Twenty Years On – How ‘Homerpalooza’ Captured the Transience of Music and Youth

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Eventually, and sadly, all of us find, or will find, ourselves losing our grip on what’s current and contemporary. We’ll accept Bono for his humanitarian work, we’ll listen to James Blunt because of his computer cracks and the forgiving fitting of Marks & Spencer will slowly engorge our filled-out figures. It happened to Homer Simpson, and even though that episode aired twenty years ago, while the bands and cultures it parodied are no longer current, the underlying message still remains incredibly potent – cool doesn’t stay.

Abe Simpson produces the most telling, and accurate, line in Homerpalooza, an episode that captures a specific moment of pop culture before it rapidly transcended. “I used to be with ‘it’, but then they changed what ‘it’ was,” he scoffs. “It’ll happen to you.” He’s pointing his despondent digit at a young Homer, but really that finger can be placed upon any one of us – down the line, we all become Grandpa and, eventually, Homer; I envision in ten years’ time, when I’m driving my kids to school, I’ll be babbling boisterously about the “good old-fashioned sludge of Peace and Superfood, which paved the way for Catfish & the Bottlemen, which I believe was a kind of hovercraft.”

Homerpalooza serves as a time capsule, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it slice of a part of the ‘90s that seems laughable now. The show recognises this, too, and instead of casting a heartfelt haze over a carefree culture, they instead satirise and gleefully acknowledge that this specific timeframe will be left in a bargain bin, along with copies of Reality Bites and Come On Feel the Lemonheads. In short, the show’s creators had to parody the “it” Abe lambasts, for that “it” was changing far too frequently to accurately homage. By 1996, the real Lollapalooza festival was being headlined by Metallica; by the turn of the millennium, it had died. The fickle aura of youth had breezed by.

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“They changed what it was” is the episode’s motif, and becomes more prevalent now as the bands the show spotlights – Sonic Youth, Smashing Pumpkins and Cypress Hill, to be precise – are no longer the key cultural forces they were (although their influence has had more longevity). Heck, Billy Corgan’s most prominent recent promo work involved an article in a cat fancy magazine and Corgan looking petrified on some sort of children’s fairground ride.

The episode has occasionally been criticised for being too gimmicky and of-its-time, but in truth the show has a strong core before the festival comes in. Homer’s new-found role as the school runner (or driver) throws into sharp focus how his rock and roll beliefs are now dated and formulaic, casting a low thrum over our central character. His bedside confessions to Marge about his superannuated state feel true and troubled, the kind of self-admittance that many people would have had to have faced when they saw vinyl records on sale in Tesco. The Dazed and Confused skit, where Homer tries to board the ‘second-base mobile’, also provides a comical glimpse of a self-anointed cool Homer.

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When the show introduces Homer to a young festival crowd, his hearty but ham-fisted attempts at appearing relevant hit him almost as hard as Peter Frampton’s inflatable pig. However, the episode later provides us with an interesting theory – does Homer actually want to be cool? Or is he just on a frivolous chase of critical clout? For when Homer finally does get acclaim for being the festival’s human cannonball, he soon realises maybe he was content enough being with his family and eating a club sandwich. There have been times where I myself have longed for the acclaim, no matter how fair the weather, for my music or even these blogs. But when I sometimes get that, I realise I’d much rather be a wallflower. The grass isn’t always greener, especially when roadies are gobbing on it.

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While newer episodes of The Simpsons would see flat readings delivered completely straight, here such wooden words embellish the so-so nature of alternative rock (Kim Gordon isn’t likely to be winning an Emmy any time soon, put it that way). Elsewhere, I like how Homer forms a believable friendship with The Smashing Pumpkins (Billy Corgan serving as a credible comic foil), Cypress Hill’s surprisingly tuneful classical rendition of ‘Insane in the Brain’ and Sonic Youth’s theme tune. However, the surprising star turn here has to be Frampton, who’s obviously a really good sport to play such a curmudegonly, crusty version of himself.

Homerpalooza’s longevity stems from, ironically, representing such a disposable, transitory period of cultural history in a satirical way that’ll confuse and irritate future generations, while bewildering the ones that lived through it. They may have changed what ‘it’ was, but they never changed what ‘it’ meant.

 

 

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‘Bart the Mother’ – The Last ‘Real’ Episode of The Simpsons?

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By Season Ten, The Simpsons was mined hollow; even the canary wanted out. Not many shows can keep the consistency that this show did, so it was a sad, but inevitable, feeling when the show began to decline. The only solution was to be more creative, experimental and change certain traits, with differing success.

One of the major downfalls is that if Season Ten isn’t trying too hard to remain relevant (using nonsensical plots about Thomas Edison and Flanders becoming a bigamist), it’s recycling the more realistic plots. ‘Bart the Mother’ is a prime example of the latter.

And yet, amid this season’s outlandish exercises and exaggerated humour, revisiting ‘Marge Be Not Proud’ comes as welcome relief. That episode superbly dealt with peer pressure, parental displeasure and a rousing redemption, while giving the Bart-Marge relationship a neat dynamic. While rehashing it here isn’t quite as successful, ‘Bart the Mother’ is drenched in pathos and paternal disappointment, planting the show back into real life in a season that was quite removed from reality. To be honest, it became more and more rare that an episode would stay quite this grounded.

At this point, the show still had strong openings, and while a visit to the family fun centre isn’t quite exhilarating, it has enough humdrum humour to provoke some hearty chuckles. The go-karting scene, essentially a tiny figure-8 lap, is a neat satirical send-up of the kind of suburban sideshows you’d visit during a subpar summer. Marge’s slow and steady approach is perfectly in fitting with her character, while Milhouse’s go-kart bursting into flames came at a time when, well, random things exploding was still one of the show’s most hilarious attributes.

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The focal point of the show is Bart’s admiration of lonely bully Nelson. Here, the latter is still someone to be feared and admired, and yet they permeate an acceptable amount of apathy. In later seasons, Nelson became less of a threat and more of a flit – his go-to character was being poor, and I remember being enraged when, in one episode, Bart referred to him as his “other best friend.” We’ve all, especially when young, wanted to impress someone and show we’ve got a streak as mean as theirs, so Bart’s idolisation of a newly packing Nelson makes perfect sense.

The next few scenes are some of my favourites, purely for the fact that they encapsulate the weekend banality that engulfs most family homes. Downstairs, Marge and Homer are folding sheets (Homer’s hare-brained attempts at rolling up socks perfectly emulate my awful attempts at housework), while upstairs Bart and Lisa are lazing around in Bart’s room. Bart’s won a moustache comb, Lisa’s won a fake moustache. “Wanna comb it?” Lisa innocently asks. I’m not sure why, but I’ve always loved that scene – I think it’s because for a ‘latter day episode’, it’s so realistic; there’s been tonnes of times where I’ve been bored with my brother and we’ve tried to pass the time with something stupid.

An interesting viewpoint of this episode is that, as a whole, the scenes don’t tie together into a memorable bundle (much like Homer’s socks). But the individual scenes live long in the memory. For example, most people know the infamous scene in which Homer shouts Bart and then Milhouse (the latter’s “whaaAAAATTTTTT?” and Homer’s “WHO’S NELSON??!!!!” particular standouts), but would they remember which episode it’s from? I also love Lisa’s innocent “what the heck’s going on?” when she hears Homer’s shouts. Again, it feels very real.

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There’s also a few clever twists throughout the episode. Bart shoots the bird, but only because he unwittingly compensated for the ‘crooked sight’, while later on, the eggs he cares for hatch to be lizards. It kind of feels like the writers had to make that, simply because the episode ending on birds being born would have been quite mawkish, but it’s still a neat switch. Not only that, but we also have the final appearance of Troy McClure, giving a big old guano-eating grin to the camera as he picks up a blue jay with a set of steel tongs (“Billy”, Bart writes. Another great visual gag). Oh, Phil Hartman, how I miss you.

Marge takes centre stage as much as Bart, but her emotional abandonment of Bart doesn’t feel as real as her disconnection in ‘…Not Proud’. It’s good to see Marge invoke some anger and disappointment, but when he blamed herself, it felt much more realistic. Here she just seems to see Bart as a demon child, but, at least, it means Bart doesn’t quite shake the bummer feeling he carries around.

There’s a number of aforementioned reasons why ‘Bart the Mother’ feels like one of the final human episodes of The Simpsons, and while it may be a little so-so for some, it was a welcome change of pace in a frenetic era.

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Wolves at the Flaw – 2015/16 Summed Up

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It started with a plunging neckline, and, just like the cavernous crevice that adorned Wolves’ 2015/16 home kit, the football itself quickly plummeted. In recent years, every season has been one of excitement for those who follow the gold and black boys – whether it be flirting with relegation or playing with promotion – but this season was like the Wednesday episode of EastEnders…in short, nothing’s happened.

A good way to summarise the season would be to compare it to Year 8 at school, the year basically where you’re free of SATs and GCSEs and can just mess about with Bunsen burners without worrying about any repercussions. However, you know that next year would be a much better one. For me, that has been Wolves’ 2015/16 season – the youngsters have been blooded, the deadwood has been left out for the tat men and, hopefully, with all this happening this season, we can expect a much more bullish campaign come the summer.

However, that still doesn’t excuse the bland anonymity that has blighted the 46 games Wolves have participated in. The football has been slow and boring, akin to that episode of The Simpsons where the Spanish commentator still expresses the right amount of passion (“centre HOLDS IT!”), players have underperformed and behind the scenes it makes for some grim reading.

The writing was etched on the wall during pre-season. Pretty awful, and decadent, kits aside, the pre-season began a worrying trend where players were being offloaded with confident aplomb, but no one was coming in. Michael Jacobs was given the green light to show what he could do, but within a week he was sold to Wigan. Similarly, a slew of other players followed while only a handful of players were drafted in. A little later, stalwart Richard Stearman was sold, despite there not being an experienced centre-back at the club. All of a sudden, Wolves were a selling club.

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Then there was the hullabaloo surrounding Kevin McDonald. Our best player in League One, the problem with McDonald was as soon as teams realised he pulled our strings in midfield, his game was up. Halfway through the 2014/15 season, he wasn’t quite the force of consistency he once was. In the summer, he issued the kind of interview usually reserved for Big Brother rejects in Closer, where he lamented being unable to talk to “massive club” Fulham (which is akin to saying Rowland Rivron is a massive comedian). His sulking was rewarded with a new contract, but was it deserved? Since then he’s been ponderous in possession and under-par in performances. It’ll be no big surprise if he’s moved on in the summer.

The squad became as threadbare as Razak Boukari’s birdie legs. Bjorn Sigurdarson, who had presumably spent most weekends selling matchday programmes, was dusted off but has suffered a Samson-like loss of strength since cutting his hair, but he has been given far too much criticism. He has been asked to play in a punishing role, where he’s feeding on scraps and has no one to support him, and yet he has been ruthlessly pilloried. Still, strikers are meant to score, and poor Siggy couldn’t score in a Bilston brothel. Joe Mason was finally signed (after around six years of newspaper speculation), and has shown he can hit the back of the net, but without top striker Nouha Dicko, it’s been a pretty fallow campaign for the marksmen.

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Adam Le Fondre was signed on a season-long loan, but when, in the past, loan stars have been bought in on the proviso they can become permanent (Jacobs, James Henry et al), this one felt like a last-gasp hole plugger. Ditto Seji Ojo, who was as inconsistent as wingers can get (he has recently shown this with some poor displays at home club Liverpool).

There are positives to be taken from the season. Jed Wallace wasn’t given much chance to shine before being carted off to Millwall, but in the brief time he returned, he showed the guile and promise he’d exuded while at Portsmouth. Similarly, the trickery of Jordan Graham was a breath of fresh air before he too was resigned to the physio’s bench. When the two of these, as well as Dicko, return for the 2016/17 campaign, we will have a forward line that will have pace, power and grit. Similarly, young players like Dominic Iorfa and Kourtney Hause have now been fully integrated into the team, and youngsters Bright Enobakhare and Sylvan Deslandes have also tasted first-team football, which means next season they will (hopefully) be all the better for it.

There are a few additions Wolves need, but with Steve Morgan putting the club up for sale, it’s highly unlikely Kenny Jackett will have the funds. Wolves fans had wanted Morgan out the club for a while, in a move that was as myopic as it was foolish, and now they have got their wish, they will now have to witness a few barren windows before an owner can be found.

This season was never going to have the highs of the previous two, but even the most pessimistic of Wolves fans would never have predicted such a flight into banality. The 2015/16 Wolves campaign will live long in the memory, if only for being so damn forgettable.

 

 

Fresher 15 – The Songs That Shaped April

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1).        The Goon Sax – Boyfriend

Australia’s music scene is certainly in rude health at the moment, and in The Goon Sax, we have a 21st century update on The Go-Betweens – girl drummer, slightly angular, flamboyant frontman, literate pop offerings. It’s all here in ‘Boyfriend’, a Girls-esque lament set to up-tempo tunes and lovely harmonies.

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2).        Misty Miller – Next to You

When Misty Miller first emerged, she was a misty-eyed folk rocker. Now the ukulele is missing, presumed plucked, for she’s dyed her hair and changed her style for the rollicking album The Whole Family Is Worried. ‘Next To You’ is an irresistibly catchy slice of pomp rock.

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3).        Nap Eyes – Stargazer

Part Michael Stipe, part Lloyd Cole, Nigel Chapman’s emotive, crystal-clear vocals radiate through ‘Stargazer’, an almost Americana-esque pluck which invokes some wonderful imagery. The Halifax quartet’s beautifully restrained album Thought Rock Fish Scale is a cracking breakthrough.

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4).        Diet Cig – Dinner Date

Boy-girl duo Diet Cig’s first EP, Overeasy, was five blink-and-you’ll-miss it odes to ‘90s aesthetics, from the scuzzy riffs to the Simpsons references. ‘Dinner Date’ rocks a little harder, but is all the better for it as Alex Luciano blasts “the turkey is tasty, just like the shit that you’re taking.”

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5).        Bob Mould – Hold On

Mould’s latest record, Patch the Sky, continued his purple patch. Full of crystalline melodies and Mould’s trademark tortured howl, ‘Hold On’ slows the pace but is no less powerful, a crunching highway hymn of epic brevity. As ever, the rhythm section of Jason Narducy and Jon Wurster keep it tight.

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6).        The Last Shadow Puppets – Miracle Aligner

Everything You’ve Come To Expect was a winning follow-up, and after that long wait, it contained the same string-drenched sentiments that made TLSP such a big draw back in 2008. ‘Miracle Aligner’ is one of the strongest tracks, a haunting pop ditty as Alex Turner urges us to “go and get ‘em, tiger.”

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7).        Weezer – California Kids

After an undeniably lengthy period stuck in a musical malaise, Weezer have made their best album since The Green Album with, well, The White Album. Opener ‘California Kids’ sets the bar high, beginning with a wistful guitar motif before a typically explosive, catchy chorus.

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8).        Thee MVPs – Edgar

One of the many bands who tore up SXSW this year, punk rockers Thee MVPs’ Edgar is a stuttering, arms-aloft anthem that will sound great in pretty much any Camden haunt. “Give me another hit, me another hit,” they urge, and you know that don’t mean a southpaw.

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9).        Margaret Glaspy – Emotions and Math

Margaret’s first clutch of songs saw her perfect a grizzled folk warble over minimal acoustic guitars. Now, she’s back with a snarl. ‘Emotions and Math’, taken from her forthcoming record of the same name, is a pumping beat of lo-fi garage rock. Her newfound attitude is refreshing.

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10).      Frankie Cosmos – If I Had a Dog

Frankie Cosmos’ SINGER has previously stated she wrote a lot of songs about her dog, now sadly deceased. Here she puts that bereft feeling into a lovelorn ditty, which serves up as a nice metaphor for loss and love. One of the many great songs from Next Thing.

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11).      Julia Jacklin – Pool Party

Julia Jackin’s haunting voice blew away crowds at SXSW, and it’s well emphasised on ‘Pool Party’, a slow, lilting track that exhumes heartache.

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12).      Travis – Radio Song

While Travis may have a reputation for, well, ‘pleasant’ melodies, ‘Radio Song’ is anything but – a taut, atmospheric sucker punch where Fran Healy is in concerned Bono mode. Musically, though, the song is ominous and full of welcome guitar bombast.

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13).      We Are Scientists – Classic Love

With sixth album Helter Seltzer now out, Brooklyn-based stand-up / indie rock duo We Are Scientists are back. ‘Classic Love’ successfully blends an urgent guitar motif with Keith Murray’s melancholic vocal. “Classic love isn’t good enough anymore,” he sighs on the irresistible chorus.

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14).      Man Made – Raining In Our Hands

Man Made’s TV Broke My Brain EP is gaining a significant amount of plaudits, and it’s no surprise on the evidence of this twisted number, where the vocals recall, oddly, Gene’s Martin Rossiter. The song is equally enthralled to the darker sides of Britpop.

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15).      Band of Horses – Casual Party

After a four-year wait, Ben Bridwell and his folk indie rock troupe are finally back. ‘Casual Party’, the first taste from their forthcoming record Why Are You OK, leans more towards the southern-fried rock of their magnum opus Infinite Arms.