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R. Davies (Wales)

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At War With the Mystics
At War With the Mystics
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £4.81

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars At war with their ideas, 2 April 2009
This review is from: At War With the Mystics (Audio CD)
At War With The Mystics is unfortunately a little weak compared to The Flamings Lips previously triumphant outpouring of anarchic blissfulness. To me it sounds like they are trying too hard to sound like themselves, and in doing so the Lips' schtick sounds forced and a little tired.

Whereas the Lips exciting sound was so organic on the likes of "Clouds Taste Metallic" and "Yoshimi...", reaching a creative zenith (for me at least) on "The Soft Bulletin", here it sounds contrived and at times rather dull.

Don't get me wrong, Wayne and the gang haven't completely lost their focus, and at times deliver their "thang" in spades.

"Free Radicals" could be Prince on speed (and acid), "Mr Ambulance Driver" is almost difinitive Lips, "The W.A.N.D." is a great lyric and a great riff and "Pompeii Am Götterdämmerung" is the soaring sonic masterpiece they've been promising for a long long time.

Overall then "At War..." is hit and miss, with slightly too much unfocussed material punctuated by moments of brilliance.

Perhaps unfocussed is the wrong word, they're never exactly polished, that's part of their appeal, so maybe 'unfinished sounding' would be a better description of some of the weaker material. Like "The Sound of Failure". It's not filler, but it shouldn't be there!

Price: £5.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cheese rock classic!, 31 Mar. 2009
This review is from: Hysteria (Audio CD)
This was one of the first albums I ever bought, when I was about 7 or 8 years old. Then I stopped listening to it for years as I went off on a musical odyssey, before returning to it about a year ago.

My first impression after more than a decade was sheer enjoyment. The songwriting is so incredibly strong. Animal, Love Bites, Don't Shoot Shotgun and especially Run Riot are absolute gems! All are dynamic, unpredictable and technical but ultimately very accessible.

This album is a surefire way to bring a grin to my face.

However, Hysteria does have some drawbacks. First of all, the production is sickly sweet throughout. I know this is the era of Duran Duran dominating the charts but come on. This is supposed to be rock n roll!

Then there are the ballads. Love Bites is great, but Hysteria, while an alright song (it was perhaps my favourite as a kid) grates lyrically, and Love and Affection really belongs on a Savage Garden album.

To be honest I find the whole tight leather and big hair image coupled with over-produced ballads horrifically cringeworthy. In fact I should hate this album. Except I don't. I think it's really really good. And that's down to the songs.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 27, 2009 12:09 PM BST

The Shadow of the Sun: My African Life
The Shadow of the Sun: My African Life
by Ryszard Kapuściński
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.48

5.0 out of 5 stars The real "Africa", 30 Mar. 2009
I love Kapuscinski! This is his first book I read and I'm now on my fifth, and all are brilliant.

All I can do is echo the thoughts of other reviewers...for those wanting to understand the real Africa, "In the shadow of the sun" is exquisite. The very nature of his position as Poland's foreign correspondant, so under-funded compared to his peers, allowed Kapuscinski an insight into African life I'm yet to find elsewhere.

Of coarse, as the opening lines state, "Africa" doesn't exist outside of cold, factual geography. But far be it from me to describe this idea, just buy the book!

His descriptions of the searing African heat, the debilitating effects of malaria, the exhubarant joy of Africa during independence, the history of the Rwandan conflict and, amongst much else, the sheer vastness of the landscape are unparalled.

Kapuscinski's love for every facet of life across the vast expanse collectively termed Africa shines through in every line and paragraph. This is a work of towering beauty.

The Scramble For Africa
The Scramble For Africa
by Thomas Pakenham
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.18

20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In to Africa, 30 Mar. 2009
Perhaps The Scramble for Africa is not what most people would want to read about, but having read a decent amount about post colonial Africa, I thought I'd find out just how the Imperialists got their dirty little mitts on it in the first place.

Packenham's book is majestic. Some of the subject matter in the hands of someone less skilled would become unbearable. Inter-department shenanigans of various French governments? With Packenham it's fascinating!

The book covers a huge subject, from the early explorations of Livingstone through to a time where all but Ethiopia and Liberia remained unconquered. This includes the European government machinations, the 'scientific' explorations, the missions, the wars, the capitalist exploitation and everything in between.

Startlingly, Packenham brings hundreds, if not thousands, of the central characters to life in such a small space (albeit nearly 700 pages of fineprint). Not only the well-known major players like Stanley, Leopold and Rhodes of whom we'd all heard, but people like Tippu Tip, Lugard, George Goldie and King Mwanga are all leant such an incredible depth of character.

The story is fascinating, if at times farcicle, gruesome and ditressing.

I found two factors shocking. The first is the complete lack of plan the European powers had when entering into the scramble, made worse by the frivolous tit-for-tat nature of much of the division of Africa between France and Britain. I had naively thought that a reasonably serious analysis of the continent had been undertaken prior to a systematic division largely based on resources.

The second was the shocking atrocities the Imperial governments were willing to sweep under the carpet to get what they wanted. How could governments such as Salisbury's allow events such as Rhodes' massacre of Lobengula's people in Matabeleland?

This is no anti-colonial rant, I completely understand the complicity of the African Kings in in the slave trade and the terrible actions of the Arab slave traders long after the Europeans tried to stop it. But irrelevant of this, how the powers, purportedly expanding on the back of the so-called three C's (Christianity, Civilisation and Capatalism) allowed such -let's err towards understatment- ungentlemanly actions is beyond me.

In summary, Packenham takes an broad subject and brings it to life. It's so good even the boring bits are interesting!

Love Is Hell
Love Is Hell
Price: £5.57

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quality Control Variable, 24 Mar. 2009
This review is from: Love Is Hell (Audio CD)
I'm never sure about about Ryan Adams.

Firstly, his tortured troubadour soul. Really? I'm certainly not convinced!

Secondly, while his output of songs is prestigious, subsequent to Heartbreaker, someone needed to tell to leave a few of them on the cutting room floor. This is especially true on "Love is Hell". Following the excellent first 5 tracks, things become decidedly hit and miss.

There's no doubting however that Adams is a fine songwriter and possesses a wonderful voice. Chord progressions are a highly personal thing but Adams' just does it for me. His aching vocal coupled with his melancholic chords just strikes a chord with me! (Sorry).

As a stand alone record I would give "Love is Hell" 3.5 out of 5. With a bit of editing it could have been closer to 4.5.

OK Computer
OK Computer
Price: £4.99

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My Tuppence, 4 Mar. 2009
This review is from: OK Computer (Audio CD)
Whenever I'm asked what my favourite album ever made is, after much sighing and chin stroking, I almost inevitably end up at Radiohead's magnificent third album. Perhaps it's because it's the only one of the candidates to have been released during my lifetime, I don't know. But there you are - it's the greatest album ever made!

Love's Forever Changes is certainly a candidate for the above question, and while it may seem bizarre at first, I think a number of parallel can be drawn between the two.

FC came at the end of the summer of love, and was the first album to hint at the darkness that lay ahead and the unwelcome realities the movement was blind to. OKC arrived at the height of Britpop, and while the Gallagher boys were in No. 10 with the Blairs, Radiohead were also hinting at something darker, the alienation, cultural sterility and disenfranchising of the soul being felt in a digital age.

OKC can at times be cold and sterile, but it is permeated with a resonating beauty throughout. It is perfectly of a time, and yet timeless.

The songs, as you'd expect are superb, but as with all great albums the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

The only point where OKC loses something is when Radiohead move from the personal to the political on Electioneering. Maybe it's there to remind people what middle-of-the-road sounds like? It's more than remedied by Climbing Up The Walls which follows. A dark, brooding claustrophobic monster of a sound, it's the entrance music I would have I was a boxer!

From the riff of Airbag and the multi-faceted genius of Paranoid Android, through the atmosphere of Exit Music, incredible musicality of Let down and the singalong anthem of Karma Police to the melancholy but uplifting No Surprises, the soaring, magnificent Lucky to the epic closer The Tourist, Radiohead do not put a foot wrong.

Radiohead had just spent all the money from the bends on the kit needed to self-produce an album in Jane Seymour's mantion. They had creative carte blanch and this was their chance to go stratospheric. Boy did they take it.

Parlophone said it was commercial suicide. That seemed wrong at the time and seems even more so 12 years on. The success of this album gives me faith in the Great British public!
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 27, 2011 4:24 PM BST

Dusk at Cubist Castle
Dusk at Cubist Castle
Price: £16.41

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A million influences all under one roof, 3 Mar. 2009
This review is from: Dusk at Cubist Castle (Audio CD)
I was listening to this again last night and, as usual, it absolutely blew my mind.

There are moments within "Dusk at Cubist Castle" that are so mesmerising, so enchanting, so totally perfect as to leave much of the rest of the pop music ouvre utterly redundant.

For fans of the US' lo-fi scene this album ticks all the right boxes, but it goes further, drawing on a massive range of influences from folk to ambient to the feedback and white noise of shoegazing. Some of the harmonies are breathtaking. For fans of anyone from the Beach Boys to Sebadoh to Sonic Youth, you'll love this album!

I'm not sure whether it's to the albums' benefit or detriment that many its finest moments aren't fully formed. A chorus here, a verse there, a harmony here and a guitar solo there; like a shooting star they appear from nowhere and soon fade from whence they came. Actually, I think it's probably to the albums' benefit, although I'm not sure about some of the Green Typewriters pieces - certainly the 7 or so minutes of what sounds like a tap left to drip with a radiator buzzing in the background! Having said that, it does leave you with a heightened sense of anticipation which isn't dissapointed by the magnificent 2 minute blues rock guitar jam which follows.

My favourite moments all have a fairly distinct but similar sound. I think it's exactly what the Beatles would have sounded like during their later "psychedelic" era had they been a band of the 90's, not the 60's.

Well, the Beatles experimentation and pop-writing class but without the thinly veiled smug self-satisfaction poorly disguised as "quirkiness" that laminates so much of their later work.

So then, it's better than the Beatles?! Well, certainly in moments. And compliments don't come much greater than that!

Meš suš ķ eyrum viš spilum endalaust
Meš suš ķ eyrum viš spilum endalaust
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Still not quite perfect!, 6 Feb. 2009
I really wanted this to be a five-star album, I really did! Sigur Ros have been producing top class album since 99's Agaetis Byrjun, and for a decade have provided moments of such untouchable ecstacy that, given their live shows, I thought that they had to eventually get it perfect on tape.

Let me do a quick review of the last few albums to put this in context:

Agaetis is really something, entirely different from anything I'd heard before, with moments such as the end climax of Vidrar Vel Til Lofstara (sp? - I'm doin this off the top of my head!) that are unforgetable. But it's too long, some of the songs are too long and too one-paced, and some of them sound too alike, to be able to give it five stars. Close, but no cigar.

Much the same could be said for (). 6 is a magnificent song - but isn't 4 basically a watered down version? And 5 and 7 - do they both need to be there?

I thought they'd done it with Takk, but now I'm not sure. Milano again is too long, and Hoppipolla 2 (afturback is it?) and Heysatan just isn't necessary. Again some wonderful moments but the overall album just falls short.

And so to Meš suš í eyrum viš spilum endalaust, the new one. A new but not entirely different sound to kick us off with the wonderfully upbeat (I want to call it fun, with all the hand-clapping and la la la-ing) Gobledigook.

2 and 3 (I've forgotten to cut n paste the names) both carry on this theme. 2 is upbeat - the standout track on first listen and probably so on 100th. 3 is more downbeat but very much a Ros beauty.

The problem starts at 4. It's good but not unforgetable. This, apart from the magestic Festival (No.5)(almost two songs, but a singular sense of joy and wonder) and Aran Batur (No.7) could sum the rest of the album up. Towards the end there's something that sounds shamefully like filler. Aran Batur is one their moments though. Straight from the Ros school of 'build from nothing to epic crescendo', they throw everying and the kitchen sink at it, inlcuding a full choir and orchestra. And believe me it's not kitch, they pull it off with ample style!

I don't want to sound too harsh. The above reference to filler is only relative to Sigur Ros previous work. This is a very very good album that unfortunately, like previous efforts just falls short.

by Michael Poliza
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Treasure!, 5 Feb. 2009
This review is from: Africa (Hardcover)
Michael Poliza has clearly lived a number of lives, and most people would love just one of his talents. I'd certainly kill for his photography skills!

This is a huge book (ie. not suitable for many bookshelves), but worth every penny. Each shot is spread across a double page in rich detail on the very highest quality paper.

Both wildlife and landscape are covered exceptionally, from ultra-close ups of the "big five" to sprawling desert or mountainous backdrops, including locations from across the continent - bringing home its extraordinary beauty.

I've dropped a single star because we get no shots of the African people themselves. A minor point, but a Marrakech market scene, a Mozambique fisherman, a Maasai dance, a Pygmy village and a Kalahari San hunt (to think of some uber-generic spectacles!!) would have added icing to a very fine cake!

Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters
Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters
by Donald R. Prothero
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's such a shame this magnificent book is so necessary., 8 Jan. 2009
I won't write a detailed review of the content of this tremendous book, as other reviewers have covered it well.

Prothero sets out to bring together the vast amounts of evidence for the theory of evolution from the world of palaeontology accumulated over the last 20 or so years and add it to the already immense bank of supporting fact.

I refer to 'shame' in my title because Prothero feels forced into writing this book to counteract the wave of pseudo-scientific nonsense flooding the U.S. from the world of Creation Science (an oxymoron painfully lacking in irony), and it's modern brethren Intelligent Design. This wonderful tome should stand alone, not have to be the defender of science itself! What a wierd world we live in!

While not aimed at any individual publications, the creationist writer Duane Gish is a frequent offender who is torn to pieces by Prothero's knowledgeable and witty prose. This is due to Gish's nonsense having been comprehensively disproven by Prothero previously (both in print and debate), yet he dishonestly continues to propogate it. Surely Jesus wouldn't approve?

Gish's methodology of quoting out of context, misquoting, using outdated science and at times outright lies is clearly exposed by Prothero. Gish is shown to plumb such contemptable lows that he is even willing to suggest through a quote out of context that the great Stephen J Gould didn't accept the theory of evolution! But Gish is not alone, Ham, Popper and other misinformants also get batted away.

Prothero takes us through the many fallacies favoured by the creationists, easily highlighting the gaping flaws in such hypotheses (I use the word warily) as "flood geology". By taking the Grand Canyon, so favoured by the creationists, and using both palaeontology and sedimentology along with many photos and diagrams, Prothero underlines just how utterly ridiculous the 'single flood event' idea is, leaving any creation sympathiser crushed under the weight of scientific evidence.

He spends much time taking the reader through the "interwoven 'bushy'" evolutionary tree, showing the ridiculousness of the linear model much-touted by Gish et al (one of the many straw-man arguments their ilk favour). Many of the more interesting evolutionary steps, with particular focus on humans and dinosaur-birds are described in great detail. Any creationist who has had the temerity and, frankly, stupidity to suggest "there aren't any transitional fossils" would find themselves eternally dining on their own words upon completion of this book.

And so, having completely ripped apart the creationist propoganda in the world of palaeontology to anyone but the most blinkered fundamentalist, Prothero, ends with a worrying thought for U.S. citizens. Do they really want a future where science is prevented by right wing religio-fanatacism? Does America really want the brain-drain?

Despite this gloomy ending, the book maintains a great deal of humour throughout. His use of Gish' love of the half-quote to suggest Gish believes Answers in Genesis should end immediately is very sharp.

Prothero, a palaeontologist, is keen to highlight that this is what he is qualified to talk about. His observation that Gish's Phd is in law, yet Gish traverses the fields of cosmology, geology, biology, palaeontology and other branches of science shows just how dishonest the creationists are. His wry observation that they are far keener than any scientist to be seen in a white coat with 'Phd' next to their name cements the point.

Prothero is right when he says that Gish (and others) complete lack of understanding in anatomy and systematics, plus their refusal (or lack of interest in) observing actual samples prevents them from having any more authority on the issue of fossils than a layperson. But perhaps that's the point - creationists would support the authority of my nan if she kept up an 'anti-evolutionary' stance. [note: can you be 'anti-evolutionary'? I mean, can you be 'anti-relativity' or 'anti-gravity'? Sorry, I digressed...]

This then is a book of the highest calibre, a must for anyone amused (or scared) by the creationist nonsense bandwagon.

A word on his referencing. I graduated with a degree in geology 4 years ago considering "The evolution of vertebrates" by Benton as my bible, a source frequently referenced by Prothero. I cannot believe how much new information has been acquired (especially from China), and I only wish I had a book as good as Prothero's back then!

I've rambled on now for quite long enough, if you've read this, go buy the book!

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