Review: Road Avenger (Mega-CD)

roadavenger2

(Note: The original version of this piece was featured as part of a Reader Roundtable feature on Sega-16.com back in 2011. Look at their site to learn more about the ultra-obscure Mega-CD platform. Also, you can totally get this for your mobile now so there’s no excuse not to play it.)

People talk a lot about defining moments in videogame history. They bring up the epic storyline of Final Fantasy VII, the addictive qualities of Tetris and even Sonic the Hedgehog’s Green Hill Zone.

Not me.

But what could possibly be more important than spiky-haired Lego people trying to save the Earth, Russian mind-control plots and blue hedgehogs fighting robot wasps?

Look at it. He's made of Lego.
Look at it. He’s made of Lego.

The answer is Road Avenger… or rather the theme tune by “me neither” Japanese soft-rock band J-WALK. From the opening line (“Ah know ah‘m gawna re-vah-ve when ah ayum… awn the rowad”) to my personal favourite – “Ah knerr too well eeh‘s berry hurd, eeh‘s jes burkeng for dee seelbah moo-oon” – the song has absolutely everything. I feel that it sums up the game very well. You almost don’t need to play the game if you listen to the song, but you should anyway.

Yes, you can complain that the video is grainy or that the gameplay is repetitive and maybe even that the animation kind of sucks, but you cannot deny that the game has charm. It manages to be exciting because it is FAST – just like driving a car! You never know when you might have to turn left, brake, accelerate or even turn right!

There’s more to it than that though. Road Avenger is every car chase ever filmed since Bullitt. It has all the components of a great action movie without all of that tedious ‘story’ which is always getting in the way. All you need to know is that a gang of street punks (with helicopters) run your car off the road, killing your wife but leaving you unscathed. Naturally, you decide to get your extra car (oh, that one) and drive it into lots of other cars. The title says it all.

Even the cows aren't safe.
Even the cows aren’t safe.

The thing about Road Avenger is that you accept things which would be ridiculous in a film, the difference being that you don’t have time to laugh because then you’ll forget to turn right and then you die (set some time aside and watch this compilation of death scenes and crashes, it’s totally worth it). You drive your way through several hotels, dodge flying boats, smash into helicopters (they blow up in mid-air but you are fine – because don’t ask questions, that’s why) and chase motorbikes up stairs. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty cool.

Absolutely do this at home, kids. It's really cool.
Absolutely do this at home, kids. It’s really cool.

Something which you also begin to realise when you get about halfway through the game is the fact that you are killing a lot of people. At one point you nudge an enemy car off an unfinished bridge and you can see the terror on the driver’s face as you send him over the edge. Even Grand Theft Auto doesn’t have that. I know they killed his wife, but come on.

This really happens,
This really happens,

I also refuse to believe that there are absolutely zero civilian casualties – particularly in one scene where you drive through a hotel dining room full of people, out the window and into a helicopter (which then crashes into the side of the hotel in a big ball of flame). Just imagine the news reports you’d be seeing in that city – which would presumably be interrupted when the reporter is run down by a vigilante in a nice car.

Protip: Kill everybody so there can't be any witnesses.
Protip: If you kill everybody there can’t be any witnesses.

I’m not sure a game has ever made me think so much about the human cost of your average quest for vengeance. Surely this proves beyond reasonable doubt that Wolf Team has created a masterpiece that transcends mere ‘game’ status and becomes something more, something which will ultimately bring about world peace as soon as Ban Ki-moon can buy enough copies for the assorted leaders of the United Nations.

Explosions for peace! U-S-A! U-S-A!
Explosions for peace! U-S-A! U-S-A!
Advertisements

Review: Disintegration by The Cure (1989) plus FREE BONUS REVIEW FOR FREE

disintegration

It’s raining. I’m at work. The servers are down, meaning no actual work to do…

So what should I do?

Listen to Disintegration by The Cure, you say? Well, if I must…

"Yus!"
“Yus!”

Plainsong has a bunch of pretty chimes, very chunky keyboards, very big drums. Robert Smith’s guitar playing is immaculate and ethereal as always, though I don’t understand a word of what he’s singing. It sounds like it’s probably super meaningful though. Something about cold and death and the end of the world. The usual.

The glittery shimmer effect makes its first appearance here. It’s always ridiculous. It fits.

More shimmers for Pictures of You, which is a million fucking minutes long. It’s about that time Robert Smith’s house killed itself (with fire) and he found some pictures of his wife afterwards. Or something. This marks one of the few times in history anybody has ever known what a Cure song was about.

It’s around this point where you start to think that Robert Smith is probably playing all of the instruments, apart from the drums. Everything is very… Robert. The drum sound is almost your typical EIGHTIES DRUM SOUND, but on closer listening sounds more or less like natural drums if they were played in a deep well. Very poetic.

Closedown continues similarly. Instrumentally it’s really quite stunning, with the wettest bass I’ve ever heard and a return to the chunky keyboards. Mmm, chunky. There are words in it somewhere, I think. It’s safe to say that they probably don’t live up to the music though. This is the Robert Smith problem, but I forgive him. Maybe you can too.

Lovesong is, according to Wikipedia, one of the more cheerful, upbeat songs on the record. Like fuck it is. It is, as the name suggests, a love song… but a remarkably desperate one. Cheer up, you bugger.

A man who knows a thing or two about poetry.
That’s a very good try, Robert.

Last Dance sounds like elevator music. It’s dreary and murky and not very exciting, like Doncaster. Boring. Just… fucking boring. Thankfully, Lullaby is next. You know this one. It’s the one where Spiderman is taking Robert Smith for dinner. It’s good and plinky, and occasionally you get a nice cold sweep of synth. What a shame there was such a shit song before it.

Fascination Street follows, with the best (only) extended bass intro you’ll ever hear. This is one of the few songs where it sounds like there’s somebody else playing instruments as well. Lots of nice guitar interplay while Smith sings like he’s driving his car too fast. His voice seems to serve as a reminder that it’s totally not murder if you die at the same time.

It’s a good song.

Prayers for Rain. Mope. Fucking mope, Robert. Unfortunately, the band decided to set their Yamaha to a sound that can only be described as ‘bass duck’ for the backing. How distracting. This song did not need to be six minutes long.

They got it the wrong way around.
Duck bass would have been the superior choice.

The Same Deep Water as You is nine fucking minutes long. That’s fucking ages. For fuck’s sake, Robert. I said I’d listen to your problems but this is a bit much. It’s good, but perhaps not nine minutes good. Seven minutes good. It’s all a bit dirgetastic. Maybe it’s symbolic and all, like Robert Smith is having a funeral for his fucking heart or something. Jesus. It rains at the end, like he prayed for.

Now it’s time for the title track! Yay!

Eight fucking minutes. I’ll be a fucking grandparent by the time this album’s done. Thankfully, this song has more in the way of progression and is also a bit faster. I swear I almost heard a gospel choir backing around five minutes in. Clearly I’m going mental.

Anyway, title track… lyrics about ‘the end’… should be the last track, shouldn’t it?

Nope. Bonus tracks for CD. You lucky vinyl bastards.

Homesick. Seven bastard more shitting minutes.

You know what? It’s great. It’s a real mid-afternoon hangover of a song. It brings with it a nice atmosphere of possible redemption. Maybe it’s because Robert is feeling better, maybe it’s because this fucking album is nearly over, who knows?

Untitled is a short track at only six minutes. It’s more or less a straight continuation of Homesick, thematically speaking. There’s a nice loooong fadeout at the end, leaving us with some synth accordion. Lovely.

Far from being superfluous, these bonus tracks serve to finish the album the way it ought to. Robert Smith deserves to be happy, as do all of you.

12303_106644799373899_709945_n
Chin up.

BONUS REVIEW – ENTREAT

The_Cure-Entreat-Frontal

It’s all the songs from Disintegration – apart from Plainsong, Lovesong, Lullaby and The Same Deep Water as You – played live in concert.

While the arrangements aren’t radically different, the songs do benefit from having the studio murk stripped away and the missing songs help to streamline the whole experience nicely, turning a 70+ minute slog into a neat 40 minute joyride.

The live sound is better for some songs than others. Last Dance is no longer so fucking boring, but Fascination Street loses some power. I can live with it though.

Prayers for Rain suffers the most, as bass duck is now one of the most audible elements of the track. Thankfully, it’s a full two minutes shorter this time. Thanks, Rob

All told it’s pretty straightforward, but a nice thing to have if you can get it for £2 like I did. I hear that the super-deluxe edition has the whole Disintegration album live. I’ll let you decide if that’s a thing you want.

Disintegration track list:

  1. Plainsong
  2. Pictures of You
  3. Closedown
  4. Loveson
  5. Last Dance
  6. Lullaby
  7. Fascination Street
  8. Prayers for Rain
  9. The Same Deep Water as You
  10. Disintegration
  11. Homesick
  12. Untitled

Review: Crocodiles by Echo and The Bunnymen (1980)

"Okay, everybody look like you're having a really bad day. That's smashing."
“Okay, everybody look like you’re having a really bad day. That’s smashing.”

The most remarkable thing about Crocodiles is that the Bunnymen had their classic sound right from the start. It might be a little way off the perfection of Ocean Rain but it’s just as essential.

If you’re not super familiar with Echo & The Bunnymen, they’re a post-punk band like Joy Division or The Cure but with more Bowie and less hair.

Like most in the genre, Crocodiles is full of chunky basslines, slinky guitars, atmospheric keyboards, vocals with heavy echo and also some drumming. I believe there is also a spot of xylophone or some similar instrument in Pride. How exciting!

The most Gothic of all the instruments.
The most Gothic of all the instruments.

That’s not to say that this is a typical ’80s goth’ album though. The thing is, when you invent your own style of music, you can kind of do whatever you want with it. Crocodiles sounds fresh and exciting to this day because the assorted Bunnymen were innovating rather than assimilating.

There are always exceptions, of course. Producer David Balfe (from The Teardrop Explodes) pops in for a spot of Ray Manzareking on Villiers Terrace. It’s rare that such an obvious tribute can fit well in the middle of an original song but they pull it off here – while the song is not necessarily in the style of The Doors it’s not hard to imagine Jim Morrison hollering about how he’d “been up to Villiers Terrace, saw what was happenin’.”

This expanded edition doubles the length with out-takes, early versions and the entirety of live EP Shine So Hard. For once these are welcome and actually enhance the album experience as a whole. Isn’t that mental? There’s a nice little gap between the album proper and the bonus material so you can pretend you’re flipping a record if you really want to.

Do It Clean and Read It in Books were both on the original US release of the album but not the UK one because some Warner Bros. bigwig thought they had swears in them. Read It in Books is especially notable for being the one song that Ian McCulloch and Julian Cope wrote together before they hated each other to death – Cope’s version with The Teardrop Explodes features on their album Kilimanjaro.

Although clearly they shared similar tastes when it came to colourful instruments.
Julian being normal.

Simple Stuff was the b-side to single Rescue but I’m pretty sure it should have been the other way around. The demo tracks that follow aren’t terribly different from the album versions apart from being a bit more stripped-down. It’s like seeing your school photos again – same songs, a little younger.

The live performances prove that not only could Echo & The Bunnymen do it live, they could do it BETTER too. What’s cool here is that we’ve got early versions of Zimbo (later retitled All My Colours) and Over The Wall from their next album, Heaven Up Here, alongside some absolutely smashing takes on Crocodiles and All That Jazz.

Shine So Hard is one of the few live recordings that truly seems to capture the chaotic feel of a real show, they may not be leaping about like they’re Slayer but the Bunnymen play with such intensity that you’re worried their instruments might fall to bits.

Crocodiles track list:

  1. Going Up
  2. Stars Are Stars
  3. Pride
  4. Monkeys
  5. Crocodiles
  6. Rescue
  7. Villiers Terrace
  8. Pictures on My Wall
  9. All That Jazz
  10. Happy Death Men

Bonus tracks:

  1. Do It Clean
  2. Read It in Books
  3. Simple Stuff
  4. Villiers Terrace (early version)
  5. Pride (early version)
  6. Simple Stuff (early version)
  7. Crocodiles (live)
  8. Zimbo (live)
  9. All That Jazz (live)
  10. Over the Wall (live)

Don’t Leave Me This Way: Pixies – 1986-1991, 2004-2013

We are sad to say that Kim Deal has decided to leave the Pixies. We are very proud to have worked with her on and off over the last 25 years. Despite her decision to move on, we will always consider her a member of the Pixies, and her place will always be here for her. We wish her all the best.

– Black Francis, Joey Santiago and David Lovering, 14th June 2013

Stop.

The first cut is the deepest…

When I first heard the Pixies (and was aware that I was hearing the Pixies) I hated them so much. I really hated them. They were awful.

Thankfully, a year later I was smart enough to realise that they were one of the most incredible bands the world has ever seen. I was 13 years old and living twenty years ago in Shetland’s sleepiest of towns, with the North Atlantic on my doorstep and jellyfish to poke at. I spent my most idyllic summer listening to Pixies at the BBC, riding my bike down obscenely steep hills and eating a lot of honey-roast ham sandwiches. I declared that Ana was “a good song to play cards to.”

That Christmas, after moving back to the city, I received Surfer Rosa/Come on Pilgrim. While I did appreciate it, I went down a bit of a wrong turning and discovered the music of Korn.

It’s hardly the worst mistake I made in my teen years but it probably taught me the most valuable lesson of all – don’t worry about what anybody else thinks. Maybe all the stoner metal kids will think you’re weird if you like music that’s not in Kerrang! but you can’t hang around with those losers all your life, you have to be your own loser.

Some folks like to get away…

I had my own computer by the time I was 16 and The Pirate Bay was an unbelievable goldmine for an unemployable slacker lump like myself. One slow day I thought I’d give the rest of the Pixies albums a shot and that’s when I really, really got to liking them.

It’s not Doolittle that turned me, although I am naturally a big fan. No, it was the surfy dream of Bossanova and the space trip that is Trompe le Monde that did it for me. I’ll save the finer details for the inevitable reviews, but it’s safe to say that I was destined to be a loser even within the Pixies’ own fanbase.

Everybody hurts… sometimes…

Pixies got me through some pretty tough times and some pretty fun times too. It was the Pixies that got me through one of the more ridiculous relationship breakdowns I’ve yet experienced – it may sound silly, but their music helped me realise that I’d be okay on my own because as long as I had their records I’d always have something greater than what was gone.

A raft of Pixies b-sides and radio sessions soundtracked the incredible isolation I felt while at college in the middle of a literal nowhere. Did it matter that my classmates hated me, that they thought I was some sort of homosexual elitist posh educated stupid ignorant arrogant hairy boring whimsical serious murder freak?

It didn’t when I could find a quiet spot to take some photos and get me some Pixies, even if it was only for an hour. Sometimes a little respite goes a long way.

As things fell apart, nobody paid much attention…

This band means a lot to me and I feel that the world is a tiny bit a lot better for them having been in it. The news of Kim Deal leaving isn’t really too shocking when you think about it – nine years with only two new recordings is probably a bit frustrating – but I can’t help feeling that this means it’s really over.

No Pixie is replaceable and I don’t see them trying to replace her either. If Kim is going so far as to actually get up and leave the band then there must be a very good reason for it and I can certainly respect her decision, even without knowing the reasons why.

The hardest part is that I never did get a chance to see my favourite band live, to bask in their glory, to be deafened by their heavenly noise. Now I never will. There’ll be no new album, no Bossanova/Trompe le Monde 20th anniversary tour, no MTV Unplugged, no more Pixies.

This is a song for Carol.

Review: Midlife Crisis – The Very Best of Faith No More (2010)

Great effort, you guys.
Please don’t leave your interns in charge of graphic design. Please.

This compilation is at once a cheap cash-in and an incredible bargain. It’s structured without regard for chronological consistency or even who happens to be in the band but it also has no less than 14 B-SIDES AND RARITIES, making this a ‘Best of’ that’s far more valuable to people who already have every album than people new to the band.

Things start off pretty normally, blah blah blah We Care A Lot blah blah blah Epic blah blah blah Midlife Crisis. You’ve heard them all before. The album actually manages to mix up its own track list at this point, with Midlife Crisis and Falling To Pieces swapping places. How the hell do you manage something like that?

Not even Mike Patton can figure it out and he’s fucking weird.

The sexy e-bow vibes of Stripsearch are a welcome addition, although it is bizarrely followed by eight-minute epic The Real Thing. While it is perhaps one of their greatest overall, it also marks where this collection starts to go a bit wrong.

That’s right, here come the b-sides! The World Is Yours is fine enough but the tracks that follow are kind of shite, especially the over-long instrumental, Instrumental. Much better is Sweet Emotion, which was recorded during sessions for The Real Thing and later reworked into The Perfect Crime for Bill & Ted’s Bogus Adventure, earning it a double obscurity bonus. Score!

Arabian Disco and As The Worm Turns from the band’s yet-to-be-reissued debut album are really quite good, with As The Worm Turns in particular being far superior to Mike Patton’s recorded version. Unfortunately we have two from The Real Thing smushed in the middle – War Pigs and The Morning After. These are great and all, but it would be nice for Chuck Mosley to get a little more recognition for having been the singer for two albums rather than being the bread in a Patton sandwich.

Although he is meatier than you’d think.

Disc 2 is much better, mostly because it starts with Everything’s Ruined, one of the best songs from the already stellar Angel Dust. Bee Gees cover I Started a Joke is the first relatively obscure track and features Mike Patton singing with an awful fake English accent. Ick.

Defying all logic, This Guy’s In Love With You and Theme From Midnight Cowboy from the same (incredible!) live performance are separated by no less than four songs, one of them being the very excellent R’n’R from Chuck Mosley’s Introduce Yourself. Why’s it there? No idea.

Maybe best not to bother him. He looks like he needs a sleep.

Light Up and Let Go isn’t very notable at all but certainly quite tolerable. The perfect b-side! I Won’t Forget You and The Big Kahuna show us where all the nu-metal bands got their ideas from – as with all things Faith No More it’s probably a massive piss-take, but in this instance maybe they took the whole ‘irony’ thing a little too far.

Underwater Love is very welcome afterwards, because mermaids.

Little-known fact: Patton is a mermaid.
Patton unfortunately neglected to use underwater protection.

The cover of Spanish Eyes that follows is one of the greatest things I’ve ever heard – best synth-horns ever? Absolute Zero is the last b-side and is one of the few originals featured that really should have been on an album, perhaps if it had a little more polish we’d know all the words.

We finish up with totally awesome The Gentle Art of Making Enemies. Maybe the people who sequenced this album really did know what they were up to after all?

The Very Best of Faith No More is a worthy purchase as long as it’s a very cheap one, and is ultimately a bit redundant if you already own The Real Thing and Angel Dust. The Chuck Mosley era is a little better represented than usual but 5 out of 39 hardly seems fair, not to mention the lack of anything that’s not a single from both King for a Day… Fool for a Lifetime and Album of the Year.

What you ought to do instead is just buy each of the albums. There are only five. Chop chop!

Midlife Crisis track list…

Disc one:

  1. We Care A Lot
  2. From Out Of Nowhere
  3. Epic
  4. Falling To Pieces
  5. Midlife Crisis
  6. Easy (Commodores cover)
  7. Digging The Grave
  8. Stripsearch
  9. The Real Thing
  10. The World Is Yours
  11. Hippie Jam Song
  12. Instrumental
  13. Highway Star (Deep Purple cover)
  14. Sweet Emotion (not an Aerosmith cover)
  15. Arabian Disco
  16. War Pigs (Black Sabbath cover)
  17. The Morning After
  18. As The Worm Turns

Disc two:

  1. Everything’s Ruined
  2. A Small Victory
  3. Evidence
  4. I Started A Joke (Bee Gees cover)
  5. Last Cup Of Sorrow
  6. Ashes To Ashes
  7. Ricochet
  8. This Guy’s In Love With You (Bacharach/David standard)
  9. R ‘N’ R
  10. Kindergarten
  11. Caffeine
  12. Land Of Sunshine
  13. Theme From Midnight Cowboy
  14. Light Up And Let Go
  15. I Won’t Forget You
  16. Underwater Love
  17. Spanish Eyes (Al Martino cover)
  18. The Big Kahuna
  19. Introduce Yourself
  20. Absolute Zero
  21. The Gentle Art Of Making Enemies