Posts Tagged ‘Guitar Hero’

Uncool Britannia

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

I have recently been playing Guitar Hero a lot. No, stick with me, I’m going somewhere with this. The game, if you are unaware, involves tapping buttons on a toy guitar, in time with renditions of popular rock tracks. That makes it sound boring, pointless and, frankly, ludicrous, but it’s actually great fun and after a while you really feel like you are, uh, rocking out, no matter how stupid you look.

Listen to that video crowd!

The fact that the Guitar Hero franchise is on it’s fourth release is proof of it’s success. Everybody loves it, even musicians (the original game featured mostly copycat cover versions of its songs, the recent iterations feature mostly original recordings). However, I suspect that if the same game had been released fifteen years ago (not impossible, as it is based on an extremely simple gameplay system) it would not have been half as successful, at least not in this country. This is because, at that time, Britain was in the vice like grip of a cancer, a vile, fetid abomination known as Britpop. And it was not OK to rock under Britpop.

I’m being overly dramatic of course (it’s fun, you should try it). Obviously there is good music as well as bad in every era, and genre. But Britpop brought with it, or at least walked hand in hand with a deeply unpleasant attitude. The movement grew out of indie (as useless a description of a musical genre as “prog”, but you all know what I mean), which was characterised by introspection, a modicum of pretentiousness, and generally low expectations, particularly with regards to commercial success. But indie bands started to sell records in great numbers and became the musical mainstream, and there was an attendant arrogance, and this coincided with the rise of “lad culture”, typified by Chris Evans’ TFI Friday and Loaded magazine. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but the problem with ironic sexism, ironic racism, and ironic loutishness is that they are virtually indistinguishable from actual sexism, actual racism and actual loutishness.

The beginnings of the movement were clearly an attempt to reject the overwhelming cultural stranglehold that “Grunge” had in the early nineties. Hosting a one off TV special featuring British bands at the time, Blur’s Damon Albarn bemoaned the band’s lack of success in their earlier years: “Unless you were Nirvana, or a diet Nirvana, you were nothing”. Presumably, now it was de rigeur to be a bargain Beatles, a cut-price Kinks or a second rate Small Faces. 

I remember a particularly stupid NME review of sarcastic US rockers Ugly Kid Joe’s album Motel California (what wags eh?) in which the writer pronounced that it was useless because “we don’t even have motels in Britain”. Of course, it is only natural that after the hegemony of American music was over, British musicians, writers and commentators would be slightly full of themselves but it annoyed me no end (at the time I remember being late for a night out because I was at home watching Alice in Chains Unplugged on MTV. My indie kid pals were not amused).

The Bluetones: they look like any old mimsy shimsy indie wasters, but they wrote some brilliant tunes

The era’s most memorable, and idiotic moment, was the (largely media created) competition between Oasis’ Roll With It and Blur’s Country House. It didn’t really help that these were both fairly awful, self parodic records (although, it could’ve been worse, it could’ve been Stereotypes), and the “conflict” escalated from being merely about record sales and (supposedly) divided the nation into North versus South, Working Class versus Middle Class, Stupid versus Clever. Blur won the battle, but Oasis won the war by selling more albums. Blur had the last laugh by retreating and changing their sound (ironically, to more resemble the American alt rock that they had earlier affected to despise), while Noel Gallagher bought himself a very big house in the country (true).

For an entertaining overview of the period, check out John Harris’ The Last Party: Britpop, Blair and the Demise of English Rock. Although I can summarise it here: Suede and Blur hated eachother, Elastica took loads of heroin, and Pulp wrote all the best songs. Less comprehensive, but just as enjoyable is Alex James’ autobiography Bit of a Blur, which is full of floppy fringed charm (sample line: “Famous people are just the same as normal people, except a bit more famous”) -and he even remembers to mention Me Me Me.

However, Britpop eventually faded away (I blame Northern Uproar and Cast), and we were faced with the atrocities of Nu Metal. Now, Limp Bizkit are all very well if you’re drunk and Rollin’ is playing at ribcage shattering volume in your local dirty rock club, but it’s hardly music for the ages is it? I think the idea was to ransack the work of Rage Against the Machine and that Judgement Night album, which is as good a goal as any I suppose, but the trouble is you got stuff like Crazy Town (Chili Peppers aping oafs), Linkin Park (anime obsessed whiny rap metallers with “I hate you mum & dad” songs) and Papa Roach (someone shouting over the top of old Iron Maiden riffs).

Fuckin' kick it with a tasty groove!

However, at this point every successful band was keen to point out how brilliant and what a big influence Black Sabbath were. Sabbath were The Beatles of the late nineties. Weirdly enough, up until that point, throughout a thirty odd year career, Sabbath had always been severely underrated. To all intents and purposes, they invented metal, and I suppose critics never forgave them. Now they were being praised left right and centre, and covered by everyone from Elbow to Mercury Rev, and sort of went from being underrated to overrated. And rock gradually became acceptable for mainstream audiences once again. I think The Darkness and Tenacious D are also partly responsible – although ostensibly parodic, both were deeply rooted in a love of classic rock. We even now have bands like The Answer and Wolfmother who appear to be completely without irony. Of course, for a lot of people this meant just wearing ironic rock t-shirts, but rock, proper rock, seemed to be a lot more popular. And continues to be, if all the hoo ha about Zeppelin’s recent reunion is anything to go by.


Wiithin You Wiithout You*

Friday, September 11th, 2009

With the release of The Beatles Rock Band, giving you the chance to play along with the seminal lovable scouse moptops’ synergistically released back catalogue (although sadly not The Inner Light), the Rock Band (and Guitar Hero) franchises are becoming a talking point among many that would never normally have in interest in video games.

Back in The CGI... nah doesn't work does it?

Ex Stone Bill Wyman and Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason have both slammed the franchise, much like Jimmy Page did a few months back, and it’s easy to see why someone who grew up in that generation (and came up through a period in which rock and pop were the most exciting countercultural forces in the world) would be dismissive and suspicious of something which purports to let you “be” your rock heroes, without you having to learn to play a note.  When Jimmy Page was a kid computers were the size of a house and had the processing power of a lamp post!

I’m not sure that playing Guitar Hero would stop someone learning an instrument. If you have the drive to do it, you’re gonna do it. When I was a teenager my greatest achievement was learning to play Misplaced Childhood all the way through on a little Yamaha home keyboard (the one with the bright blue drum pads at the bottom) but I certainly wasn’t in danger of becoming a musician. Surely if you are really into Guitar Hero you are more likely to take up playing a real guitar. And when you play the drums in those games it’s pretty much playing the drums!

Although, on the other hand, there are way too many bands out there, and most of them are shit, so we could do with a few less.

* Well, The Metro had already used “While My Guitar Hero Gently Weeps”


Cover Your Nipples!

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

Dinosaur Bands

Yes, after endlessly deliberating I have finally done some T Shirt designs. And by that I mean I have drawn two and then just dug up some old unused art for the others. Rest assured more will be added, especially if I get any requests to make t shirts featured in the comics available (although please note, I do not own the rights to Dr. Zoidberg). Trot on over to here to check them out.


Gig review: KISS, Manchester Evening News Arena, 10th May 2010

Friday, May 14th, 2010

My introduction to KISS was with their 1987 hit Crazy Crazy Nights. At the time I was getting into the finer points of high culture (Genesis, Iron Maiden, Middle Earth Role Playing), so I dismissed its cheesy glitziness and fake live whooping (“Here’s a little song for everyone out there!”). It was only later in life that I realised their importance – they were pivotal in (American) rock music and influenced pretty much every (American) band that followed them. I guess we never really “got” them over here. Why would we when we had Queen?

KISS have returned to their 70s roots (ie. wearing kabuki makeup and ridiculous comic book superhero style stage gear) and are touring the UK, so, obviously, we’re in attendance at Manchester’s cavernous MEN arena. Kicking off with their rather tasty new(ish) single Modern Day Delilah from the album Sonic Boom, they proceed to play a set of (mostly) classics. KISS made their reputation on the strength of their stage antics rather than their playing, but here they deliver a tight musical performance that’s worlds away from the clunky sound of live shows from their “heyday”. There’s also some blood spitting and fire breathing from Gene Simmons, which, while I realise it’s customary for a KISS show, is a little at odds with their songs, which are mostly good natured thumping party metal anthems.

In addition to that we get a solo from Tommy Thayer, which culminates in his launching flares from his guitar, and a drum solo, in which Eric Singer avoids the natural tedium that usually accompanies such things by producing a bazooka and blowing up part of the lighting rig. My wife pointed out that she enjoyed the show because there were “no lame ballads”, but if there had been you can bet something would have exploded halfway through.

The nearest thing we get is Paul Stanley flying across the arena to perform his party piece I Was Made For Lovin’ You, a bizarre disco rock hybrid, and an example of their talent for producing great pop records. Stanley, with his bare chest and glittery tassled stack heels flounces around the stage in a manner that Freddie Mercury would have considered a bit too camp. He’s the star(child) of the show, however, with his constant whoops of “Hey Man chest uh!! Man Chest Uh’s a Rock City! Let Me Hear You Man Chest Uh!”

During God Gave Rock ‘n Roll To You, another great single, the screens show shots of The Beatles, Zeppelin, Hendrix, The Stones et al. Okay, maybe they could have at least put Argent in there, but Kiss aren’t shy about giving some respect to their (mostly British) influences. They throw a bit of Won’t Get Fooled Again into Lick It Up, and play a brief version of  Whole Lotta Love. And while most critics would rather die than put them alongside such auspicious company, they’re true icons. Like Mickey Mouse, only badass.

Oh and Crazy Crazy Nights? Awesome!