Category Archives: Reviews

101 Great Albums. No.9: Kendrick Lamar – Section.80

Section.80 is an often overlooked part of Kendrick Lamar’s impressive back catalogue, coming as it did just a year before the critically acclaimed Good Kid M.A.A.D City, but offered the first (inconsistent) sample of the rapper’s desired direction.

Lamar focuses the majority of 16 breezy “chapters” upon specific life events, refusing to accommodate generalisation, and thus conjuring lustrous couplets that knit tightly between exquisitely arranged soundtracks.

Chapter Six refers to the unpretentious pleasure of cruising around in a car whilst clouds of Mary Jane pour freely through ones lips (the most middle-classed description for blazin’ up I could muster).

Kendrick Lamar

With a blissfully soulful beat and repetitious lyrics, the song jabs hypnotically at the listener’s senses, breaking from archetypal flow with its linear structure, whilst also containing the requisite chitty-chatty bridge associated with contemporary rap releases.

Admittedly the first three songs on the album, the delectably titled F**k Your Ethnicity, Hol’ Up and A.D.H.D, are the sparkling apex of the piece, and to have continued in the same vain would have guaranteed further accolades upon release.

This is a bit of shame, as the rest of the album has plenty to offer, and had tracks been dispensed with a little more care, the divide may not have been quite so conspicuous.

The good and excellent certainly outweigh the mediocre, although admittedly a quarter of the one hour output could probably have been trimmed without negatively impacting in any way.

Section.80 is a must for Kendrick Lamar enthusiasts, and a definite for any hip-hop fans keen to avoid the stereotypes churned out Ad nauseam through the 21st Century.

The first three tracks and Chapter Six nail their intention without wasting a syllable, while Keisha’s Song, Rigamortus and HiiiPoWeR remain among the young rapper’s finest work to date.

Written by Dom Kureen

As a young rapscallion stranded on an Island, my time is split between writing, performing spoken word, wrestling alligators and delivering uplifting pep talks to hairdressers before they prune me. I meditate and wash daily when possible.

Review: Lairy Tales and Crappy Ever Afters

Baps; we all admire them and we’re liars if we claim otherwise. Whether of the savoury or fleshy variety, there’s a diversity of shape and flavour fit to tantalise even the most discerning of palates.

Unruly Baps

The Ventnor Fringe festival gave curtain call to its final venue of 2016 with a show of rich imagination and tireless expression, courtesy of Lady Baps (Sarah Palette) and Unruly Scrumptious (Eljai Morais), collectively known as Unruly Baps.

A full throttle spectacle divided into seven segments, each containing frenzied farce, with the majority pulling in members of an appreciative audience (although nobody sat in the front row, perhaps wary of becoming part of the show.)

During the opening monologue Unruly Baps described what was set to unfold as “several tales told by two idiots”, as the duo bickered and adorned their bonces with the first of a throng of wigs utilised throughout the evening.

Unruly Baps

The inaugural fairy tale spoofed was Cinderella, which involved Unruly Scrumptious modernising the tale through an extensive and absorbing poem in an impressively legit northern twang.

This scene also gave Lady Baps an opportunity to exhibit her penchant for physical comedy; carrying the action element of the piece with relish, her facial expressions and change of tone brought life to the Cinderella story, with a final twist in the tale for good measure.

Keeping the pace brisk, a “feminist five minutes” called for a volunteer from the audience, but with nobody forthcoming, a man named ‘Liam’ was plucked from one of the back rows (he must have thought he’d be safe in the cheap seats!) He instantly got into the spirit of things with some sharp rebuttals as the ladies had their way with him… So to speak.

These brief fragments between the main action were an effective tool in ensuring proceedings flowed without the threat of a lull or crowd burnout.

More swift changeovers came into play before “Three fairy tales in an unspecified amount of time”, where Scrumptious played needy fall guy to her savvier sidekick, at one point being repeatedly sprayed in the face with water.

Additional volunteers were chosen, some more eager than others, as the regular breaking of the fourth wall guaranteed that patrons felt as if they could become part of the show at any given time. The fairy tales concluded with cackling laughter from the two ladies, who stared into space behind the audience with the sort of maniacal expressions usually reserved for American Idol contestants – it was reassuringly absurd in the most delectable way.

Unruly Baps

With the bar raised so high by these opening exchanges, the next couple of chapters fell a little flatter.

A tribute segway was short and sweet, but didn’t add an awful lot to the production, save for a few audio clips of David Bowie, Prince et al. A black and white silent movie of Rumpelstiltskin followed – a fantastic idea in theory as a deviation within a live show, but it was a tad too lengthy and one paced to be considered unblemished in execution.

Happily the denouement offered a hilarious rendering of Little Red Riding Hood, where the Grandmother was revealed as a slutty former squeeze of the wolf. It brought the house down and received a much deserved standing ovation to close the show.

Both performers exhibited an exquisite range of acting dexterity throughout the evening, with the unscripted aura a testament to not only their ability as actors, but also the skill to keep an audience captivated at the end of a long week at the fringe. This was a worthy headliner.

In short

A superb show, performed and written by two very talented women. A couple of scenes dipped when held against the lofty standard that book ended the night, but on the whole it was memorable for all the right reasons.

 

To find out more about the show and Unruly Baps in general click the links below!

Unruly Baps
Lady Baps
Unruly Scrumptious

Written by Dom Kureen

As a young rapscallion stranded on an Island, my time is split between writing, performing spoken word, wrestling alligators and delivering uplifting pep talks to hairdressers before they prune me. I meditate and wash daily when possible.

Review: Navy Knickers and Nicked TVs

Joan Ellis and Donna Jones MBE, aka ‘Them Two‘, shared 90 minutes of stories, poetry and performance pieces for a sell-out audience at the Winter Gardens during this year’s Ventnor Fringe festival on the Isle of Wight.

Donna Jones MBE
Donna Jones MBE

Donna, an accomplished wordsmith who had an illustrious career as a youth worker in the North-West of England, indulged attendees by traipsing around a slew of amusing subjects, including growing up with embarrassing parents (her Dad’s false teeth once scuppering the embryonic stages of a flirtatious liaison with a dishy waiter.)

Donna’s Mother (“the first feminist in Barnsley”) featured prominently in many of her anecdotes, heralded as a woman of great sass who retained the upper hand in her marriage.

Poems such as ‘The Miner’, ‘Blackpool Revisited’ and ’38DD’ were all delivered with requisite gusto from the lips of a bold performer who has been at the forefront of Isle of Wight spoken word and female rights issues for the past several years.

The two ladies intertwined their spirited but very different sets, an effective tool in keeping the show fresh throughout; each segment was kept brief by design, so the audience never had time to get too attached to one person’s material.

 

Joan Ellis spoke with great passion about her daughter, Sophie, who was present. Much of her material clearly derived from motherhood.

Joan navigated through various highlights of her career and personal life, displaying a penchant for storytelling – retrospectively musing on her time at the top end of the copy writing industry – as the voice of an animated dog amongst other things.

Joan and daughter Sophie
Joan and daughter Sophie

Highlights included an encounter she enjoyed with an aesthetically appealing young man in the 1990’s, whose contact details she was unable to pluck up the courage to take down. The next time she saw him was on television, as he turned out to be Neil Morrissey from Men Behaving Badly!

Switching back and forth again, Donna’s Buckingham Palace related material provided a shift of comedy gears, with every punchline hitting its intended target, most notably a deliciously disgusting description of one youngster as “the kind with hands down his trousers and offering you a crisp!”

Joan concluded the show with a captivating 8 minute monologue based on the death of Marilyn Monroe. It was crisply delivered, but could perhaps have been placed earlier in the afternoon to play out to a fully charged peanut gallery.

A well oiled show from two seasoned speakers, both of whom bounced off each other with great ease and organic chemistry, without it ever feeling overly rehearsed.


In a nutshell

+ A sell-out crowd aged anywhere from 12-72 were left feeling they’d had excellent value for their £6.50 ticket.

Donna Jones MBE’s website is available by clicking here.

Joan Ellis is live on Vectis Radio every Friday and Saturday from 1-2pm, click here for the link!

 

Written by Dom Kureen

As a young rapscallion stranded on an Island, my time is split between writing, performing spoken word, wrestling alligators and delivering uplifting pep talks to hairdressers before they prune me. I meditate and wash daily when possible.

November Playlist: Music Reviews

Jonathan O’Shea continues his pursuit of musical perfection with November’s instalment of his ever expanding playlist – this one features Weezer, but there isn’t an inhaler in sight…

Don’t Breathe Out – Roots Manuva

A soul-stirring sample of portly baritone Barry White’s ‘Honey Please, Can’t Ya See’ forms the unlikely bedrock of this gloriously gospel-tinged track. The orchestral intro to the Walrus of Love’s slightly sickly love letter morphs into something altogether more mystical and compelling under the spell of Stockwell’s philosophical wordsmith, Roots Manuva.

The king of – as he says in the song’s opening throes – ‘twist and adapt’, Roots uses his undimmed gift for vivid imagery to full effect. From his self-proclaimed ‘pulpit’ he delivers a flowing sermon about holding onto a ‘golden breath’ and uplifting invocations of the ‘new black Jesus’. It’s a return to familiar (but fertile) ground for an artist more concerned with espousing his idiosyncratic version of spirituality than figuring out his current place in the UK hip-hop firmament. But Rodney Smith’s trademark humour isn’t entirely absent: with talk of ‘hide the salami’ and ‘flopping it out’ prompting an adolescent grin.

One of his most lyrically potent moments of recent years, ‘Don’t Breathe Out’ is the third single release from Roots Manuva’s sixth studio album, Bleeds, which saw the light of day just last week.

 –

Thank God for Girls – Weezer

Already this new Weezer track has been interpreted by some imaginative souls as a ‘feminist anthem’, which might be pushing it a bit seeing as the major female role in Rivers Cuomo’s latest verbose rock anthem is a cannoli-maker. Instead, it’s less Taylor Swift girl-power-pop, more middle-aged rock-band paean to women from a particularly male perspective.

God grinding up and microwaving Adam’s rib ‘on the popcorn setting’ is just one of many offbeat images from a song packed with reasons to bow before the fairer sex, while the middle verse focuses on the desperate protagonist’s longing for a deliciously distant femme from an underwear catalogue.

Some of the indie veterans’ more recent output has been bordering on the execrable, so the zippy, infectious ‘Thank God For Girls’ indicates a promising return to form, coming in the slipstream of last year’s ‘Everything Will Be Alright In The End’ LP. The single’s cover art, featuring Pope Francis sharing convivialities with adoring female fans, is an instant classic-in-the-making too.

 –

Persephone Dreams – NCZA Lines 

Undeniable under (and over) tones of south coast synth-stars Metronomy should come as no surprise on ‘Persephone Dreams’, given that NCZA Lines provided the support on their UK tour last year. Singer and lyricist Michael Lovett is also a self-declared fan of R&B royalty Aaliyah, Ciara and Bajan bottom-barer, Rihanna; though those influences are felt very distantly here.

His electro-pop stylings first caused a stir when an eponymous debut album arrived in 2012, full of silky falsettos and sophisticated sci-fi imagery. Since then, one-time indie band bassist Lovett has been joined by ex-Ash guitarist Charlotte Hatherley and Hot Chip collaborator Sarah Jones. Their influence has evidently brought about some subtle changes which can be heard on this new single. Intriguingly, the slinky six-minute semi-epic breaks into a sort of steel drums vs synths battle half way through, but carries such implausible sonic adventures off in rare style.

NCZA Lines will be on the bill at the Moshi Moshi label’s new By The Sea festival at Dreamland theme park in Margate, on Nov 13th. An eagerly awaited new album, ‘Infinite Summer’, follows on January 22.

– 

Also recommended this month


Breaker
– Deerhunter
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCVWrqxyt3Y

In My Eyes – Best Coast https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhGwARswL_o

Machine – Euros Childs http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/records/n3cjm9

Like what you’ve heard? Infuriated by it? Just want to troll? Leave a comment below! Follow Jonathan O’Shea on Twitter by clicking here.

Written by Jonathan O'Shea

A keen student of sport, music and life. Can generally be found educating small people, bitterly damning Aston Villa's latest attempts at football, or writing nonsense about ephemera.

October Playlist: Music Reviews

Music; it’s not all One Direction and Fine Young Cannibals. Jonathan O’Shea shares his singles of the month, and there isn’t a Zayn Malik themed barbershop quartet in sight.

Window Shades – U.S. Girls

Skilfully structured around an irresistible deep disco beat ‘magpied’ (i.e. ‘nicked’) from Gloria Ann Taylor’s cult classic ‘Love is a Hurting Thing’, ‘Window Shades’ begins with a intriguingly haunting piano refrain and builds to a heart-rending tale of love lost. Accompanied by another bewitching (and self-directed) video, following the similarly mystical ‘Woman’s Work’ promo, this genre-defying single release confirms U.S. Girls as considerable new creative force.

Somehow this track seems just a smidgen under-cooked though; slightly running out of steam mid-way through. Still, it’s another stimulating taste of the idiosyncratic delicacies to expect from Toronto-based Meg Remy’s debut album ‘Half Free’, recently released on 4AD Records.

 

Kuma KitaDeerhoof

Deerhoof

Confuse and astound your neighbours as you jangle your flesh to the frantic, demi-demented electro-wibblings of the loveably strange Deerhoof. A malfunctioning futuristic story-bot tells a twisted tale of an encounter with a brown bear amid intermittently pulsing beats. It’s massively infectious, unreasonably joyous and can be found on the Post Tangent compilation, released in aid of Syrian refugees stranded in Calais.

Not convinced? OK, the lyrics:

Once upon a time/Kumanakumanakuma/Am I safe here?/Is that is that a bear?/Let’s play dead. Play dead!/That is that is a bear. Big and brown head!/Saying Gao Gao/Showing teeth and menacing bang bang bang/Cruel nature, eat or eaten/Everyone waltz.

Resist that.

Fever Elvis Presley & Michael Buble/
Bad Blood – Ryan Adams

Ever dug up your beloved pet rabbit – let’s call him Snowy – and sinisterly waggled his mangy, mangled remains around in the pretence that the once-lovely bundle of fluffy fun is still alive? No, neither have I. But Michael Buble has. Well, effectively.

This pseudo ‘duet’ between the super-syrupy auto-tuned crooner (AKA Micky Bubbles) and the greatest hip-swinger in rock history makes a sick mockery of the King’s considerable legacy. Presumably prompted more by desperation and greed than any desire to produce something enduringly special, this is the latest of innumerable covers of Little Willie John’s 1962 standard. In fact, Elvis obviously once recorded it himself – y’know, when he was alive and all – so why not just leave it at that?

Similarly, what can alt-crooner Ryan Adams’ motivation really be for recording – and actually releasing – an entire Taylor Swift album (‘1989’), so soon after it was initially a hit for the new queen of pop? Sure, he’s made a pleasant enough job of the universally adored Tay-Tay’s ‘Bad Blood’, but what’s the point? And she’s not even dead (yet)!

Coming soon: Harry Styles jives with the decomposing corpse of Ginger Rogers, while Miley Cyrus twerks malevolently in Marlon Brando’s rotting face…in the exclusive video for Bing Crosby and Peter Andre’s new festive EP, ‘Bing & Pete’s I’m Dreaming of an Insania Christmas’.

 

Also recommended this month

 

Paydirt – Horse Party

Singularity – New Order

A Change – Participant 

Let us know your tracks of the month and win a free iPod! Golf bag! Date with a pop-star! Old phone with nude photos of ex-gf that I can’t find a charger for! Sainsbury’s carrier bag worth 5p!

Written by Jonathan O'Shea

A keen student of sport, music and life. Can generally be found educating small people, bitterly damning Aston Villa's latest attempts at football, or writing nonsense about ephemera.

Straight Outta Putney

In a special review segment, Dom Kureen got in touch with 90’s hip-hop almanac Sam Cox to discuss the finer points of recently released N.W.A biopic “Straight Outta Compton”.

DK: Hello Sam; as a musician who grew up heavily influenced by 1990’s hip-hop, what are your overriding thoughts about “Straight Outta Compton” the movie?

SC: The film was visually impressive, obviously sounded good but felt weak. I imagine it’s what 50 Shades of grey felt like on the big screen to all those female minions of the novel.

The casting was relatively strong, but do you think having Ice Cube & Dr Dre producing might have affected the portrayal of certain key players?

I don’t think the casting was strong. Dre was well represented. He’s always been in the background and doesn’t shout about things media wise – he came across as you’d expect. Ice Cube clearly had no issues with his son playing him, but watching was a reminder that his Dad can actually act a lot better than Junior. “Boyz ‘n’ the Hood” was special. Eazy was poorly represented – the dude was nuts in real life!

Ice Cube and son - only one is blessed with acting and rap skills, although both have very chubby hands.
Ice Cube and son – only one is blessed with acting and rap skills, although both have very chubby hands.

For anyone not familiar with this era of hip-hop what/who would you recommend as essential listening?

Cypress Hill got me going. DJ Muggs is for me the best beat maker of that period. Rugged and natural – uses real beat samples; loops not just hits. Somehow the Hill clicked like the Prodigy back in the UK. I remember watching the video of Snoop’s “What’s my name?” when rap video was starting to kick off. That tune killed it – all of a sudden there was a focus on the west coast of the states

Why do you think the early 90’s seemed to produce so much amazing rap compared to the present day?

It was fresh back then. James Brown’s funky drummer gave groups like Public Enemy and N.W.A a starting point for percussion. The rest followed for a good decade but sadly thinned out. These days it’s fake drum sounds – sounds apparent in the 80’s, which is cool, but I’ve yet to hear them transfer well onto a track.

Sprinkle some shoddy vocals about one’s demeanour, and some new age R ‘n’ B and It’s a recipe for the masses. I guess the thing is the masses seem to lap things up without complaint these days and who can blame them? Hip-hop is now more a state of mind than a movement.

In a perverse way is a lot of what N.W.A discussed even more taboo in 2015 than it was in 1991?

Quite the opposite, but sadly not much seems to have changed. It’s been static for so long that the hip-hop we hear in 2015 seems designed for stagnation. God only knows the effect that has on young black Americans. There was a time just before the ‘net when (Talib) Kweli, De La Soul, Mos Def, the Roots et al threatened to break through… then came Pirate Bay and Kanye West.

Now all I can gauge is a strange blur of hip-hop and R ‘n’ B. Neither seems to represent anything other than MTV. Drake can suck my balls.

N.W.A

Kanye West is a clumsy rapper, but an excellent producer and self-publicist!

He’s the next President.

 

Do you think people’s progressively shorter attention spans aligned with the on-line nature of music has spelled the end for really exciting underground record releases?

Yeah man, absolutely. Gone are the days of record shopping – guys are screwed on UK high streets these days. I spend most of my time now in New Look recommending dresses for my girlfriend. Ten years back she’d be commending me on my new knee high socks and Mobb Deep album. The underground is still there, it’s just a lot further beneath the surface, and ironically easy to find.

Did you ever wear a large clock around your neck?

No, but I did have Nike tick ear studs. They don’t sell those in New Look.

Straight outta Putney!

Doesn’t get much more ghetto than SW15.

Can you throw out a couple of lesser known hip-hop tracks from that time that people wanting to learn about the scene should listen to?

Here are a few;

 

And finally; with regards to the film, how many stars would you give it and how would you sum it up?

Two stars… The film does nothing for the era that was. I remember smuggling N.W.A cassettes upstairs when I was 7, getting friends round and listening to them. Good times. Hip-hop progressed almost magically for a decade after that. When N.W.A split there was genuine excitement to see who was going where.

Straight Outta Compton is now showing across the UK, apart from in the Commodore cinema in Ryde on the Isle of Wight, which will receive the film reel in late 2038.

Sam Cox:
Dom Kureen:

Written by Dom Kureen

As a young rapscallion stranded on an Island, my time is split between writing, performing spoken word, wrestling alligators and delivering uplifting pep talks to hairdressers before they prune me. I meditate and wash daily when possible.

September Playlist: Music Reviews

Jonathan O’Shea serves up his monthly musical musings for Kureen readers to consume in the September playlist – make sure to let us know your opinions in the comment section below!

Sapokanikan – Joanna Newsom

Airfix-light, playfully plinking piano opens a wrought tale about the colonisation of a Native American settlement that preceded Manhattan. The accompanying video, evocatively directed by Hollywood hot-property Paul Thomas Anderson (‘There Will Be Blood’, ‘Boogie Nights’, ‘Magnolia’) follows Newsom as she strides purposefully across New York, a little like the rootless wanderer played by Greta Gerwig in ‘Frances Ha’; her long skirt billowing along to the parping brass flourishes.

Always charismatic and idiosyncratic in equal measure, the Californian harpist here showcases her imaginative take on events that have shaped NY’s Greenwich Village across the years. A distinctly (inevitable comparison alert!) Kate Bush-esque manic crescendo brings this typically unorthodox, but vivid ballad to its conclusion. Though it follows a familiar formula, the bouncy lightness and engaging lyricism of ‘Sapokanikan’ whets the appetite for Newsom’s upcoming new material.

‘Divers’– a double album – is her much-anticipated fourth LP, which follows in the autumn.

 

One Thing – Roots Manuva

As befitting a man named Rodney, Roots Manuva is unafraid to use prosaic and everyday imagery to illustrate his complex, thought-provoking rhymes.  Following his past declaration of affection for cheese on toast (‘Witness’); scrambled eggs and Walkers crisps are name-checked in this potent latest track.

Money is the ‘one thing’ on Roots’ mind here. A veteran of social commentary from his South London stronghold, he pointedly comments on the obscenity of the social welfare situation while paradoxically dreaming the consumer dream (of Lamborghinis and snakeskin bikinis). Dark, hypnotic production by Switch lends a sense of urgency to the message from the genre-defying instigator.

Fresh from the festival scene and supporting Blur at Hyde Park this summer, a re-energised Roots Manuva releases new album ‘Bleeds’ in October.

 

Snakeskin Deerhunter

Self-styled U.S. indie darling, Bradford Cox, has recently been dabbling in acting (‘Dallas Buyers Club’) and his ongoing solo project, Atlas Sound. But his most revered work comes as part of the fluid 4/5-piece band, Deerhunter. They return with new album ‘Fading Frontier’, concocted in the group’s hometown of Atlanta this year.

“I was born already nailed to the cross” is a killer opening line, if one which is hardly indicative of a sprightly clap-along tune such as this. The sinuously-delivered lyrics to ‘Snakeskin’ appear to be autobiographical – perhaps referencing the lead singer’s unusual adolescence (illness and isolation) and/or his recent unfortunate collision with a car. Funky, melodic and highly accessible; this track offers a good entry-point into Cox’s weird and wonderful world for those who are yet to experience its munificent pleasures.

Deerhunter will return to these shores in October/November; with gigs in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Brighton and London.

– 

Also recommended this month

 

Gratitude – Talib Kweli.
Hip-hop mastery; inciting us to ‘Fuck The Money’ (but not literally, that’d end messily).

Bodies – Farao.
Soaring and strident stuff from the “Scandi indie-folk goddess”.

Woman’s Work – U.S. Girls.
Like a demented Santigold. Sample YouTube comment: “This is some next level shit!”

Written by Jonathan O'Shea

A keen student of sport, music and life. Can generally be found educating small people, bitterly damning Aston Villa's latest attempts at football, or writing nonsense about ephemera.

2015 Ashes Review

From the rapture of Cardiff, to the anti-climax at the Oval, the 2015 Ashes series was one of the strangest in recent memory, leaving both Australia and England with far more questions than answers.

It was the home side that regained the little urn, triumphing 3-2 courtesy of a trio of wins notable by their brevity. The tourists on the other hand destroyed England to achieve their two Test wins, ensuring that they dominated the batting averages as matters tumbled to a close.

In terms of days played it set a new low for a five match Ashes series, with only 18 of 25 utilised by two sides seemingly determined to throw caution to the wind from the offset.

 

Ending of Eras

It also closed the book on some notable careers, with Aussie skipper Michael Clarke announcing his retirement along with team-mates Ryan Harris and Chris Rogers.

England stalwart Ian Bell struggled, save for a defiant display at his home ground of Edgbaston, stating that he’ll make a decision of his own during the next week or so.

Ultimately the cricket wasn’t often sparkling, but in passages the likes of new Australia captain Steven Smith, Rogers, Joe Root and Stuart Broad rose above the mediocrity to place their imprint on the series.

England Player Ratings

Numbers
Alastair Cook (Captain): 7/10
Runs: 330, Average: 36.66

Cook led the side with more assurance than previously, displaying both innovation and purposeful intent. His batting was relatively consistent, although he failed to achieve his first century in a home Ashes contest, falling agonisingly close twice with scores of 96 and 85.

Adam Lyth: 2/10
Runs: 115, Average: 12.77

Dire. Looked every inch a player with an inflated County average achieved against gentle seam bowlers on batting friendly tracks. Far from international standard, at almost 28 Lyth should probably be consigned to the overflowing scrapheap of failed English opening batsmen, with Moeen Ali promoted instead.

Ian Bell: 5/10
Runs: 215, Average: 26.87

Warwickshire fans rejoiced when Bell struck a brace of half centuries on a testing surface at home ground Edgbaston, his elevation to number three seemingly spurring a renaissance. Sadly he reverted to previous form thereafter, necessitating some deep contemplation post-series for the only Englishman to have ever won five Ashes series.

Joe Root: 8/10
Runs: 460. Average: 57.50
Wickets: 4, Average: 33.75

England’s go-to Yorkie when chasing the winning line, Root had three exceptional matches in which he struck England’s only pair of hundreds, as well as two half-centuries and an unbeaten 38. With four wickets to boot, the 24 year-old Vice-Captain did show some fallibility in the face of tactical short bowling, but was a class above his country’s other batsmen.

Johnny Bairstow: 6/10
Runs: 118. Average: 29.50

Returned to the fold at Edgbaston following abundant form for Yorkshire. A belligerent 74 helped England to take advantage of skittling Australia out for just 60 at Trent Bridge. That knock aside he fielded soundly without being entirely assured at the crease. Deserves a prolonged run at this level.

Ben Stokes: 7/10
Runs: 201. Average: 25.12
Wickets: 11. Average: 33.45

The heir to Andrew Flintoff’s throne showed glimpses of undoubted potential, as well as providing the enduring image of Ashes cricket in 2015 with a barely believable one-handed catch taken when diving full length in the slips. Batting fizzled out over the course of the summer, with bowling by contrast becoming more consistent. Promising.

Jos Buttler: 5/10
Runs: 122. Average: 15.25
Dismissals: 12

Kept wicket without any issues, yet Buttler’s batting fell off a cliff, with his last ditch knock of 42 beefing a paltry average up towards the relative heights of the mid-teens. Will need to work on his defensive skills if he’s going to succeed in the longer format.

Moeen Ali: 7/10
Runs: 293. Average: 36.62
Wickets: 12. Average: 45.50

The experiment of utilising Moeen’s batting skills in the lower echelons of the line-up worked a treat, as he regularly contributed quickfire runs among the tail. His position as a front-line bowler is less secure though, with his left arm spin not a patch of opposition tweaker Nathan Lyon.

Stuart Broad: 8.5/10
Runs: 134. Average: 19.14
Wickets: 21. Average: 20.90

One of Broad’s finest summers as a Test bowler, he was consistently thrilling, peaking with a career-best 8-15 at Trent Bridge. His batting also improved significantly from recent efforts, with a willingness to tough it out against the opposition’s quicks commendable. Passed Fred Trueman’s 307 Test scalps, ending the series with 308 of his own.

Mark Wood: 7/10
Runs: 103. Average: 25.75
Wickets: 10. Average: 39.10

Appeared jaded early on, but became integral to England’s success. His fierce bowling lacks precision at times, but he has the talent and work ethic to become world class. Chipped in with useful runs and fielded superbly; a pleasing all-round contribution.

Jimmy Anderson: 8/10
Runs: 11. Average: 2.75
Wickets: 10. Average: 27.50

His spell of 6-47 at Edgbaston swung the momentum heavily in England’s favour, although he suffered a side strain in the same Test, missing the remaining couple of matches as a result. Looks back to somewhere approaching his best, and a target of 550 wickets at this level can’t be discounted.

Steven Finn: 7/10
Runs: 9. Average: N.A
Wickets: 12. Average: 22.50

After around 18 months in the international wilderness, Finn returned with one of the most potent displays of his entire career. At 26 years-old he looks to have finally found the consistent rhythm to succeed among the elite of world cricket.

Gary Ballance: 4/10
Runs: 98. Average: 24.50

Technical flaws exposed in the first two Test matches, Ballance, who had a fairytale first year in five day cricket, looked out of his depth in the two games he played, with only a scratchy 61 of note to show for his efforts. Will need to improve his sluggish footwork to fulfil undoubted potential.

So, we move on to the limited overs game. Can England continue the impressive form they showed against New Zealand earlier in the summer? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!

Written by Dom Kureen

As a young rapscallion stranded on an Island, my time is split between writing, performing spoken word, wrestling alligators and delivering uplifting pep talks to hairdressers before they prune me. I meditate and wash daily when possible.

101 Great Albums. No.8: Tracy Chapman

Tracy Chapman emerged as a marketable artist in the late 1980’s, with the release of a self-titled album that sold in its millions.

Tracy Chapman was recorded over an eight-week period at Powertrax studio in Hollywood. As many as thirty different bass players and drummers were invited to come in to play with her.

Having performed acoustic sets for the past decade from the perspective of protest rather than marketability or eventual stardom, Chapman initially struggled to come to terms with the agglomeration of accompaniment – eventually settling on recording her sections separately, with the additional instrumentation added later on.

The exception to this rule is the stirring “Behind the Wall”, which remained A cappella with a subtle reverberation shift confirming its status as the LP’s most haunting sample.

Tracy Chapman album

The album opens with “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution,” a song that embodies the ethos of a performer who grew up surrounded by poverty in Ohio, awash with aspirations to affect change upon the world.

The running order of the other ten songs on Tracy Chapman was determined by writing titles out on three-by-five inch cards and shuffling them around in different sequences.

Single releases such as “Fast Car” and “Baby Can I Hold You?” have been relentlessly covered, re-interpreted, and karaoke-fied in recent years, but the original cuts retain an integrity that none of the newer versions come close to emulating (Sorry Boyzone!)

Although an almost inevitable midsection malaise succeeds those big hitters, the compelling opening sequence of penultimate track “If Not Now” leads into some of Chapman’s most exquisite vocal dexterity of the entire album, with the post-production adding a flourish as it tumbles towards a precise conclusion.

Having spent the best part of a decade performing the majority of these songs before the album’s release in 1988, it is perhaps unsurprising that Chapman was unable to scale such heady heights with future releases.

Tracy Chapman’s music remains defined by the raw, unaffected essence of her inaugural release, an album which retains its place at the apex of folk-rock storytelling, more than quarter of a century after setting her on the road to stardom. 

Written by Dom Kureen

As a young rapscallion stranded on an Island, my time is split between writing, performing spoken word, wrestling alligators and delivering uplifting pep talks to hairdressers before they prune me. I meditate and wash daily when possible.

Ashes Spotlight: Broad Walk Empire

And so it came to pass that less than two months after being mocked and written off, Alastair Cook and his troops regained the Ashes during a Test match that lasted a little over two days, as Australia were undone by world-class swing bowling and poor shot selection.

Stuart Broad took the headlines, deservedly so, for his sensational spell on the first morning. The absence through injury of usual pack-leader Jimmy Anderson necessitated one of his underlings stepping-up, and the Nottinghamshire seamer was happy to oblige.

8 wickets for 15 runs in 9.3 Overs obliterated an Australian line-up seemingly perplexed by cloud cover induced seam movement that saw a procession of dismissals, and a pitiful final total of just 60 all-out.

Root Gains

England were batting before lunch on day one, Joe Root (130) and Johnny Bairstow (74) consolidating a powerful position, and Moeen Ali’s rapid 39 nudging the lead up to a daunting 330 runs.

Australia batted better second time round, assisted by England’s decline in the field, but Ben Stokes backed up an incredible, one-handed first innings pouch with career best figures of 6-36 to see the home side through early on day three, the eventual margin a gargantuan innings and 77 runs.

Records Tumble

Stokes was England’s fourth different bowler to take six or more wickets in the past four Test innings, the first occurrence of this in the history of the game. Stuart Broad’s 8-15 was the best single innings Test bowling recorded at Trent Bridge, and he leapt to 308 career dismissals to go past the great Fred Trueman.

In addition, Joe Root climbed to number one in the  world rankings, the first time he’s achieved the feat in his career.

All in all it’s been a wonderful summer for English cricket. The Ashes Test series concludes at the Oval, with the match scheduled for a Thursday start.

England player ratings

Barmy Army

Alastair Cook (Captain)
43 & DNB

The calls for his demotion have long since faded away. Alastair Cook; a leader reborn, a previously rearguard, meek skipper transformed into a blood lusting tiger.

His score of 43 was well made until he played around a straight, full one from Mitchell Starc. Despite moderate contributions with the willow throughout the Ashes, Cook’s excellence at the helm has re-invigorated the squad.

7/10

Adam Lyth
14 & DNB

The one continual blemish on an otherwise excellent series for England, Lyth currently resembles a badly wounded deer waiting to be put out of his misery.

A couple of eye-catching cover drives were followed by a plodding forward defensive, a tickle of an edge caught behind, and a lonely walk back to the pavilion – a pattern in keeping with Lyth’s Ashes career thus far. Time to cut losses, promote Moeen and bring Rashid in as a front-line spinner.

2/10

Ian Bell
1 & DNB

The ecstasy of Edgbaston made way for the turbulence of Trent Bridge, with Bell failing to build on the success he enjoyed at his home ground.

Despite the blip, his experience at number three gives England’s line-up a credibility long lacking, and although the talented Gary Ballance shouldn’t be written off, it is Bell who remains the best option in this most vital of positions.

1/10

Joe Root
130 & DNB

Took his tally for the series to 442 runs at an average of almost 74 with a defiant 130 that once again set him apart from every other batsman in the match.

The only potential long-term negative was the exacerbation of a long-standing back problem, which noticeably bothered Root in the latter stages of his innings, hopefully it’s something that won’t hinder his continued ascendency, sitting as he does at the summit of the Test batting rankings for the first time.

9/10

Masked Wrestler Cricket

Johnny Bairstow
74 & DNB

Probably secured his selection, at least for the short-term, with an attacking half century amassed in difficult circumstances.

Bairstow and Root’s positive intent is hopefully a sign of things to come from England’s eminently gifted middle order, although the former continues to desperately seek his first Test hundred, having already gained 16 caps.

7/10

Ben Stokes
5 & 6-36

The young all-rounder has already gained a reputation as something of a maverick match-winner, albeit usually with bat in hand. This time it was his divine bowling that dragged England over the line.

An inspired spell doused what had threatened to be a decent Aussie comeback, with Stokes finding levels of consistency previously not evident. His wonder-catch remains the abiding snap-shot of this one-sided contest.

8/10

Jos Buttler (Wicket-Keeper)
12 & DNB

Another tidy display behind the timbers, although Buttler’s dearth of runs has seen his average drop from the mid 50’s to the high 30’s during this series.

The fact that his place is not under pressure owes much to the obvious impromptu genius he possesses, as well as the afore mentioned glove-work.

5/10

Moeen Ali
39 & 0-34

His quick-fire knock of 39 shouldn’t deserves more than to be glossed over, dragging as it did any lingering Mitchell Starc generated momentum away from Australia by the manner in which it was scored.

The conditions weren’t conducive to spin bowling, with Moeen’s six overs going at almost a run-a-ball. Could find himself promoted from number eight to opening if Adil Rashid is blooded next week.

6/10

Barmy Army

Mark Wood
28 & 4-82 (1-13/3-69)

Replaced the injured Jimmy Anderson, and had a memorable match. Supported the rampant Broad in the first innings, and bowled with channelled aggression in the second.

His bludgeoning knock of 28, having come in as night-watchman, demoralised an already downbeat opposition bowling attack. Likely to make way if Anderson is declared fit for the Oval, and would be very unfortunate if that’s the case.

8/10

*Stuart Broad*
24* & 9-47 (8-15/1-32)

His spell on the first morning virtually secured the Ashes, with the overcast conditions perfectly exploited by a bowler who has found his best rhythm once again this summer.

Likewise, Broad’s batting is on the rise, and he made another handy contribution at Trent Bridge. Only ill-fortune stopped him from picking up another “5-fer” second time around, with ball regularly defeating bat without reward.

10/10

Steven Finn
0* & 1-63 (1-21/0-42)

One of the heroes of Edgbaston, Finn was altogether lower-key here, although one glorious in-swinger castled the dangerous Peter Nevill – the only Australian not dismissed via a catch in their debacle of a first innings.

England’s unexpected abundance of in-form quick bowlers could put Finn under immediate pressure, but he deserves a run in the side having seemingly rediscovered his rhythm after several years of strife.

5/10

Following this embarrassing turnover, Australia captain Michael Clarke announced that he will retire after the series, with around half a dozen other Australian players speculated to follow suit.

In the space of less than a couple of months Australia’s cricket world has collapsed, while England have rarely looked in ruder health. The Oval promises an inevitable England victory, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet!

A full review of England’s series will follow the Oval Test.

Written by Dom Kureen

As a young rapscallion stranded on an Island, my time is split between writing, performing spoken word, wrestling alligators and delivering uplifting pep talks to hairdressers before they prune me. I meditate and wash daily when possible.