Thursday, February 23, 2012

Film Review: You Only Live Twice

You Only Live Twice
  • Publisher: United Artists
  • Production Studio: Danjaq / EON Productions
  • Release: 13 June 1967
  • Genre: Action
  • Director: Lewis Gilbert
  • Producers: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Salzman
  • Writer: Roald Dahl

The Girls: Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi), a Japanese SIS agent, poisoned by a SPECTRE assassin, and "Kissy" Suzuki (Mie Hama), a civilian pearl-diver who gets "married" to Bond. A couple of girls so forgettable, they even killed off one of them, and you'd be hard-pressed to notice the difference. 2 out of 5.

Other Allies: "Tiger" Tanaka (Tetsurou Tanba), head of the SIS, Japan's equivalent of MI6. Also commands a ninja team which launches an assault on SPECTRE's base. Another joyful performance in the vein of Kerim Bey. 5 out of 5.

Richard Henderson (Charles Gray), one of Bond's contacts in Tokyo. He also has a fair camaraderie with Bond, having allegedly served in a war together.  Of course, that doesn't stop him from accidentally serving him a martini "stirred, not shaken".  Stabbed in the back by a SPECTRE assassin4 out of 5.

The Villain: Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasance), the number 1 executive of SPECTRE. While his performance is a little weak, the way he manipulates everyone, even those loyal to him, commands some thunder out of his presence. Plus, the way he's been kept out of sight for the past few movies only adds to the drama of his big reveal. Escapes after his operation is foiled.  4 out of 5.

Other Henchmen: Mr. Osato (Teru Shimada), head of the Osato chemical concern and an accomplice of Blofeld, shot by Blofeld; Helga Brandt (Karin Dor), assassin and the number 11 executive of SPECTRE, dropped into a piranha pond by Blofeld; and Hans (Ronald Rich), Blofeld's bodyguard and a Red Grant expy, thrown into the same piranha pond by Bond. A forgettable roundup. Not helping is the fact that Brandt and Hans are ripoffs of other characters (respectively, Red Grant and Fiona Volpe), and that Hans, in particular, is given very little to do. 2 out of 5.

The Gadgets: Not much in the way of gadgets. The most notable one is a miniature rocket launcher hidden in a cigarette, supplied by Tanaka's ninja team. As for vehicles, Aki drives a white Toyota 2000GT convertible, equipped with a closed-circut TV link to Tanaka.  Fun Fact: The car was originally sold only as a hard-top coupe, but since the 6-foot-2 Sean Connery could not fit comfortably inside, they modified it for the film to be roofless.  Not to be outdone, Q provides Bond with "Little Nellie", a personal helicopter armed with rockets, mines, and more. 3 out of 5.

The Locations: This film takes place almost entirely in one country, Japan, with the exception of the opening scenes in Hong Kong. Fun Fact: This is the only Bond film not to have any scenes set within the United Kingdom, unless you were to count their then-terrirory of Hong Kong. Second Fun Fact: The Little Nellie scene had to be filmed in Spain; it was originally set over a national park in Japan, but local authorities did not take kindly to stuff blowing up overhead.

The Opening Sequence: A boring intro that uses three elements: footage of volcanoes erupting in the background, and silhouettes of geishas and these spiderweb/satellite things in the foreground. 1 out of 5.
The Theme Song: Sung by Nancy Sinatra. It makes the opening credits even more boring, but at least the lyrics give you something to ponder: "You only live twice / or so it seems / one life for yourself / and one for your dreams". The very words I live by. 3 out of 5.

The Novel: This was the first Bond movie to noticeably differ from its source novel, thanks to replacement writer Roald Dahl (of all people). The book, which takes place after On Her Majesty's Secret Service, starts with Bond taking a cushy diplomatic job in Tokyo to recover his mental health after the death of his wife. Things get complicated when he discovers that Blofeld is living somewhere in the country, running a castle and garden filled with poisonous plants and animals. Tanaka helps Bond prepare a one-man ninja raid on the castle, where he kills Blofeld and his wife, but falls on the way out and suffers amnesia. Dahl was highly critical of the book, claiming it was a travelogue "with no plot in it which would even make a movie", thus prompting him to do a total rewrite.

The Plot: An American spacecraft mysteriously disappears from radar mid-flight, and Pentagon officials blame the Soviets for its disappearance. The British, however, are convinced a third party is involved. Cut to Bond, getting some sexy R&R in Hong Kong, when he suddenly gets shot up by two gunmen and is killed. Cue opening credits. Turns out Bond wasn't really killed; it was a publicity stunt organised by MI6 to give him some cover for his next mission: investigate leads relating to the rocket theft in Japan. In Tokyo, Bond makes contact with SIS agent Aki and expat Richard Henderson. Henderson suggests a third party is involved in the rocket theft, but is killed before divulging anything useful. Bond takes down his assassin, steals his identity, and hitches a ride to the Osato corporation's office. He steals some files and gets a ride out with Aki, who leads him into a trap. At the other end is her boss, "Tiger" Tanaka, and together they analyse the files, which include a photo of a shipping vessel, the Ning-Po.

The next day, Bond returns to the office and visits Mr. Osato in person, posing as an industrial buyer. From there, he and Aki drive to Kobe and investigate the Ning-Po, but Bond gets captured. He makes a deal with his captor, Helga Brandt, but on their flight out, she reneges and bails out, leaving Bond to crash-land the plane. He then heads for Tanaka's villa, where they deduce that SPECTRE could be involved in the orbital affairs. Once they identify the next place where the Ning-Po docked, he travels there on the Little Nellie, a miniature helicopter supplied by Q, and fights off some SPECTRE helicopters guarding the place. That night, a Soviet-manned space flight is captured in the same manner as before, worsening tensions between Moscow and Washington. Back in Japan, Tanaka and Bond prepare to assault SPECTRE's base with an assault team of ninjas. Aki is poisoned and killed by an assassin gunning for Bond, but he continues training and assumes a false identity in an Ama village near the base, complete with a cover marriage to Kissy Suzuki, a local pearl-diver. During a fishing excursion, Bond and Kissy slip away to investigate a suspicious dormant volcano; they discover it to be the location of SPECTRE's base. While Kissy leaves to contact Tanaka, Bond goes in alone.

Bond rescues some of the captured astronauts and takes one of their place in piloting a craft that would steal a second American rocket and precipitate nuclear war between the USA and USSR. But he commits a faux-pas, is caught, identified, and brought to meet Blofeld face-to-face. After receiving an overview of Blofeld's plan, he creates a diversion with one of his rocket cigarettes, enabling Tanaka's team to drop in from the fake crater. Heading out to his escape route, Blofeld shoots Osato for his failures, and tries to shoot Bond but is stopped by Tanaka. Remembering a self-descruct button in the control room he came from, Bond doubles back that way, taking down Blofeld's bodyguard Hans along the way. Successfully blowing up the SPECTRE spacecraft before it can capture the American flight, the Pentagon calls off its attack plan. But before Bond and co. can celebrate, Blofeld triggers the self-destruct sequence to the base itself. Bond, Tanaka, Kissy, and their team escape through a cave to the ocean, where they are greeted by some liferafts -- and an MI6 submarine, intent on crashing Bond and Kissy's "honeymoon". You are now free to turn off your TV.

In essentially re-writing the plot instead of basing it off of Ian Fleming's original novel, Roald Dahl may have borrowed a few pages from other Bond adventures, but he took some of the best pages. There's a reason the idea of getting two superpowers to fight and take down one another has been used so often throughout the franchise: it works. It serves as a politically-based source of tension without being overly complicated, and it makes you think about whether or not we as a people really want war. As for how it was executed this time around, it was implied in one scene that SPECTRE was engineering this conflict because they had been paid off by China, but I wish they had expanded on that plot thread. While YOLT lacks the well-developed intricacies of From Russia With Love, it makes up for that in the production design, not the least example being Blofeld's hollowed-out volcano base. YOLT could be described as a more typical action movie in some parts (you won't see a countdown close-shave in FRWL, for example), but that only helps make it more fun to watch. I just hope it helps you better appreciate entries like FRWL or the 2006 Casino Royale. 4 out of 5.

The Call: 75% (B-)

IchigoRyu will return in
On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Film Review: Thunderball

  • Publisher: United Artists
  • Production Studio: Danjaq / EON Productions
  • Release: 22 December 1965 (USA), 29 December 1965 (UK)
  • Genre: Action
  • Director: Terence Young
  • Producers: Kevin McClory, Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Salzman
  • Writers: Ian Fleming, Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham

The Girl: Dominique "Domino" Derval (Claudine Auger, dubbed by Nikki van der Zyl). Mistress of Largo, and sister of NATO pilot Fran├žois Derval. Being in the custody of the villain, as well as receiving the shocking revelation that her brother was killed, makes her one of the most sympathetic Bond girls. 4 out of 5.

Other Allies: Felix Leiter (Rik van Nutter), returning CIA agent; Paula Caplan (Martine Beswick), another ally who is captured by Fiona and kills herself with cyanide under torture. Nothing to see here, move on.  Fun Fact: Paula's actress also played Zora, one of the gypsy girls in From Russia With Love.  2 out of 5.

The Villain: Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi), the number-2 officer of SPECTRE, and engineer of Operation Thunderball. Not that we're far into this franchise, but Largo is the most dangerous-feeling Bond villain we've seen yet. Maybe it's the eyepatch, maybe it's the way he tries to torture Domino in cold blood at the end, I don't know. Shot with a harpoon by Domino5 out of 5.

Other Villains: Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi), SPECTRE assassin and another of Largo's mistresses, "accidentally" shot by her own henchman; Vargas (Philip Locke), Largo's chaste hitman, shot with a harpoon by Bond. Another mildly awesome bunch, shame they were under-developed. At least Fiona gets her moment to shine when she chews out Bond for making love to her with the intent to turn her to the side of "good". *clap* Truly *clap* brilliant. *clap* 4 out of 5.

The Gadgets: The most famous gadget from this movie is the pocket rebreather, yet unlike most Bond gadgets, this one could not work in real life. Among other things, it needs some sort of air sack that can hold more than one lungful of air. More plausible are the jetpack, the radioactive homing pill, the Geiger counter/camera, and the Aston Martin DB5, now equipped with high-pressure water cannons. 3 out of 5.

The Locations: England, France, and the Bahamas.

The Opening Credits: The first opening sequence designed by Maurice Binder, this one featured silhouettes of men and women swimming in multi-coloured water. Simple, but a visual treat. 5 out of 5.

The Theme Song: Sung by Tom Jones. From the lyrics which paint the target man (Bond? Maybe Largo?) as a cold-hearted, one-track-mind monster, to the high note at the end which apparently caused Jones to pass out after recording it, this track hits you over the head with its bombastic awesomeness. But this was actually a last-minute replacement for another song, "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang", performed by Shirley Bassey. Despite its late omission, this song is still prevalent in the film's score. Fun Fact: The switch occured because UA wanted the theme song to have the film's title in it. 5 out of 5.

The Novel: Another mostly faithful transition, but that was kind of a forced deal. See, in the late 1950s, Ian Fleming collaborated with Irish director Kevin McClory to develop a James Bond feature film. The project didn't initially pan out, so Fleming went ahead and adapted the script into the novel Thunderball. Not having been credited, McClory was not amused. He sued Fleming for plagiarism, but they settled out of court. When Broccoli and Salzman produced the film adaptation of Thunderball, McClory was credited as a co-writer and co-producer, the damage was far from over. We'll see the further ramifications of the dispute, mostly involving the rights of the name and characters of SPECTRE, when we discuss future Bond movies, so keep this in mind.

The Plot: The film opens with James Bond attending a funeral for another "JB": Jacques Bouvar, a SPECTRE assassin. But it turns out Bouvar is alive, and later tries to take down Bond. Instead, Bond kills Bouvar for real, and escapes via jetpack and Aston Martin. Cue opening credits. M assigns 007 to the Shrublands clinic for some forced R&R. At the clinic, his suspicions are aroused by a mister Count Lippe. Bond breaks into Lippe's room, and Lippe returns the favour by trying to kill Bond on a spinal traction machine. Still at the clinic, Bond chances upon the body of Fran├žois Derval (Paul Stassino), a French NATO pilot who was intended to run a training flight on a plane with two atomic bombs. It turns out he was killed by another SPECTRE assassin, Angelo, who takes Derval's place and crash-lands the flight in the Atlantic Ocean, enabling a SPECTRE team to steal the bombs. The head of SPECTRE announces a £100 million bounty for the bombs, lest a random city in the US or UK be attacked with them. MI6 scrambles the 00 agents to headquarters to begin the search.

Upon receiving his file, 007 starts his investigation in Nassau to seek out Derval's sister, Domino. He meets her once for lunch, and once more at a casino, accompanied with Emilio Largo, for whom she is a mistress. He beats him at baccarat, shares a dance with Domino, and retreats to his hotel room to find Felix Leiter and a SPECTRE mook, whom they shoo out. The next day, Q equips him for a raid on Largo's yacht, the Disco Volante. He discovers that the boat may be used to hold the warheads, but is chased off to shore and hitches a ride to his hotel with Fiona Volpe. The following night, Bond conducts a raid on Largo's estate, Palmyra, and discovers his captured ally, Paula, killed herself under torture. Back at his hotel, he encounters Fiona in his room. They have at it, only for her and some men to kidnap him. He makes a break for it at the Junkanoo parade, but they catch up to him at the Kiss Kiss, an outdoor nightclub. As Bond and Fiona are dancing, one of her henchman accidentally shoots her in the back. (Fun Fact: To this day, fans are divided as to whether or not this was intentional on Bond's part, in which case it would be the first time he kills a woman in cold blood.)
With Fiona out of the way, Bond and Leiter scout the sea and find the downed plane, sans bombs. From there, Bond takes a dive and meets Domino scuba-diving. On the beach, he tells her that her brother is dead, asks for her help, and spears Vargas, the assassin who was trailing them. Armed with Bond's Geiger counter/camera, she starts searching for the bombs on the Disco Volante, but is caught by Largo. Meanwhile, Bond tags along with a SPECTRE team to pick up the bombs, and learns of their first target: Miami. The US Coast Guard engages in an underwater battle and the first bomb is surrendered, but Largo escapes to the Disco Volante. Bond sneaks on board and fights him; in the end, Largo is speared by Domino. Bond and Domino bail out before the ship crashes, and are picked up by a Coast Guard plane. You may now turn off your TV.

As I was first exploring the early Bond franchise, I admit I wasn't that into Thunderball at first. My original hangup was over the pacing, since there are long stretches in the beginning that don't involve Bond. Plus, as a result of the aforementioned rights dispute, this story got a remake in the 1980s, which we'll get to eventually. But as a maturing critic, I've learned to look past all that and can see this for what it is: another solid effort. For all the trouble Fleming had to get this to the big screen (shame he died before it was finished), it was worth it, especially for the character-driven moments involving Largo and Domino. 5 out of 5.

The Call: 90% (A-)

IchigoRyu will return in
You Only Live Twice

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Game Review: Go Play Circus Star

Go Play: Circus Star
  • Publisher: Majesco
  • Developer: N-Fusion
  • Release Date: 9 June 2009
  • System: Wii
  • Genre: Minigames
  • Players 1-4
  • Rarity/Cost: Common, US$5-20

There's a certain theme I've found to be surprisingly under-represented in video games: the circus.  The last one I can think of is Circus Charlie, made by Konami back in 1984, and even that was basically a glorified Donkey Kong.  Welp, I've found another one, but to get to it, we'll have to wade into the world of Wii shovelware.  (DUN DUN DUU~UN)  I'm talking about a world that kept Wii Play on the top of the sales charts for years, so yeah, this is gonna suck.  Enter Go Play: Circus Star, which comes from the Majesco-published, budget oriented Go Play line of titles.  Proving their priorities are kind of... differenty, the last entry in this series is about being a lumberjack.  ...A lumberjackAnd not the kind that puts on womens' clothing and hangs around in bars, either.  But they switched out the developer this time around, so let's have at it!

There are five events that play just like this one.
The structure of this game is vaguely styled after Rock Band, in that you earn fans and money from good performances, with your ultimate goal being to collect 5,000 fans.  Along the way you will be able to buy access to new acts and venues, and by doing so the potential rewards you can earn will increase exponentially.  The problem is, the act of doing so is where the trouble starts.  Of the 15 events (6 are available from the start) you can play, quite a few recycle mechanics from some of the other games.  For example, there are five events (Tightrope, Unicycle, Elephant Ride, Rola Bola, and Trapeze) that involve balancing the Wii Remote left/right or forward/back to hit targets without going too far.  On the other hand, almost all of the events give you the option of using the Wii Balance Board.  I do appreciate how well-integrated the Balance Board is in this game, even if I was unable to test it.  After all, I've got enough expensive controllers lying around the house as it is - and I think that half-broken Guitar Hero drum kit would agree with me.
The special stunts you can perform do nothing to add immersion.
Consistent good performance will fill up a meter; once it's filled up at least one time (out of three), you can press A to perform a special stunt that earns you more fans.  While these can be used strategically to interrupt the action at critical moments, you have no control over the specific maneuver being performed.  Not helping matters is that these cutscenes are rather poorly animated; combine that with the N64-quality character models and you've got a very low-rent experience.  You have the choice of six characters which you can't change after starting a profile, nor customise, and their voice acting is as dorky as... pretty much everything else in the game.  And then there's the ringmaster... like, gag me with a spoon!  He sounds like Dr. Eggman and sports the worst beard I have ever seen in a video game.  (Come to think of it, the real Dr. Eggman would be a better choice.)  Fortunately, you can turn him off, thanks to the ONLY option on the options menu!

Despite my disdain for this type of game, I'll admit I could really get into if it was, you know, better.  Specifically, I would've included a greater variety of events, drawing inspiration from circus styles around the globe.  Individual tricks could be done at any time through Ton Hawk-style button inputs.  I'd tighten up the graphics, obviously, and set up a character and outfit customisation system.  Going hand-in-hand with that would be a re-structured career mode where you could build up your character's stats through training games in-between shows.  And if I really wanted to push the envelope, I'd add some sort of manager mode where you could set up your own shows, customising the acts and themes.  Also it would be a tie-in with the Kaleido Star anime, so yeah, I'm kind of a wishful thinker.  But better to have a big imagination that doesn't go anywhere than be stuck with a game that won't even hold your attention for the span of one rental, amirite?

Control: 3 stars out of 5
Design: 1 stars out of 5
Audiovisual: 1 star out of 5
Value: 1 star out of 5
The Call: 40% (F)

Next Episode: On the topic of Kaleido Star, you can expect a review on that in the near future.  But for now, I've got to get back to Bond.  Reviews of Thunderball and You Only Live Twice are up next.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Dance Dance Retrospective: Extreme (2004)

As early as the first quarter of 2004, buzz for the American version of Dance Dance Revolution Extreme (21 September 2004, PlayStation 2) was high.  Early screenshots depicted an experience nigh-identical to the arcade game many of us, at the time, had a fondness for.  Read here if you don't remember.  And then... somewhere along the line, Konami pulled a bait-and-switch on us, transforming the title we knew and love into something that, while essentially played identically to the DDR format you should be familiar with by now, looked alien and unusual.  And based on the laws of the Internet, when something like that gets changed, it sucks.  There was a mild furor stirring up on online DDR communities around the release of the new Extreme, with people likening it to what Nintendo did with The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.  Only problem is, that game played well and was highly regarded in hindsight; would the same happen here?  Yes, actually.

This design is what had everyone up in arms?
What little issue could've gotten gamers so up in arms?  Well, it all has to do with the interface style.  Extreme 2004 replaces the yellow-green colour scheme from the arcade version with a simpler, blue-green-based look.  And instead of the MAX-era "song wheel", the music selection screen is something of a mix between that and the one from the 1st-3rdMIX era, with the song titles curving up to the top in a circle.  True to the classic style, pressing Left shifts the tracklist to the right and vice-versa.  Is it a half-hearted attempt at evoking the old games?  Maybe, but this was anything but a dealbreaker for me, and judging by its reception nowadays, I'm glad my opinion spread so far.

So what could've inspired such a "drastic" change in aesthetics?  Some people would point to the integration of the Eyetoy camera (PS: predates the Kinect by seven years).  While the music menu looks as if it was designed to be controlled with your hands, this was not the case. Instead, you can access Eyetoy-enhanced gameplay from the game's Party Mode, you can play normally with yourself as the backdrop ("Watch Me Dance"), wipe the screen with your arms and body to see the arrows ("Clean The Screen"), or use your hands as additional inputs ("Hands And Feet").  This last one is notable is the closest thing we've gotten to the 6-panel mode from the DDR Solo series in a while.  There are also other minigames that use the Eyetoy or the dance pad which, while they don't involve dancing, are fun diversions in their own right.  My tip of the hat to Konami for doing the impossible: creating a casual party game which doesn't neglect the "true gamer" set.

Hands and Feet mode.  I apologise for the derpy model.
How can I prove this claim?  All 5 difficulty levels are accounted for, and the 71-song setlist features a good number of songs from the 2002 Extreme, including "The Legend of MAX" as a boss song.  (NB: The Extra Stage system has been scrapped; the main mode does not limit the number of songs you can play before you quit.)  The scoring system is a little weird: like in 5thMIX and Max, the game adds a bonus on top of your base score.  However, the base score always tops out at 7 million points, and the bonus can bring it up to an even 10 million.  This is just me, but I'm like, why not just give us the 10 million up front?  Maybe if I knew *how* the bonus was calculated, I wouldn't be so up in arms...  There's also the Mission Mode, which gives you a hundred score-based or modifier-based challenges for sections of songs.  Unfortunately, the unlocking mechanic in Mission Mode is a little unweildy, and the difficulty can get out of hand, especially on missions where you have to get as many Great or Good marks as possible.

Notable new songs include:
  • New licenced songs include "YMCA" (by The Village People), "Move Your Feet" (by Junior Senior), and "Go West" (Pet Shop Boys).  Continuing the tradition from MAX2 USA, some of these songs use their own music videos.
  • Expanding on how the 2002 Extreme featured songs crossed over from other Bemani games, this time around there are pop song covers featured in the Karaoke Revolution series.  These are "Believe" (as made famous by Cher), "Bizarre Love Triangle" (New Order), "Ladies' Night" (Kool & the Gang), "Like A Virgin" (Madonna), and "Waiting For Tonight" (Jennifer Lopez).
  • In addition, there are two songs inspired by the Silent Hill franchise, of all places: the R&B "Your Rain (Rage Mix)" by Akira Yamaoka and the quasi-country "You're Not Here" by Heather. 
  • "Highs Off U (Scorccio XY Mix)" by 4 Reeel.  A revival licence from MAX, this samples from "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.  Notably, this song notably has the F-bomb in its lyrics but the game STILL got an E (ages 6+) rating, but to be honest, it's a little hard to catch.
  • "Memories" by Naoki feat. Paula Terry.  An unlockable trance/eurobeat song dating back to Euromix 2, this was kind of mis-handled this time around.  Unlike with the other hidden songs in this game, no amount of gameplay will unlock this one.  It turns out you have to use a button code to unlock it - the only problem was that this code wasn't unveiled until a 2006 promotion with Burger King - over two years after the game was released.  To unlock "Memories" at any time, enter this on the main menu with a controller in the second port: Right, Right, Right, Right, Up, Up, Up, Square, Left, Left, Down, Down, Down, Square, Square, Select.
  • "Maximizer" by Climax-S (Sota Fujimori).  Despite it's name, it's not technically another sequel to "Max 300", but as a 190 BPM happy-hardcore songs topping out at 8 feet on Heavy, it's no cakewalk either.
You know what's weird?  For the first time, the North American home version was the first international port of any one DDR title to be released.  Its counterpart in Europe was Dancing Stage Fusion (5 November 2004, PlayStation 2) which, at 54 songs, finally took the European franchise a step towards respectability.  Japan was last with Dance Dance Revolution Festival (18 November 2004, PlayStation 2), whose 66-song setlist included exclusives from Ultramix, even DLC songs.  It makes sense because since the XBox console bombed in Japan, they'd never get any of the Ultramix games in a million years.  So, if the XBox wasn't in your interest back in the day, you should consider importing this one.

Why am I starting all my paragraphs with questions?  Heck if I know.  Just stay tuned for the next episode of Dance Dance Retrospective, where we throw yet another Extreme on the pile: 2005's Dance Dance Revolution Extreme 2.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Music Review: We Can't Dance

We Can't Dance
  • Band: Genesis (Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks)
  • Label: Atlantic (USA), Virgin (UK)
  • Genre: Rock (Progressive)
  • Producers: Genesis, Nick Davis
  • Release: 11 November 1991
  • Formats: Casette, CD, Vinyl
I may claim to be a huge fan of Phil Collins and Genesis, but to be honest, most of my knowledge lies in their later career, where all the hits came from.  The first Genesis album I bought was 1986's Invisible Touch which, while a good starting point for anyone wishing to explore their catalogue, doesn't offer anything special outside of its many hits.  I know the band dates back to 1967, but I have yet to get into their older, Peter Gabriel-fronted material.  But for now, I've been focusing on their other albums, like Calling All Stations and the one I'm presenting for you readers today: 1991's We Can't Dance, the final album they recorded with Phil Collins.
  1. "No Son Of Mine": Like in Calling All Stations, We Can't Dance opens with an awesome, emotionally epic track.  But unlike the title track from Calling All Stations, which hits you with full force at the get-go, "No Son Of Mine" starts out quiet, which only serves to make the climax that much more moving.  The lyrics are told from the point of view of a man who tries to take refuge with his family, but is rebuked by his father, hence the title.  Released as a single.  5 out of 5.
  2. "Jesus He Loves Me": Don't be scared, this isn't a Christian rock song.  "Jesus He Loves Me" is sung from the point of view of a televangelist, who broadcasts a donation-corrupted dream of eternal salvation for his viewers, and gives off the appearance of a perfect family man whilst dealing in shady - and occasionally sexy - business on the side.  I mean, lines like "I believe in the family / with my ever-loving wife beside me / but she don't know about my girlfriend / or the man I met last night" should clue you in that not everything is heavenly in his paradise.  Released as a single.  5 out of 5.
  3. "Driving The Last Spike": One of the album's long-format tracks, "Driving The Last Spike" is another character song, told from the point of view of a railroad worker in 19th century Britain.  Around the middle of the track, the protagonist survives a tunnel cave-in, and the music builds up accordingly.  5 out of 5.
  4. "I Can't Dance": This blues-rocker is unlike anything else on the album, or even in the band's entire repertoire.  That Genesis can follow up three character-based progressive songs with a single-ready hit sung from beneath the pants only serves to underscore the band's versatility.  Released as a single.  5 out of 5.
  5. "Never A Time": At this point, the album's momentum sadly starts to peter out with "Never A Time", the unimpressive fifth track.  At the very least, it falls in line with the production style of most of the other songs on the album.  In a word, I would describe the feel of these songs as "sunny", with the soundscapes being painted by soft synth washes and more of Mike Rutherford's guitar work than in their previous album.  Not to prefer one over the other, but if you listen to this next to the considerably darker Calling All Stations, you'll notice a difference  Released as a single.  3 out of 5.
  6. "Dreaming While You Sleep": Once again proving the band's ability to adapt their style, "Dreaming While You Sleep" takes cues from contemporary electronica.  Most of the track is driven by a minimal jungle/house beat, almost as if they had updated "Man On The Corner" for the '90s.  But as with "Man On The Corner", they still find time to pull out a rousing, intense chorus.  4 out of 5.
  7. "Tell Me Why": This is one of those help-the-homeless types of songs, where every line in the verse is supposed to make you feel sorry for the less fortunate.  Heck, they even attack the listener with "You say there's nothing you can do / is there one rule for them and one for you".  Listen, I've got nothing against the act of charity, and sales of the single (not released in North America) were contributed to Bosnian Save The Children and the Red Cross.  But if I'm going to contribute to help out the needy, I'll do it on my own terms, thank you very much.  Fun Fact: Phil Collins sang on the chorus of the original help-the-homeless song, "Do They Know It's Christmas".  Released as a single.  2 out of 5.
  8. "Living Forever": Nothing stands out on this track except the instrumental jam at the end, which break out some 70's-era synth keyboards.  3 out of 5.
  9. "Hold On My Heart": This is a dang beautiful song, that provides the perfect chill-out after the (relatively) intense instrumentals of the last track.  It might have served its duties better if it had followed something faster, like "Jesus He Knows Me" or "Driving The Last Spike".  But as it stands, "Hold On My Heart" gives your brain the relief it needs to get through the rest of the album - and trust me, you're gonna need that mental stamina.  Released as a single.  5 out of 5.
  10. "Way Of The World": Yeah, it's another song complaining about the ills of the world, like on "Tell Me Why".  However, the message here is more nihilistic, saying there's all these kinds of people, but "it's just the way of the world".  Fun fact: another one of these types of songs, Collins' own "Another Day In Paradise" is my favourite song of all time.  Although... the lyrics aren't necessarily the reason why I adore it so much.  3 out of 5.
  11. "Since I Lost You": Fun fact: this song was written by Collins as a tribue to Eric Clapton, whose four-year-old son died earlier in 1991.  This is the same accident from which Clapton himself wrote "Tears In Heaven".  Of course, that doesn't save "Since I Lost You" from the fact that it's boring as toast, even with Collins putting his all into it.  3 out of 5.
  12. "Fading Lights": This is it.  Being the final track on the final Collins-led Genesis album, "Fading Lights" takes it out with a bang.  In spirit, anyway; in practice, smoldering would be a better way to describe it.  There are long, quiet buffer zones at the beginning and end of the track, but they build up and break down gradually to great effect.  In between are some downright volcanic instrumental segments utilising more classic synth, thus tying past with present.  And the lyrics talk about how everything in this world is ephemeral and unlasting - a fitting, if unintended metaphor for Genesis's career at this point.  Don'tcha just love accidental symbolism?  5 out of 5.
For what would be their final album with their most recognisable lineup, Genesis crafted a work that perfectly bridges their classic and modern eras.  The lyrics and compositions are daring without coming across as pretentious, and are able to fit into the mainstream crowd whilst being unlike anything else out at the time.  The only problem with this album - which sadly denies it the perfect score I awarded to its successor - is that the album cuts are a little weak and lack that memorability found on even the most obscure tracks of their other albums.  But when We Can't Dance hits its high points, it strikes the perfect balance between everything Genesis has come through in the past quarter-century and takes it all to the next level.
    The Call: 95% (A)