Friday, 22 August 2008

[37] 106.1 Rock Radio Manchester

While tuning in the radio in my parents' new car the other week, I stumbled across a new station, 106.1 Rock Radio. This has only recently started broadcasting, and takes great pride in being Manchester's First Classic Rock station. Its image is carefully managed (check the billboard advertisement below), with a strong focus on uncompromising, balls-to-the-wall irreverence (which often jars with its more confusing song choices). Some of its continuity soundbites, custom ads and jingles come off as incredibly forced and over-the-top. Nevertheless, its DJs (fronted by Salford/Manchester radio legend Mike Sweeney) mostly manage to keep it together - and their musical aims are well-intentioned.

[Photograph courtesy of Aidan O'Rourke]

For years now I've lobbied for a good Rock station in the UK (or the North West). I feel that there is a great chunk of classic music that is left out by the too-simplistic programming found on the airwaves in this country (mostly neophilic , or otherwise safe easy listening or crass nostalgia). 106.1 Rock Radio works well when it sticks to the 1960s and 1970s 'pub-rock' staples in the Classic Rock canon, bringing a fair amount of music from under-represented household names (Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple). It even goes so far to include unorthodox programming procedures to push its rock ideology, and to keep things fresh, at one point playing Zeppelin's 'Heartbreaker', followed by its subsequent album track 'Living Loving Maid', or indeed, playing the first, 13 minute, movement of Pink Floyd's 'Shine on You Crazy Diamond'.

This adds up to about half of 106.1's output; the other half is where its programming falters. Once the 1980s begins, and the previously solid foundations of rock music start to shift and develop in different directions, the choices become scattershot. With this, the happy surprises disappear, to be replaced by an unfortunate amount of Def Leppard and Bon Jovi (two of the most-represented bands in my sampling). Equally, when venturing towards the present, too much of the music is tame and mainstream, and barely 'rock', with many boozy stadium anthems by the likes of Simple Minds, Oasis and EMF, or neutered coma-songs by Chad Kroeger or U2. At these points, you could be listening to any station - what radio station in Manchester DOESN'T play 'Roll With It'? Unfortunately, and surprisingly, various styles of rock - such as metal, underground and alternative - are quite rare in the playlist . Certain bands do crop up, like REM or Nirvana, although the choices are predictable (the hits for the latter, anything off Green or Document for the former). This is an interesting inversion of my reaction to the other rock station with which I'm familiar - Radio Rock in Finland. That station is perfect for the post-NWOBHM and alternative, yet abysmal for anything pre-1979.

It's a shame to nitpick, as no radio station can be perfect. If you want perfect, there are MP3 playlists for that purpose. 106.1 works well as it fills a void left by the rest of AM/FM radio. No doubt it is still finding its feet, and in time it will develop and improve. Nevertheless, I'm glad it exists.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

[36] Final Crisis #1: Director's Cut

I wrote this piece last week, so the references to 'today' are a little inaccurate.


Today I went down to pick up the latest issue of Final Crisis. This issue, as well as the latest Batman, was delayed. This is a shame, as I was hoping to pick at least one of these comics up in New York when I was there in July, but nevermind. Final Crisis #3 is a great continuation, and Grant Morrison still surprises with his complex and intelligent approach to the 'epic crossover' event series. I don't feel too qualified to post individual issue reviews yet, so I will defer to Joey Esposito of CC2K, who thinks that Final Crisis is shaping up to be a 'destructive masterpiece'.

I also picked up a special 'Director's Cut' edition of Final Crisis #1. I initially thought this would be a reprint, with extra material. I was half-right. The original issue is reprinted, although in an early inked form (without colour or lettering). This is pretty cool, although by no means essential. More interesting is the extra material, which consists of Morrison's script and a 'Director's Commentary' by Morrison and artist JG Jones. If there ever was a series that begged for a commentary, Final Crisis is it. Morrison packs in so many references, allusions and foreshadowings that even hardened DC fanboys are often left puzzled. However, Morrison and Jones hold back from real depth in this commentary, and stick with basic reactions, and some anecdotes from the creative process. Equally, as the series is ongoing, and features new twists and revelations in each issue, Morrison can only hint or avoid, as opposed to truly reveal his little details.

This is the real failing of the product itself. The series is barely halfway released, so a Director's Cut is not only restricted in terms of its relevance, but seems presumptive. Not truly enlightening, there isn't much here to warrant a $4.99 (£3.60) price tag. Readers are much better served by community-led projects, such as Final Crisis Annotations, which works as both a resource for references, but also a hub for discussion and interpretation. Final Crisis #1: DC, sadly, offers little to inform, even spark, the readers' theories.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

[35] Back to normal?

I haven't updated in nearly a month. I initially had to go to London, then Birmingham for my graduation, and almost immediately afterwards I went to New York and Finland. Great experiences, now back to normality.

I have a few posts in the pipeline, hopefully they will go up in the next few days. I need to finish off the Paranoid Park review for Film International, and then I'm also reviewing Insecticide, which I picked up in the USA, for CC2K (check Jason Ross interviewing v/o actor Greg Abbey here). As well as flat- and job-hunting.

Check back soon.