Sunday, May 22, 2016

ALBUM REVIEW: Dangerous Woman (Ariana Grande)

From the first time I heard Ariana Grande’s collaboration with Iggy Azalea, ‘Problem’ in 2014, which, along with the film BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR, epitomised my feelings towards my a certain someone (#cryptic), I have been staunchly #TeamAri. The Italian-American songstress is great to look at, has fantastic vocal range, and effortlessly exudes sex appeal (the élan with which she peers up from her white Lolita sunglasses in the 'Bang Bang' music video is a kind of sultry swagger I can but only dream of). So it was with great excitement that I waited for Dangerous Woman, her third studio album, with. So much so, in fact, that I’m currently writing a female version of TRAINING DAY, and, have assigned it ‘Dangerous Woman’ as the film’s working title.

The album’s eponymous lead single is terrifically catchy. ‘Something about you, makes me wanna do things that I shouldn’t’, Ariana croons, whilst in the music video, she slinks around provocatively in lingerie, showing that she is well and truly through with the good girl image which she initially sported when she first became famous. If Yours Truly was clean!Ari, My Everything, with songs such as 'Love Me Harder' and 'Hands On Me' were suggestive-but-PG-13!Ari, then Dangerous Woman is full-on femme fatale, R-rated!Ari. And she’s not here to half-step. She’s owning it.

‘Side to Side’, Ariana’s third collaboration with Nicki Minaj, is probably their weakest so far, but it says a lot about the collective quality of the music these two women make together that it is still a more than solid 8/10 track. I loved the reggae vibe of the song, as well as the employment of Nicki’s verbal fireworks for the rapping, but I thought the actual lyrical quality of the rap was a bit weak, with practically every other line being an allusion to one of Nicki’s previous hits. By contrast, the employment of Macy Gray in ‘Leave Me Lonely’, one of the few melancholic songs on the album, works a treat, with Gray’s gravelly voice suiting the sombre words she’s singing perfectly.

As with her preceding two albums, the tracks I tend to enjoy more are the upbeat, funky ones. ‘Greedy’ tells the story of a woman’s high appetite for a certain something (spoiler alert: it’s not for food), and with electro-pop beats, a brass band, and best of all, her voice hitting stratospherically high notes, makes for a great musical party. ‘Everyday’ is very similarly thematically to ‘Greedy’ but the beats are more RnB-infused, demonstrating Grande’s musical versatility, and how her voice is so strong it crosses genres. The album’s only major misstep is ‘Sometimes’, a slow-moving guitar-led track which sounds like a lazy B-side that is just at odds with the musical flavour with the rest of the album.

The standout track of Dangerous Woman, for me, is ‘Let Me Love You’, an unashamedly saucy song in which Ariana Grande gets to put her vocals to their breathy best. (Some people aren’t such a big fan of the way she sounds out of breath when delivering her lyrics, but I really dig it). Lil Wayne’s rap on it is a good foil to her verses, and his bluntness in ‘I said girl you need a hot boy / she said you need to stop fucking with them thots boy’ evokes memories of his featuring credit on Kelly Rowland's 'Motivation', another brazen foray into smut where his rhyming was both irreverent and intelligent. Furthermore, the cavalier little nod to Beyonce’s ‘Irreplaceable’ when Grande asserts ‘I know they'll be coming from the right and the left, left, leftshows she KNOWS she’s the ish. Arrogance among popstars is obviously a double-edged sword; you need to acknowledge the fact that you’re HBIC, but at the same time not become insufferable. Egotism is justified if it's merited. Within that lyric, we have the album in a microcosm: a woman discovering, nay, asserting her allure. In Ariana Grande’s case, it’s well-deserved.

Some music fans are perturbed that Ariana Grande, who despite being 22 old, still looks like a little kid, being so overtly sexual on Dangerous Woman. But, in her defence, she’s already had her squeaky clean period, and she’s over that. She gave us a hint of her more carnal instincts when she told us ‘she might have let you hold her hand at school, but Imma show you how to graduate’ and other such double entendres on her second album, but Queen Ari isn’t here for innuendo any more. To paraphrase Dennis Hopper in BLUE VELVET, "Ari wants to fuck". This pretty doe-eyed girl is blossoming into a dangerous woman. And her music has never sounded better as a result.

Grade: A

Saturday, May 21, 2016

RESTAURANT REVIEW: On the Bab (Shoreditch)

Readers of my blog will be all too aware that I don't have much time for restaurants who make their punters queue up. I just feel it brazenly declares that the restaurant cares more about making money than it does about the culinary experience of the people dining there. And The Table Cafe, one such restaurant which operated on the no-booking policy, proved to be a complete disappointment. Queuing up in the rain for this restaurant, I was struck with a sense of déjà vu and feared that, for the second time, I would have stood in the cold for ages, only to be served a below-par meal like a mug.

Fortunately, things didn't work out like that; I'm happy to say that On the Bab went some way towards restoring that balance in the Universe. Korean food is one of my favourite cuisines, and some of my favourite restaurants in London are delightful Korean places which offer fantastic value for money (there is a fantastic cluster of such restaurants around Tottenham Court Road, offering a much more palatable alternative to the over-baked American diners that are littered around the capital). On the Bab, which has chains in Shoreditch, Covent Garden and Marylebone, is another such place.

I cannot recommend the 'On the Buns' enough, which are Korean-style burgers, fill to the brim with goodness (you can choose between chicken, pork or beef; we went for the latter), and on delicious steamed bread with vegetable fritters to give the concoction extra texture (and nutritional value). 

Practically everybody in On the Bab had a 'Yangyum chicken' on their table, which was, no hyperbole, the best fried chicken I've ever had. Admittedly, my bar is quite low (I would happily feast on KFC every day for the rest of my life), but this was cooked so meticulously, drenched in some of the most moreish sauce I've ever sated, that I simply had to order another portion. The crushed peanuts worked a treat in this dish as well - it's not usually an ingredient I have much time for, but, applied sparingly to the fried chicken, it managed to bring out the flavour of it more.

No Korean meal is complete without a Bibimbab, and the succulent conflation of flavours (pictured in closer detail in the Snapchat picture at the top of this entry) was a flavourful party in my mouth, to which all my favourite foods was invited. And best of all, the items we ordered didn't feel like disparate entities. You could have a bit of this and then a bit of something else, and it all tasted fantastic.

My only slight criticism of this place was that we were sat on a side-stool rather than a table, and thus, there really wasn't enough space to place all the food we'd ordered, the cocktails, our cutlery and our plates. But I'll allow On the Bab his shortcoming and not let it detract from their Perfect A grade, because, in terms of dining experiences in London, this is one of the best places I've had the good fortune of visiting.

Grade: A

Friday, May 20, 2016

BAR REVIEW: Number 1 London (London Bridge)

Just across the road from London Bridge Tube/Train station is Number 1 London, a sports bar that doesn't suffer from any delusions of grandeur. It has one selling point: being a spacious, welcoming, Sports Bar, and to that end, it fulfils its function very well.

My two foibles with the place were that the drinks were overpriced, especially give that if you walk for five minutes more, there's a side road with several pubs that do pints for about 80-90% of the price. Also, the picture quality of the football on the big screens they were showing weren't HD. They weren't even standard quality. Such poor satellite issues sometimes detract from my enjoyment of the game, which is a pity.

All that being said, my friends and I have regularly been driven out of the poncy casino-come-sports bars in Leicester Square, which masquerade as welcoming football fans, when really they just want to welcome people who'll easily part with their money. Once these casino places see that you're not here to gamble and actually want to focus on the football, the bouncers all but drive you out. Number 1 London has no such issues. It welcomes all its clientele, whether they be male, female, into sports, or not. And for that, I give it major kudos.

Grade: B+

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A disgusting cocktail from The Duck and Waffle.

When it comes to choosing cocktails in bars, I suffer from a slightly foolish idiosyncrasy: I pick the cocktail I like the name of the most, without reading the ingredients. In the case of Eden at The Duck and Waffle, which consisted of 'Bombay Sapphire gin, bay leaf, IPA reduction, beetroot paint', that proved a very erroneous decision. Cocktail was absolutely awful! Here it is!

At £15.75 (£14 and a tip the waiters help themselves too, pfft), it was also a bloody rip off.

So yeah, lesson learnt. Don't pick cocktails because they share names with Chelsea players you adore! (Clearly, having seen Mertesacker a few moments previously, I was suffering from having football on my mind!)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Day I Met Per Mertesacker in Sushisamba.

I was in Sushisamba with Anna (my best friend who this blog is named after) on Saturday evening, and out of the corner of my eye, I clocked someone who resembled PM a lot. I wasn't certain it was him though (the lighting in the Sushisamba bars is very dim), so I took a photo on my phone to investigate. As soon as the flash went off, the guy in question covered his face, which was basically an admission of guilt on his part. Not to be deterred by the fact that he obviously wanted a quiet drink and not be bothered, I gulped down my wine for a bit of Dutch courage, and approached the 6'6'' giant.

To Mertesacker's credit, he was very classy and obliging given this sort of thing happens to him all the time. I didn't give any intimations that I was, in fact, a Chelsea fan, and instead just gabbled 'I can't believe it's really you!!!' Smooth. But, despite recognising what an inconvenience I was, I still forced his friend to take a second photo, in case the first didn't turn out that well.

Koscielny and... Mertesacker? HAHA.

And, much as it will damage my Chelsea Girl credentials to concede it, Mertesacker is much more handsome up close and in photos than he is during games when he's being oafish and getting sent off against us because he can't deal with Costa.

One last thing: when I bothered his friend to take another photo, Mertesacker said something to the friend in German and he looked at my breasts. Given that I'm not quite dressed like a nun and the revealingness of the dress (I bought it because I thought it had an element of Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch about it), we'll allow Mertesacker this one.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

My Queen really needs to stop being in dud movies.

Trash by name, trash by nature. This snorefest clearly only won the BAFTA due to being a Working Title production, as it was the most contrived Slumdog Millionaire meets City of God wannabe I've ever seen.