Monthly Archives: December 2012

The Arrival of ABBA

ArrivalOriginally released in Sweden on October 11 1976, Arrival quicklybecame a worldwide success: it topped the charts in countries such as Australia, Zimbabwe, The Netherlands and Belgium and went on to become the best selling album of 1977 in the UK. The album contains three of the group’s biggest hits: Money, Money, Money, Knowing Me, Knowing You and Dancing Queen, the group’s first and only #1 hit in the USA and signature song.

One of the things I like about ABBA’s music is that the whole is infinitely better than the sum of its parts. Both of the singers have incredible voices and know how to make a song their own – as proven by their solo albums both pre- and post-ABBA – but those songs aren’t the same without the production of Benny and Bjorn. In turn, the boys have demonstrated time and again they know how to write great music – one needs to look no further than the song I Know Him So Well from their 1983 musical Chess -, but without vocals from Frida and Agnetha, it’s just not the same.

Dancing Queen is a great example of just how many little things come together to create the brilliant ABBA songs. You don’t realize it when you listen to it, but there are a lot of different components that go into it; both the arrangements and vocals are more intricate and complex than one might realize. This video clip demonstrates just that. [EDIT: Actually, a brand new documentary was just broadcast a few days ago, all about Dancing Queen!]

The same goes for the lyrics; most of them don’t have any fancy turns of phrase, but still they convey so much about basic human emotions it’s impossible not to connect with them. The two ballads from this album – Knowing Me, Knowing You and the lesser known but equally powerful My Love, My Life – are perfect examples of this.

‘Breaking up is never easy, I know, but I have to go/ Knowing me, knowing you, it’s the best I can do’.

Yes, I know I don’t possess you/ So go away, God bless you/ You are still my love and my life,/ Still my one and only’.

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Dancing Queen & the B-Side, That’s Me

There’s nothing spectacular about those lines as they are, but when you hear them being sung by Frida and, respectively, Agnetha, they become so much more.

One song which some might argue is not on par with the rest of the album is Dum Dum Diddle, but I disagree. I won’t argue the lyrics aren’t silly (and in a bad way), because they are. At the same time though, the song is so joyful, bubbly and catchy that it more than makes up for it. At the end of the day, it has as good a chance to put you in a good mood as any ABBA song.

Apart from the clumsy lyrics of Dum Dum Diddle, there is little to complain about. Perhaps the absence of the hit song Fernando, which despite having been released as a single on the heels of SOS and Mamma Mia wasn’t included on this album until a 1997 reissue.

One hit that was included, however is Money, Money, Money. I’m not sure how to describe it; it’s a very clever song. It has a devilish quality to it that’s made to seem appealing, even alluring, instead of revolting… I don’t know of other songs that tackled the subject of lusting for money that have managed to do that.

In the end, the best way to describe the album would be the same way you would ABBA (well, as far as ABBA can be put in a box anyway): fun and full of life. From the playful When I Kissed The Teacher to the upbeat Why Did It Have To Be Me? to the majestic instrumental track Arrival, this album is a pure joy to listen to and definitely one of ABBA’s finest.

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Fun facts & goodies for fans:

Fun fact #1: The song Arrival  is the second and last instrumental song ABBA ever released and it borrowed its name from the album; not the other way around.

Fun fact #2: Fernando was originally written for Frida’s Swedish album Frida enam and then later recorded in Spanish for the group’s Gracias Por La Música album.

Goodie #1: A different version Arrival (the song), named Belle was sung by Frida and Daniel Balavoine as part of a French musical in 1983. Also, in the same year, B.A. Robertson re-recorded it with different lyrics and released it under the name Time (Frida provided vocals again). Also, there is a Gregorian chant version that is just lovely.

Goodie #2: Matt Pop has amazing remixes of ABBA songs. Two of my favorite and the best ones are Dum Dum Diddle and Arrival.

Goodie #3: A snippet of a different, danceable version of Fernando was released on the ABBA Undeleted feature on the Best Of compilation Thank You For The Music.

Goodie #4: The demo version of My Love, My Live was called Monsieur, Monsieur and a snippet can be heard during a radio interview with Agnetha.

Goodie #5: Finally… follow the link to hear the ‘lost verse’ from Dancing Queen which didn’t make the final cut.

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Merlin: Diamond of the Day

merlin_series_5_2I can’t believe I’m actually able to write this, but the series finale of Merlin was amazing! I enjoyed it immensely and I’m glad the series ended on such a high note.

The episode kicked off with more battle scenes and Merlin riding towards Camlann. Once he got there, Merlin sent a few lighting bolts, which pretty much ended the battle. Mordred fatally injured Arthur. Arthur killed Mordred. Merlin took Arthur in the woods and revealed he’s a sorcerer. At this point, we’re only ten minutes into the episode and I’m like ‘what’s going on?’ I had honestly thought it will take most of the episode to get to this point, but I was glad for the quick succession of events – especially considering how well they’ve used the rest of the time.

So, let’s talk about Merlin and Arthur. What a wonderful thing their friendship has turned into! More has been achieved in this episode than in these last two seasons combined; Arthur has grown a whole lot and Merlin finally displayed his wisdom in an innocent, pleasing way. The scene in which Merlin revealed he has magic, although a bit out of the blue, was awesome and Arthur’s reaction excellent. Uncertainty, fear, rejection and betrayal were all emotions that took over him upon hearing the news and I felt Bradley James did a great job of portraying them.

Most of the episode focused on Merlin and Arthur’s journey to Lake Avalon, where Merlin hoped to heal Arthur’s wound, and Arthur realizing the implications of Merlin being a sorcerer. It truly was wonderful to watch them interact. Merlin and Arthur’s chemistry has always been one of the best things about this show and it really shined in this last episode. There were a lot of great moments between those two: Merlin lighting a fire using magic in front of Arthur, Merlin feeding and taking care of Arthur like he’d been doing since the beginning, and of course, Arthur and Merlin’s final moments together. While the death of Arthur was to be expected, I still had a glimmer of hope the writers would keep him alive. They didn’t, and it was still one of the saddest moments in the entire series. Merlin called for the dragon one last time (and for once, it made sense that he screamed his lungs out), the dragon took them to the lake, where a tearful Merlin sent Arthur off in a boat. Like I said, it was an incredibly sad and well-done moment.

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Meanwhile, Gaius traveled back to Camelot and informed Guinevere and Gwaine that the hot blonde (Eira) was a traitor. They gave her false information about Arthur’s destination to throw Morgana off-course before executing her in public. Gwaine and Percival rode out to meet Morgana and I was legitimately scared that she will die at the hands of two of the most boring and useless characters in the series. I would have been so mad if Percival had been the one to kill her that it would have ruined the entire episode, so I’m glad that wasn’t the case. Morgana knocked them both unconscious, tied Percival to a tree, tortured Gwaine into revealing Arthur’s destination and then left him to die. Sweet. I only wish her death scene had been a little less rushed.

There were a lot of other great moments in the episode: Gaius saying goodbye to Merlin, Morgana killing that man in a fit of anger and surprisingly enough, most of Gwen’s scenes. I almost couldn’t believe how mature, strong and competent she acted after she got back to Camelot. My favorite scene with her was when Eira was captured. ‘You didn’t betray the King; you can go to your death safe in that knowledge.’ This is what she should have been like after being crowned Queen, and not a pathetic creature whose sole purpose was to stroke Arthur’s ego every now and then. The scene in which Gaius confirms to her that Merlin is a sorcerer was also very sweet.

All in all, it was a fantastic end to the show. I’m not sure how I feel about the final scene, but I think I liked it. As I had anticipated, I’m already nostalgic and missing the show. I’m so not good with endings.

S0 now what? How do I fill this newly formed hole inside me? By watching Camelot! 😀 It only has 10 episodes, but my hope is that it will help make the transition to a Merlin-less* life easier.

*It will never really be completely Merlin-less, though. 😉

But for now… one last time:

Happy Christmas!

To anyone reading this, Merry Christmas! 🙂

Here’s ‘Fairytale of New York’ by The Pogues – only one of the best Christmas songs ever!

Merlin: Diamond in the making?

Morgana being awesome

Morgana being awesome

Well, I have to give the penultimate episode of Merlin mixed reviews; I mostly enjoyed it and thought it was one of the best of the season… but is that saying much at all?

The episode started with an awesome scene in which Morgana demonstrated her latest (and last) plan of attack on a poor sorcerer – she used a magic leech to suck out his magic and intended to do the same to Merlin. It was a great opening and Katie McGrath did a really awesome job – as usual. I kind of wish we’d been told of this leech during one of Morgana’s  earlier attempts to find out who Emrys is.

A masked guy planted the magic leech’s box in Merlin’s room and after he got home from the pub, where he used his magic to beat Arthur at backgammon, he was taken by surprise by the creature and lost his magic. That’s all fine and dandy, but can we go back to him using it to beat Arthur at a game? That’s something the immature Merlin from the first or second season would do… where’s all the wisdom he’s supposedly gained since?  Anyway, because Merlin didn’t die after the leech’s kiss, Gaius assumed Morgana’s plan failed, even though he knew nothing about the creature. That’s not like him at all.

Morgana’s men then proceeded to attack a village, defeat what guards and Knights there were and take over. Gwaine fell for this hot blonde and took her back to Camelot, where after a pointless, boring Council, Arthur decided to strike back and end the war with Morgana once and for all. Meanwhile, Morgana forged a blade using her dragon’s fire breath and gave it to Mordred. I’m glad they writers were putting some thought into this last plan of hers; it almost made up for the countless times she’s been made to look like a fool.

Speaking of Mordred, though, I feel like his entire arch was handled the wrong way. Throughout the season, he’s been portrayed as this honest, loyal friend of Arthur that Merlin didn’t trust on the basis of some prophecy. In the end, he turned to the dark side not because he always intended to, but because Merlin hated him and wanted him gone. That just feels cheap and I wish they came up with better reasons for his actions.

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Back to the episode. Since Arthur and his army will meet Morgana at Camlann (or something), which is the place where he’s supposed to die at the hand of Mordred, Merlin made up some excuse not to go with him and traveled to the Crystal Cave to see if he can get his powers back. The scene in which he breaks the news to Arthur was brilliant and I loved it. Now that it’s the end of the series, the writers have stopped messing around with their relationship and started moving it along, which is great. I loved everything from how Arthur took it and the effects it had on him throughout the rest of the episode. This was one of the highlights of the episode.

After reaching the Crystal Cave, Merlin encountered a surprise: Morgana. Turns out the hot blonde worked for Morgana all along and had told her about the Cave. So instead of killing Merlin, she just trapped him in the one place where he could regain his powers… and only after being mildly injured by Merlin, who’s barely yielded a sword before. *Sigh.* Really? Why do the writers insist on making her so incompetent and stupid?

Merlin had a breakdown (great scene) and passed out. When he woke up, guess whose ghost was there to help him out? His father’s! The father who had only appeared in one other episode, the father Merlin’s never really known, yet has always looked up to like no other. I’m sorry, but what about Lancelot, who died for Merlin and had a much bigger part in the story? What about the girl Merlin fell in love with in season two? Gwen’s brother? The dragon? I know it’s not dead, but it would still have been a better choice.

But no, we got his father instead. This is the first thing he told Merlin:

“Dead or alive, real or imagined, past or present… these things are of no consequence. All that matters is you heed the words of your father, who loves you.”

WHO talks like that? Then he went on about how Merlin is magic and the world is magic and Merlin is the world… I’m so frustrated because this scene could have been a great one, and instead we got a cringe-worthy monologue from a character nobody cares about.

Meanwhile, Gwen gave Arthur another one of her dramatic speeches about how he’s great. She really has been insufferable since she’s become Queen. Morgana launched her attack, but Merlin was able to warn Arthur about it. The scene in which he delivered that speech was another strong one. Grim, spooky, haunting music, an uplifting speech… I loved it. Then the battle commenced and we got some awesome part-slow-mo shots of Arthur fighting. They’ve used this technique before, but they really nailed it this time!

The episode ended with Mordred trying to find and kill Arthur and Merlin emerging from the cave as the old, red robed sorcerer. Why the old sorcerer? It’s the end of the series and the main character can’t reach his full power unless he turns into a grandpa?

For better or for worse, we only have one more episode until Merlin ends and I’m already nostalgic. Despite these last two seasons, I’ll still miss the story and the characters. Here’s hoping the final episode knocks it out of the park!

Merlin: A rant

Gwen, Merlin, Morgana, Arthur and Gaius

Gwen, Merlin, Morgana, Arthur and Gaius

I am here today to complain about how the quality of Merlin has decreased over the last two seasons. Actually, it was rather abrupt: it has decreased over the course of the first episodes of season four, then it never got up to par again. Granted, Merlin has never been a show without faults, but I feel like the ones it had were easy to overlook during the first three seasons. Then, the show was more than enjoyable, in spite of its simplistic plot. The characters were all very likable and it was interesting to see how they developed and how the relationships between them evolved.

I should probably mention what Merlin is, at this point. It’s a British TV show that premiered in 2008 and retells the well-known Arthurian legend. Wikipedia says it differs from the actual legend on many points, but I don’t really know the legend that well, so I can’t say what’s different. Anyway, the show consists of five seasons, the fifth one also being its last and ending later this year. It stars Colin Morgan as Merlin, Bradley James as Prince/King Arthur and Katie McGrath as Morgana (who, may I say, is awesome).

Now, as I was saying the first three seasons were light, enjoyable and occasionally funny not because they were flawless, but because they had enough good things to make overlooking the bad easy. However, starting with the fourth season, the bad just kept multiplying and the good all but disappeared. In terms of plot advancement, all season four did was kill Uther and marry Arthur and Gwen in the end. So basically, two episodes out of thirteen. The rest of them? Useless. The same old stories that have been told and retold during the first three seasons, the same boring talk and empty promises.

Also, what have we gained from the addition of The Knights of the Round Table? Absolutely nothing. All the knights are one dimensional characters.  There have been attempts, sure, to make them more interesting… but when you only have 13 episodes to tell the story of the season and you waste quite a few of them with boring and predictable plots, then when you do try to develop your secondary characters, it just doesn’t work out. I know they’re part of the legend, but in all honesty that screen time could have devoted to Morgana. She’s been given all this power and yet she’s been continuously made look like an imbecile. Why couldn’t the writers come up with a decent evil plan for her?

By the way, I’d like to point out that the Knights of Camelot are the most useless form of organized army(?) I have ever seen. They’re a complete waste of space; the whole of Camelot could go unguarded and it would make no difference whatsoever. The amounts of time people have sneaked out and into the castle, out and into the city, out of the prison… it’s really embarrassing. I also have a strong dislike for the way Merlin calls for the dragon: why does it have to be so ‘RAAAAAARRRWW!!!1!!’? Honestly, every time he calls for it he screams as if his life depended on it.

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I’ve said that during the first three seasons, one of the best thing about the show was watching different relationships evolve and change. Sadly, that went out the window with the premiere of season four. One that was particularly hard to watch was Merlin and Arthur’s. There was a scene at the end of season three where they sit on the stairs of the palace and talk about stuff. That, to me, was the point where their relationship was blossomed to its fullest. To this day I feel like nothing short of Merlin revealing he has magic could add to what they had then. Yet, for the entirety of season four, that relationship was shoved in our faces at every opportunity. They would often take it a step back so they could throw some sort of ‘big moment’ that would move it along to the same point. So frustrating to watch. And then of course, the two-part finale of the season was a carbon copy of the previous season’s – which was highly disappointing  and underwhelming.

Now, with season five…  it’s been the same, maybe worse. We started with an underwhelming two-part premiere where nothing happened. Actually, nothing at all happened this entire season – nothing that affected the plot, at least. Gwen’s brother died, but I don’t care. Gwen was brainwashed, but I don’t care because she’s been cured. Morgana has been plotting to kill Merlin and Arthur and I just don’t care because she’s still being portrayed as an imbecile and we’ve seen this before. (Sidenote: this is something that always bothered me about the series – the amount of times Arthur or Merlin nearly died) Then there was just so much filler, Gaius has all but disappeared, Gwen has been more annoying than ever, Mordred was useless and with only two episodes left, I’m disappointed.

The ONLY redeeming quality of the season was the ninth episode, ‘With All My Heart‘. This is the episode where they cure Gwen and I have to say I was on the edge of my seat. I really thought she was going to die… partly because I thought I had read a spoiler. In spite of that, I felt it was suspenseful, that demon-lady looked cool & creepy and Merlin and Gaius provided some good-old comic relief in quite a few scene. For once, Merlin and Arthur’s relationship was not shoved in our faces and instead they focused on Arthur and Gwen; I felt the moment they shared near the end was genuine and sweet. Overall it was an enjoyable episode and it reminded me of the early ones. So I give the show major credit for it.

We have two episodes left and I’m not sure what can they do with them, but I’m still hoping against hope that they can pull it off and go out with a bang. Maybe I’ll write a post about them;  I tend to get melancholic.

LeAnn Rimes – What Have I Done

I discovered LeAnn Rimes about a year and a half ago. Since then, I’ve mainly only listened to one of her albums – Family -, though I consider myself a pretty big fan of her music. Sure, I also checked out some of her earlier songs – Can’t Fight The Moonlight, How Do I Live, Life Goes On to name a few – and while I’m not complaining about them, I found most of the songs on Family to be head and shoulders above the others. The album came together wonderfully; both the songwriting and LeAnn’s performances were pretty impressive.  I have no desire to check out her previous work, partly because I doubt it will match the high standards set by Family and I’ve also skipped her cover album she released last year (for now!), so I’ve been waiting for her to release something new for quite some time.

On November 20th, she did – the song What Have I Done, and today I finally listened to it. Can I just say how pleased I am with it? From the first lines, you can tell it’s a personal song and she does a fantastic job delivering it. Much like What I Cannot Change, the song is haunting and honest, with beautifully written lyrics which coupled with LeAnn’s amazing voice make it hard not to feel moved at least a little.

I’ve not looked much into her personal life, but I know she cheated on her husband and this is what the song covers. Since the incident, she’s gotten a lot of crap from people, people who’ve never made a mistake their entire life obviously, and I’d like to shove this song down those people’s throats as a reminder that she’s not the cold-hearted bitch people make her.

I’m in love with the song and if this is the kind of material awaiting on Spitfire (her upcoming album), I’ll be one happy camper!

P.S. I just want to further emphasize how beautiful the lyrics are. They are really, really beautiful!

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