Page 45 Review by Stephen
My favourite periodical last year bar none. Time for a mash-up!
"I've just read this thing and I've got an ache in my chest and I'm looking for something to hit because the bastard Gillen has outwritten me.
"Also, McKelvie has turned in the art job of his career."
- Warren Ellis
There's music on the dance floor as the same few hours are played out from seven very different perspectives. Superior even to the first PHONOGRAM series which itself was packed with originality and wit, it's so craftily constructed that you may end up doing what McKelvie did halfway through: buying extra copies to take apart and stick to the wall chronologically. And then promptly going mad.
All the hocus pocus and pontification has been ditched in favour of a night you'll remember and may already be familiar with: the magic of music, the transport of dance, the ghosts of ex-flames, a mad dash round Bristol (my mates in Bristol are all musician/stoners so no, I'm not overly familiar with the "dash" part!) plus two spectacularly funny, self-regarding DJs bouncing off the walls and each other. That entire issue was shot from a single angle, six-square-panels per page, as DJs Seth Bingo and the Silent Girl orchestrate the night's set of female vocalists from behind their record decks. They do take requests - Blondie's Atomic is a safe bet any night, and preferably every night - but they also take umbrage:
"I think I see your confusion. While all the vocalists we play have one, your request's singer is one."
McKelvie's full-colour art is indeed the performance of his career: chic, sexy and bursting with youth. When Penny hits the dance floor and invites you to join her, she moves with effortless, alluring grace and her white-booted legs in panel eight are the epitome of well poised sixties elegance. Jamie can draw a crowd dancing like few others - it is exactly right. As to young Marc, caught in the headlights of his dazzling ex, he's an understated essay in helplessness whilst his ex's expressions, as she mocks his self-pity whilst trying to drag him back to a more positive path, are delightfully subtle and her body language oozes an alluring libido which - if absent - would have ruined the whole chapter. I was almost as fond of her as Marc was.
"Look at me when you're dancing. Dancing is sex, you... touching own cock. Stop it!"
Beautifully transcribed accent when again Gillen hit the nail on the head: there is nothing like dancing with someone, to someone... particularly if they're brilliant, beautiful and make you look far cooler than you could possibly be on your own. That sequence was also a perfect example of the hindsight Gillen has threaded throughout the narrative, for in the first issue seen from Penny's point of view we heard the object of her infatuation, this very same Marc, blow her off with a harshness that seemed to border on cruel:
"Yeah. Just not with you."
But when you witness Marc's side of the evening leading up to that moment it's a revelation. As it would be for Marc if only he'd only listen to his ex's ghost. PHONOGRAM's always been about the power to music to transform. It's an ode to its magic - to the way in which individual tunes can profoundly affect your spiritual health. Sometimes it happens unsolicited (a track just hits you in the guts and swells your heart or makes it bleed), and often we do it to ourselves deliberately (how often have you thought to yourself, "I'm in the mood for..." or, "This'll make me feel better..." or even, "Okay, it's time for a self-pitying wallow") and on occasion we do it to others (have you never put on a tune with the deliberate aim of seduction?*). Kieron takes that surely universal truth and pops a pentangle round it to form sonic sorcery: manipulating people through the power of music. Marc's chapter falls into the unsolicited category: about the power of music to haunt you; about songs cursed by association with a time when you were happy in the arms of someone you loved, and which can in a second whip your mind across time back to what you have lost. It doesn't matter how up-tempo they are, the effect can be crippling.
Extras for this collection include Jamie's McKelvie's 3-D model for the nightclub itself, Kieron Gillen's reference photos around Bristol, his original pitch for the second series to Jamie, a glossary, the rather worrying revelation about his "method drinking" and an even more worrying photo of Gillen's tongue. Worrying for McKelvie, anyway.
*Sylvian and Sakamoto's 'Forbidden Colours' works every time.