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By Mishel Ali Khan

Staind can't be called just another metal band; instead it shows all the tendencies of having deep meanings to their songs and the ability to perform excellent accoustic music. Although the distortions are never rare on Staind albums, it is the lyrics that stand out, with some songs reflecting Aaron Lewis's (lead singer) troubled past and some that really make the band stand up from the rest.

Staind's story began in the New England area when vocalist Aaron Lewis and guitarist Mike Mushok met at a Christmas party in 1993. Mushok was able to bring drummer Jon Wysocki into the fold, and Lewis' connection with a bass player (now no longer with the band) completed the early lineup. However establishing themselves took time, but if it weren't for Fred Durst (Limp Bizkit, Lead Singer) they probably wouldn't have made it to the bit stage.

October 23, 1997 was when it all paid off for the band with a show in Hartford, Connecticut. Staind was all set to open for Limp Bizkit when Bizkit singer Fred Durst raised a stink over cover art on Staind's self-released CD. After a heated conversation over whether or not Staind were Satan worshippers, Durst forcefully returned the disc to the band, and walked away. 45 minutes later Durst was back, not to further the argument, but to make sure he kept in contact with Staind. Blown away by their live show, Durst exchanged phone numbers, and Staind were now on their way. All they had to do was wait.

Staind's big break came after the band gave a tape of demo material they had been working on, to Fred Durst. Durst loved it and after reworking the new material and a successful live show, Durst contacted the head of Flip Records, and arranged a meeting for Staind with the label. This is where they hit the big stage and they began work on their first album, Dysfunction. The album was produced by Terry Date (Deftones, Pantera, Soundgarden), and was released April '99 marking the start of the journey for Staind.

For Lewis, writing about what's real is a lesson in full emotional disclosure. Dysfunction, doesn't paint a much brighter picture, though it finds Lewis pointing his poisoned rage at the causes of his anguish: "I guess my mother never loved my dad/ And now I wear it on my sleeve," he sings in "Me," and the hidden track "Excess Baggage" sharpens the blame to a point: "I can't seem to erase all the scars I have lived with."

Again anchored by Lewis' emotionally dark lyrics, Break the Cycle, which debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart could be construed as the third chapter of Staind's self-help discography. Where Tormented (their first self-released album which never took off) exposes the symptoms plaguing the singer's unstable inner health and Dysfunction pinpoints their sources, Break the Cycle provides a diagnosis and a path toward recovery.

"There's more of a glimmer of hope on this record than there was in Dysfunction and especially Tormented," Mushok states. And indeed Break the Cycle was different- with tracks such as 'Its been a while' and 'Outside', the album displays the bands talent to the fullest. With somber tunes from these two songs, it was a big change from the nu-metal flag waver style of the other songs. They brought in a new dimension to their music and this is what brought them more success. Mushok had a six-year relationship with the acoustic guitar before even owning an electric one, and Lewis always writes acoustically, removing Staind from the crop of rock bands whose mainstream success comes on the heels of an uncharacteristic ballad.

Lewis is modestly curt when it comes to talking about his songwriting, ironic considering he bares warts and all in song. His voice descends to a bashful mumble when pressed to elaborate on his talent, and an awkward silence usually follows. He directs most queries to what's evident from the songs themselves: Staind resonates with anguished adolescents because Lewis speaks from experience.

The mellower songs on the records are normally brought in by lead singer Lewis. Lewis writes on acoustic and that's how he's always written songs. Mike is normally the heavy riff-master and brings the metal side of it to Staind.

That's not to say that Break the Cycle is all airy strumming and sensitive crooning. "Suffer" is a good old metal stomp cut with a melodic bridge, and "Pressure" swells with chunky tension before melting into a chorus of cascading noise.

Staind's much-anticipated new album 14 Shades Of Grey, was also a success but not as wide a hit as Break the Cycle. 14 Shades Of Grey was produced by Josh Abraham and mixed by Andy Wallace, both of whom did the same honors for Break The Cycle. The album shows that the band still has a lot to offer to the music scene and makes us all wonder when the next album's going to be out.

With chart-topping international success, more than eight million in album sales and critical accolades, Staind singer Aaron Lewis, guitarist Mike Mushok, bassist Johnny April and drummer Jon Wysocki--are leaving an indelible mark on the contemporary music scene.

Review by Gokhra

Practicing how to propose to a girl by saying the lines top a dog can only get you a face full of dog breath. Well, that's exactly what happens in this movie where Jerry (Cuba Gooding) is going through his lines before "The Moment". Jerry takes Felicia (Vivica A. Fox) up on a hot air balloon to create a setting for "the Moment". Of course throwing up on the girl just as you are about to pop the question is not the best way to start thanks to Jerry's motion sickness. A girl in love may have been able to overlook the stench and gooey mess to accept the marriage proposal but this girl is interested in someone else. She finds the guy who works on her BMW to be more of a turn on.

So we cue to several months later where Jerry is still mooning over his lost, rejected love. Jerry's best friend Nick (Horatio Sanz) Suggests they go on a singles boat cruise so they can meet other women. Everything would have gone smoothly except Nick insults a guy in a parking lot who just happens to be their travel agent. Hence they are all set for a romantic cruise on the ocean on a gay cruise. Revenge can be sweet.

Jerry and nick get on a boat where all they notice are lots of guys walking around. Could it be that the women are in the cabins busy unpacking? It's only after the boat sets off that they realize what predicament they have fallen into. Basically the straight men have to fit in with the gay men. Desperately Nick notices a helicopter at night and shoots a flare to signal that he needs to be rescued. Unfortunately or rather fortunately the flare manages to shoot down the helicopter which is full of Norwegian beauties travelling for a tanning contest. Is there any such thing? Nick is happy applying lotion on the girls except for the irritating Norwegian "tanning" coach. Jerry on the other hand meets Gabriella (Roselyn Sanche), a dance instructor who is on the boat because she is tired of having gone through a series of jerk boyfriends.

Gabriella likes Jerry because he is not a typical guy who she feels will simply want to get her into bed. So Jerry has to pretend to be gay. Its a bit of a twist like in the movies where the guy has to pretend to be a female to be close to the girl that he likes. In the meantime the ex-girlfriend finds out that her BMW mechanic is more in love with the car than her. So Felicia is out looking for Jerry. Al this leads to a showdown amidst a lot of gay jokes and situation comedies.

The movie is very predictable at times. You can see some of the jokes and gags coming your way. Despite that it is still somewhat enjoyable. It does not offer anything new to the comedy genre but it comes up with a few laughs. Problem is most of the times you know what will happen even before the scene comes up.

Game Review

The Political Machine

A fun, thinking person's game, if you have a taste for politics. Who wouldn't want to pit Arnold Schwarzenegger against Hilary Clinton?

As the US and the rest of the world are keenly watching the Election Warfare in the US, things are getting more and more exciting. This excitement must have some enticing aspects because Ubisoft, sensing a good market, has developed and released and game (in only 77 days) that lets you take the matters in your own hands.

The Political Machine lets gamers who are so inclined become a king or queen maker. Developer Stardock has put together a game that lets you be the campaign manager for either a Democratic or Republican candidate for the American Presidency.

You are on the front lines of political warfare. Believe me, warfare is exactly what you have to engage in to win. You have to decide how your candidate will deal with controversial topics like the war in Iraq, the war on terror, tax cuts, off-shore oil drilling, job creation, abortion and more.

Should your candidate do well, he or she will enjoy a boost in popularity. Obviously, if your candidate gives wacko responses to questions they'll suffer the opposite fate. It's important, then, to know your candidate and spoon-feed them rock solid answers that fit their attitude and agenda.

In a particularly tough campaign -- and all of your campaigns will be tough, unless you're playing in the cakewalk mode -- you will find it helpful in key states to hire political operatives. There are several types of political operatives, including some that do good things for your candidate, and some that do naughty things to your opponent: consultants, smear merchants, spin doctors, webmasters, PR men, intimidators and fixers. The latter is akin to having your own personal hit man. If placed into a state where the opposing candidate has multiple operatives, the fixer will randomly select one and eliminate him.

Is this shocking? It really doesn't matter. It's rough out there, the stakes are high, and to win against a tough opponent you may have to adopt a "take no prisoners" attitude.

You select a candidate from a lengthy list of possibilities, some with their real names, and others with names that are similar to real public figures. Each presidential and vice presidential candidate has a unique set of personal strengths and weaknesses sorted into thirteen common categories such as physical attractiveness, religiosity, fundraising ability, appeal to minorities, intelligence, military experience, etc.

It's important to know your candidate's characteristics in order to best position him or her for victory. For example, a candidate with weak fund-raising ability might have to spend more time and money trying to do this than a candidate who is strong in this area.

By now you've figured out that The Political Machine is a strategy game. In fact, it's a sort of turn-based strategy game (except in multiplayer). Most of the game play occurs on a big map of the United States. Using the mouse, you can click on any state in the country to learn key information including the number of winnable electoral votes in that state.

You then send your candidate around the country, state-by-state, and have them give speeches on a variety of key topics, place political ads to boost their case, or blast your opponent in the newspaper, radio or TV, or conduct fundraising. You can decide to build campaign headquarters in a state or build "political capital," which is used to secure endorsements from key national organizations or hire political operatives.

The campaign simulates 41 weeks. One week passes after both candidates take a turn. In each turn you have a certain amount of stamina and money. Everything you and your candidate undertake during a turn depletes both assets. You need a minimum amount of both to fly your presidential or vice presidential candidate to another state. Run out of the minimum required amount near the end of the campaign and you can find your candidate stuck in Alaska, literally, for a few weeks.

During the campaign, miscellaneous political events take place that can help your candidate sink or swim. You have to watch out for them and, if possible, use them to your advantage. The negative political events can drain your candidate's stamina points, so be careful.

For example, appearing unexpectedly in a state your candidate is in or will visit are scandal mongerers, Hollywood friends, hecklers, money men, war heroes, cheerleaders and even jaded ex-consultants who go on TV and hurt your candidate badly by criticizing his or her every move. There are also various kooks, media darlings and even move producers.

The bottom line is keep your head up, eyes open and ears cocked for bumps in the road. I still haven't figured out how to handle most of these problems effectively.

In real life and in The Political Machine, winning the presidency requires the accumulation of at least 270 electoral votes (out of 538). Each state is allocated a number of electoral votes or "electors" equal to the number of its U.S. Senators plus the number of its U.S. Representatives. While every state has exactly two U.S. Senators, the greater a state's population the more U.S. Representatives it will have. California, then, has more electoral votes than Kansas.

The candidate who wins a state's popular vote normally receives all of that state's electoral votes. This system will, however, on occasion produce odd results, as it did in 2000 when the real George W. Bush won the presidency via the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote to Al Gore by a half-million people. The same weird outcome can be achieved in the game. I won one election with my candidate, Bill Clinton, despite losing the popular vote by a whopping four million people!

The wise campaign manager, then, will focus his or her candidate on winning electoral votes and not worry about winning the most states. You must know or quickly acquire an understanding of which states tend to swing toward your party. For example, California is typically a must-win state for Democrats. For Republicans, Texas is usually a must-win state. You can win without taking those states but it will be more difficult. So be careful how and where you spend money. Don't waste it.

The Political Machine plays for the most part very realistically. Win the endorsement of the gun lobby and your candidate will experience a boost in popularity in Southern and Midwestern states because they tend to be pro-gun ownership. Of course such an endorsement could have the opposite effect on voters in places like California and New York. But if your party isn't well regarded in those states then perhaps you don't care.

This game will probably not be all that interesting to gamers enthralled by Doom 3. That's only a guess, but I'm sticking with it. Political junkies, especially political junkies who happen to be gamers, should love The Political Machine. If you have no interest in politics American style, you'll probably want to take a pass, but you'll miss an often exciting game play experience.

The Political Machine will not be every gamer's cup of tea. I'm something of a political junkie, so I find it fascinating to manage a simulated campaign for the U.S. presidency and do so in a game environment that is fairly realistic and fun. The big unknown, however, is this: Will it still be fun after Election Day?


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