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Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction
Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction
by Lawrence Boadt
Edition: Paperback

21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT BOOK - DON'T BE PUT OFF BY THE "LIBERAL/CATHOLIC" TAG, 30 Nov. 2001
This book makes historical study of the OT fascinating. I do not wholly agree with the author's a priori assumptions - mine are more towards the conservative and evangelical end of the spectrum than his catholic perspective. On the other hand it is very unfair to the author to suggest (as some evangelical reviewers have done) that he does not see Holy Scripture as divinely inspired. I am not even so sure he deserves the "liberal" tag: the fact that he is willing to explain the views of liberal scholars without attaching a Health Warning is hardly the first step on the road to perdition. Besides, if we only ever read books we wholly agree with, we may never grow up as Christians.
It is always wonderful to read a book that stresses the work of the Holy Spirit behind scripture and history - but that is essentially devotional writing. Actually many of my evangelical colleagues would say that's the only sort of theology we need, but it doesn't take much reflection to see the limitations of such an approach. How can we answer the world's questions (as indeed we can and must, with flying colours!) if we do not grapple with the questions that arise naturally when scripture is read with an open mind by anyone with a basic grasp of human history?
I find no evidence that Fr. Boadt disagrees radically with an orthodox position on the inspiration of scripture - rather I tend to assume that he takes it for granted. However, he has set out to write a book not about Christian pneumatology but about the historical and cultural roots of the Hebrew scriptures. That task has been undertaken by many writers ranging from Christian fundamentalists to blatant atheists. I do not think any of them can have done so with more intelligence, sensitivity, honesty and grace than Fr. Boadt.
If you really want a more conservative introduction that covers similar ground, try John Drane's excellent "Introduction to the Old Testament". I have worked extensively with both books as a trainee Anglican lay Reader; both are strongly recommended, and Drane is actually a little more up to date in terms of the latest scholarly fashions (new edition soon please, Fr. Boadt). However, the evangelical Drane writes little more dogmatically than the catholic Boadt - and fittingly so as both books are intended primarily as introductions to scholarly thought. In fact of the two books I found Boadt more helpful on several counts: Easier to read, more engrossing, better prose, better structure and generally more informative.
Indeed, because Boadt writes from a very open viewpoint, you can bring your own theological preferences to your reading of it. Some of the monochrome illustrations are a little mediocre, but whatever your angle you are likely to find this book interesting, informative and spiritually uplifting (unless of course you simply want a book that tells you what you want to hear). The key tests of a book like this should not be "is it correct on every page?", but "does it ultimately glorify God?" and "is it likely to help me to understand and explain my own faith more effectively?" On both counts, Boadt's book is a valuable resource.

Introducing the New Testament
Introducing the New Testament
by John William Drane
Edition: Paperback

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars IF ONLY ALL ACADEMIC BOOKS WERE THIS READABLE, 30 Nov. 2001
John Drane has impeccable credentials as a conservative theologian and an evangelical Christian, and yet (unlike some other "evo" authors) he can write in an honest and even-handed way about more liberal opinions than his own.
This makes Drane a particularly valuable resource for theologically conservative students who need to know about controversial modern views in Bible scholarship, but do not want to feel that their text book is necessarily endorsing them or taking a condescending approach to the divine inspiration and historical authenticity of Holy Scripture.
This book is not primarily about doctrine - it is first and foremost a book about the Bible, designed to help a Christian reader understand what the Bible is really saying. In doing so it takes for granted the basic principle of Bible exegesis that you cannot work out what the Bible is saying to the Church today without understanding what it was saying (and why) to the Church of the 1st and 2nd centuries.
This would thus be an invaluable book for any first-year theology student or for the general reader wishing to know more about the historical and cultural roots of the New Testament and the early church. Although other writers have produced more stylish and attractive prose, Drane is wonderfully clear, interesting and easy to follow. More intricate explanations are in self-contained sections carefully boxed beside the main narrative, so that they can be skipped by the more casual reader without interrupting the book's flow.
The book's monochrome illustrations and diagrams are not of outstanding originality or beauty, but they are invariably well chosen and helpful. Moreover the physical binding of the paperback edition I am using is robust and has a nice feel to it.
Strongly recommended.

Hardest Part
Hardest Part
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £19.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE SOULFUL HEART OF COUNTRY, 30 Nov. 2001
This review is from: Hardest Part (Audio CD)
I first discovered Allison Moorer on a sampler of the "Now That's What I Call the 40 Greatest Country Hits In The World Ever" type. She was singing "A Soft Place To Fall", sadly remembered by most people only as 'that song from The Horse Whisperer', but actually one of the finest songs of the decade. However great the song, it was the voice that snared me. She has the flawless control and faithfulness to meaning of a classical lieder singer, coupled with the heartfelt sincerity of a singer-songwriter, the raw tenderness that belongs to the best of country & western, and the sensuality of a soul diva.
Allison's great blessing is that she sings in a quite limited contralto range that has never tempted her to pointless histrionics - none of the shrieking or swooping or yodelling that make some singers so exhausting to listen to. She doesn't need these gimmicks. She writes (or co-writes) fantastic memorable tunes with meaningful lyrics, and in performance she is able to wring every last ounce of meaning out of every word.
"The Hardest Part" is Allison's second album. The first was fairly conventional country rock of a uniformly excellent quality, but it was only a taster for the journeyman effort. Not so much a concept album (yech!) as a Song Cycle, we are given 10 or possibly 11 thematically connected songs charting the breakdown and tragic aftermath of a relationship.
The title track, a comfortable country quickstep (probably to reassure listeners in preparation for the more eclectic styling of later songs) gives you the moral: "children say that words can never harm you, only sticks and stones can make you cry" ... and you know intuitively that the album is going to be about the damage that words can do in real life.
The final uncredited track tells the stripped down, harrowing account of the outcome: An estranged husband goes mad with loneliness. He visits his abused wife pleading for forgiveness and reconciliation. When his pleas are rejected he kills her and then turns the gun on himself, leaving two young daughters as orphans.
In between the moral and the denouement we are offered nine songs of uniformly high quality, ranging from the laid-back semi-pop groove of "It's Time I Tried" to the electric guitar-driven rock of "Think It Over" or the pure country waltz of "Feeling That Feeling Again". But of course it's all Country really. Allison Moorer is pure Nashville. Certainly she's one of the boldest of the new country brigade in assimilating fresh influences and keeping Country alive for the new millennium, but the classic twang comes through in every bar.
The stand-out track is "No Next Time", a delicious slow-building ballad featuring a climactic duet with Lonesome Bob, whose deep brown voice seems to come out of the ground. After all the heroine's questioning of her lover and herself during the earlier song, this one marks her realisation that his words after each betrayal("I didn't mean to make you cry, I apologise...there'll be no next time") have become no more than a repeated ritual. The penultimate track tells beautifully of her surprise on meeting him again to find that she is still in love, even as she accepts that there is no going back. And that is where the song fades into the album's sombre finale.
Just one minor criticism: It's barely long enough. Even with the hidden track it's not much more than 45 minutes, and that's only by stretching things out with a couple of minutes of unnecessary guitar solos. It could be half as long again without dragging. On the other hand, the album says everything it needs to say with unrivalled expertise, style and grace. Anything more would probably have spoiled the pudding.
It's hard to see how you could go wrong buying this. Even with such downbeat subject matter the end result is uplifting. I go in phases listening to pop, rock, symphonies, opera, jazz, folk and country, but it's years since I listened to a new album so many times over.

The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials)
The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials)
by Philip Pullman
Edition: Paperback

23 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "DARK MATERIALS" FALLS AT THE THIRD FENCE, 30 Nov. 2001
It would be churlish to knock "The Amber Spyglass" too hard as literature. After all, whatever its faults, it is the finale of one of the best pieces of fiction writing for half a century. And yet even as I draft this review, I am undecided whether to give this final volume four or three stars.
Taking the trilogy as a whole, "His Dark Materials" is a throwback to the days when fantasy writing could stand up as serious literature and still be enjoyed by young readers. In fact in many ways it's better than either the "The Lord of the Rings" or "Gormenghast". Its characters are better drawn and more likeable, it touches on the real-life obsessions of adolescence in a way that would have been taboo in the days of Tolkien or Peake, and it's written in better prose than either of them. What's more, most of the individual elements that made "Northern Lights" and "The Subtle Knife" real five-star material are to be found in abundance in "The Amber Spyglass": superbly paced narrative, glowing descriptive passages, characters who come to life, a wealth of poignant incidents - in fact the very final scenes are among the finest in the entire trilogy.
So where does it go wrong? I want to suggest three fundamental errors of judgement that spoil what could have been truly great:
1). The monster is made of papier-mache. We've all seen sci-fi/horror films where the early atmosphere of threat and mystery is spoilt when a creaky monster made of wire and papier-mache lumbers onto the set ten minutes from the end. That's what we have here. When the great and fearful gods who have been manipulating human events from an unimaginable other-world of light and darkness finally lumber on, it is all too much like "The Trollenberg Terror" or the little man behind the curtain in "The Wizard of Oz".
2). The setting is out of touch with real life. The strength of the early volumes was that their fantasy elements were rooted in a world we could all recognise as a dark, twisted, sardonic reflection of our own. Sadly, as the trilogy progresses and the background becomes more and more fantastical, the author seems to get carried away with dreaming up bizarre new world-scapes and to lose the thread of his story. What seem at first sight to be interesting new plot threads are often unceremoniously dumped as soon as they have served their immediate purpose, and few of them are developed satisfyingly. A good example is Mary's prophesied (but never quite fulfilled) role as a temptress comparable to the serpent in the Garden of Eden. More seriously, the cosmology of "Dust" is used as a pretext for most of the important plot developments, but in the end it turns out to be little more than a "McGuffin" - that's the name the film industry gives to the sort of wondrous but unexplained gadget/formula/secret that is a pretext for the action in every secret agent film you ever saw . In the end, it is easy for the reader to get into a "so what?" frame of mind.
3). The most serious flaw in "The Amber Spyglass" is that the author follows a personal agenda to the point of spoiling the story for others. Tolkien worked for years on the ethnology of Middle Earth before writing the "The Lord of The Rings", but his philosophical ideas were never allowed to get in the way of a good story (at least, not until Silmarillion, etc.) In contrast, Pullman seems determined to share his rather disturbing personal theology with us, to the point where Lyra's story sometimes seems like an unwelcome distraction. Ideas about the nature of God and the place of mankind in the universe that are no more than undercurrents in the earlier volumes are here brought out into the open, with key characters sometimes almost spouting sermons. Christian, Jewish or Moslem parents may find the distortion of their shared spiritual heritage and the parodying of established religion particularly distasteful. There is a right time for people to grapple with the nature of sin and grace, but it's not through dime-store metaphysics a children's novel intended to be read as entertainment.
In the end, the first two volumes could be recommended to almost anyone over the age of 12, provided they have a strong stomach and they or their parents do not object to the unhelpful spiritual input. And once you've read the first two, you'll want to read the conclusion. But to me it was a disappointment.

G3 - Live In Concert
G3 - Live In Concert
Price: £5.07

78 of 87 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars . . . BUT WHAT IF YOU'RE NOT ALREADY A CONVERT?, 30 Nov. 2001
This review is from: G3 - Live In Concert (Audio CD)
At the time of writing, half-a dozen or so excitable air-guitar-fiends have already written reviews of this album averaging not far short of 5 stars. But what if you're not already a convert to virtuoso-rock? What if you've just heard the names Satriani and Vai bandied around, and are wondering what all the fuss is about?
Basically these two guys represent a sort of "Axe University" school of musicianship. Imagine your favourite professor, in cap and gown, lecturing you: "This is how it's done. This is an octave bend; this is two-handed tapping; this is choking - and you may be able to do it as fast as this if you work hard, sonny . . ."
And actually it's all terribly impressive. What's so intimidating (as people used to say about Yes back in the 1970's) is that they can really do this stuff live on stage. It's frankly dazzling. They're the Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven of electric guitar. Wherever the axe evolves to in the future, these guys will have defined it. Like those two classical worthies, these guys have taken everything that went before and melded it into an academic discipline that learned men and women are already writing treatises on. Everything that comes after will either build on it, dilute it, or set out to tear it down.
That's the good part. The bad part is that it's indescribably boring. Compared with these guys, the pages and claptons and hendrixes of this world are just guitarists. And yet, Page and Clapton and Hendrix could say more in a 20 second lead break than the professors can manage in 20 minutes. Neil Young could convey more emotion playing the same note 20 times in a row than the academics can manage playing 20 notes in a second!
The exception on the strength of this album is the understated and charming Eric Johnson. He's a kind of acolyte - possibly a past student of Satriani's - who hasn't let pure abstract technique overcome his natural flair for melody, tone and phrasing. His three solo tracks are a refreshing break from the remorseless attack of heavy metal without theme or lyric that accounts for over half this album. I mean, just how do guys who write earnest but interchangeable instrumental compositions come up with titles? . . .
"Hey, Bill, I can't decide whether to call this one 'Attack of the Killer Aspidistra' or 'Plasma 659'. What do you think?"
"Dunno, how'd the lyrics go?"
"Ain't got no lyrics, jus' like all the others."
"OK, why not call it 'My Cat's Got Chiggers'."
"Hey, thanks man, that gives me the idea for another riff!"
It has to be said, nobody who's grown up with prog rock is going to really dislike this. It contains three well-chosen tracks by each of the three front-men with faultless scratch-band support, followed by three jams on rock standards where the guys trade licks with ane another. Bits of it are tuneful, bits of it are stirring, bits of it could inspire you to take up the guitar yourself, bits of it are frightening enough to make you chuck your Strat in the pond.
On the other hand, one of the several solo albums by the three virtuosi is probably a better investment. And if you like great tunes, virtuoso solo-ing and impossibly tight ensemble playing, why not take a mega-risk and try "A Way A Lone", the Tokyo Quartet's dazzling recording of the Barber and Britten string quartets? Like pomp-rock before it, prof-rock is struggling to ape the sonic & thematic range, intellectual ambition, technical accomplishment and raw emotional power of classical music - still without success. If you share that vision, try the real classics.
This review is going to collect unhelpful votes like a dog collects fleas, but remember . . . they'll be existing converts to this impressive but soulless perfectionism.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 23, 2013 10:44 AM BST

Schubert: Lieder, Vol.3
Schubert: Lieder, Vol.3
Offered by trec002
Price: £17.99

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars PERFECTION, 30 Nov. 2001
This review is from: Schubert: Lieder, Vol.3 (Audio CD)
Schubert wrote over 500 German art-songs or "Lieder". That is to say, he took over 500 poems by famous German poets (Schiller, etc.) and set them to music. He was not a great judge of quality in poetry, and thus the lyrics of his songs range from the sublime to the ridiculous. However his settings are almost invariably works of genius.
The essence of Lieder is that the voice and the piano should be equal partners. The piano part is not mere accompaniment to the song, but carries a fair share of the meaning. Similarly the voice has to extract the full dramatic meaning from the lyric (easier in some cases than in others). Good lieder thus calls for an almost telepathic rapport between a singer and a pianist both of outstanding range and sensitivity.
Fischer-Dieskau and Moore are certainly the greatest exponents of their generation, perhaps of all time. Not only were their gifts extraordinary, but they were there at the right moment: they were the leading interpreters of lieder at the point in history when the studio recording was first overtaking concert performance as the principal medium through which music reached the masses. In consequence, whether or not these particular performers were "better" than any other in history is academic; to an unprecedented and unsurpassed extent they defined the art of lieder.
This boxed set is part of a survey of nearly all the Schubert lieder suitable for male voice, recorded when both men were at their peak. It is impossible to do justice in words to the sheer, inexhaustible depth of beauty and emotion in this work.
The three song cycles: Die Schone Mullerin (The Miller's Beautiful Daughter); Winterreise (Winter Journey) and Schwanengesang (Swan Song) do not necessarily contain a concentration of Schubert's best settings. However, the first two titles show off the performers' craft to particularly wonderful effect, simply because their narrative thread makes particularly gruelling demands on their sense of mood and pacing.
Schwanengesang is not a true song-cycle - it represents a collection of unconnected settings put together posthumously by Schubert's publisher. However, unlike the prevailing modd of gloom in the two earlier works, Schwanengesang boasts an astonishing range of emotions from the dread of Kriegers Ahnung (Warrior's Foreboding) to the despair of Doppelganger (it means what it says) to the frivolous joy of Taubenpost (Pigeon Post).
This is earth-shatteringly beautiful music, flawless technical perfection and concentrated emotional dynamite. It's also an acquired taste, so don't take the risk without hearing a few samples first. But on the other hand, don't dismiss it after just one quick listen. Work at it as I had to - the pay-off is unequalled in the world of music.

Bluebeard's Castle
Bluebeard's Castle
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £27.95

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars LISTEN WITHOUT PREJUDICE, 29 Nov. 2001
This review is from: Bluebeard's Castle (Audio CD)
The thought of this work is intimidating to many prospective listeners. Bartok's achievement as a composer of soaring late romantic melodies and exotic harmony is sometimes eclipsed by his more angular and abrasive modernist works. Devotees of conventional opera may be perturbed by the prospect of a through-composed 60 minute duet without a single recognizable aria. Lovers of wobbly tenor and soprano crescendos may balk at a work written entirely in a dark and low register (indeed it is sometimes performed by a bass and a contralto, memorably so by the warm-hearted husband-and-wife operatic team of Walter Berry and Christa Ludwig).
The answer to those interested but nervous prospective purchasers is, listen without prejudice. The subject matter is at least superficially dark and stark. There are no comforting romantic arias to listen to as you cuddle down in your gondola, but this single CD is crammed with more truth and beauty (not to mention honest romanticism) than a shelf-full of Puccini-esque warbling. From the opening (rarely performed) spoken verse prelude through to the last resigned chord, this work is never anything but rivetting.
Part of the secret is the libretto (which is worth following in translation for the first few spins of the CD). As arguably the greatest composer of the 20th century, Bartok only found one libretto in his entire career that was strong and original enough to get his creative juices flowing. It tells the story, shoe-horned into a single hour-long conversation replayed in real time, of how a curious and provocative young bride discovers the obsessions and emotional baggage of the older man she has just married. In doing so, she navigates Everywoman's journey into married life, pre-figuring the familiarisation, the taking-for-granted, and finally the peaceful acceptance that mark successful co-habitation.
Thus far from being depressing, the fundamental message is uplifting. The drama and tragedy of this awesome composition are woven around the loss of freedom and romantic idealism that is the acceptable price to pay for a long-term committed relationship - a worthy message in an era where prospective couples are often doomed by a reluctance to make mutual concessions.
The voices, the orchestral textures, and the snippets of half-formed melody that morph smoothly from one to the next, are simply devastating. La Norman shows the tonal beauty, dramatic creativity and the discipline of a born liedersinger throughout. Polgar is if possible even more awesome, perhaps through being more comfortable singing in Hungarian rather than from any greater affinity with the music itself. But the real architect of this performance is naturally Boulez, and his real achievement seems to be in his architectural grasp, more even than his astonishing sonic and textural mastery.
Architecture is the crux of this composition. The entire narrative thread is provided by the exploration of locked rooms in a gothic castle. In an opera usually performed in a stylised set with little in the way of physical props, the music has to represent everything: the rooms, the walls, the doors, the windows, the view out of the windows, the objects in the rooms . . . all of which carry a symbolic meaning. The spaces, the silences, the loud/soft dynamics, are essential.
Boulez, the two singers and the Chicagoans are more than up to all this. The digital production sparkles. The packaging is excellent. Unreservedly recommended.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 27, 2011 7:58 PM BST

Sophie's World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy
Sophie's World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy
by Jostein Gaarder
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

44 of 49 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars IN ALL PROBABILITY...., 29 Nov. 2001
The bad news: It's not as good as the hype might lead you to expect. The good news: It's better than most of the other over-hyped pop-philosophy blockbusters on the shelves.
'Sophie's World' is at its worst when it pretends to be the sort of novel you would read purely for entertainment. That's because it starts out as a very good novel but finishes as a very bad one. Early on it catches your interest with an intriguing mystery and efficient classical narrative. Then about half way through, the author reveals his hand and ruins the plot. We are left with just another bit of post-modern ironic detachment or some such gimmick. From then on the fate of the characters ceases to matter, and as a novel it's all downhill from there on.
The book is at its best when it sticks to what Gaarder does best: lecturing on philosophy. This is where the fictive elements work best - by providing a character to voice the questions in our own heads. The author shows a good gra!sp of what will make sense to an uninformed reader, and provides a gentle ramble through a couple of dozen centuries of human thought that will help most people's understanding of the world in which we live.
That is not to say that Gaarder dispatches all periods in history with equal aplomb. His dealing with the metaphysical and ontological abstractions (jargon-free equivalent = world of ideas) of ancient Greece and the middle ages is exemplary. He manages to explain the more-or-less-unexplainable in terms of the easily-understood, in a way that more school texts should copy. Even the prickly thickets of 20th century existentialism yield up some of their unappetizing secrets under his patient hand.
Gaarder is least successful in dealing with creeds that go beyond pure ideas and involve a challenge to behaviour and lifestyle. His treatment of Marxism (which is not so much about ideas as it is about action) is shallow. His survey of Christianity (which is not about! ideas at all, but entirely about relationships) is derisory.
Amazon's warehouses contain better novels (for a first-class Scandinavian novel of ideas, try "Miss Smilla's Feeling For Snow") and better introductions to philosophy (e.g. Alain de Botton's 'Consolations of Philosophy'). In the end, however, 'Sophie's World' is surprisingly successful as a hybrid - it makes learning fun and deserves to be read.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau: Autumn Journey [VHS] (1995)
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau: Autumn Journey [VHS] (1995)
Dvd ~ Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A strong case could be made for regarding Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as the greatest singer of the twentieth century (if you want to know why, see my review of the DGG boxed set of Schubert song-cycles on this site).
Almost as strong a case could be made for regarding Bruno Monsaingeon's reverent documentary (released to celebrate the singer's 75th birthday) as the most fascinating film ever made about the inner life of a major recording artiste.
That is not to say that DFD himself sets out to reveal himself. On the contrary, as a consummate musical actor and an intensely private individual, he maintains a professional distance throughout. The honesty with which the film looks at the externalities of his career, from his youthful flirtation with Nazism to his most recent career as voice coach and producer, is almost a trompe-l'oeil for the fact that this performance is not too far from being another stage role in DFD's vast repertoire.
And yet herein lies much of the appeal. If this was just another example of a famous performer laying his soul bare, it would be tedious. As it is, we are treated to a deliciously ambiguous relationship between the film-maker and his subject. For all Monsaingeon's evident (and justified) adulation, he never lets his integrity slip, and as a master craftsman himself he puts his whole art in the service of the viewer. In lieder itself, the accompanist's role is as important as that of the singer - and it is as though Monsaingeon has used this relationship as a model for his film.
Thus, although it is DFD who does the talking, the camera and the subtle use of wonderful archive footage never cease to winkle out unspoken truths. We can see clearly when the subject is putting a spin on events or cunningly adding to the myth. In fairness to the great man, he does so with intelligence and tastefulness in keeping with his status as an eminent scholar and artist. But without the film-maker's probing eye we would miss out on half the story.
The second half of the film is in many ways more poignant than the first. Here we are treated to one of the singer's last lieder recitals before his self-imposed retirement from live performance in the early nineties. In a way it is sad that DFD should be remembered this way, deprived of the power - the iron fist in a velvet glove - that belonged to him in his prime. And yet even here the film-maker's judgement is flawless, because DFD was always more than just a voice. In fact others were at least his equal in beauty of tone (Hermann Prey, for example, or Gerard Souzay). What set DFD apart was the depth with which he communicated meaning through vocal inflection, posture, gesture, facial expression and eye contact. Of course these skills do not fade with age - indeed they become more refined. Stripping away the vocal power and agility of a younger man throws these unique and defining gifts into the limelight.
Thus with an artistic intelligence worthy of DFD himself, Monsaingeon both penetrates and at the same time perpetuates the mythical status of one of the greatest artists of our time. You may find that you come away from the encounter without warming to the man, but you will take away a new understanding of the artist and even greater awe at his achievements. To anyone interested in serious music, or in the cultural history of the twentieth century, this video will be an indispensable asset for repeated viewing.

Pawn Hearts
Pawn Hearts
Offered by nagiry
Price: £13.88

30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ALL THINGS ARE APART, ALL THINGS ARE A PART, 29 Nov. 2001
This review is from: Pawn Hearts (Audio CD)
I rediscovered this ancient classic during a clear out of the record cabinet. It was one of the half dozen records that I gave a spin to decide if they were worth keeping, and the only one of them to make it safely back to the cupboard (rather than the bin). More than that, it was a moving experience. Although some of the instrumentation and production sounds a little dated, this is a strangely up-to-date work of art that out-achieves many fine recent offerings (e.g. Radiohead) on their home turf.
The most remarkable aspect of all VdGG's work was the lyrics. Peter Hammill was (and remains) an accomplished and visionary poet in his own right (how many other rock lyricists have had their work published in book form?) whose prophetic insight has stood the test of history. When he was actually putting pen to paper in the swinging sixties and early seventies his words seemed too black, too preoccupied with social fragmentation, too pessimistic. We still thought we were going to carve out some kind of hippy utopia here on earth.
If only New Wavers of the later seventies had listened to Van der Graaf (and Hammill's solo albums) instead of slagging them along with the other glam and prog behemoths of the era, they might have recognised kindred spirits (although no new wave band ever approached Hammill's clarity or beauty of expression). Hammill could have been to New Wave what Neil Young was to Grunge - a sort of grandfather in arms - and who knows we might have escaped the horrific excesses of New Romanticism.
Hammill takes the alienation and sorrow and doubt and loneliness that in my adolescent years were mainly confined to the experience of socially retarded individuals, and imagines . . . what if these pains were felt not just by lonely individuals, but collectively by a whole lonely civilisation? ("A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers")? What would happen if a whole society developed suicidal tendencies ("Lemmings")? What will society be like when we are so dehumanised that men and women are thought of as no more than units of work ("Man-Erg")? And of course those nightmarish pictures, which were once so much on the fringe of our artistic consciousness, are now mainstream. Sadly, the price of bringing these patterns within the grasp of a wider audience is that to present-day listeners they no longer seem prophetic . . . merely realistic.
The most remarkable thing of all - the aspect that makes Hammill's work into art rather than mere science - is that he is not afraid to find a glimmer of hope in the darkness. And he does so with the finesse that only a wordsmith of genius could pull off: "What course is there left but to die" all on its own means little today - that sort of thing has become the staple diet of Norwegian metal headbangers. But switch the final verse to this: "What cause is there left but to live . . . (falsetto croon) in the hope of saving our children's children's little ones" and you have a call to redemption that will bring string men out in goose-bumps.
The final lyrical flourish is to alternate a statement of despair ("All things are apart") with a statement of transcendent unity ("All things are a part"). The fact that you might never spot this subtle exchanging of pain for acceptance without reading the lyrics in print is a measure of the composer's rugged integrity.
Imagine this awesome lyrical freight carried by a group of virtuoso musicians unafraid to experiment. The fact that some of the experiments don't quite work is part of the work's radical beauty. Steel yourself for moments of jarring noise and dissonance alternating with moments of melting sweetness. It is arguable that Hammill at his peak had the most beautiful voice in rock, and almost beyond argument that he possessed the greatest musical and dramatic range. Add the searing brilliance of Robert Fripp out of King Crimson, playing the sort of guitar that nobody else can copy even today (although Radiohead have tried once or twice). You end up with a statement unequalled in the history of rock music.
No compromise, just art. Easy listening it isn't, but truth and beauty are rarely pretty and never bland.

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