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Reviews Written by
R. S. Stanier "Robert Stanier" (London)

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The Nylon Curtain
The Nylon Curtain
Price: £3.99

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Billy Joel's most underrated album, 28 Nov. 2002
This review is from: The Nylon Curtain (Audio CD)
Maybe it's because there aren't any love songs on this that it's so uncelebrated, because this is a simply brilliant album.
"Allentown" opens things up with vital force and that continues through the first side, ending with another political song, the Vietnam lament "Goodnight Saigon", a genuine epic.
In between, you find "Pressure", which is the best rock song Joel ever recorded.
As for the second side, it's full of unexpected numbers: "Scandinavian Skies" is really intriguing, and the closer "Where's The Orchestra?" has yet another fantastic lyric to accompany a mournful melody.
If you want Joel at his warmest, buy "An Innocent Man", if you want Joel at his most melodic, buy "The Stranger", but if you want Joel at his most intelligent, buy "The Nylon Curtain". A fantastic collection of songs that bears repeated listening.

McCartney: Liverpool Oratorio
McCartney: Liverpool Oratorio

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The first and actually the best McCartney classical effort, 28 Nov. 2002
The consensus seems to be that this was a naive first try at classical music and superceded by his later stuff qv Standing Stone.
Actually, when I want some classical McCartney, this is invariably the one I turn to, and turn to with pleasure.
Yes, there are weak points, but there are some stand out moments: "Non nobis solum..." at the start, a genuinely powerful cri de coeur in "Father", the violin solo in "Work", "The World You are Coming Into", and the cheery "Let's Find Ourselves A Little Hostelry" sung by Willard White.
You also get the feeling that there is a lot of the real McCartney in the lyrics: the paean to "Family" at the end. And ultimately, I reckon that sums it up for quite a lot of English people.
This is the most performed McCartney classical work and I don't think that's coincidence: it has got a lot of sweet melodies and it tells a story that you can respond to, even if it isn't the deepest set of lyrics ever.
Carl Davis - at the poppier end of classical - did a really good job, I reckon, putting it all together.
Buy it, especially at £9.99 and enjoy.

The "Beatles"
The "Beatles"
by Hunter Davies
Edition: Hardcover

26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Crucial: only Davies knew them all as a band, 24 Oct. 2002
This review is from: The "Beatles" (Hardcover)
Hunter Davies is a great writer who has been lucky enough to write about some fascinating subjects. But none better than the Beatles.
His research centres in 1967-8, with the Beatles at work on the White album and it's a sort of glossed picture. For example, he doesn't go into John's infidelities - he is still the family man here - nor does he divulge all he knew about Brian Epstein, though he deals with this in the add ons to a later edition.
Yet even with this, he spent such a long time with them - and they obviously like him - that you get really intimate details. He is best on John and George -I think- and finds Paul the hardest to get to grips with.
This isn't the perfect biography, as he concedes: it's a bit like he never quite got on top of the mountain of material he accumulated, but it's totally readable and rich in detail. If you are interested in the Beatles, this is a gold mine, and it catches something of the Sixties London atmosphere too.
Even more to the point, loads of great books have been written about the Beatles since, "Revolution in the Head", "Shout" etc.etc. but no one except Davies had the opportunity to get this close.
You can read Lennon interviews or the Miles book on McCartney, but they are biassed. Davies captures them as they really were in the latter stages: his portrait is both perceptive and affectionate. A terrific book.

Offered by Music-Finder
Price: £17.76

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great stuff, but not essential, even for the Joel fan, 24 Oct. 2002
A 2 CD record of a concert Joel gave in New York on Millennium Eve, he runs through his best hits and a few lesser known numbers with real verve.
A little excursus into one of his classical piece's jars slightly on repeated listenings as - inevitably - does his banter with the crowd, but it is still a memorable show. "Don't Ask Me Why" is the one track I would pick out as being miles better here than in its original setting ("Glass Houses"). It comes off full of such life that you end up dancing round the room. Otherwise, really good, really enjoyable, but I wouldn't buy it ahead of his studio albums, or "Songs in the Attic". However, it does top "Kohuept", the Russian live concert album.

Only a Game?: The Diary of a Professional Footballer
Only a Game?: The Diary of a Professional Footballer
by Eamon Dunphy
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Takes footballers as its subject, and then transcends it, 24 Oct. 2002
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
With Only a Game?, Dunphy made his name and his account has had many imitators, the latest being Tony Cascarino. Nick Hornby also picked up the format for Fever Pitch - installments game by game - from this.
He takes the abortive season he spent with Millwall in 1973 and infuses his account with a career's worth of understanding. How a coach can lose the respect of the team, how the manager is weakened by having to accommodate a captain who is fundamentally uncommitted, how the need to impose oneself undercuts the ability to play to one's potential.
Yes, it's lots about football: the mundane details of training, the changing room, the team bus etc, but the acuity of his observation breathes life into it. Moreover, though his subject is footballers, the book has to say has much about any group you may be part of, any office, any team, any group of people. Why respect comes and goes; how a new entrant changes the dynamics of the group; what it's like to go from being near the end of a career to over the hill, and what it's like never to make it at all.
Dunphy is compelling in his insight, deeply sympathetic in his analysis, and - while flawed as a person - somewhat like Alan Clarke, this attracts you more deeply into what he is saying.
Miles above the standard sports book, this is revered as a classic, and deservedly so. Its wisdom stretches far beyond the football field. Whatever you think about the Keane book, this is well worth reading.

Little Green Man
Little Green Man
by Simon Armitage
Edition: Paperback

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly, lacking warmth, 2 Oct. 2002
This review is from: Little Green Man (Paperback)
The other reviews here are very fair. It is nicely plotted and full of sharp observation and delightful images, but ultimately the hollow at the heart of the main characters leaves you feeling pretty bleak. This isn't per se bad, but I guess "All Points North" had such warmth that I was hoping for more of the same. You won't find it here.

Nicholas Nickleby (Penguin Classics)
Nicholas Nickleby (Penguin Classics)
by Charles Dickens
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful, sprawling read, 7 Aug. 2002
What can you say? Dickens writes brilliantly.
This entertaining saga follows the handsome eponymous hero through the slings and arrows that follow him into adulthood.
All I had heard about before was Wackford Squeers and Dotheboys Hall, but that is mostly over by the end of the first quarter.
As usual, the plot is a bit pointless but the characters are fantastic, and I thought the cameo role for the villain Mulberry Hawk led to some of the best bits of writing in the book, in particular the description of a drunken argument that leads to a duel. Dickens is such a good writer that he can toss off sensational bits of writing like this on bits of the plot that are far from crucial. His talent just can't be contained.
This, though, is the ignore the main part of the drama as Nickleby fights to overcome the injustices that assail his family. The book certainly has some powerful moments, as well as genuinely funny comic interludes.
Of the characters, Smike is the most tragically drawn and perhaps the most famous: I am not sure that authors today would treat mental impairment the same way, but that is perhaps a failure of today's readers and writers.
I suppose I don't think this novel has the depth of later work like "David Copperfield", which covers similar material, but it is still leagues ahead of most things you will read.
Thoroughly enjoyable and full of humanity.

Glass Houses
Glass Houses
Price: £3.99

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some great nuggets, but not classic Joel, 7 Aug. 2002
This review is from: Glass Houses (Audio CD)
Released in the middle of his late 70s/ early 80s zenith, this isn't up to the standards of "The Stranger" or "An Innocent Man" but it does have its moments.
"All For Leyna" is a fantastic song, totally original, a pointed analysis of obsession, and the album closer "Through The Long Night" has the sweetest harmonies on a Joel record. Very Beatley, it makes it into George Martin's Top 10 pop songs ever, which is pretty remarkable as it is not well known.
Overall, a great second side is let down by some weak stuff up front. "Sometimes a Fantasy", for example, is turgid pseudo-rock and "Don't Ask Me Why" on this album doesn't sound half as good as it does on the Millennium concert, when it is played live.
Joel fans will find enough to please them here, but fringers should head elsewhere in his catalogue.

Driving Rain
Driving Rain
Offered by Books-and-Sounds
Price: £4.72

6 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Someone should tell him "That's not finished yet, Paul", 13 May 2002
This review is from: Driving Rain (Audio CD)
The man can still write a melody. But too frequently, it's just a great chorus and the verse is weak, or vice versa.
And then the lyrics: "1,2,3,4,5, let's go for a drive" "She don't say a word, not a dicky bird". These are rhymes that really make you wince.
Why doesn't his producer tell him for once? I guess they are all scared of him.
On the plus side, "Heather" is brilliant, and really innovative, and "From a Lover to a Friend" is close to a great song.
Otherwise, there are a few good moments interspersed with a lot of stuff where he is sleepwalking through it all. Great bass playing for once, though, almost all the way through. It is as if it was the only thing he could be bothered to concentrate on.
Oh, and then there's Freedom, which is his effort at matching Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance", and is a pretty good shot at it.
So a middling to weak album. But then, even these fragments from a genius are worth ten albums from just about anyone else.

How to be Good
How to be Good
by Nick Hornby
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Made me think about my life more than any other recent book, 13 May 2002
This review is from: How to be Good (Paperback)
Has anyone captured the malaise at the heart of the liberal left, agnostic middle class as well as Hornby?
Faced up with her own principles, Katie Carr finds she doesn't actually want to walk the walk, and the unsettling knowledge this brings is what gives this book its ideological twist.
The theme is a development from "About A Boy". There, the male lead's toes curl as he sees the sincerity on the boy's face as he sings out Joni Mitchell. The only way Marcus can be taught to survive is by being normalised out of his eccentricity and here, Katie Carr is devastatingly embarrassed by her husband's ingenuousness because it is not the "done thing", not because it is wrong. Rocked out of her usual life, even conversation becomes impossible.
Has Britain in the 21st Century really sunk so far into irony and cynicism that any unironic response is doomed not to fit?
Answer: probably yes.
And this is a bleak book. There are limits beyond which people can't be expected to stretch, and these limits are not particularly testing. We are all pretty selfish really, and can we actually be expected to do more than look after our own?
I hate to think he is right, but then, he is not preaching, just commenting.
I found this book genuinely unsettling, and I would never have believed that was possible from Hornby, who has always been so warm and reassuring before. The lack of joy in their lives and most especially their marriage is utterly convincing, however depressing.
Not a lovable book, but brilliant all the same.

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