Saturday, June 03, 2006

Summer's here - FINALLY!

The last couple of weeks have been grim for all sorts of reasons, and the continual cold weather hasn't helped lift the spirits. So thank God for the sun today. At last the British Isles weather system has recognised we're in June!

Sod's Law says that I'm going to spend a fair amount of the glorious weather tomorrow in a darkened room, watching Thank You for Smoking - a free 'advance' viewing that comes as part of my membership of The Clapham Picture House - highly recommended as an alternative to the over-priced, corporate and impersonal cinemas in the West End. One of the problems with making the tickets free is that people book the seats so that the screening is 'sold out' and then don't bother turning up. My last visit for a similar free 'sold out' screening was for Good Night, and Good Luck, with the cinema being more than half empty when it came down to it. I suspect with the great weather this weekend there may be a similar number of 'no shows' at the 11am screening tomorrow.

But that's tomorrow. Today the windows are open, a cool breeze is blowing through the flat, and with music playing it feels like Summer is here at last.

I bought a couple of new CDs last weekend which have been on heavy rotation the last few weeks. The Pet Shop Boys new album Fundamental has been on heavy rotation, but frankly, it's a huge disappointment. The press reviews are universally ecstatic and over-the-top, which is just ridiculous given how melodically weak and 80's-sounding the album is. If you've heard I'm with Stupid (the first single from the album) you've got a pretty fair idea of how weak the new material is compared with the band's glory days at the top of the charts. So why all the 'best album since 1987' rave reviews throughout the press? I suspect this is 'ex-journalist (Neil Teannant) using all his contacts' syndrome that I also saw with St Etienne (a seriously over-hyped group when you compare reviews with actual popularity) when I worked for a short time in the music industry. I get more and more depressed at the quality of so-called impartial journalism these days. Admittedly my opinion has probably been coloured by the arrival of the latest issue of SFX magazine this morning which is, frankly, like the worst kind of primary school attempt at producing a magazine - very thin, little real content and nothing but fawning to try and get access for future issues - time to cancel my subscription methinx!

Anyway,I wondered if it was just me that felt this way about the PSB offering but it's interesting that I had a phone call from a friend (Hi Birdy, if you're reading this) who's also a big Pet Shop Boys fan last weekend and rang purely to ask me what I thought before giving his opinion. It turned out he felt he'd been had by the rave reviews the same way I had - this is a weak album with a distinct lack of good melodic hooks and catchy pop choruses. It just recycles weaker tracks from previous albums and Trevor Horn, in his role as producer, seems to have failed to lift it out of the doldrums or even give it a better sound. Very disappointing, even if lyrically it stands up well to the best of the PSB's work. With so many other PSB albums already available this adds nothing new and is probably best avoided unless you're the sort of fan who must have everything the group have produced.

Watching a Channel 4 documentary on the group last week (whoever does the group's promotion deserves a medal - they always seem to get TV and prime time radio when they have a new album out) the Chairman of EMI completely rewrote history when he kept saying that the Pet Shop Boys album 'Behaviour' had been dissed by the critics. It actually received rave reviews - similar to those for the new 'Fundamental; album - but it turns out the sales were the lowest the group had ever had. Good to have my opinions of that album confirmed (it's the only album by the band, until this latest one, that I haven't really embraced!) I wonder if in 10 years time we'll have the same chairman commenting on how the critics weren't kind to 'Fundamental', conveniently forgetting all the five star ratings and 'their best album for decades' synopses.

On a happier note, one album I'm loving to bits is the soundtrack album from the Johnny Cash biopic movie Walk the Line. It may be tagged 'country', but to me this is out-and-out pop of the sort The Pet Shop Boys used to know how to produce. It's exhuberant, it's bouncy, has a modern production feel and it gets your foot tapping the second it starts off. I would suggest that, unlike the PSB album, it's perfect for Summer!

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