Rose Elinor Dougall: Stellular review (2017)

Bigger, better, more beautiful – it’s the perfect second album, and well worth the wait.

c2dq9g3uuaa0-ic

Rose Elinor Dougall’s new, appropriately titled album Stellular is spectacularly great. Honestly, it’s the best extended pop rush I have heard in absolutely ages. You know when you’re worried that you might actually be playing a particular album (or song) too much and end up not liking it (it’s happened before, I just don’t know when to quit!), so you actually consider refraining from putting it on? Right now that’s how I feel about this album. I’m not going to stop listening to it though – I’ve had the bloomin’ thing on rotation these last few weeks and I bloody love it! Frankly, Stellular is an embarrassment of riches – there are so many joyous, sad, exciting and dazzling moments, with far too many to list here, but I’ll do my best.

Ever since departing The Pipettes around a decade ago, Dougall has slowly but steadily been delivering all kinds of musical and vocal treasures, such as on her debut Without Why (I mean, ‘Start/Stop/Synchro’ and ‘Fallen Over’? Wow!!) and the dazzling Future Vanishes EP, but this is a whole new level of special. The seaside town melancholia and melodic loveliness from before is still here, but there’s an even greater vivacity and confidence that is knock-you-off-your-feet stunning. I was partly reminded of David Holmes’ sorely underrated, oceanic pearl The Holy Pictures from 2008, as well as some early Felt (the Maurice Deebank years), a bit of motorik, but most importantly, this 1980’s essence that I can’t quite pin down. I’m not talking 80’s in the obvious sense, but something more spectral, difficult to grasp.

‘Colour of Water’ is a great primer for what’s to follow – dreamy vocals (Dougall’s thoroughly engaging and expressive voice is better than ever), sharp, hypnotic guitar hooks, gorgeous electronics, captivating lyrics and intoxicating production from Oli Bayston (aka Boxed In, who also duets with Dougall on ‘Dive’) that aims for the senses and gets ‘em tingling. First single ‘Stellular’ is magnificent – a delectable riff, icy/warm synths and an insistent groove all make for a serious adrenaline rush. ‘Constellations burn brighter’ indeed. ‘Closer’ is a sultry, tightly-coiled slice of pop that blends quotidian references to ‘shady pool halls’ with otherworldly, atmospheric musical touches. The album’s first out-and-out heartbreaker arrives in the form of the beautiful ‘Take Yourself With You’ (first released via Soundcloud back in late 2014 – how time has flown!), an impossibly moving and almost unbearably pretty lullaby of a tune, arguably Dougall’s sweetest confection to date. There are melodic changes in this song that are so stupidly wonderful that I’m likely to end up spluttering nonsense trying to put in words my precise admiration for it, so I’ll shut up.

So, we’re at that stage where the album’s going for a perfect run. Will it succeed?

Spoiler alertyes it will.

The dance-infused, instant satisfaction surprise of ‘All at Once’ is quite a swerve, delivering a stomping, funky treat with a seductive chorus, whip-crack beats and monster bassline (there’s some really fine bass on this record) – there’s a great extended remix of this on the Rough Trade exclusive bonus CD that plays out like a wonderful 80’s-era twelve-inch. Seek it out if you can. ‘Answer Me’ is an aching, towering ballad that swirls its way towards a truly ghostly, shivering conclusion. Some glorious piano and a terrific chorus on this one too. ‘Dive’ picks up the pace – serene but with a beat, it brilliantly conveys that feeling of being bowled over by a sheer panoramic scale of emotions.

What’s possibly the best song follows. Well, it’s my fave song at the moment. There’s a few others on this LP that are closing in. For the mo though, my #1 is the jolting ‘Hell and Back’ – it’s truly wrenching and intensely melancholic, yet head-dizzying and cathartic. The glorious ascension that is ‘Space to Be’ is tremulous but never overwrought, ascending melodic heights in its chorus and especially during its guitar-fuelled finale. The concluding ‘Wanderer’ is an exquisite love-letter that sees the album out in a lovely glimmer, and almost unfairly, the album’s over – gone in a moment, a deliriously fleeting, motion-blur experience, nicely encapsulated by the album’s artwork, a portrait of Dougall that catches her image twice.

Stellular hits the heart, pulse and feet in the way the best albums that first overwhelmed you as a teenager do. You may wonder where Dougall will go after this but don’t think about any of that at the mo. Right now, this is all you need. It’s a promise fulfilled and it’s right here, right now.

Music Stuff

David Bowie: The Gouster (1974)

David Bowie: Station to Station (1976)

David Bowie: Low (1977)

David Bowie: “Heroes” (1977)

David Bowie: Lodger (1979)

David Bowie: Blackstar (2016)

David Bowie: ‘Never Let Me Down’ (1987)

Rose Elinor Dougall: Stellular (2017)

Rose Elinor Dougall: A New Illusion (2019)

The Durutti Column: Short Stories for Pauline (1983/2012)

Echo and the Bunnymen: Heaven up Here (1981)

A Flock of Seagulls: ‘The Story of a Young Heart’ (1984)

Jon Hassell/Brian Eno: Fourth World Vol. 1 – Possible Musics (1980)

M83: ‘Reunion’ (2011)

Mansun: Six (1998)

Neon Indian: ‘Change of Coast’ (2013)

New Order: ‘MTO’ (1989)

Soft Cell: ‘Numbers’ (1983)

The Sound: A Retrospective

Samurai Cop (1991)

samuraicop

Please note that none of the imagery in the above poster for Samurai Cop actually takes place in the film itself.

An astoundingly inept action thriller that’s become quite the cult favourite for how jaw-droppingly awful it is. From the sub-Streets of Rage title music onwards, there is absolutely nothing in this film that is intentionally worthwhile. Join our two McBain wannabes Joe and Frank as they take on the killer from Maniac Cop and his endless parade of disposable henchmen! Prepare your flabber to be well and truly gasted at the horrors to follow!!

Where to start?

  • Well, the dialogue appears to have been recorded with the cheapest mics available. When they do actually manage to pick up the actors’ voices, it’s usually muffled and hissy – I think there was some fluff on the mic.
  • The shooting script must have got mixed up in the post – various scenes appear to jump back and forth throughout the daytime, making it look as though the sun in this film’s world goes up and down like a fucking yo-yo.
  • The editing is horrendous – after watching this you realise that most films do indeed get the fundamentals right to the point where you sort of forget you’re watching a film. In Samurai Cop the rhythm is totally off – shots begin too early or too late, the music stops and starts intermittently and the whole thing feels like a hastily put together rough cut. The most notorious example is when the police chief gives our two ‘heroes’ a load of shit and then sits back down in his chair, after which the camera keeps rolling and the actor just starts laughing.
  • In addition to the above, the fight scenes are incompetently staged – none of the actors appear to be properly interacting with each other. Their reaction time to impending danger is so off that it’s no wonder they keep getting killed. Death throes are sometimes accompanied with unconvincing splats of blood (in one case, paintball has clearly contributed to a character’s death) but more often than not with no squibs or gore whatsoever, so all we see is a lot of writhing around with no apparent physical trauma.
  • There are three ‘love’ scenes that are some of the most inert and unerotic ever staged for a film. We’re talking fast-forward fodder that’s on the level of The Room here, people.
  • The acting is hopelessly stilted and off-key. The director seems to be insisting that when not speaking, his actors must be posing awkwardly, either by leaning on banisters or perching one of their legs on steps or chairs to try and look casual.
  • The dialogue is very poor – the intentionally comic scenes (the camp restaurant waiter, the nods to the fact that Frank is black, the ‘would you like to fuck me?’ bit) feel very awkward, while the overheated confrontation scenes are hilariously stilted. The best example of this is Joe’s threat to the criminals at the dinner table.
  • The plot is complete bobbins – plot holes, illogical behaviour, unrealistic physical attraction between characters… it’s all here. My favourite is when Frank protests to Joe about the killing of the big bad guy (‘stop it, you’re a cop!’) even though the both of them have murdered at least a thousand criminals over the last 90 minutes. Bit late to develop a conscience there, mate.
  • This film features the most passionless, bored delivery of the ‘Happy Birthday’ song in cinema history.

Of course, I really enjoyed this film for the most part – there are plenty of dull bits but there are also loads of moments to laugh yourself silly to. Whether its Joe and Frank’s mild irritation at running over a bad guy with their car (‘oh, man!’, indeed), Matt Hannon’s occasional (and obvious) dependence on a wig (he had to come back for additional filming after he’d slashed his locks) or the little mad touches (why do the bad guys have a Defender arcade cabinet in their flat?) – it’s a proper chuckle. It’s also one of the worst films ever made.

Oh, and by the way, here’s some choice dialogue snippets:

LAWYER: ‘I’ll see you in court!’
POLICE CHIEF: ‘You motherfucker, I’ll see you in hell!’

and:

JOE to FRANK: [on discovering a mid-level bad guy smooching naked with his girlfriend] ‘Looks like this is his last FUCK!’

MULLETED VILLAIN: ‘I want his head on this piano!’
MANIAC COP: ‘I will bring you his head, and I will place it on this piano.’