darker than it actually is. After all it’s predecessor, the Richey-inspired ‘Holy Bible’ is as bleak an album as you’re likely to come across.

‘Everything Must Go’ confounded expectations however, and is an uplifting (insofar as the Manics do ‘upbeat’), poignant and cathartic collection of songs, that marked the beginning of a period of sustained commercial success.

Growing up in Wales in the nineties means that the Manics are essentially royalty to me, and they are the band that I have seen live by far the most times.

I like pretty much all of their albums, including some of their more recent efforts. But the nostalgia-inducing albums are the ones from the nineties, both as a quartet and as a trio. Their 1992 debut ‘Generation Terrorists’ and the aforementioned ‘Holy Bible’, both could have been contenders for this alphabetised walk down memory lane.

But ‘Everything Must Go’ was an album that saw me through some of the worst of my teenage angst and it’s still a source of comfort when things are getting me down. Which, given the state of the world, means it’s been on the playlist quite a lot lately.

As with a lot of the albums I’ve been revisiting, it could be hard to pick a favourite track from ‘Everything Must Go’. Except that there is one track that just picks itself.

‘A Design for Life’ might just be my favourite song of all time.

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 4: Definitely Maybe/Different Class/Dookie

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As is the case most years, today is my birthday.

But there’s no time to implore you to wish me Happy Birthday in the comments section below. I’ll just have to leave it to you to do the right thing.

No, I must get on with the important business of letting you know which album of my youth made the cut for ‘D-Day’ in the A-Z Challenge.

For many of the letters it’s not been easy narrowing my choices down to just one.

But I’ve been employing a strict ‘one album per post’ rule for this challenge and today should be no different.

Except of course that it is my birthday.

And it turns out that I really did like a lot of albums that began with ‘D’ in the nineties.

So as a special birthday treat to myself, I’m going to allow a couple of ‘bonus choices’.

D2020

D is for Definitely Maybe

OasisDefinitelyMaybealbumcover

The debut album of the Gallagher brothers et al. remains one of my favourite records of all time. I loved Oasis in the nineties and I continued to love them throughout the noughties. If they hadn’t split up I’d still love them now.

I don’t know why. Objectively I know there are other bands who are probably better. Even I can acknowledge that beyond their first two albums and the 1998 B-sides compilation, not much else they ever released was ever really all that great.

Their best stuff was pretty much all released by 1996 and everything that followed was underwhelming.

But during their early years, I was an impressionable teenager and they just struck a chord with me and for whatever reason, however much I might love another album, or band, Oasis still remain my ‘go to’ band when I need cheering up and nothing else will do.

Some might say that ‘(What’s the Story) Morning Glory’ is actually the better record and I’d concede that I love that album almost as much, but for me’ Definitely Maybe’ is marginally the better of the two.

There are a number or era-defining tracks on the album including ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’, ‘Shakermaker’ (which weirdly but sort of brilliantly rips off ‘I’d like to teach the world to sing’ from a seventies Coca-Cola advert) and the debut single ‘Supersonic’.

But the song that defines my youth more than any other is ‘Live Forever’

D is also for Different Class

Pulp_-_Different_Class

If this album began with any other letter, it would have been an absolute certainty as first choice for that day. But it begins with the same letter as ‘Definitely Maybe’, which meant that if I was going to stick to my own arbitrary rules, I’d have to leave out one of them. And I couldn’t ever have left out ‘Definitely Maybe’.

But I’m going to invoke my birthday privilege to avoid the crime of leaving out one of the seminal albums of my youth.

Because Pulp’s fifth studio album is nothing short of perfect. They did, admittedly, take their time as a band to produce a decent album, having released their debut effort ‘It’ in 1983. ‘Freaks’ and ‘Separations’ followed in the ensuing decade but 1994’s ‘His ‘n’ Hers’ was really the beginning of their commercial and critical success. ‘Different Class’, however is really…well…different class…

A call to arms to the socially disaffected, it encourages the ‘have nots’ to stick two fingers up to the ‘haves’ and frankly it feels as relevant today as it ever did.

Much as I love a number of tracks on the album, the one that always sends me down memory lane with a hop and a skip in my step is Disco 2000.

 

D is also also for Dookie

Green_Day_-_Dookie_cover

Another seminal album of my youth also begins with ‘D’ and frankly, as I’ve already broken my ‘one album a day’ rule, I may as well just go for it.

Because Green Day’s ‘Dookie’ would definitely feature heavily on soundtrack of my teenage years. When I was failing to lean to play the guitar, it was all too often tracks from this that I tended to butcher.

On the occasions that I still choose to believe there is a guitarist inside me (there is not but I’m still allowed to dream) I’ll often revert to the 15-year-old me, and strum, insofar as I can remember them, the opening chords to ‘Basket Case’.

Which seems as appropriate a track as any to see us out today.

 

 

 

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 3: Coming Up

James Proclaims (4)

Day 3 of the A-Z challenge and who would have imagined we’d be dealing the letter ‘C’?

So we’d better head off to 1996 and ‘C’ what we can find…

C2020

C is for Coming Up

suede b

Given that some people credit Suede for paving the way for many of the bands that were part of the ‘Britpop’ phenomenon of the nineties, it’s perhaps strange that I wasn’t really that into them initially.

Because I liked a lot of those other bands.

But somehow Suede’s first two albums completely passed me by, and I really only began to take heed of them when they released this, their third album.

Although, in fairness, it’s not a bad place to start if you’re discovering the band for the first time.

Coming off the back of the departure of Bernard Butler (arguably one of the greatest guitarists of his generation, and a man who had already achieved his own success a year earlier with McAlmont and Butler and one of the tracks of the nineties in ‘Yes’) Suede’s third album needed to be pretty good to settle the nerves of the fans who thought his exit was terminal for the band.

‘Coming Up’ delivered everything it needed to. Easily representing their biggest commercial success, some of Suede’s biggest hits come from this album, including ‘Beautiful Ones’ and ‘Saturday Night’.

But I’ll leave you today with ‘Trash’. A song that is not at all rubbish…

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 2: The ‘Blue’ Album

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Day 2 of the A-Z Blogging Challenge and thus today’s album of the nineties must begin with the letter ‘B’

And I may have taken a bit of liberty with today’s choice.

Because it doesn’t really begin with ‘B’ at all.

Because today’s album is:

B2020

B is for The ‘Blue’ Album

Weezer_-_Blue_Album

Weezer’s 1994 debut was actually just called Weezer. So it should really be filed under ‘W’. But Weezer have subsequently released no less than five other ‘eponymous’ albums, and consequently they tend to be known by the colour of the ‘sleeve’. So it is not uncommon to refer to this effort as The ‘Blue’ Album and, as I already has something lined up for ‘W’ it was becoming quite a difficult choice.

I did have a few options for ‘B’ too, and it was a bit of wrench to not include any of them, in favour of this impostor, but The ‘Blue’ Album was, without question, one of my favourite albums of the nineties and I would have selected it happily for ‘B’ or ‘W’. In the end, the other album I had selected for ‘W’ outranked the other album I had lined up for ‘B’ and so Weezer find themselves here.

In the end, none of this matters, so we can all relax about a ‘W’ album being filed under ‘B’.

And this is really a great collection of songs. There is some debate about whether this, or their follow-up album, Pinkerton, is better. ‘Blue’ enjoyed far more commercial success, but Pinkerton has gained a cult following over the years. What is without doubt is that both are better than any of the eleven ensuing  records put out by Weezer, and no doubt will be better than their upcoming 14th studio album too.

That said, I do quite like most of Weezer’s output, and there are plenty of ear-worms amongst their later efforts.

But in terms of complete albums, ‘Blue’ and Pinkerton stand head and shoulders above the rest.

Ultimately ‘Blue’ is my favourite of the two, probably for reasons of nostalgia if nothing else. I was fifteen when it came out. And it didn’t leave my CD player for weeks after I purchased it.

I saw Weezer tour this album in the nineties, and, though I went to a lot of gigs back then, theirs was one of the stand-out shows from that era. I then forgot about Weezer for quite a long time but saw them again at Wembley Arena in 2017. I bought tickets to that show on the basis of this album and this album alone. I then panicked and spent the weeks leading up to the concert ‘revising’ the rest of their back catalogue.

On the day though, they mostly just played this.

Which was fine with me.

It is hard to pick a favourite track off this album, because there really are no fillers, but the only song I can possibly leave you with is the single that made me buy the CD in the first place.

Which is ‘Buddy Holly’.

The video is pretty awesome too.

The (Fairly Predictable) James Proclaims New Year’s Eve Review Of The Year That Was And Indeed The Decade That Was

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new-year-152044_640.png

As this is very much the last day of 2019 it behoves me to write about the year that has just happened. But because 2019 ends in a ‘9’ it behoves me to write about the last decade too. There is always some debate that the new decade doesn’t start until the beginning of a year that ends in a ‘1’, but, even though the argument for that is underpinned by sound logic and fact, the reality is that we all consider the year ending in ‘0’ as the start of the new decade (or century or indeed millenium as appropriate). So to all intents and purposes, today is the end of the decade that may or may not have been known at the teens.

But since becoming a dad approximately 17 months ago, I can’t even remember what happened yesterday let alone recall anything of significance that happened in the last ten years.

It is, of course, customary for such a ‘review’ to focus on the wider world, but I’m not going to do that for two reasons:

  1. Other people will do a much better job of that than I could ever possibly hope to achieve.
  2.  It all seems to have gone downhill since 2010 and that decline seems to have accelerated since 2016.

So for those reasons, and also because I’m a bit narcissistic, this post will be all about me.

This is definitely the first decade in which I’ve been a proper ‘grown-up’ for its entirety . I was technically an adult for all of the noughties but, whereas I haven’t really been drunk on any New Years Eve throughout this decade, I saw in the year 2000 absolutely hammered and wandering the streets of Cardiff with nowhere to sleep until the first trains started running the following morning. And that was not unusual behaviour for the ensuing decade.

So I have made some personal progress.

Beyond no longer drinking irresponsibly (or at least not as often) there have been some other developments for me in the last ten years.

I started 2010 as an unmarried childless man. I was engaged to be married to the woman I am now married to, and we were living together, but we didn’t get married until August of 2010.

My daughter didn’t arrive for another eight years, but as eight years is less than a decade it is entirely accurate to say that the ‘teens’ (which I’m definitely calling them even if no-one else does) is when I became both a husband and father.

It’s also, just about, the decade that I went from being a directionless waste of space, career-wise, to having a definite career and indeed career-path. Admittedly it’s a career-path I don’t especially want to be on, but, having experienced the ‘wilderness years’ which largely describes the preceding decade, the wrong career-path is possibly better than no career-path at all.

It has allowed me to get a mortgage if nothing else. For indeed the decade to which we’re about to bid adieu is the decade in which I became a homeowner for the first time. Again, it’s not necessarily a home worth owning, but having been mistreated more than once by the rental market, I’m happier owning my ramshackle terraced house with all it’s dysfunctional plumbing than paying double my mortgage in rent for a tiny flat owned by a shady landlord.

As for 2019, it’s not been a vintage year really. I spent most of the first four months trying to complete my MA at the expense of pretty much everything else. Except my daughter who will not be ignored even for academic deadlines.

I succeeded in my academic endeavours, but have spent the remaining eight months trying to get back into shape after making some questionable decisions regarding diet and exercise during that feverish period of study. Since April I have been largely exercising at pretty much the expense of everything else. Except my daughter who will not be ignored even for a brutal and unforgiving fitness regime.

Nothing much else of a personal nature happened in 2019, beyond my daughter’s continued development which I notionally contribute to but to a much lesser extent than Mrs Proclaims and indeed the child herself whose desire to conquer each developmental milestone appears to be voracious. She had pretty much nailed walking by eleven months old and then subsequently attempted to destroy every possession of ours that wasn’t nailed down.

Talking seems to be her project du jour and she’s making excellent progress. She’s always been a chatterbox, but these days some of what she says actually makes sense. I expect she’ll have her own blog soon. And it’ll be much better than this one.

Speaking of this blog, it was halfway through the last decade that ‘James Proclaims’ became a thing. May 10th, 2015 to be precise. And 2019 appears to be the year I almost killed it off by barely posting anything.

But I appear to have rallied at the end of 2019 and December has actually been quite a productive month blog-wise.

It’s not all been good, but it has been something.

Which is often better than nothing.

And in 2020 I expect I’ll write more posts that are of questionable quality and worth.

But I can’t commit to that today.

Because that would be a resolution.

And we all know that resolutions come on the 1st of January.

So tune in tomorrow to see if ‘blogging more often in 2020’ makes the cut for my 2020 resolutions.

 

 

 

 

 

The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 24

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Shazam-Xmas-1-min-1024x576

And so The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films comes to an end.

But what film could be lurking behind door 24?

Why it’s only the utterly brilliant 2019 superhero movie Shazam!.

When it comes to superheroes on the silver screen, there’s no denying that Marvel/Disney have had considerably more success in recent years than DC/Warner Bros and certainly the Marvel Cinematic Universe is far more coherent than the DC Extended Universe. That said, inconsistent though DC./ Warner Bros have been, on the few occasions that they get it right, they really get it right.

And with  Shazam! they got it spectacularly right.

Lighter in tone and eminently more fun than most superhero offerings these days, it still packs enough of a punch to keep action fans interested.

Given that the eponymous hero is a teenage boy who transforms into a an adult (Asher Angel and Zachary Levi do a remarkable job of convincing us that they are the same person) comparisons with 1988’s Big are inevitable, and it’s nice to see a little homage to one of the more memorable scenes from that film in this one.

Shazam! is immensely entertaining from start to finish and easily one of the best offerings within the DC Extended Universe alongside 2017’s Wonder Woman.

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 5

In spite of its release in April of this year, Shazam! is about as Christmas(ish) as they come. Tinsel and baubles abound and there are multiple scenes with a cowardly (and foulmouthed) Santa. The final showdown between good and evil takes place in a Christmas fair and there is snow aplenty throughout the movie. Even the prologue at the beginning is set during Christmas 1974.  This is a movie that is virtually guaranteed repeat viewings every December.

The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 23

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crash

Time for door 23 of The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films, which, thankfully means we’re almost done with my delusions of film connoisseurship for another year.

Probably.

I have been known to throw in the odd film review that has nothing to do with Christmas in the past.

But it’s hardly a regular occurrence so once tomorrow’s entry is done and dusted I’ll be back to writing about …erm… whatever it is I normally write about.

Which is mostly nothing.

Or, as has been the case of much of 2019, I might not write anything at all. Which is the same as writing about nothing but with less words.

Back to today though and the penultimate entry in this years pointless cinematic Christmas countdown is 2005’s Crash.

Which is undisputedly a good film.

It won an Oscar for Best Picture for goodness sake.

And it has a fantastic ensemble cast.

Although, and maybe it’s just me, but it does seem a little bit trite at times. And heavy-handed with it’s core message.

Maybe it was more ground-breaking in 2005 than it seems to be in 2019.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely worth a watch. There are some genuinely great performances and some truly affecting moments.

I just don’t think it’s as good as it thinks it is.

 

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 3

Crash definitely appears to be set around Christmas. But I’m not at all sure why. It doesn’t need to be. It seemingly adds nothing at all to the movie and aside from when there are obvious decorations in the background, you could easily forget the time of year. But there are enough trees, lights and baubles to make it undeniably a bit Christmas(ish).

 

The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 22

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run

2015’s Run All Night is the third (of four to date) collaborations between director Jaume Collet-Serra and senescent superman Liam Neeson.

Like all their other collaborations (Unknown, Non-Stop and The Commuter)  it’s a pretty ‘by the numbers’ action flic.

This is fine if you like that kind of thing.

Which I do.

Unfortunately, at times, Run All Night seems to think it’s a better film than it is and  it probably takes itself a bit too seriously at times. It could definitely do with an injection of humour.

But it’s a perfectly serviceable if somewhat derivative thriller.

 

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 4

Despite the absence of anything remotely resembling joy, there’s no denying that this film is quite Christmas(ish). There are Christmas lights and trees aplenty in the background. Also Neeson dresses up a Santa at one point. Admittedly a creepy and intoxicated Santa, but Santa nonetheless.

The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 21

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diner

Barry Levinson’s 1982 directorial debut, Diner  is an eminently watchable film.

Although nothing much really happens.

Set in 1959, it’s a sort-of coming-of-age story about a group of twenty-something guys who spend quite a lot of their time in a diner.

Notionally focussing on the build-up to the imminent wedding of one of their number, it touches on themes such as gambling, alcoholism, infidelity and unrequited love. But it doesn’t really focus on any of them for very long and there isn’t really a great deal of jeopardy for the characters.

It’s enjoyable enough though and boasts a pretty decent cast, including Kevin Bacon, Steve Guttenberg and a show-stealing performance from Mickey Rourke.

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 4

It’s overtly, explicitly and visibly set over the Christmas period, opening on Christmas night and concluding on New Year’s Eve. The festive setting adds very little to the narrative, but it’s so obvious in most of the scenes that it would be churlish to describe this movie as anything other than Christmas(ish)

The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 20

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Better Off Dead 2

Door 20 of The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films brings us 1985’s Better Off Dead.

Which is quite a strange film.

At first I thought it was an 80s teen comedy in the mould of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Which would be no bad thing because that is a great movie.

But, although there are many elements of that genre present and correct, Better Off Dead is quite different.

Which, as it turns out, is no bad thing either.

A movie in which the lead character periodically tries to commit suicide possibly doesn’t sound like much fun, but it is a pretty funny film albeit the humour is on the dark side. It’s also surprisingly surreal and often subversive.

I’m not sure it’s fully stood the test of time, and at times it is a little too weird for its own good, but there is plenty to enjoy in the 97 minutes running time.

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 4

Quite a lot of the movie is set around the festive period and visibly so. It does feature one of the strangest on-screen Christmases of possibly all time, but there’s no denying that for much of the running time ’tis very much the season.

 

The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 19

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soldier3

1998’s Soldier seems like exactly the kind of film I would have been watching in the late 90’s. It’s as generic a sci-fi action flic as you could hope to find and it was made at a time when I was watching little else.

Somehow, however, it passed me by.

Which was no great loss really.

Because it’s quite bad in most respects.

But I’ll always find it hard to hate a late 90s action movie and I did quite enjoy this.

And it does have a surprisingly good cast, including a pumped up Kurt Russell as the eponymous hero, and Jason Isaacs as the main bad guy.

It was written by the same screenwriter who wrote  Blade Runner and is notionally set in the same ‘universe’.

Although to compare  Soldier to  Blade Runner is a bit embarrassing really.

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 3

For a mindless action movie set in space, with pretty much non-stop violence throughout, this is surprisingly Christmas(ish). There is a lively Christmas party about 40 minutes in, complete with a guy dressed as Santa, and then when the bloodshed really kicks in, there are visible Christmas decorations in most of the scenes. But a lot of people still die in a variety of gratuitously violent ways…

The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 18

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edward

It’s December 18th, which means we’re now only a week from the big day. Probably time to start wrapping the presents. Be careful with those scissors though.

Particularly if your name’s Edward

And the scissors are your hands.

Yes, behind door 18 of The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films is none other than Edward Scissorhands.

Tim Burton’s 1990 gothic fairy-tale is as mad as it is brilliant. It manages to be poignant, tragic and funny, often simultaneously. Johnny Depp delivers an astonishing performance as the eponymous hero, all while seemingly saying and doing very little.

I liked this movie when I was a kid but I like it even more now. Indeed, it seems to get better with every viewing.

Admittedly if you’re of a cynical disposition you could argue that a number of plot points don’t stand up to scrutiny, but this is one movie where it’s better to suspend your disbelief and enjoy the weird and wonderful world that Burton creates.

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 4

Although only the last twenty minutes are specifically set at Christmas, the fairy-tale aspect of the film does augment the overall Christmasishness of the movie. Plus Edward is directly responsible for there being snow in the town. And snow always helps. So all in all it is pretty Christmas(ish) but it’s a very ‘Tim Burton’ sort of Christmas. Which isn’t necessarily the happiest of Christmases. 

 

The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 17

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boat that rocked

If  yesterday’s entry, Love Actually found me conflicted over my feelings about Richard Curtis as a filmmaker, then his directorial follow-up The Boat That Rocked did little to help resolve those conflicts.

The Boat That Rocked is a ‘sort-of’ love letter to the pirate radio stations of the 1960s. I wasn’t alive then, so have no recollection of the time when popular music was not allowed to be played on the BBC, and teenagers had to get their fix by tuning in to illegal radio transmissions by the likes of Radio Caroline, which was, quite literally, broadcast from a boat.

Presumably a boat that rocked.

My mum remembers it. But she listened to Radio Luxembourg. Which kind of did the same thing. But wasn’t on a boat so much as in a country.

Presumably a country that rocked.

And was called Luxembourg.

The radio station in The Boat That Rocked  is not Radio Caroline. It’s a fictional radio station called Radio Rock. But it is, one imagines,  essentially supposed to be Radio Caroline.

The Boat That Rocked (apparently known by the much less satisfying title of Pirate Radio outside of the UK) is quite typical of Curtis’ ouevre insofar as privileged bumbling British people make up, if not all, then certainly the majority of the characters. Also, while it’s generally conventional for a Richard Curtis film to have one character who is a bit more stupid than everyone else, that character in this film is just a bit too stupid.

It’s ultimately a ‘not-great’ film with some ‘still-pretty-great’ bits. The cast, as with Love Actually, is nothing short of stellar. And they’re all fine.

But some of them are phoning it in a bit.

 

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 2

Not really a Christmas movie, but the big day does feature (and there is a juxtaposition of the Christmas dinners of the ‘groovy people’ on the boat and the ‘straights’ who are trying to shut them down). Also the denoument of the narrative appears to be around New Year.

So sort of Christmas(ish).

But not very.

 

The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 16

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love actually

Richard Curtis is a man who divides opinions. Specifically he divides my opinions. In some respects the man achieved a God-like status in my esteem in my formative years, because he was one of the people responsible for bringing the world  Blackadder. No-one linked with that peerless television programme could ever do any wrong in my eyes. Except that some of them obviously have.

It’s not anyone’s fault, when you’re involved with something that good, everything else you do is bound to suffer by comparison. Fellow  Blackadder writer, Ben Elton, has certainly produced his fair share of crap in subsequent years, and even Rowan Atkinson, a man who generally renders any movie or TV show significantly funnier by just being in it, did blot his copy book by starring in Elton’s genuinely dreadful 90s sitcom  The Thin Blue Line.

As for Curtis, as well as  Blackadder, he’s been the creative force behind a lot of TV shows that I’ve loved over the years, almost too many to list. But when it comes to his cinematic output, I’m not sure how I feel about him.

I mean I’m genuinely not sure.

Notionally, both Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill seem, on paper, like movies I wouldn’t like.  But I do quite like both of them.

However, enjoyable though those movies both are, there is a tendency, within Curtis’ films, towards a world in which fairly privileged Brits bumble around being slightly awkward. It’s a cliché that works well in Four Weddings and a Funeral. It still works in Notting Hill  but you get the feeling that it’s a stchick that will eventually run its course.

I didn’t go out of my way to avoid subsequent movies linked to Curtis, but I hadn’t seen Love Actually until this year. A fact which has been greeted with incredulity by every person I have known over the years. It’s almost as if watching this movie is like a rite of passage or something. Like you can’t be truly British if you haven’t seen Love Actually.

The movie was Curtis’ directional debut (he served as screenwriter on the other aforementioned movies) and it is everything I feared it would be. Saccharine, sickly, with more clichés and platitudes than would seem possible in 136 minutes, it’s a bit of an incoherent shambles in many respects. It sort of works, but it’s best not scrutinise the narrative too closely.

The cast is, quite simply, phenomenal, but with that much acting talent on display, it’s hard for anyone to really shine. Hugh Grant’s prime minister did seem quite a refreshing, albeit, implausible alternative to the kinds of choices we’ve had on offer in recent years. Although it’s not hard to imagine Bo Jo having a relationship with one of his staff, it wouldn’t be the endearing romance that Grant’s character enjoys with Martine McCutcheon’s ‘Natalie’.

I can see why people would like this film. It’s the kind of feel good movie that is bound to appeal to certain audiences.

There’s nothing wrong with that.

But, based on my usual cinematic tastes, it really shouldn’t appeal to me.

But I did quite enjoy it.

Damn you Curtis.

 

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 5

When, two years ago, I started the first ‘James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films’, a friend of mine suggested that I had to include Love Actually, and insisted that I leave the pub that we were sitting in imbibing alcohol to go and watch it immediately (having been as appalled as everyone else that I hadn’t yet familiarised myself with this most seminal exemplar of British culture). 

I was a bit sceptical, assuming it that it was an out and out Christmas movie and therefore had no place on a list of  Christmas(ish) movies.

But, after two years I succumbed and watched it.

And I suppose it could be argued that it isn’t technically a movie about Christmas.

Because it’s about Love.

Actually. 

But it is very Christmas(ish) and you probably wouldn’t watch it at any other time of year.

 

 

 

 

The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 15

James Proclaims (6)

american psycho

Door 15 of The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films reveals the third in this year’s collection, which is an adaptation of a novel by Brett Easton Ellis. And of the three it is by far the best.

It’s also the second film in this year’s ensemble to have the word ‘psycho’ in the title. Although the last one was just called Psycho. This one is called American Psycho.

American Pyscho is as much a satire as it is a horror movie and while it doesn’t hold back on the violence and gore (although it is significantly toned down from the novel) it is also genuinely funny and irreverent towards the world it depicts, which is that of the invesment banker in the 1980s.

The whole cast is decent enough but this is all about Christian Bale who gives a tour de force performance as Patrick Bateman, the titular psychopath.

 

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 2

Although the timeline of the movie covers a number of months, one of the stand-out moments is the Christmas party scene, which simultaneously lampoons the vacuous and obscenely opulent world that Bateman inhabits, while also setting up a murder, which resonates throughout the rest of the film. Not really a Christmas film then, but one in which Christmas plays a small but integral part of the narrative. So a bit Christmas(ish).