Film Review: Birdman – 7/10

‘Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige…’


Fading star and former Batman Michael Keaton plays fading star and former Birdman Riggan whilst notoriously difficult to work with but brilliant Ed Norton plays notoriously difficult to work with but brilliant Mike.

After four days I am still not sure what I think about Birdman. Brilliantly directed, but also overly pretentious. Expertly acted, but all the characters feel (purposefully?) like caricatures. The score fits perfectly, but also becomes a bit tiresome. Birdman is an enigma.

It is always great to see Ed Norton and Naomi Watts, but every character here feels like a kind of Wes Anderson cartoon. The performances aren’t bad, but at no point does anybody in this film feel like they could be an actual person who exists in real life, and the normally reliable Emma Stone’s bratty drug addict is just plain annoying.

It can’t be denied that Birdman is definitely ambitious, but ambition alone does not make a classic film. We are talking about a Best Picture winner here for Christ’s sake! On that subject, I am astounded that Birdman took home the Best Picture gong. Of the nominated films that I have seen, I would put Boyhood slightly ahead, and The Imitation Game, The Grand Budapest Hotel and (my favourite) Whiplash way ahead of Birdman.

So, is Birdman a brilliant Charlie Kaufman-esque satire on fame with art imitating life imitating art, or a daft self indulgent mess? To be honest, it’s a bit of both.

Live Review: Menace Beach @ Sheffield Harley

The last band I went to see in Sheffield were The Dandy Warhols so it is quite fitting that their influence looms large in 90’s throwbacks Menace Beach. Occupying the space somewhere between The Dandy’s and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Leeds band Menace Beach strolled on stage at the Harley with little fanfare having set up the equipment themselves.

MenaceBeach 1

Liza Violet’s hushed vocals kicked things off with a low key rendition of Tennis Court. It took a few songs to get the sound right particularly on Ryan Needham’s vocals which is a shame because aside from that Elastics and particularly Drop Outs sounded flawless. Menace Beach are mostly indebted to 90’s alt-rock hero’s such as Pavement, Breeders and Pixies but listen hard enough and there is a hint of their English upbringing as they almost sound like Elastica or even the Boo Radleys at their poppiest moments.

By the time new song Super Transporterreum landed Menace Beach had found their range and the simple singalong chorus of that song made the crowd suitably rowdy for set highlight Taste Like Medicine.


The Harley itself is one of the most intimate venue’s in Sheffield and as well as always playing a key part in the annual Tramlines festival it has played host to such high quality acts as Courtney Barnett, Royal Blood, Drenge, Alt-J, Peace, Bastille, and of course the Arctic Monkeys in recent years. The 200 capacity venue is the perfect place for a DIY slacker band such as Menace Beach and the Yorkshire band seemed totally at home crammed in on the tiny stage.


Album opener Come On Give Up had the front rows dancing and the hook laden chorus would have had beer cans thrown across the venue were Menace Beach the kind of band to attract such a crowd. As it was they settled for some serious head nodding and feet tapping. An audience full of music geeks to watch a band who wear their alternative influence on their sleeves. You could almost smell the limited edition 7″ singles emanating from the crowd.

Set closer Lowtalkin’ works much better live than it does on the album but it still seemed an odd choice to close the evening off especially as the eponymous Ratworld remained unplayed. Ratworld is far and away Menace Beach’s best song and I was moved to confront guitarist Nick Chantler after the gig who broke the news to me that they have actually never played that song live. He took my unwanted intrusion into his life so well however that I immediately felt bad and decided to let this one go.

Like their peers Yuck, Menace Beach are probably always going to play similar sized venues to the Harley but when they fit so well in there does it really matter?

Live Review: Spector @ Sheffield Leadmill

Bill Ryder Jones (formerly of The Coral) is an artist in stark contrast to Spector vocalist Fred Macpherson. Where Jones mumbles to the crowd, Macpherson takes photos on his phone and chats away in between songs. Spector’s hook heavy sing-along’s are a world away from Ryder Jones’ more introspective ballads. It is this contrast that makes Ryder Jones work so well in support of Spector though and the sheer quality of the former Coral guitarists songs wins the crowd over early and by set closer Satellites everyone is on his side.

Bill Ryder Jones was well received in support

Spector emerge a half hour later to rapturous applause and launch straight into Lately It’s You which still sounds strong after a successful airing at Glastonbury earlier this year. Starting with a slower song is always a risk but it just means that follow up Never Fade Away is even more well received than normal with the crowd hungry for the first big sing along of the night.

It’s hard to pin down a Spector crowd. Perhaps too poppy for the snobbier indie kids, and the lack of aspirational lyrics, replaced instead by forlorn longing, make Spector uncomfortable bedfellows with footy fan ‘lad’ bands such as The Enemy or Kasabian. What’s left is a strange mix of students and solicitors, trendy haircuts and Rivers Cuomo glasses, those out for a drink and a good time and the music geeks hoping to pick up a limited edition 7″. As Macpherson himself noted half way through the gig ‘the right side of the crowd know more of the words but the left side seem to be having a better time… maybe the more you listen to the album you worse time you have’.


Fred Macpherson somehow pulls off pigtails. Kind of…

A strangely subdued Bad Boyfriend is the only slight low point of the gig but Stay High had the crowd bouncing again with its fist pumping anthemic chorus. Spector’s entire back catalogue is awash with fist pumping, anthemic chorus’ and it is this combined with their stage presence that makes them such a force on the live music scene.

By the time Twenty Nothing‘s bridge of ‘ONE you started coming over, TWO you started sleeping over, THREE you started taking over, FOUR YOU TOLD ME IT WAS OVER’ kicked in the crowd were completely won over and from here the show at Sheffield Leadmill became by far the best live performance from Spector I have seen.

Having witnessed Spector at both tiny Sheffield venue Queens Social Club and packing one of the bigger tents at Leeds fest, it is clear that Macpherson is at home at any level, probably as a result of continuous touring with Spector as well as with previous bands Les Incompetents and Ox. Eagle. Lion. Man. This gives Macpherson a comfortable stage presence and with the crowd on side the whole band are an engaging spectacle, particularly bassist Tom Shickle who looks like he might explode with happiness at any moment.


After the frenzied noise of Twenty Nothing, Spector slow things down with BelieveKyoto Garden and Cocktail Party/Heads in quick succession. Cocktail Partyparticularly sounds great, and the repeated refrain outro of Heads is shouted back at the band with enthusiasm.

Then with little warning Spector drop Celestine… and the crowd loses its shit. Macpherson and Shickle are clearly impressed with the Sheffield audiences sea of utter chaos as the fans at the front sing along and those in the middle are pushed from one side to another. Having barely caught their breath it is straight into another fan favourite in Friday Night, Don’t Ever Let It End.

Using from new album Moth Boys gives the crowd time to pick up contact lenses, frantically try and find their shoes and go to the bar before Chevy Thunder makes it all kick off again for scenes usually reserved for a much heavier band with a circle pit even opening up a couple of times. After proclaiming ‘this is the longest Spector set ever’ at 17 songs, Macpherson thanks the Sheffield crowd and the fact you can tell he fucking means it makes it all the difference.


The Leadmill is perhaps Sheffield’s most iconic venue

The London band save their best moment for last however with unstoppable single ‘All The Sad Young Men’ getting the sing along treatment it deserves. Why songs such as this are ignored whilst bands like Bastille and The 1975 continue to be played everywhere is a mystery but the crowd know they have witnessed something special .

As the knackered but happy audience files out you get the feeling that Spector at Sheffield Leadmill will be a gig that both the crowd and the band remember for years to come.


The 10 Best Songs of 2015

10. Blur – Go Out

Sometimes when a beloved band reforms it can be damage control for fans who just don’t want to see a legacy tarnished. This was probably never going to be an issue for Blur as during their hiatus Graham Coxon has released a string of critically acclaimed solo albums whilst Damon Albarn has been drawing praise for his work with the Gorillaz as well as a million other projects. I understand Alex James has made some damn fine cheese in that time also.

Go Out allayed any fears that fans may have had about quality control and is probably Blur’s best single since Coffee & TV back in 1999. Alex James sleazy bass line is the perfect accompaniment to Albarn’s sneering lyrics.

For fans of: Gorillaz, post The Great Escape Blur, Radiohead.

9. Circa Waves – Lost It

It’s over 15 years since the likes of The Strokes and Arctic Monkeys burst on to the indie scene so now we are starting to see the fruits of their labours with Circa Waves. Effortlessly combining The Strokes ear for a melody with Turner’s lovelorn lyrics, Liverpool’s Circa Waves released one of the best albums of 2015 with Young Chasers.

T-Shirt Weather might be more catchy but Lost It is the best moment on Young Chasers, sounding like it has been lifted directly from The Strokes masterpiece Room on Fire.

For fans of: Arctic Monkeys, Strokes, Courteeners

8. Cribs – An Ivory Hand

Following the demise of Doves and the disappointment of the last couple of Muse albums, The Cribs alongside the Arctic Monkeys, Courteeners and Kasabian have established themselves as one of the most beloved British bands. Still fiercely flying the independent flag, The Cribs latest album For All My Sisters is a return to form after three years away.

For All My Sisters was produced with Weezer producer Rik Ocasek and that is never more evident than on An Ivory Hand. The first single from the album is a sunny slice of sweet summer rock and sounds like it could have been penned by Rivers Cuomo circa 2001 whilst still retaining the trademark Cribs sound.

For fans of: Weezer, Teenage Fanclub, Pixies

7. Frank Turner – The Next Storm

Frank has become a bit ubiquitous in recent years but when he is still releasing gems like The Next Storm it doesn’t matter. If 2013’s Tape Deck Heart was the night in drinking gin soaked with tears, than this year’s follow up Positive Songs for Negative People is the tentative first date on the road to repairing a broken heart.


The Next Storm channels Frank Turner’s previous hit Reasons Not To Be An Idiot with its shout along chorus of ‘I don’t wanna spend the whole of my life inside’. Frank Turner has come a very long way in a relatively short space of time but it is songs like this that keep him relevant.

For fans of: Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Gaslight Anthem

6. Tame Impala – Let It Happen

Critical darlings Tame Impala had the unenviable task of following up 2012’s smash album Lonerism and in Currents they have surpassed all expectations, producing an album that will feature on many an end of year list.

Opening the album is Let It Happen, a hooky and haunting melody that gets under your skin, in your ears and lodged in your brain for days afterwards. It might just be their finest song to date.

For fans of: Temples, Ty Segall, Pink Floyd

5. The Wonder Years – A Song For Ernest Hemingway

In 2013 Pennsylvania’s The Wonder Years released The Greatest Generation, by far the best emo album of the last ten years, but still mainstream success eluded them. Rather than dwell on this they have regrouped and come back strong with No Closer To Heaven.

A Song For Ernest Hemingway is perhaps their most accessible work to date whilst still singing of a black December and Hemingway’s shotgun.

For fans of: Alkaline Trio, Jimmy Eat World, Jawbreaker, Charles Bukowski

4. Modest Mouse – The Ground Walks, With Time In a Box

While there is nothing on new album Strangers to Ourselves to rival the masterpiece that is Float On it is probably Modest Mouse’s most consistent and rewarding album. After Black Keys and Shins recent massive success it felt like this could be the year that Modest Mouse finally break the mainstream. It is a good thing for fans of the Washington misfits however that they remain one of the biggest cult bands in the world.

The Ground Walks, With Time In a Box is a frantic mess that must be a lot of fun live. It was hard to pick just one song from Strangers to Ourselves, such is the overall quality of the album.

For fans of: Tom Waits, White Stripes, QOTSA

3. Vaccines – Handsome/Dream Lover

It is literally impossible to separate two such disparate but equally brilliant songs so they are both included. Handsome was an unexpected return to the breathless garage rock of the Vaccines second album whilst Dream Lover is indicative of their new direction. Dream Loveralso has the most ridiculously catchy guitar riff of 2015. Vintage Vaccines.

For fans of: The Stooges, Talking Heads, Black Keys

2. Courtney Barnett – Pedestrian at Best

Courtney Barnett burst out of the Aussie music scene with a couple of EP’s in 2014 but nobody could foresee how good her début album would be.

Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit is undoubtedly one of the best albums of the year and Pedestrian at Best is one of the best songs of this or any other year.
Barnett’s rambling lyrics twist and turn around the insistent melody and the chorus has had crowds going crazy all over Europe.

For fans of: Honeyblood, Best Coast, Kurt Vile

1. Spector – All The Sad Young Men

Spector’s brilliant début album had the feel of one album wonder about it, indeed it was titled Enjoy It While It Lasts. Frontman Fred Macpherson had other ideas however and while changing the musical direction of the band from the laddy singalongs of the 90’s to the synth heavy heartbreak of the 80’s was a risk, it is a risk that has dragged Spector to a new level.

All The Sad Young Men is an anthem for beach holidays and introspective lonerism alike. The simple but heartfelt lyrics are Macpherson’s trademark and they have never been more effective than with All The Sad Young Man.The fact that the London band are already closing their live sets with it is an indication of how much fans have taken the song to their hearts.

For fans of: The Wombats, Oasis, The Enemy

Honourable Mentions:

  • Genghar – She’s A Witch
  • Menace Beach – Ratworld
  • New Order – Superheated
  • FFS – Things I Wont Get
  • Drenge – We Can Do What We Want