Thursday 31 October 2019

For Halloween... The Shinning

I've mentioned this before, nine years ago when only three of you read this... but anyway, it's Halloween. Enough to justify a repeat viewing for this homage. Might not be up for long...

Tuesday 29 October 2019

Your Capricious Soul

Despite the hoo-ha surrounding the 25th anniversary deluxe edition treatment of Monster, this release from Michael Stipe nearly passed me by. It's his first solo work and R.E.M. fans hoping for Everybody Hurts are going to be disappointed. But have a listen. What do you think?

If you pay to download it from his site, all profits got to Extinction Rebellion, so there's that too.

Oh, and if you're thinking back to Monster and recalling it as a Marmite album, this recent interview with Stipe and Mills is worth a read.

Sunday 27 October 2019

Sunday 20 October 2019

Sunday shorts: Song For The Asking

I love that this was the last song on their last studio album together. It feels like Paul saying, "You know what, I'm going to go on and do loads of great stuff on my own. You... maybe not so much."

Friday 18 October 2019

Blue Friday: My Ever Changing Moods (piano version)

Have always preferred this version to the poppier, more upbeat, fuller version that followed later.

So beautiful, so blue.

Tuesday 15 October 2019

Still 0-0 after (a lot of) extra time

In the late 80s and early 90s, a jangly sound emerged from Slough in the ten-legged shape of Thousand Yard Stare. With their own label (the splendidly named Stifled Aardvark), a distribution deal with Polydor and Stephen Street on production duties, the outlook was promising. There was a whole host of EPs, often released (and re-released) in multiple formats (including 10" and coloured vinyl), chasing the mainstream breakthrough. In 1991, they played the Reading Festival; a year later, their debut LP, Hands On, was released. It is really quite good, and musically head and shoulders above a lot of the bands they were often grouped with.

Of course, a crucial 'but...' is coming. The Yardies' jingle-jangle sound and obtuse lyrics were somewhat at odds with the post-Nevermind interest in a heavier sound. Why be a Giles or a Dominic when you could be a Kurt or an Eddie? And so the second album, 93's Mappamundi, failed to live up to commercial expectations and didn't trouble the charts, despite a big push from Polydor. The band called time soon after, and that was that.

Except that is rarely that, these days, not when the reunion market is so lucrative. And so Thousand Yard Stare have reconvened, at first just for a few live shows but now, excitingly, for some recorded material. Here's their new single, It Sparks, in which all TYS hallmarks are present and correct, including vocalist Stephen Barnes's Marmite-delivery.

They even have some new merchandise, in the shape of this works-on-so-many-levels How Soon Is Slough? t-shirt; a Smiths reference, Betjeman and TYS... what's not to like?

Oh, and if you're wondering about the title of this post, it comes from this.

Anyway, here's the band's shiny new website and Twitter feed, if you're interested. You're probably not, it's probably just me... but that's okay.

Sunday 13 October 2019

Sunday shorts: Lock Up Your Mountain Bikes

So many short HMHB tracks to choose from, but this one gets the nod for its opening line...

Friday 11 October 2019

Let Me In

I seem to have featured R.E.M. a lot lately. I make no apology for that. A new remix of Let Me In has emerged, ostensibly to tie in with the 25th anniversary of Monster. Given that it was written in response to Kurt Cobain's suicide, and that yesterday was World Mental Health day, it seems a good time to make some noise about it. The Beeb has a better article than this about the song and it's raison d'être right here.

Basically, this was a song written one night, recorded the next day, with Michael delivering a raw vocal (that is very much more to the fore in this new remix) and Mike strumming along on Kurt's electric guitar. That's it: guitar and voice, Mike and Michael, nothing else.

And I don't know about you but, as lyric videos go, this one takes the biscuit, I think. Imagine if the words and thoughts in your head swirled around like a hurricane, occasionally coalescing into moments of clarity like a murmuration of starlings, before breaking apart again. Imagine that...

Thursday 10 October 2019

Asking for a friend

Is there a way to say that something isn't as good as it used to be, without sounding like the worst kind of terrible old fossil? When there is no empirical evidence, just personal opinion involved?

Asking for a friend.

Tuesday 8 October 2019

T's and C's

Following on from my previous post about going to watch an episode of Dave Gorman's new TV series being filmed, it seem only right to add the news that it starts on Monday 21st October, 10pm, on Dave (the channel, not the comedian).

To prove I haven't made that up, here's the trailer.

Monday 7 October 2019

Nineteen in '19: Starting Over

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.

13/19: Starting Over by Tony Parsons

The blurb: This is the story of how we grow old – how we give up the dreams of youth for something better – and how many chances we have to get it right.

George Bailey has been given the gift we all dream of – the chance to live his life again.

After suffering a heart attack at the age of 42, George is given the heart of a 19-year-old – and suddenly everything changes…

He is a friend to his teenage son and daughter – and not a stern Home Secretary, monitoring their every move.

He makes love to his wife all night long - instead of from midnight until about five past. And suddenly he wants to change the world, just as soon as he shakes off his hangover.

But George Bailey discovers that being young again is not all it is cracked up to be – and what he actually wants more than anything in the universe is to have his old life back.

The review: as you will all know already, Parsons' writing career began as a journo for the NME, where he also met, married and later divorced fellow "hip, young gunslinger" Julie Birchill. He wrote a number of books throughout the Seventies and Eighties but only really achieved mainstream success at the tail end of the Nineties, with Man and Boy. In part, I think, this took off as a sort of "blokes want to read too" reaction to the emergence of chick-lit as a thing - lad-lit, maybe, a phenomenon that benefited Parsons and plenty of others (Mike Gayle and John O'Farrell to name but two). Whatever, it sold by the truck load, as did the sequel, and lots of other books with similar covers. The last Parsons I read was My Favourite Wife, probably about ten years ago.

And so to Starting Over, a book I picked up for free at a sort of "bring a book, take a book" swapping initiative. In other words, immediately not a book I would spend money to read, but something I was prepared to take a punt on. And it's alright: a perfectly serviceable story, told at a pace that keeps the pages turning, a bit predictable in places but generally... alright. What stops it being more? Well, I like a story where the author maps out the dots and then leaves the reader to join them up. There are times here when Parsons doesn't just join them up for you, he does it with a Sharpie. It's efficient storytelling, maybe, but is it effective? Not for me.

Oh, and the predictability. I get that it's going to have a feelgood element. A lot of people, even lad-lit readers, want some kind of a happy ending. But even when things are going awry for our hero, at no point did I feel that they would end badly, ultimately. And if you're in any doubt about the Capra-esque nature of this story, or Parsons' efforts to produce something of that ilk, I refer you to the protagonist's name... But for fables to work you need archetypes as the lead characters, not clichés, and there are times when Tony treads the wrong side of that divide.

If I'm sounding too down on this book, let me remedy that by saying that it is far from all bad - Parsons writes about being a father as well as anyone. Here, laying out how it feels to be a dad, and what it's like to watch your kids grow up and move beyond what you know of them, this is where Parsons' somewhat on-the-nose style actually works - he lays it out plain. This is how it feels. But since Man and Boy it does feel somewhat like Tony is recycling those same feelings, just ascribing them to new characters. But anyway...

The bottom line: perfectly serviceable, somewhat predictable, slightly forgettable and too overt... neither evolutionary nor revolutionary but essentially a harmless, throwaway read that moves along at a decent pace.

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

Sunday 6 October 2019

Sunday shorts: Very Ape

More than a quarter of a century old...

Just let that sink in for a bit, then have a listen.

Saturday 5 October 2019

Clandestine Classic LX - Yes

The sixtieth post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

Just like last time, here's a song I couldn't believe I hadn't already featured. Back in 1994, Bernard Butler, fresh from leaving Suede, hooked up with ex-Thieves and solo artist David McAlmont, apparently because the latter had a lyric the former felt he could put a riff to. Holing up in a French studio with drummer Mako Sakamoto, engineer Nigel Godrich and co-producer Mike Hedges (production duties shared with Butler, as I think you can tell from the end result), McAlmont and Butler laid down Yes and follow-up single You Do in just three days. I know, I know, back in the early 60s popular beat combos would knock out whole albums in that time, but even so, three days is pretty swift for such great tunes.

Given that haste, that burst of creativity, you might reasonably wonder what the lyric was the Butler thought he could do something for - well, here it is:

So, you wanna know me now? How I've been?
You can't help someone recover, after what you did.
So tell me, am I looking better?
Have you forgot whatever it was that you couldn't stand
About me, about me, about me?
Yes, I do feel better.
Yes I do, I feel alright.
I feel well enough to tell you what you can do with what you've got to offer...

So, Yes is a song about meeting up with someone that once dumped you, breaking your heart in the process, and when faced with that person wanting to be nice sometime down the line, pally, maybe even to rekindle something, having the strength to remind them how they were, and to tell them where they can stick their olive branch. In other words, it's a story that lots of people, no doubt, can identify with. And importantly, it's told as a positive - it's not, "No, you can't be with me again" or "No, I don't want to let you back into my life" but as a positive - "Yes, I do feel better, actually, so much better in fact because I can see you for what you were." And who wouldn't want to face up to past heartbreak like that, with that attitude? I know I would.

Musically, Butler's trademark guitars sounds are all present and correct, as is the slightly Spector-esque, full-on production and orchestral backing he favoured at the time. Add David McAlmont's three-octave range and you have a vocal performance that positively soars; whenever I hear this, I always feel that the vocal and music are almost competing, seeing which can reach the most dizzying height, and we, the listeners, are the beneficiaries of this competition.

I suppose, technically, this classic isn't that clandestine. It peaked at 8 in the UK singles chart, and was critically acclaimed too. But that was 24 long years ago, and not much (the You Do single and parent album The Sound of... McAlmont and Butler aside) followed until much later. There were a few live shows and a dynamic performance on Later... but, apart from that, little else. And so, despite its total and utter brilliance, Yes remains a song of its time - people my age love it, but the band didn't have enough longevity for other generations to be exposed to it. It will fade away, and that is a crying shame; it becomes more clandestine with every day that passes.

You can, and should, pick up Yes on The Sound of... McAlmont and Butler - it's a great album, though nothing else reaches these heights. And here are those heights, courtesy of YouTube...

Bonus live performance from Later..., with excellent guitar wig-out from Bernard towards the end.

Friday 4 October 2019

Blue Friday: True Love Waits

There are lots of versions of this, band and solo Thom, but this is the one that catches my ear most, from A Moon Shaped Pool.

Tuesday 1 October 2019

Nineteen in '19: The Institute

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.

12/19: The Institute by Stephen King

The blurb: Deep in the woods of Maine, there is a dark state facility where kids, abducted from across the United States, are incarcerated. In the Institute they are subjected to a series of tests and procedures meant to combine their exceptional gifts - telepathy, telekinesis - for concentrated effect.

Luke Ellis is the latest recruit. He's just a regular 12-year-old, except he's not just smart, he's super-smart. And he has another gift which the Institute wants to use...

Far away in a small town in South Carolina, former cop Tim Jamieson has taken a job working for the local sheriff. He's basically just walking the beat. But he's about to take on the biggest case of his career.

Back in the Institute's downtrodden playground and corridors where posters advertise 'just another day in paradise', Luke, his friend Kalisha and the other kids are in no doubt that they are prisoners, not guests. And there is no hope of escape.

But great events can turn on small hinges and Luke is about to team up with a new, even younger recruit, Avery Dixon, whose ability to read minds is off the scale. While the Institute may want to harness their powers for covert ends, the combined intelligence of Luke and Avery is beyond anything that even those who run the experiments - even the infamous Mrs Sigsby - suspect.

Thrilling, suspenseful, heartbreaking, THE INSTITUTE is a stunning novel of childhood betrayed and hope regained.

The review: long-time readers of this blog will probably know that I am a Stephen King fan, and that I have devoured just about everything he's published. Which, famously, is quite a lot. So naturally I picked up The Institute as soon as it came out, and whistled through it in fairly short order. What can I tell you about it that the blurb doesn't? Well, if you already like King, you'll like, perhaps even love it. For this is almost a King archetype or, maybe more accurately, some kind of greatest hits tribute act, for so many recurrent King themes are revisited. There's the principled but troubled male lead Tim, trying to escape something dark in his past (see also Johnny in The Dead Zone, Danny in Doctor Sleep, Jack in The Shining, Gard in The Tommyknockers, and Thad in The Dark Half for starters, and that's without the short stories). Similarly, there's the preternaturally bright, gifted child hero Luke (see also Jake in the Dark Tower series, Danny in The Shining and Charlie in Firestarter, to name but three). And of course, there's the plucky "band of brothers" grouping that assembles to save the day (see also The Body, The Mist, The Stand, IT, The Dark Tower ... you get the idea). Most importantly, there's the underlying sense of a wrong being righted, an injustice being set straight, a theme that recurs so often in King's body of work that I'm not even going to start listing examples.

And then there's the plot: an unknown agency, presumed governmental, harvests children with telekinetic and/or telepathic powers, enhances those powers through horrible experiments, and uses the kids as a psychic weapon, ostensibly to ensure world peace. Luke is taken... Tim is the white-hat who helps him puts things straight. I can't say much more than that, for fear of spoilers. But this might already be enough for Constant Readers to conceive of The Institute as a spiritual and thematic, if not direct, successor to Firestarter... and they'd be right.

So what if you're not already a fan of Stephen King? Well, this is unlikely to win you over. It's not King by numbers (see the first half of the Nineties for that) but it is very typical King. For me, that's a good, sometimes great thing: the man is a storyteller, almost without equal in contemporary mainstream fiction. And he shifts POV better than almost anyone.

The bottom line: if you're a King fan, or love a good yarn, well told, buckle up - you'll enjoy this. Just don't expect anything too different...

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