Ocean travel without a boat

Journal of Peter Greenwell

Tag: seventies

Hergé – Tintin and the Picaros

Tintin and the Picaros (Tintin, #23)Tintin and the Picaros by Hergé
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Like with all of the Tintin stories, I read them years ago, but am adding them to Goodreads for posterity.

Of all of the completed Tintin stories, this is among the weakest and it’s a shame in a way Hergé passed away before he could redeem himself with Alph-Art. It feels different from most other Tintin works – he changes Tintin’s clothes, adds peace symbols to his bike helmet, puts hippies on a plane, adds in clumsy political commentary…you could argue Hergé is updating his best-known character to the age this story was written in, but it doesn’t really work. Captain Haddock really does seem like an anachronism in this book and why, after all these years, must he be saddled with a first name?

It’s fun in its own way really, but it isn’t on par with the earlier Tintin works. Not a great way to go out.

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Thomas Burnett Swann – How Are The Mighty Fallen

How Are the Mighty FallenHow Are the Mighty Fallen by Thomas Burnett Swann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Semi-fantastic re-telling of the David and Jonathan story from the Old Testament with the usual Swann fae/faerie treatment. Can be heavy going at times and Swann’s wordplay is certainly baroque and sometime misses the mark with its ornate twists and turns. Withal, well-crafted and laid out, but it’s probably not for anyone other than fans of this kind of material, and I agree with another reviewer than George Barr’s artwork doesn’t quite mesh with the story within the covers.

This work is not as playful or whimsical as some of his other stuff, but Swann is a unique voice amongst the fantasy field.

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Rush – Hemispheres

This record is the culmination of Rush’s adventures into side-long progressive rock songs. Mind you, they only wrote these kinds of seventies icons for four albums, so when you consider their discography as a whole, it’s a somewhat small part of their sonic output. With that aside, Hemispheres on its own merits is a wonderful album, and stands up well against other luminaries in Rush’s corpus.

For those who don’t know, this record is prog rock/hard rock, with equal shares of either, and most of the time the two genres are blended perfectly. It’s certainly harder than its softer and spacier predecessor A Farewell to Kings.

There are only four songs on this record and Circumstances is the arguable weak link of the quartet. Compared to the sonic boom majesty of the other three, it’s fairly Rush-by-numbers. In saying that, Rush-by-numbers usually exceeds the better efforts of many lesser artists. Such is the power of this band.

There’s signs of things to come too. Both Circumstances and the far superior The Trees have a precision and concision about them that reached a brilliant apex on their next studio record, Permanent Waves. But generally, one Rush album usually foreshadows the next, so – at least to a fan – there’s no surprises here.

Progressive hard music reached its apex with album opener, the six-part Cygnus X-1 Book II – Hemispheres, a titanic musical battle between the heart and the mind (signified by the figures on the album cover). Eighteen minutes of mind-bending to-and-fro. It’s Book II, as Book I (The Voyage) ended out A Farewell to Kings. We’ve reached the destination that song was journeying too and the resolution? Listen to it, that’s all I can say further.

Of course, this album contains the first in a long line of Rush epic instrumentals – the marvellous La Villa Strangiato, which went some way to cement the band’s reputation in technical excellence.

As said before, Hemispheres is the peak of Rush’s prog rock phase. It’s also the last album to genuinely feature long, thematic songs usually associated with the genre. Sure, Permanent Waves had Natural Science, but it never felt like a prog rock song. It doesn’t have that same quality – whatever that may be. I can’t put my finger on it. In any case, Hemispheres is a superb record, taken on its own merits or part of the progressive rock oeuvre.

rush hemispheres

Gary Numan – The Pleasure Principle

This album came out shortly after his last Tubeway Army effort was released. I mentioned there that this record is generally viewed as his magnum opus. On the strength of its songs, I’d agree, though I have a greater personal liking for Replicas simply because I heard it first.

In many ways, it’s more of the same. The major exception to that broad statement is that there’s no guitars on this record. It’s all synth and drums. It’s a showcase for the Polymoog.

As with the prior album, you’re in android territory here. Nearly all of the songs are from the view of a robot or a human caught in a robotic world and/or mindset. Even Cars, the world-wide hit, sounds like a product of an android’s fevered mind. It’s wonderfully impersonal music, though I have to say, it’s a lot warmer than its predecessor. The ballad Complex sounds far more human than the corresponding Down in the Park on the prior record.

There are no real weak tracks on this record, though you could argue it lulls a little through songs like Observer and Conservation. Some of the best music Numan has made is to be found right here, from the opening surging instrumental Airlane to the closing, pulsing Engineers. Apart from the aforementioned Cars (which isn’t even the best thing on the record) you have the classical groove of metal, the sad fey of Complex, the soaring charge of Films (album highlight), the mechanical pity of M.E and the steely reflectiveness of Tracks.

Make no mistake, this is a landmark record and it’s possibly the last great thing he ever made. The next album, Telekon, has its moments but it goes downhill from there as Numan moved away from the sound that brought him fame.

All hail this android masterpiece!

the pleasure principle

Tubeway Army – Replicas

This is album number two for Tubeway Army, before Gary Numan went on to do greater and lesser things solo. The first, self-titled, record has its moments, but it’s not the cold metallic and joyfully soulless robotic outing this record is.

From the opening pulse of Me, I Disconnect From You, you are aware you have entered a grey land that promises inorganic miserable delights. There isn’t one track on this record that you could describe as warm. Far from it. Even the touching instrumental I Nearly Married a Human is an electronic approximation of an end of the world lament.

The lack of warmth is what gives this record its eternal appeal. It’s an android’s paradise, even if many of the songs are from the point of view of humans. The precise and concise metallic rhythms here are right up a robot’s alley, jerking and pulsing forth with positronic energy. Even the hit Are Friends Electric? sounds like the sort of thing C3PO would’ve composed had he been given studio time.

There’s no filler here and there are plenty of highlights. From the tight grooves of The Machman, You Are in My Vision (album highlight) and When the Machines Rock to the reflective grey skies of the title track and Down in the Park, it’s a glorious journey through a post-Kraftwerk’s The Man Machine world. Critics say Numan’s next album is the classic and in a way I agree, but he was never as cold and concise as he was on this record.

I love it, miserable thing that it is.


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