Ocean travel without a boat

Journal of Peter Greenwell

Tag: ratings (page 1 of 2)

Dan Simmons – Hard As Nails

Hard as Nails: A Joe Kurtz NovelHard as Nails: A Joe Kurtz Novel by Dan Simmons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

More of the same. Which means a tightly-plotted, hip, violent crime thriller that has the right ingredients. Though once again, Simmons wears his Elmore Leonard kicks on his sleeve.

There’s nothing remotely intellectual here and in this case, that’s a very good thing. Shame he’s never written any more Kurtz books. Love to know where he would’ve taken this character.

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Alphaville – Catching Rays on Giant

I vaguely recall this German synth-pop band from the 80s. They came out with a couple of synth ballads which made it big in a few places. Maybe Big in Japan did become big in Japan.

Anyhow, Catching Rays on Giant is their latest LP, and it arrived 13 years after the last. This is pure discofied synth-pop. 80s revivalist music at its finest. It’s all very operatic and major key.

This record immediately gripped me. There’s very few weak tracks on it, and its laden with melodies and hooks, from the opening pulse-beat of Song For No One to the dramatic waves of Miracle Healing. In between, there’s some utter gems of pulsating synth-rock, like Things I Didn’t Do (album highlight), Phantoms and Call Me Down.

The record slumps a little with its ballads and it probably would be better off without the slow sonorous stuff. This band sound a hell of a lot better when they’re choofing along at 100+ beats per minute.

The whole thing is beautifully retro, and wouldn’t be out of place stacked up next to stuff by Heaven 17, Human League, early OMD etc. It arguably outdoes any of these for sheer theatrics.

I’m glad I discovered this record.

alphaville

Tangerine Dream – Lily On The Beach

This is the follow-up record to Optical Race. In a lot of ways, it’s more of the same and that is very much a positive thing. There’s thirteen songs here and the unifying theme is the West Coast of the United States. This record evokes images of everything from beach-side cafes to the high mountains, with everything from fast roads to deserts in between.

It’s a livelier record than its predecessor. There’s none of the dreamy reflection that was prevalent on Optical Race. In truth, the whole record sounds happy. Apart from the battery of synths, there’s drums and guitars throughout and a fair chunk of it does come across as a product of its era. In fact, the song Paradise Cove sounds like it came straight out of Miami Vice or Beverly Hills Cop.

Of course, there’s highlights here, from the title track to the empyrean Mount Shasta, the happy groove of Blue Mango Cafe, the reverberating Gecko and the cool cruise of Desert Drive. The album highlight would be Crystal Curfew.

This record? I love it.

lily on the beach

John Fowles – The Collector

The CollectorThe Collector by John Fowles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The most tragic thing about this story is the degree of difference in how much Miranda and Fred are alive. Fred is a dead thing already – a doomed shell devoid of light, colour and joy. Winning a substantial amount of money brings no happiness to his grey existence. It’s a callous means to an end. His single-mindedness to collect Miranda is enacted with the same washed-out determination his every other act possesses. He is a Nowhere Man that exists somewhere between dead and dying. A social failure; a cipher.

Miranda is vivacity itself. Her every step bespeaks life on a buoyant scale. Her thoughts, spilled out on the pages of a panicked diary, show a young woman whose very zest and animation are given life. There is a crazed quest for life in the plots and ploys she conjures to free herself of Fred…and they become more crazed and, alas, futile, as her tenure as Fred’s prisoner continues.

It is a great injustice (and proof that the theory of karma is bunkum) how this tale pans out. The colourless prevails while the rainbow is extinguished.

So goes it.

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Lots of music listened to

I’ve been checking out a lot of music lately, some of it old, some of it not so old. Let’s go.

  • Gary NumanDead Son Rising – not bad, but he tries too hard to put the creeps over. Lots of processed vocals and industrial noises. Dark, but not particularly brilliant. Yes, I prefer his Replicas era stuff.
  • David SylvianManafon – now, haven’t we got something truly weird here? This is what you call “experimental music”. Lots of disconnected vocals, acoustic guitar and chopped up orchestral sounds. About as anti-commercial as it comes. Not sure if I liked it or not.
  • Hüsker DüZen Arcade – old school punk. Apparently. People say this band and their records are brilliant so maybe I just missed the memo. Here, one song blurs into the other and the back-to-basics production doesn’t help. Tinny drums and vocals mixed way back make it sound like a cheap garage band record. Love to know what they’re singing.
  • In The NurseryA Page of Madness – this is a soundtrack to an old silent Japanese film. The music? Strange, weird, wonderful, haunting. I love it. More of the same please.
  • Neu!Neu ’75 – the best record of this lot. Six marvellous and utterly fascinating tracks, especially the cruising, dreamy Isi. It’s all good.

neu 75

 

Roxy Music – Avalon

This was the last record Roxy Music cut before they disbanded (they’ve consequently re-united). It was a band that I’d heard nothing of or about at the time, but I liked the look of the album, with its warrior gazing over the still lake motif. In this case, you can rightly judge a book by its cover, for everything inside this record is a gem. “Making out music for yuppies” was how one critic called it. Maybe it is, with Bryan Ferry‘s seductive crooning and the expansive sheets of synth flowing over it all. Verily, you could call it “away with it” music and you’d be spot on. It’s all beautiful.

There’s not a weak song on this record and they all wonderfully stand on their own merits. Some of the songs contained within are among the most gorgeous things ever written anywhere, namely More Than This, Take A Chance With Me (album highlight) and While My Heart Is Still Beating. To Turn You On, the title track and True To Life are up there somewhere in the ionosphere as well.

Critics say this is the maturation of a theme started on previous albums like Manifesto and Flesh and Blood. I agree and in a perverse way, I’m glad they quit when they did, for I think they couldn’t have bettered this record if they tried. It’s that damned good.

Go out and get it and prepared to be placed under a seductive, swaying spell.

Roxy-Music-Avalon

Rush – Permanent Waves

This is album number seven for Rush. It’s different from everything that came before it and very different from everything that came after. Gone are the long prog-rock pieces, replaced by sharp and heavy precise songs. Guitars are front and centre here and it’s all glorious. From the opening (and famous) riff of The Spirit of Radio right to the glittering end of Natural Science, you’re in classic album land.

Fans and critics cite their next record, Moving Pictures as Rush’s best. Negative. This is their best. That other LP is a little too wide-ranging, a touch too non-cohesive to be considered a classic in my eyes. It’s good, but not that great.

This LP, on the other hand, is great. As I said, guitars are up the front on this LP and they crunch, especially on cuts like Entre Nous and Freewill. Even the soft, gentle Different Strings doesn’t sound out of place here.

Of course, the musicianship is what you’d expect of Rush and there’s exquisite playing everywhere.

This was the first Rush LP I ever listened to and it remains my favourite. They were never quite this hard or heavy again and it’s definitely the pivot album of their career. All that came before was mystic progressive rock, long winding and complex pieces, and all after (up to Test For Echo anyway) was generally softer with far more prominent keyboard work.

This is the Canadian trio’s magnum opus. And they never did an LP cover quite as awesome ever again!

permanent waves

The B52s – Cosmic Thing

Every now and then, an album is released where every cut is a winner. Every song. No filler, no padding, no weak tracks. Cosmic Thing is such an LP. Disclosure: I’ve not listened to any of their other albums, bar the first one, so I’ve nothing to compare it with in their oeuvre. But that doesn’t really matter.

From the raging, happy opening title track to the last languid refrains of Follow Your Bliss there are ten songs of pure wonder. Upbeat, chirpy, poppy and very happy songs at that. Everyone on Earth has heard and grooved to Love Shack and Roam, and these are representative of the music within Cosmic Thing. Representative and not standing out as is the case for most other singles on an album. Songs like Bushfire, Junebug and Channel Z are every bit as a good.

The LP just shimmers and floats along on cosmic vibes and you know, it’s impossible to feel down while listening to it. Yes, it’s that good. So good in fact, I’m a little hesitant to go and check out their other work in case I get let down.

This is a watershed album for pop rock. Little comes close to it. Go forth and find it, and confront your life with joy. It truly is a cosmic thing.

cosmic thing

Killing Joke – Night Time

This was Killing Joke’s breakout record, on the strength of the song Love Like Blood which doesn’t really sound like anything else on the LP. I’ll be straight up and say I’ve heard only bits and pieces of their older and newer albums. I owned What’s THIS For? but never got into it. I own Absolute Dissent and the same is true there. Never gelled. There’s a few reasons for this. You could argue most of their songs have a similar sound. That’s purely the fault (if you want to call it that) of guitarist Geordie Walker. His echo-y and reverb-drenched riffing is very distinctive and even the outsider could spot a Killing Joke song a mile off just on this basis.

Night Time is probably no exception with regards to the “sameyness”. Seven out of the eight songs here are driven by similar beats and riffs. I suppose so is Love Like Blood, but there, everything is slowed down a touch and the keyboard becomes front and centre. And you may have to listen to this record repeatedly. It may grab you on first listen, but I doubt it. It’s an acquired taste. Still, there’s some great music here – the title track rocks out and sets the stage for things to come. Darkness Before Dawn continues the same mid-tempo vein but for my mind, Tabazan is the album highlight, pacy and racy with some very keen lyrics. The remainder of the album blends into a riff-heavy murk and nothing else truly stands out. Eighties is a fan favourite but I’m not that taken with it.

This record is a lot heavier than most stuff that floated about in the the mid-80s charts, if you discount heavy metal and its ilk. There’s also no fun or humour here. Killing Joke are very much serious business and what humour they have is directed toward cynicism and sarcasm.

kjnighttime

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.

tamuli

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.

Garbage.

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.

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