Sunday, January 31, 2016

Pop Goes The Artist - Jon Anderson - Owner of A Lonely Heart

If the name Jon Anderson doesn't ring a bell for you, it's alright; you may only know him as the lead singer from Yes. Well, the former lead singer that is to say, but he's still the one you hear on every Yes song played on the radio. Prior to his departure due to illness in 2008 (and then the band just moving on without him) Anderson's only other time away from the group was during the Drama album period from 1980 to about 1982. It was at this point that the band was brought back together and scored a massive hit with the song, "Owner of a Lonely Heart."

"Owner of a Lonely Heart" was actually the work of the band's guitarist and other vocalist at the time, Trevor Rabin. Anderson may have sung the lead vocal on it, but it's not his work. For some reason though, in 1998, he re-recorded it for an odd compilation album called, Yes, Friends and Relatives. The results of it are...unique.

Somehow Anderson managed to change a classic rock standard into a dance/pop song; something even more insane when you consider Anderson's solo career is so far away from this kind of material, it's doubtful he even knows that dance music is. But here it is, "Owner of a Lonely Heart" with all the production you'd need for a '90s dance mix.

I'll stick to the original, but at least you know have documentation of this...oddity in the Yes canon. 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Critical Cast - Top 10 Worst Episodes of Frasier - Part 4 (Final)

And finally Erik and I wrap up our discussion of the Top 10 worst Frasier episodes of all time. So if you really wanted to know what episodes to avoid like the plagues; this is your guide.

My thanks to Erik for helping contribute to this, and for an upcoming episode about the best Frasier ever was.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Terrible Songs That I Like - Dancing On The Ceiling - Lionel Richie

What The Song Is - The title track from Lionel Richie's 1986 hit album. It peaked at number 2 on the American Billboard Charts. It's largely driven by keyboards and a danceable beat. It's firmly entrenched in the '80s pop genre and was accompanied by a music video that was also a huge byproduct of the mid '80s culture. And yes, it did feature Lionel Richie dancing on a ceiling.

Why It's Terrible -  "Oh what a feeling, when we're dancing on the ceiling." There's the chorus. The verses just consist of Richie commenting on how it looks like people are having a good time, having a ball, and how this somehow has either physically or figuratively led to people dancing on the ceiling. And apparently that produces quite a feeling. It's terribly inane and stupid. The rhymes are painfully obvious, corny, and have little to no thought put into them.

Why I Still Like It - I'll be damned if the keyboard chord progression doesn't hook me in. There's something about it, especially during the chorus that draws me right in. The lyric that it supports might be stupid as all hell but the arrangement is surprisingly solid; especially if you like this kind of '80s pop. When the song goes into its final repetitions of the chorus, the keyboards and bass are brought even more to the forefront of the mix, solidifying many of the songs hooks and giving the track a kind of a build, even if it's not a true build up. The 12" extended version of the song makes this even better by drawing out this closing section even more, letting that accentuated bass thump away for even longer.

Final Notes; I've never been a big fan of Lionel Richie; not with The Commodores and certainly not solo. But despite my distaste for his music, I can not and will not deny when a song legitimately grabs my attention....even when it's as terrible as "Dancing On The Ceiling." ...Which I've been listening to on a loop while writing this.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Critical Cast - Episode 1 - Destiny Featuring Orlan Drake

Now that I've aired the pilot episode of The Critical Cast about Frasier it's time we move on to the official debut starring myself and Mr. Orlan Drake. Orlan and I are both active players of the video game, Destiny. Normally I'm not a fan of massively multiplayer online games, but I found myself very much enjoying this title and managed to hook Orlan onto it as well.

Because the game can be daunting to new players, he and I decided to do a podcast about beginning Destiny and providing new players with some hints and tips. Due to YouTube limitations that I'm facing, each part of the episode can only be 15 minutes, so the hour long podcast is divided up into four parts. 

Listen, comment, subscribe, complain, any and all of the above. Your support and interaction is greatly appreciated as I try to cultivate something that you'll find entertaining and enjoyable. 

More episodes are to follow but for now, enjoy this inaugural edition of The Critical Cast.

The Critical Cast - Top 10 Worst Episodes of Frasier - Part 3

We're getting closer and closer to the top of the garbage pile as Erik and I continue to discuss the worst episodes of Frasier.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Best Webshow You're Not Watching: Portscenter

In 2016, if a game is released for multiple gaming consoles, odds are that it's going to be virtually identical from platform to platform. Take Fallout 4 for instance; the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions were designed to be the same. Sure there may be some performance differences based on the compatibility between the hardware and software but the intent was to make an identical gaming experience. Those lucky PC users though have the luxury of mods and console commands to make their experience more unique.

But mods are built off of a core experience that's already established. What would it be like if different versions of a game were more substantially different? Gamers who are accustomed to handheld devices ranging from their smartphone to Nintendo's various Game Boys already have been exposed to this. It's frequently the case where a mobile or handheld version of a game is completely different from the console version thanks to them having obvious differing levels of power.

Go back a generation of games and you could see this happening frequently between the Xbox 360, PS3, and the Wii. If a game was released for all three systems, odds are that one of them would get a version not quite like the to take a guess as to which?

If you guessed the Wii, you're right. Here's the game Ghostbusters released in 2009. One version is the PS3, the other is the Wii. The Xbox 360 version easily could've been used as an example of the PS3 picture below, since the games are the same, but there's quite an obvious difference with the Wii's take on it. The characters are cartoonish instead of realistic, the resolution is much lower, and though you can't see it from the pictures there have been some heavy changes to the gameplay. Interestingly enough, the Wii version actually supports split screen co-op for the story mode while the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions don't.  The game was also released on PS2 and PSP, looking like the Wii port, and the DS version is just something completely different altogether.

The number of these kind of differences have a direct relationship to the age of the console generation. Back in the days of the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, there were a tremendous amount of differences between many of the games that got ported. Sometimes a game would share the same name but be completely different; as is the case of Batman: The Animated Series for the SNES and Sega Genesis. The SNES is an action/platforming brawler that models itself after various episodes of the show, the Genesis version is a run and gun side-scroller.

Now to be fair, that's not exactly a port so much as it is a completely different game of the same name. Compare this to what happened with the 1991 arcade title, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time. In 1992 this arcade brawler was ported to the SNES with some new bosses added and some graphic effects and sound clips edited out. That year also led to the release of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: They Hyperstone Heist on the Sega Genesis. While not a direct port of Turtles in Time it does use many of the same assets, remixes the levels, and plays virtually the same as its SNES counterpart.

Confused yet? Ports, remakes and the like can quickly become a terribly convoluted web of name changes, similarities, and differences. Lo, there is someone who can help you navigate this tangled mess of titles: Ben Paddon.

Ben is the host of the YouTube channel and show, Portscenter. As you can probably guess from the name of the show and the paragraphs that led up to this point, his show discusses ports of various video games. Each episode of the show focuses on one game and how it changed from system to system, release to release.

Portscenter debuted it's first episode on YouTube in July of 2012 with an episode dedicated to the classic first person shooter, Doom. The production values on this early episode don't compare to how much stronger they'd be in the future, but it's still very well shot and produced. Ben mixes strong amounts of game play footage with shots of him so you can get a feel for the game he's talking about while also giving the show a very personable face in Ben himself.

I first discovered Portscenter about a year ago from the time of this writing when I was desperately searching for something entertaining and game related to watch. At that point I had gone through all the videos from JonTron, Caddicarus, ProJared, etc. and was craving something new. Somehow I stumbled upon Portscenter and was instantly hooked. I plowed through every episode released at that time in one massive, marathon session. It was easy to keep watching given how well the episodes were presented, Ben's knowledge of the games, his telling of his personal experiences with them, and the variety of games he covers.

One of my particular favorites is his episode on The Addams Family. I personally have fond memories of this game as I owned both the SNES and NES versions of it. Ben focuses on what I knew as the SNES version, but also goes on to discuss that the game was also released for the Sega Genesis, Amiga, and Atari ST. If those last two systems sound strange to you, that's okay, they sounded strange to me too at first, but we'll return to one of those momentarily.

Ben goes through and shows how the Atari ST version doesn't have smooth screen scrolling, notes that both that version and the Amiga one lack the weaponry found in the SNES and Genesis versions, and even goes into the rather unique NES version of the game. But by that, I don't mean the NES version I mentioned I had; see this is where it gets really interesting. The NES game titled The Addams Family is a fairly crappy platforming game that involves Gomez Addams trying to find money scattered around his mansion and has completely different levels than the SNES game. But both the SNES and NES received sequels called Pugsley's Scavenger Hunt. The SNES version is a completely original game with new levels, enemies, etc. and is based off of the mid 90s Addams Family cartoon instead of the movie. The NES version is also based off the cartoon but is actually a slimmed down version of the original SNES Addams Family game. They copied the levels as best they could and condensed them into the NES cartridge. It's fascinating if you enjoy this kind of video game trivia and Ben does a wonderful job of presenting all this information in an easy to understand and bitingly sarcastic form.

See, Ben's English, and he has just a wee bit of that fondness for dry, English humor; or should I say, "humour." And by "wee bit," I mean he's all into it. He's perfectly okay with dropping the F-bomb when necessary, and even when not necessary; he "takes the piss" out of Americans, quickly and frequently insults terrible games, and readily wears his biases on his sleeve. Remember that Amiga thing I mentioned above? Well that ties back in here with Ben's English-ness. The Amiga was a home computing and gaming system that sold dreadfully here in the States, but actually did decently well in Europe. Ben has very fond memories of the system and it's games and is not ashamed to admit it. Put it this way; if there's a game that was debatable better for the Amiga then another system, Ben's going to favor the Amiga. Not that he doesn't acknowledge the shortcomings of it all though; you'll hear on more than one occasion the frustration of a one-button Amiga joystick and pressing "up" to jump.

Portscenter is an incredibly informative show for those who really enjoy gaming. There have been a lot of webshows that make a name for themselves by playing and making fun of bad games, and Ben does that with bad ports, but there's also a LOT of information he gives you about these titles. The Mortal Kombat II episode is great for this as not only do you get to see how bad the PlayStation version of this title was, but you get some wonderful inside information as to why it turned out so terribly. Or in the Darkwing Duck centered show, Ben discusses how the NES title is really just a Mega Man game in disguise. Even though it's not a port in any way, it does provide something for fans of the classic Capcom franchise to look at and hopefully enjoy.

The best episode Ben's done is also one that embodies what makes Portscenter different and special in the online video universe. In November of 2014, Ben uploaded a video in dedication to his mother who had recently passed away. The episode entitled, "Deluxe PacMan + Tettrix" discusses how Ben's mother enjoyed gaming, helped shape his interests growing up, and was a huge supporter of him starting his show.

This edition could've easily turned into a long, heartfelt testimonial, but Ben makes it very much like any other episode of the show as he deftly weaves kind words and sentiments about his mother with his typical biting analysis and discussion of the games she enjoyed. There's a few laughs, some very heartfelt moments, and a genuine sense of love and appreciation that is shown and not told. Ben doesn't just put himself out there and break from what he normally does, he just weaves his emotion into his typical style to make a tribute that feels more like a respectful celebration than a time of mourning.

Portscenter is easily one of the best gaming related shows on YouTube. Very few programs combine the level of information with entertainment that this does, and fewer still are presented with the sarcastic yet personable attitude that Ben has. The more invested you are in gaming, the more you're likely to get out of the show, but you don't need to be a enthusiast to find the material interesting.  If Ben's talking about a game you've never heard of, you can be sure you'll get enough background information about it to understand what changes occurred to the game when being ported and why these changes were good or bad.

I really can't talk this show up enough. Go grab a snack, something nice to drink, sit down and enjoy. Unless you've already seen the show in which case, do all of the above except enjoy it again.

The Critical Cast - Top 10 Worst Frasier Episodes - Part II

On today's episode of The Critical Cast, Erik and I continue to discuss the worst episodes of Frasier. Hopefully you enjoy it, and please, leave comments, suggestions, and your own worst episodes here on the blog or on the YouTube page.

Neglected Hits - My Brave Face - Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney has already been featured once on my Neglected Hits segment, but I can't help but include him again thanks to this wonderful little gem from 1989.

Flowers In the Dirt was meant to be a comeback album of sorts for McCartney thanks to the poor reception of his previous two works, Give My Regards To Broad Street and Press To Play. There's a crossover between this record and Elvis Costello's Spike in that each artist co-wrote some songs together that appeared on each other's works. Costello wound up having a hit with "Veronica" and McCartney wound up with a lesser known hit in the form of "My Brave Face."

The track opens with McCartney's vocal harmonies and gives way to a plucky bassline and simple guitar riff. The production is very polished, as was typical of the late '80s, highlighting McCartney's voice and bass especially. 

Unlike many of his other songs with their lyrical absurdities, McCartney is grounded here by Costello's writing influence. When Paul sings, "Ever since you went away, I've had this sentimental inclination not to change a single thing..." the flow and style of the lyric is undeniably Costello. McCartney's influence on the other hand can be heard in the changes the song goes through and the hook after hook he throws at the listener. 

The highest this song ever got on the U.S. Billboard charts was #25, and #18 in the UK. It easily deserves more credit than its received over time, and the fact that I have not once heard it on the radio probably speaks more to the time it was recorded rather than its quality. Up until his collaborations with Kanye West and Rihanna, this was McCartney's last top 40 single in the states and there's no reason it shouldn't have been his last top 10 for the time.

Approaching The Pokemon Re-releases With Caution

When Nintendo announced that they would be re-releasing the original Pokemon games on the Nintendo 3DS eshop, a lot of video game fans became very happy very fast. Even though the Pokemon games have continued to have intense amounts of success long after the original titles hit the Game Boy, many of the original fans grew out of or away from the franchise. Thanks in large part to the anime, toys, and merchandise machine in general, Pokemon got labeled as a "kiddie' game, one that was made for, and meant to be played by, young kids.

So as fans of the original games went through middle school, high school, and college or the work force, there were some that appreciated the games for their simple yet complex RPG elements, and others who couldn't get past the childish facade that the games seemed to be associated with.

Thanks to the merchandising and anime not being crammed down everyone's throat in a heavy handed manner any longer, as of 2016, the Pokemon games have become more acceptable for people of any and all age range to enjoy without being teased or harassed for their enjoyment of it. A lot more emphasis has been placed on the intricacies and competitive nature of battling; these elements have helped the series be taken much more seriously.

Going back to these original games is going to pose a bit of a problem to some fans. See, there's three types of Pokemon fans for the most part:
1) People who grew up with the original games and have stuck with the franchise ever since.
2) Gamers who came into the franchise later and never played the original releases.
3) People who were fans of the original games but grew away from them.

These re-releases may only be really appreciated by fans of the third group.

Many of us original generation of Pokemon fans didn't realize at the time just how broken Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow are. Much has been made on the internet about the glitches and errors that have been discovered and exploited. Missing No, the Mew Glitch, the Lost City; the list goes on. Pokemon was an ambitious project of a game, and quite a few mistakes were left in the programming and coding.

Those glitches that I listed above are still things that most players won't encounter during the course of a normal playthrough; but there's also a litany of problems that come about in normal play. Some of these things are obvious errors in the game code, like how the move "focus energy" is supposed to increase a Pokemon's chances of performing a critical hit, but it actually somehow divides it by four.

There's also a glitch where your Pokemon can skip learning a move if they level up two levels at a time. Let's say for instance you have a level 5 Pokemon that learns a move at level 6; however, you earn enough experience in one fight that catapult you from level 5 to level 7. Anything you would've gained at level 6 becomes eliminated.

Going beyond coding mistakes, the games also weren't thought out from the perspective of being well-balanced in a competitive way. The Psychic type Pokemon are extremely overpowered. Unlike the games to follow, Generation 1 Pokemon titles operate off of only four statistics for the Pokemon: Attack, Defense, Speed, and Special. There is no Special Attack and Special Defense, just...Special. The end result of this is that any Pokemon that's supposed to have a great amount of Special Attack or Defense power is going to be highly rated in each. This means that a powerful attack automatically becomes a powerful defender; at least in terms of special abilities. So that would make like...all the Psychic type Pokemon fall into that category.

Psychic types are also strong against Poison types, and as it just so happens, a LOT of Pokemon are either primary Poison types, or have it as a second type, i.e. Grass/Poison, Bug/Poison, and Ghost/Poison. The latter two of those are especially important. Psychic types are supposed to be weak against Ghost and Bug moves, but the problem with this is that almost all the Bug types are partnered with Poison type, and the only THREE Ghost type Pokemon are all Ghost/Poison, making them weak against Psychic attacks.

These balancing issues go even deeper thanks to problems with the actual moves. Ghost type attacks are supposed to be "super effective" against Psychic types, but none of the Ghost type moves actually work this way. There are three official Ghost types moves in Red/Blue/Yellow: one of them is Confuse Ray (which doesn't do damage and causes confusion), another is "Night Shade" that only does as much damage as the level a Pokemon is at, and the final one is "Lick," which is a weak attack in general. So only ONE of the THREE Ghost type attacks could actually damage a Psychic type...and even then it wasn't coded properly to actually work against a Psychic type.

Bug moves were even more ridiculous in this matter. There were four Bug type moves: Leech Life, String Shot, Twineedle, and Pin Missile. All of these attacks do damage accept for String Shot, but the bigger issue is that the Pokemon that learn these moves are either not a Bug type at all, or are also part Poison type. Twineedle for example is learned by Beedrill, who is Bug/Poison: don't want to put him up against an Alakazam.  Jolteon learns Pin Missile, but he's an Electric type. Paras and Parasect are the only Bug types who actually learn a damaging, Bug type move in the form of Leech Life.

Now, that third group of fans I mentioned before are probably not going to care about this so much; they're not playing the game for its competitive matchmaking metagame, they're playing it for sheer nostalgic enjoyment. As for those fans in the first two groups, those who have been with the series all along or came into it later, are going to be in for a potentially cringe-worthy surprise by returning to these games. There's a very good reason why Pokemon Red and Blue were remade for the Game Boy Advance as Pokemon Fire Red and Leaf Green; the original games were comparatively broken next to the ones that followed them.

The deeper and more invested you get into Pokemon, the more you begin to see and realize just how deep and intricate the games have become; how very much the mechanics have changed since Red/Blue/Yellow. I personally even find it difficult to go back to the Game Boy Advance games because of  how the difference between whether an attack is considered "special" or "physical" is handled. The refinements that have been made from Generation IV onward have helped the games become the far more respected competitive battlers that they are today.

So as the due date for the re-releases of Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow quickly approaches, I want to caution those who are looking forward to diving back into these nostalgic classics. There's quite a bit wrong with these old games; problems that may loom too larger for nostalgia to overshadow. If these three games were all you knew growing up, then you're in for a treat; but those of us with the knowledge of what Pokemon has become, may end up looking back in disbelieving shame at the origins of a beloved franchise.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Great Video Game Music - Frost Man - Mega Man 8

Capcom's Mega Man series is one of the most well known franchises in the history of video games. Even though at the time of this writing in 2016 the "blue bomber" has been sadly forgotten by the company that created it, the series is still notable for its longevity, difficulty, and its music. The first 6 Mega Man games were all released for the NES and are lauded for their 8-bit musical compositions. Mega Man 2 in particular is often seen as the musical highlight of the franchise, sporting some incredibly memorable tunes to compliment its stellar gameplay and design.

The Super Nintendo would be home to the first three games in the Mega Man X franchise; a spin-off that takes place far into the future of that universe and is seen as an edgier and more complex series of games. The SNES also played host to Mega Man 7, a continuation of the classic series but done in 16-bit as opposed to 18-bit style.

Then came Mega Man 8 on the PlayStation. The quality of the game is debated amongst fans, but the increase in technology and games being on discs instead of cartridges led to a number of improvements; one of which is the music.

This is the theme to Frost Man's stage. The keyboards give the track a kind of wintery feel, but when combined with the electronic percussion, trumpet and slap bass, combine to make an acid jazz style of sound. The bass really is the star of the show. Seriously, the groove it lays down is not just good by video game standards, it's good by jazz standards too. The way it relentlessly thumps along is fascinating to listen to in its intricacies. 

The upgrade to the PlayStation may not have helped Mega Man in terms of playability, but the quality of the music received a very strong shot in the arm. Even if you prefer the older chip-tunes, it's hard to deny how much this song does so well. 

Neglected Hits - Don't Cry - Asia

As you may have guessed from several of my other posts, I love me some music of the '80s. What isn't as evident from this blog (if you're reading it chronologically that is) is my love of progressive rock. So imagine my surprise to find out that there was a supergroup of progressive rock musicians who made a bunch of '80s styled rock with pop hooks. Their name: Asia.

The band was made up of the four dashing gentleman you see above:
John Wetton: Bass and Vocals - Previously from King Crimson, Family, and other bands
Steve Howe: Guitars and backing vocals: Previously from Yes
Carl Palmer: Drums and percussion: Previously from ELP
Geoffrey Downes: Keyboards and backing vocals: Previously from The Buggles and Yes

Their debut, self-titled album in 1982 was massively successful, going 4x multi-platinum in the states and yielding two hits: "Heat of the Moment" and "Only Time Will Tell." Those two songs are about all you'll ever hear from them considering their follow up, Alpha was not as successful, but still managed to go platinum.

Alpha did however yield a top 10 hit with the song "Don't Cry." I heard this song exactly once on the radio when a local station was doing a bit of a gimmick and playing different songs by different bands that shared the same title. The result was them playing Guns N' Roses' "Don't Cry," Asia's "Don't Cry," and Seal's "Don't Cry." It was an interesting mix to say the least...

Anyway, it's a really poppy song that relies on a heavy hook in the chorus to sell itself. Unlike the previous hits by Asia, there's not really a noteworthy instrumental performance unless you count the intro that layers Downes' keyboards with Howe's stinging guitar and is hammered home with Palmer's powerful drum fills. Outside of that, it's pretty by the numbers, but man does that chorus have a strong draw.

Surprisingly, "Don't Cry" was actually a bigger hit on the Billboard charts than "Only Time Will Tell," but you'll hear the latter much more than the former since Asia's self-titled record is the only one history seems to remember. Under normal circumstances I'd probably cry about it a little but...well, that would defeat the point of the song...

The Top 10 Worst Frasier Episodes Part 1

One of my very favorite shows of all time is the long running Cheers spin-off, Frasier. Running from 1993-2004, the 11 year run of this program garnered a record setting number of Emmy awards and a lifetime of laughs for me. I've seen every episode of this show over a dozen times, and that number will continue to grow as the years continue.

During my days at college, I made a friend named Erik who was also a massive fan of the program. Our mutual love of the program led to many nights of borrowing the audio/visual equipment in a classroom after hours and throwing the episodes up on the projector to watch them.

So now Erik and I have scoured our memory banks to deliver our top 10 best and worst episodes of Frasier. Just to show that we're not ardent fanboys, we're going to start with the worst of the lot. In this episode of The Critical Cast, Erik and I chat about the show and what makes a bad episode of Frasier, a bad episode.

We sincerely hope you enjoy!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Great Video Game Music - Last Battle - Xenosaga

It's not often you come across a video game song that's written in 6/4 time but thanks to Yasunori Mitsuda, we have one.

"Last Battle" is fittingly enough, a song from the last battle of Xenosaga: Episode I. Most final boss themes are known to be grand, bombastic, epic, threatening, etc. This isn't one of those kinda themes. "Last Battle" opens up calmly with the duo of piano and violin. There is a quickly established sense of unease however in in how quickly repeated the violin melody is, and how the 6/4 time accentuates this. As the track continues, a bit of vocal chanting is inserted and then after about 40 seconds a drum track comes into the mix.

If the song wasn't unsettling enough at this point, the drumming has an odd syncopation to it; that is it stresses odd notes that you wouldn't traditionally find stress on. If you're not sure what that means, try tapping along to the drum beat. You'll likely find that the snare drum in the song hits at a time you don't expect it to until you listen to the rhythm for a while. 

There is a more piano-centric breakdown to the song that softens the tone and drops the drums, but then comes right back into the main melody with full force.

When compared to other final boss themes, "Last Battle" is surprisingly understated. It relies more on its time signature, percussion, and limited instrumentation to create a unique atmosphere rather than bombast and power. 

3 ACTUAL Problems With Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Just to make something very clear first, SPOILER WARNINGS. So, there, I said it. Stop reading if you haven't seen The Force Awakens.

I've gone on record through social media of being very disappointed in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I strongly feel that the film is a sorry rip-off of Episode IV: A New Hope and does a powerful disservice to its original characters by putting them through near identical circumstances that Luke, Leia, Han, Obi-Wan and the Rebel Alliance went through previously. People have said "history repeats," "Star Wars is like poetry and it rhymes," but to me those are all just statements that are trying to excuse lazy, recycled writing.

Regardless of my quibbles, there are other critics and commenters that have been nitpicking the movie to death, just so they can seemingly tear it apart for the sake of being "hip" or just wanting to go against the grain. People have criticized Rey's quick mastery of the force, how Maz Kanata had Luke's lightsaber, and a great number of other things. A lot of these are matters that are either answered within the movie itself, or with the above examples, are things that may be potentially answered in future films. Personally, I think stories should be more self-contained and avoid leaving things hanging, but that's personal preference and we'll just have to see how things develop as the next two films come out.

Putting the issues with the recycled plot elements aside, there are some legitimate story and character issues I have The Force Awakens that I'm surprised more people haven't brought up. Now, if you can answer some of these questions or provide some legitimate theories as to why the events happened they way they have, I'd greatly appreciate the input. So here are three pf my seemingly legitimate issues with the film that affect its plot and characters.

1) Where Did Starkiller Base Get The Power For Its Second Shot?

The New Order's grand weapon is a planet with a super laser built into it that not only can fire across light years, but can do so with enough force to destroy an entire system worth of planets in one, fell swoop. Where does it get the power to launch something so powerful? Well, it drains the power of the sun that it orbits. That's all well and good, but after it drains a star, what happens then? First of all, that would effectively kill two systems, the one they were firing at, and the one they're in. So is the Starkiller base able to move? If so, how do you move an entire planet through space with engines, let alone hyperspace?  Where do you get the power for that? How does everything actually stay intact on the planet without getting ripped apart by the increase in velocity? What about the gravitational forces the bass exudes on the solar system it's in; you can't just insert a planet sized celestial object into a system without it heavily affecting the gravitational balance. The Death Star may have been large, but it was still small enough to not mess with the gravitational pull of other planets and moons. Not to mention unlike the Starkiller Base, the Death Star was built as a giant ship; it was designed and built to move via engines. Planets are not. If you're a writer, you can't just create large weapons without justifying their powers and defining their limitations. This was not done at all with the Starkiller Base, Normally I'd be willing to let a lot of these things slide, but when they're tied to a major plot device, details are a necessary thing.

2) What Made Finn Return To The Resistance?

So Finn is a stormtrooper in the New Order that has a crisis of conscience and flees. Even when the Resistance and Rey want him to join, he still decides to go his own way and leaves. After the Starkiller Base fires its super weapon and annihilates the Republic, Finn panics again and decides to return to the Resistance. Once back with them he reveals that he knows the weaknesses of Starkiller Base because he used to work on it as a custodian. So, he fully knows what the base is capable of, he knows how vicious The First Order is firsthand, so why did them firing off the weapon make him suddenly become willing to fight against them? Literally nothing had happened with them that he wasn't already aware they were capable of. By the definition of his character at that time, he should've just kept running.

3) Why Did Captain Phasma Lower The Shields

Once Han and Finn are about to enter Starkiller Base to lower the shields, Finn reveals he actually has no idea HOW to lower the shields. Ultimately they end up finding and holding hostage, one of the stormtrooper leaders, Captain Phasma. Phasma was introduced to us much earlier in the film as a tough as nails, military captain. This is one of the reasons Finn specifically wanted to find her was to pay her back for her previous actions. Somehow they convince her to lower the shields to the base. Let's think of this from Phasma's position though. She's a trained soldier who has shown utmost devotion to her cause; why would she lower the shields to the base and put everything she's worked for at risk? She's smart enough to know that they can't lower the shields by themselves, so if they kill her, they lose their shot at doing so. Not to mention, if they kill her, she's still dying for her cause just as she's put her life on the line time and time again in battle. If she lowers the shields, it puts everything at risk; if she doesn't it puts her life at risk in exchange for the greater cause. Which of these actions is more in her character? Based on everything we've seen, there's no reason to think she would care more about her life than the New Order.

With that, I leave the floor open for respectful debate and discussion. If you have a different perspective on these situations then I would greatly appreciate hearing them. Perhaps you have some insight that that would enlighten me or maybe I completely missed something that you caught. Let me know in the comments and thanks in advance for taking the time to read and respond.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

15 Songs To Move You Beyond David Bowie's Greatest Hits

The passing of David Bowie is a tremendous loss to the world; one that can not be summed up in words. I've stated it before on social media but will state it again now; there are many people who can justly be called icons legends, and larger than life, but none of them are David Bowie. The only appropriate term for Bowie is... well, Bowie. He was who he was and that's more than many of us could ever think of being.

Oddly enough, despite his decades long musical career, Bowie never really had a lot of chart success in the United States. From his first American single in 1969 to his final one in 2016, Bowie only racked up 6 top 10 hits and a total of 13 top 40 pieces on the Billboard charts. Two of these 13 were duet collaborations, one being with Queen and resulting in "Under Pressure," the other being his cover of "Dancing In The Street" with Mick Jagger. Bowie's last chart appearance in the states was in 1997 with his more industrial rock piece, "I'm Afraid of Americans," but his last successful charting was "Never Let Me Down" in 1987.

To put this in perspective, let's look at the top 40 reign of some other artists; some legends, some decidedly not. The years given are of the time from their first appearance on the Billboard top 40 to the year of their last appearance there.

David Bowie: 1969 - 1987 (18 years) - Top 10 Hits: 6 Top 40 hits: 13

Huey Lewis & The News: 1982 - 1991 (9 years) - Top 10 hits: 12, Top 40 hits: 17

Bruce Springsteen: 1975 - 1997 (22 years) - Top 10 hits: 12, Top 40 hits: 18

Electric Light Orchestra: 1974 - 1986  (12 years) - Top 10 hits: 7 Top 40 hits: 20

Eagles: 1972 - 1980 (8 years) - Top 10 hits: 10, Top 40 hits: 16

Fleetwood Mac: 1975 - 1990 (15 years) - Top 10 hits: 9 Top 40 hits: 18

REO Speedwagon: 1980 - 1988 (8 years) - Top 10 hits: 4, Top 40 hits: 13

Duran Duran: 1982 - 1993 (11 years) - Top 10 hits: 11, Top 40 hits: 15

Nickelback: 2001 - 2010 (9 years) - Top 10 hits: 6, Top 40 hits: 10

The Rolling Stones - 1964 - 1989 (25 years) - Top 10 hits: 23, Top 40 hits: 41

Now, any music critic with their salt will tell you that being successful on the Billboard charts doesn't necessarily mean you're going to be a legend in music, and it's only a very small part of being a popular artist in general. So why have I spent time belaboring this point? Because it goes to show that if your exposure to Bowie has been limited to the mainstream classic rock radio, you've missed out on a LOT of great material. Bowie became transcendent not because of hit singles, but because of the artistry of his albums, stage persona, and individual songs that didn't make it to the radio.

Odds are that if you're a causal listener, you probably don't have any of his actual albums and settled instead for his greatest hits collection. The most popular and plentiful of these is the 2002 collection Best of Bowie. We're going to take a look beyond the 20 songs that this CD features (assuming you don't have the less common double disc version) and take a peak at 15 more Bowie songs that compliment and expand this collection. This is not a list of Bowie's best songs, instead this is meant to help give those who enjoy what Bowie has to offer, a bit more to listen to without having to pick through all the albums to find some of his better songs.

Before we begin, here's a couple notes that tie into the Best of Bowie release.

1) "Heroes" - The version on Best of Bowie is the single edit and is a travesty of a cut compared to the power of the full song. Do yourself a favor and find the full length version of this that clocks in at just over six minutes. This song deserves to be heard in its full glory, not a truncated castrated form of it.

2) "Young Americans" - Another radio edit that destroys a good part of this song's impact and power.

3) "This Is Not America" - There's nothing wrong with this song on Best of Bowie. It's still here in its understated glory. However, there is a live version of this song found on a bonus disc of Bowie at the Beeb that is positively exquisite. In lieu of finding that, you can always look it up on YouTube. Oh look, I already did that for you.

Quick Honorable Mention: Arcade Fire: Reflektor - Bowie's contributions to this 2013 song aren't enough to warrant inclusion in the list proper, but his presence still has to be made mention of. Arcade Fire shows a great deal of Bowie inspiration in this sprawling 7 and a half minute piece, but if that wasn't Bowie enough for you, he comes in and sings a few lines starting at 4:54. "Thought you were praying to the resurrector..." Unmistakable Bowie. 

With all that stated, let's get into the fantastic fifteen:

1) Starman

Hopefully you know this one anyway, but the fact it's not on Best of Bowie is ridiculous. You could easily argue that this is one of his signature songs. Bowie plays things low key throughout the verses, letting his voice and the instruments ascend into the chorus. Lyrically it fits right in with his glam rock of the time, carrying an early punk spirit and hope that there's something more benevolent than humanity somewhere in the world.

2) Life on Mars? 

An absolutely stunning piece made exquisitely beautiful from the combination of the string arrangement and piano performance from Rick Wakeman. The surreal imagery in the lyrics may be off-putting at first, but it ultimately works to form a narrative about disillusionment with the images we see in life and the hope that there's something greater elsewhere. All of these elements come together in a stirring chord progression that's emotionally captivating and powerful.

3) Fascination

"Plastic soul" was the term Bowie ascribed to his Young Americans album and the songs it contained. To paraphrase him, Bowie said that the album was ethnic music being played by a limey Brit. Essentially he felt he was appropriating black music but couldn't convey the emotion and soul of it effectively, having to do his own version of it, hence; "plastic soul." "Fascination" is the pinnacle of this, being lush, intense, soulful, funky, and rocking. There's a lot going on in the song from the funk of the synthesizers and bass to the soulful backing vocalists, to the blasts of saxophone from David Sanborn. Deceptively complex while being perfectly accessible to listeners. 

4) TVC 15

Extremely high on massive amounts of cocaine, Bowie writes a song inspired by a vision of Iggy Pop's girlfriend being eaten by a television. It sounds insane, it is insane, and it has a really bouncy piano part. Unlike the previous songs on this list, there's no real deeper meaning to TVC 15; aside from maybe a condemnation of television, but given how coked out Bowie was at the time, he probably didn't even plan for that. 

5) Sound + Vision

From the album Low, "Sound + Vision" is lyrically sparse but makes up for it by making the remainder of the lyrics quite memorable and surrounded by powerful music and production The drum sound here is years ahead of its time given it was made in 1977. The bass that completes the rhythm section is also amazingly strong, giving this tune one of the more driving beats Bowie has ever created.

6) A New Career In A New Town

This Low piece is a straight up instrumental that combines Brian Eno's whirring keyboards, Tony Visconti's hard hitting drum production (played by Dennis Davis) and Bowie's harmonica. Despite the lack of words the song has a very strong verse/chorus feel to it which makes it far more accessible than the other instrumentals on the album. 

7) The Secret Life of Arabia

Here's another Bowie piece that gets more legs out of its rhythm section than its lyrics. For the most part, "The Secret Life of Arabia" is a complete throwaway of a song; it's lyrically bereft of any meaning, Bowie himself doesn't seem to take the song seriously with his approach to the vocals, and the latter half of the song is mostly just a repeated instrumental refrain with repeated lyrics. Despite this, it's catchy and danceable to a mind-boggling degree. The groove it builds itself into is extremely tight and relentlessly plows ahead with an energetic fervor. 

8) Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy (Duet with Bing Crosby)

As the story goes, Bowie was invited to appear on a Bing Crosby Christmas special. The idea was to have them sing "Little Drummer Boy" together. Bowie wasn't thrilled with this prospect as he disliked that particular Christmas song. In an inspired bit of genius, several of the show's composers and producers worked together to quickly come up with another part for Bowie to sing which was then worked into the original song in order to create something new yet familiar. The end result is an absolutely inspired take on a traditional Christmas classic that has now become a classic in its own right, thanks entirely to the strong vocals from both Bowie and Crosby.

9) DJ

From Lodger, "DJ" is one of the more conventional songs of sorts on this list. It's not completely out there in a lyrical or musical way; it's just a tight rocker with a theme that seems to center on control and power over others and what it does to one's self. It's one of those rare occasions outside of Let's Dance that finds Bowie just letting go and rocking without the glitz and glam of his late 60's and early 70's persona. 

10) Pretty Pink Rose (Duet with Adrian Belew)

Released in 1990 off of guitarist Adrian Belew's album Young Lions, Belew had been a touring musician with Bowie for years and Bowie wrote this song for Belew to include on his record, and also sang it with him. There's no doubt it's a Bowie composition either with lyrics like, "She's the poor man's gold, she's the anarchist crucible, flying in the face of the despot cannibal, pretty pink rose." Belew is channeling Bowie in his vocals...Bowie is...well he's Bowie, and Belew rips with his distinctive guitar tone and style. It's a strong rocker and it would've been interesting to hear how it would've tuned out if Bowie recorded it himself.

11) Hallo Spaceboy (Pet Shop Boys Remix)

The original version of "Hallo Spaceboy" appeared on the concept album Outside in 1995. It's a very harsh sounding song full of roaring guitars, crashing drums, and an obtuse lyric that's supposed to tie into a larger narrative. The Pet Shop Boys remix of this piece rips out the coarse electric rock and replaces it with electronic dance; and it's unbearably catchy. The lyric is still obtuse as all hell, but Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys lends some vocals onto the song that try to tie it back to "Space Oddity," implying perhaps the "Spaceboy" is good old Major Tom. 

12) Thursday's Child

Bowie's 1999 album "Hours..." is generally regarded as one of his worst. Part of the album was derived from songs he had used for the game Omikron: The Nomad Soul of which "Thursday's Child" is one of them. In contrast to a lot of Bowie's bizarre and surreal lyrics, here he comes across as far more normal and conventional. "Thursday's Child" is a touching, emotional ballad with a lot of the kind of sound you'd expect from a '90s adult contemporary piece. That being said, it's Bowie, so it's better.

13) The Next Day

The title track from his 2013 comeback album, "The Next Day" showed that Bowie had certainly not forgotten how to rock, provoke, and sing his heart out. A strong drum track, guitar riff and bass line push this song forward with Bowie rattling off lyrics that could be dissected a number of ways. They seem to point to the trappings of fame, possibly tying them to a religious figure and how he's observed. Whatever the meaning is, Bowie is in complete command of the atmosphere and the power of his music. It's a remarkable return to form for him.

14) The Stars (Are Out Tonight)

The second single from The Next Day was also the first to show that Bowie was capable of producing lush, sweeping sounds. Similar to other elements of the album, this song focuses on the trappings of fame and has a lush build up in both the arrangement and vocal from Bowie, complete with strings. By the time the song is over it feels like an exhaustive journey has taken place.

15) (You Will) Set The World On Fire

Not much needs to be said about this one aside from the fact that it's just Bowie rocking out in fairly vicious fashion. 

These are by no means all of the worthwhile Bowie songs, nor are they all some of his best. If you have Best of Bowie and want to hear more of what the man did, then this is your place to start. Go through these songs, see if you enjoy them, and then continue to explore the ears and styles that you like. Perhaps another time they'll be a more complete listing of the less accessible Bowie songs but for now, enjoy the contributions this man made to the musical world.

Critical Interview - Bryan Howell - Part 4 and Bonus Round

Concluding the interview with Bryan Howell is a short wrap-up that ideally would've been on the part 3 video, but YouTube limits me to 15 minutes at a time. On the bright side though, there's an added bonus where I subject Bryan to my insanely hard quiz show.

Thanks again to Bryan for taking the time out to do this and add something special to this blog and channel. And if you want to find a way to thank him, well just swing on over to his website:

In the meantime, enjoy the rest of the interview!!!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Critical Analysis - Making A Murderer and The Presumption of Innocence

Everybody has an agenda; doesn't matter if it's politics, law, television, news, everybody has an agenda. Certainly that's what the makers of the Netflix produced documentary, Making A Murderer would have you believe about the Manitowoc county police department in Wisconsin. They may very well be right. The 10 episode series does an excellent job of showing the potential for abuse, misconduct, bias, and corruption in the police force and justice system during two criminal cases involving Steven Avery.

At one point in time during the court case, it's revealed that a memo was sent to forensic examiner Sherry Culhane, allegedly telling her to make the evidence place murder victim Teresa Halbach in the house or garage of Avery. There were many other instances where similar messages or circumstances were in play. If all this information is to be believed and taken at its face value, it could easily be the case that a large part of the Manitowoc county police department had their minds made up that Steven Avery either was guilty and it needed to be proven by any means necessary, or they were specifically targeting him out of bias and financial concern over his multi-million dollar lawsuit regarding a previous wrongful conviction on a rape charge that resulted in an 18 year imprisonment.

It becomes quite clear though that the filmmakers, Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, believe that Avery is an innocent man who was deliberately set up to be convicted of murder, so his lawsuit against the county would vanish, along with Avery's restored good name. And even if by chance, the film makers don't believe that, the series is certainly presented to emphasize the innocence of Avery, or at very least that the justice system was predisposed against him.

Various pieces of prosecutorial evidence was left out of the documentary, perhaps the most damning of which is a prior history of harassing behavior from Avery towards Halbach. According to the prosecution, Avery had called the AutoTrader company that Halbach worked as a photographer for and specifically requested her to come take photos that day of the cars on his property. Halbach did not want to go near him again as he had previously greeted her at his door with him dressed in nothing but a towel. Furthermore, the request to have Halbach come to the Avery Body Shop that day was allegedly made by Steven with him giving a different name and phone number to potentially avoid Halbach denying the request to do the job.

Several websites have reported things in more detail. An article from written by Dustin Rowles includes a transcript of a phone call between Avery's alleged accomplice, his nephew Brendan Dassey, and Dassey's mother. In that transcript Dassey states that Avery had touched him inappropriately on several occasions. Does this have any direct impact on the murder case? Not exactly, but it is information that the filmmakers chose to exclude from their program in order to present Avery in the best light possible. Don't forget, they do later describe special prosecutor Ken Krantz sexting scandal, something that also was not relevant to the Avery case, in order to present him as a more reprehensible person.

Is Steven Avery guilty? Is he not guilty? I don't know; based on my experience studying law I don't think I could've found him guilty in a court of law based on the evidence presented since there is reasonable doubt. That's one of the things that need to be taken from this documentary more than anything, the concept of reasonable doubt and presumption of innocence.

We're taught in science and in life that we're supposed to approach things with an open mind and see all sides fairly. Most of the time, those are wise words to live by. There's an exception to this though; in a court of law, we are supposed to be biased, biased in favor of the accused. Literally we're legally obligated to think, "This person is innocent; this evidence needs to concretely prove his guilt."

In Avery's case, here are the things that lead me to conclude I'd have to find him "not guilty."

1) The Manitowoc County police department stood to lose a tremendous amount in credibility and money based on the previous false conviction of Avery and his pending civil suit against them. Given the history between him and the police it is not unlikely that there was some sort of vendetta.

2) A sample of James Avery's blood had the tamper proof seal disturbed and a needle sized hole in the vial's stopper, indicating blood had been extracted from the tube.

3) The Avery Body Shop was searched multiple times over an extended period of time with a stipulation that the Maintowoc police department was not supposed to be involved in it. The county not only did get involved, but it was one of their officers that found the key to Ms. Halbach's vehicle after multiple searches before that revealed nothing.

4) The investigators in charge of the interrogation and questioning of Brendan Dassey, Avery's nephew, forced a confession out of him that was highly questionable given the amount of information and guilt they put in his head. It was a disgusting display of mental/emotional abuse of a mentally challenged young man.

5) Several other miscellaneous oddities in the behavior of police officers, ranging from an officer seemingly knowing the year and model of a car when he's calling in a license plate number but also not in the location of the vehicle, instructing a forensics officer to to make sure evidence places the victim in the home/garage of the defendant, and getting the FBI to quickly administer an unreliable blood testing procedure that they had stopped administering exactly because of how unreliable it was.

As many of us have seen in the news, there is an issue in some precincts of police brutality, bias, cover-ups, and a code of brotherhood that helps keep wrongdoings under wraps. Is this true everywhere? Good lord no. It's very important to stress that a majority of cops are honest, well-intentioned upholders of justice. But I also believe based on various incidents reported through the years that if there is corruption in the force, and you make an enemy of a corrupt precinct, you're in deep shit; for lack of a better phrase.

I don't doubt that it is very much possible that Steven Avery made himself an enemy of the Manitowoc county police. Not saying it actually happened, but I'm saying it's possible enough to make me believe Avery may be innocent.

You can't take Making A Murderer at face value given that it's very much presenting as favorable a view of Avery as it can. Still, given that we're supposed to presume Avery is innocent going into the trial, there's still a lot that can be taken from watching this program. Compare this to a program run by one of the very few people in media that I truly find to be despicable: Nancy Grace.

Grace is a former prosecutor turned television host who has worked on numerous shows, including her self-titled show that airs on HLN. I've had the misfortune of watching this woman time and time again verbally convict someone of a crime without full knowledge of their guilt or innocence. She has little regard for anyone who disagrees with her or presents dissenting opinions, she's even criticized her own guests, talked over them, and put words in their mouth for presenting information and then accusing them of defending someone. Like literally she invited someone on the show to discuss a case about a young female teen murdering a class mate, and after he started trying to say what the defense attorneys in the case were probably going to do, she accused him of defending and justifying the acts of a disturbed little girl.

So just to recap that, she brings in someone to represent the viewpoint of a defense attorney, disregards the information he presents, accuses him of holding the viewpoints himself when he was just presenting them, and then condemns the defendant as guilty without a trial.

Nancy Grace paints herself as being "pro-victim." A victim, whether they're alive or dead, is entitled to justice for what they suffered through. Justice is making sure that the right person faces their day in court and is convicted of the crime they are guilty of. Justice is not demonizing or casting guilt on someone outside of a trial. Justice is not throwing away the presumption of innocence and not letting evidence do its job. Justice is making sure that the defense is given the tools they are needed to serve their client while also making sure that the prosecution plays by the rules. When a trial is over, there should be no doubt as to a person's guilt. But if you're not in the courtroom, if you're not the one hearing all the evidence by both sides, you need to assume the person in question is innocent.

Look at what happened with Making A Murderer. Before that program aired, if you watched the news, Nancy Grace included, you would've heard nothing but the "fact" that Steven Avery is a guilty man. Now that Making A Murderer has aired, many people are declaring it a fact that Steven Avery is not guilty or at the very least, there's reasonable doubt as to his guilt.

Where's the truth? It's certainly not spewing from the mouths of judgmental, biased mouthpieces like Nancy Grace. It's not coming from filmmakers like Ricciardi and Demos. Truth isn't necessarily being spoken by the defendant, nor is it guaranteed to be coming from the police and the district attorney. Truth is something that exists only within the combination of events and information that completely surround and permeate the circumstances of a given time. Even if you see or witness something, it's not necessarily true since there could be circumstances you don't know about, or things may not have happened the way you remember them.

The perception and search for the truth would be a far more entertaining thing to contemplate if it weren't for the fact that the fate of people's lives hinge on it every day. It may be cliche to state it, but things aren't always as they appear to be. Making A Murderer shows this about the Manitowoc County Police while other facts of the case reveal the same thing about Making A Murderer; things aren't as they appear.

The only real defense someone has going into a trial is the idea that they are innocent, and the evidence needs to show beyond ANY REASONABLE doubt, that they are guilty. This is more important than ever when you have television pundits that throw guilt around without regard for the lives at stake and prosecutors are more concerned with arresting someone for a crime rather than the actual guilty party. As hard as it might be, we all need to approach accused individuals as innocent people and progress from there. Your innocence is yours to have and yours to discard if you commit a crime; it's no one else's to take from don't take it away from others without a fair trial.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Critical Interview - Bryan Howell - Part 3

Continuing the conversation with Bryan and his favorite underrated guitarists. Also, find out why you need to have the soundtrack to Terminator 2: Judgment Day on your playlist.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Critical Interview - Bryan Howell - Part 2

And we're back with Part 2 of the interview. No need for continued fanfare and ado; just grab some coffee, sit back, and enjoy a friendly chat about music.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Critical Android Exclusive - Kevin Conroy Not Voicing Batman in The Killing Joke Animated Feature

The Batman fandom was all abuzz when it was announced in 2015 that Bruce Timm, executive producer of Batman: The Animated Series in addition to Justice League, Justice League Unlimited and several made for video DC animated adaptations, was making The Killing Joke his next project.

The 1988 graphic novel, written by acclaimed comic writer Alan Moore, is often considered to be one of the best Batman stories ever written, but had not yet been turned into an animated feature unlike Frank Miller's Batman: Year One or The Dark Knight Returns.

Speculation was running high that Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill would both be brought back in to reprise their performances as Batman/Bruce Wayne and The Joker respectively, as they had done throughout the aforementioned Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League, as well as the critically lauded series of Batman: Arkham games.

Half of these hopes were dashed though when on January 10th, 2016, Kevin Conroy confirmed via his official twitter that he was not involved in the plans for The Killing Joke.

Timm recently stated in an interview with ConTV that the film was set to premier in July at the San Diego Comic Con event; a report that was reprinted on

It's doubtful this far into production that the voice acting hasn't already been recorded, suggesting that if Conroy hasn't recorded lines yet, someone else was hired for the part. 

The tweet was sent to Hamill as well who has yet to respond but had stated in several interviews that he would be happy to voice The Joker in an animated version of the story.

At least the two can still be heard exchanging barbs and taunts in 2015's Batman: Arkham Knight video game.

Critical Interview - Bryan Howell: Guitarist/Singer/Songwriter

A special treat today as I have uploaded part one of an hour long interview conducted with musician Bryan Howell. We discuss his upcoming album, the recording process, producing an album on vinyl, and much more.

Please enjoy, leave comments, feedback, and stay tuned for the rest of the interview as it gets posted in the next few days.

And after you listen, go to Bryan's webpage: to find out more and maybe buy an EP or two. It just may blow your mind.

(Disclaimer: The Critical Android is not responsible legally or financially for any repercussions resulting from one's mind being blown.)

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Neglected Hits - On Our Own - Bobby Brown

Oh new jack swing; remember that genre of music? It's not your fault if you don't, it was very much a product of it's time; that time being the very late '80s into the very early '90s. Combine R&B style vocals, '80s production, drum programming, sound samples, then mix in some mild funk and hip-hop.

In some ways, new jack swing is like The Perfect Storm in that it came from a time and place where several differently unique tones came together and made something powerful but not made to last. Once part of the storm settled or moved on, it wasn't so perfect anymore, the weaknesses began to show and the rest of it just faded away eventually.

This time period was also known as the "Golden Age of Hip-Hop," and from that it makes a bit more sense about how a more electronic, danceable version of that music could come about; after all, it was the '80s into the '90s, dancing was totally rad, man. Put on something neon and hit the floor.

Doesn't that fashion trend just fill you with nostalgia? Or horror. Hell, it's terrifying whether you lived through that age or not. New jack swing singled a kind of transitional period for hip-hop just as the '80s into the '90s was a transitional period for the culture in general.

Some things got lost in that change over; chunks of the fashion, (not the hair style though, big '80s hair lasted far too long into the '90s, which is even more frightening than the neon pants in my opinion) and new jack swing.

Maybe that's why despite being a fairly monstrous number 2 hit on the Billboard charts, Bobby Brown's "On Our Own" is seldom heard today. Actually, there's a few contributing factors to that.

1) It's by Bobby Brown - Brown's far more famous for being the drug addled former husband of the late Whitney Houston than for being a member of New Edition or a successful musician in his own right. His 1988 album Don't Be Cruel was a monster of a hit; it spawned five top 10 singles with "My Prerogative" hitting number one. None of that matters though when you're married to a woman who said in a taped interview, "Crack is whack."

2) It's from Ghostbusters II - First of all, I don't care what you say, I really like Ghostbusters II. I fully know it's not as good as the first but I like what the movie does; it's still funny, Peter MacNicol is wonderful as Janosz and a damn toaster dances to Jackie Wilson. There's also this scene:

My feelings aside however, Ghostbusters II is not as fondly remembered as the original and the same applies to its music. Virtually everyone knows part of the lyrics to "Ghostbusters." "Who ya gonna call? GHOSTBUSTERS!" Everyone. You know any of the lyrics to Bobby Brown's "On Our Own?" Doubt it. Radio stations know this too and will happily play the campier, happier, Academy Award nominated 1984 classic over "On Our Own" any day of the week. Never mind the fact that "Ghostbusters" is a complete rip-off of the Huey Lewis & The News song "I Want A New Drug" and Ray Parker Jr. was apparently specifically told to mimic that song 

But I digress. The point I'm trying to make is that "On Our Own" gets sorely neglected on the radio and in popular culture, largely because of it being a product of its time and it being overshadowed by the classic theme. But here it is for you to enjoy, fresh off of YouTube and posted by the generous person or people at the Movie Soundtracks YouTube channel. Bless your heart.