Thursday, October 31, 2013

Music Review: Roar

Previously on the SDP, I reviewed the latest output from one of our pop princesses, Britney Spears. Now to take on another!

  • Artist: Katy Perry
  • Album: Prism
  • Release: 10 August 2013
  • Label: Capitol (Universal)
  • Genre: Pop
  • Writers: Katy Perry, Lukasz "Dr. Luke" Gottwald, Max Martin, Bonnie McKee, Henry "Cirkut" Walter
  • Producers: Dr. Luke, Max Martin, Cirkut
It seems that the pop divas come in easily comparable pairs. In the '80s we had Madonna vs. Cyndi Lauper, the '90s was... mostly Mariah Carey with a bit of Paula Abdul thrown in, and the 2000s gave us Britney Spears vs. Christina Aguilera and a host of others. Now it is the 2010s and we have on our plate Lady Gaga vs. Katy Perry, with acts like Ke$ha and Nicki Minaj on the side. The reason I'm outlining this is because you can get a pretty good idea of someone when you ask him or her which they prefer. For example, I'm more of a Lady Gaga fanboy, because the music she attaches her name to is more interesting and innovative. Meanwhile, my dad is more of a Katy Perry person, presumably because she's less stimulating, but more of a safe bet musically. And with the odd exception like "Waking Up In Vegas" or "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F)", I find most of her stuff boring and overplayed. None more so than her latest number-one single, "Roar".

Remember over the past couple of years how we got a glut of pop songs revolving around the subject of self-esteem? First there were songs that could be boiled down to "You are good although you don't know it", and from them evolved the sub-genre of "I am good and I know it" songs. Good messages to espouse, yes, but even they can be played out when over-used. In the case of "Roar", however, I don't only mean "overused" in reference to all the previous examples over the years, I'm talking within the same song. For example, let's count how many cliched metaphors this song packs:
  • Eye of the tiger? Check.
  • Dancing through the fire? Check.
  • Zero to hero? Check.
  • Fighter? Check.
  • Thunder? Check.
  • Other giant cats? Check.
  • I am woman, hear me roar? Partial credit, but hey, it's got the title of the freakin' song in it!
Cliches aside, "Roar" doesn't work because it's just too cute for its own message. Katy's sprightly staccato delivery on the verses, and the way she drags out the word "roar" in the chorus, for example, contrast with the potential intensity which the words themselves hold. And while I'm on the subject, the melody is just boring; most of it is just three notes rolling over and over and over. Now that a lot of songs on the radio also have repetitive melodies, this is something I'm really getting bugged by. There's nothing interesting happening at the bottom of the track either, just a bunch of random, dingy guitar chords which I think are supposed to evole the great power-ballads of the '80s, but in practice serve as nothing more than background noise. Seriously, it might as well just be Katy singing a capella.

Let's get back to the lyrics. There's a reason for all those self-empowerment cliches I listed earlier: in this song, Katy's persona has been metaphorically [verb]ed upon, and now she has built up the mental strength to stand against it. It works in the music video, where she lives through a plane crash in the middle of the jungle (filmed in Los Angeles) and gets over her fears to survive. Campy, yes, but it works in its own... campy way. But without that superfluous context, one would imply this to be about a breakup. If that's the case, where does the guy stand in all of this? I mean, he's doing stuff like this:
I let you push me past the breaking point
You held me down, but I got up
And not much else, admittedly. See, that's the thing with bad breakup songs, not enough to give us a clear idea of the opposing party. And the worst part is that "Katy" let "him" do that:
I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath
Scared to rock the boat and make a mess
I stood for nothing, so I feel for everything
For the record, Perry herself has stated that she wrote "Roar" after undergoing therapy for her break-up with Russell Brand. [1]  Now, if she says she had a lot of pent-up emotions after the event, and she did, that's one thing, and I can understand that. But was your relationship with him so bad that you had to portray him as some domineering meanie? I mean, I'd expect that about Chris Brown, but Russell Brand? That's news to me! "But Kevin", you hypothetically retort, "this isn't a song about Katy herself! You're supposed to project yourself into her role!" Well in that case, we're going to see this in a wide load of movies, TV shows, and adverts as shorthand for overcoming a personal struggle. And whilst at least the whole of the lyrics support this message, it's just going to vindicate the use of all those cliches I just railed on!

I should also mention the similarities between this song and "Brave" by Sara Bareilles. Now this was another empowerment anthem, albeit this time directed at the user instead of the singer. I don't know about you, but having Bareilles telling me "I wanna see you be brave" is more of a pick-me-up than Katy asserting "you're gonna hear me roar". Apart from the message, the key signature's the same, the tempo's the same, it's even got the same plinky piano line (although the chorus melody is more than just the same three notes repeated over and over). So it should be no surprise that accusations of plagiarism have been bandied about regarding "Roar". Bareilles played down the accusations since, you know, both songs are about positive messages, [2] and Dr. Luke, co-writer and co-producer of "Roar", claimed that his song was written and recorded before "Brave" released. [3]  As for my two cents, I'll take their word for it, and even if I were to learn that it was plagiarised, it wouldn't change my opinion that "Roar" is a mostly dreadful song.

It's not that "Roar" is terrible in the same way as being mauled by a real tiger, or even sitting through a pop song performed by said tiger. But still, nothing in this song works the way it should. Whilst the message it attempts to espouse is admirable in its intention, all the cliches it is expressed with undo the seriousness it deserves. Let me put it to you this way: I'm not a huge fan of Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger". (U mad bro?) Mainly that's because the ways it's been used in popular culture since its creation, and the frequency with which it has been used, have turned the product into a walking, singing cliche. And for "Roar" to use it in turn, almost literally, create a new layer of cliches. Worst-case scenario, this process may be repeated with other songs down the road, creating an Inception-esque network of cliches and collapsing all other music into a point of cliche singularity. But for now, it's more of a whimper, really.

Lyrics: 1 roars out of 5
Music: 1 roars out of 5
Performance: 2 roars out of 5
The Call: 2 out of 5 (D)

[1] "Katy Perry new song called Roar". 12 August 2013.
[2] Pavlova, Victoria. "Katy Perry And Sara Bareilles "Brave"-ly "Roar" In The Face Of Plagiarism Speculation". August 13, 2013.
[3] @TheDoctorLuke. "too bad .....". Twitter. 14 August 2013.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Music Review: Work B**ch!

Previously on the SDP, I reviewed "Scream and Shout", the collab between and Britney Spears which no one was anticipating. Now let's see whan happens when she goes solo... again... in "Work B**ch!".

"Work B**ch!"
  • Artist: Britney Spears
  • Album: Britney Jean
  • Genre: Pop, Dance
  • Label: RCA (Sony)
  • Single Release: 16 September 2013
  • Writers: William "" Adams, Britney Spears, Otto "Knows" Jettman, Sebastian Ingrosso, Anthony Preston, Ruth-Anne Cunningham
  • Producer: Otto Knows
As you can see by the above list of writers, William "" Adams is credited as a co-writer on "Work B**ch!" -- and of course, no pop song these days can exist without at least five writers, I said in sarcasm mode -- but not as the producer. So I don't know how much influence he holds this time around, but one thing's for sure: something's rubbed off on Britney. Much about this new song appears to have been carried over from "Scream and Shout", the last song they worked on together. There are similarities in the song's structure, the production style, and even Britney's performance. Case in point: we start off with Britney doing that British-accented quasi-rapping she first broke out in that other song. The hook revolves around listing all these upper-class name-brands and other luxuries, as is de rigeur these days... but with a twist.
You want a hot body
You want a Bulgari
You want a Maserati
You better work, [noun]
Yeah, it turns out the finer things in life require current to obtain! Whoda thunk? And why has it taken our celebrities so long to publicly acknowledge it in their works? Probably because of all their product placement endorsements or something. Present company included, apparently; the music video for "Work B**ch!" features the Planet Hollywood resort in Las Vegas, where she had just started a residency show, plus the Beats by Dre Pill speaker. Okay, this is a hard change to make (unless you're Macklemore). But answer me this, Britney: just what kind of work are you commanding us [noun]s to perform? Taking the lyrics on their own, it would be safe to interpret "work" as your day job. But this being a club dance song, well, something tells me you didn't exactly have our contributing to our nation's GDP in mind.

I will however give credit to this song's sense of command. Her use of the word [noun] ('re just gonna have to take my word for it) is meant not to belittle women, as is the usual case, but to belittle you. Yes, you, the listener. She is asserting dominance over you and playing the role of the dominatrix, made especially plausible by the return of her haughty, out-of-character accent. And I, for one, enjoy this use of personality, compared to so many other songs, "Scream and Shout" included, which neglect this aspect. So tell me what else I may work for, master (mistress?) Britney.
You want a Lamborghini
Sipping martinis
Look hot in a bikini
You better work, [noun]
I'm gonna have to stop you there; you already mentioned an appealing bodily figure as something that requires work on the part of [noun]s. And that's not the only instance of recycled examples, but I'll get back to that later. So the chorus continues in a similar fashion until the line "Now get to work, [noun]!" and a "dirty bit" musical bridge ensues. But among the "dirty bit"s I've encountered in my life thus far, the one here is a cut above the usual fare. There is some semblance of a melody for once! A repetitive melody that's just a continuation of the bassline from the chorus before it, yes, but it is a proper release of the intensity built up during the chorus. Compare that to other examples of the "dirty bit", even "Scream and Shout", which just kill the momentum when they arrive, and this is at least a step in the right direction.

Speaking of that song, as was the case with "Scream and Shout", I'm tempted to say the lyrics in the verses don't matter. I mean, the hook already made a rather strong statement, amirite? In comparison, the lyrics to the verses consists mainly of egging the crowd on to have a good time and bragging about how earth-shatteringly awesome the beat is. You know, just like in "Scream and Shout". And besides, given the poor balance between the thumping beat and Britney's soft, sirenic voice, I can hardly make out what she's saying at just about any point in the song, much less the verses. For example, let's go back to the start of the chorus, or wait for it to come around again, and listen to the line "You want a Bulgari?". I thought she was saying "Bugatti", yet another luxury car brand, instead of "Bulgari", a luxury jewelry brand. Then again, that would make three car brands in the same chorus, so at least she and her writers have some standards. Not good standards, mind you, we're still left with two car brands, but I guess we should take what we can get.

"Work B**ch!" is no example of high art, let's get that out of the way. The melody is repetitive, although so many songs in the Top 40 these days get away with such a crime, and while the message of the lyrics is interesting, the chorus does most of the work in getting it across. That said, I will say that this is what "Scream & Shout" should've been like. Simply put, "Work B**ch!" has personality -- something so many hits are lacking in. And if you expect me to stick around and listen to an entire song on the radio or plunk down the dollar-plus to download a copy, you had better bring some personality to set you apart and provide a memorable listening experience. So in conclusion: Yes Britney, may I have some more?

(You better work, [noun].)

Lyrics: 2 Beats Pills out of 5
Music: 3 Beats Pills out of 5
Performance: 2 Beats Pills out of 5
The Call: 3 out of 5 (C)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Game Review: Gal*Gun (First Impressions)

Gal*Gun (Demo)
  • Publisher: Alchemist
  • Developer: Inti Creates
  • Release: PlayStation 3, 23 February 2012 (Japan/South Korea)
  • Genre: First-person action
  • Players: 1
  • Rarity/Cost: Free
NB: I should note that the following text reflects not the full version of Gal*Gun, but a free demo available on the Japanese PlayStation Network store. It's possible for foreigners to create and use a PSN account, to not only buy the game but get its free demo, but it takes some doing. The late JewWario of You Can Play This has uploaded a video to instruct you on doing such, as a matter of fact, so go watch that. Oh, and the title is listed in Japanese, so search for "ぎゃる☆がん" ("Gyaru Gan").

Everyone done? Good. Now, on to the review, inasmuch as I can call it one.

A little Fun Fact about me as a gamer: I love light-gun shooters (Japanese-made ones, that is), as evidenced by the fact that I have an article tag for them. My favourite has to be the Time Crisis series by Namco, and I shall have to review them sometime. But stay in love with a genre for long enough, and sooner or later each new experience starts feeling like the last. Not to mention, a lot of these games are bloody short! Of course, that's because most of them are ports of coin-op arcade games, which are short by their nature of being designed to get players on and off as fast as possible, but still. So it's about time for some new blood in the genre, I say, and then along comes Gal*Gun, an Asian-exclusive PS3 game, providing a cute quasi-parody of the genre. Is it the new blood we need? Let's find out.

Gal*Gun started life not as an arcade game, but an XBox 360-exclusive from early 2011. However, somebody forgot to make a light-gun controller for the 360, so you have to play it with a traditional controller. Not that it's inherently a bad thing, I mean, a lot of these games have traditional controller support. Not very good traditional controller support, but hey, the spirit of inclusion is there. Besides, this version is region-locked against non-Japanese XBox 360s, and they made a patch to censor the panty shots... more on that some other time. But then along came a port for the PlayStation 3 a year later, bringing along with it Move controller support and the ability to play on non-Japanese consoles. But would you want to? Again, let's find out.

You play as Tenzou, an Ordinary High School Student who gets accidentally shot by a bunch of magical arrows by a cupid named Patako. Although according to the opening cutscene I don't think it was that unintentional. But anyway, Tenzou is blessed with super sex appeal, although he has to find true love before the magic's affect wears off, he'll be lonely for the rest of his life. Now, I actually had to find that last part off of the game's Wikipedia entry, because its story is presented visual-novel style in spoken and written text, which of course is presented entirely in Japanese. But the end result is that all the girls in Tenzou's school go crazy over him, and he has to fend them off with the use of Patako's Pheremone Gun. And I'm like, what is your problem Tenzou?  Why are you even fighting them in the first place? Aren't you supposed to find love before the day is out or whatever? Maybe you're one of the few among us who know the difference between love and lust; that's the best explanation I can manage.
Enemy "bullets", in the form of text characters, are easy to block.
But anyway, here's where you come in. You move a cursor with the Left Stick and press a button to "shoot" at girls, whereupon instead of dying they swoon with delight and disappear. It even does that Virtua Cop thing where the camera automatically zooms into certain targets. And you know how in most shooters you can deal more damage with head shots? Well to that effect Gal*Gun has "Ecstasy Shots", which are located around the front of their skirts (you know... where they hide their lady parts), and bring them down with one shot instead of the usual three or four. The girls' attacks consist primarily of launching various kana and kanji characters that drift lazily towards the screen, and you must shoot to block them or incur "damage", inasmuch as I can call it damage given the context of the story. But whatever it symbolises, if it falls to zero, it's Game Over, of course. However, unlike most shooter games, light-gun or otherwise, your Pheremone Gun has unlimited ammo; you don't even need to reload its magazine or anything. Combined with the lethargic sense of danger, and based on the demo alone, Gal*Gun shapes up to be an unfortunately boring experience. Maybe the pace picks up in the later stages of the full version, I don't know.

In addition to your health meter, there's a heart-shaped meter which you can fill up multiple times with successful hits. Once it fills at least one, you can hover your cursor over a girl and press Triangle to enter what's called "Doki-Doki Mode". As the setting shifts to a different plane of existence or something, you move your cursor between various pre-set points along the girl's body, and press the fire button/trigger to, I don't know, poke her there or something, filling up a separate meter on the left. But you have to do it before your heart meter runs out of juice and you get kicked back out to the main game. And you can't just button-mash your way to success like in the main game; as you place a hit and the girl, ahem, "reacts", you can't fire again until her animation completes. This partial denial of input makes for a truly boring, tedious diversion. So anyway, assuming you manage to complete this mini-game (don't forget to press Triangle again to deliver the, ahem, "finishing blow"), and do you want to know what the reward for all that was? A bomb, inasmuch as I can call it a bomb. All the girls on-screen, ahem, "cleared out" simultaneously. And I'm like, *why* couldn't I just launch a "bomb" instantly when I press that confounded button!?
The Doki-Doki Mode takes way too much time to get through.
If I ever purchase the full version, I'll make a part-two of this review, but the demo hasn't given me much to be excited about. Let me put it to you this way: this isn't a game that should make you buy a Move system if you don't already own one. Rather, if you don't already own a Move system, then give this a pass. The unorthodox setting is cute, either in the sexualised spirit with which it was intended, or in its camp value for attempting the former and failing. But as a game, let alone a light-gun game, it's rather boring and slow-paced. Maybe the full version ramps up the challenge something decent, but otherwise I can't quite recommend this game, inasmuch as I can call it a game.

Control: 4 Ecstasy Shots out of 5
Design: 2 Ecstasy Shots out of 5
Graphics: 5 Ecstasy Shots out of 5
Audio: 3 Ecstasy Shots out of 5
The Call: 3 Ecstasy Shots out of 5 (C)