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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Review: 'Rock Band' Tribute to Green Day May Leave You Feeling Jaded

Only a few bands have catalogues deep and versatile enough to carry their own version of "Rock Band." The Beatles? They've already pulled it off. Beyond the Fab Four, it's a short list: the Rolling Stones, the Who, maybe Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin.

Green Day? Not so much.

And this is a band I like a lot — far more than Aerosmith, Metallica and Van Halen, the acts that have anchored "Guitar Hero" editions. The problem is that despite Green Day's ambitions and accomplishments, there's not much variety in its set list. You have your fast, punky songs and your slow, melancholy ballads, but a sort of sameness settles in after a few hours of "Green Day: Rock Band" (MTV Games, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $59.99; Wii, $49.99).

That becomes more apparent when you play the career mode.Developer Harmonix pulled out all the stops when it came to the Beatles, producing elaborate, psychedelic animations for the songs. Green Day, however, gets just three venues to play in: a club called The Warehouse, the National Bowl in Milton Keynes, England, and the Fox Theater in Oakland, Calif.

The disc has 47 songs, including every track from 1994's "Dookie" and 2004's "American Idiot." There's a smattering of singles from the period between those two landmarks, including "Brain Stew/Jaded," ''Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" and "Minority." And there's about half of last year's "21st Century Breakdown" — if you want the rest, you have to pay to download it.

And that's ... well, infuriating. If you're paying $60 for "Green Day: Rock Band," the publisher ought to throw in those extra six tracks for nothing extra. And if you want to transfer the songs on the Green Day disc to your hard drive (so you can play them in other "Rock Band" games), you have to fork over another $10. You get those things free on the $70 "Green Day: Rock Band Plus" edition, but it feels like MTV is nickel-and-diming its loyal audience.

Some of the songs here — pop-punk gems like "Hitchin' a Ride" and "Holiday" — will make it into my regular "Rock Band" rotation. Almost all of them are fun to play, even if just once, and if you're a Green Day fan, this is an essential purchase. With "Rock Band 3" right around the corner, though, casual admirers of the threesome aren't likely to get $60 worth of fun out of this edition. Two stars out of four.



Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A brief update on long-absent David Bowie was buried at the bottom of a long  New York Times profile on the rocker's supermodel wife Iman this weekend. "I'm not thinking of touring," he said. "I'm comfortable." The news is hardly a shock — Bowie has been on an unannounced hiatus for the last six years — but his quote to the Times confirms there will be no new Bowie shows in the near future. What's he been doing with his time? "He draws, paints and collects 20th-century British art," the Times piece says.

Earlier this decade, Bowie released two strong back-to-back albums (2002's Heathen and 2003's Reality) and went on a world tour that many fans considered to be his best in decades. It was cut short, however, when he suffered a heart attack in the summer of 2004. Over the next two years he made surprise appearances onstage with Arcade Fire, Alicia Keys and Pink Floyd's David Gilmour. In 2006, Bowie announced he was going to stage a full concert at the inaugural High Line Festival in New York, but a few months later he backed out. "Due to ongoing work on a new project, David Bowie has announced that it will not be possible for him to perform," a statement read. Four years later, there’s been no sign of that "new project."

Prior to this break, Bowie hadn't taken more than two-and-a-half years off between albums since he began recording in 1964. It's now been nearly seven years since he released a single new track. On her Twitter in May 2009, Iman did suggest he's working on something when asked by a follower if Bowie was recording new music. "He’s cooking up something I'm sure you will love" was her response. A May article published by the AARP noted that Bowie was also working on a new album, but a rep for Bowie denied it to Rolling Stone.


Don't Sleep Longer – Sleep Smarter

Worried that you don't get the fabled eight hours? That's your first mistake, says Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, who thinks it's quality, rather than quantity, that counts. She shares her tips for a better night's rest with Rob Sharp

Sleeping is no mean art," said Friedrich Nietzsche. "For its sake one must stay awake all day." Indeed, maximising slumber duration can be a complex process. Today's anxiety-ridden, deadline-heavy world can steal away our eight hours of heavenly rest and replace it with a night frustratedly gnawing our pillows.

One professional intent on helping us snooze is Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, the author of Tired But Wired, a book released last month that advises taking naps, relaxing and exercising to hibernate effectively and wake up zinging and refreshed.

"I was frustrated about the lack of information out there," says the sleep and energy coach. "Someone once asked me to recommend a good book on sleep and I couldn't find one. I wanted to debunk many myths about sleep. I've had sleep problems myself for many years and I know what it's like. It's awful to wake up not rested and have to face the day."

Britain is an insomniac nation: the NHS spent almost £36m on sleeping pills in 2008-2009, the most recent figures available. That was a 20 per cent increase on the previous year. Medics put the increase down to people's worries over the credit crunch and unemployment. Modern sleeping pills are less addictive, meaning doctors are more likely to prescribe them.

"The biggest myths are that we need seven or eight hours a day, or that we shouldn't wake up in the night," continues Ramlakhan. "But waking early in the morning is perfectly normal. Students can still function well in an exam if they don't sleep the previous night. I sometimes professionally advise football players and I tell them not to worry about sleep before a big game. Even if they don't manage to sleep perfectly they will still perform well." So what's the key to an effective slumber? Ramlakhan explains the dos and don'ts of catching Z's.


Not eating pre-bedtime is less important than you would believe: what is pivotal is breakfast. Eating at the right time conditions your body's metabolism to wake up and wind down. "There are these fallacies swirling around that not eating before bed, or not eating lettuce or tuna, can help you sleep," says Ramlakhan. "But it's more crucial that you eat breakfast first thing in the morning, in what I call a 'metabolic window'. It's a timeframe in which you can give your body an important message. It tells it that in your world there is an adequate supply of food, it can relax, and that it can fall into sleep mode when it needs to."


Margaret Thatcher famously boasted she only needed four hours of shut-eye. Such "role models" perpetuate the myth that there is a one-size-fits-all rule. "In my experience it's all about being attuned to your requirements at different times," continues the expert. Professional footballers training twice a day might need to rest more than sedentary types. "There may be times you need four hours," adds the sleep expert. "At other points that could increase to seven or eight. It's about awareness of your needs."

Power naps

Winston Churchill scrimped on sleep, but liked napping. "You're better well rested than well briefed," was his maxim, and that means taking the odd power nap – it helps us relax, even if we aren't descending into the deep sleep. It has a restorative effect on the body and can help us settle down when it is time to turn in.

Dreams have an important role in categorising memories. If we're going through a rough patch we can fear our nightmares – but maybe we should embrace them. They can give us clues about problems we need to address. "I encourage people to look on dreams as friends," says the expert. "I have a lot of clients in the 42 to 49 age bracket who are experiencing crisis of meaning in their lives and are dreaming a lot. It's their subconscious trying to tell them about the next direction their life should take. Sometimes that can be useful."


Humans are hunter-gatherers and instinctively need to feel safe before nodding off. "The nut and bolts aren't so important unless you're a sensitive sleeper," says Ramlakhan. "But if that's the case then there are various options. Some people benefit from white noise, or fans. Make sure you have effective blinds, or earplugs, if they help. It's all about reducing distractions and sending a message to your brain about your safety."


Get the balance right. If you over-rest you can become lethargic, if you overexercise you could cause muscle strain and burn-out. While spending eight hours staring at a computer monitor can wear out your brain, exercise can make sure your body is ready to wind down when the moment comes. Exercise also produces mood-lightening endorphins. "It aids the production of the complex concoction of hormones – like adenosine and melatonins – which help us bed down and fall asleep at the end of a difficult day," concludes Dr Ramlakhan.


Lady Gaga's "Alejandro" Video: German Expressionism With A Beat!

At this point in her career, Lady Gaga can do whatever she wants, whenever she wants. She is unbound, unbridled, and completely without fear ... and her "Alejandro" video is proof of that. It is a very glamorous, very art-y thing — and anyone expecting a video like her last one should give up that hope right now.

Because, having already run roughshod through the pulpy pop culture of yesteryear with Beyoncé in her "Telephone" video, Gaga decides to play it comparatively straight with "Alejandro," a video that's long on style but short on storyline and "Caged Heat" references.

Which is another way of saying that it's not exactly a fun video. And while it's not fair to compare the two clips — since they have nothing in common outside of being released consecutively — "Alejandro" is about as far from "Telephone" as she could get.

Eschewing the hyperkinetic look, feel and pacing of the latter, "Alejandro" is instead influenced by the smoky, darkly decadent art and fashion of 1920s Weimar Germany (the artistically fertile but politically and economically difficult era, depicted in the 1970s film "Cabaret," that preceded Hitler's rise to power), all carefully crafted close-ups, languorously smoked cigarettes and oppressively cut costumes. And much like the films of the Weimar era — expressionist stuff like "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," "Metropolis" or "M," anything featuring Marlene Dietrich — there's an artful level of moroseness to the entire thing, be it in the opening funeral scene, the bleak staging of several dance sequences, or even the sheer amount of time Gaga spends sprawled across a bed. Try as she might, she just can't seem to find the strength to rise up.

Of course, in working with acclaimed fashion photographer (and proud outsider) Steven Klein, Gaga has created a world that, while oppressive, also looks great. There's art in nearly every frame, and Klein's eye brings to mind the work of Tarsem (R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion," if you're keeping score), particularly in the way he photographs the still scenes: placing actors just so, moving an elbow here or a chin there, getting the angles and the lighting just right ... there are shots here that look as if they were ripped from the wall of a gallery.

The fashion runs the gamut from Steampunk-lite (check Gaga's goggles), to S&M, not to mention a few scenes in which LG is dressed as a (sort of) nun. As she told Larry King last week, there's also a "homoerotic military theme" to the thing — though most of said military attire seems to have been influenced (again) by German soldiers, this time from the Nazi era. It's all fabulously decadent, yet in keeping with the feel of the clip, oddly restrained ... well, except for the part where she's wearing a bra with assault-rifle barrels attached to it. (She is, after all, still Lady Gaga.)

And of course, there are instances that will probably make the Catholic church squirm, scenes that turn sexual standards on their collective ears, and lots of shots that remind you of Madonna's ultra-glam "Vogue" video (or, really, any of her work with director David Fincher). Because, again, this is Lady Gaga. And to that point, "Alejandro" is a work that is singularly, 100 percent her, arty and obtuse and, yes, even a little self-indulgent. But what can we say? By now, she's certainly earned it.