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cr01
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Member since: 23.03.2013

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      12.04.2014 11:42
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      • "Something a little different"

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      • "Perhaps not for everyone"

      Damian Albarn does opera with style.

      One thing I always love about Daman Albarn is that you never quite know where he is going to go next. From brit pop with Blur, to prog rock with The Good, The Bad and the Queen, frequent dalliances with African music and of course his forays into dance with Gorillaz, it seems Daman has done it all.

      Except perhaps opera; until now.

      Dr Dee is an opera about the life story of John Dee an advisor to Elizabeth I who in those straightened times lived a dangerous life as he dabbled with the occult, astrology and an attempt to speak with Angels. When you think about it, the only surprise is that an opera hadn't been written about his life sooner.

      While Dee was of course viewed with suspicion at the time (and subject to interrogation by the Church upon occasion), today's revisionists see him as one of the more learned men of the times; using Copernicus' theories to expand upon mathematical theory as well as building up one of the most comprehensive libraries of the time.

      The music is modern opera in style with a lot of Elizabethan and operatic singing. Damon himself doesn't attempt to sing in operatic style but is in fine voice in an understated and serious way.

      I certainly get something of the Elizabethan era from the tracks on the album, although I wouldn't describe the outcome as authentic; more "based upon the idea of Elizabethan music".

      I don't imagine De Dee is particularly acclaimed within classical music circles as Damon's vocals are so obviously rock based, but it still does have a serious air about it and would not be classed purely as pop.
      There are some beautifully sung songs with soaring but gentle choruses together with some more challenging and jarring pieces. Overall Dr Dee isn't a particularly easy listen but it does grow on you and I enjoy listening to it when I'm around and about the house.

      I conclude that Dr Dee is something of an acquired taste overall but if you like Damon Albarn's voice and enjoy seeing where the man's many talents take him, then this is a very worthwhile purchase.

      * first published at ciao

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    • Samsung WB150 / Digital Camera / 40 Readings / 40 Ratings
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      22.09.2013 15:56
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      OK for snapping photos but don't expect fantastic results.

      I take a lot of photographs, and although my image are rather more functional than art, I can rather modestly say I've had images published in the New York Times, in a German daily (the name escapes me) and in educational books and calendars.

      I usually own two cameras; one is a heavier fairly good quality camera for fancy holidays (at the moment I have a £400 SLR digital Sony). The other is a comparatively cheap little "snapper" for more everyday events where you might just want a little camera in your pocket. Unless you have a fancy mobile (and I don't as I trash them), the quality on the camera phones aren't yet good enough.

      Once my trusty little Panasonic had taken its very last squeeze earlier this summer (it had done sterling duty), I decided to downscale a bit and sunk £90 on a little Samsung to replace it. It's a camera that gets a hard life in my pocket and risks being left on a table in puddles of beer, so I didn't want to spend a fortune.

      Camera Samsung WB 150

      The Samsung WB 150 seemed to fit my requirements. I don't want huge images that blow the memory on my PC and take ages to download (how often does one need to produce an A1 sized photo quality image anyway?) so the 14.2 megapixels on offer here seemed ample.

      The astonishing thing about the lens on the WB 150 is that as well as being wide angle (I take pictures of "things" and landscapes more than portraits so I like a wider angle lens) is it has an impressive sounding 18x zoom. I am naturally wary of such gimmicks as camera shake usually makes such extravagant functionality pointless, but I have to say that as long as the light is good then the anti shake mode does a good job on this camera.

      The Samsung WB 150 therefore seems to offer a good spec for the money. While I'm happy with my camera as a "second string", it's a shame that the whole doesn't quite match the component parts.
      Camera Average

      As always with a new camera the trick of good photography is to do a bit of clicking around to find out what the camera does well and what it doesn't do so well. In a good light, the zoom on the Samsung WB150 is impressive, but in poorer lights you are much better taking a wide angle photo. I won't describe the Samsung as unusual in this; many compact cameras still have the same poor half light functionality, but this one seems worse than average. Too much lighting too can be a problem; the camera really doesn't like bright light and washes out the colours pretty easily.

      More disconcertingly I find the focus a little patchy; on landscapes I can sometimes find little spots of indistinct focussing. I guess the auto focus isn't that clever.

      I tend to use this camera on the smart setting; i.e. the automatic settings but this is definitely not the camera for the enthusiastic amateur as it doesn't allow much playing around with lighting and focus to create a different mood or image. My old Panasonic was much better for that. To be truthful it's not a problem for me as I use my fancier camera for such things, but occassionaly when carrying my little camera about only I find myself regretting not having better bespoke functionality

      The battery is charged via a lead from the usb point rather than having a separate battery charger. I guess you may well be able to buy a separate battery charger and spare batteries (which are detachable) but with the product as supplied it makes carrying around spare batteries a bit more tricky.
      The battery life is adequate, but I find that sometimes the charge has run down rather quickly and randomly. I've been places without electricity for a week (for example hiking in Madagascar, Borneo, Thailand and Morocco) so notwithstanding that it doesn't quite offer the best quality images; it's not a camera that would be reliable in more rural parts of the world.

      The camera looks good (whereas my primary camera is a very plain ugly beast) so my beloved prefers to wander around with this one, and the casing has taken a few knocks without issue.

      I do find the dial on the top which allows the limited camera options do move around in the case, so it's worth giving that a quick check before snapping away. The power button can take a couple of presses before it connects, but the image screen is perfectly good. Overall I don't have too many grumbles about the camera build quality.

      Camera Summing Up

      I like my camera for what I bought it for; a little camera to take a few inconsequential shots and it is certainly small and light enough to fit into any pocket. As a main camera however this little fellow just wouldn't quite hit the spot for me.

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        07.09.2013 19:19
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        Fine for a basic and not too silly looking hairdryer.

        Having short hair and being male, I only use a hair dryer (literally) once a flood (perhaps if I need to go out somewhere, its freezing outside and I've just had a shower). However my beloved who has longish and very thick hair (horsehair as I often tease her) uses her hair dryer almost every day.

        A hair dryer isn't something my beloved thinks much about and it usually sits plugged in (with with switch off) until she uses it again. The other day however I noticed that with all the twisting of the wire caused by use, that the electric cable had badly bent and cracked exposing raw copper to the elements. Given that my beloved wasn't in my best books at that particular moment I was vaguely tempted to do a Ken Barlow (sadly I should expand: have a wife that dies of electrocution via a dodgy hairdryer, rather than anything the actor that plays dependable Ken has been arrested for recently), but I thought I'd better mention it so as to avoid any award questions down at the yard.

        So it was that muggings here got the job of buying my beloved a new hairdryer as I work in the centre of town and she doesn't.

        The purchasing process

        My 2 female admin officers both looked up in shock when I told them I had to nip out to buy my wife a hair dryer. They told me afterwards that their respective partners would never dream of walking into a vipers den like that, negotiate with a pushy sales assistant and then risk the wrath of a disappointed partner. I left a little admiration in their eyes as I didn't tell them that my beloved really isn't too interested in hairdryers (which is why she was at risk of a near death experience in the first place).

        At the shop I did indeed find a rather bewildering array of hairdryers, but in the end my choice was fairly easy. I didn't want to spend a bomb and I knew my beloved would only put her foot down with handling a mock leopard skin or zebra look plastic hairdryer.

        If you have read many of my reviews you will know that I detest meaningless marketing and I did have some trouble with this product as it is called the Daily Hydration. Great I'm about to purchase a hairdryer that adds water! I can imagine a room of marketers struggling with selling the concept of a wet hairdryer. In a bit of fake pseudo science it seems that my "hydrating" hairdryer generates ions so to not leave your hair frizzy and brittle.

        The hairdryer is quite attractive looking being a matt purple plastic, and fairly solidly built. That "matt" bit seems brave as if I was using it, my matt plastic would be smeared with unsightly finger marks from the hair product I use.

        The handle snaps back if you want it to so it will more easily fit into a travel bag. This seems quite a snazzy idea and the handle is quite firm and fixed in the open position.

        The hairdryer has 3 heat settings and 2 speed settings. To paraphrase Rhod Gilbert, I guess it allows you the choice of lingering over your hairdrying rather than getting the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible by putting it on max.

        The Verdict

        My beloved was initially suspicious of that handle as she wondered whether it would be loose as it is flexible, but this wasn't so. She was less impressed with the ion creating facility in the hairdryer as our fire alarm which sits in the hallway has an ionising detecting system (rather than be a simple smoke alarm) so of course on first use she set off the fire alarm which put her in fantastic mood.

        The following day she had moved around the corner a little out of the fire alarms way, and all has been well since. She confirms it dries her hair just as well as her old one did, and hasn't noticed any great shakes with the ionising generating capacity of her new hair dryer.

        I listen to it every day and can confirm it has the noise of a hairdryer fan. It's not shy at making itself heard, but it's probably no louder or quieter than any other hairdryer. It's a 2200w power, and has a two year guarantee (assuming you are going to keep the receipt of a product costing £20 kicking around in a safe place for 2 years).

        Vidal Sassoon

        Old Vidal died 12 months ago at the age of 84 (the son of a Greek immigrant), so it is stirring to think that one of his last acts was to design an ion generating hairdryer. What's that... he didn't? He was a British hairdresser, although he spent much of his time in the US.

        My hairdryer was made in China, and in hairdryer terms the brand is owned by Helen of Troy Limited a Bermuda based company. You can bet they pay a lot of tax.

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          17.08.2013 13:34
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          It offers excellent hair styling, but at a cost.

          I have taken to buying my hair styling products on-line as I find the offering in standard UK chemists pretty weak and cheap. I'm usually a little extravagant when I can afford to be, and considering a pot of styling wax lasts me a few months, I don't mind shelling out perhaps 3 times more than the standard brand for something that's good to use and which means I don't have to spend all day tweaking and messing around with my hair.

          My most recent discovery is the Matte Separation Workable Wax from Tigi Bed Head. The pot is labelled for men, but I'm not quite sure what the difference is between male and female hair. I'm guessing this product is simply more designed for shorter styles.

          Using the product

          I think the actual product is great. It's very simple to use; I simply pop a small bit of product on my fingers, rub them together and mess into my hair. You don't need to melt the product into the heat of your hands, it is pretty much ready to go. While I don't usually wash my hands afterwards, you could probably get away with not doing so, as it doesn't particularly leave you with sticky or tacky fingers.

          It makes my hair stay wherever my fingers direct it to and then it just stays there all day. I'm so confident about this stuff that I don't always use a mirror, and I'm impressed that I can style it messy or smart as the mood takes me. My work mates have actually remarked on whether I've changed my hairdresser as it obviously makes my hair look like it has a different style.

          I don't need to use very much of the white product and so it will last me some months. The product contains beeswax, cera caranauba and a blend of polymers.

          About Tigi Bed Head

          I always like to find out a bit about the organisation I am giving my money to, so I can check whether they are using the profits I give them responsibly.

          Hairdressing chain Toni and Guy was originally founded in the UK in 1963 by two Italian brothers. Today, it has 400 salons across the world outside the US. Younger brothers Bruno and Antony joined the firm, before splitting off to the USA to found separate company Toni and Guy USA. It is this organisation that in turn founded Tigi, the manufacturers of Bed Head.

          While the company has independent roots, Tigi was sold to the British and Dutch giant Unilever in 2009. Over recent times, Unilever has taken some steps to cloak itself in an environmentally friendly skin, including encouraging the production of environmentally sustainable palm oil, sourcing its products more carefully and buying companies with a good ethical record.

          While I don't think they score quite as badly as that other beauty product bogeyman Proctor and Gamble, Ethical Consumer Magazine give Unilever a meger score of 3.5 out of 20. Black marks include the company retaining animal testing to develop new cosmetic products, using ingredients in some of its products that are harmful to wildlife, and that one of its major palm oil suppliers had used armed force to move villagers out of an area wanted for palm oil production.

          Marks

          While I will give the Bed Head product 5 stars as I like it immensely, unfortunately the ethical stance of the company that profits from my purchase scores a mere 1 point. Giving the two equal importance produces a 3 star and not recommended overall rating.

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            10.08.2013 14:55
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            As I have lousy skin, I'm never too far away from this lovely soothing gel

            I think I've explained as part of other reviews that it seems I was one of the last in the queue to be kitted out for skin (Obviously I was simply too busy with being at the front of the respective queues for willy size, brains, good looks and wild optimism at the time).

            Unfortunately this all means that my skin simply doesn't do what might be anticipated of it and parts of my skin is often at some stage of burning, peeling or flaking off me after some kind of allergy flare up or 10 minutes in the sun without sun cream.

            Therefore I have much to thank the makers of this rather expensive tube of Aloe Vera Gelly for. Given that my beloved won't cough when I ask her how much it costs, it tends to be used in emergency only. Today was a good example for us both as she exposed her skin to a lot of sunlight (whereas I generally live like a vampire), but I tackled the short stretch of horrible leylandii hedging between us and our neighbours (it's an inherited hedge).

            It will come as no surprise when I tell you my skin is allergic to all things pine-like and my skin obviously spots (literally) that leylandii is part of the pine family. Unfortunately my beloved isn't strong enough to do the hacking back and so I end up armed with the Aloe Vera for immediately after the job. My skin soon comes up in angry red lumps and welts.

            Using the Gelly

            The gelly is wet and cold on my irritated skin and while the initial shock is mildly unpleasant, I find it starts to sooth the irritation very rapidly. After 20 minutes today, my one arm is almost as good as new, whereas the other is much improved. Without the gel I usually find it takes around 18 hours for things to calm down.

            I've used it for sun burn in the past, and it is great for moisturising and keeping my skin stuck to my flesh while the heat comes off. In smell it has a light almost clinical scent, not unpleasant and is a clear jelly like consistency. For an expensive product it is also good news that it seems to spread a long way. It's pleasant to the touch and doesn't leave a sticky mess.

            I'm perfectly happy with my emergency supply of Aloe Vera Gelly Forever.

            Forever Living

            Forever Living is an American company founded in 1978 in Arizona. It's surprising that a state with a redneck reputation should produce so much soothing from Aloe Vera. The founder and owner of this private company is Rex Maughan, a Mormon who helped fund old Mitt's presidential campaign.

            Considering I like this product, I am delighted to report that Forever Living doesn't test on animals.

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              04.08.2013 10:24
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              Good product shame about the marketing!

              I rarely take notice of what my beloved plops onto the bath side for us to use in the shower, but from time to time a product slips into my consciousness. One of these products was the Boots Botanics Rebalance Revealing Body Polish.

              Worry about what's in the tube rather than the rubbish written on the tube

              I first noticed that this product is a body scrub. I'm always of the opinion that anyone in possession of a foreskin should be a little nervous about using such an exfoliating product but happily the "scratching" element of this body polish is mild.

              My consciousness was immediately further alerted on squeezing the tube as the body polish is quite thick leaving something of a wriggling snake of product in the hand. It's helpful to first wet the skin as otherwise the product leaves a slightly unusual sticky sensation and spreads quite thickly otherwise. The overall sensation is actually quite pleasant and certainly feels different to simply using a shower-jell.

              The product is quite long lasting; I think we have both had daily showers for the past two weeks plus and we are probably about half way through the tube now.

              The smell is quite green plantish and not too girly or unpleasant as it's a rather fresh smell. The product has vetiver in it made from an Indian grass.

              The tube annoys me - A rant about marketing guff

              There is what appears to me to be some nonsense on the tube that the vetiver plant extract has been "approved" by Kew Gardens. What that actually means is subject to conjecture but I suspect it simply means Kew Gardens gets a bit of money and free publicity for allowing Boots to use its name in an attempt to "legitimise" the product but in practical terms means very little for the product make up. For example, whether the Kew Gardens experts have ever refused to sanction a batch of vetiver extract is unspecified, nor is the scale of their involvement with Boots "beauty scientists" in developing the product.

              That's only one part of the silliness of the wording on the product; the tube is described as "revealing" body polish. Does that mean that in some kind of Dr Who script that users might reveal some kind of alien life form as they use the product in the shower? For my part I was rather disappointed that the product simply "revealed" an overweight middle aged man who looked suspiciously like he did before he was "revealed". Perhaps they oversold it a litte?

              Cuddly, friendly, helpful, Boots?

              I guess we think we all know about the British institution that is Boots, founded in Nottingham in 1849.

              What you may not know is that these days Boots is 45% owned by American pharmacist Walgreens and the rest split between American equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Stefano Pessina an Italian nuclear scientist turned billionaire businessman.

              While the core profits may no longer benefit Britain, rather refreshingly this product is made in the UK.
              From an ethical consumer perspective, Boots comes pretty low down on the choices with a poor score of 4/20 by Ethical Consumer Magazine. Amongst many issues, Boots has moved its company accounts to Switzerland meaning it pays less tax than it used to (a UK equivalent rate of 3% last year), it allows animal tested products in its own brand stuff and it has been criticised for the unethical fishing of tuna in its sandwiches. In short, Boots largely cares about profits and not much else so perhaps it's time ethical consumers hit them in the pocket.

              Summing up

              I'll award 5 stars for the product which is different, reasonably priced at £3.99 for such a long lasting product and pleasant to use.

              I must knock a star off for the irritating marketing "puff" on the tube which had the opposite outcome to the "calming effect of vetiver". I'll be generous and just knock one further star off for the dubious ethical practice of Boots

              Snatching defeat from the claws of victory, I'll give the product a 3 stars overall and a "not to be recommended" rating.

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                28.07.2013 10:33
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                The Ron Abuelo 12 year Rum is a good quality rum that can be drunk neat.

                With a stray hour at a Spanish airport I decided to continue my quest to find a rum brand I might enjoy even more than my standard tipple of 20 years, Havana Club. Fortunately at the duty free there was quite a choice, and so I picked up a bottle of 12 year old Ron Abuelo Rum. As it happens I got a respectable bargain as I think I paid about 22 Euros while I think a bottle can be snaffled in the UK for about £30 or so, but at least it was something new to try.

                Panama?

                As far as I know this is the first product I've enjoyed from the country of Panama (no, white nose powder has never been my kind of thang). The Ron Abuelo rum was first produced in 1936 so it doesn't have the history of some other manufacturers (although the company originally produced sugar in 1908). Unlike many other rum distilleries this one appears to remain independent, and is owned by local company Varela Hermanos S. A. All the sugar for its rum is grown within the 2,000 acres of local sugar plantation.

                I like supporting smaller local companies so this all comes as positive news for me.

                The Rum

                The 12 year old Ron Abuelo rum is a nice clear dark rum with a rather golden appearance. As it's been sitting around in barrels for an age it is rather like an old whisky a sipping neat type drink, where even the addition of water or ice is unnecessary. In fact, the white oak barrels have been used in a previous life for aging Jack Daniels Whiskey and I do have to agree there is something of a resemblance to JD although without the bite.

                I found the 12 year old Ron Abuelo rum very smooth tasting for a 40% proof drink to the point where I could probably down a bottle, although I'm sure it wouldn't do me any good what so ever. I do (usually) respect shorts so this bottle has been snaffled quietly when I've not drunken anything else, and I only fill up my strict double shot glass a maximum of two times in total. I always think by the time you get drunk on shorts it is far too late to avoid having a messy evening as you only have more alcohol to come through your system. I speak as someone who has had far more than their full share of messy evenings.

                I find the Ron Abuelo rum has a nice slightly fruit and honey smell to it. The initial taste is surprisingly quite thin but not unpleasant, while the aftertaste is a bit more burnt and a bit sweeter than I was hoping for.

                It's very pleasant but perhaps not distinct enough for me. I must confess that the sweetness might get a little cloying if I were to have this as a "session rum" but the volume I drink it then that's really not a problem.

                As daft as it sounds perhaps the Ron Abuelo 12 year is a little too fine for my taste, and I might well see if I can buy the 7 year, as it should have a little more bite to it. Having read a few reviews, it does seem most experts agree the 7 year old Ron Abuelo rules the roost of this particular roost. For now my beloved Havana Club is still top of the game although I do like the Ron Abuelo and would buy it again.

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                • Colgate 360? / Oral Care / 49 Readings / 48 Ratings
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                  21.07.2013 14:39
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                  An easy way to get your teeth clean....

                  It's probably just me but I always ignore those toothbrushes that describe themselves as "professional". Come now when is the last time you dropped by into a shop on your way to work to have your teeth "professionally" brushed? Thankfully my little phobia against rubbish marketing angles makes my toothbrush choice shopping a little easier and most recently I bought a Colgate 360 sonic power. I'll write about the marketing nonsence of the use of "sonic" a little later.

                  A "well spent" youth (while some may describe it as "misspent" I have no regrets and few curiosities) means my teeth are in fairly shocking order with plenty of fillings and a preposition to gingivitis. I'm rarely too many feet away from dental floss, a battery operated toothbrush and a dental appointment these days.

                  Wobble Power?

                  While the mind offers a pretty compelling thought that a toothbrush that wobbles around faster than the eye can see must be doing more good than a manual toothbrush, most studies (what a horrible job) do conclude that a good manual brushing action is perfectly good enough and your super doper vibrating toothbrush gets your teeth no or little cleaner (look on the internet if you don't believe me).

                  However if your brushing action is a little suspect then an electric toothbrush can come into its own. I've never been too good with sticking hard protruding objects into my mouth (no tittering at the back there) so I often have to take my toothbrush out quite quickly. That's why I tend to buy one of these babies; to level out the playing field in case my manual brushing strokes are suspect.

                  It's all in the wrist movement

                  It pays to be careful with how you hold your toothbrush; my dentist told me that many people hold them too hard against their teeth meaning their teeth are slowly being scratched and scoured rather than cleaned. A gentle pressure so the toothbrush "bounces" off the tooth is needed.

                  Sonic the Toothbrush

                  My toothbrush is "sonic" which technically means it is a toothbrush that operates at fewer than 2,400,000 movements a minute, and in simple terms means its operating movements fall into human hearing range. Ultrasonic means it goes beyond human hearing. What do these descriptions have to do with effective teeth cleaning? None at all as far as I can gather, still I like the thought of my teeth having 20,000 strokes per minute, even if it doesn't make a blind bit of difference in reality.

                  The brush in use is pretty easy to use, although the on off switch is a little soft, meaning it can be just a little tricky to turn it off.

                  I prefer to keep my bacteria in my mouth thank you

                  The back of the toothbrush has a little furry pad meaning you can clean your tongue and cheeks if you wish. I tend to do this only if I've been eating something particularly horrible but I don't like the sensation of the vibrations, and of course this is another marketing con;

                  (a) bacteria in the mouth actually helps you digest; it is not a bad thing to have bacteria in your mouth,

                  (b) you can use the brush head to clean your cheeks, tongue etc. if you really wish.
                  Disposal

                  One problem with the toothbrush is disposing of it; as it contains a battery then you should pass it to the battery store at a local waste disposal site. However, I'm guessing that 99.9% of these things end up in the local waste which either ends up putting the heavy metals and chemicals from the battery into the atmosphere or into our water courses.

                  A little about Colgate-Palmolive

                  The USA company Colgate-Palmolive is one of the world's largest, and William Cogate founded his company in New York in 1806. One thing you will be happy to know is that I don't have to bang on about Animal Testing too much in this review as the company now only tests on products where it has to by law.

                  Unfortunately its ethical records is not so great elsewhere, with reports of chemical dumping, and use of triclosan (an anti biotic) in some of its products causing concerns about making bacteria unnecessarily resistant to anti-biotics and the impact of the chemical in water courses.

                  Of course, I recognise there isn't too much purchasing choice in the world of toothbrushes, and Colgate appears a more ethical company than Proctor and Gamble and a lot easier than making your own ethical vibrating toothbrush through gluing some horse hair onto an old hand held mechanical kitchen whisk.

                  Ethical consumer magazine give Colgate-Palmolive a poor 6/20 but it beats Proctor and Gamble's 1.5/20 hands down.

                  Summing up

                  I like my pulsating toothbrush because I'm lazy and have a bit of a phobia about having a normal toothbrush in my mouth for as long as a couple of minutes.

                  However, in reality a good normal brushing action with a cheaper standard toothbrush is no better than a vibrating tooth brush and the disposal of the batteries into the household waste system does present something of a pollution hazard. Colgate-Palmolive are no saints in the ethical stakes, but they are much better than their rivals Proctor and Gamble (Oral b and crest).

                  While I'll continue to use my vibrating toothbrush I don't feel particularly proud to do so.

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                    20.07.2013 13:58
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                    While the topper improves our sleep, it makes me want to scream when I need to make the bed....

                    Despite having a good quality mattress (it was a present from a friend who could get them cost price and it would be £1000 to buy) it is sadly much too hard for us to sleep comfortably on. I invariably wake up with a tingling dead arm half convinced that I've had a stroke in the night, while my beloved who has a fragile back from her years of nursing would wake up in some pain. Of course our Yorkshire values recognises that this is an expensive mattress so we are going to use it, even though it obviously isn't particularly good for us personally.

                    Dunelm Memory Foam Topper

                    In the January sales my beloved spotted a Memory Foam Topper at Dunelm Mill half price (I think it was £35 rather than £70 although my beloved like many women is sometimes rather vague when it comes to telling me how much things cost). As it was a bargain, she decided to take a punt to see if it could improve our lives. The topper looks a bit like a mattress protector only a couple of inches thick. There are straps you pop under the mattress to keep the topper secure.

                    The topper actually makes quite a difference. I have tried memory foam beds before and while my beloved really likes them, I dislike that sense of loss of control as you sink slowly into the mattress and then that leaden feeling as you get out of them. Fortunately, this isn't thick enough to give me that feeling, and it balances against the hardness of the original mattress; we were both quite satisfied with our topper.

                    The topper's downers

                    While the topper certainly gives us a better night's sleep it is not without its difficulties.

                    The topper moves a little during the week and one of us ends up with a dint along the edge of their side of the bed. Not much of a problem in winter but we both sleep with our legs dangling out of our respective sides on hotter nights and it presents something of an annoyance then.

                    The topper makes making the bed a nightmare. I hate making beds at the best of times, but some of our "tighter" fitted sheets no longer "fit" the mattress and topper. I feel like I should resort to safety pins to keep it all together.

                    The topper has been coated with an anti bacterial agent. I'm always a bit uneasy about having close contact with chemicals and here I am spending a third of my time lying on top of something that kills life forms. There is quite a lot of negative publicity about unnecessary anti bacterial agents helping create new drug resistant strains of anti bacteria, and it having a negative impact upon our natural immunity systems. Thankfully my beloved allows her cats into the bedroom, and so any impact the antibacterial chemicals may have are countered by the slugs that Morris brings in on his tail.

                    Summing Up

                    The Dunelm Mill Memory Foam Topper has made our lives much more comfortable, although making the bed each week has become even more of a chore, and I can see we can no longer just buy a "fitted sheet" it will have to be a generously sized fitted sheet.

                    So while our sleep is better, the topper is not without its problems.

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                    • Samsung Galaxy Y / Smartphone / 41 Readings / 38 Ratings
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                      15.06.2013 14:19
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                      There are better phones around for your pennies, but there are worse also.

                      Mobile phones sadly have a torrid time in my hands. My last phone was a Samsung Galaxy Y which I owned for approximately 3 months until recently.

                      Despite its solid appearance it was really no match for the taxi car door that I slammed into it (the phone fell out of my pocket just as I was closing the door)

                      If Samsung ever need design ideas for a banana shaped phone they should get in touch with me. When I did manage to get the pieces of the phone together, I was hopeful that the shattered screen would at least offer a convincing image of Jesus that I could run to the Daily Mail with, but alas it wasn't to be. Still, I managed to get some feel for the phone before it joined its three predecessors (in one year!) in the cell phone grave yard.

                      Its immediate predecessor was a Samsung Tocco Lite which I really liked for the scant 7 weeks I owned it (before it went out in a flash of blue lighted glory after I got it wet in my shorts pocket during a Lake District downpour). I foolishly went a little upscale to spend around £75 on the Galaxy Y as I figured I'd like it even better. Actually I didn't, although in the end I concluded it wasn't a bad phone.
                      It's for young people

                      I didn't realise when I bought it that the "Y" stood for "Young". I think the idea is that the Y is a cheap phone for stylish young people, which offers basic android functionality with apps and the like. To be honest, the phone looks the part (well mine used to anyway) and the screen is a three inch smaller version to the bigger and more expensive Galaxy phones.

                      While it has the app styling and touch screen functionality, I actually found the images rather fuzzy looking and certainly not as clear as my previous Tocco Lite. Likewise turning on the beast seem to take rather longer for it to whirr into action.

                      You can set up a password and I made the mistake of including the digit zero. The "touch" on the touch screen is a little clumsy and I found I kept on bringing up the emergency number functionality instead. While I do inevitably have old man's hands, they are comparatively small with long thin "pianist fingers" (as my grandmother would say), so goodness only knows how a bricklayer type might cope.

                      We live in a cave (a 360 year old cottage with 2 foot thick stone walls). Vodaphone is our only practical mobile phone option and this phone was equally as effective as all the other phones I have owned for connectivity (strictly for the front of our house only).

                      Internet playing

                      I found it quite easy to get onto the internet using my little Samsung Galaxy Y, and in fact upset my beloved more than once as her "big beast" contract Samsung Galaxy phone struggled to access the internet whereas my PAYG slipped into Google search with ease.

                      Like bigger boys the screen turns sidewise if you want to use a bigger keyboard (my fingers might be slim, but my eyes are shot).

                      Unfortunately internet searching and PAYG aren't happy bed mates and I was finding the phone costing me about twice as much on PAYG to my previous phones even though I didn't use it that much for anything.

                      Photo style

                      I'm told the camera on the Galaxy Y is pretty good (it is a 2 meg image which seems quite adequate to me rather than pretty good) but the tight functionality within the guts of the phone meant I would have to add a micro SD card to store my images. It was a little purchase I was meaning to get around to. It was one less thing to smash.

                      Battery

                      Unfortunately these phones haven't quite matched the battery development needed for power hungry apps and internet searching, and if I used the phone for anything, I was finding that I needed to top up the battery. Despite my phones having such a short shelf life I actually am a very light phone user and if I hadn't used my phone for a week, then the battery life usually remained OK if not completely topped up.

                      However, unlike the old "emergency" phone we use at work that sits in the fire marshals bag for weeks on end with an occasional top up, this phone always needed a top up at the end of a week even with no use whatsoever.

                      Summing up

                      I'm sure the Galaxy Y would annoy anyone with a passion for the best and most developed type of Mobile phone but I did warm to it by the end, despite my initial disappointment that it was "different" to my Tocco Lite rather than "better". I'm sure gamers and frequent users would find the functionality and speed a bit sluggish, but for the 2 minutes a day on average I used it, I was quite happy with it, and it looked "modern" enough not to elicit too loud a groan from my 16 year old niece when she borrowed it to ring her boyfriend.

                      That said, I probably won't buy an exact replacement as I found the cheaper Tocco Lite just as user friendly for my purposes, and I'm getting a little tired of splashing out the likes of £70 4 times a year for something I don't use too often.

                      Specification (stolen from the Samsung website)

                      Platform

                      850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900MHz GSM&EDGE Band
                      900 / 2100MHz 3G Band
                      GPRS Network&Data: 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 (Slave)
                      EDGE Network&Data: 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 (Master)
                      3G Network&Data: HSDPA7.2
                      Android 2.3 (Gingerbread)
                      Android Browser
                      0.655mW/g SAR value
                      Physical Specification

                      104 x 58 x 11.5mm Dimension
                      97.5g Weight
                      Battery

                      1200mAh Battery Capacity
                      Up to 1020min (2g), up to 370min (3g) Talk Time Battery

                      Design

                      Full Touch BAR Form Factor

                      Display

                      262K ColourTFT Technology
                      320 x 240 External Resolution
                      3.0" External Display Size

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                      • Fever Tree Ginger Ales / Soft Drink / 51 Readings / 51 Ratings
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                        12.06.2013 18:45
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                        Once you have drunk Fever Tree Ginger Ale, you won't want anything else.

                        Why is it that my favourite products are always expensive? At £1.69 for a 500 ml (or a bit under a pint) sized bottle in Sainsbos, my Fever Tree Ginger Beer has to be at least double the cost of an ordinary bottle of ginger ale. Fortunately as it's only a couple of quid for a treat, I don't mind buying one each week or so, and I'm particularly delighted that my village Sainsbury's now stocks the stuff (heh Huddersfield must be going up market).

                        Tasting notes

                        I actually usually drink my Fever Tree Ginger Beer on its own in a fairly small glass. It has quite a bite and isn't too sweet so I can almost convince myself that I'm drinking something alcoholic. I say "almost" because it also tastes great with a slop of rum in it and obviously with a bit of the hard stuff added there is a harder kick in that glass.

                        Fever Tree is served in 7 of the top ten rated restaurants of the world so it is a great little bottle to have lying around at a barbecue if you want to impress that someone special with your good taste. Just don't buy Aldi own label rum to accompany it. I like the really quite instant hot bite of the ginger and the cool aftertaste to the drink. It's not one to glug but to sip and enjoy (and that's a good job with the price of a small bottle).

                        Additives

                        The nice thing about the drink comes with its lack of additives (although if I want to be technical the ascorbic acid (vitamin c) for preserving purposes is actually also known as E300). As a result of having no nasty clearing agents or sulphates, the drink is a little cloudy, but I'm guessing at the price of it your wallet would be empty before the little bit of must gave you any nasty belly effects.

                        About Fever Tree

                        Fever Tree is named after the original African trees which became sought after for the quinine which helped keep malaria at bay and was the basis for the tonic which is drunk with gin. Fever Tree limited make a number of such mixers, although my hand keeps on reaching for that ginger beer bottle alone.

                        I also like that Fever Tree Limited is exactly what it is portrayed as on the bottle; a small privately owned British company specialising in a small niche of bottled mixers. I always prefer to give my money to small privately owned companies where I can, rather than those tax avoiding multi-national fat cats. Fever Tree produces its mixers in Somerset (give a yey to Shepton Mallet) using natural and good quality ingredients. From its foundation in 2005 Fever-Tree has quickly developed a worldwide reputation.

                        Summing up

                        Expensive but

                        Clear tasting with a nice ginger bite
                        Great with rum and other spirits
                        Produced by a little private UK based company
                        No nasty additives

                        On the downside it's a rather addictive little treat I've got into, and they don't do a low cal option.

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                        • More +
                          11.06.2013 09:21
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                          A true life story of (cough) being lost in the jungle...

                          The title of Yossi Ghinsberg's Lost in the Jungle kind of sums up the story. Four back packers meet in Bolivia South America and as they get along fine decide to go on an Amazon rain forest trekking adventure.

                          Along the way the party start to annoy each other and split into two groups; one to return back to civilisation and the other to continue the journey. One way or another, both parties got rather more than they bargain for.

                          The book describes events that took place in the early 1980s a period when the Amazon in Bolivia was even more isolated than it is today. I guess the time will come when our children will be unable to conceive of such an isolated world without internet or mobile phone. Lost in the Jungle will become a curious time piece indeed.

                          Yossi Ghinsberg's true life adventure depends on a lot of luck, both bad and good. He meets Karl, the appointed experienced group leader and puts his trust in him. He is paired with steady and dependable Kevin when the group splits up. He becomes isolated following something of a freak incident. Towards the end of the adventure Yossi is found in a chance in a million situation.

                          It is only after the adventure does Ghinsberg discover that putting his life in the hands of Karl was a truly bad idea; Karl has a track record of ripping off people and seems to be a true sociopath.

                          Yossi Ghinsberg today is a motivational speaker; with such luck surrounding him I'm not totally sure why he doesn't expect his life to be controlled by fate rather than through self motivation. Of course, he could have simply given up in the jungle to become termite food.

                          The disappointing thing about the story is that so much is a given. It is a true story about one man's experience; even from the dozen words on the cover it is obvious Yossi is lost and then found. This obviously loses quite a lot of any potential suspense in a book.

                          Overall Lost in the Jungle is a fairly fast paced read and I cracked through the book in a few sittings. There isn't anything too complicated in the book, and the characters are pretty logically described and explained, giving the reader a good picture of the situation.

                          I have done a fair bit of back packing in my time and know very well the false situation in which you meet a group of strangers and become fast buddies without really knowing them well at all.

                          When in Borneo I took a night time jungle walk with a guide where after checking most carefully for snakes and the like, the guide turned off the torch light for about 20 seconds to give me a sense of what being alone in the jungle with the noises of animals and insects around is like.

                          I'm fortunate to have had even such a brief (and controlled) experience of life in the rain forest, but Yossi Ghinsberg manages to explain what it was like to be truly alone in the jungle for around 20 consecutive days. Yossi is very successful in depicting the constant hunt for food and the struggle to create a safe, warm and dry shelter while on the move, but the book reads a little abstract and I didn't feel I was living it with him.

                          To sum up, Lost in the Jungle is an immensely interesting book but also slightly hollow and dissatisfying. The book was written some 15 years after Yossi's adventure and while it has the benefit of maturity and reflection it loses the immediately, vigour and excitement that I was perhaps looking for.

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                          • Mount Gay - Eclipse / Spirits / 39 Readings / 39 Ratings
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                            11.05.2013 09:56
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                            A reasonable and different rum, but nothing exceptional. Worth buying if you can get it on offer.

                            I developed a taste for rum during my student days when I lived in a very Jamaican area of town and everyone was quaffing the stuff in the local pub. However, after a couple of embarrassing occasions when my near 6 foot but (then) 9 stone frame decided to try and square up to have a punch about with much stronger and streetwise guys (and I've always been less "street" and rather more "cul de sac" meaning fighting is not my natural game), I decided that perhaps rum had better not be my tipple of choice.

                            The best part of 30 years on I've retained the beautiful and original shape of my nose and I now give rum the respect it deserves given that it appears to be the only substance known (and believe me I've tried quite a few) to risk making me feel aggressive. As such although I like my alcohol I only have the odd nip of Rum at home and when I'm not drinking anything else. With Rum, I usually go for Havana Club as I like my rum neat (and occasionally with a splash of fever tree ginger beer), but I decided to hang caution to the wind and buy a bottle of Mount Gay Eclipse Rum from Barbados.

                            Mount Gay is the oldest branded rum still being produced as it was first made in 1703. To give some idea of the age of the company, it was the same year St Petersburg was founded in Russia, the year Samuel Pepys and the man in the iron mask died and when Isaac Newton became chair of the Royal Society (told you I was cul de sac).

                            The Mount Gay Eclipse was first made in 1910 when (uh uh) an eclipse of the sun was seen on Barbados.

                            Rather disappointingly, Mount Gay isn't produced by some cool little island manufacturer with an MD called George who wears Hawaiian shirts; the brand is owned these days by French giant Rémy Cointreau. Ethical Consumer magazine rates the company 12/20 which actually for a large multinational isn't too bad.

                            OK enough rambling; Mount Gay Eclipse isn't my favourite rum in the world. It is a little sweet neat but with a bitter sweet finish. It's also not the smoothest of the rums I've ever tasted; not bad, but in my book just bordering on what I might drink neat. Pricewise I got a very good deal as I bought this rum at the airport but I think it's about mid range on most supermarket shelves and comparable with a Havana Club.

                            Mount Gay Eclipse does work with the ginger well, although I have also drunk it with fresh Orange and that didn't combine as well at all. I think the rather punchy taste of the rum just made the orange taste bitter and harsh. In common with most other standard spirits Mount Gay Eclipse is 40% by volume alcohol.

                            Considering I don't drink it in huge qualities, the other downer is that I often know I've drunk it in the morning if I have two doubles (and yes I measure it carefully). I don't think it's something I could ever drink for a session (notwithstanding that if I did I'd be liable to pop on a bus to Bolton to see if I could take on Amir Khan).

                            To sum up I'm sure the Mount Gay Eclipse would be absolutely lovely in something like a Mojito ( I know they are common these days, but I still love a Mojito in the sun as long as it isn't one of those horrible sweet pre made ones), and with my beloved ginger it works just peachy. However, the quality isn't quite good enough to really enjoy the stuff neat (my test for a real good quality spirit) and so Mount Gay Eclipse only hits the mid range marks for me.

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                            • Jake Bugg - Jake Bugg / Music Album / 35 Readings / 33 Ratings
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                              07.04.2013 12:24
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                              Jake Bugg is the latest music great hope. On this showing he's going to be around for decades.

                              I've seen great musical hopes come and go over the years, but from time to time I can still get excited by the potential in some new acts. One of my latest favourites is the debut album by Nottingham's (UK) finest, 18 year old Jake Bugg.

                              I guess in common with acts like Amy Winehouse, Bugg has the advantage of a striking image and look and music which is new to the young and familiar and hummable to us more experienced types.
                              Bugg seems to take influences from the likes of Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly and Johnny Cash. His debut album is largely sparse vocals and guitar. While the sound emits a rosy glow of the past, Bugg's lyrics are of a street fighter (and yes he writes or co-writes his own songs).

                              We recently saw Bugg perform his album live at the Barbican in York. While I think Bugg needs to improve his confidence (his between song comments were limited and stilted, but he is still a teenager) his musical ability shone out. For an encore he did Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues and it was good to hear someone so young nail those low notes.

                              It was a little frustrating that some of the audience appeared to want to chatter through the quieter songs (I can think of more comfortable places for a chat) but I guess there are those that wanted to see him purely because he is the next big thing rather than for his music. I was also rather amused that one person behind me exclaimed how happy she was that he was playing "all his hits". I didn't have the heart to point out that Bugg has one album and was simply playing "all he had".


                              Jake Bugg: Jake Bugg


                              What particularly impresses me in these days of sound bites and snippets of songs, the whole album hangs together as a coherent and complete piece. In the first time in ages I can't imagine playing one song in isolation.

                              Two Fingers, the catchy almost hit is a lovely song where Bugg reflects on how tough his life might be if he were back in Nottingham with no prospects just drinking and smoking himself into oblivion. As someone who was a teen during Thatcher's darkest hour, I can picture this lack of hope and prospects with complete clarity. Bugg brings out something of a Marc Bolan quiver to his vocals which is most effective on the verse, whereas the chorus is livelier, where Bugg sticks the proverbial fingers up to his former life.

                              Lightning Bolt is a real Johnny Cash rockabilly number complete with basic sound production, with lyrics of youthful confidence and defiance. It's just Bugg and guitar with a "bring it on I'll roll with it baby" swagger. Seen it All has an innocent Buddy Holly feel to it, but is actually about getting drunk or drugged up and taking a risk by going to a rough and edgy house party. Heh, that's one experience from my youth I don't miss. Trouble Town later on in the album is another mid US rockabilly style number with the emphasis on dodging trouble and the sirens.

                              Simple As This is kind of Everly Brothers meets Dylan brought into the twenty first century complete with very intricate and gentle vocals. After the brutality of Seen It All, the song brings the mood back down. Someplace is another beautifully performed but rather mournful song about a girl who's always just going to go back to her man.

                              Country Song is a very out of fashion sound; which sounds like it could be sung by flower child of the 1960's Melanie. It's short but I love it. Someone Told Me also reminds me of Melanie with its intricate guitar work and rolling vocals. It's probably too twee for some, but I could listen to this kind of stuff for the rest of my life.

                              Broken completes the reflective quiet period in Jake Bugg's album. If the guy wasn't so cool, I could see people bringing their lighters out to sway to this one live. Note to Self has another cheery 50s feel to the delivery, which is rather sweet song to a girl to buck up her confidence. Heh, I spent many a Friday evening doing that kind of thing back in the day. It's good to realise that the insecurities of our youth continue today.

                              Taste It is one of the more inconsequential tracks on the album, with that old cliché of finding it hard being on the road. There is a good early New Wave roll to the song however, and gives the album a different pace and sound. Slide meanwhile shows that in the cradle, Bugg's parents probably played a little too much Verve. It's a pretty song but to me sounds like a bit too much effort was deployed with Bugg sounding like he is singing in the outside loo and rare (but sparse) orchestration to the song. It's not terrible but Bugg's voice feels a little stretched.

                              Fire closes the album, and brings us back to the feel of the 1920's R&B sharecropper songs of Mid West America. It's a short and low key end to what is a great album.

                              To sum up there's an awful lot to like and admire in Jake Bugg's debut album, and I'm sure it's a recording that both teenagers and their mums and dads can grove to.

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                              • More +
                                01.04.2013 12:46
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                                The Vaccines have no cure for that "difficult second album" syndrome.

                                Having seen the Vaccines live a couple of time, we know just what a stomping band they can be at their best. Even I danced; ignoring the youngsters' stares as my belly continued on a wobble or three of its own volition even after I had stopped jigging around. Undignified yes; fun undoubtedly.

                                So it was that we excitedly rushed out to buy the Vaccines latest album, "Come of Age". My beloved and I have a mixed view on the album, and unfortunately I'm the one that's a little disappointed.

                                The Vaccines are the great hope of those of us that like guitar bands and a bit of new wave. Perhaps I was over anticipating greatness whereas in fact I have to accept the Vaccines are always going to be a bit patchy, albeit who definitely have their moments.

                                Perhaps my beloved is easier to please; she likes to sing mindlessly to any catchy tune; as long as it bounces along she's happy. I guess many folks are similar, in which case you will probably enjoy much of "Come of Age". Meanwhile, I always look for something a little more meaningful. I like a lot of thrash and bounce but it needs to have standards.

                                The other slightly frustrating thing about "Come of Age" is that there is little of the personality of the band within. Rather than hear the influences of the band going back to the 60s and 70s, I hear the original bands themselves. It seems as though the Vaccines are Chameleons who are not a band capable of carving their own niche creating their own sound by using what has gone before as a backdrop only.

                                The best outcome of "Come of Age" is finding out just how much lead singer Justin's vocals have improved since the first album, "What Did You Expect from the Vaccines" where in 40 minutes he slid through every note known to man never quite hitting one on the nail. After unsurprising voice troubles, Justin has had proper vocal training in the intervening period and it shows in spades. Weakest vocally by far on "Come of Age" is the track "Lonely World". While I might have enjoyed its lush and relaxed style, those strangled vowels and sliding grating bawled notes just put me on edge, and itching for the microphone to see if I could do it better (answer: yes).

                                "Come of Age" begins happily and bouncily enough with the current "hit" No Hope. It's no surprise that the lead singer of the Vaccines heard his own song on the radio some months after he recorded it and mistook it for a track by The Stokes. As I adore The Strokes that's a good thing. "No Hope" actually also sounds rather like the hybrid son of Dylan and the Velvet Underground with a good bouncy back beat.

                                "Weirdo" is a very good understated song that bucks the "slow start then bouncy chorus" trend of so many songs out there these days. "Weirdo" is a rather deep sounding track and one I can imagine the late great John Peel championing. "Change of Heart" sounds like it may have come from the first album and is pleasant enough.

                                Another track I like is the rather psychedelic tinged "Aftershave Ocean", complete with twangy guitar solo. It's probably the track after "No Hope" that I'd like to hear the band perform live as I'm sure it would have a much darker and gutsy edge.

                                Two tracks that appear on the "Deluxe" version of the album are "Run Away" which has a Ray Davies vibe written all over it and like the best of his tracks is pure pop. It's fairly short but a fine addition to the album. "Misbehaviour" has something of a Pistols swagger and closes "Come of Age" "Deluxe" on something of a high.

                                While there are some good and OK tracks, there are also some rather stagnant ones on "Come of Age". "I Always Knew" the second track on the album is a rather curious beast, reminding of a late 1970s cover of an earlier rock and roll song complete with trembling faux Elvis vocals and a "Telstar" jangling guitar. It's OK, but the irrelevant chorus and associated "ooohhhh" bits guaranteed to get the audience singing, is just frankly a bit too predictable and easy.

                                "All in Vain" meanwhile has a kind of country "Crocodile Shoes" vibe to it; lots of echo and strumming lazy guitar work. "All in Vain" might be perfect toe tapping material for my beloved but is a little light on substance for my taste.

                                "Ghost Town" meanwhile sounds like a bit of filler and actually although it's short, does jar and break up the feel of the album a little. In sound it might have been one of the early rough demos first produced by the band and tarted up to fill a gap. "Wish I was a Girl" is another fairly meaningless song that repeats a lot of the same lyrics and jigs along with little consequence.

                                "Teenage Icon" is probably another hit for the Vaccines, and again seems very late 1970's in feel. Anyone over 40 remember Power Pop? While I like the guitar and strong vocal, it seems strange in 2012 to name check Frankie Avalon.

                                "Bad Mood" is something of a Billy Idol rock and roll pastiche; although it struggles to completely take off. Again, I'm sure it would perform much better live.

                                To sum up, there are some very good songs on the Vaccines "Come of Age" that I'm sure will happily join the roster of songs the band belt out live to great effect. However, there are a few lazy stinker tracks in "Come of Age" too. Perhaps I'm old fashioned in expecting an album to have a coherent and consistent "feel", but this album is one for the cherry picker to download the best songs and leave the dross.

                                Perhaps it's time for me to "Come of Age" with changing my music buying habits, but I can't help feeling just a little short changed by the inconsistent feel of the album.

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