Thursday, 28 June 2007

Book Review: Vengaboys – The Untold Story by Berthold Schreck

The number of books written about the Vengaboys in recent years is great; so great, in fact, that many people would question the necessity for another. This one is different, however. Written by Berthold Schreck, the Boys’ former butler, it provides an inside look into the lives of those most reclusive musical geniuses.

The book has much to lift it above the crowd of unauthorized biographies. The well-known and oft-told tales are all here: the formation of the band after the dissolution of Kraut-rock combo Gaft in 1996; the early tumultuous gigs in Dutch coffee shops; the rise to fame and their very public breakdowns. But from his insider position, Schreck embellishes these familiar stories with some amazing new facts and information, providing a wealth of previously-unknown-to-the-public Vengalore.

The chapter on the writing of the Vengaboys’ first hit, Up & Down, is particularly thrilling in Schreck’s hands. The band, stuck for lyric ideas once the first two lines had been written (the now classic and famous couplet ‘Up and down/Up and down’), argued long into the night about which direction the track should then take. The fighting was so great that they came very close to dissolving the band. It was several days later when band member Anya came up with the idea for the next two lines: ‘Up and down/Up and down’, and, rejuvenated, the rest of the band joined her in writing the rest of the song (coming very close to brilliance in the penultimate lines of the final verse: ‘Up and down/Up and down’). The chapter closes with the band discussing the possible tie-ins for the song, considering bungee jumping, trampolinists and spiders, before eventually settling on the then-current craze of yoyos.

The band’s much-publicized spat with 2 Unlimited is detailed at length by Schreck. Some writers have asserted that this was all a stunt concocted by the two bands’ record companies, but this argument is dismissed. Behind the scenes, Vengaboy Giles spoke to Ray of 2 Unlimited and offered to ‘feed him his own sphincter’ if he didn’t rename the latter’s album, then entitled ‘The Vengaboys are Shit’. In the end, the album title was changed as part of the ransom after a daring kidnapping of Anita from 2 Unlimited, during which several Vengaboys sadly lost their lives.

The Vengaboys’ songs are analysed with shrewd consideration of their private lives. ‘My Uncle John from Jamaica’ is completely different in light of keyboardist and songwriter Jan’s turbulent family life. ‘Oh! We’re Going to Ibiza’ is a very personal cry for help from one band member, who, according to Shreck, wished to escape so badly that they attempted suicide on more than one occasion.

The book ends with the tragic events of July 2005, when, as a support act for Enrique Iglesias, the Vengaboys ate some bad chickpeas backstage and were dead before their encore.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Video Game Review: Ultimate Belgium Simulator (Chipfat Games)

Finally released on PSP, Wii, Atari 2600 and Acetronic, Ultimate Belgium Simulator is the latest in the line of European simulators from the people at Chipfat Games. Some would say it’s the most eagerly awaited; the gaming community is desperate to see if the company can overcome the poor reception that last year’s Austria Simulator suffered. Will Belgium be as good as Slovenia and Wales? Or was Austria the start of an unfortunate trend?

Well, the Imaginary Review has played the game from beginning to end, and we can state that if Belgium is anything to go by, Austria must have been a solitary blip on the Chipfat landscape. The game is full of excitement and adventure, packed with mini-games (the Chocolate Factory race is a personal highlight!) and satisfying puzzles.

Beginning with the declaration of independence in 1830, the gamer is taken through the Berlin Conference of 1885 and the German invasion all the way through to the Congo Crisis of 1960 and the adoption of the Euro several years ago.

The attention to detail is superb. As you wander around the streets of Brussels and Antwerp, each cobble and thatch is beautifully rendered. All the Belgian politicians of each era are recognizable, and at one point you may even notice a cameo appearance from a certain Belgian movie star! (Hint: You won’t have to be a ‘Universal Soldier’ to detect him!)

If there’s one drawback to the game, it’s that there’s not enough emphasis on the politics of Belgium, arguably the country’s most enjoyable past-time. Designing the perfect waffle and defending the banks of the Congo are one thing, but the game could do with a little more on the ‘debating sugar import concessions’ front.

Of course, this is just splitting hairs. Ultimate Belgium Simulator is a wonderful way to take control of a European country, and you don’t need to resort to relentless campaigning and character assassination to do it!

An expansion pack will be available in October. The next Chipfat European Simulator will be San Marino.

Monday, 25 June 2007

Art Exhibition Review: Timpani Suicide by Gustav Chichester

Wandering through the Marsupial Art Gallery in Whentwich, I find myself staggered by the innocuousness of the exhibits on display. Nothing of Gustav Chichester’s new show, Timpani Suicide, makes me fear for my safety; nothing looks like it’s going to jump out and attack me, rendering my flesh and using my eyeballs as fancy dice. Despite this, I try to enjoy the experience, but the lack of any perceivable threat keeps coming back to hamper my visit.

Take the massive installation piece, ‘Gradhat’, for example. The centre of the piece is a statue of a girl who looks about eight or nine, holding a bear’s head and looking very pleased with herself, while around her a group of giant dragonflies hang playfully from the ceiling. My initial reaction to this work was one of great joy, but this was soon curtailed when I realized that the sounds of screams and sobbing accompanying the work where not actually intended by the artist, but were actually coming through an open window from the cemetery next door. His other installations also lack a similar sense of dystrophy. ‘Reductionist Landscape’, featuring ten stoats hanging by their necks from the ceiling, has far too much comforting nuance in it for my liking. I didn’t feel moved by the lifeless animal corpses; I felt comfortable, at home, as if I was back in my penthouse in High Wycombe.

Chichester’s canvasses evoke a similar mundane verisimilitude. The red and blue-lead abstract works are reminiscent of the much-imitated Brian Topp, though without the latter’s wonderful sense of anger, pain, fear and aggression. ‘Untitled 4’, ‘Formerly Untitled, Now Called “Florence”’ and ‘Titled (But I’m Not Saying What the Title is)’ would not seem out of place in a doctor’s surgery. Indeed, the cow’s heart pinned to the latter with tent pegs reinforced my viewpoint.

Timpani Suicide marks a period in Gustav Chichester’s oeuvre when he has moved from bold, brash statements of intent to cloying, safe, drama-less tat. I look forward to his moving from this unfortunate lull.

Timpani Suicide is on at the Marsupial Art Gallery, Whentwich, until September. Entry is free to breastfeeding mothers.

Friday, 22 June 2007

Gun Review: The Glopp .650

The release of the Glopp .650 is going to be closely watched by many, given that the manufacturers’ last weapon was found to have a fatal design flaw that meant it shot around corners. The Glopp bigwigs claim that all kinks have been ironed out of the .650, and I gave it a road test to see if this is so.

Visually, the .650 is striking. The manufacturers claim that the size of the barrel gives their weapon a 35% increase in intruder intimidation than the nearest rival’s. I tested this by leaving my front door open at night and waiting in the shadows while my wife and children slept in their bedrooms above.

The first burglar who came in saw me standing naked in the hallway pointing a similarly-priced model to the Glopp, and he jumped out of his skin, running away at a pretty hefty pace. The second burglar came face-to-face with the .650, and he actually shat himself on the spot, leaving my wife with a nasty stain to clean up in the morning! Scratch one victory to the Glopp!

While terrifying robbers-to-be is one thing, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say; and with a dessert of firearms, the proof is in the shooting! I flew out to Africa and took the .650 to a remote desert village for a real test of its powers.

As the villagers were running from me in mortal, uncomprehending terror, I was struck by the swiftness with which I was shooting. Reload time is reassuringly low, and so once I’d run out of rounds it wasn’t long before I was happily firing again at the soon-extinct primitives. The Glopp’s accuracy is also something to write home about. From the fattest town elder to the smallest child, none were a problem for the dual-control target mechanism.

Of course, not everyone has the means to test their new weaponry in a lawless dictatorship, and so I decided to try some experiments a little closer to home. For mugging, as with defending one’s home, the Glopp is ideal; I found that my takings from random street-encounters rose by 33% when using the .650. The ability to pierce armour is somewhat disappointing, however, as the policeman pulled through after a couple of days in intensive care.

The manufacturers claim that the .650 is simple enough to be used by a child. I haven’t had enough time to test this, but I will give the gun to my 8 year-old son to use, and see if this claim is true. I’ll let you know the results as I get them.

In summary: The Glopp .650 is a huge improvement on the previous Glopp guns. It’s only let down by the disappointingly poor armour-piercing ability. Otherwise, this is a fine weapon for use by real heterosexual men who aren’t turned on by phallic metallic objects, honest.

Editor’s note: This article is dedicated to the memory of The Imaginary Gun Reviewer, who was recently killed in a tragic accident. Police are still investigating how his son came to be in possession of a lethal weapon.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Book Review: Chatterstoft Area Phone Book 2007/08 by British Telecom

British Telecom has just released the long-awaited sequel to their ground-breaking 2006/07 Chatterstoft Area Phone Book, and what a treat it is for fans of the genre! It was difficult to conceive how the previous volume could be bettered, but better it they have, and with aplomb!

The book starts in very much the same way as the old one, with a beautifully written chapter on local and international dialing codes. The playfulness with which the areas and countries are listed is a joy: consider the adjacent placing of the United Kingdom and the United States – which some people will recognize as a wonderful simulation of their adjacent placing at the tables of the United Nations. No less subtle is the distance between these two countries in the list and another of the US’s allies in international affairs, Australia. The imagery is striking: The UK and US, United as their names suggest, together towards the end of the list, while their ally sadly looks on from the beginning. Such wonderful satire at so early a place in the book!

And there is more to come. The authors have included many wonderfully playful elements to the book, such as the list of ‘Saints’ that arrives before the rest of the ‘S’ surnames. Why is this? Is it because the saints are above the common surnames like Smith and Spencer? Does their separation indicate arrogance? Or, conversely, do the rest of the ‘S’ surnames deliberately distance themselves from the Saints? Are they not worthy to occupy the same space as those sacred surnames? We are left to decide for ourselves.

There are many brilliant changes to the book when it is compared with the previous one. A new addition is the wonderfully-monikered Dave Shuttleworth, of 42 Primrose Gardens, CT2 8LE. How poetic the name and address become when placed together! But consider the following lines:

Julian Beresford 22 Thornhill Avenue 562-3340
Keith Beresford 4 Windsor Road 562-8046

Such lyricism! Such economy of feeling! Such clever juxtaposition! How beautiful it is to run the lines over in one’s head, enjoying the slight jump between the ‘0’ at the end of the first line and the ‘Keith’ at the beginning of the second.

And you may think that such wonderful pairs of lines could be rare, but they crop up all over the book. Indeed, I found the hairs on the back of my neck stand up on average once per page. Marvelous! And I haven’t mentioned the ‘services’ pages yet!

I cannot recommend this book enough. At more than a thousand pages long it is a little heavy, and it is not without some dull areas (the ‘Jones’ chapter particularly comes to mind), but there is something here for everyone. British Telecom have done it again!

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Equipment Review: The Craw 8000

Released as a companion for the Fleiss-warder 35, the Craw 8000’s manufacturers promise that it has none of the dethroning issues that haunted its predecessors, and that it has a newly-updated rashburn speed of up to 23 digibuttons. To put these claims to the test, I hooked the 8000 up to my Crackenheim, and let the hamfists do the talking!

I was quite impressed with the results. With modulation set to a steady 0.7 to 0.8 Dagobharrs per second, the new Craw really does display little to no dethroning. There’s a satisfying crimshaw despondency too, which really did surprise me, given the lack of tact from the three-point termination clippets.

Where the Craw really falls down, however, is in its lack of zeal, especially in the mighty hourlabs. The 8000’s immediate predecessor, the 7500, had a plenititude capacity of over eight million, whereas the newer model somehow limits itself to three quarters of that amount. In this day and age, when Fleabasters are pumping out a diode’s worth of kleptom, this is a truly unforgivable oversight from the people at Craw.

In hardware terms, the 8000 is compatible with the latest models of BDRSIs, Capstam 470s and Digimuppets, but for some reason it isn’t backwards-compatible with any of the Fortuoso Megaframes, and while the user manual claims that it is compatible with the Twitter Minilur, I found that hooking my own up to the Craw 8000 filled my study with Parakeets.

Actual, living Parakeets.

In summary, then, the Craw 8000 is an acceptable entry point into the Graversham arena, but at a cost of £425, there are many cheaper and more user-friendly models on the market. For the experienced user the 8000 has some nice features, but there aren’t enough to justify replacing your Blot GD or your Polysci 2.2.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Dance Review: The Office Party

The National Dance Company’s new work, The Office Party, opens on Monday, but The Imaginary Review was granted a sneaky peek at the final rehearsals in their studios on Walmart Lane. The work will amaze fans of both dance and offices, and it will surely clear the slate after last year’s dreadful dance adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘It’.

The performance revolves around a normal day at the office, and all the dancing that takes place thereat. The six distinct movements are each set in a different area of a generic office, with accurate stage props to guide the viewer’s understanding.

The best of these movements is set in the office kitchen, here occupying centre stage but utilizing a tiny, confined space. The dancers awkwardly skip around each other, vying with their ‘colleagues’ for the last few drops from the coffee machine, while lead ballerina Isabella DuPont pirouettes precariously as she waits for her lunch to defrost in the microwave. All in all, this is a daring, exciting piece, rich with beauty but at the same time claustrophobic and pathetic.

The boardroom features some highly interpretive dance from the troupe, and involves what looks like a game of musical chairs, lasting over ten minutes. According to NDC creative director Patricia P’Thingthing, this is meant to symbolize the movement of staff through different positions within the company.

The final act of the performance is going to be the most controversial of all. In it, the entire office workforce is made redundant by the boss, leading to chaos among the dancers. As the final curtain descends and the lights fade, many of the staff are writhing painfully on the floor while the manager character – played by Graham Pshaw-Belmont – simulates uncomfortable sex with random staff members. It’s a powerful and disturbing end to a magical night’s entertainment.

The Office Party will run until November. Tickets cost £25 for the back row, £22 for all other rows. No Pikies.

Monday, 18 June 2007

New album review: Paradise Armadillo - Barristers of Funk (Current Wow! Recordings)

Many bands struggle with their third album; it's not known as the 'difficult' one for nothing. So, with this in mind Paradise Armadillo have decided to bypass their third album altogether, following their second with their fourth, and leaving their third until a later date.

The band’s fans should be thankful for this; Barristers of Funk is a great leap away from Paradise Armadillo’s previous two recordings, Platonic Housebeast and Dipthonggg. The album’s opener, ‘(Don’t Care For) Parentheses (In Song Titles)’ is a cacophonous apewail of a song, with singer Terrence Borravan screeching his personal rules for life in rhyming couplets over a mash-up of heavily distorted guitars. According to the liner notes, this song features guitarist Peabody Pleasance playing seven different guitars at the same time.

It’s experimentation like this that makes Paradise Armadillo such an exciting band; the title track, for example, sees them assuming the role of musical lawyers, rapping about litigation over a backing track of samples of their own lawyers instructing them to cease their plagiarism of old soul records. Slower, more mellow tracks on the album include ‘Force the Peace (with Violence if Necessary)’ and ‘Deep Deep Deep Deep Down’, which evoke memories of the CumuloFunkbus scene of the late 70s and the Arts and Crafts Soul Movement of acts like Geraldine Marshall and the Glistenettes and Bobby Saffron and the Saffrogettes.

The only bum note on the whole of the album is the ill-advised cover of the theme tune to children’s TV program ‘Rod Hull and Friends in the Pink Windmill’. It’s impossible to improve on perfection, and Paradise Armadillo have only displayed their failings by attempting it.

It’s a shame, because this is the only thing marring an otherwise excellent album. Maybe Paradise Armadillo are ready to go back to that third album now.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Last Night's TV

Costa Gouranga (8.00pm, Sky One) began its second season last night. The premise remains the same as last year: sixteen followers of Hare Krishna are flown to the tourist resort of Benidorm to operate two competing hotels. Every week they have to perform special tasks while keeping their customers happy. How will they deal with a constant flow of boozed-up randy young people?
How indeed? Not very well if the first episode is anything to go by. Toby, leader of the blue team started poorly by refusing to leave the airport, causing his team to suffer their first challenge defeat of the season. Their punishment was to each drink a yard of ale, leaving the bald tee-totallers reeling in the streets while their captain handed out leaflets in the departure lounge of the airport.
The makers of the show are hoping to avoid the unfortunate events that marred the finale of the last season of Costa Gouranga, in which six of the participants were killed and twelve people were badly burned.

Madeline, the chat show on Channel 4 (9.00pm) goes from strength to strength. As with most chat shows, celebrity guests appear on the program to promote their new products, but this one has a twist: the show’s host, Madeline Albright, doesn’t get paid unless the guests have a tantrum and leave the show in an angry huff. Last night saw her set fire to Russell Brand’s hair and defecate in Helen Mirren’s lap. The Kaiser Chiefs started to play out the show but left the stage after only 36 seconds due to being pelted with bricks by the host.
Channel 4 are to be applauded yet again for this brave and exciting new series. Next week’s guests include Michael Palin and Margaret Atwood.

Not so exciting was BBC1’s new period drama, Dribble (7.00pm). The story is based around Thomas Dribble, played by Robert Carlyle, and his attempts to woo the lovely Stephanie, played by Rosamund Pike. He is hindered in his quest by his inability to grow mutton-chop sideburns, and the series follows his various attempts to build fake ones. Costing the corporation eighteen million pounds, this is definitely one new show to avoid.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Book Review: The Climes of Despair by Winwood Augary

Winwood Augary’s first work is a highly ambitious project. In his introduction he tells the story of how, while on holiday in Greece, he found a tiny second-hand book shop down a back alley. In a dark corner at the back of the store he stumbled across a small and dusty volume that enchanted him. There was no title or author listed on the cover, and the whole book “seemed to ripple with magical intent”. He bought the book and resolved to translate it, a particularly ambitious project, given that Augary neither speaks nor reads Greek.

In the four years that Augary has spent translating the book, he used various methods to recreate the book in English, none of them involving a Greek-to-English dictionary. Intuition seems to have played the biggest part, followed by imagination and free association. Indeed, there are sections of the book that have an element of the beatnik poets to them, and some of the more labyrinthine passages are almost Joycean in nature. All this was necessary, Augary believed, to truly convey the meaning that the text gave to him.

Though the book loosely follows a plot about an aspiring writer going to war, there are huge sections where Augary deviates from the storyline, in one case reading the original Greek text as a series of shopping lists. He also takes one part of the book to be more suited to French, another language of which he has little to no knowledge. The French in the book is more like a phonetic reproduction of an Inspector Clouseau sketch than anything written by Dumas or Corbière.

Augary provides extensive notes to explain his choice of words and grammar, and these provide some of the most interesting parts of the book. In one case he notes: “My initial reaction to the word ‘big squiggle – big squiggle – little squiggle – sideways 8 – three small joined squiggles’ was that it stood for the English word ‘divulge’. However, after seeing the same series of squiggles in numerous other passages I came to change my perceived meaning of the word to ‘avocado’. Three weeks’ work was wasted as I had to go back over all my previous chapters, changing the passages with this word in it to reflect this.”

While the story itself is meandering, poorly written and, in some cases, plagiarised from modern soap operas (acknowledged by Augary as ”manifestations of current themes erupting from my own subconscious”), it is an interesting exercise. Whether or not Augary was successful in his desire to “transverse the boundary between inherent fact and personal understanding, while blurring the concepts of belief and truth” is another matter.

Sadly, this exercise was one that took its toll on the writer, however, and by the last chapter the story has degenerated into meta-narrative about the original book itself, with Augary seemingly under the impression that the book is mocking him and his efforts to translate it. This chapter and the notes for it echo Augary’s own mental breakdown which culminated in his incarceration at a mental institute.

It is a sad note, therefore, that the editor’s postscript at the back of the book informs the reader that Augary had, in fact, unknowingly translated a Greek phone directory printed in 1955.