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The Fabled City
The Fabled City
Price: £13.24

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Morello solo again - amen!, 3 Feb. 2009
This review is from: The Fabled City (Audio CD)
After waiting what seems like an age for this at last to be available in the UK, it would have been terrible for it to have been a letdown. I'm pleased to report it is anything but.

Now that Morello's deep baritone voice is no longer the surprise it was when first heard, I'm able to approach this album in a much more relaxed way. On`One Man Revolution', Morello's voice occasionally expressed a slight strain disguised as anger, but here he seems more confident and comfortable. He's growing deliciously into his solo career not as his politically posturing alter ego the Nightwatchaman, but as a folk-rock artist in his own right. The Fabled City fits seamlessly into that canon. His voice is positively smooth and the songs more and more accomplished.

Morello seems happy to abandon the stated "three chords and an issue" approach of `One Man Revolution'. (As an extremely poor guitarist I can assure him those songs were many a mile away from three-chords and anything, and not close to a Times They are a Changin' five-chord job that any old amateur can actually play. Guitar heroes evidently have different standards to the rest of us!). He allows himself and us to indulge in the occasional pretty guitar solo, and there are a range of instruments backing him up (meaning the harmonica has been mostly abandoned - from a personal viewpoint, mercifully).

The political consciousness is, of course, still present in abundance, but there is less the egotistical righteousness of `One Man Revolution' and more of a positive call to arms in the likes of `Whatever it Takes'. In a similar vein, 'Saint Isabelle', Morello's song for his beloved aunt, isn't a slow sentimental song as would be standard, but an uplifting hymn to her memory. `Rise to Power' is nuanced so that I can't work it out on the first day's listen. He's not churning out standard fare for the sake of it, nor as a side project (nor god forbid to make a buck), but is genuinely committed to his songs, and getting better and better his art. May we have many more RATM reunions of course, but I'm quite happy to keep on listening to Morello develop his songwriting and singing for a very long time.

One song deserves an additional mention, if you'll indulge the System fan. On `Lazarus on Down', Morello pairs with Serj Tankian - an effective activist paring, but I was wondering how their voices could possibly fit together. What Tankian produces on this song is an absolute crystal purity in his voice. I'm well aware what an amazing singer Tankian is, but I've never heard this achieved before in a System song, nor on his solo record. What the pair achieve together is pretty unique sounding, and very difficult to describe. It's not one of those spine-tingling SOAD harmonies, more an ethereal juxtaposition or something, but really beautiful.

Scars On Broadway
Scars On Broadway
Offered by Rikdev Media
Price: £9.97

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Keeping up with expectations, and some, 25 July 2008
This review is from: Scars On Broadway (Audio CD)
The real genius of the album only becomes apparent after a couple of listens, and the more I listen, the more amazed I become.

System of a Down appeared in the middle of the nu-metal nadir of heavy rock, and they produced something that sounded so unlike anything else that you sat up and took notice. Now that metal is again at a peak and bands try to sound like SOAD (3 Horse Whiskey, I do mean you), Daron Malakian has again gone and done the unexpected. While SOAD specialised in frenetic playing and unconventional song structures, this is an apparently much simpler, more straightforward collection of fifteen songs.

The album is actually very deceptive in its simplicity. Malakian once described his music as "eclectic", but the word doesn't begin to describe it. Always the master of genre-mashing, he has again created a record with so many musical references (sometimes in the same song!) it is difficult to keep track, but as opposed to the clashing juxtaposition of say, crazed shouts and yelps over syncopated jazz rhythms in Sugar, here it is much more subtle, and interspersed with brilliant, catchy, sweeping pop choruses, as many on one record as some songwriters might hope to produce in a lifetime.

In Funny mid-era Beatles works alongside jingling prog synth, in Chemicals the cutting half-spoken, half-shrieked verse and hysteria-inducing chant work with a chorus any singalong-indie-anthem creator of the last fifteen years would give their right arm to have written, with some 80s keyboards just for good measure. There's a good deal of thrashing metal in there (as you'd expect), and punk, and good old proper rock. There are SOAD-type moments (Babylon is the song most reminiscent of his previous band), but I also hear California funk, 80s New Romantic, John Cale level piano pounding, seventies rock opera, and other things I don't even have the references to describe.

It is as though Malakian absorbs all the music he has ever heard, processes them through some magical filter and the result it something unique, but not just different or odd, also complete, sometimes astonishingly beautiful.

The lyrics are equally exceptional, again deceptively simple, with frequent repetitions. We already know that Malakian is capable of writing brilliant lyrics (if you don't believe me listen to Soldier Side). But while SOAD in general pinned their colours pretty firmly to the mast in terms of politics and philosophy, here the lyrics are shaded with ambiguity, and it is in the ambiguity that lies their specialness.

Stephen Spender once said that "Poetry which is not written in order to advance any particular set of political opinions may yet be profoundly political", and this statement may apply here. Chemicals is destined to met be most talked-about song on this album. When I watches this performed at their Underworld gig for a brief moment I experienced a full blown Tipper Gore moment. This reaction is as shocking as the song that produced it, and forced a re-examination of the basis of what my views are about many things, and what I thought they were, the ambiguity of meaning preventing ready-made judgements. The same is true of a lot of the lyrics on here. That's a pretty incredible and unexpected feat for what at the end of the day is just popular music. Some are just crazy, though!

The wit often heard in SOAD is also frequently present, though maybe even more cutting here. Sometimes the lyrics are so barbed they are difficult to listen to, and Malakian's general theme seems to be that we are all doomed. Cheery thoughts, but you wonder can humanity be in ruin when it is capable of producing things as exquisite as Whoring Street (another epic in three and a half minutes, which is a Malakian trademark), or the choruses of Exploding-Reloading and World Long Gone, or the verse in Insane. Or just as plain joyously catchy as Cute Machines or Serious??

I will be generous about the Elmo's-rhyming-game lyrics in Funny, and just suggest it's a knowing lyrical nod to the simple lyrics of the 1960's pop it references musically.

In this project Malakian has concentrated on songwriting and taking frontman duties. He has a lot of charisma and handles the role very well. His voice sounds a lot more mature on this record than you might expect (and a lot less, ahem, squeaky), and there are some lovely harmonies. If I have a teensy criticism of the album, it is that all this is maybe slightly too much at the expense of his gorgeous, dazzling guitar work. Those wonderful Malakian flourishes and chromatics, for which I have a pretty insatiable appetite, are just a bit too little in evidence here.

But all in all this is brilliant. Totally different to anything else you will hear, still undeniably a great pop record, but with so much else going on there is something different every time you hear it, and an album like that is one you never get bored of listening to. If that's the definition of a great record, then this is one.

Eleanor Rigby
Eleanor Rigby
by Douglas Coupland
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Timeless themes in the modern world, 9 Sept. 2004
This review is from: Eleanor Rigby (Hardcover)
The central theme of Douglas Coupland's novel is loneliness. It's main protagonist and narrator is Liz Dunn, a woman left on the shelf. The novel recounts life from childhood in the 1970s to the present, via a possible but slightly fantastical (as with many of the events in his work) plot twist that produces a son to change her life and (temporarily) relive her loneliness.
Liz, for much of the novel, is lonely and at pains to emphasise her plainness, but to the reader she remains warm and pitiless and witty. We feel much sympathy for her (perhaps this is also because of our own fears of being alone), but you feel she would balk at our pity and rarely feels sorry for herself. The narration is typical of a Coupland character, with believable use of language and reference for the narrator, and inspiring imagery.
As in Coupland's other work, the central character is supported by some wonderfully drawn supporting characters, most especially Liz' angrily determined and bothersome mother, and her son Jeremy, whose appearance lights both Liz's world and the reader's. The relationships between children and parents and siblings are strained but loving and eternal, as indeed is the case with most families.
The novel, as so many of his, is set in Vancouver, but I think that this Vancouver is largely incidental; the changes in location are not as important as changes in time, and the locations rather reflect this. Rome and Vienna symbolise the old and Vancouver the new. Indeed in this novel, time is a location, and the differences between the world of the protagonist's childhood and the 21st Century are acute.
The novel explores the difference between a 70s where no-one locked their door and a child could wander miles from home on her own without alrming her parents, and the fearful nature and hyper-security of the post-September 11 world.
Coupland's novel is set partly in the post September 11 world, and in some ways Coupland is preoccupied with that event (not least as he has a new one-man show called September 10, about the 90s and the world prior to those events). This would suggest that a seismic shift has taken place over the world in the three years since then, and this novel does reflect that.
Except once, this shift is not specifically expressed, but as with all his novels, modern life and technology (which as it has 'progressed' from one Coupland novel to his next over the past decade and a half, we see is moving at an awesome pace), impinges on the lives of the characters as with all of us; in computers and communication, transport, medicine, and the impact on everyday lives of people of the events of September 2001.
Some of Coupland's previous work has dealt with apocalyptic themes very overtly (most obviously in Girlfriend in a Coma and Hey Nostradamus, but also in the fear of the Bomb in Generation X and other works). What we have in this novel is a world after an apocalypse has occurred, and we find that life does go on, and while the world does change, people's fears and preoccupations continue.
Loneliness is the central theme of this novel, but also family and death and love and the search for acceptance. Coupland shows us a world in which much has changed, but in which these themes are timeless.

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