1989

I’m not going to eulogise over how good Taylor Swift’s latest album is, because there’s already plenty of those out there. But I will take a second to note how, unlike any pop album I can think of, it actually hit home.

I’m a firm believer that the best music not only has a catchy melody or a great riff (or whatever gets your particular juices flowing) but can grab a hold of what you feel, where your life is at that very moment. The very best music can make you take stock of all that, and that’s what 1989 manages.

It’s rare that an album will so perfectly capture where you are as a person right at the time that you listen to it. There’s obviously an element of chance involved, but it’s still fleeting. We’ve had albums from Pianos Become the Teeth and Have Mercy in the last month – both bands that I love – and neither of them have struck a chord with me as sharply as Swift’s latest.

It’s interesting that the album is called 1989, probably no coincidence that a record written by a 24-year-old feels so familiar thematically. The potential mistakes you may have made and may be making, the missteps and regrets that we’re all accidentally accumulating as we stumble through our early 20’s with essentially no fucking clue where we’re going. 1989 sounds to me 90% a celebration of these things; 10% reflection on what may be going right or wrong.

It’s this candour and vulnerability, wrapped up in brilliant, 80’s-drenched pop songs, that has caught me a bit off guard with this album, and also why I’d recommend it wholeheartedly – even to those who can’t think of anything worse than sitting through it.

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Gone Girl

Probably contains accidental spoilers.

Well, that was messed up.

If there’s any film that is likely to convince to sack my socia life in and just live in a hole somewhere, I’ve just seen it. Rosamund Pike is chilling as the wife to Ben Affleck’s accused husband, and I haven’t been that confused as to how to feel about a group of characters in a long time.

One thing did annoy me about Gone Girl, though. As far as a comment on a post-recession marriage goes, I never felt like Gillian Flynn (I’m assuming that the film is close enough to the novel that this criticim can be levelled at its author) really knew which side of the fence she’s stood on. The twists and turns in plot are interesting and keep the movie entertaining for its entire two-and-a-half hour running length, but they felt a little confused themselves.

Maybe that was the point. All I know is that I wish I had a lock on my door.

Obvious(ly we’re going to have the) Child

Last week I got to see Obvious Child. It’s a film in which the topic of abortion is tackled, in much the same vein as how films like Juno and Knocked Up have attempted to before. You know the drill: protagonists have one night stand, pregnancy ensues, comedy happens as they work out what to do next.

Except in those films, they never really do wonder about what to do next. Juno flirts with a visit to the adoption clinic and is scared away. In Knocked Up they don’t get any further than Jonah Hill’s cowardly ‘shmuh-shmortion’ line. There’s never any sort of adult conversation about what a mature and responsible decision might be. Abortion is demonised, ungodly and wrong.

Instead of arguing about why that might be I’d rather say how refreshing, pleasing it was for Obvious Child to have its characters talk about what they wanted to do, give it some actual thought, be fucking terrified of what might happen and do what any twenty-something I know would do in that situation and make some attempt to make light of it.

Making a joke about something serious doesn’t make it any less serious. I dare you to be in that situation with your shitty life right now and see if you can keep a serious face permanently without going insane and doing something batshit crazy like that kid that ate hair off the carpet in Russia last week.

Honesty ran a little deeper than just the situation, I thought. Maybe it’s a result of that pesky Y chromosome I was born with but I’m not totally sold by the Brooklyn-based millenials we’re given in Girls. They’ve always felt a little too extreme in their characters to feel like they could actually exist. In contrast, the characters we see in Obvious Child felt totally real to me. There’s a part in the film where one character reaches out to another emotionally, fully expecting to be shot down, but he obviously feels like he has to try anyway. It felt totally natural and relatable and that’s not something I can say as much as I’d like about anything I see on screen.

Most of all, I thought it was a really, realy funny film. Coupled with a genuinely human approach to the issues it tackles and its characters, I suggest hunting it out while it’s still around. Please don’t have a go at me for not loving Girls. 

Suarez’s actions do matter to Liverpool and their fans

If you needed any more stark an example of football’s ludicrous tribalism, it was privided by Luis Suarez yesterday afternoon. Liverpool fans were quick to defend his latest biting incident, even laughing it off in some quarters. Indeed, even Suarez himself brushed it off: “These things happen on the pitch, we don’t have to give them too much importance.” The problem is they only ever seem to happen when Suarez is around.

Rival fans were incandescent with anger, calling for permanent bans and suggesting that he should also be banned from club football, so severe were his actions. His crimes were committed in a Uruguay shirt and any punishment should be borne out under the same banner, but his club will still feel the repercussions from his most recent act of stupidity.

The last time Luis Suarez bit someone his club stood by him. It was possible to prescribe his actions to a fierce passion to win, to a hard upbringing in the difficult streets of Montevideo. An excellent recent ESPN article suggested that Suarez acted like he did not because he was afraid of losing a football match, but his entire hard-fought life by extension.

The more sympathetic could extend this explanation to his latest transgression. Just 10 minutes left of his latest World Cup dream, the immediacy of his nation’s need calling for drastic action. But this was not cynicism with victory at its core as that infamous last-16 handball against Ghana was in 2010 rather an off-the-ball act of aggression with no guarantee of any advantage whatsoever. Quite how Liverpool will be able to defend him all over again, I do not know.

The most reasonable reaction seems to lay somewhere between the two tribal extremes exhibited yesterday. Yes, his actions matter and deserve to be punished. If they are funny it is only as a result of the incredulity of a 27 year-old man biting an opponent for the third time. But they do not deserve to be front-page news as suggested by Adrian Chiles yesterday. It is still just a game of football, even if Suarez himself appears to have forgotten that.

Why does it matter to Liverpool fans? They support a global club who have already risked dragging their name through the dirt for the sake of defending their star player. Until yesterday he appeared to have repaid the club with a season’s worth of impeccable behaviour and performances to boot. When deciding whether to welcome him back with open arms the club will now have to consider whether or not they are willing to run the same risks again.

Except this time, they are no longer as arguably ambiguous – gone is the man who passionately over-reacted once or twice in a Red shirt, replaced by the repeat offender who refuses to learn from past mistakes.

Gone are the excuses, and Liverpool fans are left with a brilliant maverick whose goals may be impossible to cheer, whether he scores one or thirty one.

Cheers Joe

Joe Root, you beautiful boy. I’m not mad that your innings ruined a full day of potential work for me. I’m not mad that I’m going to have write twice as much tomorrow as a result of your batting. I’m not even mad that I’m going to have to wait until you get to 200 before I can start getting on with my life.

I’m not mad because you are doing what every English cricket fan has dreamt of for the last few decades: you’re embarrassing Australia. I know, we’ve not retained the famous little urn just yet, but it looks as good as guaranteed.

I had to watch as Mssrs. Warne, McGrath, Ponting et al. routinely made us look average. I had to endure that 5-0 thrashing down under. Oh how we all wished the shoe was on the other foot back in 2006.

And now, Lords, July 2013, and you’re sticking it to ’em. The youngest Englishman ever to score a century against Australia at Lords. The tables have turned and your youthful face is as good a metaphor for the changing of time as I can find, and I thank you for it.

I hope this latest (dare we dream double?) century is the first of a ridiculous amount. If you could add three or four more in this series alone I’d be eternally grateful.

The Ashes is, for me, the pinnacle of sporting events, to be held up with the football world cup and the Olympics in terms of its importance. A lot of people asked me what i thought the outcome would be this summer, and my response was always the same: I think we will win, but that won’t be enough. I want to humiliate them, as they have us in the past.

So thank you, Joe, for going at least some way to realising that today.

Learning lessons

Over the course of the past few months I’ve been exploring the idea of sexism in the music industry and feminist movements for equality fighting against it.

I’m still yet to focus on a straight theme or angle for my article (I think you could write on the subject forever, such are the issues and the array of viewpoints within it) but I have been genuinely surprised by the prevalence of something I naively thought was all but non-existent.

None of the women I have spoken to have been lucky enough to never experience sexism; none think that we are anywhere near where we need to be – where we ought to be – in terms of gender equality in our entertainment industry.

I, like I assume many others, saw the vast amounts of women appearing on televisions and radios everywhere and assumed that this was a problem to be moaned about by a minority. I am happy to admit I was wrong, but unhappy that I have to do so.

As I shape my article over the next few weeks I intend to maintain a blog about my doing so – primarily to shape my thought processes, but also to see if a route I am taking is coherent and honest. I do not want to produce a finished work that is short-sighted and disagreeable a matter of weeks after I’v written it.