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SmoothCriminal

SmoothCriminal
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      08.01.2013 14:45
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      A fantastic mid-range moisturiser for those with acne-prone skin

      The ultimate problem you face when you have acne-prone skin is the issue of moisturising. In order to fend off spots, you often have to use pretty harsh creams, gels and scrubs, which when they dry out your pimples, also dry out your overall skin quality. This can be a nightmare, as your face can feel tight, dry and look flaky. If you have quite volatile skin, the right choice of moisturiser is essential. After all, you don't want something that makes your skin look to greasy or clogs the pores which you have been trying so hard to unblock.

      Having experimented with many forms of moisturiser over the years, so far, I've found Garnier's Pure Active product to be one of the best. It claims to be a 24-hour spot-fighting moisturiser, which is perfect for my needs. It's always a dilemma, choosing whether to moisturise or to use spot-fighting products in the morning (as if you use both, your face would be drowning in moisture and product), so it's convenient to have my two needs synthesised.

      The product contains salicylic acid, which is one of the most effective remedies for acne, and is often present in Doctor prescribed topical gels and creams. It's lightly fragranced with a cucumber scent, which is appealing, and effectively masks any chemicals in the product without over-powering you. The moisturiser itself is a pale green, creamy substance which is dispensed through a pump mechanism. Initially, this bottle is great, because it stops you from squeezing out too much and then wasting it, but towards the end it is endlessly frustrating as it's difficult to get the product out.

      Within minutes of using the product, my skin felt dramatically softer and more supple but thankfully, did not incur the greasy side-effects which some products bestow on you. As a man, it's best to use this product just after you have shaved, as that is when your skin will need it most. The effects do not last the fabled 24 hours, as the packaging states, but perhaps that refers to its acne-fighting properties, as opposed to its ability to hydrate your skin.

      The product certainly helped assist in keeping my skin clear during the day time, as I noticed fewer blemishes and break-outs, along with a lot less dry skin. It's not a miracle cream, but I didn't expect it to be - it should be a component of your beauty regime, something which use in addition to your exfoliant and your night-cream, not as a replacement of them.

      Costing around £4.99, it's a decent price for the product, although you only receive 50ml, so you will often find yourself making trips to SuperDrug for replacements. All acne-fighting products are slightly more expensive than their standard counterparts, so in the context of the competition, this is a fair price for what you are getting.

      Without a doubt, it is one of the best high-street moisturisers for acne-prone skin. It hydrates you without making you greasy, and helps fend off spots, without making it apparent that you are sporting a spot-fighting product on your face. For me, it synthesises my desire for clear skin with the necessity of moisturising, and for that reason, I strongly recommend this product to anyone with the same needs as me.

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        29.12.2012 14:24
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        One of the best television series ever produced

        =========================
        Background
        =========================

        Gerry Anderson hated puppets. He loathed them. He despised them. They struggled to walk, and getting them to move in precisely the right way was agonising. This seldom published confession from the creator of some of television's most iconic children's shows is surprising to some. Yet, it explains a great deal. Anderson started his own television production company in the 1950s - eager to become the world's next Spielberg. Work was slow, and in order to scrape by, he accepted contracts to work on children's programming - enduring the frustration of working with puppets, with the hope that he could eventually transfer into live action. This was not to be. His early work so impressed critics that he was inundated with requests to make more puppet shows. 1961's 'Supercar' and 1962's 'Fireball XL5' were the first signs of the greatness that was to be. Dubbed "supermarionation", Anderson began to ambitiously combine models, explosions, special effects into his puppet shows. With each series, his work began more detailed and better produced. By 1964, Anderson had truly arrived. 'Stingray' was one of the world's first television series filmed in colour, and everything from the script-writing, the effects and the puppets themselves had advanced. Critically praised, it laid the groundwork for his magnum opus - Thunderbirds.

        Produced in 1965, Thunderbirds ran for 32 episodes (and two movies later that decade). Originally intended to be 25 minutes long, television executives intervened after having been balled over by the pilot, and demanded every episode be 50 minutes in length. This allowed Anderson to produce his most ambitious work yet, as the script-writing could allow for character development, sub-plots, and more nuanced plot progression. It is this, which in my opinion, allowed Thunderbirds to gain its cross-generational appeal. It was clear from the start that it would not be 'just a kids show', and real effort was made to ensure that each episode felt like a mini-movie, and had a sense of realism in its story arcs. Realising that he had been pigeon-holed as a puppet producer, Anderson decided that his only chance to make it big in the film industry, was to make Thunderbirds as close to a Hollywood blockbuster as he could make it - then maybe people would take him seriously. The budget for each episode was astronomical, the script-writing impeccable, and the special effects were astounding - helmed by Derek Meddings, who would later create the effects for the most iconic Bond movies of the 20th century.

        The series has a basic premise. Set in 2065, retired ex-Astronaut and philanthropist, Jeff Tracy has established a secret organisation on his tropical island home. International Rescue - designed to help save the lives of people who find themselves in grave danger, but the authorities deem un-savable. With five impressive machines piloted by Jeff's five sons, the 'Thunderbird' craft jet around the world; underwater, on-land and in space, to save those who would almost certainly die. Elaborate rescue operations - be it catastrophe or sabotage - form the basis of most of the episodes, but there are occasional brushes with International Rescue's antagonist - 'The Hood' - a criminal mastermind, desperate on discovering the technology behind the Thunderbird machines, and using it for malevolent purposes.

        =========================
        The Feature
        =========================

        From start to finish, Thunderbirds is a joy to watch. It is hard to believe that there were only 32 episodes produced. The characters are so well established and fleshed out, that they could not have been played better by live actors. The 50 minute run-time is of course, an enormous benefit. It allows for character development - even on minor characters - that is simply not present in Anderson's earlier work. Compelling group dynamics emerge, and allusions to sub-plots such as Alan's romantic feelings for Tin-Tin, possess a certain subtlety that is simply not present in any other children's show. The fusion of British and American character is also a joy to watch. Produced in England, the programme deliberately featured an all-American cast, in order to give a glossy, Hollywood feel to the production. Yet, representing the United Kingdom, is of course, Lady Penelope and her chauffer, Parker. With her pink Rolls Royce and stately home, International Rescue's London agent is a pleasure everytime she is on screen. Undeniably camp and tongue-in-cheek, Sylvia Anderson Penelope's lines with such coolness and sophistication, that she steals the show in every scene that she's in. The juxtaposition between the luxurious pink car, and the machine gun underneath the bonnet, epitomises the fact that there is always more than what meets the eye in Thunderbirds.

        The effects are of course, absolutely phenomenal. I have always felt that explosions using models is often more realistic than any CGI than I have ever encountered. Particularly with the DVD set's clearer picture, the colours and surround sound you encounter everytime a car veers off the road, the Thunderbirds blast off, or a nuclear device explodes, you can't help but feel your hairs stand on end. One of the special effects triumphs has to be seen to be believed. 'Attack of the Alligators', from start to finish, is a marvel to watch. Perhaps the most critically lauded episode of the series, it features a vial of growth hormones contaminating a swamp in the Everglades, until the alligators which inhabit it, become enormous and begin attacking the nearby laboratory. Using real crocodiles, it is jaw-dropping, watching them demolish the sets and rabidly tear apart the models. It is a masterpiece from start to finish, the time and effort it must have taken to carry off the premise doesn't bare thinking about.

        I grew up watching Thunderbirds as a child, but I have never seen it as a children's show. For me, it's on the level of Doctor Who - it is a family show. The humour, the use of irony and the complexity of the storylines mean that it is intended to be seen from all generations - all of which find something different in it to enjoy. The series has experienced periodic revivals since the 1960s - most notably in the early 80s, early 90s and then the early 00s. Each time, it has found a new audience and spawned a new legion of devoted followers. The endurance of the series, despite the fact that fifty years have passed since its conception, is in its quality - pure and simple. The storylines, the effects and the characters are timeless, as they are simply great storytelling.

        The programme itself exists in an interesting time continuum. Set in the middle of the 21st century, it also shares the hallmarks of 1960s culture, which permeate the series from time to time. For example, Lady Penelope is never without her cigarette - something which no modern kids show would get away with today - and the Tracy brothers are constantly listening to their smooth jazz on vinyl. This conflation between the past and the future, simply add to its charm, as you can appreciate it both as a time-piece and a piece of fantasy. How many shows can claim to do that?

        =========================
        The DVD Set
        =========================

        Spread over nine disks, the DVD collection is joy to own. Thunderbirds, as I mentioned, was treated by Gerry Anderson in the same way as he would have treated a Hollywood film. As a result, it was filmed on high-quality film - meaning that the picture is of an astounding quality given its age. The picture itself has clearly been re-mastered, with the colours and clarity being vastly improved to the VHS and television releases that I grew up with the 1990s. The picture is not perfect - but close enough.

        I would advise you against purchasing the Blu-Ray release of Thunderbirds, which has received poor reviews from fans. While many, like myself, yearn for a high-definition version of the series, the production company responsible for the DVD release made a lot foolish decisions when editing the show - such as cropping the original image to be widescreen. This means that ultimately, 1/3 of the picture is missing, and any improvement in the picture quality is counteracted by the loss of a complete frame.

        While a DVD full of special features is a lot to ask for given the age of the programme, there is an effort to include extras for fans. There are audio commentaries from Gerry Anderson himself on crucial episodes and a new feature - the Thunderbirds Companion - which is padded out with a lot of clips from the series, but features a couple of interviews from Anderson and various voice actors.

        The only thing missing from the set is the inclusion of the two movies - 'Thunderbirds are Go!' and 'Thunderbird 6'. Not to be confused with the dismal live action adaption that infected cinema screens in the early 00s, these two movies were produced after the end of production on the series. Both are superb features, and I am surprised they were not included in the set. My only guess is that the series and the movies are owned by different rights-holders. Not to fear though, you can buy the two 90 minute movies on a two-disc collection, which I found for only £4 on Amazon. They are definitely worth adding to your collection, and will ensure you have a holistic Thunderbirds collection.

        This boxset is currently retailing at around £15 from most online suppliers, which is an excellent price for almost 32 hours of programming.

        =========================
        Conclusion
        =========================

        Undoubtedly, the sad news of Gerry Anderson's death in December 2012 will encourage a lot of people to revisit his work - either for the first time or for the sake of nostalgia. Having been a life-long fan of Thunderbirds (and his other creations, of course), watching the series is part of my daily routine. In fact, I was watching an episode of the show - aptly titled 'End of the Road' - the day he passed. The series has held up half a century due to its unparalleled quality. If you are a parent, I urge you to introduce it to your children. It's what fired up my imagination as a child, and helped shape who I am today. What I love about Thunderbirds, is that it does not patronise children. It's not afraid to use scientific jargon, show explosions and have real characters in it. It's not overly sanitised like much of today's children's programming. And if you are big kid like me, don't miss the opportunity to re-live your childhood and re-watch the show with adult eyes. It won't tarnish your memories of the series, if anything, it will only enhance them, as you realise the sheer brilliance of the filming techniques and appreciate the enduring appeal of the stories. So what are you waiting for? Head over to Amazon and order yourself a copy, and experience the genius of Gerry Anderson's finest creation. Thunderbirds are Go!

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          27.12.2012 13:09
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          One of the best pop albums of 2012

          One Direction are undoubtedly one of the most polarising forces in music today. Even before reading this review, you will have probably made up your mind about whether you like them or not, and not much that I will say will be able to change your mind about it. Groups like One Direction have a certain stigma around them, as their huge, rabid teen following can put people off being associated with them. Such an attitude can distract you from the fact that there is one crucial component to their success beyond their looks and likeability - their music. Without a doubt, they are producing some of the most instant, infectious and enjoyable pop music right now. After the runaway success of their first album, 'Up All Night', which sold over three million copies in less than twelve calendar months, they are back with their sophomore album - 'Take Me Home'. Expectations are astronomically high (or low, depending on your opinion) for this album, but having listened to the album non-stop for over a month, I can safely say that they have delivered one of the best pop releases of 2012.

          Their lead single, 'Live While We're Young', did not do the album justice. The song is energetic, it's catchy and it has great vocals - but it feels all too familiar. The guitar riff, the production, the chorus feel lifted from their hit, 'One Thing', and all feel too close to what the band have already done on their first album. Don't let this put you off, as the rest of the album, thankfully is fresh and exciting, and demonstrates signs of growth. 'Kiss You', is without a doubt my favourite track on the album. Boasting production from super-producer, Shellback (Maroon 5, Taylor Swift, Britney Spears, Pink - to name but a few), the bouncing synths and crashing percussion create a rousing, party anthem. "If you don't want to take it slow, and you just want to take me home" the group sing on the chorus, with lyrics slightly more risqué than your average boyband. It is on the up-tempos in which they thrive, with another clear highlight being 'C'mon, C'mon' - which features dance inspired production and beats, but manages to avoid jumping on the current europop bandwagon. The soaring chorus, and emotive delivery are irresistible and will have you on your feet in no time.

          The band also explore a softer, more acoustic sound through tracks like 'Little Things', 'Over Again' and 'Change My Mind'. The two former were penned by Ed Sheeran, which explains their stripped-back production and romantic lyrics. 'Little Things' has a gorgeous melody and allows the boys to really shine as vocalists - showcasing both their tone and emotive ability in the song. It is a great track, but some of the lyrics sour it for me - "you can't go to bed without a cup of tea", sings Louis in the second verse. Some of the bafflingly woeful lyrics should have clearly been dropped before the song was recorded. 'Over Again' is thankfully more mature, and slowly builds to a creshendo, with the acoustic production slowly receding to allow a pop-friendly chorus to take hold. Tracks like this show that there is more to the band than simply their playful personas, and that when they put their minds to it, they can deliver a ballad as effectively as any of their contemporaries.

          At times, the album manages to feel like some of the best of the boyband-pop which we experienced with the Backstreet Boys and N*Sync in the late 90s. For some, this might sound like a frightening indictment but for me, I feel as if they have taken the uplifting melodies, tight harmonies and modernised them - shedding some of their cheese, to create something more universal. 'I Would' was penned by punk-pop band, McFly, and has one of their most addictive choruses to-date. "Would he say he's in l-o-v-e?, well if it was me, then I would". It's simple, but effective, and firmly lodges itself in your head. The verses evoke 'Teenage Dirtbag' and the song somehow feels as if it's a lost pop classic. The album, at several intervals, attempts to evoke past pop triumphs - be it Wheatus or the Backstreet Boys - but in 'Rock Me', there are some clear Queen influences. The pounding drums closely resemble 'We Will Rock You', and the storming chorus creates the perfect storm for a pop anthem. "I want you to rock me, rock me, rock me," they sing.

          The best moment on the album is surprisingly, the most personal. 'They Don't Know About Us' is one of the high-points, as the lyrics surprisingly draw parallels to their personal lives, and the constant speculation on who they are dating, and criticism for it. The simple piano in the verses escalates into loud drums and percussion, which compliments the passion in their voices. It absolutely has to be a single.

          The album is solid from start to finish, with enough variation in the tempo and style, to prevent it from feeling stale. Every track without exception, has a strong chorus, which creates for a memorable album from start to finish. The deluxe edition features four extra tracks, which I purchased, and all four are on-par with the quality of the standard edition. If you love the band, then you should definitely opt to get this edition. I know that One Direction are not to everyone's taste, but if you love great pop music, and have an open-mind - give this album a chance, you won't be disappointed.

          HIGHLIGHTS: Kiss You, They Don't Know About Us, I Would, Over Again, Rock Me, C'Mon C'Mon

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            22.12.2012 14:13
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            An eccentric and appealing legal-drama like no other

            "Maybe I'll share my life with somebody... maybe not. But the truth is, when I think back of my loneliest moments, there was usually somebody sitting there next to me" - Ally McBeal, Season Four, Episode One.

            ====================
            Background
            ====================

            Ally McBeal captured the hearts and minds of a generation. In the same way, Sex and the City, appealed to every single 30-something struggling to find the balance between independence and intimacy, Ally McBeal appealed to every true romantic who believed in truly, storybook love, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Airing in 1997, and running for 112 episodes until 2002, the show ran for five seasons of quirky, eccentric humour and heartfelt drama.

            The series follows the life of young Boston lawyer, Ally (Calista Flockhart), who is recruited to rising lawfirm Cage & Fish, only to find out on her first day that she will be working alongside ex-boyfriend Billy - the first and only man ever to break her heart - and his wife, Georgia. A complex, and often tempestuous love triangle forms between the three of them, which provides much of the friction for the show's first three seasons. As Ally struggles through her dating life - with often hilarious consequences - and battles to find her place in world, she retreats further into her imagination, with her colourful fantasies helping to stave off her hopelessness.

            Ally McBeal combines legal-drama, with comedy and romance. It straddles several genres, and this helps to keep the show interesting. Legal-dramas for me, are often dry and repetitive, and so the setting of a quirky law-firm means that by extension, the cases are varied and often ridiculous. The firm tackles cases which no one else will touch, and with no legal precedence, which allows the writers imaginations run wild.

            The cast is varied and constantly evolving. Calista Flockhart is an undoubtedly compelling female lead, who is able to capture Ally's unrelenting hopelessness and borderline self-absorption, without ever becoming unlikable. The show helped to launch the careers of several huge Hollywood actors, ranging from Lucy Liu as the aggressive, hypersexual Ling Woo, Portia de Rossi as the ice-cold Nelle Porter, and Robert Downey Jnr. as Ally's long-time love interest.

            ====================
            Content
            ====================

            The early seasons are undoubtedly the strongest. The first focuses heavily on Ally, and her own issues with love, trust and intimacy. With this heavy focus on the character, you really began to understand what makes her tick, and why she behaves so eccentrically. Flockhart plays tragic-comic so well, and allows her character's one liners make you want to laugh, just as much as you want to cry. The show is undeniably quotable, with one of the show's finest moments being Ally muttering that "when I get depressed, I raise my hemlines. If things keep going like this, I'm going to get arrested."

            The show doesn't really begin to hit its stride until its second and third seasons, though, which is when it became a truly ensemble experience. The show broadens, and begins to explore the other characters in her law firm, giving them their own sub-plots, their own nuances and their own depth. Each character, without fail, has their own unique vernacular, their own peculiarities which means that watching them interact is undeniably compelling. Some of the peripheral characters even become stands-outs in their own right, with Tracy - Ally's bizarre therapist who insists that every patient choosing their own 'theme song' - leaving me shrieking with laughter every time she's on screen.

            The programme is able to balance its drama and humour well, but it's more serious moments are often some of the shows most memorable. The shocking conclusion to the Ally-Billy-Georgia love triangle in Season 3 will leave you sobbing behind your cushion. Some of the more ridiculous aspects of the series appear to gain more attention than these, sadly. After Season 1 had finished airing, Time magazine ran an article with the title "Is Feminism Dead?", alongside a picture of Calista Flockhart. The character's self-absorption and desperate need to be loved, were seen as pathetic and doing a disservice to women. Yet, for many, Ally merely played an exaggerated version of exactly what they were feeling inside. When incredulously why she believes her problems are more important than everyone else's, Ally just shrugs, "because they're mine." This is precisely why the programme is so compelling, because it explores the human emotions, the desires, the insecurities and the quirks that all of us have - but few will readily admit.

            The appeal of the first few seasons is undeniable, and is the perfect blend of feel-good-comedy with palpable drama. Unfortunately, the quality control begins to wane in the final two seasons. The arrival of Robert Downey Jnr. was an undeniably genius move, as his chemistry with Calista Flockhart was irresistible to watch. However, major problems began to plague the overall storylines of the show itself. Cast members, began to leave abruptly - with almost half the cast departing at the end of Season 4 - yet, bafflingly enough, the writers don't seem to think that the audience will notice, and so elect not to provide a single explanation as to why cast members are continuously evaporating into thin air. It creates major plot-holes, and also disrupts long-standing story-arcs to the extent that entire episodes are forced to be centred around minor characters and new arrivals, since there simply aren't enough cast members to stretch the storylines between. I adore Ally McBeal, but will readily admit that the first ten or so episodes of Season Five are excruciating. Meandering, aimless and irritating - they are excruciating to watch, as the creative team are clearly in crisis as to where to take the show and what to do with their ever-decreasing cast. Thankfully, the show begins to rebound in its final few episodes - enough to give the show a satisfying conclusion, at least.

            ====================
            The DVD Release
            ====================

            I purchased each set individually, which can be found for about £10 each (often cheaper). I hadn't watched the series in almost a decade, and so decided to be cautious with my investment and build-up the series in that way, in case I didn't enjoy it. However, you can get the complete boxset far cheaper, and is a more logical purchase if you are already a fan of the series. Unfortunately, the DVD release itself has very few extras or commentaries, with the only thing of merit being a forty minute documentary on the last disc of season five, which provides a retrospective of the series with new cast interviews. They address a lot pertinent questions, including the infamous, Time Magazine article condemning the show. It's a shame that there aren't more extras, but I suppose that the series was produced just before the age of the DVD, and so there simply wasn't the pressure at the time of filming to keep every deleted scene or scrap of trivia on record.

            ====================
            Overall
            ====================

            Ally McBeal is a great buy on DVD, it's full of nostalgia for people who watched the series when it originally aired, and is of a high-enough quality to really stand the test of time, and find a new audience in 2012. The creative problems towards the end of the series, sour the experience somewhat, but by that point in the show's evolution, your desire to reach a conclusion in the show's arc, will hopefully power you through some of the dud episodes. The early seasons can always be relied on for a laugh and to put a smile on your face, as the blend of comedy and drama, create feel-good experience which is crucially, relatable to people starting out in life and facing the same problems as Ally. If you're questioning whether or not to buy this, I would not hesitate to bang my gavel and order you to buy it - missing out on this series, would be a grave injustice.

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              18.09.2012 17:45
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              A great purchase for sci-fi fans - young and old, for nostalgia and for newcomers.

              =========================================
              Background
              =========================================

              I still remember clutching the sofa cushion ever-so-slightly tighter to my chest whenever the bellowing, pseudo-demonic announcer accompanied the opening credits of my childhood show, Captain Scarlet. "This is the voice of the Mysterons... we know that you can hear us, earthmen". Still to this day, I get slight chills.

              Aired in 1967, Captain Scarlet was yet another hit show from Gerry Anderson - the mastermind behind children's television classics such as Thunderbirds and Stingray. Filmed in Supermarionation (a combination of marionettes and expensive special effects), the programme boasts highly intelligent scripts and plots, which embrace both the adult and child sections of the audience, in a way that only Doctor Who has managed to accomplish since.

              While Thunderbirds and Stingray filled with jeopardy and danger, Captain Scarlet is the darkest of Gerry Anderson's three finest shows. Set in 2068, as man first lands on Mars, the explorer vehicle comes across a strange alien complex. Out of fear, they destroy it, only to watch it rematerialise before their eyes. The strange race, invisible to the human eye, declare themselves as 'The Mysterons', and swear revenge against the Earth in retaliation for such an act of aggression.

              They possess the ability to re-animate that which has been destroyed, and so each week, different vehicles and people are savagely attacked before being reanimated as Mysteron agents. Playing the role of space terrorists, each week, they chose a target to destroy which will contribute to their eventual goal of bringing the Earth to its knees.

              The only organisation who can protect the Earth are Spectrum - an international security team, who combine first-class technology with brave field agents to fight the Mysteron threat.

              =========================================
              The Feature
              =========================================

              Watching puppets can be jarring at first, if you are not used to Gerry Anderson's series. However, due to the superb sets, facial sculpting and characterisation, within minutes you forget that the protagonists are actually fibreglass rather than real people. The Captain Scarlet puppets are interesting if you are a fan of Anderson's previous work, as they represent a new generation of marionettes. Unlike the Tracy Brothers, the Captain Scarlet puppets are perfectly in proportion and are sculpted to look like real people as opposed to caricatures. This means that at a glance, you can't tell if you are looking at a human or not. This fits the heightened realism and the grittiness of the storytelling here, which you wouldn't be able to take seriously using the old style puppets. However, there is some legitimate criticism that the characters are less endearing than Anderson's previous creations, simply because they look too real.

              Captain Scarlet, as a series, works well as there is more of an effort to have a continuous story arc. This was rare for the 60s, and even rarer for any children's show. Some plot elements mentioned in earlier episodes, are picked up again and become vital in later episodes, and one storyline is continued for three episodes in a row. It all lends to a more adult feel to the show, which may alienate some younger fans, but adds a lot more layers for an adult who may be reliving Captain Scarlet for the nostalgia.

              Like me, many will be shocked at the deep metaphors in the programme. The fight against the Mysterons, could easily be now seen as an allegory for the War on Terror. The polyethnic composition of Spectrum, could also be seen as a plea for a utopian future - it should not be forgotten that Anderson creating an African-American, female pilot as a main character in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement was not simply accidental.

              What distinguishes the show even more from any other children's programming, is that Spectrum often lose, and the villains triumph. This adds a genuine sense of jeopardy, which few other programmes can create, as there is a genuine possibility that a character or place may meet a violent end.

              The effects, of course, are spellbinding. Derek Meddings, who went on to provide the Special Effects for the biggest actions movies of the 20th century and the James Bond franchise, creates explosions more convincing than any CGI I have ever seen. The use of models and elaborate sets with such high quality control, mean that the action sequences are indistinguishable from real life - no mean feet, given that Captain Scarlet is over forty years old.

              =========================================
              Suitable for Children
              =========================================

              Captain Scarlet is easily the darkest children's television series ever made. The DVDs boast a 'Universal' rating, but this is arguably a little lenient. In every episode, characters are viciously killed in fairly gruesome ways - strangulation, drowning, crushing, electrocution... Whether or not these characters are puppets, it's pretty unimaginable that the series could be shown on children's television today. This grit and fearlessness in the storytelling is perhaps why it has endured for me as an adult. There is no attempt to be condescending or patronising towards the audience, and as a result, the storylines are not compromised. I watched the programme as a child, and never became a gun-crazed madman as an adult. In my opinion, Captain Scarlet is not only a piece of excellent programming, but represents a time when we didn't feel the need to over-protectedly wrap our children up in cotton wool to keep them from seeing the big bad world.


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              Picture Quality
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              As with Thunderbirds and Stingray, Captain Scarlet was recently remastered before being placed on DVD. As it was filmed on cinema reel, and in colour, it was easily brought up to a glossy, high-quality. The vibrant colours of the explosions and the sets, make it even more enchanting and visually stunning than it was when I saw it as a child in the 90s. In my opinion, the remastering is of such a high standard, that it usurps most television boxsets for shows from the 90s and early 00s. Not back for a show filmed in 1967.

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              Extras
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              Despite the age of the series, Carlton make an effort to ensure that there are ample special features for fans of the show. There are audio commentaries with series creator, Gerry Anderson for 'The Mysterons' and fan-favourite, 'Attack on Cloudbase', along with five audio adventures that were previously only available on vinyl. There are also behind-the-scenes photos for you to feast your eyes on, along with the original 1960s TV spots.

              =========================================
              Conclusion
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              If like me, you grew up watching Thunderbirds, Stingray and Captain Scarlet, this set is a must-have. The stories are really timeless, and due to the remastering, the special effects will absolutely blow you away. For all 32 episodes, you can expect to pay just under £15, which is a pretty good price to pay. Not just for kids, the darker storylines here will appeal to sci-fi fans of all ages. There is not much else to say here, other than - go buy it! It's well worth it - either for nostalgia, or first time viewing.

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                10.08.2012 23:26
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                A diverse, timeless pop-soul triumph

                The debut album from Rebecca Ferguson is like nothing you'd expect from a reality-show graduate. Renowned for the lack of artistic involvement from the artist, and the desperation to make a quick buck, 'Heaven' seems to be the exception to the rule. Released in late 2011, following her stint on the previous year's X Factor, the album boasts Ferguson as the lead writer for every track and production credits from Adele collaborators Eg White and Fraser T. Smith. With Rebecca's smooth and soulful voice, and timeless production, the album is a breath of fresh-air in a dance and techno orientated time in music.

                The album commences with 'Nothing's Real but Love', a simple, guitar-based track which gradually builds momentum yet never becomes overwrought or loses its understated charm. The song's message is simple, yet powerful. "No money, no house, no car, can beat love" she sings on the chorus, as she warns against the empty pursuit of fame and fortune, without anyone to share it with. Her gorgeous voice and vulnerable delivery really sell the familiar subject matter and repackage it with an endearing and fresh charm. 'Glitter and Gold' builds on the topic, but has a slightly darker sound to it. "Old friends are just a chore, but now you need them more than ever before" she sings, exploring the dark side to fame. More up-tempo, and with a bouncier production, the song adds a lot, sonically speaking, to the album, and the deeper lyrics are a welcomed continuation to the sparse words of the album opener.

                'Heaven' boasts several feel-good, and uplifting neo-soul numbers that beg for repeated listens. 'Fairytale' is a wistful, romantic track with trumpets, lush strings and a set of Amy Winehouse-inspired production. "So let me just fairytale, that we are in love" she sings on the chorus, "I'd rather live life this way". The song is so upbeat, it is utterly irresistible. 'Mr Bright Eyes', similarly is a bright and summery ode to a lover who restores your hope in love. The tinkling pianos and Rebecca's vocal nuances, make this an undeniable mid-tempo. "Hey, Mr. Bright Eyes, where've you been all my life?" she asks on the chorus, allegedly written about her ex-boyfriend, Zayne Malik of One Direction fame. The album's closer, 'Too Good to Lose', a spine-tingling, euphoric disco-inspired soul song, truly demonstrates Rebecca's versatility and ability to straddle multiple genres convincingly.

                The album's finest moment comes with the piano-based ballad, 'Teach Me How to Be Loved'. The gorgeous melody compliments Rebecca's voice, in a song that is lyrically rich with beautiful metaphors that really convey the emotion of the track. It deals with a woman struggling to trust again, desperately wishing to believe in love. "The fallen empires, the shattered glass, the wicked echoes of my past" she laments before the chorus hits. "Will you still be here tomorrow, or will you leave in the dead of the night?" she asks in a track that Adele would be envious of.

                'Heaven' is an album that is rich in diversity. The fusion of genres, ranging from pop, folk, soul and disco is pretty difficult to do convincingly or with a degree of freshness to it. Rebecca has managed both. Her smooth voice can seemingly sing anything, and can convey the emotion of a song without ever drowning its message in vocal acrobatics. Everything about this album is understated - yet, this is where it's charm and its appeal lies. For me, it is similar to Adele's '21' sonically speaking, but with a more diverse subject matter. Without a doubt, it is one of the best albums released in the past year and is a must-have for fans of artists such as Adele, Amy Winehouse, Norah Jones or Duffy.

                Highlights: Teach Me How to Be Loved, Glitter & Gold, Nothing's Real But Love, Fairytale, Too Good to Lose

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                  25.07.2012 22:15
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                  A mixed bag for Alexandra's second album

                  Two and a half years after the release of her debut album, 'Overcome', Alexandra Burke has followed up the multi-platinum selling success with 'Heartbreak on Hold'. The former X-Factor winner has been bizarrely subject to spasm of bad publicity and radio blacklisting, a pretty saddening state of affairs given that she is one of the best performers and vocalists to emerge from the UK in the past decade. As a result, 'Heartbreak on Hold' limped into the top twenty, and as yet, has barely scraped past 10,000 sales. This disheartening state of affairs in no way reflects the music, as the album houses several phenomenal tracks. However, it is true to say, her boarding of the dance-pop bandwagon and abandoning the r'n'b influences of her first album, has done her a disservice and considerably eroded a lot of the character from her music.

                  The title track was penned by Rico Love, responsible for her previous smash-hit 'All Night Long'. As the name suggests, 'Heartbreak on Hold' is an uplifting, dance track that never becomes too saccharine. "Not gonna let the pain take control of me, tomorrow's going to be a new day" she sings on the bridge. Alexandra's vocals are strong, and the production is impeccable - a great start to the record. 'Let It Go', the album's second single, builds on this inspirational theme. The beat is reminiscent of 90s club favourite Robin S 'Show Me Love', and is arguably the best on the album. The suspenseful production and positive vibe of the song, make it an infectious sing-a-long anthem. The rousing chorus of 'Let it go, go, go... let it all go" will have you singing along from the first listen.

                  The album's first single was an odd choice for me, 'Elephant' (produced by dance DJ Erick Morillo), is an instrumental-heavy track that drenches Alex's vocals in auto-tune. The lyrics are compelling about there being 'an elephant in the room', that the two people in the relationship need to address, however, the song never really reaches its potential and avoids the brilliance it could have.

                  The album's best moments come with 'Fire' - a storming dance song, which features Whitney Houston-inspired vocals on a soaring chorus. "I want you now, like we're burning in a five-alarm fire" she sings, with magnificent and powerful vocals. The hook-laden song, at times has clumsy lyrics, but for the most part, is an example of how when Alexandra does the genre well, she really owns it. 'Between the Sheets' is another highlight - the only song on the album that really has the r'n'b-pop style of her first album. The smouldering, percussion-heavy track talks about intense sexual attraction that means that "the only thing between us, should be the sheets". The track showcases a different tone to Alexandra's voice, and changes the pace of the album considerably. It is a welcome change from the dance numbers.

                  Indeed, the album's shortcomings are not really the songs in isolation, but the simple fact that ten out of the twelve songs could be characterised as dance-pop. The genre is so overdone at the moment that it is a little stale. Tracks such as 'This Love Will Survive' are forgettable, as the rousing beats do little to mask sub-par hooks. By the time you are a third of the way through the album, your appreciation for each track diminishes, as there is nothing sonically different at all. 'Love You That Much' should never have really made the cut, as it adds nothing in terms of its production, and its lyrics are little on the embarrassing side. I can't help but feel that had Alexandra done a 50/50 split of dance and other genres, this album would have really benefited from the diversity of sounds.

                  The album closes with 'What Money Can't Buy', a powerful piano-led ballad that reminds me a little of Alicia Keys' magnificent 'If I Ain't Got You'. The track showcases spine-tingling vocals and really is refreshing (albeit, out of place) after eleven europop songs. A few more songs like this would really help the album.

                  Overall, Alexandra's second album is a mixed bag. There are a handful of fantastic tracks here that deserve to be huge hits. However, as an album itself, it may be cohesive but it is far too samey and safe in terms of sound. To listen to it from start to finish is a bit of a chore, as all the songs begin to blur into one. Unless you are a big fan, I'd recommend cherry-picking my recommendations and really enjoy them, rather than having to sift through the monotony of mediocre euro-pop. Although, with its price falling on most online retailers, it is more in line with its under £5 price tag.

                  Highlights: Let it Go, Heartbreak on Hold, Fire, Between the Sheets, What Money Can't Buy

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                    12.07.2012 19:56
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                    A near-flawless debut album, that is one of the best in the pop-rock genre.

                    One Direction have taken the world by storm, achieving international superstardom and gaining fans from every corner of the globe. With over two million sales of their debut album, 'Up All Night', the five-piece are set to embark on a staggering 101 date world tour in 2013. Created by Simon Cowell's X Factor, you are right to be sceptical and cautious about a boy band emerging from a brand which has put out a fair quantity of rushed, haphazard album releases. 'Up All Night', however, is an exception to the rule. It is a debut rich in personality, and offers wall-to-wall hits alongside strong vocals. The blend of upbeat pop-rock and acoustic sounds, with the occasional foray into dance-pop, show that the boyband format is far from dead and has the potential to have a pretty major revival.

                    The band are at their best when delivering up-tempo pop-rock, a genre that fits their voices and harmonies perfectly. 'What Makes You Beautiful' is an infectious love song with an instant, sing-a-long melody. The guitar riff sounds a little like Summer Nights from the Grease Soundtrack, which rather than being derivative, actually helps evoke the warm feel-good sentiments of young love. 'One Thing' is without a doubt, one of the best on the album. The production on the song is similar to 'What Makes You Beautiful', in that it has pounding drums, a simple guitar line and subtle synths that compliment he soaring chorus. The simple chorus of "Get out, get out, get out of my head, and fall into my arms instead/I don't know what it is, but you've got that one thing" is an instant earworm, and is a track that will have you returning to it over and over again. The title-track, 'Up All Night' is a little more synth heavy, and distances itself a little from the pop-rock sound of the album. The song has some questionable lyrics that may make you wince a little bit ("Katy Perry's on replay, she's on replay"), but for the most part, it is a fun party song about being young and living for the moment.

                    The album dabbles a little in contemporary dance-sounds, which thankfully, does not overpower the overriding sound of the album. 'Save You Tonight' was produced by RedOne - Lady Gaga's most famous collaborator. The song has some great vocal harmonies, which really shows off their vocal ability. "I can't be no superman, but for you I'd be superhuman" they sing on the chorus of a song about unconditional love for someone who refuses to acknowledge you. The addictive track is distinctly American in its production, so 'Stole My Heart' provides a little balance, in that it is more British in terms of production. Another dance track, it boasts writing credits from the boys, as crashing synths make for the surprisingly perfect club song. "Under the lights tonight, I turned around and you stole my heart" Harry sings in an impressive falsetto. Without a doubt, a hidden gem on the album.

                    'Up All Night' for the most part, sticks within the parameters of Kelly Clarkson-influenced pop-rock. In fact, it boasts her as a lead writer on 'Tell Me A Lie' - possibly my favourite One Direction song yet. "Tell me I'm a screwed up mess, that I never listen/Tell me you don't want my kiss, that you need your distance", they sing on the infectious chorus. The lyrics on the track are slightly more clever than you'd expect, with the hook concluding with the line "If he's the reason that you're leaving me here tonight, spare me what you think and tell me a lie." The album offers some surprisingly mature moments, lyrically speaking, amongst the young love sentiment of the album's lead single. 'Taken', produced by Toby Gad (responsible for Beyoncé's 'If I Were a Boy') takes a cue from the song's production in a slow-building acoustic up-tempo, which is built around the line - "you only want me when I'm taken". When the production is stripped back a little more, you will definitely be impressed by the boys' vocal talents, which sound strong and confident, but full of emotion, without the need of auto-tune enhancements.

                    The album possesses only three ballads, with 'More Than This' being a clear highlight. It evokes some of the Backstreet Boys best love songs, with a heart-breaking delivering accompanying a simple acoustic guitar but glossy synths, which keep the song sounding contemporary enough for radio. "When he opens his arms and holds you close tonight, it just won't feel right/'cause I can love you more than this" they sing on the powerful chorus. Without a doubt, one of their best. 'Gotta Be You' is pretty dramatic, with its sweeping strings and powerful percussion. While I disagree with it as the album's second single, I do love the song and the boys' use of falsetto.

                    'Up All Night' manages to cover all bases, experimenting in enough genres to keep the album diverse but not too scattered or eclectic. It is mature enough to have appeal beyond its target age group, and has some surprisingly eloquent and emotional moments on the tracks which possess the boys' co-writes. 'Everything About You' is perhaps the only weak track on the set, as the chorus is a little monotonous and too drenched in synthesisers to let the boys' vocals shine. However, 12 great songs and only one weak track on a 13 track album is a pretty good ratio. Without a doubt, 'Up All Night' surprised me as being one of the best albums of the past year, and worthy of a listen if you love pop-rock in the vein of Kelly Clarkson or McFly. Bring on album number two, I say.

                    HIGHLIGHTS: What Makes You Beautiful, One Thing, Tell Me a Lie, Save You Tonight, More Than This, Taken... practically the whole album!

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                      28.06.2012 16:19
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                      The perfect fusion of pop, rock and country, and the perfect introduction to Carrie Underwood.

                      Most reality show alumni have a habit of fading after an album or two. Carrie Underwood has rather magnificently been able to buck this trend and shed her American Idol tag to go on to become one of the world's biggest stars. In just a few short years, she has racked up 14 million album sales and five grammy awards. Her fourth album, 'Blown Away' is a truly remarkable country-pop album. While her first three albums followed a fairly similar formula, 'Blown Away' sees Carrie experimenting with new themes and darker sounds - both lyrically and instrumentally. With her flawless and smooth vocals, and gorgeous melodies, this is truly one of the best country albums in years.

                      The album boasts 'Good Girl' - an up-tempo track heavily influenced by both pop and southern rock. The guitar riffs and feisty lyrics will instantly work their way into the listener's head, as Carrie warns a young woman off a good-for-nothing man - reminiscent of her previous hit, 'Cowboy Casanova'. The song has a soaring chorus and incredible vocals, and will definitely appeal to fans whose tastes lie predominantly on the pop-side of the spectrum.

                      However, the album for the most part, explores darker subject matter. The title track is easily one of the best things she has ever recorded. Heavily-influenced by U2, the stormy country-rock song tells the tale of an abused young girl, who grows up in misery until years later, when she experiences release as a tornado comes and destroys her family home. "She locked herself in the cellar, listening to the screaming of the wind/Some people call it taking shelter, she called it sweet revenge" she sings on the sinister verses. The soaring vocals, the dramatic production and the compelling lyrics are utterly enthralling. Without a doubt, one of my favourite songs of all time. It also accompanies 'Two Black Cadillacs', a clever song about a man's funeral, which as the song progresses, has been caused by a collaboration between his long-suffering wife and his heartbroken mistress. In the bridge, Carrie sings that "It was the first time and last time they saw each other face to face/They shared a crimson smile and just walked away/And left the secret at the grave." The addictive chorus, the swirling violins and pounding drums, make it an atmospheric and mesmerising song - one of the best on the CD.

                      Of course, there are more relatable tracks on the album, which return you to Carrie's own life experiences. 'See You Again' weaves piano and uplifting percussion, to reflect the bittersweet subject matter, as she sings about fighting through the pain of loss with the certain knowledge that you will see someone again in the next life. There is a strangely euphoric quality to the song which stops it from ever feeling too depressing. Similar, to 'Good in Goodbye', both tracks find the bittersweet joy in heartbreak. This track was co-written by OneRepublic frontman, Ryan Tedder, and recounts seeing the man you were once in love with years later, and releasing that your break-up was for the best. The slow-building acoustic melody and the gorgeous chorus make for such a brilliant song, with a subject matter anyone can really relate to. You can't help but pencil in faces from your past as you listen.

                      For the most part, the album has some strong pop and rock influences, however, there are some moments where you can see the influence of more traditional country and folk music. 'Wine after Whiskey' is one of the highlights, as a melancholic ballad laced with steel-guitars and banjos about comparing past and present loves, and how your current partner just cannot measure up to the level of passion you felt before. "Once you've tasted a love that strong, you can't go back and you can't settle on/Anything less, and that's what gets me/It's like having wine after whiskey." The song is understated and heartbreaking in every way. There are some more up-tempo country songs, however, with 'Cupid's Got a Shotgun' providing an interesting change of pace, and injecting a lot of wit and humour into Carrie's lyrics.

                      At times, attempts to add some diversity and more upbeat tracks into the mix, such as 'One Way Ticket' feel a little forced. As one of the only weak tracks on the set, there is nothing wrong with the song as such, but it feels a little cringe-worthy with its double-entendre about going on vacation, which serves a metaphor for living life to the fullest.

                      Carrie is arguably at her best when she is at her most emotional, with 'Forever Changed' being an emotional rollercoaster of a song. The song is a four minute journey through someone's life - falling in love, becoming a mother, and then finally, falling victim to Alzheimer's and feeling her life fade away. The track is a devastating, yet powerful listen, and will really leave a mark on you.

                      The UK edition of the album boasts four bonus tracks - 'Jesus, Take the Wheel', 'Before He Cheats', 'Last Name' and 'Cowboy Casanova' - four of her biggest hits from her previous albums. So if you are British, this album is the perfect introduction to Carrie and her music.

                      However, in relation to the rest of her back catalogue, it could easily be deemed her best. She takes on challenging subject matter and makes it both powerful and relatable, while never losing sight of the radio-friendly hooks and melodies which made her so popular in the first place. The diversity of sounds, and incorporation of more strings and rock guitars, add a heightened sense of drama to some of the songs. Without a doubt, a near-perfect album for Carrie's existing fans or those with a keen ear for country music. However, even if you are not the biggest country fan, 'Blown Away' will undoubtedly live up to its title and provide you with a surprising and undeniably enthralling listen.

                      HIGHLIGHTS: Good Girl, Blown Away, Two Black Cadillacs, See You Again, Good in Goodbye, Wine After Whiskey, Who Are You

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                        20.06.2012 21:18
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                        A guilty pleasure.

                        Nicki Minaj is undoubtedly the reigning empress of rap music. Her colourful lyrics, her borderline-schizophrenic deployment of different voices and characters in her music, often combined with glossy pop hooks make her an undeniably compelling superstar. Her second album 'Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded' arrived in 2012 and split critics straight down the middle. Had Nicki 'sold-out'? Or was she being brave and uninhibited in her writing? Half the album is straight-up rap, with a huge roster of guest stars and hip-hop heavyweights at the production helm. The other half is nothing but bubblegum pop - undeniable euro-pop hits with dance break-downs and lashings of autotune. The only way to describe it is this - 'Roman Reloaded' is my trash pop album of the year. It's my guilty pleasure. Whereas, her debut was in my eyes flawless and the perfect marrying of rap and pop, this album is a little embarrassing at times and can fall flat, yet is somehow addictive and has me coming back for more.

                        The rap side of the album explores one topic and one topic alone - her success. The humility of Nicki's debut has vanished, and all the tracks seem to explore her living the high life and the making more money than any other rap superstar 'in the game'. When she does this well, she really hits a home run. 'Come on a Cone' is classic Nicki Minaj, with some pretty hilarious lyrics. "If you need you a look, just put me on your song/But you know it'll cost, about six figures long" she boasts of her salary. The beat on the track is amazing, and adds a hard edge to an album characterised by bubblegum pop beats. 'Beez in the Trap' is built around its intriguing and compelling production - a simple beat on a loop that becomes hypnotic and enthrals you from the first bar. The track is addictive and one to played over and over again, although is lyrically pretty vapid (it sounds like a thinly veiled tribute to marijuana dealing).

                        'HOV Lane', 'Roman Reloaded' and 'I Am Your Leader' pretty much retread the same ground over and over again until you hit bedrock. There is nothing wrong with any of them, in fact I love the verses on 'Roman Reloaded', where she addresses her critics who claim she's sold out ("Nicki pop? The only thing that pops is my endorsement, bitch") and even swipes at Simon Cowell ("I couldn't do your TV show, I needed ten more mill"). However, the songs read like a CV rather than something which you can relate to, and feel a connection to. They are fun, and Nicki's rap verses are enjoyable, but are ultimately a little vapid.

                        'Champion' is at last a relatable track, where along with Young Jeezy, Nas and Drake, she sings about the euphoria of overcoming adversity to succeed. At last, a song that people can relate to! The production is surprisingly light and breezy, and is uplifting for the listener. The features on the track are also some of the only on the album which don't feel unnecessary. Without a doubt, one of the best rap tracks on the collection.

                        The pop side is where all the potential hits lie, and if you are a European fan, you'll undoubtedly play these tracks over and over, while ignoring the rap portion of the collection.

                        Lady GaGa's frequent collaborator, RedOne offers five contributions to the album. 'Starships', Nicki's addictive summery dance-track is a clear stand-out. The stomping dance breakdown, the soaring chorus and the countless hooks are pretty undeniable for the listener. 'Automatic' feels like a cousin of Jennifer Lopez's 'On the Floor' hit - the dance-floor stomper features hardly any rapping but copious amounts of singing. "I can't control the way I'm moving my hips, bet you've never ever seen it like this", she sings on the chorus, compelling you to dance both musically and lyrically. As with all the RedOne tracks, the track is simply irrepressible and makes you want to dance.

                        'Whip It' and 'Pound the Alarm' seem to marry rap-Nicki with her pop counterpart the most successfully on the album, with her rapping the verses and singing the choruses. The choruses on both are undeniable, and are made to be the played while getting ready for a night out. When Nicki Minaj does dance-pop well, she really hits a home run.

                        What may surprise a lot of casual listeners is the presence of several ballads on the album. One of the stand-outs is 'Marilyn Monroe' - which takes one of her famous quotes and re-imagines it as a song. "Call it a curse, or just call me blessed, if you can't handle my worst, then you ain't getting' my best" she sings on the chorus, with silky smooth vocals. The piano riff and emotionally vulnerable lyrics are endearing and sweet. Similarly, 'Young Forever' is a lush, electronic ballad produced by Katy Perry-hitmaker, Dr. Luke. It is about freezing a moment in time before your lover leaves you for good - "Look in my eyes, don't say goodbye, so that I will always remember" she sings. The song is gorgeous, and suggests that Nicki makes a more compelling artist when she is showing her vulnerable side instead of just flaunting her considerable wealth.

                        If you are interesting in purchasing the album, then you are best to opt for the Deluxe version, as in an increasingly common trend, the bonus tracks are actually some of Nicki's best ever. 'Turn Me On' featuring David Guetta, is of course a massive floor-filler and is a feel-good dance anthem with an instant chorus is laden with hooks. The real gem though is 'Va Va Voom', which can only be described as the close cousin of 'Super Bass'. The lyrics are even similar, as Nicki sets her sights on a new crush and will do anything to have him. The song is as close as you can get to pop-perfection - you will be singing the chorus over and over again ("If you want me I'm gonna be va va voom voom, if you want me, I got that boom boom"). It's pretty childish, and pretty ridiculous - but it's also pretty damn good.

                        Overall, Nicki Minaj's sophomore effort is a mixed bag. The rap-side is not bad, but is just a little lacking in the emotional depth which her first album possessed. While rapping about your achievements comes with the territory, ten tracks of it is a little wearisome. The pop side, is undeniable though - wall-to-wall potential hits and songs tailor-made for the radio. With the deluxe edition running to 22 tracks long, there is bound to be something for you if you are a pop fan or are already interested in Nicki Minaj. However, for the next record, I hope she takes more time and comes up with a more refined approach to making music - fusing the two genres, rather than awkwardly splitting the album into two fairly incompatible halves.

                        Highlights: Starships, Whip It, Automatic, Pound the Alarm, Marilyn Monroe, Va Va Voom, Young Forever, Come on a Cone, Champion.

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                          14.06.2012 22:07
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                          Brilliant lyrics against a back-drop of southern-rock and folk guitars, for a triumphant third album

                          The daughter of one of the most influential and idolised singers in history has always been unfairly bestowed with the crushing weight of unrealistic expectations. Lisa Marie Presley carved a niche as an angry alternative pop-rockstar in the last decade, with her 'To Whom it May Concern' and 'Now What' albums, where her bitterly honest and self-reflective lyrics won me over as a fan. However, after six years of both figurative and literal radio-silence, Lisa Marie is back. 'Storm & Grace' is a significant departure, musically, from its predecessors. Lisa seems less angry and confrontational in her lyrics, but most notably, has embraced her country and southern rock roots. The downbeat, folky sound of the album fits her smoky voice perfectly, and matches her calmer demeanour as she addresses the angels and demons in her life. There is something so compelling in her lyrics, that despite her less-than-ordinary life, Lisa's lyrics are so relatable to me.

                          The album title is clever in the sense, that it reflects the light and dark themes running through the album - with some of the darker tracks providing some intense and highly-compelling storytelling. One of the stand-out tracks comes in the form of 'Storm of Nails', a clattering, slow-building track that deals with being overwhelmed by a series of bad events. "And on the forecast for today, a storm of nails heading your way" she sings, before questioning "on my forehead does it say, unleash all the hounds of hell this way?". The song is very melodic and easy to sing along to, and is one of the most instant tracks on an album, which is deliberately not as radio-friendly as its predecessors. 'Un-break' is similarly, another of the few more uptempo tracks that could be played on the radio. It shows that Lisa still has some of the anger which characterised her previous records, as she opens the track pondering "Sometimes I wonder what the hell I ever did to deserve this". The dark, atmospheric soft-rock track deals with the trappings of fame, and all the metaphorical vampires it attracts. "I got run over my own parade, I've suffocated in these beds I've made" she muses in the chorus, weary of manipulation. Somehow she manages to make the plight of the famous incredibly relatable with her clever lyrics.

                          There is something mischievous and rebellious about Lisa Marie Presley, and this certainly can be seen in a lot of the tracks here. 'Over Me' is a bluesy, southern-rock track with a singalong chorus, which Lisa delivers with intentional melodrama. The lyrics are particularly interesting given that are seemingly pointed at Debbie Rowe - the woman who fell pregnant with Michael Jackson's child just months after their divorce. 'You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet' is the first single from the album, and has such a great bass-heavy guitar line. The shuffling rhythm of the track embodies the sound that Lisa was going for with the album. The lyrics are very tongue-in-cheek, and clearly are her laughing defiantly at people's attitudes towards her. There's something addictive in the melody, and it quickly became one of my favourites on the set.

                          The album shows a softer, more melancholic side to the star which stands in stark contrast to her previous material. The production on 'Forgiving' gives me chills, the quiet banjo line alongside Lisa's emotional vocals show a more vulnerable side to her, that as a huge fan, is endearing to her. "I want to find in me that I can still believe, and be forgiving" she sings with a beautiful tone to her voice, its such a hopeful track, that shows her moving away from the bitterness of her past two records. 'Soften the Blows' and 'Storm and Grace' are seemingly two parts of the same song, and deal with finding someone who can be your shelter in hard-times. Both songs are quiet and sparsely produced, allowing for the sweet, almost poetic lyrics to shine. They are really therapeutic and relaxing to listen to, and may not be instantly memorable, but possess enough charm for you to come back for repeated listens.

                          'Storm & Grace' comes in two versions - a standard and deluxe album. As a huge fan, naturally I went for the edition with four extra tracks. Without a doubt, these four additional songs should have made the standard edition. 'Sticks and Stones' may be one of my all-time Lisa Marie Presley tracks. She has been belittled and mocked repeatedly by the media, and this song so eloquently explores how she feels about such treatment. "Too bad she ain't just like her Daddy, oh what a shame/She ain't got no talent of her own, it's just a name" she sings on the verses, before an emotional chorus with an uplifting melody, where she concludes "you can take my place, you'd do it better anyway/But you'd better hide your bones, from all the sticks and stones."

                          However, the real gem in this album is the emotional 'I Was Wrong', a quiet track with slowly building drums. The lyrics are simple, yet absolutely devastating. They were written in the aftermath of the death of her ex-husband, Michael Jackson, and essentially tells a tragic tale of regret and unspoken words. "I always thought that he never loved me, that he didn't love me at all - I was wrong" she sings. My heart breaks in the final chorus, as she concludes "He was wrong - I loved him all along. I love him now he's gone."

                          The album succeeds in transforming Lisa Marie Presley from an Alanis Morissette-esque angry pop-rock artist, into a bluesy, more authentic artist. The songs are far from radio-friendly, but somehow I just keep returning to them over and over again - there is such charm in the understated production and her self-reflective lyrics. This is a fantastic record to challenge the naysayers who claim she has no real talent, but above all else, and aside from a personal victory, it is a victory for all lovers of southern-rock, country and folk, as she blends all three seamlessly into a rich and diverse third album. Without a doubt, one of my favourite CDs of the year.

                          Highlights: Over Me, You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet, Un-break, Storm of Nails, How Do You Fly this Plane?, Forgiving, Sticks and Stones, I Was Wrong.

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                          • More +
                            08.06.2012 22:23
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                            Landmark science-fiction series, that isn't strictly for kids.

                            =========================================
                            Background
                            =========================================

                            "Stand by for action!" bellows the announcer, before a powerful underwater explosion fills the screen and pounding drums begin. From start to finish, each episode of Stingray lives up to its promise in the credits and is 25 minutes of action-packed adventure that never lags and never fails to entertain. Filmed in 1964, it was produced by Gerry Anderson - the genius behind Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet - and was a landmark for television, being one of the first to be produced in colour. While it was intended as a children's TV show, it is only as kid-orientated as Doctor Who, meaning that its enduring appeal lies in the fact that adults find as much pleasure in it as their younger counterparts.

                            The show focuses on the crew of Stingray - a highly sophisticated submarine that works on behalf of the World Aquanaut Security Patrol - an organisation designed to protect the world from undersea threat. Afterall, in 2065, there are entire races of people found to be living on the ocean floor - many of which are hell-bent on the destruction of mankind through any means necessary. This idea forms the central theme to many of Stingray's adventures, as aquanaut Troy Tempest leads the fight against the hostile underwater races.

                            Unless you are completely oblivious to the genius of Gerry Anderson, you should know that of course, the protagonists of the series are not world famous actors (although some provide voices!), but are in fact puppets. Having watched Stingray since I was a child, I have never really thought of them as marionettes. The detail in their faces (and the fact that they have multiple heads, to express different emotions), along with fantastic voice acting and characterisation mean that you soon even forget that they are puppets.

                            =========================================
                            The Feature
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                            As I have mentioned, I grew up watching Stingray. I recorded them off the television onto VHS, and played each episode over and over until the tape ceased to function. Purchasing the series on DVD as an adult, allowed for me to really appreciate the brilliance of Stingray, as it really has stood the test of time. I still found myself gripped by the series as if I was a child again, gasping for air during suspenseful moments of danger and smiling in wonder at the strange faces of the underwater aliens. For anyone who grew up watching the series, you get such a warm feeling of nostalgia when you revisit it.

                            However, on a more serious note, you really get to appreciate just how intricate and masterful the storytelling is. Something which is severely lacking in today's television, let alone children's programming. The stories are fairly complex, and there several sub-plots co-existing throughout the series. For example, the love triangle between Troy Tempest, Atlanta and voiceless mermaid, Marina, is surprisingly mature for the target audience. Whereas some of Anderson's earlier work, you simply have to appreciate as time pieces -1950s and 60s nostalgia, the quality of the stories mean that 50 years on, you can still enjoy the series like any contemporary one.

                            What never fails to astound me is the quality of the special effects. Derek Meddings pioneered countless new techniques in television production, which he would later use in the James Bond franchise. The series uses explosives and motorised models, which look far more realistic than any CGI that I have ever seen. The underwater scenes are all magnificent, and must have been painstaking to produce - allegedly the models and puppets were controlled behind a very narrow fish tank (filled with algae, and other sealife) which was deliberately turbulent, in order to make it seem as if the show was taking place under the sea. You could never tell.

                            All 39 episodes are utterly awe-inspiring in terms of both effects and storytelling, and in my honest opinion, are some of Anderson's finest work (even better than Thunderbirds!).

                            =========================================
                            Picture Quality
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                            The best thing about this set is that the original film has been digitally remastered, to bring the picture quality to a level that really can do the monumental special effects justice. The DVDs do not disappoint. The picture quality is so good, that it shows up the DVD releases of programmes such as Friends or Charmed, which were aired in the 1990s! You really can't tell that the programme is 50 years old, what with its remastering - the only slight problem is that the quality is so good, that it makes the strings a tiny bit more noticeable.

                            =========================================
                            Extras
                            =========================================

                            Given that the series was produced half a century ago, it is not surprising that there are not extensive special features on the set. However, there is an effort to have some treats for the fans. For example, there is an audio commentary on the pilot episode from Gerry Anderson which is really illuminating regarding the production of the show itself. Moreover, there are four 20 minute long Stingray audio-books that were released on vinyl in the 60s, and provide additional adventures (with the original voice cast!) for you to enjoy. The crowning addition to the set, however, is the previously unseen 40th episode ('The Reunion Party') which was scrapped at the last minute, and remained entombed in a vault in the early 2000s. As someone who watched the show religiously when I was younger, I was naturally thrilled to finally watch the episode.

                            =========================================
                            Conclusion
                            =========================================

                            If you have kids, this is what you need to bring them up on. It is intelligent, action-packed adventure that never patronises its audience, and never fails to provide laughter and amusement. For big kids, like myself, it is an unlimited reservoir of nostalgia that will bring back great memories. These five discs house a masterclass in great storytelling and special effects that despite the passing of almost fifty years, have aged superbly.

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                            • Thomson HED142 / Headphones / 66 Readings / 62 Ratings
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                              05.06.2012 15:11
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                              Terrible headphones, definitely not worth the price.

                              I listen to music all day, every day. At times, I worry that if I don't put down my iPod at some point, it will eventually become fused to the palm of my hand. So naturally, I always experience somewhat of a crisis when my headphones cease to function. The last such incident took place travelling home via train, and standing in WH Smith, I had to choose my latest incarnation of headphones. Usually unwilling to spend too much on headphones, I decided to venture more towards the mid-range headphones. For £12.99, the Thomson HED142 headphones seemed to imply reasonable quality through their price tag. I got my pair in a light blue hue, although there are white, pink and black counterparts available.

                              The headphones feature the in-ear design, which I know can be polarising as many people find them invasive and uncomfortable. However, for me, I prefer the feel of these types of headphone as they make for a more secure fit - never falling out during exercise and successfully blocking out background noise so you hear more of your music. These headphones come with three changeable heads, supposedly to fit different sized ears - however, the largest size seems unfathomably large - I can only assume elephants have since discovered the MP3 player and now require headphones. As this review shall explore, the smallest size is by necessity, the only bud that you can use, given that the larger sizes contribute considerably the distortion of already poor quality headphones.

                              I was severely disappointed by the headphones on experiencing the audio quality. Ultimately, a snug fit, a respectable brand and appealing aesthetics mean nothing if your headphones produce sub-par sound. I began listening and instrumentals seemed fairly crisp and clear, particularly anything with a heavy bass - often a problem for cheap headphones which rattle or become crackly with basslines. Then came the vocals. For some reason, every track on my iPod now sounds as if the singer is performing underwater with these headphones. The music seems to drown out the voice, and has severely compromised my enjoyment of my music. The problem was marginally better when I switched the earbuds to the smallest option, but still the problem with vocals persisted - to the point where I no longer use the headphones, as instrumentals and beats drown out any singing on the track. What is embarrassing is that I have done side-by-side tests with other iPods playing the same song, and the difference in quality can be seen when £5 headphones surpass the quality of these.

                              I wish I had never bought the product, as while they sound marginally better when used with a laptop as opposed to an MP3 device or iPod, I really have no use for them if they ruin the mixing of a track. They definitely have added credence to my scepticism that an elevated price can guarantee an increase in quality of a product. My advice for fellow consumers - avoid this product like the plague. If you are investing in new headphones, do your research first. If you, like me, are caught short while travelling - then go for the cheaper headphones, for me, these were a gamble that I well and truly lost.

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                                30.05.2012 16:10
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                                Summery, anthemic dance-pop from someone who you may never have heard of (or ever hope to spell!).

                                Natalie Bassingthwaighte shot to fame as the lead singer of Australian electro-rock group, Rogue Traders, who had a string of hits such as 'I Never Liked You, 'Watching You' and of course, 'Voodoo Child'. She also achieved a degree of notoriety through her acting career, playing Izzy Hoyland on Neighbours for several years. Her decision to launch a solo career in 2009 was met with scepticism, but this former soap-star has proved herself on this exceptionally strong debut - '1000 Stars'. With more dance influences than she demonstrated in her band days, Nat Bass manages to combine addictive pop hooks with strong vocals, and enough diversity to create a memorable first album.

                                Without a doubt, the album holds a euphoric quality in both its lyrics and production. 'Someday Soon' is a stomping dance-track about realising your dreams and never giving up hope. "Someday soon you're going to catch that dream you've been chasing, someday soon they're gonna write your name in the sky" she sings on the chorus with conviction. The strong vocals, alongside the impeccable production (combining shuddering synths, a guitar riff and layered background vocals) make for a fantastic track. 'Alive', similarly keeps the dance-pop tone of the album strong. "Never thought the day would come when I'd see, my reflection smiling right back at me," she sings on the opening line of the song that deals with overcoming fear and past pain, to find joy in life again. A pretty schmaltzy idea which is handled well. There are some Arabic influences in the production which elevate it from mediocrity and make it stand out in the current euro-pop landscape of commercial radio. Addictive and memorable, it is the perfect start to the album. 'Love Like This' has many parallels with 'Alive' - anthemic in nature, it makes you want to throw your hands up in the air. The soaring chorus speaks of finally finding true love ("I can't fight this feeling anymore") and is infectious in every sense of the word. It's ultimate feel-good pop at its best.

                                Natalie's voice is strong throughout, and in my opinion, is pretty underrated. She is emotive and subtle with her delivery, always holding her own against the production but never trying too hard to showcase her vocal acrobatics. It makes sense that her voice shines best on the album's more emotional moments, namely the ballads. The title track, '1000 Stars' is nothing short of glorious. Her falsetto on the quiet and subdued verses, before the uplifting chorus, really is mesmerising. The track is quirky and compelling, and one of the best on the album. She also demonstrates her skill as a songwriter on 'In His Eyes' - a touching tribute to her departed grandfather. Nuanced and understated, the acoustic track feels more like a conversation with her grandmother in musical form, as she heartbreakingly tries to comfort her in the aftermath of loss. Without a doubt it is the album's centrepiece that really will dispel any naysayers and their critiques of Natalie's talent.

                                There are some glimmers of the quirky rock that the Rogue Traders were famed for. 'Catch Me If You Can' is a spunky track that feels almost like a Bond Theme, as Nat Bass plays a femme fatale who is challenging a lover to keep up with her. It is charming, and while it takes a few listens to get into, it feels a creative diversion away from the dance-pop feel of the album - albeit, a little out of place. Similarly, the pop-rock sound of 'Not for You' adds more diversity to the album. The lyrics have a bit more bite and sass that is present on some of the other tracks, and definitely stands out as a highlight for me. Over soaring guitars and a Kelly Clarkson-esque chorus, Natalie sings "if I gave you my heart would it be enough for you? Not for you", as she kisses off a former lover. It's one of my favourites on the CD, just for the lyrics alone.

                                The album is loaded with summery, pulsating pop gems. 'Supersensual' creatively samples Blondie's 'Heart of Glass', which never feels out of place or somehow violated. 'Superhuman' is more melancholic and laid-back, but builds on the album's theme of happiness on finding true love. The weakest moments occur 2/3 of the way through the album, where 'Turn the Lights On' tries too hard to be over-emotional and theatrical in its delivery - feeling incredibly out of place next to the dance-pop production of its neighbouring tracks and the lyrical currents running through the album. The album would have benefited from being two tracks shorter, allowing for a more seamless run through of wall to wall hits and no loss of momentum in terms of quality and tone of the tracks.

                                Never released officially in the UK, the album provides much of its joy in the sense that its material was absolutely unfamiliar to me on purchase. It provides a really exciting listening experience when you discover a popstar who you know very little about. In terms of obtaining the album, for better value for money, I'd suggest getting the album on either iTunes or Amazon MP3, as for under £8, it is far cheaper than the grossly inflated import price of the physical CD.

                                Without a doubt, '1000 Stars' is an exceptionally strong pop debut and could fall into the category of hidden-gem. With strong pop hooks, great vocals and enough diversity to keep you interested, the album is a fantastic start to what I hope will turn out to be a long career.

                                Highlights: Alive, Someday Soon, 1000 Stars, Not For You, In His Eyes, Love Like This

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                                • More +
                                  27.05.2012 13:16
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                                  A light, fun supernatural-infused drama

                                  Today's television and film market is saturated with all things previously confined to the realms of niche science-fiction and fantasy programmes, with vampires, werewolves, demons - you name it - now ubiquitous in popular culture. However, many forget that the supernatural renaissance really began in the late 90s, as the WB aired Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed simultaneously, bringing fantasy-influenced teen drama to the mainstream. While the former remains my favourite television show of all time, I have always been sceptical about watching Charmed. However, with persevered nagging from a friend, I have finally given it a shot, purchasing the first season on DVD - and surprisingly enough, I have had a pleasant treat.

                                  The series is based on the simple premise that three sisters living in modern day San Fransisco have suddenly discovered they possess supernatural powers. Prue (Shannen Doherty), Piper (Holly Marie Combs) and Phoebe (Alyssa Milano) discover that they form the 'Power of Three' - a trio of powerful witches destined to protect the lives of 'innocents' needing protection. However, their revered power, means that they have also become targets for warlocks and demons, who wish to steal their power and bring into the hands of evil.

                                  The show is without a doubt one of the 'fluffiest' in the genre, which of course can be a pretty damning criticism. However, the appeal for Charmed is that it never takes itself too seriously, or tries to stretch itself to be something its not. It's easy, thoroughly enjoyable viewing that is at times a little camp, a little ridiculously but unfailingly entertaining. The showrunners interweave each 'demon of the week' with romantic sub-plots and the career woes of each sister, as they struggle to balance their ordinary lives with their rather extraordinary callings. This keeps the atmosphere for the most part, light, and definitely gives the show a broad appeal - is it is rather difficult to pigeon hole into one single genre.

                                  Having watched reruns of many episodes of later seasons, the first season really has its appeal in the fact that it retains a slightly gothic tone in both the filming and the plots. The set design and lighting, mean that even if the effects can look a little cheap, the sets always look high-quality, and add a slightly sinister edge to the show at times. Later seasons tended to shy away from more serious storytelling and thus, this gothic edge to the show was lost in favour of what skimpy costumes, the attractive leading ladies could be forced to wear each week.

                                  The first season is enjoyable in the sense that for the most part, plots are self-contained in episodes. These 'stand-alones' mean that you can just dip into the boxset, and move through it at a leisurely pace, without having to keep a mental note of developments in the story arc. In a first season, where you are still establishing characters and the tone of the show, I feel this is a particularly strong format to take. There are enough continuous threads in the season though to keep you hooked, and wanting to know what happens next - particularly the two compelling 'will-they-or-won't-they' relationships between Piper and Leo, and Prue and Andy. This fixation on romance is perhaps part of why Charmed has gained a 'fluff' reputation.

                                  The picture quality in the set is a little grainy, as there is little you can do to a show that was shot in the late 90s, before the HD revolution. The set retails around the £10 mark, which for 22 episodes, is a really good price. As there are eight seasons, if you are a fan of the show, investing in the complete series may be a good move, although surprisingly does not manage to save you much money as it seems to come to about the same price as buying each season individually.

                                  Season One of Charmed is a great start to the show, it finds its niche in the science-fiction spectrum is a light and fun show that has broad appeal to all ages and genders. If you are looking for a series with grit and intricate storylines, then this isn't for you. However, if you have watched Charmed before and want to relieve the show for nostalgia, this is a must buy. I had never paid much attention to the show before, but now I am hooked - and while it may seem out of place next to dark and critically acclaimed shows such as the Sopranos, Dexter and Game of Thrones on my DVD shelf, it is an unfalteringly enjoyable series that provides fun escapism.

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