Thursday, April 27, 2006

Bonus Last Day In Christchurch Link

How to tell if you have hipsters (via Gamers With Jobs forums).

Good article, although they made the mistake of thinking that hipsters still listen to Death Cab For Cutie, those guys sold out man.

Disturbing Link of the Day

How crazy are Japanese people?

Gay incest fetus porn crazy!
(Thank you Ruthless Forum...)

Monday, April 24, 2006

Fight Club

by Chuck Palahniuk

This is one of the rare instances when a movie is better than the book it's based on. It's not that the book is bad, in fact it's very good, it's just that the movie is really fucking awesome. I'm pretty sure that everyone has seen the movie or at least knows what it's about, I figure I should describe the plot in broad terms at least. I'm going to give away the big twist at the end too, so don't read any further if you're concerned about spoilers.

At the beginning of the book the narrator (who remains nameless for the entire book) has a tidy, boring life, a nice job, a nice apartment and lots of nice stuff, however at the same time he is purposeless and lonely. All this changes when he meets a charismatic madman named Tyler Durden who helps him start an illicit brawling competition in the basement of a bar. Men from all walks of life join the fight club in order to find some kind of catharsis by beating the shit out of other men, and in turn getting the shit beaten out of themselves.

The theme of the book is a bit mixed, on the surface it seems simply violent and nihilistic, but underneath it all is a feeling of loneliness and abandonment. It's made very clear in the book that all this violence is erupting because the men who join fight club feel emasculated by modern society and impotent to change anything. The narrator in particular creates Tyler Durden out of loneliness as a way to get closer to his love interest Marla, and creates fight club as a way to deal with his repressed anger about being abandoned by his father. So while on the surface you're getting a brutal story about people who are reacting against a repressive consumerist society by releasing their inner violence, you're actually getting a story about a bunch of guys with psychological parental issues who really just need a hug. Still, it's wrong to expect too much coherency from your nihilistic expressions of rage and frustration, and once fight club turns into Project Mayhem things do get pretty cool, as they begin to actively work towards the collapse of civilisation.

As much as Project Mayhems methods are clever and entertaining I have to say I found their ends to be a little disturbing. This is mainly because at the same time as I was reading Fight Club I was also reading Guns, Germs and Steel, a non-fiction book dealing with the rise of civilisation, and how much it's done for the human race, and Red Mars, a science fiction novel dealing with the colonisation of Mars, where the colonists reject old Earth society and present much more constructive and satisfying alternatives than Fight Club's solution of 'blow everything the fuck up'. Now that's not the actual message of the book, but we are supposed to get a vicarious thrill out of watching them try to achieve this goal, and we are supposed to sympathise with them just a little. I found it a lot easier to do so when watching the movie, which took itself less seriously and had a lot more style, than when reading the book, which contained characters who were just a little too morally deficient and a little too overtly psychologically damaged.

The movie left out a lot of the psychological subtext included in the book, making for a tidier but somewhat shallower story. Due to it's visual nature the movie also had to leave out all the little hints that could be placed in the book towards the big twist at the end, which is that Tyler isn't a real person, just the narrator's split personality. I especially liked the scene in which Tyler is first introduced, as the narrator suffers through a constant series of long plane flights:

“You wake up at O'Hare. [...]

You wake up at LaGuardia. [...]

You wake up at Logan.”

And then, after a long passage about something else so that the trick isn't obvious:

“You wake up at the beach.”

When you know what the twist is, Tyler's first scene is obviously a dream, but it's neatly done and it's all delivered in a jumbled stream of consciousness reflecting the narrator's insomnia.

“If I could wake up in a different place, at a different time, could I wake up as a different person?”

Friday, April 21, 2006

Jon Tells You What To Think, Part 7

(see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6)

As most of you probably guessed, Nickelback isn't actually my favourite band of all time.

1. Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral

The Downward Spiral is the first album I ever bought, and somehow all these years later it still remains number one in my collection.

Trent Reznor had shown he had talent on his previous albums but on this one he proved just how good he could be. On the surface his music has a lot in common with industrial, it's aggressive, distorted and abrasive to the ears. However the catchy hooks and arrangements betrays the fact that NIN is actually descended from 80s synthpop more than anything else. Later on Trent would move further towards the arty inaccessible side of industrial with The Fragile and then back towards a more catchy pop style with With Teeth. However on The Downward Spiral he managed to do both styles at the same time, bringing a nice contrast which is reflected by an emotional counterpoint of anger and sadness.

This album is also a genuine concept album, not one in the Roger Waters vein with a literal story but more of a emotional, impressionist sort of narrative. The album opens with 'Mr. Self Destruct', a kind of brutal, distorted Greek chorus overview of the story to come. In it the narrator lists a number of subjects which are coaxing him toward self destruction, which are then dealt with individually in the next few songs: religion in 'Heresy', the pressures of fame in 'March of the Pigs', lust in 'Closer' and of course no-good cheating women in 'Piggy'. After the half way mark the subject matter gradually moves away from these specific subjects and becomes more and more intense while spiralling down into the territory of plain self-loathing.

'A Warm Place' is a quiet gentle respite before the punishing climactic set of 'Eraser', 'Reptile' and 'The Downward Spiral'. In the title track the narrative reaches the bottom of the spiral, and the narrator describes killing himself (“A lifetime of fucking things up fixed, in one determined flash”) and after that harrowing ending, the album closer 'Hurt' (one of NIN's most successful songs) suggests the possibility of recovery. Its message can be summed up by the cliché 'Once you're at the bottom there's nowhere else to go but up' but Trent's version has a lot more subtlety than that. After all, there's always the chance you might just stay at the bottom...

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Jon Tells You What To Think, Part 6

(see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5)

After a year and a half of anticipation, the number one album of all time is:

Nickelback – All The Right Reasons

For a long time I wrote Nickelback off as just another stupid gutless rock band that took the already artistically vacant genre of nu-metal and stripped it of what little integrity, passion and edginess it may have had, producing offensively bland rock music for people who want to 'rock out', but are scared off by the trace elements of heaviness found in the likes of Linkin Park or Disturbed.

How wrong I was! At first I found the repetitive and unimaginative theme of 'some chick who dumped me' behind the lyrics of virtually every song somewhat annoying, but that was before I heard 'Someday', which deals with the stunningly original and daring subject of 'nostalgia', and how Chad Kroeger misses some shit he had as a kid. Brilliance!

Like the lyrics, the songs themselves at first seem boring and repetitive, surely only a bunch of brainless idiots would release two songs from the same album as singles with the same chord progression. But as their wikipedia article quite rightly points out, it's only the same song if you cut out the bridges and change the tempo! But the fact that their songs contain so little variety or development means that the album is that much more cohesive, after all, who wants to deal with some new mood, key or riff every four minutes?

I picked All The Right Reasons as the greatest album of all time because it's their most recent release, but really I could have picked any of their albums, as they're all pretty much the same. And that's the secret of their talent, what other band has the skill to take the most monotonous sounding music ever made and play it exactly the same way for five albums?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Jon Tells You What To Think, Part 5

Hey what do you know, it actually did take me another six months to write another entry in this series.

(see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

5: Pink Floyd - The Wall

It's long, it's pretentious and it's real fucking depressing, but for some reason even twenty years after it was released people are still listening to it. To be honest I don't listen to this album as a whole very often nowadays, and that's possibly because it has such a strong narrative so it's almost like reading a book. Nevertheless when I first bought it back when I fist left home it had quite a profound effect on me.

Even though the concept behind it is very indulgent and is based heavily on Roger Waters' private demons, it's themes of loneliness and alienation struck a collective chord with people all over the world, making this the favourite album to cry yourself to sleep to for depressed teenagers everywhere. Plus it has 'Comfortably Numb', rock on!

4: Coil - Amethyst Deceivers

In 1998 Coil released a series of four EPs, each related to a season and named for the equinox or solstice of that season. Summer Solstice and Spring Equinox weren't that great and Winter Solstice is pretty good but Autumn Equinox, a.k.a Amethyst Deceivers, is their most brilliant release.

It begins with 'Regel', a menacing, noisy invocation of Satan; what better way could there be to start off an album? The next track 'Rosa Decidua' is a slow, sadly beautiful string backed dialogue between the late Jhon Balance and Rose McDowell. This is followed by 'Switches', an ambient amusical series of clicks and whirs. The fourth track is one of my all time favourite songs, 'The Auto-Asphyxiating Heirophant'. Over an arhythmic binary drum beat (evoking the heart beat of a dying man) Balance grimly (but with a hint of mania) intones the story of a mystic who has reached enlightenment by reaching (or crossing) the border of death. “Is this the threshold? ... I stagger through the streets...” The title track ends the album with another gentle (but sinister) song, this time backed by an acoustic guitar playing in a very weird time signature.

This EP is short and sweet compared to their usual output, but it still manages to capture their many different styles at their best.

3: Radiohead - Kid A

Radiohead had already proven that they were one of the best bands on the planet when they released OK Computer, but they really peaked with their next album, Kid A. A lot of people who were fond of the more or less standard alt-rock of their earlier albums were unimpressed by the avant-garde and electronic flavour of this album, but anyone who appreciates, or at least tolerates, that kind of thing recognises this for the absolutely brilliant album it is.

The obvious highlight track is the relatively straight forward rock song 'How to Disappear Completely', which is in the running for the 'Most Gutwrenchingly Melancholy Song Ever Written Award', but absolutely every song from the abstract and difficult title track to the more accessible ones like 'Optimistic' and 'Morning Bell' is a masterpiece. Except of course for 'Treefingers' (too boring...) and 'Idioteque', although I appear to be the only Radiohead fan in the world who dislikes the latter.

After OK Computer Radiohead were set to be the Coldplay of seven years ago, the biggest band in the world except for U fucking 2, but instead of capitalising on that and writing accomplished but unadventurous pop music for the masses to keep them in fur coats until the end of their days they took a total left turn into a far less popular style and created what is easily one of the best albums of all time.

2: Tool - Lateralus

How could Tool possibly top Aenima? Before Lateralus was released I thought they must have perfected their style of dark, arty metal, and for a week or so after I bought it I continued to think so. Lateralus doesn't have the immediately engaging hooks of it's predecessor, and they've fully indulged their tendency toward long, elaborate songs. However this album is the very definition of a grower, and a lack of hooks is more likely an indication of a stoned songwriter than a bad song (for the very definition of this see the Deftones self titled album). Even five years on this album gets better and better with each listen.

The album's climax is the three song set 'Disposition', 'Reflection' and 'Triad', which build from a peaceful, almost ambient beginning in 'Disposition' to the hypnotic, dark and spacey ten minute epic 'Reflection', before finally erupting into a full on metal instrumental release for 'Triad'. Honestly, it'll melt your face.

They've lightened up a little since Aenima, Maynard's lyrics have had the anger toned down and the mysticism toned up. The music is a little less metal, and a little more prog rock. Tool's music was always technical and remote, and this album goes the furthest in that direction. With a lack of anger the music has moved from being riff based to involving more development of musical ideas, and the long songs lend themselves to emotional development as well, almost telling a story at times. The overall result is dark and epic, portraying the mystery and darkness of the human mind.

Tune in tomorrow to find out what the number one album of all time is....

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Teasers and Sneak Previews

Heroes Of Might and Magic V Demo:

Heroes of Might and Magic 2 and 3 were pretty awesome games but the series was dealt a bit of a blow with the very sub par fourth entry. The new one seems to have done almost everything right however, returning more or less completely to the gameplay of the more popular installments. The UI has been given a total overhaul and mostly it seems to be a big improvement. The graphics have of course been updated into full 3-D and it looks pretty good and runs smoothly even on my machine, although the artists seem to have been trying a little too hard to emulate Warcraft 3. Still, now that they've announced that the game will not carry the horrible rootkit installing Starforce copy protection, it looks like I'll be buying this one when it comes out.

The New Tool Single – Vicarious

After listening to what Tool have had to say about their new album I was expecting something pretty intense and difficult, however the first single at least seems like it will have a comfortable home on the radio, once the dumbass radio people cut it down from it's full seven minutes. It opens with a riff that sounds a little like the main one from 'Schism', but with a rhythm more like that of 'The Patient'. The polyrhythmic influence of Meshuggah isn't immediately apparent, but is definitely there, all Tool have done is taken Meshuggah's ideas that they use to make aggressive, difficult music and arranged it so that it sounds natural. The song might sound a little weird to someone not used to that sort of thing, but still quite listenable. However if you pay attention, the bass and guitar are usually playing in completely different time signatures.

Danny Carey's drums seem to have been kicked up yet another notch, which is very impressive, and the whole song is far heavier and angrier than anything off Lateralus (excepting of course 'Ticks and Leeches'). Maynard's lyrics have taken an unexpected turn to the political (rumour has it that A Perfect Circle are finished so that might have something to do with it) which could easily have gone wrong but fortunately on this song at least they're pretty cool, “Because I need to watch things die... From a distance”. It's a lot more direct and less esoteric than his previous Tool songs.

While it wasn't the face meltingly brilliant musical revelation I was secretly hoping for, it's pretty good, and Tool's 'pretty good' is everyone else's 'fucking brilliant', so no disappointments here.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Top 10: The Forty-Niners

Written By Alan Moore

Drawn By Gene Ha

The Top 10 series is quite easily one of the funniest comics you'll read. Alan Moore might not be in a bad mood like he was in the eighties but he's definitely still into mocking the superhero genre. The original Top 10 collections are a police procedural story set in a city called Neopolis, where absolutely everyone is a superhero. Naturally this is fertile ground for all kinds of piss taking. Recently Moore released the spin-off Smax, which follows one of the supporting cast back to his home dimension, a hilariously clichéd fantasy world.

The Forty-Niners is another spin-off, a prequel retelling the founding of Neopolis after the Second World War. Not being familiar with old-timey superhero comics, the vast majority of the jokes and references in this collection went right over my head, so I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as the others (although I did get a kick out of seeing Popeye and Captain Haddock having a drink together in a seedy bar). Moore seems to be treating the material he's parodying with a bit more respect this time around, so the jokes are less dense and the story takes itself more seriously.

However while I didn't like this collection as much as it's predecessors, I did really like the art. It's done in a washed out old movie sort of style, which suits the story very well.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Astro City: The Tarnished Angel

by Kurt Busiek

So after reading five volumes of Astro City I think I've finally clicked to the concept behind it, courtesy mainly of Frank Miller's introduction to The Tarnished Angel. The other week I mentioned Alan Moore's Watchmen; at about the same time as that series came out Miller produced The Dark Knight Returns (which I regretfully still haven't read), and while Moore's book took original characters and used them to rethink the superhero genre with a cynical, unsympathetic eye, The Dark Knight Returns did the same thing, only Miller got to use Batman and Superman to mock and destroy the genre they represent. The long term effect of these two releases was to ensure that straight up superhero comics, already regarded mostly as juvenile rubbish (not a totally unfair assertion), could never be looked at seriously again. What Busiek is doing is trying to restore a bit dignity to the genre, by keeping Moore and Miller's mature outlook but treating the superheroes as human beings instead of as allegorical stand ins for arrogant, self-righteous politicians.

This collection is one long story arc, featuring a second rate supervillian who has been given the name Steeljack, on account of his being made out of steel. As the story begins he is just being released from a long stay in prison, and being old and tired decides to go straight. In the end it's a relatively straight superhero story, but of course it's the details that matter. Not many other superhero comics go to the trouble of considering how one goes about having a shower with metal skin, or what the families of deceased supervillians thought of them, or the private insecurities of second rate Justice League members (guys like Aquaman or El Dorado).

A little bit of the old Miller/Moore cynicism shines through in the Honour Guard's (Busiek's analog to the Justice League) attitude towards a shifty old crim like Steeljack, but by and large Busiek is trying to make a mature superhero story without the grimness. He does a pretty good job, and the series is quite enjoyable, one of the few superhero series that aren't embarrassing to admit that you read.

See also:

Local Heroes and Life in the Big City

Family Album


Friday, April 14, 2006

The Friday Lesson

If you're ever out in town and you see me about to have a second helping of BZP, make sure you come up to me and say "Whoa there Jon, I'm the 'Don't Take Too Many Drugs, Dance Around Like A Gimp All Night, Make A Total Idiot Of Yourself And Then Lie In Bed All The Next Day Wishing You Were Dead Panda', and I've got a song to sing to you called 'Don't Take That Second Pill'".

Friday, April 07, 2006

V for Vendetta

by Alan Moore

The book that is, not the movie. I've heard enough lukewarm things about the film to not be inclined to see it, but as usual I've been hearing that the book (or in this case, the comic) is much better.

The concept is brilliant: a modern day Guy Fawkes battles the government in a dystopian future Britain. Future in a relative sense that is, the comic was written in the early eighties and is set in the mysterious, futuristic, far away year of 1997. In his introduction to the collection Moore wryly acknowledges his lack of success in predicting the future, noting that the plot depends on a Labour victory against Margaret Thatcher in the 1983 election.

V for Vendetta is one of Moore's earliest works, and it shows, the story, while it may have worked well in a episodic format is a little rambling and directionless in collected form, many plot threads are more or less irrelevant and the theme is a little obscure. In a recent interview about the movie (can't seem to find the link unfortunately) Moore declares that our central character, V, is not meant to be a hero but rather an opposing evil to the fascists, chaos in contrast to their order. I didn't really get that impression myself, a character with as much style and wit as V is always going to appear as a hero, no matter that his methods are callous and he is prepared to kill innocents to get his way.

There are plenty of great scenes though, the story of the rise of fascism in alternate history Britain is quite affecting, and even though the analogy to Nazi Germany is too explicit, that doesn't always appear to be as much of a stretch as you might hope. In fact, while I hope that such a thing never happens in my lifetime, this book has just made me feel even more than I already did that our western democracies are not as immune to being subverted by totalitarianism as we might want to believe. I'm genuinely starting to think that some kind of revolution will have to take place one day in the next century (not necessarily a violent one, but a replacement of the current system of government against its will) in order to ensure that our society will be truly free and have a real assurance of having it stay that way. God help me I'm even starting to agree with some of what Jeremy says. Our current governments are descended from the days of monarchy, and while they've transformed somewhat in accordance to Enlightenment principles, they've inherited some of the baggage of that old totalitarian form of government. Fundamentally, they still exist to 'push folk around and tell them what they should be doing', and that's the way most people like it, or at least expect it. Of course I haven't thought of a replacement system, maybe we just have to wait for the Singularity...

Moore went on to write another superhero comic a few years later called Watchmen. Set in America and using characters that were close analogues to superheroes from mainstream comics it makes a similar point but with vastly improved skill. Not only is it easily the best superhero comic I've ever read but in fact one of the best comics I've ever read. V for Vendetta, while it has a lot going for it just doesn't live up to those standards. It's not a bad book, but you're better off reading Watchmen.

That said, there's no reason it couldn't have been adapted to a kick arse movie, especially seeing as it's message is just as relevant to today's politics as when it was written. But as usual the Wachowski brothers took a brilliant concept and turned it to shit. At least we can take comfort in the fact that in 1982, and again in 1988 when Moore wrote the doom laden introduction to the collection, we were no further away from having western democracy subverted by fascism than we are now, no matter how depressing we may find the evening news.

The Good Shit

Check out Fourth Eye's collection of Tool and Mike Patton related videos here. I've only watched the Fantomas ones so far but they're pretty awesome. Their new drummer is even more fucking insane than Dave Lombardo, and his kit is probably half as big as my flat.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Going Postal

by Terry Pratchett

It's been a long time since I read any Pratchett, save for Good Omens a couple of months ago. It's not that I don't like him, but in my early teens I was his biggest fanboy and must have read every book of his large oeuvre, but I possibly overdosed on it a little and found that I grew very bored with his style after a while. Even though I often think “Oh I should check out the new Pratchett”, there's always something else that attracts my attention a little more. This book was a christmas present, and it finally gave me the impulse to give him another chance.

Going Postal is the ten zillionth novel in the Discworld series, a comedy series which parodies both the fantasy genre and the real world simultaneously. In this particular book Pratchett's choice of subject to be outraged about is corporate greed and mercenary capitalism. While that is a subject that caught my interest, I found the way he dealt with it far too simple and clichéd. Despite this it's still a fairly amusing, entertaining read and it's fair to say I rather enjoyed it.

The protagonist is a conman named Moist Lipwig, who is recruited by the Patrician, the ruthless but effective ruler of a large city called Ankh-Morpork, to restart the old post office, a public service which long ago fell into disuse and has since been replaced by a much faster semaphore system known as 'the clacks'. The clacks, while a revolutionary technological marvel, is run by a fairly nasty bunch of plutocrats who are using their monopoly to extract a great deal of cash from the citizenry, which they then use to literally get away with murder.

The story is very breezy, and Pratchett's humour is still as good as ever, sarcasticly making fun of both fantasy clichés and the real world. For example when a bunch of wizards try to use a crystal ball type device to communicate with one another across a long distance:

“It's still not working Mr Stibbons!” he bellowed. “Here's that damn enormous fiery eye again!”

The geek in me was particularly amused by the clacks, which is a fictional analogue to the internet. Pratchett has a genuinely good non-technical understanding of how the real internet works, it's strengths and weaknesses, and it's potential. Most notably his descriptions of the crazy bastards who run it are bang on. He also includes the golems, introduced in an earlier novel Feet of Clay (possibly scheduled for a reread), who are based on Isaac Asimov's robots, right down to the three laws (which are written on scrolls inside the golems heads, in an interesting combination of science-fiction and myth).

However as soon as he starts getting serious everything goes wrong for Pratchett. His characters work well as comedic caricatures, but he expects us to somehow be emotionally attached to them, which just doesn't work. The romance especially, while well conceived, is contrived and unconvincing in execution. It's not all bad though, he does a good job with the aforementioned golems, who's great age and inhuman motivations are nicely portrayed.

His message is a bit awry too. While we probably all agree that greedy heartless executives ruining industries and lives to make a buck are bad, his proposed solution of having a benevolent tyrant sort everything out doesn't appeal to me. Can anyone think of a historical precedent for a benevolent tyrant? The closest thing I can think of is imperial Rome, and that only went well for a generation or two.

Fortunately Pratchett's weaknesses are overshadowed by his strengths so while they are a little bothersome they don't much impinge on one's enjoyment of the story. I may just have to catch up on the dozen or so books he's put out since I went off on him.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Lions That They Led You To, Lie Down And Take A Nap

Nick Cave – No More Shall We Part

I've learned a lesson about Nick Cave albums over the last few years. With the exception of Murder Ballads (which is a bit of an oddity in his catalogue in many ways) they've all taken a while to grow on me, and I've said many dumb things about them on this very website. “Too boring!” said the young and foolish Jon of last August about The Boatman's Call. “Kind of weird...” said ignorant and stupid Jon of May 2005 about The Good Son. “Not as good as Slipknot,” said Jon of November 2004 about Abattoir Blues. What an idiot! So I kept an open mind about No More Shall We Part, and despite not finding it all that appealing on first listen, sure enough it's turned out to be very rewarding.

At any rate the first track, 'As I Sat Sadly By Her Side', is an immediate attention grabber. With a simple piano and string arrangement, sad but laden with menace, Cave presents a bit of a philosophical dialogue. He and his wife look out the window at the world, and while his wife sees the beauty of God's creation, Cave sees only misery and hopelessness. Both points of view are myopic, but as well as contrasting them the song sets up the story of the album, Nick's wife dumping him for being a miserable bastard.

The second, titular, track is a grim, slow, gloomy piece, not at all appealing to listen to until about two thirds of the way through when the strings and drums join in with the piano and the music shifts from an unpleasant, dissonant D minor scale to the relative major, rewarding your patience with a very beautiful contrast.

The next track, 'Hallelujah', is a long tale of Cave going for a walk, an activity we'll see again a few times time before the end of the album. The track perhaps goes on for a little too long, but it's redeemed by a weird but catchy string riff and some good lyrics, ranging from the silly “And I took the small roads out of town/ And I passed a cow and the cow was brown” to the just plain awesome “The tears are welling in my eyes again/ I need twenty big buckets to catch them in/ Twenty pretty girls to carry them down/ Twenty deep holes to bury them in”.

The next set of three songs take a break from the albums signature sound of slow downbeat piano, and also a break from the overall narrative. 'Love Letter' is a slow piano song, but a sadly hopeful one rather than a depressingly hopeless one and is one of the best tracks. 'Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow' is again a piano song, but a fast aggressive one. And the very memorable 'God is in the House' is a total departure from the serious mood of the rest of the album, as Cave lightens up a little to take the piss out of everyone's favourite oppressed majority: hypocritical, puritan Christians.

Following these little interludes is 'Oh My Lord' , a track that is very similar to 'Hallelujah' in that it's about seven minutes long and is about Cave going for a walk. This track definitely overstays it's welcome, as Cave frets about everything from his marriage to his drug addiction to accusations of going soft from his former fans. Even an unexpected distorted rock out outro doesn't reclaim your attention.

It is followed by 'Sweetheart Come', a sad invitation to a potential lover with some more great lyrics. 'The Sorrowful Wife' pulls the same trick as 'Oh My Lord' with much more success. Starting as a mournful piano ballad in the same vein as the rest of the album, it abruptly changes pace to a heavy guitar backed plea to “Come on now and help me!”

Finally the last three tracks apply a redemptive coda to the gloomy tale of the preceding songs. 'We Came Along this Road' is a simple, direct piano ballad mourning a failed relationship without the angst and bitterness of the other songs. After this turning point the rest of the album becomes more and more upbeat, the sad but uplifting 'Gates to the Garden' continues the recovery process, and then in 'Darker with the Day' Cave goes for one final walk, this time with a positive attitude, despite some kind of apocalypse going on around him.

The overall arc of the album works perfectly, from the opening tracks introducing the unhappy marriage, the later ones documenting its end and the final ones gradually recovering from its aftermath. I'm not sure if the story is autobiographical or not, perhaps it works as a metaphor for Cave's recovery from serious drug addiction, which immediately preceded his recording this album. In any case it's a productive emotional journey for those of us who are not so good at just getting the fuck over things.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

1001 Albums – Number 1

In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning – Frank Sinatra

So it's taken me a while but I finally got around to buying the first album on the 1001 albums list. Actually going to record stores and rooting around in the racks for something in particular is something I've not done for a while, and it was nice, but considering my disinterested reaction to this album I think I'll just download the rest unless I think there is a strong likelihood that I'm going to enjoy it.

That's not to say I think it's bad music. There's no denying that Frank sure has a great voice, but the entire album is based around it and the backing music is just a little snooze inducing. A few songs stand out, mainly the first, titular track, but after twenty minutes ago the whole act gets old. Frank doesn't really change his tone or style for the duration, and I find some of his phrasing quite annoying. The lyrics vary a lot in quality too. That's only to be expected when every song is written by different writers, but some of them are pretty cheesy.

This album is held in high regard for several reasons. Firstly because it was one of the first recordings to really be designed for the LP format. The songs have a uniform sound and subject, and it even tells a little bit of a story. This is a valuable development in popular music, but as I've already noted, I find it a little too consistent musically.

The second notable thing about it is that it was recorded in the aftermath of Sinatra's breakup with Ava Gardner and is one of his most emotional performances. Maybe I'm just a cynical product of a jaded generation, but to someone whose introduction to the love of music involved Trent Reznor ripping his guts up screaming “kill me”, Frank's gentle and almost insipid delivery of “When I get that mood indigo/ I could lay me down and die” doesn't rate very high on the intensity scale.

So the 1001 albums isn't off to the best start. Next up we have Elvis and we'll see if he fares any better.