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Torchwood: Something in the Water
Torchwood: Something in the Water
by Trevor Baxendale
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 6.62

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Totally sick... in a good way, 26 Nov 2008
Perhaps the slickest and paciest Torchwood novel thus far, Trevor Baxendale's Something In The Water sees everyone's favourite gang of sexually explicit Ghostbusters going up against things that go splat in the night in the local bog. That may not sound like an especially appealing summation and its not - although what the Torchwood team investigate in reassuringly non-toilet based. And that's basically the plot summed up, really!

I felt Something In The Water was a far easier and more entertaining read than its three predecessors, which seemed to be marred by plodding and often unnecessary attempts at fleshing-out the TV characters. Baxendale hits the ground running a lot more here, and there's less time spent pondering the grief of working for an alien-hunting organization and more time spent dealing with the gruesome goings-on, with no shortage of zombified corpses, hideous infections, mutant alien baby-things exploding out of people's heads and then getting shot (you probably wouldn't see that on Doctor Who, now, would you?) and the whole Torchwood team on the brink of a decidedly nasty fate worse than death. Perhaps the only major problem with this bloody romp as with the other Torchwood novels is the story being basically a thin, one-idea monster-of-the-week type setup that's clearly been written to a very tight formula and word count - especially considering that the second batch of novels are fractionally shorter than the first. Cutting out the flab and being formulaic aren't necessarily bad things, its just that generally the self-contained nature of the story makes the whole endeavour feel a bit pointless. It would be nice if the Torchwood books could at least attempt a little bit of ongoing story-arc along the lines of the old Virgin and BBC novels from pre-new series of Who, but alas I suspect BBC Books have a more straightforward agenda here.

All in all a solid runaround and one to recommend if you enjoy a reasonably high body count, but for fans of the series wishing to see a bit more progression you probably won't find it here. Unless you count exploding babies as progression...


Intimacy
Intimacy
Offered by b68solutions
Price: 3.79

12 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars writers' bloc?, 23 Oct 2008
This review is from: Intimacy (Audio CD)
The low-key arrival of Bloc Party's third album Intimacy sees the band getting on with the complex business of turning out another solid and intermittently excellent record. One might think this would be a tricky thing to pull off; the band's debut Silent Alarm was as close to a classic as any up-and-coming seriously-minded indie band these days could manage to pull off, while follow-up A Weekend In The City was a brave but difficult record, attempting to chronicle the woes and disaffections of the UK's teens; seeing Kele Okoreke perhaps unwillingly placing himself as the appointed spokemen for the hug-a hoodie generation. Then came standalone single Flux, a freaky steath-attack of a song which initially sounded for all the world like the band attempting to knock off one of those hideously generic Ibiza trance anthems that seemingly never stop clogging up the airwaves; albeit with with a giant robot monster-themed video and lyrics about arguing with your father. Basshunter was perhaps left quaking in his boots, as were Bloc Party's fans, perhaps fearing a fullblown excursion into pop-dance territory.

Thankfully, Intimacy doesn't signpost a selling-out to the mainstream, or an out-and-out attempt to go far off into experimental lands. Opener Ares comes lumbering in on a gargantuan loping drumbeat that's either borrowed from Tomorrow Never Knows or the Chemical's Setting Son, with Kele barking various non sequiters over clattering beats and looped vocal squawks, sounding not unlike a cross between Mark E Smith and a demented Damon Albarn after too much time spent hanging around with monkeys. Then there's first single Mercury, which either continues Bloc Party's descent into fully fledged art-dance-rock or just sounds like a bad Fatboy Slim single - proving that if you repeat something often enough at least people will remember it, whether they want to or not. Repeated listens however draw out the detail which has thus far been one of the bands strong points; rhythms borrowed from reggae dancehall (something else Radiohead have quite bewilderingly done of late), garbled lyrics about planetary orbits and waking up in basketball courts, and weird, off-kilter string surges. It's a difficult track, but doesn't fail to intrigue.

Halo takes us back to the helter-skelter, jerky-indie territory of Silent Alarm, and is as furious as we have come to expect from Bloc Party's faster numbers, but fails to advance the band's sound to anything radically new. It's been mentioned that this is Bloc Party's breakup album and many of the lyrics do seem to deal with themes of collapsed or broken-down relationships - the glitch-ballad Biko follows this trend, and might call to mind an ancient Peter Gabriel song in its title but is closer to Placebo in its general tone, a band Bloc Party are coming close to resembling in their musical outlook.

Signs is a gorgeous number, glockenspiel-led, twinkly and downbeat with hints of Bjork and Sigur Ros about it. Intimacy is very much a record of two parts - fast songs and slow ones, some dancey and others not (again, Placebo are a band who have wrung considerable mileage out of such an approach). After Signs, the band wrench us out of the quiet mountains and fling us back into the turmoil with the next track, which perhaps explains why previous single Flux isn't on Intimacy, since One Month Off is another rattling beat-driven indie-dance meltdown sounding virtually the same as Flux, except not quite so trancey.

Its about this time that some of the album's potential flaws begin to become apparent; made up as it is out of skittery, lysergic dance numbers and the punkier, thrashier songs the band have become so good at, this unfortunately shows that Bloc Party might be in danger of showing their limitations a little and repeating themselves a bit too much. Another sore-point is Kele's tendency to repeat almost exactly the same vocal melodies he's previously employed on other tracks, just rearranged in a different order. Maybe nitpicking, but for someone familiar with all their b-sides might notice a fair amount of repetition here and there. To illustrate this musical repetition point, Better Than Heaven goes on to conclude itself by vitually repeating the janglesome guitar motif from I Still Remember, only this time notched up to three times the speed - although the album does go out on a high with Ion Square, a gentle yet epic slow-burner which almost manages to eclipse the emotive likes of So Here We Are.

Again, Intimacy makes for a difficult listen. Having moved away from the generalised angst and disaffection of Silent Alarm and the broadly political concept record that was A Weekend In The City, one can't help but get the feeling that despite draping their songs in dancey apparel and remaining lyrically obtuse, Bloc Party may have regressed a little. Here's a band who spent their last two albums hitting out at US foreign policy, the world fuel crisis, and scaremongering about the fear of terrorism in the UK - unfortunately, Intimacy begins to resemble yet another indie album that will see millions over-analyse the cryptic subtext of lyrics which usually amount little more than variations on `my girlfriend/boyfriend dumped me, so now I'm angry/bitter/melancholic?'

Despite all these criticisms, Intimacy still comes out the other end sounding like a very strong album by a still immensely-promising outfit. Anyone unfamiliar with their earlier work - and those who are - will find a lot to appreciate here. Bloc Party are still a young band and perhaps still have quite a way to go before they can truly stand a chance of being up there with some of the greats. By doing things their way, this'll do for now.


Shark Attack 3 [DVD]
Shark Attack 3 [DVD]
Dvd ~ John Barrowman

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cap'n Jack, there's a shark in the closet!, 23 Aug 2008
This review is from: Shark Attack 3 [DVD] (DVD)
Glorious. Moving. Profound. Intelligent. Informative. Elucidating.

None of these are words that can adequately be used to describe Shark Attack 3, the Citizen Kane of diabolically rotten/brilliant monster movies. If there was an Oscar category for movies made in 2002 starring a professional Tom Cruise impersonator from off of that Torchwood and some sharks whose place on the evolutionary scale is dubious to say the least, then Shark Attack 3 would win all of them for all time ever.

Being a fan of Torchwood, I find Shark Attack 3 (a gloriously literal title, there is a shark, it attacks, it's the third one) can greatly have its quality level improved if you just imagine that Barrowman is actually playing his alter-ego Captain Jack, on an undercover mission to take down some rogue genetic experiment or alien killing machine that happens to closely resemble a bad shark. In fact they could remake this entire film in a future episode of Torchwood, the only difference being that the sharks would be in Cardiff this time instead of Mexico and/or Bulgaria. Four people would die laughing at this.

Oh, did we mention those poor Bulgarians? I thought my computer was on the blink or the DVD was defective, the audio track seemingly being a few seconds out of sync with everybody speaking on screen. It looked like a badly dubbed foreign film! Then I found out that all the dialogue had been badly dubbed. Into acting. Proper acting! Proper foreign acting! The kind of acting only reserved for emergencies, anime movies and episodes of Neighbours! But worse than all that acting put together! Which manages to make the film twenty squalling squillion times better!

Those poor Bulgarians. They probably only got paid about 50 pence each to basically stand about mouthing the words only to be dubbed by possibly drugged and/or drunk non -Bulgarian people and all their no-doubt powerful vocal emoting is gone to naught, blown out of the water by Johnny Barrowman and his method shark acting.

You might mock Cap'n Jack's `acting' - even he seems to have got Tom Cruise in to dub over his dialogue as Barrowboy failed to act to a standard as bad as his other co-stars - but Barrowman really excels here in depicting the true-to-life exploits of a marine biologist, or tooth expert or whatever he is - I wasn't listening all that closely, I was too busy trying to reattach my colon which had been ripped out due to shark-damage. Marvel as the campest man in all of Christendom attempts to feign romantic interest in a woman! We didn't mention the Woman - or the most stoned helicopter pilot you've ever seen - or the worst sex scene ever (not involving a shark). Or the plot, involving trying to kill sharks with batteries! The delights almost never end! Or begin! One critic online somewhere described the whole project as 'criminally deranged!' There is no higher accolade!!

The true bravura performance in this film is put in by the Shark. Probably Bulgarian Unreal Shark deserves an Olivier at least. It lost actual real teeth for this role! It put on weight, then lost it again, outdoing even DeNiro! And Zellweger in Bridget Jones, although no one ever borrowed footage of her from old wildlife documentaries! (Or did they?...) All the cast (and the shark) might have well have been on powerful hallucinogenic drugs for the entire duration of the movie for all the difference it might have made to proceedings.

To think it took two whole humanoids to write this. Two whole humanoids called Hooke and Depoope. Hooke and Depoope! I think this salubrious duo just got back from a two-week ayuhuasca bender and thought, `let's write an unspeakably bad z-picture involving sharks, submarines and torpedoes! we'll cast that guy who wasn't gay enough for Will and Grace! We'll need a shark and a woman too. And Bulgaria. In that order. Plus, if we buy one shark in Bulgaria, the woman comes free!'

They did just this, and produced a cinematic wonder for all of us to behold and cherish. Now no one can ever make a movie this bad ever again. The benchmark has been set and chomped right through. Just remember, there is nothing wrong with your dvd. It's just everyone in the film. And mainly the shark. Please do not adjust the shark. Oh alright do, just its overall size though - no one'll notice. Shark Attack 3: you won't believe it's not Barrowman. In English, Dubbed into English!


Forth
Forth
Offered by b68solutions
Price: 5.89

15 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars forwards, backwards, forwards again, 18 Aug 2008
This review is from: Forth (Audio CD)
Forth is an odd sort of a record. Eleven years ago, back in the halcyon days of 1997 when everyone was young and Britpop hadn't yet become a term that could be used as some sort of insult, The Verve were at the top of their game and were set to take over the world. Yes, we had also had the very polar pair of Radiohead and Oasis both making triumphant, all-conquering comebacks and producing the Best Rock Albums Of All Time; but Richard Ashcroft's raggle-taggle gang of psychedelic Wiganites were proper heroes. They had survived adversity, drug addiction, mental problems, fighting, arrogance, nearly dying, more fighting and the terrors of The Road to produce Urban Hymns, an indie masterpiece for our times.

Then they split up and, alas - it was all over. Until, ten years later. Noticing Oasis and Radiohead were both still slogging on (although many having bayed for the splitting up of one or the other), money perhaps running out and perhaps taking note of the many comebacks and reformations of several missing-presumed-dead musical acts (Portishead were seemingly on the same decade-long cruise as various members of the Verve, also electing to make a ghostly comeback this year), Mad Mr. Ashcroft decided to lay aside his underachieving solo aspirations and phone up his old mates to see what they were up to. The rest then, was History. Repeating...

All this messing around brings as back to Forth. Forth is another Verve album. Initial listens to Forth's dense, psychedelic stew reveal the rejuvenated foursome's seemingly effortless picking-back-up of the mighty and artfully controlled prog-soul-fusion-chart-hit-stoner-chaos they last employed back on Urban Hymns, perhaps the only apparent difference this time around being a pulling back from any major attempt to write `big tunes' and a leaning-back to the looser, reverb-and-delay-tastic shoegaze-y vibe of their star-flung `93 debut A Storm In Heaven.

Forth could easily have come out in 1998, or 1999; or in any year of the Verve's previous existence. Recent festival appearances may have seen messers Jones, Salisbury, Ashcroft and McCabe reminding the world just what an important band the Verve almost were, but it is Forth that sees them trying to prove that none of the hype was misplaced. Perhaps also, Forth serves as a new means for Mr. Ashcroft to swell his ever-inflated ego to even more stratospheric heights - this, remember, is the man who got arrested in 2006 for storming into a Wiltshire youth centre where he insisted on `working' with the kids - maybe the resultant mocking convinced him that bringing back the Verve was a better option.

The general impression on Forth is that the Verve are still locked into a spacey rock otherworld of their own creation that magically seems to transcend space and time: and that ten years away cannot touch the power and undeniable magic that these four guys can cook up together. Opener Sit and Wonder could have been on A Northern Soul, lumbering along on a Jones and Sailsbury-orchestrated menace-groove that almost recalls This Is Music as a statement of intent regarding the rest of the album, as Ashcroft coos ominous religiosities and McCabe fires off dizzyingly-guitarized sandstorms of super-weirdness.

And then it gets really good - despite any misgivings you might want to have about the slightly ponderous nature of the rest of the album, it's hard to see Love Is Noise as anything other than a stone-cold classic which should surely manage to eclipse the over-eulogised Bitter Sweet Symphony as the Best Verve Song Ever; an unforgettable and oddly wood-pigeon like vocal hook, married to a New-Order-y chord structure. It doesn't even matter what Ashcroft's singing - although the arch self-reference of paraphrasing his own William Blake-paraphrasing lyrics is somewhere between amusing and profound. Who ever thought the Verve would go disco? And when we hear its strains in a thousand adverts, TV shows and radio ads, at least Ashcroft can smugly sit back and pocket the royalties instead of everything going straight to Mick n' Keef.

Rather Be is less spectacular - calling to mind at least for me an early Ashcroft solo b-side. Numbness, too, is a dub-reggae dirge worthy of any pseudo-serious indie lot - it's easy to theorise that had these same songs been released under the banner of a `forth' Ashcroft solo record, it might be fair to assume that given his recent lack of appraisal, this same set of songs might have failed to garner any attention at all...

From here on in, Forth settles into a beautiful if vague abstract-painting of sound - Judas is an utterly lovely confection, with the band nailing the trick of sounding as if the four of them are all playing different songs in different rooms, while I See Houses seems to end abruptly, as if the band wisely decided the following 20 minute jam wasn't essential to the album. Columbo continues the spacey, free-jazz improvidelica, and is either marred or improved by looping itself back into Love Is Noise's groove towards the end, and the almost comically titled Noise Epic is neither excessively noisy nor especially epic, seeing Mad Rich resorting to mumbling something about Muhammed Ali, Steve McQueen and, perhaps (I haven't checked the lyrics) what it's like to give birth.

Please don't think I'm trashing Forth; this is clearly a solid comeback, and I'm still immensely glad to have the Verve back. I'd just like to see them sustain this momentum, and produce another, better album. I'm crossing my fingers already. The third breakup can't be far away. See you again in 2018, guys...
Comment Comments (9) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 24, 2009 8:25 PM GMT


Booming Back At You
Booming Back At You
Price: 12.25

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pac Man is Loving It, 7 Mar 2008
This review is from: Booming Back At You (Audio CD)
Not only a prolific remixer of a great many high-profile and eclectic artists ranging from Sarah McLachlan and the Scissor Sisters to UNKLE, Elvis (not Uncle Elvis - who's he?) and Britney Spears, Holland's Tom Holkenborg aka JXL still finds time away from this and scoring video games to record albums, and this, his fifth, is another interesting affair.

Those familiar with Holkenborg's oeuvre will surely know what to expect by now - epic, progressive dance-rock with rumbling basslines and spiralling guitars thrown in with a meaty side-dish of big-beat action and to be fair, after the guest strewn double-album Radio JXL and the relatively more contemplative Today, not an enormous amount has changed in the Computer Hell cabin. Mr. XL isn't quite so flagrant in his usually seamless gluing-together of pounding, atmospheric house and new wave / synth-pop a la The Cure, Depeche Mode, and Gary Numan (all of whom showed up as guests on Radio JXL, at least showing that for Holkenborg, the feeling was reciprocated) and this time around the feeling isn't quite so 1982 - although he kills two early-eighties birds with one stone by reworking Siouxie & The Banshees's Cities in Dust - not really a cover, more of a reimagining - and on it, very nearly recycling the central riff from Tubeway Army's Cars.

Not Enough, meanwhile, echoes many of his earlier tracks by sounding a fair bit like a New Order remix. Things are a bit different elsewhere - Mad Pursuit has a jazzy R&B feel, while the shouty More has a pleasingly raucous New Young Pony Club-ness about it. Or at least, to give a more dated comparison, portions of the album featuring vocalist Lauren Rocket - No Way being another - gave me disturbing flashbacks to Republica. Which actually wasn't a completely bad thing. (Going in circles again, that band's similarly shouty frontwoman showed up on Radio JXL as well...)

Some of the album does tend to drift into anonymous soundalike breaks and house territory, suggesting that JXL is at his best when collaborating with vocalists and again this only really serves to highlight the central problem with most dance acts trying to build a decent albums career - in that a lot of the time, there just aren't enough `proper tunes' (to use a fuddy-duddy-tastic expression) and material quickly becomes forgettable. Junkie XL might be coming perilously close to repeating himself a bit too much on Booming Back At You but all in all, nothing here is awful, although nothing is particularly astonishing either. A halfway decent progression.


Obzen
Obzen
Price: 8.89

6 of 26 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars All these corridors look the same..., 1 Mar 2008
This review is from: Obzen (Audio CD)
Just felt the urge to offer an alternative perspective to experimentmusic's very scholarly, press-release-ish review. Coming from the perspective of someone who loves every permutation of imagined musical genre (and Sting), Meshuggah are an increasingly difficult band to get one's head around, or indeed to categorize - although the previous reviewer's use of 'sledge-hammer core' is probably a better summing up than anything I could manage, so we'll go with that.

I liked a lot of their previous album Catch 33 - although the phrase `acquired taste' could easily be substituted with `only listen to this album if you enjoy the idea of a bunch of very frightening Swedish men recreating the sound of sheer bloodcurdling insanity, and specifically sheer bloodcurdling insanity in some very weird time signatures' - and their earlier, almost mainstream-metal sounding releases.

While a similarly experimental band like the Mars Volta veer further away from conventional metal and go off into crazy psychedelic prog-jazz territories, the likes of Meshuggah keep their feet firmly in the more bone-shaking realms of heaviness - albeit a heaviness distinctly augmented with an almost unhinged tendency towards ultra-complex mathematastic song-construction that would put most particle physicists to shame.

Even for a non-musician, it's almost dizzying trying to follow where ObZen is going most of the time; riffs circle round and round, then change tempo slightly then go round and round again - drum patterns repeat, and repeat, then repeat and repeat again - some of this might be described as 'extended polymetric passages' by cleverer headbangers than myself - thank you Wikipedia - although I had my polymetric passages checked out at the doctors the other week and they're extended enough as it is, fnarr fnarr.

While all this furious business is going on, frontman Jens Kidman continues to screech terrifyingly about God knows what portentous occurrences. It really is a bit like being repeatedly pounded about the head by some crazy tribal welders banging out some disturbing Wagnerian symphony, Stomp-style. Crazy would be an appropriate word; that being the band's name translated into Hebrew, useless fact-fans.

But Before I get utterly lost in mixed metaphors, best come around to a verdict; Meshuggah are clearly frighteningly good at what they do, although I still struggle to see what would drive any half-way sane human being to want to create such an unholy catastrophe of sound. There really are no tunes - well, this is metal, and Meshuggah, so I wasn't really expecting any - although as the album progresses it becomes almost impossible to tell one paean of hammering brutality from the last. It's a little like listening to Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music - only not as much fun, and probably not just an elaborate joke.

Maybe I'm not much of a connoisseur of extreme music but I really do wonder exactly why a band like Meshuggah continue to garner so much fawning adoration for what is essentially an career exercise in sheer mechanical violence. Perhaps, in some other kingdom of the imagination, only Daleks dance to Obzen's evil tones.

Give me Tool any other day; or Manowar. Yes, Manowar! They may have been rubbish, but at least they had tunes. All in all, a good day's work for the Swedish robot crazies. One wonders how long they can keep such a sterling dedication to such neo-Satanic noise-terrorism up. Judging from ObZen alone, I bet even Ozzy would run screaming.

And while we're still here, on an only faintly related note, read somewhere else that the band once recorded an acoustic version of their track Future Breed Machine and retitled it Futile Bread Machine. Which does suggest at least to me that maybe they are joking around after all. Next time around, the reggae-salsa-bongo-fusion record, methinks guys...
And yes, it's a fact; they do go all the way down to eleven!
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 8, 2011 12:05 PM BST


Seven Soldiers of Victory: v. 1
Seven Soldiers of Victory: v. 1
by Grant Morrison
Edition: Paperback

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spectacular Seven Save Civilization!!!! (Warning - GM modified superheroics), 9 Feb 2008
Yes, more dense than a supermassive black hole, Grant Morrison destroys the universe of comics yet again with Seven Soldiers of Victory, an epic story about what it really means to be a real superhero. For those not-completely-obsessive comics fans who fear that a series that focuses on seven fairly old and/or obscure characters from the hitherto forgotten corners of the DC Universe might come across as being just another attempt to relaunch some old and slighty daft-looking costumes, throw aside those preconceptions - this is way more.

Morrison himself has described the concept of Seven Soldiers as being essentially a superhero version of a celebrity reality TV show, with various long-ignored and slightly useless costumed adventurers from yesteryear suddenly being dragged back into the limelight after years away and finally being given a chance to shine. And shine indeed they do, as Morrison begins to weave a typically complex web of a story that plays out across seven separate and interconnected character arcs. In descending order, this first volume introduces us to Shining Knight, a Tolkien-esque fairy-battling warrior accompanied by his talking horse Vanguard (and no, somehow this isn't at all silly) - The Manhattan Guardian, basically a new character in an old costume, whose name becomes fairly self-explanatory - Klarion the Witch-Boy, a sinister turquoise-skinned Puritan living in strange nether-kingdom - and Zatanna, a washed-up stage magician and former JLA-er, in therapy trying to cure her spell addiction.

This first collection sees Morrison skilfully balancing four wildly different storylines and sets of characters while at the same time laying the groundwork for the over-arcing story that will draw these disparate individuals together - some of this involving the Sheeda, an insect-like race of faerie-folk who certainly don't have humankind's best intentions at heart. And, staying away from any spoilers, I'm not giving anything away in pointing out that none of the seven core characters ever meet one another. Indeed, the premise is remarkably similar to the TV show Heroes - with the main difference being that Heroes is, while a perfectly decent show, almost completely devoid of any original ideas it hasn't nicked from the sort of comics Morrison and co. have been turning out for years.

While I admit to being a diehard fan of almost anything Mr. Grant has ever done, at times the maestro can be guilty of just having too many ideas and concepts for his own good - just witness The Filth, which was so bizarre and brainmangling nobody in creation understood a single word of it - but thankfully right from the off, Seven Soldiers makes sense, and doesn't disappoint. Also, don't worry if you don't possess geek-degree-level knowledge of sixty-odd years of DC history and continuity - you won't need it at all, as Morrison's skill at immediately grounding potentially absurd characters in acute and realistic emotional reality is in full effect here. Also, a couple of moments in this opening volume feel strongly reminiscent of certain moments from The Invisbles; Zatanna's perspective-warping magical journey brings us back to key Morrisonian ideas about time, space,and the multi-dimensional nature of the universe, while Guardian's shamanic underground journey almost intentionally references elements of Invisibles's 'Down And Out In Heaven And Hell' - again, as in much of Morrison's work, many grand notions about the mythic journey of the Hero and the possiblity that one person's actions can genuinely alter and change the world for good or bad are consistently and subtly examined here. Essentially, if you appreciated Morrison's sterling work on The Invisibles and especially Doom Patrol - probably his two most mature and artistically satisfying longer titles - Seven Soldiers at time feels like a fabulously emotive and mystically-attuned continuation of those two works.

And if at any point you find yourself baffled by various twists and turns, it also helps that the art is universally gorgeous throughout all four volumes, with special mention going to former 2000AD stalwart Frazer Irving's fantastically Hammer-Horror-y depiction of Klarion's underground realm. Heck, if you've read this far and you've never read a comic before in your life, buy all four volumes of Seven Soldiers, read them, and learn some new things about how powerful this silly medium of coloured-in picture books can be. As Orion of the New Gods might sum up, `PUNY MORTALS! All hail the GRANT MORRISON! Lo, Surely the MIGHTY POWER of the ASTRO-FORCE floods through his very FINGERTIPS!!!'

But failing al that, the book is surely worth it for some choice one-liners, my favourite coming from apprentice witch Misty Kilgore at the top of Page 205 - `YAAAH! SHAPELESS THING ALERT!'


Stromata
Stromata
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: 18.95

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a receiver meets a giver, 13 Jan 2008
This review is from: Stromata (Audio CD)
Charlotte Martin is no artistic slouch. The former teen beauty queen and opera-level qualified singer's previous album On Your Shore was a solid record but hardly outstanding; marking Martin out as the potential heir to the glittery crown of several prominent female singer-songwriters. On Stromata, Martin runs a tour-de-force of an artistic step-up.

It has been pointed out by more than a few orservers that Martin's voice, piano-playing and songwriting owes a significant debt to the earthy, pianocentric stylings of Kate Bush as well as a direct descendant such as Fiona Apple. Although its fair to say that Tori Amos seems to be a more clear and strong influence, on Stromata Martin's musical web becomes wide, encompassing and enormously unpredictable.

Opener and title track Stromata (referring to the connective tissue in cells) is a lurching, uncanny beast of a track, sounding simultaneously like Choirgirl-era Amos, early synthpop Gary Numan and someone very mad and simultaneously in thrall to something dangerous and perhaps unattainable. It may not be conventional rock, but the cavernous drums and crunching beats mark it out as almost-heavy metal in intent.

This is followed by a complete change of pace in Cut the Cord, which disorientates with tricksy tribal percussion and weird proggish time signatures - and two minutes in, a completely mad pot-banging breakdown which then lurches into a chorus before swinging back to the banging. The trick is repeated in Drip where, two minutes in, Martin's vocal leaps into a completely out-of-the-blue high middle-eight that seems to have leapt in from another song. Unpredictable, and then some.

Another thing which impresses about Stromata is the bravura use of programming. Orchestrated by Martin and her husband/producer/co-conspirator Ken Andrews, there's no shortage of invention: not least on Little Universe, a mini-masterpiece of building a cohesive song out a what sounds like a great many disparate and contradictory elements and time signatures. Insect-y click-tracks pile on top of doom-laden industrial clanking, string effects, cymbals and buzzing washes, glitch-techno bleeps and at one point, the sound of Martin's measured voice apparently keeping time with what sounds like a bouncing rubber ball. The whole disquieting track sounds a little like something by Bjork; if only Bjork were truly an truly angst-ridden artist instead of just merely peculiar.

After that, Civilized sounds almost like a mainstream pop song; or at least, Fiona Apple fronting Coldplay. The more balladic A Hopeless Attempt pushes the albums worldview into even darker realms where one can only pause to admire the verve of Martin's song construction; before Four Walls momentarily pulls us back out of the mire and onto the dancefloor, as scattery drum'n'bass patterns build a furiously-coiled tension which eventually coalesces into a mighty drum-heavy crescendo.

Martin is also a natural master of the virtuoso vocal arrangement - another element that helps cement her arguable standing as Amos's natural heir. This attention to detail is strongly evident in the jazz-swing stylings of Keep Me In Your Pocket and the like-it-or-loathe-it black comedy of Pills - a list song that espouses the benefits (or not) of prescription medication with many lines about the effects of taking pills, then a huge chorus that goes simply `ba-ba ba ba-ba.' The overall effect is more uplifting than anyone might expect it to be.

Just Before Dawn makes for an eerie interlude; what at first appears to be a pre-pubescent choirboy on solo vocals singing lyrics in an undefinable argot soon turns out to be Martin, hitting some frankly terrifying high notes. In German. There's certainly more happening in one song on Stromata than most of Martin's winsome peers ever dare aspire to.

Charlotte's voice meanwhile needs little analysis - she can sing, and she is good at it - but as a lyricist, Martin seems inordinately preoccupied with self-introspection, grief, pain, loss and all its permutations. Thankfully there's a twist of humour and a natural catharsis to be gleaned from this which culminates in the heartbreaking album closer Redeemed. Going on the evidence of this song alone, Charlotte Martin looks set to be remembered as one of the better singer songwriters of her age.

There are a great many other young female solo artists out there in the world but in comparison to her contemporaries, Charlotte Martin is in a little universe all of her own. You'd be well advised to join her in it.


Oblivion With Bells
Oblivion With Bells
Offered by Side Two
Price: 4.99

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars sun goes down, temperature drops, 13 Jan 2008
This review is from: Oblivion With Bells (Audio CD)
Destined to be remembered as that band what done that song off of Trainspotting, the band usually known as Underworld are still with us. Karl Hyde and Rick Smith have been making music together for well over twenty five years now, although one suspects that the lager-lager song - a terrifyingly poetic essay delivered via the medium of shouting over hefty beats on how overindulgence of any kind is not a lifestyle choice to be followed for any extended amount of time - probably still haunts them like some kind of lairy ghost.

Unbelievably it went on to become one of the greatest singles of the nineties. And for those casual people listening to Oblivion With Bells who mainly know Underworld from that one track, here's a tip; there are some other things going on here.

As with anything Underworld do, Oblivion With Bells makes it necessary to reconsider any preconceptions again. In recent years Karl and Rick have stepped away from conventional album releases: content to wow the masses touring, their recorded output was stripped back to the spaced-out dowload-only experiments of the RiverRun project and their collaboration with Gabriel Yared on the otherworldy minimalism of the Breaking and Entering soundtrack. These releases suggested that Underworld were content to keep meandering down the same old ghostly nighttime streets - many of which were illustrated in RiverRun's photo section, nicely supporting the fan's idea of frontman and lyricist Karl as some crazed street shaman, forever stumbling down ill-lit back alleys with a heavily scribbled notepad in one hand and a cheap camera in the other, recording hidden observations about the world and in his uniquely broken-up style, forever observing the profound in the mundane, and the transcendent in the everyday. Breaking and Entering's wandering instrumentals meanwhile illustrated the sound of musicians becoming so lost in their own world that it sounded increasingly unlikely that they would ever make it back out again.

Oblivion with Bells follows on from 2002's A Hundred Days Off, however, by letting us know that one of the greatest dance acts of the nineties may still actually be great. Opener Crocodile is Underworld giving their fans exactly what they want; a classic slice of emotive, funky, mysterious techno, which rolls along on a villainous groove as Hyde returns to his rightful place as rambling poet-sage-genius madman of the age. The track then bleeds into Beautiful Burnout, a sinister paean to the industrial; random tin-can percussion sounds in the distance behind relentless train-like rhythms while Hyde's voice drifts in and out via mechanical filters; reacting to external stimuli with all the enthusiasm of an unplugged robot or some artificial intelligence observing the disjointed activities of humanity from some lofty vantage point. The musical backing carefully amps itself up to a psychedelic beat frenzy; somehow also keeping true to Kraftwerk's original remit of making music with rhythms and words that reflected and echoed the everyday motions of transport (witness here the return of Hyde's obsession with trains). In comparison to the ever-hyped technological angst of recent Radiohead, here Underworld redefine the meaning of disconnected.

Holding The Moth shifts focus again, almost sounding like the mid-eighties alien-synth funk of Gary Numan - another Underworld touchstone. Then To Heal comes to life, emerging like a pupa from a cocoon like a majestic cross between two Brian Eno pieces - Apollo's An Ending (Ascent) and - as another reviewer has also noted - that ever glorious intro to U2's Where The Streets Have No Name.

The U2 connection is further cemented with the appearance of Larry Mullen Jr. On Boy Boy Boy (surely Boy is one of Hyde's favourite words, seeming to occur with much frequency in Underworlds songs.) This track is almost reminiscent of the pop-rock synth-pop of pre-dance, pre-Emerson Underworld, with sweeping strings kicking in towards the end - perhaps a result of their neo-classical dabblings with Gabriel Yared. Indeed, Underworld keep the ambient mystery-vibe going on Cuddle Bunny Versus the Celtic Villages - surely the best example in recent years of the practice of giving a completely ridiculous title to a wordless instrumental.

Ring Road sees Hyde regrettably stepping away from his two usual vocal modes - hypnotic chanting and straight singing - and attempting something closer to his demented shouting on Born Slippy. Maybe he's been listening to the likes of Kate Nash and Dizzee Rascal and thought about bringing back some of that apples-and-pears vernacular that seems to be consuming modern English pop - unfortunately on this occasion the words just sound faintly clumsy. Hyde certainly has his moments when his monkish mumbling comes across as nothing but carefully calculated gibberish rather than Allen Ginsberg-esque beat poetry and this is one of them. But then, its easy to just relax and vibe to the attendant humungous beats.

As with all Underworld albums, feelings and sensations come and go; surely the greatest moment on the album comes with the spectral calm of Good Morning Cockerel. Built around tinkly piano, vocal and what sounds like someone eliciting eerie notes from wine glasses with their fingertip, Good Morning Cockerel sounds like Tori Amos finally calming down; although at just over two minutes long, by the band's usual expansive approach it just doesn't feel long enough. However, this reminds us of what is perhaps Underworld's true gift as an ever-evolving musical outfit - to create emotion in the heart and mind of the listener by creating a seamless ebb and flow of colours and textures. Which is surely what music is supposed to be for. Oblivion With Bells may not feel as absolutely complete a work as 1996's Second Toughest In The Infants but reassures us that in Underworld-land, everything can change while remaining ever the same.


American Doll Posse
American Doll Posse
Price: 6.69

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Agonies Of Genius, Times Five, 22 Jun 2007
This review is from: American Doll Posse (Audio CD)
Tori Amos just keeps slogging on. Despite all but the hardcore Toriphiles (for it is we who are thus called) having dismissed her as - yes - that kooky American Kate Bush impersonator, Amos remains such a far more gifted and influential artist than most two-bit NME-feted indie bands can ever aspire to - although the very nature of her own peculiar genius has led her in recent years to veer dangerously close to approaching artistic burnout.

Fans may be aware of Amos's prodigy-like status as a singer-songwriter-arranger-producer of some repute, but even genius has its limitations. Tori's previous two decidenly overlong and uneven albums saw her seriously deviate from high poetry and innovation and seemingly set about transforming herself into a more impenetable female version of Elton John; although reassuringly with American Doll Posse, Amos seems to have kicked her runaway mojo into submission and pulled some absolute corkers out of the bag.

ADP is also a far more musically adventurous record than her previous two efforts and thankfully sees a return to bursts of dark electronica - the eerie, gothic meandering of Smokey Joe sounds like a leftover from the Choirgirl/Venus days - improved quality control and - yes! - proper big tunes; Bouncing Off Clouds is probably the most beautifully immediate and emotive pop song Amos has written since Silent All These Years - bringing in a dark disco vibe and a mighty midle eight, the song almost seems to hark back (for the diehards at least) to the mainstream pop-rock of Amos's long-deleted '88 debut album Y Kant Tori Read.

And for this Tori fan of 13-odd years, Body And Soul, Teenage Hustling, You Can Bring Your Dog and Big Wheel positively shock in just how rocking they are by Tori's usual pianocentric tendencies: one can almost picture Jack 'n Meg nodding in approval at this thrilling new venture into old-skool blues-rock. Another highlight is the lovely Programmable Soda, a brass-led successor to Pele's Hello Mr Zebra, followed in a typically incongrous fashion by a shift to the sinister trip-hop vibes of Code Red - prime evidence of Amos's new proclivity to haemmorhaging personalities.

As for the 'political girl-band' concept, I fear Amos suffers from having so many ideas that one songwriting persona now simply isn't enough for her. And with too many other highlights to even mention here - not to mention three further songs I have heard from the album sessions that were presumably only left off of the record on account of that pesky matter of a CD only having so many minutes available - it would seem a little artistic scizophrenia can do five girls a world of good. The Queen of the Faeries has returned, and this time maybe five of her is more than enough for all of us.


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