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Not quite rabid (Finland)

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Seventeen Seconds
Seventeen Seconds
Price: £5.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Minimalist, atmospheric night-time album, 8 Sept. 2015
This review is from: Seventeen Seconds (Audio CD)
Less poppy than 'Three Imaginary Boys' but instrumentally lighter and more minimalist than the albums that followed it ('Faith' and 'Pornography'), 'Seventeen Seconds' can be seen as a transitional album in the Cure's catalogue. In common with a number of their early releases, the album owes something to Joy Division (especially 'Unknown Pleasures') but has its own distinctive atmosphere and aesthetic.

The main songs 'A Forest', 'In your House', 'At Night' and 'Play for Today' showcase Robert Smith's uncanny ability to infuse well-crafted songs with an intoxicating night-time atmosphere of lush romantic despair that, paradoxically, does not drag the listener down but somehow opens up the possibilities of the world ('I play at night in your house / I live another life'). The lyrics seems to revolve around alienation, the passing of time and the transformation of the night. One of the album's main strengths is that although the songs vary in tempo and approach, it maintains a consistent and compelling atmosphere throughout. It's the first Cure album to demonstrate the distinctive sound-world that makes their work so hard to ignore.

Best listened to on headphones, as dawn rises, gazing out of the window of a night-train passing through central France...
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 29, 2016 8:43 PM BST

by Rose Tremain
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't quite work, 8 Sept. 2015
This review is from: Trespass (Paperback)
This struck me as the work of a talented writer having an off day, and pursuing an idea that doesn't quite work.

The 'trespass' of the book's title is exemplified in the way in which each of the characters in the book encroach in an unwelcome manner on the lives of the others, thus forcing something to happen, but while the author more or less manages to tie up the different strands in the book the effect is underwhelming. The problem, I think, is that we don't care enough about the characters - all of them seem essentially selfish, small and narrowly concerned with their own wellbeing. Perhaps that's the point - the author is showing us what happens when people like this crash into each other's lives - but it fails to grip the reader's imagination.

Pictech TN2010 Black Laser Toner Cartridge compatible with Brother Printer DCP-7055 DCP-7057 HL-2130 HL-2132
Pictech TN2010 Black Laser Toner Cartridge compatible with Brother Printer DCP-7055 DCP-7057 HL-2130 HL-2132
Offered by Printer Ink Cartridges
Price: £18.99

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too black and white, 7 Sept. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Amusing in parts, but the ending was predictable.

Biography Of Peter Cook
Biography Of Peter Cook
Price: £5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb account of a tragicomic life, 7 Sept. 2015
This is the best biography I've ever read. Harry Thompson was extremely well-placed to write it: he knew Peter Cook personally, worked as a producer of television comedy (including 'Have I Got News for You'), pretty clearly had a dyed-in-the-wool Private Eye-ish outlook on life that gave him a strong insight into the context of Cook's humour, and was a Booker-longlisted author in his own right. And he'd obviously done his homework, not only in terms of researching the facts of Cook's life and its wider social & political context, but also in allowing space to a wide array of voices: Peter Cook's showbiz colleagues (people like Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett, Jonathan Miller, John Cleese, Eleanor Bron etc) are represented exhaustively, but so too are family members, school and university friends, neighbours, drinking buddies et al. Harry Thompson also makes clear the extent of PC's involvement with Private Eye, and the chapters on this include some hilarious incidents, such as PC's raid on Robert Maxwell's office and his involvement in the failed attempt to stop Ian Hislop being appointed as the new editor.

And yet, despite the genuine, and often witty, insights of all of these people & Thompson's own wide-ranging and insightful summaries and syntheses of different aspects of Peter Cook's life and works, the basic mystery of how someone so charismatic and talented ended up such a sodden wreck remains elusive. It seems that having conquered both the West End and Broadway by the age of 24, Peter Cook had already gone to the limits of his talent and, not wanting merely to repeat himself, could never find a satisfying alternative outlet for it - he wanted the adulation of being a big film star or (disastrously) a chatshow host, but his talent largely lay in writing and performing his own essentially absurdist sketches, not in saying other people's lines. And it's obvious that he wasn't interested enough, or couldn't take it seriously enough, to be able to put in the hard work of learning lines or doing the schoozing or whatever it takes to be a big star. As Ian Hislop once remarked, PC was 'existentially bored from an early age' - and his boredom, and loneliness come through very clearly.

The story, therefore, is one of meteoric rise followed by long, slow decline. It's sad in many ways. Despite PC's obvious charm and charisma, the details of his behaviour towards his family and friends (particularly his second wife and Dudley Moore), not to mention his drinking, drugging and sometimes squalid sex life - and above all the overall impression of glazed ennui and depression that seemed to grip him - make for harrowing reading.

At the same time, it's choc-full of amusing incidents and tales, such as PC's famous reply to David Frost's invitation to dinner with Princess Anne ('hang on, I'll get my diary. Oh dear, I appear to be watching television that night'), or the saga of PC posing as Sven the Norwegian fisherman calling into a late-night chatshow ('I am a man. I have a mackintosh'), or PC's delight in the bizarre delusions of PC's neighbour Rainbow George who was convinced he was going to sweep to power at the head of a political party called 'What?'

Tragicomic, in a word.

Exile On Main Street [Remastered]
Exile On Main Street [Remastered]
Price: £11.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Takes a while to get into but worth the wait, 28 April 2011
I first bought a copy of this album back in 1997. I was vaguely interested in the Stones, having listened to a greatest hits compilation & liking the odd tune here and there. I'd also heard good things about Exile from a friend ('It's a classic. You've got to get hold of a copy!'). But it didn't grab me straightaway - I felt the sound was a little murky, the lyrics occasionally indistinct & there didn't seem to be any standout songs. So I stuck it in the rack, where it stayed (with just a few brief visits to the CD-player in 1999 and 2004) for the next 14 years. I got it out earlier this year, having absorbed 'Beggar's Banquet' and 'Sticky Fingers', determined to give it another go. I've been listening to it on and off for the past few months.

On playing it again - well, it still sounds a little murky, the lyrics are occasionally indistinct and there aren't any standout songs (to put it another way, the level of songwriting is consistently high), but I now realise that standout songs and lyrical clarity aren't necessarily always a good thing. Some of the greatest albums are those which take a while to get into, where there isn't an obvious hit single, but which have a unity of purpose which reveals itself on repeated listens.

Exile is in that category. It's an exceptionally well put together album which has amazing unity. The songs vary widely in tempo and treatment (from the frenetic 'Rip this Joint' to the mellow 'Torn and Frayed' for instance) each seems to lead inevitably to the next and contribute a new aspect to the overall mood of the album (a kind of world-weary decadence).

Another hallmark of a great album might be that the quality of songwriting doesn't immediately reveal itself and that the songs you like the best changes over time. Exile ticks this box too. At first listen the songs sounds a little rough, hastily improvised and even slightly unfinished, but on repeat listens their complexity and subtlety becomes clear and the melodies begin to get under your skin. When I first heard the album back in 1997, the only song I really liked was the slightly country-ish 'Sweet Virginia'. In 1999 I decided that 'Happy' (an upbeat number sung by Keith) and 'Rip this Joint' had merits. In 2004, 'Torn and Frayed' sounded good. Just recently I've found 'Sweet Black Angel' singing itself in my mind as I stride around town. And 'Ventilator Blues' is creeping in too.

In conclusion - this is an album for the long haul, one to live with. Buy it, play it, don't necessarily expect to get into it straightaway. Be patient with it: in the long run the effort will be amply repaid. Like a fine wine (etc etc).

Withnail And I [1986] [DVD]
Withnail And I [1986] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Richard E. Grant
Offered by Quality Media Supplies Ltd.
Price: £12.89

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Grows on you..., 10 Sept. 2010
This review is from: Withnail And I [1986] [DVD] (DVD)
The first time I saw this film (a mere 22 years after it was released...) I didn't see what all the fuss was about. I thought the characterisation and acting were good, there were a few funny lines, but... It seemed dark - not thematically dark, but literally dark - all gloomy interiors and sodden fields; it seemed exceptionally slow-paced without all that much happening; there weren't any female characters of any note; there was a cringingly old-fashioned - even mildly homophobic - aspect to the Uncle Monty subplot. And for a comedy it didn't seem all that hilarious.

All the same, a week or so after I'd seen it, I found myself thinking about it every now and then and noticed that I'd remembered a few scraps of dialogue ('do you grow?' / 'We want the finest wines in Christendom and we want them now' / 'I will never play the Dane' / 'I seen you - prancing like a tit'). So I watched it again and it really started to make sense. The characterisation stood out more: especially the minor characters Monty and Danny. And while the humour revealed itself to be extremely quirky and unusual, I realised it's not (as someone comments in another review) just a comedy. Tragicomedy is maybe pushing it too far - there isn't much genuine tragedy - but despite the farcical aspects the film is really a kind of study of male friendship. And the ending is genuinely moving and true to life - we suddenly understand that Withnail is utterly alone in the world and his life is going nowhere, while Marwood is moving in.

Touching From a Distance
Touching From a Distance
by Deborah Curtis
Edition: Paperback

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-written, insightful, a little on the short side, 10 Sept. 2010
I thought this was a surprisingly well-written and emotionally honest memoir which gives the reader a clear sense of the kind of guy Ian Curtis was. But it's strictly a personal account and doesn't give the reader much information about how the music was made.

Ian Curtis comes across as an increasingly divided personality - selfish, manipulative and controlling on the one hand; but generous, fundamentally kind-hearted and dedicated on the other. It's frankly a little draining to read about some of the petty ways in which he ill-treated and neglected his wife, and the way in which she gradually found herself pushed aside as Joy Division became more successful is a dispiriting reflection of the way the music business worked.

At the same time, there's plenty of evidence in the book of his better side (kind to animals, dedicated in his job, and a man prepared to give away a freshly-purchased pie to a hungry tramp...). There are also a few clues as to why he killed himself - an unhealthy fixation on heroes who died young; a romantic self-image as one not destined to live beyond his twenties; worsening epilepsy; medication for the epilepsy that - according to bandmate Bernard Sumner - made him more depressed than the condition itself; caught between two very different women (his wife and Belgian would-be journalist Annik Honore) and unable to deal with the situation. It all adds up - but it's such a shame.

There is a sense in the way the book is written that the passing of time between Ian Curtis's death and the writing of the book gave Deborah Curtis a little bit of distance and perspective. It's obvious that this isn't and can't be an 'objective' account of Ian Curtis's life, but it does contain a great deal of insight about things that were probably not clear at all when he was alive.

The one thing the book - I think rightly - takes from granted throughout is that Ian Curtis was a uniquely talented guy - a brilliant lyricist and a compelling, powerful performer. To this day, Joy Division stand apart. After listening to Closer or Unknown Pleasures, pretty much everything else sounds like piffle.

However, a detailed account of this aspect of Ian Curtis's life is what's missing here. Deborah Curtis isn't in any doubt about his talent but the book doesn't contain any detailed account of how the music was made, how the songs were written, how the band worked together. This isn't surprising - she makes it clear that she wasn't privy to all of that & was instead pushed away. But if you're looking for a music-based approach to Ian Curtis, look elsewhere.


5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, underrated, 17 Aug. 2009
This review is from: Souvlaki (Audio CD)
It's ironic that while Britpop swept aside shoegazer bands like Slowdive, Chapterhouse etc, most of the Britpop albums (with honourable exceptions) now sound very dated and generic, while 'Souvlaki' (released in 1994) remains fresh and timeless & stands up to repeated listens.

One criticism of the early 90s shoegazing bands is that their music lacked dynamics, with weak songwriting buried under mounds of effects and wispy vocals (the Cocteau Twins have a lot to answer for). On the other hand, it's possible to criticise a lot of the Britpop bands for the lack of depth and atmosphere behind those bouncy tunes - they sound good on first listen because they're accessible, but lack durability (e.g. most of Blur's Great Escape album).

With this in mind, maybe the key to the excellence of 'Souvlaki' is that the atmospheric sounds (swathes of guitar, submerged male/female vocals etc) are balanced by strong, melodic songwriting and a sense of musical dynamics. A song like 'Alison' would still sound good as a stripped-down acoustic number, but its atmosphere of doomed romance is hugely enhanced by the spacey & massive guitars behind it.

In certain ways, 'Souvlaki' has a split focus. Some of the songs almost point towards folk ('Dagger', 'Alison', 'Melon Yellow'), while others (especially 'Souvlaki Space Station', 'When the Sun Hits') are almost space rock. The last two are astonishingly good & sound immense when played loud. 'When the Sun Hits' might be their best & most emotionally affecting song.

The production is superbly clear throughout, but the two songs produced by Brian Eno ('Sing' & 'Here she Comes'), while not necessarily my favourite tracks, have an especially languid, fluid feel to them & provide a quiet prelude to the louder songs which follow.

Criticisms? Not many. I think the point about an album like this is that it's practically perfect on its own terms, but that doesn't mean it will appeal to everyone. It's true, for instance, that you can't make out all the words on a lot of the songs - especially 'Space Station' - but at the same time if you 'get' this kind of music it won't bother you (and notably you can hear the words on the songs where the words matter - like 'Alison' and 'Dagger').

Where Did It All Go Right?: Growing Up Normal in the 70s
Where Did It All Go Right?: Growing Up Normal in the 70s
by Andrew Collins
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Growing up dull, smug and suburban in the 70s, 11 Aug. 2009
I quite liked the premise of this book - a riposte by someone who'd had a normal, happy childhood to the ranks of misery lit tomes detailing the horrors of traumatic childhoods. But...

The problem with it is that, although Andrew Collins can write quite interestingly when he bothers to apply himself to it, his reminiscences of growing up in suburban Northampton are for the most part very dull and recounted in horrendously excessive detail. Part of the problem here is that he pads out the book with huge unedited chunks of his meticulously kept (and effortlessly tedious) childhood diaries - which feels like pure laziness. The odd excerpt here and there would be fine, but there's way too much of this stuff & it makes for boring reading.

On top of this, there's a general atmosphere of pretty unjustifiable smugness to the book (it seems to be saying to the reader: "Look at me. Haven't I done well?") which grates at times.

It's not all bad. The parts where Collins pulls his finger out and actually reflects on his childhood in its wider context (instead of simply swamping the reader with tedious detail) are occasionally interesting and perceptive. But there isn't enough of that.

Third Transmission
Third Transmission

4.0 out of 5 stars Shoegaze crossed with hard rock. Results excellent..., 16 April 2009
This review is from: Third Transmission (Audio CD)
This album blew my hat off. It's the best thing I've heard for ages. Experimental Aircraft deserve to be huge, but given the style of music they're working with, are probably in the wrong place (Austin, Texas) at the wrong time (2009). If this was the beginning of the 90s and they came from Boston or London they'd be hailed as the new Pixies or something.

The band clearly draw on a wide range of influences, but have absorbed them thoroughly - the songs are (with a couple of exceptions) fresh and original, melodic and inventive and brilliantly performed.

You could probably categorise their sound as shoegaze with harder rock elements. One the one hand, there's the same mixture of dreaminess, experimental sound textures, alternately soothing and dissonant guitar sounds and blended male/female vocals that characterise bands like Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine for instance (particularly on the brilliant opening track 'Stellar'). On the other hand, there's a more driven and aggressive, almost classic rock, sound on some of the songs (e.g. 'Upper West Side'), which seems to draw on artists like the Stooges, Jimi Hendrix & Neil Young. On one song - 'Remember' - dreaminess is alternated with barnstorming guitar; a bit like the Pixies but even better. There's also a trippy folkish influence (Beth Orton, Mazzy Star?) at work on some of the tracks, which showcase Rachel Stagg's subtly haunting voice - the third track ('Overseas') especially.

It's not quite a perfect album. At 60 minutes and 15 tracks, it's a little bit too long. This wouldn't be a problem if all the songs were as good as their best, but the quality of the second half of the album is a little uneven & contains a bit of harmless filler & a couple of songs that are frankly clumsy (such as the aptly named 'So Simple'). But given the quality and originality of the rest of the album & the anodyne, inspiration-free nature of most of what's currently on offer in the world of music, it's still a must-have item.

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