Monday, 28 September 2009

FIFA 10 vs. Pro Evolution Soccer 2010

And so the war rages on.

The Playstation Network and Xbox Live currently play host to both the FIFA 10 and the Pro Evolution Soccer 2010 demos, allowing us to sample the two heavyweights of the beautiful game in the virtual world. So, which game is better?

The FIFPro licence possessed by FIFA has given it the polish Pro Evo has always been lacking. After all, who wants to simulate a mouth-watering World Cup final between England and Germany only to find out that the German stars won’t be attending this crucial fixture, instead, each player will be replaced by their respective doppelganger. All of this does not bode well for the escapism aspect of the football simulation game. English fans want to fire goals past Germany and make Ballack cry, we don’t care about Botanaski, whoever he is, or isn’t.

Despite Konami promising that ‘PES [2010] will offer drastic improvements in license content’, FIFA 10 easily trumps Pro Evolution Soccer 2010 on the licensing front, but none of us expected any different did we?

The Japanese developers have been true to their word though; PES 2010 boasts the licence for the UEFA Europa League to complement that of the UEFA Champions League. But, because Konami failed to use the Champions League licence to any great effect in 2009 – it was not even woven into either the Master League or Become a Legend modes – we are more than entitled to be sceptical of the Europa League making a huge difference to the value of PES 2010.

The commentary of FIFA is bound to be better than Pro Evo too. There is no commentary on the Pro Evo demo, but the chances of the badly timed, repetitive ramblings of idiots on the final version being anything but that are slim to none. Whereas the FIFA demo already offers the familiar voices of Messrs Tyler and Gray, who benefit from being allowed the luxury of discussing the characteristics and histories of clubs while not being forced to use pronouns in place of team names.

Graphics have also been another element of FIFA constantly thrown in the face of PES fans when the two are compared. But, as Bob Dylan once said, ‘the times they are a-changing’. The graphics of Pro Evo 2010 are far superior to those of FIFA 10. The players’ faces are almost picture perfect and the stadium atmosphere looks and, with the vastly improved responsiveness of the crowd, sounds like the real thing. Moreover, although it is funny to see, FIFA’s desire to make Frank Lampard look even fatter and Wayne Rooney even uglier does not help with that escapism thing mentioned above.

Other features of appearance have usually favoured FIFA too. The menu systems that you must manoeuvre around in order to get to the good stuff are characteristically sophisticated on FIFA 10, but PES has revamped the childish display from last season’s instalment.

Still, graphics aside, all of these superficial elements of the game are fairly insignificant. Isn’t it the football that really matters in a football game? So then, should it not be okay to have a game that forsakes official licenses, popular music, and shiny menu systems for the good of the game? That is what lead to PES being crowned as the king of the football sim in the first place, so a return to form would be welcomed by all genuine football lovers.

And when it comes to gameplay, after a Heskey-esque dip in form, Pro Evo is back among the goals. The physics of the players in PES are superior to those in FIFA, who seem to be made of thin air at times. When you play Pro Evo you actually feel like you are guiding real men about the pitch, they feel sturdy, sometimes to the point of sluggishness, but nevertheless, their movement is realistic. The ball physics of FIFA are also inferior. The shooting and crossing are unpredictable at best, a problem made more noticeable by the way that spherical thing moving about on the pitch has the feel of an air-flow you buy for a quid at the beach.

This is not to say that FIFA is poor though, it is definitely the more immediately likable out of the two games. The 360° dribbling is the game's best feature. This system strays away from only affording players with up, down, left, right, and the diagonals as their directions of movement, giving you the chance to turn in a more fluid motion. This not only creates a dribbling system that is less linear than the one found on Pro Evo, it advances the types of tricks you are able to pull off, which, when mastered, arms you with an arsenal of weapons commonly used by the world's top flair players.

It is when this arcade trickery style of FIFA (or the lack of it in PES) is mentioned that the row between the fans of FIFA and those of Pro Evo transcends the boundaries of computer games and enters into an argument about the fundamentals of football. FIFA is all about sexy football, football as a celebrity – buying success, using the big names to help your own, being a brand. Pro Evo represents the nitty-gritty, ruggedness of the game we all love so much – struggling to overcome the competition, slumps in form, grinding out results.

Although it is far from perfect, Pro Evo just about manages to come closer to perfection than FIFA. It is the football game that shows it to be more than just a game. Using the new tactics system you can turn it into a science, something that is actually a requisite for players hoping to conquer the game on the toughest setting. The AI has been cranked up to near impenetrable sensibilities, so advance your tactical nous or perish.

But, there is a huge clause attached to Pro Evo retaining its title, one that can not be judged according to the demo... the online mode. It has dogged the last two editions of PES, with its laughably lag-heavy gameplay creating an unplayable environment. Konami have assured us that these difficulties have been sorted once and for all, having swallowed their pride and opted for Sony’s and Microsoft’s own servers to host Pro Evolution Soccer 2010’s online gaming on the PS3 and Xbox 360 respectively. But, given that the last instalment of the series came with a similar promise stamped on its box, this should definitely be taken with a pinch of salt.

Pro Evo 2010 is Konami’s last shot at ensuring the most loyal fans of their series do not go over to the dark side. Judging by the online demo, that shot could easily have been launched from the boot of Stephen Gerrard, for only he could produce such a magnificent effort at such a crucial time. But there is a chance that this attempt has been sent sailing towards the wrong net, potentially resulting in an own-goal Frank Sinclair would be ashamed of, such is the embarrassment Konami face if that online mode is not right.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

This Might Just Be His Masterpiece

Imagine you are Quentin Tarantino, the director of the most stylish movies in Western cinema. So stylish are your films that your involvement in them is immediately identifiable simply by their fine blend of engaging dialogue mixed effortlessly with blood-thirsty, bone crunching violence, almost rendering marketing campaigns unnecessary.

Imagine you are going to tackle the most notable event in modern political history – World War Two – as the subject matter for your next film.

When approaching the film, would you study the history books documenting the events before, during and after the time period between 1939 and 1945 – books that have been poured over by a vast swathe of directors before you? Of course you would, knowledge is the bomb. But, would you ignore them and just make one of the funniest films of the year out of one of the most melancholy topics at hand simply because you are Quentin Tarantino and you – and only you – can do so?

Of course you would.

Here you can stop imagining, because the real Quentin is far ahead of you.

The eponymous heroes of the attractively misspelt Inglourious Basterds are a band of Jewish-American soldiers sent into Nazi-occupied France to strike fear, and premature death, into the Third Reich by engaging them in an Apache Indian inspired guerrilla resistance. The leader of this Band of Badass Brothers is Lieutenant Aldo Raine, played impeccably by Brad Pitt. It would be a gross understatement to say that the Second World War was tense, but Tarantino somehow manages to crank up the intensity, leaving recovering nail-biters’ efforts in jagged, bleeding tatters. In this environment, Raine’s country charm and ruthless treatment of Nazi soldiers make him immediately likable. His ability to have fun and enjoy ‘dee-stroying’ Nazis force the audience into a nicotine-like craving for his surprisingly rare appearances.

An equally notable performance is that of Austrian born actor, Christoph Waltz, who plays Colonel Hans Landa, also known as ‘The Jew Hunter’ – a vicious wolf in a sheep’s clothing, that is if the sheep was itself dressed up as Rob Brydon. The dialogue of most characters in Inglourious Basterds is typically excellent, but Waltz and Pitt must count themselves as the lucky pair. Much of the conversation in the film is spoken in foreign languages, showing that Tarantino has avoided the terrible blunder of having French and German people speak English all of the time, thereby providing the film with a touch of authenticity and class. Such is the director’s level of respect to languages other than the behemoth of English that British actor Michael Fassbender’s character, Lieutenant Archibald Hicox, almost has his true identity unearthed due to his strange German accent when posing as a Nazi officer. Although some may ignorantly describe the subtitle approach as nothing but a moving picture book, the film benefits considerably from enforcing such a level of concentration upon the audience, because when the action comes (you never doubted for a second that it would, did you?) it is so sudden and explosive that those aforementioned nail-biters run the risk of swallowing their hand.

Like most QT productions, a suspension of disbelief is a must with this film. History doesn't just get blurred, it gets opaqued with a brand new version, so only then can you watch Inglourious Basterds and see it for the hilarious, intelligent action romp that it is.

Inglourious Basterds is the war movie you wish would have come on during those numerous rainy Sundays, before Antique’s Roadshow carried out a sluggish assault on your eyes and ears with a barrage of sentimentality for overvalued old tat. See this film and you will see Quentin Tarantino pick up the hot potato of the Second World War, strap it with TNT and blow it to smithereens, without an oven glove in sight.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Why are British troops fighting in Afghanistan?

On Saturday the death toll of British soldiers serving in Afghanistan reached another dreaded milestone. Private Richard Hunt, 21, of 2nd Battalion The Royal Welsh sadly succumbed to the injuries he sustained on 13 August when an explosion hit the vehicle patrol he had been part of in Musa Qaleh in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. Despite the best efforts of staff at the Royal Centre of Defence Medicine in Selly Oak, Private Hunt became the 200th British soldier to die as a result of the conflict in Afghanistan. Since his death the British media has seemingly doubled its efforts to cover the events taking place in the Middle East.

Now that the coverage has begun to approach a level that soldiers, and indeed the general public, can be happy with, the general public are bound to form an, or adapt their, opinion on it.

A day prior to Private Hunt’s death, Sky News conducted a survey, in association with YouGov, which showed that of 2,000 adults asked about the war in Afghanistan, 35% (the majority) indicated that it is not very clear why British troops are fighting out there, while an added 20% believed that it is not clear at all. An interesting contradiction was highlighted when the same poll gave results that show 57% of those questioned are opposed to British troops fighting in Afghanistan, more than twice the number of those who believe a British presence there is justified. The results of this poll conducted last week only go to show that a scarily high percentage of British citizens do not know why there is a British presence in Afghanistan but still oppose it. Where is the sense in that?

There must be a clearly identifiable reason. If the debacle of the Iraq war taught the Labour party anything, it was that the British people will not be duped into supporting an unjustifiable war ever again. Fool us once; shame on you, fool us twice; shame on us. Hence Shadow Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox’s recent letter to Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth which “demands clarification on [the] British mission in Afghanistan”. This letter, as noble a gesture as it may seem, stinks of another Conservative effort to further embarrass Labour, were it to be revealed that we have another WMD scenario on our hands, thereby making the Tories look better by default, and may not actually provide the people of Britain with the information they so desperately need and deserve.

So, why are British troops fighting in Afghanistan?

There are a handful of recent historical events that proffer such questions as ‘Where were you when...?’ and the like. If that ellipsis were to be replaced by just three numbers and one small slice of punctuation though, almost all of us would be able to blurt out an answer which seemingly shows that while planes were crashing and thousands of people were dying, we were going about our daily business in blissful ignorance.

The section of the Ministry Defence website entitled ‘Operations in Afghanistan: Background Briefing 1’ begins with the following: ‘Following the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York on 11 September 2001…’ And that is why Britain became involved in Afghanistan. Our nation stood shoulder to shoulder with the US as it looked to react to the awful events that took place on 9/11.

Much of us are easily convinced that retaliating to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon is more than enough reason to justify British troops being in Afghanistan. However, factions of the general public will be quick to point out that we don’t need to get involved in ‘someone else’s fight’ (that quote is so common in conversations about British military endeavours in recent history that it is approaching being categorised as cliché). These people would be well reminded of another date infamous enough to be granted with a numerical moniker supposed to encapsulate all connotations of pain, destruction and death caused by evil – 7 July 2005, the day of the London terrorist attacks. Also, in talk held with the intelligence of conversation usually reserved for drunken pub chat, the US is often accused of only getting involved in the Second World War when the country felt the effects of it on a personal level, with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. A fine display of hypocrisy it is then to say that the British reaction to 9/11 was not justified.

That reaction was the beginning of Operation Veritas, a campaign against international terrorism, initialised with the identification of denying Al Qaida a base in Afghanistan, denying them an alternative base elsewhere, attacking Al Qaida internationally, and supporting other states in their efforts against Al Qaida as the four main goals of the operation.

In November 2001, the Royal Marines from 40 Commando became the first British troops sent into Afghanistan and were quickly followed by a large battle group based around Royal Marines from 45 Commando. Their role as Task Force Jacana was to ‘deny and destroy terrorist infrastructure and interdict the movement of Al Qaida in eastern Afghanistan’, more broadly, they were part of a US-led coalition force designed to dislodge the Taliban which was sheltering Al Qaida. This aim was quickly fulfilled. By the end of the year the Taliban had collapsed. Those who remained were forced into retreating to the Pushtan province of southern Afghanistan and Pakistani tribal areas. However, international forces remained in Afghanistan to prevent the country from falling back into the hands of those seeking to use it as a hotbed for the grooming of potential terrorists, thereby providing much needed stability. While present in Afghanistan, British forces were given the tasks of seeking out hidden factions of the Taliban and Al Qaida and training Afghan security forces to defend their own country against such threats.

So, the original reason for the British troops being in Afghanistan was to help get rid of Al Qaida and the Taliban, but having done that, simply deciding to cut and run was not, and is still not, an option, as this would leave Afghanistan open for resurgent enemy forces to reclaim. Therefore, the aim now is to protect Afghanistan and allow the nation to become self-sustaining, stable and, most importantly to NATO, democratic.

As Afghanistan gears up to the elections this week, only the second time they have voted for a leader in their history, British forces will play a huge part in making sure they go smoothly. The establishment of a democracy in Afghanistan is the most crucial goal for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) that the United Kingdom currently contributes approximately 9,000 troops towards. However, a democracy is not a desirable situation for all, especially the Taliban, who initially enjoyed popularity when coming to prominence in the country in 1994 but have, of course, since been driven out and reduced to insurgency.

When British forces moved into the Taliban stronghold of Helmand in 2006 they were met with brutal resistance, in the form of head-on attacks, straight away. Three years on, soldiers no longer have to face such bold tactics, but instead face the constant threat of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). IEDs are morally degrading for the ISAF troops because they are hard to find and extremely lethal, but still cheap and easy for the enemy to produce, giving the Taliban the option of laying ten IEDs in the hope that just one will devastate a British patrol. Soldiers also face the added problem of identifying the Taliban insurgents amongst the civilians they come across.

With these facts in mind, the question on everyone’s lips should not be about why British troops are fighting in Afghanistan, but instead how much longer they must do so. On this subject the Chief of General Staff (head of the Army) General Sir David Richards has said that “the whole process might take as long as 30 to 40 years” when speaking earlier this month. Although he went on to say that the number of troops British forces contribute during that time will not always be as high as the current amount, any kind of British presence in a land unknown to almost all British citizens for up to 40 years is a scary prospect, especially when considering the tragic fact that a further four soldiers have already lost their lives since Saturday.

The hope is that over the course of time the war on terror will be won. By giving Afghanistan back to its people, this prospect is a much more realistic one. The years ahead will be arduous for our troops out there, and they will need the undivided support of their people. The difficulty fighting a war without the support of the people has been demonstrated in conflicts throughout modern history and this task is difficult enough already.

‘We, along with the rest of the international community, are determined never to allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorists again. We are working hard towards a common goal – to develop a self-sustaining, stable and democratic Afghanistan.’
The Ministry of Defence

Please check out the Help for Heroes website ( Perhaps you could even go as far as donating to this honourable charity ( or simply buying a band from the online shop to show your support for the British troops (

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

So, What Now?

The following is a story written by Anon. Mr. Anon is my most favourite author of all time so I have been waiting for the chance to slip one of his stories into one of my blogs.

The Little Boy and the Promise of a Good Job

There was once a little boy who wanted a good job. He wanted a job that he would be happy in and that would provide him with enough money to ensure that he would live comfortably, having spent most of his life without much money at all.

Random Adult, one of many adults who constantly told the little boy what he should do, said, “Go to school little boy, get good GCSEs so that you can go to college or Sixth Form. You need qualifications to get a good job.”

To which the little boy replied, “Okay, Random Adult, I will do that.”

So the little boy went to school and eventually gained enough GCSEs to get into Sixth Form College. By the time he had done this he wasn’t little any more.

As he was about to start his A-Levels, Random Adult told the boy, “Go to Sixth Form boy, get good A-Levels so that you can go to university. You need qualifications to get a good job.”

To which the boy replied, “Okay, Random Adult, I will do that.”

So the boy went to sixth form and eventually gained enough A-Levels to get into university. By the time he had done this he was more of a lad than a boy.

As he was about to start his degree, Random Adult told the lad, “Go to university lad, get a degree so that you can get a good job. You need qualifications to get a good job.”

To which the boy replied, “Okay, Random Adult, I will do that.”

So the boy went to university and eventually gained a degree that he thought would get him a good job.

But, when the lad went to get a good job he was confronted by The Man, that is the person who decides who has a good job and who does not.

“You can not have a good job,” The Man told the lad, “You should have been working. You need experience to get a good job.”

And so the little boy had wasted his time on education.

That’s just a little tale to show how sorry I’m feeling for myself at the moment. Nothing like a bit of good old self-pity to start an exhilarating blog with eh?

Since I have graduated I have found it quite hard to find a job that puts my degree to use (like most graduates unfortunate enough to be part of the class of 2009), so I’ve basically written this to inform anyone who cares that I’m going to carry on writing my blogs soon. My plan is to pick one story every week and blog about it. I may even write more often if there are enough stories for me to draw inspiration from. You may know that I have made such plans before and they have not happened, partly because of uni work and partly because of laziness. But the former excuse is no longer a problem, and I am, paradoxically, working on the latter – surely working on your laziness must prove that you aren’t actually that lazy?

This is all a small (but crucial) part of my big plan to ‘stick it to The Man’ and get that good job the little boy was promised by Random Adult (there’s a perverted sentence if ever there was one). Other parts of the plan include working on my CV, signing up to almost every graduate recruitment website going – along with mainstream ones like fish4 and Monster – and emailing the Huddersfield uni careers department for advice, as well as talking to everyone I know who may be able to help me in my ‘Good Job Hunt’, or, as I like to call it, my ‘Gojoh’ – it has a nice Japanese feel to it.

Argos have been kind enough to take me back, so I am working there as a Delivery Assistant for now. While doing this is by no means a ‘bad’ job, it is not ‘good’ in the ways that I want it to be, mainly in that it is not putting to use my most expensive purchase to date – my degree.

So while I’m working there I will be building up my portfolio and then eventually sending out speculative job applications to various media organisations.

If you have any advice for me whatsoever, I would love to hear it.

Another Three Bite The Dust

[This blog was written a while ago (Tuesday 26th May to be precise), I shamefully forgot to post it then]

So there we have it; another season done and dusted. Another predictable top four, or top six for that matter. The only difference in the top six of the 08/09 table from that of the 07/08 season is that Liverpool slotted into second after an unforeseen increase in their level of performance, sparked mainly by their 4-0 demolition of the club of the century, Real Madrid, in the second leg of their Champions League tie at Anfield. This was of course followed promptly by an extremely convincing victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford and many other high scoring encounters.

But, this is not to say that the top half of the table was not entertaining, what with Aston Villa seeming to have upset the apple cart early on, only to then go and tidy it up nice and neatly, making sure that Liverpool were the only apple allowed to be left out of place as the Merseyside club finally gave their similarly coloured Manchester rivals a run for their money after years of false threats.

Everton were the highlight of the season for me and should come out of it with their heads held high enough to reach the clouds – Marouane Fellaini has an obvious advantage in this endeavour – as they went through the season with a depleted squad, making strikers of Tim Cahill and the aforementioned hairy, Belgian tower. The Toffees not only secured a place in the brand-spanking new UEFA Europa League but also lined up a tasty FA Cup final with Chelsea along the way. But are Everton a team that rely upon adversity to spur them onto success? Do they need a nothing-to-lose attitude in order to lose very little? Next season will hopefully provide us with the answer, but I expect David Moyes to have the tactical nous to make a full-strength Everton challenge for another Champions League spot.

Between the top six and bottom six were a plethora of also-rans that never even threatened to get near that apple cart Villa had a momentary affair with. Teams like Spurs, Manchester City and West Ham suffered ultimately from varyingly poor starts to their campaigns that a belated surge in form could not rescue them from. But each of these mentioned sides have defended themselves by writing off the 08/09 season as a season in which they laid foundations for a brighter future. And, although I am biased in my opinion, West Ham have definitely done that, securing the signatures of hot prospects and, perhaps more importantly, the managerial duo. The bias is somewhat nullified when I say that Tottenham, under the leadership of ’Arry the former ’appy ’Ammer, have also done it.

The real interest though, lies in the darkest depths of the Premier League table, namely with West Brom, Middlesbrough and Newcastle.

The Baggies stuck to their credible footballing ethics of keeping the ball down and passing. Sadly their players were not good enough for such a philosophy to be successful and they may have found more success in employing the disgusting styles employed by Stoke and Bolton. Such is the harsh nature of the supposedly ‘beautiful’ game.

Middlesbrough are just awful. They put faith in a striker that set the Dutch league alight and suffered the inevitable consequences. If anyone at Middlesbrough has witnessed the ridiculous goings on in Holland this season – Vitesse Arnhem 6-1 FC Utrecht (in what was supposed to be a tight mid-table clash), Sparta Rotterdam 4-0 Ajax (Sparta finished 13th out of 18, and Ajax are supposed to be one of the greatest European clubs) and FC Twente 6-0 Heerenveen (Steve Mclaren’s Twente finished 2nd, but Heerenveen also finished a respectable 5th) to name just a few strange results – then they will surely see that a talent in that league needs to be taken with a pinch of salt in the Premiership, or, in the case of Afonso Alves, an unhealthy heaped tablespoon’s worth. I am glad that we will see Middlesbrough in the Championship next season, maybe then they will commit themselves fully to their commendable youth system and avoid temperamental foreign signings like the plague that they have proven to be them.

Newcastle United are a team with a monstrous fan base, and one that is full of passion and desire for success. However, a lot of Newcastle fans are easily confused in to believing that because there are a lot of them, and a big stadium has been provided for them out of necessity, they are a ‘big club’. The phrase ‘big club’ is overused to the point of cliché in modern football, but to me ‘big clubs’ are those that achieve high league positions and win trophies, and do both consistently. For this reason West Ham, Aston Villa, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and definitely Newcastle United are not big club, (although Villa especially are going about changing that the right way). You can have all the money in the world, you can have a 50,000+ stadium and you can have enough fans to fill it twice, or thrice, but if the team on the pitch does not win and you do not achieve a high position in the league, or a trophy, you are not a big club. Hopefully relegation to the English football league’s second tier will allow Newcastle fans to come to grips with this fact. I expect Newcastle to bounce back from this huge low point in their history. If players follow the shining example of Damien Duff and stay at the club to undo the damage they have done, Newcastle will surely gain promotion next season and return to the Premier League reinvigorated. With the confidence of promotion they may even stride up the Premier League table in the 2010/11 season, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Next season promises to be just as interesting as the one we have just witnessed if not more, but with England’s and Spain’s finest facing off in tomorrow night’s Champions League final, and Chelsea and Everton coming toe to toe in the FA Cup Final at Wembley on Saturday, this season is far from over, we could witness the two most entertaining games at the very end of it.

I’d love to make a prediction for each game, but that’s like trying to pin the tail on the donkey for me – I can only do it when I get a good look at the donkey when the game has begun. I just hope Man U and Barca produce a game that, unlike last year’s final, is worthy of being called the most important game in club football. Oh, and that Everton stuff Chelsea.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Guess who's back...back again...

At the end of 2005, Eminem seemed to have completely wiped his hands of the business that had, whether he liked it or not, given him fame and fortune. In this year the Detroit rapper released his ominously titled greatest hits collection, Curtain Call and the equally ominous single When I’m Gone. Most of the lyrics of this flagship single all but told the world that Mr. Mathers was giving up his alter ego, Slim Shady, as well as his pen name, Eminem, so that he could get back to just being Marshall and more importantly to being ‘Dad’.

Lyrics like, ‘I turn around, find a gun on the ground, cock it, put it to my brain, scream “Die Shady” and pop it’ are not really the words of a person who is happy pretending to be someone else, but then again The Way I Am told us early on that Eminem was not happy being Slim Shady all of the time. But, in When I’m Gone, Eminem also said ‘Slim Shady’s crazy, Shady made me but tonight Shady’s rock a by baby’, the inclusion of the lullaby suggesting that this persona was not being killed off, but merely being put to sleep for a while.

And so he was.

On Monday 18th May 2009 Relapse was released, thereby reintroducing Eminem into the industry he seemed to have turned his back on, an industry that had become ridden with talentless and tacky pop rappers in his absence. Fans of Eminem will surely be somewhat unsure of what to make of this new album being as though the first release from it was Crack A Bottle – a collaboration between Eminem, his mentor and producer Dr. Dre, and his own (not so) little protégé 50 Cent. The beat on the song was great (when is a Dre beat not great?) but the effort stank of the commercial rap that 50 Cent has made a habit of firing out; the type that will be catchy, sell loads and get played in clubs but is not what Eminem has been, or ever will be loved for – Ass Like That or Smack That anyone? No? Didn’t think so.

The second single was We Made You, one of Eminem’s celebrity-observational-comedy tunes that, although funny, was not offering the Eminem fans what they really wanted. The beat was again produced by Dre, as all but one of the 20 songs on the album are, but this still failed to convince that Slim Shady was really back.

Patience was wearing thin and the album release date was approaching. Was Eminem’s new album going to be a shameless effort to make up the money he lost due to his messy second divorce from Kim?

Thankfully, 3am said, in a blood curdling scream, “No!”. It was the release of this fantastical, autobiographical horror tale of having a relapse in rehab and killing everyone in the hospital which confirmed that not only had Slim Shady returned, but he was stepping into places darker than those he had previously strayed into, after all, even though there are definitely darker songs in Eminem’s discography, most obviously Kim, none of these have been released. So Slim Shady was starting to show a broader audience just how disturbed a life lived with an alleged drug abusing mother, suicidal ex-wife, and Bizarre, can leave you. On the album, 3am is introduced effectively by a skit featuring British actor Dominic West, a.k.a. McNulty from The Wire, a.k.a. the best cop ever, but in this instance known as the pretty scary shrink, Dr. West.

Dr. West and 3am are promptly backed up by My Mom. In this last track Eminem experiences a beautiful piece of the-apple-doesn’t-fall-far-from-the-tree realisation and accepts that his past abuse of all things drug-ish has made him just as bad as the woman he has slated for over 10 years, although his being like this may still be her fault. It is funny and fresh and Eminem does not ignore the criticism that he tends to talk about his mum a lot, instead acknowledging it but going about his business anyway.

Insane is the fourth track on the new album and is about as sick as Eminem’s lyrics have ever been and that isn’t ‘sick’ in the modern complimentary sense. The track describes (what we can only hope to be) fake, incestuous gay rape from his step-father in disturbing graphic detail and includes other lyrics like: ‘Don’t you know what ‘felch’ means? (Yeah) Well then tell me, would you rather get felched or do the felching? Fuck ‘em in the ass suck the come out while you’re belching’. Strong stuff. If Eminem somehow decided to release that song he would undoubtedly have to deal with more trouble from the media than ever before, and this is a man who was almost investigated by the United States Secret Service for saying ‘I don’t rap for dead presidents, I’d rather see the President dead’ in We As Americans, a bonus track on Encore.

Track eight is Same Song & Dance, another scary tale of murder inspired by Eminem’s obsession with serial killers, laid over a disturbingly mellow beat, resulting in memories of ’97 Bonnie & Clyde being woken from the depths of the fans’ minds – only ever a good thing. A similar effect is produced by Stay Wide Awake, but this is more about getting into the dark reaches of Eminem’s imagination and sounds almost like a more perverted version of The Watcher on Dr. Dre’s 2001.

Dre’s production on the album is typically flawless and Eminem has definitely benefitted from being able to let one of the best producers in the history of hip-hop do what his does best, allowing him to concentrate his own mind on the lyrical content. Highlights of Dre’s production include his and Eminem’s collaboration on Old Time's Sake, more of a Dre tune than an Eminem one, the jovially perverse Hello, and the explosive Underground which is preceded by a skit with Steve Berman.

The skits on Eminem’s albums have always proven to be humorous additions, thrown in to brake down unrelenting ear assaults into manageable chunks and simultaneously provide listeners with background information about songs, albums and other, usually fictional, parts of the rapper’s life. The skits on Relapse may not be as funny as the skits on previous albums (Em Calls Paul on Encore is still the firm favourite for me), but they provide essential contextual information for fans unaware of where Eminem has been hiding all these years. In addition to this, fans will be pleased to know that Ken Kaniff does make an appearance on Relapse, although they will definitely be disappointed to know, unlike on The Marshall Mathers LP, that this time he is not being given a blow job.

One skit is from Eminem’s ever-present manager, Paul Rosenberg, whose presence on any Eminem album usually summarises what kind of trouble his lyrics provide for his manager. This time around, Paul is faced with the challenge of dealing with the incest spoken about above, as well as an unprovoked, but nonetheless shamefully funny, attack on Eminem’s favourite whipping boy, Christopher Reeve, who is, of course, dead.

This is the Eminem we love and the Eminem that many love to hate, this is Slim Shady.

In promoting the new album to the UK public Eminem has recently crossed the pond to make appearances on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross and Zane Lowe’s Radio 1 programme as well as doing an interview for The Observer with journalist Anthony Bozza (see Each interview has been dominated by the subject of Marshall Mathers’ addiction to prescription drugs and his subsequent rehabilitation. The only song produced by Eminem on the new album is Beautiful, the first verse of which was written by Eminem when he was in rehab, and it shows. Beautiful is a deep and sad tune that brings the album to a depressing halt for a moment. This is not a bad thing however; it merely makes all the other tracks seem all the more uplifting despite the sick content they may possess. Juxtaposing Beautiful with tracks like 3am, Same Song & Dance and Stay Wide Awake makes murder seem like Eminem’s prerogative or even his god-given right, since it becomes evident that the rapper has been to hell and back in the time between giving us an Encore and then having a Relapse.

Eminem also had to deal with the death of his best friend and fellow D12 member, Deshaun Dupree Holton, a.k.a. Proof in April 2006. This hit the man hard and only exacerbated his already terrible drug addiction. I personally thought that Eminem would have a lot to say on Relapse about the murder of such as good friend, but he merely nods his head towards it in Déjà Vu, perhaps choosing to keep such an emotional matter a bit closer to his chest, a tactic he has been forced to learn the hard way.

Relapse is obviously a suggestion that Eminem is going back to his old ways prior to his detox and year long sobriety, but, for Eminem, the album title was not about going back to drugs, but instead about going back to the days of The Slim Shady LP and The Marshall Mathers LP, the two most critically acclaimed albums he has produced. Despite The Eminem Show and Encore being excellent too, most fans know in their heart of hearts that Eminem’s first two studio albums are definitely his best to date, with the artist seeming to suffer from the law of diminishing returns as he tried to churn out new CDs. The first two albums will always be held in high esteem because of how ground-breakingly offensive the content in them was and, especially with The Slim Shady LP, how offensive it was for a white rapper to invade a genre reserved for black artists in such a Just Don’t Give A Fuck way.

Although it would be hasty to say that Relapse is Eminem back at his absolute best, he does come very close, and elements of the new album are better than anything he has done before. Also, it would be unfair to judge him negatively for not being able to capture that energy and raw talent that made the first two albums exceptional because of the adversity he has had to fight through, and because of the way that no one can stay energetic and raw forever.

Relapse is a complete violation of your hearing, a feat achieved by all of Eminem’s albums, just never before has it been achieved to the same degree. You are forced to deal with a barrage of abuse aimed not at you, but mainly at Eminem himself, along with many, many celebrities. His derision of the latter makes you think that maybe the boom in the celebrity culture could have happened because Eminem has not been around to keep the idiots that dominate it in check. Eminem’s piss-taking abilities are unsurpassed in music, he manages to ‘diss’ anyone with consummate ease and does so in many glorious and different ways, from the obvious – threatening to rape the Pussycat Dolls, piss on Rihanna and glue and fold Madonna into a La-Z-Boy and sit on it on Medicine Ball – to the not so obvious – mimicking the voice-modification technique that seems to be proliferating in urban music amongst many artists (e.g. Kanye West, Jamie Foxx and the Black Eyed Peas) on Bagpipes From Baghdad.

It is great to have Eminem back, and even better that he brought Slim Shady with him. They have both been sorely missed. Another piece of good news for fans is that Relapse II should be released towards the end of the year after Eminem wrote enough material for three albums during his hiatus, all of which has been refined to two albums’ worth on the Dr.’s orders. So we can definitely expect a lot more from Mr. Mathers in the future.

Eminem’s musical relapse has allowed him to get back to his ways of old and will affect the lovers of The Slim Shady LP in the same way. Listening to this album will allow you to forget about the horrific realities of the world around us in this tough time and allow you to escape into a much more horrific place created for you by Slim Shady. You can forget all that maturity and responsibility 10 years has forced upon you and sink into Eminem’s twisted little world again.

...Shady’s back...tell a friend.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Watchmen Review

Watchmen was released into UK cinemas on Friday 6th March and having utilised the first Orange Wednesday since its release to go and see the film last week I thought it would only be right to force my opinion of it on other people, after all isn’t that what reviews are all about – journalists masquerading their opinions as world truths?

The graphic novel is, and always will be, loved by fanboys the world over, giving director Zack Snyder the unenviable task of converting into film material described by its embittered co-creator, Alan Moore, as “inherently unfilmable”. Being a lover of the book himself surely influenced Snyder’s initial decision to take the film on in the first place, but also his decision to remain so true to the original work. That is, after all, exactly what the film does, in a similar fashion to Snyder’s 300 which held true to Frank Miller’s graphic novel of the same title. It may be seen as the easy way out; stick slavishly close to the fanboys’ ‘precious’ and they won’t demand your balls on a platter immediately after storming out of the cinema two minutes into the film. But, in the case of Watchmen sticking close to the original material is the bravest step any director could take. When taking into account the weighty content of the Watchmen novel, any director that has managed to remain steadfast and not bowed to the pressure applied by glutinous studios to produce a film that is actually worthy of carrying the novel’s title to screen has to be applauded.

If you add to this the fact that Snyder has altered the material with a little help from his friends, namely screen writers David Hayter and Alex Tse, you can really see that the chap has got his wits about him. The ending of the novel is somewhat unbelievable, and remember that this is in a novel including a blue ‘man’ who can appear wherever he wants, whenever he wants, whatever size he wants, complete with blue cock for all to see. Changing the ending of the story ever so slightly prevents the less open minded movie goer from alienation and further bum-numbing with the film already notching up a 2 hours 42 minutes running time. Forcing in the original ending would have required an additional story line and character development running along the many already on the go and would have, in turn, required a pause button of some sort.

Watchmen comes at you with an 18 rating held aloft so that you know it is not a kiddie’s comic-book vehicle. The fight scenes are brutal to the point of eliciting synchronised grimaces from the cinema audience as numerous baddies suffer compound fracture after compound fracture and other, more violent injuries and/or deaths. But it is not just the violence in the film which makes it unfit for young eyes, the sexual content of the book is also transformed to the screen so seamlessly that you realise the bars separating the windows in the graphic novel are seams which the film does not have to put up with, placing into your head an idea about why almost every graphic novel and comic book produced or in production is steadily making its way to the screen, if it hasn’t done so already.

In the film Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson) and Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman) give us an essential ingredient; genuine human characters, warts and all, who magnify how crazy the other pieces of the puzzle are. Dr Manhattan (Billy Crudup) displays superbly in bold, blue letters how alien a being with infinite knowledge and power would be made to feel by a race born with a major inferiority complex. Ozymandias (Mathew Goode) puts us all to shame with his knowledge, physical prowess and wealth all while remaining a homo sapien. However, it is Rorschach and The Comedian, portrayed excellently by Jackie Earle Hayley and Jeffrey Dean Morgan respectively, who stand out from the crowd. They share an uncompromising, no-nonsense approach to cleaning up a world that they, in their own individual ways, realise is full to the brim with evil. Rorschach sees it and is disgusted, turning inwards and becoming a hateful loner that you can’t help but love. Whereas The Comedian, whose brutal murder is the catalyst for the story, simply laughs at how sick and twisted the world is. Rorschach says of The Comedian: ‘He saw the true face of the twentieth century and chose to become a reflection, a parody of it’. In short, Rorschach and The Comedian make Batman look like a joker.

We are brought into their worlds to see if we can sample them and come out the other side still seeing good and evil as absolutes, and if we can, do we remain on the right side of the fence?

The most engaging aspects of Watchmen are the moral dilemmas it imposes on us – Should a child molester merely be sent to prison? Does war make it okay to kill anything that tries to kill you, even if that includes children? Should you really help people who do nothing but try to destroy themselves? Each small quandary makes you question your very own integrity. But the real dilemma is saved for the end. It is very hard to watch the film without putting yourself into the shoes, knee-high boots, blue-skinned bare feet, etc. of the heroes. In the event of impending global catastrophe would you do what NEEDED to be done?

The film does what many thought it would never do; it works. The stylised camera work Zack Snyder was inevitably going to bring with him fits perfectly with the brutal action sequences that cannot jump off of a page as well as they can a screen. The soundtrack is strange but excellent; sometimes acting as comic relief from what should be a horrific sight – e.g. Vietcong exploding – making us think about whether or not we should be laughing at what our eyes are seeing, but at other times supplying heightened drama to scenes where our focus is in no doubt.

Watchmen picks up where The Dark Knight left off, bringing the genre of the comic-book movie kicking and screaming into adulthood. It is simultaneously an action movie that pulls no punches and a psychodrama that will change your idea of heroism forever.