“Now the story of a brilliant comedy who lost its commission and the one streaming service who had no choice but to get them back together. It’s Arrested Development.”

The unusual suspects: the Bluth family (image courtesy of Fox)

The unusual suspects: the Bluth family (image courtesy of those darned fools at Fox)

“Now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together. It’s Arrested Development.”

“Arrested Development” is a mythical beast. Like the cult sci-fi series and film, “Firefly”, its snowballing reputation appears to owe as much to its cancellation as its content. It is a totem to short-term and narrow-minded TV executives failing to see beyond their PowerPoint projections and test audiences – a victory ultimately for quantity over quality. And so it was, like a moth to a cool kid flame, Pop Lifer chose to make “Arrested Development” the first foray into its recently acquired Netflix subscription. Pop Lifer wasn’t just testing the streaming ability on a tired laptop but a bona fide actual cult.

Well, the laptop stuttered only occasionally and “Arrested Development” proved to be worth every knowing recommendation.

“Arrested Development” is a sublimely misanthropic tale of a desperately unlikeable rich family clinging to their ill-gotten privilege. It began in 2003, won awards, acclaim, but no audience and was cancelled in 2006.

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“I’d be proud for “Bloodsports” to be the last Suede record” – Suede interview and track by track album review

Suede 2013 - photo supplied by Quietus Management

Suede 2013 – photo supplied by Quietus Managemen

Suede, Neil Pop Lifer’s favourite band of all time, have returned to the pop fray after a decade’s absence with a fine new record, “Bloodsports”.  A week ago we ran the first of a personal, passionate two part blog on our life as a lifelong Suede fan, including fresh insights from Brett and Mat. The next part will follow soon. But in the meantime we are thrilled to run a full interview with Suede’s Brett and Matt discussing the genesis of “Bloodsports”, followed by a track by track preview/review of the new album.

Interviewing the band

“There’s no assumptions any more, certainly no assumption we will make another record.” Brett Anderson explains, when asked if Suede’s first album in a decade is intended to be a last hurrah or the start of another new phase in his band’s extraordinary and convoluted history. Although there are occasional flashes of his old prickliness, the Brett Anderson of 2013 seems a lot more breezy than he did when he last promoted a Suede record, 2002’s critically and commercially shunned “A New Morning.”

“I’ve really enjoyed coming back to this,” bassist Mat Osman expands, “and one reason is because it hasn’t been a process that just moves along automatically without us actually deciding to do things.”

“That’s where it starts going wrong, when you start doing things because they’re expected of you,” Brett says. “Though that was our fault,” Mat laughingly points out. “We built that machine around us!”

In a way, it’s surprising to find Brett and Mat – friends and bandmates over three decades – quite so relaxed. After all, a new Suede record hasn’t had so much to prove since 1996’s “Coming Up” was released after their traumatic break up with original guitarist Bernard Butler. “Bloodsports” could be a last chance to redeem themselves after the colourless “A New Morning” and – maybe maybe – to remind the world they deserve a bigger chapter in the pop history books than their current footnote as appetiser to the main Britpop feast. Yet they seem almost nonchalant about whether “Bloodsports” will be another of their glorious victories, critically or commercially. “I’m much more realistic about what records are nowadays. I used to think every record we did was absolutely brilliant,”Anderson smiles wryly. “But I do think this is a fine record.”

As lifelong, obsessive Suede fans (see part 1 of our blog on life as a teenage Suedehed) we are delighted to report that Brett is an unworried man with much to be unworried about. Though he seems reluctant to spell it out, “Bloodsports” is a huge return to form. Not quite a return to the breathtaking form Suede reached on their second record, the fearlessly ambitious and beautiful “Dog Man Star”, but far better and more consistent than their last two efforts. Continue reading

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“It was 20 years ago today” – my life as a teenage Suedehead

20 years ago today, Suede released their third single, “Animal Nitrate”. A grimy paean to violent gay sex, it became the band’s first top ten hit, thanks to a chorus so big it could swallow continents. For the band’s growing army of rabid, hysterical fans, this breakthrough felt like an extraordinary and unlikely victory. In the first of a two part blog, Pop Lifer Neil – one of those hysterical fans, and probably the first person in Newcastle to own a copy of a Suede single – recalls how the band won his heart and wrecked his life. Singer Brett Anderson and bassist Mat Osman agreed to take a stroll down memory lane for this piece.

1. “Introducing the band”

Suede in 1994. Photograph: Kevin Cummins.

Suede the world conquerors in 1994. Photograph: Kevin Cummins (www.kevincummins.co.uk)

“I don’t remember us telling people to move to Streatham,” says Mat Osman, looking puzzled and a little aghast.

I’ve been explaining to Mat and Brett Anderson the price I have paid for being a lifelong fan of their band, Suede. There’s the thousands spent going to see their shows, the abuse hurled my way in their early flamboyant phase, the pair of glasses lost dancing at their Royal Albert Hall reunion show and – worst of all –  the six months I spent living in Streatham, one of South London’s grottier and noisier enclaves.

Brett Anderson’s face, on the other hand, is suddenly dawning with recognition. “Oh my God,” he starts to laugh. “Because of the lyrics in “The Chemistry Between Us?”” His dry chuckle becomes a throaty cackle, “Oh God, I’m so sorry.”

Yes, in 1997 I finished university and was foolishly entrusted by two friends with the task of finding us all a flat in London, a city I knew almost nothing of. Obviously, I turned for guidance to the lyrics of Suede, my favourite band, and one of the most London-obsessed outfits in pop history. I remembered Brett dreamily singing “maybe we’re just Streatham trash and maybe not/ And maybe we’re just capital flash in a stupid love,” and how it had sounded seductively, romantically scuzzy. It turned out to be scuzzy, at least.

“Well,” Brett says, still laughing, “you should really have done a bit more research. But at least you got to see a bit of the world.”

In fact, Suede had inflicted more profound damage years before this sorry episode. They’d persuaded me back when I was little more than an impressionable child that life was a glamorous undertaking, that England was a land of sordid sex and soaring romance, and that pop music offered meaning and hope to human existence. At least the last point wasn’t a lie.

2. “Slow down, slow down – you’re taking me over”

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s rewind. Continue reading

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Charlie Brooker’s Tweet & Tender Heart: Black Mirror’s “Back To Me”

Charlie Brooker: Funny, clever, successful and probably very nice to know and certainly now difficult to like.

Charlie Brooker: Funny, clever, successful and probably very nice to know and certainly now difficult not to resent.

Charlie Brooker does angry; Charlie Brooker does gruff; Charlie Brooker gives good analogy (‘getting off with Victoria Beckham would be like having sex with a deck chair’). Charlie Brooker can sneer (the great and often overlooked “Nathan Barley” rarely breaks from a scowl). Charlie Brooker, all grown up now and a dad, a hubby, script writer and everything, does zombies on the set of Big Brother, Prime Minister’s fucking pigs and existential mind f*cks. He apparently seeks from his audience neither approval nor sentiment just a knowing nod and guilty laugh.

Charlie Brooker does success now as well. “Black Mirror”, his sequence of Twilight Zone reflections on modern things and modern lives, ‘a Black Mirror’ if you will on the 21st century condition, is co-produced and sometimes written by Brooker – the man who without knowing it, accidentally stole the career I was meant to have. There are no hard feelings though –  especially as “Black Mirror” is officially the best standalone sequence of dramas British TV has produced since, maybe, Paul Abbot’s initial “Clocking Off”.

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Frankmusik is back on the Map – review of “Far From Over” EP (with bonus ramblings on the state of modern pop)

Cover of Frankmusik "Far From Over" EP. Credit: Danny Land and Vincent Turner

Cover of Frankmusik “Far From Over” EP. Credit: Danny Land and Vincent Turner

Anyone who read this blog at the end of 2012 may have noticed that we ended the year gripped by two obsessive pop ideas. The first was that “Scream And Shout”, the atrocity duet between will.i.am and Britney Spears, was audible proof that pop in its current incarnation was exhausted to the point of death. The second was that a new song called “Captain”, sneak released by wayward wunderkind Frankmusik, might be just the kind of thing to jolt it back to life.

Six weeks on and nothing has changed. “Scream And Shout” still clings to the top ten like some ghastly fungus, every sale another kick to pop’s broken body. And the exhilarating assault of fizzing synths, giddy beats and melody that is “Captain” still sounds like the joyous antidote to its deadly poison. Where “Scream And Shout” is cold and cynical, “Captain” is hot and impassioned. While “Scream And Shout” makes a night “in the club” sound as enjoyable as terminal stage syphilis, “Captain” makes an agonising break up sound exhilarating. And where “Scream And Shout” practically yawns “will this do?” in the listener’s ears like a jaded Baltic stripper, “Captain” pulls out hook after hook, sonic trick after sonic trick, in its efforts to grab and keep your attention.

Actually, we lie. One thing has changed: “Captain” now has three siblings to keep it company, in the form of the glorious “Far From Over” EP, released on Valentine’s Day, for free, here. For Vince Turner (the man behind Frankmusik) the EP marks a return to the fizzy, hyperactive ultrapop which first made his name. It is a record born of desperation (Vince broke up with his record label and his fiancé during 2012) which somehow sounds gleeful, a reminder of music’s amazing power to alchemise heartbreak into something life affirming. Continue reading

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Groundhog Day: Our fourth nominee for The Lupe Fiasco Award for services to pop culture

Purgatory's Clock Radio.

Purgatory’s Clock Radio.

The fourth in a series where Pop Lifer tests music, film, television etc by the rules laid down in Lupe Fiasco’s “Superstar”: “Did you improve on the design?/Did you do something new?”. If the answer is yes to either of those questions, you qualify for the Lupe Fiasco Award for Services to Pop Culture.

“They say we’re young and we don’t know/We won’t find out until we grow.”

This is a film which unites Buddhists, the Catholic Church and traditionally liberal film critics. It is a film which dances merrily between ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and “Se7en” without ever tripping over.

20 years ago yesterday “Groundhog Day” was released to pleasant surprise and not half bad takings. The set-up you will be familiar with. Bill Murray begins as a charmless going nowhere local weatherman who is forced to repeat the same day in the same small town trapped in a peculiar existential melting pot with no clear get out.

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