Review: Frank Ocean, “Channel Orange”

I’m an occasional contributor to Third Way Magazine, a magazine of Christian comment upon culture which is available by subscription.

Here’s a review of “Channel Orange”, the album by Frank Ocean, which originally appeared in the September 2012 issue. This was written whilst I had quite a heavy cold, so some of the logic is a bit muddled. Sorry about that.

Six days before the release of his debut album, Frank Ocean posted a letter on his blog in which he talked about falling in love as a 19-year-old, and that love being spurned because they were of the same gender. Previously known as a songwriter for Justin Bieber and Beyonce, and an occasional member of puerile rap clan Odd Future, in Frank Ocean we now had something quite special. Historic, even. A major new talent in the world of urban music had announced that they had had, if not a gay relationship, then certainly same-sex feelings – something simply shocking to the homophobic rap community.

The timing was impeccable. Six days for Frank Ocean to be roundly praised by the music press and villified by moronic hordes on Twitter, before the music came. A guaranteed way of building hype for an unknown act, or an artist pre-empting the babble and baring his soul?

The first reason to discredit the PR stunt angle is that the music is so good. Ocean has written songs for others and so – like Kanye West or the Neptunes – his first solo album is eccentric, boundary pushing and uniquely his. Rather than Pro-Tooled clinical perfection, he favours ‘70s-sounding electric piano, with washes of gurgling synths. The beats are minimal, restrained, and his vocals are impassioned and refreshingly autotune-free.

The album isn’t perfect – there are some scratchy radio skits, and some songs lack hooks, resting instead on scrappy surrealism – but, when it works, it’s reminiscent of Prince’s Sign O The Times in its ambition and range, with a little ‘70s Stevie Wonder thrown in.

Freed from making something for the charts, Ocean tells tales of hollow, neon-lit glamour. It’s the opposite of bling – the drugs aren’t fun, and riches bring only loneliness. When he namechecks brands – on Lost, he sings “Got on my buttercream silk shirt / And it’s Versace” – it’s with a sad-eyed resignation, a sense that he should know better.

The best example of Ocean’s approach to wealth is Super Rich Kids, a fascinating song about aimless, moneyed youths. Over a lolloping piano reminiscent of Benny & The Jets, Ocean’s Odd Future colleague Earl Sweatshirt raps “The maids come around too much / Parents ain’t around enough”, whilst Ocean sings of stocks and shares – and, bizarrely, shower-heads – before concluding “I’m searching for a real love”.

The album really becomes special, however, when it addresses Ocean’s pre-release revelations. Bad Religion places Ocean’s narrator in a taxi, where the taxi driver responds to the narrator asking him to “be my shrink for the hour” with “Boy, you need prayer”. The narrator says “If it brings me to my knees, it’s a bad religion”, before a masterful songwriting touch as he bends this concept back into his own situation, concluding that unrequited love isn’t much of a religion either: “Unrequited love / It’s nothing but a one-man cult… I could never make him love me”. Wrapped in swooping strings, it’s heartfelt and heartbreaking.

Similarly impressive is the deconstructed Motown strut of “Forrest Gump”, in which Ocean talks about his love, a boy “who wouldn’t hurt a beetle”, concluding “This is love, I know it’s true / I won’t forget you”. Ocean proves himself to be a writer of verve, equating the way the boy is “running on his mind” with the titular Tom Hanks movie. I mean, this isn’t your standard Usher joint.

It’s this eccentric openness that makes me feel this isn’t a PR stunt. Writing so movingly on unrequited love is a world away from the urban music of the clubs and the charts, and even further away from the violent and controversial imagery of Odd Future, and their de facto leader Tyler the Creator. Ocean is undoubtedly fond of using characters and narrative, often singing from different points of view (intriguingly, not all male), but it’s on tracks like Bad Religion, Forrest Gump and the opening track Thinkin Bout You, that the songs seem to drop the artifice a little. He’s singing from the heart.

Following the release of Channel Orange, Ocean has been opening for Coldplay in arenas, finding kinship in other acts famous for making emotive music for outsiders. The lines between genres have long been blurred, with Channel Orange similar in tone to Kanye’s work with Bon Iver – urban music taking cues from indie sensitivity. Frank Ocean has the urban grit thanks to Odd Future, and the songwriting chops thanks to his work with mainstream pop. How fitting that his coming-out should be the start of a creative blossoming into a dynamic, thrilling talent.

Keeping Track: Week 4

I’ve felt very tired and busy this week. One might have led to the other. So I missed last Monday’s post.

But really, in terms of writing and creative things, I’ve had one thing on this week. No Fun is only two scenes away from complete, but I’m still running a bit scared of them. So I did some procrastinediting.

I printed off the 95 page draft one of the No Fun screenplay and I’ve been doing an initial “shame edit”. This is trimming out all of the bits that I am ashamed of, but have left in for sheer bulk.

The trim added some stuff and took away other chunks, so I’m glad it’s come out at  95 pages again. Some slight restructuring, some making things clear. Some interlacing two scenes together, so you’re intercutting between the two. This is what we do when we’re worried it’s not moving fast enough.

At some point, some point soon, I’m also going to have to change the names. One of the initial sparks of the film was seeing two actors that I love that could easily play brothers, and writing with them in mind. They’ve still got those names. (The first names only, obviously. I’m not writing Star Stories.)

One of those names is also my name. Tom. The character is not me, it’s the other Tom, but it would cause confusion for readers, wouldn’t it?

So Tom needs to become something else. Maybe Pete. Something pretty blank.

And you know how screenwriters are supposed to use a ticking clock to make things go quickly? Here’s mine. Deadline 7th November.

Keeping Track: Week 2

Screenplays

I’m now at 91 pages of Project “No Fun”. Getting past 90 pages is always my “wall”. Once I’ve got past 90 pages, it’s then a proper length, and feels almost complete. Quite important for having the end in sight. Still about four or five scenes left to write, but getting closer to a full draft. Rewrites will be No Fun.

The one I’m planning with Coffee Break Screenwriter feels like it has moved forwards a little – I’m going through this book pretty methodically, so I’ve gone through Chapter 1, which basically gives me a bare-bones plot, a log-line and some basic character intentions. I’d already planned the fundamental structure before starting the book exercises, and I’m finding that original structure rubbing awkwardly against what I’m coming up with now. Mostly, I’ve discovered that my main character is super-passive. They literally hang around waiting for stuff to happen. Also, I’ve got no real idea why the antagonist(s) are doing what they’re doing. They’re just all maraudy and vague. So I might have to take a little break from book exercises and just sit down and try to come up with what these bastards are actually doing

The passive thing is a bit more tricky. You see, I quite like passive characters (being a bit of a passive character myself). I like people placed in extraordinary circumstances and kind of going with the flow, but the rigid structure imposed by screenwriting books (of which I cannot read enough) doesn’t really allow for that. So this is all good discipline. Discipline like a mouthful of bran.

The other issue that I’ve come up against – particularly with “No Fun” – is that I’m not particularly great at writing conflict, as I avoid it so much in real life. I’m English, that’s what we do*. So it is a bit of an effort to write conflict. Again, it’s a bit of a mouthful of bran. Write the horrible turgid conflict so it can be refined later.

Sitcoms

No new work on radio adaptation sitcom, but we have a meeting about the multi-writer sitcom tomorrow, so I’ve written two pages on that today, and we’re all doing some last-minute deadline work and posting it into the Google Doc.

The nice thing about writing a radio sitcom with three of you is you only have to write seven minutes each. Everyone can write seven minutes! For this one, we’ve split out the A, B and C plots, and each of us write one. We’ve tried to minimise crossover between the plots on this first draft so we don’t complicate each others’ plots  – and then we’ll spend a lot of time complicating each others’ plots. The first scene I’ve written, I’ve ignored this self-imposed rule, as I had the C plot, with only one major character to work with, so I’ve at least given her something of a cipher to spark against.

Other

That’s sort of been it this week. We were away at the weekend, blah blah blah. I did see Rob Delaney last week, and that did kick off a strange little Twitter story in my head, but too many people believed it. My brother asked if he could come and visit the Game of Thrones set, and his little face fell when I told him I was lying. Heartbreaking. No good at conflict, as I said before.

* Apart from colonialism, etc. etc.

Keeping track…

Hey. I’m trying to keep track of what I’m working on a bit more; to be a bit more up-front and accountable about what I’m working on. This is partly inspired by the word-count on Kat Sommers’ excellent novel-writing blog, and also to remind myself about the things I’ve actually produced.

Of course, the line that we walk is that this will sound a bit braggy, but fortunately years of misuse have seen the readership of this blog dwindle, so we’re pretty much on our own here. Good? Good.

So here goes. A regularish rundown of what I’m working on, and how it’s going. Maybe we can learn from this, or something.

Screenplays

I haven’t mentioned here that my last completed screenplay – God Save The Queen – got into the Top 500 of the Nicholls Fellowship, the screenwriting competition run by the people who run the Oscars.

My script didn’t get into the quarter-finals. At that point, the Nicholls people put up a list of the quarter-finalists on their site, and people contact them and read their scripts. That isn’t happening to mine. There are 368 quarterfinalists, and mine was in the next hundred. So – in the top 468 of 7,197 scripts. That’s not bad.

So I’m now rushing to get something ready for next year. I think that means it should be ready by January or February. So I have two on the go.

One is currently at 88 pages. It’s a domestic-ish drama. I’ll get to describing it better soon. I have a rough guideline for the remaining scenes. I’m putting off writing them because they’re hard. I should really stop putting them off. Maybe by next week.

One is very very new. On the guidance of the lovely Paul Birch, I’ve purchased a copy of Coffee Break Screenwriter by Pilar Alessandra, and I’m working through the ten-minute exercises in that book to get to a point of writing a bunch of scenes. I have a basic storyline already mapped out. The key word for this one is “fun”. The key word for the domestic-ish drama was “no fun”, which mainly meant listening to “Lodger” by David Bowie over and over again. Maybe that’s why I’m a bit grumpy at the moment.

Sitcoms

I’m writing another sitcom with Sarah Dean and Kate Chedgey, with whom I’ve written two before. Today I’ve written one page of A4 for the C plot. I reckon another page should be enough to get the very basic arc of that story completed. There’ll be a bit of wrangling later on, but that’s unavoidable.

I’ve also got a concept for a radio thing that I want to write on my own – a sort of semi-adaptation of a screenplay I was writing two years ago that turned out to have no antagonist. I’ve written a page and a half of A4 of the second scene of that – the first scene is a bit more tricky to write – and I’ll type that up tonight.

Reviews

I had a review of Channel Orange by Frank Ocean published in Third Way in the most-recent-but-one issue. Nothing else here for the moment.

Songs

I haven’t been writing songs. I used to write them all the time, and I want to get back into it. So I wrote one song this morning. It lasts about a minute. It’s not very good. But it’s at least off the starting blocks.

Review: Nicki Minaj, “Roman Reloaded”

I’m an occasional contributor to Third Way Magazine, a magazine of Christian comment upon culture which is available by subscription.

Here’s a review of “Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded”, the album by Nicki Minaj, which originally appeared in the June 2012 issue. This is a slightly extended version. 

Let’s get it straight from the beginning – Nicki Minaj is not for everyone. Minaj represents the holy grail for teenagers seeking rudeness – a potty-mouthed rapper who happens to use her videos to showcase her fondness for provocative sexuality. She has said that she doesn’t make music for children and that, essentially, she wants to be judged on a gender-neutral scale against the most-accomplished rappers in the business. And yet, her fondness for pink wigs, video gurning, and perky pop production makes her catnip for younger girls, inviting the inevitable newspaper thought-pieces on her status as a role model.

On Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, her second studio album, Minaj is clear that she just wants to be one of the boys. The last words she says on the album are “I am the female Weezy”, after her Young Money stable-mate Lil’ Wayne. In fact, she’s a much better rapper than Wayne, with her creative rhymes and dynamic voice – sweeping effortlessly from squeaky bounce to growling panic – consistently more captivating than Weezy’s ugly, violent verses. But it’s this desire – not to be “a female rapper” but to prove herself worthy of her contemporaries – that dulls the sheen of Minaj’s talents. Rather than following her own idiosyncratic impulses, too much of the album is dogged by attempts to beat others on their turf.The album splits roughly into sections – the first nine tracks showcase minimalist production, with all pyrotechnics coming from Minaj herself, scrapping, scowling and yelling. Then we get five club-inspired tracks, followed by four bland ballads. It seems incredibly old-fashioned to complain about an album’s sequencing but it’s important. All three of these unofficial sections tail off in quality as they go on, and the homogeneity of neighbouring songs means that it’s a rather exhausting listen – like listening to three EPs, top-heavy with the singles.

The opening section gives the best sense of Minaj’s personality. For example, “Roman Holiday” starts with a strange cockney exhortation to “take your medication, Roman”, before this gives way to some pitch-bending Minaj rap, weird clicky minimalistic production, some apocalyptic dancehall toasting, and a brief appropriation of O Come All Ye Faithful. It is baffling, unhinged, and brilliant. Songs that follow feature ARP synth sirens, buzzing bass, and cavernous reverb, with Minaj’s raps confrontational, surprising, and too profane to print here. Guests like Cam’ron, Drake and Young Jeezy point up Minaj’s individuality through their gangsta saminess.

The second section – including the single “StarShips” – shifts into bright, multi-coloured pop with immense, over-produced Euro-club middle-8s. Minaj’s singing voice is often autotuned within an inch of its life, and these songs really could be sung by anyone.

Even worse are the ballads near the back of the album. “Fire Burns” is an Adele-esque breakup song, for goodness’ sake – she should be above that. These tracks feel like Minaj branching out into areas of inexpertise – studio experiments that neglect her genuine strengths.

Teasing any deeper, spiritual meaning from these songs is like searching for vitamins in candyfloss. Minaj is often speaking in character, with her multiple alter-egos all part of a complicated overarching history impenetrable to newcomers and tailor-made for internet messageboard discussion.

So, it’s a incohesive album, ham-fistedly sequenced, with some tantalising visions of an artist in development – there are glimpses of an individualistic creativity unmatched in rap since Andre 3000. This album doesn’t contain the crossover smash that takes Minaj into the mainstream – a “Hey Ya” or “My Name Is” – but then, I get the feeling that the mainstream is not where she wants to be. She might have been pulled in different directions by competing interests – producers, record labels, video directors, and her own restless creative desires. Or maybe she’s impatiently doing absolutely everything all at once, and waiting for the listening public to catch up.

Review: Lana Del Rey, “Born To Die”

I’m an occasional contributor to Third Way Magazine, a magazine of Christian comment upon culture which is available by subscription.

Here’s a review of “Born To Die”, the album by Lana Del Rey, which originally appeared in the April 2012 issue.

Video Games, the lead-off single from Lana Del Rey’s Born To Die, was ridiculously off-trend. If you had said twelve months ago that 2012’s first breakout star would be most often compared to Twin Peaks chanteuse Julee Cruise, you would have been politely ushered out of the room, but Video Games seemed ready-made for a film noir soundtrack, with Del Rey a 21st century fembot fatale.

Video Games was self-released with a YouTube video collage of scratchy archive footage, interspersed with Del Rey herself pouting collagenically into the camera. Proceeding at funereal pace, the song is undeniably captivating – minor piano chords; an insistent, nagging chorus – and hinted teasingly at subversion of a more spiritual nature. The song combined teenage lust with a sort of spaced-out, secular devotion – “Heaven is a place on earth with you” sang Del Rey, “It’s you, it’s you / It’s all for you”. The title of the album – “Born To Die” – toyed with this doomy, contemplative feeling further.

And so came the hype, swiftly followed by the backlash, and then the backlash to the backlash. For a while, Lana Del Rey’s were the lips on everyone’s lips. The writer Caitlin Moran tweeted of her desire for some kind of meter to tell her “what ‘we’ thought of Lana Del Rey each hour, so I don’t miss any sea-changes”. Across the music press, Del Rey’s privileged background, the alarmingly submissive content of Video Games’ lyrics, and even her changing her name from Lizzy Grant to her performing name were somehow seen as important revelations of inauthenticity.

Video Games hangs heavily over the twelve wildly-inconsistent tracks of Born To Die, with none capturing the lightning-in-the-bottle feel of that first single. Indeed, the subtle mix of sex, hedonism and attitude that made Video Games so enticing is here amplified and distorted – like a love poem yelled through a megaphone. “I heard you like the bad girls, honey” is distilled into the opening title track’s rather blunt line “You like your girls insane”, and there are plenty more examples to alarm all good feminists.

On the question of inauthenticity, Del Rey is clearly playing with archetypes in these songs – as witnessed by the exhaustive list of ‘50s-era references sprinkled across the album. Unfortunately, the archetypical role that Del Rey frequently plays throughout the album is not particularly likeable – obsessed with money and James Dean-esque bad boys, Del Rey comes across as less a teenage rebel than a spoilt brat, continually putting on red dresses and cooing knuckle-chewingly embarrassing come-ons, like the awful National Anthem’s “Money is the reason we exist / Everybody knows it, it’s a fact, kiss kiss”.

The album’s inconsistency is thanks to the muddled production which seems to be caught in two minds whether to apply Video Games’s simplicity to the other eleven tracks. There’s often a “throw the kitchen sink at it” approach to each song, with Badalamenti-style twangy guitar rubbing awkwardly against Timbaland-inspired beats and digital squelches worthy of William Orbit. You get the feeling that – given a producer with more of a singular vision, a Jon Brion, for example – Del Rey could do something a little more unique, but there’s a belated attempt with a lot of these tracks to kow-tow to current trends – like the way Summertime Sadness’s stuttered title apes Rihanna’s Umbrella.

Where Del Rey veers most dramatically from Video Games’ format – Off To The Races sung coquettishly in her higher register, or National Anthem’s ill-advised venture into rap – she falters, as her experimentation turns deadpan allure into dispassionate aloofness. However, on later album tracks like Million Dollar Man and Dark Paradise we see glimpses of Del Rey’s melancholy. In Dark Paradise in particular, she’s a haunted woman looking across the great divide of death, singing that she is “scared that you won’t be waiting on the other side”. A welcome sense of genuine contemplation, but not exactly a rigorous exploration of her soul. At the very least, she drops the name-checking and gets on with telling us how she feels. Born To Die is not a good album, but in these deep album cuts, where old-fashioned emotion rises above contemporary materialism, it’s a relief to see that there might be a little life for Lana beyond the one-hit wonder.

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Icon of the Month: Doctor Who

I’m an occasional contributor to Third Way Magazine, a magazine of Christian comment upon culture which is available by subscription.

Here’s an entry for their regular “Icon Of The Month” column, which didn’t get used in the end (someone had already done Doctor Who). It includes a joke about the Cartmel Masterplan, which you can read up on here if you want to be a NERD.

In the history of the long-running BBC TV programme Doctor Who, 5th October 1991 is not a particularly impressive date. The programme was in a period of indefinite hiatus, cancelled by the BBC after poor ratings, erratic scheduling, and an increasing reliance on impenetrable storylines and effects on a shoestring. But on 5th October 1991, I met the Doctor and asked if he was ever going to go on an adventure with Robin Hood, and he said that was a good idea. And it happened in a conference suite in Coventry…

Alright, it wasn’t actually the Doctor, it was Sylvester McCoy, and it was at a convention that lived up to all the cliches you’d care to throw at it – sweaty men-children in Vervoid costumes – but at that moment, a TV show, of all things, reached out and sparked the imagination of a small, thoughtful, bespectacled lad.

That’s what it’s been doing to children of all ages since it was first broadcast in 1963; its early years inspired not only by a need to fill the gap between Grandstand and Juke Box Jury, but also a desire by the Head of Drama Sydney Newman to create a science-fiction show that educated – where the time-travel was an excuse to inform kids about Paleolithic tribes, Marco Polo, and the Aztecs. Of course, most of that went out the window with the second story, which introduced The Daleks – faceless fascistic robots who terrorised both the travellers in time and space, and generations of children.

The creative inspiration of Doctor Who comes from the penny-pinching improvisation of those early producers and writers, who accidentally stumbled across the reasons behind the programme’s uniqueness and longevity as they struggled to get it made. The TARDIS was initially due to change shape every week to fit in with its surroundings, but it was the creative response to a lack of budget – or indeed “a broken chameleon circuit” – that made the Doctor’s ship a police telephone box, whether it landed in the distant past (a quarry) or the furthest reaches of outer space (a quarry). And rather than just replacing the actor when first Doctor William Hartnell’s deteriorating health got the better of him, the production team decided that the character’s alien nature could encompass “regeneration” into Patrick Troughton – the Doctor cheating death not for the first time, and certainly not the last.

And so the programme became a mainstay of BBC Saturday nights, with a host of monsters, and an evergreen central character who encompassed flamboyant authority (Jon Pertwee), toothy madness (Tom Baker), and doe-eyed cricket obsessive (Peter Davison). But by the time of Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor – a barbed cynic unpopular with audiences – it was clear that the programme wasn’t connecting with the kids it had been created for. It needed a break.

And a break it got – sixteen long years from 1989 to 2005, with only a brief, Americanised, TV movie for comfort. By the time it was announced that it was returning to BBC Saturday nights, it was difficult to ignore that little voice that said “It’s not going to be any good, and – what’s more – Billie Piper’s in it…”

When it returned, it was at full strength. Showrunner Russell T Davies once again “regenerated” the show, making it vital to a new generation of kids – particularly focusing on making it fresh and fun for girls, who traditionally didn’t care what the Cartmel Masterplan was. I once met a writer of Doctor Who who grabbed me, a relative stranger, by the shoulders and said with obvious joy in his eyes “It’s back! It’s really back!” When I heard my six-year-old cousin yelling “Exterminate!”, I knew it was true.

Episodes may respond to the time they were created – robot versions of Trinny and Susannah from 2005 already seem as hopelessly dated as a 1963 episode’s in-jokes about impending UK decimalisation – but the idea of an eccentric wandering hero, engaged in adventures both exhilarating and terrifying, remains indestructably appealing. And it’s that central character that I think attracts Christians to Doctor Who – he’s rather familiar.

Kindly, a little bit mysterious, good with children, surrounded by doting friends… both completely alien (literally or figuratively) and wonderfully human.

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OCG: The Ingrates Of Panau

I’m going to write an occasional piece about obsessive-compulsive computer gaming. Here’s the first one…

I’m playing through Just Cause 2 again, on a tougher difficulty. This is a phenomenon unique to gaming. Surgeons don’t finish a particularly tricky procedure and then reopen the wound to try again with one hand tied behind their back. Firefighters don’t carry gasoline and matches just in case the first attempt wasn’t challenging enough. But I have ventured back onto the open-world island of Panau, in order to try and release it from the clammy grip of dictatorship. Again. Except this time the grip is tighter. And clammier.

The main thrust of the game is that you – Rico, a mercenary of indistinct Latino lineage who has parachute launchers and grappling hooks welded to his unfeasibly-robust body – have been hired to make contact with a guy in a jungle, and the only way you can do that is by hooking up with three revolutionary factions as they try to wrest power away from the government of Baby Panay – a tubby despot glimpsed only at the end of the game as you stick an assault rifle up his nose.

However, on this second spin through of the game – this time on the difficulty level helpfully labelled “Mercenary” – I’ve decided to go for a wealth-first approach to things. Panau – a sprawling environment of mountains, jungles and deserts, ringed by an immense amount of ocean – is also littered with collectible items which can upgrade weapons and vehicles, and faction items, marked on the map with blue spots.

I decided that before completing any of the story missions, I would really get to grips with these faction items. They take the form of suitcases of “drugs”, mainly found in city locations; aeroplane black boxes, found underwater; and – perhaps most ominously – ceremonial skulls on spikes, located in undergrowth, thickets and on top of mountains.

The challenge arrives when you discover that there are 300 of these bastards, spread over a 20km square map. Oh god, it’s the Riddler trophies from Arkham City all over again.

So, off I dutifully trudge, with the faction leaders’ responses getting repetitive as I pick up another of their bloody faction items. The worst one is the leader of the Ular Boys, Sri Irwan. He speaks in a chirpy, slightly-racist Indian voice and keeps calling me “serdadu”.

“You’ve found another one of our revered skulls, serdadu.”

Yes. Surely these are revered because of where they are, Sri Irwan? I mean, I don’t want to piss on your chips, but collecting them up seems to be the absolute worst thing you’d do with some ancestral skulls planted around an island.

And don’t even get me started on what kind of drug dealer leaves his wares halfway up a pigging skyscraper. You’re lucky that a wandering mercenary with a retractable grappling hook and the ability to produce infinite parachutes from his bottom happened to be passing. I’ve seen the massed ranks of “The Roaches”, another of Panau’s feckless factions, and they look like they’d have trouble climbing the stairs let alone the massive satellite dish of Panau’s Broadcasting Tower.

So after collecting 150 of these items, the game decides to give me an on-screen achievement. And this fires the obsessive part of my brain. Previously, I was doing this just for finance. Now, I’m doing it for glory.

Sri Irwan is still relatively unimpressed. “Soon you will have collected all of the skulls, serdadu.” Yes, I will. Soon.

So I carry on, visiting far-flung corners of Panau – which, incidentally, if it wasn’t so riven with governmental dominance and factional chaos, would make a pretty nice place to go on holiday. I start seeing the white arrows that point the way to collectables when I close my eyes. This is meat and drink to the Obsessive Compulsive Gamer.

Surely when I collect all 300 of these blessed things, I will feel a sense of completion, some sense that my time has not been wasted, that I have done good in the glassy eyes of some revolutionary avatars. I will have Achieved – not in the XBox achievement trophies sense, but in LIFE.

So, after twenty-five hours of gaming I collect all 300 faction items. The final one is a skull, in a wood. There is a genuine sense of anticipation. I walk up to it, collect it…

And nothing happens. Nothing. Sri Irwan doesn’t even call to say “Thanks, serdadu”.

Those bastards. There I am, toiling away in the sun and the rain, diving into oceans, avoiding militia forces, to collect the crap that you can’t even be bothered to find yourself, and upon finishing the task, completing it so that you and your revolutionary buddies will never have to do it again, you don’t even have the simple human kindness to pop round with a box of chocolates and a card? You are awful, awful people who don’t deserve to be liberated.

Still, there are 369 settlements to discover in Panau. Maybe I’ll find a sense of achievement in completing them all.

I will never learn.

Tom’s Persistently Unscientific Top Ten of 2011!

(Previous years: 2010, 2009, 2008)

As previously stated, I’m building a masterpiece in my iPod – currently 27,855 items occupying 137.34 GB.
We’re reaching a tipping point here, people, where my iPod is struggling to cope. I’m going to have to do some trimming soon. That probably means jettisoning that Cooper Temple Clause album. Sorry, Cooper Temple Clause.
Each year, I make an unsatisfying auto-playlist of the songs that are dated that year in my iTunes, and rank them in order of most listened to. Here’s this year’s list.
1) Uberlin – REM
2) Downtown – Destroyer
3)= Stuck On The Puzzle – Alex Turner
3)= Blue Eyes – Destroyer
3)= Savage Night At The Opera – Destroyer
3)= Wake Up – Jason Pegg
7)= Poor In Love – Destroyer
7)= Civilian – Wye Oak
9)= Make Some Noise – Beastie Boys
9)= Song For America – Destroyer
A simultaneous “Hooray!” and “Boo hoo!” for the departing REM – probably my favourite band ever. I’m glad Uberlin is a splendid last hurrah on a mostly-great album. Probably the best album of the year was PJ Harvey, but it was just so bleak. Therefore the simply wonderful, neon-lit, sax-solo-covered, deeply-uncool Kaputt by Destroyer is my favourite album of the year. If you haven’t checked it out yet, please do. It’s superb.
Honourable mentions for those not mentioned in the list above go to St Vincent, who made a stunning album a bit too late in the year for consideration; King of Limbs by Radiohead which was alright, wasn’t it?; the Lonely Island for making some pretty good songs on a patchy album (less of the homophobia next time, chaps!); and Wilco, whose The Whole Love is their best album since A Ghost Is Born. YES! In your face, everyone else who’s already said that! I’m saying it too!
It was a good year, I think. There’s lots I have yet to discover. No time. I got married instead of listening to music. Sue me.
Here’s my current All-Time Top 10, with last year’s chart placement in brackets after it:
1)= Finer Feelings – Spoon (non-mover)
1)= Actor Out Of Work – St Vincent (last year’s number 2)
3) The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret – Queens of the Stone Age (non-mover)
4)= Trailer Park – Bracket (new entry)
4)= Drunk Girls – LCD Soundsystem (new entry)
6)= Romantic Rights – Death From Above 1979 (non-mover)
6)= Tightrope – Janelle Monae (new entry)
6)= You’ve Done It Again, Virginia – The National (last year’s number 3)
6)= Tumbling Dice – The Rolling Stones (new entry – probably a re-entry, actually)
6)= Company In My Back – Wilco (non-mover)
6)= Good – Ghostface Killah (non-mover)
Pretty pointless, all in all.
This year, I don’t think I know of any new albums coming out. Maybe there won’t be any. That would be interesting, eh? I’m hoping to do something a bit musicky this year. Watch this space. It might actually happen.
(EDIT: Oh, and I’m on this ThisIsMyJam thing – come hang out, music-lovers…)