The Entertainment Hotlist: Albums, DVDs and games
This week’s home entertainment hotlist from Richie McCormack
The Fire Inside
The Fire Inside is an album custommade not to fail. Big, heart-wrenching choruses abound, acoustic guitars to the forefront and as many audience participation moments as possible are squeezed into its 47 minutes.
The entire project is overseen by Iain Archer, he who helped Snow Patrol unlock their treasure chest of indie power ballads. The Bangor man also has co-writing credits on a third of the album. The opening one-two combination of ‘Nothing Stays The Same’ and ‘Greatest Lovers’ are akin to a Gary Lightbody or Kodaline at their slickest, and most crowd-pleasing and yet banal. Tunes so polished you can see your face in ‘em.
As ‘Lilywhite’ proves, Archer isn’t the only hired gun along for the ride. If its sombre piano intro sounds vaguely like ‘Video Games’, well, that’s because it’s been written by the same lad who helped our Lana mine that seam. Which brings us to the main problem with The Fire Inside — any number of people could have lit it. You can hear a Tom Odell, or a Snow Patrol or even (dare I say) Richard Marx taking any of these tracks and settling comfortably within them. It’s when he’s left holding the pen on his own that Sital-Singh becomes interesting.
The simple plucks of ‘Fail For You’ are augmented by his layered harmonies and a fresh approach to a key change (I won’t spoil the surprise). But hey, he is not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be. If the likes of Odell or Kodaline or latter-era U2 keep your dinghy afloat, The Fire Inside may indeed warm your cockles.
Some great albums encapsulate a moment, sync with the zeitgeist and define an era. Others are just freakish beasts, snarling on their own in a corner. Surfer Rosa is one such beast.
As soon as the backwards-sounding drum intro ushers in ‘Bone Machine’, it’s clear we’ve stumbled across a seventh floor we never knew about until now. Themes of violence, incest and mental illness are sewn into feverish, breakneck ditties, some of which barely make two minutes. Those that linger longer also pack a bruising punch. ‘Vamos’ highlights Joey Santiago’s wonky guitar work, while not forgetting the bona fide classics that are ‘Gigantic’ and ‘Where Is My Mind?’.
Black Francis’ dalliance in Puerto Rico adds an exoticism to the likes of ‘Oh My Golly’, but one of the record’s greatest tricks is performed by producer Steve Albini. He truly captures the sound of a band in studio, whether the vignette of Kim Deal’s high school gossip, or Francis’ misunderstood “you fuckin’ die!” exclamation. Still, over a quarter of a century on, there’s very little like Pixies’ first full-length effort.
At a glance
There's a relatability to Liam Fray's songwriting that has helped The Courteeners shift a fair few albums over the past few years. Concrete Love should keep that ball rolling. The band deal in the kind of kitchen-sink guitar anthems that used to populate Shine compilations.
‘Beautiful Head’ is one such instance, as is the indie-Streisand reminiscence of ‘How Good It Was’. Producer Joe Cross has worked with the likes of Hurts, and brings a sheen to the likes of ‘Summer’ and ‘Dreamers’.
There are no attempts to reinvent the wheel, and fans of the band will likely prefer it that way.
The Magic Numbers
Nearly a decade since their initial flush of success, the Stodart-Gannon connection return, determined to prove they can still craft a nifty tune or seven. The pop sensibilities are still very much in evidence, with the likes of ‘Thought I Wasn't Ready’ a slinky Saint Etienne-Ellis Bextor hybrid. ‘E.N.D.’ even manages to shimmy towards the disco floor.
‘Enough’ shares a trait or two with the more left-field works attempted by Neil Young with Crazy Horse. The band appear to be stretching their legs somewhat here, at least in terms of song scale; case-in-point the Mercury Rev-esque opener, ‘Wake Up’. There is a deftness of touch that many would do well to match.
By Ben Keenan
iOS: Free, iTunes App Store
PC/Mac/Linux: €19.99, steampowered.com
The newest game from Peter Molyneux, creator of classics like the Fable series and Dungeon Keeper, Godus revisits the "God-game" genre, giving you a collection of followers, harvesting their belief and helping them build power and wealth.
With excellent flow and a beautiful art style, it can be hypnotic. The only caveats are that the mobile version does feature free-to-play mechanics with in-app purchases of gems, though they don't seem necessary even after several hours of play, and it's a work in progress, so there are still some rough edges.
iOS, €4.49, iTunes App Store
An innovative combination of strategy and interactive fiction, indie studio Inkle tasks you with choosing your path around the world, travelling as Phileas Fogg's valet in a steampunk version of Around The World in 80 Days. Gameplay consists of weighing the cost and length of routes, managing funds, your master's morale and when you visit a city, exploring and triggering story events and conversing with colourful characters.
Inventive and filled with great ideas, it's amazing that it works as well as it does.
By Ben Keenan
THE RAID 2
Rama is back, this time going undercover as a foot soldier for a criminal kingpin. Opening with an execution and blasting off from there, Welsh writer/director Gareth Evan's follow up Indonesian martial arts film manages the balance between tension and blistering violence well in the first hour. However, it devolves into purposeless blood-soaked massacre for much of the second act. Though it picks itself up and dusts itself off in the final 30 minutes, there's no way this hyper-violent guilty pleasure needs to be two and a half hours long.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDER
An almost unstoppable thrill ride, punctuated by well-written exchanges filled with wit and banter, this conspiracy thriller shares little in common with 2011's Captain America, being far more like The Avengers, which is definitely a good thing.
Dealing with very current ideas around governmental invasion of privacy, while combining the feel of intelligent '70s films like All The President's Men with outstanding action sequences, it's a near-perfect genre movie and a must-see for anybody enjoying Marvel's recent output.