Thursday 31 January 2019

Quite proud of this one

This, and other t-shirts, available here.

There are two inspirations for this shirt: the first is Berghaus outdoor gear, a lot of which I've worn up various mountains; the other's a band I owe any knowledge of to my brother. Here's their most famous track, in all its nine and a half minute glory:

Wednesday 30 January 2019

A.I., eh?

Just got one of those Amazon Echo Dots, here at New Amusements Towers. I don't know why but I feel the need to emphasise that it wasn't bought, but was a freebie with something else. Still, it's quite a neat bit of kit I suppose, if you like that sort of thing.

This morning, as I made my sandwiches for the day ahead, I asked it (and it is an it, despite the name and female vocals) to play Vauxhall and I, by Morrissey. I'd been thinking about having a listen ever since including it in the first batch of Every Home Should Have One album posts. Alexa duly complied. All was going swimmingly until it got to Why Don't You Find Out For Yourself, and specifically the line "Well, you just sit there - I've been stabbed in the back, so many, many times". No sooner had Alexa played the word "stabbed" than the song abruptly stopped, and then skipped straight ahead to I Am Hated For Loving.

Might this, I wonder, be over-zealous precautionary programming on the part of Amazon, saving me from exposure to the word "stabbed"? After all, social media companies are rightly being given a hard time at the moment for not doing enough to prevent the vulnerable from exposure to "content" that may harm them. Or is it because I've got Alexa's explicit content filter turned on, and it associates "stabbed" with knife culture and, by extension, is something that needs to be filtered out? Without emailing Amazon to ask, I guess I'll never know... or, if you prefer, I'll never find out for myself... (thank you, I'm here all week)

Whatever, here's the song in full, from a time when Mozzer was still more revered than reviled.

If any readers have an Echo, and don't have the explicit content filter turned on, try playing this song and let me know how you get on... cheers.

Monday 28 January 2019

Every home should have one V

In which I continue to remember, or am reminded of, albums that I missed from these. Mopping up some obvious essentials, with a bunch of compilations and some career highs:

Friday 25 January 2019

Blue Friday - More Fool Me

Is this blue or not? You tell me. Anyway, for the spotters amongst you, this was the first track released with Phil on lead vocals, way back in '73 and long before Peter left.

Thursday 24 January 2019

Nineteen in '19: No Country For Old Men

I've read far less in recent years than I would like. To help remedy this, I've set myself the modest target of reading nineteen books in 2019. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

3/19: No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

The blurb: Llewelyn Moss, hunting antelope near the Rio Grande, stumbles upon a transaction gone horribly wrong. Finding bullet-ridden bodies, several kilos of heroin, and a caseload of cash, he faces a choice - leave the scene as he found it, or cut the money and run. Choosing the latter, he knows, will change everything. And so begins a terrifying chain of events, in which each participant seems determined to answer the question that one asks another: how does a man decide in what order to abandon his life?

The review: I've been wanting to read this for a long time; not only do I love the Coen brothers' film adaptation of same, I have also studied excerpts from this book on various creative writing courses. Add to this the fact that the only other novel by McCarthy that I've read, The Road, is cemented in my notional "top ten books of all time" list, and you can see why I was keen to read No Country. And I'm pleased to say I was not disappointed. I guess you are either a fan of McCarthy's pared-down, direct prose or you're not, but either way it's perfectly suited to this modern (-ish - it's set in 1980) Western. Ostensibly about a drugs transaction gone horribly wrong, with psychopathic gun-for-hire Anton Chigurh wearing the black hat to Vietnam-vet everyman Llewelyn Moss's white, No Country cracks along at a riveting pace, as good a crime or chase thriller as you could ask for. The subtext, about the change in America, in people, in morals, moves along at a slightly slower but equally rewarding speed, mostly told through italicised flashbacks and reminiscences from the real white hat, Sheriff Bell. Yes, there's a sheriff - I told you this was a Western. If, like me, you've already watched the film you'll find some scenes on screen are so close to the source material, and McCarthy's prose so bare, that it's almost like reading a screenplay - I'm thinking of Chigurgh's coin toss challenge in the petrol station, and Moss's border crossing back into America. As I've said, this might not be for you, you may prefer more florid text. But for me, this is fantastic, an object lesson in how to write. Similarly, you might find McCarthy's habit of not quote-marking speech to be annoying or confusing; again, not me - I like it, and find it concentrates the mind on the scene. Indeed, I did the same thing in my novel, mostly for storytelling reasons but partly in homage. And as is often the case, there's more to the book, story-wise, than the film adaptation, but I'll let you find that out for yourselves. You can revel in McCarthy's ear for dialogue too.

The bottom line: compelling chase novel, late-20th Century Western and elegy for a way of life, No Country for Old Men is all three, beautifully written in McCarthy's trademark sparse prose. Oh, to write like this!

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★★★

Bonus treat for you all... those scenes I mentioned

Wednesday 23 January 2019

Every home should have one, episode 4

In which I continue to remember, or am reminded of, albums that I missed from these. Here are some more essentials:

Still no Boss, Rol. You'll need to pitch an album to me, otherwise I'll just end up with a compilation...

Tuesday 22 January 2019

Nineteen in '19: Elevation

I've read far less in recent years than I would like. To help remedy this, I've set myself the modest target of reading nineteen books in 2019. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

2/19: Elevation by Stephen King

The blurb: Castle Rock is a small town, where word gets around quickly. That's why Scott Carey wants to confide only in his friend Doctor Bob Ellis about his strange condition: he's losing weight, without getting thinner, and the scales register the same when he is in his clothes or out of them, however heavy they are. Scott also has new neighbours, who have opened a 'fine dining experience' in town, although it's an experience being shunned by the locals; Deidre McComb and her wife Missy Donaldson don't exactly fit in with the community's expectations. And now Scott seems trapped in a feud with the couple over their dogs dropping their business on his lawn. Missy may be friendly, but Deidre is cold as ice. As the town prepares for its annual Thanksgiving 12k run, Scott starts to understand the prejudices his neighbours face and he tries to help. Unlikely alliances form and the mystery of Scott's affliction brings out the best in people who have indulged the worst in themselves and others. From master storyteller Stephen King, our 'most precious renewable resource, like Shakespeare in the malleability of his work' (Guardian), comes this timely, upbeat tale about finding common ground despite deep-rooted differences. Compelling and eerie, Elevation is as gloriously joyful (with a twinge of deep sadness) as 'It's a Wonderful Life.'

The review: regular readers will know that I very much enjoy Stephen King's work; I've read it all, pretty much, so I snapped this new publication up as soon as I saw it. It's a novella, and not a long one either, so some might baulk at the price (currently £7.49 for the hardback and, counter-intuitively, the ebook is dearer) but I'm a completist, and happily parted with my cash. Elevation sees King return to his Castle Rock playground, the fictional Maine town where strange things happen on a regular basis, so Constant Readers like me can have fun spotting references to previous works - I spotted mentions of Sheriff Bannerman (The Dead Zone, Cujo) and Pennywise (IT) without trying too hard. Other King staples are in place too, like the little group of "good guys" who are quickly drawn together - the difference here is that there are no bad guys to line up against; there is no conflict. Instead, this slim offering tells the tale of a man who loses weight uncontrollably, without losing mass. That's the hook, and the cover gives a clue as to how the story ends. There is a sub-plot though, and that's where the meat is - it feels like King wanted to write about attitudes in the US, about tolerance, social acceptance, liberalism... or the lack of all those things in the country he calls home. There are a couple of swipes at Trump along the way too, and if you follow King on Twitter those will come as no surprise. But anyway... I won't talk more about the plot, I don't want to spoil things for you, but I will say this rattles along in true King style and I swallowed it whole last night - I started in at 11.20pm and was done by 12.40am. That includes reading the nine page sample of another novella, Gwendy's Button Box, that is tagged on the end to pad the book out (and stopping halfway through to get some biscuits). Now I'm a fast reader but even so, this is a slim book, and that has attracted some negative reviews over on Amazon. That's ridiculous, in my book, when the sales page clearly indicates that it is only 160 pages and the quoted reviews call it variously a novella or slim novel. Buyer beware, I say, but I guess many fans are used to heftier tomes from Mr King. I knew what I was getting though, and what I got was this: not Stephen's finest work but a well-told story with a curiously uplifting end.

The bottom line: it's unlikely to win him many new fans, but most Constant Readers will lap it up, as long as they can get over the fact that it's a novella, not a 600-pager.

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★☆☆

Sunday 20 January 2019

Nineteen in '19: America City

I've read far less in recent years than I would like. To help remedy this, I've set myself the modest target of reading nineteen books in 2019. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

1/19: America City by Chris Beckett

The blurb: America, one century on: a warmer climate is causing vast movements of people. Droughts, floods and hurricanes force entire populations to simply abandon their homes. Tensions are mounting between north and south, and some northern states are threatening to close their borders against homeless fellow-Americans from the south. Against this backdrop, an ambitious young British-born publicist, Holly Peacock, meets a new client, the charismatic Senator Slaymaker, a politician whose sole mission is to keep America together, reconfiguring the entire country in order to meet the challenge of the new climate realities as a single, united nation. When he runs for President, Holly becomes his right hand woman, doing battle on the whisperstream, where stories are everything and truth counts for little. But can they bring America together - or have they set the country on a new, but equally devastating, path?

The review: like all the best speculative fiction, America City works well because it extrapolates credibly from the present day; it is very easy to imagine the climate changes that are described, and it is equally easy to foresee everyday tech developing in the ways imagined herein, both good and bad. In fact, some of the more negative uses of technology in the book's narrative might already be here, but let's not digress. When Beckett started writing this, the idea that a character like Slaymaker could become President might have seemed far-fetched but, again, this has sadly been overtaken by reality. Whatever, this book is a timely slice of fiction and, for the most part, is well-written too, although Beckett's prose can, on occasion, be a little too overt, a little too on-the-nose, when it might be better to let the reader join the dots. Curiously, this happens most when he is writing about protagonist Holly's husband, Richard. On the plus side, interspersing the main narrative with testimony from imagined American refugees is a neat way of moving the background and context along, without bogging the main characters down in it explicitly. And despite the underlying environmental theme, Beckett treads the line between "provocative" and "call to arms" well. Ditto the line between accessible page-turner and accessible potboiler. Has a credible bleak ending too; got to love a bleak ending.

The bottom line: thought-provoking, intelligent and all-too-plausible slice of speculative-fiction.

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★☆☆

Friday 18 January 2019

Blue Friday - Think For A Minute

Something's going on, a change is taking place,
Children smiling in the street have gone without a trace.
This street used to be full, it used to make me smile
And now it seems that everyone is walking single file.
And many bow their heads in shame
That used to hold them high,
And those that used to say hello
Simply pass you by...

Wednesday 16 January 2019

Every home should have one, part the third

In which I continue to remember, or am reminded of, albums that I missed from the original post and yesterday's part deux. Here are some more essentials:

Am also starting to wonder whether I was right to allow "best of" compilations, but too late to change now...

Tuesday 15 January 2019

Every home should have one, part deux

Following on from yesterday's post, in which it quickly became apparent that distilling a shortlist of must-have albums is very difficult, here are some additions to yesterday's list of 30. Some are from the comments, some are from me. So basically this is every home should have one, part two:

Monday 14 January 2019

Every home should have one

I've ummed and aahed for some time over the idea of a blog theme along the lines of "albums every home should own". But it's such a difficult concept to attempt, being so subjective and so hard to be exhaustive. Let's face it, I'm exhausted.

So I'm going to cheat, with an in-no-particular order collage of albums that I think every home should own. It's not exhaustive, of course - I'll think of others later that I should have included. Of course "best of" compilations are allowed (my gaff, my rules). I have limited myself to only one album per artist though...

... but what have I missed? What would you nominate for inclusion here? And have I got the right album for the artist?