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D. J. H. Thorn "davethorn13" (Hull, UK)
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So Much Pretty
So Much Pretty
by Cara Hoffman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars So much waffle, 1 Dec. 2011
This review is from: So Much Pretty (Paperback)
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Had it not been for the incentive to review this book, I would probably have ditched it after twenty pages. Cara Hoffman is an infuriating writer; her prose is beautiful, often displaying a poetic rhythm and strong images. Sadly, she subordinates all to her style, sacrificing structure, plot development, clarity and, all too often for me, plausibility.

As I ploughed through the middle chapters, I suspected that the discovery of a body at the beginning was her way of hooking in the reader. By that time, I felt that she would have been better leaving it out because she sets up an intrigue in the reader's mind that she then fails to satisfy. Instead, what we get is mainly a series of tedious, plot-stalling chapters about Gene, Claire and their daughter Alice. These are interrupted from time to time by the more relevant thoughts of Stacy Flynn, a reporter investigating the circumstances surrounding the murder.

Perhaps part of the problem is that the author keeps her cards too close to her chest. Alice, the child genius with a flair for swimming and the trapeze, her parents and their friends are relevant to the murder, but this does not become clear until late in the book. In mitigation, a climactic event in the later stages triggers a page-turning finish.

As previous reviewers have commented, much of the book is dense and confusing. For me, this is one of those novels which contains a lot of woolly philosophising. Most people have a simpler outlook than these characters. I also found one chapter, in the form of a letter from Constant to Gene, unrealistic. It uses the f word rather a lot which is realistic in speech, but only because of its spontaneous nature. It does not sit right in a more considered medium such as a letter.

'So Much Pretty' is not a total disaster, but whoever was responsible for the quote on the cover likening it to 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo', not a remark that does either book a favour, must have been joking.


The Luxury Gap / Penthouse And Pavement
The Luxury Gap / Penthouse And Pavement
Price: £7.34

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Penthouse and luxury, 28 Nov. 2011
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This is a double reissue of the first two albums 'plus 5' and 'plus 4' respectively. I had 'The Luxury Gap' on vinyl and loved 'Play To Win', still my favourite track of theirs, so buying this wasn't a difficult decision. What strikes me, hearing the 'Penthouse' album for the first time, is that that one is mostly about grooves whereas 'The Luxury Gap' seems to be more of an attempt to craft good tunes. 'Temptation' was their big pop song and the sugar daddy lament, 'Come Live With Me' wasn't far behind. 'Penthouse' on the other hand is more overtly political, to the extent that it might easily have been the music of choice for some of the older protesters in the recent anti-capitalist movement.

Strangely perhaps, I've never liked the first track on either album much; 'Fascist Groove' seems to be content to revel in its title, while the 'woo-woos' on 'Crushed' remind me too much of the abominable Wham! The rest, however, is great. Among my other favourites are 'Geisha Boys and Temple Girls' and 'Lady Ice and Mr Hex', both 'couple' style titles. Maybe I can't help drawing parallels.

Of the bonus tracks, the BEF titles are welcome, while the cover of the Buzzcocks' b-side, 'Are Everything' is a pleasant surprise. With the BEF members of the band having laid the foundations for their electronic creations with Heaven 17 for several years previously, they were ahead of most of their peers. Great value.


The Greatest
The Greatest
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £11.13

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Alexander on Ace, 28 Nov. 2011
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This review is from: The Greatest (Audio CD)
The early 1960s saw pop music at a low ebb until The Beatles, Dylan et al took over, so Arthur Alexander was up against it. This collection of songs display a great singer not always well served by prevailing fashion, yet his performances on every track consist of his own heartfelt, yet unfussy style. His soft, rich voice at first suggests safety and dependability, but its delicate quiver turns each song into something vulnerable and moving without being histrionic. There are syrupy moments among these recordings, but they are the work of arrangers rather than the singer whose stamp shines through on each song.

'Anna' is the outstanding track and it's no surprise that The Beatles pilfered it, while the poignant 'You Better Move On' was an odd choice by the Stones. Alexander wrote both, but very few of the remaining songs. The much-recorded 'A Shot Of Rhythm And Blues' shows that he could carry off more uptempo, upbeat material, while 'Detroit City', better known as one of Tom Jones's country outings, is a reminder that Alexander crossed genres without difficulty. The comprehensive sleevenotes tell of yet another artist rip-off and of Alexander's premature death, fuelled by a problematic lifestyle. This CD suggests a man influential rather than successful, but it's classy and beautifully presented.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 11, 2014 11:42 AM BST


Ayla - The Best of Flash & The Pan
Ayla - The Best of Flash & The Pan
Price: £8.90

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stew 'n' beans, 28 Nov. 2011
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Flash and the Pan slipped insidiously on to UK airwaves and then the charts in the early 1980s with the fascinating 'Waiting For A Train' and, after one more hit, slipped out again. The song had a similar aura to Laurie Anderson's 'O Superman' without being as bizarre: you found yourself asking, who are these people and where did they come from? It soon transpired that they'd been around for a few years and were the latest project of George Young and Harry Vanda, the Scots-Dutch creative axis of Aussie rabble rousers from the 1960s, The Easybeats.

Listening to this compilation, I heard traces of their earlier band. Once The Easybeats got their standard r&b phase out of the way, they came up with a distinct structure to their writing, without losing their edge. It's a similar scenario here. You can't pigeonhole their brand of music, which dips a toe into r&b, hard rock, pop, soul and even disco at various times without plunging fully into any of those genres. They have great, tight rhythms to their songs and some great melodies. Young's submerged half-spoken vocals give the music an eerie atmosphere and although there are only a couple of familiar tracks on this compilation, it's a surprisingly consistent collection, unlike many such albums that tend to tail off after the hit mine has been exhausted. Highly recommended.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 19, 2013 6:47 AM GMT


The Lexicon Of Love
The Lexicon Of Love
Price: £6.01

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Horn's finest hour?, 26 Nov. 2011
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This review is from: The Lexicon Of Love (Audio CD)
It's taken me nearly thirty years for this album to win me over. Hearing 'Tears Are Not Enough' on the radio put me off ABC the first time around. Martin Fry's whining delivery irritated me. The other singles were a lot better, but not enough to convince me. Now I realise that I have to listen to the whole journey, not the singles alone, and on disc rather than the radio.

The album's power is overwhelmingly in its sumptuous execution rather than its content. When Fry was interviewed by BBC Look North shortly before the album's release he was asked how its material would be selected. He confidently declared, 'The cream will rise to the top'. There is no cream, however, except for 'All Of My Heart'. Most of the songs are above average at best. What compels is 'Lexicon's' restless state. It's an extravaganza that thrills by force of musical arrangement: pizzicato strings, flourishes, epic sweeps, portentous piano intros, startled sax, dramatic drums and gorgeous, burbling bass guitar. Martin Fry too, though, he sounds like an overwrought sixth-former at times, complements the sound by making you believe he's feeling what he's singing.

To give ABC their due, they alone of Horn's proteges in the early 1980s, take half of the credit. Some of the artists Horn worked with have tried to play down his part in their success. He, however, was Midasman, responsible for converting Dollar's fifteen minutes of fame into an hour, rescuing Spandau Ballet's career (for which we need not be thankful) and ensuring that Frankie Goes To Hollywood, with inadvertant help from Mike Read, would not be just another crummy post-punk act on the John Peel Show. ABC had some class and it's a shame they took too long to follow this up. At least, that's what I think now.


Physical (Australian Import)
Physical (Australian Import)
Price: £14.91

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not physical enough, 26 Nov. 2011
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The only reason I can come up with for all the previous reviewers regarding this as a classic is that the presence of ONJ's voice on every track is enough. That's fair enough I suppose if you're a fan. If you've read this far, you'll have gathered I'm not. I've enjoyed quite a few of her songs, but not enough to want to listen to her often. I bought 'Physical' because the three tracks I already knew suggested that it would consist of a more robust style of pop than she usually makes. Unfortunately, none of the other songs tick the same box. 'Landslide', 'Make A Move On Me' and the title track are the tracks in question. The great thing about them is that they make you want to dance even though they're not really disco numbers.

Of the remaining tracks, only 'Silvery Rain' is outstanding. This Hank Marvin song was at least ten years old when ONJ recorded it. It first appeared on Marvin, Welch and Farrar's debut album. The connection is obvious, as ONJ's long-time collaborator, John Farrar, produced 'Physical' as well as being involved in the writing of half the songs. The opening section embraces her girl-next-door image: light, summery acoustic guitar which, with ONJ's pure, sweet timbre, creates a heady combination. This alternates with a rockier passage, resulting in a well-crafted track.

Elsewhere, Terry Britten's beaty 'Love Makes Me Strong' and the quieter 'Recovery' are passable. 'Stranger's Touch', however, is a drab, leaden, mediocre track, while the acoustic waltz-time of 'Fallen' is forgettable. Then there's the inevitable Barry Gibb song on which he can be heard contributing backing vocals like a watchful uncle. One of the problems with covering Bee Gees songs is that the artist, as is the case here, usually ends up imitating Barry's breathy vocal style so that you're more aware of it being a Bee Gees song than by the artist recording it. 'Carried Away', moreover, is the kind of sentimental ballad he churns out by the dozen, virtually indistinguishable from songs such as 'Guilty' (Barbra Streisand) or 'Emotions' (Samantha Sang).

Finally, there is ONJ's own composition, 'The Promise', a bizarre effort featuring surf and intrusive dolphin noises. Though well-executed, the song seems to lack any sort of hook. To sum up, the album 'Physical' contains four great tracks and a lot of filler. Definitely no classic.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 3, 2013 9:03 PM GMT


Tusk
Tusk
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £5.81

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Tsk, 24 Nov. 2011
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This review is from: Tusk (Audio CD)
I suppose FM should be applauded for not repeating 'Rumours', but what 'Tusk' reveals is that they were not very good at being different. There's nothing wrong with settling for excelling at the tried and tested if no one can beat you at it; a blend of rock, pop, folk, blues and country was the strength of this line-up.

'Tusk' does have a parallel with The Beatles' 'white album' in that FM strip away the embellishments of their most famous release, leaving a spare, intimate, almost demo feel to the recordings. In this case, however, a considerable loss of quality results. Lindsey Buckingham's ten songs harbour the offbeat stuff. Tracks such as 'The Ledge' sound like rockabilly played on rubber bands and a dustbin lid. Novel, yes, progressive, no.

Stevie Nicks has the best songs here in every sense: captivating lyrics, hypnotic melodies and enchanting arrangements. Her five epics - they are the longest tracks - would pass muster on the two previous albums. 'Sara', 'Sisters of the Moon' and 'Beautiful Child' particularly stand out, but 'Angel' and 'Storms' are not far behind. Christine McVie reminds us what a great voice she has, but aside of 'Brown Eyes' her other four songs are filler. Add Buckingham's title track and 'Walk a Thin Line' and there's just about enough material to make a good single album, composed mostly of what FM do well.


Mockingbird Time
Mockingbird Time
Offered by mrtopseller
Price: £5.00

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pouring rain, 23 Nov. 2011
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This review is from: Mockingbird Time (Audio CD)
I started buying The Jayhawks' albums after seeing the video of 'Blue' back in the mid-1990s and since then have collected all of them. In every case, I played them over and over for weeks. I've played this one several times already, but for a different reason: while I was hooked on the others, I had hopes that 'Mockingbird Time' would grow on me. It has a little, but not much. It features one of their classic line-ups reformed and the style is similar, but something is missing.

The first track rather sets the tone, a growly, lumbering performance with a decent melody and lyric which doesn't really grab me. On this and several other tracks I get the feeling they're marking time. Everything is a notch lower than on previous albums. The passion, inspiration and imagination just isn't quite there. A few tracks do stand out: 'Tiny Arrows' plus the last four tracks are, in my opinion, the best, but all would be among the weakest tracks if included on their earlier albums. I also think that the tension between the styles of Louris and Olsen, the former pop and rock oriented, the latter more folk and country, is missing, probably because Louris is the producer.

Lyricwise, they seem jaded. Lines about going down to the river and standing in the rain, for instance, are cliches. I'm surprised that 'Cinnamon Love' has found popularity with other reviewers; it sounded repetitive and unimaginative to me.

I still feel that The Jayhawks have created far more musical riches than any other artist of the last twenty years, and 'Mockingbird Time' is still better than most of what we are being asked to buy these days. On the other hand, I'd advise anyone thinking of listening to one of their albums for the first time to avoid this one and go for one of their 1990s releases.


Diamond Head
Diamond Head

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Diamond cut, 22 Nov. 2011
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This review is from: Diamond Head (Audio CD)
Solo projects tend to be overlooked on the premise that they consist of a little self indulgence on the part of the artist to fill in time between the more important band albums. It's surprising, then, just how many good solo albums there are out there, and this is among the best. It has a neat, classy production that doesn't age it, contains lots of musical ideas and doesn't concentrate on Manzanera as guitar hero. 'The Flex', for instance, is dominated by clavinet and sax.

It's largely instrumental, half of the tracks featuring lyrics, and possesses great melodies, exotic, often intricate rhythms and articulate lyrics, particularly on the witty 'Miss Shapiro'. With an impressive supporting cast of players, including a few of his Roxy colleagues, it comes quality assured. Manzanera proves to be an adequate if not stunning vocalist. Perhaps only the duet, 'Same Time Next Week', sounds awkward. This, however, is more than made up for by the rest of the album, right up to the superb closer, 'Carhumba'.


Travelin'
Travelin'

4.0 out of 5 stars Last journey, 22 Nov. 2011
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This review is from: Travelin' (Audio CD)
Pigeonholed as a party singles band because of early hits like 'Mony Mony', James and his band were actually no slouches when it came to songwriting and studio craft. While Denny Cordell provided them with much of their hit material, the band wrote a lot too, peaking with the 'Crimson And Clover' album. This is their last album before they split and deserves recognition too.

Made at the end of the 1960s, it sees them edging toward a more abrasive rock sound. It isn't heavy, however, and doesn't eschew their pop tendencies altogether. Uniformly very good, perhaps only 'Moses And Me', with its looped guitar line, stands above the other tracks. 'She', however, sticks out like a sore thumb. The band weren't keen on including it, as it was a pop hit, complete with orchestra, and is the only song on the album that James co-wrote with outsiders. That said, it's classy, and as the album is only 34 minutes long even with this track, it's still a welcome addition to an impressive collection.


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