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Archive for the ‘Marillion’ Category

shadowSOUNDTRACK: ANDERSON BRUFORD WAKEMAN HOWE-Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe (1989).

The band with an amazing pedigree created a band with a preposterous name and an equally preposterous album title.  But who cares, right?  After the pop frenzy of Big Generator, why shouldn’t the “real” members from Yes (excepting Squire) form a band?  They even brought Bruford back (he has said that he didn’t realize all three other guys were part of it, he thought it was a solo recording).  Perhaps the most insulted person should be Tony Levin.  Not only did I not know he played bass on the album (Bruford brought him over from King crimson), but I can’t even hear him on it!  I have listened to this record a couple times recently and I can’t hear any bass at all.  It’s like the anti-Chris Squire album!

I remember when this came out I was pretty excited.  I remember drawing the album cover (look, kids, Roger Dean is back!), and I remember joking about the preposterous “Teakbois.”  But when I listened to it again (first time in probably twenty years), I didn’t recognize a lot, and I liked even less.

abwhThe album opens with “Themes,” a six-minute, three-part mini epic which should hearken back to Yes of old.  There’s an interesting slow circular keyboard piece and a pretty piano melody and then it gets funky, sort of.  About 4 minutes in, it changes to a new thing altogether but again the sounds are so…bleah,  the guitars sound pretty good (some great guitar work from Howe) while those keys just sound….  You know I said that Wakeman would never play the sounds on 90125 & Big Generator, but he went even blander on this song.

Track two is only 3 minutes long.  It’s dramatic and angry with some good keyboard sounds.  It’s probably the best thing on the album.

“Brother of Mine” is another three-part mini epic that runs over 10 minutes.  The guitar chords and style remind me of mid 80s Rush. There’s lots of interesting elements and the main verse reminds me of maybe early Genesis or Marillion.  Although the solo and other sections seem…obvious instead of groundbreaking.  The middle part is pretty good, with a very classic Yes feel.  But the final section sounds exactly likes something from a Disney movie, perhaps The Little Mermaid (which came out the same year).

“Birthright” starts off ominous with some interesting percussion.  Although all the percussion on this album is rather disappointingly electronic.  Not that’s there’s anything inherently wrong with electronic drums, it just seems wasted on someone as amazing as Bruford.  It feels vaguely like a Peter Gabriel song.  It’s pretty good but it gets a little melodramatic by the end.

“The Meeting” is a treacly ballad.  It sounds nice but is nothing special.  “Quartet” is the third mini epic.  This one is nine minutes and four parts.  The first part is folky and reminds me of Simon and Garfunkel.  Part 2 references tons of old Yes songs in the lyrics (which seemed to make reviewers of the album giddy) but which really just shows how weak this song is compared to those other songs.

elp“Teakbois” has got to be the biggest WTF recorded.  I’m all for bands embracing other cultures and it’s awesome that after Paul Simon released Graceland other bands added multicultural elements to their sound, but this 7 minute monstrosity sounds like AWBH went to the Caribbean and joined a tourist band.  I don’t know if they released many band photos for this album, but this songs makes it seem like this could have been their cover.  There is a chorus near the end of the song in which they sing “cool running” and I was relieved to find out that the film with that name came out four years after this song.

“The Order of the Universe” is another 9 minute, four-part epic.  Just thinking of this song makes me think of the closing credits for The Lion King (which came out five years after this at least) or something.  There are some interesting parts to it.  But the “Rock Gives Courage” section is dreadful and Anderson sounds like he’s singing a pop metal band

“Let’s Pretend” closes this album.  It’s only 3 minutes long and is co-written by Vangelis.  It’s a fine song, completely inoffensive.

So what is up with this disc?  Am I imposing a 21st century attitude on it?  Am I missing that it was actually really influential (on Disney songwriters anyhow) and that it’s not their fault that other people have poisoned the sound for me?  I understand that musicians change and grow, but with these four names, you’d expect something a lot bigger and better than this.

Maybe when I listen to it in another 20 years I’ll actually like it again.

[READ: May 10, 2015] The Shadow Hero

I really enjoy the stories that Gene Luen Yang creates.   And this one (which I later found out is actually meant to be an origin story of an already extant character) was really interesting.

The story begins in China.  In 1911 the Ch’ing Dynasty collapsed and soon after the Spirits who were born with China and watched over her had to decide what to do.  The Dragon, the Phoenix, the Tiger and the Tortoise came to a council.  Later, the tortoise left the country with a man who was too drunk to know why he was even on the ship he was sailing on.

Then we see that the story is told by a first person narrator when he says that his mother came to America a few years later.  She had high hopes of the prosperity and beauty of the country, but her hopes were dashed by the realization of the ghettos and slums of Chinatown.

His father (the drunk from above) owned a grocery store and Hank (the narrator) helped out.  His mother, the stronger-willed of the two was a driver for a rich woman and took no crap from anyone. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: QUEENSRŸCHE-Rage for Order (1985).

Thinks looked to be very different for Queensrÿche on Rage for Order.  I mean, look at them.  On the back of The Warning they were leather-clad hellions.  On Rage, they are quite the dandys (man, I wanted Geoff Tate’s coat!).   This would be the first of many times that they confounded their fans with a style change.

Yet despite the look of them, the album opens with a scorcher, “Walk in the Shadows.”  It’s not as heavy as their earlier songs, but it has perfected many of the elements of those earlier records: the chanted vocals, the great riffs and the screaming solos.  “I Dream in Infrared” shows their they’ve always been interest in technology.  It’s ballady, but it’s got some really sharp guitars and some more soaring vocals.

The keyboards at the end of the song segue into “The Whisper,” the first indication that things would be different on this record–orchestra keyboards hits (which I have always loved) are used to punctuate verses, and there are cool, whispered words (which would be used prominently on Operation: Mindcrime

Then comes the big shock, “Gonna Get Close to You” a weird synth/metal hybrid with a strikingly catchy and poppy chorus (that seems ever-so-80s to me)–see below for a fun surprise about this song.

Then “The Killing Words” opens with a keyboard riff that sounds not unlike 80s-era Marillion–Tate even whispers words not unlike Fish does on early Marillion albums.  Of course, when the chorus comes in it is pure Queensrÿche .  There’s more orchestral hits and cool effects on “Surgical Strike.”

I love everything about the opening of “Neue Regel,” from the unusual guitar to the “steam” sounds used as percussion to Tate’s processed, minimized voice–it makes for a wonderfully claustrophobic song.  It’s made even more so by the overlapping, intertwining vocals later on. 

“Chemical Youth (We Are Rebellion)” is a cool sparse song (the opening in particular). But it also shows their interest in, if not politics, then at least contemporary society (again, more foreshadowing of Mindcrime).  “London” just builds and builds in intensity, while “Screaming in Digital” takes the technological aspect one step further with all kind of sinister synthesized sounds and the crazy way it ends.

The album ends with “I Will Remember,” an acoustic song complete with mournful whistling from Tate.   But even as a ballad, it’s not your typical lyrical content: “And we wonder how machines can steal each other’s dreams.”  I don’t love it as an album ender, although it does wind things down pretty nicely.

This is my favorite Queensrÿche album, hands down.  I know most people like Mindcrime better, but for me, this one is more progressive and showcases a lot of the risks the band was willing to take.

Incidentally, there’s a wonderful review of Rage here, in which I learn that “Gonna Get Close to You” is actually a cover of a song by the Canadian singer Dalbello (who is really crazy and fun, and whom I’ve never heard of until I just looked her up).  How did I not know it was a cover?  (Or more like, I knew it, but forgot it over the last twenty some years)?  I might actually like the original better.

[READ: October 25, 2011] “This Cake is for the Party”

This was a very short story that crammed a lot of emotion into two pages.

As the story opens, Bonnie is finishing a cake for a party.  The party is to celebrate the engagement of Janey and Milt.  Janey is one of Bonnie’s older friends and she’s happy for Janey.  She likes her fiancée, Milt (even if he did just get a black eye).  The black eye came from a misunderstanding.  Milt was in a pub “lasciviously” twirling the mustache that his high school class dared him to grow.  Someone in the pub thought he was making advances on his woman and punched Milt in the face. 

But Bonnie’s boyfriend, David doesn’t like Milt.  He won’t say why, he just doesn’t.  It could very well have to do with the fact that he and Janey used to date, and it’s possible that Janey dumped David for Milt (that’s a little unclear in the story). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KISS-Alive! (1975).

This was the first Kiss live album and was the album that broke Kiss worldwide.  I’m not entirely sure why a live album of songs that didn’t sell very well would do better than the original studio albums, but so it was.

And, yes, the live recording is pretty awesome.  It is clearly a collection of greatest hits off their first three records, and the band sounds on fire: the songs are heavier and faster and largely more consistent than some of the odder tracks on the original records.

There has been considerable controversy about whether the album was overdubbed.  Wikipedia lists a few different possibilities for what originally recorded sounds were kept for the disc.  It never occurred to me that the disc might be overdubbed (and honestly that doesn’t bother me all that much).  But since I had the pleasure of watching Kissology recently, and I could see the state of their vocals live, it would surprise me entirely if the vocals were not overdubbed.  Not because the band didn’t sound good live (they did), but because they were very sloppy with their vocals, consistently leaving off the ends of lines and things like that, and the disc sounds perfect.

Of course this is all nitpicking.  Alive! is a fantastic document because the live versions add a lot of punch to the originals.  But on top of that, you get fun extras like the drum solo and banter of the 12 minute “100,000 Years” as well as Paul’s drinking banter: “I know there’s a lot of you out there that like to drink…vodka and orange juice!” (How can you pass that up?).  It’s hard to pick highlights from such a good record, but “She” is a particular one with Ace’s wild guitar pyrotechnics.  Right on to the end, the disc is a rocking good time.

It’s also funny to hear that “Rock And Roll All Nite” is not the final encore; rather it is the next to last track with “Let Me Go Rock n Roll” being the BIG FINISH.  That’s the last time that THAT would happen!

[READ: December 28, 2009] The Elfish Gene

I happened to pass this book in the New section of my library and I loved the title.  I read the blurb, made a mental note of it, mentioned how much I liked the title to Sarah and then more or less forgot about it (although, actually, I still see it every day, as it’s always facing out, cover forward).

Imagine my surprise to see that Sarah got it for me for Christmas!

So, yes, this is the best parody-titled book that is not a parody or a make-a-buck joke book that modifies a popular title.  Rather, it is a memoir of a British guy who spent his teen years utterly absorbed in Dungeons & Dragons.  But I must disagree with the Christian Science Monitor’s review as “laugh out loud funny.”  I only laughed out loud once in the book (the dog walking scene is hilarious), but that’s because I don’t think it was meant to be funny (at least I hope it wasn’t).

I’ve said before that I’m not a big fan of memoirs in general.  I find them mostly to be a big “so what,” and often without the subtlety required for a good novel.  But the topic here was delicious enough for me to dive right in.  And I think that this book, which I absolutely enjoyed, sort of proves my theory.

Barrowcliffe has done nothing worthy of anyone caring about.  He’s just a guy who played D&D, so when checking out the book, you kind of feel, so what?  Plus, the book is completely unsubtle, with him summarizing his attitude over and over and over.  But nevertheless, I could not put it down. I was hooked from the opening and was totally intrigued all the way to the end.  (I even put down the book I had been reading to speed right through this).

And yet, Barrowcliffe himself is so unlikable.  And not, as he suggests, because of the D&D. (more…)

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[WATCHED: August-October 2009] Clash of the Gods

clash

[UPDATE: October 26, 2009]

I have now finished the entire series.  I was pleasantly surprised by how much I learned from it.  (Not that I considered myself an expert, but you never know what you’ll get from TV series). The biggest surprise was how much this series filled in the gaps of things I half knew, or things that I didn’t know were missing from my knowledge.  Can’t ask for more than that!

I’m still a little confused by the inclusion of Tolkien, but that’s okay, it was a good episode nonetheless.

General negatives: I never did get used to the egregiously repetitive imagery (if I never see Zeus pulling off his hood again, I’ll be thrilled).  I also got rather tired of that crazy howling wind/scream noise that they used as some kind of dramatic effect.  But hey, that’s okay.

The actors and the CGI and all that was fine.  They had to include some kind of footage or else it would just be people talking to us, right?  I wonder where they got the actors?  The women were all quite beautiful. The men were less handsome than I would have expected (but then the male gods were all old, right?).  How did they cast these episodes, I wonder?  Okay Zeus: can you sit in that throne?  Good.  Can you remove your hood? Good. Athena: Can you stare smoldering at the camera?  Good.  I wonder how people tried out for the part of “soul writhing in hell” or whatever it was.

I’m not sure if the “that was the myth, but how does it relate to reality” part was supposed to be the real draw of the show.  Some of it was interesting, some of it was weird, and some of it was just stretching plausibility.  There’s been a lot if discussions below in the comments about the emphasis on Christianity throughout the series.  From a historical point of view I thought it was interesting.  Although there were time when I wasn’t entirely convinced.

It was the professors who really impressed me.  They were consistently informative, and clearly enjoyed what they were talking about.  There were one or two who I would NEVER have wanted in class (their voices were rather sharp) but there were also a few that I would have signed up for multiple times, no question. So thanks to them for doing the show (I know, it was a real drag for them to get out of the classroom and do TV, right).

I’m still trying to find more information about the people involved, but it is cleverly hidden (as is everything else about the show).  What is it with The History Channel’s website?  This is the only professor who I’ve found with a blog: Wormtalk and Slugspeak.  And he tells some interesting details about doing the show.  As for the rest, well, you’ll have to watch the episode and write down their names, apparently.

I’ll give a special shout out to the professor at Rutgers, since she’s just down the street, but i don’t remember her name.

[UPDATE: October 26, 2009]

See bottom for comments on final two episodes that i watched: Thor and Medusa (which I missed the first time around).

[UPDATE: October 15, 2009]

See bottom for comments about Beowulf and Tolkien.  (I haven’t watched Thor yet).

[UPDATE: September 28, 2009]

See bottom for comments about the Odyssey episodes.

[UPDATE: September 21, 2009]

I’ve been getting a number of hits here with people looking for the Clash of the Gods narrator.  So, his name is Stan Bernard.  He was also the narrator for Zero Hour and MonsterQuest as well as a few other things.  I’ve not seen anything else he’s done.

[UPDATE: September 2, 2009]

See bottom for reviews of 2 more episodes]

[WATCHED: August-October 2009]

I don’t normally review TV shows.  There’s just too much to keep up with.  But I’m making an exception in this case.

I had heard about this show on a public radio program.  The host was talking to some of the guys who were involved in making it, and it sounded fantastic. (I regret that I don’t know which host or even which radio station, I was driving a rental car and just happened upon the program, I think his name was John, which, frankly doesn’t help at all).

I love Greek mythology, and so did the host of the radio show.  When he said that the series was designed not only for people who are new to the mythology but that it would also give deeper information for those who were familiar with the stories, I has to check it out.

Two episodes have aired so far, Zeus and Hercules.  And the radio announcer was right.  The episodes are good.  They give the general story of the myth and then throw in some uncommon details.  But, perhaps most interestingly, they also include ways in which recent archaeological digs have uncovered information that shows the reality behind the stories.  And, even more interestingly, they discuss how some of the myths not only correspond very well to actual historical events, but also correspond to events from the Bible and other cultures’ mythologies.  So, Noah’s flood, is recounted in Greek mythology as a Zeus destroying the world.  And both are based on what is believed to be a real event in which a volcano erupted and flooded most of the Middle East.  The parallels are uncanny.

The stories (narrated by a frankly uninspired narrator) are interspersed with my favorite part: faculty from various universities (and Scientific American magazine) give their historical insight into the myths.  And they’re all pretty excited about what they’re talking about (and each has his or her own quirky mannerism which is fun to look for–and they were all apparently told to wear black, otherwise it is an amazing sartorial coincidence).

The absolute worst part of the series (and I fear it will continue through all  of the shows since it was in Zeus and Hercules) is the absolutely horrid “reenactment” footage.  It’s bad enough that the footage is kind of lame (even if the blue contacts do “pop” on screen as they said they would in the radio interview).  But they reuse the same footage over and over again in the same episode–heck in the same segments of the same episode.  It is maddening.  Are they really telling us that they couldn’t have had Zeus do something other than sit down heavily on his rocky throne?  (I think they showed that particular scene 6, maybe 7 times).  I realize that if the actor isn’t actually going to speak, there’s not a lot he can do, but come on, show us something else! (more…)

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navigator.jpgSOUNDTRACK: HÜSKER DÜ-Warehouse: Songs and Stories (1987).

husker.jpgMy friend Al, who introduced me to Marillion, also introduced me to Hüsker Dü (go figure). And he did so with this album. I think for big time Hüsker fans, this is something of a sellout, but for me, it is such a great poppy punk record. And it is clearly a lead-in to Bob Mould’s far more commercial solo stuff. I guess what is amazing to me is how it’s a pretty noisy album, and yet it was considered a sellout. By today’s standards, sure, it’s pretty commercial, but back in 1987, it was still cutting edge.

This album got me to check out the back catalog of Hüsker Dü records on SST. Even the crazy Land Speed Record on Alternative Tentacles (it’s a live record that is basically a blur, 20 minutes of noise, listed as 20 songs or something…a huge leap from that to Warehouse!). Their SST records aren’t recorded very well, which I think is why I don’t listen to them as much. They sound kind of tinny to me. Nevertheless, the song craft is great throughout their catalog.

Warehouse in particular is full of great songs. I hadn’t listened to this record in a while, but when I popped it in, I remembered the whole thing, and could still sing all the choruses, if not the verses. Mould and Grant Hart (what ever happened to him?) seem to be feuding for who could write the catchiest chorus, and as they broke up right after making this, I’m not sure what it says about their songwriting. Again, it’s an amazing departure from their earliest stuff, and man this one rocks!

[READ: October 3, 2007] The Navigator.

I stumbled upon this book when I saw that the author was going to be signing at my local Borders. I didn’t buy it, but I took note of the author (apparently I like to read books by Eoins). (more…)

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arson.jpgSOUNDTRACK: MARILLION-Fugazi (1984).

fugazi.jpgAh, the delights of Marillion. My best friend in high school, Al, got me into Marillion. And he started me off with this record. As such, I can’t imagine how I could realistically critique it. I must have listened to this thing hundreds of times at this point. I also got into the other Marillion albums (until the theatrical madman and lead singer, Fish, departed). I did get one post-Fish album, Season’s End, but didn’t think too much of it. Although I still regard them highly, and anyone who names an album Anoraknaphobia is still alright in my book, I haven’t heard a note of anything post-Season’s End.

Fugazi, on the other hand is still fantastic after all these years. Fish’s lyrics are often bitter, but always eloquent. (more…)

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