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R. Davies (Wales)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sensational, 21 Jun. 2010
And I mean the word literally. Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven is a full on assualt on the senses, an emotional rollercoaster that's far too grand or subtle to be taken in on a couple of listens. As with all great records, especially those of the less structured genres, this takes repeat listening.

The two cd's are divided into four tracks, but LYSFLATH is really a linked collection of fifteen to twenty pieces, playing out a spectrum of emotion. Vocal-less save for spoken-word sample, it's the music that does the talking.

Often rising from silence, pieces become dense with instrumentation and emotion, only to be swept into something totally different by quick changes is timing, tempo and volume. At times I'm left grinning ear to ear, with moments of pure perfection punctuated throughout the record.

At first listen LYSFLATH may sound a little disjointed, but repetition brings meaning and purpose to the pauses, silences and unexplained noises.

My only criticism would be that at times the production leaves more delicate parts overwhelmed, but these moments are far too sparsley distributed to be a criticism of the whole record.

Utterly magnificent.

Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises (Arrow Classic)
Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises (Arrow Classic)
by Patrick Hemingway
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

4.0 out of 5 stars Autobiographical Hemingway, 16 Jun. 2010
I really liked this novel. It was my introduction to Hemingway, and I was immediately drawn to his sparse and pacey narrative style and fondness for snappy dialogue.

The plot follows a group of mostly American Expats living in Paris who take a trip to the St Fermin festival in the Basque city of Pamplona, famously known as 'the running of the bulls'. The general storyline is not that important however, what the novel studies is various forms of love, and the variety of human repsonses to it.

Hemingway uses a variety of male suitors for the book's protagonist, Lady Brett Ashley, and their interaction with themselves and her to display the spectrum of love's feeling: through platonic, lust and jealousy.

Hemingway was a keen bullfighting enthusiast, and bullfighting plays a central roll in the novel. Brett and the talented bullfighter Romero are mirrored, each dancing around their prey, getting greater kicks the more dangerous the interaction. Hemingway's character in the book, Jake, is also an enthusiast, defining himself as someone with 'afficion'. Jake uses this to seperate himself from the rest of the group - inkeeping with the friendship and support, rather than lust, he offers Brett throughout the novel.

As I said, I really enjoyed "Fiesta", and look forward to reading more Hemingway. Judging by the number of 1 star reviews, I guess this book is not for everyone. If you're the kind of person who enjoys books or films in which "not alot happens", Hemingway's semi-autobiographical classic is certainly for you.

Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk
Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk
Price: £7.99

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sketches of post-Grace Jeff Buckley, 12 May 2010
Collected here over two cd's are the beginnings of what would have been Jeff Buckley's sophomore album. Jeff intended for this album to be more rock n' roll than Grace, and in places this is certainly noticeable. Not often though, as My Sweetheart the Drunk keeps much of the tender, touching, tremulous vocal and guitar delivery of his debut.

The album is divided in two, an unfinished recording he made with Television's Tom Verlaine at the helm on disk one, and a collection of homemade demo's on disk two.

Disk one is obviously closer to the finished article, but Jeff wasn't entirely satisfied with it, and so it was abandoned. It's hard to know why, although stories regarding the number of takes Grace took to record suggest an artist stubbornly bent on perfection. Maybe he and Verlaine just couldn't get it right in the timeframe they had?

The songs of Disc one are a natural progression, without revolution, from Grace; a plethora of styles, genres and influences: Everybody Here Wants You (released in Australia) has a real soul flavour to it, while Nightmares By The Sea and Vancouver are about driving guitar lines. Yard Of Blonde Girls has a big guitar riff and is a bit of an anthem, while Opened Once and Morning Theft are both beautiful folk songs. Perhaps most interesting is New Year's Prayer, with a qawwali influenced creeping melody.

Disk two is more difficult and perhaps more interesting. I've always seen disc two as more indicative of where Jeff was going, but obviously that's just a hunch. Stripped of production prettiness, often with only his own tapping for accompanyment, this is Jeff Buckley in his bedroom, working out ideas.

Some are more worked out than others. Murder Suicide Meteor Slave, Jewel Box and Your Flesh Is So Nice are all sketchy, totally unfinished works in progress. Nightmares By The Sea and New Years Prayer are stripped back versions of those on disk one. The standouts for me are I Know We Could Be So Happy (If We Wanted To Be), Back In N.Y.C and, particularly, Haven't You Heard and Gunshot Glitter. On these Buckley keeps the tender and heartfelt themes previously expounded, but adds venom. I simply would love to know where he was going to take these three tracks, as the sky was surely the limit.

Tagged on the end of disk two is a quite wonderful cover of Satisfied Mind, delivered in much the same way as Hallelujah on Grace. While slightly at odds with the rest of the disk, it's a wonderful inclusion.

Quite what Jeff would have made of the release of his cast-offs and sketches, no-one quite knows. What this album does show is the inner workings of a great great artist. It's so sad that this is "Sketches..." and not "My Sweetheart The Drunk".
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 9, 2012 12:32 PM GMT

The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution
The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution
by Richard Dawkins
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars There is grandeur here, too., 21 Feb. 2010
Professor Richard Dawkins. Anyone would think that this is his second book, following the somewhat polarising God Delusion. Of course it's not, and for those that know his works on the biological realm, here he's back to near his best.

Unlike in other books, in "The Greatest Show On Earth" Dawkins hopes to outline the overwhelming evidence for evolution; to such an extent that even a "history-denier" must come round to the truth. In this objective, I fear the prof may be dissapointed, for as he himself recognises, the creationist is no friend of evidence against their particular doctrine and dogma.

I must quickly point out to the theist open to scientific evidence that, "The God Delusion" notwithstanding, here Dawkins is anything but insulting to religion. If anything he is openly concillatory to those who accept the theory, but cite the guiding hand of God behind it. Here he is only interested in the incontravertible facts, no philosophy is to be found.

Dawins is brilliant on biology; brilliant on science. His wonderfully literary prose is unmatched in my opinion within the realm of the popularisation of science. Anyone with a vague interest in the theory of evolution will find grandeur within these pages, as they will with the view that the understanding of the theory provides.

He makes it so interesting, and so easy to understand. His digressions are thoughtful and warranted, his footnotes often as humourous as they are informative. Dawkins is enjoying himself here, and it's reflected in a book far more enjoyable than The God Delusion. The evidence supporting the theory of evolution is vast and deep, and Dawkins has obviously had to limit himself. In doing this he has often had to find just a single example from any one of great libraries of evidence - DNA say, or comparative biology, or symbiosis, or the fossil record, or "unintelligent design". In each he finds something that, while often not being new to this reader, always contains a wow factor.

The only problem the book suffers is the limiting effect of the book's epic scope. Dawkins often has to curtail a chapter or digression, content to refer to earlier expositions found in other books. So here you find nothing to rival the magnificent final chapter of "Climbing Mount Improbable" on the co-evolution of figs and wasps (something that everyone should read and re-read until their jaw is sent dropping); or a deep and satisfying argument for a gene-selected rather than individual-selected view of natural selection as found in "The Selfish Gene".

I would say that this isn't quite his best, but having read most of his other works, I still couldn't put this one down.

Whether it is successful in converting the history deniers to the facts of evolution is for me unlikely, but that is irrlevent, "The Greatest Show On Earth" is the only game in town.

Out of Eden:  The Peopling of the World
Out of Eden: The Peopling of the World
by Stephen Oppenheimer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.68

36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Scientifically rigorous, but ill-structured., 2 Feb. 2010
Stephen Oppenheimer's book "Out of Eden: The Peopling of the World" is the book you must buy if you want to know about how Homo sapiens came to inhabit every corner of the globe, from the tropics to the poles; and how, since the development of human DNA profiling, geneticists have come to learn how and when it happenned.

If, like me, you think this a fascinating story worth learning more about than you won't be dissapointed. The evidence available, linking DNA with stone tools/art etc is breathtaking...you really do learn exactly how our forefathers left Africa approximately 80,000 years ago and conquered the globe - and it's a much more nuanced story to what I was expecting, despite having a basic knowledge of what's covered. The author is a talented writer, and when in full flow Oppenheimer really captures the grandeur of this history.

So how come I've only given it 3 stars? Well, first off, despite his best efforts to liven up the incredibly dull world of genetics, Oppenheimer's best efforts fail to quash the tedium brought on by the endless descendants, mutations and genetic trees. By halfway through you just want to shout "Steven! It's OK, I trust you!! Just get on with the story"!! Frankly, for most readers from outside the profession he could have made much of the geneticist in-group jargon up and no-one would notice, so it shouldn't take such a sizeable chunk of the text.

Secondly, the structure to many parts and chapters of the book is bewildering. The reader is constantly asked to jump back and forth in time and place. A new theme will be introduced, given detail before being left for something else - only to be returned to later! I found myself constantly flicking back and forth a few pages to check I had read what I thought I'd read!! I appreciate that in a book that aims to answer such a big question, the author faces the difficulty of having to describe a great number of contemporaneous events, but the jumping about during the exposition on the origination of the mongoloids (for example) was a real mishmash.

Some of the blame for this must lie with the editorial staff, as must the blame for not spotting a couple of honest but fairly obvious mistakes; which without page numbers to hand, I wont mention any further.

The final problem, for which I wouldn't take any further marks, is with the copy editor. Did anyone truly read through this before publishing? If they did, they should be finding alternative employment.

Please buy this book if you're even remotely interested in the topic - you'll find it fascinating. But, and it's a big but, you'll be made to work much harder than you should to reach the end.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 19, 2011 6:42 PM BST

The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul
The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul
by Douglas Adams
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars My Intro to Adams..it's ok!, 6 Nov. 2009
OK, heckle me now..This was my first Adams, mid-way through my twenties. For that, I have no excuse whatsoever.

To be honest though, I wasn't massively impressed. I liked some of his characters (well, Dirk Gently anyway), and I liked the general theme of the book (the difficult position of ye olde Gods in the 20th century). But to be honest, once our intrepid (and holistic) investigator Gently had an inkling as to what is going on -say, two thirds of the way through- the rest of the book seemed a case of tying up the loose strands developed so far. The end was rather limp, to say the least.

I did enjoy much of the humour (mainly, again, Gently's). The chapter where Gently's navigation technique proves succesful (follow someone who looks like they know where they're going.. it may not be where you wanted to go, but it'll often end up somewhere you needed to be) is sublime. It's one of the best constructed comedy paragraphs I've ever read. Still, like much of the book, the humour dries up towards the end.

I like the idea of this book but Adams appears to have run out of steam midway through.

I guess if you're looking for a first Adams book, you may want to head to the Hitch Hikers Guide.. which is where I'll go next.


Price: £5.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hats off..., 6 Nov. 2009
This review is from: Hats (Audio CD)
1st off: Comparisons to U2?!! To Deacon Blue?!! To Simply Red?!! SIMPLY RED?!! Please ignore this!

Secondly: "The Downtown Lights" is worth the cost alone. Whatever the cost.

Third: Not everyone will love this album. Some, perhaps, won't even like it very much. Some may say it's too moody, slow paced and possibly even dull. Others may call it boring but they of course are heathens!!

The Blue Nile's second album "Hats" is a work of shimmering beauty from beginning to end.

The songs on "Hats" are poignant and moving, tales of love and lost love with evocative descriptions of the rain-soaked, neon-lit locations they took place in. I know of no other album where the music and lyrics evoke such a harmonious image. Despite the lack of acoustic instrumentation, the lush synths, precise electronic percussion and sparing use of guitars produce a warm, human, soulful sound that compliments Buchanan's lyrics perfectly. So does his gravelly, world-wary vocal. This is an intense experience.

Buchanan sings "over the hillside, over the hillside, over the hillside... and away", which is exactly where this record will take you.

Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 12, 2009 2:14 AM GMT

Snowball Earth: The Story of the Global Catastrophe That Spawned Life as We Know it
Snowball Earth: The Story of the Global Catastrophe That Spawned Life as We Know it
by Gabrielle Walker
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A cheerleaders account..., 26 Oct. 2009
Snowball Earth is the story of how a theory of a total global freeze in the precambian gained a global scientific consensus. The book starts with the hypothesis' still-birth, but the majority covers the uptake of the idea by a difficult but genius American geologist, Paul Hoffman. Much of the book is a biography and analysis of Hoffman himself, woven around him taking an unfashionable idea and belligerently setting about proving its truth.

There are many things I dislike about this book.

To begin with, Gabrielle Walker is shamelessly partizan. She is like Paul Hoffman's bulldog!! Throughout the book she urges the reader to understand that a genius of Hoffman's stature should be forgiven their bloody-mindedness and frequent inexcuseable rude outbursts. Fine, but couldn't she afford some of his detractors the same courtesy?

Chiming with this is her selection of favourable events for Hoffman. Walker describes a day where Hoffman is defending his hypothesis in the field. She says that other geologists, those determined to prove him wrong, continually asked especially "difficult" questions. Yet she mentions none, nor any of Hoffman's responses, if they were forthcoming. What she does mention however, is the one case where the other geologist is clearly nit-picking, and he conceded that the particluar point was not evidence against the snowball theory anyway.

It becomes increasingly difficult throughout the book to have a disspassionate view of the events recorded when the reader feels like they're hearing them from someone dressed head to toe in Hoffman colours, complete with a set of pom poms.

I also have a problem with her description of the geology profession as a whole. She marks it out as a science completely unwilling to listen to new ideas and keeps it's head in the sand when new evidence contradicts long held beliefs. I began to study geology the year this book was published, and remember a totally different scenario. Maybe I had particularly liberal and open-minded lecturers? Perhaps not. Perhaps it's another wall built by Walker to be heroically knocked down by Hoffman. Who knows?

My final problem with the book is that despite the polemic, it still left me unconvinced of the validity of Hoffman's "snowball earth". Yes, the geological community now accepts a freeze came surprisingly close to the equator; but the book fails to convince this reader of any more than that.

Despite all this, Walker is a superb writer of prose and I barely put the book down! She brings her protagonists to life (despite her team colours), and the final (openly) speculative chapter is superb.

The book also gives an exciting insight into the actual machinations of the science community to the layman. It shows the personal nature of the peer-reviewing process, bringing to light how determined individual scientists can be to prove others wrong. This system, as noted by Walker, is hugely succesful in the search for the truth.

I've often had difficulty explaining this to such people as creationists or the climate change denying lobby. They claim that mainstream science is really just a group of like-minded people unwilling to challenge orthodoxy and happy just to pat each other on the back for recieving more funding. This book, while not being about either evolution or climate change (man-made, at least!!), shows that view to be seriously flawed.

In summary then, this a book I could hardly put down despite disliking most of it's content.

3 stars!

Use Your Illusion II
Use Your Illusion II
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Overblown, overproduced and really quite stunning., 10 Aug. 2009
This review is from: Use Your Illusion II (Audio CD)
With this being part two of a double album, there is of course a considerable amount of filler contained within. Some have suggested combining parts 1 and 2, but shorn of "14 Years" (mundane at best), "Knocking on Heaven's Door" (sacrelige and mistaken), "Get In The Ring" (ludicrous to anyone older than 12), "So Fine" (tiring), "Don't Cry (alt vrsn)" (pointless alternative), and "My World" (bizarre, irritating non-sense) 'Use Your Illusion II' could stand alone as a great heavy rock record.

OK, that seems like quite a change but think about this running order:

1. "Civil War". Often cited as the albums' masterpiece, the song showcases Axl's ability to lace his poetry seemingly effortlessly into Slash's riffing. Epic.

2. "Yesterdays". Along a similar vein to Civil War, just not as good.

3. "Shotgun Blues". A punk-esque blitz of a song, it's tight and fast, breaking up the pace of the album, varying the epic ballad theme.

4. "Breakdown". Classic Axl. A vast array of instruments, an eclectic mix of styles, an epic storyline, yet all cajoled into an intoxicating driving anthem.

5. "Pretty Tied Up". Awesome heavy blues riff, synching perfectly with an aggresive Axl rasping through the lyrics. Perhaps Izzy Sradlin's greatest moment?

6. "Locomotive". Guns n' Roses' crowning achievement! Axl's vocals and Slash's funky riff perfectly harmonise as each one wrestles the initiative from the other. Magnificent and furious, the song races through six minutes before closing with a beautiful piano-led outro.

7. "Estranged". Conspicuously absent from "G N' R" best of lists, Axl's grandiose love epic is another masterpiece. From the chilling opening lines, this is spine-tingling stuff. Borderline pretentious, but it is always kept in line by Slash's guitar 'til the epic piano outro.

8. "You Could Be Mine". Taken from the Termintor 2 soundtrack, this track is the most reminiscent of 'Appetite..' on the album (it had been written prior to it's release). Here Axl is snarling infront of a driving crescendo of rock n roll vitriol. Classic G N' R. Should have been the album closer.

Now that would have been a magnificent album!

Despite the over-abundance of epic's, Axl's obsession with layers and layers of vocal tracks, a ridiculous array of instrumentation and the generally pompous over-production, Use Your Illusion II has enough gems on it to make it a worthwile listen even for people outside the hard-rock fraternity.

The fact that W. Axl Rose almost pulls this album off is testament to his undeniable genius, and songs like "My World" testament to his flaws. Depsite the fact that the man is a gigantic phallus with an ego of galactic proportions, at times during Use Your Illusion 2, you just have to doff your cap.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 11, 2009 10:08 AM BST

Ben Elton - Live 1997 [VHS]
Ben Elton - Live 1997 [VHS]
Offered by pkeylock
Price: £7.45

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps the finest stand-up I've seen, 20 April 2009
I simply cannot recommend this stand up highly enough. I've noticed it's available on DVD and I'm going to buy it now! Honestly, reserve any judgement you may have on Elton until you've seen this!

I think the monologue on ladies panty-liners is the funniest thing I've ever seen ("I said sticky?!! That's a high price to pay for mentrual cleanliness!!"). That or the story about getting his sperm checked out.

Some of the material is a little coarse for some tastes (as he notes when pausing for a breather: *adopts old ladies voice* "I must say he's alot ruder than I expected, I only came along 'cause I like Constable Goody from the Thin Blue Line").

If this sounds like you than observe the 18 certificate on the front. Put it down and walk towards something rated PG.

Elton dances from politics to consumerism to de-masculination of the modern man, all around a loose theme of style over content. A subject more relevent now than it was then (1997). As the other reviewer states, this is a stand up masterclass. Elton may not have the unique appeal of some other performers, but for the sheer quality of the material, structure and delivery, this can't be beaten.

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