Friday 26 April 2013

Clandestine Classic XXXIV - Closer

CloserThe thirty-fourth 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.

What comes to mind when you think about Travis? Chances are it's their pajillion-selling and semi-ubiquitous second album The Man Who or maybe it's only marginally less successful third, The Invisible Band. Or maybe you have a festival memory of hoisting an umbrella into the air as the band played their biggest hit, Why Does It Always Rain On Me? What I very much doubt it brings to mind is today's clandestine classic, Closer, a 2007 single from the band's fifth album, The Boy With No Name.

There's a good reason why, of course. Firstly, the band's fourth album 12 Memories had been a little too political, a little too angsty for some. Then drummer Neil Primrose jumped head-first into a shallow swimming pool while on tour in France. Breaking his neck, he almost died due to spinal damage. If not for his bandmates, he also would have drowned. Serious stuff, I'm sure you'll agree, and more than enough reason for the band to drop out of circulation for a while. The trouble is, dropping out of circulation for a while is a bit of a crime these days, and Travis's lazy-hack-muso-journalist title as "the next Radiohead" was snagged away by Coldplay and Keane, both more than capable of shifting product to the Radio 2 crowd.

They did return though, and in 2005 they were drafted in as last-minute replacements for Morrissey at the Isle of Wight festival. In need of a warm-up gig at short notice, and with no album to promote, they played a crowd-pleasing greatest hits set at UEA, and one of the the highlights was a world premiere of a new song, Closer.

All the Travis trademarks were there from the start - Fran's fragile vocal delivery, deceptively simple chords, the solo that almost isn't, the twisted lyrical themes of love (unrequited), loss, heartache. Most of all, of wanting to be loved. In other words, a return to the familiar, non-political territory of albums two and three.

Today's classic is probably the most commercially successful of any that I've featured thus far - it peaked at number ten in the UK singles chart. But it's still clandestine, in my book, just because it's so far down the list you think of when you think about Travis. Besides, it seems like a good time to be talking about them - after an amicable hiatus and solo outing from Fran, the band are back (back! back!) with new material to promote and a new album in the offing.

In the meantime, you can find today's classic on the aforementioned The Boy With No Name, as well as the solid-gold Singles collection. Alternatively, naughty boys and girls may be interested in this, in which case you ain't seen me, right? And then there's always YouTube - I do love a video that steps outside of itself, if you know what I mean? If you don't, you will do after watching this. Cheers.

Footnote: yes, thanks, I'm fully aware that "semi-ubiquitous" is a bit like being a little bit pregnant. Cut me some slack, eh...?

Thursday 18 April 2013

Shooting the Moon

Much as I might like one, I don't have a digital SLR, just a compact camera, or "point'n'shoot". Admittedly, it's quite a good point'n'shoot, but that's all it is. Imagine my pleasure then, when presented with a full Moon and a clear sky a couple of weeks ago, that I was able to shoot this.

It's not a great photo, being a bit fuzzy and still a little distant - it's certainly light years away from the sort of lunar photography my friend Mark produces. But the thing that gets me, and the reason I'm writing this, is just how advanced digital photography is getting. As I mentioned, this was taken with a compact camera, and handheld, not on a tripod or any other mount. Yes, I did tweak the camera's settings slightly - it allows a degree of manual control - but really I didn't do much more than extend the zoom to its fullest limit. And in case you're wondering, the photo hasn't been cropped or digitally post-processed either - all I've done is scale down the size from the original 18MP to something that fits nicer on this here web page. And I think the results speak, not for me as a photographer (I'm a bit run of the mill) but for the camera, because the results are half decent. I mean, you can see Tycho and Copernicus clearly, and the Sea of Tranquility stands out nicely (Mark - fill me in with some more identifiable features!)

I'm now on the lookout for a website that tells me when the Moon is at perigee, so I can dig out a tripod and try again...

Thursday 11 April 2013

Not Film, er, 2009 but a film review anyway: Mésrine Part 1 - Killer Instinct (or, better late than never)

Funny what turns up, isn't it? Scrabbling for something to write on in the side pocket of a sports bag yesterday, I happened upon a little notebook that I hadn't used in some considerable time. It was mostly empty but near the front I had made a few notes and, on the 10th of August 2009, scrawled a just-legible film review for the French gangster epic "Mésrine part 1 - Killer Instinct". Here, unedited, it what I thought back then.

Cassels in double-hard in thisDisillusioned with the army, disappointed in his father, Jacques Mésrine's (Vincente Cassels) path towards his ultimate status as France's public enemy #1 is set when he falls under the wing of small-time crime boss Guido (Gerard Depardieu). It quickly becomes apparent that Mésrine has a talent for all things criminal, and a confidence with the more physical aspects of his career choice (this is a violent film, but not gratuitously so). It also becomes apparent that he puts himself, and the respect and companionship that comes from his work partnerships, ahead of family life, forsaking his wife and child in a literal "us or them" moment.

After leaving a mob associate crippled, Mésrine and Jeanne, his new partner (both romantic and criminal), flee to Canada where they become minor media celebrities after a botched kidnapping. Mésrine in particular likes this brush with fame, and it is difficult not to wonder if this will be a telling factor in part 2 of his story, released next month.

Mésrine's incarceration in a brutal Canadian prison ends with his escape and, incredibly, his later attempt to jailbreak the remaining inmates. By contrast, Jeanne doesn't want to be sprung from prison, and her relationship with Mésrine ends there.

Cassel's performance as the anti-hero Mésrine is compelling - he is on-screen for almost all of the film's two hours. It is a testament to the strength of his performance that, even though his character is a damaged individual with sociopathic tendencies, you root for him - you want him to get away, to escape.

Depardieu's cameo as Guido is also excellent, a suitable compliment being that his performance would sit well in an early Tarantino film.

There, that's it, that's all I wrote. No top and tail, no summary, just a straight synopsis and a few observations. Maybe I planned to wait until I'd seen "Mésrine Part 2 - Public Enemy #1", I can't remember. What I will say is that both films are good, and Part 1 is bordering on terrific. I should also reiterate that these are French films, so if you don't like subtitles, well, maybe that's an issue for you. For everyone else, hustle over to Amazon where, four years later, you can pick up both films on DVD for less than nine quid.

Friday 5 April 2013

Got to love that Internet

Thank you Tim Berners-Lee et al. With the Internet, it is virtually impossible to be bored for long these days. Here are some things I have found online this week that have amused, entertained or otherwise occupied me, and that I really feel duty-bound to share with you.

  • Classless society? Pah! Take the BBC's class test and see it you're one of them or one of us...
  • If you're quick you can get tickets to see comedy god and all-round nice guy Dave Gorman for free! Choice of dates but all in that there London though so, you know, sorry if, like me, you live elsewhere.
  • You know that advert for Galaxy chocolate featuring Audrey Hepburn in her prime? Well, unlike the old beer ad featuring Marilyn Monroe this wasn't achieved with splicing in genuine film footage, this was done with a model (Ellie Burton) who, whilst pretty, doesn't actually look like Audrey that much at all. Cursed/blessed CGI!
  • And best of all, thanks to the usually excellent and always interesting Voices Of East Anglia, this week I discovered the US animated spy spoof "Archer". Set in a seemingly Sixties-styled world but with contemporary references, this Bond/Flint/Powers/Uncle spoof follows international man of mystery Sterling Archer as he debauches his way around the globe. Is debauches a word? Probably not but it should be. Anyway, "Archer" airs on the FX network in the States and has been shown on 5* over here (at least the first three series have). Somehow that passed me by, which is a shame because the compilation video highlights VoEA included had me guffawing like an idiot schoolboy. Yes, of course it's only the "best bits", but it seemed to suggest a programme full of snappy dialogue, knowing parody and genuine laughs. I'll be looking out for the next series on 5*, and suggest you do the same. Here's that video.