Monthly Archives: August 2021

XL Popcorn – The Crying Game

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 899/1009Title: The Crying Game
Director: Neil Jordan
Year: 1992
Country: UK

I wish that I did not have the big reveal surrounding Dil spoiled for me by the episode of Father Ted where the priests are forced to protest at the cinema. I think that is the only place in pop culture where I have seen this particular part of The Crying Game mentioned and it really robbed me of a chance to watch this movie a second time with the more up to date information. Like I don’t think three years is long enough to spoil a movie that, at that point, will have not has it’s terrestrial television premiere.

Okay, getting that annoyance out of my way, I will not reach into that spoiler… even if it does tie me in a few knots as it doesn’t allow me to discuss some of the interesting character details and why Jaye Davidson’s performance as Dil felt so ground-breaking and well done for a film released in 1992. Like just watch it and you’ll see what I mean and why their retirement from acting after just two roles is a shame. At least they can say that they received Oscar nominations for half of their roles – that’s super cool.

The Crying Game is such a well done erotic thriller that is not afraid to throw a few curveballs your way. One of these was spoiled for me, the other was not – although it should have been now I think more about it. We start in a hostage situation in Northern Ireland where Forest Whitaker (with a questionable accent) has been kidnapped by the IRA. We end up in London where one of the kidnappers has gone to find the kidnappee’s girlfriend… only to fall in love with her and all the complications that result.

So the next film is going to be the 900th that I have crossed off the current iteration of the 1001 films list. Due to the weird shared entries, I still have to wait until film 910 before I actually hit the major landmark… which means that there is still some time for me to plan the final film I watch before I enter the double digits territory.

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Acclaimed Albums – Pink Moon by Nick Drake

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 312/1000
Title: Pink Moon
Artist: Nick Drake
Year: 1972

Three years ago, I listened to the first of three albums before Nick Drake died at the tender age of 26. When I first listened to him, I was that much closer to age that he died, now I am older it really hits more just how young he actually was.

Since my husband is doing his own album challenge, using the 1001 Albums book, I am leap-frogging over Drake’s second album Bryter Layter in order to listen to Pink Moon. After his previous albums didn’t take off commercially, this was an album that I am amazed was actually produced. Especially back in the 1970s when you couldn’t just self-release on a Soundcloud. Guess he did well enough for them to give it another punt.

Unlike the well-produced Five Leaves Left, Pink Moon is just Drake and his guitar – making for a more intimate sounding album. Seeing that he was also further along in his mental illness, and not taking his antidepressants because of interactions with the marijuana he smoked – the content and feeling of this album is further alone into his decline. I guess the second album will see a mid-point between the two.

That is not to say that this album destroys you like A Crow Looked At Me. The depressiveness is there, but it’s almost cozy. My husband referred to it as a depression blanket, and that’s pretty much a perfect way to describe it. It’s more a chilled out folk album with a pronounced melancholy slant (much like some songs from Bonny Light Horseman or Sufjan Steven’s Seven Swans) which makes it perfect as a mellow backing music for a lot of my coding work when I just want to go with the flow rather than power through.

🎻♫♪ – String Quartets, op. 18 by Ludwig van Beethoven

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
104/501Title: String Quartets, op. 18
Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
Nationality: German
Year:
1800

Today at work was a weird one. A meeting all afternoon where, to be honest, I just wanted to snooze and a morning where I could just jet on with the part of my work that I actually really enjoy. So, obviously, it was this morning where I let loose the dogs of classical music for a two and a half hour blitz of Beethoven string quartets.

This is the first of two sets of string quartets that appear on the 1001 classical pieces list. Written across a few years, these were written for an early(ish) commission of his. It’s hard to really talk and differentiate between these quartets because I listened to all of them in succession and they all sounded similar enough that nothing particularly stood out other than making me feel rather intelligent. 

Having the morning time with my classical music and my happy working times really was a contrast with the three and a half hour mandatory afternoon ‘training’ session that… was pretty much useless. Made me miss my moments of grandeur as I sent e-mails off with a flourish of strings. I also wrote most of this blog during that meeting. God I was bored.

Graphic Content – Happy Hooligan

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
96/501Title: Happy Hooligan
Creator(s):
Frederick Burr Opper
Year: 1900-1932
Country: USA

Happy Hooligan is one of those major influential comics from the early days of comic strip syndication. I had never read one before covering it for the list, but I had somehow heard of it through sheer cultural osmosis. For the purposes of this, I found a collection that someone had grouped together online so am not entirely sure if it was perfectly representative of the strip as a whole – however having read a few descriptions I think I got the jist.

Pretty much every strip I read sees out main character as a happy-go-lucky homeless person that tries to help someone only for it to go hideously wrong and end up being arrested. That’s it. Sometimes there is a bit of variation on the theme, like he gets away or he is punished for something he had no part of, but that’s it. After reading 30-40 of these strips where it is near the same every time, just with a change of situation, things get a bit tired.

That’s also not to mention the casual racism that would occur in every 5-6 strips with exaggerated depictions of African-Americans or, rarely, people of Chinese descent. The first strip I read featured the big-lipped caricature and it really gave me that sick feeling deep down that this would be par for the course. I wish I could say it was an outlier – but this was the early 20th century… so not at all really.

At least this was a quick crossing off, meaning I can finish the work week with a bit more Hellboy before selecting the next comic. Please let it be nothing with racism. Please.

Acclaimed Albums – Live At The Regal by B.B. King

Like I mentioned with the switch over to the Top 1000 list, there are a number of older albums that I listened to as part of a previous blog. This was back in 2009 … and I think my views on music have changed somewhat.

After today, I will have caught up. Cannot believe how much I used to write…

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 311/1000
Title: Live At The Regal
Artist: B.B. King
Year: 1965

Never have I had to listen to an album so much before I started writing a review. This isn’t me putting an early slight on B.B. King’s Live At The Regal but just a comment on how recently I have been doing all my reviews after midnight and this time I just had to say to myself ‘no this is stupid, just do it tomorrow morning’. So that is what I did, but there were first some other tasks that needed performing like washing up and having the remains of last night’s Chinese take away for breakfast. But at least I have listened to this album enough to have an opinion and an awake opinion at that.

Blues is a genre that has begun to be featured on this list with increasing frequency but because of the way that it is arranged it is becoming hard to figure out who in this genre influenced another. I say this because B.B. King is one of those names that I actually knew previously to be a big name in the blues but has an album 4-5 years after Muddy Waters, another name that is associated with the same genre. So I guess I need to see how these two albums match up as I am finding myself with a case of writer’s block here.

Well, I like them both. That’s a good start. With B.B. King there are some amazingly masterful solos on his electric guitar with the wailing reverberating around the venue, yes it’s a live album. The use of these electric instruments is definitely a new occurrence on the list, with the first album really showcasing them being Bringing It All Back HomeAs an artist it really does need to be pointed out that B.B. King has the whole package, he has a powerful voice, can play the guitar like a virtuoso, can write his own material and has such charisma that you can hear him whip the audience into some sort of frenzy. This is actually the first time since Sarah Vaughn’s At Mister Kelly’s where I found myself looking forward to the audience interactions as what has been captured on vinyl/CD/mp3 must inevitably lack some of the effect it would have live, so it’s perfectly understandable how he got everyone to scream his name.

Another major plus point has to be directed at the length of this album. Like with yesterday’s review for A Love Supreme the length is so perfect that you can actually give this album the time to hear from start to end multiple times. The songs are short and punchy so it doesn’t venture into dullness and punctuated with falsetto on tracks like ‘Worry, Worry’, something I can always appreciate. So with such a glittering review of this album what is the catch? Well there really isn’t one. This is without a doubt the best blues album that I have probably ever heard. Maybe an album will arrive in my lap that’ll make me say otherwise, it is not beyond the realms of possibility, but for now it has that ‘honour’.

So that makes this a best of the genre album and yet it doesn’t get a perfect rating from me like Sam Cooke, Dusty Springfield and Jerry Lee Lewis have. The reason for this is probably a bit of a cop-out but in the end a blues album is not one that I would automatically place high on a list of preference. This is still an amazing album and, alongside Muddy Waters, has really changed my opinion on how good the blues can be which is in itself rather impressive.

So, if you are feeling adventurous or like the blues you would be a fool to give this a miss.

Acclaimed Albums – The Beach Boys Today! by The Beach Boys

Like I mentioned with the switch over to the Top 1000 list, there are a number of older albums that I listened to as part of a previous blog. This was back in 2009 … and I think my views on music have changed somewhat. Or maybe not, but hey it’s good to keep crossing these off so for these three weeks will be playing a game of catch-up.

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 310/1000
Title: The Beach Boys Today!
Artist: The Beach Boys
Year: 1965

This is a band who I have previously defended to the hilt in a random drunken argument in a Micklegate chip shop as one of the big influences to come out of the sixties, alongside The Beatles and (if this argument occurred now) The Rolling Stones. It was one of those standard arguments, the guy said that all this music was terrible, then I chimed in saying how Queen, his favourite band, wouldn’t have made the music that they made. This of course a bit of aggravation on his part but it’s a truism that I maintain to this day.

I will be the first to admit that for my third term in university I had a bit of a love affair with Pet Sounds and yet I never really gave any of their albums a proper go. Thus I commenced my listening to Today! with complete gusto and the pay-off was almost immediate as I leapt into the happy summer half of the album that sets your soul alight. What The Beach Boys knew how to do very well was how to use harmony for the ultimate emotional expression. It doesn’t matter whether it is upbeat or a ballad they still know how to use their collective voices to just inspire that immediate connection that a lot of artists somehow miss out on.

The highlight of the upbeat first half is ‘Help Me, Ronda’ and is a perfect example of when I say that Today! is the first album that makes me really feel like I am actually in the sixties. This is very apparent on the track ‘Don’t Hurt My Little Sister’ through the use of the lyrics “you know she digs you and thinks you’re a real groovy guy”. So sixties that it makes me want to watch re-runs of The Banana Splits, while obviously whizzing through the cartoons. Then there is the amazing ‘Dance, Dance, Dance’ which is a complete throwback to their first hit single ‘Surfin’ USA’ and not in a bad way.

Only The Beach Boys could succeed here in making you not feel just happy but also feeling rather groovy. Then we have the second ballad filled half, a half that I usually dread, but somehow they pull it off. In all of these you can see the seeds that have been sown for the forthcoming ‘God Only Knows’, which will rear it’s head soon. It is also here that I heard a very clear influence here on the early works of Of Montreal. My favourite of the ballads is without-a-doubt She Knows Me Too Well, and not just because it reminds me of Of Montreal’s ‘Eros’ Entropic Tundra’.

This is a bit besides the point, sorry, but I do love trying to find the routes that musical evolution has taken. Don’t get me wrong this isn’t Pet Sounds but frankly what really is anything like Pet SoundsToday! serves as a brilliant introduction as to what The Beach Boys were, musical pioneers. The lush production that you see on here and on all their albums are unlike anything I have heard up till now on this list and these techniques will be used ad nausea for now it is seen as the norm. Brian Wilson is a genius and this album is a testament to that

Acclaimed Albums – Here Are The Sonics by The Sonics

Like I mentioned with the switch over to the Top 1000 list, there are a number of older albums that I listened to as part of a previous blog. This was back in 2009 … and I think my views on music have changed somewhat. Or maybe not, but hey it’s good to keep crossing these off so for these three weeks will be playing a game of catch-up.

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 309/1000
Title: Here Are The Sonics
Artist: The Sonics
Year: 1965

Let’s have a quick recap of the genres that have been covered so far. In no particular order we have had: jazz, blues, r&b, rock n’ roll, soul, pop, bossa nova, African music, folk, country and chanson. Not too bad a selection so far bearing in mind that not even 50 albums have yet reviewed, with the landmark occurring tomorrow. I like to think that through the meandering through these different genres, whether they be live or not, that I have been fair to each and every album without being that prejudiced.

With that in mind it is time to add one more genre to the list with Here Are The Sonics being the first true punk album on the list. When most people think of punk, myself included, it is hard not to first envisage the contorted face of John Lydon as he screams along to ‘Anarchy In The U.K’. Either that or the punk-pop, in the forms of Green Day and Sum 41, that pepper the airwaves. Well all of these acts have The Sonics to thank for the birth of punk, an act who went quickly into obscurity.

Punk isn’t a genre I can usually savour, Green Day’s American Idiot is usually as far as I go and that really isn’t punk, and I will also grant you that Here Are The Sonics isn’t true punk either. However, what we have here is what is referred to as protopunk meaning that these are the roots from which all future punk, whether it be Patti Smith or Blink-182, are derived from. As such this contains many elements of contemporary music, including many covers of rock n’ roll and blues standards, but the arrangements are now different. The music is louder, the lead singer screams, the drumming is primal and the guitars are almost turned up to 11.

What The Sonics have here is the makings of a very good album, the thing that lets it down are the covers, with some of these songs such as ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, ‘Money’ and ‘Good Golly, Miss Molly’ having all been on a few previous albums. While the first two of these aren’t songs I particularly like I can say with ease that their transition to protopunk isn’t an easy one with these covers sounding flat and uninspired. I draw special attention to ‘Walkin’ The Dog’ where the incessant whistling got very old very quickly.

The real strength of the album lies entrenched in the original material, a particular favourite of mine being ‘Strychnine’. These are the songs where The Sonics are truly able to express their abilities as a band. These songs are bizarre and allow for the animalistic parts of the band to come out to shine. The opener of ‘The Witch’ is a fantastic example of this random guitar solos, screams and all.

Personally, an album that greater embraced this primal side of the band without having to please the record company with the more mundane covers would have been greater appreciated. This is a band that really showed such great potential but with members running off to university this band died an early death which is a real shame. I guess I shall have to find solace in the punk children that I will encounter.

Acclaimed Albums – Live At The Star Club, Hamburg by Jerry Lee Lewis

Like I mentioned with the switch over to the Top 1000 list, there are a number of older albums that I listened to as part of a previous blog. This was back in 2009 … and I think my views on music have changed somewhat. Or maybe not, but hey it’s good to keep crossing these off so for these three weeks will be playing a game of catch-up.

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 308/1000
Title: Live At The Star Club, Hamburg
Artist: Jerry Lee Lewis
Year: 1964

For the purposes of this review I would like you to use your imagination to put yourself in the shoes of Mr. Jerry Lee Lewis. This is just a little exercise in creative thinking that I would like to do. Right, your career is in tatters since you married your 13 year-old cousin and you have been essentially black-listed on the radio in your native country of America with your tour dates in Britain all being cancelled right before your eyes. Ok, while it can be appreciated that this is a very unusual set of circumstances this is exactly what happened to today’s artist. So what did he do? He went underground and made a highly influential live album.

His voice may sound like a more countrified Elvis but make no mistake ladies and gentlemen, what we have here is the second true rock n’ roll album on this list. This may be a big claim seeing that this is a genre that has appeared years ago in the guises of Elvis Presley and The ‘Chirpin’ Crickets but this is one I will stand by completely. Which was the other album I hear you ask? Well that honour belongs to none other than Here’s Little Richard which I reviewed well over a month ago. But why is Live At The Star Club, Hamburg a true rock n’ roll album while the first two I mentioned are simply pale imitations?

Well this is a relentless live rock n’ roll extravaganza that immediately grabs your attention, shakes you around, might steal your wallet, place you back down and then makes you beg for more. There is no point during this album where you are not in awe of the amazing piano-playing and general performance ability of Jerry Lee Lewis, as the voice is where the similarities to Elvis end. That and the fact that he tries his hand at some Elvis standards such as ‘Hound Dog’ where he not only raises the bar but well and truly shows how this should be done.

As most of my reviews may have stipulated it is when albums go saccharin that I lose interest and start barraging my laptop with insults (see: Elvis Is Back!). But none of these qualms plague this album, in fact the almost complete absence of ballads is probably where Live At The Star Club, Hamburg derives it’s greatest strength for there is no real point where the momentum comes to a crashing halt. In fact this momentum just carries on throughout the entire run through the album leaving the listener breathless, so lord knows how either the audience, Jerry Lee Lewis or his backing band The Nashville Teens were able to cope with it.

If I were to pick out the highlight tracks of this album I think that the honour falls to the first two tracks of both vinyl sides. All four of these tracks (‘Mean Woman Blues’, ‘High School Confidential’, ‘Great Balls of Fire’ and ‘Good Golly, Miss Molly’) summarise brilliantly why this album succeeds, fire. There is such a passion in the performance of Jerry Lee Lewis that this has now eclipsed that of Sam Cooke’s Live At The Harlem Square Club who I was highly phrasing not too long ago. Don’t feel too bad for Sam Cooke for this quick taking for the crown for he was all too quick to grab the highest rated album title from Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift For You.

I may be talking around in circles, I blame my cold, but this album is really that good. May in fact be the best live album that I have ever encountered. Maybe I am getting softer on the ratings as I go along, or maybe the albums really are getting better. As after a long list of albums where none have been given a full rating here is the third one in a short spate of time to garner such a rating. This is well worth it. It makes you want to dance even when you have a horrid cold that makes you dream about being stranded at an airport. I should know, that’s my current position.

Acclaimed Albums – The Rolling Stones by The Rolling Stones

Like I mentioned with the switch over to the Top 1000 list, there are a number of older albums that I listened to as part of a previous blog. This was back in 2009 … and I think my views on music have changed somewhat. Or maybe not, but hey it’s good to keep crossing these off so for these three weeks will be playing a game of catch-up.

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 307/1000
Title: The Rolling Stones
Artist: The Rolling Stones
Year: 1964

On this list as a whole it is interesting to note the sheer volume of debut albums. So what is really that special about the debut albums? In some cases, such as PJ Harvey’s Dry, it is an album that is composed of tried and tested material that have been shown to gain the rapture of the crowd and so have earned their place. In other cases, such as Britney Spears’ …Baby One More Time, the album marks the start of an icon and as such it is included for the sake of posterity and as a means to gaze back at the origins of an artist. In the case of the debut album of the Rolling Stones, with the ever creative eponymous name, I do believe that a little bit of both may be in operation.

Coming from such a modern perspective and with very little knowledge of The Rolling Stones the type of album that this turned out to be was a great surprise. While I am obviously aware that you can not immediately go from the music of The Everly Brothers to ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ in one fell swoop the different genre that was present on The Rolling Stones was astounding. While it is true that there are many remnants of sixties style rock n’ roll here the dominant feature here are blues covers.

The reason for all these blues covers? Well this was material that had worked for them on the road and it does make some modicum of sense for the album to be as such. Also there were some apparent insecurities when it came to when it came to the quality of the Stones’ self-penned songs, although three of them managed to make their ways onto the album. In my head one of the major reasons that The Rolling Stones made it onto the list is the icon-factor. When I judge this in relation to other albums that I have encountered thus far, especially the blues ones, there is definitely a progression in sound. The blues covers on here are louder, rawer and far more aggressive than any of the rock ‘n roll songs thus far. In such a way this album has already earned the kudos that should be required to be put on this list. But in the wake of such experimentation how does the album sound? The old cliché hit and miss appears to be the best way to describe this album.

There are occasions where this different approach works, with the opener ‘Route 66′ and ‘Little By Little’ being examples of this. However these are almost in complete balance with songs such as ‘I Just Want To Make Love To You’ where the attempt to sound revolutionary just sounds clumsy and a bit of a mess. When rating this album I can not take into account how influential their later material is. As such this is, according to my scale, deserving of a middling rating. Also to take into account are that there are many sparks of what is to come on here, in the end they will just home their craft and I am sure that the next album of theirs that I have to review, Aftermath, will be a far better one which will garner a higher rating.

Acclaimed Albums – Getz/Gilberto by Stan Getz and João Gilberto

Like I mentioned with the switch over to the Top 1000 list, there are a number of older albums that I listened to as part of a previous blog. This was back in 2009 … and I think my views on music have changed somewhat. Or maybe not, but hey it’s good to keep crossing these off so for these three weeks will be playing a game of catch-up.

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 306/1000
Title: The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady
Artist: Charles Mingus
Year: 1963

Stan Getz is back once again and has this time teamed up with guitarist João Gilberto to produce Getz/Gilberto, which incidentally is the first of many Grammy Award winning albums to be featured on this list. So, what has changed in the year between Jazz Samba and Getz/Gilberto. The addition of vocals is the major difference here with there also being a change in the line-up. Still, no matter how many line-up changes the big noticeable difference is that suddenly the saxophone has taken up it’s proper position in bossa nova as accompaniment and allows João Gilberto to sing these songs as they were meant to be sung.

Also deserving of mention are the vocals of João’s then wife Astrud who, having only appeared twice, really stolen the show. Her vocals may not be accomplished or polished in any way but her breathy and accented singing in ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ act as the albums true highlight. Another major improvement are that the tracks feel less improvised. While jazz connoisseurs may not appreciate this it is far more preferable from where I am sitting.

True these tracks may feel far more restrained than on Getz/Gilberto but for me this is a definite improvement. In the end this more traditional approach is far more suited to the bossa nova style with the delicate arrangements and simple vocals flowing with a smooth rhythm. This aids to accentuate the heartfelt elements far more than any saxophone solos ever could. So what is the downside of this album? While the music is beautiful and the vocals are perfectly matched it feels a little bit too laid back for it’s own good.

Getz/Gilberto is one of those albums that makes for brilliant background music while you are doing something else but not particularly for the sake of listening to it. There are plenty of other albums that I would end up choosing ahead of Getz/Gilberto if I was bored and in the mood for music. That is, in the end, a deal-breaker. (The exception to this is ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ which I would happily listen to at any point, not just if I was in the mood for a bossa nova backdrop as I make dinner).