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Mr. G. C. Cutter "cutter_me" (Manchester)
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Forgetting Zoe
Forgetting Zoe
by Ray Robinson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.36

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Indelible Memories, 27 Jun. 2010
This review is from: Forgetting Zoe (Paperback)
I read my first Ray Robinson novel, 'The Man Without' early last year, and have been eagerly awaiting 'Forgetting Zoe' on the strength of it. Glad to say I've not been disappointed!

'Forgetting Zoe' is a novel that confronts the seedier, more twisted aspects of human nature, focusing on the abduction of the young Zoe by Thurman Hayes, a psychologically damaged man whose inferiority complex drives him to the extreme lengths we see in this book.

But the novel isn't solely 'about' the abduction: the novel's scope is much broader, turning its lens on the girl's absent father and guilt-stricken mother, the abductor's troubled past, and the fascinating complexities of Stockholm Syndrome where the captive grows attached to the captor. Nor is the tone unremittingly bleak: there are moments of tenderness and compassion that are all the more striking for their unlikelihood.

Faced with this kind of material, other novelists may have laid the portent and gravitas on thickly for the 'benefit' of the reader, but from what I've read so far, a Robinson novel is never far from a surprising twist that will drop the reader squarely into the thoroughly researched and vividly imagined reality of his characters. Robinson also knowns how a good thriller operates too, and I found myself returning to 'Forgetting Zoe' with an urgency I've not felt since reading Cormack McCarthy's 'The Road' (the author has spoken about his admiration for McCarthy's work, so hopefully he won't feel too embarrassed by the comparison).

With three successful novels under his belt (I've not read 'Electricity' yet, but I'm told it's excellent), I think it's safe to say we have an author who's gone from showing great potential to fully realising it and producing books that are on a par with the great established authors we have today.

I look forward to Robinson's next book. In the mean time, I'm going to go pick up a copy of 'Electricity'!


The Parthian Stations
The Parthian Stations
by John Ash
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.95

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Yet Another Empire Loses Its Lustre, 29 Jun. 2009
This review is from: The Parthian Stations (Paperback)
I'm familiar with John Ash's earlier collections, having especially enjoyed The Burnt Pages and consider myself a fan but The Parthian Stations is a big disappointment and, biased feelings about the author's oeuvre aside, not a very good book.

Ash has on the whole substituted capacious structures and sparkling imagination for brevity and a sardonic sense of humour. While deployed competently, the new 'short and bitter' poems quickly become exhausting - even a bit tedious.

'...I knew perhaps six people,
and disliked half of them.
One was a witch, another
an embittered failure. They
were married in hell...'
- Malediction II (Arrival II).

The author might have gotten some catharsis out of the writing process, but the poem holds little in the way of surprise or interest for the reader. What depth of story might underpin the poem (for instance, why was one a 'witch' and the other an 'embittered failure'?) is difficult to explore, given that Ash leaves no room for clues with his new lean, mean verse forms.

Which seems to be the underlying problem of this collection: it's not that the topics Ash chooses are inherently boring (quite the opposite, his travels through the Middle East and experiences as a British ex-pat in New York would give most writers enough material to keep them occupied for years), but his treatment of them so casual and in some cases, flippant, that they collapse under their own weight - like jokes falling flat.

There are some satisfying poems to be picked out of The Parthian Stations: in 'Apologia for an Earlier Book', Ash confesses that:

'In two months I wrote over sixty poems,
but that was because I had nothing better to do,
and, anyway a lot of them were no good,
or so short they were mere gasps or sobs.'

Ignoring the unfortunate sense of irony, at least here there's some restraint and poise in the use of the line breaks instead of the arbitrary enjambment which blights some of the other pieces. The tone is just right, both humble and wry, and the poem opens out into the collection proper with a kind of self-effacement that is admirable. The real enjoyment however, is reserved for the longer, more expansive poems of the book's second (and woefully brief) part, where Ash's lyrical skills are given more room to stretch their legs and breathe.

If you're at all interested in Ash (and there's a lot of reasons why you should be: his restless nomadic wandering; his fascination with fallen empires etc) and his poetry, you'd be best served by Selected Poems (Poetry pleiade), one of my favourite books. If, on the other hand, you're more interested in The Parthian Stations...check it out of the library first.


Life: A User's Manual
Life: A User's Manual
by David Bellos
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.24

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More Comprehensible (and Comprehensive) Than Most Manuals, 28 Jun. 2009
This review is from: Life: A User's Manual (Paperback)
'The perceived object...is not a sum of elements to be distinguished from each other and analysed discretely, but a pattern, that is to say a form, a structure: the element's existence does not precede the existence of the whole, it comes neither before nor after it...'

For me, the most remarkable thing about 'Life: A User's Manual' is its scope, and the impression it leaves once finished. The quotation above is a good introduction to the book: you will find the mundane jostling with the fantastic in seemingly random patterns in the author's attempt to represent life at a single, isolated moment in time.

The exhaustive lists that populate this book can get a bit tedious but boredom is sometimes necessary to make the climactic moments more powerful. Think the final 20 minutes of Takashi Miike's 'Audition (Collector's Edition) [DVD] [2001]' after two hours of soporific non-action. I don't think I would have had as much sympathy for Valene's and Bartlebooth's ambitious yet ultimately pointless projects (or the book for that matter) if the humorous and exaggerated yarns hadn't been weighed down by something a bit more 'down to earth'.

This book is more than just 'worth a read'. To quote Victoria Glendinning, it has the same 'hectically ingenious intelligence' as Jean-Pierre Jeunet's inimitable Amelie (Two Disc Special Edition) [DTS] [DVD]: by turns surreal, whimsical and sinister. A series of still life scenes pass by with a peculiar ebb and flow, drawing the reader in without the need for a steady build-up and release of tension that comes with linear narration.

Whether or not the novel was generated in the manner of a laboratory experiment is beside the point - you don't need to know its methods to marvel at its intricacy and depth.


Distortion
Distortion
Price: £16.59

4.0 out of 5 stars What's 69 Love Songs Got To Do With It?, 17 May 2008
This review is from: Distortion (Audio CD)
I apologize for the pun, but it has to be said that if 69 Love Songs proved anything, apart from Stephin Merritt being a prolific and witty song-writer, its that genre doesn't mean much to TMF: at the heart of whatever premise of style that's been chosen to dress up the music in is a knack for writing entertaining, occasionally sublime pop songs. To judge Distortion against the behemoth that was 69 Love Songs is a bit unfair because they're not quite the same thing: Distortion is a regular 45 minute long-player, the kind most bands release during their careers, whereas 69 Love Songs is a three hour artistic statement; a tour-de-force of songwriting that, lucky for us, 'hit' far more often than it missed.

The 'pared down' aesthetic extends beyond reduced running time: all of the songs are based on a simple electric guitar, bass, drums and piano format, with the occasional organ, played at feedback inducing volume; all the songs are sung alternately by Merritt and co-vocalist Shirley Simms, with the exception of mass 'shout-a-long' 'Three-way', and 'Please Stop Dancing'; and there isn't a synthesizer in sight (the biggest shock of them all if you ask me)!

As themes go, 'Distortion' is a suitably open-ended one that doesn't intrude on songwriting subject matter, doing away with the awkward constraints of their previous album 'I' whilst providing a unifiying aesthetic for Merritt's songs of millionaires, zombies, starlets and drunkards.

Most, if not all of the songs are excellent, but don't be surprised if you find the yourself singing the up-tempo 'California Girls', 'Drive On, Driver' and 'The Nun's Litany', all sung by Simms, whilst driving to work, doing the washing up, or whatever at the expense of the others. The tunes sung by Merritt tend to be of a more deflated, if not morose vein, suiting his deep, lugubrious voice as he sighs to 'Mr.Mistletoe', 'wither and die / you useless weed / for no-one have I'. But if there is one thing TMF do well, its hurt and lovelorn, and there is plenty of that on the album.

I won't go as far as to say that this is the best thing TMF have ever done: it probably won't shock too many die-hard fans, and will win some new ones hopefully. You certainly can't accuse the Fields of being inaccesible. The disappointing moments are those when Merritt chooses to fall back on simplistic repetition ('Please Stop Dancing') or hummable but uninspired melodies ('Till the Bitter End'), both of which smack of 'auto-pilot'. As for the generous helping of feedback that comes with the songs, well, I like it. Far from obscuring the lyrics, I think its always kept at a respectful level in the mix and rarely intrudes on the listening experience - except for one instance when it actually enhances it on the delicate 'Courtesans', a hazy pillow of sound which I sink into each time I listen to it. The couplet, 'if no-one loves them when they're old / they'll sit and count their chains of gold' kills me every time. I hold it as one of Merritt's greatest songs to date.


Hercules And Love Affair
Hercules And Love Affair
Offered by westworld-
Price: £9.98

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't Believe the Hype; Don't Believe the Backlash Either., 9 April 2008
Whatever impressions you may have gotten from lead single 'Blind', its best to approach this album with an open mind (as with most things). Whilst Hercules & Love Affair do take their lead from disco music, the scope of the songs is much broader, embracing minimalistic techno and torch-balladry to creating a heady and eclectic tracklist. They might not always produce up-tempo, dance-floor friendly hits, but to criticise Hercules & Love Affair for such a thing would be unfair, not to mention small-minded.

If there is a fault with the album, it is in the sequencing. The penultimate tracks, 'This is My Love' and 'Raise Me Up' sound uninspired and formulaic in comparison to all that comes before, contributing to a distinct second half-lull. This a minor complaint considering that the run of tip-top tracks runs uninterrupted from opener 'Free Will' through to the sublime 'Easy'. Each song has its own stylistic flavour that should keep the restless happy. To pick two examples: 'Hercules' Theme' starts off with a slinky keyboard and grows from there into a steam-rolling behemoth as the violins, trumpets and bass begin piling on top of one another; 'Athene', on the other-hand, cruises on a bed of crisp percussion and cartwheeling keyboards with unflappable cool, finding its groove and riding it until its five minutes are up. Even after this, there's still much more to explore.

Antony Hegarty of Antony & the Johnsons fame is a soulful presence on the album and leaves an indelible mark on tracks like 'Blind' and 'Easy'(his talents are wasted on the workman-like, 'Raise Me Up'). Antony might be the star here, but the whole menagerie of musicians and singers deserve credit, and its in thanks to this fluid-line up that Hercules & Love Affair can be seen as a banner for pioneering pop.

Of course, you might have problems with the group's genre-tourism and find nothing beyond 'Blind' that spins your propellor - but you could do worse than buy the album and give it a try. Don't let the bad reviews put you off.


Five Sunsets In Four Days
Five Sunsets In Four Days
Price: £10.66

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Fair Introduction, 21 April 2006
Listening to this very recently released mini-E.P from Young People at night is as appropriate a time as any. With a desk lamp lighting my hands and a sky dark outside my window, it's hard not to feel a little lost in the deserts the band must certainly have been imagining when they set about writing and recording. It's an impressionistic affair, and the E.Ps strengths undoubtedly lie in the musical composition; the drums proudly gallop and pound while the acid-friend guitars lie soaked in reverb and lead-singer Katie's vocals flutter about the rafters.

Young People, as a three-piece, make the best use of what they have at hand. There is a sense of co-operation and instrument swapping that belies the fact that the group became a member short after the record was finished. There is also a sense of intelligence and artistry throughout; not in an 'avant-garde' sense, but rather in the sense that the group work with an understated sense of invention. Pushing the dual guitars on The Mountain as far as they can go into the distortion, Young People create a howling gale barely contained within the speakers, enhancing the idea of icy peaks and cold hands. The more broody, nocturnal numbers are also particularly effective. Night Nurse evokes its early hour adventures both in sound and name through thick chiming harmonics and a softly thumping bass drum.

My only complaint is that these pleasures are all too brief, failing to take off in quite the way you know they full-well could. Hot Horse opens the record's first side with a trailblazing pace, but suffers from a lack of dynamics. The lyrics too, while fine in themselves, don't command the same authority as the music so easily does, and feel arbitrary as a result. Perhaps they intended to be empty vessels for Katie's voice to work with; I can't be sure, but there definitely is room for improvement (in my humble opinion).

Yet these flaws can be forgiven if the music takes you strongly enough. This one could easily fall into the 'not for everyone' box, but if what I've written has at all intrigued you, it is a record worth seeking out.


LCD Soundsystem
LCD Soundsystem
Price: £29.78

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Murphy's Disco, 31 Jan. 2005
This review is from: LCD Soundsystem (Audio CD)
LCD Soundsystem - a side project, spawned from the uber-cool production team DFA Records, which has now grown into what could probably be called a band and become the new forum for dance-punk-disco protagonist James Murphy to display his funkiness to an unsuspecting public. Go on, look in the dictionary, and I bet you that's what it says.
So, having garnered a lot of praise for the work the team have done to the likes of the Rapture's debut amongst others, it was about time that they put their own musical work on general release, and that's just what they've done here, sensibly covering all their bases by placing the early stuff on a bonus disc to go hand as a companion to the newer material.
Basically, what we have is well over an hour of cutting edge dance music. Sadly, we also have another of hype, although it's not all as bad as what you may expect. In fact, it's pretty damn good. Those in the know will be familiar with pretty much all of the bonus disc and Murphy's slurred voice; the Atari funk of 'Losing My Edge' is almost like the ultimate epitaph for the ageing hipster, Murphy weaving a tale of how he was there in Ibiza in 1998, and that he was the one who played Daft Punk to the rock kids, but now everyone he knows is not as relevant as they were anymore. 'Beat Connection', another highlight, grows into a pulsing monster of analogue synths and laptop beats as the desperation of a lonely night out grows and grows, and 'Yeah' climaxes in a wall of monstrous fuzz, knocking your ears for six and challenging the apathetic nature of everyone who keeps 'talking about it' but never 'gets it done'.

The new disc also starts of promisingly with the boastful 'Daft Punk is Playing at My House', a knowingly tongue in cheek nod to the French roboteers that keeps up its five minute length with fervent pace. 'Tribulations' and 'Movement' also take the sharp bass sounds and 80's drum kits from earlier efforts and keeps them engaging by funnelling in emotion and humour respectively, but other songs seem to pass by without even kicking up a fuss. As funky as it sounds, 'Disco Infiltrator' seems to have mislaid it's groove just a little bit, and 'Too Much Love' is just 'too detached' for it to impress (although the harmonies at the end nail the spooky groove pretty well). And don't expect a 4 to the floor party all the way through, because that will really disappoint you. I appreciate the variety that this album does have; 'Never as Tired as When I'm Waking Up' is an opiated sway with 60's guitars and 'Great Release' is an mountainous iceberg of piano and melody to crash any disco irreverence to pieces, but whether YOU like these songs really depends on whether you want variety or hi-hats in your CD.
But I'm sure you'll be happy despite some of the things I've written, especially when you consider the sheer quality of some of the tracks on here. It could be the case that these songs just need time to grow on me. Besides, James Murphy's been a busy boy lately, he deserves a rest.


Radio [CD 2]
Radio [CD 2]
Offered by Direct Entertainment UK
Price: £6.05

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Out of Tune!, 4 Oct. 2004
This review is from: Radio [CD 2] (Audio CD)
In a vain attempt to try and salvage a career going down in flames, Robbie Williams tries to nail the arch British camp style on the head, and spectacularly misses. Genre hopping is by no means a bad idea; I enjoy it more than anything. Provided it's done well and with sincerity, I welcome the notion that an artist can explore new musical avenues without critiscism. Unfortunately for Robbie, he doesn't have the talent or the voice to get away with it.
The lyrics are truly shameful;
'A comb in my 'fro'?
'Ouch! ouch!'????
'He makes my engines go oh oh oh oh!'???????
Good GOD! Guy Chambers is sorely missed here, and Robbie is paying the price as he uncomfortably shimmies between unconvincing electro and his macho-man persona. If your lucky, you'll find an instrumental version of Radio which removes all evidence of the once great (or at-least marketable) Robbie Williams from this travesty, because I've never actually ever heard a song that gets worse with every listen.....until now!


The Adam And Joe Show [DVD] [1996]
The Adam And Joe Show [DVD] [1996]
Dvd ~ Adam Buxton
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £3.45

15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Joe, meet Adam, Adam, meet Joe., 23 Sept. 2004
Last time I heard about Adam and Joe, I was a pre-teen staying up past his bedtime, watching Channel 4 in amazement. Toy animals were working in pole dance clubs and an old man in an armchair was doing pop reviews from an age-worn perspective. Meanwhile, two men called Adam and Joe swore and made fun of people in their bedroom. This kind of thing tends to leave an impression.
Firstly, I'd like to say how glad I am that i picked up this DVD. At this point in time, it's a retrospective of the best of all 4 series and is packed with extra features like 'The Story of Adam and Joe' which will please the seasoned fans, and plenty of content to catch new fans. Endlessly quotable;
'It'll be just you, me....and my hair!'
'Any chance of just me and the hair?'
(Furends)
....it has more moments of laugh out loud hilarity than most comedies can drag out over longer series. There are plenty of ideas ('Top 3 Things NOT to put in a microwave', 'Quizzlestick', '1980's House'), and Adam and Joe are brave enough to go out into the world and make fools of themselves for the sake of a luagh. It's also quite startling just who pops up over the course of the DVD; Frank Black from the Pixies is arrested over his dodgy vinyl collection, a young Louis Theroux makes an appearance as a budding actor and the Beta Band pay a brief (and mute) visit.
Of course, pastiche can wear thin with some people, and a lot of the toy movie spoofs won't make sense unless you've seen the films the so lovingly destroy, but if you know your stuff when it comes to modern film, T.V and music, you'll get along fine.
Adam and Joe! I salute you!


Blueberry Boat
Blueberry Boat
Price: £10.48

4.0 out of 5 stars Rough Waters, 13 Sept. 2004
This review is from: Blueberry Boat (Audio CD)
Forget musical opera, this is a more of a stroybook adventure, navigated by two oddball americans who are brother and sister and love cheap keyboards as much as their wah pedal.
Blueberry Boat is certainly an ambitious work, and one that is certain to devide the fanbase they aqquired with their debut Gallowsbird's Bark. Pristine melodies rub shoulders with electronic dissonance to creat a fascinating, although difficult first listen. Further plays reveal more structure to the mess, and the best songs, like the 10 minute Quay Cur are impressive and catchy. Through the haze of rickety bleeps and processed organs, a synth based melody is found, with Elanor singing about her 'lost locket' and making a living down by the wharf. Then it dashes through a blues guitar shakedown before a pensive acoustic interlude, keeping the momentum going and the ideas fresh. The travels and tales woven by the duo are, at their best, fascinating stories about unfaithful lovers, failed policemen and pirates. Some may brush this off as whimsical nonsense, but the (allegorical) tale 'I Lost My Dog', is a short, sweet talking blues story about how Elanor mistreated her man/dog and her frantic attempts to find him again. Likewise 'Turning Around' which drops the eccentricities and floats on a beautiful piano motif, giving the album a short space for breath between the bombastic keyboards and ramshackle drums.
But then sometimes the excess goes to far. The first 3 minutes of 'Officer Blancheflower' is made up of a woozy synth motif which is physically nauseating, and 1979 doesn't even pick up a tune until a minute before the end. But, most probably this is intentional, as you find a lot of the music is strangely emphatic with the lyrics. And it's nice to see Matt having more of a voice on the songs, giving the album an extra bit of weight.
Even though it's not a perfect piece of work and suffers froma few missteps, songs like 'Chris Michaels' and 'Mason City' have more than enough in the way of redeeming qualities. Take a look and see for yourself.


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