New Music Roundup – August 2013

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 6th August 2013.

On a recent trip to the States, I was disappointed to find that the record shop had become extinct. I wandered the shopping districts of NYC and Las Vegas, only to find that the major music retailers I remembered from previous visits had disappeared. Only the iconic Amoeba Music store in Los Angeles remained.

So for those of you who remember albums, here’s my rundown of the latest offerings.

The Pet Shop Boys have been producing their unique brand of synth pop for the past 22 years. Their twelfth studio album is entitled Electric and is a welcome return to the dance floor after the joyless creative failure of Elysium last year. Reminiscent of their Disco series of albums, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have rediscovered the right combination of beats per minute, catchy synth hooks and quirky lyrics to appeal to the Tony Manero is all of us. Electric is the first release through X 2 (“times two”), their own label.

Remember Lou Bega? In 1999, he hit the jackpot worldwide with Mambo No. 5 (A Little Bit of…) and was subsequently never heard from again, thankfully. This week, his fifth studio album hit shelves and I’m predicting that next week, it will hit bargain bins. Entitled A Little Bit 80s, Bega gives his favourite songs from the decade without taste a little bit of the Mambo No. 5 treatment. That means dancehall style grooves and lots, and I mean lots, of synthesized brass hits. Unfortunately, Bega’s low vocal register means it is impossible to sing along with the tunes. Red Red Wine is not a complete disaster but best avoid his version of Olivia Newton-John’s Physical.

Hey, how good was Madonna’s last album? Nope, I have no idea either. Along with the rest of world, I didn’t buy it. For those interested in the other end of the Madonna timeline, an album of largely unreleased recordings has emerged under the title, The Early Years. I would suggest an alternative title: The Unlistenable Years. This collection of stodgy synthesizer tracks with avant garde German artist Otto Von Wernherr features Madonna vocals in the form of barely present samples accompanying a horribly augmented male singer. Imagine the vocal stylings from Taco’s Putting on the Ritz with Madonna on backing duties. Yep, it’s that bad.

Following a bizarre album and tour with New Kids on the Block, billed collectively as NKOTBSB, the Backstreet Boys return with a new album, In a World Like This. With Kevin Richardson back on board, the original line-up returns with a collection of inoffensive acoustic guitar riddled power ballads. Unfortunately, there’s very little in the way of hooks, making it one for the fans only. As crazy as it sounds, I’d recommend instead the also newly released offering from NKOTB (no longer new or kids) entitled 10.

Published in: on September 11, 2013 at 00:09  Leave a Comment  
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Star Wars on Blu-ray: how many times do I have to buy the same movie?

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 6 September 2011.

If you’re a Star Wars fan, this month has been a long time coming. Wednesday 14 September will see both the original and prequel trilogies released on blu-ray. Finally we’ll be able to see that extra tall (or clumsy) Stormtrooper bang his head on the rising door in A New Hope in stunning high definition.

For around $120, you’ll get nine discs and over thirty hours of bonus features. Thirty hours! That is a lot of commitment, even for a Jedi. Don’t expect to see any nerds around town until the Saturday after its release at the earliest.

I’ve been doing my sums to work out how much money I have spent on purchasing and repurchasing Star Wars movies in my lifetime so far. There was the original VHS copy that I bought way back when owning a VHS (or Beta) player was a luxury and you needed to insert the tapes in the top. Renting a video then set you back $10 a shot, so buying Episode IV outright was easily $100.

Then there was the original trilogy that I purchased with my saved up pocket money from the now defunct HMV store in Parramatta Mall in the late eighties. Box sets didn’t exist then so that’s three movies at $30 each.

In the early nineties, I was working for my local Video Ezy store when Lucasfilm announced that they would be releasing the original films for the very last time so I purchased them again on VHS, this time in widescreen. Of course, television screens were still square shaped then so I got to watch my favourite movies in a small rectangle with dirty black bars above and below. That’s another three movies at $30 each.

What the clever folks at Lucasfilm didn’t mention during that promotion was the reason the original films were available for the “last time” was due to the imminent release of the Special Edition which included revised special effects and a little too much tampering on George Lucas’ behalf, such as changing the cantina scene to have Greedo shoot first in order to make Han Solo seem less ruthless. After duly seeing them on the big screen in 1997, I also bought the Special Edition VHS box set at say, $100. Are you noticing a pattern here?

In 2004, Star Wars Episodes IV – VI finally came out on DVD, this time in a box set complete with an awesome feature length documentary. The Force was strong in that one so I bought it too. Add another $100 at least to the tab.

The original, unaltered films were released again, this time on DVD, in 2006. I felt a little sore about this. Didn’t Lucasfilm say that the original trilogy would no longer be available? I guess they meant no longer available on video. Not a bad Jedi mind trick, but no bingo.

The prequel movies were released on the big screen from 1999 – 2005 and subsequently made their way to DVD. I only bought Episode III, largely due to the fact that the first two are mind numbingly awful. One DVD, $30 spent, fast forward through the Jar Jar scene.

Let’s face it. History shows that I’m going to buy the new Star Wars blu-ray box set. I love high definition films. Blu-ray movies look sharper and clearer to me than looking out the window. How is that possible?

So later this month, my total Star Wars expenditure will be $630. That’s not including buying cinema tickets, action figures, video games, books, magazines, the Princess Leia shampoo that you need to take her head off to get the shampoo out or tickets to see Carrie Fisher live. That’s $630 buying the same product over and over again. Despite his inability to direct actors or write decent dialogue, George Lucas is a marketing genius. Make that a ridiculously rich billionaire marketing genius.

I suppose I can’t complain. Star Wars has been an important part of my life in the past, and if I try to watch all of the new extra features it will probably be my actual life for a couple of days in the near future.

So thank you George Lucas. I hope you remember that 17% of one of the bricks in your solid gold mansion was paid for by me. But remember, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me thrice twice plus one, this better be the last time. And I don’t mean a John Farnham “The Last Time” last time.

May the force be with you and your wallet.

Published in: on September 9, 2011 at 08:30  Leave a Comment  
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