Friday, March 29, 2013

A Godawful Small Affair: Six "Pin Ups"

"PIN UPS" [1973]

COVER SHOT: An Alternative Use For Twiggy


The thing with Bowie is he always keep you guessing.  Someone in my position can only imagine how nonplussed the record buying public may or may not have been when he dropped an album of cover songs less than a year after "Aladdin Sane", particularly when we're talking about songs that were out in the preceding decade or so.

And so it is that from the more ambitious offerings of that aforementioned body, not six months later we get an album of mainly passable, occasionally cringeworthy rock 'n' roll songs, sung by somebody who is reasonably unmistakable as one of Britain's biggest pop stars of the era.  If nothing else, it's certainly out there enough to bear the Bowie fingerprint, but even by his rich standards this must be considered quite the deviation.

So what's actually on there?  Bit of Who, bit of Kinks, bit of Pink Floyd (Liverpool's favourite band - FACT), and yet despite being good songs by good artists being covered by good musicians, it's not very...  Well, good, I suppose.  It's not that the song selections are bad, and nothing's totally terrible (slowed-down "I Can't Explain" aside) but everything just seems a bit limp and phoned in - one might as well just dig out the originals, as not much is added to or subtracted from them.

But the major complaint is that none of this is strictly necessary; that alone doesn't make it a bad album, or an invalid artistic statement, but it does mean that it seems like simply a lesser quality of work, particularly when juxtaposed with the albums on either side of it chronologically.  It also seems like a sad goodbye to Ronson and co., who we shan't be hearing from again any time soon.  One wonders if the whole thing was a contractual obligation of sort, either to his musicians or the record company.

As with most of his career moves, it doesn't appear to have done him much harm in the long run.  Think of this as more of a musical sorbet - a sharp break between courses, there to clear the palate of the Spiders From Mars before the more esoteric offerings to come.  I think I've nicked that concept from the "Fist Of Fun" comedy cash-in book; still, the reference endures.

Join us next time for a wonderful trip to Murder City.  Mmm - sounds relaxing!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

ENGINE BLOOD - Malaysian GP

* A bad day for number two drivers, as Webber was predictably stitched up.  Anyone leaping to the Canberra Milk Kid's defence should remember he is now on a recently signed one-year contract and will know the deal very well - whether the rules for this race were reneged upon or not, his overall role is support.  Meanwhile the only point Britney managed to prove was that he won't be allowed to overtake Mercedes' newest acquisition, regardless of circumstances.

All hail Mr Massa, then; whilst fifth place from second on the grid doesn't seem great, he eventually recovered well after being hung out to dry by Alonso on the first lap.  Ferrari were left with faces to match their overalls when their preferred option decided not to pit for a damaged nose caused by driver error, only to watch his hopes disappear like the front of his car at the first corner of lap two.

* A bad day too for pitlane mechanics, with Jenson Button suffering yet another failure to fit a tyre.  Where are McLaren getting these people from, the bloody YTS?  That might be the least of their worries, as they only have four points from two races.  It's early days, but this season's already looking like disaster recovery for them.

Speaking of disasters: Force India.  Oh man, was that ever embarrassing!  Having to withdraw both cars due to wheelnut problems is about as egg-on-face as you'll get, outside of course of Nigel Mansell's famous ignition turn-off at Montreal 1991.  Anyway, this misfortune quite happily brings us to the return of a "popular" feature of yesteryear:

WHERE IS PAUL DI RESTA FROM THIS WEEK?

This week, Scotland's Paul Di Resta failed to finish after embarrassing wheelnut problems.  Therefore...

 
Paul Di Resta is still SCOTTISH, until further notice.
 
*  Elsewhere, Lotus had a bit of a nothing race, though that's probably not enough to start panicking about yet.  Hulkenberg really showed what he could have done last time out, had he made the start.  Maldanado's wallowing in the gravel again, so he'd best hope Williams are strapped for cash next year.  And Bianchi is showing he's the best of the lower classes (not that we didn't expect that).
 
And that's all the blood that's fit to drain!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Godawful Small Affair: Five "Aladdin Sane"

"ALADDIN SANE" [1973]

COVER SHOT: Flash!  Ahh-Ahh!...  Oh, hang on; wrong act.

 
Aaaand here comes the insanity.  With Ziggymania safely runnin' wild from one end of the British Isles to the other, our hero went off to make waves on the other side of the pond and was seemingly transfixed by what he saw, leading to this album, which was apparently actually recorded in Britain but you get the idea.
 
So Americana pervades this disk to a certain extent, but perhaps not as much as some would expect, as these songs are still deeply steeped in until-very-recently Swingin' London.  "Drive-In Saturday" is the obvious example, with its depiction of a future filtered through 50's America ("Fallout", anyone?) still shot through with references to Jagger and Twiggy.  In fact Jagger And His Stones' influence all over the bloody place here, not just on a cover of "Let's Spend The Night Together" which accidentally renders the original completely pointless.
 
More than the good ol' U S of A though, this album carries the mark of a growing unease and malaise, with its tales of decadence and deriliction, ruin and rioting seemingly foreshadowing the mentally harsher times to come. Pick of the whole bunch for me is still "Cracked Actor". With burbling harmonica and a guitar that sounds like it's been plucked from a swamp, it sounds downright malevolent, dripping with the filth of the sleazier side of Hollywood.
 
Elsewhere, everything gets knocked up a notch from the preceding album, not least the volume on many of the tracks.  But the biggest notch-knocking-uption comes with the piano.  Usually present in the sound of previous albums but relegated to a supporting role, the ivories are less tickled than pulverised by one Mr Mike Garson, whose not entirely conventional playing brings a new dimension to things, particularly with the breathtaking closer "Lady Grinning Soul" but also whilst helping Bowie explore his vaudevillian fantasies on "Time".
 
Definitely one of my very favourite entries in the oeuvre, despite the rising tide of ill-feeling and paranoia, "Aladdin Sane" also marks the end of an era, as Ziggy was executed and the Spiders put out to pasture...  Or wherever it is retired arachnids go...  So that David Bowie himself might better control his destiny again and spin off in new directions.  But wait, I'm getting ahead of myself - Ronno and Trevor Bolder at least will back next time, to go out with a whimper...
 
Join us next time for...  Well, we're not sure exactly WHAT it is, but it's there nonetheless.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Godawful Small Affair: Four "Ziggy Stardust"

"THE RISE AND FALL OF ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS" [1972]

COVER SHOT: A Tribe Called K. West.


It's time for The Daddy.  Still to this day, people's perception of who David Bowie is and what he does most likely takes a majority stake from "TRAFOZSATSFM", or "Ziggy Stardust" as it is more concisely known, and it's worth bearing in mind that we're still only on his fifth album at this point and have most of the seventies left to go, let alone any other decades we may come across (the Twenties?  Stay tuned - it could happen!!!!*).

It's a cavalcade of classic moments, most of which we won't be touching on more than briefly here, as anything worth saying or hearing about tracks like "Starman", "Suffragette City" or "Ziggy Stardust" itself has already been said or heard, most likely in Mojo.  Likewise, the reputations of "Moonage Daydream" and "Rock 'N' Roll Suicide" are all-pervading, thanks in no small part to their airings at Ziggy's farewell concert.

So what of the less celebrated numbers?  Well, "Soul Love" is a stunning cut, featuring one of the great unsung choruses in rock.  Probably the quietest moment on offer, "Lady Stardust" nonetheless holds its own with the heavy hitters, giving a moment's respite amongst all the high drama.  And "Hang On To Yourself" could so easily have been throwaway fluff, but thrives on its sheer cheek and balls.

If there is a low point, it's "It Ain't Easy".  Thing is, when you're listening to it it doesn't seem bad at all; I remember standing with my dad at a Flaming Lips concert at the Cambridge Junction, about equidistant between the bar and the stage, when this album came on.  (That's quality writing, that - painting the picture, taking you there.  I spoil you, I really do.)  Before we heard it we speculated that it is was the weak link, but once it kicked in all was forgiven.  And that completes the clean sweep - every track a winner.

Surely there can't have been a cooler concept album than this - that is, if it even is one; over forty years on there's still some secrets we'll probably never get to the bottom of, lost in the fog of ages.  Iconic, inspirational and incredible, then, but is it the best of the bunch?  Well, it's hard to argue with the sheer consistancy at work here, with nary a duffer in evidence - but let's complete our journey before we talk bests and worsts, as there's a long way left to go.

Join us next time for utter piano chaos as Ziggy goes to America.

(* = it couldn't)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Engine Blood Team Profile: Red Bull-Renault

ESTABLISHED: 1997 as Stewart, rebranded by Ford as Jaguar in 1999 and finally becoming Red Bull in 2005.

HISTORY: Red Bull have made an amazing transformation in a relatively short space of time, from Coulthard-staffed also-rans to scarily precise winning machines, thanks in part to some hard bargaining for engines and the technical brilliance of Adrian Newey.  Cometh the hour, cometh the man, and Sebastian Vettel is doubtlessly The Man right now; it has to end sometime, but this season might be business as usual for the youngest treble champion in history.

DRIVERS:
1. Sebastian VETTEL (GER)
2. Mark WEBBER (AUS)

Well, why change?  Vettel is the treble world champion; Webber gets a couple of wins every year; Red Bull keep winning the constructors championship.  Unless an Alonso or a Raikkonen comes up for selection, it's a no-brainer to stick with this winning formula.  The main question is: where do they go from here?

Ricciardo and Vergne are being developed at Toro Rosso and Sebastien Buemi is still on the books as third driver, but who will move over for this young blood?  Webber looks increasingly precarious and only has a one-year contract, but if he performs his duties as backing vocalist ably that could be extended.  Vettel's only logical move with be Ferrari, which has been rumoured, but we doubt Alonso woul dbe too happy with that one.  With that in mind, we wouldn't be surprised to see this line-up again next season.

2012 PERFORMANCE: 1st place, 460 points.

Sebastian VETTEL (GER) 1st, 280 points.  Best finish: 1st, Bahrain, Singapore, Japan, Korea and India.
Mark WEBBER (AUS): 6th, 179 points.  Best finish: 1st, Monaco and Britain.

Vettel has a hard time attarcting plaudits, but this is the second of his three championships that he has claimed from a gloomy mid-season outlook.  His run of four consecutive wins in Asia brought him flying back into contention, and his amazing navigation of the chaos in Brazil put the seal on it.  Few would bet against him retaining this year, and he continues to be an engaging character and a great mouthpiece for the sport.

Webber never seems to get any better or worse these days, but such is the fate of a classic number two; he's firmly in the Barrichello mould of a couple of wins a season at present, but in 2010 the title was his to lose, so he's clearly got it in him to be a threat.  Of course, he DID lose that one...

2013 PROSPECTS: Championship challengers, barring major disaster.

Engine Blood Team Profile: Ferrari

ESTABLISHED: The dawn of time, seemingly.

HISTORY: The Prancing Horse stands astride Formula One like a colossus.  None have ever had the longevity and success of the historic marque, whose dominance of the early 2000s with Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello and Ross Brawn stands as the most crushing display of superiority in the sport's history.  Have still been at the sharp end since, but a record like that is hard to match.

DRIVERS:
3. Fernando ALONSO (SPA)
4. Felipe MASSA (BRA)

No change for Ferrari here, and no need for it really.  Alonso has settled in at the team in a way that even Schumacher never managed with his five (five!) world titles in five years.  An extremely popular figure amongst the tifosi, he's considered an old-style blood and guts Ferrari driver who'll do anything to win, which makes him a polarising figure as his attitude can leave much to be desired.  He needs to deliver them a title soon though, as it seemed a formality a couple of years ago.

Massa is also massively popular with the fanbase.  Having so nearly taken the title in 2008, when hamstrung by the team's failure to swing their full support behind him until it was too late, then nearly dying whilst wringing the neck of the awful 2009 car, he deserves the seat but has been admittedly hit-and-miss since that aforementioned brush with death.

2012 PERFORMANCE: 2nd place, 400 points

Fernando ALONSO (SPA): 2nd place, 278 points.  Best finish: 1st, Malaysia, Europe and Germany
Felipe MASSA (BRA): 7th place, 122 points.  Best finish: 2nd, Japan

Alright, so Alonso probably should have won the championship, but for a couple of retirements mid-season (including being Grosjeanned at least once).  He was barely off the podium all year and the Ferrari wasn't exactly a picnic to drive, so he once again proved why most think of him as the best all-round driver in F1.  His politicking after his loss and refusal to go quietly also proved why some just don't like him.

Poor Felipe had an awful start to the year but really picked it up at the end; one only needs to watch his excellent supporting role in Brazil as he tried to help Alonso to the title to show he was back on his game.  Must be hard for him though, with so much speculation about who might replace him; we wouldn't want to do our jobs with younger people standing over us, showing what they might bring to the role...

2013 PROSPECTS: They'll be up there, all right, and the car launch has been infinitely better than last year, so anything below second would be a bad year.

Engine Blood Team Profile: McLaren-Mercedes

ESTABLISHED: 1963

HISTORY: One of the most successful teams in Formula One history, McLaren have been there and done it all.  From the Marlboro-emblazoned seventies and eighties, when greats like Emerson Fittipaldi, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna swept all before them, to the more recent, Mercedes-partnered "Silver Arrow"-era, with Hakkinen and Hamilton taking title victories, they have almost always been in the mix.  Just don't mention Nigel Mansell or Peugeot engines.

DRIVERS:
5. Jenson BUTTON (GB)
6. Sergio PEREZ (MEX)

Jenson Button, World Champion.  It still sounds odd, but it's a fact; the formerly underwhelming playboy came back stronger from his wilderness years at Honda and took his opportunity with pleasing grace and maturity.  Since then he's proved it's not a fluke by taking a string of excellent victories and being a great ambassador for the sport, particularly with his efforts after the Japanese tsunami.

Perez is an altogether more troubling package.  Plucked from relative obscurity after some admittedly excellent performances last year, we are still to see the total package; speed he has, but patience is not one of his strong points and he was left looking frankly mediocre towards the end of last season.  Still, who better to teach him the finer points than Button, who has taken that journey himself?

2012 PERFORMANCE: 3rd place, 378 points.

L'il LEWIS (GB): 4th, 190 points.  Best finish: 1st, Canada, Hungary, Italy and USA.
Jenson BUTTON (GB): 5th, 188 points.  Best finish: 1st, Australia, Belgium and Brazil.

Seven wins between the two drivers, but uncharactaristic reliability problems put paid to a sustained championship challenge from either driver.  Button had a horrendous start to the season, aside from winning the first race, but turned it around later on.  Consistency was, as always, his middle name, and he made a decent fist of it in the end.

Hamilton won more races, but, well, he's Lewis Hamilton, so he made a load of almighty cock-ups as well, eventually finishing nearly 100 points behind the world title fight.  He pitched an almighty fit mid-season and will be plying his trade elsewhere next season, thus robbing McLaren of a talent they had invested the best part of twenty years in.

2013 PROSPECTS: The car has looked a bit dodgy, and Mercedes' support is in question as McLaren court Honda for the future, so this could be a 'transistional' (read: bad) year.

Engine Blood Team Profile: Lotus-Renault

ESTABLISHED: Can't be bothered going into Lotus' former life as a constructor, but the "Enstone Team" who now use the name formed in 1981 as Toleman, before becoming Benetton and Renault.

HISTORY: This team has, at various times, employed a plethora of notable drivers: Schumacher, Senna, Alonso, Raikkonen...  Er, Brundle...  There's been a lot of them anyway.  Kudos to the team for rolling with the punches and sufferring identity crisis after identity crisis, whilst racking up wins a-plenty and the odd title triumph.  They now look to be heading into another fruitful period.

DRIVERS:
7. Kimi RAIKKONEN (FIN)
8. Romain GROSJEAN (FRA)

A former world champion with Ferrari, Raikkonen is almost respected more for his refusal to conform to the niceties of life as an F1 driver, particularly when it comes to not swearing on live television.  So disengaged was he at one point that he drifted off to rallying for a couple of years, but has meandered his way back to entertain us once again.

We don't really understand why Grosjean has a job at this stage, but then we didn't at this time last year either, when he'd been out of the sport for a bit after a pretty disappointing run with the Enstone Team when they were...  Um... Renault, possibly?  Was very fast at the start of last season, but caused more first lap pile-ups in a season than anyone ever.  With Kovalainen, Glock and Kobayashi on th sidelines, he'd better shape up quick this time.

2012 PERFORMANCE: 4th place, 303 points.

Kimi RAIKKONEN (FIN) 3rd, 207 points. Best finish: 1st, Abu Dhabi
Romain GROSJEAN (FRA): 8th, 96 points. Best finish: 2nd, Canada
Jerome D'AMBROSIO (BEL): 24th, 0 points.  Best finish: 13th, Italy

A fantastic season for the black and gold squad, with Raikkonen's win the obvious standout.  Ha ha!  Did you hear him talking to his mechanics?  Funny stuff!  For about two seconds.  Seriously though, Kimi was showing some racing rust early in the season, with his inability to take his chance against a stricken Vettel most probably costing him another victory.

Grosjean was robbed of a probable win in Europe by a mechanical failure, but his season went from bad to worse as he started running into everything in sight, culminating with nearly taking Alonso's head off at Spa and getting a one race ban, something not even Hamilton's managed.  Enter the luckless D'Ambrosio, whose chance to shine was scuppered by a KERS failure.

2013 PROSPECTS: Grosjean "disappears" after a collision with Sutil; Raikkonen gets a lap-dance during a pitstop at Abu Dhabi, upsetting Bernie's Arab partners.

Engine Blood Team Profile: Mercedes

(Note: we here at Atomic Sourpuss were too drunk to remember that the F1 season has essentially already started, so expect today to be a Blood-heavy day on the blog, as we desperately try to get through the team profiles in time to get a table at the Ship and Mitre.  Enjoy...  Or don't.)

ESTABLISHED: This is not an easy one.  1954, for Mercedes in the F1 World Championship, but this team started in 2010 from the ashes of Brawn GP, which was plucked from the wreckage of Honda, which itself subsumed British American Racing, which spung from the once-mighty Tyrrell team - and THAT was formed in 1958, one year after the original Mercedes team withdrew!

HISTORY: Christ, which bit?  Let's limit ourselves to very recent history: Honda withdrew from F1, but Ross Brawn managed to convince everyone that the next year's car would have been competitive; difficult when the 2008 Honda had been a total dog.  Due to smart rule exploitation, they wound up winning the World Championship, causing engine supplier Mercedes to fall out of love with McLaren and throw themselves behind this team.  Thus far, it doesn't look a smart move, but that could be about to change.

DRIVERS:
9. Nico ROSBERG (GER)
10. L'il LEWIS (GB)

With Nick Heidfeld out of the way, we needed a solid but unspectacular German driver - but let's be fair, Nico's had his moments, not least his win in China last year.  When you consider that the Mercedes package has been a bit of a disappointment thus far, we must grudgingly admit we probably haven't seen the best of him thus far.  I suppose we're just upset that he's not as good as his dad.

What more can we say about Lewis Hamilton that we haven't already said?  Not Engine Blood's favourite driver by a long chalk, the admittedly fast youngster has never learned to overtake and controversy dogs his every (botched) move, whilst he bitches to his hangers-on, blames his team for his own mistakes and lords it around like he's P Diddy or something.  Nevertheless, his defection from McLaren was the big story in an otherwise largely settled driver market, and will be a source of interest this year.

2012 PERFORMANCE: 5th place, 142 points.

Nico ROSBERG (GER): 9th, 93 points. Best finish: 1st, China
Michael SCHUMACHER (GER): 13th, 49 points. Best finish: 3rd, Europe

Mercedes flattered to deceive in the early races, looking like real contenders and taking their maiden win...  Well, in this phase of the team's chequered history, anyway.  But whilst Rosberg was getting the car home, Schumacher suffered an absolutely horrendous string of mechanical failures, finally topped off by an entirely self-caused collision with the Lesser Senna, leading to a grid penalty at the next race.

That race was Monaco and Schumacher got pole - except he didn't, obviously - which summed up his frustrating final year in Formula One.  Yes, he wasn't the force he used to be, but what could he have done with a better car?  For better or worse, we'll never know.  Mercedes' fortunes in general nosedived towards the end of the season and they were deservedly elbowed out of the big four by Lotus.

2013 PROSPECTS: Intriguing driver pairing and some good early pace, but can they keep Ham-Ham interested?  Perhaps the mechanics can jangle their keys for him.

Engine Blood Team Profile: Sauber-Ferrari

ESTABLISHED: 1993.  Re-established 2010, after three years as BMW Sauber.

HISTORY: Kings of the also-rans throughout the nineties and early 2000s, a savvy eye for up-and-coming drivers - Wendlinger, Lehto, Massa, Raikonnen, Vettel and Kubica spring to mind - kept them in the hunt until BMW married them on the rebound from Williams.  A debut win came in 2008, but a year later their big league suitors pussied out of F1 along with other major manufacturers, and Sauber were only let back in when Toyota also ran away like big girls.

DRIVERS:
11. Nico HULKENBERG (GER)
12. Esteban GUTIERREZ (MEX)

All change here, of which more later, but both of these drivers will serve a good purpose for the team.  Hulkenberg is damn fast and proved he can challenge for wins, especially in Brazil, where he's had a pole and the lead on two different, non-consecutive occassions.  Whether he regrets moving from Force India, who were on a par with Sauber in performance last year, remains to be seen.

Gutierrez is here for one reason and one reason only: to secure the huge amount of Mexican sponsorship money that may have headed elsewhere with Sergio Perez's departure to McLaren.  He has been impressive in young driver tests so could spring a few surprises.

2012 PERFORMANCE: 6th place, 126 points.

Sergio PEREZ (MEX): 10th, 66 points. Best finish: 2nd, Malaysia and Italy
Kamui KOBAYASHI (JPN): 12th, 60 points. Best finish: 3rd, Japan

This shows how crowded the battle for tenth in the championship was; six points covered these two and Hulkenberg.  There's no doubting that Perez had a breakout year, with his eye-catching second places built on long runs with a tyre-light car.  McLaren made a knee-jerk for him when Hamilton left, but could be rueing it, as his form fell off a cliff after he signed.

We're huge fans of Kobayashi, so this may be taken as bias, but he had some awful (often Grosjean-related) luck last year and proved the more consistant of the two drivers.  We salute him for not plying his trade at a lesser team and hope the door isn't closed; with Honda rumoured to be returning as an engine supplier, he could be hooking up with Perez again at McLaren before long...

2013 PROSPECTS: Really hard to tell.  Could easily lose ground or may spring a surprise - the tyres have been kind to them and could be key again.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Engine Blood Team Profile: Force India-Mercedes

ESTABLISHED: Oh lord, here we go again: 1991 as Jordan, sold to Midland in 2005, Spyker for 2007 and finally becoming Force India and settling on a non-vomitous colour scheme in 2008.

HISTORY: Rather a lot to go into.  You see that twonk with the silly shirts that's part of the BBC's Triangle of Terror?  He used to own a team, distinguished early on by the heroics of Andrea DeCesaris and Rubens Barrichello and later challenging for the championship with Heinz-Harald Frentzen.  Then it all went a bit quack-quack and several ownership changes later they're flying the flag for India...  Whilst sensibly staying away from certain Indian drivers.

DRIVERS:
14. Adrian SUTIL (GER)
15. Paul di RESTA (GB)

Watch out, he'll glass you up good - yes!  It's Adrian Sutil, one we thought we'd seen the back of when he was convicted of GBH.  A year is a long time in Formula One and Sutil didn't leave much an impression in his previous career, aside from being linked to a Ferrari seat in 2011.  Even we were linked with that seat, though. 

(Having just looked it up, it appears he finished ninth in the championship in 2011, which isn't bad come to think of it.)

Perhaps the team have employed an ex-con to balance out the boringness of Paul di Resta, recently crowned the new Mr Interesting after defeating Steve Davis for the rights to the name in an incredibly boring wrestling match.  It was pretty much a forty-minute chinlock.  Every time the apparently 12-year-old Scot/Brit appeared on television last year, you could be sure that 20 interminable minutes of chat about gear ratios were on the way.  He was apparently annoyed he didn't get the call up to McLaren for this year; try being better at your job, mate.

2012 PERFORMANCE: 7th place, 109 points.

Nico HULKENBERG (GER): 11th, 63 points. Best finish: 4th, Belgium
Paul di RESTA (GB): 14th, 46 points. Best finish: 4th, Singapore

Very, very consistant scorers.  Taking seventh place comfortably above a team that won a Grand Prix is not bad at all, and neither is taking the battle for sixth place with a Sauber team that managed podium finishes right to the wire.

Di Resta's more-British-than-Scottish indignation at getting passed over is somewhat misplaced; he was outmatched by his counterpart last year, who was rewarded with a pretty much lateral move to Sauber for his troubles.  Hulkenberg had an extremely eye-catching race at Brazil and would almost certainly have won it, had he not given Hamilton a love tap.  Still, well worth it to see the Whining One off the circuit once again.

2013 PROSPECTS: Sutil to threaten his way to midtable obscurity; di Resta to seal the deal by putting everyone behind him to sleep.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Godawful Small Affair: Three "Hunky Dory"

"HUNKY DORY" [1971]

COVER SHOT: Retro, almost before there was such a thing.

 
Now THIS is a good one...  Well, mostly.  "Song For Bob Dylan" and "Fill Your Heart" may be a bit unmemorable, and "Kooks" (the four oath-filled paragraphs that originally followed the word "Kooks" have been excised to comply with the Obscene Publications Act), but the rest of the album represents a spreading of wings, particularly with the first four tracks.
 
Bosh.  "Changes".  Bang.  "Oh! You Pretty Things".  Blam.  "Eight Line Poem".  Kablooie.  "Life On Mars?"  There's not many better fatal foursomes than that to kick off an album (and if you can think of one, well why not leave a comment).  From the ultimate statement of intent we get a casual announcement that the future is here, then wash through an arrestingly sparse ode to the lavish kitchen sink drama that gave this series its name - it's a rollicking ride, all the way to the ringing phone in the fade out of track four.
 
Consider that ringing an alarm, though; because then, bloody "Kooks" comes along and (again, we here at Atomic Sourpuss have taken the decision not to publish this section of text after several of our sub-editors suffered complete mental breakdowns whilst attempting to make it suitable for the general public).  Luckily "Quicksand" rapidly saves the day, with its whiff of demonica and excellent crescendo, raising the album back up to its former lofty glories.
 
What I assume would form side two of the album, had I ever bought a version with sides, isn't too inspriring at first, with "Fill Your Heart" being inoffensive filler, "Andy Warhol" overdoing the 'quirky studio fun' conceit before developing into a perfectly serviceable tune, and "Song For Bob Dylan" outstaying its welcome by at least one chorus.
 
Then we get "Queen Bitch", one of Bowie's most iconic tracks and a deft nick from the Velvets, the legend of which has endured largely due to the Whistle Test performance of the track apparently being the Beeb's only clip from that era, until they found that "Jean Genie" with the fisheye lens thing that they've broadcast approximately 136 times since last Tuesday.  And remember "All The Madmen"?  Here's its spiritual sequel, "The Bewlay Brothers", and that'll cap the album off nicely, thank you very much.
 
So the highs were high and outnumbered the lows, though the lows (we're not sure if he started talking about "Kooks" again at this stage; we didn't dare look but it seemed to be going that way).  If one can take a little bit of rough with their smooth, this one comes highly recommended.
 
Join us next time for...  Er, what's next again?  Must be something terribly obscure!

Engine Blood Team Profile: Williams-Renault

ESTABLISHED: 1977

HISTORY: Extremely competitive in the eighties to the point of ubiquitous dominance in the early nineties, it's fair to say that the beleaguered privateers have seen better days - specifically those early nineties, that I just mentioned, just then.  Since then they've been chewed up and spat out by Toyota and are just getting back on their feet, with their first race win since 2004 coming last year, but something has gone very wrong when you win a race and finish that low in the championship.

DRIVERS:
16. Pastor MALDONADO (VEN)
17. Valtteri BOTTAS (FIN)

I'll say it again - something has gone very wrong when you win a race but finish that low in the championship.  In the case of Pastor Maldonado, it was combining near Grosjeanic levels of shuntiness with the lack of the x-factor that allows an Alonso-type to transcend a rubbish car.   He was lucky than a certain Lotus driver took the spotlight off of his mishaps, but despite all this (and with some trepidation) we look forward to seeing what he can produce this year.

Having seen the light and given the lesser Senna the boot, Williams will turn to the vaguely amusingly-named Valtteri Bottas for their number two driver.  He's had the best part of three years as a test driver, which is an eternity by today's standards, and regularly outpaced Maldonado in free practice last year.  It's not exaggerating to say he's the most highly regarded rookie driver of this year's crop by a million billion trillion miles, times infinity plus one.  Squared.

2012 PERFORMANCE: 8th place, 76 points.

Pastor MALDONADO (VEN) 15th, 45 points. Best finish: 1st, Spain
Bruno SENNA (BRA): 16th, 31 points. Best finish: 6th, Malaysia

Make no mistake, Williams had an abject season last time out, though the memorable victory in Spain (coupled with the bizarre pitlane fire afterwards) is all most people will remember - and rightly so, given how little else of value they achieved.

Barcelona aside, they disappeared entirely from the top ten positions, but Senna 2: Electric Boogaloo chipped in with some points midseason, which helped us remember that there was this team called Williams on the grid from time to time, but they were left rueing missed opportunities, such as Maldonado's last lap wall visit in Australia, which left them well adrift of their midfield adversaries.

2013 PROSPECTS: If Maldonado can keep it on the road and Bottas lives up to the hype, this could be their best season in ages - as long as they don't get outdeveloped throughout the year.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

We Game To Please: Killer7

GENRE: First person shooter (sort of).

THE HOOK: A game with an actual plot.

THE WORLD: The game tells of the battle between the apparently immortal beings Harman Smith and Kun Lan, which is fought on several fronts, including chess and actual war.  Kun Lan has the God Hand, which allows him to create twisted beings called Heaven Smiles, who explode a lot and are therefore great for terrorism.  Harman Smith battles them with his Smith Syndicate, a number of alternate personalities who he can cause to physically manifest - also known as (yes!) the Killer7.

Though there is technically eight of them.
Japanese-American relations are at a low as we join the game, and a plot plays out that spans political intrigue, human trafficking, mental illness, the nature of war and terrorism and how far people will go to win.  In the meantime we'll also drop in on a comic writer whose stories come true, hunt down a charismatic cult leader and visit a very important school.  What more do you want?

GAMEPLAY: An odd mix of on-rails running and first person shooting, which somehow manages to give an illusion of freedom whilst being one of the more limiting gameplay experiences we can think of.  That's not a knock on it though; in a game where story progression is more important than the gameplay experience, you'll find plenty to drive you on as you deal with all the bizarre experiences.

You might find yourself talking to a head in a washing machine for ten minutes, or making a woman slash her wrists to erase lyrics by The Smiths to open a door, or meeting a new type of Smile in the Vinculum Gate, or just manaically blasting the inhuman enemies as their morbid laughter rings in your ears and chills your soul.  Whatever you're doing, there are two questions that you will need to answer: the first is, "what's going on?"  The second, more pressing question will become clear as you play on...

SERIES: As a well-received but seldom played cult game, it never received a sequel, but there are several references to it scattered throughout the town of Santa Destroy in "No More Heroes", another game by writer/director Goichi Suda (or "Suda51", as he often goes by).

HIGHLIGHTS: Plenty of them - to name a few, the boss fights and particularly the tense shootout with Curtis Blackburn; the visually stunning (and completely predetermined) battle with the Handsome Men; and the creeping feeling of unease as you approach the story's final twist.

LOWLIGHTS: The third mission, whilst unique in giving the player a whole town to explore and featuring some great sections, is a tad more boring and lengthy than the rest, and as such can be an easy quit point.  Stick with it, though; there's some great stuff just round the corner.

IF YOU LIKE IT: You'll like Suda51's other games, most likely regardless of genre, but most obviously the aforementioned "No More Heroes" and its sequel, which further subvert the genre by being at least partially aware that they are videogames.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Engine Blood Team Profile: Toro Rosso-Ferrari

ESTABLISHED: 1985 if you count Minardi; 2005 if you don't.

HISTORY: After twenty years of intense, unrewarding struggle, most of which seemed to involve Pierluigi Martini, they were bought from Aussie bauble Paul Stoddart by Red Bull, whose Manchester City-esque tactic of the time seemed to be buying everything in sight to ensure a lack of competition, whereas all they actually had to do was replace Coulthard with Vettel - but not before the German brought Toro Rosso an emotional first and so far only victory at a sodden Monza in 2008.  More recently, sacked two perfectly good drivers for no apparent reason...

DRIVERS:
18. Jean-Eric VERGNE (FRA)
19. Daniel RICCIARDO (AUS)

...Which may well be the fate of at least one of these lads if they don't buck their ideas up.  By the way, does this seem unfair to anyone else: giving someone a godawful car and then saying "because you didn't do very well, we won't give you a chance to drive a better one"?  Am I being too simple here?

Anyway, it's year two with "who?" and "wha?" - one wouldn't look of place on Easter Island and the other is Jean-Eric Vergne, whoever that is.  Vergne and Ricciardo practically owned 8th and 9th place respectively, but it was hard to compare the two due to contrasting styles; Ricciardo was much smoother, with Vergne the shuntier and with less finishes, so it could be a bit surprising to find out what you're about to find out if you read a bit further on.

2012 PERFORMANCE: 9th place, 26 points.

Jean-Eric VERGNE (FRA): 17th, 16 points. Best finish: 8th, Malaysia, Belgium, Korea and Brazil
Daniel RICCIARDO (AUS): 18th, 10 points. Best finish: 9th, Malaysia, Belgium, Singapore and Korea

A good start last year as they put the cat amongst the pigeons in the first couple of races before fading very, very badly and getting swamped by the midfield.  A strong finish, particularly from what's-his-face (rather than "mummy, why's his face like that?") was sadly inconsequential as the rest of the grid had stolen a march on them.  Apart from the obvious.  Obviously.

So far, so good, but possibly not good enough for their paymasters - ask Scott Speed how things turned out for him.  But hey!  Take away Williams' win and...  No, they still would have been ahead.  Oh well, we did try.  Their sackings won't be on our heads.

2013 PROSPECTS: Always hard to tell, though they can generally only manage to be good at either both the very start and very end of the season or right in the middle, so if Ricciardo gets a podium in Australia, don't expect to see them again until Brazil.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Engine Blood Team Profile: Caterham-Renault

ESTABLISHED: 2010 (as Team Lotus)

HISTORY: After having their original name nicked by Toleman/Benetton/Renault as part of their never ending quest to absorb as many names as possible, the reassuringly old-coloured team have earned the dubious title of "Best of the Worst", having headed the other brand expansion teams for the entirety of their existence.  Boss Tony Fernandes is currently having a Premier League nightmare so don't be surprised if the money runs out this term.

DRIVERS:
20. Charles PIC (FRA)
21. Giedo van der GARDE (NED)

Oh, lord; you know, there was an article on BBC Sport today that sold itself with the assertion that this year had "arguably the strongest driver line-up in years".  Let's just consider that assertion for a second: last year we had Michael Schumacher, the greatest ever to turn a wheel; Japan's human highlight reel, Kamui Kobayashi; The Unfortunate Vitaly Petrov; and the vastly underrated Heikki Kovalainen and Timo Glock.  And that's without mentioning the somewhat disappointing entry in the Senna dynasty.

Who do we now have instead?  The aforementioned Chilton and Bianchi, this van der Garde nobody, Gutierrez and Bottas (who at least show some promise) and the non-heralded return of Slugger Sutil.  I suppose that's why they said it was "arguably" the strongest line-up; I'd just love to know what the argument was.

And yes, I know we haven't mentioned Charles Pic at all in this section.

2012 PERFORMANCE: 10th place, 0 points.

The Vastly Underrated Heikki KOVALAINEN (FIN): 22nd, 0 points.  Best finish: 13th, Monaco and Abu Dhabi
The Unfortunate Vitaly PETROV (RUS): 19th, 0 points.  Best finish: 11th, Brazil

These two really impressed Engine Blood last year, so - yes, you guessed it - they got sacked.  Petrov proved he could graft and Kovalainen continued his rehabilitation from Hamilton-hamstrung time at McLaren.

Nevertheless, they were teetering on the brink of embarrassment for most of the season, before snatching 10th place at the very death and condemning Marussia to the dunce's hat.  Not bad, except they'd promised to score points, and, well...  (walks away whistling)

2013 PROSPECTS: Hoping Marussia don't collapse so they can at least point to not being the worst team on the grid, and that Harry Redknapp can keep QPR up so they can keep some of the Fernandes millions.

A Godawful Small Affair: Two "The Man Who Sold The World"

"THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD" [1970, in America, apparently]

COVER SHOT: Surely this can't have been the best dress available?
 
 
(...Again, I apologise to anyone with one of the other three covers, particularly the one with the excremental psychedelic chimera on.)
 
Upping the sci-fi content and introducing a more familiar sound, thanks largely to the assemblage of much of the sonic staff that would help shape the next three albums (Ronson, Woodmansey, Visconti), "The Man Who Sold The World" is a quantum leap towards the guitar-fellating glam icon that would be unleashed a couple of years hence.
 
"The Man Who Sold The World" features such future-beckoning tracks as "All The Madmen", which can be seen as the genesis of the theme of insanity running through some of DB's lyrics - those voices will be back on some of them, too - "Width Of A Circle", the eight-minute opener that admirably manages to stay interesting throughout, and "Saviour Machine", which is nuts.
 
One of the other good things about "The Man Who Sold The World" is the fact that its title ("The Man Who Sold The World", as you will remember) is six letters long; this really helps when you want to write about "The Man Who Sold The World", but can't think of much to say about "The Man Who Sold The World" except for '"The Man Who Sold The World" is quite good, and thus I quite like "The Man Who Sold The World"'.
 
But without wishing to be accused of oversimplification, "The Man Who Sold The World" is the standout track (I'm being serious now).  With the narrator sounding by turns alien and all too human, that there guitar hook and bags of melancholy beauty, it's no wonder Kurt Cobain nicked it.  For a few years I couldn't listen to it when I noticed a really annoying percussion sound too high in the mix; I think it's one of those things where you run a drumstick along a wooden comb-type thing that looks a bit like an alligator - a "G├╝iro", apparently - but it bugged the living hell out of me.  I am a calmer person now and nobody was maimed during this latest playthrough.
 
One little minus side - "The Supermen".  Not the song, which is pretty good, but the abysmally overblown delivery on this version.  I've heard a whole buncha better versions, each more subtle and intriguing than this honkalong, which seems to be a recording of a guitar fight in a cliche factory.  Takes the shine off a little, but it is the last track on the album - and next time you hear from our Dave, he'll have made some ch-ch-ch-changes...  (cymbal crash, polite applause)
 
Join us next time for thrills, spills and...  Bob Dylan?  Pah.  Just don't mention "Kooks".

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Engine Blood Team Profile: Marussia-Cosworth

ESTABLISHED: 2010 (as Virgin Racing)

HISTORY: Three consecutive seasons of incompetence, partially obscured by the often Andrea Moda-esque efforts of fellow minnows HRT.  Highlights include making a car without an adequate fuel tank to actually finish a Grand Prix in their debut season and their recent dropping of Timo Glock, only to ask him back when their new pay driver's finanaces fell through.  Glock, whom we at Engine Blood have long admired, turned them down, and rightly so.

DRIVERS:
22. Jules BIANCHI (FRA)
23. Max CHILTON (GB)

Luis Razia was meant to be in car 22, but he is the aforementioned pay driver who failed to pay.  Luckily Monsieur Bianchi was available, though he must be apoplectic at having lost out on a Force India seat to a convicted criminal.  He's a well-regarded talent from Ferrari's Driver Academy, so if Marussia can survive another year they're virtually guaranteed Ferrari engines in 2014.

Max Chilton is the brother of Tom Chilton, a BTCC driver who has recently graduated to the World Touring Car Championship.  I mention this as Max himself hasn't done too much to distinguish himself, though last year he finished 4th in the GP2 series for the Carlin Motorsport team, who now have a partnership with Marussia, which we are assured is competely unrelated to his appearence in their F1.  What a coincidence, though; you couldn't make it up!  He's also British so the BBC have treated his promotion as the Second Coming of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.  No pressure, Max!

2012 PERFORMANCE: 11th place, 0 points.

Timo GLOCK (GER): 20th, 0 points.  Best finish: 12th, Singapore
Charles PIC (FRA): 21st, 0 points.  Best finish: 12th, Brazil

Timo Glock (who else?) gave Marussia their greatest ever finish last year!  Sadly, it was a twelfth place - but bizarrely, due to poor luck and reliability from Caterham, this was enough to give them the financially-significant 10th place in the constructors championship.

However, about 20 laps from the end of the season, The Unfortunate Vitaly Petrov screamed past Charles Pic to claim an 11th place for Caterham and sicken the black and red squad.  Pic, incidentally, is driving for Caterham this season and had been announced before that race; any thoughts of a conspiracy can be countered by the assertion that Marussia's car was utterly useless.

2013 PROSPECTS: Excruciatingly grim.  With Cosworth desperately trying to edge out of the door, next year can't come quick enough for this team - IF they survive...

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

A Godawful Small Affair: One "Space Oddity"

"SPACE ODDITY" - or, "DAVID BOWIE", or (God help us) "MAN OF WORDS, MAN OF MUSIC", depending on who you ask [1969]
 
COVER SHOT: Permed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed
 

(And yes, I KNOW there's other covers; we'll just be going with whatever one I have.  Christ, quit griping already!  You'll get quality when I get paid for this.  For now, on with the dregs.)

Whilst a quick perusal of Amazon shows that my old excuse of "Aha!  I can't possibly listen to the first David Bowie album as I can't get hold of it" is a bit moot since the formely unbeknownst to me 2010 reissue, I'm citing being skint as my new reason for skipping the first port of call on a chronological Bowie crawl and heading straight for this one.

A confession, dear reader: this is not my first walk down this road.  Many are the times I have dug out the Bowie stack and listened to them backwards, forwards and in most every order imaginable.  On those occasions I have always thought of this album as a bit of a chore; a bump in the road, and certainly not the last, but no cause for celebration.  But this time - well actually it would largely be the same.  Sorry.

That's not to say it lacks its moments, not least "Space Oddity" itself; a song so universally known that it is practically hard-wired into generations of people from all walks of life.  It's a rare example of a song with an absolute ton of instruments in it, all slathered in effects, with rapid changes between many sections that still didn't sound cluttered and remained appealling enough to top the chart.

Outside of the obvious, "Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud" is a spectacular epic with full orchestration, probably best remembered nowadays for being on the setlist at Ziggy's last show, and "Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed", which almost seems like a prototype for the next few albums with its hollering and howling and electricity and whatnot.

Other than that, it's all a bit forgettable.  I'm sat here looking at the tracklisting and I couldn't tell you what "Janine", "Cygnet Committee" or "Letter To Hermione" sound like, but the phrase 'wishy-washy' springs to mind.  "Don't Sit Down" is throwaway, and if I have to listen to "Memory Of A Free Festival" again I'll bust that bloody Sun Machine up.  Bust it up reeeeeal nice.

Ultimately I do feel bad complaining about an album that was released outside of my jurisdiction, one to which I have no living cultural context to compare, and one which spends most of its time in a vaguely folkish, slightly patchouli-scented singer-songwriter format that is just not something I can get down with, but...  Well, there's my opinion, right there.  Having said that I'm hearing more good in this album than I have before, and I'm full of excitement about the listening to come.

Join us next time AS SUPERGODS DIE!!!!!!!  Oh, by jingo!

Engine Blood: "We dance again"


Oh, it is on.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

We Game To Please: Disgaea

GENRE: Strategy/RPG

THE HOOK: Chess with exploding penguins.

THE WORLD: A surprisingly moral trifecta of Human World, hell (Netherworld) and heaven (Celestia), but told from the Netherworld's point of view, as the demons go about their business of keeping humans on the correct moral path by scaring them straight.  We usually see this from the point of view of an ambitious demon, murderously trying to become Overlord of the Netherworld.

Pictured: some demons.
Later games in the series take the same set-up and move it to different dimensions, allowing the stories to exist independantly...  Until the inevitable obliteration of the fourth wall brings past favouites flooding back in on hilariously flimsy premises, such as Laharl, the hero from the first game who keeps invading later games due to his inability to accept second billing.

GAMEPLAY: You deploy your forces, which have their own quirks and advantages, and proceed to beat the tar out of the opposing force.  Gameplay is complicated by "Geo Effects", coloured panels which link with symbols to strengthen and weaken characters in certain parts of the map.  Eliminating them in the correct order causes epilepsy-inducing visual effects, as well as granting bonuses.

And so on, ad infinitum, almost literally - there are a ton of missions, plus a Parliament-type system to pass new laws into the game.  Every character can be levelled up to level 9,999, at which point they can be reincarnated at level 1 and start again.  Still not enough?  Every item in the whole game contains a randomly-generated dungeon of up to 100 levels.  Sometimes there are pirates in them.  Sometimes there are not.  And don't get me started on the Land of Carnage...

SERIES: Four and counting, plus a few updates, remakes and spinoffs, which serve to make the already convoluted crossovers even more mindbending.

HIGHLIGHTS: "Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten" (PS3) - yup, it's a corker.  With a story that snowballs out of control to a ridiculous extent and all the visual bells and whistles that the PS3 can conjure, plus the capsule nature of the games, there's no reason not to leap in at what is essentially the end so far.  Plus the humour has been sharpened to a deadly point and you can learn a surprising amount about sardines.


LOWLIGHTS: "Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice" (PS3) - this one was a real slog for me, and I say that as someone who had 100+ hour playthroughs of all of the other games in the series.  The whole thing was also too emo; consider that I've just praised the fourth game, in which a vampire refuses to drink blood due to a promise he made to a dying woman, and you may appreciate exactly how emo we are talking.

IF YOU LIKE IT: Final Fantasy Tactics ploughs a similar furrow, albeit in a relatively po-faced manner, and most of the rest of Nippon Ichi's output represent slight spins on the same genre.

Monday, March 04, 2013

A Godawful Small Affair

David Bowie.  Davy Jones.  The Chameleon of Pop.  The Thin White Duke.  The Sovereign of The Guild of Calamitous Intent (look it up).  The Lead Singer of Tin Machine.  Ol' Dirty Bastard.

(OK, not the last one.  But you get my point.)

The man himself will be sauntering back to centre stage with the release of his new album next Monday, so figuring I finally had an excuse, I decided to take a sonic journey through his albums, slightly hamstrung by the fact that I didn't actually have all of them. 

This one's on order though.
So get ready to hear a range of opinions you never asked to hear about not quite all of Bowie's albums, at irregular times until one of us loses interest!

Yay?

Coming soon: "Space Oddity" - yes folks, we're not even starting at the start!

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Engine Blood 2: Formula E Boogaloo


 
We're BACK!
 
But who will provide the excitement as we bear down on a season without Schumi and Koba?  Where will L'il Lewis fare after his girly tantrum took him to a Mercedes team that is rapidly haemorrhaging staff?  When will a new future legend stand up and be counted?  Adrian Sutil - why?
 
Most pertinently of all, with the season getting ever longer, how on earth will we be able to get enough material together now that we can't make cheap Hormone Replacement Therapy jokes any more?  Tune in to find out!


Read All About It: Cthulhu Has All The Best Tunes

Hello everybody!

If you are reading and understanding this, perhaps you would enjoy other products that include words.

To this end, may I point you in the direction of an excellent writer by the name of Laurie Jed Duthie, who has recently published a collection of his excellent short stories through Amazon.  Through the magic of technology, his words can appear before you on a computer screen, or on something called a "Kinned All", which is some kind of thing that young people have these days.

You can click all you want; you can't look inside.  You'd best get to Amazon then.
So point your browser at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cthulhu-Tunes-Other-Stories-ebook/dp/B00BJK97S6/ref=sr_1_sc_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1362342965&sr=1-1-spell, bang in your details and bob's your uncle - you've got in on the ground floor of a promising writer and can egregiously gloat to your friends and family when he becomes stunningly famous.  Do it!  DO IT NOW.

With a whimper...

Check back here for periodic stuff about F1, videogames, popular musics and films and all that sort of thing.