Tuesday Tunes: Something Else By The Kinks

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It was 1967; the year of Sgt. Pepper and Are You Experienced. And, somewhere at the opposite end of the musical spectrum, the latest slice of life in the Kinkdom.

Something Else – whose title is either laziness or a subtle dig at the music industry treadmill – stays about as far from the psychadelia of the time as it is possible to get, an oasis of calm, of Englishness, of harpsichords and acoustic guitars.

The album opens with David Watts – a largely insignificant B-side at the time, but whose slightly shouty ‘Oi!’-laden chorus lent itself perfectly to the post-punk stylings of The Jam, and could easily have been written by Paul Weller a decade later. Later in the album, Lazy Old Sun puts me in mind of something Bowie might have made in the 70s.

Elsewhere, Two Sisters is an almost autobiographical tale of sibling rivalry, but despite that being at the heart of the Kinks from the outset, on this album Ray is encouraging Dave to take centre stage more, with three tracks written and sung by Dave on the original release, and more included as bonus material on later CD issues.

But as ever it is Ray’s songwriting that makes this album, from the jaunty, fun character vignettes like Harry Rag and Tin Soldier Man, to the wonderfully melancholic End Of The Season.

3971929A sort of nostalgia for England and a search for what it means to be English really starts to come through here – perhaps partly as Ray was already planning his Village Green project – with the Cockney rhyming slang of Harry Rag, the obvious Englishness of Afternoon Tea, and Ray’s love song to London, Waterloo Sunset. Yes, finally the Kinks close an album with it’s strongest track – indeed, three of the finest minutes in pop music history.

Don’t just take my word for it though, Waterloo Sunset ranks number 42 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. You can’t tell me that isn’t significant.

Stand-out tracks: Weren’t you paying attention just now? If you’re not familiar with Waterloo Sunset you really need to complete your musical education.

Monday Review: The Infinite Day by Chris Walley

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The Infinite Day is the final part in Chris Walley’s Lamb Among the Stars trilogy, the earlier volumes of which are reviewed here and here.

There’s not much to say about the writing or the story that can’t be gathered from my reviews of the earlier books; in a nutshell, it’s all good. Here the action is turned up to 11, our heroes find their way into the heart of enemy territory and back, and then move on to Old Earth – proper Space Opera stuff. Yes, this is the book I wish I’d written, but at the time (2008) I wouldn’t have done half as good a job.

There is some really good stuff about how evil sneaks in when you’re not looking; our heroes – from a sinless Utopia, if you recall – variously fall back to human traits like lying, wandering eyes, lust for power and internet addiction. And it didn’t occur to me until it did appear, that I don’t think the name of Jesus was mentioned until very late on in this final volume of the trilogy. Of course we all knew who ‘The Lamb’ was, but not specifically naming Him until late was an interesting – and perfectly logical, in the story world – move. It makes for a nicely non-threatening story, yet one which is undoubtedly Christian.

I’m not sure if I was distracted by real life during my reading of this volume, or if the pacing was just slightly off, but I didn’t find it the page-turner I had expected it to be. That leaves it far from being a bad book – I still wish I had written it, and even the italics stopped bothering me most of the time.

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The climax of the trilogy, however, was truly epic, about as big as it’s possible to get, spoilt only by the addition of a slightly drippy and over sentimental Epilogue that I really could have done without. It was the Hollywood ending tacked on after what should have been the final scene.

My recommendation? This trilogy is a definite must read for Christian sci-fi fans. But when you see the end of Infinite Day coming, when the good guys have won (does that count as a spoiler?) and the dust is starting to settle, put the book down and walk away. The heroes can carry on quite happily without you.



Re-Dwarf: Timeslides

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This is a story about bubblewrap. No! This is a story about time travel. Yes, that’s it.

Timeslides starts from the somewhat obscure premise that, somewhere in the next few centuries, digital photography falls out of favour and doing it the old fashioned way – with hazardous chemicals in a darkened room – is back in vogue. And as everyone knows, hazardous chemicals that have been left in a cargo hold for three million years should be handled with extreme caution, in case they have mutated and are liable to produce side effects that might inspire JK Rowling.

Which is, of course, what happens; Kryten is innocently developing a few films he found lying around, when they inexplicably turn into YouTube clips. Further experimenting leads the crew to discover that by developing slides in the same way, they can physically enter a literal snapshot of the past.

Cue temporal shenanigans.

In fact, cue an epic temporal power struggle as Lister and Rimmer both try to invent the Tension Sheet and become disgustingly rich and famous.

You can’t just stick one on the leader of the Third Reich!

Having utterly failed to convince Germany that Hitler was a complete and total nutter, Lister goes back and meets himself as a budding young musician, giving him the idea for Tension Sheet and making himself so rich he bought Buckingham Palace and had it ground down to line his drive.

Against all the odds, it works; even more improbably, Rimmer, presumably aided by Holly and the skutters, is able to create a time portal to Lister’s mansion – Xanadu – where he tries to persuade Lister that being the last human in the universe, with only a smeg-head, a cat and a mechanoid for company, would be better than being a multi-multi-multi-millionaire and having to have sex with Lady Sabrina Mulholland-Jjones on a regular basis.

Rimmer fails spectacularly.

He does, however, attempt to show Lister’s life for the shallow, empty existence we all want people like that to live, but when the only contrast he can offer is ‘me with…. with what I’ve got,’ he is forced to concede that, of the two of them, Lister is in every way the richer man.

Instead, Rimmer (by means best not considered to closely) creates a time portal back to his dorm room at school, to persuade his (much) younger self to patent Tension Sheet – apparently oblivious to the fact that Thickie Holden, original inventor of the Tension Sheet, is right beside him and listening intently.

Lesson of the episode: you can’t change what has happened in the past. It all just ends up part of life’s journey, the experiences – the good, the bad and the ugly – that lead us to the place we are, as the people we are today. And that, more often than not, is exactly who and where we are supposed to be. Destiny – God’s purpose – will be worked out, one way or another.

Also, you don’t have to be disgustingly rich and famous to be leading a shallow and unfruitful life. Being a git will often have much the same effect.

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As a side note, both Lister and Thickie Holden end up married to Lady Sabrina after inventing the Tension Sheet. The two seem to have little in common except being disgustingly rich and famous – perhaps Rimmer could have comforted himself with the knowledge that Lady Sabrina had only married Lister for his money.

Or he could have learned to be a better person, faced with the possibility of being even more sad and lonely than he already was; but of course, his messed up loneliness leads Rimmer to the conclusion that being rich and famous was the solution to his multitude of problems.

Re-mastered

A couple of ageing jokes have been cut, along with Adolf Hitler’s guest star credit; and the sound effect from Series IV’s ‘matter paddle’ has travelled back in time to play the part of the time travel sound effect.

Watch this episode for Craig Charles’ musical talents (he wrote the music featured in the episode, and performed) and his little brother, playing the part of Young Lister, photographed performing ‘The Om Song’.

 




Tuesday Tunes: Up The Downstair

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Up The Downstair is the first ‘proper’ Porcupine Tree album, ‘On The Sunday Of Life…’ being more a compilation than a project conceived and released as an album. And as such, Up The Downstair pretty well sets the stage for what the band intend their sound to be.

Of course, I’m listening to the 2005 remaster, which may or may not sound more Porcupine than the original, but that’s not really important right now.

What is important is that Porcupine sound – the trippy prog-rock soundscapes with soaring guitar solos and incomprehensible lyrics – which kicks off the album on Synesthesia, then slows down a notch or two for the more melancholy Always Never before disappearing into the spacey ambience of the title track, itself a ten minute epic that builds from a spooky, minimalist beginning with some Gregorian samples buried in the mix somewhere, into something altogether stranger and more brilliant.

Not Beautiful Anymore has hidden away in it a message about how sex can spoil a relationship, but other than that it’s back to the 90s style psychadelia, from tiny snatches of wierdness like Small Fish, to the epic Burning Sky.

330483bAnd, this being the reissue, it comes with the 1994 Staircase Infinities EP – itself made up of stuff that wasn’t finished in time for inclusion on the original Up The Downstair – on a bonus disc. Which is more of the same – mostly instrumental and with suitably random titles like Yellow Hedgerow Dreamscape – but it’s not bad for all that; the epic guitar driven soundscape of Navigator is equally good for driving or writing, and the eerie opening to Rainy Taxi puts me in a strangely Blade Runner-esque frame of mind before it ventures off into something like an uncanny church organ.

Up The Downstair is not my favourite Porcupine Tree disc – I think being released soon after the brilliantly trippy Voyage 34 made it almost disappointing in its not quite perfection, but all the Porcupine Tree strangeness is there, along with plenty more. Fans of psychadelia, prog-rock, or just plain weirdness should give this a listen.

Stand-out tracks: Always Never, and the title track. On the bonus disc, Yellow Hedgerow Dreamscape is every bit as weird as its title.

Get a copy


Linky Goodness

Porcupine Tree official website
Porcupine Tree are on Spotify

Monday Review: The Dark Foundations by Chris Walley

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A couple of weeks ago I mentioned how I found the first book in Chris Walley’s Lamb Among The Stars series a bit on the slow side, and wasn’t really sure it lived up to the Lewis & Tolkien comparisons plastered across the cover (well, except for the Tolkienesque slow start, anyway). Well, with The Dark Foundations I think those comments have been well addressed.

Previously the story concentrated on events on Farholme, and although the main narrative still centres on accidental hero Merral D’Avanos, the scope broadens at the start of Dark Foundations, and we see the evil plottings of the bad guys beyond the Assembly, and the effects the limited news of these events has on distant Earth. Epic.

It is a dark tale; D’Avanos and his small, hurriedly formed armies face vast armies of mechanical orcs and strange, mind-reading demons. And as if that weren’t enough, evil is working in more subtle ways, turning the naïve, sinless humans of Farholme into the kind of secretive, backstabbing humans the reader can more readily identify with.

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The battles, both internal and external, are nicely handled; I particularly liked the way spiritual warfare is brought into the realm of humans by means of that old sci-fi standby, sub-space (or more accurately ‘Below-Space’, since Star Trek is largely forgotten in the 130th Century). All in all, a highly recommended piece of Christian sci-fi.

If the final volume in the series ups the ante again, I may even see fit to forgive the overuse of italics.




CSFF Blog Tour vs Tuesday Tunes: A Draw Of Kings

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So it turns out Patrick Carr isn’t a real saint, at least not in the sense of having a day to himself in the middle of March. Unless that’s when his birthday is. Um. Anyway, what he does get, is a whole Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour dedicated to him and his book A Draw Of Kings.

Which means it is time to draw randomly from the King’s Lead Hat a selection of loosely related listening material – it’s the Top Ten King Songs:

10. T-Rex – The King of the Mountain Cometh
It seems a while since we heard from Marc Bolan and the boys.

9. Belly – King
Not Belly’s best track, but you have to love early 90s indie-rock with a girly vocal.

8. Run DMC – King of Rock
Ah, Run DMC: Kings of rock, rap, hip-hop, Aerosmith covers…

7. King – Love and Pride
About the only memorable moment for this short-lived 80s band.

6. The Proclaimers – King of the Road
A frequently covered country-esque song from the 60s, I like this version mainly because I love the way the Pro’s can sing with such thick Scottish accents…

5. China Crisis – King in a Catholic Style (Wake Up)
Quality 80s pop moment this. Lyrics are utter nonsense, but it sounds great.

4. Brian Eno – King’s Lead Hat
Somewhere between Roxy Music and selling his soul to Bill Gates, Eno was a genius. Lyrics are utter nonsense, but the whole album is great surreal pop.

3. Fun Lovin’ Criminals – King of New York
Combining rap and rock like a 90s version of Run DMC.

2. Apocalyptica – Hall Of The Mountain King
The theme from Manic Miner performed on heavy metal cellos. I bet that’s a sentence Patrick Carr never expected to read on his birthday.

1. Lana Lane – In the Court of the Crimson King
A King Crimson cover by that chick from out of Smallville. Probably.

As ever, the playlist is there for your aural pleasure while you visit the other bloggers on the tour. And don’t forget that all this jolliness is part of the CSFF Blog Tour for A Draw Of Kings, which continues in the sidebar.

CSFF Blog Tour: A Draw Of Kings by Patrick Carr

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It’s that time of year again when we randomly honour people named Patrick, and accordingly the blog tour finds its way back to the shadowy medieval doorstep of St Patrick of Carr, hoping for a few snippets from his most recent offering A Draw Of Kings.


It is an important and popular fact that my opinion on any serious fantasy novel is not going to be of any use or relevance to the sort of person who might otherwise read such a thing; I will therefore be skipping the review section of the tour (I know, it’s not like me to do that) and hand over to the back cover for the next part of this post.

Dark Forces Have Gathered and the Final Battle for Illustra Has Begun

Their journey to Merakh should have made Errol and his companions heroes of the realm. Instead, they’ve been branded enemies of the kingdom.

In the wake of the king’s death, Duke Weir is ruling the country–and he intends to marry Adora to bring an heir from the royal line. With Errol and the others imprisoned and the identity of the rightful heir to the throne still hidden in secrecy, Illustra is on the verge of civil war–and threatened by hostile forces gathering on every side.

A dangerous mission to free Errol is attempted, but the dangers facing the kingdom mount with every passing moment. The barrier has fallen, ferrals are swarming toward the land, and their enemies draw ever closer. Will the discovery of the true heir turn back the tide of Illustra’s destruction?

This month’s tour looks like something of an epic fantasy quest in itself, so grab a potion from Gandalf, roll a D20, mix in a few other random fantasy related metaphors and make your way over to St Patrick’s website where your fellowship of truthseekers are waiting to begin their journey. Then click some of the links in the sidebar, or maybe buy a copy of the book.

Re-Dwarf: Bodyswap

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Bodyswap starts, slightly irrelevantly, with Lister inadvertantly trying to destroy Red Dwarf with a milk shake and a Toffee Crisp in a plot element that never got resolved.

The crew’s attempt to not get blown up lead them to upload a dead senior officer’s mind into Lister’s body to shut down the auto destruct; which leads Rimmer to realise he and Lister can likewise trade minds, effectively giving Rimmer a body for a fortnight.

Oh smeg! What the smeggin’ smeg’s he smeggin’ done? He’s smeggin’ killed me!

There follows some Scooby-Doo style personality and voice swapping (yes, we’ll throw the science away for now and remember this is a sitcom as well), Rimmer welching on his promise to get Lister’s body back into shape, and in the end abducting it and doing a runner in Starbug.

Bodyswap does exactly what it says on the tin: it’s a body-swapping romp in space. In terms of quality, I think this episode is the mid-season slump.

There are, perhaps, still lessons to be brought out of the episode, some theological crumbs dropped under the table of silliness. For instance, take the analogy of the Church as the body of Christ, and Rimmer’s (or was it Lister’s?) line:

You’ve no respect, that’s what. You’ve shown my body no respect whatsoever. You’ve treated it like smeg.

The same could be said of our bodies as a temple of the Holy Spirit, or the simple fact that people have always abused the good things God has given us temporary custody over.

We could also comment on Kryten’s role in all of this; despite knowing it is wrong, he follows Rimmer’s orders to chloroform first Lister and later the Cat. Why? For no other reason than it is in his nature to obey, even when it’s is illogical and plainly wrong to do so.

But for me the best lesson to draw from all this, is that which Rimmer fails to learn.

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In the first half of the story, he is given a chance at a better life – a full life – thanks to Lister’s inexplicable generosity. But, being Rimmer, he welches on his side of the deal. He could have had life, in its fullness (at least for a fortnight every summer), but by lying, cheating, and general selfishness, he manages to screw it up.

The offer open to us is for more than a couple of weeks; it’s for life in all its fullness, starting now and lasting forever. All we have to do is accept it graciously, and not be a smeghead.

Re-mastered

Apart from the Starbug/Midget chase sequence, which is revamped in obvious CGI and is another example of what they just should have left alone, there’s not a lot changed in the re-master; this is another one probably best watched in the original cut.

Watch this episode for Rimmer in Lister’s leather jacket, and Lister in a girdle. Oh, wait, I may not have sold that too well…

 




Tuesday Tunes: Face To Face by The Kinks

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I could sum up this latest Kinks review in two words: Sunny. Afternoon. Face To Face, apart from being the band’s first album not to have ‘Kinks’ in the title, sees them pretty much at the peak of their power, moving away from the harder sound that had made them stars to a more melodic sound to accompany Ray’s witty observational lyrics; this period brought the world hit singles Dedicated Follower of Fashion, and the group’s third UK number one, the aforementioned Sunny Afternoon.

There are some cracking songs on the album, which opens with Party Line, which must be sort of like a 1966 version of an internet chat room, based on some of the lyrics:

Is she big?
Is she small?
Is she a she at all?

Rainy Day In June, which brings a kind of sinister fantasy to the British summer, is brilliant song writing, and a perfect counterpoint to Sunny Afternoon, which should have been the theme tune to Jet Set Willy, in my opinion.

I could speculate as to how much A House In The Country may have influenced self-confessed fan Damon Albarn several decades later; I could mention the pseudo-Eastern drone of Fancy or the Hawaiian feel of Holiday In Waikiki; or I could highlight tracks like Little Miss Queen Of Darkness or Most Exclusive Residence For Sale whose jolly guitars, slightly less jolly lyrics and unnecessarily wordy titles could only have been created by the Kinks.

Basically, Face To Face is 13 tracks, many different in style but all classic Kinks and adding up to a fantastic album and a great introduction to what the Kinks could produce over and above their hit singles of the 60s.
The-Kinks-Sunny-AfternoonThere is, as with much of the Kinks’ back catalogue, a 2 CD deluxe edition available at the moment, but frankly the original 13 tracks are so good everything else is just a bonus. I guess that’s why they call it a bonus CD…

Stand-out tracks: Sunny Afternoon, obviously; it’s a classic and one of the tracks that made me a fan in the first place. But Rainy Day In June is probably this album’s unsung hero.

I think this may be an under-rated classic – by me at least (my favourite Kinks LPs were still a couple of years away at this point in their career) – and definitely worth a listen.

Listen along

Get a copy


Linky goodness

The Kinks Official Website
Ray Davies’ website
Dave Davies’ website
KindaKinks.net

Monday Review: The Shadow And Night by Chris Walley

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As I was talking about space opera last week, it seemed semi-topical to continue that topic here; and we shall begin by reviewing Christian space opera The Lamb Among The Stars trilogy.

The Shadow And Night starts in the year 13851 on the Made World of Farholme, which lies at the edge of the Assembly of Worlds, an organisation which has ruled the galaxy in perfect peace since the early 22nd Century. Early on we are treated to seeding ships and terraforming, Below-Space Gates and Inter-System Liners, laser guns and- no, hang on, the universe is too peaceful to need those.

Indeed, the whole galaxy seems to be a kind of Christian Utopia, based on a view of eschatology that would have those nice Left Behind people very confused. And which, at the outset, doesn’t promise much in the way of conflict – unless it is about to be disrupted by something strange and probably unpleasant, anyway.

So it won’t be too much of a spoiler to say that that is precisely what does happen, and much of the first half of this book is dedicated to figuring out whether the strange and unpleasant thing is demonic, alien, or some mutated form of humanity.

The perfection of the world at the start of the story takes quite a suspension of disbelief – that even the concept of lying is completely alien to these people – but it does make the white lies, the need to keep watch while camping in the forest, all the little ways in which ‘evil’ starts to creep back, seem more significant, as if they are building up to something.

This is the tale of how, at last, evil returned to the Assembly of Worlds, and how one man, Merral Stefan D’Avanos, became caught up in the fight against it.

I did kind of get the feeling that not very much happened for half the book, but even so it introduced some intriguing ideas and set the stage for the rest of the series, wherein our hero, Merral D’Avanos, is somewhat reluctantly conscripted to the newly formed military, to fight an unknown enemy with untested weapons. Now we have a story!

En route to the adrenalin pumping evil fighting bits, we see evil subtly pervading Farholme society; I did find some of the ‘naughty’ things a bit extreme – as if Utopia were really some kind of crypto-fascist regime where snogging was a capital offence – but maybe that just highlights how far short of Utopia our world falls. And, of course, highlights the effect of said evil on the good people of Farholme, while reflecting the way evil so often works in real life…

The story claims to be ‘a fantasy in the tradition of C S Lewis and Tolkien’ – a bold claim, maybe, but there are certain parallels to the worlds of Lewis’s Space Trilogy, it’s an epic tale (albeit one set in space rather than a traditional fantasy world) and it has at its heart the big issues of good and bad, and at its front a big map of the land of Farholme.

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I do have one little criticism (and in the grand scheme of things, it is little), and that is that the characters seem to feel the need to talk in italics quite a lot. Overused italics lose any sense of importance they may have otherwise had. It just annoyed me after a while.

That aside, however, The Shadow And Night is an epic sci-fi adventure you could almost see Han Solo in, but with a Christian backbone. Definitely worth getting through the somewhat slow beginning and into the series as a whole.