THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE POOP, AND THE MISCELLANEOUS OF WRESTLEMANIA PLAY BUTTON

Rollins-winBeing a wrestling fan – and a WWE fan in particular – isn’t always easy. I’m 30 years old now (my body creaks when I walk up the stairs), of moderate intelligence, and cynical and world-weary enough to know that, by any sensible metric, professional wrestling is something I should have left behind years ago, along with Superman pyjamas, Saturday morning cartoons, non-ironic usage of the word “poop”, and earnest aspirations to one day become an astronaut.

It’s easy to dismiss professional wrestling as television for idiots, an absurd pretend sport for children and the mentally enfeebled. And it’s hard to argue that it’s not those things, but it’s much more besides. It’s a surrealist soap opera played out before a live audience by super-athlete cartoon characters who just so happen to also be real people, who really do hurt themselves each time they get thrown out of the ring, or fall off a ladder, or have a television set explode in their face.

At its best, professional wrestling is a celebration of athleticism and strength and agility and drama and suspense and real-time storytelling; it’s unpredictable, it’s emotional, and it’s very, very silly. Most importantly, it’s fun. At it’s worst, it’s just silly. Very silly. It’s often a fine line to tread, and it’s never more important for WWE to find themselves on the right side of that line, than at WrestleMania. WrestleMania is the biggest professional wrestling event of the year. It’s like The Super Bowl or The Oscars or The World Naked Bike Ride. It’s also like the Christmas trading period for seasonal retailers; a bad one can impact the coming months – and even the coming year – so it’s especially important to get things right.

So without any further inane waffling, here’s what they did get right, as well as what they got wrong (and what they got very wrong)…

THE GOOD

The Main Event – The most important match on the show was also the best, which is pretty important. Brock Lesnar can do no wrong right now. The man is super-human, a legitimately scary, freak of nature for whom physical and athletic limitations seemingly don’t apply. Watching him stalk Roman Reigns as if the latter were defenceless prey, toying with him before throwing him around the ring like a big cat juggling the carcass of a gazelle with its mighty paws, possibly already looking forward to post-match celebrations which may or may not have included throwing sofas at people and eating someone’s children, was positively joyous.

And while I (much like the vast majority of WWE’s fanbase) would much rather have seen Daniel Bryan in the main event of this year’s WrestleMania, Reigns more than held up his end of the bargain, absorbing a convincing and thoroughly entertaining ass-kicking before rallying back to create some truly dramatic near falls in the final stretch of the match, contributing to an insane, big fight atmosphere from within the stadium, with the crowd unsure of who would win and becoming increasingly concerned that the conqueror Brock Lesnar might be conquered by the guy who in another life, might have been a Mills & Boon cover model.

They needn’t have worried though, as Seth Rollins’ surprise Money In The Bank cash-in and subsequent championship victory ensured a happy ending for the majority of those in attendance and watching at home. It was an inspired close to the show that kept Brock from having to suffer the indignity of being pinned by a mere mortal, and kept Roman strong even in defeat (gotta keep Roman strong…). Rollins as champion is fresh and exciting, and with three natural challengers (Brock, Roman, and Randy Orton, who beat Rollins cleanly earlier in the evening) coming out of this show alone, the top of the card is set for at least the next six months.

Over The Top Entrances – Rusev driving down to the ring in a tank while the Russian national anthem played… An assortment of jittery, nightmarish scarecrows tracing Bray Wyatt’s steps to the ring… HHH’s Terminator Genisys-themed entrance… Jebus, that Terminator entrance… Objectively terrible and unintentionally hilarious, that might have been my favourite ever WrestleMania entrance. From the ridiculous Terminator-inspired warrior mask, to the awkward, static Terminators that rose out of the ground and… did nothing, to Ahnold’s forced involvement, and the weird robot arms sprouting out of HHH’s shoulders, all in broad daylight, there was nothing about it I didn’t perversely enjoy on one level or another.

The Ladder Match – While he probably should have been in the main event helping to create an all-time classic with Brock Lesnar, Daniel Bryan’s win in the Intercontinental Title Ladder Match wasn’t a bad consolation prize, especially if they now allow him to restore some of the lustre to the belt that years of listless feuds, meaningless title changes, and less-than-stellar champions have all but stripped from the once prestigious championship.

The match itself – which featured five other Superstars who probably deserved higher profile matches going in to the show, as well as R-Truth – was as chaotic and dangerous and exciting as one would have hoped given the talent (and the ladders) involved. Daniel Bryan and Dolph Ziggler’s head-butt battle atop one ladder, and Dean Ambrose being power-bombed from inside the ring straight through another on the floor were notable highlights.

The Rock and Rousey Connection – I smelt what they were cooking and it was not unpleasant.

Dat RKO – That Curb Stomp being countered into the RKO was a thing of unnatural beauty and deserves to be in every WrestleMania highlight package from now until the time when WrestleMania is no longer a thing. The Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins match that led to it was pretty great too.


THE BAD

Same Old Undertaker – Maybe it’s unfair to be disappointed by something that was never promised, but after weeks of WWE commentators and presenters openly asking “which Undertaker would turn up at WrestleMania” having been gone from WWE for an entire year, I was expecting to see (and looking forward to seeing) old Undertaker riding to the ring on a motorcycle as a crappy Limp Bizkit song played. Just like old times.

Instead, we got the same “Dead Man” character we’ve had for the past 11 years now. To his credit, Undertaker looked to be in much better shape than he did for his first and only WrestleMania loss to Brock Lesnar last year; and while it wasn’t as memorable as many of his previous WrestleMania outings, the Undertaker’s win against Bray Wyatt (his 22nd win at the event) was perfectly decent.

#GiveDivasAChance (but not at the expense of Kid Ink and Skylar Grey) – With the recent groundswell of support for women’s wrestling within WWE spearheaded by social media, it was perhaps not unreasonable to expect the only WrestleMania match to highlight the women – AJ Lee and Paige vs. The Bella Twins – to be given more than 6 minutes. And perhaps it would have been, were it not for ill-conceived time-wasters like the Kid Ink/Skylar Grey mini-concert (for which Travis Barker sat in on drums, for reasons that elude me).

THE POOP

Jingoism – There’s a fine line between crafting a glorious homage to Rocky IV (which the feud between American hero John Cena and Russian immigrant Rusev had been pretty successful in doing at various points during the build-up to their WrestleMania match), and just being a bit racist. There’s also the risk of taking things past the realms of “patriotism” and wading knee-deep in to something that looks and smells embarrassingly like jingoism. The tone-deaf video package that preceded John Cena’s WrestleMania entrance – presumably designed to celebrate America’s history by inexplicably (and perhaps unintentionally) shining positive light on Ronald Reagan, the country’s historical race problems, and George W. Bush – was perhaps a better idea in theory than in practice.

LOLHHHWINS – I can’t help but feel bad for poor old Sting. After waiting so long to step in to a WWE ring, the WCW icon’s (one and only?) WrestleMania match is not his reported dream match with The Undertaker (the match that wrestling fans have been clamouring for since 2010) but a match that nobody asked for against HHH in which he summarily loses and is then forced to shake the hand of the man who just cheated to beat him because… reasons.

It’s a shame, because up until HHH getting the pinfall, the match was a lot of fun, punctuated by the kind of giddy surrealism and unexpected twists and turns that WWE are capable of throwing at their audience when motivated. HHH’s old stable-mates DX (Shawn Michaels, X-Pac, the New Age Outlaws) and Sting’s old rivals the nWo (Hogan, Nash, Hall) interfering and gingerly getting in to it at ringside whilst being careful not to shatter a hip or tear a quad was kind of glorious. It’s just a shame it was all a backdrop for HHH putting himself over yet another in a long list of wrestlers forced to lose to “The Game” even though the story being told called for the opposite.

We’ll always have HHH’s Terminator entrance though…

THE MISCELLANEOUS

– The lack of a number/roman numeral being assigned to this year’s WrestleMania bothered me more than it probably should have. WrestleMania (Play Button) makes infinitely less sense than WrestleMania XXXI.

– The West Coast sunlight and open-roof stadium made for a unique setting and atmosphere, but did so at the expense of the extravagant light shows that usually permeate WrestleMania.

– Big Show winning the pre-show Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal at the expense of Mizdow, Cesaro, Hideo Itami, et al. was kind of absurd.

– The three old men behind the announce table seem to get worse by the week. If they could be replaced, that would be fantastic.

– The tag team Fatal Four-Way on the pre-show was very good and really deserved to be on the main show.

– Despite being a four hour show, there were only seven matches on the card, none of which was given more than 18 minutes.

– “ROMAN IS A WANK PHEASANT”!

– All in all, this was a really good show, with no objectively bad matches, a few great ones, a surprise ending, and HHH’s Terminator entrance.

Bob Russell

LEAKED NUDES, “NOT ALL MEN”, AND THE MORAL COMPLEXITIES WITHIN

If you’re a member of the twenty-first century, and more importantly a denizen of the world wide web, you’ve probably already seen some or maybe even all of the most recent batch of leaked celebrity nudes to find themselves thrust into the public conscience. A quick trawl through Twitter will uncover a whole lot of talk about Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton (among many others), and the sexual images that were stolen from them before being unlawfully distributed, much to the simultaneous shock, disgust, and amorous delight of the internet.

As someone with feminist leanings, it should have been fairly easy for me to make use of Twitter today without finding myself wilfully arguing with a feminist commenter merely looking to condemn the theft and dissemination of these images. And yet… not so much. The commenter in question (writer and comedian, Gaby Dunn) had this to say:

“Had a convo with a man where he compared photo leak to an actress doing a nude scene in a movie and it struck me men don’t understand the difference between a consenting woman and a non-consenting woman. They all look the same to you. And I can’t stop thinking about it”

I know, I know, I know… not all men, right? For reals though, it is scary to think that there are men (and probably women too) out there who can’t (or won’t) differentiate between consensual and non-consensual sexuality. It’s a fair point and one that I agree with, and yet it was that omission of the word “some” before the word “men” that inspired me to comment on it and I’m still not entirely sure why that is.

Maybe I feel that being pro-woman and supporting the feminist cause has earned me the right to not be lumped in with all the men who are guilty of propagating the misogyny and every-day sexism that women still have to live with. Maybe I feel that generalisations about men and what men think are just as counter-productive as generalisations about women and what women want. Maybe I’m not big enough to instantly recognise that regardless of whether one voice is speaking in generalisations when perhaps it’s not prudent to, the wider dialogue is far too great and far too important for me to become hung up on semantics and knowingly obfuscate a valid discussion because somebody didn‘t think to make the distinction between some men and all men.

I do know that what I should have been commenting on from the start though, was the issue of leaked nudes, and the cultural shortcomings they’ve highlighted. If it wasn’t already apparent that society has a problem with victim-blaming and slut-shaming, few could argue that that much hasn’t become achingly clear in the aftermath of these leaks. Far too prevalent is the dismissive attitude of “she should have known better than to take nude photos and store them on her computer”. I don’t drive but nor do I plan on never buying a car and leaving it parked in a public setting purely because “I should know better than to take my car out and leave it out in the open”. In a society that teaches women not to be raped rather than teach men not to rape to begin with, this is hardly surprising but it is a shade disappointing. It would also be nice if women perhaps weren’t deemed lesser people for having been naked in front of another person in their adult lives. Ours is a culture that seems all too eager to demonise sex and sexuality and it’s never really been made apparent to me why that is.

And yes, there’s the issue that Gaby Dunn attempted to bring to light on Twitter earlier today before being drowned out by men taking offence to her wording. Not all men, you understand. Just some men.

Bob Russell

SONG OF THE DAY 14/05/14 – ANNA CALVI – “WOLF LIKE ME”

The original (by TV On The Radio) is one of my favourite songs and I wasn’t entirely convinced it would be suited to Anna Calvi’s dark, gothic, dissonant weirdness, but it works amazingly well. The song is ostensibly about a dood transforming into a werewolf, but clearly it’s about sexual awakening and raw, animalistic fucking (“My heart’s aflame / My body’s strained / But God I like it”, “Feeding on fever / Down on all fours / Show you what all the howl is for”) and Calvi’s knack for stripping songs down to their bare bones, the primal howl of her guitar, the way she purrs, hisses and coos her way through the song (if it wasn’t about sex before, in her hands it most certainly is)…it just feels right, even it’s all a million miles from the walls of feedback and punk rock fervour of the original.

Bob Russell

Further listening, yo: TV On The Radio, Bat For Lashes, PJ Harvey, St Vincent, Torres, Laura Marling, Hooverphonic, Agnes Obel, EMA

Spotify Playlist: http://open.spotify.com/user/greatwhitebob/playlist/5gqa25QD8uiLeFcfsVRRUV

SONG OF THE DAY 08/04/14 – THE JULIE RUIN “HA HA HA”

Released in September of 2013, “Ha Ha Ha” was the first single to be taken from The Julie Ruin’s Run Fast album. The Julie Ruin are the full-band realisation of feminist icon/riot grrrl/punk rock goddess Kathleen Hanna’s 1998 solo project, Julie Ruin. Trading in that record’s heart-on-sleeve urgency and bedroom-born, cut-and-paste pastiche for more straight-forward songcraft, The Julie Ruin find themselves at the peak of their powers on “Ha Ha Ha”. Even a six year struggle with Lymes disease has done little to dampen the sheer blunt force of Hanna’s vocal; her snarling, Valley Girl-inflected vitriol is as instantly recognisable and wildly caustic as it ever was.
Also well worth checking out is the Kathleen Hanna documentary, The Punk Singer, chronicling her time in Bikini Kill and Le Tigre as well as the health issues that kept her from touring or recording for the six years prior to the formation of The Julie Ruin.

Bob Russell

Further listening, yo: Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, Bush Tetras, Sleater-Kinney, Dum Dum Girls, Waxahatchee

CAMERA OBSCURA – DESIRE LINES (BEST OF 2013)

camera-obscura-desire-lines-300x300

Camera Obscura have built a career on writing love songs. Songs about blossoming relationships; romantic breakdowns; indecent affairs; heartbreaks; rejection; resignation; love of the wild, ecstatic, unbridled variety; love of the cruel, unrequited variety; even love of the mundane, everyday variety – the Glaswegian indie-pop veterans have been mining this singular subject for the past 20 years and in doing so have forged one of the most consistently brilliant discographies in indie music today.

Desire Lines predictably picks up where 2009’s My Maudlin Career left off, circling the same musical threads of Motown-era soul, country balladeering, lush stringed arrangements and the indie sensibilities of their forebears Belle and Sebastian that the band perfected on 2006’s still-essential Let’s Get Out Of The Country. That Desire Lines is content to retread familiar terrain without ever truly reaching for something new is the only real criticism that could be levied against the album in good conscience. But when the melodies are this crisp, and the harmonies this sweet, it’s hard to view any perceived dearth of musical progression as a true drawback.

Delayed by band illnesses and indefinite hiatuses, the recording of Desire Lines moved Camera Obscura out of the country, all the way to Portland, Oregon, to work with producer Tucker Martin (R.E.M, Sufjan Stevens). Despite this change in personnel and scenery, the band’s autumnal aesthetic remains very much intact. And after a perfunctory swell of Jeremy Kittel’s introductory strings, the album starts proper with “This is Love (Feels Alright)”, a cautionary tale of teenage romance told with jaunty guitars, melancholy horns, and subtle percussion that will sound comfortingly familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in the band’s work.

As with all Camera Obscura albums, it’s Tracyanne Campbell’s plainly beautiful voice that quickly takes centre stage. Like sunlight flooding through the cracks, Campbell’s voice has the enviable quality of filling even the coldest and darkest of spaces with a warmth and brightness that just feels endlessly welcoming. It’s on the up-tempo “Troublemaker” though, that Campbell’s trademark dry sense of humour amidst lyrical presentiments of romantic doom gets its first airing. “Three years in and I call to crush what remains of this love / It’s going to be one hell of a year” she sings between swathes of melodic guitar lines and a faint synth pulse. Just as the protagonists in early Bruce Springsteen songs openly fantasised of escaping their surroundings only to remain trapped without the courage to first escape themselves; Campbell more often than not seems stuck in the wrong relationship at the wrong time, with one foot in the tryst and one foot out the door, always lacking the courage to take the next step. “I fall down like a tonne of bricks / What makes me sick won’t make me quit”.

Album highlight “William’s Heart” sees Campbell’s infectious vocal harmonies weave in and out of Kenny McKeeve’s shimmering guitar, swirling around the lyrical coda, “To die in the arms of a twenty year old“; and the title track is full of country swagger and downbeat balladry, with organs, piano, acoustic guitar and lightly brushed drums contributing to yet another tale of heartbreak. It’s not all doom and gloom though, with the upbeat nostalgia of “Do It Again” recalling My Maudlin Career’s sublime “French Navy” in spirit if not tone; and the chipper muted guitar that underscores “Cri Du Couer” is neatly backed by Jeremy Kittel’s stirring strings. Elsewhere, “I Missed Your Party” is a breezy, Motown-esque deep cut that paints sitting at home watching Flashdance as an exercise imbued with heartbreaking implications; “Every Weekday” is musically upbeat with jangly guitars that call to mind Johnny Marr and the Smiths, while lyrically unfurling further romantic strife; and “Fifth In Line To The Throne” is a tragic waltz.

Desire Lines may not throw up any surprises or take Camera Obscura into territory that hasn’t been explored by them on numerous albums already, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When a band is this self-assured and attuned to the quirks that make their music so celebrated by those who are familiar with it, there’s little need to rock the apple cart.

Bob Russell