Category Archives: Non-Fiction

Music Review – Snow Patrol – Wildness (Album)

On the surface, Snow Patrol seem a bit too easy listening to be on my playlist, but there has always been a dark undertone to their words that resonates with me.

Add to this the fact that not all their songs are quite as slow and melodic – take Starfighter Pilot, Wow or Hands Open – this final one being a song my band used to cover; they have a hard edge which occasionally elbows its way through the mildness.

Which takes us nicely to their newest album, Wildness. Going through the gamut of human existence, the first song, Life on Earth, starts with a family memory which tells that there was snow as high as he was during Gary Lightbody’s first winter, some of my own first memories are of that winter and the way the world looks dressed in white.

Almost a concept album, the word Wildness crops up in a number of the songs and seems indicative of the shape of Lightbody’s current state of mind. This isn’t really surprising as he has been having to cope with the onset and progression of his Father’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. This is laid bare as we head towards the last few tracks in Soon, a song which both breaks your heart and makes you proud to be part of our species.

The overall feeling you get from the album is a call to arms and a directive to take life by the throat, for instance Don’t Give In is an emotional plea to not let life get you down, Heal Me is about being broken but doing it together and A Youth Written In Fire is about having someone believe in you. So it’s not all doom and gloom.

While tracks like Wild Horses and A Dark Switch have hints of Songs For Polar Bears and When It’s All Over We Still Have To Clear Up about them, the overall feeling of this album is closer to the “anthemic” feel that Lightbody was going for when Final Straw and Eyes Open were written. The tracks pummel you with their heartfelt intensity and leave you feeling battered and bruised.

If this album doesn’t win awards for its song writing then there is something wrong with the world.

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Music Review – Alice in Chains – Rainier Fog (Album)

It was recently my birthday – Yay – and one of the things I tend to ask for is new (or old) music, as it’s a luxury I would probably not buy for myself.

This year I felt very lucky to get five albums by four different bands including:

  • Rainier Fog by Alice in Chains
  • Fallen Empires and Wildness by Snow Patrol
  • Dumb Days by Tired Lion
  • Pacific Daydream by Weezer

If you know me at all you probably won’t be too surprised to find out that the first one I listened to all the way through was the latest Alice in Chains release Rainier Fog. And it is exactly what I was hoping for!

As I’ve mentioned before, Alice in Chains started out in the midst of heavy, hairy metal and, if you listen to their first album and some of the unreleased stuff that came to light when Music Bank came out, you can really hear how close they came to skirting Grunge altogether and finding a place among the other Rock heavyweights of the time.

But they chose a different path and became the leaders of a new style which was much darker and, generally, more depressing than their Seattle based compatriots, comprising such cheery topics as drug addiction, depression, war, loneliness and psychological problems, they blazed their own trail through Rock and spurned a host of copycat acts.

This, their sixth studio album, sits alongside their back catalogue, including solo projects and other bands that have come and gone along the way, so snugly that it is hard not to think that you know some of the songs already.

The opening track, The One You Know, starts like a screwdriver to the temple, which is then joined by a marching squadron of zombies. The percussive drumming continues through the verse then the chorus opens up into a wonderful musical field of primroses, sounding a bit like they got confused and mixed up the order of the parts of the song.

After setting the scene they waste no time reaching into their back catalogue with the title track, Rainier Fog, which could have been a recently discovered outtake from Facelift…but with better production.

Red Giant is a slightly different beast, sounding like the bastard child of Metallica and Layne Staley. The harmonies are so dark you need a match to see the lyrics. At the moment this is probably my favourite track on the album!

Fly, however, sounds like Pearl Jam writing a new track for Jar of Flies. Acoustic guitars and a screeching electric solo really take you back to the nineties.

The next track is called Drone, so you can guess what it’s like without too much effort. Bluesy sludge through the verses with a melodic fingerpicked solo reminiscent of Lies by Guns ‘n’ Roses.

We’re back with Lars and the boys for the intro to Deaf Ears Blind Eyes, but then segueing to classic Alice in Chains territory for the chorus with a minor key harmonic piece of introspection.

Maybe hails back to the 1970s and, strangely, sounds like nothing so much as The Mamas and Papas. Jerry and William work beautifully together to produce something which is more than the sum of their voices. In this case though all the trees are not brown, they’re dead!

Dirt is the album that So Far Under would fit most comfortably on, with a chorus which has been pitch bent until it snapped. Antagonistic sounds are smashed together between the verses and choruses, but make the track into something that is difficult to turn your ears away from.

In Never Fade du Vall takes over. Sounding a little like Comes With The Fall, a bit like Giraffe Tongue Orchestra, and a lot like early Alice in Chains and, as is his way, it sounds like a love song or paean in memory of someone you used to know. It’s a bit of a shame they don’t give him more chance to lead, as he’s quite riveting when he does so.

The final track All I Am does the opposite and hands the reigns to Cantrell. It’s slow, it’s introspective. It could have come straight from Degradation Trip and is none the worse for that.

If you’re a fan then you either have it already or are saving up your hard earned pennies/cents to get it as soon as you can, if you’re not then look them up on YouTube and spend some time getting to know what you’re missing, then buy it and find out what it is to be one of the most popular Grunge bands in the world.


Music Review – Bad Moon Born – Chemical Lullabies EP

It’s been a while since I posted one of my old music reviews, so I thought it was about time I got back to it. This is actually the first one to go up since the sad passing of Soundgarden lead singer Chris Cornell, which just makes it worse 😦

Original was on Semplesize, but the site fell to bits a while back so this is the only place to see this now.

 


 

I remember being really excited back in 2001 when I heard Chris Cornell was in the studio with Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk to create something really interesting. When the album came out it wasn’t so much anything new as the singer from Soundgarden doing his thing over the lead and rhythm sections of Rage Against The Machine. Admittedly the three albums were pretty good, but more of an interesting aside than a ground-breaking new genre of music.

Nine years after Audioslave bit the dust, Bad Moon Born are releasing their Chemical Lullabies EP and it’s a shameless and technically less accomplished copy of any of Audioslave’s albums. Frank Lakoudis tries really hard to copy Cornell’s vocal range and presence but falls short most of the time, Voya and Ned Koncar do with two guitars what Tom Morello managed all by himself…without any digital effects, and the drums and bass are just sad imitations of anything by the rock/rap heavyweights.

While this EP isn’t bad, as such, I think your ears would thank you more for searching out things like the Street Sweeper Social Club (Morello’s ongoing collaboration with Boots Riley), The Last Internationale (which Brad Wilk has drummed for on an ad hoc basis), WAKRAT (Tim Commerford’s latest sweary, punky, jazzy explosion) or even the newly reformed Soundgarden (enough said). All four are more interesting than Bad Moon Born’s derivative, middle-of-the-road, decade old sound.

I’ve got better things to do with my time!


Underground, Overground

About 13 years ago I got a job as a team leader for a team of techies at a university.

About one year into this one of the guys was troubleshooting a problem with a user’s calendar and asked me to help out, by giving me full access to his own calendar in Microsoft Outlook.

A week or two later I realised he had forgotten to remove my privileges, and had gone on holiday. I immediately created a recurring event on the second Monday of every second month which simply said:

“Remember you’re a Womble.”

I then removed my access but also sent out an invite from my own account to the rest of my technicians for the same date every two months, to tell him that he is a Womble – all of them accepted without questioning what on Earth planet I was on (I loved that team).

Because of the way Outlook works, after I removed my privileges, he wasn’t able to delete the reminder. Oops!

It is now about twelve years later, he left my team about six months after this incident and we kind of lost touch a bit (you know, work, etc.) even though we were still in the same department. Since then I have moved jobs, and emigrated to Australia.

When I checked my phone after getting on the train to work this morning the self-same techie had tagged me in a post on Facebook. I wondered what it could be. The post had four words in it. Can you guess what they were?

It turns out he still gets bi-monthly reminders that he is a Womble. I suspect he will do until he leaves the university, although it is one of those kind of places where you can have a job for life!

I’m hoping he stays for many years yet, moving up the echelons, eventually reaching some kind of senior management role…and keeps getting reminded that he is, indeed, a small, litter-collecting, sentient mammal who lives on Wimbledon Common!!!


Read ‘Em And Weep

Anyone who is friends with me on Facebook, follows me on Twitter or, unlikely as it seems, occasionally looks at my Google+ account, will know that for the past two years or so I have been undertaking a reading marathon of Pratchett proportions.

I started with The Colour of Magic and continued with all 41 Discworld novels, as well as the maps, cookbooks, tourist guides, kids books and short story collections. After this I started on the non-Discworld books – Strata, The Dark Side of the Sun, the Bromeliad trilogy, the Johnny Maxwell books, etc.

The reason for this single-minded readathon are numerous, I tend to reread my Pratchett collection every few years anyway, but after his untimely death in 2015 I couldn’t bring myself to pick up a book by any other author.

I assumed this feeling would pass but several months later I was still in the same mood, a year later I felt the same, two years later and I was still in my reading rut.

Seemingly unrelated, about two months ago we got notice that our landlord wanted their house back, which was a bit inconvenient because we were just in the middle of trying to find somewhere of our own to buy. Scroll on to about a week ago and the house is full of boxes as we get ready to move to a new rental. I was packing up my Pratchett collection (shudder) and amongst them I found my Kindle, untouched since I picked up The Colour of Magic.

I wasn’t sure what to do with it so I left it on top of my drawers in our bedroom. Then, last Sunday night I was getting my stuff ready for work the next day and thought “why the hell not” and slipped the e-reader into my bag.

When I arrived at the train station on Monday morning I got it out and started reading (American Gods by Neil Gaiman, if you must know!), and have been doing so on every journey to work and back since. It seems my reading mojo has returned and, with it, my brain has also fallen off a deep precepice into the icy waters of “I Have To Write” again.

Ideas are sloshing around inside my head like a particularly spectacular Formula One pile up and my fingers are itching to type. But what to do first?

I’ve been working on a few things, slowly, for the past few months, a Discworld fan-fiction piece about Rincewind; a comedy fantasy novel about a vampire; a biography about my life as a type one diabetic; a kids book I’ve been working on for a couple of years now.

All these conflicting stories are arguing for precedence, so what I’m going to do is…go to sleep! Life is complicated enough at the moment without worrying about what and when to write, so I just need to put digits to keyboard whenever I get the chance.

Wish me luck!


The Glorious 25th

Just a quick post in my lunch break today, If you were drawn here by the title then you already know what I’m talking about.

If not, suffice to say, it’s a reference to a series of events as outlined in Night Watch, one of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. It’s a much darker story than many of his other books and recounts a few days around the 25th of May, 1957, 30 years before the present time (in the book’s timeline).

There are many places you can find out about what happened, but this is a good place to start.

In some ways it seems ridiculous to memorialise something that didn’t really happen, but many religions have survived this way for thousands of years, so if a bunch of Discworld fans want to make the world a better place because of some fantastical fictional events then I say, good luck to them (us!!!).

For my part this year, I have created the following image:

25th

However there are many ways to help raise awareness of the plight of the people who lost their fictional lives that day, and if you are a bit tech savvy, then you can take a look here (although the GNU Clacks codes are actually taken from a much later time in Discworld history, but as we’re all friends I figured that doesn’t really matter!).

Anyway, for those of you who want to remember the Glorious People’s Revolution of Treacle mine road, and those who made it into a lot less of a massacre, I salute you comrades.

#GNUCecilClapman

#GNUNedCoates

#GNUDaiDickins

#GNUJohnKeel

#GNUHoraceNancyball

#GNUTerryPratchett

#GNURegShoe (Temp)

#GNUBillyWiglet


Chris Cornell – 20/07/1964 – 18/05/2017

Update: I wrote this before I heard the circumstances of Chris’s death and considered altering it to make it feel a little more sensitive, however I think that depression is often not faced head on and, although my eulogy below doesn’t specifically talk about Cornell’s mental illness, I am going to leave it as I wrote it and let you find your own meanings in his words!


When I was a teenager I taught myself to sing by turning my stereo up loud and joining in. This is how I got to know Soundgarden, and Chris Cornell so well.

That was the 90s, around 25 years ago. Today I don’t sing so much but I still listen to many of the bands I picked up through my teenage years – Soundgarden included. Their most recent album, a bit of a surprise when it was announced because they hadn’t released anything for 16 years, was King Animal. There was nothing particularly surprising about it, it was still very definitely Soundgarden, but with more experience and insight into the workings of the modern world.

My favourite track from the album is Black Saturday, an incredible journey through old age and euthanasia, a subject which has been on my mind since Terry Pratchett covered it so eloquently in his documentary Choosing to Die. Sadly now, though, this is something that Chris Cornell will never have to consider.

Promise something,
Kill me right away if I start to get slow
And don’t remember
How to separate the worm from the apple
Don’t wait ’til tomorrow,
Kill me right away if I start to listen
To the voices
Telling all the mouths what they need to swallow

The thing I always found impressive about his lyrics was the way he managed to take everyday phrases and twist them round to make them mean something completely different, or nonsensical. For instance, in Superunknown he faced psychological issues head on.

If you don’t want to be seen
Well you don’t have to hide
And if you don’t want to believe
Well you don’t have to try

Which resonated with 17 year old me in a way I couldn’t quite put into words myself.

Now, as a forty-something year old man, I still listen to Soundgarden for their incredible guitar riffs, clever use of words, unusual time signatures and rip-roaring solos, but after today the songs will take on a new meaning for me and fire off memories of another talented life cut short and sorely missed.

Apologies if this isn’t the most coherent eulogy, but because the songs are so closely intertwined with my persona I find it difficult to untangle my feelings and thoughts.

I’ll leave you with a song of my own, one I’ve talked about before and the one, I think, in which I came closest to equaling Chris Cornell’s use of language.

Open

Open your mind,
What do you see?
Place your head in your hands,
And give it to me

Open your eyes,
What do you feel?
How can I show you,
That my love for you is real

Open your hands,
What do you know?
My deepest desires have chosen,
Now to show

Open your heart,
What do you say?
We cannot take it back now,
Come what may

Open your mouth,
How could you tell?
I took you to heaven,
And now we’re going to hell

Take my love and wrap it around,
Together we’ll get high but then we’ll come down,
You can take my world apart,
Or when life’s left we can try and start again

Open your mind,
What do you see?
Place your head in your hands,
And give it to me

Open your eyes,
What do you feel?
Now more than ever,
My love for you is real

Open your hands,
What do you know?
My deepest desires have chosen,
Now to show

Open your heart,
What do you say?
We’re going to be together,
Come what may

Open your mouth,
How could you tell?
I took you to heaven,
And now we’re going to hell

Take my love and wrap it around,
Together we’ll get high but then we’ll come down,
I can take your world apart,
Or when life’s left we can try and start again

Take my love and wrap it around,
Together we’ll get high but then we’ll come down,
You can take my world apart,
Or when life’s left we can try and start again