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bagoproverbial
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Member since: 30.09.2007

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      14.11.2007 11:41
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      Get their first 2 albums!

      Catherine Wheel were formed in 1990 and are probably best described (during their early days) as shoegaze-oriented indie-rock with a supreme ear for melody and an uncharacteristically (for the genre) strong and present vocalist in Rob Dickinson.

      Despite being pigeonholed with other bands of this sub-genre such as My Bloody Valentine, they probably owed more to the retro-indie groups of the time such as House of Love. Certainly they were more of a straightforward rock outfit from this point of view, although they were still an original band. The clear and strong vocals certainly set them apart from most shoegaze bands who generally hid the vocals (to an extent) behind a wall of guitar riffage.

      They brought out their first album "Ferment" in 1992. This, along with "Chrome" from 1993 rates as their best work. The album features shimmering, beautiful indie guitar music which still doesn't sound dated today, although it doesn't have the despondent plod of say, Travis or Coldplay. Catherine Wheel are certainly thoughtful and can be melancholic, but to me they are also a very uplifiting band, and their majestic, soaring music certainly made their fans happy. Their music combined an accessibility with intelligence that helped pave the way for the Coldplays and Keanes of today.

      The best songs from this era, which you ought to listen to if you like this kind of music, are probably "Crank", "Bill and Ben", "The Nude", "Black Metallic"... there are many more. There are also no duff songs on either of these two albums- just some which are more fantastic than others.

      Catherine Wheel made a steady move towards a rockier direction, but this wasn't necessarily the best move they could have made. "Happy Days" from 1995 was a much heavier affair, which puzzled many of their fans and left them wondering what was happening to the band. It wasn't a bad album, but it seemed to be cast somewhat adrift between the beautifully-arranged tracks of their previous albums and what could probably be best described as "post-grunge brit-rock", a clunking moniker for such travesties as Terrorvision and The Wildhearts (not that they really sounded anything like those bands!).

      1997 brought their fourth album, "Adam and Eve", which was somewhat less heavy although probably a more ambitious effort, and was generally thought of as a welcome return to form, being more positive, musically stronger and not lacking in direction. There are hints here of vocals and arrangements from eighties avant-garde pop-rock band Talk Talk, whose producer had helped carve out many of Catherine Wheels' musical arrangements down the years.

      Sadly their 2000 album "Wishville" was a let-down. To anyone picking up the album for the first time and not having heard any of their other music, it might seem good enough- a competent, middle of the road rock album. But it lacks the originality, the spark and maybe (though we would hope not) the effort of their previous releases. Even "Happy Days" was a determination to go somewhere, even if the journey was followed by a quiet retracing of their steps. But "Wishville" doesn't sound so much like a journey at all- more like a once-great band standing still.

      So I can heartily recommend the first two albums, and their fourth album, to you- possibly even the third. But not the fifth!

      Hopefully this wasn't the last of Catherine Wheel, although it looks as if it was- singer Rob Dickinson now appears to have brought out a solo album recently, and as to the others- I have yet to see or hear anything from them. Perhaps the band will reform one day- I would certainly go and see them if they did.

      Until then...

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        14.11.2007 11:20
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        The best of the so-called "grunge" albums and a worthy addition to any serious music collection

        Soundgarden are my personal favourite of all the Nineties grunge bands (though "grunge" is a term I don't especially like to use- it's more a label for others to recognise them by)- although Alice in Chains come a close second.

        Soundgarden were much more of a classic rock / metal band than the others- certainly that was their background- and this album, "Superunknown" saw them at the pinnacle of their powers as a dark, powerful groove machine with a singer (Chris Cornell) who had a great classic rock voice- clean, strong and emotive. Although the music is heavier than either, there is something both Black Sabbath and Bad Company in them- Sabbath because of the heavy grooves and hooks, Bad Company because to me Chris Cornell does sound a little like Paul Rodgers, who was also an excellent singer.

        The tracks on this album are:

        Let Me Drown
        My Wave
        Fell on Black Days
        Mailman
        Superunknown
        Head Down
        Black Hole Sun - probably their most famous track and one that shows an almost poppy (if still very dark) edge to their songwriting.
        Spoonman
        Limo Wreck - my second favourite- highly emotional, creepy riffs, just an excellent if curious song
        The Day I Tried to Live - my favourite on this album.
        Kickstand
        Fresh Tendrils
        4th of July
        Half
        Like Suicide

        As you can see from he song titles, they weren't the cheeriest band in the world but that isn't really the point. If you like light-hearted throwaway pop rubbish then you won't be interested in this band in any case.

        With this album, Soundgarden helped showcase the fact that the so-called "Big Four Grunge Bands" concept was nothing more than a media construct designed to create a genre by lumping together Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Nirvana and Pearl Jam, who were in fact four very different bands with wildly different styles and approaches.

        There are no bad songs on this album, just some that are better than others. The production is dense, heavy, and somehow overbearingly black, which is good in this case as it suits the mood of the music perfectly.

        "Superunknown" is in fact something like 70 minutes long, but at no point does it drag. Subtle changes in the overall approach of the album- shown beautifully by the plaintive guitar in songs such as "Black Hole Sun" and "The Day I Tried to Live" signal to the listener that these are not one-trick ponies...

        This was the band's finest hour and a bit, and their follow-up album, although inventive and interesting, failed to capture quite the same level of fervour, in part perhaps because by then it was 1996, the grunge fad had crumbled away and certainly in this country we were suffering the twin evils of Britpop and Ibiza dance. In fact, although there were some fine releases around this time, rock music in general didn't too well in the late Nineties.

        If you like this kind of music, you may well have "Superunknown" already, but if not, I can certainly recommend it to you.

        As an afternote, Chris Cornell released a solo album after the band split up, and then (as you may already know) formed Audioslave with Rage Against the Machine.

        Thanks for reading...

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        • Brave - Marillion / Music Album / 25 Readings / 24 Ratings
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          13.11.2007 09:50
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          One of Marillion's best pieces of work. A far cry from all that "Kayleigh" rubbish!

          Marillion's concept album "Brave" released early in 1994 broke a fairly long hiatus for the band, following some criticism of their previous album, "Holidays in Eden" from 1991, which was thought of in some quarters as just a bit too poppy, and a triumph of chart-climbing attempts over substance.

          The result was "Brave", a long, deep and sometimes difficult concept album chronicling the journey in and out of loneliness and despair of a teenage runaway. The lyrics are intelligent and moving without resorting to any manipulative hooks, and the music is enticing- it works its way into your subconscious without you really being aware of all the littrle nuances that make this a classic.

          This is therefore an album that sounds intriguing the first time you listen to it. The second time, you hear a few things you didn't quite pay attention to the first time, and ditto the third time, the fourth time... and so on. In short, this is one of those albums that tends to grow on you the more you listen to it. It has the sort of depth that can be peeled back layer by layer each time you listen- the mark of a masterpiece.

          The songs vary greatly, from the rocking "Hard As Love" to the almost ambient soundscapes of "Bridge" and "Goodbye to All That" for example... and then the beautiful paino ballad "The Hollow Man". The full track listing is:

          1. Bridge
          2. Living with the Big Lie
          3. Runaway
          4. Goodbye to All That
          5. Hard As Love
          6. The Hollow Man
          7. The Lap of Luxury
          8. Now Wash Your Hands
          9. Paper Lies
          10. Brave
          11. The Great Escape
          12. The Last of You
          13. Fallin' from the Moon
          14. Made Again

          By Marillion standards this is a difficult, less than straightforward album, with many curious twists and turns. Ambient soundscape builds to haunting ballad which melts into an upbeat rock track... and vice versa, especially where the up-tempo "Paper Lies" fades into the strangely wistful, uplifting bagpipes (fear not, this is bagpipes in a *good* way if you can imagine such a thing) of "Brave".

          Finally, the fragile but hopeful strummed ballad "Made Again" rounds off proceedings, bringing the album to an ultimately satisfying end.

          I would recommend this album for anyone who doesn't necessarily need their music to be "immediate" in any way and is prepared to listen to the album more than just a couple of times. This is an exquisite piece of work that really does get better with each listen- and as I've owned it for over 13 years, I'm in a good position to make that judgement!

          It's also worth making time to listen to this album when you can be sure to have an hour or two to yourself. Draw the curtains, turn the lights down and turn up the stereo- and then just lie back and let the music wash over you.

          At this moment I can't think of any other albums quite like this- even by the same band- so it's really something fairly unique. Definitely worth finding, buying and listening to.

          Thanks for reading....

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            25.10.2007 22:25
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            It's like diving through mud to find a forgotten, beautiful ship, preserved in the dark.

            Alice in Chains were one of the finest bands of their kind- and when I say kind, it's difficult to qualify the statement simply because I have no wish to lump them in with the Seattle Grunge movement which they somehow became part of. That's not because I have anything against the whole grunge scene- I like most of the bands of that type, and the whole movement occurred precisely at the time when the music industry was drifting nowhere and needed an injection of something. But I digress!

            Alice in Chains sounded nothing like their "peers" and produced albums of varying type and approach throughout their career. This really isn't the same kind of band as, say, Nirvana (who had a far "punkier" approach) or Pearl Jam (who were really a melodic mainstream rock band, albeit a very good one). Alice in Chains moved from glam through to mainstream (and somewhat accessible) grunge through to this- their final album, and one of the darkest pieces of work ever created.

            Alice in Chains' final, self-titled album is possibly one mainly for afficianados of this kind of bleak, nihilistic American heavy rock music, and probably not the first Alice in Chains album you should hear (that would probably be "Dirt", their biggest-selling and most accessible album).

            This is a bleak, grinding dirge of an album, the sonic equivalent almost of drowning in mud and despair, but throughout this endless night runs a thread of complexity, clever musical arrangement and the kind of production that suits the music perfectly, enhancing the mood that it strives to create. The opening track "Grind" sets the mood for the album with mid-paced, heavy riffing, produced and textured to a finer degree than on their previous albums. In other words, this album is a "grower" and requires patience- even for those such as I who was a fan of the band before I heard this.

            For those who don't know Alice in Chains very well (or indeed for those of you who've never heard of them) their lead singer Layne Staley was a heroin addict, and shortly after this record was eleased, the addiction would finally destroy him. Never a band to avoid difficult and personal issues in their music, Alice in Chains have more than a few drug-related themes running through this album- or more pertinently, the issues and crises of the mind that can be caused by them.

            Occasionally there are tracks that lift their heads out of the mire for a brief glimpse of outright melody, for example "Heaven Beside You" is a simple but beautiful ballad-like track, the type of stripped-down basic guitar workout that they did exceptionally well.

            The full track listing (which I'm placing here to give you some idea of the despondency and bleakness of the album) is:

            1. Grind
            2. Brush Away
            3. Sludge Factory
            4. Heaven Beside You
            5. Head Creeps
            6. Again
            7. Shame in You
            8. God Am
            9. So Close
            10. Nothin' Song
            11. Frogs
            12. Over Now

            Generally, however, this album feels more like a mood piece than a collection of individual songs- something that a lot of "grower" albums have in common. Whereas "Dirt" was full of instantly catchy, melodic tunes (despite a darkness lurking at the centre of it- check out "Down In a Hole"), "Alice in Chains" is layer upon layer of textured sound twisted into various shapes to make songs. Around the fourth or fifth listen it probably occurred to me just how original it was- and I couldn't help but smile at the fact that it hadn't quiute occurred to me before- although I knew there was "something there to discover". It's always a good feeling when a piece of music does that to you- a little like the sun coming up in the morning- despite the subject matter and nihiistic approach of the lyrics.

            The album bears no real resemblance to their previous release, the "Jar of Flies / Sap" double EP, which showcased a more gentle, acoustic side to the band.

            As you will have gathered by now, it doesn't make for particularly immediate or particularly easy listening, but this was never really the point of this band, and this album appears to change in texture and form as you listen to it a few more times and pick out some of the many subtlties and depths to the songs. All the best albums are voyages, but sometimes you have to cross the ocean back and forth a few times before you can see it for what it truly is.

            One last note: there is little escaping the irony of the last track (an epitaph if ever there was one), entitled "Over Now". Not long after this record hit the stores, it *was* all over.

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              24.10.2007 22:41
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              Go there for a long weekend!

              As Freiburg is still very fresh in the mind after our visit there last weekend (actually a long weekend- Thursday to Monday) it seemed appropriate to write about it.

              Preconceptions

              Well, oddly enough I’d never visited any part of Germany before so I didn’t have that many preconceptions apart from some vague images whirling around in my head of people drinking vast amounts of beer at long tables and scoffing Black Forest Gateau (particularly as Freiburg is in the far south of Germany and near the Black Forest). There was plenty of the former but not much of the latter- however a friend of ours with whom we were meeting up directed me to a restaurant that apparently served some of the best Black Forest Gateau- and it was beyond delicious.

              Getting There

              Freiburg is about an hour and a half’s flight (plus just under an hour’s bus journey) from the airports near London, which really isn’t far at all. We found that a good way of getting there is to fly to Basel, which is on the French-Swiss border, and then get a special airport bus into Freiburg. The bus journey takes about 55 minutes. Be warned- the bus fare is about €32 per person for a return, which is a lot considering the relatively short distance. However we had no complaints beyond that- the bus was on time and comfortable.

              The Hotel

              The hotel we stayed at was the Inter-City Freiburg, which is about as near to the train station as you can get without actually being on the railway tracks. With the main tram station and plenty of bus links nearby, it goes without saying that this was all extremely convenient. The hotel itself is a three-star, functional and clean without too many frills- in other words, perfect for our budget and pleasant to stay in, and about as good as a three-star hotel will be.

              Shopping

              With various trinket shops and stores stuffed with ornaments and odd works of art dotted about the winding streets and cobbled alleyways, Freiburg is excellent for those seeking strange gifts for people.

              There is also a good little convenience store located in the basement level of the shopping mall next to the hotel, from which we managed to purchase a bizarre range of beer-and-soft-drink shandies, chocolates and odd liqueurs.

              Restaurants and Bars

              There are far too many to count, and most serve a bewildering variety of beers. The food is more than satisfactory- I wouldn’t say it’s on a par with Spanish or Portuguese cuisine (for a start most meat dishes appear to be variations on pork steak with various accompaniments) but what they have is perfectly good- and much better than the standard of most British restaurants. The prices- at the restaurants we visited, anyway- were a little cheaper than I expected- about €8 for a good-sized main meal and about €3 for a pint of beer (actually they serve it in 500ml glasses, not pints, but let’s face it, most pubs in England like to serve you 500ml of beer with 68ml of pointless froth added to make it a “full” pint).

              Also the various bratwurst (German sausage) vendors in the market square seem to serve up some very nice sausages in buns. Again this isn’t the sort of thing I would even consider eating in the UK, but a long line of locals impatiently waiting for their food means it can’t be that bad.

              The Cathedral

              The cathedral is well worth a visit- the fact that it’s free to enter is a bonus. The stained glass is superb and although it appears to be in a continuous state of renovation, this is sadly the case with almost every cathedral these days, and it in no way detracts from the beauty of the place inside (outside it looks impressive but rather forbidding- not to mention a forest of scaffolding at the top- but walk inside and it’s a different experience).

              The Forest

              Take the “Green” tram line (shown as number 2 on the tram line maps) southbound, and if you stay on the tram to the end there are some pleasant forest walks to be had- the whole forest is so vast that if you’re feeling adventurous you can go and, well, be adventurous, or if you just fancy a half-hour stroll, you can do that as well and then hop back onto the tram and make your way back into town.

              Transport

              Considering it’s not really a very big city at all, Freiburg’s transport system is astonishingly good- but then in a way I suspected it would be. Although it doesn’t have an underground tube system, it doesn’t really need one- there are plenty of buses, and the trams, which go pretty much everywhere in the city you’d want to go, are clean, punctual and frequent- everything that’s missing in British public transport.

              If you want to use Freiburg as a base for further exploration, well apart from the forest which I’ve already mentioned, you can go much further afield by train- Berlin or Zurich for example- and I even saw one train which was going to Amsterdam.

              Anything bad about the place?

              On the Sunday there were a worrying number of football hooligans about the place, clutching beers and being generally shouty, but luckily we didn’t see anything particularly bad happen (which is not to say that it didn’t, but we weren’t near it if it did).

              But apart from that, I have no complaints about the city. Although not particularly cheap, it’s not as expensive as you might think- and it combines cleanliness and character. Definitely worth going to- maybe not for more than a week unless you plan to explore further afield, but certainly for a single week or a long weekend (you can probably find a week’s worth of things to do here if you plan and prepare your visit).

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              • HP Laserjet 5 / Laser Printer / 33 Readings / 33 Ratings
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                17.10.2007 09:28
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                Recommended for medium to large offices which require high volume output.

                The HP Laserjet 5 is now a somewhat dated printer, but is still seen in many offices throughout the country (and no doubt throughout the world).

                Like many similar printers in the famous Laserjet range, the HP Laserjet 5 is a tad on the bulky size- an imposing white cube sitting perched on the end desk of the office like a watching gremlin, occasionally humming into life to quickly spew out some nicely-warmed printouts.

                That said, the powers that be within the company have decided that it was well worth the money- and it's not often that they make decisions that go *that* way. Why do they think so? For the same reasons as I do, I would expect. It's not particularly noisy, it prints quickly and doesn't get paper stuck in its multitude of internal workings unless someone does something silly with it.

                The printer is quite heavy- the specification states that it weighs 17 kilos, and believe me, when you're installing it and lifting it onto the desk it certainly feels like it. It's not the weight so much that makes it difficult to lug around (no, really!), rather it's the dimensions, which are roughly cuboid and which somehow contrive to make it difficult to grab hold of and move about. That said, once the printer is in its correct place and all the cables are sorted out, it's big enough and ugly enough to stay exactly where it was placed. There have been a couple of occasions where some lightweight inkjet printers were pulled off the desk by someone pulling a cable- you'd have to yank the cable pretty hard to move this beast off its perch!

                The Laserjet 5 features the PCL6 printing language, which it uses to communicate with network devices such as your PC etc. This is an updated version of the PCL5 series and is generally more stable, and works without any issues on Windows 2000 / 2003 networks.

                The printer was easy to install on the network- all it required was a TCP port, IP address etc. and it was working within minutes. The other useful thing is of course the good driver support for HP devices in virtually all versions of Windows. I believe this printer will in fact work for such ancient incarnations of Windows such as Windows for Workgroups 3.11 (not that that is much use to most people these days). The drivers for HP Laserjet 5 printers can be installed pretty much automatically, especially if you're connecting to it over the network from a PC.

                Page printing is fairly quick at 12 pages per minute. There are faster printers around, but generally this speed is sufficient for most purposes.

                The toner (this is the powder that's transferred onto the paper when printing takes place) and the fuser unit (the device that basically engraves the toner onto the paper) are quite durable and long- lasting. Like most laser printer accessories, they're not especially cheap, but then again it's not that often that you have to buy them.

                The Laserjet 5 will accept envelopes and overhead transparency sheets as well as normal paper, and will also use paper sizes such as Letter, Legal etc. which are "sort of A4 but slightly different" as many people like to describe them. It will also print A5. Note that unlike some laser printers it doesn't print A3 paer. It's bulky, but not *quite* bulky enough for that particular task!

                Like most printers it can be quite sensitive about the temperature of its environment (much like its owners, then). Avoid placing it in areas where it will get cold (e.g the server room) or hot (the vast majority of office have air conditioning these days so that shouldn't become a problem... unless your air conditioning breaks at the height of summer, of course).

                You should be able to pick one up for under a couple of hundred pounds these days- considerably less if you're lucky.

                IN SUMMARY:

                Overall, it's a good, dependable printer like many in the HP range. Driver support is excellent (if you have problems, you can always download from or consult with the HP website). It's a good corporate monochrome laser printer and provided you look after it (not that it needs too much looking after) it will serve you well and prove a sound investment.

                If you run a home office and space is at a premium, you may however want to think twice about getting a printer of this size (not ot mention the other thing to watch out for- the cost of the accessories such as toner). You'd probably be better off getting a small inkjet printer, particularly if you don't do vast volumes of printing.

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                  14.10.2007 17:05
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                  Definitely recommended. An essential 80s pop album.

                  When I was a kid, like many other kids I detested the clutch of smarmy, self-satisfied radio 1 DJs that ruled the airwaves back then- so gratifyingly lampooned by Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse. "What are you doing this weekend, MATE?" "Well, MATE, I'm doing an awful lot of work for chariddy..."

                  Mike Read was one such smarm, and bizarrely Frankie Goes to Hollywood fans such as I have something to thank this man for- helping to bring this band not only to their attention but to the attention of the masses. By the end of 1984 Frankie Goes to Hollywood were arguably the biggest pop band on the planet, due in part to Mike Read's refusal to play their single "Relax" on the radio on the grounds that it was "disgusting" I believe. Granted, it's a bit rude but really quite tongue-in-cheek, like much of their material, and this really showcased the lack of any sense of humour at the BBC more than anything else.

                  So what happened? "Relax" went to number one, "Two Tribes" went to number one, and "Welcome to the Pleasuredome" went to number one- and correct me if I'm wrong but I believe they were the fist band in history to have three consecutive number one singles to debut with.

                  Strangely, the band had formed way back in 1980, and made a low-key appearance on The Tube in 1982 which attracted interest from various record producers, including Trevor Horn, who became the band's producer for this album.

                  Enough of the history lesson: back to the album. All three songs are on this album, including the full glorious version of "Welcome to the Pleasuredome". There are also some filler tracks, including a couple of dodgy ones, although "Ballad of 32" is beautiful in its strummed simplicity.

                  By far and away the best track on the album though is "The Power of Love", probably also the best ballad of the entire decade and one of the greatest songs ever written. even now when I play this song it makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. It is, quite simply, beautiful beyond comparison, and the slightly naff lyrics somehow serve to make it even more so.

                  The album has a slightly prog feel to it, in part because of the strangely arty way in which it starts, with a peculiar track called "The World is my Oyster" (maybe not so peculiar, as the world was indeed fast becoming their oyster at this time) which eventually melts away into the long, bombastic future-pop of the title track, one of the highlights of the album. Others, aside of course from the three major singles, include the slightly creepy "Only Star in Heaven" and "Krisco Kisses", both dance-pop gems.

                  Although the album has its weirder moments, overall its an excellent piece of work- a rare case of the hype surrounding a band being lived up to by their product.

                  What happened to FGTH after this? They released one more album, "Liverpool" (which is best left forgotten) in 1986, and then disappeared completely. I believe singer Holly Johnson is now an art critic or art musuem curator or possibly even an artist now. Either way, "Welcome to the Pleasuredome" is essential listening for any 80s pop completist.

                  And it's also the only Frankie album you ever need to buy, unless of course you like to collect remixes. ;)

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                    12.10.2007 18:58
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                    Worth visiting... just not as much as it used to be

                    I first wrote this review almost three years ago, when I was torn between giving Ely four or five stars... now I'm torn between giving it three or four. I’ve changed the narrative accordingly, based on more recent observations of the place.

                    THE AREA

                    Ely is probably the only town worth visiting in the Fens of Cambridgeshire. All around it for many miles are unpleasant, violence-ridden villages such as Littleport, or grim flatland market towns such as Downham Market. But Ely, sitting on a hill with one of the most majestic cathedrals in England, is well worth a visit.

                    Aside from the cathedral, it doesn't look that amazing when you walk out of the train station, but that says more about where many train stations are situated than anything else.

                    Once you find the city centre, you'll see that the city (and it's quite a small city really) has a number of interesting shops as well, of course, as the cathedral itself.

                    THE CATHEDRAL

                    As I said, the cathedral is one of the best in England, and also features a stained glass museum on the first floor with some excellent works of art. It costs to go in, but they do need the money. One thing I have noticed (and about which I’m not sure how I feel) is that the people who help run the cathedral have allegedly been pestering people for money to just go into the cathedral, and even following them around asking for money. Wrong tactic I think- but I understand why they’ve been asked to do. Upkeep and maintenance of buildings like these is not cheap, and unfortunately most people like to get everything and pay nothing if they can get away with it- hence the problem.

                    SHOPS

                    The best shop in the city is down by the riverside, and is called "Waterside Antiques". This is a big, rambling old antiques shop on three floors, and if like me you like to spend hours wandering about peering at interesting objects (no, not THAT sort of interesting object ;) ) you will absolutely love it.

                    Aside from that, these days Ely is mostly chain stores- there are some small independent shops on the high street and the market street but who knows how long they’ll last. The place certainly doesn’t have the character it did several years ago.

                    MARKET

                    Ely has a farmer’s market on Thursdays and a general market on Saturdays. Worth a look round, but if you go there enough times you’ll see that most of the items are the same, so very little seems to get sold. Twice a year they also have a French market, where jams, meats, cheeses, breads etc. are sold for about three times their worth.

                    PUBS

                    If you're a pubbing kind of person, the Maltings by the riverside has a nice, clean and professional feel to it, and the food is highly recommended. It’s bland and commercial, but at least it isn’t trying to be anything else. Alternatively you can try the Minster Tavern which is just a stone's throw from the cathedral. This is quite popular with busloads of pensioners during the holiday season. The food has improved in recent years and isn’t bad at all. I wouldn’t go in there after about 7pm though as it does tend to get a bit local and lairy.

                    If you're after a more ramshackle, rough-and-ready pub, the Cutter Inn by the riverside WAS such a place- atmospheric and homely in an odd sort of way- especially in warm weather when you can sit outside and look out over the river, watch the swan and geese and the boats going past (and Ely has a LOT of boats!). But now they’ve gone and done what they do with most pubs sooner or later- given it a bland makeover and turned into a “family-friendly-eatery” type place with bored, stressed waitresses hovering or carrying too many plates of food that’s been hurriedly reheated.

                    There are a few other pubs such as the West End and the Fountain, populated mostly by a mixture of the Hooray Henrys from the nearby King’s College and a selection of bearded Real Ale snobs. I like my beer not to be warm and sour with the colour of filth, so avoid such places.

                    Then you have the “Do not enter if you value your life” pubs- the Town House, the High Flyer… occupied by chavs and white-van-man types supping their Stella and waiting for it to kick in.

                    FOR THOSE BORN WITH A SILVER SPOON IN THEIR MOUTHS…

                    The well-to-do of Ely, who I’m sure do their best to make sure they never see the seedier side of the city, send their precious little darlings to the King’s School, which offers a shoo-in for Cambridge University for those with the right money and the right connections. The chavs hate the spoiled brats and vice versa, so there’s another problem.

                    NOT AS GOOD AS IT USED TO BE

                    Afraid not. The city has lost a lot of its character, mainly because of its rapid expansion- unfortunately the powers that be have decided to create dozens of new estates but haven’t backed any of them up with much in the way of new facilities. It’s continuing to grow, and apparently there are also plans for a new town just to the south, called Mereham, which all the locals are up in arms about.


                    IN SUMMARY

                    Ely is worth a visit- during the day (make it a sunny day if you can). The Waterside area (by the river) is worth spending time at. But like most British towns which could once be described as “nice” it’s on a slow downward slide.

                    But despite this, it's still nicer than pretty much everywhere else in the area!

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                    • More +
                      12.10.2007 18:06
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                      A haven for the over-50s and okay for young families

                      Sheringham is a small seaside town (I'm reticent about using the word "resort"... it isn't big enough) on the north Norfolk coast. Like everywhere else in North Norfolk, it's nice in the summer (occasional stiff breeze notwithstanding) but probably incredible depressing during the autumn and winter.

                      Sheringham is a little different in character to Cromer (the town just to the south-east of it).
                      It has a more open, windswept feel to it somehow, with streets that feel wider, a more traditional layout (as opposed to curiously winding roads that go nowhere in particular), lots of bucket-and-spade shops, vast armies of pensioners trundling along at a relaxed 1mph, Seventies-style pubs where Chicken Supreme washed down with a glass or two of Blue Nun followed by some Black Forest Gateau is probably the height of haute cuisine...

                      Sheringham is not a town to hurry through, mainly because hurrying is nigh on impossible. The pensioners dictate the pace on the pavement, and if you're driving, well, closer to the beach you can expect entire families, complete with whining kids, taking up the entire road as they meander their way down to the beach.

                      There isn't a lot to say about Sheringham's shops- it has some of the usual chain stores, plenty of terrible tat shops, one very good sweet shop near the train station which serves almost every imaginable flavour of Jelly Bean, and several rather good bakers. Last time we were there we had a nice fresh pasty from one such baker which was eaten whilst overlooking the beach. Something about the salt air just seems to make food tastier- well it does for me, anyway.

                      Sheringham is home to the North Norfolk Railway, a somewhat uninspiring steam railway which offers short trips from Sheringham to point B and then back gain, through some equally uninspiring land. The Bure Valley Railway (at Hoveton) was much better, so if you're going to pick one steam railway journey in Norfolk, choose that instead.

                      Whereas Cromer is stuck even further back in the mists of time, Sheringham has at least dragged itself on as far as the Seventies. That said, it does have a number of plus points which is why I've given it three stars- as follows:

                      1. There doesn't seem to be much trouble there. At least, we never saw much during the day or even in the evening. You do see some suspicious yobbo types hanging around in the centre of town but hey, you get them everywhere, and there didn't seem to be too many of them.

                      2. The pubs. The Robin Hood Tavern and The Lobster both served some very nice meals when we went there, for a reasonable price. Nothing extraordinary, just good honest pub fayre, but it was appreciated after we'd spent hours walking around the town and up anddown the beach and pier (walking on beaches and piers *always* makes me hungry... it's that salt air again).

                      3. The bakers. Nothing like a good fresh nibble from a bakery, and there were quite a few to choose from.

                      4. A huge assortment of bizarrely-flavoured ice creams for sale. There were many little cafes selling ice creams of all sorts of exotic flavours.

                      5. That sweet shop with the Jelly Beans.

                      Sheringham: worth going if you have young kids, seeing as the beach is quite nice (teenagers might well hate it), or if like us you don't object too much to overt cheesiness. It's a more relaxed and pleasant place than most British towns. Worth a visit.

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                      • Aura - The Mission / Music Album / 25 Readings / 23 Ratings
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                        11.10.2007 09:39
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                        A welcome return to form

                        During the late 1980s and very early 1990s The Mission were one of the top rock acts, often derided by critics but with a style and panache of their own- perhaps the critics failed to warm to them as much as they could have done exactly because of that style- the Mission became almost as famous for their off-stage antics as their on-stage shows.

                        Then, somehow, they lost the plot completely (it didn't help that lead singer and main man Wayne Hussey kept losing band members) and brought out turgid pub-rock toss in the form of the Neverland (1995) and Blue (1996) albums.

                        So they did what many bands do when they've lost the plot, which is disappear completely for a while- regroup and have a ponder about the direction in which they are heading.

                        Consequently, except for a greatest hits compilation and some other re-releases, very little was heard from the Mission camp until 2001, when, in combination with an ultimately triumphant tour, The Mission returned with this album- Aura. They had been gigging and touring extensively through 1999 and onwards, so there had been a glimpse of a few of the tracks, but even the most optimistic Mission fan would secretly have been breathing a sigh of relief that when "Aura" finally manifested itself, it was a gem and not another album of neither-here-nor-there middle-of-the-road rock.

                        Aura is, quite simply, The Mission back to their best. Dispensing with the indie-rock no-mans-land territory that their last three albums (including 1992's "Masque") had fitted into, this album is a return to the bombastic emotional rock (that's not "emo" by the way) of their heyday. Okay, so there aren't any tracks quite on a par with classics such as "Tower of Strength" or "Beyond the Pale" from the "Children" album, or indeed anything of its predecessor, the "First Chapter" album- but this is still a stunning comeback considering the dross that they had been coming out with for the previous ten years or so.

                        The tracks are:

                        1. Evangeline
                        2. Shine Like the Stars
                        3. (Slave to) Lust
                        4. Mesmerised
                        5. Lay Your Hands on Me
                        6. Dragonfly
                        7. Happy
                        8. To Die by Your Hand
                        9. Trophy / It Never Rains...
                        10. The Light That Pours From You
                        11. Burlesque
                        12. Cocoon
                        13. In Denial

                        ...and there is an untitled track hidden at the end of the album.

                        There's no denying that some of the lyrics are, as ever, either completely overblown or just a bit naff ("(Slave to) Love" is one such track) but anyone who concentrates purely on that small fact is really missing the point of the Mission. Whether they're overly emotional or not isn't the point and never really has been- the point is that they entertain, they rock, and on this album they have managed to produce some songs which are more than reminiscent of their heyday.

                        Each song is either guitar-driven rock or semi-acoustic, winsome balladry, and whilst none of them are startlingly original (some do sound a lot like other songs off old albums) each one has a comfortable feel to it- instantly recognisable as, if not classic Mission, then something that's much closer than you might have expected from them at this stage in their career.

                        I saw them play most of the songs off this album live at London's Kentish Town Forum some time ago now, where they headlined the evening and produced an electrifying show. If there's one thing better than a Mission album it's hearing and seeing them live- a band with style, attitude and a decent sense of humour. The songs off Aura were, as I suspected they would be, even better played live- which is usually the case with this band.

                        They brought out another album after this, "God is a Bullet", which is a fair bit more experimental (in so far as they experiment at all) so the Mission are still going- and going fairly strong.

                        If you've not heard much or anything by this band, I would still recommend that you firstly listen to the "Children" and "First Chapter" albums from their early days. But if you like those, then you may well like "Aura" as well.

                        Thanks for reading!

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                        • Toshiba Portege R200 / Laptop / 19 Readings / 18 Ratings
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                          10.10.2007 10:21
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                          Great laptop for travel, light to moderate use, less intensive applications

                          An odd title for a review, I know, but this is a fairly odd laptop- as far as I'm concerned at least- mainly because I actually *like* it and haven't got tired of carrying it around.

                          COST

                          Well, when I bouight it, which was 2 years ago now- around £1200 all in all, included Windows XP, with service pack 2 plus lots of Toshiba software, most of which isn't really required. You can now get it for under £500 (sigh- such is the way with computer-related items).

                          DESIGN

                          The laptop in question is the Toshiba Portege R200. When you take it out of the box, the first thing you will notice is the attractive, sleek silver look to it. It certainly looks the part for anyone wanting to take their laptop to a conference and hoping to make a good impression with a worthwhile machine. It has a nice silver, ultra-slim design and certainly looks the part. Although compact, the keyboard is easy to use (as eas to use as any other laptop keyboard, anyway).

                          WEIGHT

                          The second surprising thing about this machine you will notice is soon as you pick it up. Yes, it's light- surprisingly light for a laptop of this specification. You can actually carry it around in a rucksack or laptop bag without really noticing it too much. Okay, so you have a power supply and whatever other bits and pieces you want to add on (maybe a spare battery), but you have those in any case, regardless of the laptop. So it's no worse than carrying round a hadback book really.

                          BATTERY POWER

                          On the subject of carrying it around, if you were doing just that you'd probably want to know how long the battery will last. Well, I've tested it a number of times and found that it lasted about four hours, wich is pretty good really. You can also easily swap out a battery for a spare one by flipping it onto its underside and easily slotting the battery in and out.

                          MEMORY

                          The Toshiba Portege R200 comes with 256Mb memory built in with an extra 256Mb in a memory slot which you can get to with a thin screwdriver- this is located (like most things it seems) on the underside of the machine. However, if you intend to use it for fairly intensive applications, or if you just want it to multi-task a little more efficiently (ladies- think of it as a man...) you may want to swap out the 256Mb in the extra slot for a 1Gb memory stick instead. This makes a big difference to the performance and hence to you productivity when you need to get a lot of things done.

                          You can buy 1Gb memory sticks for this model from a lot of places but I would recommend Crucial Technology (www.crucial.com an then click for the UK site) as they allow you to go through a wizard on their website to determine your exact laptop model and hence the type of memory you need- *very* useful if like most of us you're not sure.

                          DISK SPACE

                          My model came with 60Gb of disk space- considering that this *is* a laptop after all, you're unlikely to need any more than this. Provided you don't fill it up with boring things such as actual work, you should also have plenty of space for any mp3 collection you may have. ;)

                          CPU

                          The CPU (Central Processing Unit... or "brain" of the laptop) runs at 1.3GHz, which although not amazingly fast by today's standards, is perfectly adequate for the job- I certainly haven't had any problems with it.

                          MONITOR

                          The Portege R200 comes with a 12.1" TFT screen which is fairly dstandard for modern laptop builds. It does the job perfectly well, and unlike some laptops, I haven't had any problems with it at all (such as pixels dropping out, screen fading etc. etc.). when out and about, you do need a screen that isn't likely to start packing in (most people don't carry a spare monitor around with them after all...)

                          MOUSE

                          Like most laptops it has a "touchpad" for mouse emulation, which you need to rub your fingers over to move the mouse pointer- I personally hate those things, so I keep a USB mouse with me and plug that in instead. Much better!

                          EXTRA PORTS

                          It has a couple of USB ports, a monitor port, infra-red port and a slot where if you need internet access you could slot in a 3G card or something similar, if you have an account set up of course.

                          DOCKING STATION

                          You can buy a docking station for this laptop, which can sit at your office desk with your desktop-style keyboard, mouse, monitor etc. all plugged into it, awaiting your return. This is quite useful as you just need to snap the laptop onto the docking station (which is really very small and compact compared to some others you may have seen, especially for older laptops).

                          It also has the added benefit of giving you extra USB ports, or rather freeing up the USB ports on the laptop chassis itself.

                          A couple of notes to make however:

                          Toshiba call their docking stations "port replicators" (some other manufacturers do as well, these days) so look for them by this name. They cost around £200 or so from most suppliers.

                          Be *careful* when you slot the laptop onto the docking station. The thin connector port that actually secures the two together can be quite fragile, and the pins on it will bend if any force is used to try and snap the machine onto its docking station. A few colleagues of mine (being impatient and frustrated types) have done exactly that- and fixing the pins is not an easy job. So be careful!

                          TECHNICAL SUPPORT FOR THIS MODEL

                          Toshiba seem to outsource all their technical support- every time I've tried to find their support pages on the Internet I seem to (eventually) get to a page showing their "preferred support companies"... presumably one has to use these. So they seem to adaopt a bit of a hands-off approach which is far from ideal- you have to take your chances with one of the companies on the list. Luckily I've never had to use any of them, which is testament to the durability of the machine.

                          IN SUMMARY

                          If you want a light, attractive laptop for easy carriage, good battery life and something you can easily show off at a sales presentation or something like that, this is one to go for. However, if you need it for really intensive applications, or you visit areas where a tougher machine might be needed, you may want to go for a more powerful machine.

                          Thanks for reading...

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                          • webfusion.co.uk / Internet Site / 30 Readings / 28 Ratings
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                            09.10.2007 21:59
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                            AVOID. Can I make it any clearer?! ;)

                            Firstly, I'm not going to flesh out this review by copying out the specifications of the Webfusion hosting and reselling packages- these can all be found on their website at www.webfusion.co.uk. I think it's more important to warn you about the whole experience of being with them and their services.

                            Webfusion are an awful, awful web hosting company. I'll explain exactly why in the hope that you won't ever make the mistake of using them to host any of your websites or websites for other people.

                            You may be wondering why I've entitled my review "utterly surreal customer service experience". Don't worry- all will become painfully clear very shortly.

                            COST

                            Well, if they were any good then their fees might be worth paying (although they are very expensive so they'd have to be really damn good), but they're a crock of brown otters so their fees are *NOT* worth paying.

                            They charge you not only for domains and hosting but also for some mysterious thing called "mapping a domain to an account" which costs about £30 per domain per year (quite a lot if you have a lot of sites). No other provider I'm aware of has a bizarre scheme like that.


                            SERVER AVAILABILITY

                            Webfusion make considerable boasts about being attached to a Tier 1 network (in layman's terms, that means they're on the network equivalent of a motorway- allegedly). Unfortunately in their case they're stuck on the M25 at rush hour- except this rush hour is permanent. Sites are slow to load, and sometimes time out. Email is slow to collect and sometimes generates errors because the email server can't be found. This doesn't really fit the dictionary definition of "available"- but then, dictionary definitions are quite unique in the wacky world of Webfusion- read on to find out more!

                            CUSTOMER SERVICE AND SUPPORT

                            This is where Webfusion really come into their own- not. They invite you to email them with any support enquiries, problems, issues etc. They then proceed to ignore all such correspondence. You send them a reminder email and still all you get back is deafening silence.

                            I've lost count of the number of times I've had to chase them up for minor issues and queries, but also, more importantly, for really serious problems. Sometimes, I never get a response at all. Other times, I'll get a response after a WEEK- for a call listed as Critical!

                            You can phone them, but be prepared for a 25-minute wait, and then to be eventually greeted by a bored, disinterested helpdesk person who's counting down the hours and minutes until he or she can go home.

                            I also object to having to pay for a phone call, especially one as long as that, when they're offering a free email support service. Ah, but of course! The trick is to make it difficult for people to get any response via email, so some of them are forced out of sheer desperation to ry and contact them by phone.

                            Either way, they're useless as a chocolate teapot. No, that's unfair. At least you can eat a chocolate teapot.


                            THE ICING ON THE CAKE

                            This is the fun bit!

                            When we bought our account with them, they explicitly sold it as having "unlimited" web space. Little did I know at the time that I'd be having to try and explain this to one of the helpdesk drones because they had "suspended our account because we were using too much webspace".

                            I explained to him that we had UNLIMITED web space on our account. His exact response- which left me flabbergasted- was:

                            "Yes, it's unlimited, but you can't, er, you can't keep files and stuff there".

                            Ah, now I understood. The space is unlimited, but just don't try and use it! It's not meant to be for you to use. Just keep it nice and empty and it stays unlimited. Crystal clear.

                            It was so bizarre it even crossed my mind that he was joking- maybe he'd been down the pub with a few mates and had a pint or four. But it soon became apparent that he was actually being serious.

                            He then said he would speak with "Technical" and ask them to re-activate the account.

                            And guess what? Yes, they re-activated the account. All well and good, you might think. But no, there's a twist to the tale. I logged on to check everything afterwards, and... you guessed it- they had gone and deleted everything that was there, including a site that I'd spent weeks working on.

                            Not being a complete woodentop, I did actually have a backup of it, but as you'll hopefully agree, that was hardly the point.

                            AND NOW?

                            I'm in the process of moving all the sites I can away from them, as quickly as possible. It's long-winded, tedious and expensive, but the alternative is unthinkable.

                            Avoid this company like the plague, unless of course you like sites that go down without apparent reason, customer support that are allergic to email and phones, and bizarre definitions of the word "unlimited".

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                            • Hawkwind in general / Archive Music / 17 Readings / 15 Ratings
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                              09.10.2007 09:04
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                              Well worth exploring their better albums!

                              Hawkwind are one of those bands that a number of people have heard of, most people haven't bothered listening to, and very few people seem to know a lot about, despite a well-documented chronlogoy, a huge number of album, live album and compilation releases (many not even properly authorised) and a huge influence on rock music as we know it today.

                              Detractors of Hawkwind often refer to them as either hippies or sci-fi nerds, or more often both. There are many more facets to the band than that, even though they often dip into contemporary sci-fi and fgantasy writings for accompaniements to their music. For over thirty-five years they have been producing original, groundbreaking albums with styles varying from minimalist electronica to stripped-down stoner rock to metal to synth-pop and everything in between. Each album is different, and naturally with such a quirky band the quality can vary from release to release. Nevertheless, Hawkwind have been instrumental in helping to create the "rock music underground", from their first 1970 gig which they did for free, right up to the modern day.

                              The mainstay of the band is vocalist, main songwriter and guitarist Dave Brock, who has seen countless band members come and go since the band's inception, including such luminaries as Lemmy (then known only as Ian Kilminster) who of course went on to form Motorhead, and through much of the Seventies, novelist Michael Moorcock, whose Elric the Enchanter novels were a major influence on some of the band's songwriting. Moorcock would often take part in the band's gigs by standing and reciting poetry as a backdrop to some of their more ambient pieces.

                              Hawkwind are not a singles band as such- they did have one major hit in 1973 with "Silver Machine" (some of you may have even heard of this one) and another single "Urban Guerilla" in 1974 which scraped the charts before being pulled from the shelves because of a number of IRA atrocities which take place at around the same time. They have generally always concentrated on albums, and there are a *lot* of Hawkwind albums. I won't go through all the live albums (except for a few outstanding ones) and the compilations here, because there are simply far too many of them. I will however go through the "proper" studio albums briefly (and this will take a while!) because each one is different- far moreso than most bands' back-catalogues.

                              Hawkwind (1970) is their first effort- an odd combination of some acoustic, hippie-ish rock tracks (you can see from this album how the mud stuck) together with some minimalist electronica and knob-twiddling which showcased even then the band's fascination with new technologies. One for completists really. 2/5

                              In Search of Space (1971) is a more cohesive effort, more generically rock (if a Hawkwind album can be called generic), and possibly one of the first "space rock" albums ever made. 3/5

                              Doremi Fasol Latido (1972) continued this trend, with more accessible songs and some shorter pieces. 3/5

                              Space Ritual Alive (1973) was a grand double album of grandiose space rock, which began to show the band's true potential. 4/5

                              Hall Of The Mountain Grill (1974) was by far their best effort yet, featuring classics such as "Psychadelic Warlords (Disappear in Smoke)" and "Paradox". This was a somewhat commercial album but still very original- featuring groovy, riff-laden rock tracks interspersed with melodic ambient, almost classical songs such as "Wind of Change" (thankfully not related to that awful awful song by The Scorpions). This one is recommended to y'all. 5/5.

                              Warrior on the Edge of Time (1975) comes as a bit of a disappointment following the previous album, but nevertheless features some great songs such as "The Golden Void". This showcases the bands fantasy and sci-fi leanings at least as much as anything else they've done. 3/5.

                              Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music (1976), a title probably based on the "Amazing Stories"-style pulp sci-fi comics and short story compilations of the 1950s, is a great album, featuring catchy, almost glam tracks such as "Reefer Madness" and closing with the beautiful "Chronoglide Skyway" which I think Pink Floyd might have been proud of to be honest! 4/5.

                              Quark, Strangeness and Charm (1977) shows the band leaning towards a harder, more cynical feel to their music, judging by the bittersweet lyrics to "Spirit of the Age" and the almost creepy "Days of the Underground". Still a very good album. 4/5.

                              PXR5 (1979) continues the transition into harder, leaner Hawkwind with the fast, punky "Death Trap" and the brisk title track. Standout track on this one has to be "High Rise". 3/5.

                              Levitation (1980) is the first album by what was effectively almost a brand-new Hawkwind lineup. Aside from Dave Brock, none of the musicians who had take part in the previous albums remained. This resulted in a sound which was different and still recognisably Hawkwind, and this album is in fact the best one they ahd done since "Hall of the Mountain Grill". This is stuffed full of alternative rock anthems, right from the title track through live favourite "Motorway City" and one of my favourites, "Dust of Time". Another must-have. 5/5.

                              Sonic Attack (1981) continued what was now Hawkwind's transition to heavy metal, featuring sleek, well-produced tracks which somehow don't seem to have as much class to them as they should. 2/5.

                              Church of Hawkwind (1982), Choose Your Masques (also 1982) featured much of the same, if a little better. 3/5.

                              Chronicle of the Black Sword (1985) was a much better work- this time a collection of fairly short, punchy metal tracks with ambient interludes, this is beautifully-produced and is perfect for fantasy-influenced heavy metal (which is really what it is). Another one to recommend. 5/5.

                              The Xenon Codex (1988) was a bit more of an arty affair, still a good enough album although the finl track, which is more spoken words and effects than anything else, grates a bit. 3/5.

                              Space Bandits (1990) is one of my favourites. This one has an environmental and social theme running through it, particularly on the depressing "Wings" (about the w***ers who create oil spillages because they'd rather run cheap and dodgy ships to make more money). Some great tracks on here, particularly the blistering first track "Images". 4/5.

                              Palace Springs (1991) is, along with "Hall...", my favourite Hawkwind album. A few of the tracks are remakes of older songs of theirs, but what remakes they are! This is a fantastic album, featuring alt-rock gems such as "Treadmill" and the monstrous "Lives of Great Men". 5/5.

                              Electric Tepee (1992) is probably the first real hint of the "next phase" of Hawkwind, which was to be their foray into the world of ambient dance and rave. Don't be too horrified by this, because this is still very much a rock album- standout tracks include "Mask of the Morning" and "Right to Decide"- but there are also a lot of spaced-out pieces here, some of them beautifully evocative. A very strong album. 4/5.

                              It Is The Business of the Future to be Dangerous (1993) may have a terribly clumsy title, but it's a far more interesting album than you might think. The music is much more dancey, laid-back and spaced-out here. If you like bands such as The Orb and Orbital (I do to a certain extent) then you may well like this album. 3/5.

                              Alien 4 (1996) brings the band back to a more rock-oriented direction- a little. This album is a little neither here nor there. 2/5.

                              Distant Horizons (1997) is a bit more of the same, if a little better. The band sound a little jaded, perhaps lacking a little inspiration after all these years. 2/5.

                              Take Me To Your Leader (2006) represented a slight return to form, which is the least you might expect after such a long lay-off (albeit with a fair amount of time spent touring). Some interesting tracks, and they manage to sound updated without trying too hard to be "modern". 3/5.

                              As you can see, Hawkwind's output over the decades has been prolific but varied. Some of their work has been amazing, some of it has been less than amazing, but there is no doubting their place in rock history as one of the pioneers of underground rock music and one of the genuinely non-commercially oriented bands (as well as possible the hardest-working).

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                              • Top 10 Albums / Discussion / 38 Readings / 32 Ratings
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                                08.10.2007 12:33
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                                Some difficult choices- but even difficult choices can be fun to make

                                I have to say my eyes lit up when I saw this discussion topic. There are a number of albums that have meant a great deal to me- some of them for decades- and become firm favourites for many different reasons. The quality of the music is obviously the main factor, but there are so many others- how the music makes me feel, the events and the people with whom it will forever be associated, and so on.

                                This Top 10 is only roughly in order- I'm fairly certain about the places of the top four, but after that it gets a little mixed up. Some days number 8 might be higher than number 7, and... you get the picture. Doing a list of your top 10 albums is not as easy as you might think.
                                Revisit your choices the next day and you might find some of your choices were wrong. However I've taken a little time over this, and I THINK I've got it right.

                                In reverse order, because that's how the music magazines like to do their compilations- and let's face it, a countdown is muchj more dramatic. ;)

                                10. Pink Floyd - The Wall (1979)

                                The most ambitious album by a band who were never short of ambition, The Wall is one of those albums where every song sounds different, and stands out for sheer originality, and yet (excuse the pun) represents a brick in the overall structure, creating a concept album which is at once eerily not-of-this-world and also darkly humorous. I debated for a while whether or not to place "Dark Side of the Moon" here instead- and perhaps on another day I would have done- but although "Dark Side..." is a sublime work of genius, I just feel "The Wall" pips it to the post. Today, at least. Ask me tomorrow and you may get a different answer- that's how close it is!

                                9. The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses (1989)

                                Possibly the best indie album of all time- only The Smiths' "The Queen is Dead" comes close- the debut album by Manchester's finest simply oozes confidence and has a beautifully loose, jangly style. Opening track "I Wanna Be Adored" just sends shivers through me the moment I hear that ominous bass and guitar intro. Final track "I Am the Resurrection" is pure flamboyant class, the sound of a band on top of the world and not afraid to brag about it.

                                8. Radiohead - Ok Computer (1997)

                                For me, no other band at this time distilled the mood of the age quite in the way that Radiohead did, on this, their creative pinnacle and the standout album of the late Nineties. This was the period where dance music held sway, crime was heading through the roof and social alienation- the main focal point of this album- was becoming a part of existence in the UK. This is a bleak, forbidding vision of the future as well as the present, at times almost wistfully yearning- "Subterranean Homesick Alien"- then grandiose- the towering "Paranoid Android"- or stating the nightmare of conformity- the worrying spoken word piece "Fitter Happier". The artwork on the album fits the music perfectly- conjuring imagery of loss, alienation and lack of direction
                                better than anyone else before or since.

                                7. Marillion - Brave (1994)

                                For those who remember Marillion for their sickly-sweet Eighties ballads "Kayleigh" and "Lavender", this album is something completely different. By the time they wrote this album they had moved far beyond those times, and with new singer Steve Hogarth had cultivated a mellower, more complex sound. "Brave" is the culmination of those efforts- a flowing concept album which works almost as a symphony, sometimes quiet and sometimes rocking out- although never too much- and working perfectly as a seamless piece of work. It tells the story of a girl who runs away from home, so as you can imagine it isn't a bundle of laughs, but what it does do is handle its subject matter even-handedly and with empathy. This album contains some of Marillion's most beautiful songs, particularly "Runaway Girl" and "The Hollow Man"- but there are no weak tracks. It takes a while to get into, but this is one of those albums that draws you in slowly but surely. Each subsequent listen reveals new depth. A masterpiece and their finest work.

                                6. Slowdive - Souvlaki (1993)

                                The band that probably remind me of college more than any other. Slowdive's second album is a classic of the shoegaze genre, and has a strange ability to depress and uplift mne at the same time. "As The Sun Hits" is simple one of my favourite tracks of all time, and songs such as "Machine Gun" and "Dagger" are also just too beautiful for words. Emotionally, Slowdive are one of those few bands that manage to push all the buttons at the same time and in a random order. I have no idea how I'm going to feel after listening to them, which makes them an adventure every time.

                                5. Paradise Lost - Draconian Times (1995)

                                The greatest album by a band who were never afraid to evolve, Draconian Times is unusual in that it features some truly terrible singing- vocalist Nick Holmes is off-key pretty much throughout- yet some of the greatest gothic metal / doom metal songs ever recorded. One of those rare albums that sends shivers down your spine from the moment it starts through to the end, this is powerfully melodic and a work of genius- standout tracks for me being "Enchantment", "Hallowed Land" and "Shadowkings". Great things were expected of Paradise Lost following this, the album that broke them through to the mainstream- but they decided to take a sharp left turn and experimented with electronica for the best part of six years, becoming a poor man's Depeche Mode. Nonetheless, this album is one of the greatest metal albums of all time and must-have for your collection if you like this kind of music.

                                4. Lush - Split (1994)

                                My favourite shoegaze band produced this masterpiece at a time when Britpop was starting to gain a grip in popular culture and so it failed to get the recognition it deserved. A true shame because this is an astonishing album- catchy, soaring, beautiful- with absolutely no dud tracks or even any tracks less than excellent. "Light From a Dead Star", "Kiss Chase" and the album highlight "Desire Lines" are my personal favourite tracks. Any one of the songs on this album could have been and should have been a major hit single.

                                3. My Dying Bride - 34.788% Complete (1998)

                                My Dying Bride, the kings of doom metal, decided to experiment on this album, and the result was an experiment that paid off handsomely. Opening track "The Whore, The Cook and The Mother" starts and ends with driving, crunching guitar rock, but in its centre lies a tranquil, eerie guitar passage that almost comes alive by candlelight. "Heroin Chic" meanwhile features an odd trip-hop rhythm and loping breakbeat that artists such as Tricky were achieiving success with at around this time and a few years earlier. Less heavy and more exuberant than much of their earlier and later work, this shows the band wilfully pushing the boundaries of their genre- and doing so better than anyone before or since.

                                2. The Cure - Disintegration (1989)

                                Far and away the greatest album The Cure ever did, and so much better in fact that it's almost my top album of all time. The Cure spent far too much of their career playing chirpy guitar pop which, with Bob Smith's perpetual squeaking, always sounded a tad silly, particularly after their earlier, more subdued and minimal albums. Thankfully he doesn't squeak particularly on this album, but never has any vocalist sounded so depressed. Yes, "Disintegration" vies with Floyd's "Final Cut" as most depressing album of all time, but despite that it sounds utterly beautiful, from the gorgeous keyboard work on opeing track "Plainsong" through the epic "The Same Deep Water As You" on to final song "Untitled". This is The Cure as I always reckoned they were meant to be- atmospheric, epic, and producing some of the most utterly beautiful songs ever recorded. Nothing they did before, and nothing they have done since, remotely compares with "Disintegration".

                                1. Fields of the Nephilim - Elizium (1990)

                                So we come to the top of the tree. "Elizium", Fields of the Nephilim's final album until their eventual return in recent years, gets my vote as greatest album of all time. Why? Because every track is a standout track. Because today, just like when it came out, it sounds like nothing else I've ever heard. Because I can lose myself listening to it in the way that I can lose myself reading an exceptional book. This music, particularly when listened to it in the dark, is almost an out-of-body experience.

                                FOTN were lumped in with the "goth rock" crowd of bands, despite not really sounded like any other bands in the genre. For me, Elizium has gothic tinges (and guitar pop tinges for that matter) but it is essentially a prog-rock album through and through. Each song flows seamlessly to the next and each song is a classic- "For Her Light", "Sumerland", "And There Will Your Heart Be Also" and all the others. Like all classic albums, it's also a grower, but what makes it almost unique is that the album is even greater than the sum of its parts. There are special albums- and then there is "Elizium".

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                                  08.10.2007 09:18
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                                  Grab this if you're already a fan- or one of those mentioned above if not!

                                  My Dying Bride, the only one of the three major English doom metal bands of the early Nineties to have resisted the urge to evolve beyond all recognition (the others being Anathema and Paradise Lost) nevertheless seem to operate in cycles, or have done for much of their career.

                                  Their evolution from (at their beginning) ropey death metal through to increasingly melodic, symphonic styles reached its natural conclusion with the experimental, beautiful 34.788% Complete in 1998, since when they have veered back and forth with touches of both their earlier and more recent compositional styles. Their last two albums combined crushingly heavy death metal with tranquil, symphonic passages, successfully marrying together their diverse arrangements.

                                  This is where A Line of Deathless Kings picks up. There is nothing especially groundbreaking about this effort; My Dying Bride have long since ceased to push the envelope as far as evolving their sound is concerned, preferring instead to stick to their brand of powerful, emotional doom metal, of which they are the best exponents by some distance.

                                  So, what becomes increasingly evident as you listen to A Line of Deathless Kings is that My Dying Bride have long ceased to engage in the linear evolution that marked their earlier days, as they progressed through to increasingly melodic and often experimental works, before reverting (sort of) to their death metal roots with The Light at the End of the World (great title for an album- not such a great album) in 1999.

                                  And so, what you get on this album is pretty much what every fan of the band wants: bone-crunchingly heavy riffs, singer Aaron's trademark desolate vocals, sweeping, epic passages and an ear for melody and arrangement that remains as keen as ever. All of these are apparent from the very first track, To Remain Tombless. The crushing heaviness of the album comes to a head with the sudden barrage at the end of the final track, The Blood, The Wine, The Roses and in a way, sums up the album as a whole.

                                  If anything, this album is perhaps slightly heavier and a little less accessible on the first few listens than its two immediate predecessors. However, like all Bride albums, it grows on you, despite the sometimes raw feel present throughout most of the tracks.

                                  I'm not generally a fan of "fleshing out" a review with track titles just to make it seem longer, but in the case of this band it's well worth it, as the song titles pretty much sum up what the band is about on this album- and indeed on their others.

                                  And so the track listing is:

                                  To Remain Tombless
                                  L'Amour Detruit
                                  I Cannot Be Loved
                                  And I Walk with Them
                                  Thy Raven Wings
                                  Love's Intolerable Pain
                                  One of Beauty's Daughters
                                  Deeper Down
                                  The Blood, The Wine, The Roses

                                  In short, although I would stop short of rating it as one of their classics, it is nevertheless well worth investigating, and it's unlikely that fans will be disappointed with this latest effort. If you haven't heard the band's music before, you might be better off starting with one of their lighter albums (not that any of their albums are in any way "light", but all things being relative) such as 34.788% Complete, or The Angel and the Dark River.

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