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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 25 2008 at 12:47

Review 67 (really), Peter Gabriel (1), Peter Gabriel, 1976

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Peter Gabriel's solo career seems, from the range of stuff I've heard so far, to be the ultimate musical chameleon. Even the classic prog giants don't cover quite as much ground musically as I've heard from Gabriel, and I haven't actually heard all that much of him yet. This album, too, is musically very diverse, with subtle and obvious eclecticism pervading most of it. Despite the wide range of styles covered, I feel that Peter Gabriel (1 of 4) is a very successful album most of the time, and never slips so badly it causes a lot of annoyance. Down The Dolce Vita is, in my humble opinion, one of the finest pieces of (rock) music ever recorded, and the quality of the rest is hardly shabby either. Great stuff.

The highly eclectic Moribund The Burgermeister is a superb opener. Compelling quiet rhythm section work is supplemented with both Fripp guitar wailing and droning, water-drop effects and bursts of more standard strutting from guitar and synths. Gabriel's vocals acquit themselves brilliantly, with harmonies, the menacing 'I will find out' and some sarcastically used accents particularly standing out as both unusual and excellent. Lyrically, the song meddles in both entertaining and more serious ideas, without being too fixed to lose the mystery.

Solsbury Hill, probably Gabriel's second-most-known piece, is also fairly distinctive. Aside from the superb vocal (self-harmonising, if I'm not mistaken, with two different sounds that give a slight edge) and lyrical content, the upbeat banjo stands out. Tony Levin's jabbing and whumphing bass rhythm is quite compelling. As much as I feel the keyboard riff is a bit obnoxious, it does add some more options and layers to the music. However, the song really breaks out during the little mini-explosions on drums at the end of each verse and finally on the ending instrumental section, with a belting guitar and fun jabbering from Gabriel to boot.

The rocker, Modern Love, is a bit more conventional than the first two songs, but nonetheless very strong, with superb and fascinating swirly bass-work from Levin, the classic 70s high hammond chord, Andy 's drumming matches these with little crashes supplemented with tin-pot sounds and a solid beat. Gabriel is again a stand-out vocalist, albeit sounding virtually nothing like himself, much grainier than usual, and his innuendo-wrapped lyrics are at the same time amusing and quite compelling. The guitar chords are immaculate, even if a little upstaged by Levin.

The hilarious barber-shop quartet followed by unusual song that is Excuse Me also works in its own way, with a neat tuba provided by Levin, great vocals and fairly nice lyrics, solos and little melodies added by all things involved, including one particularly fine guitar burst and a weird little synth tone that sounds a bit piano-meets-tympani.

Humdrum is far more subdued, with a soulful vocal and sustained, soft piano contributing the opening verse, before a gorgeous recorder-guitar dominated break and a reiteration of the opening section with more contributions. A second, extremely pretty section features a gorgeous acoustic guitar part and lush keyboard parts. Not as memorable as the rest of the album, perhaps, but nonetheless I enjoy it every time

Slowburn is the second heavily rock-based piece of the album, and it too is very strong, with a completely different, but no less fascinating, bass part. Amusing 'aaa's punctuate some of the vocal sections, and the synths and programming are brilliant. The drumming and guitars are plain rock awesomeness, and the softer sections don't at all break the flow of the piece, but rather add slightly more emphasis to it. An odd soundscape thing with all sorts of synth ideas and glockenspiel leads down to the end.

Waiting For The Big One is a rather laid back song, with wonderful piano crawls, a light and cheery vocal, little guitar additions are the order of the day, and the rather larger guitar strut with large harmony feels a little out of place in the piece. Gabriel's vocal is, as always, tailored to the piece, with good range and sound, and a rather neat bluesy solo punctuates the middle.

The amazing Down The Dolce Vita is almost definitely one of my top twenty songs. Aside from the superb merge of the LSO with the rock band and utterly compelling rhythm guitar riff, Gabriel's vocal is again a stunner, with constant and effective flourishes, stark edges and amazing lyrics (“'So long', said four men to their families/be strong, 'til we get back home”. Levin's bass jumps up at the high end, adding these little throbs of energy in between his more standard backing. The drums and percussion are forceful and have a great roll, and the orchestral jabs on the concluding verse. A final stark flute-based conclusion segues straight into Here Comes The Flood. This song alone would justify the album's price for me.

Here Comes The Flood is an amazingly emotional piece, with jaw-dropping vocals and lyrics ('stranded starfish have no place to hide') complimenting the soft piano, acoustics and backing organ, as well as the hollow percussion sound. The heavily harmonised chorus is effective and potent, as is the roaring guitar solo, and the piece gradually builds to its climax without losing any of its essence. The conclusion, I feel, is slightly too insubstantial, but that is the only gripe I have with the piece.

So, overall, a wonderfully diverse range of goodies here, and while it doesn't quite hit the masterpiece mark for me, it comes very close. Vital and enjoyable listening, and so far detached from Genesis that I don't think your opinion of one will have any bearing on your opinion of the other. Highly recommended. I look forward to hearing more of Gabriel's solo material soon.

Rating: Four Stars
Favourite Track: Down The Dolce Vita

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Usual bunch of welcoming criticism and comments stuff. Will have more questions once I've heard 2, 3 and 4 for myself.

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 25 2008 at 12:50
Looks like I have to open up my wallet here...
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 25 2008 at 18:24
tswrtht

Off for Duke of Edinburgh expedition. Hope to return in one piece. If you see an unwashed late teenage figure  with a pretentious proto-mustache and hair vaguely like 70s Jon Anderson next week, please don't throw stones at him, he means well.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 25 2008 at 18:54
Originally posted by TGM: Orb TGM: Orb wrote:

pretentious proto-mustache


Truly epic.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 31 2008 at 13:08

The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other, Van Der Graaf Generator, 1970

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The Least We Can Do... comes a little before the thoroughly incredible H To He, Who Am The Only One, and is a good and fairly interesting album. However, though Van Der Graaf Generator would probably be my joint favourite band, I can't say that this compares very favourably with the following four masterpieces they were to release. Hammill's vocals are consistent and excellent, but certainly don't have the experimental and quirky edge which instantly drew me into the group's work. Equally, the instrumental and lyrical content is all quite strong with a number of high points, but still overall feels a bit vulnerable in comparison with the following albums.

I'd say that the two soft songs, Refugees and Out Of My Book, are a bit more successful than the aggressive and grandiose choices, and the album as a whole is fairly consistently solid, but the soul-tearing moments of instrumental fury are missing in a few places. Lastly, I actually dislike White Hammer's vocal section. Essentially a good album, with its own individual feel and merits, but more of an album for the band's fans than one I'd consider a general milestone of progressive rock.

The bleak Darkness 11/11, the lyrical opposite of Rush's Freewill (brilliantly phrased, denying the possession of Freewill and from a first person viewpoint) opens the album with incredible force, wind sound effects; neat basslines and piano pervade the piece. Jaxon's superb twinning of the electric sax and acoustic sax, comes to the forefront in the instrumental sections, and Bantom's organ and Evans, though not often coming to the forefront, are extremely effective when they do.

The gorgeous Refugees is an incredibly human and connective song about, essentially, leaving a way of life behind. Lush cellos and flute hold up the piece's substance, while Hammill's extremely high and clear vocals convey the remorseful lyrics ('we're refugees, walking away from the life we've known and loved/nothing to do nor say, nowhere to stay, now we are alone'). Throughout the piece, the vocals are changing, moving to a lower range, and being supplemented by substantial backing harmonies, and with them moves the music, incorporating superb percussion and piano (this time from Hammill). A truly beautiful song, with a lovely organ/flute ending.

White Hammer is the only Van Der Graaf Generator song I've so far heard that I actually dislike. Not only are the lyrics a bit of a mess, and lacking in impact, but the delivery is equally a little flat. The force just doesn't reach me. Admittedly, a range of vocals are used, from grandiose to aggressive to a more intimate tone, but they don't really work for me. There are a few positives to be had in the musical content, Hugh Bantom's organ rocks appropriately, if a tad repetitively, in between its more reflective tones, while Nic Potter's bass is enjoyably mobile and energetic. The rather light cornet from Gerry Salisbury works quite well in providing a dated feel.

However, the real merit of the piece is the very, very strong instrumental conclusion that follows the rather weak vocal section. The organ takes on a force of its own, as do the saxophone wails. This gritty terror evoked by Jaxon and Bantom and potent elephantine percussion lead the song to its conclusion.

Whatever Would Robert Have Said is probably my favourite of the album's darker and heavier pieces, with gritty guitar from Nic Potter complimenting Hammill's frantic vocals, the underpinning acoustics, and organ throbs, as well as a superb set of lyrics ('I am the peace you're searching for, but you know you'll never find/ I am the pain you can't endure, but which tingles in your mind'). All the performances are top notch, with David Jackson's soft sax complimenting the Frippish guitar wails suprisingly well. A real force and atmosphere is continued throughout.

Out Of My Book is the album's second soft piece, with a rather more acoustic focus, and odd flutes and complimentary organs backing up the vocal changes. Guy Evans percussion is highly impressive here, adding in a few touches without intruding greatly, and Nic Potter's bass again is strong, adding an almost-plucked counterpart to the acoustics. The lyrics and vocals are sublime, and the piece overall is a complete success.

After The Flood is an awkward piece to review. Long and certainly grandiose, with a fierce set of sax riffs and organ additions, and enough neat additions from acoustics and all sorts of bizarre sounds to hold up the instrumental side (which includes a rather amusing Mission-Impossible-reminiscent-section). It is unfortunate that the highly repeated 'The water rushes over all...' and 'and when the water falls again...' are nothing more than grandiose. The delivery just isn't personal enough for my liking. Still, Evans is on top form, and there's plenty to enjoy, especially the 'And then he said: (Einstein quote here)' section. It just doesn't quite satisfy me constantly, which is a bit of a shame as an ending piece.

The two bonus pieces, a neat aggressive acoustic-led piece called Boat Of Millions Of Years, and a single cut of Refugees (substantially different from the album version, so still a worthy conclusion), are both strong and interesting. The former is strong on all counts, and fits in with the album's feel.

So, if, like me, you're a fan of Van Der Graaf Generator, this should definitely follow the four big albums, and should have more than enough good material to keep you satisfied, even if it's no match for the following four. If not, the soft pieces do need to be heard, but I can't imagine the album as a whole doing a lot for you. Characteristically dark, frenetic, multi-faceted and solid. Three stars.

Rating: Three Stars
Favourite Track: Refugees

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OK, feet have stopped bleeding, blisters on shoulders and hips mostly recovered, hatred of Yorkshire hill-top plants and unchartered moors slowing ebbing away. Can review again.

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: September 02 2008 at 07:20

Review 69, Script For A Jester's Tear, Marillion, 1983

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Script For A Jester's Tear is a hard one for me to review. Several aborted efforts have ended in deletion. The reason for this is that it is an album which is extremely consistent in both its strengths and weaknesses, and the number of both of these makes it sort of challenging to write about without feeling like the review's becoming a list. Still, I'll try.

Clearly there are a lot of musical ideas in the constantly changing pieces; we get touches of psychedelia, symphonic moments, quirky light jaunts, an arena-rock solo and even a tad of blues. All of the members (except Pointer) seem fairly involved and capable, though not individually massively distinctive. The lyrics are pretty solid, depressive and entertaining, and the general accusations of sounding too much like Genesis... well, I don't really see it.

The negatives really come from the execution of some of these ideas. Various sound effects similar to those on The Wall often feel like forced insertions, especially damaging to Chelsea Monday, and they are a bit too frequent for my liking. Mick Pointer, as often mentioned, does not do the world's most sterling job here, but I honestly think that he isn't that much of a hindrance to the band's ideas. Complex and distinctive drum parts aren't there, but they aren't really called for. Finally, the trite Garden Party doesn't really seem to fit the album's mood for me, and I think that the weaknesses simply make the overall album less of a pleasure to listen to. Overall, the album's still pretty strong, but its charm was, for me, too soon worn away by the weaknesses.

The title track has pretty much all of the strengths, and very little of the weaknesses, with the soft 'Here I am once more... in the playground of the broken hearts' executed brilliantly by Fish. His vocals and the lyrics throughout are to match, and the band supports neatly and provides new contexts for it. The fact that the same line is executed again with a virtual roar and not feeling at all out of place alone makes for pretty good listening. Mark Kelly's keys control a lot of the tempo changes and ideas, while Rothery's superb rocking solos add force, and the rhythm section, especially Trewavas do manage to escape monotony and make their own contribution. The psychedelic ideas are equally at their most successful, with repeated words and whispered overdubs intensifying the atmosphere. The song's a sample on PA at the moment. Have a listen for yourself, and enjoy. A brilliant opener, and not to be missed.

The ambiguity of He Knows You Know extends beyond the title, with spat-out words, great lines like 'Light switch. Yellow fever. Crawling up your bathroom wall/Singing psychedelic praises to the depths of the china bowl', and the psychedelic ideas and repeats fit in solidly. Pete Trewavas especially seems to be on top form, with great aggressive bass-work. The keys fit in over the top, adding a couple of riffs and chords over which Rothery's guitar can characteristically explode all over the place as well as adding a couple of subtle edges to vocal lines. The fairly random tack-on of the maddened phone call at the end is admittedly nice in the context of leading up to The Web, but feels a little off in ending He Knows You Know. Still, I do enjoy it a lot.

The Web begins with a series of very aggressive, almost big-band on guitar-and-drums, stabs, before Fish joins in to provide a rather excellent set of vocals, both featuring some extended bits of vocal phrasing which are quite interesting, as well as the more normal lines. His own aggressive confusion (something that so few vocalists can handle well) is supplemented by harmonies and low key effects. The musical side is initially little more disjointed than the previous couple of pieces, occasionally feeling like a bit of a crib for his vocals, though it pulls together very well later on. The swelling and whirling keys are a highlight of the piece, and, though Pointer is a bit more of a drawback here than on the previous couple, the playing is otherwise top notch. Not quite sure what it is about Rothery's almost cut-off, yet extremely full, guitar tone that gets me every time, but it does. Unfortunately, the ending seems a little vulnerable in comparison to the rest of the song, with a rather uninteresting set of riffs crossed with irritating synth tones, though there are still a few points to commend in there. Overall, however, the piece is another success.

Garden Party is a bit of a disappointment following these pieces, with the voices on the opening feeling a little too unnatural to me, and the repeated jumpy bass-and-drums riff being present for far too much of the long and rather sarcy piece. A few of the effects do work well, as do some of the keyboard choices. Fish letting his hair down with the lyrics and vocals is a partial success, with a couple of amusing moments (particularly the Chaucer rambling and a rather fed up 'Oh god, not again'). Only of a few of the ideas really fail, most notably the repeat of 'flash', but the piece overall simply doesn't feel very satisfying to me.

Chelsea Monday contains the worst of the special-effects barrages, with idiotic paper/news announcements and supposedly Cockney or Australian (I can't work out which) conversations with needless line repeats. A couple of less driven-into-the-ground effects supplement Fish's vocal, but without the precision that characterises some of the earlier choices. Pointer's percussion, also, doesn't add a lot, feeling needlessly shouty. However, I absolutely love some of the other components of the song. Trewavas' superb bass line, Rothery's wails and Fish's high, slightly more like Peter Gabriel than usual, vocals are thoroughly enjoyable. The emotional Gilmour-esque guitar soloing rips through the headphones the first couple of times, and the acoustics and keyboard touches add a bit more survivability to a song that desperately needs it. This was my favourite piece from the album on the first listen, but the cringeworthy effects uses seriously damage it for me now. Shows off the Floyd influence, but not in a heavily positive way.

Forgotten Sons, thankfully, is a much more rewarding experience, with a range of kicking riffs from all quarters (especially the mock blues/hard rock one from Rothery), and a serious range of emotions and ideas, including a rather more biting and impressive sarcastic opening becoming gradually a bit more serious and without losing the satire. Heck, even Pointer sounds good on this one. Fish's vocals are powerful and biting, and with lines like 'You're just another coffin, on its way down the emerald isle' and his mock prayer, the lyrics match. Psychedelic edges and wails jump out at all points and add a lot of fun. A keyboard solo section is brilliantly handled by Kelly, and the general atmosphere is tremendous. Hearing the 'halt, who goes there?' line gives me shivers every time, and I'm quite impressed that somehow the range of ideas is stunningly summed up in an ending, complete with a choral mellotron and Fish at his most Gabriel-esque, perhaps the only things which remind me bluntly of Genesis in the whole album. A great conclusion.

So, strengths everywhere, but some really, really annoying weaknesses around the middle and not enough consistency in the fascination. Don't get me wrong, it is a good album with some very good tracks, and I can understand why it's so well-regarded, but I still get that painful twinge in anticipation of Chelsea Monday's 'she had a smile on her face' every time I go to connect the CD with the CD player. Should be a definite purchase if you're a bit fonder of The Wall than I am. Perhaps the only people I wouldn't really recommend it to are those who are really picky about drummers. Enjoyable, and it nets three stars from me.

Rating: Three Stars
Favourite Track: Script For A Jester's Tear

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Well, first review as a reviewer. Don't think I did too badly on it, but welcome to all views.

Many thanks to those who've kept my interest in reviewing alive through general banter, encouragement, recommendations, discussion and writing their own.

It's a great honour to represent the site. I'll try to deserve it and I'm going to be editing a couple of ratings and reviews to match my current viewpoint and the quality I want to get them up to, so new reviews might slow for a week or two.

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: September 02 2008 at 07:55
Congratulations on the promotion RobClap and many more fantastic reviews to come.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: September 02 2008 at 09:52
I hadn't heard the news about the promotion,  congrats, you deserve it!Tongue
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: September 02 2008 at 11:20
OK. Final Listish

UK - UK
Red Queen to Gryphon Three - Gryphon
Turn Of The Cards - Renaissance
In Spite Of Harry's Toenail/Lady Lake (Compilation) - Gnidrolog
Pictures At An Exhibition - ELP
Ahvak - Ahvak
Peter Gabriel 3 - Peter Gabriel
Nadir's Big Chance - Peter Hammill
Chameleon In The Shadow Of The Night - Peter Hammill
The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome - VDG
World Record - VDGG
Soft Machine - Volumes 1 & 2
Phoenix - Asia
Genesis Live - Genesis
Even In The Quietest Moments - Supertramp
Doomsday Afternoon - Phideaux
Fear Of A Blank Planet - Porcupine Tree
The Great Deceiver Vol. 1 - King Crimson
A Live Record - Camel
A Saucerful of Secrets - Pink Floyd
Hunky Dory + The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust - David Bowie
Mujician (vol. 1/2) - Keith Tippet
Giant Steps - John Coltrane
Still Got The Blues - Gary Moore
Are You Experienced? - Hendrix Experience
Led Zeppelin II
Disraeli Gears - Cream
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - The Beatles
Quadrophrenia - The Who
Free Hand/Interview - Gentle Giant
In Rock - Deep Purple (slightly cheaper than s/t)
At The Filmore East - ABB
Time Out - Brubeck Quartet
Death Walks Behind You - Atomic Rooster
Misplaced Childhood - Marillion
Songs In The Key Of Life - Stevie Wonder
The Thoughts Of Emerlistdavjack - The Nice

Italian stuff and Maneige will come separately, for all too obvious reasons. Wallet repairs, mainly. Believe that's 36 Albums, which should keep me happy for a while.

Oh, and, Warrior On The Edge Of Time or something - Hawkwind


Edited by TGM: Orb - September 02 2008 at 11:22
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: September 02 2008 at 15:51
Ordered with two or three small alterations (Sgt. Pepper's and Coltrane dropped, Leg End added). I think the Italian stuff will have to wait a while. Was not cheap, all in all, but hopefully will be rewarding.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: September 03 2008 at 13:25
OK. Some ratings changes made.

Also, with that last order, an Images And Words CD was included. Should be at least... fun to review.

Speaking of that, working on a review now.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: September 03 2008 at 13:45

sweet mother of ..children, Rob!  Lots of good stuff in there, many I don't have yet; looking forward to the reviews.

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: September 03 2008 at 16:30

Review 70, Clutching At Straws, Marillion, 1987

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From the very promising Script For A Jester's Tear, Marillion seem to have developed a bit for Clutching At Straws (this reviewer doesn't yet have the intervening albums). Though it's still essentially got the same feel to it, the playing from all five members is much stronger than on the debut, and the band cohesion is far tighter. Psychedelic touches appear to have been ironed out and better incorporated, and a couple of guest vocal additions and new styles or influences rear their heads.

The biggest distinction between the albums, other than the general much-better-played, but slightly-less-memorable Clutching At Straws, is the fact that the latter feels sympathetic. There's none of the biting aggression of Chelsea Monday or Garden Party, or even Forgotten Sons, simply this overwhelming depression characterising the album. The lyrics are the main factor behind this, slightly cleverer than those of Script, and extremely well-written, but the musical atmosphere matches it. Solos don't appear to be there for the sake of a solo, but to enhance a point, and the much improved taste in the percussion parts does especially give the sympathetic tone to the album.

The moody Hotel Hobbies opens the album, with good performances all round, atmosphere contributed by Rothery's relatively minimal playing and the extremely strong bass part from Trewavas. Fish shows off a couple of Hammill-like vocal phrasing flourishes and the band as a whole makes an extremely good impression, showing off their solid use of dynamics and Rothery's incredible impact as a soloist. It segues right into the more accessible...

Warm Wet Circles, with more subdued elements, featuring Fish very prominently, as well as a very good performance from Mosley, while the remaining members provide some textures as well as a couple of more controlling leads from Kelly's piano and Rothery's biting guitar. A couple of almost-imperceptible additions from guest vocalist Tessa Niles are more than welcome. Fish is usually excellent, from the early Marillion pieces I've heard, but here he excels himself in both the slightly nervous and yet assertive tones of the album and a powerful 'she nervously undressed in the dancing beams of the Fidra lighthouse'. An extremely good piece, all in all, and the most rewarding of

That Time Of The Night is the first of the album's pieces that are perfectly good, but don't make that much of an impact. Fish's vocals and lyrics are fine, and his 'o-oh' has an interesting rapid vibrato sound, but the band's parts don't really seem much more than adequate to me. Mosley fits in a couple of Peartesque rolls and Rothery adds a couple of extremely nice slippery guitar whirls. Warm Wet Circles is brought back to mind pretty bluntly. Tessa Niles again appears to be featured, though I'm not sure, since the booklet is contradictory. Not bad at all, but not inspirational either.

Going Under is a different sort of piece, with a couple of acoustic guitar rhythms backed by some very neatly handled (especially a flute effect) synths. Fish provides a low key vocal with, again, strong lyrics. A nice idea, and well executed.

Just For The Record is a more rock-focused piece, re-using of one of the rhythms of Garden Party (could be mishearing) a little, and featuring a range of little vocal effects (whether whispers or little harmonies). Mark Kelly's keys and the whirly supported electric guitars work nicely, as does the rhythm section. The general development and inclusion/exclusion choices are quite nicely done, and the dudu-dududu rhythm around 'When you say I got a problem, that's a certainty' is particularly brilliant.

Wuthering wind effects introduce us to the superb White Russian, a schizoid trip through the narrator's mind and thoughts of censorship, with brilliant demi-nonsensical lines and roared lines from Fish, as well as little changes everywhere throughout the song. Mosley gets to rock a bit more than previously, and Trewavas' bass also gets its highlight in the soft middle section. Rothery, a superb guitarist on the rest of the album, especially shows up, with a range of brilliant guitar tones and some truly shrieking solos. The lush choral mellotron makes its appearance, among a range of other keyboard instruments. A glockenspiel or something similar echoes the 'Where do we go from here' melody to end the piece, stopping a note short on the last repeat. A real highlight for me, with all the elements coming together to make a great communal piece.

Incommunicado doesn't work so well for me. Fairly fast playing on all fronts, and matching vocals. Kelly's organs and synths, as well as Rothery's guitars continue a fairly nice set of riffs throughout much of the piece, and Fish's rather more hurried vocals are good, despite the irksome number of 'incommunicado' repeats. The issue, really, is not any of the individual components. I like basically all of the parts, sans a couple of small repeats crammed in, but I just don't enjoy the end result much. Perhaps it's that the rather upbeat feel of the song doesn't really mesh too nicely with the downbeat album, and the fade isn't really welcome in an otherwise very neatly segued or concluded album.

Torch Song is the second of the album's purely slow pieces, with really unstrained vocals from Fish, a fairly successful speech inclusion backed by some little guitar touches. As usual, all the players are solid, and the small background keyboard and guitar touches support the general rhythm. A piano solo fits in quite nicely to segue to...

Slainte Mhath, a piece featuring a Celtic rhythm with complete electric instrumentation and some tentative keyboard-based imitations of a traditional flute, as well as a much more traditional-styled vocal (complete with Scottish accent) from Fish. This is very well crossed with the more strutting and electrifying inclusions, and the general ideas are established before they are combined. A very enjoyable piece, and a welcome addition of diversity.

Sugar Mice is another slow one, with soft rhythm guitar backing Fish's soulful and repentant vocals, and a couple of small background touches pervading it. Rothery gets an opportunity for a fairly standard extended solo, using a couple of tones without overstressing it. A return to the softer theme of the song concludes it nicely, preparing us for the real gem of the album.

The Last Straw is a simply brilliant ending, with well-written lyrics, great vocals from Fish including the savagely tense background calls, a solid multi-instrumental riff or two, soft breaks with swirling synths and superb foreshadowing from Rothery as well as a threatening rhythm section. And suddenly, all the presence built up by Rothery explodes into one soul-wrenching, energy-filled solo, further emphasised by Fish's shouting vocals. An almost-mantric duet from Fish and Tessa Niles with rolling backing from Kelly leads us out to the album's negative, self-perpetuating ending.

So, all in all, a very good bunch with two or three pieces that don't quite make as much impact as the others, but generally very well written, consistently well played, and noticeably (even for me, and I don't often notice production on an album that much) superbly produced. Even if you're not an instant convert to the Marillion/neo-prog fold, I'd still consider the album a good choice, and if you don't enjoy The Last Straw, I don't know what's wrong with you. A deserved four stars.

Rating: Four Stars
Favourite Track: The Last Straw

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As always, thoughts and opinions very welcome. Going to write a piece about guitar foreshadowing at some point in the near future, as that is a real catch for me at the moment (I mean, Fripp on Lizard Approve was listening to that the other day and that is just incredible preparation for an incredible solo).
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: September 03 2008 at 16:34
Rob likes a Marillion album!?


Good review as always - that's one I need to spin some more.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: September 03 2008 at 16:41
Originally posted by King By-Tor King By-Tor wrote:

Rob likes a Marillion album!?


Good review as always - that's one I need to spin some more.


I like two so far. I expect to like a couple more, at least. They're pretty good on all counts. Wink
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: September 05 2008 at 18:44

Review 71, Pawn Hearts, Van Der Graaf Generator, 1971

StarStarStarStarStar

If music is a form of expression, Pawn Hearts is surely a masterpiece of music. The lyrical and musical content fit together seamlessly, oozing depressive and mournful moods into the listener's mind, and Hammill's vocal delivery only further improves the intentionally convoluted lyrical ideas of the stunning A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers. Dissonant and furious tones, as well as tender, hopeful melodies, hammer in the maddening disorganisation of the world and light the all too distant beacons of the human mind. Everything about this album is expression, getting across moods and ideas. Clustered and claustrophobic production values add tension and give a slightly maddened and busy tinge even in sections where the music itself is sparse. The enormous studio experimentation and daring also tear their way in to the listener's consciousness, giving an element of unpredictability and anticipation to the three pieces included.

Of course, such an album will not appeal to everyone... it batters the human mind down rather than trying to entice it, and just as swiftly it withdraws into its shell, dark and nebulous... demanding real attention and involvement. However, if you are ready for the journey, if you are entrapped by this bleak and maddened atmosphere, there are few experiences quite as enjoyable and intense. Enjoyment might not be the obvious word for the result of so dark a piece, but it is the only word that really fits.

Lemmings, an apocalyptic psychological and philosophical piece, has the feel of the inevitable. Hammill's vocal creates uncertainty, fear and damning, sometimes mocking, condemnation equally without any restraint, and his 'what course is there left but to die... I really don't know' is indescribable in its emotional grip. A set of brilliantly written lyrics convey a life without real purpose, unable to simply happen, before giving the only answer, the only way to go about life, to live in the hope of 'saving the little ones', to seek the final meaning. Lyrically, it's basically the Still Life album in 10 minutes. The music is equally stunning, with jaunty acoustic parts creating a personal feel. Keyboards, both organ and more effects-based things, take a very prominent role in the more edgy schizophrenic sections, intertwining with savagely distorted saxophone gratings and licks. Guy Evans' percussion additions, leaving a lot of space for the leads, give a continual sense of interest and of the smaller spaces. The ending is derived from a drawn-out bit of negative atmosphere development, which is in itself quite unusual, and suggests a sense of futility and a lack of resolution. Masterful.

Man Erg is a contrast, in some ways, but so similar in others. It is more concerned with a philosophical question of free will, and Hammill's vocal, while no less personal and touching, is more grand and decisive. Lyrically, it is almost without equal ('I too live inside me/And very often don't know who I am/I know... that I'm no hero/Well I hope, that I'm not damned'. The compositional side has been a bit more fully approached, I think, with some very clever echoing of the aa-aa aa-aa aa-aa theme, a moving piano intro, and some of the overdubbing and sheer mass of contents that will characterise the second side. Organ and piano touches and melodies, sometimes attractive, other times utterly visceral, sustain a background, while Jaxon's saxes and flutes add dissonant disconnection and a soaring sense of positivity at separate times. Had I really been told before really listening this piece that a band could convey the uncertainty of free will, and a schizophrenic mind, I would probably have been of the 'pull the other one' persuasion, but Van Der Graaf Generator do manage it. And they manage it brilliantly.

A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers is only lightly describable. This twenty minute suite, with an incredible density of material in some places, but at others stripped down and almost vacant, is daring in both instrumentation and sounds, using effects constantly and effortlessly to give a mystical gravity to the piece. It pulls in and drowns, and drags about the listener, demanding in the snarling voice of Jaxon's sax or Evans' insistent and crashing drumming, before leaving them to float in the ocean of reverent organ thoughts, almost feeling like an intruder in a sacred ceremony. Multi-part melodies and twists alternate with pure instrumental atmosphere, each fulfilling its role and creating alternately intimacy and distance.

Hammill's vocal in itself, lyrics included, deserves a full five-star review. His tones of uncertainty, aggression, demanding, bleakness, loss and demented hope are all so... expressed. Unusual vocal touches are here, choices of where to place the stress, developments in force, a willingness to sound different as the song requires it. The way he sings 'would you cry, if I died?' or 'alone, alone, the ghosts all call... pinpoint me in the light/The only life I feel at all... is the presence of the night' takes is loneliness embodied, the menace in 'no paraffin for the flame/no harbour left... to gain' is palpable. The resignation of 'now I am the stranger I stay in/ah, well' or the hope of 'Oceans drifting sideways/I am pulled into the spell/I feel you around me/I know you well'. The vocals are just so expressive and connective. It is incredible.

Just touching on the musical sections briefly, the opening Eyewitness is one of the finest introductions I've ever heard for a long piece, with bleak lyrics, distant, but distinct (as opposed to blanketing mellotron or organ) keyboard sounds give the isolated feel. SHM is menacing (and a play on HMS, coincidentally), with fierce vocal delivery and a compelling saxophone groove. Presence Of The Night/Kosmos Tours features some of starkest atmosphere, with the modulation of density at its high point and a particularly wowing performance from Hammill. (Custard's) Last Stand took a while to grow on me, but it has done so, with an attractive piano expressing a sort of hopeless dejection. The Clot Thickens likewise was a grower, with Hammill making particularly obvious use of vicious overdubs and a growling backing matching it. Land's End (Sineline)/We Go Now is the cathartic release of the piece, with an incredible solo that sounds like Fripp, but could be Banton, and an uplifting points of light in the ocean of being (to steal part of a phrase from Mr. Gabriel) image. All of the fear, all of the tension, that has been built up to that point, are let out inspirationally.

So... a masterpiece of progressive rock, however reused that phrase is.

Onto the bonus material:
Theme One was a band instrumental cover of a piece written by George Martin and features some nice playing, especially from Banton, but doesn't really succeed the album's atmospheres, even if it does rather suitably prepare us for an overall decent set of bonus tracks. W is much more satisfactory, with strong vocals and tinges of psychedelia, even if it's cut off a bit short. The completely chaotic Angle Of Incidents is a delight to the ears every time, with rolling playing from Evans dominating the piece, supplemented by little growls or wisps of music from Jackson and Banton. Ponker's Theme is a more typical and melodic saxophone showcase, though it is enjoyable. Banton's Diminutions is another set of dark textures, this time very keyboard-centric. All in all, a very respectable set of bonuses, and the superb Angle of Incidents would probably justify a purchase of the remaster if you really enjoy the album.

Well, love it or hate it, I can't name an album as purely given to expression as this one, and that alone makes it worthy of the masterpiece title. Adding to that, it contains a lot of very interestingly and neatly incorporated studio-based experimentation, and the all too rare, even in the classic period, complete and unpredictable control of the music's density. A final point for my 'objective' judgment is that Hammill's lyrics and vocals on this particular album are even more superb than his other performances. I'd consider this the finest ever album in that aspect. Thus, I think its status as such a prog landmark is entirely deserved, and even someone who doesn't expect to personally enjoy this sort of album should own it and engage with it.
Personally, the album is an incredible experience, with almost physical pull at times. I love every moment of it. Either way, it gets a masterpiece rating from me, even if Van Der Graaf Generator's superb discography offer a couple of albums that are even more enjoyable from a personal viewpoint

Rating: Five Stars
Favourite Track: A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers

---
I really, really enjoyed writing that review, and I think it is exactly the sort of thing I'm aiming for. What are everyone else's opinions on this?


Going to get some VDGG discussion going on around here (because the Suede Room... it isn't enough...) with a few focus questions when I've really thought of them and hopefully gotten those two new albums from them I ordered.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: September 05 2008 at 18:58
Nice Clap. I agree on all accounts, and it was a very well written review there Rob
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: September 05 2008 at 19:51
Not a Hammill fan by any means, but because of your brillant writing style, one(me for exampleLOL) wants to read the whole review.
 
Rob, you are the #1 reviewer, the PA uber-reviewer..Thumbs%20Up...
 
.StarStarStarStarStar for you as well..........................
 
I am impressed..i.won't dare to write anymoreShockedLOL
 
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: September 12 2008 at 18:11

Review 72, The Wall, Pink Floyd, 1979, double-album

StarStar (ooooh....)

There are few albums that inspire as much of a mixture of feelings in me as The Wall. On the one hand, the heights are absolutely brilliant, and some signature characteristics are used immensely well, on the other, there is nothing remotely memorable about several of the pieces, some leave me completely uninspired and some of the 'filler' (will explain what I mean by this later when I come to them) is really nothing more than that. In addition, the ending is feeble and so utterly unconvincing to me that it alone brings down the album somewhat. I'll try to explain the pluses and minuses in a bit more detail:

On the positive side, the inclusions of phone calls, voice clips, film moments and sound effects is generally very, very nicely done. It fits into the pieces very well, keeps up album flow and adds a bit more interest. Equally, the guitar work and vocals are generally quite clean and forceful, and is responsible for most of the album's real high points. Lastly, when everything does come together, which isn't often enough for my liking, it comes together magnificently.

On the minus side, there are plenty of individual tracks that draw my finger towards the dreaded skip button. More generally, the lyrics don't really satisfy me that much overall, being very self-referential, a bit ridiculous story-wise, but without the clever allegorical style that made albums like The Lamb and A Passion Play so enjoyable from that perspective. Additionally, a few of the pieces seem lyrically so un-needed as to make me cold to them by default. Finally, Wright and Mason are mostly boring on this album. At times, they do make valid contributions, but nothing remotely comparable to their roles on, say, Meddle or Wish You Were Here.

In The Flesh (I), after the light theme of the opening (echoed in the closer) provides a relatively effective start to the album with superb hammond sound from Wright and really grappling guitars from Gilmour. Mason, also, is on top form, with bass pedal throbs and very fitting clear percussion sounds. The vocals and lyrics, equally, are pretty good ('If you wanna find out what's behind these cold eyes/ Then you'll have to claw your way past this disguise!'). A superbly bombastic start to the album, with taste moderating the intentionally overboard sound.

A baby wailing brings us onto The Thin Ice, another solid cut, with some really haunting work from Wright's swirling synths and cautious piano as a highlight, and excellent vocals from Gilmour, whether or not they stretch the 'oooh'ing a bit too much. Waters' more aggressive vocals contrast neatly, and a fine snarling solo from Gilmour also marks the piece. The end segues through a thunking, almost electronic bass beat...

to Another Brick In The Wall pt.1, which is the first of the few really fantastic songs on the album, with extremely well-written and accusing lyrics, as well as a brilliant harmony of empty menace over the minimalistic electronic bass-line merging with some little guitar and keyboard effects. Children's voices and the occasional shout punctuate the background.

The Happiest Days Of Our Lives is a moderate mix of biting anti-school aggression and the defiant mockery of these oppressive figures. The rhythm section, unusually for Floyd, takes a really dominant part and handles it finely, and the screeching segue is almost unmatched...

Unlike the following Another Brick In The Wall pt. 2, where, simply, not a lot is going on. The guitars and riffs are very much repeated, the loud children's chorus is simply irritating, and so horrifically out of tune that I usually end up skipping. The lyrics are solid, and the bluesy solo in the middle ain't bad, but those are the only nice things I'll really say about it. The first of the 'let's throw in a few vocal loops' things flops a bit. A phone segue takes us onto...

Mother, which is one of the most lauded songs of the album. Unfortunately, it bores me. A couple of the creepy lyrical lines and deliveries are pulled off with great menace ('ooh ma, is it just a waste of time?', but the acoustic theme is simply un-interesting to me. The additions are mainly propping that up, and since I'm not too keen on it, they don't really help... equally, the self-referential lyrics are a bit of an irritation for me, but that's just preference speaking. The final couple verse and answer are a bit of an improvement, but still not so incredibly fascinating that the words 'classic' come to my mind.

Goodbye Blue Sky has a much stronger and more interesting acoustic, with some haunting background bass supplementing it as well as dark and fairly assertive additions. Much as a couple of the lyrical lines feel a bit basic, it works, and the piece is overall quite enjoyable while handling a psychological menace.

The growling aggression of Empty Spaces is a complete and delightful contrast, with wailing guitar, psychedelic force added by Wright's effects and the German distorted spoken additions, and a forceful and compelling beat. The vocals have this guttural, probably distorted, power behind them, and the piece as a whole, though brief and mainly intended as a lead up, is very effective.

Unfortunately, the following Young Lust is simply not a piece I enjoy. The rhythm section is pretty basic, Gilmour's guitars have such a synthetic edge and the plain rock ends up mainly being plain, without quite enough action to keep me interested. Wright's chords on the hammond have a simply
bored vibe, and the lyrics are for the first time a bit of an insertion, rather than a necessity. Not as awful as I'm making it sound and it does at least do the decency of being memorable, but it does nothing for me. Noch ein phonecall-based segue...

Straight into One Of My Turns, also sometimes lauded as a highlight, with a bit more plot-exposition and some very disjointed keyboard work, which I can understand, even if it doesn't hit me. The vocals for the first time feel a little too vulnerable and empty, much as that is the only real option for the piece, and the lyrics do have their moment in the opening section. The musical side... well, it's just not especially fascinating for me.

The breathless and dark Don't Leave Me Now is another very Wright-driven track, even if it's not quite as fascinating as some of the previous ones, and, much as the lyrics are horrific and dark, the rather thin delivery simply doesn't quite work out the way I think it meant to. Three minutes I didn't need to spend, and one superb conclusion, with a whirling guitar, some moving piano touches and the 'oooh babe' motif being used really well.

The biting and hammering aggression of Another Brick In The Wall pt. 3 is the real highlight of the first side for me. The lyrics are brilliantly written, and the forceful, striking electronic-ish beat backed up with little band additions is incredibly compelling. Vocals, effects, guitars... everything works.

Goodbye Cruel World ends the first disc in a subdued way, with a fairly feeble two-note bass thing over some repeats of the organ riff from Another Brick pt. 3, and a simple lyrical set to signify the completion of The Wall (a theme which I've stopped following mentally by Young Lust, anyway...). It doesn't make a great impression.

The second disc starts out promisingly, with the exceptional Hey You. A more medieval-feel guitar theme holds up neatly by itself, giving enough space for the other additions to really hit home. Simple though it is, everything fits neatly, and emphasises the emotions of the narrator. More importantly, we get the amazing guitar theme (diao-da-da-dao...) that will be repeated in the second side in its purest and most stunning form. The vocals also express themselves much more clearly and freely than I feel they've done on the majority of the first side, and the lyrical content is again quite impressive ('Hey you! Would you help me to carry the stone/Open your heart, I'm coming home'). Superb in and out of context.

Is There Anybody Out There is another menacing piece, with just one repeated, maddened line arranged precisely and a mass of psychedelic keys with a couple of guitary and bass sounds, even reminiscent of Echoes. A really pretty acoustic solo from Gilmour highlights the second part of the piece, and much as I'm not the biggest fan of his acoustics in general, this one works beautifully.

Nobody Home features some fiddling with a vocal repeat, as well as a generally good vocal side. The orchestra feature for the first time, if generically, and Wright's piano gets a little space to expand. The first half of the lyrics I really enjoy, the second... don't really impact on me. Overall, however, it is a satisfying piece overall.

Vera is the first of two lyrically pointless pieces. There is absolutely no conceivable reason for it to be
where it is, in my opinion. Perhaps on the first disc, it would have fit a lot better, with the touching vocal from Waters and the lush cello not dragged down by plain irrelevance.

Bring The Boys Back Home is the second. The bombastic orchestra is pretty generic, but the highlights of the song is in the vocal wailing accompanying it, truly bizarre. Unfortunately, the segue has the worst of the vocal loops overuses, despite the menacing Is There Anybody Out There? reprise.

Comfortably Numb is a piece I have mixed opinions on. The lyrics are great, but clearly a complete insertion. Equally, the music is fine, but it doesn't match the album, which, at its best is downcast and sullen... the rather upbeat themes of this one have never fit for me. The orchestra inclusions irk me a little, as does the chorus-dragging-on-so-much part. The guitar solos... well, I like them enough, the second much more so than the first, but wouldn't really consider them mindblowing, especially since I'm not the world's biggest guitar person. It's understandable why it is so popular, but I feel quite confused as to why I'm listening to it in the middle of a clear concept album, which it isn't an
integral part of.

The Show Must Go On, comparatively, is a piece that was clearly well-meaning, but simply feels like a bit musically invalid to me, especially the vocals. It's clearly trying, but I simply don't like the harmonies and Gilmour's voice on it. The lyrics... equally, feels a bit fill-up inspired. The only substantial plus is the semi-yodel thing handled in the opening harmony.

In The Flesh (II) echoes the first one pretty precisely, in terms of its musical content, albeit acoustics and slightly more stretchy choral things feature prominently. Lyrically, however, the altered context and vocal performance really does give it a fair bit of validity. The lines are again well-written, and quite neat, albeit I completely fail to understand why Pink (erk!) decides he's being Hitler for the evening... The conclusion is, however, great.

Run Like Hell features another more basic beat, and some guitar 'waves' (I like to call them) that, while perhaps interesting to a guitarist, don't get me. The vocals, while experimental and cleverly arranged, also have no effect on me. So we have. a song where I really feel either of the leads and the rhythm section is pretty basic. A slightly redeeming synth solo from Wright marks the end of the piece and returns of the Another Brick 3 theme work, but that's all I can really find to like.

Waiting For The Worms, after a slightly slow opening, features a kicking guitar theme from Gilmour as well as menacing multi-tracked vocals and vicious lyrical madness. Repeats of the godly guitar-theme of Hey You are like ambrosia for my ears, and the overall piece is a very impressive and compelling one despite a vulnerable beginning.

Stop is a deliberate, short anti-climactic break, with really nice high piano playing from Wright.

The following The Trial features the orchestra in its full role, really arranged for maximised effect, and an array of the bizarre characters involved in the album arrayed against our protagonist. The vocals around the line 'crazy... toys in the attic, I am crazy' are wonderfully supplemented by the harp playing. Meanwhile, however, the refrains on that just don't work for me. Though it features again that phenomenal guitar theme, added to the judge's blustering, the piece could have been so much more enjoyable for me with a tiny bit of trimming, and the 'tear down the wall' shouting, while really the obvious way to do it... feels so obvious that it's almost out of place.

Outside The Wall provides possibly the world's most ineffectual conclusion, especially in the context of such a dark piece. With a really light sax theme echoing the opening, and a slightly irritating light vocal complete with daft refrains not really doing anything for the lyrics. An instrumental repeat... well, why bother. Doesn't work for me.

So, individually, a lot of the pieces are alright, a few are really, really strong, and not a huge number really fall flat horribly. However, as a whole, it simply doesn't feel quite there to me, and it falls down to aggressive examination. I'm not that keen on the concept, and I really do not like the ending. Also, I really don't have the money spare to do what some have suggested and head for the film just to understand the concept a bit better... if I'm not the album's greatest fan, and I think the concept is basic, I'm not going to splurge on it, to be honest. It is quite an interesting album from a few perspectives, but the interest... it passes too quickly, and one listen will generally give me just as much information as ten on any individual feature.

Two stars is admittedly a bit harsh, but I simply don't find it entirely satisfying, and that's even as someone who's generally positive towards
Floyd. If you're not a fan of the band, it is admittedly so big and influential a recording that it's probably a necessity. Equally, it's interesting to look at why this album succeeded so highly, but in and of itself it isn't, in my view, the masterpiece some proclaim it to be.

Rating: Two Stars
Favourite Track: Another Brick In The Wall pt. 3/Hey You

--

OK, well, I think that rating alone would be a cause for trolling/discussion aplenty. Questions aren't needed :p. Well, let's try it.... (see bottom of post)
IIRC, I'm the only collab to give that less than three stars, though that may have changed since I looked over the reviews a while back. I tell a lie. there are three others, at least.

Profuse thanks to Febus and Mike-Tor for their compliments, even if it's doing no good at all for my ego LOL... Let us hope that my skills haven't gone with my hair Cry (*muttering about regulations*), which coincidentally resulted in my week or so hiatus of anger.

Still waiting for the new stuff to arrive.
Album of the Week: Still Life - VDGG. Had an epic forty-minute singalong, complete with weird inflections and a decent dose of air organ.
Song Of The Week: Down To The Waterline - Dire Straits. I'm such a pop fan. Brilliant lyrics, though.

Now...

1) Should a concept album be taken only as a whole? If so, even when many of the tracks are, basically, unimportant to the concept?
2) Why is the concept of The Wall brilliant? Explain to me...
3) Did the multiple-release of The Wall (film, album, live show etc.) impact on the music's studio performance significantly?
4) Would The Wall have sold better as a single album? Would it have had more artistic value (in your view) as a single album?



Personal answers:
1) Not necessarily: the individual pieces do contribute to my view of it as much as the arrangement and segues do. When parts of the album aren't key, the album becomes very divisible.
2) It's not :p. Enlighten me
3) dunno. Suspect it could have really gutted the improvisation, but Floyd had stopped being improvisational by then anyway, so I hear.
4) I don't believe it would. Ironically, I think the fact that it's a popular double album has amplified a sense of curiosity in people, and sort of disguised/made more acceptable the rather more inaccessible psychedelia because nice rock tunes punctuate it so much. I don't feel that the whole thing is artistically necessary, and could have gone for a more condensed version myself, but that's just me.

These days, there are so few double albums that it makes The Wall look like an exception, whether or not it actually was.

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: September 12 2008 at 18:25
Would the wall have sold better as a single album!? It's the number 3 selling album of all time! (last I checked) doesn't sell much better than that

Anyways, very well written as always Rob. I heartily disagree with everything said and I think that Antoine might as well, but you put up a good argument. For me the album was more of 'an experience' than just an album, and for some people that 'experience' just doesn't click, I guess you're one of them . As for the concept of the album - I think a lot of people can draw parallels to the story dealing with isolation and self questioning, along with false idolization and oppression from various authorieties (mothers, school masters, law, ect) not to mention the heartbreak of having the person whom you trust the most (the ex-wife, in the case of this story) abandon you. While the story is terribly non-linear, I think a lot of people also appreciate how open it is, many high-schoolers I know have written essays on it, and all of them different, people can come up with their own meaning for it whether the band intended that or not.

I don't really feel like putting up an argument, but that's how I see it . Anyways, what a friggen long-ass review Rob. You certainly poured some passion into an album you detest
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