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Autobiography (Penguin Modern Classics)
Autobiography (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Morrissey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.48

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Classic?, 3 Aug. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
It might have been a cheeky joke. It could have been a cute marketing ploy. It may even have been meant in complete seriousness. But Morrissey’s unghosted autobiography doesn’t deserve the familiar typeface and black livery that denotes Penguin Classic status, nor the Booker Prize, as playful literary critic Terry Eagleton suggested in his review for The Guardian.

Why not? As with so many celebrity autobiographies it betrays a lack of editing. It isn’t just the very un-Morrissey-like American spellings (“Stretford Jobcenter”, “Macclesfield town center”), the chronology of events is askew, and there is no index. There are quite a few passages here that simply don't make any sense whatsoever. ("I will never be lacking if the clash of sounds collide, with refinement and logic bursting from a cone of manful blast") There is also some ill-advised self-indulgence too. The uncritical fashion in which he quotes passages of favourite verses from the likes of Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde, and Stevie Smith, had me skipping pages. Likewise, with digressive critiques of the animation style of Captain Pugwash and Peter Wyngarde's acting style. Sometimes it is just the fact that the wrong emphasis is placed on events. So, The Smiths’ glorious five-year run – when they released seven albums (including one live record) - is seen off in just under eighty pages, while the legal action later brought by their drummer Mike Joyce over royalties fills fifty dramatically italicised, but often deadly dull, pages.

But neither does this plainly-titled memoir quite deserve the trashings typed up by self-aggrandising bores like AA Gill and Craig Brown (who described him as “Alan Partridge with daffs in one hand and a Roget’s Thesaurus in the other”). It is spiced with some mean wit - he wryly notes of how “my birth almost kills my mother, for my head is too big” - and it is seasoned with some shrewd self-assessment. The 1990 single ‘Piccadilly Palare’ is dismissed as “a student work of novelty that wears off before noon”; whilst the unloved 1991 album Kill Uncle “will always be the orphaned imp that nobody wants, and even I – its father and mother – find it difficult to feed.” There are also a couple of eye-catching reminders that he fleetingly wrote reviews for the long-lost music weekly Record Mirror under the pen name of Sheridan Whiteside, such as when he nails early Roxy Music as "Agatha Christie queer”.


Jude [DVD]
Jude [DVD]
Dvd ~ Kate Winslet
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £3.65

3.0 out of 5 stars Stunning?, 25 July 2016
This review is from: Jude [DVD] (DVD)
As academic Simon Avery points out in his 2009 book Thomas Hardy - The Mayor of Casterbridge / Jude the Obscure (Readers' Guides to Essential Criticism): “Adaptations of Jude The Obscure have not been as frequent as those of The Mayor of Casterbridge.” That is perhaps unsurprising: Hardy’s final novel about a self-taught stonemason with grand dreams of becoming a scholar, and a complicated love life, is a bleak one that doesn’t offer its readers an authoritative interpretation of events.

Avery describes this graphic 1996 film version, which is directed by the versatile Michael Winterbottom, as “in many ways a stunning adaptation”. Though I can’t wholeheartedly share his enthusiasm, it is difficult to deny that the wiry Christopher Ecclestone looks the part as the cursed central character, who is described in the novel as “a young man with a forcible, meditative, and earnest rather than handsome cast of countenance”. At the back end of the film there is also a beautifully framed, if somewhat incongruous, homage to Francois Truffaut’s similarly-themed Jules and Jim: Jules et Jim [DVD] [1962].

But the retitled Jude takes too many liberties with the text. Though plenty will welcome the decision to junk Hardy’s much-mocked polysyllabic vocabulary (such as ‘chimerical’, ‘supercilious’, and ‘deprecatingly’), Hossein Amini's sexed-up, and largely declassed, script is jarring for anyone with more than a passing familiarity with this late 19th century text. For instance, Jude’s loud recitation of the Latin creed is much less heroic in novel, and Kate Winslet’s sometimes convincing Sue sounds way too modern this when she says things like, "Well, you're confrontational!" and "I'm intellectualising, aren't I?". Amini's lean and pacy screenplay also significantly diverges in its conclusion. The bittersweet ending chosen by her cheats the book's final pages, which are far grimmer and offer a lot less consolation to this “tragic Don Quixote” than the events depicted on screen.


The Essential Recordings
The Essential Recordings
Offered by A ENTERTAINMENT
Price: £0.99

4.0 out of 5 stars From October 1944 to March 1950, 18 July 2016
Unfortunately, Billie Holiday’s troubled personal life often overshadows her music, as jazz journalist and broadcaster Stan Britt observes in the 8 page booklet that accompanies this CD: “There has been so much written about Billie Holliday since her death in 1959 - much more than was ever written during her lifetime – and naturally, much of the copy has concerned itself with the personal data, especially the sadder aspects of that extraordinary life-story". However, this potentially misleadingly-titled compilation tries to draw back attention to her recording legacy, focusing exclusively on material she recorded in the middle of her career for the American Decca label between October 1944 and March 1950.

The 16 songs featured here include outstanding big band versions of ‘Easy Living’, ‘T’Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do’, and Duke Ellington's ‘Solitude’. They are complemented by some more intimate arrangements, such as her near- resigned interpretation of George Gershwin's ‘Porgy’, and a self-lacerating ‘My Man (Mon Homme)’. There are also several less jazz-orientated cuts (‘That Ole Devil Called Love’, ‘Lover Man (Oh, Where Can You Be?)’, and ‘What Is This Thing Called Love?’) which continue to irk some narrow-minded purists because they use strings and woodwind instruments.

But this fairly impressive collection - from the usually pretty reliable Music Club imprint - doesn’t manage to fit in all of her essential recordings from that 5-year period in its relatively brief 50 minutes. There is, for instance, no room for the ballads ‘Don’t Explain’ or ‘Crazy He Calls Me’, despite the fact they have appeared on plenty of other compilations of her work.


Check It Out: The Best Of
Check It Out: The Best Of
Offered by jim-exselecky
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars From 1968 to 1985, 13 July 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Prior to his death 2 years ago this gravel-voiced singer, songwriter, and session man, had a long recording career that spanned six decades, in which he experienced many peaks and troughs. However, this generously-priced 40 track double CD - which is very similar to the slightly shorter The Essential Bobby Womack: the Last Great Soul Man – focusses exclusively on the period 1968 to 1985.

Drawing upon material he recorded for Minit, United Artists, and Beverley Glen, it boasts almost all of the songs you would consider essential for inclusion on such a compilation, such as: ‘Lookin' for a Love’; ‘Nobody Wants You When You're Down and Out’; ‘Across 110th Street’; ‘I'm a Midnight Mover’, ‘If You Think You're Lonely Now’, and his duet with Patti Labelle on ‘Love Has Finally Come At Last’.

But it isn’t quite definitive. There is no room for ‘I Can Understand It’ - despite the fact it is a compilation fixture - or his underrated cover of his mentor Sam Cooke’s ‘That’s Heaven To Me’.


Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music, Vols. 1 & 2 by Ray Charles (2009-06-02)
Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music, Vols. 1 & 2 by Ray Charles (2009-06-02)

5.0 out of 5 stars Genius, 20 Jun. 2016
Quite a few albums by Ray Charles feature ‘genius’ somewhere in their title. See, for instance, Genius + Soul = Jazz, The Genius Sings The Blues [3LP Blue Vinyl Box Set] [VINYL], or Genius Hits the Road. This genre-busting album of (colour-blind) country covers clearly doesn’t. Nonetheless, it sold over a million copies on release in 1962, and is a fixture of "The Greatest Albums Of All Time" lists. It isn’t difficult to understand why. He reinvents Floyd Tillman’s twangy ‘It Makes No Difference Now’ as a jaunty horn-driven blues, adds a jazzy edge to Hank Williams ‘Hey Good Lookin’', and his straightforward version of Don Gibson’s ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’ topped the charts in the UK, USA, and the rest of Europe.

This collection of big band swingers and string-drenched ballads has been paired here with its follow-up Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music Vol. 2 (180g) [VINYL]. Coming just six months after the first volume this more clearly defined effort defied the curse of the sequel, with his lively R&B interpretation of wartime standard ‘You Are My Sunshine’ and his smouldering rendition of Gibson’s 'Don’t Tell Me Your Troubles’, being particularly good. Knowing that he was onto a good thing with this stylistic fusion, Charles would continue to dip into his C&W songbook to great effect. His cover of Johnny Cash’s ‘Busted' won him a Grammy in 1963, and his remake of Buck Owens’ ’Crying Time’ and ‘Together Again’ were hits in the mid-1960s.


Imperial Bedroom (Expanded Edition)
Imperial Bedroom (Expanded Edition)
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £19.99

4.0 out of 5 stars "Masterpiece?", 18 Jun. 2016
With Barney Bubbles' Picasso pastiche on the cover, and David Bailey’s black-and-white band photos on the back, this lavishly-arranged and stylistically varied, 1982 LP certainly looked the part, which might explain why Colombia marketed it with a single word: “Masterpiece?” At the time many critics answered with a resounding “Yes”. Rolling Stone’s Parke Puterbaugh said “Elvis Costello's Imperial Bedroom is really a mansion, each of whose rooms is decorated with painstaking care and detail by the artist". Nick Kent agreed with that analogy suggesting it “should be number One throughout the charts of the Western World”.

There is certainly plenty here that backs their gushing. The swirling opener Beyond Belief” ties his tongue-twisting wordplay to a frenetic drum beat and layered vocals, and the autobiographical, Dylanesque single ‘Man Out Of Time’ still sounds great, even if it failed to break to the UK Top 40. The plainly expressed ‘Human Hands’ is a longstanding live favourite, and his gently jazzy ballad ‘Almost Blue’, was later covered by its inspiration Chet Baker.

But the question mark that hangs over that tagline can’t be completely ignored. In his own extensive liner notes to the 2002 reissue Costello drew attention to the fact the album was not a big commercial success, and described his record company’s campaign as “absurd”, and “really asking for it”. He was right to strike that note of caution. It might have been his most ambitious album up to that point, but it isn’t an absolute masterpiece. The Beatlesque 40-piece orchestration on ‘…And In Every Home’ swamps his bleak third person tale of a disappointed young women whose boyfriend is in prison, and his delivery of Squeeze’s Chris Difford’s lyrics to ‘Boy With A Problem’ don’t feel sufficiently heartfelt.


The Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons Anthology: IN SEASON
The Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons Anthology: IN SEASON

4.0 out of 5 stars “There’s a raft of splendid choices available for the hardcore Four Seasons fan “, 7 Jun. 2016
In an overview of these Jersey Boys' doo-wop music for The New "Rolling Stone" Album Guide David Malley writes of how: “There’s a raft of splendid choices available for the hardcore Four Seasons fan as well as for the tourist who wants the prime cuts and nothing more”. Having sifted through many of them he concludes that this 51 track double CD is: “Ultimately, the collection to own… [because it] leaves no important ‘60s track unrepresented and also offers all the solo [Frankie] Valli and’70s Seasons track anyone really needs, plus detailed liner notes and session notes to boot. There’s no going wrong with this one, especially the first disc, which contains the bulk of the overpowering ‘60s hits.”

There is a lot in that description. The first disc of this broadly chronological, 2001 compilation – which features Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio’s US chart-toppers ‘Sherry’, ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’, ‘Walk Like A Man’, and ‘Rag Doll’ – is the stronger one of the two. That isn’t to suggest to the second disc doesn’t have its charms, as it boasts the 1976 transatlantic chart-topper ‘December 1963 (Oh, What A Night) and the Grease film theme (which was a guilty pleasure of Frank Zappa).

However, I don’t think it should have been awarded 5 stars. The 1972 Northern soul favourite ‘The Night’ doesn’t feature here – despite the fact that when it was re-released in the UK in 1975 it reached no. 7 - and the overlong liner notes in the 32 page booklet are a little too obsequious for my liking.


Blonde On Blonde
Blonde On Blonde
Price: £5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars “The closest I ever got to the sound I hear in my mind”, 31 May 2016
This review is from: Blonde On Blonde (Audio CD)
12 years after the release of this harmonica–driven collection Dylan spoke warmly of it when he was interviewed by Playboy magazine’s Ron Rosenbaum. He confessed that: “The closest I ever got to the sound I hear in my mind was on individual bands in the Blonde on Blonde album. It’s that thin, that wild mercury sound. It’s metallic and bright gold with whatever that conjures up. That’s my particular sound. I haven’t been able to succeed in getting it all the time.”

Those 1978 comments about this filler-free, 50-year-old double LP ring true to me. It isn’t just the iconic cover – which features a shaky shot of the Medusa-haired nasally-singer – it is the way he uses waspish wordplay, put-downs, and put-ons, to conjure up surreal landscapes of yellow railroads and honky-tonk lagoons which are populated by a motley crew that includes a guilty undertaker, the Queen of Spades, Mona Lisa, and Shakespeare.

Sometimes snarling like a sabre-toothed tiger, on other occasions unashamedly romantic, he is in such electrifying form here that he can even make stoner nonsense such as “To live outside the law you must be honest”, and “Everybody must give something back for something they get”, sound like the Gettysburg address. To try and find that “wild mercury sound” again Dylan would look to recreate the circumstances of Blonde on Blonde’s creation, with his next three albums - John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline, and Self Portrait - also recorded in Nashville, with many of the same musicians.


Storm Music "The Best Of"
Storm Music "The Best Of"
Price: £3.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Patchy, 27 May 2016
Gil Scott-Heron’s liner notes to his un-PC debut - 1970’s Small Talk At 125th And Lenox - offer up an acknowledgement of his influences: Richie Havens, John Coltrane, Otis Redding, Jose Feliciano, Billie Holiday, Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, Huey Newton, Nina Simone, and his long-time collaborator Brian Jackson, are all listed. This 16 track CD shows how this poet, jazz musician, and reluctant godfather to rap, channelled those inspirations, with a selection of the recordings he made in the early 1970s and the early 1980s for Flying Dutchman and Arista. Highlights include the early live version of his much-cited, militant message for black Americans ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’; the delicate piano ballad ‘Pieces Of A Man’, and the self-explanatory ‘Get Out Of The Ghetto Blues’.

But this frustratingly barely-annotated collection – which looks a whole lot like the similarly-titled, but much more overtly political, Very Best Of – is patchy. It is nowhere near career-spanning, underplays his dark sense of humour, and omits a whole host of his best songs including the slickly-produced US R&B chart hits ‘The Bottle’, ‘Johannesburg’ and ‘Angel Dust’. Their absence seems even more risible when unremarkable material that shows up his technical limitations as a vocalist - such as his covers of Bill Withers’ 'Grandma's Hands' and Marvin Gaye's ''Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)' - are labelled “The Best Of Gil Scott Heron”.


Still On Top - The Greatest Hits
Still On Top - The Greatest Hits
Offered by Themusicmaestro
Price: £19.61

3.0 out of 5 stars From 1964 to 2005, 22 May 2016
This Northern Irish singer-songwriter’s soulful back catalogue has been plundered plenty: this double CD was actually the third compilation album of his work to be issued in 2007, after At The Movies: Soundtrack Hits and The Best Of Van Morrison Volume 3.

David Cavanagh looks at all of them in the latest issue of Uncut Magazine - The Ultimate Music Guide - Van Morrison, Into The Mystic - The Complete Story. He only offers a lukewarm 3 star review to this 2–and –a half-hour collection of singles, suggesting that: ”Latecomers in need of a user-friendly entry point might want to consider… [this] approximate digest of the first two Best Ofs that covers – non-chronologically as usual – the years 1964 to 2005. Its artwork bears the unmistakable thumb print of a marketing department. Morrison, in a hat and black coat, strolling away from the camera like those mysterious figures on paperbacks of Victorian thrillers in bookshops. But the 37 tracks do a convincing job of summarising his long career, and Still On Top achieved its principal objective by charting at No.2.”

I pretty much agree with that description.Though it is difficult to actively dislike a compilation that finds space for showstoppers like ‘Brown Eyed Girl’, ‘Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile)’, ‘Bright Side Of The Road’, and ‘Precious Time’, Van has actually only ever had three UK Top 40 hits, and this collection doesn’t fully capture the more intangible, nostalgic, and mystical, aspects of his work. There is, for instance, nothing here from the very highly-regarded 1968 LP Astral Weeks (Expanded Edition).


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