Posts Tagged ‘strength’

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making faces. (aims for 2011)

December 26, 2010

Hannah and I have come up with a new phrase: “making faces” = “making money”. It comes from a quote by some movie character or rapper – I really don’t remember who, but Hannah picked it up. Apparently, having “big faces” means that you are rich (I guess from the faces which are on money notes). By extension, “small faces” must mean small amount of money, and thus “making faces” must be making or earning money. I imagine “making faces” to be said to the tune of Usher’s “Trading Places”. My head is a funny place.

Anyways, in my pursuit of making faces, I have decided to clear out my room and I’m selling 90 or so CDs, and about 30 DVDs that I really have no use for anymore. What’s more, I have bundled up my old Playstation 2, leads, controllers and games as I haven’t touched them in nearly 2 years (since I got my PS3) and I might as well gain the extra space and some money at the same time.  As I am now saving up for a car, every little will help so why not make some faces and some spaces at the same time?

Talking of which, as I somehow accomplished all of my aims for 2010 (boyfriend, driving, job), let’s make my list of aims for 2011! Here goes:

1. Buy a car.

2. Get a job in London.

3. Move to London.

4. Stay with Toby and make sure that our relationship grows even stronger!

5. Buy a new microphone and record a new album.

6. Pay off my credit card and student overdraft.

There. That should keep me going for a while! And although this year I have more goals than last year, I feel confident that I can achieve them all and if anything, my success this year has only made me optimistic that next year will be even more momentous! I am sure that it will have its setbacks but as Happenstance dictates, it’s not what happens but how you capitalise on unforeseen circumstances and make strides towards your goals that really counts. I proved this year that I can do well, and next year is going to be better! I hope that you all had a very Merry Christmas and I wish you all a fantastic 2011.  Let’s do this! xxx

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Christina Aguilera – Bionic. (album review)

June 14, 2010

As you can tell from my current blog layout, I am very much feeling the imagery of Christina Aguilera’s current Bionic era.  It’s fierce, severe and pushes the envelope.  Artwork such as the front cover (above) and other graffiti-inspired cyborg manipulations handled by D*Face push the envelope and also serve to symbolise Christina as human machine which creates fine music hence “Bionic”.  Various analyses of this robotic imagery could be and have been made: on the one hand, Christina Aguilera in her superhuman form triumphs over all her competitors and makes superior , near-perfect music because she has this bionic element to her; on the other hand, as part-robot, Christina can only ever produce a facsimile of what music is supposed to be, while never quite getting close enough to the organic, human qualities in music that elevate it beyond the calculable – qualities which cannot be quantified or mechanised.  In Bionic, as in life, the truth lies somewhere between these two opinions.

Bionic the album is a long listen – 18 tracks in its standard version, 23 in its deluxe (with iTunes bonus track “Little Dreamer”, a likeable but throwaway confection, making a grand total of 24).  I’ll dispense with the additional 5 bonus tracks first: they are, by and large, bonus tracks for a reason: either they are not strong enough to be considered for the main album (“Monday Morning” is pleasant but lackadaisical; “Birds Of Prey” is lyrically mysterious and interesting, but musically and vocally it’s too much mainstream dance that Kelis would do a lot better with on her current Flesh Tone project), or they don’t fit thematically with the empowering / sexual / carefree / mature feel of the album.  “Bobblehead” is a thrilling production that stutters and races to its climax with the wonderful lyric: “I never play dumb to get what I want / and always come out the one that’s on top”; however, its main hook is a nonsensical mumble that may be the point of the lyrics, dissing idiot girls who dumb themselves down and preferring to deploy her own intelligence, but it’s still a nonsensical mumble which fails to use Christina’s vocals to much effect.  “Stronger Than Ever” is a ballad that is lyrically strong (and embodies my current struggle with my parents) and vocally able, but it just lacks that something.  “I Am (Stripped)” is a lovely album closer but is a more acoustic version of one of the main album tracks, and so it’s understandable why it’s relegated to bonus status.

So, to the main event. To my ear, Bionic moves in three arcs.  In its first, it goes for the jugular with relentless, futuristic uptempos; it then cools down into a sensuous, emotionally vulnerable, mature ballad section; finally, it picks up again for a closing triad of uptempo songs that epitomise fun.  While it’s possible that the album could be trimmed down to make a more concise, compelling listen, it flows very nicely throughout and only has a couple of stumbling points.  Christina Aguilera said that she wanted something which sounded futuristic, but with elements of the organic; something which integrated her new emotional maturity as a mother with her desire to remain playful and sexy.  On this point, she has succeeded: Bionic has elements of all of this.  Tracks such as “Bionic” and “Elastic Love” incorporate computerised effects to distort Christina’s voice, along with buzzing, whirring productions that sonically embody the bionic cyborg face of her album cover. However, on tracks such as standout “You Lost Me” and “All I Need”, Christina is stripped of the musical gloss of the faster tracks to be backed by little more than a piano.  “All I Need” is also a touching, mature tribute to her son, which nicely avoids being mawkish or saccharine like Britney Spears’ unlistenable “My Baby” from Circus.  Finally, sex is all over this album, and from the enticing “Woohoo” to the seductive “Sex For Breakfast” (which I have yet to play for my boyfriend, but when I next see him in July, I am using this song on him!), it’s explicit without being pornographic, edgy without crossing that line.  In this respect, the Christina Aguilera of “Dirrty” is still present, knowing how to be provocative while still being musically relevant.

However, in the video for “Not Myself Tonight”, Xtina makes her return and perhaps pushes the envelope a little too far.  S&M get-ups, Madonna tributes aplenty, and bisexual flirtations are almost par for the course at this point, and Christina Aguilera is more than entitled to use them considering her influence on current female artists in the mainstream over the past 10 years.*  However, although “Not Myself Tonight” is an understandable choice as Bionic‘s lead single considering its radio-friendly sound, it’s not futuristic and it’s not exciting enough to merit the edgy, sex-fuelled imagery.  Rather than hookless, it sounds like a bunch of hooks jostling together for attention over a dance beat (which has a couple of exciting tribal flourishes), the result of which means that sometimes the song sticks, on other listens it doesn’t quite get there.  A better first single might have been the thrilling, soaring title track, or uptempo album standout and follow-up single “Woohoo”, on which Xtina extols the virtues of good oral sex, recruits Nicki Minaj for a fine rap segment, uses her vagina (the titular “Woohoo!”) for a cowbell, and tops it off with a throbbing, buzzing dance break coda for good measure.  Along with “You Lost Me”, “Lift Me Up” and album closer “Vanity”, “Woohoo” is an album standout where all of Christina’s chemical ambitions for Bionic come together perfectly to produce some exemplary pop.

Bionic itself has no bad songs, but there is some filler: “Prima Donna” comes at the end of the first album arc of jugular-ripping uptempos, and is the weakest of them, with little lyrical know-how or production excitement to give it its own identity after the tracks preceding it.  “My Girls” is a ‘riding in the car with your top down’ sort of song, but comes off as fluffy compared to the album’s meatier offerings: although Christina proves (responding to criticisms that she oversings) that she can vocally restrain herself on songs such as “Elastic Love” with its amusing and witty stationery metaphors, and the tender “All I Need”, “My Girls” needs the vocal melisma to give it some spark; as it stands, it’s a little too laid back.  Nevertheless, 2 out of 18 songs (or 15, excluding interludes) is not bad and perhaps a better result than I was expecting.  Sure, several songs on the album are not immediate: “Glam” takes a few listens to hit its stride with its subtle, fibrillating beats and “Vogue”-esque spoken-word verses, while “Vanity” initially startles the listener with its unbridled use of the word “bitch”, references to Christina making herself “wetter” before marrying herself as her “lawfully wedded bitch” and effectively giving the finger to everyone who doesn’t have such bravado.  Only by the song’s end (and possibly a couple of repeat listens) does it sink in that the track is a storming highlight, a perfect album closer, utterly hilarious and ridiculous (and knowingly so), with a vocal flourish that knocks all competition to the floor before her son’s voice confirms all suspicions: his mother really is the shit.

At the end of the day, it’s this kind of confidence that makes Bionic a great success – Christina Aguilera believes that she rules the world, and this kind of ambition almost single-handedly propels her music to heady heights.  It’s a new page for Christina, and she’s secure enough in her ability to try different things: the mélange of styles is a little disorientating until repeated listens expose the subtleties and intricacies in her vocals, lyrics and the songs themselves.  “Lift Me Up” is another beautiful, soaring track that was slightly superior in its stripped down live version performed on the Haiti telethon, but still thrills within the album.  “I Am” is a declaration of humanity, imperfection and adulthood that lends substance to the polished sheen of Bionic‘s robotic side, deployed confidently, efficiently and effectively for example on clubsong “Desnúdate” (which neatly remembers and includes Christina’s Spanish-speaking audience and heritage).  If Christina experiments with textures in her voice, sometimes preferring subdued rumbles to soaring melismas, she still shows that she can do both better than most other female artists.  At the end of the day, Christina Aguilera is an musical artist with a personal and professional vision that she fulfils 85% of the time.  Her misfires are excusable and never in poor taste so much as merely a little bland or inconsistent – in time, Christina will learn to totally excise these from her projects.  Most importantly, while some of Bionic indeed caters to current mainstream tastes and is hardly an obscure sonic revelation, the majority of it is interesting and thrilling, and rings true as Christina Aguilera’s own personality and intention which doesn’t give a fuck about current radio trends (in my opinion, less than half of Bionic would get spins on mainstream radio).  For this, her sales might suffer, but her artistic integrity remains intact and hopefully the mainstream radio audiences and buying public one day will catch up.

* I’ll address this once and only once: anyone who thinks that Christina Aguilera is copying Lady GaGa is a) suffering from memory loss and should go back to Christina Aguilera’s last two album eras which were mired with controversy and blazed with exciting fashions and imagery, b) suffering from hearing loss as Christina can sing GaGa – and pretty much anyone else – under the table, c) has no respect for what Aguilera has achieved over the past 10 years – while GaGa has had a fantastic 2-year run and displays much potential (her music and videos are definitely getting more intriguing), she’s still only been around 2 years and more respect should be shown to anyone who successfully completes a decade in the music industry, and d) completely overlooking Gwen Stefani, whose hairstyle Christina mimics in her “Not Myself Tonight” video, and whose image, sound and career Lady GaGa has borrowed liberally from, mixed with a bunch of fashion designers, and passed off as her own to those too young, too unaware or too amnesiac to know any better.

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love me.

May 6, 2010

Yesterday we were doing a magazine CV collage with some special needs students visiting UWE, and the idea of this activity is for the kids to divide a sheet into Hobbies, Future, Skills/Interests and School, and then they have a big pile of magazines from which to cut out pictures and annotate each section, to draw up a picture of themselves.  It’s quite a basic activity but the students always enjoy it, and often end up just flicking through the magazines.  Each time we seem to have to edit the content (for example, the story “I was battered by a 12-inch dildo” isn’t quite appropriate!) – usually from women’s magazines, you girls are filthy!!! – but generally a lot of fun is had.  I had brought in some old copies of Vibe and Touch to contribute to the magazines the students used for collages, and I found one with a Mary J. Blige interview, which I couldn’t help but start rereading.

Apart from talking about the backstories to some of her earlier songs, and stating that people seemed to support her more when she was making sad, introspective songs struggling with love and life than her newer, more lyrically upbeat material, Mary talked about learning to accept love, finding romance and getting through years of emotional abuse.  This was the most interesting part of the interview for me, and resulted in me deciding to keep the magazine and take it back home (as well as listening to My Life again)!  I reflected on my own love life, and thought about a variety of my favourite celebrities: Mary, Mariah Carey, Usher, Janet Jackson, Rihanna (among others) have all stated that they never thought they would find love; that maybe love just wasn’t for them.  For a while, I was starting to feel the same way, and even though I am now in a relationship I still often wonder if I’m capable of really loving someone, giving myself to somebody.  I never had anybody who treated me so wonderfully and who seems to really care for me, and yet I find myself trying to sort out the fantasy from the reality: what is falling in love?  What does it feel like?  Will I know? Or is it more realistic to be with somebody who makes life that little bit better, but still have your independence and feel like an individual person.  What is love?  Is love the former, or does it fall somewhere in between? I just don’t know, and I guess that different people have different opinions on love (depending on their experience; some people really do know when they have found the one, others believe they have and then get it wrong, other people again seem to say that no lover is perfect but being with somebody who treats you well is the most important thing).  I just feel like I’m tiptoeing through a foggy minefield and at any moment it’s all going to blow up in my face.

I think part of my confusion stems from the fact that I am stubborn, feisty and fiercely independent.  Over the last few weeks, it’s come to the fore that I have real problems with letting other people care for me, look after me or even do things for me.  I don’t know how to explain it, but I feel like I’m grown up now and I shouldn’t need other people to do things for me; I relish my autonomy and I almost feel like that’s being threatened when a family member, friend or partner tries to help me with something.  I understand that part of being an adult is knowing when to ask for help, but I still don’t like doing it because I feel like I should be capable. In some implicit way, I guess that I might feel that allowing somebody to do something for me is both their suggestion and my subconscious confirmation that I am incapable.  I don’t like feeling like that, but I’m also aware that it’s a complex in my head that doesn’t really exist; people do things for one another out of kindness and friendship bonds.  It’s also hypocritical of me to feel like this, because I am always one of the first to be willing to help another person.  I get afraid when I feel like I might be being too clingy or relying on someone else too much, and I like to have my own space and freedom – I get very edgy and uncomfortable when I feel like my independence is being compromised – even if in reality this isn’t the case. So this is one complex I don’t get.

I then think that perhaps this is related to my upbringing.  My parents had a very stormy relationship, with lots of verbal, mental and emotional abuse thrown in all directions (including mine).  Though I very rarely witnessed physical violence, it’s still taken its toll and it will never be forgotten.  I realise at times that my upbringing has affected the way I see and do things, particularly in relationships and friendships.  I find it difficult to totally trust people, and although I’m initially usually very open with somebody, it doesn’t take long for my paranoia to creep in and wonder why people do what they do, why they might be nice to me or acting a certain way, assuming there’s an ulterior motive or hidden agenda, and usually blaming myself for these things.  Ironically, especially in the past I used to be scared of ending up alone, wondering why I couldn’t find happiness and almost acquiescing to the fact that I might end up this way – and I’m 24 years old!!! To be thinking like this is a bit crazy, really.  And now I am in a relationship with someone who treats me very well, I often get scared that I can’t return his affection enough, that I don’t deserve this, that somehow I’m going to mess it all up.  Why this self-sabotage?  Things are great, and I enjoy our relationship so much when we keep it light, have fun and just relax.  Again, we’re both young, this is normal and natural – and I do deserve this!  But I can’t stop my brain working and I can’t seem to patch over the vulnerability at the core of my heart that whispers these things to me.  I guess that my upbringing and the relationships that have surrounded me (not just my parents, but throughout both sides of my family) have scarred me more deeply than I’m often aware.

It’s ironic that I’m able to be so frank and openly vulnerable on this blog: although I appreciate that some of my readers don’t know me or have never met me, I also know that some of my readers are my friends whom I know personally.  It’s like being able to write on here is a conduit to my innermost feelings, and I can express myself so fully here that I am truly grateful that I started this blog nearly a year ago (which is insane, it’s flown by!).  But being so honest and open is a little strange when in real life I act so strong, so confident and secure. I have a lot to be secure about, it’s true – but on the inside I often get nervous, afraid, insecure and I can be so vulnerable.  I don’t know how to fix that.  Can I really love someone when I’m still learning and having issues with loving myself, essentially?  Why am I so hard on myself?  And why do I have issues with letting someone love me, care for me and be there for me?  I know I am a good person, I know I am a lucky person, and I know that I deserve love.  I work damn hard professionally, educationally and personally at being the best I can be – I have goals I’m constantly working towards.  I also know that I am human, and I accept the humanity and imperfections of others a lot more readily than my own.  It’s just with all these things swirling in my head, I get so insecure about love, both giving and receiving love and letting someone in.  I feel like at times I offer my vulnerability with one hand and then snatch it away with the other if somebody gets too close.  Why am I like this, and how do I get better?

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onyx paradise.

April 11, 2010

Those of you who know me will know that my screen name for 85% of the forums that I use is “onyxparadise”.  Originally I only liked the ‘onyx’ aspect of the name (since the word looks and sounds pretty), but the name ‘onyx’ had been taken already on the forums I was interested in using at the time, and I was inspired by Britney Spears’ Onyx Hotel Tour.  Choosing an alternative, mysterious-sounding gemstone quickly became apparently not an option: “sapphire” and “topaz” (both in reference to my mother’s favourite stones, and both pretty-sounding words once again) were far too girly, so I thought about adding something to “onyx” to make it work.  Again “sunset” and “beach” sounded too feminine, but I hit upon the idea of “onyxparadise” and it had a magical, mysterious ring to it.  When I think of what the word represents, it symbolises some sort of fantasy faceted-glass multicoloured landscape within a gemstone.  I don’t know how to verbalise it better than that, but I know that those words create nothing close to the image / atmosphere in my head.

Returning to Britney Spears, she did teach me something interesting about the onyx: although the stone is traditionally black when we see it used in jewellery (and although black is my favourite “colour”, I’m not a fan of onyx jewellery), any light that shines into it can be refracted back out in a multitude of colours.  Now, Wikipedia tells me that this is false (or somewhat exaggerated at the very least) but I’m going to go with it because it supports the metaphor that I want to explore and essentially base the rest of this blog entry on.  Ever since I can remember, I’ve always felt like I’ve had multiple personalities.  Different sides of myself expanded as I got older and I started to give them different names: Alan; Miles (ok that was ill-advised but he didn’t last long); AC; purehonesty; onyxparadise; Chase.  They embodied different things, different representations of me, and now I reflect upon it I see that onyxparadise was really the perfect name.  Rather than multiple personalities, I am one person with all these different facets, different colours, different aspects to my being.  Just like an onyx (or Britney Spears’ version of it, anyway).

Sometimes I feel like I keep getting it wrong: I hated the movie Kick Ass, which I went to see last night, because I could only see reference after reference to Kill Bill – at want point does a parody/homage become a rip-off? It must have just been me, as the vast majority of reviews online are hugely positive, but I guess I just didn’t get the sense of humour (though I enjoyed Hit Girl). I don’t eat pizzas quickly enough for my father to have as much space in the fridge as he would like, and the first thing he said to me this morning was “who opened the back door?” as if by getting my milk from the fridge I had unwittingly committed a cardinal sin.  It’s times like these that I feel socially awkward or incorrect (like when I confused the barista at Costa by barking at Toby not to be so healthy in his choice of biscotti, as he was making me look bad with my vanilla frescato and carrot cake), and it’s only recently that I’ve taken a personal stand not to let my family make me feel so ugly, because their problems are no reflection of me.

There is a facet of me that feels tough, dark and edgy.  I now have 3 tattoos, I dye my hair black on the regular, I smoke and drink and stay out late.  I’m still a good person, I have many friends and I work damn hard juggling studies and employment. So I feel I’m entitled to play hard, and I feel that at 24 years old I’ve proved to myself (and to anyone else, not that that matters) that I am intelligent and sensible enough to make my own decisions and to stand by them and live through the consequences, right or wrong.  By embracing that side of myself, I take less nonsense, stand up for myself more (although this is still a work in progress)and I feel that it’s been key in the shift in my life over the last 9 months to being much more happier and taking control.  I feel happier indulging the edgier, mysterious side of me, acknowledging there are dark depths of my personality and essence that I have yet to plumb, because it makes the light shine that much brighter too.

And now, I have some really good friends, people who are close to me.  If my family more and more are the source of unnecessary stress and drama in my life, then my friends feel like what my family should be.  So I almost glow when my new best friend tells me how glad he is to be friends with me; when my boyfriend tells me for the first time that he loves me.  These are experiences I never had before, that make me feel almost uncomfortably good because I am valued, I matter.  Sometimes being strong, being independent, being tough – even if it’s a self-fulfilling façade at times – is really lonely.  But it’s times like that, it’s times when Mike offers me to spend the day with him and his family, when Billy gives me a big hug and kiss before bedtime, when Toby holds me tight in his arms as we watch TV and I feel so safe, that I know I don’t have to be, don’t deserve to be alone.

I never used to wear designer clothes or jewellery.  I have never been a 32″ waist since I was a child, and I find it funny to be posing as a model in Toby’s photos on beautiful days walking around Bristol, because I always dreamed of being a model and assumed it was out of reach.  After the strife of growing up between my parents and their families, the violent alcohol-fuelled arguments and mental abuse I experienced as a child and adolescent, the periods of unhappy rebellion as a 16, 17, 18-year-old, the disappointment of not really knowing where I was going with my life having graduated from Oxford University, the turmoil of a year in retail unable to fulfil my potential, I finally get to experience everything slotting into place, the lights shining from the onyx in a rainbow of the right colours.  Life finally feels good, if not how I imagined it to be! So this entry is really personal to me, because it’s how I see that I’m a whole host of different things – I am one person with many different aspects, not all of them necessarily pretty but all of them important, all of them of value.

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3.

April 1, 2010

Look what I did today!

Okay, so this has been on the cards for a little while. But today was the day (and no, this is no April Fool’s – that is an actual picture of me, you can see my flab and the grubby inkstains around my body so I wouldn’t put this up for fun, and I don’t have a sense of humour anyway so April Fool’s Day is irrelevant to me) that I went to Dean & Lewis at Iron & Ink tattoo studio in Whitchurch, Bristol, and got this stained-glass patterned raven tattooed on me. It took 4 and a half hours and was, at times (particularly the outlining & infill of the wingtips near my hip) excruciating – luckily I was alone, because I don’t think my facial expressions would have been particularly pretty. I would say this tattoo was the most painful experience of my life (and Mike giving me a lift home was a godsend – he’s wicked jealous now and I’m waiting to see his next move!), but looking at it now, it was so, so worth it.  I feel great (well, great and sore) and proud to have this on my body.

For me, I originally just chose this design (which I found online, and then edited and redrew somewhat myself) because I thought it was beautiful.  But it also symbolises emancipation and strength for me.  Ironically, I am concealing it from my parents (though how long this is going to last is debatable – however, they don’t know about the other two! If I can get through the initial 2 weeks’ pain stage & the family-centric Easter weekend, I think I might be in with a shot 😉 ) which doesn’t really scream “freedom”, but I’m only doing that for an easy life.  After all, it’s not worth the questions, the inquisition, nor the horrified look on my mother (and possibly grandmother)’s face and declarations that I have ruined myself, that I will never get a job (because I am obviously going to be applying for jobs where I need to strip naked) and so on. It’s kinder to them to keep it under wraps for as long as possible.  And it’s kinder to me too.  I’m aware that the jig will soon be up, but if I can give myself a couple of weeks’ head start, I’d feel better about it.  The only other question is, what will I get next?  I would be lying if I said this was the last one, but I think that I’ll have a bit of a longer gap and think of something really personal to get.  Watch this space!

See tattoo number one HERE

See tattoo number two HERE

And here is the stencilled version before I started having it done:

Once again, I have to shout out Dean & Lewis at Iron & Ink Tattoo Studio, Whitchurch, Bristol, for the stellar job they’ve done, the hospitality they’ve shown me and my friends, and for the beautiful art they’ve created.  They are fantastic and if you’re thinking of getting a tattoo done, definitely go and see them for advice, a hygienic and comfortable atmosphere (Dean gave me a pillow when my shoulder was cramping today, and I was able to watch music videos on Viva to pass the time) and fantastic service. I couldn’t recommend them more.

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nausea.

March 30, 2010

Don’t worry, I’m not going to go all Sartre on you.  I don’t think I have the energy for it to be honest, and I can’t really remember what that book is about anyway because it’s been 4 years since I pretended to read it for my undergrad.  On Sunday night my stomach began to feel all weird and twisted, so I rode with it despite my late-night cigarette making me feel as if I were going to vomit right then and there.  I went to sleep early and curled up in bed in the foetal position, only to wake an hour and a half later (though it felt like I’d been asleep for half the night already) stomach still pangy.  Or in fact, more than that – it felt as if I were pregnant.  I went to the bathroom, tried to induce vomit – and it didn’t take much.  After being copiously sick, I felt much better and slept soundly until the morning. I dragged myself out of bed, off to uni and despite at times feeling like I was trudging through treacle (you know when it takes effort to walk, so you say to yourself “All I have to do is put one foot in front of the other, and keep doing it” – it was like that) I made some good progress on my new interview analysis essay.  I also made a friend in the library caretaker, who enquired why I was lying across several of the seats in the UWE group study area – she asked what was wrong, and when I told her about my nauseous stomach, she proceeded to tell me about what triggers her IBS (TMI!?) and to call her if I needed to be sick (thanks, but I think I can manage vomiting by myself).  So I made a new “friend” through my illness, which is slightly odd but sort of heartwarming.  Last night I fell asleep for about 10 hours, and this morning I felt more or less back to normal, but come around 4pm my energy quickly depleted and now I’m sat here blogging, muscles aching in jogging bottoms and a hoodie (you know it’s serious if I can’t be bothered to make an effort with my appearance – especially considering my motto “if you feel good, then you should look great; if you don’t feel good, you might as well look great”).  I apologise for the delay between this and my last blog, and I also thank all of you for making the past few days ridiculous highlights in my blogging career – my stats have exploded! Long may it last!  And thankyou so much 🙂

Anyway, I don’t cope with real illness that well.  I generally don’t admit that I am ill most of the time – I don’t get “man-flu” and I’m not one of those pansy-men who crumbles at the merest whiff of cold.  I generally carry on as if nothing is the matter until I am physically forced to sit down and stop – I have quite a lot of stuff I want to accomplish most days, and I’m damned if any kind of bug is going to get in my way.  But I also try and be healthy – despite not having much appetite, I force myself to eat because it’s the only way I’m going to get any nutrients, and thus any energy.  I make an effort to sleep, when normally I can get away with burning the candle at both ends a bit. But I feel like I’ve been stopped in my tracks a bit – I’ve been relieved that my essay is going well, but I feel somewhat guilty that the last two days before Toby goes home for a week, I’ve not been particularly fun to be around and I haven’t been energetic enough to as much spend time with him as we would both like.  Fingers crossed, by the time he returns to Bristol I’ll be all sparkly and new again.  To be honest, since we started dating I’ve been uncharacteristically ill, having had multiple colds and now this kinda indigestion bug (I presume it must have been something I ate). So I apologise for that, but with the summer coming and my yearly hay fever diminishing, I hope for health and happiness. 🙂 Perhaps with everything in my life seeming to have aligned since last autumn, I’ve forgotten to look after my basic health a little bit (I’ve been underdressed at times, my gums were bleeding for a little while, I’ve had these multiple colds) being caught up in the rapture.  I’ll try and remember to look after myself a little bit more.  I made a joke about old age, but I really hope that this is not what getting old is like, because if so then I’m going to be grouchy 😉 I mean, when I was younger and my nan and I used to walk down Totterdown to the St. Philips market, I used to push her up the slope back home because “it was good exercise”.  I didn’t understand quite how tired you could get, or why you couldn’t push through it.  And walking up St. Michael’s Hill yesterday with Hannah, I can still push through it, but I can now envision in the future that I may not always have the physical strength to do that, even if my will is there.  So I have a newfound appreciation and understanding of that.  And if worst comes to the worst, I listen to something hard and upbeat like Rihanna or Nicki Minaj and that keeps me going, and gives me a placebo energy boost.  I’ll be fine 😉  Take it easy xxx

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Monica – Still Standing. (album review)

March 21, 2010

Still Standing is Monica’s first album since The Makings Of Me 4 years ago.  Like that album, Still Standing stands at a brief ten tracks (bonuses excluded), and the font on the album cover is the same.  Missy Elliott has a strong presence in the album’s production, and in case you forget this fact, she grunts and shouts at the beginning of some of the tracks to announce “New Monica! Hot shit!” This annoying tic disrupts the flow of an album that is largely slow to mid-tempo, and is unnecessary since we know we’re listening to Monica and we don’t need Missy Elliott to bludgeon us over the head with her opinion of her own track.

Unlike The Makings Of Me however, Still Standing is “hot shit” from beginning to end.  Representing the strongest album Monica has released since The Boy Is Mine (or possibly  All Eyez On Me), Still Standing contains one uptempo track, “If You Were My Man”, which is tellingly the album’s only weak point, riding an 80s groove that sounds genuine and laid back even as the bass knocks hard.  Apart from this song, the album runs at a slow, leisurely pace that really invites the listener to sink into the songs and contemplate the alternately loving and lovelorn lyrics accompanying the tracks.  Despite the album’s slow tempo, the 10 tracks seem to be over too soon, and when an album makes you want to press repeat immediately, that’s a good sign that it’s a decent effort.  What’s more, although there was a real danger that with so many slow songs, they might melt into one another to become a big treacly mess, the lyrics, melodies and production are all immaculate throughout and each song is distinguished from the next.  “Still Standing” (the first song we heard from this project way back in 2008, which opens the album with a declaration of strength and resilient and deserves to be the title track) and “Mirror” employ persistent, menacing synths and underlying piano to emphasise the empowering nature of their lyrics, and are two highlights from the album.

“Everything To Me”, the album’s first proper single, has been an unlikely hit considering its radio-unfriendliness (a 3/4 time signature? How refreshing!).  However, its soaring declaration of love is elevated by Monica’s stellar vocal delivery, and while sonically she sounds more and more like a young Mary J. Blige (Still Standing is the album Stronger With Each Tear should have been), it is becoming more and more apparent that Clive Davis was right all along and Monica is truly the vocal heir to Whitney Houston.  “One In A Lifetime” (which couldn’t sound more like a Mary J. Blige track if it tried, robbing liberally from her mega-hit “Be Without You”) is radio-ready but still sincere, while “Superman” employs a plethora of hero metaphors over a slow-jam beat.

In contrast to these romantic songs stands “Stay Or Go”, another album highlight which takes the flowing piano from Chris Brown’s “So Cold” (the best song from his mediocre Graffiti), slows it down and adds more mature lyrics and beautiful vocal stylings to the mix to serve up an effective ultimatum to Monica’s love interest.  Album closer “Believing In Me” sees Monica heartbroken, defiant and finding her strength of heart and soul all over again in the wake of a broken relationship.  Just as “Getaway” was a declaration of vulnerability at the end of The Makings Of Me, so is “Believing In Me” a declaration of vulnerability but also independence, which one might relate to Monica’s recent split from her long-time partner Rocko.  It closes the album well, with Monica’s vocals on the edge of tears close to the song’s climax.

Still Standing succeeds because while it sounds current, it doesn’t pander to radio’s demands for disposable fluff and instead hews close to Monica’s strengths as a supreme R&B vocalist, giving her solid melodies to express heartfelt lyrics.  Every song is strong and uncompromising, standing on its own merits and together these songs form a cohesive whole.  Annoying grunts aside, Missy Elliott handles production duties well, as do the other producers (particularly Bryan-Michael Cox), and if the album is brief at 10 tracks, at least it serves up excellent quality and is markedly better than The Makings Of Me which contained the same number of songs.  It feels like Monica has really hit her stride after previous album wobbles, and it’s so refreshing in 2010 to find some artists making true R&B still enjoying commercial and critical success.