Musings on Real Madrid vs Manchester United

Is it just us? It’s a question never far from the forefront of our minds here at The Mambo and one often inevitably answered with a resounding ‘yes’ yet there remain circumstances and scenarios thrown up where such a conclusion is just too surreal, too absurd to reconcile. Naturally, given our unshakable devotion to reason and neglect for the obtuse and wilfully contrary, when opinion wavers so dramatically the general consensus must be denounced for the drivel it represents. One such instance is the reaction to last night’s soporific spectacle between Real Madrid and Manchester United. Understandably the tie was greeted with frenzied excitement given the storied histories of its participants whilst the actual game itself proved an emphatic damp squib; suffering an almost total privation of fluency, fantasy and for large swathes football. Not that those fortunate enough to have missed the match would know.

Celebrated with an aftermath befitting its expectant preview, many observers were quick to praise the tension, drama and quality endemic, with several central figures attracting widespread acclaim. For United, the hitherto unfairly-maligned David De Gea’s reflexes were greeted with understandable awe, although less warranted accolades awaited the more prosaic offerings of Phil Jones, Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney. Bizarrely, the latter was singled-out for his selflessness and willingness to affect an alien role in order to serve the team rather than for the merit of his actual performance. Of course, this is nothing new for Rooney, who for considerable periods of his career has been absent from his favoured position, which may play to his laudable enthusiasm but has largely dimmed the inherent excitement of his game, as artistry has gradually and lamentably been devoured by efficiency.

Nonetheless, there is little doubt that Alex Ferguson will leave the Spanish capital pleased with his charges’ efforts. Despite occasional defensive naivety enveloping their domestic displays, Ferguson’s latter-career continental caution underpinned a showing founded far more upon fortitude rather than flamboyance. True, his team ostensibly lined-up with 3 forwards but Rooney and Welbeck were employed primarily for their energy and endeavour rather than any great intent in supporting the often-isolated Robin van Persie. The success of the ploy however remained evident in the fact that had the Dutchman not fell foul of uncharacteristic profligacy, then his team could approach the return fixture from a winning position.

Still, as it stands Ferguson should still enter that fixture at greater ease than his counterpart, José Mourinho. With typical bravado, the Portuguese has insisted that the tie remains in the balance with the first leg draw favouring neither side. In spite of such conceit, in reality he surely appreciates his adversary’s advantage, even if such acceptance would signify acknowledgement of his own failures and moments of self-effacing grace and candour are an utterly foreign concept to Mourinho. Although in the midst of a league campaign mired in mutiny and mediocrity, Madrid’s opulent squad ensured their status as most neutral’s favourites to progress. Predictably, they dominated both territory and possession yet their lack of comfort in breaching deep defences was gauchely prominent, a typical Mourinho deficiency, with this Madrid set-up to play counter-attacking football, which when allowed space is frequently devastating but against massed defences, their lack of comfort can be alarming, even negligent considering the lavish gifts of those at the coach’s disposal.

Given the technical class of the likes of Xabi Alonso, Angel Di Maria, Karim Benzema and particularly the gloriously inventive Mesut Ozil, Madrid’s unease in creating was startling, with a graphic appearing around the 70 minute mark illustrating that neither side, for all their talent, could boast a pass completion rate of above 65%. Consequently, the home team were frequently forced into resorting to speculative long-range efforts with the ever-eager, impatient Cristiano Ronaldo forever happy to be indulged, as their lack of passing fluency bordered on the embarrassing. Still, Ronaldo’s lust for recognition was satisfied by his thunderous header which would level the scores on the night. Whilst his leap was impressive, such a finish is the sort that has habitually led excitable cretins to label the forward the game’s most ‘complete’ player, as though jumping and heading in conjunction with running and shooting are the only attributes required of an elite footballer. That aside however, Ronaldo’s performace was standard fare with flashy tricks interspersed with the usual frustrations from a player who although not anonymous was far from ominous. Oddly, the usually-excellent Sid Lowe of The Guardian saw such a fitful threat as sufficient to post a piece praising the Portuguese’s big game prominence, even in failing to facilitate a home victory for the favourites.

Ultimately, as the inferior set of individuals, Utd’s pragmatism was perhaps as necessary as it was probable, which was likely to prevent Wednesday’s match from entering the pantheon of iconic encounters between 2 of Europe’s most illustrious clubs. Still, few would have predicted the ensuing skull-creaking tedium to rank closer to the infamous entertainment-vacuum of the Liverpool vs Chelsea ‘shit on a stick’ games of a few years previous (little surprise that Mourinho was then Chelsea’s manager) and offer such an insipid, uninspiring advert for the upper-echelons of European competition, even if it did provide an excellent advert for the concurrent Shakhtar Donetsk vs Borussia Dortmund fixture.

DC

What the world was waiting for

The Mambo was present at the Brixton Electric little over a week ago to hear Kevin Shields’ casually claim that My Bloody Valentine’s forever delayed follow-up 1991′s unspeakably perfect Loveless could finally emerge in ’2 or 3 days.’ Naturally, such words engendered enormous excitement despite only those in the audience possessed of the most unswerving optimism expecting such a time-frame to be met (particularly as that night’s set-list contained only 1 new song). This after all, is a band infamous for their contempt of punctuality and a band who laboured for years merely to remaster old material. As such, after 22 years, the prospect of new material hitting such a projection seemed somewhat fanciful. And of course, so it would prove.

Still, arriving only a few days later than posited, the appearance of the surreally-monikered m b v, announced via a typically understated Facebook post, felt like cause for enormous excitement. Perhaps fittingly, such joy was tempered by the band’s website immediately crashing under the strain of eager fans stampeding to sample their latest offering, yet just as a delay of a mere few days felt premature given the Valentine’s usual timekeeping tardiness, a delay of an additional few hours served only to heighten the anticipation.

Initial impressions may have been that m b v lacks the melodic immediacy of Loveless, repeated listens (and there have been repeated listens at Mambo Towers) reveal a subtly hypnotic, beautiful and incredibly addictive record. Whilst the opening 6 tracks feel like a natural progression from the previous album, largely characterised by half-buried vocals amidst noisy but languorously seductive guitar distortion, the closing 3 offer more of a progression. Whilst The Mambo’s firm belief that a significant part of the Valentine’s appeal resides as much in their vocal melodies as their genre-defining sonic innovations sees instrumental Nothing Is discarded as the album’s only filler, those either side of it are simply extraordinary. Unfathomably managing to dispell the fears of cacophonous hideousness brought on by reports of Shields’ interest in jungle and drum’n’bass (styles self-evidently and inherenetly atrocious), both in another way and wonder 2 succeed in drawing tunefulness from the least likely settings whilst sounding entirely like nothing else ever likely to be heard.

Unsurprisingly, m b v may not prove as seismic or as seminal as its predecessor and after 22 years, a 9 track record seems pretty light, it nonetheless marks a wonderful return for one of the very few bands who retain a sound entirely their own. This, coupled with the fact that the new track showcased at Brixton is enigmatically absent from m b v, therefore offering hope of further releases, provokes the sort of wild, feral delight in The Mambo that only Juan Román Riquelme can usually coax out.

As an aside, last weekend also saw the premiere of Suede’s comeback single. Having had their thunder fully stolen by the wholly unexpected return of David Bowie when unveiling new track Barriers only weeks ago, it was difficult not to feel a little for them as once again, they were ushered into the background. The timing was especially unfortunate given that It Starts And Ends With You really is pretty fantastic, with Anderson’s voice regaining much of the urgency so characteristic of much of his band’s preposterous, glorious past.

(N.B. If you fancy reading a proper review or indeed, an actual review of m b v rather than my clumsy paean – I really should stick to the football pieces – then the ever-excellent Alexis Petridis’ effort in the Guardian really is very, very good).

DC

Diminishing returns for Argentina?

‘Aesthetics are no longer a priority…Teams are becoming more defensive, players are focused purely on fitness…Teams are playing worse than 10 years ago.’ So went Maxi Rodríguez’s assessment of the current state of Argentina’s Primera Division, a competition native to a land where the game’s higher arts have long been revered and one where the number 10; the enganche, has assumed an almost mythic reverence. However, upon returning from a decade in Europe, Rodríguez discerns a decline in standards. A member of his nation’s last victorious side at South America’s biennial under 20 championships, Rodríguez will have watched on as Argentina were subject to a limp, ignominious first round exit as hosts at this year’s competition. Indeed, a gloomy narrative of faltering youth development would appear fulfilled by the country’s recent failings at a level where they once enjoyed peerless success under the title-laden 13 year reign of José Pekerman and his successor Hugo Tocalli.

Despite local optimism hailing a return to the success of the Pekerman era and excited talk of a potentially explosive front 5 numbering Juan ‘Guarani Messi’ Iturbe, Alan Ruiz, Manuel Lanzini and the Racing Club pairing of left winger Ricky Centurión and striker Luciano Vietto, Argentina cut a disjointed, defensive inept team sadly lacking the craft and cohesion of old. Iturbe, highly-skilled but individualistic to a fault brought his frustrations since his much-vaunted but ill-feted switch to Porto with him whilst Ruiz, the incumbent of the fabled number 10 shirt, although a fine prospect is unlikely to trouble the pantheon of his truly distinguished predecessors. Likewise Lanzini, nimble and bright but perhaps destined to fall short of delivering upon the promise his River Plate pedigree would predict, with Centurión remaining raw yet with flashes of talent that invite the comparisons made with compatriot Ángel Di María, an u-20 world champion in 2007. Only Vietto, sharp and lithe came anywhere close to delivering upon his billing as Argentina failed to qualify for the summer’s u-20 World Cup, to be held in Turkey. Discomfortingly for the competition’s record winners, a run which included 5 triumphs in 12 years under Pekerman and Tocalli, their absence will be their 2nd in the last 3 attempts as an undistinguished crop spearheaded by Benfica winger Eduardo Salvio fell short in 2009.

In truth, Argentina’s pedigree at South American level has long been less impressive than their performances on the world stage, with both Brazil and Uruguay boasting superior records. Certainly, the presence of Diego Maradona in 1979 and Lionel Messi in 2005 could not ensure regional supremacy, even if both would go on to inspire victory on the global stage in the same years. Maxi Rodríguez’s team-mates in the class of 2003, the last Argentine side to the claim South American title, included Javier Mascherano and the forwards of Fernando Cavenaghi and Carlos Tevez’s calibre, just as 1997’s champions bristled with sublime talent in the likes of Juan Román Riquelme, Walter Samuel, Pablo Aimar and Esteban Cambiasso, with the latter returning to defend the crown in 1999, propelled by the goals of Luciano Galletti. Perceptively, 2013’s individuals aren’t quite as thoroughbred.

Instead, this year’s standout performers have been from outside the less heralded nations, as Brazil and their highly-rated playmakers Adryan and Felipe Anderson were also victim of an early exit. Ecuador’s precocious teeanger José Francisco Cevallos, whose namesake father is perhaps his country’s finest-ever goalkeeper, impressed sufficiently scheming from midfield to earn a move to Juventus whilst deep-lying Uruguayan striker Diego Rolán’s form attracted Bordeaux and European scouts will surely have been impressed by Peruvian striker Yordy Reyna but disappointed to find Paraguay’s Derlis González has already snared by Benfica’s excellent scouting network. The real standouts however, have been the classy Nico López, who looks set to follow Daniel Fonseca and Luis Suárez as Uruguay’s buck-toothed spearhead and most conspicuously, the glorious, left-footed creativity of Pescara’s Juan Fernando Quintero. Ironically, the mature Quintero could be of huge benefit to Pekerman, now in charge of Colombia’s senior international side and quietly cultivating an excellent team that may prove dangerous dark horses at next year’s senior World Cup.

Inevitably, with Argentina’s youth World Cup triumphs of 2001, 2005 and 2007 being built upon the goals and general brilliance of Javier Saviola, Messi and Sergio Agüero, the lack of a genuine star turn will provide cause for concern. Nevertheless, hope resides in the enforced absence of several eligible candidates. Paulo Dybala, likened to a left-footed Aguero and Mauro Icardi, a graduate of Barcelona’s academy and scorer of 8 Serie A goals from 18 appearances for Sampdoria (including a recent 4 goal haul against Pescara) are amongst the Italian game’s brightest prospects whilst 20 year-old Erik Lamela’s form this season has marked him out alongside Europe’s elite burgeoning talents. Although currently featuring only in France’s 2nd tier, 18 year-old Lucas Ocampos cost Monaco €15m and has drawn comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo (presumably intended as a compliment). Boca Juniors’ latest prodigy, Leandro Paredes, long touted as Riquelme’s heir, has shown remarkable promise since inheriting his idol’s iconic number 10. Equally encouraging are full-backs Gino Peruzzi and Juan Sánchez Miño (well full-back-cum-midfielder in the latter case), potentially the first genuinely international-class Argentine players to emerge in their positions since Javier Zanetti and Juan Pablo Sorín, River Plate midfielder Ezequiel Cirigliano (although burdened by the unobtainable label of a Xavi/Mascherano hybrid), free-scoring finisher and top scorer in the inaugural Inicial, Facundo Ferreyra and perhaps most reassuringly, Lucas Mugni. Developing at Colon, Mugni’s unhurried probing has elicited excitable claims that he represents the latest flowering of that most anachronistic, artistic and endangered species: the classic Argentine number 10.

Of course, Rodríguez may quite justifiably point to a general malaise weakening the standards of Argentine football. River Plate’s relegation, Boca Juniors’ relative slump and title tilts from hitherto unheralded sides such as Banfield, Arsenal and Tigre although ushering in a certain unpredictability would seem to signal the waning powers of the traditional big 5. Such decline would appear echoed by limp campaigns at youth international level. However, it is worth noting that Pekerman’s 1st World Cup-winning squad at that level contained only Sorin who would go on to become a key senior international. Furthermore, the career of Hugo Rodallega, whose 11 goals in 2005’s continental competition remain a South American record (and regrettably would incite the player to announce himself ‘better than Messi’) would illustrate, youthful promise does not always translate into senior success. Indeed, none of Pekerman’s protégés fell short of emulating Maradona’s class of 1979 in lifting the game’s highest prize, a fete that currently unites them with Tocalli’s champions of 2005 and 2007. However, from those squads, Messi, Agüero and Di María have both time on their side and established themselves as consistent, elite performers (The Mambo still has faith that the sublime yet temperamental Éver Banega will join them) forging a fearsome forward line for the full national side.

Despite the forlorn showings of 2013’s crop (a failure that surely reflects at least as badly on coach Marcelo Trobbiani), the quality of eligible absentees would suggest that Argentina remains a rich resource for refined talent. Indeed, despite economic realities enforcing an earlier exodus to Europe and subsequently partially explaining the diminishing standard of the local league, there remains plenty of proud footballing nations who would enthusiastically anoint the dawning of a ‘Golden Generation’ should they be blessed with the flourishing talent at Argentina’s disposal.

DC

An Apology…

Unfortunately, as some may have noticed, we have been unable to maintain our hitherto prolific level of erudite analysis and acerbic rants of late. Fear not, The Mambo remains very much a going concern but sadly, my fevered desire to escape the slate-grey tedium of my current job and JC’s intellectual pursuits are taking precedence for now. Rest assured, posts of trademark excellence are imminent, with something examining Argentina’s decline at U-20 level coming soon ( I would urge anyone to catch as much of the current South American U-20 championships as possible). Promise. Obviously, that’s What The World Is Waiting For…

Anyway, until then, here are the staggeringly brilliant Fire Engines and their unspeakably ace 1980 debut single ‘Get Up And Use Me.‘ On heavy rotation at Mambo Towers of late.

John Hemming covers himself in glory again

John-Hemming

Occasionally, when I’m not ruminating and writing over trivial matters, I like to devote my attention to matters of local interest, i.e. my fair city of Birmingham. At the Mambo I’ve tried to discuss fairly frequently the issue of the cuts in council tax benefit that are about to hit some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

Now, the cut is being implemented by a Labour council, sadly, who it appears are unwilling to even countenance active resistance to this spiteful, cowardly policy that has come from the Tory government, who in a pretty crass but crudely logical move passed the responsibility for the cut, and the political shit storm that would follow, onto local authorities.

Labour have decided to make residents pay part of their council tax bills (creating the disgraceful situation that the most vulnerable in some areas won’t be affected but those in others will-ahh-the benefits of ‘localism’……..) as they say they have no choice financially:

The government offered us £2.1 million towards the cost, but only if we created a scheme that imposed an average 8.5% council tax payment (about £95 on 2012′s figures) across all groups apart from pensioners. To get to that level would take the government money AND £1.3 million from the council, which could only be found by making cuts somewhere else. Don’t forget that we’ve still got to make cuts of £110 million in 2013 – a figure that is likely to rise as the final settlement figures are still being developed. It looks like most councils are following this route, with only a third of councils so far deciding to run a scheme that takes advantage of the government money – all have to decide by the end of this month or will be stuck with funding the current scheme.

Some local councils have decided to continue with the current scheme, but they face much smaller shortfalls that they feel they can accommodate within their budgets this year. I would be very surprised if they maintain that position for the start of the 2014 budget year, especially with the additional cuts coming. Councils with smaller numbers of claimants may find it easier to absorb the relatively smaller costs, as might councils who have not suffered the same level of cuts – remember that Birmingham is hit by cuts at twice the national average.

So, while I don’t think that Labour should just be blithely be going along with the cuts opposed on them from the centre, it’s also clear that if the one accepts the budget settlement as it is they probably don’t have a whole lot of options. The central issue is that of the budget settlement and the choice that the Tory government have made to cut council tax benefit. They didn’t have to do it and passing the responsibility onto local councils is chillingly cynical.  

Lest we forget, the Lib Dems are part of this government, so have to take responsibility for this policy and its consequences, whether they like it or not.

So what do we have here? Local Lib Dem MP, locally renowned ladies man, shameless attention seeker and all-round Mambo favourite John Hemming is threatening to take the council to court over their decision to make people who were previously exempt pay.

So, just to reiterate: this policy is being de facto forced on the council by the very government that Hemming is a supporting MP of, and he is attacking the council for it. The opportunism is breathtaking. Why isn’t he opposing the original cuts in government support that have caused this problem in the first place? And would he be making this attack if the previous Lib Dem/Tory administration was in power and probably making exactly the same decision? Hmm.

In an act bordering on the satirical, Hemming has penned a House of Commons motion stating the following:

The Labour administration appears intent on punishing the poor by charging 20 per cent council tax to people on Jobseeker’s Allowance.”

Again, no mention of the original cut by his government, oddly enough. It’s his government punishing the poor. Does he really think that it isn’t obvious what the real issue is here?  

Hemming of course has plenty of previous when it comes to draping himself in the red flag and pretending he is a defender of the poor with hollow rhetoric. His actions would suggest otherwise.

The hypocrisy is nauseating. And doubly nauseating considering that he is happy to play cheap games over an issue of such significance for so many people at the bottom of the pile.

You should be ashamed of yourself Mr Hemming.  

(And the Labour group should be ashamed of itself for doing so little to fight the cuts in the first place…….)

Lance Armstrong’s charity work

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Students of WW2 will probably be aware of an infamous Japanese experimental section of the Japanese Army called Unit 731, who conducted hideous, live, anaesthetic –free experiments of almost unimaginable cruelty on thousands of prisoners across occupied China. I’ve been reading about it today and to be honest the details and sheer sadism of the perpetrators was sickening.

Interestingly though a great many of those responsible, especially the ones at the top of the tree, largely got away scot-free when Japan surrendered. Why? Because they were seen by some powerful people as having something valuable to contribute to the post-war world. The Americans in particular had uses for a great deal of the knowledge and expertise built up by Unit 731 for their own biological weapons programmes.

Other experiments were undertaken under the most wantonly savage of conditions that did produce tangible medical benefits that were of some benefit to humanity-for example into treatment for frostbite. Naturally, that in no way justifies what happened.

I don’t know why but the whole moral dilemma that this throws up, i.e. what does one do with the benefits accrued from acts of evil, got me thinking about Lance Armstrong.

While of course, what the disgraced cyclist has done is in no way comparable  to the depraved behaviour of Unit 731, there is an aspect of Armstrong’s fall from grace we can reflect on in intellectually somewhat similar terms.

There has been a great deal of hand-wringing over the fate of Armstrong’s cancer charity work in recent days, and many have been opining that all the philanthropic work he has supposedly done will be forgotten and the causes he attached himself to irreparably damaged. We’re told that Armstrong did a lot of good with his Livestrong Foundation, we are told, regardless of his sociopathic behaviour as a professional athlete.

The narrative has always been that Armstrong was/is a hero to people fighting cancer. His determination to overcome the disease and come back stronger was an inspiration to fellow-sufferers in their own fight against the disease. And maybe he was/is. Check out the ludicrous comments that appeared under this recent blog on the Livestrong site.

Apparently his crimes (and we are literally talking about criminality here) do not in any way detract from his cancer work.  This narrative of cancer survivor-turned-best cyclist in the world was always based on a lie and the world now knows this. His confession on the Oprah Winfrey sofa was pretty unambiguous (and has left the legion of Armstrong defenders online, with the ludicrous and self-deluded argument that ‘he had never failed a test’, looking like twats).

There are a couple of reasons why I don’t think we can really separate out Lance Armstrong the cheat and Lance Armstrong the anti-cancer warrior.

Firstly, this appears to be the last argument that the Armstrong-brigade now has. For years we have had to endure the vilifying and slandering of his opponents on and off the bike as embittered, disturbed or avaricious, the reliance on the aforementioned fiction that he had never failed a test despite being tested hundreds of times, the constant referring back to his borderline-insane training regimen that supposedly gave him the crucial advantage over his rivals (most of whom were also doping, it should be noted, not that that really matters) that supposedly proved that everything he accomplished on the bike was humanly possible, the revolutionary approach to cycling we are told he brought to the sport (i.e. pedalling faster on a smaller ring is more efficient than pulling a massive gear as hard as one can, something he used to devastating effect in time trials), and in the final instance Armstrong’s passionate, and now clearly shameless, denials of wrongdoing.

Now we all know that everything just listed is rubbish, there is literally nothing else to say other than “actually he’s a good bloke, who cares that he cheated, look at what he did for charity”. It’s a mark of desperation.

Secondly, I think we need to start to re-think Armstrong’s motivations when it comes to his charity work. A picture has been painted of a chillingly cynical man in the last few months, one who would stop at nothing to win and build the Lance Armstrong brand. Happy-clappy, celebrity-endorsed feelgood charity work is the perfect cover and he could always cite the potential damage bad publicity would do to Livestrong to silence potential critics and whistleblowers, just like Jimmy Savile used his charity work to act with impunity in his personal life.

Indeed, a great example of him using his charity work to try to conceal the real motivations was when Armstrong returned to cycling in 2009 he cited as his main reason his desire to increase the profile of his charity work, when it was transparently a massive ego trip to try and win the Tour again.

Put simply, his charity work is simply a shield he has used and I think will continue to use entirely cynically. He doesn’t really care about cancer and if he does it is only in so far as it being a part of a backstory he can exploit for his own ends.

And on the basis of what we’ve seen of his character in the last few years, I would be fascinated to hear anyone try and take issue with that assertion.

It is also the height of delusion to think that the future of cancer support and research really depends on a man who has done little else other than pedal furiously for many years.

Frank Field is the bestest politician ever

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As an internationally renowned blogger I often get stopped in the street and asked: “so, Mambo, who’s your all-time favourite politician? You’re a man full of the milk of human kindness. You never have a bad word to say about anyone. But there must be someone you admire over all others?”

To which I reply: “well, my good man/woman, thank you. Your kind words mean the world to me, they really do. And you ask a perfectly valid question. But there are so many to choose from that it hardly seems appropriate to pick just one out.”

Now the cynical amongst you might right now be thinking “fucking Walter Mitty” but you’re wrong. I do get acclaimed everywhere I go.

And there lies a serious point behind my charming anecdote.

And that point is that I absolutely hate the self-styled ‘maverick’ Labour MP Frank Field.

He’s the most dour, charmless and boring man imaginable and politically exceedingly unimaginative, if I was being charitable in labelling his philosophy and beliefs. And if I was being uncharitable, well, you get the picture, if you’ve perused these pages previously.

Often proclaimed one of the Tories ‘favourite’ Labour MPs, he ‘s considered ‘sensible’ and ‘moderate’, but simultaneously ‘trenchant,’ ‘capable of thinking the unthinkable’ a student of ‘new thinking’, a ‘radical’ and he is forever being feted by the right wing press. And to be fair, he’s got that pained, embittered and misanthropic look about him that so many working class Tories have.

Now of course if he actually did possess all the characteristics he has had ascribed to him he would probably be a psychotic. And maybe he is. After all, he did tell once Tony Blair that he was so great that warranted a seat in Blair’s cabinet.

But he is the recipient of all these fawning labels simply because he is extremely right wing.

So when he is indulging in ‘new thinking’ it normally means he is advocating the restoration of national service. What a brilliant plan! Why haven’t we gone and done it already?!

When he is being ‘radical’ or a ‘maverick’ it means sitting on the board of a right-wing think tank that wants to take us back to the Victorian era or supporting whatever nauseating cause the religious right are banging on about at any given moment. Yep, radical.

Interestingly though, his radicalism and talent for thinking the unthinkable never leads this supposedly intellectually voracious man to embrace ideas that would really set him apart from the political mainstream. He’s a maverick in the way that Mariella Frostrup is a maverick. And nothing like as yummy.

And when he was/is being ‘sensible’ and ‘moderate’, he was supporting a witch-hunt against the Labour left or he is agreeing with the Tories on….well…everything, as far as I can see. Although he pointedly refuses to cross the floor to join them it is unclear why, as it would appear to be his natural home politically. Maybe he’s just worried about losing his seat and all the privileges that brings.

Now in his defence, and even-handedness is a trait that the Mambo never fails to be guilty of, he isn’t all bad. He does some decent work on climate change and human trafficking, a disgracefully under-reported international scandal.

But all people have their good points and the good causes he fights are hardly controversial ones. Everyone has at least one redeeming feature, apart from Max Barrett someone I can’t name.

So Mambo, I hear you cry, why have turned your fire on this man at this moment? Well to be honest, I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to stick the boot into the guy for a while but have lacked the appropriate pretext. And to be even more honest I’m still lacking that pretext, unless you think his latest article in the Guardian is a crime against humanity and not just a rather irritating exercise in unbearably smug, self-righteous pontificating.

I can’t stand people who say they want to ‘take the politics out of’ something, it’s just meaningless, anti-intellectual, cheap, conceited, populist shit. “Look at me, I’m trying to change things all by myself but I’m the only one being sensible and serious”, even though even a child could see that pensions are an innately, inescapably political issue.

The level of pension is a political choice.

The retirement age is a political choice.

Whether people should be extensively or partially supported by the state, or simply left to fend for themselves, is a political choice.

The notion that pensions are a ticking timebomb, and not one that could be solved by society choosing to spread its wealth around more equally, is a political one.

Field’s self-serving definition of an ‘apolitical’ approach to pensions will conveniently be a set of ideas that chimes exactly with his approach to pensions.

Normally this would be point where I would finish by having a highly satirical dig at Field based around the headline of the aforementioned article, along the lines of taking himself out of politics, or taking himself out with a shotgun, clawhammer or whatever instrument of death I found amusing.

But I won’t. I’ll keep my powder dry for another day.

The return of Suede (and the demise of HMV)

Amidst the hype signalled by David Bowie’s surprise return, many could be forgiven for thinking that nothing else of note is happening on the musical horizon. Indeed, it is a particularly cruel coincidence that Bowie, of all people, should opt to release his comeback single within 24 hours of Suede, also re-emerging after a decade’s silence, unveiling the first taster from their forthcoming album. That said, it must also be noted that Where Are We Now? is perhaps the stronger offering of the 2 but still the decidedly understated reaction to the reformation of arguably the finest band of their generation remains a sadness. Jarring sharply with the euphoric welcome afforded to mid-90s rivals Blur, culminating with a flagship performance at the closing ceremony of last year’s London Olympics, Suede have a right to feel aggrieved at the lack of love elicited by their revival. After all, great as they were, Blur never made a record as seismically, preposterously brilliant as Dog Man Star.

Nevertheless, the band haven’t always helped themselves. Bowing out with the deeply underwhelming A New Morning saw few mourn Suede’s passing, a tarnished legacy which maybe motivated the once insouciantly ingenious partnership of Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler to reunite as The Tears in 2004. Propelled by a promising lead-off single in Refugees, the accompanying Here Come The Tears was by no means a disaster nor even especially disappointing but little appeared left of the old magic. Anderson’s endless gauche similes, although a departure from the doomed provincial romanticism and such lyrical touch-stones as lonely crowds, circle lines and nuclear skies, which would become almost self-parody in Suede’s later efforts, were particularly uninspiring. Consequently, weight was given to the suggestion that his creative well had run sadly dry; that the frenzied urgency of his youth had receded with age. A succession of so-so solo records ensued, scarcely whetting the appetite for a reunion yet now that it has materialised, it should be deemed cause for celebration. Certainly, there is no contemporary band anything like Suede, with ‘Britpop’s’ lack of influence outside of its the more laddish, coarser and infinitely crapper side an ongoing disappointment (though I thought The Boyfriends were alright…), as British music and the sad, dwindling NME could certainly do with the advent of an Anderson or a Jarvis Cocker. And most importantly of course, Barriers is a fine comeback and offers hope that the forthcoming Bloodsports lp will be far from their jaded previous record.

Despite the partially justified claims that the Suede’s best material was produced by its earlier line-up, their period of greatest commercial success followed Butler’s departure and the introduction of then-17 year-old replacement Richard Oakes and Neil Codling. Naturally, chart success is practically never a barometer of artistic merit but post-Butler Suede produced some exceptional material and as a 10 year-old, I was convinced that Coming Up was clearly the greatest record ever made. True, the follow-up, 1999’s Head Music was a more a patchy affair (though I adored it at the time) but the band’s productivity saw that gems still emerged discarded as b-sides. Indeed, the timing of Suede’s return is also notable as it comes framed by the demise of HMV, a retailer which throughout my childhood was synonymous with the Suede flipside.

Although personally, the chain failed to serve any useful purpose some time ago as its diminishing music section stopped catering for my increasingly esoteric tastes, the announcement of its slide into administration still provoked a certain wistful nostalgic sorrow. You see, in the mid-1990s, the announcement of new Suede single was an event and HMV was the venue. Well, I say ‘announcement’ yet really in those pre-internet days, releases were never really announced in my world and instead, I was left to learn of them through flyers plastered across abandoned shops and pubs as my dad drove into Birmingham city centre. The sight of that trademark font would be cause for great excitement as my dad was exuberantly demanded to slow down so that I could catch the release date and plan my route into town after school to pick up the forthcoming single from Mansun, Blur, Pulp, Elastica, The Charlatans or ideally, Suede (I wish I’d had the foresight to be able to include Hefner and Belle & Sebastian in that list but they were much later discoveries).

Back then, a single was effectively an EP, quite literally in Mansun’s case, with exclusive tracks backing each format, which invariably included at least 2 CDs (looking back perhaps the advent of a third disc was a tacit admission of dwindling interest outside of the devotees), each generally priced at the pocket money-friendly fee of £1.99 (Oasis’ were labelled at a rather more prohibitive £3.99). Lean spells between new releases would be filled diligently collecting back catalogues, although Suede, initially somewhat frustratingly, made ownership of those many of those singles obsolete with the wonderful double album compilation Sci Fi Lullabies (which despite being effectively a duplicate tracklist was still feverishly snapped-up on the Monday of issue. From HMV, naturally) but later-career highlights such as God’s Gift or Leaving ensured the single format’s prominence lingered on a little longer.

Lamentably, this practice is effectively dead. Physical singles don’t sell in these digital days, the b-sides culture of the bands of my youth no longer thrives and I’ve most likely not bought a CD single since Attitude, Suede’s limp 2003 farewell. As such, HMV pretty much lost its importance to me that day in a way that Suede never will and I for one welcome their return and look eagerly await the March release of Bloodsports. Shame I’ll have to buy it from Tesco.

DC

Albert Bore’s Poll Tax?

Bore when he was a leftie. In opposition.

Bore when he was a leftie. In opposition.

One of the nastier policies of our delightful, life-affirming government is their recent round of cuts to council tax benefit (which it’s been revealed are just the beginning) whilst passing the responsibility on for the implementation of that policy of cuts onto local authorities. It’s all quite Machiavellian if you think about it, minus any trace of particularly impressive cunning.

So here in Birmingham that means that some of the poorest and most vulnerable residents are now going to have to pay 20% of their council tax bills (interestingly however, some councils have juggled budgets around to try and take some of the sting out of the measure. Not Birmingham.) The sums involved (£200+ a year in some cases) will make a real difference to the lives of people with a tiny weekly income already dealing with an inflation rate that is outstripping any increases in the support that they are receiving.

It is a chillingly cruel, ideological measure (in terms of the government budget the sums involved are trifling and I’m sure could have been found somewhere else, but that was never the point……….) and it is hugely disappointing, although not that surprising, that the leadership of the Labour Council in Birmingham simply going along with it like good little boys and girls.

Interestingly however, there are rumblings of discontent amongst the city’s Labour group and Bore’s stubborn, pessimistic determination to ram through cuts across the board (whilst bleating that he has no desire to do so and blaming everyone but himself for having to do so) has made it likely that he will face a challenge to his leadership in the not-too-distant-future. Clearly, there is a pulse in the Birmingham Labour Party, however faint, although it remains to be seen exactly what the putative challengers would be doing instead if they were in charge as I think we can rule out the setting of an illegal budget………..

The controversy over this measure has led to it being dubbed ‘another Poll Tax’, whether nationally or locally. Clearly there are a few parallels; it seems likely that there will be some who will simply refuse to pay, just like 20+ years ago, and of course that could snowball if people see others getting away with it, but I’m not sure if the comparison is a helpful or more importantly an accurate one.

In the first instance, I have already pointed that some councils have been trying (and succeeding) to move money around to ameliorate the worst effects of this, and in some areas people will be (largely) unaffected. It will surely be difficult to build a strong national movement against this if some councils are simply not implementing the policy in the way that Birmingham has chosen to. Resistance will be localized, and consequently less effective.

Secondly, I think people are in danger of talking the consequences (non-payment, court action, riots, demonstrations etc.) of this up because they want it to be like the Poll Tax riots. After all, that was one of the few battles the left has won in my lifetime and I’m sure it brings back some fond memories for those involved. It was a vivid reminder of what people on the streets can achieve.

Maybe I’m just an old defeatist cynic, but I suppose right now I don’t think that this will become the rallying point of resistance to austerity that some are hoping it will. I’ve lost count of the number of times in the last few years I’ve heard apocalyptic predictions by lefties of such and such a measure being ‘the final straw’ and that it will cause people to rise up and overthrow their oppressors. When people predict resistance that just doesn’t materialise, it simply demoralises those who are thinking of taking a stand.

And this measure is quite deliberately targeted against people amongst the most powerless and easily picked on in society and who lack the organisation and social weight to fight back, and who are considered politically irrelevant to the political elite.

And this just isn’t the 1980s. The lingering tradition of solidarity and political conscience that existed back then seems like a distant memory now. It may have been a Thatcherite nightmare at the time but there existed the forces to at least try and fight back. Do they really exist any more? Let alone in notoriously apolitical/right-wing Birmingham?

Sadly I don’t think there will be riots in the streets over this a la 1990, although I’m intrigued to see how Birmingham City Council will afford and justify paying the presumably huge costs of taking court action against those who refuse to pay.

The squalid parochialism of Adrian Durham

Face for radio: Adrian Durham

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. This time, the chance would be taken to pen a serious ‘journalistic’ piece, something bristling with erudite observations and enlightening analysis delivered in classy, concise text, as has surely now become a trademark . Sadly, it is here that The Mambo chanced upon The Adrian Durham Column on the suitably tawdry Mail Online. Of course, entering such a lurid, morally vacuous space was always likely to prompt the departure of all joy and hope from a hitherto contented heart yet Durham’s repellent rantings soiled the soul to an unforeseen extent.

Happily, this was The Mambo’s opening encounter with Durham. Apparently, he’s quite the radio ‘personality,’ (naturally, that is to say ‘dickhead’) hosting a prime slot on the ghastly Talksport, where his most high-profile incident revolved around labelling Liverpool veteran Jamie Carragher a ‘bottler.’ The Mail’s archives show that only a few weeks ago, that same charge was levelled at Lionel Messi, as his loyalty to the club which has nurtured his genius has consequently saw him shun the ‘challenge’ of transferring his peerless gifts to the Premier League. So that’s the level of wanker we’re dealing with; parochial, ignorant, crass, charmless, thoughtless and above all, skull-creakingly tedious. As such, it’s no surprise to find Durham writing for The Mail, it is surely the natural habitat for such myopic drivel as he seems perfectly tailored for their backward demographic in much the same way that Jeremy Clarkson is for supporters of the British National Party. Or indeed, for Daily Mail readers. Such certainty is strewn loudly on the article’s accompanying mug shot which somehow manages to further besmirch Durham’s witless words. Here we are presented with a face free from doubt, certain of his opinions yet, simultaneously, it’s a misanthropic expression free from any warmth or humanity. Perceptively, it’s the kind of face that even if present on a newborn would see the mother glance in terror at it’s demonic, dead-eyed stare before screaming frantically at her midwife to just toss the child mercifully into the bin.

Beneath such an unwelcoming gaze comes a splurge of sub-pub nonsense. All optimism evaporated as early as the opening sentence, as we’re told of ‘Jamie’s Redknapp’s excellent piece,’ which for all its waywardness, did at least set the tone for the quality of judgement therein. Despite such professed excellence, Redknapp’s piece was however far too negative regarding English football than Durham and his boorish ilk could ever contemplate. Where the former Liverpool man expressed his concern in light of FIFA’s recent World XI containing not a single English-based player, his legitimate anxieties were here uncouthly crushed with the flimsiest of considerations. Redknapp pondered where the next Wayne Rooney would emerge from, Durham dismissed the forward’s achievements, drawing attention to the likes of Peterborough teenager Jaanai Gordon and bizarrely, Danny Crowley, a player he reveals was only a substitute at youth cup level, before demanding that they ‘aim higher’ than Rooney and urging each to ‘do something for your country.’

The implication therefore, must be that Rooney, with 32 international goals to his name has performed with disinterested disdain throughout his international career. Such sentiment is farcical, with his superlative showings as an 18 year-old at Euro 2004 perhaps the most notable individual contribution from an Englishman at a major finals since 1990. True, the suspicion that such promise has not fully flowered remains and Rooney will likely never develop into the player it was hoped but he will nonetheless look back on a distinguished career. Inconsistently, Liverpool youngsters Conor Coady and Jordan Rositter are hailed as potential heirs to Steven Gerrard, proclamations seemingly ignorant of the fact that Gerrard, to a greater extent than Rooney, has largely failed as England player. Still, in Durham’s surreal interpretation of reality, such shortcomings were merely down to ‘mismanagement’ from a series of England coaches and in no way due to the fact that players profiled patriotically as greats were merely very good.

Further layers of nationalist, flag-waving ecstasy reside in the burgeoning talents of Jack Butland, Andre Wisdom and George Thorne, who may well all develop into reliable internationals but as goalkeeper, right-back and defensive midfielder respectively, none is likely to ignite the imagination. Slightly more convincing are the cases made for Jack Wilshere and Raheem Sterling, something  Durham clearly feels ill-placed pride towards, as manifest through the arrogantly asserted and grammatically suspect rhetorical question, ‘You telling me they’re not technically gifted?’ Well in the case of the latter, yes pal, we are. Fear not however, as any doubt can be safely swatted away by following Durham’s plea to ‘go and watch them,’ (advice the author may wish to take, as Rositter’s recommendation rests only on the strength of a Robbie Fowler tweet) as though their prodigious gifts will be self-evident and all will thereafter become devout disciples of The Church of Adrian, dogmatically blind to the twin truths that vast swathes of precocious teenagers fail to match expectation and most obviously, that other countries are producing talented footballers too. And more of them.

Unsurprisingly, the concept of overseas leagues producing gifted footballers is not one recognised by Durham. With characteristic poetry, FIFA’s all-La Liga World XI is denounced as a ‘total joke,’ before progressing to speculate that the result is the work of those who ‘don’t bother watching football,’ which given his own ideological attachment to a kind of Premier League Splendid Isolation displays quite astonishing levels of hypocrisy and a contemptible poverty of self-awareness. It also displays a shameful lack of understanding regarding the voting procedure, as the team was composed of votes cast by professional players, not FIFA bureaucrats. Undeterred by fact, Durham turns to the footballing Little Englander’s most treasured contention, that of rapacious philander Ashley Cole being the game’s pre-eminent left-back, a state of affairs branded (again with Wildean flourish) ‘frankly laughable.’ Uniquely, he may actually have a point in as far as the inclusion of Marcelo (and equally, Dani Alves as the other full-back) is somewhat questionable but Phillip Lahm’s claim for that berth is surely more credible whilst Juventus and Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini or PSG’s Thiago Silva may also feel their strong claims for defensive places were unfairly subdued by Spanish glamour.

Further forward, we’re told that David Silva’s absence is ‘stunning’ and that Juan Mata’s exclusion is only explained by the possibility that voters were unaware that he started his career with Real Madrid. Of course, the obvious counter to the claim is that Mata, fine player that he undoubtedly is, wasn’t deemed of requisite standard for the Bernabeu and in all likelihood, few in the Spanish capital would prize him over Mesut Ozil, who although riding the apparently fashionable waves of Castilian bias, was also overlooked. Mata’s inability to feature regularly for Spain inevitably also counts against his favour, as does his disappointing displays for his country’s Olympic side as they were so listlessly eliminated at the tournament’s opening stage. Still, the clearest, most insurmountable obstacles facing of both Silva and Mata are the form of Cristiano Ronaldo, Andrés Iniesta and most glaringly, Lionel Messi, named as the game’s top 3 footballers the same night the World Team was announced. In order to make the XI, it is one of these who must be supplanted, which even in the mind of a chest-beating fantasist of Durham’s calibre is beyond argument.

The very fact that this has supposedly washed over Durham’s stilted comprehension is a as damning an indictment of his piece as the banner it was published under and effectively discredits his every utterance.  His argument for Chelsea’s Ramires to be recognised was so fanciful that even Mail readers realised the folly, opting alternatively for a midfield pairing of Marouane Fellaini and Yaya Touré in their ideal Premier League XI, which obligingly, did much to highlight the superiority of Spain’s selection and settle the paper’s own spurious debate. In the minds of Durham however, such selections have less to do with genuine merit and more to do with puerile playground cock-measuring over which nation has the greatest this, the strongest that or the most entertaining other. Well congratulations Adrian, on this occasion and doubtlessly many, many more, you are indeed the biggest cock.

DC

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