Tuesday, October 31, 2006

album of the day

Back, way, way back when I was a student, I shared a hall of residence corridor with (among others) my friend Dave who I ended up sharing a flat with several years later. Slightly confusing to share a flat with someone of the same name, though people usually got round that by calling him Big Dave (as he's taller than me) or, following certain further revelations about his private life, Big Gay Dave.

Anyway, we spent a lot of time during this particular academic year sitting around in Dave's room drinking tea, playing cribbage, and listening to one of his smallish collection of CDs. The one that got the most airplay was If I Should Fall From Grace With God by The Pogues. A great album, but if you hear it every day for 9 months, you can subsequently go a long long time before you feel the need to hear it again. In fact it wasn't until I was in the Virgin Megastore in central Bristol a couple of days ago and saw that they were flogging The Very Best Of The Pogues for £3.99 that I had an urge to hear some of these tunes again.

And, funnily enough, great though this compilation is, my main criticism is that it doesn't have enough songs from IISFFGWG, as I like to call it. Even-handedness is all very well, but the compilers have bent over backwards to be even-handed to, in particular, the slightly ropey (in comparison) later albums Peace And Love and Hell's Ditch at the expense of some essential songs like Bottle Of Smoke, Turkish Song Of The Damned, Thousands Are Sailing and The Broad Majestic Shannon. Great stuff for all that, though.

Speaking of The Broad Majestic Shannon reminds me of a great website which is an archive of misheard song lyrics. The one in this song is in the line towards the end of the song which goes:

Where we once watched the rowboats landing
By the broad majestic Shannon

The way Shane MacGowan sings it the word "rowboats" sounds like "robots", which puts a whole different slightly threatening science fiction alien invasion of earth slant on the whole thing. In his defence he was probably drunk at the time.

the last book I read

A Natural Curiosity by Margaret Drabble.

I read The Radiant Way (to which this is a sort of sequel) a couple of years ago and I remember thinking: this is all beautifully written, but what's it actually about? Funny, then, or perhaps not, that I ended up thinking exactly the same thing about this one. It's wonderfully observed, has lots of sharply perceptive things to say about the way modern lives & society operate, but still.....and it's not like I demand explosions, cars chasing motorcycles off cliffs, people having sex with goats that are on fire, etc. etc., although these are obviously not bad things, necessarily......and it's not about a lack of excitement or interest, because I was kept interested throughout, it's more that I was unclear as to the purpose of the narrative. And it's not that narrative has to have a purpose, necessarily, beyond entertaining the reader......maybe I was just led to expect something life-changing by the author's formidable reputation. So maybe my slight feeling of underwhelm-ment is down to my own unreasonable preconceptions. Yes, so it's all my fault, as usual. Typical.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

f*ckity f*ck

Four Weddings And A Funeral was on Channel 4 tonight. I watched the last hour or so, much against my better judgment - well, nothing better was on, and I had a bottle of Hardy's Cabernet Merlot on the go, so I couldn't be bothered to leave the sofa.

Much against my better judgment, you say? Surely this is a charming romantic comedy? Incapable of causing offence in anyone, let alone massive teeth-gnashing bilious loathing? Well.....just a couple of things:

1) Hugh Grant. And, in general, the portrayal of the British male as some stuttering, foppish, emotionally constipated, sexually repressed buffoon. Obviously this is made for the American market, but even so: his best mate is the seventh richest man in Britain! And all the weddings are in country mansions! And the climactic one appears to be in Westminster Abbey or something...arguably this is to do with the English male, which gets me out on a technicality, but even so....

2) Far more importantly, what man in his right mind would choose Andie MacDowell (pleasant enough in an inoffensive corn-fed mid-Western American sort of way) over Kristin Scott Thomas - one of the sexiest women in the world? An idiot, that's who. Funnily enough the only other decent film I can remember Andie MacDowell having a starring role in was sex, lies and videotape, where, by a strange coincidence, she was equally overshadowed by a co-star of almost overwhelming sexiness; Laura San Giacomo (who played her sister) in this case. Whatever happened to her, I wonder?

let's rock!

Albums I listened to today: managed three of these by virtue of a) not doing any washing up for quite some time, so there was a lot and b) skipping a few tracks.

Meddle by Pink Floyd: arguably, the first "proper" post-Syd Barrett Floyd album. Having said that it's a two-song album, really. Tracks 2 through 5 are pretty forgettable, so the ones you really want are: One Of These Days - terrific galloping space-rock driven by Roger Waters' exchoplexed (presumably, unless his fingers were a positive blur throughout) bassline and strangely reminiscent of the old Doctor Who theme; and Echoes - you really need to have taken a shedload of drugs to fully appreciate this, but even legally this is tremendous stuff, from the strange sonar-style "ping"-ing at the start (a piano through a Leslie speaker, I think), through the rumbly funky bit in the middle, and the bizarre whale-song squeaky noises that follow it. We had a bit of a competition when I was at university (Bristol, 1988-1992, as it happens) for really long songs and this one (23:01) trumped the competition for a while. Then my mate Dave produced a copy of Yes's Tales From Topographic Oceans. A double LP with four songs on it - damn you! You win this round.....

Audioslave by Audioslave: I was never much of a fan of rage Against The Machine, but I was a big fan of Soundgarden. However the ratio was 3:1 in RATM's favour here, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that this is pretty good. Standout tracks (I think): Show Me How To Live, What You Are, I Am The Highway. If there's a complaint (and there always is) it's that it's a bit one-dimensional, rumbling metal riffs, shouting, etc. - in comparison to Soundgarden in particular. There are reasons for this, and here they are: Tom Morello is a far less imaginative guitarist than Kim Thayil, and Chris Cornell's orthodox metallic tendencies were always made more interesting by Ben Shepherd's interventions: listen to the strange rattly Middle Eastern sound of Head Down from Superunknown, for instance, or Dusty and Switch Opens from Down On The Upside. Despite the slightly enervating hammering oppressiveness over 14 tracks (65 minutes) it's great if you're in the mood.

Superunknown by Soundgarden: speak of the devil. Just by way of a contrast with the Audioslave album, this runs the gamut from creaky sludgy grunge-rock (Fell On Black Days, Mailman, 4th Of July) to almost catchy stuff like My Wave, Black Hole Sun and Spoonman. And, also, if you listen to Superunknown and (in particular) The Day I Tried To Live you'll hear that Chris Cornell does the best rock screaming since the days of Robert Plant and Ian Gillan. One of the great rock albums (despite having one of the worst album covers) of the 1990's; everyone should own it. What the hell is a "gamut", anyway?

Monday, October 02, 2006

what I did at the weekend

1. Climb Plynlimon. Pictures available here. This is supposedly, by some estimations at least, the highest mountain in Mid-Wales (2467 feet or 752 metres, metric fans). What I suppose this means is: if you draw a line of latitude just north of Waun Fach in the Black Mountains and another just south of Cadaer Idris, and shade in the area in between, you end up with a decent-sized area which you could, at a push, call "Mid-Wales". It is also, supposedly, one of the wettest places in Wales. Strangely enough then, when we were there, it chucked it down almost constantly. For those tempted to go and emulate us, you need to know this: it's a big, pathless, treeless, featureless boggy lump of a place which is more difficult to get up than its height might suggest, mainly because there's a lot of slogging through tussocky bog on the way up. And it'll be raining.

2. Make some sloe gin. There are some blackthorn trees round the back of my parents' house which were groaning under the weight of sloes, so we went out while I was up there and picked a load. When I say "a load" I mean the best part of 10 pounds in about an hour. Turned out to be more than I could actually use, but - hey - they were free. I liberated some damsons out of the freezer as well, just for experimental purposes. I decided to document the process - you can see the results here. It's worth pointing out that the dumping a load of fruit, sugar and gin in a big jar bit of the process (i.e. today's bit) is the easy bit - the complex bit comes in about four months when I have to decant, filter, bottle etc. the results of the process. Tell you what - we'll worry about that bit later.