Thursday, 28 November 2002

Game Review: Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4

The Tony Hawk's series has been accused of running out of steam. While the third version was excellent, it offered little that the second title didn't. Neversoft has obviously sought to change things with this version, but despite this, the game is very similar to the last one. One change (albeit purely cosmetic) is that there's something very English about THPS4. From the inclusion of a London level to the presence of The Sex Pistols on the soundtrack, THPS4 has obviously been, at least in part, tailored for us Brits.

In terms of presentation it remains almost identical to the previous three iterations. Fourteen pro skaters are included (Jackass star Bam Margera is once again involved) as well as the now-mandatory create-a-skater facility. Nine levels are included in all (seven regular plus two secret ones) which vary from a shipyard to a zoo. The selection of one and two player modes remains the same as THPS3, however, THPS4 includes the option for online play for up to eight players. Interestingly, the graphics are still a little below what may be expected from a PS2 game, but nonetheless they remain capable. The soundtrack, however, is simply awesome. The Sex Pistols, Aesop Rock, NWA, Iron Maiden and Run DMC all make an appearance giving the game unquestionably the best soundtrack ever.

The only major difference is the removal of time limits on each level. The levels are much, much larger now, and the player is given the freedom to skate around to their heart's content. Now, the player has to approach any citizens standing around to begin a quest. There are now sixteen challenges on each level, which is somewhat higher than the amount found on the previous game. This may involve the by now standard collection of 'S,K,A,T,E' or something more novel like helping a prisoner tunnel out of Alcatraz. There is a definite emphasis on fun in this game, as many of the games available have no bearing on the player's progress (playing tennis or betting on two prostitutes having a fight).

Other additions include the ability to 'skitch', that is to hold on to the back of a moving vehicle (or elephant) to earn extra points. New pogoing tricks are available to the more advanced player as well. Finally, the player can now transfer over the spines of pipes to rack up even longer combinations. Each of these functions has been included to help the player produce longer combinations and therefore gain larger scores. The new mission structure enables these new skills to be introduced gradually, but THSP experts should have no problem picking up the new abilities.

For me, the removal of the time limit makes this iteration of THPS a slightly poor relation to the third version. The appeal of the Tony Hawk's series for me has always been attempting to rack up 500,000 point plus combos. THPS4's reliance on comedy somewhat removes the emphasis from gaining huge scores. While not the best, it is undoubtedly the most varied version of the franchise, and fans of the series should consider this an essential purchase.

Saturday, 23 November 2002

Bill Wyman sues Bill Wyman

San Francisco music critic Bill Wyman has won the legal case against former Rolling Stone Bill Wyman that allows him to continue to use his name without a disclaimer.

"In October, after 41 years of using his birth name without incident, the film and music editor for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution learned that his employer had received a cease-and-desist from the attorney for Bill Wyman, former bassist for the Rolling Stones.

Journalist Bill Wyman was asked to cease and desist being Bill Wyman, "if indeed, (his) given legal name is Bill Wyman (a fact which we would insist be reasonably demonstrated to us)," according to the letter the paper received from attorney Howard Siegel of New York."

The really funny thing? The Rolling Stone was born William George Perks and changed his name to Bill Wyman two years after the journalist was born.


Monday, 11 November 2002

Album Review: Soundbombing Volume 1

Released in 1999, Soundbombing 1 was the first official mix CD from the then fledgling Rawkus label. Listening to the first Soundbombing today comes in stark contrast to the extremely polished, but slightly bland third in the series. Where the most recent release is bloated by some big name stars putting in mediocre performances, this collection is a tight mix of hungry, focused rappers, scratchy, intense production and some highly capable mixing from Evil D.

The standout tracks are those involving perhaps the greatest but most short-lived hip hop collective ever, Company Flow. Lune TNS and Fire In Which You Burn (credited to the Indelible MCs) both find their way onto this mix, and once again remind listeners how much of a shame it is that they split so prematurely. Elsewhere RA The Rugged Man is his usual uncompromising self on Flipside and Till My Heart Stops.

In contrast to the rough and obdurate work of Company Flow and The Rugged Man, Rawkus stalwart Mos Def lends his silky flow to proceedings. His classic cut If You Can Huh remains one of the strongest works in the Rawkus annals and is found towards the end of this mix. Fans of the most underrated man in hip hop will also enjoy his freestyle with Talib Kweli which links sides A and B.

Other impressive moments include the snapping drum and thumping subterranean bass line that backs Empire Staters by B-One, Kool Keith’s familiarly obtuse rambling on So Intelligent and the melodious whistling that accompanies L-Fudge’s Show Me Your Gratitude.

While the mixing for the most part is stylish and unobtrusive, the biggest criticism one can level at this mix is Evil D's insistence on shouting his name every couple of seconds. This reviewer realises that every DJ puts his name on some tracks during a mix; but Evil D pushes the listener's tolerance to the limit, by taking every opportunity to remind the listener that, "Evil D is on the mix" or that "Evil D is in the area." It's more annoying than it sounds. However the quality of the tracks on offer is such that this minor fault does not detract too much from the music.

Overall this is a very worthy purchase for any fans of intelligent hip hop and a worthy reminder of how imperial Rawkus was until the lure of major label dollars became too strong to resist; but if you only ever buy one Soundbombing collection, make it the second one.

Monday, 4 November 2002

Album Review: The Man Comes Around

After more than five decades of making tremendous music that made listeners angry, enchanted and touched in equal measure, it would turn out that The Man Comes Around would be Johnny Cash's swansong. For his final studio album, Cash (alongside producer Rick Rubin) presents a collection of simply overwhelming passion and beauty.

His final album begins with the finest track Cash had written for twenty years. The Man Comes Around is an epic tale of the apocalypse, interpreting the Book of Revelations with uplifting exuberance. Restraint, resignation and a desire for peace pervade the prophetic imagery. The Man Comes Around is truly beautiful and furious in equal measure.

Later he exhumes ancient standards like Danny Boy and Streets of Laredo and allows them to harness a new elegance. Cash even delves into his own bag and rearranges the dark humour of Sam Hall as well as adjusting the already beautiful Give My Love To Rose. Elsewhere, The Beatles' In My Life becomes breathtakingly poignant. How could it not be when sung by a man with such a wealth of experience (especially when one bears in mind how young both Lennon and McCartney were when they wrote it)? The song becomes everything it should be when it falls into Cash's world-weary hands - touching the heart and soul with every hint of its deeper meaning.

It is a tribute to Cash's immense talent that he takes a song as hoary as Bridge Over Troubled Water and totally reanimates it. Simon and Garfunkel's masterpiece has been played so many times the listener has become utterly numb any impact it once had. Cash, with his weathered, frayed voice makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. At 72 years of age, few, if any could match the emotional power Cash could generate.

At times the track selection may seem odd but Cash is always up to the task at hand. He captures I Hung My Head, leaving the listener in no doubt that the song was always more Cash's than it was Sting's. Then along with Nick Cave, he does justice to Hank Williams' I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry. The slithering blues groove of Depeche Mode's Personal Jesus is another unexpected highlight. On these tracks Cash taps into the essence of each song and truly makes them his own.

However, it will be his staggering rendition of Nine Inch Nails' Hurt that ensures this album's prominence. Where Reznor's original was a troubled paean to drug addiction, Cash infuses the track with genuine heart to accompany the bitterness. Cash treats the song with such honesty that adds to what was an already powerful mantra in Reznor's hands. Frankly it's the only song of the last decade to move me into an awed silence every single time I hear it.

Perhaps fittingly the album comes to an end with the sentimental classic We'll Meet Again. It closes with the prophetic line, "We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when / but I know we'll meet again some sunny day." Rest In Peace Johnny. You'll be greatly missed.

Friday, 1 November 2002

Jam-Master Jay murdered

Jam-Master Jay was shot dead yesterday in a New York recording studio. He was 37.

Jay (real name Jason Mizell) was a pioneer of turntablism and was the driving force behind the genre-bending sound of Run-DMC.

Perhaps more than any other hip hop group, Jay, as part of Run-DMC, helped to bring the genre to the masses. His impact on hip hop truly can't be overstated.

I'm going to listen to Raising Hell very loud now and wish bad things upon the motherfucker that killed him.

Link to the Independent's obituary