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Kurt Messick "FrKurt Messick" (London, SW1)

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No God But God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam
No God But God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam
by Reza Aslan
Edition: Paperback

44 of 49 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting analysis, 26 April 2006
It is quite a task in the Western world, in the post 9-11 world when there are still active warfare situations taking place in two different Islamic country settings, to set out to write a book on the history, culture and heart of Islam as being something other than that which seems to come across in mass media on a daily basis.

The beginning of this text is the Quran - 'It is invaluable in revealing the ideology of the Muslim faith in its infancy: that is, before the faith became a religion, before the religion became an institution.' Aslan states that the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad are grounded in mythology (mythology not as false tales, but rather as stories of the supernatural) which has both credibility and legitimacy in significant ways - these ways are variously interpreted by different groups within the Muslim world.

Within the many chapters, Aslan looks at the early days Islam during the life of the Prophet, the immediate successors of Muhammad, the development of the Shariah and theological positions, and the mystical system of the Sufi. Aslan also looks at the contemporary aspects of Islam by tracing post-colonial sentiments (something still very much at work in the conflicts of the present time) and what Aslan and other have termed the Islamic Reformation, a return to early principles of the Islam that have been obscured in the history of the faith and its interplay with political reality.

Aslan's running motif is that Islam, at its philosophical and theological heart, is a pluralistic system with democracy as the best, final outcome. There is support for this - the long-standing Jewish communities in Babylon and Spain under Islamic rule, the recognition of the validity of Jewish and Christian theological bases by Muhammad, etc. However, the history of Islam is a very human history - as in other religious contexts, the rulers have frequently failed to live up to the ideals, persecuting not only outsiders, but also different members of their religion with special ferocity (not dissimilar to the stories of Moses imposing the death penalty on Israelites in the desert for collecting sticks on the Sabbath, or Christians burning other Christians at the stake for holding heretical views).

Aslan is passionate, but fails to persuade in many cases. In giving his own account of his return to Iran after the amnesty was announced for exiled Iranians to visit without fear of detention and punishment, there was still a sense of the failure of the government and culture to live up to its ideals, and Aslan is a bit quick to assign blame outside of Iran than on the rulers themselves. Still, the experiences are interesting to read, and Aslan's analysis worth considering.

Aslan writes that not only did the events of 9-11 set in motion a clash between the Judeo-Christian world and the Muslim world in broad terms, but 'also initiated a vibrant discourse among Muslims about the meaning and message of Islam in the twenty-first century. What has occurred since that fateful day amounts to nothing short of another Muslim civil war - a fitnah - which, like the contest to define Islam after the Prophet's death, is tearing the Muslim community into opposing factions.' We are in the midst of the Islamic Reformation, and it is too soon to tell what the outcome may be.

The Jesus Papers: Exposing the Greatest Cover-up in History
The Jesus Papers: Exposing the Greatest Cover-up in History
by Michael Baigent
Edition: Paperback

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars No revelations here, 20 April 2006
Conspiracy theories abound - such is the basis of the wildly popular 'Da Vinci Code', and such is the basis of 'Holy Blood, Holy Grail', another earlier book by Baigent that details in a nonfiction manner much of the same conspiracy theories that are at the heart of the fictional novel by Dan Brown (soon to be a major motion picture, coming to a cinema near you, et cetera...).

There is nothing new in this book. True, some of the photographs are 'never before published' as the press kit will put it, but they aren't really earth-shattering images, just some standard fare imagery apropos to the topic. Baigent explores the history of the Zealots and other sects in first century Judea, their relationship with the Roman dominating apparatus, and the possible motivations behind the writing of the gospels and other writings in the way that they were. There were differing interpretation of the Christian events from the earliest times, and these controversies were not settled for generations (indeed, some still have not been). But this is far different from conspiracy and intrigue that is being hinted at in this publication.

Pointing out inconsistencies in the texts of the Bible is an old game, and many scholars freely acknowledge the difficulties of resolving some of the issues. This doesn't seem to be acknowledged by Baigent in very clear tones.

I am disappointed in this text in that I cannot say much about anything new, as it is a recycling of information to get a publication out when the timing is right, a 'strike while the iron is hot' kind of publishing move. For those unfamiliar with some of these theories, it may be interesting read. For those already acquainted with the issues (even those whose exposure is limited to 'Da Vinci Code' elements), it might prove less worthwhile.

Cosmos: The Story of Cosmic Evolution, Science and Civilisation
Cosmos: The Story of Cosmic Evolution, Science and Civilisation
by Carl Sagan
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Billions and billions..., 20 April 2006
How many people who watched the 'Cosmos' series on television (PBS in America - perhaps the best astronomy and general science series ever produced by them) could ever forget Carl Sagan's intonation at proclaiming the wonders of the universe in grand terms, billions and billions of stars and galaxies and planets (and consequently, everything else).

While this book was published in 1980 to be a companion to the television series, there is nonetheless a certain timelessness about it. Many science texts (even general readers such as this) become dated fairly quickly. Yet this book remains a volume to which I refer time and again for its history, philosophy and insight into scientific method and personality.

This book more than anything provided the inspiration for me to study astronomy. While I did not take a degree in it (when I arrived at university I was informed that I had already studied more than their undergraduate curriculum provided; that I should take some physics and mathematics courses and then take a Master's degree later if interested--which may happen after the my current degree progress is completed), my interest in astronomy has remained strong and permeates many of my other interests, including my current work in theology and philosophy.

The visual presentation of this book is stunning. Pictures, particularly those from telescopes, space probes, and dramatic artistic renderings of phenomena not yet captured on film give a real feel for the subject.

Sagan begins the book with a grand tour of the universe, starting at the outermost edges with quasars and unknowns, and travelling back through galaxies and stars, passing interesting objects such as nebulae, black holes, stellar nurseries, planetary systems, finally to arrive back on earth, the unique planet (from our perspective) because it has life.

From here, Sagan goes back in history to the great library of Alexandria, which remains an object of fascination (current archaeological excavations continue in Alexandria, and there are various plans for memorialising the library). He introduces early efforts at scientific method and investigation by discussing Eratosthenes, a librarian who investigated reports in the various texts for himself, rather than taking things at face value.

Chapters include explorations of planetary astronomy, with special attention to Mars; stellar astronomy and the life cycle of stars; issues of space and time; issues of observation and epistemology (how do we know what we know, and why do we think we know it?); the origin and fate of the universe; the idea of life on other planets (Sagan confesses to a prejudice--the idea that life must be based on carbon, and not other elements); and the idea of SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) which due to Sagan's work and influence continues today in various ways around the globe. Finally, Sagan discusses the politics of science (and politics in general) giving a cautious hope for the fate of the earth--this was the height of the Cold War, after all.

'We are the local embodiment of a Cosmos grown to self-awareness. We have begun to contemplate our origins: starstuff pondering the stars; organised assemblages of ten billion billion billion atoms considering the evolution of atoms; tracing the long journey which, here at least, consciousness arose. Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for Earth. Our obligation to survive is owed not just to ourselves but also to that Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring.'

Intelligent, written with grace and humour, the narrative is largely non-technical but not condescending and lends itself well to understanding.

Paint the Sky With Stars-Best [CASSETTE]
Paint the Sky With Stars-Best [CASSETTE]

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ever flowing..., 20 April 2006
If you had but one Enya CD or tape to buy, this would be it. You'd be missing much of the richness that comes through on her other albums (hence, I actually advocate you buy all of them in addition to this!), but given limited time and budget, this one is a great collection of many of the essentials of Enya's work.

This is one of my 'desert island discs' (were I to be stranded on a deserted island, this is one of ten the recordingss I would opt to take).

This recording contains the highlights from her albums `The Celts', `Watermark', `Caribbean Blue', and `The Memory of Trees'. There are a few variations, however. The rendition of `Book of Days' on this, which was used in the cinematic film `Far and Away', is in English on this collection, whereas on the original album it is in Gaelic.

Classic tracks from the albums are here; this is her 'greatest hits so far' album (I hate the idea of a 'greatest hits' album for a still-productive artist, as if the best is behind). `Orinoco Flow' was her first 'smash' hit (having achieved some notice and popularity from `The Celts', it actually took this song to break into the charts and mainstream notice). The music from this song is flowing and haunting, with an interesting combination of celtic influences and modern recording techniques. Other popularly known songs include `Caribbean Blue', a song in a similar style; `Storms in Africa', an interesting juxtaposition of African and celtic rhythms with interesting lyrical content; `Anywhere is', likewise with overdubs and haunting strains, but a determined beat that is hopeful and progressive.

Lesser known songs from her albums include `The Celts' and `Boadicea', both used as backing tracks for the BBC series on the history of the Celtic peoples.

There are two new tracks on this album, too: `Only if...', which is upbeat with a strong tempo and lyric, and `Paint the Sky with Stars', a beautiful, subdued, melancholy tune which brings the trademark celtic sadness to bear on this, the title track.

Produced with husband Nicky Ryan, this is an excellent collection that gives both a good introduction and a good musical synopsis of a truly remarkable artist, one who has combined ancient and modern in quite innovative ways.

Gospel in Parable: Metaphor, Narrative and Theology in the Synoptic Gospels
Gospel in Parable: Metaphor, Narrative and Theology in the Synoptic Gospels
by John R. Donahue
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars The seeds are planted..., 20 April 2006
Donahue's book 'The Gospel in Parable' is an interesting text that looks at parables in the three synoptic gospels Matthew, Mark and Luke (parables as a rule are not found in John; this of course is subject to interpretation). The parables in these gospels, as the gospels themselves, take on different aspects that lend themselves to multiple interpretations.

Before looking at each gospel individually, Donahue looks at parables generally by asking the question, 'How does a parable mean?' This question might at first glance seem grammatically incorrect, but it highlights an important insight about parables. 'Through the language of Jesus we are in contact with his imagination as it brings to expression his self-understanding of his mission and his struggle with the mystery of his Father's will.' Donahue likens parables both to stories and to poetry in the way they can have meaning without a dry, academic or scientific exposition of facts. Parables as text become somewhat problematic on several levels: the language and underlying assumptions thereof differs from today's language; parables today are viewed as written text rather than oral stories; parables as stories fall victim occasionally to the same kinds of problems that stories generally have with regard to plot, character, and context. However, for all their weaknesses, often in true parabolic fashion, they exhibit a timeless strength that continues to speak to people in new ways.

Donahue suggests that Ricoeur's analysis of parables following the pattern of orientation, disorientation and reorientation shows that for all the realism inherent in the parables, it is precisely their ability to shatter through familiar imagines with new and strange twists that give parables their power. Similarly, the narrative theological style that is part and parcel of gospel parables matches in many ways the patterns of everyday life and the stories of the lives of those who hear the parable stories.

Donahue devotes a chapter each to the parables of Mark, of Matthew and of Luke. In Mark, Donahue looks at the parables in Mark 4 (mysteries of the kingdom), Mark 12 (salvation history) and Mark 13 (community life between 'times'). Many of the parables in Mark deal with seeds and growth. 'The seed parables acquire a christological overtone and function as parables of hope for the community. Just as the seed has its own power and dynamism which is revealed in the harvest, so too does the mystery of the kingdom.' Other parables such as the fig tree, the doorkeeper and the wicked tenants illustrate aspects of communal life and the kind of message Jesus was sent to impart, the kind of gospel the community is called to embrace.

Matthew has far more parables than Mark. It shares four with Mark, nine with Luke, and has ten unique to itself. Matthean parables are far more likely than Mark to have human actors and situations - there is less a tendency to go with metaphors taken from nature. Matthew also seems to have a greater tendency to set up a contrast and reversal of fortune. Being concerned with human agents, justice emerges as a principle topic. These are not always 'common sense' justice parables - the story of the labourers in the vineyard strikes at the heart of fairness for most people who work for an hourly wage.

Matthew also has many eschatological parables looking toward the end times.

The gospel of Luke has more parables than any other gospel, including some like the Good Samaritan (perhaps the most popular of parables) which are unique to Luke. 'With Luke we enter a world different from that of Matthew and Mark. The drama in Luke's parables arises less from the mystery of nature or the threat of judgment than from the mystery of human interaction.' Most parables in Luke occur during the 'travel narrative' section -- while Jesus is 'on the way'.

The final chapter draws many of the details and major themes together to look at a more comprehensive voice of the gospels in parable. There is no single, unified voice here, but a diversity of voices akin to a choir, all singing toward the same music, while each having something unique and wonderful to add. Donahue shows that parables are not unique to Christian spirituality - in religious traditions where parables play a large part, such as rabbinic Judaism, Sufism, and Buddhism, they are an integral part of the director-student relationship in communicating a tradition, in the quest for self-understanding and in directing a person to the mystery of God. Donahue's final notes are toward those who preach today using parabolic material - he urges the preachers to stay true to the spirit of parables by preaching in an open-ended and metaphorical way.

Donahue's writing style is clear and concise. The organisation of the book is good, with several indexes and an extensive bibliography of other books on parable material and other biblical studies. This is a very useful book for preachers, students, scholars, and others who want greater insight into one of the primary teaching methods of Jesus.

John Donahue, S.J. is a professor of New Testament at the Jesuit School of Theology, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California.

The Mind's I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul
The Mind's I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul
by Douglas R. Hofstadter
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars An I-opening experience, 20 April 2006
After writing the magnificent `Godel, Escher, Bach', for which he won a Pulitzer Prize, computer scientist Douglas Hofstadter (a professor at my alma mater, Indiana University) collaborated with philosopher Daniel Dennett on this anthology of essays and stories that explore the areas of human and artificial intelligence.

What is the mind? What is the self? Is there really a soul? Are feelings and emotions artificial constructs of information bits inside of us, and if so, is it possible that machines can think and feel for themselves?

For that matter, do we truly think and feel for ourselves?

Hofstadter and Dennett have selected pieces that approach these questions from many angles, from hard-science observational techniques to spirituality dimensions in stories. Each piece is followed by a reflection that sets the context of the piece in relation to the larger question of intelligence.

Contributors include mathematician Rudy Rucker (`Infinity and the Mind'), philosophers Raymond Smullyan (perhaps best known for logic puzzles) and Robert Nozick, literary figures such as Jorge Luis Borges and Stanislaw Lem, and pioneers in the field such as Alan Turing.

The editors use a section of Turing's early article on `Computing Machinery and Intelligence' from 1950 to set up much of the subsequent discussion. One often overlooked idea from Turing, oddly popular among British scholars of the first half of the twentieth century (and still more prevalent among British scholars and intellectuals than those of other cultures) is the idea of ESP and paranormal abilities. Turing felt that the final difference between machine-thinking, once it had reached full potential, and human thinking would be that humans have the capacity for ESP and other such abilities.

Turing's foundational point rests on the answer to and the meaning of the question, will a machine ever think? Turing's answer to this is yes, and upon this assumption, the meaning of a machine thinking becomes the critical determinant. People infuse too much emotionalism into the question, Turing thought. Ironically, half a century after Turing and two decades after publication of The Mind's I, people watch depictions of thinking machines in science fiction shows without a second thought, even as these shows explore the connection between thinking and emotion.

As many of the essays and stories make clear, it is often as much the way the question is asked as it is the content of the answer that can make a difference in the way the observer reacts and interprets. And yet, it becomes difficult to distinguish linguistic intelligence, intellect, and 'having a soul'. One question that is addressed can serve as illustration: Do animals have souls? For instance, does a chimpanzee with with partial linguistic ability learned in a laboratory and greater ability to care for herself and her offspring have more of a soul than an human being who is physical and mentally impaired? Almost everyone would say no, but how this difference is characterised becomes difficult in many contexts.

Terrel Miedaner has an intriguing set of stories, `The Soul of Martha, a Beast' and `The Soul of the Mark III Beast', which explores the fuzzy dividing line between the way in which we think of human feelings, animal feelings, and potentially even machine emotional responses. Part of the analysis of Hofstadter and Dennett focuses upon the construction of the stories, which are purposefully designed to evoke human emotional responses to anthropomorphised creatures. But this begs the question -- if we can anthropomorphise them, to what extent might they in fact have elements in common with human beings that make them worthy of consideration on a human level?

Issues such as the difference between education and programming, free will and determined patterns, conscious and unconscious potentials, and (perhaps both most maddening and enlightening) the difference between reality, apparent reality, belief, and thought about belief (see Smullyan's `An Epistemological Nightmare').

This is a very entertaining, often witty, occasionally disturbing book, that presents these philosophical problems in an accessible format.

Infinity and the Mind: The Science and Philosophy of the Infinite (Penguin science)
Infinity and the Mind: The Science and Philosophy of the Infinite (Penguin science)
by Rudy Rucker
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At the intersection of parallel lines..., 20 April 2006
Rudy Rucker, son of a cleric and mathematics whiz kid, produced this book on `Infinity and the Mind' years ago, but reading and re-reading it, I continue to get insights and the chance to wrap my mind around strange concepts.

`This book discusses every kind of infinity: potential and actual, mathematical and physical, theological and mundane. Talking about infinity leads to many fascinating paradoxes. By closely examining these paradoxes we learn a great deal about the human mind, its powers, and its limitations.'

This book was intended to be accessible by those without graduate-level education in mathematics (i.e., most of us) while still being of interest to those even at the highest levels of mathematical expertise.

Even if the goal of infinity is never reached, there is value in the journey. Rucker provides a short overview of the history of 'infinity' thinking; how one thinks about divinity is closely related often, and how one thinks about mathematical and cosmological to-the-point-of-absurdities comes into play here. Quite often infinite thinking becomes circular thinking: Aquinas's Aristotelian thinking demonstrates the circularity in asking if an infinitely powerful God can make an infinitely powerful thing; can he make an unmade thing? (Of course, we must ask the grammatical and logical questions here--does this even make sense?)

Rucker explores physical infinities, spatial infinities, numerical infinities, and more. There are infinites of the large (the universe, and beyond?), infinities of the small (what is the smallest number you can think of, then take half, then take half, then take half...), infinities that are nonetheless limited (the number of divisions of a single glass of water can be infinite, yet never exceed the volume of water in the glass), and finally the Absolute.

`In terms of rational thoughts, the Absolute is unthinkable. There is no non-circular way to reach it from below. Any real knowledge of the Absolute must be mystical, if indeed such a thing as mystical knowledge is possible.'

At the end of each chapter, Rucker provides puzzles and paradoxes to tantalise and confuse.

* Consider a very durable ceiling lamp that has an on-off pull string. Say the string is to be pulled at noon every day, for the rest of time. If the lamp starts out off, will it be on or off after an infinite number of days have passed?

Rucker explores the philosophical points of infinity with wit and care. He explores the ideas behind and implications of Gļ¿½del's Incompleteness Theorem, and leads discussion and excursion into self-referential problems and set theory problems and solutions.

He also discusses, contrary to conventional wisdom, the non-mechanisability of mathematics. We tend to think in our day that mathematics is the one mechanical-prone discipline, unlike poetry or creative arts and more 'human' endeavours. But Rucker discusses the problems of situations which require decision-making and discernment in mathematical choices that no machine can (yet!) make.

* Consider the sentence S: This sentence can never be proved. Show that if S is meaningful, then S is not provable, and that therefore you can see that S must be true. But this constitutes a proof of S. How can the paradox be resolved?

This is a beautifully complex and intriguing book on the edges of mathematics and philosophical thinking, which is nonetheless accessible and intellectually inviting. You'll wonder why math class was never this fun!

Herod: King of the Jews and Friend of the Romans (Personalities of the New Testament)
Herod: King of the Jews and Friend of the Romans (Personalities of the New Testament)
by Peter Richardson
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fuller picture..., 20 April 2006
In Peter Richardson's new book, 'Herod: King of the Jews and Friend of the Romans', we are given a much fuller account of the king who has graduated to being an archtype, almost mythical character who is the embodiment of evil.

'Herod the Great, as he is usually called, was much like Henry VIII, Catherine the Great, of Peter the Great: talented, vigourous, lusty, skillful, charismatic, attractive, decisive, influential--but a disaster in his personal life. Like them, Herod changed his nation's history.'

In a biographical study an author need not like the subject, but it helps if there is something to admire. Herod's personality is not attractive; had I been a contemporary I should not have wanted to spend much time with him.

This having been said, Richardson does find much of interest and intrigue in the character and the deeds of Herod the Great.

Herod was king of the Jews by virtue of his assistance to the Romans who were, during the 50-year period preceding the birth of Jesus and the beginning of the common/Christian era, consolidating power throughout much of the eastern Mediterranean lands. Herod married many times for increasing political and social purposes (a trend that would continue in the Herodian line -- John the Baptist was beheaded primarily for pointing out the marriage difficulties with a later Herod).

Herod the Great, founder of the line that would last and be an influence in Roman and Christian development for some two hundred years, died in 4 BCE, in Jericho, not long after the events that would have created the first Christian martyrs -- the slaying of the newborns of Bethlehem. The timing of his death in Jericho makes it appear to be divine justice, but independent verification of the Biblical story has never been found.

Richardson approaches the historical subject in a somewhat backwards fashion, examining the details of the death of Herod and the aftermath his will and the will of Rome in shaping his legacy to their ends. Using close sources such as Josephus, Richardson then proceeds to examine earlier, less well-documented periods in Herod's life, including his early service to Rome and his attempts at consolidation of power at different points. Shortly before key events that would bring him the favour of the Romans, Herod himself was on trial in Jerusalem for his possible usurpation of power that was not rightfully his -- this bravado, however, found favour with the Romans who followed his career with interest ever after.

Richardson also explores Herod's influence in the building up of Jerusalem into a great city as well as outside projects (major fortresses, palaces, religious and cultural buildings, commercial construction and infrastructure), as well as his support of and rivalry with various religious factions in Jerusalem and surrounding Judea. Herod's relationship with the Temple and priestly elite had ramifications throughout the religious fabric of Judaism of the time, which in various factions held differing beliefs about the appropriate constitution of the priestly officials and the practices these should perform. Herod incurred the disfavour of Sadducees, Pharisees, Esssenes, Herodians, Brigands, and others at different points in turn.

In the final chapters, Richardson turns to examine the role of Herod and his descendants in Christianity. He examines in detail the likelihood of Herod ordering the death of the newborns (or even knowing of the birth of a potential rival king). He examines also the role of Herod Antipas in the death of John and Jesus. Josephus confirms John the Baptist's death at the hands of Antipas, though recounts somewhat differently from gospel accounts. The gospels relate two independent traditions regarding the relationship of Jesus and Herod Antipas.

In all, this is a fascinating history that brings up great detail and context with which to read the gospel stories, the Roman history in the Middle East, and the Dead Sea Scrolls in a new context.


5.0 out of 5 stars New growth in the garden..., 20 April 2006
This review is from: Affirmation (Audio CD)
I have enjoyed Savage Garden since I first received their self-titled CD by mistake a few years ago. It was one of those 'I forgot to send the card in on time' arrivals from a CD club -- the kind of mistake that often as not yields a good surprise. This time it did, and when I learned of a follow-up album released by Savage Garden, I determined that I would not await fate and actually purposefully purchase this one. I am not sorry I did.

I live more than an hour away from work and school, and thus am constantly in my car. I thus have a lot of time to spend listening to music. Savage Garden's Affirmation has become a regular in my rotation of CDs for driving. Their music is generally upbeat, pop-sounding without sinking to the worse aspects of pop music, with interesting and meaningful lyrics and a variety of tempos to keep the CD interesting for the long drive.

The first song, Affirmation, from which the album derives its name, is essentially a creed, a wonderfully undogmatic statement of what Daniel Jones and Darren Hayes believe. Okay, so it will not replace the Nicene Creed anytime soon, but I would much rather have the youth of today singing along to this kind of music than some of the recent things that have dominated the radio airwaves.

Darren Hayes sings lead and background vocals for most of the songs (ain't technology grand?), and Daniel Jones plays and engineers the keyboards, synthesizers, drum machines and other rhythm instruments. Being a macintosh user, I appreciate that they use macintosh for much of their programming, too.

Hayes and Jones concentrate on romantic and uplifting songs. These songs are meant to highlight societal situations (to make you think) or a strong emotion (to make you feel). Very much at home in mainstream pop music, their songs nonetheless stand out as beautiful, melodious, and lyrical. From their first 'hit' from this album, the emotive poetry, expressed by Hayes high-pitched yet soul-full voice, backed up by music that gently accompanies and guides without overpowering, one can sense a great love:

I knew I loved you before I met you

I think I dreamed you into life

I knew I loved you before I met you

I have been waiting all my life

A song such as Crash and Burn ends up being a very different song from what it sounds from the title. Whereas one would not be surprised at an urban-influenced song with this title highlighting the violence in society, this song is instead a fairly gentle, friend-in-need song:

Let me be the one you call

If you jump I'll break your fall

Lift you up and fly away with you into the night

If you need to fall apart

I can mend a broken heart

If you need to crash then crash and burn

You're not alone

This is an album of strong sentiments, of deep feeling that shines forth in every song. They are a very welcome import from down under (Australia) and I look forward to their continuing releases.

Aladdin Original Soundtrack Special Edition
Aladdin Original Soundtrack Special Edition
Price: £5.99

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magical, 20 April 2006
I have a friend in Bloomington with whom I go to films on a regular basis. We have several genres of films which we prefer, and others with which we will experiment, but animation, particularly Disney, was never among them. However, I've often enjoyed Robin Williams characterisations, and so persuaded my friend Jim (who informed me that I would then owe him the next three film selections) to go to Aladdin. He enjoyed the film, and I loved it. This was a children's film that had entertainment value for adults, too, and crafted the witticism and irony into the dialogue and songs that were incredible.

Alan Menken is the primary composer behind this soundtrack. Working with Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, Menken and company produced a Oscar-winning soundtrack with individual songs as winners and nominees ('A friend like me', Williams vocal character tour de force, received a nomination, and the themesong, 'A whole new world', won the award).

Tim Rice (Sir Tim Rice, actually), lyricist, is known for many spectacular productions, including various collaborations with Andrew Lloyd Webber (again, now titled...), such as Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita. The crafting and care in the songs is evident; erudition is not sparing in this collection, but neither are the songs inaccessible to either children or adults. This, I feel, is the mark of a great talent.

Finally, working on the project was Howard Ashman. Ashman died of AIDS in 1991. He worked on many Disney projects, including Beauty and the Beast. According to the Disney corporation, 'In animation, we have two guardian angels. One is Walt Disney, who continues to touch every frame of our movies. The other is Howard Ashman, who continues to touch every note of our movies.' One of my reasons for originally wanting to see this film is that I had heard of Ashman's connexion with my university, Indiana University -- he received his MFA from that school in the early 1970s. Ashman is also known as the lyricist for 'Little Shop of Horrors', another collaboration with Menken, which, if one watches Aladdin with that in mind, gives a whole new world of impression on the film!

The music makes me laugh and feel good. I am much less prone to aggressive driving if I have this CD in the box in the car! Of course, this is a sappy love story with, in my opinion, a rather silly denouement, but it works for the kids. Of course, the lyrics are, as I indicated, educational: I've had the chance to explain what nom de plume, charge d'affaires, and coterie mean.

Some filmtracks have lifted portions of this music for use as background material, which is another sign of successful composition.

But, by far the high point has to be Robin Williams' vocal flexibility and ingenuity in the characterisation of the Genie. Alternating accents and impressions (at one point doing Edith and Archie Bunker, at another doing William Buckley, etc.) the rapid flow of the voices smoothly across causes me to wonder if the characterisations were improvisational, with the animation produced afterward to fit the flow of the changes.

I recommend this soundtrack most highly to children and to adults who love comedy. It is an interesting treat.


Arabian Nights

One Jump Ahead

Friend Like Me

Prince Ali

A Whole New World

'A Whole New World' has two tracks -- the one of the actual movie scene, performed by Brad Kane and Lea Salonga, and the 'radio edit' performed by Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle. There are some dozen additional tracks of background/mood/theme-setting music.

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