Netflix’s ‘The Umbrella Academy’ – Review.

By Mollie Campbell.

Show:  ‘The Umbrella Academy’

Based on:  ‘The Umbrella Academy’ by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá (comic book series).

Where to watch:  Netflix

Genre:  Sci-Fi/Drama/Superhero

Rating:  9/10

Similar shows:  Dark, Marvel’s Runways, X-men.

As soon as I started watching this show I was hooked, the way it was put together so intricately yet effortlessly made me realise I had started watching one of the most unique and dynamic shows to be released in years. I can see why it would be very easy for some people to dismiss it as bad, simply because it is different, it can be hard to really sink your teeth into but after a while it all becomes clear. It has a familiar tone to it yet it is also incredibly innovative, although it never feels forced, everything that happens, even the most unrealistic sub-plots are completely believable, and the quality just gets better with each episode, despite the strange discovering’s along the way. Like the family Butler Pogo for example, who turns out to be a literal talking monkey.

Anyway, the show begins in 1989, the day in which 43 women give birth to children at the same time all over the world, despite none of them having shown any signs of pregnancy. Eccentric tyrant Reginald Hargreeves adopts seven of the children and creates the ‘Umbrella Academy’, his very own superhero team. All of the children are either referred to as their numbers or the names that their cyborg mother gave them, and they each have different powers, apart from number 7 who hasn’t shown signs of any powers, yet. This may sound confusing already so I’ll list the main characters, these are the Hargreeves siblings:

Number 1:  Luther/Spaceboy, an astronaut. (Tom Hopper)

Number 2:  Diego/the Kraken, a vigilante. (David Castaneda)

Number 3:  Allison/the Rumour, a famous actress. (Emma Raver-Lampman)

Number 4:  Klaus/the Séance, a drug addict. (Robert Sheehan)

Number 5:  The Boy, a time-traveller who has been lost in the future since he disappeared when they were teenagers. (Aidan Gallagher)

Number 6:  Ben/the Horror (Justin H. Min)…Ben is deceased but often appears to Klaus.

Number 7: Vanya/the White Violin a violinist who has always felt irrelevant due to her lack of powers. (Ellen Page)

After the estranged siblings learn of their father’s death, they return to the house for the funeral, only to find that Number five has returned from the future after all of these years. Slowly, they uncover many secrets from the past and find out that their father orchestrated their whole lives so that they would one day reunite and save the world from an oncoming apocalypse.

This isn’t just another run of the mill ‘let’s group together as superheroes and save the world’ kind of show…whilst that does happen, it isn’t a certainty. It is a very bumpy road and there are some points in which we are led to believe that there is no way in hell that these group of messed up siblings could possibly get over their emotional torture in order to group together and save the world. This whole show is like a cliché without containing all of the plot devices of a cliché, it is in that sphere for sure, but it uses its plot and character ensemble to its advantage, leaning on it as a tool to create something quirky that hasn’t really been seen before. Quite frankly, the siblings don’t like each other all that much, at some points they can’t stand each other but they have one common thread and that creates the connection that they eventually channel in order to succeed.

Whilst it is dysfunctional, family turns out to be everything that it is important in this show. The character development is extraordinary; we get to know these characters within one episode, without the need for an entire origin story which quite frankly we don’t always have time for. This saves us the unnecessary bore of an intricate setup; instead it places us right in the middle of the action. Whilst the timeline could be clearer at some points, the use of a clear narrative would have actually destroyed the show, this is supposed to be bitty. But if you are worried that it won’t be linear enough, don’t worry as it is pretty easy to follow, but you can expect some surprises along the way.

Whilst this show is undoubtedly dark and somewhat sinister, there is a lot of comedy intertwined throughout, really adding to its unique perspective, it isn’t one fixed genre, it’s a whole bunch of stuff moulded together as one super-genre. Think Netflix’s German show ‘Dark’ meets Marvel’s Runaways, but it also takes a few notes from a Stephen King novel. That is the best way I can describe it and even these comparisons took me a while to come up with, mainly because whilst it is similar to shows we have seen before, it is kind of venturing into its own genre as well.

The main aspect of the story is the idea that no matter how much we try to block it out and leave it behind, our childhood and how we were raised will always be a part of us. It is inescapable, no matter how hard we try to leave.  And ultimately, despite all of the siblings running in complete different directions in order to escape their father’s psychotic ways, eventually the good they find from their upbringing is found within each other. There is a very raw emotion throughout, this really grounds the show and stops it from venturing too far into a sci-fi spoof territory. It is also light-hearted at some points, for example, in the first episode they are all in different sections of their family home, not speaking to each other and then they all begin dancing to ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ by Tiffany. This is kind of poignant, they are all dancing in unison to the same song, feeling the same memories and emotions/nostalgia, they are all tied together but they are dancing alone, foreshadowing the dysfunctional family you are about to watch unravel even further for the next 9 episodes.

The soundtrack is impeccable, and exactly what you would expect from Gerard Way, it combines classic covers and songs, with new originals composed just for the show. The music is almost equally as important as the narrative, it is what makes the show so unique, using its soundtrack to its advantage and giving us that nostalgic twang we all seem to crave. It is a show focusing equally on the present and times gone by, but it shows us that sometimes despite the flow of time, we are all still in the same place because we will always live as the people we are destined to be. But it also embraces change, portraying the idea that we can step out of what has been controlling us since childhood and whatever stereotypes we have been given, we just have to take the first step. I haven’t been this fulfilled by a show in years, and I have never been so excited to watch a show again in such a short space of time, I would recommend this show to everyone!

The Green Book- Movie Review.

By Mollie Campbell.

Movie: The Green Book

Director: Peter Farrelly

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini.

Duration: 130 mins

Rating: 5/5

I just wanted to start by saying that this post isn’t like my other articles, more of a scene by scene analysis due to how important it is. This film fresh, powerful and incredibly influential, everybody needs to watch it.

The story of Frank ‘Tony Lip’ Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) and ‘Dr’ Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) was always going to be a meaningful one, and ‘The Green Book’ accurately tells this poignant and heart-warming tale. Set in 1962, in the Deep South, it opens with evident backwards attitudes towards African-Americans, unfortunately accurate of the time. The opening scenes shows Tony working at Copacabana in New York, the night ends with him beating up a disrespectful customer. The next day he wakes up at home to find his family sitting on his couch, when asking why they were there, they replied with: ‘came here to keep Dolores company’ which we see is due to African-American plumbers hired by Tony’s wife. This immediately gives us an insight into these backwards attitudes, Tony’s wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini) offered the men drinks and after they leave Tony takes the glasses they were drinking from and chucks them in the trash. The wife retrieves them and seems disappointed in his actions, proving that not everybody felt the need to treat African-Americans so harshly during that time. This interaction paints a picture, this was a time in which people of colour were segregated so harshly, these days you wouldn’t dream of not letting someone in a restaurant simply because of the colour of their skin (which is something that happens later on in the movie), but if you think about it, it wasn’t that long ago at all, which is quite terrifying. In the movie, Dr Shirley is called an ‘animal’ by another member of society, which is not only infuriately sickening, but it is also incredibly ironic, as Tony’s New York Italian family are incredibly violent, they are portrayed as being worse people yet African-Americans are the ones who are marginalised from society. There is also a scene in which a St. John’s church calendar is clearly on the wall in the background, Tony’s family and their way of life can be morally wrong yet they are accepted more than African-Americans, most of whom are harmless.

Tony is an interesting character because whilst he puts the glasses in the bin, he doesn’t seem to have a problem with African-Americans face to face. He instantly does his job, to protect Dr Shirley, without apprehension. When people have minds that are easily impressionable it can sometimes lead to them believing into this hateful racist agenda, but in many ways it can also lead to a complete lack of judgement in one’s eyes, accepting everybody for who they are which is very true in Tony’s case…not only does he ultimately not care about the fact that Dr. Shirley is an African-American, he also doesn’t seem shocked in the slightest when he is called to pick Don up after being found naked with another man, he doesn’t feed into the same nasty attitude of the times, instead jumping straight in to protect him. But he does understand the severity of the reaction he will get when travelling down south: ‘You and the deep south? There’s gonna be problems’ Tony tells him.

A strong message within the film is how times have changed, the amount of segregation and the foul things people did to people of colour are just sickening…of course we don’t have this attitude today, well, to that extent at least, and that should be the end of the story, but it isn’t. Whilst the severity of the world being portrayed within the Green Book is very different from the one we live in now, there are still very important racial issues that need to be dealt with, especially within the United States. Many times throughout the movie we can guess what is coming next, an unsettling prediction about how Don is going to be treated, to me this is a representation of humans, we always know what’s coming yet we let it happen anyway…every time, let this be a message. Early on in the movie, before the two main characters set off, the A&R men give Tony the ‘Green Book’, e.g. the list of motels to stay at in the South which are safe. Despite Tony not being nearly as racist as his peers, we still see how he changes throughout the course of the movie, at first he is a bit apprehensive which he mostly conceals, until he leaves Don in the car and immediately comes back to take his wallet with him, believing and therefore feeding into a stereotype. But eventually, he really builds an equal friendship with Don.

After the first stop, there is a sad moment in which Tony watches Dr. Shirley sitting on his hotel balcony watching a group of white people in the courtyard, chatting and laughing. This really sheds a light on how lonely it was to live in a white world, Tony finally opens his eyes to this and sees how lonely he is, which is why he drinks every night. The director does a masterful job of intertwining the severity of the time with light-hearted comedy, the seriousness is never diminished and the humour is never trashy, he finds the perfect balance, all whilst staying true to the story. Tony puts Little Richard on the radio but Don doesn’t know who he is, prompting Tony to say: ‘Come on Doc, these are your people’, he then goes to KFC and presumes that Dr. Shirley loves fried chicken because it is the staple food of ‘his people’. Don replies with ‘I have never had fried chicken in my life’. Despite him then going on to say ‘You have a very narrow assessment of me Tony’ which is an incredibly powerful line, he does accept some of Tony’s chicken and enjoys it, opening his mind up to different ways of life, something the white people of the time seemed to be incapable of, the whole country’s attitude stemmed from the basis of one group of people’s incorrect stereotype. This scene ends up as a very important transition from boss/employee to the foundations of a friendship, they laugh as they chuck their chicken bones out of the window but Shirley makes Tony reverse and pick up his drink carton because he can’t stand littering, again affirming how opposite the two are, despite Tony being  a far more abrupt and disrespectful person than Shirley, he is the one who is accepted by society yet the Don isn’t just because he is African-American…it really does make it hard to comprehend how anybody thinks this way.

Another moving moment is when they stop at their motel and Shirley even withdraws himself from a group of African-American people in the courtyard, showing us that he doesn’t feel comfortable in either world. The next moment Tony is called by the other band members to a bar, Shirley is being beaten up by a group of white people, they call him things that I could never repeat in writing, summing up just how incomprehensibly disgusting they are. After Tony finally saves him he says ‘do you know where we are’ to which Shirley responds with ‘does Geography really matter?’…which is seemingly minor but actually incredibly important…why should geography matter? Why should where you live or how you were raised justify such appalling behaviour? A little while later they pull over to the side of the road to fix a problem with the engine,  Don notices African-American farmers in a field, there is no dialogue, merely words spoken through the power of eye contact, this moment is so moving and transformative, it doesn’t require an explanation. Later, Tony asks Don’s band mates why he shakes hands with everyone and smiles despite what they think of him and he responds with ‘he asked for this’…Don is trying to prove a point, an attempt at blazing a trail to break a stereotype that never should have been established in the first place. Whilst in Georgia they portray a lot of things that are associated with ‘Black Culture’ but what happens to people like Shirley who don’t feel a apart of anything? And why should there be separate ‘white’ and ‘black’ cultures? Why not a collective culture for all humans? When they are out walking, Tony convinces Don to try on a suit he likes but the shop attendant says ‘You’re not allowed to try that on’ Shirley is furious but he just leaves calmly, the next thing we see is the infuriation manifesting itself as musical passion when he plays the piano onstage  that night. Shirley is very realistically defensive about everything, which really stresses the idea that they were raised in a world where being defensive and cautionary was vital for survival because of the way they knew they would be treated, they shouldn’t have had to instil that in their children but they had to because of the kind of society they were up against, nobody notices endless amounts provocation until someone retaliates, which then provides a space for negative stereotypes to erupt, which is incredibly unjust. Shirley is very calm and never retaliates, because he knows better… ‘Dignity always prevails’.

When they are taken into police custody after being pulled over for no reason, he is released because of Bobby Kennedy, this highlights President Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, which is sometimes majorly underplayed when remembering that era. Lyndon Johnson may have signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act after JFK died but it was President Kennedy who set it in motion, he provided the foundation for the fight to begin, Shirley says: ‘They are trying to change the country’.  This sparks an argument, ultimately leading Shirley to say “So if I’m not *black* enough and if I’m not *white* enough, then tell me, Tony, what am I?” His heart-breaking lack of identity is a crucial, gut-wrenching and powerful moment. This was a response to Tony saying: ‘I know exactly who I am’, confirming that ‘White’ people were allowed to be whoever they wanted to be, whether they were morally right or wrong, but a ‘black’ person’s identity was stripped from them, their personality wasn’t considered a factor, simply a stereotype.

When Shirley is not allowed to go into a restaurant to eat with everyone else because he is African-American, he and Tony go to the ‘Orange Bird’ down the street. As soon as Tony walks in it is evident that everybody there is African-American, they all stare at him very overtly, finally giving Tony an idea of what it is like to live in a white-dominated world. The only difference is that when the roles are reversed, they don’t act in the same way, after the initial shock of his presence they treat him normally by talking to him and never getting violent which says a lot about how false these ridiculous stereotypes were and how absurd even the concept of segregation is. Shirley gets up and plays on the old piano and the band join in, they all play the blues and Shirley finally feels a apart of something, he smiles freely, not in the forced way that he usually does on a normal show night, in front of his ‘usual’ crowd.

They finally make their way home, with Don offering to drive the final stretch for Tony to get home to his family on Christmas Eve…he drops him home and goes back to his own house. Suddenly he realises he cannot fill the loneliness in his life with possessions (which are show at the start of the movie), instead he craves the company of others. He turns up at Tony’s door, knowing he would finally find it there. In a very emotionally heightened scene, Tony hugs him instantaneously. There is a poignant moment in which Dolores sees how much Tony’s opinions have changed, she too hugs Don. Tony introduces him to his large, over-extended family, for a split second they stare in shock and then they all laugh and get him a plate of food. It really provides one final message to the audience and that is to open your mind up to other viewpoints, just one kind word of love or acceptance can help change multiple opinions, going further and further through endless dominoes of people, all falling into the next, changing perceptions one step at a time. Keep the fight going, keep the candle burning…never let it fade away, and  don’t forget Don Shirley’s quote:  ‘It takes courage to change people’s hearts’.

Ready Player One- Book Review.

By Mollie Campbell.

Book: Ready Player One

Author: Ernest Cline

Genre: Science-Fiction, Dystopian

Rating: 9/10

 

When I read the synopsis for ‘Ready Player One’ by Ernest Cline I was intrigued, but not enough to give it a read. This was due to the fact that I am not a gamer; the last video game I played was probably Mario Kart Wii when I was about 10 years old, I bought a PlayStation 4 three years ago and I still do not own a single ps4 game, instead using it for Netflix…you get the idea. But when I read the blurb in a bookshop and not online, I felt more inclined to give it chance, I find it rather difficult to deny a book a read when I am holding the finished work in my hands, imagining the author sat in a room pouring out parts of their soul onto every page. This is just one example of the power that books have over me, I felt inspired to read it and I am glad I did. As soon as I opened the first page I was hooked, Cline’s writing has such honesty to it. He writes so descriptively I could envision myself inside of the protagonist’s world within a few pages; this is something seasoned writers find hard to accomplish even in the space of a whole chapter…Cline manages to do it within the mere opening pages, which is rather astonishing for a first published work.

Not only does he establish a completely otherworldly society, he also has the ability to catapult us into the world he is writing about, as if we are the avatars roaming around the OASIS. He opens the book from the perspective of protagonist Wade Watts, a poor high school student living in the ‘Stacks’…which is basically a trailer park gone wrong. He paints such a vivid picture for the reader with such descriptive words, all effortlessly strung together yet it isn’t boring, it only takes him a few sentences to set the scene. We learn about the entire OASIS straight away, the OASIS is a simulation in which many people live their lives, it is where people can live behind the masks of their avatars…anything is possible, Wade even attends his school as an online avatar. Not only is this a very exciting concept, it is also foreshadowing where we could be headed in reality, the simulation is created as something to distract people, it provides a space in which people can find an escape from their lives of misery. The book is set in the 2040’s, fossil-fuels have essentially been exhausted, global warming truly has become the crisis we are currently being warned of,  the world’s population is at an all-time high and quality of life is generally poor for any member of society who does not fall into the top financial bracket. The OASIS is their sole source of sanctuary, or the only place in which they can find some sort of happiness.

Wade Watts falls into this category, both of his parents are dead and the only excitement he feels is when he logs into the OASIS…then one day James Halliday, the creator of the simulation passes away. He leaves a video message for the whole world, giving everyone a quest to find his Easter egg, hidden somewhere inside the OASIS. The winner would ultimately inherit his multi-billion dollar fortune and his entire estate (include ownership of the OASIS). Wade devotes his life to finding the egg, and after five years of trying he finds the first key, igniting a worldwide battle for the egg once more, after a disheartening stagnant period. This is an electrifying tale of one kid’s mission, Cline introduces some heart-warming characters along the way, and naturally there are many Easter eggs within the book itself, literary prizes for the reader to enjoy, given to us by our very own James Halliday…Ernest Cline.  What really gives the book its uniqueness is the use of a multitude of different outlets, this isn’t just for gamers, this book has everything. Nostalgic warmth is buried within its core and it oozes with sentiment and a longing for years gone by, perfect for an 80’s obsessed 21 year old like me. The references to 80’s bands, songs, album covers, video games, books, movies, TV-shows, even breakfast cereals is what makes the book so thrilling, yet it never feels forced, the reader doesn’t feel bombarded with references, instead it is satisfying. And also crucial to the plot as the key to Wade finding this egg is in the creator’s obsession with anything to do with the 80’s, the era he grew up in.

I find it interesting that this book was released in 2011, way before society seemed to become mesmerised by the concept of the 80’, years before the introduction of shows like ‘Stranger Things’. The plot is intricate yet understandable, even for a non-gamer like me, but what really impresses me is his use of structure. In a way he makes the book itself take the form of a video game, not just in the fact that there are three parts, entitled ‘Levels’. I mean in the way he delivers dialogue and key points within the story, it is abrupt, the readers feelings are made to mirror that of the avatar’s…we are on edge the whole time almost as we are scared that the next page will transform into a bright screen with the words ‘Game Over’ etched into the middle. On top of all this, the characters are meaningful, they aren’t just the throwaway avatars we are envisioning. The love story running throughout doesn’t make us cringe, it is fitting and poignant, human connection clearly hasn’t been lost completely, even within the confinements of a virtual reality. He touches on diversity, acceptance, sexuality, race, gender…it’s not just a game, it’s a message, telling us that no matter what happens or what life throws at us, we still have a choice between right and wrong.

This book started as a mere title on the ‘possibility’ section within my reading list and ended as one of my favourite books in recent years, defiantly racing to the top of the scoreboard just like Wade Watts. Some aspects reminded me of a contemporary version of George Orwell’s ‘1984’; at times it was as if I had fallen through a portal into Steven Spielberg’s brain. It also made me feel as if I was stepping back into Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James Halliday is the very man Willy Wonka would have morphed into if catapulted into a modern technological world. Despite these astonishing comparisons, the book still stands strong on its own, basking in the glory of its own legacy…welcoming anyone who wants to enter, ready player one.

Tears for Fears – Gig Review.

By Mollie Campbell.

Band: Tears for Fears

Opening Act: Alison Moyet

Location: Bournemouth

Rating 9/10

A nostalgia storm swept through Bournemouth last night as 80’s band ‘Tears for Fears’ took to the stage at the BIC, treating the audience to their iconic back catalogue of hits plus some fan favourites. The band, comprised of Roland Orzabal (Guitar, Vocals) and Curt Smith (Bass, Vocals), stepped on to the stage with a skillful and polished calibre, they are now seasoned performers, meaning that this tour was a homecoming, a celebration of an iconic band whose music contributed to the soundtracks of our youth. Whilst I am only 21, meaning I wasn’t even born when they released their most iconic songs, I too can understand the meaning of these songs, the indescribable sound of a memory, or the warmth of a touch, intertwined in every note escaping from the hands of the musicians we are watching.  These songs were the soundtrack to my youth as well, and the moment the band breaks into ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ it filled me with a profound sense of reminiscence, happiness, pain, and everything in between. Smith and Orzabal performed it with such ease and mastery, it sounded incredible, proving that these bands still have the timeless factor when competing with modern music, they belted out each song with such conviction it felt like it still meant something, and it does.

To the rest of the world it was just a two hour time slot on a Thursday evening, but to the attendees of this show, it felt like a wave of synth based electricity hitting our bodies with such an impactful sentiment, all within what felt like two minutes. The band accompanying them were brilliant and the atmosphere these musicians created was quite inspirational, the fact that they still got such pleasure out of performing classic songs like ‘Mad World’, which really was a highlight. It is easy to stereotype Tears for Fears simply as an 80’s pop band with a string of ‘standard’ mainstream hits, but when they are onstage this stereotype is struck down in its prime, they are more than just synth-reliant vocalists…they are talented on their instruments, a highlight was watching Smith’s bass solo and how Orzabal interacted with him and his guitar, as well as the drummer and pianist. It really confirmed that this band is so much more than a reminiscent pop band, they are talented and use the stage to tell a story, every song is meaningful, the lyrics are powerful and they sang them with such feeling and devotion, it was moving.

As the show went on, they seemed to get better, feeling the rush of the crowd’s enthusiasm… they chose ‘Shout’ as the encore, they couldn’t close a show with any other song. This is their anthem, the crowd recites it word for word, looping on the chorus again and again. This song is timeless, and as long as we continue to find the voices within ourselves, it will always be relevant. They exit the stage in a bubble of happiness, leaving the audience feeling electrified and a tiny bit more connected with the past they may have been scared of losing.

‘Simon vs. the homo sapiens agenda’- Book Review.

By Mollie Campbell.

Book: ‘Simon vs. the homo sapiens agenda’

Author: Becky Albertalli

Rating: 6/10

Genre: Young Adult, Romance, LGBT

When I first started reading ‘Simon vs. the homo sapiens agenda’ I found it very difficult to sink my teeth into, nothing seemed to jump out at me which was quite disheartening as I was invested in the plot before I even purchased the book, but the structure seemed to create a dullness in terms of narrative. Nothing is particularly established apart from the fact that Simon is clearly being blackmailed which is obviously a big thing, and of course we get to know the characters through the online interactions between Simon and ‘Blue’ but the lack of an instant set-up and/or dialogue without the background knowledge to necessarily understand the severity of the situation, felt rushed. Then I gave it another shot and realised that the format is what gives the book its individuality, it is also very simple to follow and the writer uses aspects of the modern technological society we are living in to portray a contemporary love story, and a very important one at that.

As the book opens we meet Simon Spier, a high school student who has been talking to ‘Blue’ (his online name) over email, but the problem is that nobody in real-life knows that Simon is gay.  This tale takes us on a journey of ups and downs, it makes us angry, it makes us cry, it makes us smile and reinforces the idea that we are all individual and unique in our own way, and tells us how we should embrace our differences instead of pointing them out as something to be ashamed of. One of my favourite quotes from the book is: “People really are like houses with vast rooms and tiny windows”. It is a very thought-provoking observation of humans…we all live separate lives yet we are ignorant enough to think we know people inside out but that just isn’t the case, each person is made up of endless chapters, bound in an infinite book, and this story really highlights that. But at the same time, it also shows us that we don’t always see ourselves in the way others see us from the outside: “Sometimes it seems like everyone knows who I am except me”.

Apart from the rather annoying and constant use of the word ‘freaking’, an important story is established, one which many young adults are struggling with as we speak. Even in this modern and therefore open world, it is still a momentous decision to come out. For example, some people have identified as gay for as long as they can remember and they may have found it easier to have identified as that because it is what they have always known, for other people it isn’t as simple as that. Not only is there an internal battle between what people convince themselves the world thinks is ‘wrong’ and ‘right’, they feel as though they fit in with the former. I don’t think it is necessarily shame, more so finding the courage to be different and to publicly label yourself as something in which people may constantly stereotype. Of course, I am not saying that people who are already out have it any easier; it is simply a different tale. This book not only reiterates to the reader that being gay truly is ok (not that it should have been necessary to confirm this in the first place), it also shows them that they are allowed to deal with it in whichever way they want to. If they want to come out, if they don’t want to come out, anything that doesn’t prevent them from being comfortable in their own skin. It also provides us with the message that the whole thing is in that individual person’s hands, nothing you decide is the wrong choice, it’s too personal for that…and nobody has the right to make any decisions for you, which is emphasised in this book.

Unfortunately I wouldn’t describe it as an advanced piece of literature in terms of language, variation or versatility but I did enjoy it and I’d probably read it again. Even though there may be a slight lack of flair or uniqueness to the writing, the significance of the plot and the heart-warming journey Simon goes on more than makes up for it. But I will give momentous credit where it is due, as Albertalli has managed to create such impactful yet contrasting characters in a relatively small amount of words, characters that stay with us long after leaving the book behind. And maybe this story leaves us all a tiny bit more capable of understanding ourselves as individual human beings, or at least provides us with the space necessary to do so.

‘Beautiful Boy’- Movie review.

By Mollie Campbell.

Movie review: Beautiful Boy

Directed by: Felix Van Groeningen

Starring: Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet.

Duration: 120 mins

Rating: 4/5

When I heard about this film I immediately loved the idea of Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet teaming up as a father/son duo, I knew both acting capabilities would result in something powerful. Although I did feel a tad reluctant to submerge myself within content that has been covered so many times before, whilst addiction is incredibly important and should be highlighted in every way possible, I was afraid that this might be another tale in which the protagonist is addicted but the director solely focuses on what got them there as opposed to fully immersing the audience into how the character is experiencing this situation in the present. Although I am very much invested in any film that focuses on addiction, something that has become such an impactful crisis in the United States and the rest of the world but I was hoping this would put a more realistic twist upon the scenario.

Director Felix Van Groeningen certainly provides this as the film progresses, probably due to the fact that this is a true story, and has an extensive use of the source material which include two books; ‘Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction’’ by David Sheff (the real-life father who is watching his son try to battle his addiction) and ‘Tweak’ By Nic Sheff (the ‘addict’). By using these materials so thoroughly and working with the real people, it certainly gave Groeningen the space to portray something as real and gritty as it could be, it has a focus on the present alluding to the message that it doesn’t always matter why a person got addicted to drugs but how they are going to get through it, a very important message which is ultimately what gives the movie its foundation.  Due to the fictitious nature of a lot of addiction films there tends to be a lack of rawness and honesty, directors throw in plot devices to spice up the narrative, in this movie, the many awful situations Nic and his father find themselves in are the unpredictable plot devices of real life…a powerful story about a young man’s addiction to Meth and the recuperations of this upon the people around him.

As soon as the movie starts there are a lot of sounds around us, there is rarely a moment in which there is just silence, these are reserved for the more emotionally charged moments in which the characters experiences are so overwhelming, life-changing or dramatic that it is impossible to focus on anything else but the moment. The rest of the time there is a lot of background noise around us within the scenes making it feel real and present, almost as if we are right there in the room with them, forcing us to envision a world in which our own loved ones or even ourselves are living in this moment, which isn’t hard to do and also highlights the concept of addiction being present, the only way to combat it is not to focus on the why’s but the how’s, how are we going to fix the problem?  It just is… something the film really highlights. Quite early on we see David looking in his son’s room, all of his things and posters are still there within the innocence of Nic’s childhood bedroom yet the bed is empty and the beautiful boy is now a tortured man, instantaneously representing the loss of childhood and the extent of the problems that come with this.

The scenes are very focused on nature, wind, trees, maybe signifying the passing of time, the past always being with us but at the moment we are within and surrounded by things that signify the present and we can never go back in time no matter how hard we try or how good it will be for us. It focuses on parental stress-the obligation you have to protect your child, a parent can never truly switch off the worry for their children and their whereabouts.  As he continues to look around Nic’s room it becomes clear that even though they are tied by blood, he doesn’t really know a thing about the new persona his son has adopted. The emptiness signifies a normal feeling of empty nest syndrome for his eldest child and how the temptations that come with adulthood becomes too hard to resist as we leave the realm of childhood, but he will always be this beautiful boy/child to him as the parent.

There are longshots of childhood photos, slowly being zoomed in on, this happens a lot portraying the idea that parents almost expect their kids to stay as they were, or how they remember them when they were little, when they were entirely dependent on them. Maybe that is the problem… parents don’t see the need for their child to grow and transform despite it being a natural human requirement, therefore not allowing them to become themselves, thus always feeling disappointed if they act in a different way. The idea of journeys in all forms are touched on a lot, there is a lengthy pan shot of a wide open road and the noises around them on the father/son car ride we are watching. There is a focus on the back of Nic’s head when he is taken to rehab for the first time, as if he is the same boy the dad is constantly seeing/remembering/ longing for. The fact that the narrative is straight to the point and we see Nic enter rehab within first ten minutes of the movie is very beneficial, it saves us an often unnecessary build up and attempted justification as to why the character has an addiction.

What is interesting is the way they show the dad’s perspective: it’s almost as if he is living two separate lives, one being stuck in a moment or period/chapter in the child’s past, tied in with the reality of living this current life with an addicted son.  This is a constant theme, there are constant bitty flashbacks interacting with the present content. The dialogue is honest and quite abrupt, or unguarded which is important, an open dialogue can save a lot of assumptions or lack of understanding, getting to the root of the problem. When Nic is in rehab for the second time after running away, he and his father talk about his Crystal Meth usage and the dad asks him: “Why? Why?” because this is constantly what we want to know, why?, how has this happened?, is it our fault?, my fault?, could we have stopped this? But he responds with: “I don’t know” which is often overlooked yet incredibly important, because addiction is often hard to pinpoint, some people have almost perfect lives but they still wound up addicted. And then he says “I’m really sorry about everything” reaffirming the idea that addicts truly do not want to be in the position they find themselves in, yes it was a choice, but one choice, not a life choice that it seems to end up being.

There is a very poignant surfing scene, a flashback to when Nic was younger. We see the dad falling behind the waves, as they grow larger he cannot see over the top of them, he loses Nic and can’t see him anywhere, only to find that he is too far ahead and he can’t catch up with him. Going further out into a sea he simply cannot navigate, he has no choice but to watch as his son leaves him behind. Nic is surfing a wave, he has to go through something his father cannot do anything about, this also signifies that you can only do so much for your children, eventually you have to let them go and allow them to live their own lives. Another highlight is after Nic goes to college and ends up at his new girlfriend’s family home for dinner, there is a gradual close up of Nic’s face as we watch him slowly become more withdrawn from the social situation as his body or mind adapts to a scenario without narcotics. He excuses himself and goes to the bathroom where the camera instantly focuses on a bottle of pills in the background, this is important because it highlights how out of control addiction can get over such a short space of time. Something that started with one small thing like pot in Nic’s case ends with anything to get him through the day. Just something to take the edge off, something to make him enjoy reality the way everyone else is, something to smile… but suddenly the drugs have taken away more smiles than it could ever force you to have in the first place. One minute he thinks one hit is ok but suddenly he’s stealing money off of his younger brother and sister, stooping to a level that he never dreamed he would, and normally never would have under any circumstance but the agonising one he finds himself in. Anyone can become an addict.

Eventually David looks through Nic’s notebook to find all of his poetry and drawings about using drugs and how it helps him, what goes through his mind when he’s high. It is a visual journey and the last page is one in which he documents his switch from meth to heroin. Then there is a significant gap with no pages written on until a random page full of delusional scribbles, this seems to be a metaphor for how drugs have the power to steal chunks of your life from you.  But it is also very important to think about how the people around the addict feels, Nic’s story is told from the dad’s perspective, how addiction changed his life too, it’s not just his own life Nic is destroying. As the parent or helper, your life changes as the addicts life does, whether you want it to or not. It seems to be a constant journey you don’t want to be on. Suddenly you have become involved in the messed up things you have seen or have even previously judged yourself.

As I stated earlier, most important aspect of this film is not establishing why it happened, to some extent. It can’t just be an attempt to figure out why but how, it’s never as simple as that. As we near the end there is a built up anger and suspense within the music and close-up, when Nic discharged himself from a New York hospital after overdosing. The choice of song ‘Beautiful boy’ –Lennon is fitting, just before a scene in which David says to a young Nic ‘I love you more than everything’. If you were going to pick apart the history of the addict, including any possible reasons, maybe Nic having to split his life between two homes as a child provided an unwanted space to live in as a totally different person, floating around in an unstable no man’s land, eventually settling onto this space as opposed to your other destiny, to become someone you were never meant to be, or maybe not…that really is the point of the whole film. There could be reason, there might not be but the point is to forget that and focus on the now, and quitting…before it has taken your whole life from you.

As the narrative moves on, the characters get on with their lives, and it hurts. Nic returns to his father’s home after a year, the stuff in his room is gone, replaced with old gym equipment, it is now storage space…almost as if he doesn’t belong anywhere, or at least definitely not within the bubble of the life he once lived. When he leaves the camera focuses on the blurred mirror in the car as he drives away, happy on the outside, tormented on the inside, representing the blurred distinction between each reality that the drugs create, or a limbo between who you are and who you once were, it’s that space that is much harder to escape from.

The final few scenes really makes you think about the whole journey of addiction, someone at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting talks about the people you help with addiction by saying:  ‘When you mourn the living and that’s a hard way to live’. They are mourning who Nic used to be and he is too, they are mourning the life they once had but now must let that go in order to help him in the best way that they can. In fact letting go is vital for him to find a safe space again, after the addiction has been battled, even if the battle is never truly over.

Timothée and Steve work very well together, another gripping contemporary drama under Chalamet’s belt and a refreshingly humourless role for Carell, which he plays excellently, somewhat unexpectedly. Its bitty and not chronological, mirroring that of a drug addicts life. There is no single formula for coping with and battling drug addiction, everybody’s path is different…but one thing is for certain and that is the lack of order in an addict’s life, how can there be order within the chaos? And this movie is an accurate commentary on all of the aspects of drug addiction, this story ended well, maybe it can influence another happy ending.

 

Why ‘Fahrenheit 451’ is still an incredibly important piece of literature and why every young person should read it.

By Mollie Campbell.

In my last article I wrote about how technology, the internet and Social Media is impacting our lives, and how it appears to be destroying our authenticity, in this article I will be discussing the importance of ‘Fahrenheit 451’ by Ray Bradbury and why every young adult should read it.

Like I said in my last post, I am not dismissing the multitudes of positivity the internet can provide, I am literally publishing this article on an online blog, but I am still incredibly passionate about how we can regulate the way we and our children use the internet and everything that goes with it, to make sure we are still benefiting from it, instead of surrendering to its power. I think one of the biggest ways to help us keep the dangers of technology at bay, is to realign our focus onto things that were designed to help us try and predict and therefore stop ourselves from entering a dystopian future, classic pieces of fiction which are now more relevant than ever, like George Orwell’s ‘1984’ for example.

‘Fahrenheit 451’ by Ray Bradbury is set in a future in which a fireman’s purpose isn’t to put fire out, instead it is their duty to burn books, anything that acts as proof that a society other than the one they are currently living in existed, is torched, until every book in the world is gone. Naturally this fictional prohibition of literature created various underground groups or societies who devote their lives to keeping and treasuring books, but if the government finds out, they will be burnt along with the novels that they cherish.  First published in 1953, Fahrenheit 451 provides a terrifying yet alarmingly familiar tale which some regard as a farcical concept but the predictions Bradbury gave in a sense of fiction are now either an aspect of life in 2019, or will be very soon. For example, he gives us an insight into a world in which people do not read, and not only are they discouraged from reading, it is illegal to keep books in your home at all. Whilst this is certainly an extreme concept to think about now, if you think about it, reading is becoming less popular by the second. How often do you see a young adult sitting at the bus stop with a book in their hand as opposed to a smartphone? Newspapers are going out of print, in fact, modern technology almost mirrors that of ‘Parlour Walls’ (huge television screens taking up entire walls of a room) that we read about in Bradbury’s book.

It baffles me when people can’t see just how much of a possibility these futures are, the ones created by Bradbury, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley etc.… even though, whilst to a lesser extent and within a different set of conditions, these ideas have all unravelled in some type of context within society before, e.g. Nazi Germany. Fahrenheit 451 was released only 8 years after World War Two ended, the author likely drew some inspiration from the fact that the Nazi’s literally burnt books as a way of banning materials containing ideologies that opposed to Nazism. Anything that didn’t fit in with their idea of how society should be run was censored, free speech was gone, if you didn’t comply, you wouldn’t survive. In reality, these events didn’t happen that long ago and if a dictator like Adolf Hitler is currently waiting in the shadows, on the cusp of creation, what do you think they’d use as their weapon? The internet.  It’s not that hard to envision a world in which things are taught solely on the internet, many school classes have already switched to this method of teaching, occasionally the government might slip in a few ideologies of their own, as a way of spreading messages to the people, to keep them in line. Maybe this power gets into the wrong hands, a few paragraphs are altered, eventually we might not be able to tell fact from fiction. The reliability of the media is already in question, these days it is hard to know whether the truth is even in there, within the layers of constant political bargaining from each side, from sources we once trusted. Now we have to try and weave our way through constant news stories which seem to be focused mainly on manipulating us to pick a side, right or left. If simple news stories can be tarnished by the influence of those in power in order to get us to think in a certain way, many things can be manipulated and in such a covert way that we aren’t even aware it’s happening. This is frighteningly similar to the dystopian novels I am talking about; we are creating a society in which people only identify as someone who exists on social media, they hastily click ‘accept’ when websites ask permission to collect their data without a second thought, not even opening their minds to the concept of why they might be doing this.

Moreover, this may sound like a rant on the way people have submitted to the early stages of brainwashing and I suppose it is, and it is only my opinion but I strongly believe we need to revert back to the days in which books mattered. You might be wondering what good it would do to a phenomenon that is already taking place, but books provide something that we cannot find on the internet. Sure you can read an exact replica of a book online but it is still keeping you tied to a virtual world, the feeling of an old book in your hand truly gives it a purpose, it isn’t just another online outlet that can be wiped away in an instant. It is something that exists in the real world, transporting us back to a time in which people had no choice but to research information for themselves, or interact with people in the flesh. The internet is an amazing way to research any topic you are curious about but books help us to stay tied to our roots and not in a way that holds us back, one that keeps us safe from the exploits of human greed and power hungry individuals just waiting to manipulate the authenticity we are losing in terms of life and experience and we are giving them the tools to do this, we need to remember that we don’t need to pick the future over the past, we can have both if we allow ourselves too.

But it’s not even these blatant warnings in the type of literature I am talking about that we should be focusing on, any kind of literature is something at least. Anything, from fairies to dragons, from politics to sports, a tale of fiction or non-fiction, something which acts as a catalyst for a person to think for themselves or feel a sense of creativity, something we are lacking in. The patience in terms self-discovery instead of trying to find a fix within the seconds it takes to google something is fading, the only way we can truly learn about the type of people we are is to focus on our own lives and how we act in the real world, as opposed to constant comparisons on social media. We can only do this by taking a step back, and making sure we still have enough strength in us to get back to the shoreline, no matter how tempting the depths of the ocean can be.

This article may not be everyone’s cup of tea and in no way am I telling you to agree with me, but writing this article has really given me the opportunity to learn a few things about myself, how passionate I am about this topic and how all of this was sparked by re-immersing myself in the bleak yet important concepts of dystopian literature. I encourage every young person to read Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451’, as well as George Orwell’s ‘1984’ or Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’, persevere with them, it may enlighten your mind in terms of a concept, a self-discovery, even just a planted seed, or it might even change your life…just take advantage of the luxury of reading a book, who knows…one day we might not be able to.

‘He imagined thousands on thousands of faces peering into yards, into alleys, and into the sky, faces hid by curtains, pale, night-frightened faces, like grey animals peering from electric caves, faces with grey colourless eyes, grey tongues and grey thoughts looking out through the numb flesh of the face’- Fahrenheit 451.

 

Is technology and Social Media becoming so integral to people’s lives that it is lessening the impact of our passions? Just how dangerous is it?

By Mollie Campbell.

We all understand the current climate of society, a very large proportion of life now revolves around the use of technology and its corresponding apps, social media etc… from simply using email, to Apple Pay, from ordering Christmas presents, to managing your bank account from the comfort of your own phone. These things have not only become a very popular way of doing things, they have become essential to the way we live in 2019. If you think about it, in the least systematic way possible, we have created a system that relies so heavily upon satellite connections that if anything were to go wrong, society would grind to a halt. We would be thrust back into pre-technological methods, which can be somewhat more reliable anyway. This overwhelming technological dependence that has developed has created a surge of people who cannot pry themselves away from their social media apps/accounts, and with this comes consequences that we were simply incapable of predicting during the early days of the internet’s existence.

According to current statistics, Facebook has by far the largest user base, with over 30 million people actively using the site, with 45% using it ‘several times a day’. This means that almost half of the population are checking their devices multiple times a day, on an app that didn’t even exist just over 15 years ago. Whilst Facebook, like many other social media sites, is a great way of connecting with friends and family, and even employers (e.g. LinkdIn), there is a darker trend developing. Since the launch of Facebook many other apps like Instagram and Twitter have stemmed off this idea of connecting with people from all over the world. All of this has erupted at a time of major technological advancements, we can now search a topic and know everything about it within minutes, someone from Wales can have a full blown conversation with a native of Japan or New Zealand in the time it takes to make a cup of coffee, this sort of accessibility and freedom has been a catalyst to a seemingly harmless concept, turning it into something far more dangerous, a prison…and we are responsible for locking ourselves up and throwing away the key.

Technology and Social Media has turned into a massive aspect of childhood, with more young people using the internet than ever before. Should we be letting our children loose on something that can let them access every dark corner of the world? Obviously parental controls can keep the darkness hidden, for a small amount of time at least, but it is the less alarming threats that can cause more damage.  Many people aren’t aware of just how much the inescapable sphere of social media can impact a person, especially a child. We are all on a voyage to this next era of modern society, and nobody is looking back. But if you think about it, whilst the pros are incredible, the cons are almost endless… the internet encapsulates thousands of different aspects, the main thing we see is other people, different relationships, opposite lives, a complete juxtaposition of worlds. It is a constant comparison, and whilst an unparalleled sense of differentiation and contrast is good and unique, it doesn’t diminish the simple fact that every single individual is seeing something that they might not have even thought about before, a seed is planted, and we cannot determine if it is good or bad until it is too late. It may range from a quality they don’t possess, wealth that they will never be able to acquire, a life they will never be able to live, the list in endless. What is this doing to our mental health? On the outside it can be hard to detect, but it is happening to all of us subconsciously, although it is hardly covert. According to NHS UK, 91% of 16-24-year-olds in the UK use the internet and other social networking sites regularly. More importantly, rates of anxiety and depression in young people have increased by 70% over the last 25 years.

Arguably, the ages from 13 to 18 is a pivotal time in our lives, we develop who we are, laying a foundation, central to the way we live the rest of our lives. Up until this point, every generation has gone through their teenage years without the magnetism of the online climate, providing a somewhat harmless environment in which to learn, morph and grow. These days, children do their growing up on the internet; they express themselves on a platform. Due to this, people see what is ‘successful’ in the eyes of popular digital trends, and this in turn will bury itself deeper and deeper into their minds until they are blinded by the world’s desires, as opposed to focusing on their own dreams and ambitions.  This not only strips us of our individuality, it also diminishes our passions for contrasting things, kids these days feel so much pressure to join in with the ‘correct’ online trends of their age group from around the world, that they conform to this modern sheep like mentality that is only fuelled further by the endless capabilities within social media. This makes branching off and creating your own identity and enjoying your own hobbies far more difficult and much less popular. What makes all of this even worse is us, the adults in the situation. We have given our approval when it comes to these modern capabilities, confirming that it is safe in the eyes of every child in the world…but how do we give something a seal of approval when we don’t fully understand it ourselves? Should we be taking more responsibility in terms of sheltering them?

Yes. We are forcing our children into something that is inescapable as soon as they set foot in it, stripping them of their chance to grow into their own individual personality. For example, why pick up an instrument and use your own organic elements to write a song when you can tap an ipad and produce identical sounds and be welcomed with a hit single? Why take the time to read a classic book when you can just watch the adaptation on Netflix? All of these things are creating not only a lack of passion but also a culture of laziness, people can gain so much through the internet that they don’t want to put in the time and effort in the real world. Without this individuality there will be no diversity, a generation of brainwashed zombies with nowhere to look for inspiration, not that they would even think to.

Without sounding too much like a conspirator, I think the dangers of the internet and social media is taking away what makes us all unique, it feeds into this dystopian future, a future that is parodied constantly in popular culture…ironically, we may be headed there quicker than we realise. If you think about it, the internet can be disguised as many things, it can morph into whatever we want it to be, which is catapulting us into a society in which we are slaves to something that doesn’t even have an identity. We are on the cusp of transcending into something that parallels Orwell’s ‘1984’, we are signing up to be identical puppets on a perpetual string all for the sake of a like on Social Media.

In conclusion, whilst I am not disputing how much the internet can help us to connect, develop, explore and ultimately live, we must wake up and look at things for what they really are…before we are remembered in the history books, or tablets, as the generation that didn’t put a stop to the manifestation of a worldwide dictatorship, one which we created ourselves.

Alec Benjamin ‘Narrated For You’- Album Review.

Alec Benjamin ‘Narrated For You’ – Album review.

By Mollie Campbell.

The title immediately foreshadows what the listener is about to hear, a musical narration… and if the music is delivered in acts, the songs are delivered in chapters.

Genre: Pop/Acoustic.

Rating: 8/10

Lyrically: 5/5

Musically: 3/5

Highlights: If we have each other, Steve, Boy in the Bubble.

The album begins with ‘If we have each other’, a poignant and mature viewpoint for such a young artist highlights the theme running throughout, the balance between the struggles of life and the happiness we are determined to find, and how it shapes us as human beings. ‘The world’s not perfect but it’s not that bad if we got each other and it’s all we have’. This is an insight into a songwriter who has established strength as a story teller at such an early point in his career, the potential is undeniable. Every verse is a story, strung together effortlessly…in the most rewarding sense of simplicity. ‘Water Fountain’ opens with a straightforward electronic drum beat and piano. Despite the interesting use of instrumentation in terms of the acoustic guitar being the focal point, you can really tell that the lyrics are arguably the main focus of Benjamin’s artistry…it is evident that at times there is so much he wants to say that he adds in another bar just to continue the depth of the story, something which tends to be lost in an ocean of monotonous structure in the modern music industry. The way he switches perspectives captures the idea of there always being two sides to every story… ‘But at that time she was too young, I was too young’.

Benjamin shines again in ‘Annabelle’s Homework’, with his strong use of metaphorical lyrics, providing a witty yet honest depiction of the contrasting depths to different relationships. “Doesn’t matter how many papers I write, end of the equation won’t be you and I and now I am just another who got hurt, doing Annabelle’s homework”.  The chorus is catchy with a more laidback drum beat and soothing fingerpicking. The next track ‘Let me down slowly’, recently re-released as a duet with Alessia Cara, is a welcomed change from an album that was in danger of sitting within the same groove for its entirety. The electric guitar is contrasting yet still conforms to the gentle tone of the album, this track is a highlight in terms of building anticipation, and the lyrics have the incredible capacity to really transport the listener into the situation he is singing about.  “Don’t cut me down, throw me out, leave me here to waste, I once was a man with dignity and grace, now I’m slipping through the cracks of your cold embrace, so please, please”.  The lyrics are presented to us in a fairly standard way, but they somehow transform into a verse you wouldn’t be surprised to hear within a song released by a much more seasoned writer. ‘Cold skin, drag my feet on the tile, as I’m walking down the corridor, and I know we haven’t talked in a while, so I’m looking for an open door’.

‘Swim’ is somewhat of a step backwards, in the wrong direction… catchy yet monotonous. But it lives up to its ‘filler’ mentality in the exact way you would expect it to. ‘Boy in the bubble’ is one of the most impressive tracks lyrically, fairly simple again but effortless in the sense that we are interjected into the scenario, and to the extent that we feel as if we are actually in the room with the writer.  “It was 6:48, I was walking home, Stepped through the gate, and I’m all alone, I had chicken on the plate, but the food was cold, then I covered up my face so that no one knows, I didn’t want trouble, I’m the boy in the bubble, but then came trouble”. And by using ‘Boy, you gotta tell me what they did to you’ I said, ‘You don’t wanna know the things I had to do’, She said, ‘Son, you gotta tell me why you’re black and blue” within the song really adds to the unique narrative and style of the album and artist. The use of his singing in an almost rap is different in a good way, it allows him to increase the word count in order to give us more of an insight, it also provides a fresh and energetic chapter to the book that ‘Narrated for you’.

‘Steve’ is easily the highlight of the album for me, musically simple yet astronomical in terms of metaphorical writing, the use of such a famous tale in order to present a much more important lesson in a modern way is very creative. The music is catchy and interesting in terms of structure and format and really pumps fresh life back into the album. The lyrics are unique and important: “Oh, you want what you can’t have, but you’ve got all the things you need, there was Adam, there was Eve and there was Steve, He said “Adam, don’t be a fooled by the snake, don’t risk it all for a taste, oh what a waste, to have everything and give it all away”. ‘Gotta be a reason’ follows the same message or outlet as its predecessor, with impressive lyrics and catchy music. A grown up narrative and tone provides the listener with a deeper insight into a younger viewpoint of modern life whilst still reflecting on stories of the past, intertwining the generations. “Walking down to the burial ground with a sad song in his brain, General Cloud is an old man now but it feels like yesterday, he was on the front lines, stranded on the beach, crawling to his best friend, floatin’ in the sea, but he didn’t make it, he still can’t believe, how arbitrary fate is, he says…” The interesting drum beat and trumpet adds another layer that was potentially lacking up until this point with the tone sounding somewhat bare up until this track.

‘Outrunning Karma’ is a masterpiece of storytelling in my opinion, it is hardly a work by Bob Dylan but it is still of a fine calibre. “Outrunning karma that boy, He’s such a charmer all the, Bugs and their larva follow, Him out to Colorado, Ten dozen hearts in a bag, Their bodies lying he’ll drag, Them down to Colorado, A modern desperado”.  The words are almost haunting, accompanied by delicate yet impactful guitar tones and an accustomed drum beat, straightforward yet a growing staple of an Alec Benjamin track. The use of ‘Desperado’ accurately matches the folk vibe it is giving us, a tale of an old outlaw within the confinements of the modern world. The distinction between old and new is concrete but still bestowed to us as something that lets us blur the two together. The next track ‘If I killed someone for you’ is fairly similar to the previous song which doesn’t exactly help in terms of progression, but it is solid nonetheless. The lyrics are rather innovative and clever with another laidback compilation of sounds, and a sharp-witted middle 8.

The penultimate track ‘Death of a Hero’ begins with nostalgic fingerpicking, parallel with a comfortable vocal progression and honest lyrics. “That night I put my youth in a casket, and buried it inside of me, that night I saw through all the magic, now I’m a witness to the death of a hero”… Benjamin’s vocals are rather haunting as he sings these raw lyrics; he has the ability to let the listener inside, so intensely that it allows our emotions to mirror his. This is a perfect lead up to the final track ‘1994’, during the first verse it is easy to feel kind of underwhelmed until you grasp the nostalgia and depth to the lyrics. The words are very blunt and act as a running commentary, reflective of such a broad era in which everything was changing, he mentions the last of arguably ‘real’ MTV music and the impact 9/11 had on the world, “when the towers fell down, September’s not the same place now”. This is a wholesome track relevant to the writer’s life, an honest finale to an album that truly takes the listener on an authentic journey from start to finish, despite minor bumps in the road. But maybe the bumps in the road is what makes this album so good, nothing is perfect and if there is a problem with our society it is that everyone is trying to achieve this concept of ‘perfection’, despite that being an impossible feat…and as is implied in this ‘mixtape’, what kind of life is perfect?

Overall, the lyrics really strike me as honest, that is what makes this album so inspiring…there is no doubt that it possesses modern musical qualities on the whole, but the style of writing is so raw and honest that it really wouldn’t be a bad thing if people took note of what Alec Benjamin has achieved here. He manages to portray his own life and the things he has experienced in such detail and still somehow manages to tap into other people’s lives and experiences within his own little musical sphere. And finally, any young writer who manages to incorporate words like ‘arbitrary’ or ‘desperado’ into their songs deserves some attention, in my opinion of course.

The 1975, ‘A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships’- Album Review.

The 1975, ‘A brief inquiry into online relationships’- album review.

By Mollie Campbell.

An accurate reflection of modern society and culture perfectly packaged within an album that provides an appropriate equilibrium between insight and inspiration.

Genre: Synth-pop, Indie-pop, Alternative.

Rating: 4/5

You will like this if you are a fan of: The Talking Heads, M83.

Highlights: Give Yourself a Try, TooTimeTooTimeTooTime, It’s Not Living (If It’s Not with You). 

Originating in Manchester in 2002, The 1975 have come a long way since their self-titled debut album released in 2013, they have even managed to enhance their musical capabilities since their breakthrough album ‘I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It’, released in 2016. ‘A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships’ sticks to the successful song- writing formula the band have acquired, yet it is given space to breathe and sets itself free from the entrapment of a cliché, introducing new concepts and meanings throughout, and establishing itself as a personal yet extensive portrait of life in 2018.

It begins with an accustomed intro of ‘The 1975’ meeting us on the cusp of our venture into the band’s third studio album, a minute and a half musical prologue designed to gently introduce the audience to a greater concept that goes far beyond the music they are about to hear. Opening with a haunting vocal rawness, you can feel a sense of emptiness in the room unequivocal of the ironic loneliness of a world with the internet at its centre. This is suddenly filled with overwhelming synth sounds, perhaps commenting on the constant confliction between two ends of the same spectrum, or just an attempt at intertwining the old in with the new… a classic trait of the band. The lyrics within the band’s single ‘Give Yourself a Try’ seems to encapsulate modern life and the trouble that comes with learning and developing in a digital setting. Healy’s provocative and raw vocals immediately seek out and capture the listener’s attention, the honest concept simply leaves them with no choice but to listen.

A highlight of the album, TooTimeTooTimeTooTime provides a glimpse into modern love, confirming how much the contexts of relationships have changed in correspondence with social media. It attempts to analyse, or comment upon the current relationship climate or structure, implying that the internet gives more opportunities to ‘two-time’, whilst justifying this nature as normal and socially acceptable.  The piano at the start of ‘How to Draw/Petrichor’ is mesmerising and for good reason, by making the intro almost a minute and a half long, it is keeping us at bay…leaving us on the cusp of greatness in terms of what is to follow, testing the patience of the fast moving music culture in 2018. When we eventually get there, we are treated to a monotonous yet important 3 and half minutes, the vision of this song is what gives it its eccentricity, the attempt at singing the same four lyrics whilst incorporating popular sounds results in a satisfying listen mentally, but maybe not in terms of musical variation, despite the experimentation in sounds. Certainly not a single but the message is received, it clings onto the idea that love is even more of a difficult subject to define in this modern internet-ridden world than ever before, questioning if any of these relationships will last due to the instant gratification and then throw away aspect of internet dating, undoubtedly projecting a sense of loneliness that is more prominent now than ever before.

‘Love It If We Made It’ is a representation of what modern societal expectations are doing to our generation, the lyric ‘modernity has failed us’ is a standout moment…if you are going to retain any of the concepts from this album, let this be one of them,  it resonates profoundly. It also gives a representation of the somewhat laid back and nonchalant attitude of such important things, almost an oxymoron: ‘ I’d love it if/ we made it’.’ Be My Mistake’ is reminiscent of an Eagles classic combined with the necessary shades of a modern anthem, the gentle guitar and raw vocals guides the listener into a place of profound thought whilst still retaining that tender emotion of a love song.  It is a solitary reflection upon the singer’s mistakes in love, almost as if it is a burden to even try at all. Instead he needs to get drunk in order for his lover to be a mistake as opposed to connecting on an emotional level.  This, along with ‘Sincerity Is Scary’, is a daring attempt to dictate the conflicting feelings between lust and love, and empty relationships in this post-modern world.

When we reach ‘I Like America & America Likes Me’, the focus of this album really starts to emerge, overtly yet somewhat surreptitiously.  This is a clear attempt to gain an insight into modern America, its divisions and the problems that come with it. Gun violence is probably a big influence here with the opening line being ‘I’m scared to die’ yet the title implies that his relationship with America isn’t as black and white as that, he still loves the idea of it and it is both rewarding yet devastating living within the centre of such conflict. The lyric ‘no gun required’ alludes to the fact that we are all scared of dying, so why add a gun to the equation? An interesting aspect of the continuity of this album is the fragmentation in which the music is presented to us, mirroring the somewhat fractured element of the modern societal no man’s land in which we find ourselves trapped in.

‘The Man Who Married a Robot/Love Theme’ is the lowest point of the album musically, but taking the time to listen to the concept is rewarding, it seems to embody the idea’s presented to us in the science fiction show ‘Black Mirror’ but within the realm of music. By using a ‘robotic’ voice, it adds authenticity to a very important idea, the concept of the Internet/Social media being a villain, simply lurking behind the mask of a friend. The music in the background is comparable to a lullaby, and serves as an oxymoron, representing the child like naivety of how we as a society use the internet. The powerful keys and distorted guitar acts as a buffer between concepts, a palette cleanser for the ears.  ‘It’s Not Living (If It’s Not with You)’ opens with a catchy and vibrant high-pitched riff, designed in the laboratory that is the 1975’s studio, a concoction of contradictory sounds. This song is a refresher course in terms of the band’s distinguished sound, with verses acting as Stanza’s and Healy’s narrative taking on the role of a tortured poet. Easily a highlight of the whole album, the acoustic guitar in the next track ‘Surrounded by Heads and Bodies’ strips away the confident voice of the narrator, leaving us with the honesty of a soul that has been exposed, this is very laid-back and an almost Elliot Smith style moment for the band, with a superior element of production value.

‘Mine’ reminds us that we are nearing the end of this contemporary voyage, bringing us back down to earth, where stereotypes of what we ‘should’ be doing with our lives comes back into play. The Piano is poignant and the Saxophone reminiscent of the history and society that precedes us, one that is still relevant, regardless of where technology has taken us. The singer reflects upon life in 2009 and the societal pressures that have been thrust upon him, something that he wants to escape. The penultimate track, ‘I Couldn’t Be More in Love’ refers to this concept of loneliness that undoubtedly haunts us throughout the whole album, a notion that even finds its way into our relationships…even if the feelings are inside of us, they aren’t reciprocated in the way that the partner desires them to be, adding to the idea that relationships are desolate and void of any significant meaning or longevity. This leads us into the final track on the album ‘I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)’, it is nostalgic in the most current way possible, an amalgamation of gentle acoustic guitar and the howling tones of an electric, gentle piano weaving its way into the synths and the stone that they are set in, giving a platform for the lyrics to make an impact. The choice to end this album with a somewhat negative concept is daring, it provides us with the tools to really go away and think about modern life, the pros and cons of the internet, the way we disregards lives and mental health, and the lack of sincerity that goes along with modern love.

Whilst it does start to melt into a trend of repetition, this is prevented by the constant reinvention and rejuvenation of the sound, creating a continuous stream of energy and potential for individualistic insight. This album is a handbook for a generation lost in technological fragmentation, a challenge to confront the modern world given to us by a band that continues to rock the boat within a music industry in turmoil, a stalemate of creative progression. It covers such a varied spectrum, touching on loneliness, modern love, regret, hope, fear and death, all within the realm of a pop album which has enabled an innovative leap into their mighty third act. ‘A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships’ juxtaposes greatly when compared to the identity it initially presented itself in, this inquiry is endless and utterly indispensable. This album is an up to date narrative on modern life, and certainly worth the wait.