Review: Eminem – Recovery

Eminem is back with his seventh studio album and his second offering in just 13 months. Originally billed as Relapse 2, a follow up to his self-criticised Relapse album released in the May 2009, the new album was renamed ‘Recovery’ to break with the slightly immature and fluffy nature of Eminem’s previous two albums.

The cover of Eminem's new album - Recovery (released 21st June 2010). Picture: Phil Campbell

On Recovery, released on Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Records, the controversial rapper rediscovers his darker, more serious side which saw him rise to fame with ‘the Slim Shady LP’ (1999) and later, The Marshall Mathers LP’ (2000). Doing away with immature topics and toilet humour which has plagued his two previous albums: Relapse (2009) and Encore (2004), the new album is an uncompromising mix of complex, earth-shattering beats and melodic choruses accompanied by Eminem’s most serious and meaningful lyrics for a decade.

On the album, Eminem teams up with artists such as Pink and Rhianna on tracks entitled ‘won’t back down’ and ‘love the way you lie’, the latter of which is a radio friendly, guaranteed single with the potential to become the anthem of summer for many.

A new chapter

Other highlights include ‘no love’ on which the Detroit-born rapper teams up with hot property Lil’ Wayne to deliver a stunning lyrical performance accompanied by a catchy chorus featuring a sample of 1993 club hit ‘What is love?’ by Haddaway.

Eminem has worked with long term producing partner Dr. Dre to successfully achieve the heavy-hitting basslines which resemble Hip Hop’s golden era of the late nineties. But he has also created new partnerships with such producers as Just Blaze and DJ Khalil among others.

Put simply, this album was never likely to recapture the exact mood of the two that made Eminem a household name at the turn of the millennium. But it comes closer than many expected, whilst at the same time, introducing an incredible new chapter of Eminem’s extraordinary career.

Since 2000, Eminem has released albums which have been playable, without necessarily featuring any ‘timeless classics’. In Recovery, he has finally delivered a new sound which will reinvigorate people’s love for the troubled star, and see demand for a UK tour smash through roof several times over. These tracks will be played for years to come.

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World Cup 2010: so far, so poor

Five days into the world’s biggest and most anticipated sporting event, we are left hopelessly begging our television sets to give us more. More goals, more chances and just more excitement in general.

So far, 26 countries have scored only 20 goals between them in 13 fixtures. With Germany being the only team to have provided anything close to attractive and entertaining football, their impressive 4-0 victory over a rather chaotic Australian side on Sunday has been the only game to feature more than two goals. The rest has passed me by in an increasingly irksome fashion.

In a tournament that has so far seen an average of only one goal every 59 minutes and, what feels like a higher number of mexican waves than attempts on goal, what are the reasons for such a tedious display? and is there anything better on the horizon?

The Jabulani:

A giant model of the Jabulani. Photograph: Warrenski

Adidas’ new ball, designed specifically for this World Cup, has been partially blamed for the poor standard of football so far. And the pre-tournament fears that it was too light and did not fly properly, look to have been proved correct as Adidas have already sent scientists to South Africa to undertake further tests on the ball’s flight at altitude (better late than never…).

In my opinion, it is by no coincidence that the only team to have played well at the tournament so far, have been using the Jabulani in their domestic league (from which all the players in the national team hail) for nine months. I refer, of course, to Germany and the Bundesliga.

It is unclear what steps can be taken to counter the apparent problems. With replacing the ball entirely out of the question, it seems that we, the spectators, might have to wait until the multi-million pound footballers manage to work out how the hell to play with it before the standard improves. And that includes goalkeepers too. (mhm… ‘Calamity Green’).

Vuvuzela’s:

The buzz of the vuvuzelas has become customary, and seems to have replaced, or at least drowned out traditional cheering and singing in the terraces. Whilst their have been calls for a ban on the traditional South African horns, event organizers have so far refused to oblige.

It would be careless and naive to suggest that the vuvuzelas are the cause of poor quality football. Although I have noticed that they do contribute to the air of boredom which has unwelcomely crept into my World Cup viewing.

Imagine, if you will, a situation where you are forced to watch a man doing nothing but pace up and down in a straight line for ninety minutes. Pretty boring eh? Now imagine if that man was constantly humming loudly to himself in a tiresome, monotonous manner. No longer is it just boring, but it begins to materialize into a natural and aggressive annoyance.

I have no doubt that vuvuzelas contribute to a magnificent atmosphere within South Africa’s impressive stadia. But I fear they do not lend themselves to the hundreds of millions watching on television.

Over reaction?

Perhaps I am over reacting. After all we are yet to complete the first round of group matches and it could be argued that everything up until now can simply be termed a ‘cagey opener’. However, when presenters, pundits and commentators all begin to use phrases like “it’s just been absolutely dyer” (Andy Townsend – Half time in the Ivory Coast, Portugal match) and “I’m not expecting very much from this game in terms of attacking play” (Mick McCarthy before Italy’s first group game against Paraguay on Monday night) you get the feeling that, so far, the tournament has not quite conformed to the script.

In fact the only thing that has unfolded in line with many people’s pre-tournament expectations is England’s disappointing opening result against the USA on Saturday, and the unsurprising negativity that continues to drone on in the national press as a result.

Still, there is hope. We have reached the time in the tournament when five-time world champions Brazil begin their challenge. And, as is proclaimed every four years at this stage: “the World Cup hasn’t really begun until Brazil kick off their first game.” Everyone is hoping that something special is around the corner. With the South Americans playing a little-known North Korean side this evening, surely even a dodgy ball cannot scupper what promises to be a bucket load of World Cup goals.

Also, with European champions and hot favourites for the tournament Spain in action tomorrow against Switzerland, there is feeling that this World Cup might just wake up as we approach the end of the week. And not before time. Always look at the positives. It cannot get any worse.

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The sun is shining in the Big Brother house

On Wednesday night Sunshine Martyn was chosen as one of the ‘lucky’ few to enter the Big Brother house for the final series of the country’s favourite reality television show.

Sunshine on her first full day inside the Big Brother house

No sooner had her face appeared, shocked and confused on the big screens outside the house, my phone began having it’s very own nervous breakdown. Due, in part to my ludicrously varied message tones, it sounded like a fire alarm that was slowly running out of battery and crying out for help.

In an effort to calm the poor thing down, I duly opened the first of the messages, only to be met by a series of expletives so obscene that to repeat them here would be frowned upon even by those who inhabit the most liberal end of the so-called ‘blogosphere’.

All the messages followed a similar tone and they were all from people who, like me, have spent the best part of the last year studying journalism with Sunshine at Westminster University. Everyone was clearly as shocked as ‘Doc Martyn’ herself.

Needless to say, it was not long before I sent a number of similar messages, but Sunshine herself summed up exactly what we were all thinking and texting (albeit in a more conservative fashion), with her first words upon entering the house: “What just happened?!”

Sunshine is different

Three days on, I have had time to come to terms with the fact that somebody I know is actually on Big Brother. But there is still one question playing on my mind: why would anyone want to go on Big Brother in the first place?

A common belief is that you have to be ‘stupid’ to apply for Big Brother. However, throughout this year I have been acutely aware that Sunshine has consistently achieved some of the highest grades in the class. All the while sprinkling gentle reminders that she is actually studying to be a doctor and that she might not want to be a journalist at all.

So, far from being ‘stupid’, Sunshine is one of the brightest people I know (no pun intended). But the question remains, why is she going on the show? I think a better analogy is that you actually have to be ‘different’ to want to go on Big Brother. And Sunshine is certainly different.

She was often seen trooping into the newsroom, on an overcast day wearing blue sunglasses and matching blue lipstick (or various other combinations of unconventional, yet, i’m told ‘fashionable’ accessories), looking like she had just walked off the set of a Lady Gaga video. Before she even took a seat, Sunshine would invariably address the class with a story beginning: “you’ll never guess what happened to me…”.

At this point, I would usually turn back to my computer and ‘finish off my emails’ or continue ‘checking my facebook’, but not in such a way to ignore her tales. Instead, because they sometimes lasted a while, I would casually tune into Sunshine’s surreal ramblings as if it were a background radio, knowing that they would rarely fail to bring a little humour into my morning.

Sunshine ready for a day in the newsroom

My conclusion from nine months of being regaled with her colourful stories is that these ‘things’ that happen to Sunshine are a million miles away from the sorts of experiences we ‘normal’ people encounter in our day-to-day lives. I am amazed that so many exciting and random things could happen to one person, but it is no coincidence.

At times I would glance around the room and see other people raising a smile too, safe in the knowledge that they were enjoying the day’s story just as much as myself.

Mixture of intelligence and comic appeal

The fact that Sunshine has now succeeded in being chosen for Big Brother is the beginning of another interesting, and exciting chapter in her life. I look forward to the inevitably witty and creative tabloid headlines and weather-related puns, although not so much to reading the no doubt manipulative and slightly exaggerated stories they introduce.

Whilst she is understandably yet to venture out of her shell in the house, I think she will grow into a very entertaining housemate who offers a rare mixture of intelligence and comic appeal that has been absent in previous housemates. In this sense, Sunshine is truly unique, and I am backing her all the way.

Previous winner’s of the show have risen to fame, but more often they fade back into the relative obscurity of everyday life. However, for Sunshine, everyday life is already vastly different from yours or mine. If she wins the final series of Big Brother, I have no doubts that she is capable of determining the direction in which she wants to go, whether it be a career in presenting, modelling, journalism or medicine, when you look past the slightly eccentric exterior, Sunshine has the personal qualities to succeed in any one of these fields.

As for the financial reward, I would like to think she would use her £100,000 winnings to pay off some student loan debts and go on holiday, before giving us, her poor journo classmates a chance to fight each other for whatever is left, simultaneously allowing us to play a very minor part in the extraordinary puzzle of her life. I’m starting boxing lessons tomorrow. Please join me in voting for Sunshine to win.

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Kauto Star – the end of an era?

As Imperial Commander romped to victory and finished seven lengths clear of Denman in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the odds-on favourite Kauto Star looked dejected as he cantered to the finish in last place after a surprise fall four from home.

Is it the end of the road for Kauto Star? photograph: CharlesFred

Having lost out to stablemate and best friend Denman in 2008, this year’s race was once again being billed as the ‘clash of the titans’, and saw Paul Nicholls trained Kauto Star bidding to become only the fifth horse in history to win the prestigious trophy three times.

However, champion jockey Ruby Walsh struggled to find a rhythm and was lucky to stay onboard the favourite after hitting an early fence.

Both horse and jockey looked to have recovered well before nosediving into the Cheltenham turf, leaving Denman to mount the sole challenge on a strengthening, Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Imperial Commander as they turned for home.

The loss may have represented the last chance for Kauto Star to join the likes of Arkle and Best Mate in winning three Gold Cups. But after becoming the first horse ever to regain the coveted trophy in 2009, it might be too early to write off his chances of repeating this extraordinary feat just yet.

Optimistic

If Kauto Star is entered in next year’s race, he will certainly face stiff competition from improving horses in the shape of Imperial Commander, Big Buck’s and this year’s RSA chase winner Weapons Amnesty.

However, despite being realistically wary of an improving field, Kauto Star’s owner, Clive Smith is optimistic that his most decorated horse can once again mount a serious challenge for the title.

He told BBC Sport: “I still think we can come back and give him (Imperial Commander) a very good race, if not beat him.

“He (Kauto Star) is such a performer, he might get close, but Imperial Commander could well improve and it will be tough.”

Kauto Star was 6/1 in the antepost betting to regain the Gold Cup in 2011, and whilst many believe he is capable of springing one last surprise as he approaches his autumn years, it remains to be seen whether the impressive French-bred will be backed to rewrite the history books once again.

Jenny Prest, from the bookmakers William Hill said: “there might be a few punters who think there is a bit of value in it, but at the moment it’s too early to tell whether there will be a lot of money coming for Kauto Star for next year’s Gold Cup.

“things tend to kick off once the jump season starts again in October. Only then will we have a clearer picture of the way the betting might go.”

Age concerns

Despite an astonishing career in national hunt racing, and whilst being far from his last appearances, Kauto Star’s age is leading to concerns that his best chance to join the distinguished quartet of three time Gold Cup winners is now behind him.

The three mile and two and a half furlong trip has not been won by a horse over nine years old since Andrew Thornton came home onboard Cool Dawn to take the crown in 1998.

In fact, only twice in the last 20 years has a horse over the age of nine had enough left in the tank to charge up the famous Cheltenham hill and win racing’s most valuable non-handicap event.

These trends and the fact that next time round, Kauto Star will be pushing 11 years of age, are unlikely to discourage punters from backing him if he shows good form come next season.

Jenny Prest said: “Age doesn’t usually affect the betting very much, and unless it is flagged up by the newspapers nearer the time, then amongst other considerations like the form and the going, there will probably be little attention paid to the horse’s age.

“It tends to be those other factors that have a bearing, rather than the fact the horse will be 11 years old.”

King George chase

Kauto Star’s chances of winning a third Gold Cup will largely depend on the form he shows in the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.

Having made history earlier this year by becoming the first horse ever to win the King George four years in a row, Kauto Star is once again likely to head the field in this three mile trip. A race that is widely considered as the precursor to the Gold Cup.

His performance here should give some indication of his chances of making history at Cheltenham next March.

It was widely believed that a horse would never come back to regain a Cheltenham Gold Cup crown, but Kauto Star proved doubters wrong in 2009. It is now clear that next year’s festival is likely to be the last opportunity to add one more record to his already incomparable C.V.

Having unplaced on only five occasions and being the first horse ever to win over two million pounds in prize money over jumps, Kauto Star has already done enough to secure legendary status in the eyes of many.

Whilst he may never formally join the elite club of Arkle, Best Mate, Golden Miller and Cottage Rake that have won the Gold Cup on three or more occasions, Kauto Star is already viewed on a par with these horses.

There is little doubt that, regardless of future results, he will go down in history as one of the greatest steeplechasers of all time.

By Nick Higgins

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Sport Relief from your sofa

It is that time again when the public are encouraged to run, walk or wheel the Sport Relief Mile. But if you do not want to take part in the mile, how else can you get involved and raise some money?

You can also support the cause by buying merchandise like socks, t-shirts and drinks bottles. Photograph: Nick Higgins

Sport relief takes place every two years as it alternates with it’s parent event Comic Relief. Since beginning in 2002 it has raised over £80 million.

The money raised helps poor and disadvantaged people both in the UK and in countries all over the world.

At the very heart of the event is the Sport Relief Mile. People of all ages, shapes and sizes are encouraged to get active and challenge themselves to raise money for sport relief.

But whilst some people keenly take up the challenge, others are filled with dread at the very thought of it.

So if you do not want to take part in the Sport Relief Mile, how can you be more creative in your fund raising efforts, here are my top seven suggestions.

Hold a sports quiz

Having a sports quiz in your local pub can be great fun and requires no physical exercise. Ask everyone to pay a small fee to take part in the quiz. You can also arrange for a percentage of drinks sales from the evening to go to sport relief too.

Be your hero

Hold a dress-up day at your work, school, college or university. Ask people to pay a small fee to take part, and they can come dressed as their sporting heroes.

Competition

Organise a competition on your favourite sports computer game. Ask all your friends to pay a small fee to take part. The winner walks away with the bragging rights. (until next time).

Sing along

Hold a good old-fashioned karaoke night among friends and ask for a small fee to take part.

Rivalry

Take part in Danny Baker’s ‘shirt of hurt’ challenge by putting on the shirt of your team’s rival club. If you can go through with it, get your friends and family to sponsor you to wear it for a whole day.

Race night

Hold a race night at your home or local pub. Ask people to pay a small fee to take part and use poker chips or monopoly money to gamble with. That way you do not have to pay out all the money collected for sport relief.

Practice makes perfect

Ask your friends and family to sponsor you to take conversions at your local rugby club. Take 50 place kicks from various positions on the field and ask people to sponsor you a certain amount of money for each converted kick.

This can be done with other things too.  get sponsored for every penalty you score or save, or even ask for a certain amount to be donated everytime you hit the bar from the edge of the box.

Sport Relief weekend takes place between the 19th and 21st March.

By Nick Higgins


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A hung parliament

In recent months the main pollsters have recorded a reduction in the Conservative Party’s lead ahead of the general election. As a result, most observers are predicting a hung parliament. But what exactly does this mean?

A hung parliament occurs when each of the parties fails to win a majority of seats in the House of Commons. In simple terms, a hung parliament will occur if the Labour Party lose 24 seats and the Conservatives fail to gain 116 seats.

When a hung parliament occurs in the UK, the Party with the most votes will usually be asked by the Queen to try and form a government. At this point, they have two options.

Coalition government

A coalition government is formed when the largest party (that with the most votes) forges an alliance with another to achieve an overall majority. They can engage in a formal coalition by granting a certain number of cabinet positions to members of other parties, usually proportional to that of votes won by that party.

Coalition governments are not uncommon. Countries such as New Zealand, Isreal, Switzerland and Germany all have extensive experience in coalition rule. The devolved powers in both Scotland and Wales have also been successfully run by coalitions in recent years.

In many ways, coalitions encourage parties to co-operate and their bipartisan cabinets are argued to more fairly reflect the feelings of the electorate.

However, the demand for co-operation is not always viewed as a positive. Coalitions can be prone to infighting as parties with distinctly different ideologies battle for influence. Sometimes the constant level of compromise and discussions leads to a slowing of the legislative process. On the other hand the smaller party may be ignored, leading to potential factions.

Minority government

The largest party may also try and form a government without making any alliances or policy concessions to smaller parties. Instead, they attempt to win support from other parties on each individual bill as and when it reaches the floor of the house.

Mike Thomas from pressure group Charter 2010 thinks it would be a mistake for the largest party after the next election to try and rule in a minority government.

He told me: “A coalition would be more stable than a minority government. An issue by issue basis doesn’t really work if you’re after stability and continuity.”

In fact, minority governments are inherently less stable than formal coalitions. The opposition’s majority can easily bring down the government and force another election by way of a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister.

Further election

Whatever the resulting government of a hung parliament, it is always likely that another election will be imminent. In systems where hung parliament’s are rare, the ruling party will usually call an election as soon as it feels it is able to win an overall majority.

This was the case the last time the UK had a hung parliament in 1974. Then, a minority government led by Harold Wilson called an election after just eight months. They won the election with a majority of only three.

What’s going to happen in the UK?

Despite a hung parliament being a real possibility, Mike Thomas thinks political parties are unlikely to talk publically about it before the general election.

“Although the parties are talking internally, none of them are likely to talk aloud because it’s in their nature to believe and think they can win the next election. They don’t want to be seen as consigning themselves to a hung parliament already.”

If a hung parliament were to occur, the balance of power is likely to be held by the Liberal Democrats. Their leader Nick Clegg has been mooted as saying that his party are not interested in cabinet jobs and would prefer policy concessions.

Clegg has set out four key themes upon which his party will fight the election. These themes have been dubbed the ‘Lib Dem shopping list’, indicating that the Party will support a coalition if it their policies on these key areas are included in a mandate.

The fact that the Liberal Democrats have signalled their intent to negotiate suggests that, in the event of a hung parliament, we are more likely to have a coalition government than a minority one. This will however depend on potentially fragile negotiations and the potential for another election later in the year is always present.

By Nick Higgins

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Top five: sports stars behaving badly

In an age when we hear more about sports stars’ sordid sexual deviances than their performances on the pitch, the fact that our heroes’ misbehaviour is not always linked to their married lives can be easily overlooked.

John Terry's recent affair was pasted all over the media - photograph Paul Blank

Prevalence of such stories in the media is at an all-time high. It can be demonstrated by the fact that the recent scandal enveloping John Terry appears to have subsided this week, just in time for fresh allegations to be directed at his club team mate Ashley Cole.

Last weekend we were reminded that exposing misbehaving sports stars does not necessarily require delving into their sex lives. Wales’ flanker Andy Powell was arrested for drink driving just hours after his team’s thrilling six nations victory against Scotland at the millennium stadium.

It later emerged that the 28 year-old had stolen a golf buggy from the team hotel and taken it for a spin on the M4. Powell has since been charged by police and dropped from the Wales squad.

In light of this incident I have compiled a list of the top five sport stars behaving badly, and there is not an affair in sight.

1. Barry Ferguson and Alan McGregor

Glasgow Rangers duo Barry Ferguson and Alan McGregor were banned from playing for Scotland for life in April last year, after engaging in an all night drinking session with fans whilst on international duty.

The pair were originally dropped to the bench for the next game but were filmed putting two fingers up to the camera during the match.

Their actions ultimately led to lifetime bans and to Ferguson being dropped as Ranger’s captain.

2. Stephen Ireland

In 2007, the Manchester City midfielder asked to leave international duty with the Republic of Ireland  because his grandmother had died.

After flying the player home on a private jet, the Irish FA discovered his grandmother was still alive. Ireland told them it was his other grandmother, which was also found to be a lie.

The player eventually came clean and admitted that his wife had recently had a miscarriage and wanted him to come home from international duty to keep her company.

The 23 year-old has not appeared for his national team since.

3. Andrew Flintoff

Flintoff had been warned about his behaviour before

After an opening match defeat against New Zealand at the 2007 cricket world cup, the England team and coaches went out to a night club.

All-rounder Andrew (Freddie) Flintoff was one player who ended up going slightly ‘overboard’ as he required being rescued from the sea in the early hours of the morning. He had strayed the beach in a pedalo.

Freddie was fined and banned from England’s next match against Canada after it was revealed this was not the first time he had been warned about his behaviour.

4. Michael Vick

In 2007, popular American football player, Michael Vick was arrested for his involvement in an inter-state dog fighting ring.

The former Atlanta Falcons quarterback had not only be financing the operation, but had also taken part in the execution of underperforming dogs by hanging or drowning them.

Whilst he was bailed to await trial, Vick tested positive for marijuana in a random drugs test.

In December 2007 he was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison. Upon his release, Vick returned to the NFL on a two year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles.

5. Gilbert Arenas

Gilbert Arenas is a three time NBA all-star and currently plays for Washington Wizards. On Christmas Eve last year, a changing room argument revealed that Arenas was storing firearms in his locker. He was arrested for breaching Washington’s gun control laws.

A few weeks later a pre-game stunt in which 28 year-old Arenas pretended to shoot down his teammates on the court resulted in an indefinite suspension.

He is due to be sentenced next month.

By Nick Higgins

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