This is a show which is absolutely split down the middle at the moment. Which is to say, to be blunt, the stuff with Picard – even if it doesn’t always make the most logical sense – broadly works at least in part because, well, Patrick Stewart is on screen, and nothing on the Borg cube really does. That’s disappointing in any number of ways, but the Borg cube material basically just exists for people to stand around either telling us things which we the audience already know – which is repetitive and boring, or they’re playing with characters that they don’t quite seem to know what to do with, which is frustrating. Take our Romulan brother and sister pairing, Narek and Narissa. They’re baaaad. And they were baaaad last week as well (and the week before). And now they’re baaaad but with weirdly incestuous undertones.
• OK fine, I’m being a bit facetious. But really, I don’t know what more to say about this episode, it’s just Episode 2 but more. Picard speech, Stuff On A Cube, you know.
• Um. I mean, it’s not that this is bad, but the episode could have been entitled “Furniture Movers!” Subtitle – “Does your furniture need moving around? Call us for low, low prices! Wait, not prices, no money in the future. Eh, you know what we mean”.
It shares it’s name with a great R.E.M. song at least… Well, that was a whole lot of nothing. After a measured but compelling first episode Picard‘s second outing is a whole lot of place-setting and really not a lot more. All that exposition that was skilfully deployed in the first episode, teasing out interesting bits and pieces? All gone now as we get infodump after infodump after infodump in a slightly-desperate-seeming attempt to get us ready for the remaining eight episodes. I know we’re going to need more information than this, but surely there must have a more elegant way of deploying it (There was. And don’t call me Shirley etc).
Jean-Luc is back! But will the series live up the reputation of the titular Captain?
Episode One – “Remembrance“ The question is, really, what do we want from Picard? Or Picard? After a drought of Star Trek shows following Enterprise’s inelegant shuffling off the airwaves in 2005 we suddenly have a deluge – two shows starting up within a couple of years of each other (Discovery having launched in 2017) and more on the horizon, both live action and animated. Discovery’s two seasons have been comparatively well received but it’s a show that often looks more like Star Trek than it ever feels like Star Trek. All the symbols, chevrons, phasers and transporters are perfectly, erm, replicated but often not much else is. It’s competent, slick, and well-acted but there’s a certain something missing, an animating spark that the show only occasionally and tangentially brushes up against. Is this, then, what we want from Picard? That old flavour of Star Trek?
How did the 80’s manage to move on from the 70’s? And did it have to involve so much day-glo?
Disco was always clearly, unambiguously the most important musical genre of the 1970’s and its vast mainstream success both undeniable and significant. The 1980’s, by contrast, don’t really have that kind of easy-to-point-to genre dominance – the story of music in the 1980’s is one of fragmentation, and that fragmentation into smaller and smaller sub-genres continues to this day. Monolithic blocks of “genre” like rock, disco, soul, funk, or punk give way to smaller sub-genres which in turn develop into their own thing.
For a band who were, at least for a while, incredibly popular, The Beautiful South have left a surprisingly small cultural footprint. There was a time when their Greatest Hits album, the magnificently-named Carry On Up The Charts, was said to be in one of every seven households in the UK. Whether anyone went round and actually counted them all remains somewhat up in the air but regardless – that such a thing could even be rumoured to be true gives some impression of just how successful they were. That album, released in 1994, was certified platinum five times in the UK alone (1.5 million sales – compare and contrast with Terence Trent D’Arby last week who “only” got to that number globally). It’s an impressive feat.
Throughout the 80’s we have been tracking the development of the video as an essential tool in any artist’s repertoire to help shift units. From simple stand-and-play live shows through to complex stories or flashy special effects the video stands as a crucial development in how music is consumed. But there is also something of a split happening. For every glorious four-minute epic there are hundreds which are completely disposable – the concentration on image leans towards accusations of superficiality if the song accompanying the video wasn’t good enough.
The expression “imperial phase” is a term coined by Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys to denote a musical act who are at the height of their critical and commercial success, when they can apparently do no wrong, and where success seems all but guaranteed. He used the expression in 1988, around the time of Introspective and “Domino Dancing”, but few bands have had an imperial phase quite like Pet Shop Boys in 1987.
It’s not like the fact that “Rocket Man” is “Space Oddity” Mk II is exactly a secret. There’s a mash-up that pretty easily combines both songs and makes the overlap pretty explicit. John himself played both “Rocket Man” and “Space Oddity” as a tribute to Bowie after his death, segueing from one to the other. If he’s prepared to do that, well, there’s not really a lot left to say on that subject. Both strike a distant, melancholic tone, though “Space Oddity”’s loss is literal whereas “Rocket Man” is more concerned with the ennui that comes from an ordinary job, even when that job is flying off to Mars and leaving your family behind.
Prince is, it will come as no surprise to anyone to discover, an astoundingly talented individual. He’s one of the icons of the 80’s, a gifted multi-instrumentalist and, during his Imperial phase, apparently incapable of touching anything musically that didn’t immediately turn out to be insanely successful. This gets mentioned because “Manic Monday” – a song written by Prince – was held off the Number 1 in America spot by “Kiss”. A song written by Prince. Sometimes it just seems like showing off, y’know? He’s playing synth and piano on this version too. There was just no stopping him.