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Jim O'Donoghue (UK)

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Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: an Introduction
Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: an Introduction
by J. D. Salinger
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars A Very Hot Day, 12 Mar 2010
Raise High and Seymour both provide an insight into Salinger's falling-off from the great, high point of Catcher - and, arguably, some of the short stories. Salinger's beef, referred to in his dedication to the "amateur reader", was with professional reviewers who objected to his subject matter. Sometimes reviewers have a point, however, and the Zen anti-thinking that feeds into these texts would do much to alienate any kind of reader. The character of Seymour, off-stage but constantly referred to in Raise High, is impossibly exceptional. We are supposed to find him somehow wise, spontaneous, dangerous, a deep thinker and a lover of humanity with a particular philosophical bent, all in contrast to the ordinary, lumpen wedding guests attending the wedding he himself is "too happy" to attend. There is a lack of perspective on Seymour's character, and the myth of the Glass family as a whole, that Salinger gets away with, to the extent that he does, only because of his extremely taut and often beautiful conjuring of New York on a very hot summer's day, the very physical description of the heat and the sounds and smells of the two or three locations described in detail. Seymour is inadvertantly presented as smug and condescending in his higher knowledge, the refinements of his responses to life; the narrator himself appears strangely deluded. By Seymour: An Introduction, the hagiography is complete. In this and in Franny and Zooey, Salinger begins to abandon narrative altogether in favour of discursive portraits, which makes you wonder whether the vast piles of manuscripts that may lie unpublished at his death really are such a great loss to American literature.

Pretenders Ii
Pretenders Ii
Offered by FastMedia "Ships From USA"
Price: 15.98

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A difficult second album, 4 Mar 2009
This review is from: Pretenders Ii (Audio CD)
The Pretenders second lp represents a wasted opportunity. At this point, Chrissie Hynde could just about have sung the Yellow Pages and made it - and that seems to have been the approach she took to songwriting on Pretenders II. While the first album had its problems in terms of track sequencing - I've never liked the way it divided into new wave on side one and power pop on side two - there was an urgency to it and conviction. By the second lp, The Pretenders seemed unsure whether they should continue to be in any way a punk act or should go with the success that their glorious singles had brought them.

Unfortunately, that uncertainty resulted in a follow-up full of filler. The production hardly helps, suggesting that while they may not be punk, exactly, The Pretenders are at least "loud". There is an amplfied emptiness to many of the songs, starting with the dull double whammy of The Adultress and Bad Boys Get Spanked. It is noticeable, at least at this distance of time, that all Chrissie Hynde's best moments are tender love songs, or interpretations of tender love songs. Despite the leather and the Vivienne Westwood chic of her earlier London incarnation, she makes an unconvincing adultress and dominatrix. The treatment given the vocals seems perverse, but perhaps it was meant to make the singer sound more the part.

Several other songs strive and yet fail for sheer lack of content. The attempt to sound angry in Jealous Dogs and Pack It Up comes over as forced, like a sort of muted heavy metal. These duffer tracks break the flow of the wonderful 45s - Talk of the Town, Day After Day, Message of Love, I Go To Sleep. Talk of the Town is an inexplicably great pop song, weaving a spell in less than three minutes, somehow creating a portrait of a relationship that feels completely right. Day After Day describes, without its words even, the manic headlong nature of pop life. Message of Love has that great Oscar Wilde quote thrown in and I Go to Sleep hints at what a sweet album this could have been if The Pretenders had given into their instincts and made a whole record of sixties-style pop nuggets.

There are one and a half good reasons to buy this album rather than just listen to one or other of the singles packages. Birds of Paradise is an astonishingly lovely song and could well have been another single. Hynde sings beautifully, and it has her stamp all over it. Nobody else could have written the song. The album finishes with the confusingly named and much-maligned Louie Louie, which is actually pretty cool and kind of funny - the one funny moment in an album that swings between angry-sounding mediocrity and tender brilliance.

Some Girls
Some Girls
Offered by musik-markt
Price: 16.94

10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Let's be sensible, now, 25 Feb 2009
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Some Girls (Audio CD)
The fact that this lp is, at time of writing, only half a star down on Let It Bleed and Get Yer Ya Yas Out, whose boots it is not fit to lick, is something of a condemnation of the star-rating system. Some Girls has always been given the benefit of the doubt because It's Only Rock and Roll is so dull and plodding and Black and Blue is so silly - although Black and Blue, in fairness, has a fuller, rounder sound than Some Girls and in Hand of Fate one of the best songs the Stones came out with in the 70s. The slide had started with Goats Head Soup, which sees Jagger beginning to "sound like himself" to a disturbing degree while Richards, little by little, begins to disappear.

By this point in their career, there is nothing left of the reckless seriousness of Gimme Shelter; they are left apeing their former selves, with decreasing conviction. Some Girls has been praised for stopping the slide, effectively - and it is true that there is more energy and focus than in their three previous releases. Still, when they sound lazy here, they sound lazy. There is none of the lovely rude layabout laziness of Exile On Main Street on Some Girls. Instead, there is an inability to bring songs to a close when their time is done coupled with an inability to finish songs that lack both light and shade and are simply murky.

One or two songs are finished, however. The title track has rightly been criticised for being sexist, and the line about black girls is inexcusable of course - and that is the entire point of the song, which in four minutes of gratuitous obscenity almost rescues the album from mediocrity. It is a successful piece of masculine posturing, like Under My Thumb and Dear Doctor and the rest of them. Beast of Burden is also funny and swings; it is one of the very rare instances of Jagger messing around with his voice that actually works.

Miss You is also finished, but is a little over-exposed and cannot bear the weight it carries at the front of the record. Nonetheless, the line about the Puerto Rican girls is a hint of what Jagger could have sounded like more often at this point, had he put his mind to it. He sounds amused and enthused, like the kind of friend who wants you to get into trouble because, in a weird way, it would be good for you. To be frank - and most people wouldn't own up to this - I prefer Dance, the opener of Emotional Rescue, to Miss You, even though it is obvious that Dance is actually an attempt to repeat the success of Miss You as a faux disco number.

When the Whip Comes Down also has great lines and, like the title track, almost drags the album over the boundary line into something punchy and great. But too much else is lightweight, particularly Lies and Respectable but most of all Faraway Eyes, which can't help but make you think with longing of Dead Flowers and Country Honk and that other great country joker, Dear Doctor. Likewise, the rather tired and draggy Temptations cover only serves to remind you of the great soul covers on the mid-60s albums, particularly Mercy Mercy on Out of Our Heads. Shattered has been revered for sounding like a response to punk, but like Respectable and Lies it doesn't really go anywhere. On an album of stronger songs, Before They Make Me Run would be happily lowkey. As it is, there feels to be something lacking from it. There is a sad resignation to the riffing, as if the guitarist knows his best days are over and this is just a footnote to a great career.

Offered by uniqueplace-uk
Price: 17.27

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine overview of the Go-Betweens' first phase, 22 Jan 2009
This review is from: 1978 (Audio CD)
This is a good round-up of the Go-Betweens' 80s career. It's a shame that, like Felt's Bubblegum Perfume and the Triffids' Australian Melodrama compilations, this one has become so hard to find - and expensive when you do find it. Some of the B-sides and rareities are sprinkled around on the various bonus discs to the rereleased 80s lps; Secondhand Furniture, for instance, is on the double-disc version of Spring Hill Fair. But it is nice to have them all together in one place, along with the 'best of' singles and album tracks.

The collection starts with the single Karen, taken from a crackly 45 in the absence of a master tape - as fine a song as has ever been written about a librarian. It goes on through the early, minimalist phase of their career, that time in the 1980s when everyone sounded a little like the Cure in their first incarnation. Cattle and Cane, in this context, sounds a little less astounding than it is meant to, and Hammer the Hammer a little more. But one pleasure of this compilation is seeing how the band progressed, gathering instrumentalists to them as they went. By Bye Bye Pride, they have Amanda Brown on oboe and fiddle and the guitars themselves have opened out and become full-on jangly. The songs increase in colour, too - and the colour becomes most intense on the four tracks taken from Tallulah.

The rareities aren't always essential but Secondhand Furniture really is, summing up in its three minutes a particular moment in the 1980s. Like Felt's Penelope Tree, it captures a brief era when men were expected to write romantically for a crowd who wanted to pogo. The late B-side, Rock 'n' Roll Friend is also pretty good, though not as muscular as the version Robert Forster did later for his solo lp, Warm Nights. Absolutely crucial, however, is When People Are Dead, which would have made Tallulah a better album but was written too late and ended up as the B-side of Right Here. I doubt if Robert Forster has written a better song than this child's-eye view of a relative's funeral.

Naturally, there are regrets over omissions. No Part Company, for instance, no I Just Get Caught Out or In the Core of a Flame. But the tracks that have been chosen sit well together and give an excellent idea of what it was that made the Go-Betweens so strangely attractive.

The Up Escalator
The Up Escalator
Price: 9.53

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A warmer Parker wearing well, 20 Jan 2009
This review is from: The Up Escalator (Audio CD)
Admirers of Squeezing Out Sparks, the preceding GP lp, must have been a little disappointed when The Up Escalator came out. Up Escalator has little of the finesse and less of the edge of its predecessor, and sounds less authentic somehow - certainly less British new wave. While Squeezing Out Sparks lives in a kind of transatlantic zone of its own, Escalator inhabits the States, even borrowing some of its favourite musicians - Springsteen himself, and the late Danny Federici of the E Street Band. It has that characteristic Jimmy Iovine sound, big and not necessarily subtle, but a sound that suits the songs nonetheless.

And the songs are good. They are not great songs, but that is almost their point; there is something warm and accessible about this album that sets it apart. GP lacks the scope of a talent such as Springsteen's or Elvis Costello's, but in consequence he does not hide behind his talent as they sometimes do, coming out with great music that is not always easy to connect with. Devil's Sidewalk sounds something like the Springsteen of Darkness on the Edge of Town, but GP is a much more direct songwriter. There is something intimate and conversational about him, in this mode. Likewise, a song like Stupefaction or Maneuvers could almost have come from Costello's Armed Forces lp; there is an element of witty word-play that links them. But while Costello loves the intricacies of his own lyrical and musical games, GP likes mainly to sing like Sam Cooke and expend energy. GP's songs lack the distinction of Costello's or Springsteen's, but they are more instant, keeping level with on the listener.

As it is, Devil's Sidewalk is a funny portrayal of what it's like to be messed up and feeling anonymous in New York, while Love Without Greed is scarily honest about the effects on a man of sexual jealousy. None of the songs fail, even if they don't set out to achieve a great deal in the first place - but, importantly, they run into each other beautifully, making the album more than just the sum of its parts. Part of this is the playing, which although it lacks the fire and verve of the original Rumour has a lax swing of its own. Mainly it is down to GP's singing, a kind of Dylan doing Motown act that carries through the whole 40 or so minutes. There are moments of real passion on this album, and real uplift.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 18, 2013 1:22 PM GMT

I Had A New York Girlfriend
I Had A New York Girlfriend
Price: 7.63

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Plucked from obscurity, only to return!, 19 Jan 2009
This collection of Americana with a few odd ones out was recorded in Melbourne, using members of Nick Cave's band, and sounds as drifty, smoky and Australian as anything Robert Forster has done. The album title comes from a Modern Lovers song; there's no Jonathan Richman here, but there's the suggestion of a narrative - a kind of American love story that begins with fire and angst and ends in the barroom, drinking beer.

The album opener, Nature's Way, comes from Spirit's Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus - something of a surprise in itself, since Forster had never revealed any leaning towards freakiness up till that point. Echo Beach is another unpredictable choice; he sounds winsomely out of it throughout, while a lonesome fiddle gets busy around him.

There is something nuggety about Forster's song selection in general. A much-neglected Dylan song from the much-neglected Nashville Skyline album, Tell Me That It Isn't True, dovetails extraordinarily with the Husker Du song 2541 - which does, funnily enough, sound a lot more like the Go-Betweens than anything else on the record. One further nugget comes in the shape of a Neil Diamond pop song, a little flash of sunlight from the same stable as I'm A Believer. One song that wasn't a nugget in the original, a beautiful acoustic number called Locked Away from a Keith Richard's solo record, becomes one under the Forster treatment.

The band sound big and billowy and spontaneous. The only reservation I have about this album is the way it gets all quiet and sombre towards the end, fading away in a way that may be intended but which is still a pity. It is hard to imagine Robert Forster crying into his beer - that is the problem. He is too sardonic for that type of song to stick for him. But the slight tailing off doesn't diminish by much one of the best things Forster has done.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 18, 2013 9:48 PM BST

The Rough Guide to Rock
The Rough Guide to Rock
by Jonathan Buckley
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Buy it where you see it!, 16 Jan 2009
The third and, presumably, final edition of The Rough Guide to Rock is already a little dated. But then why would you need another description of Duffy's album or Amy Winehouse's hairdo? The Guide is an excellent place to stumble across records that have been forgotten or were always obscure. I had never realised that David McComb made a solo album, for example - and who or what were Danielle Dax or Eg and Alice? When you look these things up you find an entry written by a fan, someone who has not just done his research by forcing himself to listen to all the albums of Judas Priest while doing the washing up but genuinely loves Judas Priest and wants you to love them, too! That said, he will still tell you honestly when he thinks Judas Priest underachieved. There are times, of course, when you find yourself disagreeing violently with an opinion. Can anyone really think that Springsteen's The River is full of 'weak ballads'? But because it is written by people who have some personal involvement in the material and not by some weary and embittered old hack, the tone of this Guide never descends to that of the dreadful Time Out film guides, for example, with all their supercilious snarliness.

The Guide gives no indepth study of punk or heavy metal, of course - that is why it has been discontinued in favour of the individual genre guides. But for someone who listens to music without thinking too much of genre boundaries, who is as likely to put on a Stevie Wonder lp as something by the Go-Betweens, this is a great book to have in your shelves. Keep scanning the thrift shops!

Struck By Lightning
Struck By Lightning
Offered by HANG LOOSE Records
Price: 9.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Camberwell Americana at its hottest, 16 Jan 2009
This review is from: Struck By Lightning (Audio CD)
I stumbled on this lp in the local library and have listened to it sporadically over the years, having 'downloaded' it onto a C90 cassette. It's a fine collection of songs, meshed together into a glowing tribute to a kind of pastoral American life - the kind evoked on Van Morrison's Tupelo Honey. But when Graham Parker sings about Children and Dogs or The Boy With the Butterfly Net, you know he has seen those things with his own eyes. There is the same sharpness to his lyrics as there was in Howling Wind, Squeezing Out Sparks or The Up Escalator, but mellowed by a life you can almost visualise, listening to this album - a house in the middle of nowhere, opening onto a field at the back, with a forest and a stream somewhere near.

The band are good, too. At one point, it really is The Band, with Garth Hudson - as far as I remember from liner notes glimpsed long ago - playing the accordion. The musicians mesh in the way The Rumour did. For me, the non-stop acoustic guitars begin to sound a little pallid after half an hour, but at least the first half of the album is as good as anything he has ever done. Graham Parker has a voice that seems to talk to you, personally - which is rarer than it should be, in these days of chilly cool.

Between Thought & Expression
Between Thought & Expression

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A clumsy round-up of a dodgy back catalogue, 15 Jan 2009
Box sets can be cumbersome or they can act like a jukebox devoted to a single artist. In the case of this, the only largescale Lou Reed anthology, the jukebox effect is undermined by problems with song selection and ordering. It would be difficult to arrange Lou's 70s and early 80s highlights out of chronological order, due to the differences in production and ambience between the albums. Bowie's work on Transformer, for example, is neat and tight and sounds nothing like Bob Ezrin's rockist treatments on Berlin. Then there is the unfortunate fact that, as the 70s wore on, Lou Reed showed less and less concern with the way the band sounded behind him, arriving at the tired, possibly whacked-out session musician sound of Growing Up In Public.

Then there is the up and down nature of Lou's back catalogue. This compilation comes to a halt before the significant revival that New York and Magic and Loss represent and so grinds to a halt in the midst of some seriously mediocre early 80s songwriting. The tracklisting here was made by Lou himself - or that is certainly how it looks. Certain songs included here, such as My House, are simply inept, and see him striving for something that seems to recede the more he reaches for it - in both musical and lyrical terms. The box set title (not to be confused, incidentally, with the book of lyrics of the same name) taken from a line from a Velvets song, points to Lou's pretensions to something more than just a writer of pop music. It's when he gets these ideas in his head - that he has to do more than just write a pop song, that he must do something meaningful - that his songwriting tends to fall apart.

Lou's distrust of his pop prowess see him deliberately exclude Perfect Day and Sally Can't Dance, as well as a lowkey chestnut such as Bottoming Out. While he includes half of his beloved Berlin, he skips through other projects. Inevitably, nuggets turn up now and again, such as the oddly touching outtake from Take No Prisoners, Here Comes the Bride, one of the few rarities on the three discs. It is good to have in one place Street Hassle and Coney Island Baby, both wonderful in their own way. Some of the tracks picked from the lesser lps, such as Teach the Gifted Children, The Gun and My Friend George, are well worth having. Three songs come from the awful Rock and Roll Heart album - and, strangely, outside the context of the original lp, they sound great. It is a shame that the opportunity wasn't used to detach more gems from the dross.

Anyone wanting a Lou Reed compilation will presumably head for NYC Man, as they should. You have to hope that one day someone a little more objective will put together a more satisfying Lou Reed box set.

Dark Avenues (Oneworld Modern Classics) (Oneworld Classics)
Dark Avenues (Oneworld Modern Classics) (Oneworld Classics)
by Ivan Alekseevich Bunin
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.99

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The last White Russian, 15 Jan 2009
I believe I am right in thinking that this is the first complete edition of Dark Avenues in English. A few years ago I bought the Hyperion edition, which contains only a selection of the tales. In some ways, the selective approach works well with Dark Avenues, whose subject is remarkably narrow. How many stories can you read about listless Russian aristocrats falling in love with peasant girls or daughters of the house?

On the other hand, the scale of Ivan Bunin's dedication to the Dark Avenues project, as laid out in this complete edition, is quite astonishing. It must have been very painful for him to sit in wartime France, by then an old man, and recall in beautiful, infinite, fabulous detail the sound of birds, the smell of gardens and the corners of lace tablecloths in pre-revolutionary Russia. The real wonder of these stories lies not so much in the narrative itself but in the way Bunin conjures up, across that distance in time and space, the circumstances of lives long ago made unlivable by politics. Neither the men nor the women in these stories have much of a presence compared to the surface of a lake at night, for example, the moon being covered in clouds or the dark avenues themselves.

This edition features a useful mini-biography of Bunin, as well as the inclusion of Dark Avenues in its original Russian. The translation is perhaps a little functional, but you can at least hear a more beautiful language whispering beneath it.

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