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