Mobile Action Strike Kommand – The Movie (M.A.S.K.)

From those unfamiliar, M.A.S.K. was a 1980’s cartoon show developed by Hasbro and Kenner Toys in the United States. As was the style at the time, the show spawned an animated series, created to serve primarily as a platform to sell the action figures in stores. The storyline focused on the fight between an underground task force called M.A.S.K. (Mobile Armored Strike Kommand) and a criminal organization called V.E.N.O.M. (Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem).

It is sometimes forgotten in the shadow of its more famous cousins, including the Thundercats, the Transformers and GI Joe, but serves as a popular franchise with a cult following. Though popular shows like Robot Chicken have paid homage to the series in a number of high profile sketches.

For those unaware, a recent IDW comic book series entitled ‘Revolution’ saw a storyline in which Miles Mayhem (the leader of Venom) was linked to the Transformers, using the technology of the Optimus Prime’s All Spark to craft weapons for the US Military alongside one Cornelius Trakker. Trakker would later be killed in a botched experiment, but not before his research materials were stolen, and several masks created harnessing the power of the All Spark. Mayhem intended to use these masks for world domination and control, but Trakker had passed on the same technology to his son, Matt, who used them for good and was vehemently opposed to stopping Venom and bringing Mayhem to justice for the death of his father.

Should any of this story line be featured in the upcoming Transformers film ‘The Last Knight’ (or perhaps a little after credits scene showing Mayhem drinking in an old bar) it would provide an excellent bridge to the world of MASK and, not only a reinvention of the franchise for modern audiences, but a whole new series of film adaptations on the big screen. Indeed, Hasbro previously announced (in June 2015) that the brand was under redevelopment for an upcoming new line. As late as June 2016, there had been reports that the series would feature heavily in a collaborative movie with GI Joe, with writers hired for that very project.

So, who would play these characters on the big screen? What actors would fit the roles of these personas as they stood in the animated series? Having looked through the extensive MASK and VENOM files, matched with my knowledge and passion for the show, I’ve come up with (what I feel) is the most likely scenario. I’d also like to point out that there were several (and more, if you include the Series 2 cartoon as cannon) members of MASK available for any given job. Maybe not so many VENOM henchmen though. In either case, I’ve picked my Top 5 from either side based on personal preference and character development – the same number of Autobot’s Hasbro felt it fair to include in their original Transformers 2003 movie.

For each MASK character there’ll be a codename, related to their vehicle, in most the cases the one they’re most famous for, as opposed to alternatives or European variants. I reckon regardless of casting choices and the use of character there’s a real chance they’ll just make up new developments and powers in the masks – much like Hasbro did when “re imagining” the Deceptions for that first film

M.A.S.K. (Mobile Armored Strike Kommand)

Matt Trakker (Leader Of M.A.S.K. – Code Name: Thunderhawk)
Trakker A – Brad Pitt
Trakker B – Daniel Kaluuya

As the leader of the organization that saves the world, Trakker’s authority is unquestionable, but the personal moral choices he faces on his actions (Mayhem is believed to be responsible for the death of his father, and possibly Scott’s birth mother) weigh heavily on his mind and his character. This would be best reflected in his performance and would also give a reason for his personal stake in bringing VENOM down. Personally, I would focus the action sometime after the death of Trakker’s father and the adoption of Scott, giving Matt time to grow and grieve as both an orphan himself and a father. But Matt’s personal reasons aside, those who follow him have pledged their life to this oath, including that of  a secret fraternity that offers them great power. He must have a sound mind and rule with exemption as an inspiring force for good.

In the recent IDW reboot of the comic (which may lead to introducing newer fans to the franchise if a film is in development), Matt is portrayed as a young man himself, far too young to have an adopted son and also of African American origin rather than the blonde hair and blue eyes of his GI Joe esque appearance in the animated series. Times have changed since 1985, that much is clear, but the casting of this character will no doubt be closely based on the portrayal Hasbro choose to go with – on a fundamental level – leading to me picking a Trakker Choice A & B for either possibility, based on A being his older animated version and B being his newer African influenced version.

I think both choices would be fairly mind blowing, regardless of the actor, but think Pitt as an older struggling step father (being this himself in real life) might be able to bring that particular arc the sense of realism it needs.

Scott Trakker and T Bob – Tom Holland (Josh Gad)
Much like Penny and Brain in Inspector Gadget, Scott Trakker and T Bob provided the animated series with a human connection and grounded roots in the shows structure, giving the audience a way to view the show from the outside in, especially when that audience was around the same age as the young character. As a script device, this would be an ideal introduction into the movies storyline for new and casual fans. Think Sam Whitwicky, though much less annoying and predictable. Scott was Matt’s adopted son, who appeared in the series as a constant sense of worry and dilemma for Matt. Often there were plot points moved along because of Scott’s playful interference and inquisitiveness in the actions of MASK and Matt’s subsequent wish to keep his young son out of danger. This also lent itself well to the shows infamous PSA style outros, which encouraged young viewers to do such things as look both ways when crossing the street and never get into a strangers car. The toy line for MASK was one of the first I can ever personally remembered to be designed with seat beats for the included action figures.

Given his youthful appearance and English charm, as well as the fantastic performance he gave in Captain America’s Civil War it’s easy to forget Tom Holland is only 21. Though Scott was always portrayed as a younger boy, too young to drive, I feel that Holland’s older portrayal would clash with a slightly older Trakker in a perfect way – maybe finding out that he has more of a connection to Mayhem than he realizes and questioning exactly what it means to be good or bad. Oh, the possibilities. Either way, Holland is a fantastic actor, who has developed a unique style all of his own since The Impossible. If they would wish to voice T Bob as in the animated series I believe actor Josh Gad (based on his recent performance in Beauty and the Beast) would be ideal.

Bruce Sato (Codename: Rhino) – Jackie Chan
Often known for being the wisest of influences in MASK, Bruce Sato provided comfort and assurance to Matt Tracker in the original animated series, especially when his moral choices meant putting himself or his fellow operatives in danger. Despite the obvious age difference I believe that Jackie Chan would have the ideal look and range to be able to play this role. He would excel at being able to provide comfort and reassurance and keep a level head. The appearance of Sato would also mean a cameo for his Rhino co-driver Alex Sector who I believe could easily be played by John Goodman, giving fans a real treat to see the veteran actor on screen for a few shots.

Dusty Hayes (Codename: Gator) – Chris Pratt
A joker, a light hearted guy and someone you could really get along with.  Pratt is an obvious choice to play Dusty Hayes, a Southern talking mechanic who fights crime under his codename Gator. Hayes would easily serve as an integral part of Trakker’s army and was a series mainstay across both seasons of the animated series. 

Gloria Baker (Codename: Shark) – Felicity Jones
Being one of the hottest properities in Sci Fi at the moment, Felicity Jones has both the style and glamour to portray Trakker’s best in Gloria Baker. Depending on which story line Hasbro chose to adopt, it could easily be Baker and Trakker that are universally linked, tearing off each others clothes in the bedroom as much as they tear rubber when chasing down Venom. With Jones very much in the public eye at the moment this film would come at a great time to catapult the young star from Star Wars to beyond the stars.

Brad Turner (Codename: Condor) – Oscar Issac
The fan favorite rock star would most definitely need to make an appearance, but his time on screen would most likely be shortened, possibly due to how one dimensional the character is. Turner’s motorcycle antics would be memorable enough to probably make him the hottest selling action figure of the entire franchise but much like Boba Fett before him his screen time would be a lot less impressive. I do believe, however, that Oscar Issac would be a perfect person to play the future love interest of Vanessa Warfield and provide MASK with those killer guitar shreds.

And now for the bad guys in all this…

V.E.N.O.M. (Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem)

General Miles Mayhem/Maximus (Codename: Switchblade) – Robert De Niro
Though not as heavyset as the image of Mayhem in comics, or sporting a moustache as bold, De Niro has made quite a transition in acting style from ‘Raging Bull’ and ‘Taxi Driver’ to the more recent ‘Meet the Fockers’, one which I believe would make him ideal to play the villainous leader. At his heart, Mayhem is a General, a commander of army and a ruthless thug. But he also needs to play the role of the face the people expect to see – ultimately this Political figure who could do no wrong and is a true patriot. Added to this, Mayhem’s twin brother, which if the film chose to use him (and they don’t necessarily have to as he was more of a cheap plot device for the toy line in the cartoon’s second season) is a weak willed snivelling version of the character that could provide cheap comic relief and also the kind of acting variety more established actors like De Niro crave.  I also feel Jeremy Irons would be a good second choice, particular on the role he played in High Rise, ultimately portraying a man driven to villainy by his own architecture.

Cliff Dagger (Codename: Jackhammer) – Jason Statham
Cliff Dagger was a one dimensional character, the kind of ruthless thug who is hired to do the kind of underhanded work a sleazy Politian doesn’t need to do themselves. His manner and tone are short, sharp and violent. He follows orders and gets paid for his muscle – rewarded by advancing in status and driving vehicle’s far above his usual authority. Dagger is a loyal foot solider and provides everything Mayhem needs to get his hands dirty. I think Jason Statham would be the ideal look and fit for this henchman, providing a strong and muscled look which are as imposing in person as his violent Jackhammer vehicle is on the road.

Vanessa Warfield (Codename: Manta) – Milla Jovovich
A sophisticated and sexy spy, Vanessa was the female representation for VENOM, playing a supporting role in the animated series but is a character I feel would be integral for a 2017 reboot. She might serve as a wing to Mayhem’s political career, working in tandem with the General, but her characters development at the end of the shows second series (which saw her become the groups leader and have a romantic interest in MASK member Brad Tuner) could be an excellent plot dynamic for seeing her change alliances in a film instalment. For this reason I feel she needs to be a lead character in her own right who can carry a franchise and also someone not adverse to intelligent dialogue and discussion. Milla Jovovich strikes me as an excellent actor who could provide the depth and breath of characterisation to make Vanessa more than just a background character.

Bruno Sheppard (Codename: Stinger) – Gary Anthony Williams
Remembered best for his orange Mohawk and comic relief, Sheppard is as ruthless as Dagger, but his character is nowhere near as brutal and militant as Dagger. Easily I could see Sheppard providing a likeable villain for VENOM, someone the audience will love to hate, whose bumbling may also be too much for Mayhem. Gary Anthony Williams would be an excellent choice casting for the character, mainly because of his role as Bebop in the recent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live action. His character would also be more independent than that of Bebop and wouldn’t need to hang on for scenes that only feature him and another member of VENOM.

Lester Sludge (Codename: Iguana) – Michael Wincott
By fifth billing there isn’t much room for on screen development of VENOM’s random henchmen, but far from a simple cameo, I believe Lester Sludge should be included. Like most VENOM henchmen in the original toy line, Sludge chose a motorcycle, but it was his appearance in “Where Eagles Dare” which caught my attention because he managed to almost, legitimately, murder Matt Trakker. I feel for this reason alone his character should be included and played by an established character actor. Michael Wincott, of Alien Resurrection and Strange Days fame (and also in an unaccredited role in the new Ghost In The Shell) would be a fantastic use of casting. Wincott could easily provide that rough and ready role in a memorable way and make any scene containing the characters dialogue feel a lot more comprehensive than it would most likely not be.

There’s our choices. What do you think? Get in touch, comment below and let us know what you like!

Another Year Older. Many Happy Returns.

So yesterday I celebrated my birthday with some of my most favourite (bad grammar alert) people and managed to see both Ghost In The Shell and wake up beside my girlfriend Lyndsay that morning. The last time that we woke up together on my birthday like was my 30th, when we’d both travelled to Dublin to celebrate with my parents and brother, an occasion I have great fondness for because it also coincided with my first month working as a Film Coordinator for SLAP.

As with any birthday, there are bound to be occasions when someone sits and reminisces, thinking about what they’ve achieved in the past year and also trying to remember what they were doing on their last birthday. I remember my 30th so vividly because of the nature of the anniversary, travelling back to Dublin, and also because of my Instagram account, since I took so many photographs when I was there. But it took me a moment – and a flick through Instagram – to remind me that for my 31st I played the role of tourist in Newcastle and travelled around Newcastle taking shots of certain landmarks, such as St Nicholas Cathedral.

It got me thinking about one of the more positive aspects of social media, which is strange, because I don’t normally attribute the words positive around the words social media. What particularly enthused me was the act of being able to go back through my Instagram account and look back fondly and see what I was doing on a random Wednesday in March. I have great memories of Christmas as a child and have seen some photographs of me opening presents, wearing fancy clothes and eating dinner with the family; but it’s remarkable what more recent photographs can do to jog the memory. I see it like photographs in Harry Potter that come alive past the frame, because when I view an Instagram photo (even one that doesn’t actually show that much detail) it’s what’s beyond the photo and the memories associated around it that I’m thinking of.

As with everything, age is perhaps the one thing which we hold to judge ourselves on more than anything, is age, both because we never get any younger and because it’s something we can’t stop. Society, by definition, labels and judges us based on the achievements of others in similar timescales. Age is one of the worst factors here, because you can lead yourself to ask why aged 30 you don’t have the success, or haven’t gotten the chance, or don’t have an achievement ranks as someone who has been here the same amount of time as yourself. Naturally, the easiest method for combatting this, is to remind yourself that everyone’s life experiences are different and that their own personal journey is made up of everything – good and bad – that has happened to make them the person standing there today.

A topic of discussion with a friend last night centred on that very idea, how everything that has happened to you has led to you being the person you are, the events both good and bad. These are topics being considered in film all the time, to cite just two recent examples, Iranian film ‘The Salesman’ and Romanian film ‘The Graduation’. Both centre on the idea that it as much the bad is traumatic and painful, it is also character defining. When age is factored in, the idea of things happening at a young age (when someone is still physically and mentally developing) can affect the individual even more. When I think of those Christmas Day’s years ago and attempt to remember individual memories of cherished moments gone, I often think the brain does us a service by not allowing us to remember every single moment – we prefer to take a lot more of the good than the bad.

Social Media helps us to chronicle the positive aspects of our lives by capturing the images which defined moments (literally snapshots) in our life. The problems arise when those snapshots start to remind us of everything we don’t want to remember.

Wayne Madden presents ‘Munch’ live every Tuesday at Nova Radio North East in Newcastle,
between 12 and 2pm

Ghost In The Shell (2017)

I’ll be completely honest, I don’t care for Scarlett Johansson. Already I can feel the hatred rising and those who are turning away from my review. But the fact remains that Ms Johansson has never really succeeded in capturing me, either because of a flat script (like ‘Lucy’) or in an over saturated role (like ‘Black Widow’).  There are those, quite rightly, who will argue that an actor can’t be solely blamed for a films success or lackluster plot – and so I’m probably doing Ms Johansson a disservice in this regard, but for me, her “it” girl status in motion pictures through the last few years has meant that her own over saturation upon my cinema screen has become somewhat of an annoyance.

What it raises is somewhat of an interesting question, as there is hardly a scene in this film that does not feature or completely revolve around the actions of Johansson’s character, Major, a special forces operative who is the first human android hybrid of her kind. On deaths door from a fatal accident, perhaps showing where Robocop took it’s inspiration, Major is transformed to work for Section 6; the Department of Defense’ “black project” against terrorism in a futuristic Japan. Since the story, plot and mission of the film revolve solely around one characters story, could I make a distinction between an actor I didn’t particularly like and the film as a whole?

The answer is an emphatic yes, as Johansson never once feels like she is stealing a scene, just letting the story guide her on a journey with the audience. Her casting choice is a little unusual, however, as it does pose questions to why a westernized white woman has been chosen over an Asian actress to portray the role, but these doubts are quickly eradicated, since you’re left feeling that it was the cultural influence of the doctors and CEO’s who funded her revival. I feel fans of the original comic will draw a collective sigh of relief, as this film has been vehemently faithful to its original inspiration, voice actors from anime returning to perform minor roles and even the delicate use of the discussion of a ‘Ghost’ – which raises theologically questions inherently Asian in origin, though perhaps best left for another type of film. Respect for the ‘Ghost’ is a real selling point of reliability.

The fact is that Jamie Moss screenplay has adapted the original comic story from the inks of anime to the Hollywood boulevard, evoking scenes of a gloomy Los Angeles 2019 Blade Runner scenario, yet retaining that unmistakable Asian edge. Flying cars removed, the technological advancements of this futuristic world have yet to remove the charm and beauty of Japan, with such shots as the cities harbor reminding us just how close this future could be. There is an over use of digital imagery, but in the areas you’d expect them, such as medical equipment and advertisements; whereas other scenes see streets (such as that of the ‘Lawless Zone’) decaying beyond their former glories, but very much retaining that 21st century look.

Dialogue moves swiftly, and ultimately plays little part, other than to satisfy the questions of “who, what, when and where” – rather this is a film to be seen for the feel – the sweeping cameras across rooftops, the rain beating upon the tarmac floor and the crowded and claustrophobic conditions of street level. It’s also refreshing to see the use of established actors such as Chin Han (who plays Lau in 2008’s Dark Knight) and Michael Wincott in supporting roles, though the latter performance is reduced to an unaccredited cameo.  Despite the star status of the lead, there was some thought given to supporting cast, with special mention to Takeshi Kitano for his outstanding revolver technique at this point.

As we drive towards the end of our film it does seem all too well rounded, with little in the way of unexpected revelation, that being kept extremely faithful to the original version and also giving first time viewers something that they don’t have to be anime fans to enjoy. In fact, it might surprise one or two viewers afterwards that it actually was sourced from this field. There’s also no sexually suggestive undertones in the film, something which definitely finds itself in manga and anime, but which would only serve to over complicate the family friendly 12A rating of this outing. I never believed that Scarlett Johansson wearing no clothes and delivering action in full frontal view of the camera could actually be so non sexual and family friendly.

Ghost In The Shell delivers a simple story with a beginning, middle and an ending. There are revelations, remissions and remorse and by the end we’re all a little more entertained, excited and enthused. A cinema audience can’t ask for more, new overseers will find an entertaining film which doesn’t require anything in the way of separate introduction to the franchise and original fans of the series will be pleased they’ve made the effort.

Metal Gear Solid (PC, 2000)

Every few years a video game comes along which changes and defines a generation. For all the sex and violence in Grand Theft Auto V we have seen an advance, and depth, in what game play manages for free roaming titles that have raised the bar. GTAV continues to release new and innovative updates, well over two years after the original release, perhaps because of the choices present in the game play mechanics, perhaps because of the millions of players on line who are intently engaging with it; or because the game cost so much to create that the developers have just managed to break even.

In any event, games like this frustrate and compliment in equal measure, taking a forceful side swipe at what (up until that point, anyway) we’d considered the norm and changing our views on conventional video gaming. Metal Gear Solid is one such title.

Originally released on the Sony PlayStation in 1998, the title was actually the third in a trilogy of releases defined as action-adventure stealth. The original, Metal Gear, was released on Japan’s MSX2 in 1987 and received relatively little attention in the West outside a closed circle of mindful gamers. A sequel to the first was quickly coded and released, but again, saw no real Western release to speak of. The relatively “simple plot” of the game revolves around Solid Snake, a former black ops operative coaxed out of retirement to attempt to stop a group of international terrorists from launching a nuclear weapon on a remote US military base in Alaska. Snake also has to rescue two hostages being held at the base and establish the means, motives and abilities of the terrorists.

The Simple Plot of Metal Gear Solid – StarBomb

While the idea of stealth action (as such because Snake has limited to no weaponry and must avoid detection to progress through a large portion of the story) was no stranger to games at the time, it is the cinematic cut scenes, advanced effects and professional dialogue which garnered the installment so much praise. Topics discussed within the game include gene manipulation, the plight of the Kurdish people in Iraq and nuclear disarmament, which translates as it having a fairly “adult” story in a political sense. When we think of titles like Last Of Us there is definitely a more adult and complex story line to modern gaming because of the benchmark set by Snake in this installment, and then subsequently raised on further installations.

For this review, I replayed the PC version, which contains relatively little difference to the original console release; despite finding its way onto computers some two years after the release on PSX. The main difference is an addition of a 1st person view mode, a camera angle that grouped together the largest amount of criticisms during the games original release and also one which featured as a noted improvement on the games re-release on GameCube some years later. While the GameCube title, Twin Snakes, is the same game; it was modernized so extensively that its graphics bear only a familiarity to the original release. In fact, all of the original actors returned to record their voices again for this title.

The PC version also contains a VR disc, featuring everything that was released separately on a Special Missions disc on PlayStation 1; this means MGS on PC mirrors Metal Gear Solid Integral; a Japanese only PSX release which essentially combined both the original discs and the special missions together for one release. I’m always curious as to why, in the West, games companies specifically try and release these projects separately (or even as today’s version of DLC). The VR missions themselves could be considered ahead of their time, as a subsequent “data disc” release on PSOne in 1999 in the West would have been rare enough, so I guess in that sense Metal Gear Solid also introduced a generation of players to the idea of add on content. As true visionaries as Konami were, they were also a corporation.

The soundtrack to this game is incredible. It was an achievement of it’s own, though it went somewhat unnoticed in the grand scheme of things, when considering the technical triumphs that were occurring on games like Final Fantasy VII and the more modern soundtracks appearing on Wipeout. I challenge you not to shed a tear during the heartfelt “Enclosure” as Sniper Wolf breathes her last, or not to be moved by the incredible “The Best Is Yet To Come”, a song sung in traditional Gaelic which was translated from Japanese as the games creators felt it would be sung more poetically in Irish. They were correct. Anyone who has heard the more recent ‘English version’ from the additional Phantom Pain compilation will know the song looses all meaning in the translation.

As Snake progresses through the game the player learns more and more about the world in which they inhabit, what is real and what is counterfeit, but in a strange turn of events for game play of the generation it demands a more involved approach from the gamer. While Final Fantasy VII had it’s hours of dialogue, but no voices, Metal Gear Solid cannot be faulted for the sheer dedication given to the hours of dialogue and recordings made from characters far and wide. Yet, it is the additional information, the briefing found in the options menu before the game even begins or the codec conversations with Natasha (a character who you don’t, technically, even have to speak to in the entire game) which divulge a whole new level of technicality and involvement. And that’s the incredible thing about this game, players chose to become as involved as they wished, or didn’t. But the more effort you placed in learning about these things, the more rewards you gained. Such as strategically using a cigarette to detect lasers in the Tank Hanger. Guess you had to be there? 

The game’s entire campaign is relatively short and asides from the two possible endings based on a pivotal choice within the game, you should be able to finish it (and enjoy the bulk of additional content) within 4 to 6 hours. So replay value was a huge selling point for this title, especially considering its huge launch price and the fact that – let’s be fair – you wouldn’t spend much time doing anything as you watch the interactive nature of some scenes unfold. You should therefore be prepared for a few surprises, additional costumes and files, which make replaying the game a whole new experience. The Tuxedo? Meryl without her trousers? Say no more.

Things like unlimited ammo and stealth essentially make you a BETA tester for the game and you can do so much more. My personal favorite is the Crimson Ninja, which has him looking like Spiderman, though you still won’t be able to play as him outside the select VR missions on that disc.

Overall, Metal Gear Solid is a fast paced, action packed game which – despite its near 20 year age – still holds up incredibly well. Some may even prefer this version, at a time when having limited choices meant every choice was savored, as opposed to the over saturation and high expectations players now come to expect as they critically assess everything that happens on screen. A second hand priced copy of the game should cost between £15 and £20, depending on the condition of the case, inclusion of the manual (which I’d personally insist upon) and whether the game is black label or platinum version. Again, the artwork on the original black label discs is worth the extra.

Gilby Clarke – Gilby Clarke (Spitfire Records, 2007)

If Axl was the nicest, quietest guy in the world he’d never sell any records.

Being a former member of Guns N’ Roses can’t be easy. A band once hailed as the “most dangerous band in the world” and with a frontman so infamous you didn’t know whether he was coming onstage or punching an amateur cameraman – it was only going to be a matter of when, rather than if, they imploded.

Gilby Clarke joined Guns N’ Roses a mere ten days before the band headlined Madison Square Garden in New York. Having previously been a member of “teen glam band” Candy he’d been well known on the Hollywood scene by the group’s members, but had failed to attract anything near the kind of incredible exposure he was about to receive.

Despite being present for none of the actual recording of ‘Use Your Illusion 1 or 2′, Clarke was present on virtually every music video released post record, as well as such infamous performances live in Japan and at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert in April 1992. When Guns N’ Roses touring finished, Clarke secured a deal with Virgin Records, who were eager to release his first debut effort ‘Pawnshop Guitars’ and facilitate an International tour.

Of course, if you’re unfamiliar with cuts like ‘Cure Me Or Kill Me’ and ‘Tijuana Jail’ then you’ve been sorely lacking and you’re in for a treat. The chords of ‘Wasn’t Yesterday Great’ might be less familiar to you, but that’s only because by the mid 90′s Clarke was releasing the music he wanted on his own terms as a free agent, which left corporate record companies and promotions agencies uninterested.

“Clarke secured a deal with Virgin Records, who were eager to release his first debut effort ‘Pawnshop Guitars’ and facilitate an International tour”

Clarke is a talented guitarist, but his talents in Guns N’ Roses lay all but wasted, having to “stand in the back and mime” as he either re-recorded material already done by other members or was left out of the session’s altogether.

Clarke is a gifted songwriter, a singer and a storyteller, whose solo releases have been rather unfairly discounted by some. This collection from Spitfire represents a selection of Clarke’s solo material which, while not a million miles departed from the songs he once played in Guns N’ Roses, represents a more Rolling Stones-influenced blues and rock.

Newer material featured includes a re-recording of the song ‘Black’ with contributions from Rockstar Supernova contestant Dilana – perhaps giving an indication of whom Clarke, a celebrity judge on the X-Factor type programme, would have rather seen win. There’s also some material from Col Parker, featuring the work of Tracii Guns and Teddy Andreadis, showing Clarke has never been shy about utilizing his connections.

“This collection from Spitfire represents a selection of Clarke’s solo material which, while not a million miles departed from the songs he once played in Guns N’ Roses, represents a more Rolling Stones influenced Blues and Rock”

If I’ve any complaint about this album, it’s that it all seems a little bit “samey” with little room for experimentation or divulgence from the path. Play to your strengths, and I agree, but the lack of Clarke’s collaboration with Rose (a cover of the Stones classic ‘Dead Flowers’) has probably been left absent for copyright reasons. This is a real pity.

When you consider Clarke’s own solo career, which at this point stretches well beyond the two and a bit summers he spent on the road with Axl Rose, one can agree that there’s more than a few licks worth taking note of. The momentum and interest in his career might have been first sparked by his involvement with Guns N’ Roses all that time ago, but it is Clarke and his raw talent, which has kept the listener transfixed and attending his performances ever since.

Rating: 4/5