Archive for December, 2008

GREGORY HOSKINS

23 December 2008

[Picture of Gregory Hoskins playing guitar]Whenever I hear Gregory Hoskins’sNever a Stranger Kiss” I relax, sure in the knowledge that talent and creativity are not dead, that TV reality show singing competitions have not killed every other outlet and opportunity.

embedded video:

Sit back and just let Gregory Hoskins open his soul to you.  It’s superb — gripping, chilling — and the rest. The guy can sing and hit the spot too. Hit “Play”, do it!

Maaan, I can seriously sympathise with him in that I have years of unfinished and unpolished songs, tunes and arrangement ideas.  The bridge is always a fuss if it doesn’t just come along with the birth. Then again, I have some that need choruses, intros and more verses! Oy!  I think he’s worked it out beautifully on this one, don’t you?

I like the vibe he sets up — I have enjoyed a lot of salsa, mambo,  guaguancó, rumba, punto, and son for quite a few years, probably as a result of studying Al di Meola’s stuff way back in the 1970s! LOL! Later, I got “into” Bal-Musette and even electric/ modern tango, like The Gotan Project.  I really like that he gives his song some of that flavour; it adds a lot, it evokes that whole decadent insalubriousness mood!

You can buy his album, “The Beggar Heart” from Amazon.co.uk right now for buttons. Greg is the best thing out of Canada for years! This is one chap I would definitely go to see live should he ever tour the northern wastes of the UK!

As I may just have whet an appetite, I had better do my web-duty and provide some links! The first one is obvious: www.gregoryhoskins.com/, then this is a nice link:  www.comevisit.com/vezco/festival/hoskins.html.

Finally, the record company — the fabulous Candyrat Records (what would the world be like without them?). Enjoy!

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THE KISS

22 December 2008

[Brassy, rectangular repro of The Kiss by Klimt]Gustav Klimt’s most famous work has to be  “The Kiss”. The first weird thing about this work is that it is square, but it is almost always reproduced rectangularly — and in a variety of garish colours!

Klimt used oil paint and gold leaf on canvas, and did the work around about 1907.  As I said, it is square, but it is also massive, 1800mm each side.  This means that the figures are slightly larger than life size, and the action (the kiss) is slightly above the viewer’s eye level.  It is a shimmering golden thing — and not at all yellow, brassy or as garish as some reproductions would suggest.

[Picture of The Kiss by Gustav Klimt]

For it’s sheer size, the detail is extraordinary, and together with the gold leaf, one cannot help but to draw comparisons with Cimabue.

Yet it is not a religious work, though it uses much of that language and culture.  It is not a classical work, yet it reminds one of Roman mosaics. There is the pagan or Greek flower garlands in the hair, he seems southern European while she seems northern (a redhead with pale skin). Somehow, though, it is still “modern” while being Celtic and having a tribal primitiveness about it. Heck, it even reminds one of the Pre-Raphaelites!

It is far too big to be considered a domestic or private work — therefore it must always have been intended as a large public work of art — but, not being religious or classical, it could only have been intended for the gallery or the corporate foyer.

For being called “The Kiss”, the depiction is such a small percentage of the whole, in fact there is very little flesh on display, very little humanity.  It is an awkward composition, a strange pose, but somehow this painting works.

This is not a violent act, an act of dominance or submission, even though she is kneeling and barefooted.  Her arm around his neck tells that story. This is not the kiss of a relative, a greeting or bidding by a friend or acquaintance.  This is the kiss of a lover — even though it is not on the lips or neck; the hands give that away —  but is it a farewell?  It is parting for ever or for a short while?  Is it, on the other hand the prelude to delicious intimacy?  I personally do not believe that this is an allegorical depiction of betrayal, death or sickness; it is too seductively golden. I once thought it may be of Violetta, that she is sick and dying.  This is the thing with this work — it is difficult to determine from the clues of the background and surrounds.  Is her extremely randomly patterned dress worn off the shoulder, or is this a moment captured — dressing or undressing? I guess Klimt wanted all this to remain a personal interpretation, an ambivalence. I like that one can change one’s mind over the years.

You can make out his robe, the belt banding and his sleeve, but there does seem to be a strange halo surrounding them both that cannot be explained in terms of clothing or fabric, even though it has swirly patterns. The base patterns can be a blanket or a meadow — but the surround seems to be grainy sand. Is it all down to flattened perspectives?

It is memorable, it is remarkable.  It shines, and reflects light onto the faces of the viewers standing in front of its majesty.  This is not a painting as much as an experience.  It lives on after seeing it, burned into the eyes.  It leaves a taste — a trace, a kiss.

It may or may not be typical of the artist, it may or may not have a story or hidden meaning — but none of that matters; the work can stand iconically and recognisably on its own.  Once seen, never forgotten, just like a first kiss, and like the wrapped, golden embrace, it is always a warm and welcome memory.  Wonderful.

I first came across this work in my teens (it was a poster on a girlfriend’s bedroom wall), and I initially didn’t like it; it was too flat, too much, too unbalanced and shapeless, but I recognised it immediately as being of itself, a thing with an identity and personality of its own apart from the artist and its contexts, and that drew me back to it again and again over the years. It’s sui generis. I see it now as the massive golden light source it was intended to be (as opposed to the teatowel or jigsaw puzzle reproduction)! This must really be something to be at in the flesh, what an experience.

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THE VANITY OF HUMAN WISHES

22 December 2008

This fantastic poem was written by Samuel Johnson in 1749 actually at the same time as he was working on “A Dictionary of the English Language”  (which is quite a feat, I would imagine).

The full title is “The Vanity of Human Wishes: The Tenth Satire of Juvenal Imitated“, and while both poems centre on human futility and humanity’s quest after greatness, Johnson departs from Classical Juvenal by stressing philosophy over politics, sympathising with people, and concluding that Christian values are important to living properly.

On the old “Freeserve” site (from which I am migrating everything slowly), I used a short portion, but here, I have decided to use the whole poem in all its heroic couplet filled magnificence.

I had to study this work intently for months and submit an essay on it way back in the 80s or 90s for some course or other.  I have to say that I grew rather fond of the old thing; it’s simply wonderful! My natural empathy was bolstered, as were my thoughts on how one ought to try to be. If you like and understand poetry, if you enjoy language, if you look past the basic and simple, and do not mind a challenge, you will be rewarded by careful consideration of the following work of art.

Let Observation with extensive View,
Survey Mankind, from China to Peru;
Remark each anxious Toil, each eager Strife,
And watch the busy Scenes of crouded Life;
Then say how Hope and Fear, Desire and Hate,
O’er spread with Snares the clouded Maze of Fate,
Where wav’ring Man, betray’d by vent’rous Pride,
To tread the dreary Paths without a Guide;
As treach’rous Phantoms in the Mist delude,
Shuns fancied Ills, or chases airy Good.
How rarely Reason guides the stubborn Choice,
Rules the bold Hand, or prompts the suppliant Voice,
How Nations sink, by darling Schemes oppres’d,
When Vengeance listens to the Fool’s Request.
Fate wings with ev’ry Wish th’ afflictive Dart,
Each Gift of Nature, and each Grace of Art,
With fatal Heat impetuous Courage glows,
With fatal Sweetness Elocution flows,
Impeachment stops the Speaker’s pow’rful Breath,
And restless Fire precipitates on Death.

But scarce observ’d the Knowing and the Bold,
Fall in the gen’ral Massacre of Gold;
Wide-wasting Pest! that rages unconfin’d,
And crouds with Crimes the Records of Mankind,
For Gold his Sword the Hireling Ruffian draws,
For Gold the hireling Judge distorts the Laws;
Wealth heap’d on Wealth, nor Truth nor Safety buys,
The Dangers gather as the Treasures rise.

Let Hist’ry tell where rival Kings command,
And dubious Title shakes the madded Land,
When Statutes glean the Refuse of the Sword,
How much more safe the Vassal than the Lord,
Low sculks the Hind beneath the Rage of Pow’r,
And leaves the bonny Traytor in the Tow’r,
Untouch’d his Cottage, and his Slumbers sound,
Tho’ Confiscation’s Vulturs clang around.

The needy Traveller, secure and gay,
Walks the wild Heath, and sings his Toil away.
Does Envy seize thee? crush th’ upbraiding Joy,
Encrease his Riches and his Peace destroy,
New Fears in dire Vicissitude invade,
The rustling Brake alarms, and quiv’ring Shade,
Nor Light nor Darkness bring his Pain Relief,
One shews the Plunder, and one hides the Thief.

Yet still the gen’ral Cry the Skies assails
And Gain and Grandeur load the tainted Gales;
Few know the toiling Statesman’s Fear or Care,
Th’ insidious Rival and the gaping Heir.

Once more, Democritus, arise on Earth,
With chearful Wisdom and instructive Mirth,
See motley Life in modern Trappings dress’d,
And feed with varied Fools th’ eternal Jest:
Thou who couldst laugh where Want enchain’d Caprice,
Toil crush’d Conceit, and Man was of a Piece;
Where Wealth unlov’d without a Mourner dy’d;
And scarce a Sycophant was fed by Pride;
Where ne’er was known the Form of mock Debate,
Or seen a new-made Mayor’s unwieldy State;
Where change of Fav’rites made no Change of Laws,
And Senates heard before they judg’d a Cause;
How wouldst thou shake at Britain’s modish Tribe,
Dart the quick Taunt, and edge the piercing Gibe?
Attentive Truth and Nature to descry,
And pierce each Scene with Philosophic Eye.
To thee were solemn Toys or empty Shew,
The Robes of Pleasure and the Veils of Woe:
All aid the Farce, and all thy Mirth maintain,
Whose Joys are causeless, or whose Griefs are vain.

Such was the Scorn that fill’d the Sage’s Mind,
Renew’d at ev’ry Glance on Humankind;
How just that Scorn ere yet thy Voice declare,
Search every State, and canvass ev’ry Pray’r.

Unnumber’d Suppliants croud Preferment’s Gate,
Athirst for Wealth, and burning to be great;
Delusive Fortune hears th’ incessant Call,
They mount, they shine, evaporate, and fall.
On ev’ry Stage the Foes of Peace attend,
Hate dogs their Flight, and Insult mocks their End.
Love ends with Hope, the sinking Statesman’s Door
Pours in the Morning Worshiper no more;
For growing Names the weekly Scribbler lies,
To growing Wealth the Dedicator flies,
From every Room descends the painted Face,
That hung the bright Palladium of the Place,
And smoak’d in Kitchens, or in Auctions sold,
To better Features yields the Frame of Gold;
For now no more we trace in ev’ry Line
Heroic Worth, Benevolence Divine:
The Form distorted justifies the Fall,
And Detestation rids th’ indignant Wall.

But will not Britain hear the last Appeal,
Sign her Foes Doom, or guard her Fav’rites Zeal;
Through Freedom’s Sons no more Remonstrance rings,
Degrading Nobles and controuling Kings;
Our supple Tribes repress their Patriot Throats,
And ask no Questions but the Price of Votes;
With Weekly Libels and Septennial Ale,
Their Wish is full to riot and to rail.

In full-blown Dignity, see Wolsey stand,
Law in his Voice, and Fortune in his Hand:
To him the Church, the Realm, their Pow’rs consign,
Thro’ him the Rays of regal Bounty shine,
Turn’d by his Nod the Stream of Honour flows,
His Smile alone Security bestows:
Still to new Heights his restless Wishes tow’r,
Claim leads to Claim, and Pow’r advances Pow’r;
Till Conquest unresisted ceas’d to please,
And Rights submitted, left him none to seize.
At length his Sov’reign frowns — the Train of State
Mark the keen Glance, and watch the Sign to hate.
Where-e’er he turns he meets a Stranger’s Eye,
His Suppliants scorn him, and his Followers fly;
Now drops at once the Pride of aweful State,
The golden Canopy, the glitt’ring Plate,
The regal Palace, the luxurious Board,
The liv’ried Army, and the menial Lord.
With Age, with Cares, with Maladies oppress’d,
He seeks the Refuge of Monastic Rest.
Grief aids Disease, remember’d Folly stings,
And his last Sighs reproach the Faith of Kings.

Speak thou, whose Thoughts at humble Peace repine,
Shall Wolsey’s Wealth, with Wolsey’s End be thine?
Or liv’st thou now, with safer Pride content,
The richest Landlord on the Banks of Trent?
For why did Wolsey by the Steeps of Fate,
On weak Foundations raise th’ enormous Weight
Why but to sink beneath Misfortune’s Blow,
With louder Ruin to the Gulphs below?

What gave great Villiers to th’ Assassin’s Knife,
And fixed Disease on Harley’s closing life?
What murder’d Wentworth, and what exil’d Hyde,
By Kings protected and to Kings ally’d?
What but their Wish indulg’d in Courts to shine,
And Pow’r too great to keep or to resign?

When first the College Rolls receive his Name,
The young Enthusiast quits his Ease for Fame;
Resistless burns the fever of Renown,
Caught from the strong Contagion of the Gown;
O’er Bodley’s Dome his future Labours spread,
And Bacon’s Mansion trembles o’er his Head;
Are these thy Views? proceed, illustrious Youth,
And Virtue guard thee to the Throne of Truth,
Yet should thy Soul indulge the gen’rous Heat,
Till captive Science yields her last Retreat;
Should Reason guide thee with her brightest Ray,
And pour on misty Doubt resistless Day;
Should no false Kindness lure to loose Delight,
Nor Praise relax, nor Difficulty fright;
Should tempting Novelty thy Cell refrain,
And Sloth’s bland Opiates shed their Fumes in vain;
Should Beauty blunt on Fops her fatal Dart,
Nor claim the triumph of a letter’d Heart;
Should no Disease thy torpid Veins invade,
Nor Melancholy’s Phantoms haunt thy Shade;
Yet hope not Life from Grief or Danger free,
Nor think the Doom of Man revers’d for thee:
Deign on the passing World to turn thine Eyes,
And pause awhile from Learning to be wise;
There mark what Ills the Scholar’s Life assail,
Toil, Envy, Want, the Garret, and the Jail.
See Nations slowly wise, and meanly just,
To buried Merit raise the tardy Bust.
If Dreams yet flatter, once again attend, Life, and Galileo’s End.

Nor deem, when Learning her lost Prize bestows
The glitt’ring Eminence exempt from Foes;
See when the Vulgar ‘scape despis’d or aw’d,
Rebellion’s vengeful Talons seize on Laud.
From meaner Minds, tho’ smaller Fines content
The plunder’d Palace or sequester’d Rent;
Mark’d out by dangerous Parts he meets the Shock,
And fatal Learning leads him to the Block:
Around his Tomb let Art and Genius weep,
But hear his Death, ye Blockheads, hear and sleep.

The festal Blazes, the triumphal Show,
The ravish’d Standard, and the captive Foe,
The Senate’s Thanks, the Gazette’s pompous Tale,
With Force resistless o’er the Brave prevail.
Such Bribes the rapid Greek o’er Asia whirl’d,
For such the steady Romans shook the World;
For such in distant Lands the Britons shine,
And stain with Blood the Danube or the Rhine;
This Pow’r has Praise, that Virtue scarce can warm,
Till Fame supplies the universal Charm.
Yet Reason frowns on War’s unequal Game,
Where wasted Nations raise a single Name,
And mortgag’d States their Grandsires Wreaths regret
From Age to Age in everlasting Debt;
Wreaths which at last the dear-bought Right convey
To rust on Medals, or on Stones decay.

On what Foundation stands the Warrior’s Pride?
How just his Hopes let Swedish Charles decide;
A Frame of Adamant, a Soul of Fire,
No Dangers fright him, and no Labours tire;
O’er Love, o’er Force, extends his wide Domain,
Unconquer’d Lord of Pleasure and of Pain;
No Joys to him pacific Scepters yield,
War sounds the Trump, he rushes to the Field;
Behold surrounding Kings their Pow’r combine,
And One capitulate, and One resign;
Peace courts his Hand, but spread her Charms in vain;
“Think Nothing gain’d, he cries, till nought remain,
“On Moscow’s Walls till Gothic Standards fly,
“And all is Mine beneath the Polar Sky.”
The March begins in Military State,
And Nations on his Eye suspended wait;
Stern Famine guards the solitary Coast,
And Winter barricades the Realms of Frost;
He comes, nor Want nor Cold his Course delay;—
Hide, blushing Glory, hide Pultowa’s Day:
The vanquish’d Hero leaves his broken Bands,
And shews his Miseries in distant Lands;
Condemn’d a needy Supplicant to wait,
While Ladies interpose, and Slaves debate.
But did not Chance at length her Error mend?
Did no subverted Empire mark his End?
Did rival Monarchs give the fatal Wound?
Or hostile Millions press him to the Ground?
His Fall was destin’d to a barren Strand,
A petty Fortress, and a dubious Hand;
He left the Name, at which the World grew pale,
To point a Moral, or adorn a Tale.

All Times their Scenes of pompous Woes afford,
From Persia’s Tyrant to Bavaria’s Lord.
In gay Hostility, and barb’rous Pride,
With half Mankind embattled at his Side,
Great Xerxes comes to seize the certain Prey,
And starves exhausted Regions in his Way;
Attendant Flatt’ry counts his Myriads o’er,
Till counted Myriads sooth his Pride no more;
Fresh Praise is try’d till Madness fires his Mind,
The Waves he lashes, and enchains the Wind;
New Pow’rs are claim’d, new Pow’rs are still bestowed,
Till rude Resistance lops the spreading God;
The daring Greeks deride the Martial Shew,
And heap their Vallies with the gaudy Foe;
Th’ insulted Sea with humbler Thoughts he gains,
A single Skiff to speed his Flight remains;
Th’ incumber’d Oar scarce leaves the dreaded Coast
Through purple Billows and a floating Host.

The bold Bavarian, in a luckless Hour,
Tries the dread Summits of Cesarean Pow’r,
With unexpected Legions bursts away,
And sees defenceless Realms receive his Sway;
Short Sway! fair Austria spreads her mournful Charms,
The Queen, the Beauty, sets the World in Arms;
From Hill to Hill the Beacons rousing Blaze
Spreads wide the Hope of Plunder and of Praise;
The fierce Croatian, and the wild Hussar,
And all the Sons of Ravage croud the War;
The baffled Prince in Honour’s flatt’ring Bloom
Of hasty Greatness finds the fatal Doom,
His foes Derision, and his Subjects Blame,
And steals to Death from Anguish and from Shame.

Enlarge my Life with Multitude of Days,
In Health, in Sickness, thus the Suppliant prays;
Hides from himself his State, and shuns to know,
That Life protracted is protracted Woe.
Time hovers o’er, impatient to destroy,
And shuts up all the Passages of Joy:
In vain their Gifts the bounteous Seasons pour,
The Fruit autumnal, and the Vernal Flow’r,
With listless Eyes the Dotard views the Store,
He views, and wonders that they please no more;
Now pall the tastless Meats, and joyless Wines,
And Luxury with Sighs her Slave resigns.
Approach, ye Minstrels, try the soothing Strain,
And yield the tuneful Lenitives of Pain:
No Sounds alas would touch th’ impervious Ear,
Though dancing Mountains witness’d Orpheus near;
Nor Lute nor Lyre his feeble Pow’rs attend,
Nor sweeter Musick of a virtuous Friend,
But everlasting Dictates croud his Tongue,
Perversely grave, or positively wrong.
The still returning Tale, and ling’ring Jest,
Perplex the fawning Niece and pamper’d Guest,
While growing Hopes scarce awe the gath’ring Sneer,
And scarce a Legacy can bribe to hear;
The watchful Guests still hint the last Offence,
The Daughter’s Petulance, the Son’s Expence,
Improve his heady Rage with treach’rous Skill,
And mould his Passions till they make his Will.

Unnumber’d Maladies each Joint invade,
Lay Siege to Life and press the dire Blockade;
But unextinguish’d Av’rice still remains,
And dreaded Losses aggravate his Pains;
He turns, with anxious Heart and cripled Hands,
His Bonds of Debt, and Mortgages of Lands;
Or views his Coffers with suspicious Eyes,
Unlocks his Gold, and counts it till he dies.

But grant, the Virtues of a temp’rate Prime
Bless with an Age exempt from Scorn or Crime;
An Age that melts in unperceiv’d Decay,
And glides in modest Innocence away;
Whose peaceful Day Benevolence endears,
Whose Night congratulating Conscience cheers;
The gen’ral Fav’rite as the gen’ral Friend:
Such Age there is, and who could wish its end?

Yet ev’n on this her Load Misfortune flings,
To press the weary Minutes flagging Wings:
New Sorrow rises as the Day returns,
A Sister sickens, or a Daughter mourns.
Now Kindred Merit fills the sable Bier,
Now lacerated Friendship claims a Tear.
Year chases Year, Decay pursues Decay,
Still drops some Joy from with’ring Life away;
New Forms arise, and diff’rent Views engage,
Superfluous lags the Vet’ran on the Stage,
Till pitying Nature signs the last Release,
And bids afflicted Worth retire to Peace.

But few there are whom Hours like these await,
Who set unclouded in the Gulphs of fate.
From Lydia’s monarch should the Search descend,
By Solon caution’d to regard his End,
In Life’s last Scene what Prodigies surprise,
Fears of the Brave, and Follies of the Wise?
From Marlb’rough’s Eyes the Streams of Dotage flow,
And Swift expires a Driv’ler and a Show.

The teeming Mother, anxious for her Race,
Begs for each Birth the Fortune of a Face:
Yet Vane could tell what Ills from Beauty spring;
And Sedley curs’d the Form that pleas’d a King.
Ye Nymphs of rosy Lips and radiant Eyes,
Whom Pleasure keeps too busy to be wise,
Whom Joys with soft Varieties invite
By Day the Frolick, and the Dance by Night,
Who frown with Vanity, who smile with Art,
And ask the latest Fashion of the Heart,
What Care, what Rules your heedless Charms shall save,
Each Nymph your Rival, and each Youth your Slave?
An envious Breast with certain Mischief glows,
And Slaves, the Maxim tells, are always Foes.
Against your Fame with Fondness Hate combines,
The Rival batters, and the Lover mines.
With distant Voice neglected Virtue calls,
Less heard, and less the faint Remonstrance falls;
Tir’d with Contempt, she quits the slipp’ry Reign,
And Pride and Prudence take her Seat in vain.
In croud at once, where none the Pass defend,
The harmless Freedom, and the private Friend.
The Guardians yield, by Force superior ply’d;
By Int’rest, Prudence; and by Flatt’ry, Pride.
Here Beauty falls betray’d, despis’d, distress’d,
And hissing Infamy proclaims the rest.

Where then shall Hope and Fear their Objects find?
Must dull Suspence corrupt the stagnant Mind?
Must helpless Man, in Ignorance sedate,
Swim darkling down the Current of his Fate?
Must no Dislike alarm, no Wishes rise,
No Cries attempt the Mercies of the Skies?
Enquirer, cease, Petitions yet remain,
Which Heav’n may hear, nor deem Religion vain.
Still raise for Good the supplicating Voice,
But leave to Heav’n the Measure and the Choice.
Safe in his Pow’r, whose Eyes discern afar
The secret Ambush of a specious Pray’r.
Implore his Aid, in his Decisions rest,
Secure whate’er he gives, he gives the best.
Yet with the Sense of sacred Presence prest,
When strong Devotion fills thy glowing Brest,
Pour forth thy Fervours for a healthful Mind,
Obedient Passions, and a Will resign’d;
For Love, which scarce collective Man can fill;
For Patience sov’reign o’er transmuted Ill;
For Faith, that panting for a happier Seat,
Thinks Death kind Nature’s Signal of Retreat:
These Goods for Man the Laws of Heav’n ordain,
These Goods he grants, who grants the Pow’r to gain;
With these celestial Wisdom calms the Mind,
And makes the Happiness she does not find.

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FLAMING LIPS “YOSHIMI BATTLES THE PINK ROBOTS”

7 December 2008

“Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” is one of those albums. It is filled with weird noises from synth and guitar, yet it works. Yes it is different, and yes it is original — and what is wrong with that?

OK, it’s not the greatest album ever made.  There’s no display of superb musicianship or vocals.  It’s not the best production either — in fact it feels very home-made and cheap; low production values. It is not avant garde Jazz or techno, and it is as near to rock as, say, the Kaisers or Oasis. It has pop leanings, but from a definite lo-fi, melancholy source.  The market is not little girls, but it’s still ultimately  girls I think.  Art-house types certainly.  A good soundtrack to a French or German movie.

Yet I quite like the album. It has something going for it. Something rough and unpolished, like Neil Young used to be. Take, “In the Morning of the Magicians”, for instance. From the opening bass line, to when the plaintive vocals begin, there is something incredibly familiar.  It sounds like so many other things all at once, yet none of them.

“It’s Summertime” starts like an old Bowie track, or perhaps Donovan.  It’s lo-fi, unplugged, then the drum-machine comes in like it was the Magnetic Fields or something. There’s a nice minor shift.  Then a Beatles-type arpeggio. It’s floaty again. But then the whole album is.

It’s like some weird trip. “Are You a Hypnotist?” is another one with vigorous drumming, yet it manages to be chilled and “floaty” again! — this is the trademarksof the “Lips”.

“One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21” is catchy — continuing the soft drum’n’bass with a drifty, chill Enya-esque surf over! Honest!

You won’t believe this but “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell” has an almost Christmas feel to it — and some of the weirdest guitar noises too.

The funny thing about the “Lips” is that this music quickly becomes a soundtrack in your head.  It’s definitely background music or music to read by — fab for studying; it enters the subconscious and becomes part of you.

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WEEGEE

5 December 2008

Who’s Weegee?

Well, for me, Weegee is the name I kept coming across in my photography books in the 1970s, then later in album covers and book jackets in the early 1990s.

Weegee was an artist — a photographer — based in New York, USA. I later found out that he was born in Poland as Arthur Fellig, and that he died in 1968. But all that’s unimportant. It’s his pictures that matter, that’s all.

[Photography by weegee called 'coney island']I came to Weegee through a picture I found hilarious and fascinating at the same time. It is known as “Coney island” and is just a massive crowd of people at the beach on a hot summer’s day.

It is rude to stare, but this photograph allowed close inspection of everything and anything that caught your attention — a voyeur’s pleasure! Every time I looked at it, I would see something new.  I appreciated that Weegee had climbed to some high vantage point, and I understood the irony of having a “sea” of people at the beach.  I am glad this is not in colour; black and white is what allows things to be seen that otherwise would go unnoticed.  One would need to be Diane Arbus to make this sort of thing work in colour!

[Picture of George Michael Album Cover 'Listen without prejudice vol1']George Michael’s  album, Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1 (1990, Sony), was clearly influenced by Weegee’s  “Coney Island” — in fact I thought it was Weegee’s!

You see, that’s the thing about Weegee: he influenced so many, and his stuff crops up in the most unlikely places.  For example, his “Hell’s Kitchen” was used as an album sleeve by saxophonist John Zorn for Naked City on the Warner label (also, strangely, from 1990).

[Photograph by weegee 'Hell's kitchen']

Now, I can’t say that I like “Hell’s Kitchen”; it is a crime scene of murder weapon and victim — not the nicest of subjects! However, Weegee makes such gory situations interesting by then turning his camera onto the crowd of onlookers and passers-by — and we get LEVELS of voyeurism!  We are voyeuristically looking at what a voyeuristic photojournalist sees when looking at crime scene voyeurs! This is “Their First Murder”:

Their First Murder]

OK, I will give you that the label, the title, is important; it makes you look at the picture again — and more critically, but I think that without knowing they were looking at a homicide crime scene, the picture is still fabulous.

There are so many pictures of Weegee’s that I could go on and on about here.  Go search them out, or buy a book (you won’t be disappointed). The point I am making is that Weegee was the first photojournalist that struck me, and these were the first of his pictures I noticed.

This was “news”, but it was not snaps of of celebrities, politicians or sportsmen, just real people (warts and all). They are stark, and uncompromising, and at times describe how low life can get, and how ugly people can be, and what ugly things people do.  Weegee was the first to take this approach, he worked very hard, and while his pictures may be envied, no-one would envy Weegee’s working life on the cold, hard streets of the Naked City!

Note that Weegee’s book was called “Naked City” — and this inspired the TV show and so forth!

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ELISA

4 December 2008

Elisa is nice music.  It makes a complete change from the kora playing Toumani Diabaté and guitar wizardry of Viuex Farka Touré and his dad, Ali, that I have listening to recently LOL. talk about contrast!

The album I’m listening to just now is her Greatest Hits (1996 to 2006), which is good for showing the range and variety of Ms. Toffoli over a whole decade. I had read that she was set to relaunch in the USA this year, but had problems with her visa.  So I checked out her website (www.elisatoffoli.com/), and its full of North American dates.

I would like to hear her famous version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’; I have always admired Jeff Buckley’s version (who doesn’t?), and my wife recently showed me a YouTube video of some Norwegians (Espen Lind, Askil Holm, Alejandro Fuentes, and Big Kurt Nilsen — the blond chap with the spaced out teeth that won “World Idol”) after we heard KD Lang’s and John Cale’s versions.

Elisa duets on the recording with the much more famous Luciano Ligabue on ‘Gli Ostacoli Del Cuore’, and I have actually managed to track down a live video of this song — where Ligabue appears in person!

Superb stuff —

… but the promotional video is fascinating because she doesn’t seem to care that she’s filmed in a bad light, with a bad haircut and no make-up.  She’s obviously not vain.  She’s dressed like a boy, but acts very much like a girl with a broken heart.

Courageous anyway (especially taking a shower fully dressed)…

It’s a lovely chorus:

Quante cose che non sai di me;
Quante cose che non puoi sapere;
Quante cose da portare nel viaggio insieme.

How very true that is. Obstacles of the heart indeed; some people tend to be too complicated at times, sometimes things seem too complex.

‘Stay’ is a superb start to the album, and betrays her Californian education at Berkeley. ‘Broken’ and ‘Swan’ continue the country rock feel.  Her famous head-voice is well represented on this album. She ought to do well in the USA.

For me, I prefer her Italian stuff as it adds something fresh to a mode that is getting a bit tired for me — ‘Luce (tramonti a nord est)’ was her first song in Italian — it was initially written in English (and was a bit of a hit on MTV Europe). It was actually translated in collaboration with her mother and also with Ruth’s fave, Zucchero.

‘Eppure Sentire (Un Senso Di Te)’ is a lovely ballad, and last year’s bit hit, ‘Qualcosa Che Non C’è ‘is a simply beautiful song, very reflective/ introspective/ autobiographical. She holds a very long note at the end of ‘Una Poesia Anche Per Te (Life Goes On)’ very much along the lines of KD Lang. Worth a listen anyday!

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KEANE “PERFECT SYMMETRY”

4 December 2008

Another “pop” album (what’s becoming of me?)! LOL.  Seriously, though, Keane have managed to produce a fine pop album with “Perfect Symmetry”. It is a Keane-fan-pleaser, but there are TWO track at least worthy of note — “Better Than This” and “You Haven’t Told Me Anything”, which are different, quirky and inventive!

The first track is “Spiralling”, which is a Bb minor , and gives a great fright if you don’t check your headphone volume level beforehand!  It’s a pretty standard Keane style track.  One for their fans to open the album, and this vein is continued with “Lovers Are Losing” which jumps to Db major.

Then came the surprise: “Better Than This” in Bb major is a David Bowie style track (ala Major Tom).  It features some strange hand clap timings, beats and a banjo for heaven’s sake!  Yes, it’s addictive Pop, a wee gem.

This sets you up for another gem — the “You Haven’t Told Me Anything” in their native Eb major key to bring out the best of Tim Rice-Oxley’s vocals.

At this point you notice that there their “no-guitar”, distorted piano signature is gone — much in the same way that Queen and Elton John used to declare that they didn’t use synthesisers until they suddenly did!

As if realising what they had done, the  title track reverts to Keane Piano and the synthesised wall of strings.  They add an Rice-Oxley “choir”, so the key remains in Eb.

“You Don’t See Me” is an Eb major B-side Keane. Filler, nice, but wadding just the same.

The seventh track needs to pull this album’s socks up, so “Again & Again” comes out on a surprising D minor key, with an upbeat, clean tempo.  More synth than piano in into, it drops for dynamics, and soon the bridge is heading for “Keane Anthem” again!

“Playing Along” is a slow swing tune in Bb major.  It tries to be radical in short spurts, and has guitar all over it, in a very un-Keane manner — from jangly, and thrashy to jazzy slide lead runs!

The ninth and tenth tracks are in D major to give Rice-Oxley’s throat a rest.  “Pretend That You’re Alone” is streets ahead of “Black Burning Heart” simply for having a syncopated piano riff intro! but  “Black Burning Heart” has more substance, and could be acquired given time, although he does “speak French” in the vein of Eddie Izzard for no apparent reason. “Love Is the End” in the peculiar key of A major and a slow, jazzy tempo that could well have been a Norah Jones discard!  At times, Tim even manages to sound like Thom York in Radiohead!

In summary, this is a nice wee album with a couple of gems, but if you hate Keane, steer well clear!

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