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When Giants Walked the Earth: A Biography Of Led Zeppelin
When Giants Walked the Earth: A Biography Of Led Zeppelin
by Mick Wall
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.69

3.0 out of 5 stars The best Led Zeppelin biography available but..., 6 Aug 2010
Whilst this is certainly the best, most complete and well-balanced, biography of Led Zeppelin currently available, the competition is really not great. Also, if you've read the sensational books by Richard Coles & Stephen Davis as well as the good Barney Hoskyns book on Led Zeppellin IV, you'll have already read a large part of 'When Giants Walked...". This is somewhat ironic given how frequently Wall refers to Led Zeppelin's 'borrowing' of other people's music.

The parts of the book comprised of original material are also somewhat marred by Wall's attempt to be different by inserting into the narrative long italicised passages of 'flashbacks' from the protagonist's lives which, unfortunately, read like scripts from Eamonn Andrew's 'This Is Your Life'. In its favour the latest edition takes us up to 2009, which includes background on the O2 reunion and its aftremath, and reveals the facts behind the Knebworth concerts which were not, it transpires, the triumph they've been portrayed as.

Wall also attempts to explain, as rationally as possible, Page's interest in the occult and Aleister Crowley in particular, and does fairly well given how difficut it is to take seriously either the occult or the media's response to it.

The book does contain some mistakes and factual errors (for example referring to the drums on 'When The Levee Breaks as being compressed through a Binson Echorec), some of which are copied directly from other sources, but until a more talented writer comes along who is willing to spend time writing a book from scratch, rather than compiling one largely from existing material, this will do. Ideally however we need the equivalent of Nicholas Pegg's brilliant 'The Complete David Bowie' if everyone from the casual reader to the nerd is to be satisfied. Especially as there's no liklihood of an official biography.

Alias David Bowie
Alias David Bowie
by Peter Gillman
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A thourough book but with a questionable central theme, 31 May 2010
This review is from: Alias David Bowie (Paperback)
This book covers Bowie's family history and early life in great (sometimes exhaustive) detail and follows his career up until his appearance at Live Aid in 1985. It has been used as a source by other writers on Bowie, including Nicholas Pegg in his excellent 'The Complete David Bowie' and, whilst Bowie himself didn't participate in or approve of the book, the Gillmans interviewed approximately 150 people in preparation.

Peter & Leni Gillman's research is also extremely thorough and they provide factual (and counterfactual) information ranging from the details of Bowie's schooling and where he was brought up, through to specific details of the financial extravagance of the MainMan years and of the settlement reached between Bowie and his erstwhile manager Tony Defries.

The most questionable aspect, which also happens to be the book's central theme, is the insistance on the significance on Bowie of his half-brother Terry's mental illness. In support of this theory the Gillmans seek, sometimes in a rather contrived way, to link Bowie's lyrics (which they don't always transcribe correctly) and artistic decisions to Terry, which might be a good literary device but, overall, is less than convincing.

The Gillman's are also, to some extent, the victims of contemporary views on mental illness, and frequently fall into the traps waiting for any amateur psychologist, finding significance where they wish to in order to support their theory and expressing fuzzy or fashionable views about pschology as if they are facts.

The high incidence of mental illness in Bowie's family, it's implied, is likely to be hereditary, afflicting Bowie who is presented as being largely in denial. The alternative view is that Bowie's family, typically of British families of this period, was unable to express its distress and anxiety, was unable and emotionally unprepared to cope with the disruptions of war, unplanned pregnancies, poverty, and suffered as a consequence affective disorders unconnected to heredity.

The Gillmans suggest, oddly, that Bowie's success in removing himself from this mire consequently makes him responsible for all those in his family who didn't, and that his failure to become some sort of grand patriach is evidence both of his selfishness and his fear of madness.

Bowie's personal psychological crises it could be argued, were more likely due to the strain brought by fame and fortune of a level that had been previously unimaginable (but was commonplace for musicians of this generation including for example Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon) and massively exacerbated by his consumption of drugs.

That Bowie is susceptible to fantasy & exageration in regard to his past seems only an example of his febrile imagination - the mistake made by the Gillmans is the failure to separate the artist from his art (was Shakespeare writing biographically in the Sonnets - probably not).

Otherwise the book presents balanced portraits of many of those close to Bowie (some of whom, including Angie Bowie, who were clearly unbalanced), gives a well written account of Bowie's life, and provides illuminating detail which a more mainstream biography might have skipped.

Price: 5.42

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One of Steely Dan's best three albums, 13 May 2010
This review is from: Gaucho (Audio CD)
Steely Dan's undisputed peak was Aja and The Royal Scam is a close second but, for me, Gaucho is the only other great album they made, although even Fagen & Becker agree that they may have gone too far with it.

Interestingly given the obsessive perfectionism (and bad luck) that plagued this album, it features fewer session players than previous albums, and Becker & Fagen perform on more tracks.

Babylon Sisters is as good as anything Becker & Fagen ever recorded. Bernard Purdie's drums are incredible (and were the basis of Jeff Pocaro's famous Rosanna beat), but there are amazing details in what is an apparantly minimal arrangement, including bass clarinets, muted clavinet, as a serpentine chord progression that no one else could have dreamed up. It's also extremely funky!

Hey Nineteen is borderline embarassing - the humour just on the wrong side of funny - and features Roger Nichols' peculiarly static Wendel drum sequencer programme, even though a drummer is credited (as is the case with Glamour Profession and My Rival).

Glamour Profession lasts rather longer than the musical interest can sustain but is rescued by an amazing guitar solo by Steve Khan.

Gaucho is, along with Babylon Sisters and Third World Man, one of the three great tracks here. It has a Keith Jarrett inspired chord sequence and solo tenor sax line (for which the erascible Mr Jarrett sued & won a share of the writing credit) but again it has a deceptively simple arrangement and extremely funny lyrics about a socially aspirant queen and his partner who is unduly interested in a bit of Brazilian rough.

Time Out Of Mind is famous for the lack of anything meaningful being played by the star guitar soloist Mark Knopfler, who clearly couldn't meet the impossible expectations of the jazz inclined composers. Great backing vocals from Michael MacDonald.

My Rival is the weakest track on the album but, that said, is better than much of what appears on everyone else's records. It's a chugging Wendel sequenced affair about an inadequate cuckold.

Third World Man is the saddest tune Becker & Fagen have written and reminds me of The Deer Hunter. It's also one of their most conventional charts, but is more affecting because of that - the simplicity also evokes a sense of emotional honesty which Becker & Fagen often mask in urbane sophistication and caustic sarcasm.

The album is beautifully recorded and doesn't sound dated like many 1980 albums do, although the overal effect is heading towards the much brighter cocaine mixes of the 1980s which are now so unlistenable.

This was, apart from Fagen's The Nightfly, the end of the classic Steely Dan period - the post-apotheosis of their obsession - the moment they passed out the back of the mirror and after which they could only see the reflection of their backs. Buy it and hear the sound of perfectionism ad absurdum.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 11, 2011 9:40 AM GMT

Point Omega
Point Omega
by Don DeLillo
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 14.05

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Pointlessly depressing, hopeless and unpleasant, 17 Mar 2010
This review is from: Point Omega (Hardcover)
I was introduced to Don DeLillo's work over 20 years ago and have read all but a few of his books. Those that I've read have been either very good or great literature, the stand-out works being for me White Noise, Libra and Underworld.

In between the 'big' works has been a series of smaller scale works including The Body Artist, Cosmopolis and Falling Man. DeLillo's latest book Point Omega, even with it's large, well-spaced font, expansive borders and blank pages at the back of the book, is only 114 pages long and can be read in an afternoon.

All I can say, having just finished the book, is that it's incomprehensible to me why DeLillo should have written such a pointlessly depressing, hopeless and gratuitously unpleasant work.

Perhaps the fact that Hitchcock's pointlessly depressing, hopeless and gratuitously unpleasant film, Psycho, runs like a cantus firmus thoughout the novella should be seen as an indication of the territory, but the conclusion, if one can be drawn, seems to be that western society has become paralysed, impotent, psychotic and vacuous, locked on course for moral extinction.

Price: 36.55

4.0 out of 5 stars One of the best middle period EWF albums, 21 Jan 2010
This review is from: All'n'all (Audio CD)
If for convenience sake one divides EWF's albums into early (from Warners through to 'That's The Way Of The World'), middle ('Spirit' to 'Faces'), and late ('Raise' to 'Electric Universe'), ignoring the later albums where Maurice White has had a diminished influence, then for most people the classic EWF albums would be the middle period 'All 'n All' and 'I Am'.

For me 'I Am' is the pinnacle, the point where great grooves, arrangements, engineering and pop songs all meet. 'All 'N All' is a looser affair, with more adventurous and wide-ranging playing, but it also lacks the focus of 'I Am'

'Serpentine Fire' is a classic EWF track - the funkiest half-beat from Maurice White on drums, great clavinet and bass playing, and an inventive use of tuned cowbells. The backing vocals are amazing, as are the few bars after the break in the middle where you hear just vocals & percussion. The lyrics, as with many EWF songs of this period, are a faintly ridiculous mix of Egyptology, science fiction, and transcendental love nonsense ("surely as life begun, you will as one, battle with the Serpentine Fire").

'Fantasy' is another great EWF track with, apart from the final few off-key notes, some of Philip Bailey's best singing. The main melodic motif appears to be copped from the opening of Wayne Shorter's arrangement of the Brazilian movie theme 'Carnaval' from Freddie Hubbard's 'The Body & The Soul' album, underlining the Brazilian influence that's evident throughout the album. The brass and string arrangements are amazing, marking the beginning of the association with Jerry Hey, who wrote many of EWF's best charts, and the synth & double-speed piano playing is highly original.

The interlude 'In The Marketplace' is all Muarice, with multi-tracked Kalimba and singing.

'Jupiter' has a particularly ridiculous lyric, but is a great up-tempo groove which was clearly very influential on the albums The Jacksons made around this time.

The interlude 'Brazilian Rhyme' is written (& performed?) by the Brazilian musician Milton Nascimento, further underlining the Brazilian connection (the band had spent a month or so in Argentina & Brazil before making this album).

'Love's Holiday' is a good medium tempo ballad with Maurice in big voice mode.

'I'll Write A Song For You' is the weakest song on the album, a rather dull ballad sung by Bailey.

'Magic Mind' is more pseudo-mystical alliteration over a great groove, and the singing is all group. (The groove sounds suspiciously like it influenced The Jackson's 'Lovely One'.)

'Runnin' is a jazz-inflected part improvisation instrumental with a scat style vocal arrangement, and shows the influence of the classic albums Stevie Wonder made with Malcolm Cecil & Robert Margoulef. (There is a mid-way break where you hear the band apparantly listening to a studio playback of 'Serpentine Fire' and talking a lot of jive, before the groove resumes.)

Closing the album is 'Be Ever Wonderful' another big uplifting Maurice White ballad with a classic EWF vocal arrangement at the end.

If you only buy two EWF albums they should be 'All 'N All' and 'I Am'.

Talking Heads - Stop Making Sense [1994] [DVD] [1984]
Talking Heads - Stop Making Sense [1994] [DVD] [1984]
Dvd ~ David Byrne

7 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but not that good, 9 Jan 2010
Compared to most concert films this is undeniably good, but not quite as good as the reputation it has aquired.

The positive aspects are the ingenious staging at the beginning, the elements of performance art/theatre/Kabuki used by David Byrne, and the direction & cinematography (it's shot on film & is pleasantly old-school).

The reservations I have are that once the band members are all onstage & the stage is fully set, the development slows and, apart from the 'big' suit', it gets slightly dull. And then there are the big rock and roll song endings, backing singers doing silly dances and gestures, and general rock posturing (particularly Steve Scales and Alex Weir), with which a band as intelligent as Talking Heads should really have dispensed.

The other disappointment is that the band are not quite as good as the earlier Adrian Belew group (as seen in the poorly shot Live In Rome TV footage).

Donna Summer
Donna Summer
Offered by games
Price: 19.99

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Patchy album but contains one very good & one classic song, 2 July 2009
This review is from: Donna Summer (Audio CD)
This is essentially a Quincy Jones album with Donna Summer as vocalist. It was recorded the same year as Michael Jackson's 'Thriller', also produced by Q, and shares musical themes, writers, players & recording engineer (the great Bruce Swedien).

'Love Is In Control (Finger On The Trigger)' is such a great groove, with Ndugu Chancler playing a drum track that's suspicously similar to 'PYT' with classic vocoder & wonderfully high-lying vocals on the chorus.

'Mystery Of Love' is a disco ballad that begins with Bach's prelude in C minor from the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier played on a Synclavier! The song then becomes similar in groove to 'Ya Mo Be There' (also produced by Q) and as if to underline that, James Ingram shares the lead vocal (same tempo as well).

'The Woman In Me' is really a rather good ballad and has the first appearance of the Linn LM-1 drum machine on the record, used so well on the 'Thriller' album. (Quincy Jones greatly admired Prince's '1999' & wanted the song 'Thriller' to have similarly big synthesiser chords, so perhaps '1999' also inspired the use of the LM-1.)

'State Of Independence' is truly one of the great pop records & the production is brilliant. The arrangement is so good - great Linn LM-1 chugging all the way through, and a choir made up of singers including Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Lionel Ritchie. The original by Jon Anderson & Vangelis was only released a year before this and is so sloppy by comparison. That said, Donna Summer doesn't contribute anything special - it could have been anyone singing - it's the production which is so startlingly good.

Sadly the production values are not consistent across the album & some songs are clearly hastily assembled & sound like they would have benefitted from more work. 'Livin In America' is an example of this: it has a great pared-down groove, but the arrangement never really takes off and there is some out of time playing, made obvious by the metronomic Linn pattern. The section with marching drums & childrens' choir should be big, but sounds silly and is intolerable on repeated listening, Donna barking out jingoistic nonsense like a school teacher.

'Protection' is just embarassing - clearly Q wished to repeat the rock crossover success of 'Beat It' by inviting Bruce Springsteen to write & perform on it, but it sounds like a rock-disco version of the theme from Rawhide!

'(If It) Hurts Just A Little' is another 'Ya Mo Be There' sound-alike song, and comes over as hasty album filler.

'Love Is Just A Breath Away' is a bit better, but with another ponderous Linn pattern (odd how the Linn can sound so great on one song, and like...well a drum machine, on another).

The version of the Billy Strayhorn number 'Lush Life' is just bizzarre and completely out of place.

What is striking throughout this album is that Donna Summer sounds strained & uneasy most of the time and certainly sings nothing special or memorable. The overall effect of the album is that of Quincy Jones trying to make the best album he could with a singer with whom he had no empathy, in what was almost certainly a hurry, and at a time when he was massively in demand.

The album hasn't been available on CD for many years and is outrageously expensive when you can find a copy, but worth it for 'State Of Independence'.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 6, 2011 9:19 PM GMT

Night Full Of Tension
Night Full Of Tension

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Night Full Of Disappointment, 5 July 2008
This review is from: Night Full Of Tension (Audio CD)
If you love the three brilliant & classic DAF albums 'Alles ist Gut' 'Gold und Liebe' & 'Für Immer' then don't buy this! It's a very disappointing solo effort by Robert Görl which is sadly not much enlivened by contributions from Annie Lennox (not her fault). What a shame as a DAF album with Annie Lennox's singing is such a promising idea.

What you get is a set of songs of mostly similar tempo & arrangement with some very lame Bowie/Ferry-esque singing from Görl. One of the biggest disappointments is that Görl chooses to use a drum machine on every track bar one, depriving the songs of his amzingingly direct and emotional drumming. Most of the tracks have a four-square drum pattern and sound like a mix of 'Love Is The Drug' 'China Girl' and 'The Model'.

The absence of the late Conny Plank's sonic landscapes that added so much to the DAF albums (and many others) is also a shame - the album sounds sonically flat: a bunch of synths and drums recorded straight into the desk with a little reverb. Ach was!

"Beatles" Gear
"Beatles" Gear
by Andy Babiuk
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of three essential books about The Beatles recordings, 13 Jan 2008
This review is from: "Beatles" Gear (Paperback)
If you're a bit of a Beatles recordings obsessive this is one of three essential books. It's a thorough and well-researched guide to all the musical equipment The Beatles used during their amazing career, with many good pictures, and is largely free of error.

The other two books you'll need to compliment it are Mark Lewisohn's 'The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions' and 'Recording The Beatles' by Kevin Ryan & Brian Kehew [Curvebender Publishing ISBN 978-0-9785200-0-7].

The latter is wonderful, subtitled 'The Studio Equipment and Techniques Used to Create Their Classic Albums' it not only lists all the recording equipment the band used for their recordings, but includes exceptional photos, often of the actual equipment. Additionally there are sections on the studios (Abbey Road predominantly obviously) and breakdowns of some songs' recording processes.

Buy all three books!

Dusty In Memphis
Dusty In Memphis
Price: 5.84

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant album - poor remastering, 31 Dec 2007
This review is from: Dusty In Memphis (Audio CD)
I was so excited when this remastered version first appeared as I hoped, at last, that I'd have a decently remastered CD of Dusty's greatest album. What a disapointment then to discover remastering engineer Gary Moore's crude use of CEDAR noise reduction - the CD is heavily no-noised with noise reduction artifacts all over the place and many tracks have been EQ'd quite badly to compensate.

Oddly, some of the tracks sound like they're from inferior tapes to the Rhino edition of 1999 (which, even though it's hissy, is much better than this) as the sleeve notes claim to have sourced the best extant tapes.

I presume that the original multi-track tapes have been lost, as not one of the CD issues of this album have remixed them, but if you want this great album on CD, then the Rhino edition (with all the unecessary 'bonus' tracks) is much more consistant.

Re-mastering aside, this is a sad, beautiful and poignant album, full of amazing playing and the best singing Dusty ever recorded. Even the absurd 'Windmills of Your Mind' is made profound (the prologue clearly recorded as an afterthought and edited on, and the impossible metre of the original changed by Tom Dowd in order for Dusty to breathe between lines).

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