Does It Offend You, Yeah? – Don’t Say We Didn’t Warn You

DIOYY painted themselves into a bit of a corner with their brilliant debut “You Have No Idea What You’re Getting Yourself Into” it seems. It was mad, jumping almost seamlessly from Daft Punkian house via guitar-heavy grime metal to melody-driven power-pop, often sounding like a split-LP made by four separate bands from vastly different musical backgrounds. And despite this, it still managed to avoid sounding fragmented or lacking identity. It was eclectic and it’s schizophrenic delivery made perfect sense in context. But where do you go when you’ve already gone everywhere at once?

It had to happen. They had to go nuts to go anywhere at all. Almost everything that made “You Have No Idea How Annoying These Long Album Titles Are To Type Out” so glamorously insane  and insanely good is still here in plentiful supply but it’s been hypercharged since last time. The beats are grimier, the riffs are heavier, the vocals are louder and the melodies are catchier. “Don’t Say…” is an intense experience to say the least, especially due to the causalities the production must have suffered in the Loudness War. Seriously, it sometimes hurts to listen to with headphones if you’re too careless with that volume knob. Everything is louder and bigger and grander and more monstrous than last time, and the only price was that the red thread holding all their disparate elements together snapped like a dead twig.

The heavy is heavier and the soft is softer and somewhere along the line the curtains seized to match the carpet, as it were. There is a good deal of decent songwriting here but you won’t find a “Dawn Of The Dead” or “We Are Rockstars” among this bunch, which would be an unfair comparison had the album retained the same sense of maniacal structure as its predecessor. As it is, it lacks the flow of a cohesive album and this forces the songs to stand up to scrutiny more on their individual merit than before, and they don’t quite measure up as well as hoped. “We Are The Dead“, “Pull Out My Insides” and the Prodigyesque “John Hurt” are proof as good as any that “You Have No Idea…” was no fluke, but I miss a few real stand-out “oh shit” moments. Everything’s a bit over-considered and under-cooked, but when it comes down to it, this is still a gratifying and fun album, just not as expertly crooked as their previous. Those second albums, eh?

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Those Dancing Days – Daydreams & Nightmares

You could make a fetching argument that this second album by Nacka quintet Those Dancing Days is angrier and more obstinate than their 2008 debut. First single, the excellent “Fuckarias,” would be a great Exhibit A in such a case with its scowling put-down chorus “You’re an uninvited clowed, a foolish puppy with a too long tongue” and thunderously intense tempo. If you want to, you could call it their “Brianstorm” and get away with it.

But the truth is that TDD were never ones for compromise, and Daydreams & Nightmares is not so much a darker and edgier album as it is a  natural progression of what they already set in motion three years ago. TDD makes power pop with a disarming directness to it, laden with memorable melodies and particularly catching rhythms. From opener “Reaching Forward” it’s a solid ride almost all the way to the end, catchy and accessible without sacrificing any of the substance. At times they channel The Cure in “Forest Of Love” and other times Florence + The Machine in “Keep Me In Your Pocket,” constantly to great effect.

TDD have grown into a more unyielding unit as a band and shed their twee teenage skin with grace, creating a easily lovable collection of fun pop tunes. More importantly, they are clearly having a good time doing it and that joy seeps through the headphones and will infect you and you’ll thank them for it. The bar has been set and we’ll see who manages to fly over it in the remaining 9 months, but until then this is the best 2011 has to offer so far.

Listen to Daydreams & Nightmares on Spotify.

Drive Angry 3D: You’d Quite Like Him When He’s Angry

In one sentence: Drive Angry features the second finest gunfight/sex scene in recent years.

That just about sums up everything you need to know about Patrick Lussier’s insane action mess. It’s aiming to settle in the same chaotic grindhouse where the Crank’s, Shoot ‘Em Up and, well, Grindhouse, spends their weekends putting infants in danger amongst flipping cars and oversized explosions. What I’m saying is that Drive Angry can comfortably slot in somewhere in the living room but won’t be in charge of the remote. Presumably, the remote is on fire. Also, it’s actually a gun.

Drive Angry is knowingly gratuitous and it takes great pleasure and pride in being limitlessly stupid. The only problem is that it’s not quite as mad as it probably could and should be, which is saying something for a film where 95% of the starring cast end up as roadkill before the credits roll. That’s not to say that Drive Angry doesn’t fulfil the promises of it’s premise. Nicolas Cage plays hell-fleeing Milton with a barely repressed glee as he drifts cars, causes explosions and delivers shlock one-liners like he was born to do it – which he obviously was. He’s joined by Amber Heard, a no-nonsense southern lass with a heart of gold and fists of fury, and William Fichtner whose Accountant very much becomes the film’s heart and soul. Sadly, his role in the film is negligible but the few times he rears his cool, well-dressed apparition the film takes a turn for the awesomer.

The pace does sadly grind to a halt at times which is a debilitating flaw for a film of this kind. This mostly occurs when the main antagonist, a crazed cult leader played by Billy Burke takes centre stage. He plays his supposedly maniacal messiah figure with nothing but dull apprehension and he can’t manage to make his evil villain feel threatening or interesting. For a man who has the supposed command of a massive number of suicidally dedicated followers he is awfully uncharismatic and it is hard to see how he has massed up such a posse when he seems so thoroughly inept at this cult business. For a satanic sect, there really isn’t much personality to these people at all and that’s a shame, especially when the movie’s centre of gravity is the ritualistic murder of an infant – think Paul Giamatti’s wonderfully sadistic villain in Shoot ‘Em Up. I’m just saying, I was expecting more ham from these people, but I suppose I shouldn’t ask too many how’s and why’s about a film that could have been written by the designer of Meat Loaf’s album covers.

In the end, Drive Angry’s cheques are cashed. Nicolas Cage is a delight as always and the 3D gimmicks match the spectacle of the effects to satisfaction. It’s only real blemish is that it can’t bring itself to truly Statham-like levels of madness at the same ratio as its betters, but at least it aims for the moon and manages to blow up a few satellites and scattered airliners on its way to the stars. Which are presumably also blown up in the process.

Paul: Not Nearly As Bad As You Think

Really, that headline feels a bit off, doesn’t it? This is, after all, a loving genre spoof starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost with some geek referencing framing an otherwise formulaic comedy centre. It’s worked to near-perfection before, in movies I don’t think I need to mention by name here. But then again as soon as the first droplets of information started pouring out from the Paul production, a subtle but uneasy sensation overtook the enthusiasm. While the mere presence of the cast, an ensemble collecting the aforementioned Brits with prime Yankee talents like Jason Bateman and Kristen Wiig, sounded promising enough, the trailers and posters gave you another idea entirely. It’s like we’re not allowed to advertise comedies as funny anymore at risk of offending the Friedberg/Seltzer demographic.

Nothing says fun quite like a list of nouns and mustard yellow.

But Paul isn’t as bad as the ad campaign wants you to believe. Yes, we’ve seen this story of the two slackers getting into hijinks with an odd third party before and yes, it’s no Shaun or Fuzz. Paul is standard-fare comedy but manages to stand out, in our trying times that has allowed for three Big Momma movies, by also being quite funny. Pegg and Frost know and love the genre and when they allow that to shine through, Paul excels. The references range from obvious to delightfully obscure and work to actually make the jokes funnier rather than just for tired fan-service (something they should have taught Edgar Wright and Scott Pilgrim might not have been such a mess).

Jokes do fall flat, especially the hackneyed running gags. Isn’t it funny when two male friends are mistaken for a gay couple? And when someone who isn’t very good a cursing curses? And if you find people fainting hilarious you’re in luck – it’s the punchline for two subplots. The committee-mandated love story is also one of the most ham-fisted attempts at romance in any movie ever made, to the point that it makes Amidala and Anakin seem positively naturalistic. Funny how these are the moments the international trailer focuses on, because that’s what we are assumed to find funny.

The fish out of water-plot reminded me of Michael starring John Travolta, a comedy road movie about a wayward angel with a taste for smoking and booze, being driven through America by a gang of initial  disbelievers-turned-friends before ascending back to his home in the skies. Now, Michael was a mess in more ways than one, most of them to do with it being boring to a punishing degree (it starred William Hurt), but it’s main flaw was that Travolta’s angel just wasn’t likeable, despite the entire premise banking on it. Paul excels in this regard and Seth Rogen does a fine job as the voice and mocap of the little alien, making him work as a believable E.T. for the Apatow-generation. What can I say, you start to like the guy and the film is better because of it.

Ultimately, Paul does what it wants, entertains you and then returns to whatever star system it may have come from. Team Pegg Frost manages to maintain enough of what makes their comedic partnership great, but as soon as they force themselves to dilute the comedy for the benefit of that awful intangible mass “general audiences” they lose sight of the funny. Don’t let the trailers fool you, though; Paul is a solid, funny comedy adventure and that’s more than most of us were expecting.

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