How the Stones delivered the album they needed into their sixth decade of rock’n’roll

Music reviews

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Photo: Getty Images


Leave it to the Rolling Stones to make an album consisting of blues covers relevant in 2016. Anticipation was it would be decent, good at best—and let’s be honest, covers albums are not much to get excited at— but surely not a contender for album of the year right? Wrong.

You could be forgiven for putting in question why four rich rockstars in their seventies would release a. After all it is rather late in the game for the lads. Wrong. Blue and Lonesome possesses all the qualities that made the Rolling Stones legends while delving into the band’s early sound. It’s a love affair. Each band member makes love to the blues resulting in a torrid affair for the ears.

Many point to Tattoo You as the Stones’ last hurrah, and that was back in 1981. That’s not to say the band hasn’t produced decent material since, however their best studio days are decades past. With each subsequent Stones album come the inevitable murmurs of “a return to their roots”. The album really is worthy of a such title with the band playing the songs that influenced them in their, um, youth. Blue and Lonesome puts its money where its mouth is and delivers on that statement.

It’s been 11 years since A Bigger Bang. Blue and Lonesome marks the Stones’23rd British and 25th American albums respectively to be exact—how do to the septuagenarians (although Ron Wood at 69 will always remain the “baby”) fare in the studio?

 

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Well, I’m happy to report that Blue and Lonesome is the real deal. It’s raw, sexy and bold. Many rock bands have tinkered with the blues an attempted a similar approach, but few understand and play this music better than the Rolling Stones. This is more than a mere covers album. It’s an exploration and journey through the blues.

Recorded in three short days, it seems all too easy to write off the album as lazy. A covers album? Could it be that the Stones have run out of things to say? It’s clearly not the case as the conversation happens musically and admittedly, there’s plenty to say. Their take on these blues standards is rich and honest.

Blue and Lonesome exudes a lot of confidence. It’s old, yet it’s new. It’s organic, raw soulful and as promised—bluesy. This is the modern-vintage sound companies like Levis dream of using to sell jeans in their commercials.

Keith Richards’ playful is soulful and rich in emotions. It’s sad when needs be and straightforward when it should. Anyone still questioning his bluesmanship only needs to listen to Blue and Lonesome. His playing here is nicely complemented by Ronnie Woods. Mick Jagger is back on the harmonica and that’s a good thing. His playing is rich and warm, like rediscovering an old friend. It’s adds texture to the Stones’ sound. Charlie Watts, the oldest member of the band at 75, does a commendable job on the drums.

The list of artists covered goes back more than half a century. Names like Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon will no doubt be familiar to some while others such as are not likely to be recognized unless one possesses a vast collection of blues records.

The opening licks of Just Your Fool set the tone for what is a bulk of the album’s sound:, bouncy, straight ahead blues-infused rock. Commit a Crime is perfect contrast of happy music with dramatic lyrics, a staple of the blues. The title song, Blue and Lonesome is a heartfelt ballad brought to life by Jagger’s screams and Richard’s guitar fingering. All of Your Love is a diamond. A smooth, sexy number that makes the best use of instrumentation of any song on the album, particularly the piano. I Gotta Go is a fun fast-paced rollicking number with excellent harmonica. Just Like I Treat You is a vintage upbeat number with just the placement of piano. The album concludes on a high note with the classic blues staple I Can’t Quit You Baby, a song covered by the likes of Led Zeppelin and countless others. The Stones’ version pays tribute while simultaneously being unique. Jagger is an animal possessed on this cover and it’s beautiful.

The band’s passionate performance brings these oldies back to life. The fact that the Stones play this well at their age puts them in a category of their own. There’s just the right amount of added instrumentation on the album, be it piano here or harmonica there it makes a world of difference.

You can’t always get what you want, but any new Rolling Stones is welcome. And while it’s not revolutionary by any means—or everyone’s cup of tea—Blue and Lonesome is no Exile, but it’s a project the band can be damned proud of.

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The new update can’t salvage the sinking ship that is Pokemon Go

Feature, Game reviews, Uncategorized

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Pokemon Go’s festive holiday title screen 


Despite its recent update, it is too little too late for Pokemon Go. There. I said it.

Yes the game now boasts new content, but month after month of pointless updates with no significant change/additions means Pokemon Go is simply no longer appealing to its core demographic.

Flashback to summer when generation 2 couldn’t possibly have come out soon enough. Fans were aching for Gold & Silver generation Pokemon at the peak of the game’s craze in July and August. September would’ve been ok even. But December? Your audience is too far gone Niantic. Catching the same Pokemon over and over has gotten incredibly stale in the months following the game’s release in July. Gotta Catch ‘Em All, but then what?

On December 7 Niantic released a new update with meaningful content. Only the update doesn’t give players generation 2, yet. Fans are instead treated to baby Pokemon—who really serve no purpose other than filling up a Pokedex and look cute—and for a limited time only, a novelty Santa hat-wearing Pikachu.

But what exactly are baby Pokemon? They are essentially devolved forms of existing creatures as introduced circa Pokemon Gold & Silver. For instance Elekid becomes Electabuzz and Pichu evolves into Pikachu. The update gifts us 7 of these baby Pokemon: Igglypuff, Magby, Elekid, Cleffa, Pichu, Smoochum and Togepi.

Here’s the catch: the new Pokemon need to be found as eggs at Pokestops and then hatched.

Although walking 5 or 10 km to hatch an egg in winter conditions doesn’t sound too appealing does it? Unless you live warm climate, of course.

 

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One of the biggest additions is the game’s tracking system which now had been updated to show players exactly where Pokemon are located.

Oh, and players can now transfer multiple Pokemon to Dr. Willow. Convenient, but it’s nothing to get excited about, at least not in December.

Generation 2 Pokemon will rolled out over the upcoming months, so says Niantic. The hype surrounding the game’s latest update had many believing we would get the next generation of pocket monsters. No word on those legendaries either.

Trading remains non-existent. Battling between two players is still not possible. This is a far cry from the game Niantic displayed in their advertisement, an echo of promises never materialized.

After the Halloween and Thanksgiving celebration events, fans can expect or rather are demanding a Christmas update with increased XP and bonuses. It’s still early and an announcement should be coming sooner than later. Events like these won’t necessarily have fans rushing back to the app but its better than nothing.

Admittedly, Niantic’s Pokemon journey was bound to have a short shelf-life from the start. As fun as Pokemon Go was initially—and in warm weather—the game was clearly not made to last. A novel concept, it was truly a flash in the pan. Now that Pokemon Sun and Moon are out, those who still hang onto Pokemon Go are few and far between.

It was the app of summer 2016 hands down, no contest. Kids were playing, your neighbour and your grandma were seeking rare and elusive creatures like Dragonite and Lapras. Pokemon Go has gone from being a worldwide phenomenon to “you still play that game?” almost overnight.

Even if Niantic somehow manages to come up with a massive update it will still be too late. Understandably, Niantic operates under a small crew but it’s becoming harder and harder to defend the game.

At this point, it’s hard to believe anything could salvage the rapidly sinking ship that is Pokemon Go.

How Rogue One: A Star Wars Story ditches tradition and quenches a thirst for cultural diversity

Feature, Uncategorized

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Star Wars: A Rogue One Story official cast photo


Yes, it’s true. Star Wars was once a white world, one filled with albeit weird creatures, but still very white.

When Star Wars: A New Hope ushered a new era of science-fiction movies in 1977 it featured an all-white cast (James Earl Jones, despite being the voice of Darth Vader was never seen on-screen). It took until the first sequel, Empire Strikes Back (1980), to see a person of color in the franchise, the beloved Lando Calrissian (portrayed by Billy Dee Williams).

By contrast, Star Wars in 2016 features a different face, and a remarkably multicultural one at that. There was a time when Star Wars seemed almost out of reach if you weren’t white, it is no longer the case.

If race in cinema really wasn’t an issue, we wouldn’t be discussing it. Our current reality shows us differently. Hollywood is still this all too white territory where racial barriers continue to persist, unfortunately.

As proven by the #oscarssowhite movement (where many expressed their discontent at the apparent whiteness displayed by the Oscars), audiences everywhere are thirsty for cultural diversity. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is more than happy to quench that thirst.

Last year’s The Force Awakens featured John Bogeya in the role of Finn, a black man, as one of its lead characters. Many applauded Disney for this move. But featuring diverse ethnicities in movies isn’t bold or daring anymore, it’s a no brainer in this day and age. After all, shouldn’t art and entertainment be all-inclusive and therefore be reflective of our culture? And More importantly, does it matter? Yes, and again, yes.

A multicultural cast has mass appeal. As such it is able to reach a larger demographic and touch significantly more lives. It’s what art is supposed to do. Gone are the days where only white people played in Star Wars. Hey, it’s a start.

OK—white British actress Felicity Jones is technically the star of Rogue One, but with a cast that feature Mexican actor Diego Luna, Chinese actors Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen, British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed and African-American actor Forrest Whitaker— it’s culturally rich. Star Wars in the 2010s has evolved to reflect diversity and it’s beautiful. Rejoice.

I attended a conference with Dr. Reza Aslan earlier this year and he summed up race and diversity in popular-culture as follows:

“When shown diverse ethnicities in media like television and movies they become a part of popular-culture. People just see it over and over to the point where it becomes ordinary, it becomes a part of their everyday lives,” he explained.

Now I’m not suggesting the work is done by any means, and we have ways to go, but in this age of Trump a movie like Rogue One is refreshing. A movie the size of Star Wars could be an enormous boost when it comes to including more diverse ethnicities on the big screen.

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                                 Starwars.com

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story detaches itself from the mold of tradition in the movie’s first minute by ditching the iconic scrolling text that begun every entry in the franchise thus far. I hear you. Geeky cries of “How dare they?” and “Blasphemy!” are heard everywhere in a galaxy far, far away.

If there’s anything Star Wars fans expect, it’s tradition. Rogue One is anything but. Star Wars dishes another healthy dose of nostalgia, but isn’t content to simply thread on old ground. It takes a heroic war movie approach without abandoning its space opera roots. It certainly had its space in the continuum of the franchise. It’s a Star Wars movie, but it’s a clearly different Star Wars.

Here’s where it gets confusing: Rogue One is a sequel to the prequels (I-III), but a prequel to the sequels (IV-VI) —its events unfolding between episodes III and IV—it also ties in with The Force Awakens and answers some unanswered questions about the beloved sci-fi saga. Confused yet? It’s essentially a side Star Wars movie not meant to be a part of the current VII-IX trilogy, but rather to be taken in as a stand-alone film. It’s a new concept in the Star Wars universe and one that effectively display potential for the following stand-alone stories to come in the series.

The film holds the dubious distinction of being harder to follow than perhaps any other entry in the Star Wars cannon, largely due to its odd placement in the saga. The brand new characters also play a part in this equation. Seasoned fans will understand the events occurring in the movie, but the casual moviegoers following the hype will likely get lost in the story. In this regard, Rogue One is directed towards hardcore fans and less so the newer ones it amassed from The Force Awakens, Disney is not at the point where it cashes-in. At least not yet.

In case you’re wondering, there are plenty of Easter eggs to keep fans on the edge of their seats. Blink and you’ll miss a brief R2-D2 and C3PO appearance and that’s just to name one.

Is Rogue One: A Star Wars Story worth seeing? Absolutely. With a jaw-dropping appearance by Darth Vader that will no doubt send legions of fans into hysterics all across the galaxy, rich visuals, a compelling story and an array of Easter Eggs, it is definitely worth the price of admission.

The movie’s climatic ending is as satisfying as it is heart-wrenching and necessary. In spite of box office performance and overwhelmingly positive reception by critics and fans alike, I have a feeling Rogue One’s ultimate achievement and legacy will be what it did to promote cultural diversity in Hollywood.

Believe the hype.

 

“The force is with me, I am the force.”—Chirrut Îmwe

 

 

Hardwired… To Self-Destruct: Metallica retains some fire in their bellies into middle age

Music reviews, Uncategorized

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image: metalinjection.net


Despite it being more than 25 years since their best works, anytime Metallica releases a another album it ends up being scrutinized under a hypothetical microscope to be dissected and picked apart. Anytime a band of Metallica’s stature has a new album out it’s an event. It’s exciting even if it disappoints.

It hasn’t been easy to be a Metallica fan for the last 20 years. Excuse me while flashes of eyeliner, Mamma Said and Kirt Hammett dramatically losing his smartphone hit me… It’s especially hard to sympathize when a band of millionaire cry and whine as they produce the poorest album of the career and exploit the distrous results on film in the form of Some Kind of Monster. Never mind suing Napster, questionable albums with Lou Reed, “hyped” 3D movies and expressing support for Justin Bieber. The last two decades have eaten at the Thrash-Metal giants’ cool cred. They also made it incredibly difficult for fans to defend their favourite band.

Okay, we’ll forgive them after heavy rotations of Kill ‘Em All and Ride The Lightning. 

How does Hardwired… To Self-Destruct fare? Surprisingly decent if you compare to the band’s outputs since oh, 1991. 2008’s Death Magnetic was a great attempt to recapture some of the fire of earlier-ish Metallica, something Hardwired almost achieves a little more organically and with less effort. Death Magnetic’s production gave it a raw sound but was heavily criticized. By contrast, Hardwired sounds much more natural.

 

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All things realized, it’s Metallica sounding how they should in 2016. It’s not 1983 or ’88 or even ’91 for that matter. The Metal icons do a respectable job of staying true to their sound while taking cues from their past. As such Hardwired is a pleasantly effective Metallica album, in its better moments.

Hardwired is all over the place style-wise, and that’s a good thing. Some songs could fit on Kill ‘Em All and others would be right at home on the black album. When a band has a long history such as Metallica’s, fans will obviously have favourite eras and albums. Hardwired covers all ground; one moment its reminiscent of the black album, the next its Load. Now middle-aged men, Metallica prove they still have the fire necessary to come up with some adequate material.

Look, not everyone will be pleased with the whole album, but there’s something for every fan—or else they’re lying. The first disc is fast, aggressive and heavy. It stands strong with all 6 tracks.

The self-titled track is an indication of what fans are in for. Short, heavy and fast with an almost punk edge, Hardwired does fans of the band proud. Atlas, Rise! has subtle tinges of Iron Maiden in the guitar playing and a chorus just catchy enough. Now That We’re Dead sounds like the better parts of Load and Reload. It’s slightly more accessible Metallica. The single Moth to Flames is bold and uncompromising Metallica. It stands as possinly the best song on Hardwired and should please the majority of the band’s fans. Dream No More lurks on  like a Sad But True-esque epic complete with tremendous breakdown and solo, one of the album’s finest moments. Halo On Fire is on the more melodic side with great lyrics and one of the album’s best breakdowns and vocal deliveries by Hetfield.

Unfortunately this is where the album starts to unravel, its momentum shifting.The middle part of Confusion stands as one of the best moments on Hardwired. It’s when we get to disc 2 that the momentum turns. Songs like ManUNkind and Am I Savage have similar tempos and are weaker moments as a whole. Although Spit Out the Bone concludes the album on a brighter note, its hard to shake off the notion that the first part of the album is much stronger than the second.

Theren lies the problem. The second disc. The realization that it consists of mostly mid-tempo songs hits the listener sinks halfway through. The songs all sound similar. This is largely due to structure and tempo, slowing down the energy and momentum achieved with disc one.

James Hetfield is one of the genre’s most recognizable voices. On Hardwired, it’s almost as if more often than not Hetfield tries to sing beautifully. It works, but it’s not what one expects or wants from a band like Metallica. For all the hate he receives, Lars Ulrich is competent drummer. He gets the job done and proves himself to be quite capable here.

Guitars are heavy and crunchy when they should be and they’re melodic and dare I say, elegant when need be. The solos are some of the best we’ve had since the black album, but longtime fans know that’s not a huge benchmark. Breakdowns are well-executed and sometimes unpredictable in their candor.

In my book, Hardwired…To Self-Destruct is the most enjoyable Metallica release since the black album. Hardwired is a great moment for fans of the band, for the time being. The album will no doubt be celebrated and touted as “classic”for a short period of time following its release, a status it will never achieve. Its first 6 songs range from very good to excellent, but ultimately most of it bound to be forgotten in favour of the classics as time passes.

After what will likely be a triumphant and succesful tour in support of the album, Metallica will go right back to setlists mostly consisting of material their classic albums. There’s no point for Metallica to compete with their own legacy and they shouldn’t have to. They prove they still have the energy and gave us a couple decent songs, there’s no real need to release another studio album after this one. ***

MOTLEY CRUE LAY 34-YEAR CAREER TO REST WITH “THE END’,

Concerts, Music reviews

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Farewell tours are tricky affairs. Bands come and go—and come back—members leave and return in revolving door fashion and some bands have only one original member left. In short, its not always pretty. In the process certain artists hurt their legacy by staying in the game too long. Mötley Crüe wanted a different kind of farewell.

Mötley Crüe shocked the world in January of 2014 when they announced to decision to call it quits. The Saints of Los Angeles had chosen to end the party sooner rather than later. The band signed a cessation of touring contract, a first in rock history, prior to embarking on a two-year long farewell. In true Crüe fashion, the event served as a tremendous publicity stunt. With displays of “RIP Mötley Crue”, complete with tombstones that read each band member’s name, it would prove to be one can’t miss funeral.

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The End press conference, London, England, 2014. Photo credit: Rolling Stone

If The End has taught us anything, it’s that Mötley Crüe was a wild, untamed beast for more than 34 years. A Mötley Crüe show remained a spectacular, reckless and even chaotic event right up to The End.

Complete with big choruses, pyrotechnics, stage production values, female backup singers and dancers in scantily clad outfits, tears and displays of emotions from the band and fans alike, The End is an exciting visual memento and the end of an era. From the bombast and fire that begins with “Girls, Girls, Girls” to Nikki Sixx adressing the audience, Tommy’s roller coaster drum solo, the flamethrower bass and Vince Neil in tears during the last song of the set “Home Sweet Home”, it’s a relentless, unforgettable journey. It’s one last big, epic, blow-out to top off a truly memorable career.

Let’s get one thing out-of-the-way. Anyone who’s been to a Crüe concert in the last decade can attest that frontman Vince Neil’s voice is not what it once was—by a long shot, some would say—and its true [It becomes especially evident on the live CD of the concert]. In the dysfunctional environment that is Mötley Crüe, however, it works.

Vince Neil’s voice and charisma is part of what made the band so successful. Neil remains one of rock’s ultimate frontmen. Even if his voice isn’t quite up to par at times, the energy and excitement level is there.

Nikki Sixx does a commendable job of looking like one of the coolest human beings on the planet. These are his songs and this is his band. The flamethrower bass bit would make Gene Simmons blush.

Tommy Lee lays down a beat like only he can, providing a solid groove and backbone for the band. While performing a drum solo on his roller coaster contraption, the whole stops unexpectedly in mid-air, Lee’s reaction is nothing short of exceptional.

Perhaps most impressive of all is Mick Mars, Crüe’s sole guitarist. Mars often falls under the radar whenever the band is mentioned, but his playing never ceases to impress even after all these years.

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An emotional Vince Neil in tears during “Home Sweet Home”.

Mötley Crüe’s imperfections are exactly what made them a perfect rock band. Rock was never about perfection. Somehow, when these four beings come together magic happens. New year’s eve 2015 would be the last time this magic would be displayed. Thankfully, the Crüe’s send-off was captured in high-definition for the whole world to relive over and over.

The End comes in standalone DVD or Blu-Ray edition and in DVD/CD, Blu-Ray/CD packaging.

Objectively, the live CD is not incredible—most of the blame can be attributed to Neil’s singing— but the excitement of Mötley Crüe’s last concert was captured and that’s enough. The heart wrenching version of “Home Sweet Home” is almost worth the price of admission alone.

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Nikki Sixx, litterally in the heat of the moment. Photo: Motley.com

The cinematography however, is among the best I’ve seen in a concert film. The cameras capture every bit: the action, emotions and pyrotechnics with beautiful wide angles, just enough slow motion bits, subtle close-ups and depth-of-field shots that would make any rock band envious. Concert cinematography has always been about the emotion and feel, less so about the visuals. The End stands in a category of its own. It sets a template for the next generation of live rock documentation.

There’s a documentary portion just before the concert that serves as a reminder of the dedication fans have for this band. It also legitimizes how big of a draw and band Mötley Crüe really was. The End comes with a few extras. Nikki Sixx talks about his flamethrower bass and Tommy Lee details the history behind his roller coaster drum set.

There are a few more interview that will no doubt be interesting and give insight to fans. Take this particularly one with Nikki Sixx for instance:

“The fact that we’ve lasted is a miracle. Maybe that’s why we’re putting a bullet in its head…We know it’s inevitable that we’re going to break up or blow up or something. Maybe we’re just doing it before it happens anyway. We shouldn’t have lasted this long,” says Sixx in the interview portion of The End.

If anything, The End is a proper send off for Mötley Crüe and one heck of a burial. One final motorcycle ride under the sunset for one of the all time great rock bands. It’s reassuring to see a farewell done right in the world of rock, a landscape where the word “retirement” isn’t always taken seriously. I’ve never been this happy and sad watching a concert on home video.

RIP Mötley Crüe, 1981-2015, you will be missed.

mcrue2.jpg                                                                           Photo cred: Ultimateclassicrock.com

LIVE DVD TRACK LISTING:

1.) Intro
2.) Girls, Girls, Girls
3.) Wild Side
4.) Primal Scream
5.) Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S)
6.) Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)
7.) Rock N Roll Part II / Smokin’ In The Boys’ Room
8.) Looks That Kill
9.) Motherf***** Of The Year
10.) In The Beginning / Shout At The Devil
11.) Louder Than Hell
12.) Drum Solo
13.) Guitar Solo
14.) Saints Of Los Angeles
15.) Live Wire
16.) T.N.T (Terror ‘N Tinseltown) / Dr. Feelgood
17.) Kickstart My Heart
18.) Home Sweet Home
19.) My Way (Credits)

LIVE CD TRACK LISTING:
1.) Intro
2.) Girls, Girls, Girls
3.) Wild Side
4.) Primal Scream
5.) Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S.)
6.) Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)
7.) Smokin’ In The Boys’ Room
8.) Looks That Kill
9.) Mutherf***** Of The Year
10.) Shout At The Devil
11.) Louder Than Hell
12.) Saints Of Los Angeles
13.) Live Wire
14.) Dr. Feelgood
15.) Kickstart My Heart
16.) Home Sweet Home

My interview with an artist from Marvel comics

Feature, Interviews, Uncategorized

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Covers by Geof Ishwerwood. Photos from author’s website.


He’s an illustrator, painter, sculptor and part-time teacher. Spider-Man, Thor, Conan the Barbarian, Dr. Strange and Silver Surfer are just a few of the titles on his extensive resume. With a portfolio that speaks for itself, Geoffrey Isherwood—who prefers to go by Geof—has lived his dream by making a living in the arts, a field many have found themselves discouraged to pursue.

The signs that he would pursue artistic ventures, specifically comic books, were visible even at an early age.

“When I was 12 [my parents] told me to stop buying comics,” says Isherwood. “I did anyway. I got a bachelor of fine arts from Concordia University and within a year of graduating I was working with Marvel.”

It wasn’t an overnight process, however, the materialization of his ambitions required a combination of talent, timing and a bit of luck.

“When I was 16-years old, my family took a trip to Manhattan and I snuck into Marvel studios with my drawings and met artists who encouraged me and pointed out things I should work on,” he begins. “I stayed there for 20 minutes and went home. You could walk right into marvel talk to the receptionist and they’d send you to see somebody.”

Would it be possible to do the same today? The longtime Marvel artist says it’s improbable.

“Not at all, not today. There’s a big corporate wall, it’s the like the CIA or something. It’s crazy. Disney all these places, it’s really tough to break in,” he admits. “Nowadays its really about online, a lot of editors look at digital comics and find artists that way or its networking and word of mouth.”

Isherwood’s career path was a self-inflicted and conscious decision that grew out of his love for comic book medium.

“Just as a lot of kids are, and this was the 60s, I was drawn to comic books. I really liked the storytelling aspect of it,” he says. ” I decided when I was ten-years old I wanted to draw comics.”

The illustrator digs deeper into his past as he expands on his childhood.

“I really loved drawing and I wanted to find out what possible career I could get into where I could keep drawing. That’s when I saw a picture of Charles Shultz at home in his studio and I thought that’s what I want to do,” he explains.”I don’t know how I got the crazy idea that I could just wake up, get my breakfast, sit down and draw.”

And that’s exactly what he did. Needless to say, it never left him.

But when he’s too busy with projects, “Geof” recommends up and coming artists for jobs he can’t take.

“Recently for instance, I was able to recommend a young artist to do a comic about Iron Maiden, the Heavy-Metal band, a pseudo-biopic [of mascot] Eddie the Head.”

 

photo credit: Tommy Morais

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Geoff Isherwood during a signing at Comic-Book Addiction, Whitby.

Where do superhero movies fit in the grand scheme of it all? Isherwood argues that movie producers have been effective in bringing the action-packed panels to life over the course of the last decade, something that had previously been lacking. He also points out how studios have benefited from the rich history of comics.

“When you look at what Hollywood has done, they’ve finally been able to bring out the visual aspect of comics that superhero movies had been lacking with special effects,” says the artist. “It took a while, but they’re now realizing the have a gold mine of stories with comics.”

As he points out, the relationship between the artist and the finished product can be a love-hate affair.

“It’s difficult for us artists,” says Isherwood. “If you work on a specific title you become very proprietary of the character, it becomes one of your children.”

The artist highlights the difference between the heroes featured on the big screen and those on the panels inside comic books.

“If you’re watching a movie it’s more passive, but the comic medium is more interactive,” he says. “You have to fill in the action between the panels.”

But what attracts us to comics in the first place? According to Isherwood, it has a lot to do with the characters and the medium itself.

“Its colourful. These characters are modern myths, they’re larger than life. It’s very theatrical and operatic with the grand gestures and the colours,” he says. “It was originally an escape from the war and people bought into that.”

He pauses.

“They still do.”

 

 

For more of Geof’s work and upcoming convention appearances you can visit goeffreyisherwood.ca

 

 

Costumed fans heroes of Toronto Expo

Uncategorized

 

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Over a period of four days from September 1-4, costumed heroes, Trekkies and families felt right at home at the latest edition of Fan Expo Toronto.

The fans were the real heroes of what was a supercharged weekend full of celebrities, Q & A sessions, photo-ops, merchandise booths and various activities. Despite its numerous celebrity guests, Fan Expo is all about the fans, communities and people who unite them.

Fan Expo Toronto is Canada’s answer to the American Comic-Con. Although Comic-Con Toronto exists, it has yet to reach the magnitude of Fan Expo. The comic-con scene is a phenomenon that has seen its stock rise in the last decade. It is no longer solely about comic books and instead expands to celebrity guests, movies, video games and offers an incredible outlet for exposure and product placement.

 

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Overhead view.

Once subject to mockery and ridicule, such conventions now play host to thousands of fans every year. Attendees dress up as their favourite characters from colourful universes and established franchises dear to the hearts. Some call it dressing up, others know it as cosplay.

Fan Expo Toronto has grown to exponential proportions since it’s debut in 1995 as a humble comic book convention. The Metro Convention Centre has hosted the event since 1997 when it reached an estimated figures of 3800. Forward to 2016 where its attendance was projected to be over a hundred thousand [source: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fan_Expo_Canada%5D. It’s a place where comic books, video games and anime juxtapose, and one where celebrities and fan meet.

 

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Volunteers kept a vigilant eye on the merchandise

The main attractions of the weekend included comic book giant Stan Lee—Lee was a popular guest with previous announcements that the 2016 edition of Fan Expo Canada would be his last— Mark Hamill of Star Wars fame and Star Trek Enterprise Captain William Shatner among a plethora of other guests.

 

Here’s just a few things that happened at Fan Expo:
•93-year-old Stan Lee’s last ever Canadian appearance.

•Sony displayed its new virtual reality headset.

•Eb Games held a Q & A and autograph session with former WWE/WCW Goldberg.

•Various panels were held with celebrity guests such as Mark Hamill and cast of Star Trek.

•Gamers got a taste of upcoming video games before their release in specific booths.

•Artists performed sketches and sold art for a fee.

•An abundance of merchants sold everything from comic books to character-themed weapons, Pokemon plush, mangas and much more.

•People in attendance could touch a rock that had been on the moon at the Royal Ontario Museum booth.

•Justin Trudeau was immortalized as a comic book character.

•Countless pictures were taken with various cosplayers, a vintage Batmobile and a giant Pikachu.

The festivities weren’t limited to what happening in the Convention Center, however. The Fan Expo also held events outside the venue such as a retro 90s after-party at the Orchid Nightclub and a Pokemon Go Lure party near the south building main entrance.

 

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The event didn’t quite go without flaws, however. Maybe, just maybe, Fan Expo Toronto wasn’t prepared to host this many fans. Delays and confusion were a recurring theme at the Metro Convention Centre leading to criticism throughout the four day-long event. Attendees turned to social media to voice discontent over last-minute detail changes, scheduling conflicts and cuts.

The Stan Lee merchandise table, for instance, was a classic example disorganization and lack of communication. The booth was swamped with autograph-seekers who were met with apprehension from Fan Expo volunteers as they had the daunting task of maintaining order and safety. Some patient fans were turned away and told to come back the next day. Others were asked, less than kindly, to buy tickets elsewhere and move away from the fire safety zone. To its credit, the Fan Expo twitter account was very active and did its best to solve problems.

Fan Expo Toronto 2016 put forth a celebration of fandom that spread across thousands of smiles, young and old, seasoned fans and newbies. The event is truly an enduring testimony of pop-culture’s long and ever lasting appeal.

We can’t wait to see what the 2017 edition will bring.

 

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I interviewed a cab driver this is what he had to say

Feature, Interviews, Uncategorized

taxi

image: globalnews.ca


The other night I took a cab ride home at a much later hour than I’d like to admit. My driver was a man with glasses and kind eyes who wearing mostly black. We hit it off as I asked him about his job out of curiosity. I told him about my journalistic projects and asked him if he would be interested in doing an interview. He gave me a card with a phone number and told me to give him a call in the next couple of days.

The driver works for a Canadian cab company in the town of Whitby, Ontario. Due to the nature of his occupation he wished to remain anonymous for obvious and professional reasons. There are currently two cab companies in Whitby, but according to the cabbie they are far from being each other’s biggest competition.

Uber has experienced a surge in popularity in the last few years, one that directly affects the cab business.

“Uber is killing us. It’s really eating at our business,” he says. “A lot of people would rather take a Uber than a cab now “.

But if we’re talking about money just how exactly is the money shared between the cab company and its employees?

“We split 50-50. The cab company gets half and we get half. It’s not too bad,” he admits.

When l asked him about his previous evening night shift his voice took a happier tone.

“A guy wanted a ride to Durham College on Simcoe [street]”, he begins. “He asked how much it [the fare] was. I told him $30 and asked me if l could do it for ten. I told him, ” Look, I’m a nice guy, but I can’t do that.”

This story has a bright ending, however.

“Someone outside the bar just gave him the extra twenty and said he owed him a couple of drinks if they ever saw each other again.”

He told me the highlight of his last shift came from a group that required him to make multiple stops.

“I drove girls from the club earlier. They all came as a group and l dropped each of them to their homes. I made $64 total so that’s not too bad.”

The cabbie admits the business is not as profitable as it once was and reveals he faces challenging prospects for the future.

“I’m making half the money l used to make 5-6 years ago doing this,” he said. “I only do this part-time on the weekends but it’s not what it used to be. My cab license expires in a few months and frankly l don’t know if I’ll still be driving a year from now.”

Next time you take a cab you might want to think about tipping the driver, especially if he or she is kind and friendly.

MOVIE/ALBUM REVIEW: KISS rolls the dice in Vegas

Movie reviews, Music reviews, Uncategorized

kissroc

 


In November of 2014 KISS did one of the very few things they hadn’t tried up to this point: a Vegas residency. After all many hard rock artists have tried their hand at Vegas —successfully so— over the years; Both Guns N’Roses and Motley Crue twice, Def Leppard and more recently, Scorpions and Billy Idol. Las Vegas, Nevada is no longer the place where acts go to die, the stigma has faded with time. It seemed obvious KISS would roll the dice in Sin City eventually.

Vegas would force the hottest band in the land to play shows on a smaller scale than it is accustomed to resulting in a slightly more personal performance. That is not to say KISS toned down the fanfare. The antics like pyrotechnics and fire-breathing are still there—they’re just a little less elaborate. While Rocks Vegas is not a particularly fresh concept, it sure is good to see some new live KISS content in an albeit unique setting.

KISS Rocks Vegas initially saw selected showings in movie theatres on May 25th before its impending home video release. KISS looks spectacular on the big screen but watching the Blu-Ray/DVD at home is the next best thing. The last official stand-alone KISS live concert DVD come over ten years ago —Rock the Nation back in 2005— and featured the same lineup.

 

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The accompanying CD also marks the first official live album KISS had issued under this current lineup (unless you count the Instant Live CDs). Is it necessary for a band like KISS to put out a live album in what is likely the twilight of their career? For one thing it would shock many to know at just how few live albums KISS has in comparison to bands like Rush and Iron Maiden. If anything I’m surprised we haven’t had more live KISS. Documenting live performances becomes important as a band ages.

Its latter-day KISS, a lineup that features Tommy Thayer on guitar and Eric Singer on drums alongside Gene and Paul. That means no Ace and Peter, a fact that should be well outlined by now. This lineup, although quite capable, has its hit-and-miss moments— a fact that becomes more evident when listening to the CD. Let’s be honest for a minute: Paul’s voice is shaky, Gene forgets lyrics and Tommy’s solos are sloppy on ocasion. They may no longer be in their prime, yet KISS is still more than capable of putting on an incredible and visually compelling show.

KISS doesn’t stray too far from its usual setlist of classics like Love Gun and Detroit Rock City, but nevertheless the band took a chance and added Tears Are Falling to the set and chose to play no less than three songs from fan-favourite Creatures of the Night. The inclusions of Parasite and War Machine are worth mentioning as is Hell or Hallelujah from the latest studio effort, Monster.

 

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As an added treat, Rocks Vegas features a 7 song acoustic setlist. Paul Stanley shaking his head after filling in for Gene’s forgotten lyrics during Christine Sixteen is simply priceless. Seeing a relaxed KISS as people with no makeup, pyro or costume playing as Love Her All I Can and Goin’ Blind is a great experience. I think it really says something about KISS that the band is this effective in an acoustic setting. I initially was apprehensive of Eric Singer doing Beth, a song that was always Peter Criss’ baby, but its the definitive highlight of the session. You can watch the acoustic performances but if you want to hear them on CD you’ll have to shell out more money as they are part of an $80 box set exclusive to Amazon. KISS and marketing, indeed. 

It’s a monumental task to substitute the live concert experience for a DVD or CD. Rocks Vegas doesn’t quite achieve that feat, but it displays a determined KISS giving a crowd-pleasing performance. The Blu-Ray version is crisp and looks great on my HD TV and the live CD kept those imperfections and mistakes giving a real live feel and that’s a good thing.

Now bring back I Stole Your Love, pretty please.
Setlist:

01. Detroit Rock City
02. Creatures Of The Night
03. Psycho Circus
04. Parasite
05. War Machine
06. Tears Are Falling
07. Deuce
08. Lick It Up
09. I Love It Loud
10. Hell Or Hallelujah & Tommy Solo
11. God Of Thunder
12. Do You Love Me
13. Love Gun
14. Black Diamond
15. Shout It Out Loud
16. Rock And Roll All Night

 

Acoustic set:

01. Coming Home
02. Plaster Caster
03. Hard Luck Woman
04. Christine Sixteen
05. Goin’ Blind
06. Love Her All I Can
07. Beth

Weekend Hangover: The top 50 Hair-Metal albums of all time

Features, Music reviews, Uncategorized

hair

When men were men who wore big hair and makeup


It’s the genre that simply refuses to die. It always ends up peaking its teased-up hair, leather and spandex through the underground from which it came. While the eccentricities and the hair have been toned down ever so slightly over the years, the music went underground, but it never quite left us. Sometimes maligned in the Metal community, often prone to shaming. I’m talking of course about Hair-Metal. It’s been called Glam-Metal, Cock-Rock, Stripper-Metal and Butt-Rock among other names.

The songs had chunks of hooks, the choruses were simply too catchy to ignore, and no power-ballad was too big for MTV. The genre never fully went away thanks to camera ready stars like Bret Michaels, Dee Snider and Sebastian Bach who kept themselves in the public eye as they turned to outlets such television, radio and yes, even broadway. It was the golden age of something.

While a talented few within the genre some want to be seen as respected musician who care about more than image —with the implication being that Hair Metal is all about image— others could care less about the music’s label as long as they’re being talked about, just ask Vince Neil.

The musicians are as much fun to talk about as the music they play. Rumours, dirt about band members, lineups with one original member, whispers about hair pieces and who’s —wait for it— bald. I can’t think of too many other genres of music where rumours and speculations go hand in hand with the genre as much as Hair-Metal. Talking about the music as is as much part of the fun as listening to it.

While there likely isn’t a Hair-Metal revival happening anything soon, bands like Steel Panther, Crashdiet, Reckless Love and Crazy Lixx are keeping the genre alive and well. Besides everyone likes at least one Hair band, if you don’t admit to it, you’re lying plain and simple.

A few rules for this list: No one band can be featured twice. No Greatest Hits. No modern Glam bands. Van Halen and Guns N’Roses are not Hair-Metal. Finally, no originators (that means no New York Dolls, Sweet, Slade, Hanoi Rocks and no 70s-era Aerosmith and KISS albums).

Keep your death-metal, alternative and indie darlings to yourself, I’m off to spin Cinderella and Poison’s debuts.

 

warlock

50. Triumph & Agony, Warlock (1987)

With songs like All We Are and Make Time For Love Warlock carved themselves a spot on the list. Doro Pesch’s unique voice is as powerful as the music. The album cover suggest a Dio-type Dungeons and Dragon type of metal but Warlock so  clearly belongs to Hair-Metal.

 

 

enuff

49.  Enuff Z’Nuff, Enuff Z’Nuff (1989)

Enuff Z’Nuff proved to be a hippy-ish, weird form of Hair-Metal with their colourful imagery (mostly peace signs) over the years as they did their own thing but they do belong in the genre. The New Thing and the tender ballad Fly High Michelle from their debut are wonderful remnents of the era. Donnie Vie and Chip Z’Nuff should never be without one another.

 
damn yankees

48.  Damn Yankees, Damn Yankees (1990)

Known as Glam-Metal’s very own supergroup the Damn Yankees featured an all-star lineup in Ted Nugent, Jack Blades (Night Ranger), Tommy Shaw (Styx) and that one guy who join Lynyrd Skynard on drums. It’s the ballad High Enough that put them on the map but songs like Coming of Age aren’t too shabby either.

 

y&t

47.  In Rock We Trust, Y&T (1984)

Saxon had Denim & Leather, Y&T had Lipstick & Leather. One of the lesser known bands of their era they were certainly ahead of their time. Almost the Glam version of Anvil, people took influences from them and left them dead. In Rock We Trust is not their most Hair-Metal sounding-release but it is quite possibly their best.

 

pantera

46.  Metal Magic, Pantera (1983)

Bet you weren’t expecting to see Pantera on this list were you? I’m sure Pantera wasn’t either. It is sometime whispered on the internet that the mighty Pantera’s first three albums are straight up Hair-Metal. The allegations are true. Metal Magic is Pantera’s first album, and their best of the pre-Phil Anselmo era. Terry Glaze was their singer then and boasted much of the same vocal qualities as many frontmen did during those days. Quite a change from the Anselmo-fronted Pantera metal fans know. Songs like Ride My Rocker and Tell Me You Want It displays their KISS and Van Halen influences as well as a touch of NWOBHM, but make no mistake it is glam.

 

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45.  Trilogy, Ynwgie Malmsteen (1986)

Where else was Yngwie going to show off his musical dexterity but in a Hair-band? Say what you want about the music but the shredders of the era were technically proficient on their instrument. The man is better known as a guitar hero but when restrained Malmsteen is capable of producing some fine candy-coated songs. Case in point: You Don’t Remember, I’ll Never Forget, Queen In Love.

 

hanoi rocks

44.  Two Steps from the Move, Hanoi Rocks (1984)

It’s true I said no originators. Hanoi Rocks aren’t just originators, they were doing the music as others were making their way up in Hair-Metal. The band’s drummer Razzle got in a car with a drunk Vince Neil and Hanoi Rocks was never the same. They never got due credit outside of their native Finland and were the country’s most famous rock export for years before bands like Children of Bodom, Nightwish and HIM made their mark on metal music. Boulevard of Broken Dreams and Up Around The Bend make for excellent blues-rock wrapped up in glam coating. Better known for being one of Guns N’Roses’biggest influences than their own music.

 

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43.  Black N’ Blue, Black N’Blue (1984)

Produced by none other than Gene Simmons, Black N’Blue never hit the big time but they did feature a future KISS collaborator and current-Spaceman in Tommy Thayer. Some of the songs have held up better than time would suggest. Tell me Hold On To 18 doesn’t flat-out rock. There’s plenty to like: Chains Around Heaven, Wicked Bitch, The Strong Will Rock.

 

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42.  Lita, Lita Ford (1988)

With Kiss Me Deadly we have one of Lita’s signature songs. Then there’s Close My Eyes Forever the duet with Ozzy Osbourne she later famously abandoned. Falling In and Out of Love was written by ex-beau Nikki Sixx. Best Lita Ford album? No. But it is her most recognizable work and fits every criteria on this list.

 

 

af

41.  Trouble Walkin’, Ace Frehley (1989)

It took years for Ace Frehley to surface as a solo artist following his departure from KISS but “Ace is back when he told you so”. It was hard to choose between this and the debut Frehley’s Comet album but Trouble Walkin’ just edges it out. Frehley is known for covering other artists and so it should be no surprise that the best tunes of the album are covers. Ace covers The Move’s Do Ya brilliantly and put out an effective version of KISS’Hide Your Heart.

 

night ranger

40.  Midnight Madness, Night Ranger (1983)

Some would call Night Ranger rock but I disagree. The sleek and polished sounds of Don’t Tell Me You Love Me, Rumours in the Air and their band’s definitive song Sister Christian have more in common with Glam-Metal than rock. If you get one Night Ranger album, this is it.

 

bb

39.  Bulletboys, Bulletboys (1989)

Often described as Van Halen-esque, Bulletboys are more than carbon copy or one hit wonder. Marq Torien’s voice made the band unique. It’s a shame they’re only known for Smooth Up In Ya because they added different flavours to their brand of music; they swing with Shoot The Preacher Down and get a little funky with For The Love of Money.

 

lee aaron

38. Metal Queen, Lee Aaron (1984)

She come like thunder risin’ from the gound. Lee Aaron was the Metal Queen (sorry Doro). Although she became more pop as the years went on —including a period where she became a Jazz musician— Lee Aaron’s 1984 opus remains her most memorable album to this day largely due to the title-track and Lady of the Darkest Night.

 

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37. Britny Fox, Britny Fox (1988)

The album jacket just screams Glam. Looking and sounding like Cinderella’s Gypsy cousins, Britny Fox were not one of the top-tier Hair-Metal outfits but they’re better than logic would dictate. Long Way To Love, Girlschool and Gudbuy T’Jane have held up better than you remember.

 

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36.  Vixen, Vixen (1988)

Is it sexist if I call them the female equivalent of Poison? Too late, I just did. Yes, we all know they didn’t write Edge of a Broken Heart but that doesn’t detract from how catchy the song is. Besides, I always preferred Want You To Rock Me and songs like Cryin’ are worth their salt.

 

laguns

35.  Cocked & Loaded, L.A. Guns (1989)

Any of L.A. Guns’ first two albums could be considered as their best but if pressed I’ll have to give the edge to Cocked & Loaded. Sleazy Come Sleazy Go and I’m Addicted just ooze junkie Hair-Metal. It also happens to features their signature song in the form of The Ballad of Jayne.

 

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34. Faster Pussycat, Faster Pussycat (1987)

Faster Pussycat was too sleazy for MTV— OK maybe except House of Pain—but in a post-GNR era they found a niche ready to pounce on their filthy Glam-Rock. Unlike their contemporaries, they sound like they listened to the New York Dolls instead of just stealing their look. With tunes like Bathroom Wall and Babylon Faster Pussycat is vulgar, sexist and occasionally disgusting —all by design, of course.

 

vvin

33.  All Systems Go, Vinnie Vincent Invasion (1988)

KISS axeman Vinnie Vincent teamed up with future Slaughter members Dana Strum and Mark Slaughter on his second and best album. Vinnie Vincent lnvasion had commercial success with That Time of Year on MTV and Love Kills was on the soundtrack for Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. The only reason the band disbanded was sadly Vinnie Vincent himself. Mark and Dana went on to form Slaughter. Vinnie Vincent went on to co-write songs with KISS for their Revenge album, sued his former employers a gazillion times (never winning once) and became a recluse.

 

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32.  Leather Boys With Electric Toys, Pretty Boy Floyd (1989)

Pretty Boy Floyd made exactly one worthwhile album and that’s Leather Boyz With Electric Toyz. The melodic Wild Angels and I Wanna Be With You would’ve made be great songs on any Hair-Metal record. They also did a decent Poison-esque cover of Motley Crue’s Toast of the Town. This debut is often more remembered for its album cover than the music, but Pretty Boy Floyd delivers.

 

firehouse

31.  Firehouse, Firehouse (1992)

Its rock sprinkled with pop and its done oh so well. For my money Firehouse’s debut album is still the best thing they’ve ever made. Infectious songs like Don’t Treat Me Bad and Shake & Tumble scream good times while ballads like Love of a Lifetime are powerful and genuine.

 

trash

30.  Trash, Alice Cooper (1989)

By the end of the decade Hair-Metal was so big that even of the granfathers of rock, Alice Cooper himself, tried his hand at it. The result is an Alice tailor-made for 1989. It gave him a shot in the arm and his highest charting song in 12 years with Poison. Songs like House of Fire and Spark in the Dark are fun to this day. The guest list is impressive: Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry (and most of Aerosmith) and Kip Winger among others.

 

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29.  Winger, Winger (1988)

The band Beavis and Butt-Head made cool to hate. Metallica once threw darts at a picture of Kip Winger in the process of recording the black album. How could we possibly have an all-glam list without Winger? Sure it’s very pop and sometimes borders on the creepy —Seventeen may not see a release in this age— but Winger were undeniably some of the finest musicians in the genre.

 

steel

28.  Steelheart, Steelheart (1992)

Miljenko Matjevic’s voice. The man possessed an impressive instrument capable of vocal summersaults. Steelheart seemed poised for success before an onstage accident nearly killed their singer and put a halt to their career. The band’s debut remains one of the strongest album in the genre with essentials like She’s Gone and Everybody Loves Eileen.

 

great white

27.   …Twice Shy, Great White (1988)

Its difficult choosing between this or Once Bitten but …Twice Shy sounds more glam to my ears. Great White were more a blues-based band than anything until they were locked in the studio to produce catchy, radio-friendly rock and they did exactly that. Once Bitten, Twice Shy, House of Broken love and The Angel Song are bonafide Hair classics.

 

aerosmith

26.  Aerosmith, Permanent Vacation (1987)

Once originators now less um, original, this is the one that brought Aerosmith back to the big time. More of a Hair record than Pump and sleazier than anything they’ve done in ten years. This began a new era for the band, one featuring outside writers like Jim Vallance and Desmond Child. Cock-rock opener Heart’s Done Time, the poppy Magic Touch and the groovy Rag Doll are Aerosmith’s best shots at Glam-Metal. Angel is one of their all-time great ballads and who could forget Dude (Looks Like A Lady)?

 

vince neil

25.  Exposed, Vince Neil (1993)

Speaking of Dude (Looks Like A Lady), Vince Neil was the inspiration behind the song. Released after the Grunge explosion was already in full swing, Exposed lived in a vacuum that ignored everything surrounding itself. You’re Invited but Your Friend Can’t Come was the hit from the album, but thankfully its not the only good song as its accompanied by the likes of the heavy Sister of Pain and the cruelly underrated Living Is A Luxury. Steve Stevens of Billy Idol does once again an admirable job on guitar.

 

nelson

24.  After the Rain, Nelson (1990)

The Nelson twins. Boy can they ever craft a well-written song that will stay in your head for days. Say what you will about these songs being quote-on-quote soft, Nelson had better musicianship than many of the peers. It never got better than the debut as far as Nelson is concerned but this collection of song is fantastic. Oh and it did sell 10 million copies.

 

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23. Pride, White Lion (1987)

A thinking man’s Hair band? Cries for the environment and the children’s future? White Lion was something of an oddity in the Glam cannon even then, now they stand out even more. Tunes like Wait and Hungry were all good-natured fun but there’s a definitely a somber side to songs like Lonely Nights and When The Children Cry. Oh yeah, before I forget, Bratta shreds.

 

stryper

22.  To Hell With The Devil, Stryper (1986)

Good Christian boys can’t rock, can they? It turns out they can and they still deliver great albums even today. Besides, a little research will show you that Michael Sweet and the band weren’t always walking along the righteous and holy path (check out Against the Law). The band’s ’80s output is great Pop-Metal but To Hell With the Devil was their breakthrough album with the title track, Free, and the tender god-loving ballad Honestly.

 

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21.  Turbo, Judas Priest (1986)

In 1986 Judas Priest wasn’t a Heavy-Metal band dabbling with Glam, they were drenched in it. Listen to songs like Locked In, Parental Guidance and the somber ballad Out In The Cold and tell me I’m wrong. Or the title-track. It’s a more accessible Priest, one that crafted very good pop songs at that.

 

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20.  Lick It Up, KISS (1983)

It’s no wonder KISS chose to take the makeup off with Lick It Up. The band’s new pop-metal direction and look was in style and this remains their strongest Hair Metal release. KISS emphasized visuals as did MTV who showcased the band’s exclusive unmasking live. The only album to officially credit the lost Egyptian Ankh warrior Vinnie Vincent. A Million To One is of the best things ’80s KISS ever did.

 

ozzy

19.  The Ultimate Sin, Ozzy (1986)

It’s better than the jacket sleeve, I swear. Ozzy with bouffant hair and ridiculous costumes is a sight to see. The music made during this time period is largely ignored by the Ozzy camp but there’s some gems on The Ultimate Sin. Shot ln the Dark is one of Ozzy’s catchiest song and one of his biggest hits. Hair gems such as Secret Loser and Lightning Strikes have a respectable place among Hair-Metal classics as do melancholic tunes such as Killer of Giants. Jake E. Lee,man.

 

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18.  Eat ‘Em & Smile, David Lee Roth (1986)

I’m talking about a Yankee Rose! I know, I said no Van Halen but surely David Lee Roth solo has to count? DLR replaced Eddie Van Halen with Steve Vai and the party continued as if nothing happened. Eat ‘Em and Smile sounded more like Van Halen than Van Halen did at this point. Many of the songs on here are up to par with Van Halen classics. Shy Boy, Going Crazy and Yankee Rose make for good argument.

 

tesla

16. The Great Radio Controversy, Tesla (1989)

It was a tough decision between this and Mechanical Resonance but I’ll give a slight edge to The Great Radio Controversy. Tesla were more of a ’70s Arena-Rock band than anything else but their songs fit right in the ’80s landscape. Love Song was the hit here but hard rockers like Hang Tough remind us of why Tesla was more than your average Hair band.

 

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17.  Blow My Fuse, Kix (1988)

Kix unleashed many great songs in the ’80s and Blow My Fuse has a good chunk of them. Never has a more beautiful anti-suicide ballad been written than Don’t Close Your Eyes. One of the guitar players in a band l was once in sang this song just about every time he opened his mouth. Cold Blood is one of the anthems of the era and songs like Gets It While Its Hot and She Dropped the Bomb are well-worth a listen.

 

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16.  Metal Health, Quiet Riot (1983)

Hold the distinction of the first #1 Metal album on the Billboard charts. Of course by reaching the top so early it was all downhill from there. Maybe there was too much tension within the band, perhaps they ran out of Slade songs to cover, but if you put on Metal Health and close your eyes, it’s 1983 and you feel the “noize” again. Surprised to see it a little low on the list? The singles were the best songs and the rest paled Thunderbird and Slick Black Cadillac never did much for me. That or Kevin DuBrow’s attitude.

 

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15.  Danger Danger, Danger Danger (1989)

Lexxi Foxx’s favourite band. I swear they’re not on the list just because I like to repeat the words Danger Danger. Drummer-turned-singer Ted Poley has one of the best voices in Glam and the band’s debut is full of upbeat pop-metal anthems. Songs like Naughty Naughty, Bang Bang, Don’t Walk Away and Feels Like Love are no good for anyone’s IQ but we’ll forgive them because they’re so damn catchy.

 

europe

14.  The Final Countdown, Europe (1986)

Yes it’s the one with that song, but there’s more to this band than a hit single. The Final Countdown is filled with chunks of hook-laden songs like Rock the Night, Cherokee, and tender ballad Carrie. Although Europe tries very hard to distance themselves from the genre these days, this is the version of the band —and Joey Tempest’s hair— we liked most.

 

 

scorpions

13.   Love At First Sting, Scorpions (1984)

Scorpions made their teeth long before the Glam explosion, but it doesn’t change the fact that for a period time in the 80’s and ’90s they were for all intends and purpose a Hair band. They also had massive hits but never more so than on Love At First Sting. Mid-paced rocker Big City Night aged like fine wine. Still Loving You is one of the most poignant power-ballads. Do I even need to bring up Rock You Like a Hurricane? 

 

slaughter

12.  Slaughter, Slaughter (1990)

If you ask me some of the best Hair-Metal came out in the early ’90s. Slaughter is a prime example of that. The band’s eponymous release features many glamtastic songs: Eye to Eye, Burning Bridges (about none other than Vinnie Vincent), Spend My Life and that’s not including the hits Up All Night and Fly to the Angels. Like many bands on this list, Slaughter’s debut album marked their commercial and career peak.

 

dokken

11. Under Lock And Key, Dokken (1985)

Sure, Tooth & Nail was heavier and Back for the Attack has Dream Warriors and Mr. scary but Under Lock And Key has the hits and some of Dokken’s most melodic, memorable work and if there’s one thing the band was about it was melody. Songs like Unchain the Night, The Hunter, It’s Not Love and In My Dreams are enough to make any album great. Oh and they had a certain George Lynch on guitar, you may have heard of him.

 

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10.  Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich, Warrant (1989)

Where’d the down boys go? Say what you want, this one is still miles ahead of Cherry Pie althought Bobbie Brown was nowhere in sight. Jani Lane could write, RIP. Down Boys, Sometimes She Cries and what is the band’s ultimate song, Heaven. Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich is one of the must-have Hair-Metal albums.

 

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9.  Detonator, Ratt (1990)

Shocker! I’m sure many would’ve expected Out of the Cellar to make it on the list, but I feel Detonator is a little stronger overall. Ratt’s 80s output is well-known but this early ’90s effort contains gem after gem. Shame, Shame, Shame is pure Ratt. Lovin’ You’s a Dirty Job is sleazy, let’s do it in the back of the car-rock. Then there are songs like the mature Givin’ Yourself Away, the flashback-inducing One Step Away, the speedy Can’t Wait On Love. Stephen Pearcy never sounded better than he did on Detonator and Hard Time is still my favourite vocal performance of his.

 

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8.  Whitesnake, Whitesnake (1987)

Has such a simple keyboard pattern ever been used more efficiently than the one in Is This Love? This album is home to the one video every car-humping scene in cinematic history has attempted to reproduce. There’s more than the display of affection for cars that is Here I Go Again or the masturbatory Led Zeppelin-esque Still of the Night. Gimme All Your Love and Cryin’ in the Rain for instance. The album sometimes known as 1987 was a monster Hair-Metal album. It repackaged David Coverdale for a new generation and made a video vixen out of Tawny Kitaen, thank god.

 

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8.  Slippery When Wet, Bon Jovi (1986)

Although he probably would never admit any correlation to the genre, Bon Jovi was glam. The early incarnation of the band was, at the very least. Slippery When Wet is as big as it gets for Bon Jovi or Hair-Metal for that matter. Livin’ On A Prayer, You Give Love A Bad Name, Let It Rock, that’s quite the list. Wanted Dead or Alive was so good it transcended the notion of musical genres. Without Love is a sleeper hit. Not my favourite Bon Jovi (that would be the debut), but how can you go wrong with this one?

 

twisted sister

7.  Stay Hungry, Twisted Sister (1984)

There’s more to Twisted Sister than two big singles. I’ll even go on record and say We’re Not Gonna Take It and I Wanna Rock are not, I repeat not the best songs on the album. Burn In Hell and Horror-teria are both infinitely better. A mighty fine Hair album and one that could swing with some of the heavier bands out there too. Metallica once opened for them.

 

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6.  W.A.S.P, W.A.S.P. (1984)

A little heavier, rougher around the edges and definitely more metallic than their peers, W.A.S.P irked Senator Al Gore’s wife and is the main reason parental advisory stickers even exist.Blackie Lawless’voice is so good because it sounds like he’s broken. He literally sounds like a soul-sucking demon from hell who just experienced a painful breakup and learned to play melodic Heavy-Metal. There’s so much to like about W.A.S.P.’s debut. The explicit Animal (F*** Like A Beast). The catchiness of I Wanna Be Somebody. The pop qualities of L.O.V.E. Machine. The irresistible, occultism of Sleeping (In The Fire). The jury is still out on what the name W.A.S.P. means. Lawless once said, “We ain’t sure pal”.

 

skid row

5.  Skid Row, Skid Row, (1989)

While 1992 Skid Row could swing with Pantera, 1989 Skid Row were playing pretty-boy rock and earning a living doing it. It’s also the Sebastian Bach-fronted incarnation of Skid Row that most of us remember. It’s the ballads 18 and life and I Remember You that stole the show but let’s not forget Youth Gone Wild.

 

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4.  Long Cold Winter, Cinderella (1988)

Night Songs may be more glam but it’s Cinderella’s sophomore album that takes the cake. It’s a blusier, better-written and more mature effort.  With melodic tunes like Gypsy Road and Last Mile, the dirty blues of Bad Seamstress and the honesty of Don’t Know What You Got (Till Its Gone) it’s no wonder Cinderella and Long Cold Winter is so high on the list.

 

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3.  Pyromania, Def Leppard (1983)

I like Hysteria, but I love Pyromania. It just rocks harder. With Pyromania Def Leppard were able to crossover to mainstream commercial success while keeping the rock crowd happy, no easy feat. This was when Def Leppard was still cool to like. If you ask me the sound of Def Leppard is perfectly encapsulated in Photograph. Its got some serious companionship with the anxious Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop), the memorable intro to Rock of Ages, the desperation of Too Late for Love and the beauty of Stagefright.

 

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2.  Look What The Cat Dragged In, Poison (1986)

An argument could be made for any of Poison’s first three albums but the debut edges everything out by a single Aqua-Net sprayed hair. It was the first time the world heard of and saw them. MTV, the album cover, from the moment they first showed up on TV screens across America the very image of Poison had been etched into popular-culture. As such Poison is perhaps the utmost definition of glam and Hair-Metal. Between Talk Dirty to Me, I Want Action, Cry Tough, I Won’t Forget You and the title track there’s enough bubblegum-rock to chew on for days. A favourite now as it was then.

 

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1.  Dr. Feelgood, Motley Crue (1989)

Best Crüe album? Arguably. Glammiest? That would be Theatre of Pain. Biggest album with the most hit singles? It has to be Feelgood hands-down. Dr. Feelgood blends together everything that was fun about the ’80s —and the genre for that matter— in a decadent, unapologetic cocktail. The title track, Kickstart My Heart, Same Ol’ Situation, Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Got Away), Without You, Slice of Your Pie, Time For Change are all reasons why Dr. Feelgood is numero uno.

 

 

Batman, the joker and one long overdrawn joke

Misc, Movie reviews, Uncategorized

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Just remember. “All it takes is one bad day…”        DC Comics


 

A celebrated, yet often divisive and debated entry in the Batman library, The Killing Joke is dear to a many a Bat fan’s heart. While there’s room to ague the comic’s rank and merits, there is no denying Alan Moore’s brainchild is one of the darkest, most sadistic Joker stories ever put to paper.

In The Killing Joke, the Joker went over the edge —even by Joker standards. He no longer behaves like a lunatic buffoon, the man who laugh is out to prove a point: all is takes is one bad day to reach insanity. The story represents a case in character study, examines the morbid aspects of human nature and what drives a sociopath from a comic book’s point of view—essentially its a deliciously macabre Joker origin story.

I love that DC didn’t change the main story and formula too much. The Killing Joke is already a memorable chapter for Batman and the Joker, it didn’t need to be tinkered with or alternated in any shape or form. The animated film adaptation did quite well in regards to staying on par with the comic.

The main gripe I have with The Killing Joke is with its first 30 minutes where material that wasn’t in the book was added. Sure it’s related to the story and they did their best to tie it in but the storyline they tried to develop for Barbara Gordon/Batgirl simply didn’t work as well as DC might have anticipated.

 

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DC promo

 

Barbara/Batgirl is a pivotal character in The Killing Joke, therefore it is understandable that DC wanted to give its audience a semblance of insight as to her personality. I’ll give the writers credit for trying to add to Batgirl’s story, but rather than attain its desired effect it feels like it was merely pasted onto the original story to stretch out the film. The further dialogue and backstories really didn’t end up adding anything crucial. Although I won’t go into details, Batgirl’s relationship with Batman in the film was in particularly poor taste and very much unlike the character fans have known.

I was happy to see a few of my favourite lines from the comic were left intact as there are many memorable quotes. As a fan, hearing the words I’ve read so many times over being brought to life by Mark Hamill was fantastic. At The Killing Joke‘s apex, the satisfying confrontation and word exchange between Batman and the Joker kept the same spirit as its source. The dialogue isn’t always on point however. One “joke” in particular is in bad taste. A criminal receiving a beating courtesy of Batgirl looks at her and says, “Must be that time of the month”. BadCringe-worthy.

Speaking of Mark Hamill, his voice acting is possibly the best aspects of The Killing Joke. Hamill as made left his mark on the comic book genre with his work as the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series and various Batman video games.

The animated film doesn’t quite match the intensity or pace of the comic largely due to its first part. They managed to get some of the art direction right yet the tone of the story isn’t as dark and perverse, but it tries. The Killing Joke falls short in its attempt to prolong the story, but it is a very faithful adaptation of its comic counterpart.

At an hour and sixteen minutes (including credits) it is by no means a long Batman film, however it feels longer due to added Batgirl backstory which decidedly does not work in its favour. Do yourself a favour and skip the first half-hour of movie, you won’t regret it. 3 stars.

Retro-gaming: the choice of a new generation but at what cost?

Features, Uncategorized

 

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You can almost smell the cartridges, admit it.


 

Nostalgia is a very lucrative business with many believing in the value behind the sentiment, ready to relive or cash in on this phenomenon. Retro-gaming as a hobby is rapidly gaining traction among gamers young and old, allowing many to get immersed in the nostalgia surrounding vintage school video games. The devout retro-gamer and collector sleeps with one eye open, a list of must-have titles in one hand. Much like The Legend of Zelda, there is a continuous quest to find the Triforce, the holy grail so to speak. On the surface it seems like a harmless and glamorous hobby if one judges by the impressive collections displayed by various YouTube channels. A collector posts a video of a stacked collection and every fan in the comment section is in awe and just about faints. Instant gratification. The bigger the collection, the greater the fawning. That’s not to say there isn’t a somber side to collecting coins, princesses and old-school video games.

 

    $ is the name of the game

It is difficult to be upfront about retro games without mentioning their cost. It is one expensive hobby! Collectors will no doubt find it expensive to purchase every game they want with the sheer amount of overpriced and in-demand titles. The reality is that being the devout fan with near-complete collections (even if it is console, franchise or genre specific) requires a lot of time, money and effort. A great bargain can still be found of course, but hunting for certain games can take years of rummaging through flea markets, thrift stores and gaming shops. With retro-gaming, most of the games that marked my childhood will cost me more than I’m comfortable spending on a single item— especially when buying complete games including the box/case and manual. Never mind video game consoles, that’s another story. It’s also hard to escape the fact that many vintage titles will cost more than a brand new video game that just hit stores.

 

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I used to spend a lot of time going through shelves that looked just like this one.

       eBay

The advent of the internet and eBay has made it easier to obtain nearly any game in multitude of conditions. However with eBay, people often name their prices on specific items. Games such a Conker’s Bad Fur Day for the Nintendo 64 can fetch as much as $200 if they include the original box/container and manual (if your eyes widened even slightly please do not google Earthbound). Not too shabby for what was essentially dormant market in the late 1990s to early 2000’s when you could often find older titles for a minimal price.

 

      It’s a very addictive hobby

Perhaps too addictive. When I was collecting retro video-games I wanted more, all the time. It didn’t even need to be quality stuff, I just wanted more of it. I was like a smoker contemplating his next cigarette, done before I ever inhaled. As a result my collection grew. Before I knew it I had amassed titles in my collection I never played — not even once (NHL Stanley Cup, Yoshi’s Cookie, anyone?). In my mind they served as trophies to boost my cred among my fellow collectors. Surely someone would be impressed by my collection, or so I thought. Although I did play most of them, what the games really represented were dusty reminders of an unhealthy, possibly OCD-driven obsession.

 

      No money back guarantee

It can prove difficult to make your money back if you’re trying to part with pieces of your collection, even rare, sought after titles. When time came for me to move out it was necessary for me to part with my retro-games and systems. I was in great need of money and didn’t have the time to put all the items I possessed on eBay. Here’s the deal: everyone is looking for a bargain with hardly anyone buying. Shopping them around earned me only a small fraction of what I had paid for them.From experience, collecting vintage video games is not about turning a profit (unless you manage to find a rare steal). I would sell parts of my collection and then purchase what I had sold at a later time. Then I would miss a system or game and had to buy the item once more; it became a vicious cycle and I was helpless.

 

      Competition

I tried selecting only the games dear to my heart, I really did, but temptation is everywhere. A part of me always felt in competition with other collectors due to the nature of the hobby. Sometimes I would buy games because it was mentioned on greatest video games lists on the internet and magazines. Maybe people would find it impressive that I owned a piece of their childhood somehow. Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of retro-gaming is it is often about what one doesn’t have than what they own.

 

       More than games

It is no longer about owning the games. There’s all sort of toys and decorative figurines adorning gamers’ shelves. Whether its classic figurines or the recent Amiibo and Funko characters, there will always be the need for more stuff. Framed posters, mini-arcades, plushies… the list goes on. It used to be about owning the games but now it is also about the extras. Special editions, imports, the list goes on.Where do we draw the line? I like games, but not to the point of it consuming every single inch of living space. Collectors dedicate entire rooms and create shrines to their 8, 16 and 64 bit possessions.

 

         Time’s up

For me it was time to wave on my fellow collectors goodbye as the retro-gaming ship passed me by. I loved holding the controllers of my beloved Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo between my hands and devouring the classics from my childhood, but I could no longer continue financially or mentally. I became entrapped by the possessions I owned, always on the search for more. Never would I be able to own all the games I wanted nor compete with others and I decided I’d had enough. I still have a fondness for retro-gaming and certain games will always hold a place in my heart. I’ll forever enjoy the occasional rounds of Mario Kart 64 and I’ll always have fond memories of Contra and Castlevania, but I am no longer a card-carrying member of the retro-gaming community.

Looking in the rearview mirror, I think I made the right choice.

 

gamess

 

Which is your favourite retro-gaming console? Are you a retro-gamer? If so what do you collect? Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments.

 

 

Short on “magic”

Book reviews, Uncategorized

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      Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, John Tiffany, Arthur A. Levine Books; Special Rehearsal ed. edition 2016.


 

           Harry Potter was one of the most singular, defining moments of my generation. We anticipated and devoured each book as it arrived, embracing seeing our favourite characters on the big screen year after year. I love these characters and their strange, magical, sometimes dark universe. Simply put, I grew up with Hogwarts.

I wanted to find out what happened to my childhood friends. I had grown up and so had they. We last got a glimpse of their future as Harry and Ginny waved goodbye to son Albus on the train that would take him to his first year at Hogwarts. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Part 1 & 2 picks up exactly at that moment we were left off all these years ago. To be honest, Cursed Child is not quite the HP I grew up with. Many factors come into play. For one, it doesn’t feel written by the same author. The pace is altered and it is not as complex and rich as is usual. J.K. Rowling approved the script, but it seems that’s all she did.

Sometimes words spoken or actions taken by the characters feel slightly out-of-place. When Rowling wrote the books she knew the characters inside out and there was no questioning that fact. As such, many fans feel like they know these characters. It was interesting to see how Harry and other characters aged, but I can’t help but imagine some Potterheads might be disappointed by some of their beloved wizard’s actions. I found myself questioning some actions thinking they were out of line with the character. On occasion I felt they were dead-on with Ron and at times I thought they were making him out to be a big goof with little substance.

However, much of the intrigue and action of Cursed Child lies in two characters, Albus Severus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy (child of Draco Malfoy). A lot of Cursed Child‘s development happens between those two characters. To have this much weight cast upon  new additions to the Harry Potter world is a considerable and bold move. A good portion of the book focuses on the boys’ relationship. It almost feels fan-fiction driven in that regard. In the HP books we knew Harry, Ron and Hermione were great friends and meant a lot to one another, we weren’t reminded of that fact every five minutes. Neither did we have their friendship shoved down our throats the way Cursed Child does with Albus and Scorpius which wasn’t necessary.

Without revealing too much, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has more to do with time-travelling and alternate dimensions —and frankly, what ifs?— than anything else. It’s mildly interesting but mostly confusing. The idea of revisiting the past is baffling in the first place. I feel J.K. Rowling would have moved forwards in her storytelling, not backwards. Fans have become attached to the stories as they already were and it doesn’t allow this new chapter of the HP universe to truly be its own.

In fact all these time travelling elements hinder from the Cursed Child feeling like its own story. Too much of the play is focus on specific events that happened in the past that we’re forced to revisit. Part 1 was mildly interesting but the good elements of the first start to derail in the second. The ending was fitting but didn’t feel particularly rewarding. There is a big theme in Harry and Draco’s difficult relationships with their sons and the struggles of fatherhood. This added a different perspective to the characters and franchise. If you were hoping for another traditional HP volume, this is not it by any means.

Surely some were apprehensive at the idea of the book being written as a play instead of a novel, I had my own doubts. The play format works surprisingly well and is probably one of the best aspects of the book. The only negative was it made for an especially quick read in comparison to heftier volumes in the series. I was impressed by how strong of a flow Cursed Child had given its format. The brief descriptions and narration complement the story.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will no doubt be a divisive topic among fans of the series. That’s not to say it’s all bad. I liked some aspects of the book and felt it flawed in others. It’s not the heartwarming story it aims to be. Cursed Child struggles with its legacy and embraces parent-children dilemmas combined with the drama and turbulence of teenage years. Try as it might, this chapter doesn’t feel like the true continuation of the tales of our beloved wizard. There is simply less magic this time around. 2 & 1/2 stars.

“I love legends! Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, Bon Jovi…”

Movie reviews, Uncategorized

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The Final Girls, Stage 6 Films/Vertical Entertainment, 2015.

     Disfigured mask-wearing killer bent on revenge? Check. Campy origin story? Check. Display of typical stereotypes? Check.

More comedy than horror, The Final Girls is part-tribute, part-spoof of it’s subject. I’ll give this one some credit because l’ve never seen a horror flick like it before. It’s very hip these days to do throwback to good old ’80s slasher-style horror, but this time we are presented with a twist rather than a formula. The audience is taken literally inside an ’80s slasher film along with our cast of loveable misfits and stereotypes as they try to survive. The movie is incredibly self-aware and pokes fun of itself at every opportunity. The Final Girls knows what it is and is not afraid to have fun with it.

The movie wears its influences, or should I say influence — Friday the 13th — on its sleeve. On occasion it even feels like a Friday sequel, albeit probably not one of the better sequels. It even rips-off the Friday theme, it clearly knows what it’s doing. The camp, the masked villain, the backstory, a child tormented by others for being different and the list goes on, it’s all here.

Characters over-act, under-act, but this is horror — it is expected, even encouraged in such homage work. It’s part of the territory. Taissa Farmiga (youngest sister of Bates Motel’s Vera Fermiga) may be the film’s lead actress, but Malin Akerman who steals the show, delivering what is a surprisingly convincing performance. The Final Girls doesn’t get everything right but the mother-daughter relation between the two actresses leads to some genuinely heartbreaking moments (the Bette Davis Eyes scene is at least). Adam Devine provides the comedic relief as Kurt, a stereotype so hellbent on being a stereotype it almost hurts.

The way the film is glued-up together and dances between comedy and horror doesn’t always work, but it puts a fresh spin on a classic genre. The Final Girls is nothing groundbreaking, rooted in nostalgia and hardly essential. Yet it’s an entertaining and creative piece of horror cinema. It’s funny minus the scary, lacks gore and threatening kills but for this type of project it makes perfect sense. There was also the previously mentioned surprising mother-daughter drama/relation that stirred up unexpected emotions, something a horror movie hasn’t been able to do to me in quite some time.

It’s a mindless horror-comedy with a heart that deserves but doesn’t necessarily require viewing. 3.5 stars.

Why I’m addicted to BoJack Horseman and so should you

Features, TV, Uncategorized

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“Can everyone stop talking about people that aren’t me?”


 

What do you get when a talking horse adopts three kids? 9 seasons of popular ’90s sitcom Horsin’ Around. What do you get when you follow the life of the show’s lead star turned has-been celebrity? BoJack Horseman.

BoJack Horseman is slowly but surely becoming Netflix’s sleeper hit. A television show about a talking horse displaying near-unparalleled amounts of depth ? Yeah right. Then came the surprise. Instead of being just another mindless show, it made me face my depression head-on. I couldn’t hide. I realized it wasn’t the dumb, funny show I thought it was. Compared to some of the thoughts and sentiments expressed by Bojack, Brian from Family Guy looks deep for about a quarter of a second. With BoJack, I felt understood in ways I never thought would be possible with TV.

The show is one of the latest animated series targeted toward adults. Make no mistake, despite it’s animation and cutesy sound effects, it deals almost strictly with adult themes and content. The Netflix brainchild is rewarding if you can get past the fact that  anthropomorphic animals interact with humans and no one ever bats an eyelash. Don’t take it from me, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has said BoJack Horseman is his favourite original series on the streaming platform.

Rest assured, it’s not all depth and doom in BoJack’s world. There’s also comedic relief in the form of BoJack’s best friend, the couch-crashing Todd Chavez, and Princess Carolyn’s beau Vincent Adultman.

Part of the genius of BoJack Horseman is in its various background gags, with some of the visual jokes being quite obvious, others a tad subtler. With repeated viewings you pick up on things that you’ve never observed before. There already exist lists that point out these gags such as this one.

BoJack Horseman received its fair share of criticism early on yet quickly became a darling among major publications and critics using words such as complex and melancholic — and accurately so — to describe the series.

Some of the criticism is valid. At first glance there doesn’t seem to be much significance to a show about a has-been celebrity who also happens to be a horse. As such, I believe some viewers have given up on the show too early. It’s only as the show’s first season progresses that its viewers take the plunge, drenching themselves in this anthropomorphic existential comedy ( hold the comedy and replace it with melancholy). It’s comedy but it’s dark comedy.

If it doesn’t get you right away, that’s perfectly normal. BoJack Horseman is a grower, not a shower. It was around season one’s seventh episode when I decided that I was madly in love with this show. I never turned back and devoured season 2 and 3.

BoJack Horseman is funny, self-deprecating and satirical when it needs to be; it’s sad, aware and real when unexpected. It made me feel things in a way a cartoon should never make you feel. BoJack made me feel sad. It forced me to acknowledge depression. It made me examine the roots and cause of feelings. Darnit, TV! I got more than I bargained for when I hit play on that first episode. Damn you Netflix and damn you Will Arnett.

This existential comedy is a rare phenomenon in that it’s a critical darling and the people’s show without alienating one or the other.The viewer wants BoJack to find serenity perhaps with selfish hopes of finding possible comfort for oneself. At every turn the show takes the unexpected route. Bojack is miserable in season 1, gets what he wants in season 2 and deals with the repercussion of obtaining everything he dreamed of in season 3.

 

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“Great story Bojack you should put that in a podcast so l can unsubscribe.”

The show messes with the viewers psyche by making them wonder if they’re Zoes or Zeldas (watch season one then come back, you’ll understand), if they’re really good deep down or just emotional wreck. BoJack Horseman may be clever and funny, but its audience is smart enough that to know he is probably not meant to have a happy ending. In BoJack’s mind he is smarter than the people he encounters (sounds familiar?) but unlike them, he can’t figure out how to be happy and that’s part of what makes him so appealing and relatable.

“He’s so stupid he doesn’t realize how sad he should be,” says BoJack of the happy-go-lucky yellow Lab Mr. Peanutbutter.

The cherry on top of the Sunday is the soundtrack that accompanies and complements the cocktail of melancholy and depression served to us by Netflix. It is also the perfect backdrop to the show’s pop-culture references. Add a few catchphrases and choice celebrity guest spots such as Sir Paul McCartney and Daniel Radcliffe and you have a hit animated sitcom for adults.

I realize that on the surface the show sounds like a roller coaster ride. You should you take the bait and go fishing? Absolutely. Did my analogy make any sense? Nay way José (Get it? Because it’s a thing horses say and… I’m not going to finish or live down this quote).

The show’s third season just dropped on us and season four was just announced by Netflix, yet there simply aren’t enough episodes of the show to binge-watch, just like there aren’t enough articles yet written about BoJack Horseman on the internet. In a culture where people want to feel good about themselves while doing nothing hoping it’s “not too late” — or insert other cliché — BoJack is a slap of much-needed reality.

          Bojack Horseman season 3 is now out Netflix.

 

Steel Panther infects London (not that London, the other one)

Live/Concerts

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Glam-rockers Steel Panther have found themselves in a unique position where they hold the place of bands they once parodied and paid homage to. The band’s career mirrors the words of Mötley Crüe’s Kickstart My Heart, “When we started this band all we needed was a laugh. Years gone by, I’d say we kicked some a**.” Having previously opened for established bands like KISS and Judas Priest, Steel Panther is now more than capable of selling tickets on their own and that’s just what they did at the London Music Hall on Monday night. No, not that London. The Canadian town of London, Ontario.

“I’m going to smack the botox off your face,” says Satchel, Steel Panther’s brown-haired guitar virtuoso, as he glares at the band’s pink-clad bassist Lexxi Foxx.

That’s the essence of Steel Panther right there. If you don’t enjoy enjoy insults, political incorrectness, lewd acts and steady doses of Van Halen — get out. If it looks as if the sunset-strip Hair-Metallers are constantly touring, it’s only because they are. Fresh off Live From Lexxi’s Mom and an New-Zealand-Australia tour, the band are squeezing Canada by the balls before an impending 3 month-long tour of Europe (or European, as Lexxi calls it) and a brand-new album due later this year.

Steel Panther is no nostalgia trip. At least, not on this particular night. The crowd for the most part, looks to young to relieve the era of spandex, pooffy hair and big riffs. Prior to the show, Ratt’s Round and Round and Gypsy Road by Cinderella are blasting through loud speakers only to be met with little to no reaction. This is not a “Hair-Metal” crowd, per se.

There were very little amount of leopard print items to be found in the Canadian audience — they’re simply here to have their faces rocked like hurricanes. I lost count of how many Megadeth shirt I saw in the audience on this night. By contrast I observed exactly one wig-wearing Panther-lite individual (with zebra-spandex, of course). This was a heavy metal crowd and Steel Panther is some sort metal.

Charismatic frontman Michael Starr channels 50 shades of David Lee Roth. Starr is one of the rare metal singers who sounds as good live as he does in the studio. Court jester extraordinaire Satchel, formerly of Rob Halford’s Two breathes some life to the term “guitar hero”, mostly absent in the past decade. Bassist Lexxi Foxx, who tries his best to look like a glammed-up peacock, spends the evening pouting and touching-up his makeup in his mirror to the point where playing the bass is secondary. Aside from a gag involving his name, Stix Zadinia looks a little more quiet behind his drums, although it might be only because he’s busy providing the backbeat of the band’s sound.

Steel Panther played a 16-song set filled with the only the sleaziest songs from it’s catalogue —minus That’s When You Came In— the way it should be. There’s a only a small sample of the band’s latest album, All You Can Eat, the band choosing instead to rely on road-tested material from their first two studio albums Feel The Steel and Balls Out. Kicking off with Eyes of the Panther —perhaps the only “serious” song in their unique repertoire— the momentum never waivers.

From favourites like the sexist Fat Girl (Thar She Blows) to the racy matter in Asian Hooker bypassing the misogynistic number 17 Girls ln A Row, there is truly something to offend each and every one of your neighbour. The loudest reactions come during the ballads Community Property and Oklahoma Girl proving that while power-ballads may get a bad rap, in some settings they thrive. In what is clearly a touching moment during the band’s most popular song, Community Property, no Fanther in the audience can keep a straight face singing the lyrics like lead singer Michael Starr can and that’s strangely endearing.

Most of the comedy in the show is new, some is obviously recycled from the past such as this nugget (previously heard at Toronto’s Sound Academy a little over a year ago) : “[this girl] is of legal age, which is 13 years-old in Ontario,” says Satchel. “I know because I checked on Wikipedia.”

Or the fan-favourite (again from Sound the Academy but two years ago this time) : “How about we lock the doors and play until 6 AM?”

After witnessing the Panthers live a grand total of four times, it was somewhat of a shock to see the action on stage slightly toned down this time around. Unsubtle innuendos and sex jokes are still a part of the band’s ever-expending repertoire. Girls are still invited on stage. However, in London there is little of the usual “shows us your t***” that comes with the territory of a Steel Panther concert. The girls onstage remained clothed and surprisingly, well-behaved.

Steel Panther knows how to put on a show, there’s not denying that. They’re fun, exciting and fascinating to watch. It’s impossible to look away when the Sunset Strip rockers take over the stage. The problem with putting on the best show possible for the fans is it requires a certain portion of the show to be choreographed. However, this time it seemed a little too planned. In fact, Satchel was wearing the exact same clothes as when l saw the band last year! Hair-Metal sin? You decide.

Let’s hope next time they visit Steel Panther bring fresh jokes and mix things up a little.

***.1/2 /*****
Setlist:

Eyes of a Panther
Tomorrow Night
Fat Girl (Thar She Blows)
Just Like Tiger Woods
Play Video
Let Me Cum In
Asian Hooker
Gold Digging Whore
Satchel Guitar Solo
Ten Strikes You’re Out
Girl From Oklahoma
17 Girls in a Row
Gloryhole
Eatin’ Ain’t Cheatin’
Death to All but Metal

Encore:
Community Property
Party All Day (Fuck All Night)

Guns N’Roses’ triumphant return to Toronto

Concerts, Features, Live/Concerts, Uncategorized

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The calm before the storm. Guns N’Roses July 16 at Rogers Centre, Toronto by: Morais, Tommy.

     Freshly reunited (sorta) rockers Guns N’Roses made the only Canadian stop of their ongoing North-American tour at the Rogers Centre on Saturday night.

The tour —dubbed the Not In This Lifetime tour— offered young generations of concert-goers the chance to catch the band they thought they’d never see while granting another opportunity for longtime fans to witness the gunners in a live setting once more.

The unpredictability of the band kept the packed Rogers Centre on it’s feet. Would the band breakup on this momentous occasion? Would Axl lose it? That uncertainty is part of the ritual that comes with attending a GNR concert. On this night there were no hints of tension or drama as Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan shared the same stage.

It was a far cry from the Guns N’Roses that played Toronto just two short years ago when they hit the Sound Academy stage with Axl the sole remainder of the band’s glory days. The lineup then consisted of Rose with several musicians who would be unknown to anyone who hasn’t kept up with the band in 25 years. Flash forward two years to a sold-out crowd of 50,000 as the current version of the band appears on the top of the world bringing rock to Toronto— and the masses.

Although members of GNR’s original lineup have kept busy with various projects over time —including notable absentees Izzy Stradlin (who isn’t a part of the tour) and Steven Adler (who briefly performed guest spots on the tour in Cincinnati and Nashville) — Axl, Slash and Duff looked to be right at home onstage at the Roger Centre with the band that made them household names and members of the Rock N’Roll Hall of Fame. It may not be the full-fledged original lineup, but that didn’t stop fans from buying tickets in ’92-93 during the Use Your Illusion/Spaghetti Incident-era when neither Izzy or Steven where around. Why should it now?

The lineup was rounded out with longtime members Dizzy Reeds on keyboards, Richard Fortus (who could very well pass for the son of longtime Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood) on guitar, Frank Ferrer on drums and fresh face Melissa Reese on keys and vocals. With a few shows under their collective belt, this lineup of the sunset-strip rockers brought a well-oiled production to Toronto.

The Gunners took the stage around 9:45 PM, almost on time —and practically spot-on by it’s previously established standards—and surprisingly early for a band notorious for being especially late. The machine that is Guns N’Roses had the audience in the palm of its hand with opener It’s So Easy. Welcome To The Jungle received the biggest pop of the night. “You Know where you are Toronto?”, announces Axl to roars from the sold-out crowd.  The song’s reception was rivalled perhaps only by that of Sweet Child O’Mine‘s and Paradise City‘s. Songs from Appetite for Destruction were played side by side with material from the Axl-lead Chinese Democracy —including Better and the new added, Sorry—along with classic Use Your Illusion I & II era favourites like Civil War and the long epic November Rain (complete with Axl on piano).

The band played a massive minute set clocking in at just under 3 hours, comprising 27 songs including a guitar duel between Slash and Fortus and a 4 song encore. The last time I saw Guns N’Roses live circa 2010 they played a set that was just as long at 2 hours and 45 minutes.

Unlike the notorious frontman’s wardrobe changes (Roses loves his hats; cowboy, Crocodile Dundee-inspired, sombrero-style, it’s all good in his book), interactions with the crowd were kept to a minimum except for some Canada-related banter. Until Axl shared the woes experienced by the band at the Canadian border, that is. According to the frontman, someone from the organization brought a gun with them delaying their entrance in the country.

“They were very nice, they were very understanding. You know, it happens: You can forget you have a fucking gun,” said Rose just before a rendition of the bad-boy anthem Out To Get Me“It wasn’t my gun”.

The matter wasn’t made public before the show, as such, fans in the audience got the “scoop” firsthand.

Was it worth the hype?

While it wasn’t the full-on Appetite for Destruction-era reunion many had hoped for, the 3/5 classic Guns members experience definitely brings a bang for the buck with their lengthy performance and expert musicianship.

Axl’s voice was in excellent shape throughout the concert as he displayed the wide vocal range he is known for. The only signs of wear in his voice happened during the closing encore Paradise City at the end of a complete near 30 song set. Judging by visible panting and the expressions on his face after hitting the high notes, Rose truly gives his all for the fans.

The enthusiastic crowd was also delighted to see Slash, the ever cool top-hat, leather clad guitar slinger. SkyDome was buzzing when the fuzzy-haired, Les Paul-clad guitarist played the blistering solos to songs like Sweet Child O’Mine, but admittedly it looked slightly out of place when Richard Fortus played the solos created by Slash.

Bassist Duff McKagan even got his share of the spotlight as he sang lead on Attitude as the gunners covered punk outfit The Misfits.

I will gladly tell anyone who will listen that I was at Guns N’Roses 2016 . I’ll proudly add, “I survived Guns N’Roses 2016, including scorching heat and a tight, rough crowd”.

****/*****

Setlist:

It’s So Easy
Mr. Brownstone
Chinese Democracy
Welcome to the Jungle
Double Talkin’ Jive
(with Slash intro solo)
Estranged
Live and Let Die
(Wings cover)
Rocket Queen
You Could Be Mine
Attitude
(Misfits cover) (with “You Can’t Put Your Arms… more )
This I Love
Civil War
(with Voodoo Child Outro)
Coma
(with band introductions)
Speak Softly Love (Love Theme From The Godfather)
(Andy Williams cover) (instrumental, Slash guitar solo)
Sweet Child O’ Mine
Sorry
Better
Out Ta Get Me
Slash & Richard Fortus Guitar Duet
(“Wish You Were Here” with “Layla” outro)
November Rain
Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door
(Bob Dylan cover)
Nightrain

Encore:

Jam
(“Angie” by the Rolling Stones)
Patience
The Seeker
(The Who cover)
Paradise City

Tweets:

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“Country is the new rock’n’roll”-Steven Tyler

Music reviews

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We’re All Somebody From Somewhere, Steven Tyler, Dot records, 2016.

“Country music is the new rock ’n’ roll, it’s not just about porches, dogs and kicking your boots up – it’s about being real.”-Steven Tyler

Steven Tyler gone country? Get Joe Perry, quick! Aerosmith, the bad boys of Boston, are best known as rock’n’rollers with strong association to blues music, not country. In all seriousness, it is not surprising that Steven Tyler decided to branch out with a solo album (his first ever) but it is a little odd to imagine him doing country, yet that’s precisely what he does with We’re All Somebody From Somewhere.

Steven is an ambassador of rock who takes pleasure invading whichever territory he sees fit; one day it’s being a judge on American ldol, the next it might be a role in a movie or yes, country music. Perhaps we should be accustomed to the unexpected with Steven Tyler by now.

Can we really blame Steven Tyler for trying his hand at country music? Bon Jovi took the country route with Lost Highway and the album was met with commercial success. Steven’s take on the genre is less formulaic, not as produced and ultimately, more honest. Part of the project ends up sounding very similar to Aerosmith which comes as little surprise because, after all, Steven’s voice is Aerosmith. I had my doubts initially, but it sounds like something the demon of screamin’ really wanted to put his heart and soul into.

“My Own Worst Enemy” starts the album softly. Not exactly the country I anticipated and not quite rock. Nor is it a ballad, but it slow-paced nonetheless. It’s surprising how good Tyler sounds for his age, most his peers haven’t aged nearly as well in the vocal department.

The title song “We’re All Somebody From Somewhere” is like Tyler; proud, loud and in your face.

“Hold On” features delicious guitar licks. Unfortunately, they stand in the shadows of unnecessarily loud percussions and the love-it-or-hate-it “radio” effect on Steven’s voice, both proving to be too much.

“Love Is Your Name” is well justified as a choice of single. With it’s southern vibe and summer feel the song has an authentic flavour.

The soft country-pop “Gypsy Girl” is the sleeper hit here as it will probably overlooked in favour of other tunes.

I’m fond of “Somebody New”, one of the most country-sounding songs of the album. It sports a hearty chorus with especially effective backing vocals.

Like much if the album, “Red, White & You is rooted in Country and Americana. The song has summer nights listening to the radio written all over it.

It should come to the surprise of exactly 0 people that Steven tackled Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart”. The song became one of Joplin’s most enduring songs, but it fits Tyler so well you’d think it was tailored for him. The Loving Mary Band backed him on this number as well as his last solo tour.

Tyler even takes a shot at covering his own band, Aerosmith, on “Jani’s Got A Gun”. Perhaps because it is acoustic, the song’s melancholic and dramatic qualities are more prominent in contrast to the classic version. It doesn’t touch the original, but I don’t dislike this version.

It’s sad to think of Steven Tyler without Aerosmith, but if we get there —and rumours of an impending farewell tour suggests it will— the 68 year-old has no problem reinventing himself and embracing a completely different musical style. I could see Tyler continue down this path or try his hand at any musical style he desires, and do so with success.

We’re All Somebody From Somewhere was met with much apprehension from fans who saw it as a roadblock for more Aerosmith. The album wasn’t made with Aerosmith in mind, or rock for that matter. Rather, it was a chance for Steven to jam with other musicians and satisfy a craving for something new and different. It is very much an experiment. Maybe not one that will be held with high regards by purists, but one that offers a few good songs and a detached, relaxed pace.

It is beneficial to listen with an open mind because there are really good songs to be discovered. A few of the songs on We’re All Somebody From Somewhere are better than some of the material on the last few Aerosmith albums. However, the die-hard Aerosmith fan might just have repeated spins of Toys In The Attic or Rocks to forget it exists.

rating: ***/*****

Relatabe, self-depricating and humorous

Book reviews, Uncategorized

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It Gets Worse, Shane Dawson, Keywords Press, 2016.

 

Wouldn’t you know it, there’s more self-deprecating humour where that came from! I rarely, if ever pre-order books, but I pre-ordered It Gets Worse by Shane Dawson on the basis of how much I enjoyed his first book.

Shane was one of the first YouTubers l truly paid attention to. He has become synonymous with the very word “YouTuber”. I found Dawson to be very relatable and engaging in his New York Times best seller I Hate Myselfie and by the end of the book I found myself wanting more. Well, more has arrived in the form of Shane’s new volume, It Gets Worse.

Despite its rather depressing title, it is not a negative book and it offers a glimmer of light for all struggling teenagers. While I can’t relate on a personal basis to every (or even most) events described by Shane, he has the ability to be personable and connect with his audience. As proven with his first volume, his ability to reach his audience begins, but doesn’t end behind a computer screen. Dawson is witty, charming and displays surprising dept. He’s watchable but also happens to be highly readable as well. Whether it’s stories of his family pretending to win the lottery or a difficult heartbreak, the book is hard to put down.

I must say I like Shane’s second book more than the first. While I Hate Myselfie was a funny collection of first experiences and essays of embarrassing stories, It Gets Worse picks deep at the metaphorical scabs on the YouTuber’s skin.

We find here a more mature Shane Dawson —that’s not to say he gets all philosophical on us plans to stop making Galaxy videos— he’s just more comfortable with himself and aware. There are some darker moments and references to suicide and Dawson wanting to die as a teenager, but those are not including for comedic purposes. They are honest thoughts he had as he went through adolescence.

The beloved YouTuber has won his battle with depression and perhaps his tale can inspire his following. When Shane tackles his confused feelings about his own sexuality, unrequited loves and life lessons learned he allows himself to be completely exposed.

Most adults would likely gain very little from reading It Gets Worse as they may not completely grasp Shane’s brand of humour. I believe reading about these experiences can be truly beneficial for a teenager going through the hardships that come with adolescence. It gives them a sense of understand and tells them that they are understood. Besides, it’s not all gloom and doom, there are some laugh-out-loud moments in these pages!

For the record, I’ll still watch every Galaxy video you make, Shane. 4/5 stars.