Thursday, March 09, 2017

The minimalism Project - The Unknown Soldier by Roy Harper


A couple of years ago I started attempting (on this very blog) to review all the albums that I owned. I got about four or five in and lost momentum. Now I am proposing a different approach. This year I intend to listen to every CD I own - and if I don't love it I will get rid of it. (read more about my minimalism project here) I am going to do mini reviews of the albums as I go.


The Unknown Soldier by Roy Harper (1980)



I knew this album was a keeper before I even listened to it. I have a sentimental soft spot for Roy Harper, and for this album in particular - which was the soundtrack to a big part of my teens. I was introduced to Roy Harper (and this album) by muso friend of mine called Alan who lived in the commune where later I would end up living for several years. Alan had a massive record collection and introduced me to some great albums including this one and My Life in The Bush of Ghosts by Brian Eno and David Byrne.


I remember that I had to order the LP specially from the local record shop (Jons) in my hometown and it took weeks to come. The album is quite different to many of Harper's earlier more folky LPs - being more soft rock in style. Harper has worked with a stellar array of musicians over the years and this album is no exception. Several of the songs are co-written by David Gilmour (of Pink Floyd) who also plays on the album, and Kate bush provides some of the vocals on "You" (The Game Part II). I have to say that I don't love the album as much as I did aged 15 or 16, but I do really enjoy hearing it now and then. Some of the songs are quite haunting and of course for me there is a huge element of nostalgia in the listening. I think as an adult you can't help but be moved by music that had a major influence on your developing mind. This also brings back memories of sitting in my room listening to this with particular friends. I am not sure whether I converted anyone to being a Roy Harper fan, but I am certain I played this to anyone who visited me whether they liked it or not.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

The Minimalism Project - The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan



A couple of years ago I started attempting (on this very blog) to review all the albums that I owned. I got about four or five in and lost momentum. Now I am proposing a different approach. This year I intend to listen to every CD I own - and if I don't love it I will get rid of it. (read more about my minimalism project here) I am going to do mini reviews of the albums as I go.

The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963)

I am a Bob Dylan fan - but I don't love his work universally. I am not enamoured of his early more folky stuff (even though I do like folk music), nor am a a massive fan of his later work. If I had to pin down my favourite Bob Dylan years they probably range from 1970 to the mid nineteen eighties. Freewheelin... is very early Bob Dylan indeed, but still there are echoes of things to come - especially in tracks like Masters of War - a song aimed at the industry of war (and based on a folk song), which put me in mind (a little) of Hurricane from the album Desire. Hurricane is much more sophisticated in terms of arrangement and production but Dylan sings it in a similar way. What I found interesting was that some of the tracks on the album I know better as cover versions. In the 80s I had an album called It Ain't Me Babe, a compilation of Dylan covers by famous musicians, which included excellent versions of A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall and Girl of the North Country by Bryan Ferry and Rod Stewart respectively. These covers are so good that I find they have spoilt the original stripped down versions for me. I find them interesting but I don't love them in quite the same way. Maybe it's the nostalgia coloured glasses through which I view those covers - the early 80s were my formative years after all. Or maybe it's simply familiarity. Whatever I don't love this album in quite the same way. Maybe I just love Dylan's more fully developed work. There are moments I really enjoyed here - Don't Think Twice, It's Aright and Corrina, Corrina for instance. I am not convinced that this album is a keeper for me though - I am going to put it to one side and listen to it again before I decide.

Minimalism Project - The Very Best of Elvis Costello



A couple of years ago I started attempting (on this very blog) to review all the albums that I owned. I got about four or five in and lost momentum. Now I am proposing a different approach. This year I intend to listen to every CD I own - and if I don't love it I will get rid of it. (read more about my minimalism project here) I am going to do mini reviews of the albums as I go.

The Very Best of Elvis Costello  (2004)

It has to be said I don't love greatest hits compilations. You can have much of a good thing and listening to hit after hit can be tiring. That said I do own some greatest hits compilations and this is one of them. I wasn't a huge Elvis Costello fan when I was younger and the records of his I did own were singles so I didn't really know where to begin with is albums. I remember when I bought this double album - it was about 12 years ago. We had been to a garden party out in the wilds of Norfolk and at some point Elvis Costello was played and I found (to my surprise) that I was really enjoying it. Later that week I duly went out and bought The Very Best of... But I have to confess it's not something I play very often. I listened to CD 1 today and did enjoy it to begin with - but there is just too much of it. Each CD (there are two) has twenty plus tracks. If you listened to the whole thing it would be like listening to four albums back to back - only the most die hard fans would want to do that. I can do it with Bowie (heck I can listen to ten Bowie albums back to back) - but each Bowie album is pretty unique and, I have to say, Elvis Costello becomes a little samey after a while. There are some very good tracks on here though, and CD 1 has quite a few of the early new wave hits - Accidents Will Happen (which I still have on vinyl), Radio, Radio, Pump it Up etc. But it also has a smattering of his more corny sentimental tracks that I was never particularly keen on - For the Roses and She for example. At some point I will give CD 2 a listen - but not today.

There are enough good tracks on here to make it a keeper I think.


Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Minimalism Project - Black Tie, White Noise by David Bowie



A couple of years ago I started attempting (on this very blog) to review all the albums that I owned. I got about four or five in and lost momentum. Now I am proposing a different approach. This year I intend to listen to every CD I own - and if I don't love it I will get rid of it. (read more about my minimalism project here) I am going to do mini reviews of the albums as I go.

Black Tie, White Noise - David Bowie (1993)

Anyone who knows me well will know that I am a massive Bowie fan. Black Tie, White Noise is probably one of my least played Bowie albums, despite the fact that it contains some tracks that are on my Bowie playlist on my i-pod - Jump They Say for example. Listening to it this evening I have realised that I have been doing it a grave disservice - it really does deserve to be played much, much more. After a slightly discordant, almost entirely instrumental opening track Black Tie, White Noise gets right down to business. The album has a more emotional feel to it than most of his previous work (perhaps not surprising given that some of the tracks were written for his wedding to Iman). The influence of producer Nile Rodgers is very evident on some of the tracks such as Miracle Goodnight - whose stripped back sound is a little reminiscent of Chic, and Looking For Lester - a disoey number with piano not unlike that of Lady Grinning SoulMy personal favourite track is Jump They Say - which alludes to Bowie's stepbrother Terry who committed suicide. Apparently the cover of Cream's I Feel Free is also in honour of Terry - although I have to say that this track was the low point of the album for me - I much prefer Bowie's own work to his attempts at covers (with the exception of Jaques Brel's My Death and In the Port of Amsterdam). There is also a bonus CD of remixed tracks, however I will not be reviewing that here - I am not a massive fan of re-mixes.

Definitely a CD to add to the keep pile.



Monday, January 30, 2017

Minimalism Project - Blondie Parallel LInes



A couple of years ago I started attempting (on this very blog) to review all the albums that I owned. I got about four or five in and lost momentum. Now I am proposing a different approach. This year I intend to listen to every CD I own - and if I don't love it I will get rid of it. (read more about my minimalism project here) I am going to do mini reviews of the albums as I go.

CD 2

Parallel Lines by Blondie (1978)

This is another album that I once owned on vinyl and it has always been my favourite Blondie album (although I do retain a certain fondness for their second album Plastic Letters, which I may have once had on tape but never owned). The Internet tells me that Parallel Lines that was much more commercial than their previous two. It certainly contains some hits - Hanging on the Telephone, Picture This, Sunday Girl and disco driven Heart of Glass all feature on this album, which pretty much guaranteed it commercial success. These are not my favourite tracks on the CD though - I prefer their less poppy tracks. My particular favourites are 11:59 (the only track on the album written by keyboard player Jimmy Destri), Will Anything Happen and Fade Away and Radiate. There's a definite pop-punk feel to this album and it seems obvious to me that it influenced some of the later pop-punk bands like The All American Rejects and Green Day. I can see why the album was number 1 in the album chart - I don't listen to it often now - but I definitely still enjoy it when I do. 

Keep.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Minimalism and Abba the Album


Last night I watched a film called Minimalism: A documentary About the Important Things. The film left me with a feeling that some de-cluttering might be in order, but more importantly it highlighted how we (humans) have come to associate getting stuff with the potential to be happy. I am not a materialist by any means: I don't buy new clothes every season; I don't crave mobile phone upgrades and the latest gadgets; I am not into cars, boats, motorbikes, ponies or any other form of transport; I don't have the money to go to many gigs or go on fancy holidays. However, I am into books, music, and film and so is my son, consequently we have stacks of books all over the house and several shelves full of CDs, and two shelves overflowing with arty films. I often blame the fact that I am a creative writing teacher for the fact that my book collection is so big, and it's true, I have sometimes had to re-buy a book I had previously got rid of because I need it for a class or book-group. I have also tried to curb the numbers a bit. We are always taking books and other items to the charity shop, but more keep coming. The truth is that I love literature and I am addicted to reading and buying books. I can't just pass up a book I haven't read by one of favourite authors because I already have a massive to-read pile. And the trouble with poetry books is that they have short print runs, they often aren't available in the local library (or if they are they get remaindered fairly quickly through lack of borrowing) - so unless the poet is with one of the big five poetry publishers it may be that a book you got rid of two years ago and suddenly need is not available or has become ridiculously expensive. But I suppose the bottom line is that I have come to believe that buying books, CDs and films will somehow contribute to my overall happiness - true on some levels perhaps - but the clutter definitely has a detrimental effect on it.

A couple of years ago I started attempting (on this very blog) to review all the albums that I owned. I got about four or five in and lost momentum. Now I am proposing a different approach. This year I intend to listen to every CD I own - and if I don't love it I will get rid of it. If I have time I will try and talk about it here. I have been considering how to do this carefully - I could start at A and work my way through to Z - but that seems a little boring. I would be on As forever, and would sometimes be listening to one album after another by the same artist. The same would be the case if I worked my way backwards from Z to A. I finally plumped on working along the rows listening to the bottom CD from each stack and then the second etc and keeping going until I have listened to them all.

The first album on my first stack of CDs is Abba the Album (UK release1978). This is an album I used to have on vinyl. I remember I liked the cover because it was unusually stark (coloured drawings on a plain white background) for the time - although now it reminds me a little of the drawing that Joni Mitchell did for the cover of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's So Far (see below)- and I am pretty sure that the Abba cover was inspired by that. The album is the soundtrack to the film Abba the Movie, a film I remember going to see with my mum at Thetford Palace. I liked the film so much I went back to see it again on my own. I was a massive Abba fan after seeing them win the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 - I was 8 (I was up because I was ill). They were the beginning of my love affair with music (unless you count a minor flirtation with Slade and Booby Vee when I was 5). The first album of theirs I really loved was Arrival, but I won't talk about that here as it was not the first CD on the pile.



Abba the Album is an odd mixture. Some of the tracks are verging on the kind of thing you would expect to hear in musical theatre - tracks like I Wonder would not be out of place in Evita, and indeed this track and the ones either side of it are subtitled "three scenes from a mini musical." Listening to them now I am not surprised that a musical film and a Broadway show have been made out of them. I think these were the tracks I liked least when I was 12. The tracks I liked best at that time were the ones they played on the radio - the hits - Take a Chance on Me and The Name of the Game, but I also loved some of the more melancholy tracks like Move On and One Man, One Woman. 

I actually really enjoyed revisiting this album, and not just because of the feeling of nostalgia it inevitably brings for the child I was - on the verge of my teens and just really waking up to my own musical taste (my parents were NOT Abba fans). Within a year or two I had graduated to listening to bands like The Clash. The thing about Abba is that however you feel about them, their music has stood the test of time - whereas some of the other late seventies, early eighties music definitely hasn't. I was able to listen to the whole album without wanting to fast forward or turn it off. It has a feel good quality and I don't even mind the lyrics, in fact I found myself thinking that if we all imagined were eagles flying above the earth, more often, then perhaps the world would be a better, kinder place. Maybe this is nursery level stuff in terms of technicality and innovation - but an enjoyable listen none the less. One for the keep pile.



Friday, September 25, 2015

10 films that have left an indelible mark



Thunderheart - more violent than I normally like but such a great film. Shows a side of America rarely seen in film, great landscape and a man character struggling to come to terms with his identity.

Children of Men - based on a short story by P.D. James. Some great acting but all the more disturbing in that it is so believable - especially in the context of the refugee crisis.

Hi Fidelity - probably in my top 3 films of all time. Faced with a relationship crisis the main character decides to re organise his record collection autobiographically - brilliant. Great sound track too - when I saw this at the cinema I was the last person to leave as I had to stay until the Stevie Wonder track had finished (I believe when I fall in love) it sounded amazing on the big speakers.

Three Colours Blue - my favourite of the three colours films. Has a special poignancy as I first saw it a couple of years after my first partner was killed in a car accident (the main characters son and husband are killed in an accident). I really identified with her desire to just leave and start over where no one knew her. The music is haunting and the film is beautifully shot. I always wanted a blue glass mobile like the one she has but never found one.

The Consequences of Love (Le conseguenze dell'amore). An Italian thriller with one of my favourite soundtracks. An unlikely romance between a weird middle-aged guy living in a hotel and a waitress. The film is quite weird and involves the Mafia and drugs. The soundtrack does sudden switches from almost complete silence to beautiful melancholic music to loud thumping dance tracks. Needless to say things don't end well for the central character. Brilliant and compelling.

Manufactured Landscapes - a beautiful and disturbing documentary following photographer Edward Burtynsky as he photographs landscapes that have been irrevocably changed by human activity. One of the most memorable scenes is near the beginning when they are filming inside a Chinese factory - that just goes on and on and on. The scale is mind boggling. The Chinese scenes are the most memorable for the sheer scale of the devastation (and how beautiful it sometimes is in its ugliness. A city demolished to make way for a giant reservoir where the residents are forced to take it apart by hand sticks in my mind. As does the description of how the earth rocked on its axis when it was filled. Terrifying.

Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus - 2003 documentary film of Jim White's musical exploration of the American deep south, looking at where Christianity and music overlap. Beautifully shot and with an amazing soundtrack - the shots of the handsome Family singing on the verandah of a wooden shack on a Louisiana swamp stayed with me for weeks. Amazing!

The Breakfast Club - you can tell by this choice that I came of age in the 1980s. A bit dated now but still a great coming of age story which also has a great soundtrack. Five archetypal teenagers (the swot, the jock, the popular girl, the rebel, the shy weird girl) find themselves in Saturday detention together and unite against the teacher discovering that they may have different backgrounds but aren't so different after all. There are some moving scenes where they share secrets and some funny really funny bits too. Feel good nostalgia.

The Lives of Others - great German film from 2006 set in East Berlin. A Stasi agent who monitors conversations gets obsessed with the life of a theatre director and his partner. The film brilliantly portrays the paranoia and back stabbing behaviour that goes on living under such a repressive regime - the fact that you never know who you can trust and that sometimes help comes from unlikely places.

Truly, Madly, Deeply - Alan Rickman and Juliette Stevenson star in this romantic film about a cello player who dies and comes back to haunt his distraught fiancee (bringing with him a bunch of famous ghosts to watch videos). Poignant, moving and with a soundtrack featuring some great cello music as well as Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan.

Honourable mentions: The Conversation, West Side Story, Star Trek - First Contact, Falling in Love, Donnie Darko, Quadrophenia, Alice's Restaurant, Withnail and I, The Future is Unwritten, The Goob, Boyhood.