As ever, magazines are doing their review of the year thing and I feel inspired to follow suit. Rather than a “what a year that was, eh?” thing, though, here’s a quick list of things I’ve really liked or been let down by this year.
Books: Mr Biffo, David Quantick and Charlie Brooker made me laugh so hard I probably damaged internal organs, and judging by the way Mrs Bigmouth has been laughing like a drain “Mommies Who Drink” is a hoot too. As always I read about 200,000 crime novels, of which the latest Ian Rankin was the most reliably entertaining, and I loved Tokyo Year Zero by David Peace. Although by “loved” I really mean “was utterly freaked out by”. Which also applies to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
Music: Obligatory Radiohead joy aside (Reckoner is jaw-dropping), the Robert Plant/Alison Krauss collaboration was wonderful despite my hatred of Robert Plant’s voice and my loathing of music that sounds vaguely country. I bought all the Talk Talk records I’d already bought several times already, rediscovered the joys of The Big Dish, was let down by a rather anodyne Sugababes album (what a great first single, though!), discovered Regina Spector about a decade after everybody else and danced very badly to pretty much everything Timbaland has had a hand in this year.
Springsteen’s Magic was an unexpected old-school delight, Mark Ronson’s version of Valerie is one of the most joyous things I’ve heard for ages, Girls Aloud’s Tangled Up was worth buying for Call The Shots alone, and the reissued Joshua Tree reminded me why I used to really love U2.
Tech: Both Vista and Leopard fell into the “glad I have ’em, could live without ’em” category, DRM didn’t quite die – although the signs are encouraging – and I had to eat my words about the iPhone, which I thought would be a pile of crap but which I – rather shame-facedly – love dearly despite the lack of 3G. I was also wrong about the Apple TV, which I was very excited about pre-release: it seems as if Apple lost interest in it by the time it actually came out, and it’s become a technological footnote rather than anything more exciting.
FARK, Flickr and PopJustice remained brilliant, Facebook walks the line between fun and being really, really annoying, Newsgator/NetNewsWire/iPhone Integration is better than sliced bread and Logic Pro is God’s own music software. Of the big stuff, the scariest stuff happened (and will continue to happen) in the world of privacy.
Games: Halo 3, too short. Timeshift, predictable but fun enough. Bioshock, flawed but great. Still sod-all decent stuff for the Wii. Orange Box is great value for money, but Half-Life 2 Episode 2 frequently feels like Space Invaders (the antlions in the tunnels, the striders attacking). And not in a good way. Crackdown was a hoot and is well worth tracking down second-hand on eBay. On the PC I loved the Minerva mods for Half-Life 2, but the much-hyped STALKER bored me to tears when it wasn’t crashing.
A major annoyance for me was the increasing focus on online gaming, which means the single player bit of any console game can be completed in about six hours by an inept gamer like me. That probably translates as three seconds for anybody that’s any good. At 40-odd-quid per game, that’s hardly value for money.
The interesting/depressing thing about gaming this year was its increasing resemblance to the film industry: blockbuster-driven with months and months of hype and overly excited previews, with reviewers being outflanked so their words don’t appear in print or online until a terrible game’s hit the top of the charts. Never mind the quality, just look at the first-week sales. A lot of very bad games made a great deal of money this year.
Also depressing was the repeat of last year’s Wii bundle bastardy, where retailers took advantage of Nintendo’s inability to make enough consoles by forcing desperate punters to buy big bundles of crap. They’re doing it again this year.
On a happier note, Eurogamer’s featuring some excellent games writing and the new Rock, Paper, Shotgun blog has quickly become a favourite bookmark.
Magazines that I don’t write for: EDGE and The Word were ace as ever, although the latter is teetering on the very edge of the abyss where Uncut and Mojo live. Empire seems to have found its mojo again, Q’s better than before – less list-y, with proper writing again – although I’m now old enough not to care about 99% of the music it covers, and Car magazine remains a work of art with superb writing to boot.
What about you, ladies and gentlemen?