Ocean travel without a boat

Journal of Peter Greenwell

Month: Oct 2012 (page 1 of 2)

Wall of Voodoo – Seven Days in Sammystown

For this album, WoV went through two line-up changes, the most significant of which was lead singers. A few critics have chastised this record for trying to continue the sound of their previous two LPs – feeling they should’ve made a clean break. Why? I own the prior two records, Dark Continent and Call of the West and while both have their highlights, I’ve never been able to get into them 100%. They’re very much acquired tastes.

On the other hand, this record grabbed me from the first chord of The Far Side of Crazy. The album is not as randomly quirky as the previous two but there is nowhere near the over-reaching variety which makes those records so challenging. There’s more of a unity on Sammystown. It gels better.

From infectiously fun trifles like Room with a View to the deadly serious messages of (Don’t Spill) My Courage, this record moves along with a groovy tight theme. In fact, I’ll say there isn’t a stand-out poor track on it. Big City is the album highlight, a wonderful piece of pseudo-cowboy twang that slithers along with its cold Boot Hill rhythm.

There’s no difficult third album syndrome here – it’s all good.

What a shame it all fell apart with their next record, Happy Planet.


The Endeavours of Eddings

The Elenium Trilogy. I rub my hands with glee. To get the good aside; Eddings knows how to write a good, page-turning yarn. OK, here we go. This series is unrelated to his previous two, The Belgariad and The Malloreon, but it’s more or less a re-write of them. Same types of characters, same situations, same plot-lines, same pussy-whipped and dominated men…I’m not sure if Eddings himself has been pussy-whipped, brow-beaten and outright dominated by women all of his life, but, by God, he must know someone who has, and I feel dreadfully sorry for them.

The key themes of all three trilogies are the conquering of evil gods by unwilling men, surrounded by a number of attendant ciphers whose purpose it is to add 500 pages of dialogue that otherwise wouldn’t exist, and driven on by overbearing, arrogant, wrong-headed and condescending dominatrices. Polgara from the first two trilogies has been re-written as Sephrenia here, and it’s the same know-it-all.

Sephrenia, and her people, the Styrics, seem to be a satire or a take upon Jewish culture, with a touch of Greek culture thrown in. They despise eating pork, though they never explain why, they can’t abide the touch of iron (nobody tell their blood-cells or general biology that) and they think in purely emotional terms; logical thought is anathema to them. Oh, and they’re not allowed to read non-Styric text either. There’s a bunch of nostalgia for lost times they’ll never regain in there too.

Like all good know-it-alls (and hypocrites), Sephrenia spends most of the three books criticising and condemning the religion and the culture of the hero, Sparhawk and his Elene kin, while being possessed of idiotic superstitions and foibles herself. It’s all quite funny to read. I seriously think Eddings is taking the piss out of Christian or Jewish religious hypocrisy here.

A goddess accompanies them for some of the way. She’s a brattier remake of the first two series’ Errand (Eriond). Where he was a serene and equable fellow (if a bit of a non-event), Aphrael is a heedless and mindless little fool who, quite frankly, has to be one of the most irritating characters created.


Like the first two books, the terms “yes, dear” and “be nice” are liberally scattered throughout. Every female in the book has a man twisted around her finger and a winsome smile is usually enough to win the day. Eddings isn’t as prudish as his fellow American fantasist, Robert Jordan, but both succumb to this smug pseudo-cosiness.

The Tamuli. Essentially, the above series re-written, though Sephrenia is absent from a lot of it, though not enough in my opinion. Aphrael, if anything, is even worse in the perverse and wilful brat stakes than before. At one stage, Sparhawk tries to shrug off her cloying and adhesive manner, to which she responds: “don’t you love me any more?” My sympathies to anyone who fell in love with this vile piece of smarmy superiority to begin with.

Eddings admitted in the preface of a later book that his wife had co-authored all of these, though she was never credited. Co-authored, or stood over him with a cat o’nine tails and a rolling pin? Or she wrote them herself. You’d think so some times. I’m all for strong female characters, but sheesh, if you’re going to use women in a story, keep them at least recognisably female (and human) please, and not awful caricatures of overbearing housewives, dreamy-eyed school-girl ditzes and the like.

Eddings has written a companion book to The Belgariad and The Malloreon called The Riven Codex where he expounds on the cultures and mythologies found within. A couple of points he made annoyed me. He refers to Tolkien as “Papa Tolkien” and seems to take issue with Tolkien not having any real female protagonists and how the ones there are are only women from the head up. I hate to break it to Eddings (even posthumously) but none of his female characters could be considered well-rounded or rounded at all. They’re all smiling charm and pseudo-wise domination. Sex definitely is “off-screen” in Eddings’ books. Sure, Tolkien never found the need to have Arwen and Aragorn copulate like monsters, but there’s none of that in these books either, so, Eddings, what are you talking about? Practise what you preach.

Another thing Eddings mentions is how a writer has no right to create heroic fantasy without reading Beowulf, Lord Dunsany, Tolkien, Eddison, etc.


Writing is a work of imagination. Who’s to say it must be inspired or shaped by preceding works? There are enough re-writes of these out there now. Come on, let’s advance the cause of originality. If people want formulas, they’ll do chemistry at university. You’ll get plenty there, trust me.

What has went well

What’s happened since 24 December 2011? I’ve completed my first year at Uni. Did fairly well too. The first ever post in this blog stated I’d attend the University of New England and do botany. Didn’t quite go that way. Actually ended up at Southern Cross Uni in Lismore doing a Bachelor of Environmental Science. Completed the following subjects this year:

Earth Systems 1: The Lithosphere (geology, in other words)
Global Environmental Issues
Environmental Information Management
Earth Systems 2: The Hydrosphere (weather, climate and water systems)
Environmental Information Analysis

I’m currently doing Statistical Analysis, which is a voluntary third semester subject – felt like I needed to keep abreast of statistics.

Next year I’ll be doing Forestry Science and Management, which is more my “thing” than just straight Environmental Science. I dig plants – figuratively and literally.

Other non-scholastic stuff? Radically changed my diet about nine days ago. Stopped eating a lot of things and I control what goes into my mouth now. Mainly baked beans, Weet-Bix, mushrooms, fruit, the odd bread roll. No meat or chocolates or stuff. I drank coffee and cocoa, and they need to go, but I’ll ease out of them gradually. I drink a lot of diet cordial.

So far, so good. No headaches. I don’t know what it was, but I’d been getting frequent headaches. Now I don’t get them at all – as I suspected, it was food related.

In other areas, it’s all systems go.

And yes, in general, I feel good about myself.

The Church – The Blurred Crusade

Well, well, the band’s second effort is as far removed from their first musically and stylistically as Rush’s debut was from their 1985 release Power Windows. OK, here come the adjectives: lush, expansive, dreamy, orchestral, resounding, echoing, elusive, The Blurred Crusade benefits from a big production from Bob Clearmountain, and also benefits from a cohesive thematic structure.

This album has a much more solid and defined feel to it than its predecessor. The album starts off with the archetypal Almost With You, complete with Spanish guitar solo and fleeting lyrical quality.

Personally I don’t much care for this song. It seems a shame that the songs that made it for The Church seem to be their worst, but then again – that’s me. When You Were Mine is a straight ahead rocker, more polished than the pseudo-grind of any similar song on Of Skins and Heart, Fields of Mars is a glorious song. Slow, thunderous, cavernous and entirely melodious, Marty Willson-Piper gets to warble his vocal cords here on this one.

An Interlude starts out exactly that, then develops nicely into an over the mountains and far away dream rocker; Secret Corners is short and sweet, but full of uplifting hooks and twirls.

Just For You is the second best song on the album, a full blown love paean, starting with Steve Kilbey practising his guitar and getting up to answer the door, the door opens and so does the music, a nice and charming touch. It truly is a simple, yet poignant mid-tempo hail to the joys of dedication.

A Fire Burns is a stratospheric rocker with booming drums and chiming guitars, To Be In Your Eyes is a quiet and laid back tune; strums along blissfully but never to the point of becoming elevator music.

You Took is an epic, a near-9 minute long exercise in call and follow musical technique, with Kilbey repeating his choruses a la Morrissey. The guitars soar somewhere near the ionosphere in this one too. Don’t Look Back is the album closer, and like Secret Corners, it is brief, with a sort of wobbly beat to it. Not a bad way to close what is a great and magnanimous disk.


Tangerine Dream – Optical Race

We’ve come a long way from Phaedra or even Cyclone. This is studio album number eighteen for Tangerine Dream (according to Wikipedia) and the ten songs contained therein are relatively short, and to the point. There is nothing ground-breaking here and if you wanted to be mean, you could – with a wry smile – write off everything on this album as pleasant elevator music. And it is pleasant. All of the album’s cuts possess a lively, uplifting vibe. The title track provides some energy over and above the endlessly flowing synth and pseudo-string washes. Twin Soul Tribe and Sun Gate speak of the Great Western Mysteries, and Ghazal (Love Song) is a fitting and lovely album closer. The album highlight is Mothers of Rain.

The New Age label gets slapped on latter day Tangerine Dream releases frequently, and to the uninitiated, it’s apt for this record. Some could say we have ten songs of pleasant instrumental pap here, wafting background music that never engages. You may be right, but what else can I say? I love this record. They outdid themselves for their next record though.

optical race

Top Ten characters in F&SF

I compiled this list some time ago and nope, I couldn’t be bothered revising it.

  1. Cugel from the Cugel books of Jack Vance. – What can I say? He’s the best and worst of any character I can think of. Every thing he does and every step he takes is entertaining.
  2. Ullii from the Well of Echoes quartet by Ian Irvine. – A plug for a fellow Australian here. I loved this character, one of the best drawn women I have read in fiction. Superbly done. Shame about the remainder of the characters.
  3. Master Eremis from the Mordant duo by Stephen Donaldson. – Superbly nasty piece of work. A believable super-intelligent villain.
  4. Steerpike of the first two Gormenghast books by Mervyn Peake. – I doubt I could add to anything else that’s already been written about him.
  5. Aila Woudiver from The Pnume by Jack Vance, – Vance’s best villain. One of fiction’s best villains.
  6. Weena from the Time Machine by H. G. Wells, – come on, who *didn’t* want to go back and try and save her life?
  7. Rupert of Hentzau from a Prisoner of Zenda and Rupert of Hentzau by (Sir) Anthony Hope, – I couldn’t tell you why, he’s just an energetic bad guy. And yes, neither of these books are F&SF in any way. But I’m allowed ring-ins – it’s my website!
  8. David Strorm from The Chrysalids by John Wyndham, – An appealing young man who you genuinely care about what happens to. I did, anyway.
  9. Bannor from the first Thomas Covenant trilogy by Stephen Donaldson, – Solid as a rock. The utter definition of still waters run deep.
  10. Federico de Soya from the Hyperion and Endymion books by Dan Simmons, – Total, all round solid character.

The Church – Gold Afternoon Fix

This album represents some kind of disappointment for many. The preceding record, Starfish is considered their magnum opus by quite a few critics and other folks. I took a little while to gel to this record and I can see where the critics are coming from. It only has two dud songs for mine, You’re Still Beautiful (the worst thing The Church has ever written) and Grind. Transient is semi-OK but Peter Koppes’ deadpan singing does not help at all. The rest are very good to excellent.

I’m not sure of the details, but there were issues recording this – Richard Ploog left the band (or was shown the door) around the time it came out – and the sound on the album isn’t as crisp as Starfish’s. The drums (or the machine variety thereof) sound awfully variable; tinny in places, flat in others and they click more than they thump. The Church, with the exception of The Blurred Crusade and the terribly remixed Seance have never been a big drum sound outfit anyway. The songs themselves are sombre with little of the spark and vivacity that spun its way through the predecessor. Not that it matters – I like sombre and on masterpieces like Laughing, Disappointment and City, the more of it the better. Other highlights include the lovingly reflective Metropolis, the glorious Monday Morning and the raging Russian Autumn Heart.

Ignore the critics. The good absolutely outweighs the bad on this record. And after listening to it, go and have a little lunch down at the Ghost Café.

The Church - Gold Afternoon Fix -

OMD – Crush

To be honest, I’ve never listened to any other Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark album, so I’ve nothing to compare it with. Critics did, of course, and in general they poured a lot of scorn on this album. Don’t know why – there’s not much wrong with it. No matter how it stands up to prior efforts, a good album is always a good album. So In Love and Secret are the highlights, but there are others – 88 Seconds in Greensboro, Le Femme Accident and Bloc Bloc Bloc for example. There’s a couple of nothing songs too – Woman III just slides along in rarefied air and Hold On is pure liebesschmerz.

Crush sounds a lot like synthpop meets the lounge lizard. Keyboards are front and centre, naturally yet there’s jazzier elements and some echoes of blue-eyed soul there. There are real drums here too – compared to the drum machines I’ve heard with their earlier stuff. So what is it? A maturation? Perhaps it doesn’t matter.



Human League – Hysteria

Of course as the whole world knows this was the hard fought-over follow-up to the marvellous Dare. No, it’s nowhere near as good as that album – let’s get that out of the way. This album definitely ups the funk and dance quotients, with mixed results. The opening two cuts, I’m Coming Back and I Love You Too Much are wonderful songs, each with traces of the alien that weave and bob as you listen. Things go decidedly south from there, with a terrible James Brown cover and some fairly low-key lacklustre synth outings.

Admittedly, songs like So Hurt and The Sign are great and Louise is charming to a point, but the rest? They merge into some sort of processed and sanitised blur. Even their attempt at a Deadly Serious Song – The Lebanon, doesn’t come off. If the earlier EP songs: (Keep Feeling) Fascination and Mirror Man had been included as the expense of some of the blander blah songs like Life On Your Own or Betrayed, this album would’ve been so much better.

No, they never could’ve matched Dare and it’s a shame they were under pressure to do so.


Rush – Test For Echo

One could argue Test For Echo is a continuation of the sound first presented on Counterparts. It’s not as “grindy” as that album, nor does it tackle some of the challenging subject material it had.

Like most Rush albums, this one requires repeated listens. The songs do blur into one another, as they are on the “samey” side a bit and it’ll be some time before each take on their own character. Of course, if you’re not a Rush aficionado this album won’t sway you in the slightest. It’s not one of Rush’s best efforts and dare I say it, the album may well be the victim of some complacent song writing.

There’s some great cuts on here, like Driven, Resist and Half The World. All of the songs are generally mid-tempo and there’s nought here that seriously rocks out.

This site calls Test for Echo the worst Rush record…hmm, well, their last three platters haven’t gelled with me yet, so I’ll defer judgement. But certainly, it’s one of their lesser efforts.

test fro echo

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