Posts Tagged ‘imagination’

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Madonna – MDNA (album review.)

March 28, 2012

MDNA is Madonna’s 12th studio album (depending on what you include / exclude) and it’s an improvement on her last effort, Hard Candy, simply because there’s a higher strike rate of really good tracks. It’s no Ray of Light, Bedtime Stories or American Life (her most introspective albums and not coincidentally, her best – let the debate begin!), but we get more of an insight into Madonna the Human Being than we have in possibly 10 years.

Not that you’d know it from the two singles that have been released: “Give Me All Your Luvin'” is a straightforward ‘fun’ track which has had a lot of the fun ironed out of it. Madonna’s vocal sounds flat, the production sounds a little lacklustre, and while Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. acquit themselves well during their verses, their presence is unnecessary. The melody is perky but calculated, the cheerleader chants are hooky but calculated – the whole thing is a perfectly acceptable pop song, but it sounds so desperate to be joyful that it ends up losing a lot of charm. “Girl Gone Wild” serves well as an album opener, but again it sounds dated for Madonna – which means bang-on-trend with what’s in the charts – and unimaginative. The lyrics are uninspired, the melody is catchy and you will be humming it after a couple of listens. In this sense, the singles both do their job, but there’s much more exciting stuff on the album.

Which, take my advice, should be sequenced thus:

01. Girl Gone Wild
02. Gang Bang
03. I’m Addicted
04. Some Girls
05. Turn Up The Radio
06. I Don’t Give A (Feat. Nicki Minaj)
07. Give Me All Your Luvin’ (Feat. Nicki Minaj & M.I.A.)
08. B-Day Song (Feat. M.I.A.)
09. Superstar
10. I’m A Sinner
11. Love Spent
12. Beautiful Killer
13. Best Friend
14. I Fucked Up
15. Masterpiece
16. Falling Free

I am never usually one to mess with how an artist envisions their album by cherry-picking individual songse, or by listening to things on shuffle. I am very in favour of the idea of an album being treated and listened to as a body of work. However, I gave this track list (which I found on the Popjustice forums) a go and it seems to flow so much better. It stacks the harder-edged songs at the front of the album, followed by a sunny middle section and winding down towards the slower songs at the end.

“Gang Bang” is my favourite song on the album. A revenge anthem featuring menacingly-spoken vocals (reminiscent of Dita from Erotica) atop a minimal beat, a dubstep breakdown (again, bang on trend / a little passé, but it works well in this instance) and screams of “DRIVE BITCH! AND WHILE YOU’RE AT IT DIE BITCH!”, it’s irresistible, edgy, a little silly (Madonna does not need to prove she is edgy and ‘down with the kids’ by swearing, but never mind), and it totally works. I can’t help but think of The Bride from Kill Bill when I listen to this song. Even though it would be an extremely weird choice for a single, this song is so cinematic that it deserves a video. “I’m Addicted” is the “Impressive Instant” of the album – swirling synths and insistent beats piling on top of each other to provide a climactic finish, while Madonna abandons insightful lyrics such as “all of the letters push to the front of my mouth, and saying your name is somewhere between a prayer and a shout” in favour of hedonistically chanting “M D N A M D N A” over and over.

And so we come to the album title. It’s a cool way of writing “Madonna”. Madonna has also said that the songs on this album display her musical DNA, so that also makes sense. And then, it also sounds like MDMA – which is a drug (hence the aforementioned refrain) and implies that Madonna’s new music is addictive. It’s a well-chosen title that has layers of meaning – well done to all concerned! The album cover (I am talking about the deluxe cover, above – the standard is pretty but doesn’t really go beyond that) shows Madonna posing behind a ridged glass screen which slices up the picture into discordant segments and perhaps represents an impenetrable layer between us, the listeners, and her, the performer / musical icon. The super-bright colours then pack a punch to the eye, and also reference a psychedelic, drugged-up state. Drugs like MDMA! I am spelling this out. The most intense colour comes from Madonna’s lips however, which is also important – she always takes centre stage. And her lips are where her voice comes from (sort of – you know what I mean) and Madonna is a Singer. Yes.

Back to the music then. “I Don’t Give A” is another standout track which has an urban quality to the beat. It discusses the hectic schedule of a star on Madonna’s level, and how she does ten things at once without feeling the pressure, because she doesn’t give a. It’s a defiant moment that’s further strengthened by another strong rap from Nicki Minaj, and tops out with an operatic choir repeating “I don’t give a”. As we’ll learn later on in the album however, Madonna does give a. “Love Spent”, “Best Friend” and “I Fucked Up” are introspection done right (unlike “Falling Free”, which is an epic ballad marred by Madonna’s incredibly mannered delivery and too little momentum too late). “Love Spent” switches up halfway through from practically one song to another with little more than a hook in common, but the same theme pervades throughout – if love were money, would you spend it on me? Would you care about me as much as your money? It sounds ironic for Madonna (who is not poor) to be discussing this, but then again, why can’t she? Everyone can relate to the feeling of coming second best in a relationship, regardless of whether either member of the couple is wealthy or not. It’s an emotional moment that is buoyed by a strong melody and interesting musical touches (such as the opening guitar and the Nintendo bleeps). “Best Friend” and “I Fucked Up” are apparently about her divorce from Guy Ritchie, and the demise of their relationship. Now, I know that it is easy to attribute these lyrics to that experience which the whole public knows about- and Madonna has had a couple of relationships since then (one of which was with Jesus!) – but it sounds pretty convincingly like Guy was on her mind when she wrote these tracks.  “Best Friend” talks about losing someone Madonna was very close to, and reflecting upon the time they shared together – “It wasn’t always good but it wasn’t always bad”. The fact that time has passed between the divorce and the album has allowed Madonna to apportion the blame where it lies on both sides – as well as Guy being the subject of her vitriol on other tracks, “I Fucked Up” sees her take some responsibility for the relationship’s demise. “I blamed you when things didn’t go my way… In front of you, I was cold.” Listing a number of the things that the couple could have done makes for some heart-wrenching listening, even as the production picks up speed. Although parts of the album sound manufactured for radio (like the singles) and others see her aim blindly for the craziest dancefloors, these tracks are where Madonna is open and sounds honest, rather than pre-meditated.

Other songs that deserve a mention are “Some Girls” and its basic but essential proclamation: “Some girls are not like me”; “Superstar” and its sugar-sweet hook of “Ooh la la, you’re my superstar”  (I imagine this song as being great for driving along to); the romantic “Masterpiece” which is somewhat cliché but manages to remain elegant and understated. On the other hand, weaker points of the album include “I’m A Sinner” which sounds like “Beautiful Stranger” (and I didn’t like that song either), and the ridiculous “B-Day Song” which wastes M.I.A.’s talents and doesn’t match up to the quality of the rest of the album. However, it’s relaxed nature reveals that Madonna probably had genuine fun recording this track, and it’s nice to hear a song that’s so unguarded. Perhaps it should have remained a b-side.

Overall, MDNA is a good album. It’s not outstanding as a whole, but it contains a fair few excellent moments. The songs are cohesive enough to feel like they belong (with a couple of exceptions), while varied enough to retain interest. There’s genuine introspection, braggadocio and hedonism – which is what we want from Madonna. It’s a shame that some of the album feels so calculated that it detracts from our enjoyment of the material. But once you can look past that, MDNA provides a trip well worth taking.

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Cooking in 2012 – February: Lasagne.

February 2, 2012

So this month I made a dish that I have in fact made a couple of times in the past: lasagne. I love it, it’s perfect for the extremely cold weather we’re currently experiencing, and it’s Italian and therefore I should be able to make this in my sleep. I felt confident that I could impress Toby with this one, and be able to do it without any help.

Hah!

I used this recipe as a basis, but it was kinda confusing. My first big stumbling block was “crush the garlic to a paste with the edge of a knife”. Now, I don’t know if you have ever tried this, but it’s fucking difficult. I got irritated (because chopping the vegetables and preparing everything had taken a surprisingly long time), ranted on twitter, had a cigarette, and then just decided to chop the garlic cloves into really small pieces, smoosh them up, and call it sufficient.

My next issue was the completely unclear nature of the recipe. You put the carrot in after everything has been cooking for quite a long time? Huh? And you stir in the oregano practically at the end? Why? Most importantly, it never tells you to take the fried mince off the warm plate and back in a saucepan to mix it with the rest of the ingredients for the meat sauce. It leaves this completely to your imagination. Now, common sense dictates you would eventually reach the conclusion that this is what you have to do (and with Toby’s reassurance, I got there) – but I am far from a confident cook. Even though I have made this recipe before, I don’t ever remember it being so complicated or confusing, and recipes not spelling everything out for me explicitly is A BIG PROBLEM.

But we got there. I cheated and bought some white sauce rather than making it from scratch – this was probably a good move because as it was, we didn’t end up eating the finished lasagne until 9:45pm. Which is late. But it was very very nice – and better than a shop-bought one! I was proud!

With a night’s perspective on the whole matter, I can now ask myself the big question: Was it worth all the money I spent on ingredients, and all the time I spent stressing and preparing and cooking and washing up? I am very hesitant to say “yes”, to be honest. I did learn a lot from the experience, such as:

  • as much as I want to be independent, sometimes it’s vital to ask for help.
  • as time-consuming as cooking and preparing ingredients can be, you can always do chores / errands in the interim while the food is cooking / baking. Which is satisfying.
  • I take after my mother, as the Italian side of me is clearly a fashionista rather than a foodie (though my waistline lately might disagree). Oh well.

I am trying really hard with this cooking thing, and it is a resolution that I made so I will see it through for the whole year. And I sincerely hope that as I gain more experience with cooking, it will be less traumatic. But at this point, I genuinely hate it. I can’t lie – as good as my lasagne tasted, and as convenient as it was that I got two meals’ worth out of it (I finished the leftovers off tonight), I would have much preferred to have bought a ready-made lasagne from a supermarket and warmed it up. Less stress, more time to enjoy my evening with Toby, and less money wasted on ingredients – the remnants of which are now sitting in my fridge until I throw them away in a few days’ time. Perhaps if my circumstances change in the future, I will have more motivation to cook a meal for two more often – and perhaps a better kitchen to cook them in! But for now, at least Toby seemed to enjoy the meal (which is a big plus), and my family sounded impressed when I told them on the phone.

Next, I want to attempt to make Toby a moussaka the way my nan makes it – which is amazing. I don’t expect to live up to her lofty standards, but I will give it a go! Eep.

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creative instincts.

November 2, 2011

So I have been a busy bee and I haven’t had much time to write on this blog. But moreover, I haven’t really had anything that has come to mind as really worth posting… I have been too busy living life and not insightful enough to be reflecting along the way. But through talking and thinking about things in interesting conversations with Toby and Nick, I have decided that now that I am settled in London (I have been here nearly 2 months, which I can’t believe – it’s flown by!!!), I am going to pursue some projects. Here is a list:

  • Music. I have recorded precisely one verse since I moved to London. I love the new music I have been making, but it has trailed off. Partly because in my current flat, the only place I really feel comfortable singing is in the kitchen, as it’s the only space that isn’t close to the corridor, or to my neighbour’s room. (I don’t want to deafen them, or get a bad rep!) But I realise I need to really get myself back in motion and finish this new album!!!! In addition, Nick has been telling me about the fabulous Open Mic nights at the Cellar Door near Covent Garden. So in order to prove to myself that I can still sing, perhaps I shall slowly gather courage to perform something. I am aware that the sheet music for the Burlesque soundtrack, and for Lady Gaga’s Born This Way are both available. So what do we reckon? “Something’s Got A Hold On Me”? “Yoü and I”? “Bound To You?” “Marry The Night / Americano / Judas” medley?!?! I have to do something to keep my musical proclivities going, and to keep my performance and vocal skills alive.
  • Swimming. I have been fairly good (if not exactly excellent) with my walking to work. But obviously, winter is fast approaching and I will be less inclined to walk in bad / ridiculously cold weather, in warm clothes. So Les Senteurs (where Nick works) is opening a new branch in Marble Arch (you should go and check it out – fabulous perfumes!) and there is reportedly a swimming pool nearby. I have swimshorts from when Toby and I went on holiday to Seville, so Nick and I are planning to do some exercise at the pool there after work. It sounds like a good plan – I want to slim down a little bit.
  • Drawing. Once upon a time, I used to be fairly good at drawing. And watching Toby knit and create things, I know that I am not really a very crafty person and into handicrafts and the like. However, I am an artistic and creative person, and I am not bad at Photoshop and digital designing (my fashionista and styling instincts are ever useful in this regard). But recently I have been tempted to take it back to basics and get back into drawing. I think I will start out slowly and simply, and get myself a sketch book and a nice pencil or two, and start off by drawing what is outside my window. And as I gain my skills back and become more confident, I will hopefully be able to draw more elaborate, complex and inspired/imaginative pieces.
  • Cooking. Again, Toby is a fabulous cook. I am not a bad cook, but I have never ever had remotely enough patience to be bothered with it, unless I am cooking for someone else (which happens literally once in a blue moon). I admire the way that Toby instinctively knows what flavours go together, when a meal is ready, how to improvise with ingredients and flavours. I have never ever had an instinct like that as far as food is concerned. To be quite truthful, food has been an enemy of mine ever since I can remember – even though I am now no longer going through the weight loss issues I did as a child. I don’t enjoy food the way that a lot of people seem to – I can appreciate when something tastes nice or is artfully made, but I don’t derive pleasure from every meal the way that some do. To illustrate this, I have exactly the same thing for lunch every day at work. And it doesn’t bother me, because I don’t cherish the meal or the food. All I cherish is the fact that I have conditioned myself to be satisfied with a small lunch, and that this is good because it’s not going to add weight to me. (Sadly, by the evenings I am often ravenous and therefore often overeat – putting me back to square one!) But, back on topic after that brief digression, I feel that while the balance that Toby and I have of “he cooks, I clean” is totally satisfactory for both of us, I would still like to cook a little bit more. Because a real man knows how to cook, right?
  • London underground photo project. This is the big one that I have been contemplating for a few weeks now. Toby took me on a couple of photo walks around London, but I didn’t particularly enjoy them beyond the fact that I went to places I wouldn’t normally go. I wasn’t doing any photographing – Toby has a super-duper camera and so took lots of pictures, but I can’t be bothered to lug that around! Plus, a lot of the other people on the photo walk were basically being offensively touristy and taking pictures of everything and everyone (often in swarms like paparazzi!!), swarming upon the landscape without any respect for the world and public around them. It’s hard to explain, but that sort of behaviour basically appears to me as a little undignified. But each to their own. However, I have had the idea of documenting my life in London by taking pictures outside the tube stations I end up near, and expanding this to collect them all. A bit like Pokémon – gotta catch ’em all! But it will also be a fun project and spur me to explore the city a bit more. So perhaps that is something I will start doing very soon! What do you reckon?
So there you have it – my personal and artistic aims for the next few months. Let’s see how I do! xx
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lessons learned.

December 30, 2009

For my final blog post of the year, like I said, I’m not going to attempt to give a run down of my 2009.  I’m never very good at that and I either misfocus and weigh certain events too heavily, or completely miss stuff out.  However, in trying to cast my mind back, I’ve learned a lot this year.  Here are some of my lessons learned:

Just because they’re related to you by blood doesn’t mean your family will always love you or care about you.  Love is not the same as obligation.

Trusting your own motivation can lead you to places people never thought you could go.  That’s their limited imagination, not yours.

People whom you thought were your friends can turn around and stab you in the back.  It’s not your fault and sometimes you can’t see it coming.

Someone who might initially appear to come from a different walk of life could become your best friend.

There’s nothing wrong with spending money on yourself, as long as you have the money!

People should focus less on telling you what you shouldn’t do and more on accepting you for who you are.  Chances are, you already know better than them what is good/bad for you, and being reminded is both condescending and unhelpful.

Life is open plan, and there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ path; all we can do is follow our hearts and intuition as much as possible, and do what is ‘right’ for us.  That way, at least we have total ownership of our mistakes and our successes.

Marriage doesn’t change who you are, your sex drive nor whom you find attractive.

You’re never too old to fall crazy in love.  You can’t help your feelings, and there’s nothing wrong with having those feelings.

Usually, if you want to do something on a computer and you can’t work out how, there is some technician who has wanted to do it before you and subsequently invented a solution to your problem.  Google is your friend.

Don’t decide to up and learn a new language and consider emigrating on a whim.

Never give up hope.

Thankyou all for your support of this blog, my music and everything else this year! I really appreciate it and I wish you all a fantastic New Year’s Eve (let’s go party!) and a fulfilling 2010.  Here’s to the future!
Much love, Alan x
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tattoo your name across my heart.

November 27, 2009

UPDATE: the finished article! : destiny fulfilled.

This is what Phill & Mike think I should do, because they are jokers.  Seriously speaking though, I am considering getting a tattoo.  It’s something I have always wanted to do, but it’s also something I have been somewhat reluctant to do because in the past, I’ve had ideas for designs and then changed my mind for a variety of reasons – I think that it is something that you really have to think through carefully.  Is it going to hold its meaning through the years? Is it in a place where you can hide it when necessary (e.g. job interview, angry grandparent)?  Is it personal and unique, or something that every Tom Dick and Chavvy has? Will the colours fade and the tattoo look tacky in time? These are all primary considerations for me – the pain doesn’t bother me at all (I have a high pain threshold, and I have had multiple injections in the roof of my mouth – WITH A NEEDLE before you get any ideas! 😛 – so I am not really afraid of needles nor pain. I can stand it).

So with that all said, I’ll unveil what I’m thinking off.  At the top of my right collarbone / shoulder, about an inch high (maybe less, but about that – so fairly discreet), I want an A. Because that is the first letter of my name.  Simple, personal (I am unlikely to change my name) and effective!  But not just an ordinary A! I toy about with various ways of writing my name during moments of boredom, and a few years ago I found a way of writing the ‘A’ that I like:

Ok, so you need to imagine this with the lines being straight as opposed to wiggly and uneven, and it would just be the solid black in the middle without the feathered edges, but you get the idea.  I think it looks edgy without trying too hard, and it is personal and unique without being outlandish or silly.  Simple, but effective – in other words.  On top my shoulder, its somewhere I can keep it hidden from people (and easily show-offable), but it’s not in your typical lower back / upper back / bicep region which could be passé / common.  I am quite excited – although it’s still only a plan I have and I haven’t made any kind of appointment, I know exactly where I would go to get it done, who to speak to (friends have recommended me), and Mike says that he’s up for going with me.  So it may well happen! Plus, since it’s just in black and not too big, it shouldn’t be too expensive.  I like this plan.

I just hope that a) when my mother / grandmother eventually sees it (which I know ultimately will happen), they won’t freak out too much; b) they will respect my right to choose to do what I want with my body.  I won’t feel guilty about getting it done, but I will feel sad about hurting their feelings, so I just hope that they will be mature enough to not let their feelings get hurt 😛 c) I don’t think it can be confused with anything stupid that I have somehow overlooked.  So it’s all systems go!  What do you think?

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i cry real tears.

August 4, 2009

On my way home on the bus after a lovely day spent with Hannah and Nick, I suddenly felt tired and wanted nothing more than to be instantly wrapped up on the sofa.  With the rain flooding down the windows as I gazed out at the grey, overcast cityscape passing me by, I couldn’t help but feel that the weather echoed my inner sentiments.  As if, for all the nice chats and coffees and perfume I enjoyed today, I couldn’t escape my own sorrow, loneliness, fear and ennui – I could only subdue it and try to ignore it.  But with the rain coming down all around me, I could have started crying – not bursting into tears, but silently letting them fall from my eyes.

Why? I have a pretty good life, and I had had a nice day.  But I guess that being on my own, in the middle of a crowded bus (the windows steamed up by our collective body heat) with nobody to talk to and my ipod drowning out everything, surrounded by anonymous faces and anonymous rain, the solitude just got to me.  I’ve fallen for somebody real bad, and it’s crazy because right now, I can’t think of anything better than escaping my life and running away to another country, learning another language and living a completely different life.  Obviously I’m not going to do this, but I can’t help but imagine what it would be like, and how happy I could be if we really did fall in love with one another.  I’m wrapped up in a fantasy and it’s so sweet, it makes reality all the more bitter in comparison.  And I’m wrapped in his cologne (Opium Pour Homme) so that I always feel it on me, and it’s torture because it smells so good and yet he’s not there.  I’ve met the guy once (though we talk most days) and I’ve gone utterly crazy.  Rationale literally out of the window.

I have a ridiculous amount of music on my iPod, and at times like this I can’t help but pick songs that echo my mood, or lyrics that echo my situation.  My current choices range between optimistic and heartrending: Blu Cantrell – “I Can’t Believe“, Mariah Carey – “The Beautiful Ones“, Shontelle – “T-Shirt“, Toni Braxton – “Spanish Guitar” & “I Don’t Want To“, The-Dream, “H.A.T.E. U” are the examples which come to mind.  Of course, tugging at my heartstrings doesn’t make me feel any better or enable me to forget my situation, but instead keeps me moping, though at least I am moping to a good soundtrack!

Anyway, I didn’t cry.  I am not the kind of person who would break down in public (I don’t like looking imperfect, even sweating in public, so tears are out of the question – I do my utmost to keep my façade weakness-free), and I’m not the kind of person who breaks down even in private.  Ever since I was a kid, I was taught to keep my emotions inside so that nobody can see your weaknesses (particularly when my dad would try to upset me with the goal of making me cry, my mother taught me not to give him the satisfaction).  So even during trying times, I try to suppress any extremity of emotion in public, and take deep breaths and clench my fists and just get on with things.  After all, the quicker it’s over, the quicker it’s done.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to cry.  I believe in the cathartic power of tears, and once you’ve cried your eyes and your heart out, there’s nowhere left to go but to start healing yourself and picking yourself back up.  Although they make your eyes puffy and swollen, and seem to bring out dark red freckles around my cheekbones (lucky me), tears do serve a purpose – they let you acknowledge your sadness and express it and move on.  Sometimes, my restraint from expressing my sadness even privately means that it festers, whereas if I could just let myself go and cry, maybe I’d move on a little quicker.  Who knows – that’s just the kind of person I have come to be, it’s probably to late to do anything about it now.

Yet I disagree with the widely-held belief that “boys don’t cry”.  They just don’t let anyone know that they cry.  There are a lot of secrets kept between the sexes that I think stop us from understanding one another and feeling close to one another.  Of course people are going to think that men and women are from different planets; that’s the way we live our lives.  The machismo the boys don’t cry does stem from the fact that crying supposedly signals weakness, and men must never appear weak.  But why is it ok for women to be weak, in that case?  Everybody gets weak sometimes (even though nobody talks about it, we all know it’s true) and in that weakness, the best thing we can do is to seek strength from others.  But (and I am particularly guilty of this), seeking strength and asking for help once again points out our weaknesses to other people and we are too proud / afraid to bare ourselves in this way.  So we cover it up.  But I think that to make it a gender thing (Fergie made things no better with her song “Big Girls Don’t Cry” – boys cry, men cry, big girls cry, petite girls cry, grown women cry, transexuals cry.  Everybody cries.) is just stupid – tears are universal.

Babies cry for attention.  Adults rebel against this because when we cry, we don’t want anyone to know – bringing attention to ourselves is the last thing on our minds.  Crying is a secret rebellion against maintaining that all-important appearance of teflon perfection.  I don’t cry (films never get to me – the right music is usually the closest thing to bring me to the brink) very often at all, but sometimes – like today – there is an evocative feeling in my heart, and I don’t know what to do with it.  And though, despite everything, I am not comfortable with letting my tears fall in public, it’s as pure an expression of hurt and longing as you’re gonna get.  And wrapped in this cologne, my longing aches just that little bit sweeter.