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Peter Gabriel 3: Melt (Reis)
Peter Gabriel 3: Melt (Reis)
Price: £14.09

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An All-Time Great Album, 8 Aug. 2011
Peter Gabriel's third self-titled album, i.e. the one with his face melting on the cover, is one of the greatest albums of all time. From start to finish it is an incredible effort, with most of the lyrics from the point of view of someone with a disturbed perspective. The album was originally released on May 30th of 1980, and it remains one of the great Progressive rock albums of all time. Featuring greats like Robert Fripp, Kate Bush, Tony Levin, Phil Collins, and a host of others, the album has a firm musical base on which to build these extraordinary songs.

The album opens with "Intruder" a song sung from the perspective of a burglar, but not just a burglar, but one who gets a thrill from scaring those he is burgling. Next up is "No Self Control", which not surprisingly is sung from the perspective of one who lacks self-control in a number of areas and to an alarming degree. "Start" is a short instrumental which leads into "I Don't Remember" sung from the perspective of someone with amnesia who is trying desperately to remember. Next up is "Family Snapshot", a song sung from the point of view of an assassin. It was inspired by "An Assassin's Diary" written by the man who tried to assassinate George Wallace, but Gabriel uses images from JFK's assassination in the song. Closing out the first half of the album is "And Through the Wire" which is a bit more difficult to figure out, but a good song nevertheless. There are a lot of possible meanings for the song, but I have never figured out exactly what it means. The singer seems to be obsessed with someone, and perhaps stalking them through various methods, or perhaps it is merely someone he is unable to be with physically due to borders.

The second half opens with "Games Without Frontiers", a wonderful song which compares the ridiculous nationalistic contests as they took place on a couple of game shows (Jeux Sans Frontières - France and It's a Knockout - UK) with more the more series and still ridiculous contests between nations in the form of war. "Not One of Us" is next and deals with prejudice. Next up is "Lead a Normal Life" which is mostly an instrumental other than a short passage which invokes the image of one living under restrictions being told to lead a normal life. Last up is the superb "Biko" which is about the killing of Steven Biko, the anti-apartheid activist who died in custody from wounds he received during the interrogation.

Peter Gabriel's first two albums were well received, but this third album took things to a much higher level, and it set the stage for his next album which is right up there with this one in terms of quality. This is an album which is strong both in music as well as in lyric. No doubt this is a 5-star effort.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 11, 2012 1:59 AM BST


Royal Flash (The Flashman Papers, Book 2)
Royal Flash (The Flashman Papers, Book 2)
by George MacDonald Fraser
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Royal Fun, 7 Aug. 2011
George MacDonald Fraser picks up in "Royal Flash" where he left off in "Flashman". Fraser artfully blends historical figures into his stories along with a fictional character he stole, um, I mean pays homage to, in this delightful series. After covering the years 1839 - 1842 and his service in the first Anglo-Afghan War, "Royal Flash" cover 1842 - 1843 and then 1847 - 1848 in this second installment of "The Flashman Papers".

Fraser inserts Otto von Bismarck as Flashman's major nemesis in this story, and as for Flashman's legendary womanizing, Fraser is kind enough to hook him up with Lola Montez, among others. Fraser also doesn't mind borrowing heavily from Anthony Hope's "The Prisoner of Zenda" (1894) either, though in the Flashman universe it was Anthony Hope that borrowed from Flashman's adventures. At any rate, nothing is out of scope as far as I can tell from being selected for Flashman to have his hand in. There are a host of other historical figures which play minor roles in the novel as well.

In a brief meeting involving Lola Montez, Otto Bismarck takes an immediate dislike to our anti-hero, and from that meeting Bismarck later devises a plot to gain power and get revenge on Flashman all in one go. This plot involves a "Prisoner of Zenda" like plan, though in this case the switch which sees Flashman forced to pretend to be Carl Gustaf, a prince of Denmark. This plot involves the Duchy of Strackenz a fictional place (the only fictional setting for a Flashman novel). Though Strackenz is fictional, Fraser makes it a part of the Schleswig-Holstein Question which was a real situation between Denmark and Germany involving the two duchies.

As with the first book, there are too many references back to "Tom Brown's Schooldays". In one case it felt natural and part of the story, but in the other instances it felt forced and certainly was unnecessary considering this is the second book of the series and Flashman's origin has already been established. It also seems unlikely that Flashman would be so fixated on Tom Brown when one looks at his life since that period.

All things considered I am giving "Royal Flash" 4-stars, as it is almost as good as the first in the series, but at the same time it obviously cannot be as original, and the fictitious setting also takes away from it slightly, as do the unnecessary references to Tom Brown. Nevertheless, it is still very fun to read, and there is even some history to be learned.


A New World Record
A New World Record
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £12.36

4.0 out of 5 stars Underrated, 4 Aug. 2011
This review is from: A New World Record (Audio CD)
Jeff Lynne's Electric Light Orchestra is a group that was a bit over the top with elaborate stage shows and non-traditional rock instruments such as cellos and violins, they always seemed to be left out when people talked about the great groups, but at the same time they were unique and their music immediately recognizable. The same is true with their album "A New World Record" which achieved some great success in Australia, Canada, and Sweden by reaching the top of the charts, and peaked in the top 10 in the U.S. and the U.K. along with most of the European markets.

The album has a nice collection of singles, but it also includes some pieces which are less pop and more album oriented. The result is an album which is fun to listen to as it has a good deal of variety, and every piece has something to offer. The biggest weakness of the album is its length, at less than 37 minutes of music it leaves the listener wanting more. There are 9 tracks, and the group was clearly moving to shorter pieces.

The album opens with "Tightrope", a very upbeat tune that probably should have been a single, but perhaps we felt to be a little too long at just over 5 minutes. "Tightrope" segues nicely into "Telephone Line" which was the last single released from the album and which made it into the top 10 in several markets. "Rockaria" is next, another single, but a bit of an unusual one but that is one of the things which I like about it. The first side closes with "Mission (A World Record)" which is probably my favorite track from the album. Clearly not a single, but yet it is a piece which is very memorable.

The second half of the album opens with "So Fine", an upbeat piece, especially after "Mission" and it includes a wonderful bridge section which makes it unlike anything else on the album. Next up is "Livin' Thing", which is one of ELOs most recognizable songs and a great single. "Above the Clouds" is next, another very different piece with some simple instrumentation and the shortest piece on the album. "Above the Clouds" leads directly into the single "Do Ya", which was originally done by The Move, Lynne's former group. The album closes with the longest piece, the wonderful, and again unusual, "Shangri-La"

"A New World Record" is an underrated album by an underrated group. The performers on the album are: Jeff Lynne, Bev Bevan, Richard Tandy, Kelly Groucutt, Mik Kaminski, Hugh McDowell, Melvyn Gale, along with some guests. I put this album between 4 and 4.5 stars.


How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
by Charles Yu
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Needs More Development, 3 Aug. 2011
The worst thing that could have happened to Charles Yu is to have his book "How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe" compared to Douglas Adams. Of course it was bound to happen, as it does anytime one creates bizarre scenarios and characters in a science fiction novel, but he would have been better served to keep such comparisons off of the dust jacket. Certainly there are some funny moments in this book, but it is in no way the same type of novel as Adams created. For the most part, it is a touching story about a son and his father.

Charles Yu puts himself in the novel (or a character with the same name at any rate) as a time machine repairman. His boss is a computer program that doesn't know he is a computer program, and his assistant is TAMMY, the user interface (UI) for his computer in his time machine and she has low self-esteem, and of course he has Ed, his dog, which is "a weird ontological entity" that doesn't really exist, but is unaware of it. From this collection of characters, one would guess that this was a Douglas Adams type novel, and indeed it does seem to start that way. However, as the relationship between Charles and his father builds in the novel, the nature of the story changes.

The novel changes dramatically in tone as it progresses. The antics disappear, and the emotional connection between Charles and his father becomes the dominant storyline. The characters, though certainly an odd collection, are still accepted by the reader, but they could have been regular believable ones and the father-son plot still would have worked. Perhaps the author was trying to use the contrast to heighten the emotional impact, but it seemed unnecessary to me.

For me, the weaknesses in the novel relate to humor side of the story. It felt to me like the author was trying too hard to make things zany and outrageous. That is not to say that he didn't succeed in making it very funny in spots, but rather that the overall result didn't hold up very well. Another big weakness comes with the time-loop that Charles gets trapped in. There is a huge flaw in the time loop which ruined the entire plotline for me. Given that the time-loop is such a key to the book, Charles Yu should have made it work properly.

On the positive side there is a very touching story underneath it all, and Yu tells it in a way which connects with the reader. There are many books where the author fails to create a connection with the reader, and given the flaws with this book it would have been easy for the author Charles Yu to lose my interest in the character Charles Yu, but he managed to hold on to it and showed me that he is a writer to watch in the future as a result. I can only give this book 3 stars, but I look forward to reading more of Charles Yu's stories in the future.


Brothers in Arms
Brothers in Arms

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At The Apex, 21 Feb. 2011
This review is from: Brothers in Arms (Audio CD)
It is difficult to believe that "Brothers in Arms" was released all the way back in 1985 (May 13th), and was one of the first new albums to be aimed at the CD market, with a full digital recording (DDD). The album mixed a variety of sounds, along with a very clever MTV inspired hit ("Money for Nothing") which pretty much guaranteed massive success in and of itself. Instant success never guarantees long-term success though, so the real strength of this album comes from the strength of the tracks which continue to be played and in demand 25 years later, and undoubtedly for a long time to come.

The album opens with "So Far Away" which was also the first single from the album, released a little over a month prior to the album itself. The song is a simple one, about being away from the one you love, a common theme for rock stars who are often on the road. Next up is the massively successful "Money for Nothing", with guest artist Sting co-writing the song and providing some of the vocals. The video for this song launched, i.e. was the debut video shown on, MTV Europe, and was a massive hit on MTV in the U.S. as well. The video and song became the target for Weird Al Yankovic in his film UHF, with Mark Knopfler contributing the guitar work and Guy Fletcher the keyboards. Unlike many songs which touch a social nerve, "Money for Nothing" has survived its early success and continues to be a fan favorite, in spite of, or perhaps aided by its controversial lyrics.

"Walk of Life" is next, the fourth single from the album, and another big hit both with the video as well as the song itself. It has kind of a rockabilly feel to the rhythm, providing a different sound from anything else on the album. "Your Latest Trick" is the fifth single from the album, and contains a wonderful saxophone intro. "Why Worry" is a slow piece, and at over 8Ĺ minutes it is also the longest piece on the album. "Ride across the River", "The Man's Too Strong", and "One World" are all solid pieces which grow on the listener, though none is what one would call a single. The album then closes with the title track "Brothers in Arms", my personal favorite due to its lyric. It is an unusual choice for a single, and yet it was the third single from the album and did fairly well considering the serious subject matter, slow pace, and long solos.

"Brothers in Arms" in many ways is the album that killed the band. After its release the band went on a very long tour and broke up in 1988. The result was that it was six years before they would reunite and release another studio album which, at least so far, is the last from the group. Nor was the following album ("On Every Street") anywhere near as successful as its predecessor. Mark Knopfler remains one of the best guitarists out there, with a unique and easily identifiable style. He has gone on to release several solo albums, but the group itself appears to be finished.

The lineup for the group on this album was: Mark Knopfler (guitars and vocals), Alan Clark (keyboards), Guy Fletcher (keyboards and vocals), John Illsley (bass and vocals), Terry Williams (drums), and Omar Hakim (drums). Almost all the drums are provided by Omar Hakim, but Terry Williams did the initial work and returned for the tour and videos. There were a number of guest artists as well, including: Jack Sonni (guitar), Michael Brecker (saxophone), Randy Brecker (horn), Malcolm Duncan (tenor saxophone), Neil Jason (bass), Tony Levin (bass), Michael Mainieri (vibraphone), Dave Plews (horn), and of course Sting (vocals on Money for Nothing).


The White Tiger
The White Tiger
by Aravind Adiga
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Uncaged, 18 Feb. 2011
This review is from: The White Tiger (Paperback)
"The White Tiger" by Aravind Adiga is a tremendously interesting novel, providing a look at society in India with a black comedic view which hooks the reader from the start. The story is told via a series of communications from Balram Halwai to Wen Jiabao, the Premier of China, about what it is to be an entrepreneur. This debut novel won the Man Booker Prize in 2008. Adiga has a lot to comment on in this work, from Indian society, to Indian politics, the caste system, to religion and art. Dealing with subjects as personal as one's family, to as broad as globalization and the world order.

Munna (a.k.a. Balram Halwai) comes from a small village (Laxmangarh) in Bihar. His family was very poor, and he isn't even given a proper name as "munna" means "boy" in Hindi. He is smart and is promised a scholarship, but family obligations take that away from him and he is forced to work instead of going to school. The caste system and the way society operates work against Balram for most of the book. The system is designed to keep people at the same level or push them down, and it takes morally reprehensible actions to work against the flow to try to move upwards in society. Balram tells Wen Jiabao of the crime he committed at the end of his first communication, but the details, and the even greater immoral sacrifice that he makes are left until much later, though there are hints of it during the telling of the story.

The inverse relationship between morality and power plays a significant role throughout the book, and with all the characters. Balram finds himself on both sides of the equation as well, and these are undoubtedly lessons which he uses to escape his cage, or as he calls it the rooster coop. The contrast between the "Darkness" and the "Light" is another one which Aravind Adiga uses throughout the book. And it is important to note that it is not the case that the poor in the "Darkness" are not pure while the wealthy in the "Light" are immoral, it is rather the case that each caste is willing to do what it must to survive at its level, and that the crimes one must commit to maintain oneself in the "Light" are just that much worse. Balram propels himself into the light with a crime, but then acts in a more moral way than most, or at least attempts to justify himself with such a story. At the same time, he even discusses another immoral act he may need to commit to maintain his social position.

"The White Tiger" is an absorbing read, and I was drawn further into it with each page. Balram's narration brings the story to life, and he is a fascinating character filled with contrasts. He considers himself a "White Tiger", and yet when he comes face to face with one in the zoo, he faints. He writes as if he is only loyal to himself, and yet often acts in a way which does not benefit himself the most. At times he is quite moral, and yet at a key time he is able to commit a horrible crime, with consequences so great that most people could never take such an action. Above all, though, he is intelligent, and a survivor. I've read a number of excellent books recently, and this one is right up there in the top tier.


To the end of time: The best of Olaf Stapledon. Selection and introd. by Basil Davenport
To the end of time: The best of Olaf Stapledon. Selection and introd. by Basil Davenport
by Olaf Stapledon
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not What It Should Have Been, 11 Feb. 2011
"To The End Of Time" is a collection of Olaf Stapledon's four most famous novels: "Last and First Men", "Star Maker", "Odd John", "Sirius"; and his novella, "The Flames". On the surface, this pulls together all of his most significant works of fiction, but there are some problems with the collection as well. Also included is an Introduction by Basil Davenport, who also made the decisions on how to present the material. This collection was originally published in 1953, and in 1956 it ranked 13th on the Astounding/Analog All-Time Poll.

The collection opens with "Last and First Men" which was originally published in 1930 and which many people consider to be Stapledon's best. However, in this case the editorial decision to truncate the work by omitting most of chapter one, all of chapter two, and part of chapter three makes this not a good choice for those who wish to read the novel. Many people have suggested omitting pieces of this long novel, but the final decision should be left to the reader, and not forced upon them by the editor.

My personal favorite is next, the amazing "Star Maker" which was originally published in 1937, and builds on top of "Last and First Men", but does so in such a way that one doesn't have to have read that work prior to reading Star Maker". Next up is 1935's "Odd John", and that is followed by "Sirius" from 1944. The collection closes with "The Flames" which was originally published in 1947. All of these works are published in their entirety, so while this is not the book to buy if one wants to read "Last and First Men", it is a good way to collect the three other major novels as well as the novella.

To be sure, there are a number of editions of "Star Maker" available which enhance the reading experience of that novel as well, so once again I would not pick this volume based solely on getting that particular work. Overall, I would give this collection four stars, but had it provided a complete copy of "Last and First Men" it would easily rank 5 stars for the convenience of getting all of Stapledon's major works in one volume.


The Flames : A Fantasy
The Flames : A Fantasy
by Stapledon Olaf
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars A Taste of Stapledon, 11 Feb. 2011
This review is from: The Flames : A Fantasy (Hardcover)
"The Flames: A Fantasy" is a novella written by Olaf Stapledon, and published in 1947. While not one of Stapledon's better known works, it isn't a reworking of ideas which he had done before, unlike some of his other lesser known works. Like all of Stapledon's works, it is not standard speculative fiction, as Olaf Stapledon always brings something different to the genre with his background in psychology and philosophy.

The novella has three sections, the first is just a one page "Introductory Note" in which the narrator, Thos, discusses the nature of his relationship with Cass, and the circumstance in which he received a letter from Cass. This section serves to setup the rest of the story. As is typical for Stapledon's stories, the premise established in this "Introductory Note" is that the story is actually true.

The second section is titled "The Letter" and this is the meat of the story and the largest section. As if written by the character Cass, this letter discusses the possibility of alien intelligent entities called "The Flames" who require very high temperatures in order to be able to fully function. These beings originated on the Sun, but through solar activity their essence was distributed to other bodies. However, they have only been able to be active on Earth due to man creating fire, and most effectively during the wars of humans.

There are two key questions coming out from this section, the first is regarding the sanity of Cass. If Cass is sane, then these entities must exist, but if he is insane then this may be the figment of his mind. The second question comes under the assumption that the Flames actually exist, and then the question is "what is the nature of these beings?" According to Cass, they claim to want to establish a cooperative relationship with humanity, but in the letter, Cass comes to the conclusion that they are man's enemies and that they will in many ways enslave the human race. He actively tries to destroy individual Flames, and indicates that Thos should try to make others aware of the threat.

The last section is simply titled "Epilogue", and unfortunately Stapledon seems to drop the interesting questions he raises above, particularly regarding the nature of the Flames. When Thos visits the institution where Cass is, he learns that Cass has decided that the Flames are indeed benevolent, and Cass relates the story of how he became convinced of their good-heartedness, and the discussion moves more toward the theistic beliefs of the Flames. It is sections like this which are the core of Stapledon's writing, but I felt he could have gone in the other direction and achieved a more interesting result.

"The Flames" is a fairly short novella, and as such it is a fairly quick read and reasonably worthwhile. I would not put this at the level of his four best known novels, but then again it is a much quicker read then any of those. As such, those who may want to experience Stapledon's writing may want to pick this up. They should be aware though that this is not his best work.


The Innocents Abroad (Oxford Mark Twain)
The Innocents Abroad (Oxford Mark Twain)
by Shelly Fisher Fishkin
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Early Signs Of Greatness, 7 Feb. 2011
"The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims' Progress" is Twain's second book, though he undoubtedly would have preferred it be his first book, given his destruction of the plates for "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and Other Sketches". Nevertheless, this is an early work, and yet it already shows Twain's skill as a writer, and his development into one of the greatest writers of all time.

The Oxford Mark Twain series is a wonderful collection. Each book is a facsimile of the first editions of his works (with a few noted exceptions), and the works are supplemented with a "Foreword" by the editor of the series (Note the Foreword appears to be the same for each book in the series), an "Introduction" from a writer for whom the work had particular impact, and an "Afterword" from a scholar who examines the work in the context of the time and place in which it was written. The editor of the series is Shelley Fisher Fishkin, a professor of American Studies and English and an author of multiple books on Mark Twain. The "Introduction" in this volume is by Mordecai Richler, and the "Afterword" by David E. E. Sloane.

In the "Introduction", Mordecai Richler (Canadian author, screenwriter, and essayist) discusses his view of travel, and contrasts that with Twain's wonderful journey to Europe and the Holy Land. He also discusses the impact that Twain had on his life and continues to compare his experiences with Twain's. It is a good introduction, and Richler has some interesting points to make about the role this book had on history, and literature.

The book itself is an incredible work. At around 650 pages, Twain delivers a very humorous book, pieces of which could fall into areas of history, travelogue, sociology, or even religion. Overall though, this is yet another splendid example of Twain's ability to tell stories. There are a couple of parts early on in the book where the humor feels a bit forced, but those sections are few, and once you get past the first third of the book they are gone from his writing. Twain takes aim at everything in the course of this book, from his fellow passengers and crew of the ship, to the tour guides, the endless supply of religious artifacts and questionable claims, to the cultures of the areas that he visits. Nothing seems to escape his keen wit, and the reader benefits from this as much today as they did in 1869 when the book was first published.

David E. E. Sloane has written an outstanding "Afterword" for this volume. In which he discusses all the work that Twain put into turning his columns into the book. Twain cleaned up the language, and really sharpened his focus, which undoubtedly is why this was one of his bestselling books while he was alive, and continues to be one of his most read works. Mr. Sloane also discusses the history of the times surrounding this book, and in particular influences such as Artemus Ward and P. T. Barnum, as well as other works from the time. He also provides a section for further reading, which gives those who are interested some valuable resources to find out more about Twain and the writing of "The Innocents Abroad".


Unplugged
Unplugged
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £3.66

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still One Of The Best, 6 Feb. 2011
This review is from: Unplugged (Audio CD)
The earliest recordings of Eric Clapton that I have heard date back to 1963 with The Yardbirds. Nearly 30 years after with the release of "Unplugged", he is as good as ever. Clapton's music is always very identifiable, whether electric or acoustic, and he is clearly one of the best blues guitarists of all time. "Unplugged" was recorded on January 16th of 1992, and released on August 25th of the same year. The album went on to win six Grammy Awards, and reached number one on the charts in the U.S. The album includes some new pieces, as well as some old classics.

"Signe" is the only instrumental on the album, and is a new piece which Clapton wrote while on holiday and is named for the boat he was on when he wrote it. "Before You Accuse Me" is a song which Eric Clapton has recorded before, an electric version for his "Journeyman" album, but the song is originally by Ellas McDaniel (a.k.a. Bo Diddley). It is interesting hearing this in acoustic form, but I prefer the electric version. "Hey Hey" is a song written by Big Bill Broonzy which Eric once said was probably the first blues song he had ever heard. The fourth track is "Tears in Heaven", a live version of a song which was released on the "Rush" soundtrack in January of 1992. The song, as probably everyone knows now, is about the loss of Eric's four-year-old son Conor in March of 1991.

"Lonely Stranger" is another of Clapton's songs, written around the same time, but it is a bit more general being about loneliness. "Nobody Knows You When You're Down & Out" is a song by Jimmie Cox, but Clapton picked it up from Bessie Smith and recorded it for "Layla" and once again it appears here. The album continues with the title track from "Layla", completely reworked as an acoustic version, and an amazingly new rendition equally as good as the original. "Running on Faith" is another piece which Clapton recorded on his "Journeyman" album, it is a piece by Jerry Lynn Williams, one of many which he wrote for Clapton.

With "Walkin' Blues", Clapton returns to early blues as this is one of two pieces on the album which was originally done by Robert Johnson, but in this case Clapton creates a hybrid between Johnson's "Walkin' Blues" and Muddy Waters "Feel Like Going Home". "Alberta" is another classic song which Clapton credits to Snooks Eaglin. "San Francisco Bay Blues" is a folk song which is usually associated with Jesse Fuller. "Malted Milk" is the second Robert Johnson piece on the album. "Old Love" is a return to his newer works, and yet another piece from the "Journeyman" album. The album then closes with a version of Muddy Waters' "Rollin' and Tumblin'".

"Unplugged" is a tremendous album, which allows users to once again hear just how well Eric Clapton can play the guitar. All the musicians on this album do a wonderful job and deserve credit for the result as well. These include: Ray Cooper (percussion), Nathan East (bass guitar, backing vocals), Steve Ferrone (drums), Chuck Leavell (keyboards), Andy Fairweather Low (guitar), Katie Kissoon (backing vocals), and Tessa Niles (backing vocals). There is no doubt about it for me, this is a five-star album.


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