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J. A. Eyers "jaeyers" (UK)
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Beethoven - Symphony No 3, \'Eroica\'
Beethoven - Symphony No 3, \'Eroica\'
Price: £15.73

4.0 out of 5 stars Demands a surround-sound stereo speaker system, 21 Sept. 2008
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
My main problem with symphonies on CD is that they are just that: symphonies... on CD. This (as with his others) is a big piece of music that needs room to reach the ceiling before it reverberates. It certainly won't do to listen to it on MP3 player headphones designed for pop music. Unfortunately it's beyond most budgets to book the superb Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra (and Andrew Manze) whenever you want to listen to No 3, so this will have to do. And as far as compensating for not recreating the ambience of live performance, the result is more than serviceable. Manze picks out all the little details, and the superior recording quality picks them all up. Whether on its own it will convert any newcomers is doubtful. You just can't capture the energy of the performance without seeing both musicians and conductor break a sweat in the latter movements. But as a primer for someone who has never heard it before, and will see it live, this is the version to make them listen to first.


Godard: Violin Concerto 2, Concerto Romantique, Scenes Poetiques
Godard: Violin Concerto 2, Concerto Romantique, Scenes Poetiques
Price: £7.23

4.0 out of 5 stars A bargain-priced introduction to Benjamin Godard, 17 Mar. 2008
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Benjamin Godard isn't a composer many people have heard of these days. This might lead to misconceptions that he's a muso's musician, an inaccessible composer who wrote intellectual pieces that are meant to be thought about rather than listened to and felt. This couldn't be more wrong. The first two concertos on this CD, both between 20-30 minutes long, are the perfect introduction to an underrated composer. The first one in particular is like the musical equivalent of a wide country landscape, in which the orchestra provides the rolling background, and the violin draws your attention to the little details on the hillside. The musicianship is first rate (especially from the young violinist Chloe Hanslip, on whose shoulder the responsibility for carrying the music often falls) and the recording quality top notch.

The only reason I don't give this CD a five star rating is because of the third piece of music, which seems incongruous. There's nothing especially wrong with it, apart from its place. In itself it is a fine piece, but it seems like they just added it to the end of this CD to bump it up to an hour.


People of the Book
People of the Book
by Geraldine Brooks
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging globetrotting historical mystery epic, 17 Jan. 2008
This review is from: People of the Book (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
In 1996, amid the ruins of war-ravaged Bosnia, an ancient Jewish artifact feared lost after centuries of war and upheaval suddenly reappeared. If it were an entirely fictional plot device, the Sarajevo Haggadah would be unbelievable: a priceless, one-of-a-kind illuminated prayer book, it managed to survive the Holocaust, the Spanish Inquisition, and wars between Christians and Muslims.

But Pulitzer Prize-winning (and more importantly, Richard and Judy-endorsed) author Geraldine Brooks' new novel is based on a true story. An epic, globe-spanning historical mystery, it unlocks the secrets of the Haggadah's extraordinary journey, as Brooks speculates just how it managed to survive, who helped it, and why.

When the Islamic museum curator who has protected the Haggadah during the break-up of Yugoslavia decides to reveal it to the world, rare-books expert Hanna Heath is called upon to verify its authenticity. Not only is she convinced, but she finds trapped between its pages clues to its other unlikely guardians: a salt crystal, a butterfly's wing, a white hair, a bloodstain.

As the smart, feisty, independent (read: frosty, cerebral loner) Dr Heath probes deeper and deeper into the Haggadah's past, the novel becomes not only her story but that of the other people of the book. These historical interludes bear plots worthy of novels themselves, but here they gradually entwine, both in terms of the story and of its overarching theme about an aesthetic power stronger than God - or the dogmatic religions that claim to speak for Him, anyhow.

Predictably, Hanna softens up when she stops seeing the book in terms of its inks being forensic clues, and lets its beauty as a unique work of art touch her as it touched its previous owners. For better or worse, Brooks breaks away from Hanna's first person narrative for the historical episodes, so while we learn where it's been, Hanna doesn't. Hers is just the latest chapter in the story of the Haggadah.

While there is nothing particularly original here in terms of form or content, it is written in an effortlessly readable way; Brooks' prose is the right mix of instantly graspable imagery, honest dialogue, and action. Even though the story jumps time and location often, we always get a sense of where we are and who we're with.

The novel is weighed down by an under-developed romantic subplot between Hanna and the Bosnian Muslim who saved the Haggadah during the collapse of Yugoslavia. Hanna also learns the identity of he father she never knew, but it all seems rather trivial sandwiched between stories about the Nazis and Torquemada's expulsion of the Jews from Spain, which are in turn thrilling and moving.

Though the slightly incongruous ending is right out of Dan Brown, this is forgivable when preceded by so much to commend. For all the narrative importance of Christianity, Islam and especially Judaism, this novel is quintessentially humanist in its message.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 22, 2008 2:32 PM GMT


20Q Version 2
20Q Version 2

3.0 out of 5 stars For anti-social kids only, 8 Jan. 2008
This review is from: 20Q Version 2 (Toy)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
What we have here is basically the old 'Animal, vegetable or mineral?' game of Twenty Questions - no telepathy, just a little microchip working through your answers logically until it only has one option left. And to make it easier on the poor thing, you're no longer just restricted to answering 'Yes' or 'No', you now get a 'Sometimes' and an 'Unknown' option as well, plus an 'Undo' button for when the machine inevitably tells you that you were thinking of 'a car' when you were actually thinking of 'Doctor Who's TARDIS'.

To give it its credit, it did surprise me on a few occasions. It guessed I was thinking of a television first time. It also guessed a kitten when I was thinking of a cat - close enough, I suppose, but it had guessed a dog first. Less successful (but no less jubilantly announced) readings of my mind resulted in it guessing a bottle of ketchup when I was actually thinking of wine. On one occasion it gave up completely, and on another it took thirty questions to guess correctly, and promptly declared itself the winner, despite it having gone over the Twenty Questions limit by 50%.

There's nothing really wrong with the thing, the main problem is that it naturally only has a limited vocabulary. A real human opponent would not. Part of the appeal would probably be to play with others, trying to catch it out together, see what ridiculous suggestions it could come up with. But I imagine just as this adult quickly resorted to seeing if it could guess rude things, so would kids.

One for a car journey, to be sure, but it probably doesn't have the consistent appeal for a plane journey. Just be sure to turn the sound off first, wherever it's used.


Gents
Gents
by Warwick Collins
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

8 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A look at London from beneath the street, 24 Oct. 2007
This review is from: Gents (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Newly and deservedly republished after ten years, this short, punchy, instantly engaging novel tells the story of three Jamaican immigrants who together constitute the staff that man a busy public toilet in central London, which is frequently visited by men looking for casual sex. But there's no gratuity here. The theatrical story, which rarely leaves the confines of the subterranean convenience, focuses on the relationship between the three men, their jaded dreams and misplaced hopes. Through them we see London from the bottom looking up, sometimes literally, and it's an alien world, somewhat bewildering to its outsider protagonists. This is no grimy, depressing slice-of-life documentary piece, nor a polemic about homosexuality or immigration. It's more of a parable, a lesson in not always wanting what you think you do when you actually get it. I read it in a day's commute, and the ending left me smiling, as my train closed in on my station.


blink-182
blink-182
Offered by A ENTERTAINMENT
Price: £3.90

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A new beginning, 18 Nov. 2003
This review is from: blink-182 (Audio CD)
I've always had a soft spot for this band because they got me into the alternative music scene. And, I'm pleased to say, that soft spot hasn't hardened thanks to this new album.
It's different. And not in the way that "Enema Of The State" was different from "Dude Ranch", or different in the way that "Take Off Your Pants And Jacket" was different from "Enema" (though you have to have listened to both of them relentlessly to notice how). The sound is different. It's heavier. Lots of bands have released new albums this last year and promoted them as "heavier" and/or "experimental". Few of them have lived up to that promise. This one does. Sure, it's not heavy enough to genre-shift into the Finch fold (though there were moments where it sounded like it would), nor is it experimental in the way Radiohead are supposed to be.
This isn't an album you can imagine former Blink-alikes such as Bowling For Soup or A Simple Plan ever making. Gone are the purile jokes completely, as are the songs about dating. There's not even a novelty track on here. So not only have Blink grown beyond themselves, but they've also put a distance between themselves and those bands that have sought to emulate them. There's a certain unexpected dynamism, then, that perhaps means Blink will survive when other pop punk acts fall.
So if not Blink, then what does it sound like? Well, it's still Blink. Tom DeLonge's vocals continue to grate, perhaps more now than ever, and Mark Hoppus continues to be the better singer. For some bizarre reason, The Cure's Robert Smith turns up to sing one song with them, and Val Kilmer's ex-wife Joanna Whalley reads out a letter for this album's answer to "Adam's Song".
On first listen, though, the two bands that came to mind straight away were Box Car Racer and 'A', funnily enough. Box Car Racer isn't surprising, seeing as it was Tom DeLonge's side project with the Rancid boys. It's not only the more thoughtful lyrics that have carried over from that defunct band. As for 'A', I have no idea...
Musically, it's not breaking any new ground. However, it's still interesting. It's very much a studio album, evident in the use of a flange effect on drums and overdubbed vocals. Not very punk rock, but I don't think they're claiming to be anymore. I liked the regular use of keyboards, and the increased distortion on the guitars stopped the perpetual chirpy pop feel that has defined the previous two albums.
Whether all that's going to sit well with the rest of their fans is another matter, though.


Godspeed: The Kurt Cobain Graphic
Godspeed: The Kurt Cobain Graphic
by Jim McCarthy
Edition: Paperback

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for Nirvana fans, 16 Nov. 2003
There have been so many tacky cash-ins on the Nirvana phenomenon since Kurt Cobain’s death you’re more likely to find some exploitative, tabloid journalism piece of unauthorised biography than something that’s truly a tribute to the grunge legacy. Fortunately, this graphic novel falls into the latter category.
The story of Kurt Cobain’s life is already well-known and this book doesn’t claim to add anything to it. Everything’s here, from Kurt’s parents’ divorce, his first encounter with drugs, Nirvana’s disastrous first gig, and its triumphant final days. In fact, there’s so much here that if you don’t already know the history of Nirvana after the release of their Nevermind album, it’s not going to make much sense. But that is the single flaw with this entire graphic novel.
The comic strip is presented from Kurt’s own perspective. The narrative voice is his own. Book-ended by his suicide, we quickly learn the story is a retrospective dream – his life flashing before his eyes in those final few seconds. This dreamlike quality stops the episodic plot losing pace and momentum. Recurring images of Kurt’s imaginary friend Boddah and juxtapositions between Kurt’s parents’ problems and his and Courtney’s give this book a feeling of the unreal.
But it works. The writers and artists truly seem to have managed to get inside the head of somebody who has been dead a decade. There are even sly little digs at the people who misunderstood or exploited Nirvana. Lovingly crafted but never sycophantic, this is a must-read for all Kurt’s fans.


Layne Staley, Angry Chair: A Look Inside the Heart & Soul of an Incredible Musician
Layne Staley, Angry Chair: A Look Inside the Heart & Soul of an Incredible Musician
by Adriana Rubio
Edition: Paperback

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Must-read for all Alice In Chains fans, 13 Nov. 2003
The first thing you will think when you pick this up is: oh, it's one of those ghastly vanity press books. Because it does have the look of a self-published work. And, as you'll read, author Adriana Rubio's style seems sloppy and unedited. In fact, it reads like a fan's work. But, if so, probably one of the best books written by a fan of a band.
At times overly self-referential (Rubio's asides to her own problems with anorexia seem out of place) and never less than sycophantic toward Layne Staley, this isn't cutting edge investigative journalism. Nor is it a warts and all unauthorised biography. It is very subjective, and Rubio frequently climbs onto her soapbox about certain issues, such as drug abuse.
No, this book is the kind of book you'd imagine your own aunty writing about you. Much of it is devoted to information garnered from interviews with Layne Staley's mother, though you get the impression these were fond chats about the man rather than intensive grillings. At the end of the book, Rubio even refuses to comment on Staley's death out of respect to his family.
However, it's the involvement of Staley's family that makes this special. You can't imagine professional biographers getting so intimate. This leaves the book with certain unorthodox advantages, such as family photos, reproductions of Layne's artwork, plus diary entries and work-in-progress song lyrics that evoke memories of Kurt Cobain's recently published journals.
At the end of the day you're left with the impression that Rubio very much adored Layne Staley. There are so many cynical cash-ins around for notorious bands like Alice In Chains, so it's nice to find one that's honest, heartfelt and a fitting tribute as well.


Was
Was
by Geoff Ryman
Edition: Paperback

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If it was a movie, it'd be described as a SLEEPER HIT, 13 Nov. 2003
This review is from: Was (Paperback)
What if Dorothy from “The Wizard Of Oz” really existed, Uncle Henry was a predatory paedophile, and Aunty Em and the dreadful Miss Gulch were the same person? That’s basically the main plot of this superficially bizarre, but very heartfelt post-modern take on the Oz legend.
But if it sounds like one of those dreary comical rewrites where everything is subverted just for laughs, then I’ve done it an injustice. “Was” purports to be the story of the real Dorothy, who meets L Frank Baum, who goes on to write the story of the life she should have had – the Oz books themselves.
It’s also the story of the making of “The Wizard Of Oz” movie, Judy Garland’s family strife mirroring the real Dorothy’s, and dying AIDS patient Jonathan’s obsession with them both. Everything is linked across the hundred-year span of the novel, and the end is also the beginning. But the result, a swirling mass of parallel lives across the centuries, comes across like a literary cyclone itself.
That said, this isn’t a particularly literary novel. I found it very easy to read, but to really appreciate it you need to appreciate either the film or the Oz books themselves. This isn’t a happy book, and there is little let-up from the misery. There are certainly no happy endings in the conventional sense. In a way, the characters are just swept away at the end of the novel, but when you get that far, this kind of seems fitting.
Unfortunately, this book seems to go in and out of print regularly, so snap it up whilst you still can!


Dirt
Dirt
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £4.94

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply fantastic, 6 Oct. 2003
This review is from: Dirt (Audio CD)
I’m still reeling from the fact that I missed this stupendous album for so long. It’s one of those rare CDs that comes along once in a while where you get one classic after another. Grunge may be dead, but put this album on and you can resurrect it for the next 57 minutes.
I couldn’t possibly pick any stand out tracks, they’re all so good, but ones I like to repeat over and over again are “Dam That River”, “Junkhead” and “God Smack”. The first track, “Them Bones”, also seems very prophetic, given what happened to front man Layne Staley. “Gonna end up a big old pile of them bones,” he sings. And sadly, he did.
At their most average, the band sounds like Soundgarden. When they’re good, they bear a passing resemblance to Nirvana. And when Alice In Chains are at their best, they sound like nobody else but themselves. Jerry Cantrell is a more technically proficient guitarist than most grunge guitarists, and coupled with Staley, they come nearer than any other band to challenging Cobain to his Grunge King crown.


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