Month: June 2014

Red Dwarf I, episode 6: “Me2”

Red Dwarf I, episode 6: “Me2”

Written by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor; originally transmitted 21st March 1988.

As you may notice, it’s been a long time since I wrote about Red Dwarf, for which there were a number of reasons. Firstly, assignments. Oh boy, were there assignments. Secondly, as odd and self-defeating as it may seem, a three-year English with Creative Writing course can seriously affect your enthusiasm for writing, which put me off completing this post for a while. Thirdly, and this might be the most important point, this is a pretty shambolic episode that I struggled for a long time to structure into a coherent review. If the episode itself is all over the place, how am I supposed to write about it consistently? But I managed and, well, here we are.

That title actually reads “Me-squared” but WordPress won’t let me use superscript which, given all their other nifty features, is a bit of a shame. The reason behind the title is clear to anyone who watched the previous episode: at the end of that story, Rimmer managed to trick Lister into duplicating his hologram. Why he didn’t simply switch the other holo-Rimmer off immediately after realising what he’d done, I have no idea, but it means that now, instead of having to deal with one obnoxious, repulsive smeghead, Lister has to deal with two. Rimmer-squared.

Actually, that doesn’t square Rimmer at all, does it? One squared is one, so Rimmer-squared would be… Rimmer. Eh, never mind. On with the episode.

This is one of the few Red Dwarf episodes whose plot follows on directly from the previous story, with Lister clearing out Rimmer’s stuff from their room. The presence of two Rimmers aboard Red Dwarf should be what we might lightly call a “nightmare situation” for Lister, yet oddly enough he’s actually rather pleased at the prospect. The two Arnold Rimmers, naturally ebullient at the thought of spending so much time with each other, have moved in to their own bunk together, leaving Lister on his own to basically go mental from the “mega-ecstasy-bliss” of freedom. That bit where he puts the socks back into the basket is a nice touch – possibly a little nod to the audience that Lister needs Rimmer’s authoritarianism more than he realises, or at least that it’s had some effect on him. What we also get from these opening scenes is that Rimmer thinks Lister is to blame for his lack of success, always holding him back. We’ll see how that goes.

Just then Lister discovers video footage of Rimmer’s death, complete with a eulogy by Rimmer himself. Rimmer giving himself a long-winded eulogy? That makes so much sense it physically hurts. I don’t recall if we were made aware of it before, but the video confirms that Rimmer was responsible for the radiation leak that wiped out the crew. It also features Rimmer’s final words: “gazpacho soup”. Lister is understandably puzzled by this and endeavours to figure out what it means. That makes up his plot for the story and, honestly, we probably learn more about Rimmer and his past than we do when Rimmer is actually on screen. The bit with his diary is a classic moment that utterly crystallises what Rimmer is all about: glory without the work required to achieve it. The fact that he would torment himself by putting “gazpacho soup” in his own diary is also perfectly typical of the man’s character.

Things soon turn very sour, however, as the Rimmers have a bit of a bust-up. Actually, it’s quite an aggressive bust-up; and although we never really learn the cause of their lovers’ tiff, after five episodes of getting to know Rimmer and his attitude towards others, you probably won’t need more than one guess – Rimmer’s natural antagonism and arrogance towards others has turned on him in a very literal sense. So there you are: even Rimmer can’t stand Rimmer. Mind you, other-Rimmer does seem to be a lot more antagonistic and malicious than the one we’re familiar with; perhaps because other-Rimmer hasn’t had the (albeit brief) character growth ours has had over these past four-and-a-half episodes or so. For the most part our Rimmer cowers and simpers in other-Rimmer’s company like a child, which is actually quite disconcerting. It’s a startling vulnerability for someone so abrasive and arrogant, but it perfectly emphasises Rimmer’s situation: even after shutting himself away with a perfect clone, his life doesn’t run smoothly. He only has himself to blame now and he clearly can’t handle it. Sad but funny – that’s Red Dwarf for you.

Eventually Lister has had enough and demands that one of the Rimmers be shut off. Longtime fans may notice a parallel here between this episode and series 2’s “Queeg”, but while Holly and Queeg played chess to determine who should stay online, it’s just a case of future eenie-meenie-miney-mo that decides the original Rimmer has to go. Of course, we’re perfectly aware as viewers that the “real” Rimmer is the one sacrificing himself in front of us, but the dramatic irony makes for a great tense reading on Chris Barrie’s part – especially as he finally relates the meaning of the “gazpacho soup” riddle. If you don’t know what it is already I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s as perfectly goofy, cruel and brilliant as Red Dwarf gets. After Lister squeezes that out of his subject, he admits that he already wiped the alternate Rimmer and, therefore, the “real” Rimmer’s suffering, honesty and whiskeys were all for nothing. And that’s that. Plot-wise “Me2” is a shambles, but it’s an amusing shambles with some funny set-pieces. The final scene is quite touching and demonstrates how the character of Rimmer has grown over these mere six episodes, along with the character dynamic of the two men (still not getting much from Cat at this point).

SOME PIFFLE

  • “We have enough food to last thirty-thousand years, but we’ve only got one After Eight mint left, and everyone’s too polite to take it.”
  • You have to love this show’s irreverent attitude towards death. It’s inevitable – you might as well laugh about it.
  • Nice little run-through of all the ways Lister has irritated Rimmer and vice versa. Adding a little depth to their relationship while making us laugh – and not once do they describe how they’re feeling (I’m looking at you, Big Bang Theory).
  • It’s interesting how Rimmer’s salute had already become so noteworthy by this point that they were able to riff on it with Lister’s parody and get a decent laugh.
  • Like I’ve said before, Cat gets very little to do in these early episodes, but what he gets is usually very funny, and his scenes in this episode are no exception. Why does he still think there are other cats on-board, though?
  • Little logic-pick that I never really thought about before: why do Rimmer and Lister still share a room at this point? With all the other empty rooms on Red Dwarf, they could sleep as far away from each other as possible. I suppose it’s Rimmer’s insistence that they stay in the room they’ve been assigned, even though he can’t stand Lister and Lister can’t stand him. I’m making this up, of course, but you know it to be true.
  • Arnold J. Rimmer, BSc, SSc. Still one of Red Dwarf‘s finest gags, in my opinion.
  • I’m going to assume the Citizen Kane reference in the “eulogy” was a deliberate inclusion on Rimmer’s part. Again, you just know it’s something he’d do.
  • I’ll admit, Holly had me going for a moment there as well. Brilliant bit.
  • There’s something very Pythonesque about that Titan Taj Mahal commercial.
  • Lovely unspoken touch in the cinema scene: the sign behind them has both the English and Esperanto words for “cinema.” What are the odds that Rimmer insisted on putting that there in his ceaseless quest to learn Esperanto?
  • “Soup-er.”

Even in its early stages Red Dwarf was capable of balancing character study with standard sitcom humour, something I’d never appreciated before writing these reviews. If the show hadn’t received a second series this wouldn’t make for a bad final episode at all, ending with enough character growth and the delicious cruelty so intrinsic to this show to make a satisfying conclusion. That said, they did get a second series, as well as many others, so, ah, expect all that growth on Rimmer’s part to be somewhat less prominent as we head into series two.

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A Thousand or so Words on That Mötley Crüe Country Tribute

As they said themselves, all bad things must come to an end (except war, disease, famine, corruption, prejudice…) and, after more than three decades together, Mötley Crüe got together in January 2014 to announce their impending retirement that may or may not actually be a retirement. They’re going out with a bang, though, and to celebrate the end of an era they’ve gathered together some goodies for us to enjoy as the sun sets: a farewell world tour; a movie adaptation of their bestselling autobiography The Dirt; and, er, a country music tribute album, Nashville Outlaws. So instead of that new Mötley Crüe EP/album we were promised a while back, this is what we’re getting. Am I permitted to not give too much of a hoot about this?

But let’s hoot anyway. This album has been brought to you courtesy of Big Machine Records, one of the most prominent country music labels operating at the moment and, according to this website at least, one of the most toxic. As far as I can tell all the artists on here (apart from LeAnn Rimes – she’s on this, by the way) are signed to the label, which is why you might not recognise some of the names and might have a beef with some artists that weren’t included, if you’re into that sort of thing. I don’t have much of a vested interest in country music so I can’t really speak up about whether this singer or that band should have been here, but I am a big fan of the Crüe, so I feel like I have something to say here – and that something is, “wait, what?”

See, I’m torn as to whether I should pick this up or not. It’s not like the Ronnie James Dio tribute back in March, which featured artists I love paying tribute to one of the greatest metal singers of all time. Nashville Outlaws is more of a weird curiosity – it’s not necessarily a good or bad concept, just a bizarre one. A country music tribute to this band could work, but who asked for it? When have Mötley Crüe ever shown any inclination towards country music? This is the equivalent of a funk tribute to Whitesnake, or a metalcore tribute to Duran Duran. This isn’t some small endeavour, either – this was promoted by the band and heavily advertised as one of the pinnacles of the Crüe’s farewell celebrations, alongside a film and a major tour. They want us to believe this is a big deal. So is it?

Well, let’s have a look at the songs being covered. For the most part it’s the usual suspects – “Home Sweet Home“, “Kickstart My Heart“, “Looks That Kill“, etc. – which should please most people and surprise absolutely no-one. Personally I would have had these artists attempt something like “Bastard” or “Hooligan’s Holiday“, just to hear the results, but that’s why I’m not a record producer. As for noteworthy entries, current bro-country flagwavers Florida Georgia Line have puzzlingly opted to re-record the track “If I Die Tomorrow“, a song that first appeared on the Crüe’s 2005 greatest hits album and which was written for them by the band Simple Plan. Dig as deep as you can, I suppose, and their popularity at the moment might ignite some mainstream interest in the record, but it’s not really the best example of Mötley Crüe’s sound or aesthetic. Eli Young Band covering “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)” should be worth a listen, as should Aaron Lewis attempting the Crüe’s nervy alt-rock experiment “Afraid“. One choice that personally stands out is “The Animal in Me” by Cassadee Pope with Robin Zander. Now, I despise that song – it might just be my least favourite Crüe song of all time – but it’s always cool to hear Robin Zander singing these days (especially as it doesn’t seem a new Cheap Trick record is coming out any time soon) and from what I’ve heard of Pope’s music I’m sure she’ll handle it well. You never know, they might even persuade me to give the original another chance.

And there’s the rub: I’m positive this’ll be professionally put together, the songs will be well performed and everything will sound great, which doesn’t give me much ammunition to criticise it with. My only major concern is that it doesn’t seem as if it should exist in the first place. If we really wanted to pay homage to one of the most outrageous rock bands of all time, wouldn’t it have been more fitting to assemble some artists who actually took some notable influence from them? Buckcherry, maybe, or The Last Vegas? Mötley Crüe aren’t even from Nashville – they’re the quintessential Sunset Strip band. To me, this seems more like an opportunity to promote the record label and its signings than an attempt to symbolise what Mötley Crüe were about – and honestly, do Florida Georgia Line really need any more promotion?

At least, to his credit, Big Machine head honcho Scott Borchetta has stated that he wants the artists “to strip down the songs to just the acoustic guitar and rebuild them with their own vision,” which is a fair enough sentiment. But why Crüe? That hard rock aggression was a big part of their sound – it provided a menacing backdrop to their sleaze antics and gave them a sense of danger (or, at least, more so than other hair metal bands at the time). Songs like “Wild Side” aren’t just great because they’re catchy – it’s because they ROCK. Stripping back these songs might be an admirable attempt at reinventing them, but it doesn’t automatically make for a worthwhile product or effort.

It can work, mind you: that slow acoustic version of Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades” is pretty sweet, but at least with that the band actually did rebuild the song, giving it a swampy blues swing in contrast to the original’s punk ferocity. Can we expect similar imagination from these Nashville Outlaws? I’d like to think so but, given that country music itself isn’t doing so great in terms of inventiveness at the moment, I really can’t say.

Anyway, news on the album keeps cropping up every now and then, which is why I feel compelled now to say something about it before it’s released in a couple of months time. I might pick it up one day, but I’m in no hurry to have any of these artists in my iTunes library. What do you think?

5SOS, “American Idiot” and the Pop-Punk Question

So there’s been a bit of a wind blowing about a cover of Green Day’s “American Idiot” that current pop wundertwerps 5 Seconds of Summer have recorded for a Kerrang! compilation. I’ve had a listen to the cover and, frankly, it’s fine enough. It doesn’t change a whole lot about the original song – not that there were that many elements to change around anyway – and will probably make a decent inclusion on this compilation.

So why the fuss? Well, for many people this is now enough to signify that 5 Seconds of Summer are, by all means, a punk rock band. Certainly a lot of their fans on Twitter seem to think so, and it’s even prompted Digital Spy to ask the question of whether or not they can be called one. People are calling 5 Seconds of Summer punk rock, which I guess means that punk is well and truly dead. I’m not even quoting the tweets – I just don’t have the heart.

5 Seconds of Summer are not punk. If you want to be extremely apologetic you could call them pop-punk, but even that would be incorrect. In my opinion, pop-punk does not, can not and should not exist. Punk was a reaction to the music scene, establishment and highly-conservative society of its day (even though the government at that time was a Labour one – weird). It was ugly, forceful and deliberately provocative, from the music to the lyrics to the aesthetic of its musicians and fans. It opened the floodgates for a generation of budding musicians, unable to keep up with the Gilmours and Blackmores of the day, to pick up their guitars and have a bash at rock ‘n’ roll.

But most of all, punk had something to say that 5 Seconds of Summer don’t and probably never will: it represented a section of society fed up with the way things were. It wanted to rattle cages because, well, how else were things going to change? Whether or not it actually did alter the system is questionable (the fact that a Conservative government, led by Britain’s most divisive prime minister to this day, entered power a few years later would suggest not), but at least they had a voice now. What do 5 Seconds of Summer have to say? “Girls are pretty”? Well garsh gee, I needed to be told that, didn’t I? Fight the Man!!!

I’m not a big fan of punk music myself but I respect what it did and what it stood for, and at least I have it to thank for inspiring the NWOBHM and thrash metal scenes of the Eighties. Something as rebellious, aggressive and anti-establishment as punk only gets connected to the calculated, polished, business-driven sound of pop music by businessmen wanting to give their product an “edge” to make them seem dangerous and sexy, but it’s an oxymoron. Pop and punk go together like rats and rat poison – all you get is a twitchy, depressing mess that needs to be put out of its misery. 5 Seconds of Summer are punk for boring people who think punk music starts and ends with fast guitars and a catchy melody. By that logic Deep Purple’s “Fireball” could be considered punk, or Queen’s “Stone Cold Crazy“, and those songs came out several years before the punk explosion.

5 Seconds of Summer are, at best, college rock: pumped-up, heavily-melodic cheese for people who should know better. I suppose Green Day are the closest thing we have nowadays to a punk band in the mainstream, but I’d even go so far as to call them college rock, or at least the song “American Idiot”. What’s more college-y than someone ranting about the establishment? Simple riffs, bratty, nasally vocals and lyrics about “The Man” are punk simplified to an insultingly shallow degree.

What’s more, 5 Seconds of Summer didn’t even write one of these themselves – they just covered one. Every other thing they’ve written is the same three-chord, puppy-love nonsense you’d expect from a bunch of polished, grinning teen idols who wouldn’t know a proper riff if it slammed them into an American Apparel delivery van. Even Busted had more to say about the real world than these guys. Even McFly had more to say (and at least McFly wrote “Lies“. I don’t even feel guilty about liking that one). You want loud guitars, passionate vocals, killer melodies and lyrics that at least aspire to mean something from a modern band? Check out Heaven’s Basement or Million Dollar Reload, bands that could actually use your time and attention, not a group whose name sounds like an ad slogan for moisturiser.

If you do insist on listening to them, though, here’s the cover to judge for yourself. As for me, I have to go wash my ears out with some Kill ‘Em All.

A Little Blog Update

Happy June, I guess!

As you can tell, there’s been a bit of a dry spell for the Crash Course recently (that’s final year assignments for ya); and now that Eurovision has come and gone I’ve been thinking of ways to try and inject some regular blood back into it. I realise I’m still writing about Red Dwarf and I promise that “Me2” write-up is coming – I just haven’t had the time to properly focus my thoughts on what is already a pretty messy episode. I’ve also got a bunch of albums I’ve been meaning to review dating back to February: again, the problem is time, but I’ve also been struggling to find a review format that works for me. I’ve already proven I can handle both the prose and track-by-track reviews competently, but I can’t decide which works best. I suppose I could alternate between the two.

So, at the moment I’m looking to the future as I slowly crawl my way there. I’ve got one last paper to sit before my summer begins, at which point I plan to get back into reading and writing for pleasure again. There’s a few albums coming up that I’d like to review, along with the aforementioned back-log, and eventually I might even wade through my CD collection and have a poke at some of my older records. I wouldn’t mind also reviewing some current television and co-opting some of that sweet, sexy Dan’s Media Digest audience – new series of Doctor Who comin’ up, eh? Eh? – but for now I think I’ll stick to my nostalgia.

I’ve also been giving some thought to doing regular pop song reviews to keep the seat warm on this blog, so to speak, but given my general apathy towards pop music these days I might throw some rock song reviews in there as well to keep things interesting. Yes, rock bands are still releasing music, and I mean proper balls-to-the-wall rock music. Rock ain’t dead, people – it just went underground and, if I’m honest, it’s doing mighty fine where it is. When these talking heads say guitar music should make a comeback they usually mean that insipid, executive-driven, three-chord, indie-landfill dreck we were subjected to in the mid-Noughties and, frankly, that can stay wherever it is. But that’s another rant for another day.

So that’s how things are. How about some links? For anyone who’s even remotely interested in what kind of music I listen to I recently finished uploading all my albums to my Collectorz database, which you can have a nosey at here. I regularly scrobble to Last.fm as well, so you can get an idea of what I’m listening to these days here. Like everybody else I’m also on Twitter, so if you’re gagging for even more extended silence from me you can follow me on there.

To cap things off for now, though, here’s some Vintage Trouble. Why? Because Vintage Trouble are great. You’re welcome.