Monday 30 April 2012

A good big'un will usually beat a good littl'un

I went to see a Premier League match at the weekend: Norwich City v Liverpool. In other words, my adopted home town against the team I supported as a boy. So I had conflicting feelings, I'll be honest, because although Norwich is the team I go and see, the team I literally support, I still watch the Reds' results with a very close eye.

Much has been made of how well the Canaries have done this season, not only to survive but to do so in some style. Only Man City have really spanked us (twice). We drew against Liverpool at Anfield, were unlucky against Man Utd at Old Trafford and beat Spurs at White Hart Lane. But Liverpool gave us a lesson on Saturday. We never looked like scoring and, to be honest, they could have had more than three.

But anyway, I'll keep this brief - I don't want to alienate those with no interest in footy. So in Powerpoint-style, here are my bullet-pointed observations from the game:

  • Luis Suarez is a world-class player. A bit of a dick too - he falls over too easily and constantly jibes at players off the ball when the ref's not watching - but you can't argue with his skill. Shame he can't get the genius/pillock balance right.
  • Steven Gerrard is awesome. He ran the entire game. I don't know if he will go on as long as the likes of Giggs and Scholes, but I hope he does, for Liverpool's and England's sake.
  • Elliott Ward had a 'mare - Suarez had his number from the word go. If we hadn't lost our left-back early doors, I think he would have been subbed off. I was embarrassed for him, and wouldn't be surprised if his contract wasn't renewed in the summer.
  • Steve Morison polarises fans, and I can see why. He just doesn't seem to work very hard, especially when compared to Grant Holt who was eventually brought on to replace him. But then I charge around like a headless chicken at 5-a-side and it doesn't make me a better player, so maybe the large proportion of the Carrow Road crowd that were on Morison's back just because he doesn't seem to put in the effort are wrong. Then again...
  • It was great to see my childhood hero, King Kenny, even if he was only standing on the touchline. The 3,500 or so travelling fans chanted his name and he acknowledged them with a wave every time. The guy can do no wrong in my eyes.
  • Suarez's third goal has been compared to Beckham's half-way line goal but was way better. Beckham was barely moving when he hit his - Suarez was belting along, and being chased by a defender. I don't think I have seen too many better goals, and certainly not at games I've actually been at. Here it is.

Thursday 19 April 2012

Clandestine Classic XXV - The Day Before You Came

Agnetha in the video. Minx.The 25th post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

This is going to be a difficult post, and one in which I risk my hard-earned indie credentials. Because yes, today's Clandestine Classic is a 1982 single from Abba. Yep, you read that right, the Swedish behemoth that bestrode the world in the Seventies and early Eighties like an eight-legged Scandinavian Colossus. But what do you think of when you think of Abba? Waterloo/Eurovision? Maybe. Dancing Queen? Perhaps. Mamma sodding Mia? That's understandable, given its reinvention as a musical and film. But what about the songs? The proper songs...

Though I probably should be, I'm not ashamed to admit to liking Abba. If you take a look at my gigography on Songkick, you'll see they were my first gig, nine years old and wide-eyed at Wembley Arena. I still have the tour programme somewhere. And the lyrics are still ingrained from hours and hours of pre-teen headphone listening and singing along. Okay, so those lyrics were often a bit twee but have you tried writing a song in Swedish? Fair play to Benny and (mainly) Björn, I say.

But forget the songs I've mentioned above, and the others that spring to mind, like the Partridge-endorsed Knowing Me, Knowing You (did you just do an internal "Ah-ha!" - I did), the dum-diddy-dum of Take A Chance On Me, the oft-parodied Super Trouper, forget 'em! They were all way too successful and familiar to be Clandestine Classics. Besides, most of their best songs, in my view, came late in their career, as singles chart success began to tail off. It's one of those I've picked today.

You could argue that the darker tone of their last studio album, 1981's The Visitors, was down to the disintegration of the two marriages within the band. Agnetha and Björn were already divorced, Benny and Frida were heading that way. Yet still all recording and performing together. It must have been a tense time, especially when Björn went off and married an Agnetha-clone. The template for minor-key heartbreak and misery, Abba-style, was already set with The Winner Takes It All but that was number 1 in half of Europe and even made it to number 8 in the States, helped in no small measure by its lump-in-the-throat video. So, far too successful to be Clandestine. But their pre-penultimate single release, The Day Before You Came, only limped to number 32 in the UK - a failure by Abba's standards.

I'll be honest, I almost chose Blancmange's cover of this song today. It's very good, definitely worth five minutes of your time, and would have preserved my indie credentials perhaps. But I'm sorry, great though it is (especially the extended 12" mix), synthesizers are no match for the layered backing vocals in the original. I'm not going to say anything else about Abba, or what they did next - there's nothing I can add to what's already out there. But I will ask you to listen, without prejudice or snobbery, to a truly excellent song. Of its time, yes, but excellent nonetheless. If there's a better song about being ruined by meeting the wrong person (or the right person at the wrong time, perhaps?) I can't think when I've heard it. You can get The Day Before You Came on The Visitors or compilation More Abba Gold. Or here. Or YouTube, of course. Here you go.

Tuesday 10 April 2012

Robert De Niro's waiting... for one more good role

So there I am, last night, sat in front of the TV lamenting the fact that Easter doesn't equate to a slew of good programmes to watch in the same way that Christmas does. Or did. Channel-surfing, I found that Heat was on Film 4, halfway through. And I got to thinking. Robert De Niro has made many amazing films, and some of my all-time favourites: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Deer Hunter, Goodfellas and Cape Fear. Especially Cape Fear. But I started to wonder - has he made a truly great film since Cape Fear in 1991? I'm not sure that he has. A quick look at his filmography on IMDB suggests maybe not. Some would argue the case for Heat and also Casino. Maybe Frankenstein. But I'm not convinced. Good, yes, but great? Others would say he's good in Meet The Parents and I wouldn't disagree - it's a fine comedy. But good and fine are not great.

Here's a clip from Cape Fear showing a masterclass in understated menace from De Niro, back when he still demanded meaty roles that he could really get his teeth into. These days? De Niro by numbers, sadly. What a waste.

So what do you think? Am I right? Wrong? Have I missed a stellar performance from De Niro in the 20 years since Cape Fear that scales the heights he climbed in the 20 years preceding it? Let me know...