james debate
james debate

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Welcome back to the artist spotlight. These are intended to educate and provide basic commentary on the chosen band, and listing their biggest hits, as well as the hidden gems they've recorded.
This week the spotlight is on the David Bowie, one of the greatest musical geniuses of the modern era.

David Bowie

There aren't many musicians who can last more than a few years in the limelight, so when someone manages to keep writing fresh new music for a whole decade it is truly special. It is therefore an absolutely absurd musical achievement when someone can do this for almost four decades. David Bowie is a genius. It's not just that he is a supremely talented musician and singer, it's also how many different genres of music he can successfully use, and even create his own genres. A lot can be speculated on his mental state over the years, the effect of his extreme drug usage and his propensity towards glam and showiness rather than just music, but at the end of it all no one else can boast such a long and impressive discography.

Unlike most artists, the visual aspects of Bowie's music actually adds to the experience, rather than cheapening it as so often happens. The fact is that Bowie is not just a musician, he is an artist. He produces poetry and intense visual imagery. He can also act as can be seen in one of his movies or in his stage work. It is this devotion to art of all forms that really gives depth and life to his work and this can be clearly seen in his music.

There is so much that can be said about the man, a conflicted and troubled individual who expressed himself in the multitude of different personae he took the role of for his art. Call him Aladdin Sane, Ziggy Stardust or the Thin White Duke, he is always unforgettable, but to do so would take a lot longer than I intend to spend writing this. This is a fascinating man who has lived a fascinating life and produced a large back catalog of art fuelled by his inner conflicts (and probably a fair bit of drugs). So now on to the music

It is difficult to pick out a key album from such a long and distinguished career. Certainly the experimental Low needs listening to, as does The Man Who Sold the World, but in my eyes the most essential album in terms of music, imagery and general genius has to be the legendary, and brilliantly namedThe Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars . It is probably the work he is best known for. Also watching the music video of 'Ashes to Ashes' is something everyone should experience at least once.

And now on to the fun bit, the recommended songs, it's bloody difficult to call these 'hidden gems' since so many of his songs are massive hits:

Must Have:
Starman - David Bowie
Life on Mars - David Bowie
Heroes - David Bowie
Space Oddity - David Bowie

Next Steps:
Changes - David Bowie
Under Pressure - David Bowie & Queen
The Man Who Sold the World - David Bowie
Ashes to Ashes - David Bowie

Going Further:
Ziggy Stardust - David Bowie
Suffragette City - David Bowie
Sound and Vision - David Bowie
Aladdin Sane - David Bowie

For too long we have lived in an ever darkening world. A world where we live in fear constantly. Meanwhile the most powerful nation on Earth, the only ones we can look to to sort this out, are laughed and and derided. Failed international initiatives, failed invasions, and a figure head who embodies everything that is wrong with the country (incoherent, spoiled 'daddies boys' with too much money and no common sense who can simply walk into a position of power), the country's image is at an all time low, and 8 years of corrupt, deceitful and downright comical mismanagement has only made things worse. America has no credibility on the world stage, Bush never has been and never will be respected as a world leader like Clinton or even Bush snr, and the last 8 years have seemed at times like a bad sitcom. Something needs to change.

The good news is that America has finally wizened up to this fact. The first sign of this turnaround was at the midterm elections where the Democrats swept the Republicans aside in both the house and the senate. The next big step was taken this past month, when Barack Obama, was named the Democratic nominee for the 2008 election for the presidency of the United States of America. This is a man who has never been fancied as a main contender, with no connections, no big name to buy his way through life, and yet has built up a large grass roots following with one of the most meticulous and innovative campaigns in recent history, which has propelled him to frontrunner status and shattered records and racial barriers. Not since Kennedy (both J and R) has a nominee excited the general public to such an extent. And never in history have so many people who have never voted before been moved to mark a ballot for the first time in their lives. This is both a sign of the desperate nature of current times and of the spirit and excitement that is inspired by Obama.

A year ago no one would ever have thought it could happen, but millions tuned in to see Obama's long awaited victory speech and no one, not even his biggest critics can deny it was a moving thing to see. After 8 years of malaise, to see so many people in one place so full of spirit and optimism is indeed a remarkable thing, and now one can only wait and see how this will extend to the November election. One thing is certain, the momentum is currently with Obama and McCain has got some catching up to do. At the end of the day all one really has to ask is, 'are you happy with how things have been run these past 8 years?' anyone who says yes is either a filthy rich, spoilt (likely overweight) american whos concept of 'the world at large' is the upper east side of new york or someone in complete denial who has sat through the past 2 terms without turning the news on, with their fingers planted firmly in their ears saying 'lalalala' over and over to themselves. America needs a change of image, the world needs this to happen. Mccain is not an image change, its more of the same except with a slightly friendlier face.

I, along with the majority of people with an IQ over 120, can only sit and hope that the rest of the country makes the right decision. So far so good.

This has been a pretty eventful week. Recently I have been very keen to keep this flat I am living in, looking for renters to replace my current flatmate when she leaves, and indeed I was following up on one or two people who expressed an interest. However this has changed now.

We had another party this week. I am told it was a success, as were the last few I've thrown here, but sadly I was not in a position to enjoy it this time, running around all night sorting out various problems. All of this culminated in a slightly unfortunate accident and one very harshly worded complaint from a neighbour (who attempted to pass the accident off as an act of vandalism!). Now to begin with, I had planned, run and finished this party in full contact with my neighbours, making sure their needs were met, and even ending the party early on the night following some unfortunate commotion. I even spent a large portion of my night reporting the incident and cleaning up. Over the next 72 hours I was ignored, lied to and generally treated by crap by the estate office of Queens Club Gardens, and I was completely at a loss to explain why, considering how minor the problem was, how quickly I dealt with it and paid for it, and I ended up with a very angry landlord on my hands, who indicated that he would be intending to terminate my tenancy.

Somewhat shocked and distraught I consulted the real estate agents who have been acting as liaison between the landlord and me. The real issue here is simply that as a lowly, lowly 'renter' I am considered too poor and unimportant to deserve fair treatment and to be listened to. Even in the face of absolutely absurd false reports and actually the support of a number of my neighbours (only one actually complained, even though the estate office lied to me and told me otherwise). The estate office is basically paid for by the property owners in queens club and so quite clearly are going to suck up to them whenever possible no matter what the situation. It is exactly the same with my landlord, who has to look good in front of everyone who owns a flat here, just in case one of them is at all influential.

The real point of crossing the line was when the landlord demanded that a real estate agent come around to investigate my flat for any damage or drugs or signs of smoking or whatnot. Clearly this is bullshit, and when the agent came around and found the flat to be completely spotless she was not at all surprised (being the only person involved in this matter who isn't a moron). An hour later i have an email from my landlord retracting his previous statement and offering me an extension to my lease. I suppose that is what I wanted, but after this bitter affair I definitely have half a mind to tell him to shove his lease up his ass.

What this incident has shown me is that being a renter is not for me. I don't tolerate treatment like this from anyone and I think this might just be the encouragement I have been waiting for to enter the buyer's market and buy a flat.

song of the day: "Death and all His Friends" by "Coldplay"
thing you're going to do today: lets go drink a milkshake shall we?
pic of the day:
HOT:
There will be blood
Milkshakes
Viva La Vida

NOT:
No Country for Old Men
Banana Milkshakes
X&Y

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Today we have a massive big bumper football focused edition of the Ephemeric, but before we get onto that, for all of you not interested in such things, I have a special exclusive review for you.

Coldplay are going to release their new album Viva La Vida this month. Expectations are high, especially with the success of their two singles, one of which is actually good (viva la vida) in fact very very good.
I am lucky enough that I have been sent an advance copy of the album to listen to and review for you now. Which makes you very lucky too for reading this blog. So here you are, all you Coldplay fans, this is what the new album is like.

This album is certainly a change from their last album, X&Y and a welcome one from my point of view. Their last album seemed to focus quite heavily on electro-pop sounds, like it was abandoning all that had made old coldplay songs on parachutes so great and catering to the lowest common denominator. It was no coincidence that the real highlights of that album were when Coldplay returned to their old sound with tracks like Speed of Sound and Fix You.
I am therefore pleased to say that this album takes a much more mature and melodic sound. Coldplay have evolved. What follows is a complex, beautiful and only rarely disappointing, musical experience, full of glittering hooks and haunting melodies.


Much of this album was recorded in churches in South America, and you can almost imagine Chris Martin & co sitting there obsessing over every single note in the album, as it is clear that they have put a lot of work into it. Viva la Vida (the song) is great, we know this. Violet hill, less so. Of the tracks you won't have heard, Cemeteries of London is an atmospheric and layered song that gets better as it goes on. 42 and Strawberry swing are decent enough tracks while Yes and Lost! form the weaker of the songs on this album. However where this album really shines is with its unusual decision to record songs which are actually two songs in one, much like the final track on the Chili Peppers By the Way album (venice queen) However it works well and Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love is a majestic and exotic sounding track which almost sounds very U2-esque. But my personal favorite has to be Death and All His Friends, another 2 in 1 track which takes about a minute to get into, but when it does, it blows you away. Also worthy of note is the introductory track, a completely instrumental song called Life in Technicolor. It is a shame they didn't develop this song into a full one because the music is beautiful and it could have been one of the best tracks easily.

A good album, guaranteed to grow on you if you don't appreciate it at first. If you like any of coldplay's old songs you probably will.

Verdict:

After much careful deliberation and consulting a panel of experts to assist with the tricky decisions, I have now finally compiled the ultimate 'best xi' of the season in English football. The official team is screwed over by the vast quanitity of idiots who vote out there and the offical computer calculated 'player index' team is biased towards defensively minded teams. This one is the real deal. Enjoy.




Goalkeeper- David James- Once again David James has been by far the most consistent goalkeeper in the premiership. Even if he does occasionally make the odd catastrophic blunder, it's generally far less than most other keepers, and he is absolutely impeccable the rest of the time.

Right Back- Bacary Sagna- The finding of the season in my opinion, has been a fantastic right back for Wenger's team, both going forward and defensively.
Centre Back- Nemanja Vidic- Rio Ferdinand may get most of the plaudits in the media (he's English, what do you expect?) but all the top pundits will agree, Vidic has been the real key man in that backline. When Rio is injured, United held strong, but without Vidic, they failed miserably.
Centre Back- Ricardo Carvalho- Simply the best player on Chelsea this season. Mr Consistent. We saw glimpses of his talent last season, but with captain John Terry injured for half the season this year Carvalho has really come into his own and held that backline firm on his own, and even outshone his famous captain when the two were in the same lineup.
Left Back- Ashley Cole- The truth of the matter is, if Ashley was turning in performances for any other team like he has for Chelsea this season, he'd be getting praised as the best left back in the world, no contest. Even if that seems a bit unlikely in this world it speaks volumes that the majority of the hacks who declare how much 'worse' he is at Chelsea do so in ironic tones nowadays, much like how they chanted 'boring boring chelsea' 2 years ago when we kept winning every other game 4-0. So consistent, and really shone in the big games against United and Arsenal. A massive improvement from his final highly anonymous years at Arsenal.

Right Winger- David Bentley- It was hard to imagine him hitting heights like this after being rejected by Arsenal and shunned to Norwich, but Bentley has definitely risen to one of the top wingers this season, and almost certainly a future Beckham replacement for England. Wenger's wingless wonders wish they had him now thats for sure.
Central Midfield- Michael Ballack- Back again to his commanding top form. Ballack has at times carried his Chelsea team today through dark periods. Faced against relentless injury crises and the African CUp of nations, Ballack stood up as Chelsea's 3rd choice vice vice captain and managed to lead his team through what would turn out to be their most consistent period of the season, helping his team with goals, strength in the midfield, and leadership when they needed it most.
Central Midfield- Cesc Fabregas- Has made the transition from promising novelty act to world class creative engine in the Arsenal midfield this season. And still so young, it's scary to think what experience will bring this young man. Can cut a defense wide open with a pass, can shoot, and is one of the most intelligent players in the league.
Left Winger- Cristiano Ronaldo- Well what more can you say about this man. more than 40 goals this season when he's not even an out and out striker, dazzling football skills, impeccable freekicks, and can play on both sides of the pitch. Simply the best player in the league this year. You can even ignore some of the less admirable sides to his game in light of how much ability he has elsewhere.

Striker- Fernando Torres- Had somewhat of a slow start to the season at Liverpool, not helped by Benitez's rotation policy. However in the second half of the season he really set the country alight with his incredible speed and imperious strength and quickly turned himself into the goal machine liverpool fans hoped he'd become. Still young too, he can only get better from here on in. One to look out for next season.
Striker- Wayne Rooney- Along with Ronaldo, this is the man Manchester United fans can thank for their title. He may not be the most prolific of goalscorers compared to other strikers, but he can do so much for the team as well. He can defend, he can set up his teammates, he can pull magic out of nowhere to completely change the game. Still one of the brightest talents in football, still so young.

Tis the season, and even though England failed us all by not getting into the tournament all is not lost. Clearly it's a far less interesting summer without England to follow, but that shouldn't spoil what is still an exciting festival of all that is good and wonderful about football. Or, like me enter a prediction league for the tournament, making the results of far greater consequence and giving you an opportunity to satisfy that hyper-competetive urge and prove that you're better than your friends, as we all love to do so much.

In this guide, I will be previewing every one of the sixteen teams in the competition, highlighting key players for each, and ultimately giving my verdict on how each team will fare when the tournament begins at the end of this week.


Group A

Czech Republic
They should have won Euro2004, they had a very strong team with great players and the top scorer of the competition. However they disappointed at the World Cup despite an impressive start, and a number of their players are now retired (Nedved, Poborsky) or getting on (Koller, Ujfalusi). Fortunately there are a number of yougner stars taking on more prominent positions within the team, Arsenal's Rosicky and Chelsea's Petr Cech, both of whom are potential matchwinners on their day.
Key Player: Petr Cech - the imposing goalkeeper with inhuman reflexes adds at least 20 points to Chelsea's league total, a similarly strong performance for the Czech will be a massive boost for his nation.
Verdict: Should qualify from their group, but will be pushed hard by the home nation Switzerland, and with a likely quarter final against Germany should they come second, they should not get their hopes up about getting any further.

Portugal
Finalists in Euro2004, 4th place finish in World Cup 2006, and led by the inimitable world cup winning manager Scolari, this Portugal team has a lot going for them. Add onto this the coming of age of one Cristiano Ronaldo (maybe you've heard of him?) he is a winger who somehow amassed a ridiculous 41 goals this season for Manchester United (albeit quite a few from penalties) and is undoubtedly one of the best footballers in the world right now.
Key Player: Cristiano Ronaldo - One of the best players in the world and a real contender for the golden boot. Could fire his country to long awaited success.
Verdict: Could be a good year for them, but with Ronaldo gaining somewhat of a reputation as a bottler in big games, they could fall short in the later stages.

Switzerland
As the homenation in Euro2008 they will be looking to give a strong performance. Being a realtively minnowish side unfortunately drawn in a group with the heavyweight likes of Portugal and Czech Republic has left them as heavily unfavoured, despite a very impressive world cup performance in 2006. Will be relying on one of their more esteemed group A contenders to slip up.
Key Player: Alexander Frei - A prolific goalscorer for his country, and the captain. Plies his trade in the top flight of the German Bundesliga so is not short of pedigree.
Verdict: Will push and push but will be lucky to qualify from the group stage, and a near-miracle if they get further.

Turkey
Probably the weakest team in the group, but have a solid defense and will be aiming to cause an upset, as they have done in the past (see world cup 2002). Coach Fatih Terim has made some controversial decisions to leave out certain experienced players from his squad, will the risk pay off?
Key Player: Sanli Tuncay - The Boro player is in strong form leading up toe the competition and his team mates will be hoping for some of that goalscoring accumen in what could eb a tough group to navigate out from
Verdict: Probably going home early.


Group B

Austria
The manager has had a tough job rebuilding the national side from scratch for this tournament, and with only friendly games to practise with, his young team has not had a lot of time to properly gel. Generally regarded as the weakest team in the competition this year, as co-hosts they will still be giving their all when the games begin. However with a squad distinctly lacking in quality they will probably notbe too optimistic about their chances.
Key Player: René Aufhauser - A pivotal playmaker in the team, scored a hattrick in one of Austria's most recent wins (which was a year ago)
Verdict: It will be tough for them, will probably fight it out for 3rd place in the group with Poland.

Croatia
The evil bas***ds who knocked england out? perhaps. But they also happen to be a pretty good team, and thoroughly deserved it. Luka Modric was recently being talked about like one of the hottest properties in Europe! then he signed for spurs instead of Chelsea or Arsenal and no one is saying that anymore. Ivan Rakitic is, however still a very hotly tipped youngster and was recently listed on Fifa's official 'most exciting teenagers on the planet' a list I only missed out on because I've turned 20 this year ;) Olic is a prolific goalscorer at both club and country level, and their manager has been rightly praised for how he has gelled these players together as a team, so much so in fact that he has been linked with the Chelsea post.
Key Player: Luka Modric - Maybe Chelsea and Arsenal were wrong? is there a good player on tottenham finally? 10 bucks says he has a blinder of a tournament and then a stinker of a season at tottenham
Verdict: I'd expect them to qualify from this group if they maintain the excellent form they had in qualification.

Germany
One of the big favorites at this tournament and why not? Had a very impressive showing at the world cup (following an absolute nightmare at euro 2004 it must be said) and are in good form, with captain Michael Ballack enjoying one of his better seasons in recent years and world cup top scorer Klose looking on fire again, could go a long way.
Key Player: Michael Ballack - Has hit tip top form again and appeared at times to be carrying Chelsea this season, which says a lot for such a big club.
Verdict: Could go a long way, wouldn't surprise anyone if they ended as winners.

Poland
Better than Austria... that's about it. Their ace in the hole will be manager Leo Beenhakker, who brings with him bags of top class experience. Unless we see another Greece-like shock, Poland are not long for this tournament, may finish 3rd though if they best Austria.
Key Player: Maciej Żurawski - Captained his country through to their first UEFA European Championship finals, playing in 13 of the team's 14 qualifying games. The most experienced forward in Poland's ranks, he remains a key asset despite falling out of favour with Scottish giants Celtic FC and moving in January to Greek club Larissa FC
Verdict: Probably going home early.


Group C

Netherlands
Make no doubt about it, the Dutch may be stoned off their asses half the time but they know how to play football. While English youths are busy doing push ups and running at 6am, dutch kids are just given a football and encouraged to be creative. While this probably explains the difference between fairies like Robben who spend 3/4 of the season in the hospital and men like Terry who play with a dislocated shoulder, arm in a sling, one leg chopped off, whatever, it probably also explains the difference in attacking flair between the two. If key players avoid injury and play to their full potential, they can go all the way this year. Young manager Van Basten has done a good job with these lads, and with this to be his last competition in charge of Holland he'll want to make it a good one. Will feel very unlucky to be drawn in such a tough group with the likes of world cup finalists France and world champions Italy.
Key Player: Arjen Robben - Best Dutch player at world cup 2006, one of the best players in that competition. Absolutely lethal at club level when he's not in bed with his leg bandaged up. Can turn a game on its head, run past an entire team of players and can score from anywhere in the opponent's half.
Verdict: Poor bastards. One of the better teams in the competition and theyre thrown into a group that promises nothing but pain and tears, much like the group they were drawn in for the world cup with Argentina and Ivory Coast. Dutch Luck? Tough to call.

Italy
World Champions! mind you they had a different manager at the time, and an unbeatable siege mentality no doubt boosted by the scandal sweeping the nation at the time. Very strong team all over the pitch. However they will be missing their captain Fabio Cannavaro, the player of the year after leading his team to the world cup. This obviously is a big blow, but with Italy renowned for their defensive qualities they should be able to hold up well enough without him.
Key Player: Gianluigi Buffon - Long regarded as one of the world's best goalkeepers, Gianluigi Buffon confirmed that status with his outstanding performances in Italy's 2006 FIFA World Cup triumph and has since been typically impressive for Juventus.
Verdict: Will want to qualify, but again this is a tight tight group and impossible to call. My gut says they will get through, but may settle for second place.

Romania
Poor Romania. Poor, poor Romania. When your're drawn in a group so hard not even the world champions can be 100% confident of qualifying you know it's not your year. WIll fight bravely as they always do, but i think it's safe to say it will not be enough. Qualifying this group would be as good as winning the entire thing for them.
Key Player: Adrian Mutu - A Romanian sporting icon and superstar, Adrian Mutu has a lot to prove after his disastrous drugs bust and sacking from Chelsea. A prolific scorer in qualifying competitions (17 goals in his last 20 matches), the 29-year-old striker has also been in outstanding form over the past two years for his Italian club ACF Fiorentina, and is looking to make a comeback in a big way.
Verdict: Like I said, it's just not in the cards for them.

France
The last member of this group of death. No, more than that, the group of death from hell. World cup runner ups through the mind numbing agony of penalty shootout (zidane headbutt, guy with shaved head lifting trophy, ring any bells?) this team is still very very strong and will also be entering the competition as one of the feavorites. Manager Domenech has made a number of controversial decisions as manager, but having turned the team from 2002, 2004 abject failures and alsorans into 2006 finalists no one will be questioning him this year. Then again, they did lose to Scotland.
Key Player: Franck Ribery - A real find for France at the 2006 FIFA World Cup with his elaborate skill and direct running, Franck Ribéry travels to euro 2008 high on confidence after an outstanding debut season with FC Bayern München.
Verdict: A big favorite, I think they'll win this nightmare group. Could go far this team.


Group D

Greece
European champions... believe it or not. Prior to the 2004 competition which they won they had yet to even score a goal at a major tournament. What can you say, manager Rehhagel has done some good work with them clearly. The team was far from the most impressive at Euro2004, but they were so solid at the back and scraped 1-0 victories, gaining more and more belief with each victory to take them onto their impressive win. Definitely not fancied this time having not maintained this form in the years since, but then again no one fancied them last time either.
Key Player: Angelos Charisteas - Angelos Charisteas will do well to scale such heights again in Austria and Switzerland, but despite making few waves at club level in the interceding four years, the tall, two-footed striker remains one of the first names on Otto Rehhagel's team-sheet.
Verdict: Will give it a go... they are defending champions after all. But I don't expect them to be for very long. Will likely battle with Sweden for 3rd place.

Sweden
Have been very disappointing in recent years, largely due to the lack of attacking flair shown by players who produced it on a weekly basis at club level, like Ljungberg and Ibrahimovic. These players aren't getting any younger. Further injury woe to striker Elmander and a disappointing run of results in the lead up to the tournament won't do their confidence any good either.
Key Player: Zlatan Ibrahimović - a forward of tremendous ingenuity and skill. The capricious 26-year-old has not always enjoyed the steadiest of relationships with the Swedish coaching staff but his extravagant talent, as witnessed repeatedly in Italy's Serie A over the past four years, ensures him star billing
Verdict: Likely to disappoint, again.

Spain
Perennial underachievers at the international level, despite boasting an intimidating level of talent and entering most tournaments as one of the favorites they still manage to disappoint every time. As such it may sound a little surprising for me to declare this side one of the big favorites, but then there really is something special about this Spain side, with world class strikers like Torres and VIlla, and ever maturing creative midfielders like Fabregas and Iniesta. They are also solid at the back with Puyol and Casillas. The manager is a bit of a prick but then so are most good managers. Could this be the year they finally live up to their billing?
Key Player: Fernando Torres - After an indifferent start at Liverpool, Torres really lit the world alight in the second half of the season, using his unstoppable strength and speed and skill to become a complete goal machine and a world class striker. If he i in the mood there won't be many teams that can withstand the Spanish armada.
Verdict: My pick for this year's tournament. A force to be reckoned with, and not too tough a group for them to navigate.

Russia
The other team to qualify at England's expense. They may not be favoured by many, but you only have to look at the coaching pedigree of manager Guus Hiddink to realise that they could well surprise a few people this summer. This is the same manager who took South Korea to the world cup quarter finals, and then repeated the same feat with Australia 4 years later. He excels at taking minnows to the later stages of competitions, so let's see if he does it again!
Key Player: Dmitri Sychev - A big hit at the 2002 FIFA World Cup as a precocious 18-year-old, Dmitri Sychev had his troubles after that tournament but has reinvented himself at FC Lokomotiv Moskva and still ranks as arguably the most talented Russian forward of his generation. Lithe, elusive and skilful, he is also a consistent goalscorer for club and country.
Verdict: May surprise a few people, and should qualify from this group ahead of Greece, who knocked them out of last year's tournament at this stage.

song of the day: "A-Punk" by "Vampire Weekend"
thing you're going to do today: Revise! bloody exams coming up
pic of the day:
HOT:
Things with emo names that don't suck (vampire weekend)
Euro2008
Corruption in European Football

NOT:
Things with emo names that do suck (most others)
World Cup 2006
Corruption in English Football

Monday, 2 June 2008

There have been a lot of really good games released recently, and like a lazy sack of crap I haven't reported on them for a long while. I will make up for that now by reporting on some of the best of the recent bunch of games.

The shortlist of games that deserve to be played now is as follows: Super Smash Bros Brawl, GTA4, Crysis, Bully, The World Ends with You, Mass Effect and Guitar Hero 3. I will briefly give you the low down on Brawl, GTA4 and The World Ends with You, not because they're the best games, but because they're the most worthy of note for various reasons, and appeal to very different audiences, so whatever you like, you'll probably find something here.


Super Smash Bros Brawl (Wii):
If you had an N64 or Gamecube, then I'm sure you know what this is. This is the latest entry into the Smash Bros Franchise, and indeed it is the best one yet.

Imagine Melee, the gamecube incarnation. Now imagine it bigger... a lot bigger. More characters, more levels, more game modes and slightly improved graphics. Add to this the awesome new stage builder, hundreds and hundreds of trophies and stickers you can collect, and online capability for multiplayer games and custom stage downloads. Add to this the first ever non-nintendo characters to enter the fray, including the very much demanded Sonic the Hedgehog, so now you can finally pit Sonic against Mario and settle the question gamers have been asking since the dawn of the modern videogame era. Starting to get some idea of how big this game is? I've probably not even half conveyed the sheer scale of this game. Contains all that I've mentioned and more, and then to put the cherry on top Nintendo have packed this game full of more nostalgia and music and collectables and throwbacks to the last 20 years of games that you simply will not be able to see all this game has to offer without months of playing, and even then you might not be bored of it.

The control is something I thought would be an issue, finding it hard to imagine how the wii remote would fill the full functions of the old gamecube controllers, fortunately this is a non issue, as Nintendo have made it so that you can use your gamecube controller or your wii remote, or the wii classic controller, so whatever you prefer, you're sorted here.

It is hard to pick out areas where the game doesn't work, the most obvious thing to mention is the new story-based single player mode that is sure to be adored by some, but detested by others. Fortunately for the latter, you don't have to play it if you don't want, so it's hard to criticise this. The only thing that I found disappointing whilst playing this is how the developers have not fully taken advantage of the online capability of the wii in the same way that the xbox360 does for its games. In an age where DLC is fast becoming the norm for games, it seems foolish for Nintendo not to jump on the bandwagon, but then they have always been slow to embrace this 'internet' stuff. Downloading custom stages is one thing, but you can only have one on your console at a time via this method, which is a shame. More than that though, it seems like such an obvious idea for developers to be able to add more characters and stages to the game, perhaps even as a method for promoting upcoming Nintendo games. New final fantasy game coming out? download the character to brawl and check him out in anticipation! seems like an obvious idea, and one which is certain to make an appearance in the next iteration.


Grand Theft Auto 4 (Xbox360/PS3):
What more can be said that hasn't been said already. Unless you've been living under a rock recently you'll be aware of the impact of this game. For the first time ever reviewers are handing out perfect scores like they were candy, and new records are being broken every day. Grand Theft Auto 4 has even surpassed all the Harry Potter books as the best selling entertainment product in its first 24 hours, very impressive. But is it justified, or all more media hype? Well it has to be said in retrospect that it is a disappointing mix of both.

Don't get me wrong, this is a fantastic game, one of the best there is, and truly a landmark title. But it is by no means perfect. First the good bits; this game is massive. Massive isn't impressive any more there are lots of massive games, but where this stands out is that despite being massive it never feels repetitive or empty uninspired like other similar games do, such as Just Cause, and to a lesser extent GTA San Andreas. Easily the highlight of this game is how lovingly crafted every single inch of the world is. Everything is unique and personalised, it feels real, it feels like its crawling with history and character and life. It is truly a stunning achievement and it is hard not to just get lost in this world, seeing all that there is to see, enjoying the nightlife and sit in the park or on the river bank and watch the sunset, and doing things with your ingame friends. Sadly this also contributes to my biggest issue with the game, but more on that later. The game is also well written, and the story is engrossing and emotionally engaging, which is rare in a game. A very inspired addition to the game is a sims style 'friends' aspect where you can spend time doing various activities and enterring relationships with various characters in the game. A more basic verison of this existed in San Andreas, but this is so far beyond this they're barely worth comparing.

But the game is not perfect. In fact I think once the media hype has died down, a lot of the reviewers out there will look back at their perfect scores and feel very embarrassed. The gameplay is solid, but far too glitchy and frustrating at times for a game that's been in development for so long, however not enough to seriously impact your enjoyment. On top of this the missions do get a bit repetitive, as they all too often follow very similar patterns, 'take package from point A to point B' or 'go chase and kill this person' with little to differentiate between a number of the missions despite the strong narrative. However the biggest issue is a choice in gameplay design. The entire focus of the game appears to be to encourage you to live in this world, to see your friends and go do things and to enjoy everything, and yet once the main missions are done there are very few ways to get any more money and very little to do aside from the traditional 'collect hidden packages' or in this case 'shoot flying rats'. This is a very glaring problem once you're done as you need money to do things with friends, and significantly cuts short the lifespan of what could otherwise be a game with near limitless life in it. The saving grace of this is that there will be DLC available for this game, which hopefully will patch up holes like this and give you more to do.

there is also multiplayer, but it is only online. It's pretty cool, but why oh why don't you allow for multiplayer on one machine? the old GTAs had this, it seems like a step backwards.


The World Ends With You (DS):
A bit of a departure here as it is not a massive killer franchise like the last two games and certainly only appeals to a very particular audience, but anyway it is worth a serious mention. This is the latest IP from SquareEnix, the brains behind the classic Final Fantasy Franchise and similar titles like Chrono Trigger and the like. These games are wildly popular, but seriously inaccessible and not for everyone. For those that know how to appreciate them though they are a truly unique experience.

Think Final Fantasy meets Jet Set Radio. This game is a little more approachable for the uninitiated, taking a much more casual approach, as befits the handheld nintendo DS, but keeps all the magic and inspired, engrossing story and characters that make their other titles so absorbing. The most striking thing about this game is the presentation, unrivalled for a handheld game. The graphics are vibrant, smooth and colourful, well animated and very very impressive, taking an anime style that will be familiar to fans of SquareEnix, except with much more of a realistic edge that is very similar to Jet Set Radio. Turning it on is faintly reminiscent of when you first played Zelda Wind Waker. On top of this the sound work is absolutely flawless and brilliantly sets the mood and tone of the game as well as putting annoyingly catchy tunes into your head.

What really grabbed me into this game however was the story, the setting, and the ingenius ways in which the DS's wireless capabilities are worked into this. The story is brilliantly mysterious and twisted, and yet delightfully simple. A guy wakes up with no memory in a busy part of town and a mysterious timer on the back of his hand. He gets a text on his phone that can't be deleted telling him that he has 7 days to do various tasks or he will be 'erased'. It works very well and even if the script work isnt fantastic, the story is very very well worked out, and provokes a similar sensation of 'not knowing what the hell is going on' that i get from watching Lost, which i love. The setting is Shibuya, a very very busy and trendy part of Japan where teenagers go to hang out. The ability to get new powers by collecting different coloured pins and following trends to get new clothes is certainly something that appeals to the teenagers and young adults out there in a very 'close to home' way that not many games do. The clever part is the way in which the DS detects nearby DSs playing the game and automatically exchanges and integrates information between the two. This works well in conjunction with a real time element, whereby time in the game passes at the same speed as real time, making the game feel far more real and important and giving a greater sense of urgency to matters. Very clever, very well worked and certainly one that will be back again in the future. The title is pretty intriguing too.

However this game clearly isn't for everyone, and it does occasionally end up feeling quite lame and cheesy, which is not unexpected for a game like this, but nonetheless disappointing for a game that sets out from the start to defy conventions, it just makes it a little bit worse when at any moment it fails to do so. Nonetheless very much worth a look if you like this sort of thing.

As anyone even vaguely interested in football will have seen recently, Chelsea have sacked Avram Grant and are now searching for a new manager. Anyone who reads my blog will know how anti-Grant I have tended to be this year, and yet I can't help but feel like this sacking is a little harsh given how the season turned out. Runners up in the league, runners up in the carling cup and if not for the wet ground beneath a very unlucky John Terry they would be European champions too. I suppose the justification would be that if not for a few games lost through quite awful grant blunders we probably would have won at least two of those, and considering that for the past 3 seasons we have had a minimum of two trophies every year, zero this year must be looked at as a failure, no matter what the mitigating circumstances. No, what I think this sacking is more about is image. Chelsea are well aware of how the fans have felt since the sacking of Mourinho, as well as the benefit of looking good in the media with a more charismatic manager. Grant failed on both these fronts and with the next manager Chelsea will be looking to remedy this.

So now I will briefily go over the media's supposed 'favorites' for the job, as well as run the rule over which ones would be a good appointment and which ones fail on an epic scale.


José Mourinho:
As incredible as it may sound, there were many early reports that a sensational comeback by the special one might be on the cards. This came about following the repair of the relationship between José and club owner Roman Abramovich, with reports claiming that the two had been meeting up several times over the past few months, and that Roman bought a rare ferrari worth 2 million pounds for the special one. This on top of comments from José himself in which he has said on numerous occasions that he would like to return to Chelsea one day. However this seems incredibly unlikely to happen now, with rumours suggesting that José is too close to agreeing a deal with Inter Milan to back out now.
Verdict:Not gonna happen this time, try again in a few years.


Guus Hiddink:
Close friend of Abramovich, currently managing the Russian national team and having his wages partly paid by Abramovich himself, Guus has long been linked with a move to the bridge. He comes with a very impressive CV, having won the holy grail of the champions league with relative minnows PSV, and taken much more definitely minnowish national teams of South Korea and Australia on impressive cup runs in the world cups. Sadly the fact is that he is under contract, and as I have mentioned he has been linked several times, and each time claimed absolutely zero interest.
Verdict:He doesn't want the job, now can we please leave the poor man alone?


Frank Rijkaard:
Outgoing Barcelona boss, with a glittering cv with an almost invincible Barca side who won the league and champions league, but has disappointed in the last two years, where his team has looked worryingly flat without an in-form Ronaldinho. Is available and has the experience, but is not well liked by Chelsea fans. Considering he is out of a job, you'd have to think that if Chelsea wanted him a deal would have been done by now.
Verdict:Despite his consistent position as media favorite, I would expect Rijkaard to be an outsider due to the fact that the fans would likely not be appreciative, and a deal wouldn't be taking this long if he was top of Chelsea's shortlist.


Roberto Mancini:
Another early favorite for the job, mostly due to persistent (and now confirmed) rumours that he was on the verge of being sacked by Inter Milan, with José Mourinho taking his place. Comes with what appears to be an impressive cv, having won three consecutive league titles at Inter Milan, but the more well informed football fan will note the vast sums of money that Mancini has had to spend, rivalling that which Chelsea have had to spend, as well as the fact that he didn't win anything until all his title rivals were relegated/had points deducted following the massive referee scandal in Italy. This obviously has had a major effect on his title fortunes.
Verdict:Likely to be in talks with Chelsea, but if they have any sense they'll see how misleading his cv actually is and appoint someone more talented


Marcello Lippi:
Highly experienced world cup winning coach, who is currently without a job. This is matched by an equally impressive club cv. Would instantly command the respect of the players, but is reported not to be interested in a move to England, possibly because he doesn't actually speak english, which would clearly be a barrier. Surprisingly unfavoured by the media compared to some other managers.
Verdict:Chelsea have certainly been in touch, but likely been rebuffed.


Sven Goran Eriksson:
Everyone knows this man. Former England boss, dogged by controversy and hounded out of his job by the English press, whose accomplishments now look heady in comparison to the malaise that has followed. Has an intimidating club cv as well, but after a fantastic start at Man City hit a terrible slump that has reportedly been too much for Thai club owner Thaksin Shinawatra and Man City are looking for replacements, without Sven having actually been sacked yet. In the biggest twist of irony ex Chelsea manager Avram Grant is one of the names that has been linked with this position. Sven is another favorite in the media, largely down to the famous 'meetings' between Sven and Roman during the time of Ranieri, but recent reports suggest he is on the verge of taking the job as the manager of the Mexican national team. Chelsea fans are highly divided on him.
Verdict:A name this big was always going to be linked with the job, but don't bet on it, would be a waste of your cash


Mark Hughes:
Hughes has been highly impressive as Blackburn manager and is widely tipped for great things as a manager. The fact that he is an ex Chelsea player and a former legend of the game from his playing time means that he would instantly win over the majority of the fans and players. The one issue with him is that he has yet to add any silverware to his cv, mind you he has yet to manager a top team yet. Supposedly Peter Kenyon's nod to get the job.
Verdict:Very much in the frame, but perhaps too soon for him, but could turn out to be an absolutely inspired decision if appointed. Worth the risk.


Luiz Filipe Scolari:
Another ex world cup winner with bags of experience and a man who commands the respect of any players in his team. Scolari will also be leaving his current job as coach of Portugal after Euro 2008, so will be looking for a job. Is a man who is constantly followed by controversy due to his conduct, which is likely something Chelsea would rather avoid after incidents with Mourinho, a more extreme version of José is really the last thing their image needs, despite his credentials as a manager. Worth noting, the fact that this appointment is taking so long seems to indicate that the club is waiting for someone at Euro 2008 to become available, someone like Scolari.
Verdict:Surely being considered, but likely to be considered too much of a loose cannon for the job.


Carlo Ancelotti:
Currently the manager of AC Milan, Carlo has brought a lot of succes to his club, not just domestically but in Europe as well. Following a woeful season at Milan, this could be a good time for him to leave. Supposedly Roman's favorite for the job, supposedly because he might bring Kaka with him, if you believe that sort of thing, which I don't really. Has all the credentials needed, but somehow fails to excite the Chelsea fans.
Verdict:A likely contender if Milan want to let him go, but wouldn't be my pick.


Other Worth mentions: Slaven Billic, Dick Advocaat, Gianfranco Zola, Didier Deschamps, Zico

song of the day: "Viva La Vida" by "Coldplay"
thing you're going to do today: sleep late, its monday afterall
pic of the day:
HOT:
The World Ends with you
Euro2008
BSkyB

NOT:
Final Fantasy
World Cup 2006
BBC

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