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B. Marwood (Reading, UK)
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Ode to Sunshine
Ode to Sunshine

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars samey but competent countrified debut, 6 Oct. 2009
This review is from: Ode to Sunshine (Audio CD)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The cruellest point of Ode To Sunshine must be its opening track.

A fleeting, beautifully-weighted plodalong full of harmonies to sound across the catskills and a broken, gentle lead proves to be both the highest and shortest point of Ode To Sunshine, the debut album from the San Diego quintet. At its best recalling the filthy, echoing stomp rock of the 1970s, and mirroring the indie drudgery of Starsailor at its worst, there is more than enough here to indicate promise for the future, and whilst its path is a distinctly linear one, the spirit hangs around long after the CD itself has drawn to a close. The insistent, persistent hooks of the keys-assisted 'Trashcan' give way to the rousing kick of 'People C'mon', a feeling reproduced later in the album with 'Streetwalker'.

Yes, it occasionally stumbles at the hurdles, most notably the underwhelming piano balladry of 'House Built For Two', but what it lacks in variety in places it makes up for in its chirpy outlook - this is comfortable music; music that's confident in what it can do and not attempting to venture beyond, a competent mix of countrified rock, all gravelly-voiced with a saunter but not a swagger.

Perhaps not recommended to those who like their music with a bit of bite or challenge, but prime for the discerning mainstream music fan; just enough left-of-centre to maintain some originality without losing any of its accessibility.

solid.


Evil Valley (The TV Detective Series)
Evil Valley (The TV Detective Series)
by Simon Hall
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars solid, but not special, 9 Jan. 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
A tale of a journalist-turned-detective on the hunt for a twisted kidnapper with an added nod to police corruption, Simon Hall's third novel in the TV Detective series is solid though not often sparkling.

Though saved by a decent ending, it suffers from giving away the motives behind the action too early in the narrative, quelling any true sense of danger and providing an underwhelming twist as it goes. Nonetheless, Evil Valley is well-paced and provides good inside knowledge of both the professional life of a crime reporter and, sometimes bemusingly, the geography of the South West of England.

Told through a series of characters and almost family friendly in its lack of gritty reality - lacking any swearing or gore, a feat when you consider its topic matter of suspicious policing, child abduction and domestic violence - the simplicity of Evil Valley means it's suitable for almost all, though it's likely to only be appreciated by some.


Plans
Plans
Price: £5.27

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars not very VERY good, just very good, 17 Sept. 2005
This review is from: Plans (Audio CD)
When cult indie/emo heroes Death Cab For Cutie announced a deal with a major record label at the end of 2004, it was met with such doubt by the DCFC faithful that frontman Ben Gibbard posted a statement on their website, reassuring their fans that nothing would change. In fact, the sound and arrangement on sixth album Plans is practically indistinguishable from predecessor Transatlanticism - the overpolished guitar, whimsical piano and atmospheric vocals all remain, and the songwriting is as personal and poetic as ever. Presumably this all stayed the same because it was recorded, produced and generally engineered by band member Chris Walla - it's good to know that they have been able to retain creative control.
Opener 'Marching Bands of Manhattan' is instantly identifiable as the work of DCFC. Its gentle, organ-based start and slow crescendo harks back to the days of 'The Photo Album', and as the last sounds die down they blend seamlessly into second (and easily the most commercially appealing) track 'Soul Meets Body'. This is the kind of songwriting and style that Transatlanticism was made of, a slightly upbeat number with a singalong chorus and killer line "you're the only song I want to hear, a melody softly soaring through my atmosphere". The tone of the song bears more than a passing resemblance to Transatlanticism's 'Title and Registration'. Herein lies a key point: if you have ever recommended DCFC to anyone and they haven't liked it, this will far from change their mind. Not that there's anything wrong with Plans, it just feels very linear when put next to the other albums. The sound remains the same - they still sound like the lovechild of REM and Modest Mouse - but some of the songs here do sound slightly weak. 'Different Names For The Same Thing', for example, is a plodding, disjointed number which is quite amiable after two minutes, but once you're past the five minute mark you might find yourself reaching for the SKIP button. Quite rightly so, as immediately after it comes 'I Will Follow You Into The Dark', which sees just Gibbard and his guitar on a (slightly creepy) love song about promising to die with someone ("if there's no-one beside you when your soul embarks, I will follow you into the dark"), which is one of the highlights of the album.
Talk of death has never been absent in DCFC's work, but there's something about Plans which seems to take in the bigger picture rather than the usual individual tales of lost love. As well as the aforementioned 'I Will Follow You Into The Dark', thoughts of mortality can also be found in 'What Sarah Said', which is about the realisation that when two people are in love and plan to be together forever, then one will inevitably live to see the other die. Opening line "And it came to me then that every plan is a tiny prayer to Father Time" sets the tone, as well as providing inspiration for the album title. It's not exactly light listening, and maybe that's what Plans is missing. 'Company Calls', 'I Was A Kaleidoscope' and 'The Sound Of Settling' each provided a handy upbeat intermission on the previous three DCFC albums, but Plans is void of such pleasure - it sounds pretty downbeat all the way, with only 'Crooked Teeth' trying to raise the tone.
Overall, Plans isn't as interesting as some other DCFC stuff. You still need this album if you're a fan though, and it's still a lot better than most albums that will be released this year if you like this kind of thing. If you're new to the world of DCFC, you'll probably get more enjoyment out of The Photo Album or Transatlanticism.


Gran Turismo 4 (PS2)
Gran Turismo 4 (PS2)
Offered by marxwax
Price: £14.44

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars real driving simulator near-perfect., 1 July 2005
This review is from: Gran Turismo 4 (PS2) (Video Game)
Since its inception, the 'Gran Turismo' racing series has been hyped to the point where it can probably never deliver all the goods, but unlike the other GT games on the PS2 'Gran Turismo 4' is almost there. It's almost perfect, but it has its downsides too. Let's dispel some rumours first though, namely "GT4 is easy/the handling is crap/it's just rubbish".
As is Gran Turismo's standard, there are two main racing modes here: Arcade and Gran Turismo. I'm going to skip over the Arcade part as its not greatly changed from the days of GT3, the true beauty of this game lies in Gran Tursimo Mode. Within GT Mode lie hundreds of cars from many of the premier manufacturers in the world today, with the exception of Ferrari and Porsche who I've yet to find, so probably won't be in there. You start off trying for a B Licence so you can race in the Beginners Events, once you've completed that you are given a car depending on how well you did, and you can choose to sell it and by from one of the three second hand dealers in the game (split into pre 90s, mid 90s and late 90s models) and go from there, or race the one you have. The first car you get will probably handly pretty badly but that doesn't matter, as so will all of the other cars you race against in the Sunday Cup. Besides, do you really want your VW Lupo to handle like an Aston Martin DB9? I'd be disappointed if it did.
Now you have raced a bit, you can tune your car, upgrade the parts to make it better and start kicking some ass. Beware though, the better you make your car the less points you'll receive when you win the race, and the less points you'll have towards your final total. It generally makes way for a Win Event, Win/Buy New Car, Race Car, Lose, Upgrade Car, Win kind of pattern but where you take it is up to you. You can choose to enter a massively modified Lotus Elise in a lightweight race of Renault Clios (as long as your Elise adheres to the race specifications) and win without ever leaving first gear - you'd get 1 point for that probably - or you could choose to enter it for challenging races, upgrade the handling and tyres for grip and use old-fashioned SKILL to win against cars more powerful than yours for anything from 100 to 200 points. So, if you hear people bitch about this game being far too easy, it's because they make it too easy.. if you handle each race realistically, this game is hard. I played Burnout for a few months before this, and the switch from arcade speed to technical cornering was a big jump that took me a little while to get used to but it's worth it. Still only six cars per race though.
On the subject of races, there are many new circuits, as well as the old favourites, hidden away. Frustratingly, not all of them are available in two player mode. Also frustrating is the handling of the Dirt and Snow circuits, both of which are ludicrously slippery and don't seem to affect the computer cars. These are just a couple of down points to an otherwise great game and these races are avoidable, and you'll only need to do them if you yearn for a 100% completion score. As well as Beginner events and 4 other licences, you have the more Advanced races still around like the Clubman Cup, once you've done those you can opt for the Extreme Events, if you have a 25% completion rate you can head over to the Endurance Events, plus there's Special Events (old school road rallies, plus the dirt and snow lot) and then you can also keep yourself amused with Japanese/American/European Events depending on the make of your car and Driving Missions which start off easy and get hard quick. Is that not enough? Well, no. Your manufacturer might also hold Cups for separate makes: VW for example have Lupo, Beetle and GTi Cups you can race in. Hundreds of races, then. The mind boggles, and i still havent mentioned the all-new "B-Spec" mode, where you act as a team boss and let the computer drive your car for you, giving it orders.
Having read some of the other Amazon customer reviews for this product, you can't help but feel sorry for some people who've spent their money on one of the best driving games in existence, and still managed to miss the point. The ONLY way you will find no enjoyment for this game is if you hate racing simulations and only play Arcade games (and even then, there's a pretty good arcade mode here), or racing games in general just give you the fear. There's something for everyone here from the super-enthusiasts who tune their cars to perfection, to the casual racer. Regardless of its slippery rallies, I couldn't give this game any less than five stars.


Infinity Land
Infinity Land
Price: £5.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars biffy mature well, like a fine cheese, 21 Jun. 2005
This review is from: Infinity Land (Audio CD)
'Infinity Land' is unmistakeably Biffy Clyro. Retained are the harmonies, the guitars sound the same and even the style of music is the same, but if anything the constant touring and writing schedule has just enabled the Biffs to hone their three-piece quietLOUDquietLOUD noise even further, without resorting whining like emo kids whose parents won't give them any pocket money. If you've never heard Biffy, I guess there are a few necessary comparisons which must be drawn. First off, their style of music is a progressive distorted wall of guitars and drums and probably shares quite a lot of elements with grunge, and also the emotive songwriting of what is normally termed 'emo' these days, but is actually just rock. Lead Vocalist Simon Neil's husky nonchalant drawl mixed with high pitched screaming is reminiscent of dead Seattle grunger Kurt Cobain in some ways, but the general songwriting and time-signature experiments rightly eleviate Biffy above most other bands with a Nirvana-esque label.
From that bog-standard description, it sounds like nothing's changed for 'Infinity Land', but it's the little touches. Opener "Glitter and Trauma" opens with a minute-long synth (probably) introduction before the live drums and guitars kick in to one of the four singles that were lifted from this album. Simon's vocals waver from relaxed notes to high wails halfway through lines to dramatic effect, as the synth effects in the background continue to add weight to proceedings. It adds a different dimension to the band, but with second track "Strung To Your Ribcage" we're back to screamy proceedings in a song which sounds so familiar it could have been lifted from either of the other albums. Next up is the 'hit' single "My Recovery Injection", which starts with an almost ska-like riff for a minute before the real song kicks in.. naturally, this was removed for the Single Edit but works well for building up to the song proper. Once you're passed the ska, "My Recovery Injection" is quite a light fluffy tune sound-wise, but quite dark lyrically which is a magnificent contrast ("small scars of love and hate and happiness/you hide your scars so well"). Halfway through it turns into a small guitar solo, and ends in a loud crescendo of backing vocals sounding like a much different song to the one we started with. Maybe they haven't changed that much after all.
There are a few slightly more tender moments on this album. It's not unusual for the Biffs to slow songs down slightly in order to build songs up for the end, but on 'Infinity Land' there are a couple of what can only be described as Power Ballads - namely the distorted-but-heartfelt "Got Wrong" and final single "Only One Word Comes To Mind". Probably the biggest sign of mellowing here is the acapella track "There's No Such Man As Crasp", but the loud still outweighs the quiet as this is followed by one of the standout tracks: "There's No Such Thing As A Jaggy Snake". As well as being the first single to be lifted from 'IL' (albeit a download-only one), it also showcases Biffy's flair for their unusual timing tendencies which haven't featured as prominently on this album as the last two. Starting in a simple guitar intro, it soon breaks down into a cacophony of screams and distortion before hitting the chorus with radio-friendly harmonies and turning from there into a light song which utilises lines from the acapella. It's a clever move and showcases a more mature style of songwriting.
If you've heard Biffy but never had a reason to buy them, or have found their other albums a little too harsh, you could do worse than check this out. The songwriting has matured without them resorting to making a last-gasp acoustic album, and they maybe have mellowed a touch, without really departing from what they've always been: good hard rock.


Rockin' The Suburbs
Rockin' The Suburbs
Price: £3.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant debut from top pop writer, 14 Jun. 2005
This review is from: Rockin' The Suburbs (Audio CD)
Having established a reputation as a talented writer of pop songs with his former outfit Ben Folds Five, Folds' debut solo album may take some people by surprise with its tender nature. 'Rockin the Suburbs' is essentially a collection of songs about personal anguish, from the girl waiting patiently for her date who never shows (Annie Waits), through to tales of religious exploitation (Not The Same) and unstable girls reliant on other people (Carrying Cathy). These songs are all light in sound, piano-led ballads most reminiscent of old BF5 songs like 'Brick', for some this will be a disappointment and certainly the first time I heard it I didn't find it instantly accessible.
On first play though there is one standout track, as just as the songs of one-night stands with girls who look like Axl Rose seem firmly in his past, Folds returns to familiar pop ground with the title track 'Rockin' the Suburbs'. Upbeat and poppy, with guitars and synthesisers, Folds offers a biting critique of the noticeably less talented of today's top stars. Although he doesn't name names, the remarkably clever styles of songwriting make it obvious who he's taken aim at: "Dunno how much I can take/Give me something I can break" is a good line, as Folds imitates thoroughly-whinging nu-metal meathead Fred Durst, and the bass solo at the end clearly takes a chunk out of KoRn. As all this is going on, Ben even manages to namecheck the people who *are* worthy of credit (Quiet Riot, Michael Jackson, Jon Bon Jovi).
To say that the best track on the album harks back to BF5 days should not take anything away from the rest of the album. Once you've heard the album through a couple of times, there are 5 or 6 brilliant songs here they just take time to grow on you, and I would easily recommend it to any Ben Folds Five fans or anyone into piano-led music.


Only One Word Comes To Mind
Only One Word Comes To Mind
Offered by 5records
Price: £14.50

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars milking a good album for all it's worth!, 26 Feb. 2005
Biffy have gone into overdrive releasing singles from their third album 'Infinity Land', and this edited version of "Only One Word Comes To Mind" is right up there with the best of them. With the first and last minutes missing from the original album track, the edit of the fourth single to be taken from the album 'Infinity Land' (after 2 CD-singles and the internet release "There's No Such Thing As A Jaggy Snake") has essentially transformed the song into a power-ballad, which we haven't really heard from them since "Justboy" (from first album 'Blackened Sky').
Initially straying from their quite grungy sound, the song opens with a mid-tempo, clean-guitar riff - I think I can even hear an acoustic being strummed in there - and Simon Neil's trademark husky Scottish vocal tone, imploring "believe in, believe in me" and continuing in the same vein with a catchy chorus right up until the outro when the clean guitars cut out leaving just the bass, before exploding with overdriven, distorted guitars in a stadium-metal finish. Sounding musically like a cross between 90s grunge and the heavier side of Muse, it's a nicely written pop song but it's not going to convert any nay-sayers - if you haven't liked BC before, this won't change your mind.
It's amazing that even this far into their Infinity Land promotional campaign, Biffy are still churning out acceptable b-sides instead of remixes and live tracks. Backing up the CD-single are two new songs, "Drown In A Natural Light" and "Gently", both of them being quite heavy songs so drenched in reverb that it sounds like the band are playing in a sewer. They are both good songs underneath though, and are quite similar to the first track even if they aren't the most memorable. If you've got the album already, there's not really any need for getting this unless you're a collector, but if you're a first-time buyer I'd recommend this to get you started, then get the album.


Hounds of Love [CD 2] [CD 2]
Hounds of Love [CD 2] [CD 2]
Offered by Discountdiscs-UK : Dispatched daily from the UK.
Price: £1.93

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars futureheads continue in style, 21 Feb. 2005
18 months after it first started doing the rounds on the internet, the Futureheads finally release Kate Bush cover "Hounds Of Love", the bonus track from their eponymous debut album. With heavy Macken accents, jagged guitars and four-part vocals - it's barely recognisable when compared to the original and works surprisingly well. Like their other material, it's indie with an art-rock twist - it comes highly recommended if you like their other singles "First Day", "Decent Days and Nights" or "Meantime". The guitar style can be likened to Bloc Party or Franz Ferdinand, but neither of those have the depth of the four-part harmonies. Still, if you like the latest wave of Britrock acts, I recommend this highly.
CD2 is backed with the video of the title track, plus three exclusive tracks - an acoustic version of "Decent Days and Nights", a brand new track "Man Made" and a new remix of the title track. The acoustic version of "Decent Days and Nights" loses something when compared to the original, it seems more disjointed than originally intended but at least you can clearly hear what the song is all about in terms of structure, which is more than can be said for Mystery Jet's Pirate Invasion remix of "Hounds Of Love", which is so disjointed and cut-up I had to check the CD wasn't skipping. Final track, "Man Made", isn't up to much either: just a lot of reverb and noise.
If you weren't lucky enough to get a copy of the album with this track on, I recommend you pick up one of the singles. CD2 has more tracks on it, but CD1 has the Phones remix - its up to you.


Hounds Of Love [2 Track CD] [CD 1]
Hounds Of Love [2 Track CD] [CD 1]
Offered by Liberty-Star
Price: £2.50

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant song, brilliant remix, 21 Feb. 2005
18 months after it first started doing the rounds on the internet, the Futureheads finally release Kate Bush cover "Hounds Of Love", the bonus track from their eponymous debut album. With heavy Macken accents, jagged guitars and four-part vocals - it's barely recognisable when compared to the original and works surprisingly well. Like their other material, it's indie with an art-rock twist - it comes highly recommended if you like their other singles "First Day", "Decent Days and Nights" or "Meantime". The guitar style can be likened to Bloc Party or Franz Ferdinand, but neither of those have the depth of the four-part harmonies. Still, if you like the latest wave of Britrock acts, I recommend this highly.
CD1 is backed with (indie disco master) Phones remix of the title track, with a disco beat added and the vocals recut, with added keyboard effects in the background. It's hard to describe, but the recut vocals add a different feel to the song, and the keyboards add a whole different tune - the song as a whole has been thoroughly disco'd and it's brilliant. Unless you don't like disco, then you'll probably think it's rubbish.
In conclusion, if you weren't lucky enough to get a copy of the album with this track on, I recommend you pick up one of the singles.


WWE Smackdown Vs Raw (PS2)
WWE Smackdown Vs Raw (PS2)

4.0 out of 5 stars smackdown! takes a step back, 29 Dec. 2004
the Smackdown! series for the PS2 has gone from strength to strength since its inception, but this title is an unfortunate step back with some slight additions but general reductions. gameplay-wise, THQ's in-game engine is essentially the same as that of the title before, Here Comes The Pain, but there are a couple of new additions.
firstly, you now fight as either a "clean" wrestler (plays to the crowd, does exciting moves etc) or a "dirty" one (uses weapons, doesnt release illegal holds etc). you can also play as a Neutral, but thats BORING. as soon as you've done enough clean/dirty moves your bar fills up and you dirty folks can do a super-illegal move and clean people become invincible. all told, its a nice touch but it doesnt change the way you approach the game. another new addition is the mini-game at the start of the match. these range from Stare-Down battles to shove matches.. essentially though they are over in an instant.
as well as the presence of Legendary characters in the game, you can take on some Legends in the Challenge mode. i won't go into it, but it does add depth which is more than can be said for the voiceovers which are laughable ("another victory for the wrestler with his hand raised.." etc.) and its a pity they sacrificed a lot of cool things for it.
first off, the backstage area is a lot smaller.. no longer can you take a hardcore match all round the building and outside into the street.. then, the roster has been cut to just 40 wrestlers plus 10 or so legends. similarly, they have also cut the number of belts you can win from 7 to 4, but they also have added a Create A Belt option so you can replace both sets of Tag Team Titles and the Cruiserweight title that are so strangely missing. similarly, you can use the Create A Wrestler mode to create all those wrestlers that should be in the game already and when you get bored of the practically unaltered Season Mode (which, for any of you who own the previous title, is almost immediately) then you can set up your own Pay Per View event.
if this is your first Smackdown! game then you will LOVE it - it's a good game, but in the face of Here Comes The Pain this is a massive letdown with a weak roster and reduced combat area taking much more away from the game than the little touches put back in.


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