Tuesday, 31 May 2022

More new to NA: Low Hummer

I heard Talk Shows on Radcliffe and Maconie's always-excellent 6 Music show recently - I was doing the washing-up at the time which, if I'm honest, is where/when I hear most music that is new to me. Anyway, all I know about Low Hummer is what Radcliffe and Maconie mentioned, i.e. that they had supported the Manics on tour last year. See what you think but this is pretty good, I reckon, and the chorus, listing all the things they are tired of, feels very now. I'm tired of everything too.

Monday, 30 May 2022

Monday long song: Disintegration

The Cure, at the peak of their powers. A majestic eight minutes.

Friday, 27 May 2022

Blue Friday: Love is a Laserquest

So here's Alex Turner from Arctic Monkeys, in live acoustic mode, and looking for all the world like he was in Hamburg-era Beatles.

Thursday, 26 May 2022

The Unewsual XI - the UK produces the second highest amount of e-waste per capita in the world

So we should make our devices last longer, not get caught in the upgrade spiral, and repair things went they fail. But also, at least, this:

Tuesday, 24 May 2022

Twenty-two in '22: The World of Cycling According to G

I've set myself modest reading targets in each of the last three years and failed every time (I managed 17 books in '19, 11 in '20 and 18 in '21), so I'm determined to read twenty two books in 2022. I'll review them all here.

The World of Cycling According to G by Geraint Thomas

6/22: The World of Cycling According to G by Geraint Thomas

The blurb:

Like no other cycling book, from no other rider - Britain's cycling star shares his unique take on the world of cycling.

Sit back or saddle up as double Olympic gold medallist and multiple world champion Geraint Thomas gives you a warts and all insight into the life of a pro cyclist. Along the way he reveals cycling's clandestine codes and secret stories, tales from the peloton, the key characters like Wiggins, Hoy and Cav, the pivotal races and essential etiquette.

Geraint Thomas is treasured for treating his sport just as the rest of us see it: not a job but an escape and an adventure. He's been with Team Sky since its inception, and is one of our most successful and gifted track and road riders, but Geraint reminds us that getting on the bike still puts a smile on your face and fire in the legs like nothing else.

Funny, informative, diverting and droll, this is a joyful celebration of the world of cycling.

The review: I know what you're thinking: oh god, here it is, the point at which the wannabe cyclist and Strava enthusiast lets his hobby bleed through from his sideline bike blog to the "main" blog, and thereby bores us all with talk of chainsets, carbon frames, and KOMs. Right?

Well, not really, you'll be relieved to hear. Because although this is a book by a cyclist, about cycling, I'd argue that you need only a passing awareness of Geraint Thomas and the world of elite cycling to enjoy this book. If you've paid just enough attention to the sports pages for the last ten years to know how much success Britain has had in this field, or any of the names Wiggins, Hoy, Cavendish and Froome ring a bell with you, well, that's enough for you to get something out of this book.

Geraint Thomas, for the unitiated, is a gold-medal winning track and road cyclist who, since writing this book, also won the Tour de France with Team Sky (the sixth British win in seven years). He's done it all, basically - and, brilliantly, he's able to convey it here, in a humourous and informative way that appeals to the Stravanauts and non-cyclists alike.

Well, I say he ... but Geraint has had some help, in the shape of sports journalist Tom Fordyce. In his acknowledgements, Geraint describes this help thus: "... obviously a huge thanks to Tom Fordyce for listening to my stories, putting them all together and dealing with all my questions."

But the fact that this book is a collaborative effort (or ghostwritten, depending on your perspective) needn't put you off. The prose tone here is consistent with the version of Thomas you see in interviews, as is the humour. Fordyce has captured the man, basically. And the result is very readable.

The book is structured in chapters that look at specific aspects of cycling, namely: "Living It" (much here for the amateur); "People" (chapters on each of the big names in British cycling but also on the unsung heroes in the team); "Doing It" (the actual rides and events); "Places" (imagine a series of stadium tours if you're a football fan); "Feeling It" (handling the physical and mental impact of cycling); "The Rules" (do's and don't's for cyclists of all abilities); and "Bossing It" (what it's really like riding for the best team, in the top events). It's a great structural idea - you could almost be reading a series of (admittedly lengthy) blog posts, which makes the book very digestible, whether you know your Campagnolo from your Shimano, your soigneur from your directeur sportif, or not.

The bottom line: you'll enjoy this more if you cycle semi-seriously, but this is an enjoyable memoir for any fan of sports biographies (even if there isn't much actual biography in it).

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★★★ for cyclists, ★★★★☆☆ for everyone else

Saturday, 21 May 2022

More new to NA: Katy J Pearson

I caught a little snatch of this on Lauren Laverne's 6 Music breakfast show the other day - just enough to think, "Oh, didn't realise Stevie Nicks had recorded something new?"g

The Stevie thing is, of course, a lazy, semi-accurate comparison on my part, based solely on the tremulous warble in Katy's voice. But this, Talk Over Town, with its bright guitar rhythms and dark lyrics, is alright, isn't it? I mean, if you must listen to some new music, as others tell me I really should now and again, why not this?

Friday, 20 May 2022

Blue Friday: Seven Red Rose Tattoos

Yes, I will listen to pretty much anything that has Bernard Butler involved. This is from his latest collaboration, with Jessie Buckley. And what a voice she has, in this jazz-tinged slice of melancholia. Feels like this could come from any time in the last hundred years.

If you think this might be your bag, good news: Jessie and Bernard release parent album For All The Days That Tear The Heart on June 10th.

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Songs for tomorrow: Only Tomorrow

Continuing the temporary comeback of this series (because I've got naff-all else to write about), here's some My Bloody Valentine, from mbv. Guitars and amps teetering on the edge here, I think.

Tuesday, 17 May 2022

More new to NA: Massage

I know very little about Massage other than that they're a five-piece from LA, although on the basis of this I suspect they grew up listening to New Order, what do you reckon?

Anyway, here's their most recent single, In Gray &, Blue, and you can listen to more of Massage on their Bandcamp page, should you feel so inclined. Just be careful if you Google them, that's all...

Monday, 16 May 2022

Monday long song: Is There A Place For Me?

I was going to start this post with a rhetorical "How were Strangelove not colossal?" but the sad answer to that had something to do with singer Patrick Duff's drink and drug issues. Anyway, here's the indie rock tsunami of Is There A Place For Me?, the closing track from their excellent debut album Time for the Rest of Your Life. Doesn't sound in a good place, does he?

Sunday, 15 May 2022

Friday, 13 May 2022

Blue Friday: Song To Self

In which I blow another song that could have served as the last post when I eventually call time on New Amusements. "By the time you hear this I'll be gone," indeed. What will I have left to use when the time comes?

Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Songs for tomorrow: Tomorrow

Haven't done a post in this series for nearly two years, so let's remedy that with some Cranberries. Is there a more instantly recognisable vocal sound than that of the late, lamented Dolores O'Riordan? Maybe, maybe not, but there can't be too many. This is from their second bite of the cherry, the comeback, and was a single in 2011. It's nice enough, I reckon, with its early-Sundays guitar motif, but it didn't trouble the charts at all. Shame. Parent album Roses made it to number 17, at least.

Monday, 9 May 2022

Monday long song: Jason and the Argonauts

A slice of early 80s XTC, from English Settlement - a song that takes its title from a Greek myth. And why not?

Friday, 6 May 2022

Twenty-two in '22: Headhunters

I've set myself modest reading targets in each of the last three years and failed every time (I managed 17 books in '19, 11 in '20 and 18 in '21), so I'm determined to read twenty two books in 2022. I'll review them all here.

Headhunters by Jo Nesbo

5/22: Headhunters by Jo Nesbo

The blurb:

LIE.

Clever, wealthy, married to a beautiful woman: Roger Brown has it all. And his sideline as an art thief keeps him busy when his job as a corporate headhunter gets dull.

STEAL.

Then his wife introduces him to Clas Greve. Ambitious and talented, he's the perfect candidate for a top job Roger needs to fill - and the priceless painting he owns makes him the perfect target for a heist.

MURDER?

But soon Roger finds out that there's more to Greve than meets the eye, and it's not long before the hunter becomes the hunted...

The review: I'll admit to being a little wary of reading this book. I saw the Norwegian language film adaptation of this when it came out at the cinema in 2013, and bought the DVD on release. It remains one of my favourite films not just of that year but of the 21st Century, a gripping thriller that repeatedly blind-sides the viewer, with a fantastic/incredible story that remains plausible, and with a brilliant anti-hero in logical, analytical recruitment consultant with a chip on his shoulder Roger Brown. I love it, and wondered whether I could enjoy the source material as much.

I needn't have worried. Jo Nesbo is most famous for his series of Harry Hole crime novels that, in turn, helped create a buzz around what came to be known as Scandi noir, a buzz that persists. But this isn't a Harry Hole story - rather, it's a standalone thriller with a very different sort of hero: Brown is a headhunter in the HR sense, and the best at what he does. He just happens to also dabble in the occasional fine art theft. That's where the somewhat lazy parallel to The Thomas Crown Affair Nesbo's publishers attempt over at Amazon comes from ... but Brown is far more interesting than either McQueen's or Brosnan's big-screen playboy thieves, because he is far more deeply flawed. Insecure about his height, insecure about his stunning wife, insecure about his parents, insecure about just about everything, and with more than a little OCD to boot. The parallel I'd draw is closer to Patrick Bateman, but without the psychopathy, and much less killing...

Also ... well, it's a question I have to ask when the author is writing in another language from the one I'm reading it in: is the concision and effect of the prose down to the author, or the translator? Headhunters is translated from Norwegian to English by Don Bartlett, and he's done a cracking job, as far as I can tell. Surely, in the same way that a good editor can immeasurably improve the quality of an author's work (Gordon Lish, for example), a translator must have a significant part to play in a foreign language novel's success in English.

Anyway, here's a passage I bookmarked that highlights both the protagonists character and the author's (and translator's) direct and effective prose style - here, Brown has just realised that not only has his wife been cheating on him, but also may have murderous intent:

It was like being embraced by a stranger. Everything was different with her now, even her smell. Or was it his? It was revolting. Her hand went back and forth in a slow massaging movement as if she were shampooing me, as if her enthusiasm for my hair was reaching new heights at precisely that moment. I felt like hitting her, hitting her with a flat hand. Flat so that I could feel the contact, the smack of skin on skin, feel the pain and the shock.

Instead I closed my eyes and let her do it, let her massage me, soften me, please me. I may be a very sick man.

If that isn't enough to get you interested in Brown's story and/or Nesbo's writing, here's another passage I bookmarked, from much later in the story, as Roger leaves his sometime-lover Lotte's flat:

In the dark of the bedroom I could just make out the contours of her body under the sheet. I resisted a sudden impulse: to get undressed, slip back into the bed and snuggle up to her. Instead I felt an odd sensation that everything that had happened had not been about Diana, but about me. I closed the bedroom door softly and left. Just as when I had arrived, there was no one on the staircase to greet. Nor when I got out onto the street did I meet anyone who would respond to my friendly nods; no one looked at me or acknowledged my existence in any other way. Now it had dawned on me what the sensation was: I didn't exist.

It was time to find myself again.

I'm not aware of other books featuring Brown - this is very much a standalone tale, and that's a shame because he's such an excellent character, and Nesbo develops him brilliantly, aided by the first person narration. All I can say is that I would very happily read other tales about the headhunter, and will instead have to content myself with exploring Nesbo's other work. In the meantime, I recommend this to you very highly, especially if suspenseful, plot-twisting thrillers are your thing.

The bottom line: direct, engaging, page-turning prose that brings a twisty thriller and a memorable character vividly to life - how I wish this wasn't a standalone novel!

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

Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Ooh do u fink u r, sunshine?

A collaboration between Suggs and Paul Weller, you say? Long overdue, you say? This is from the promotional blurb:

OOH DO U FINK U R is a gloriously sunny, optimistic and defiant Motown and '60's R&B influenced stomper drawing on Suggs and Weller's upbringing in Britain's 1970's comprehensive school system in London and Woking respectively.

Having known each other on-and-off over the last four decades, the seeds of this collaboration emerged in 2019 when Weller joined Suggs on his Radio Four series Love Letters To London to talk about an ever changing Soho. As the world subsequently went into lockdown in 2020, the pair started chatting more and more frequently about music, clothes and football, eventually exchanging half finished songs, demos and sketches of lyrics. With its working class aesthetic, Motown influenced stomp, and uplifting brass, it's an intuitive collaboration that sits neatly as a welcome addition to both men's great songbooks.

Enough blurb. This came to my attention courtesy of a marketing email, offering me this track on a slab of 7" vinyl, with an instrumental version on the B-side, for £10.99 + P&P. That seems a lot, if you ask me - you can get albums for less. So is it worth it?

There is a time when the Weller collector in me would have rushed to place my order. But whilst I quite like this (even if it feels slightly less than it could have been), my 11 English pounds are staying in my wallet - I'll wait until it crops up on a compilation album instead. What about you?

[EDIT 5-MAY-22: the limited, numbered vinyl (only 5,000 copies) has sold out on pre-order alone, from what I can see.]

Tuesday, 3 May 2022

Lost lyrics ... found!

AKA the answers to last week's quiz.

Remember, it's a point for the artist and a point for the song, so the whole thing is out of 100. How did you do? And which ones had you kicking yourself?

  1. The world is your oyster but your future’s a clam.
    The Jam, When You're Young
  2. Why am I soft in the middle? The rest of my life is so hard.
    Paul Simon, You Can Call Me Al
  3. I might walk home alone, but my faith in love is still devout.
    The Smiths, Rusholme Ruffians
  4. If I could only be tough like him, then I could win my own small battle of the sexes.
    XTC, Sgt Rock (Is Going To Help Me)
  5. I’m more impressionable when my cement is wet.
    Billy Bragg, Greetings To The New Brunette
  6. You arrived like a day and passed like a cloud.
    The Pretenders, Talk Of The Town
  7. You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
    Bob Dylan, Subterranean Homesick Blues
  8. I sometimes wish I'd never been born at all.
    Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody
  9. Riding through the city on my bike all day, ‘cause the filth took away my licence.
    Lily Allen, LDN
  10. Tennis shoes, don't even need to buy a new dress, If you ain't there, ain't nobody else to impress.
    Beyoncé, Crazy In Love
  11. Jack, he is a banker and Jane, she is a clerk.
    The Velvet Underground, Sweet Jane
  12. Homo sapiens have outgrown their use.
    David Bowie, Oh! You Pretty Things
  13. The boys all loved you but I was a mess.
    Pulp, Disco 2000
  14. Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire couldn't conquer the blue sky.
    Crowded House, Weather With You
  15. We’ll take the tide’s electric mind, oh yeah.
    Suede, So Young
  16. When I am king you will be first against the wall.
    Radiohead, Paranoid Android
  17. I'm flattered that you thought I make a good reward.
    Gene, Olympian
  18. Look at me, you know what you see? You see a bad mother.
    James Brown, The Boss
  19. I've seen so much, I'm going blind and I'm brain-dead, virtually.
    Blur, Coffee & TV
  20. With your feet in the air and your head on the ground.
    Pixies, Where Is My Mind?
  21. Have you forgot whatever it was that you couldn't stand about me?
    McAlmont & Butler, Yes
  22. I am so lazy, don't want to wander, I stay at home at night.
    The Kinks, Waterloo Sunset
  23. Jealousy is an essential part of love.
    The Wedding Present, My Favourite Dress
  24. I could be a lot, but I know I'm not.
    The Style Council, You're The Best Thing
  25. I'm so worried about my love - they say, "No, no, it won't last forever."
    Kate Bush, The Man With The Child In His Eyes
  26. It’s more or less the same as the things that you said.
    Ocean Colour Scene, The Riverboat Song
  27. Each day living out a lie, life sold cheaply forever.
    Manic Street Preachers, Motorcycle Emptiness
  28. Your tongue is far too long.
    The Stone Roses, I Am The Resurrection
  29. I found an island in your arms, country in your eyes.
    The Doors, Break On Through
  30. Speech gets harder, there's no sense in writing.
    Talk Talk, Living In Another World
  31. If you're in The Crown tonight have a drink on me.
    The Clash, Stay Free
  32. No longer riding on the merry-go-round, I just had to let it go.
    John Lennon, Watching The Wheels
  33. I just keep on laughing, hiding the tears in my eyes.
    The Cure, Boys Don't Cry
  34. If you don't answer, I'll just ring it off the wall.
    Blondie, Hanging On The Telephone
  35. Every streetlight reveals the picture in reverse. Still, it's so much clearer.
    REM, Nightswimming
  36. I'm worse at what I do best, and for this gift, I feel blessed.
    Nirvana, Smells Like Teen Spirit
  37. His mind wanders to the office, his telephone, desk and chair.
    Madness, Cardiac Arrest
  38. I don't know if you can hear me, I'm feeling down and can't think clearly.
    Teenage Fanclub, Start Again
  39. I heard you let that little friend of mine take off your party dress.
    Elvis Costello, Alison
  40. I laid traps for troubadours who get killed before they reach Bombay.
    The Rolling Stones, Sympathy For The Devil
  41. You lied about your status, you lied about your life, you never mentioned your three children and the fact you have a wife.
    Kirsty MacColl, England 2 Columbia 0
  42. Magically bored on a quiet street corner, free frustration in our minds and our toes.
    The Who, 5:15
  43. You spurn my natural emotions, you make me feel I'm dirt.
    Buzzcocks, Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)
  44. I can gather all the news I need on the weather report.
    Simon & Garfunkel, The Only Living Boy In New York
  45. And now my fears, they come to me in threes.
    The Strokes, Someday
  46. Stick or twist, the choice is yours.
    Kylie, Confide In Me
  47. Well, I stand up next to a mountain and I chop it down with the edge of my hand.
    The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Voodoo Child
  48. I wonder, do my tears of mourning sink beneath the sun?
    Madonna, Ray Of Light
  49. I must have kept on dragging through the business of the day.
    ABBA, The Day Before You Came
  50. Smiles await you when you rise.
    The Beatles, Golden Slumbers