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Ocean's Eleven was the not-such-a-surprise big screen and big budget hit of earlier this year. Directed by Stephen Soderbergh of Traffic and Erin Brockovich fame, and with an enviably star-studded cast list, it was always destined for great things. Although I actually missed its cinematic release, it was universally recommended. And so, when I went browsing through play.com for some inspiration and came across the DVD release, I went for it. Danny Ocean is released from prison. Within 24 hours he is setting up for the big kill, three of Las Vegas' biggest casinos share a vault containing up to 150 million dollars. The owner of said casinos is now shacked up with his ex-wife. He sets his eyes on both. What more do you need to know? So there, in a nutshell, you have the plot. Of course it's slightly more complicated, as the vault is guarded by a succession of security measures. In order to get to the money and take off with it, Danny needs to recruit a variety of villains, all with specific tasks and expertise, ranging from the funding of the operation, to the surveillance, to the get-away car. And, amazingly enough, in total there are eleven, hence the title. The actors dazzle; we have George Clooney as Danny, Brad Pitt as his right-hand man Rusty, Julia Roberts plays the ex-wife Tess, Andy Garcia as Terry Benedict is the casino-owner and ex-wife-lover, Matt Damon plays Linus - debut big-time crim, do I need to go on..? I imagine you've probably got the idea. Eye candy is certainly on the cards for the ladies, but boys, you'll have to make do with sole female Julia Roberts. It's a very "beautiful" film, and the focus on aesthetics is mirrored in the cinematography. It's ever such an attractive film to watch. But more than just being an impressive visual experience, it's actually really well written and genuinely funny in parts. The banter between the get-away brothers
in particular is a joy, and the sharp dialogue between Danny and Tess is well delivered. I didn't expect this film to be quite so amusing, but it was. Equally, I didn't expect it to move me, which it also did. You can call me a film-snob, I don't mind and you're probably right, but I maintain that for every ten Hollywood blockbusters that's released, there is one (if you're lucky) that's actually rather good. Ocean's Eleven is one of the few. Having not seen the original 1960 film, I can't provide a compare-and-contrast discussion. But as a modern-day heist story it's great: contemporary cultural references such as Lennox Lewis and David Holmes' fantastic, effortlessly funky lounge-core soundtrack firmly place the story in the present. Directed by Soderbergh, produced by Jerry Weintraub, and with a screenplay by Ted Griffin, this is a truly entertaining and well executed film. My only regret is that I didn't see it on the big screen. In addition to the usual trailers, scene access and language/subtitle options, the DVD release contains two - yes that's TWO - audio commentaries that you can run alongside the film. One is with Soderbergh and Griffin (director and screenwriter if you haven't been paying attention), and one with Brad Pitt, Andy Garcia and Matt Damon. Both are amusing, entertaining and enlightening. In the cast commentary, when they tell you how much fun it was to make the film, you really do believe them, and a real affection for the film, cast and crew is continually apparent. There's also a 15 minute Making Of documentary and a really interesting 10 minute doc called The Look of The Con, which goes through the costume design process and really illuminates the relationship between the actor, character, and costume. The former contains interviews with cast and crew, and the latter is fascinating in terms of the actors relationships w
ith their characters. Some of these docs only really give you half the story, but I was impressed by how much new information was compressed into the relatively short mini-features. As well as all this, there's a DVD-ROM thingy that I can't use as I only have a CD-ROM drive - not good enough, kids. Apparently there's some sort of game (I think), and various web links. But don't panic because you can access the website just as easily by doing it the old fashioned way and typing www.oceans11.net into your web browser. Overall, the film is great and the extras are definitely above average. Certified 12, this is a genuinely entertaining watch, and I would recommend it without hesitation. Hollywood, you done good ;) Audio: 5.1 Dolby Digital/2.0 Dolby Surround Aspect Ration: 1.85:1 Widescreen/Colour Run Time: 181 minutes Languages: English, French, Spanish Hearing Impaired: English Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, Arabic, Greek Dual-layer format Certified 12 www.oceans11.net £11.99 inc P&P from www.play.com Oh and I promise to get this moved as soon as the DVD item becomes available - in the meantime, thanks for reading and rating :)
Updated 2011: These are no longer called "Marlboro Lights", you now have to be 18 to buy them, they don't come in a gold packet and you can't smoke in pubs ay more. In fact, I'm not even a smoker now...
Marlboro have a distinctive taste and type of smoke. Not a scratchy, cheap cerise polyester satin type smoke that makes me cough (think Benson and Hedges or Silk Cut), but a rich, burgundy velvety smokiness that you inhale deeply and has the potential for great smoke rings. I'm not sure how they do it (is it something to do with moisture?), but Marlboro smoke is sooo dense. Dense is I think the word I'm looking for, thick and syrupy and tar-laden. Reds seem to produce even more of it, but the Lights taste is the same; it just evokes images of Marlboro Man (kids - he died of cancer!), cowboys, Southern belles and wide open spaces. See, this is why they spend so much on advertising!
Even if you don't smoke, you'll no doubt be familiar with the Marlboro packaging. Red is the original, heavy version. Gold is Lights. Green is Menthol (yuk!). Sold in packs of 10 and 20, for the 20 pack boxes you also have the option of the Soft Pack, but you have to smoke these quickly or they go stale. Also there to balance out the novelty factor is that you need to take more care of your cancer-sticks. Put them down for a second on a
pub table and they're bound to get soaked through, rendering them completely useless. Don't try to dry them out with a hairdryer or on the radiator, once damp they are forever flawed, more's the pity.
Marlboro are not quite in the same premium class as Black Russians, but as far as mainstream brands go they are in the upper price range. Expect to pay approximately £4.60 for a pack of 20, which works out at 23p per fag. Given that one cigarette takes me 7 mins to smoke, this is just over 3p per minute of smoke-ring time. Extortionate!
The Philip Morris website states that their cigarettes are composed of 90% tobacco. The remainder is additives, the paper and filter. For those wondering what's in there other than tobacco, here's an ingredients list for Lights in order of content, as provided by Philip Morris to the EU:
Sucrose and sucrose syrup
Calcium carbonate (Cigarette paper)
Cocoa, cocoa shells and extract, cocoa distillate and butter
Licorice root, fluid, extract and powder
Ethylene vinyl acetate copolymer or polyvinyl acetate homo-polymer or starch (Adhesives)
Carob bean extract
Diammonium hydrogen phosphate
Citric acid and its tri-potassium and tri-sodium salts (Cigarette paper)
Sodium phosphate (Cigarette paper)
Guar gum (Cigarette paper)
Sorbic acid and/or its potassium and sodium salts (Tobacco sheet and adhesive)
4-Hydroxy benzoic acid and/or its ethyl, propyl esters and their sodium salts (Tobacco sheet)
Now maybe someone with a knowledge of chemicals can tell me what this means ;) Apparently, the undisclosed 'flavourings' make up the distinctive 'brand formulation', which is why they don't want to give away any more information. In case you're interested about the composition of other brands, have a peek at http://www.ash.org.uk/html/regulation/html/chemistry.html
Ok and to the point of this op. Of course this is highly subjective, but if you really must smoke, I'm presuming that health considerations have already passed you by. Also, you're not fussed about the bother of emptying ash trays, the 2am panic that you need to find an open shop, the fact that you, your clothes and your home will all quite literally suffer smoke damage. But amongst the jungle of brands on the market, Marlboro Lights are actually quite a pleasant smoking experience. And the majority of smokers in the UK obviously agree with me. Just beware that first thing Sunday morning may not be the best time to try and get your hands on a pack - their popularity may lead to difficulties after the Saturday night smoking frenzy.
Marlboro Lights contain:
and are produced by
Philip Morris Products Inc of Richmond, Virginia
and are available Only To People Over 16 Years of Age
My name is Miriam. A good, Jewish name, my namesake was the sister of Moses, who sent him to safety through the bulrushes. Spelt slightly differently, it's also a good Muslim name, Maryam, virgin mother of Isa. The mother of an important prophet. A variant of Maryam is Mary, the Christian equivalent, from whom Jesus, son of god was born. Just for the record, I'm not Jewish, or Muslim, or even Christian, but each of the religions could lay claim to my name, and believers of each have done so, at various times through my life. Sorry, but I'm none of the above. I wanted to mention this first off to dispel any suggestion that my opinion is coloured by religious considerations. It's not. I speak as I find, not out of loyalty to God, or Allah, or Yahweh. I've visited Auschwitz and cried as I walked through the gas chambers, studied the Lebanon at university, read a fair amount about religious conflicts throughout the ages, I followed the East Timorese situation, and I watch the news and listen to Radio 4. But I was totally unprepared for Australian journalist John Pilger's recent television programme, entitled Palestine Is Still The Issue. The Israel-Palestine situation is terrifying. In honesty, I was only really aware of the Palestinian suicide bombers and the murders they had committed. I genuinely believed it was purely a case of fanatical Arab resentment towards the creation of the Israeli state, and my heart went out to the mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers who had lost innocent loved ones in the bombings. And it is dreadful, and my heart still goes out to them. But that's only half of the story. The other half involves massacres, state-led terror and mass occupation. A new version of apartheid, in which Israeli settlements dominate over Palestine villages, and checkpoints and curfews dictate Palestinian lives. On Palestinian land. Children that have died shortly after
birth, whose mothers were unable to get to a hospital because of these checkpoints, which are armed by Israeli troops, who have no right to enforce the Israeli will on Palestinian territory anyway. Israeli bulldozers and tanks that rattle through Palestinian villages with the sole aim of maintaining fear and power. Israeli snipers who take out old women, who are clearly no threat, and the Palestinians who try to defend their homes and lives by slinging rocks in catapults at the Israeli war vehicles. Israel, has, with US and UK support, become the 4th largest military power in the WORLD. Not in the region, but in the world. Israel has nuclear capacity. Israel also has over 450 UN conditions placed on it and 2 resolutions regarding its behaviour in, and 35 year occupation of, Palestine. When you start to think about it, maybe the suicide bombers aren't fanatical maniacs. Maybe the conditions under which they've been living for all this time has made them so desperate that they are willing to sacrifice their lives in order to at least try to make a point. And yet, with each suicide bomb, Israel tightens controls further on Palestinian land, could they be maybe, possibly exacerbating the problem? Hmmm what do you think? And all the while, Britain continues granting export licences to Israel. And America keeps providing blank cheques. One argument in favour of war against Iraq is that the West has a moral obligation to remove the monster that it created, Saddam Hussein, during the Iraq-Iran war. The US now intends to deal with terror pre-emptively. Even if you gloss over what Israel is, right now, doing to Palestine, who's to say that in 10, 15 years, Israel may not be the world's biggest threat? Already they far surpass any potential threat posed by Iraq in terms of capability. Of course, you can dismiss the Israel/Iraq analogy. But we have a problem, see, Ariel Sharon, the Israeli premier, was personall
y (al though indirectly) responsible for over 800 deaths in a 1980s massacre. Most of which, but not all, were Palestine. Are those the actions of a reasonable or rational man? I wonder. Israel has a history of invading its neighbours, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine. No UN, or indeed anyone's, troops were ever deployed, nor was it even considered. Where is the ethical arms policy as promised by Robin Cook when New Labour gained power in 1997? Why are we directing so much vitriol against Iraq, when Israel is, as I type and as you read, occupying foreign territory in contravention of UN resolutions and international law? How can we ignore this??? As an Archive item, this op probably won't be paid. It can't get crowned. Probably only a handful of people will read it anyway, and therefore I'm sorry if it's a bit short of content about the actual programme in terms of presentation, length, scope, whatever. But I didn't know where else to put it, and the more I find out about the situation in Palestine, the more important it was to me that I post something. Rate as you wish, but if your eyes aren't already opened to this appalling situation, please think about it. What's been going on, and continues every day, is WRONG, and the UK and US are directly culpable. http://pilger.carlton.com/palestine http://www.guardian.co.uk/flash/0,5860,681511,00.html http://ceppal.tripod.com/CEPPal/alternatives/chomsky_invasion.html http://web.amnesty.org/802568F7005C4453/0/3F6716656A3DD0D680256BC200447186?Ope n&Highlight=2,palestine http://web.amnesty.org/802568F7005C4453/0/32C1070883CB9E0D80256B8F0050C45F?Ope n&Highlight=2,palestine http://www.haaretzdaily.com/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=140684&contrassID=2 &subContrassID=3&sbSubContrassID=0&listSrc=Y&itemNo=140684 http://www.palestine-un.org/info/frindex.html http://www.zmag.org/ZNET.htm and many, many more...
Perfume was first released in the original German in 1985, followed the following year by the English translation. This is a book that I have had on my "to be read" list for literally years, and only finally got round to recently. You know how these lists work, they are forever growing and titles get displaced as priorities change and new books are released and people recommend things that "you really must read". Well, Perfume is one that should have been read a lot sooner than it was. If you haven't already read it, I strongly recommend that you do. The plot is straightforward enough. A boy is born into late 18th century Paris, a melting pot of various scents and smells. An infinite collection of stenches permeate everything and into this environment comes the boy, Grenouille, who has no odour at all. To balance this anomaly is the fact that he has the sharpest sense of smell that has ever existed. He learns the different smells around him as most children learn the alphabet, or grasp numbers, and his world is composed almost entirely of identifying and ordering his scented world. Added to this is Grenouille's absolute lack of conscience. He has no understanding of what is right or wrong, no belief in God despite the early years spent in the care of the church. He operates completely outside of the parameters of humanity; sights, sounds or morality play no part in his development and life, the pursuit of new odours is all. Moving from one situation to another, Grenouille becomes an apprentice to a Parisian master perfumer, and from here learns the art of dissecting and isolating a myriad of scents. His exceptional sense of smell allows him to blend new and magnificent perfumes effortlessly, and as he masters the arts of distilling the essence of a scent his personal ambition grows. But the focus of his ambition is not based directly in the material world as a perfumer, instead he wishes to cre
ate his own odour, an omnipotent mask he can apply to move with confidence among people. I have no intention or wish to paraphrase the plot for you, but you'll just have to trust me that the commentary of his life grips you. Fate plays a part that lifts this story out of the real and adopts the feel of a fairy tale for adults - anyone who crosses him or benefits from him gets their come-uppance. Grenouille is the perfect anti-hero, despite his obvious difference from the norm, the book is so well written as to inspire a genuine empathy for him, regardless of what he may or may not do. I actually cared about this character, although I could not relate to his reality at all. My German is in no way good enough to even attempt this book in its original form, so theoretically the language could be credited to its translator, John E Woods. But as this has been a best-seller around the world, this doesn't seem likely. This is the only one I've read by Suskind, so I can't comment on whether this book is typical of him. Sorry. I can tell you that Perfume demonstrates a grasp of English that really excited me. The words used portrayed the scents like colours, a rainbow of odours that entirely surpass the usual spectrum. When I first started reading, it came across as almost pretentiously written, using a wealth of synonyms and unusual adjectives that presented itself like a thesaurus. But as I read on, I realised that the scope of description was fundamental to the story in order for it to make sense. Grenouille's sense of smell exceeded anything that could have permitted the language to be simpler or more commonplace. It just wouldn't have worked. And so you end up almost devouring the words as the author explains something inexplicable without at any time sounding like a broken record. It's very hard to write about this book and feel as though you've done it justice, precisely because it
is so well written. I'd have to urge you to read it for the truly novel story that it contains, and equally for the wonderful way in which it is written. I've never read anything quite like it, it's a compelling and surreal tale that contemplates the nature of desire and humanity in a completely original context. Subtitled The Story of a Murderer, Perfume is not a crime or murder-mystery number, it completely soars above the vast majority of contemporary fiction. Enjoy. Published by Penguin at £7.99, 263 pages.
As mentioned in a couple of previous ops, I have two little girls. They're my babies and they deserve, and get, only the best. As a single mum, I took it upon myself to research what would be best for them, what would be most suitable for their lifestyles and temperaments. You could never call me an irresponsible parent, I have always believed that their preferences should be in equal balance with their nutritional requirements. So let me tell you a bit about them. My girls don't go out, ever. I worry for their safety, see, and besides they don't seem to be that interested. This means that they don't use as much energy as their roaming cousins, so they need food that has a lower energy content or else they could get fat. God forbid. Also because they don't go out, they spend more time grooming and preening themselves. Although I do groom them several times a week myself, they are both notoriously vain and wouldn't be seen dead if they weren't pristine at all times. Unfortunately, this means that they could, potentially, consume a lot of hair. Eating hair = fur balls, ick. They don't like that and I don't want to see them having to dispense of what could easily be avoided. The downside of the fact that they never leave the family home is that they toilet indoors. Everything is deposited in the appropriate place, which I then clean up and dispose of. As you may imagine, this is one of the least pleasant facts of living with my housebound girls, but it remains a fact of living. The flip side is that they like nice food. If you've read my other cat food op, you'll know how fussy they can be, and how readily they turn their little noses up at anything that doesn't meet their high standards. They like food that smells, and presumably tastes, appetising and anything less just will not do. After trying them on various types of dry food, I came across one that
reached all of our expectations. It's called Royal Canin Indoor 27. The girls love it, it comes in bite-sized, crunchy, triangular biscuits, smells good enough for them to come running when I put it down for them, and must taste nice enough for them to snack throughout the day. They get wet food twice a day too, but this is the stuff that keeps them going between meals. I'm happy because it contains the right amount of energy to keep them at their optimum weight. So I know they can munch as much as they need to be full without gorging on unnecessary fat. Additionally, it contains a patented Hairball Transit System, which prevents the build-up of fur balls, and saves their precious little selves from any nasty coughed up gunk. And finally, and wonderfully, it contains a unique Odour Reduction formulation that stops their toilet being smelly. (Definitely a blessing for the mums or dads!) Around a year on, I can vouch for the fact that it does exactly what it's supposed to. They've not had any coughing sessions, they've not got at all chubby, and their toilets are indeed odourless. Heavenly. The girls are still enjoying it, I'm still grateful for it, and they will continue to be fed Indoor 27 until such a time as they decide they want to venture outdoors. We'll need to address that issue as and when it arises, but for now, we're just fine. Indoor 27 was launched last year as the latest addition to the Royal Canin range, which consists of specific formulations for baby cats, seniors, the more rotund feline, Persians, etc. Whatever the individual circumstances of your little babies, I am confident that Royal Canin will have something tailored to meet their (and your) needs. You can see how it works on their website at http://www.royal-canin.com/us/default.html The range is not stocked by all pet shops, but you should be able to find them close by to where you live without mu
ch trouble. As far as I'm aware however it is limited to proper pet shops, ie not supermarkets or corner shops. Coming in bags weighing 500g at approximately £3 (look out for the specially priced trial £1.99 packs), 2k at approximately £11.50, 4k (around £19), and 10k at approx £34. Prices vary slightly depending on where you get them from but as a rough guide, this should help you work out how much they cost. The 2k bag provides sufficient feed for 33 days. That's just over 60g a day, apparently, which works out at the 2k bag price at about 35p, falling to approximately 20p a day if you buy the supersized 10k pack. Basically, this is what my girls get, and I can't recommend it highly enough. As the ad says, it does exactly what it says on the tin, and everyone is more than happy. To diagnose the special requirements of your little treasures take a look at the table contained at http://www.royal-canin.com/us/default.html (And to whoever it was that said cats are husband/child substitutes, I say pah!)
Despite the title and content of Girlfight, this film is not exclusively 'one for the girls', nor does it fall into the sexualised high-glamour genre of the sexy lady kicking butt. So if that's what you're after, this aint for you. Girlfight was made in 2000, written and directed by newcomer Karyn Kusama, and ostensibly follows the story of troubled teen Diana Guzman, played by Michelle Rodriguez. The film opens with the introduction of school glamour-bitch Veronica being forced to admit that she has had a fling with Diana's friend Marisol's object of desire. The scene follows with Diana attacking Veronica in the school corridor. The pair are dragged apart and Diana next appears in the Principal's office, where it emerges that this was not the first explosion of her violent temper. Diana is told that if she gets into one more fight, she will be suspended. Throughout, Diana maintains a cold, blank exterior and is to all intents and purposes a girl without self-belief, ambition, or future. Shortly afterwards we meet Diana's father, played by Paul Calderon, whose further appearances are seldom without a bottle of beer. The relationship between Diana and her father is one of the most powerful aspects of the film, a sense of extreme distance and tension between the characters is evident despite the claustrophobic proximity in which they live. Also in the family home is Diana's younger brother, Tiny (Ray Santiago). Tiny is a quiet, artistic kind of kid, and their father's solution is to send him to boxing training to toughen him up for the real world. Their fathers perceived prospects for Diana and Tiny are obviously limited, and even more so for Diana. In the third scene, she is sent to collect Tiny from the gym at which he is training, and her initial impressions of the place intrigue her. This is a precisely executed form of released aggression, and so Diana approaches her fat
her with the intention to join her brother in training. The story develops with her pursuit for excellence in the hands of Tiny's trainer, Hector (Jaime Tirelli). The setbacks are frequent, but her determination proves to be her primary advantage. As to whether she makes it to the big time with the satin shorts and the glamourous card girls, well, you?ll just have to watch the film, but this story is definitely more about the journey than any potential destination. A large element of Diana's journey is the blossoming of her girly side, the teenage crush on boxer Adrian, played by Santiago Douglas, first kiss... you get the idea. Sounds sappy, and I guess it is a bit, but the context and the way in which it is delivered make it seem real. A sense of genuine honesty pervades the film and ensures that it at no point descends into the unbelievable glory story of similar films. This aint no Rocky, nor is it a glossy Tomb Raider. This is an involving and engaging story of one girl's journey to essentially develop her own self-esteem. The fact that it is boxing that helps her get there just makes it all the more interesting to watch, as she necessarily challenges the prejudices about the suitability of the sport for women. The rawness of the minimal gym and the human conviction of the trainers to their sport add a real edge to the film. Filmed as much on locations as in studio-built sets, and with a cast composed of professional boxers as much as professional actors, this is what I meant by the honesty of the film as a whole. This is an independently made film, and as such, the plot and performances have to be a cut above many Hollywood blockbusters, the budget simply didn't allow for great effects or massive custom built locations to carry the film. I really enjoyed Girlfight, the performances were excellent throughout, and the sense of reality heightens the plot immensely. The film runs to 106 min
utes, pruned down from the first cut that was over 3 hours. Inevitably, there are certain holes in the story due to the editing, certain aspects could have been developed further, some facts I questioned on the second or third viewing. The fact that the story involves you to the extent that it the questions are lost the first time you watch is a credit to the film as a whole, and certainly shouldn't put you off. The film won joint Grand Jury Prize and Best Direction at the 2000 Sundance awards, and Kusama won the Young Cinema Award at Cannes in the same year. Personally, I would highly recommend it, it's an uplifting and inspiring story, a classic young hero(ine) pursuing her dream in the face of adversity. As I said earlier, it's a journey film, a rites of passage or personal development story line above anything else, so don't expect a gushingly triumphant ending. Do watch it though, it makes you think about your personal dreams and ambitions. You end the film wanting to win them all. Incidentally, this film is certified 15. This isn't due to graphically sexual or violent scenes, but as far as I can tell, relates to the language, which is strong in parts. Saying that, one scene in particular is rather violent, but not gratuitously so. As a DVD release, it's a bit short on extras. You get the standard scene selection and Directors commentary. Further to that it's just the text-based Filmographies, a short Featurette that sadly only consists of scenes taken directly from the movie and the occasional (very) brief interviews with a few of the actors and the director, and the Trailer. The lack of substance to the extras is actually quite annoying - for example, in the Commentary you're told that about the scenes that were edited out for the final cut, and it would have been a nice touch to have included them on the DVD release. Similarly, Kusama sings the praises of Rodriguez and Douglas, both
making their cinematic debuts, and discusses the chemistry that allowed their scenes to work so well. It would have been nice to have had even short interviews with them so they could tell their own stories, as it were. In this sense, the extras are a bit frustrating, and you wish you'd not known about the deleted scenes or the way in which the various actors related to each other. In fact, there is more information contained on the Flash website at http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/girlfight/ than appears to have been included on the DVD. If you're interested at all by this film, it's worth taking a looking at the detail contained there. Overall then, a great film. Rent it for the brilliant story and performances and nice soundtrack, but be prepared for disappointing extra features. Girlfight doesn't appear to be available on video so you'll just have to put up with the superior picture and sound quality that comes as standard with the DVD experience, and make do! Region 2 release Running time 106 minutes 1.85:1 (whatever that means) Widescreen 16.9 letterbox format 5.1 Dolby Digital sound Certificate 15 http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/girlfight/ Best price £9.99 (inc. P&P) from www.play.com
This is likely to be one of those rambling, stream of consciousness type ops. It's so difficult to try and pinpoint x memories that define childhood, and hats off to those who've managed to give their memories some order. Mine seem to be more of a blur, but to try to structure it somehow, I'll keep it in the town where I was born and spent the first 5 years. So if you don't mind, I'd like to set the scene quickly for you... 47 Ramsbury Road, St Albans, Hertfordshire. I don't remember much about the house, just odd things that probably come more from photographs than memory. One thing I do remember is the back door that went out from the kitchen into the back garden, and the spice rack on the wall behind the opened door. See, I had a dreadful nightmare about a Baboushka doll (you know the wooden Russian dolls with increasingly smaller dolls inside) that lived on said spice rack. The oven was on fire and I had to get out, but I couldn't get past this Baboushka doll. Of course that was a dream, but the door did open onto the garden, and the spice rack was there. We had a lovely garden, steps that went down a rockery onto a lawn. Down the side of the lawn were random stone slabs forming a kinda path, and between the slabs grew forget-me-nots. And a buddleia bush at the side that attracted butterflies. And a pond, which was home to newts and tadpoles, and inevitably frogs, and had fish, and maybe leeches although that may have been my dad's way of stopping me and my younger brother from getting so close we might fall in. My dad was good at that, telling stories. My great uncle and aunt had a dairy farm in Cornwall, and as you can probably imagine, this created a great deal of manure and waste, I think it's called silage. Well anyway there was a silage pit, or heap, or something, I remember it was really big and really smelly and generally grim. The first time we went exploring, my dad told my brother and me
that only the other day, a young farmhand had slipped and drowned in the silage, so we shouldn't get too close and should probably avoid it completely. He elaborated the story with our questions about how you could drown in the stuff, and it worked, we didn't go near the silage again. Today, I don't believe for a second that anyone did die in that silage pit, but the story definitely struck sufficient fear for us to stay away. Another time, less believably, he told us we should eat our carrots because that's what our mum had been force fed when she had been a fighter pilot in the Second World War, for her night vision, you see. My mum wasn't born until probably around 1950 and I don't seem to remember her being particularly amused. I remember my dad alternating with earnest deadpan insistence and deep belly-laughing as he reeled off tales of my mum's successes in destroying Nazi buildings and operations. My dad's laugh. He still has the same laugh, of course, a deep, booming, bassy laugh, utterly infectious. And how he laughs so much sometimes his face screws up and he just kinda shakes silently, and tears come to his eyes. He has always been like this. Even if sometimes you don't find what he's laughing at that funny, the fact that he's laughing makes you laugh. This is why I still have fond memories of the Two Ronnies or Allo Allo, not because I necessarily found them funny, but because they made my dad, and therefore me, laugh. Anyway, back to Ramsbury Road. The road's actually quite a small cul-de-sac, and was, looking back, a real Ramsey Street kinda set-up. Everyone knew everybody else, and all us kids used to play together. There was Daniel and Vicky and their Red Setter about six doors up, and American Dinah next door to them, and Dutch Marieke and her brother Ben across the road, and the big Kesner family next-door to them, and Nick and his little brother (whose name escapes me) f
urther down the road. Next-door to the Kesners lived an old man and his wife called - and get ready for this - Mr and Mrs Punch. I only went there a few times but their house always smelt of pipe tobacco and they always had a tin of pink wafer biscuits. To this day, the smells of sweet, faded tobacco smoke and pink wafer biscuits are interchangeable, although I'm not really sure that pink wafer biscuits have a smell... Marieke was my best friend, there was only about six months between us I think. Her grandfather gave her this incredible doll's house, furnished with miniature tables and chairs and beds and ornaments, and carpets, and with working light switches and everything. I coveted that doll's house with a passion, but my mum told me I couldn't have one as I'd only break it. Thinking back, it must have cost an absolute fortune, it really was amazing, and yes, breaking something like that would have been a real shame. Saying that, I don't think Marieke ever did. Anyway, my dad knew I wanted a doll's house, and bless him, he built me one. Standing about a meter off the floor, with three floors and stairs, and papered on the outside with scaled-down brickwork, and a chimney on the roof, it was so, so cool. It didn't have the same expensive miniature candelabras and dinner service that Marieke's had, but it was carpeted throughout, and the rooms were all decorated differently from each other, and it was connected to a chunky square battery so you could switch on the little lights. That was such a great present, possibly the best I have ever had, thinking about it. Only possibly the best because a few years later my dad built my brother and me a spaceship. You could sit in it and there was a control panel with dials and buttons and switches that might make some lights flash, or emit a sound, or sometimes do nothing at all. It had a door you could close behind you and lock (for safety obviously) and a
windscreen made of clear plastic. Painted metallic silver and big enough for the pair of us to both sit in, that was another wonderful present courtesy of my dad. I think the spaceship now lives in my 22 year old little brother's bedroom, probably hidden under all his junk, bless him. Anyway, sorry, back to St Albans. As I said, it was very Ramsay Street, so much so that I would quite often disappear in the mornings over to a friend's house if my parents weren't up and I was bored. I remember having pancakes for breakfast at Marieke's, her mum making piles of the things. Apparently my parents got up on a fair few occasions to find a chair by the front door and the door slightly ajar, and me gone. I must have worried them, at least the first time, but then again it was such a safe little street. One time I really did worry them was an afternoon when I'd gone up to Daniel and Vicky's, just up the road. Daniel and Vicky weren't in though, and I recall being told by someone (can't remember who) that they'd gone to the lake. Now, St Albans has a lake, with ducks and I think swans, which is where they'd gone. But in my little 3 year old mind, they hadn't actually gone there at all. You see, very close to where we lived was some sort of marshland. Looking on a map now, it seems to be the edge of a big golf course, but it was definitely wetland, not very big I don't think, but wetland nonetheless. So, I decided this must be where they were, and off I wandered. I found the place, and wandered and wandered and couldn't find them at all. Eventually I found a family, not the one I was looking for, mind, and asked them if they'd seen Daniel and Vicky. The family was quite rightly concerned that a little girl was on her own, and somehow, not quite sure how, they took me home and I was reunited with my frantic mother. It turned out that a small child had gone missing from that area only very recently, and
of course she'd been tearing her hair out with worry. But, see, I'd only wanted to find Daniel and Vicky... When Charles and Diana got married, we had a street party. I remember this quite well, despite being only 4 at the time. Everybody in my street put tables out with food, sandwiches, sausages on sticks, punch, maybe even a barbeque, and there were banners and balloons hung from houses across the street. Saying that, I don't recall what actually happened, except that there was a fancy dress parade for the kids. I was a witch/medieval princess with a conical hat and a gown made from sparkly black fabric, my little brother was a page or something like that, a pink velour tunic with white ruffles down the front. He must have only been two and a half, looking at the dates, and he cried and cried and cried and really didn't want to wear the outfit at all. Not too surprising really, don't think I would've done either. Even in the photographs he's sulking, but I definitely remember him making such a fuss about the ruffles on the front being scratchy. I don't think he was even aware that it might look silly! I loved my outfit though, I think I was in my romantic flower fairy stage, and the gown and hat were suitably impressive. To me at least. Talking of celebrations, some of you know that my birthday is on October 31st, which again some of you will know is Halloween. So the few birthdays that I remember in St Albans followed a certain format. First, there would be a birthday party at my house (can't remember too much about these), then everyone would go home quickly to get changed. And then, in the early evening as it was starting to get dark, we'd regroup and go trick or treating. I think I used to throw a bit of a tantrum when it came to dividing the treats after we'd worked our way up and down the road. Well, it was my birthday so surely all the sweets had to be for me right?! In fact, I think I always u
sed to end up with the lion's share so my tantrum-ing and sulking must have worked. Parents will agree to anything for a quiet life, eh? Oh I could go on and on here, about the back gardens that you could get through from one to the other if you went right down to the ends. Or the gooseberry bushes that grew in Dinah's garden. Or the little bushy path that led from the end of my road to a bigger road and that the bogeyman lived there. Or the time that the toys from TV's Play School came to visit my actual playschool. Or the first time I saw a squashed hedgehog, or how I learnt to recognise deadly nightshade and Painted Ladies, or saw snow. Or how the theme music to Last of the Summer Wine still makes me want to fall asleep on the sofa in front of the telly. Or the corner shop that sold Mojo chews, or the time when I inadvertently smuggled a bag of marshmallows through the Presto checkout and then had to take them back and apologise to the girl on the till... And look, a paragraph written already! Rather than give you all that though, and despite all the words that have led up to this point, my childhood memories can I think be summed up quite easily. They were very safe, and consequently full of life and colour and energy. I know the late '70s aren't very long ago at all, so I guess the facts that people left their front doors open and cars unlocked and didn't immediately panic if their child had left the house first thing, are evidence that the road I grew up in was an incredibly unthreatening place. Maybe it's because my memories are childlike and therefore very naïve, but I've never known a community like that since. Happy, happy days. ******* And yes, yes, I know I am 'on a break' but this one wanted to be posted!
Well, this is an item I never thought I'd write in. See, this is what dooyoo does to you, you end up with an opinion on everything and anything! To start, and probably to alienate anyone who's sufficiently interested in this topic to even be reading this, I don't use cannabis or any other illegal drug and I don't drink (please note the use of the present tense there, I am not saying 'I have never...'). Saying that, I'm not with the anti-legalisation lobby either. I'm just me, and having read several recent opinions on this subject, this is my mine.
I read an article the other day stating that the UK is increasingly becoming a nation of binge-drinkers. Last night, when I popped up to shop, I came across two separate groups of lads, none of whom could have been older than 20, who were completely plastered. One was urinating in the street, all were being loud and offensive, and one of the groups had succeeded in shattering a litter bin, so bits of plastic and rubbish were all over the road. I've had a fair few friends who have poisoned themselves with alcohol, so the whites of their eyes had gone yellow and they'd been very poorly for three, four days because their bodies were so polluted. And then the hangovers, memory loss, possible addiction...
What scares me is that this is a drug that is unequivocally condoned. A drug that has the potential for being so incredibly anti-social is shared by probably the same people that attack cannabis use so vociferously. But alcohol is socially acceptable in a way that cannabis is not, which just makes me laugh.
Spiritualized is one band I am truly fanatical about, but I promise to try very hard not to enthuse to the point that you have to reach for a bucket. The music is on the one hand beautifully orchestrated, yet maintains a firm and constant grip on guitar driven rock-pop (that phrase just doesn't do them justice!), with a touch of jazz stylings, and a liberal scattering of blues. A little background for you. Regardless of the moniker, Spiritualized is basically one man, Jason Pierce (or 'Spaceman'), and whoever he decides to have in his band at any time. After the last album proper, Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space (1997) he famously parted company with the three other core members of the band, but carried on and recruited replacements. Pierce was previously half of the '80s psychedelic rock-pop outfit Spacemen 3 with Pete Kember, and it was from the less than amicable split (see a pattern here?), Spiritualized was born. The first two Spiritualized albums were Lazer Guided Melodies (1992) and Pure Phase ('95), which were more heavily electro in feel, with synths and widespread use of FX pedals. Spiritualized's breakthrough album, Ladies and Gentlemen, took a more organic, blues basis, with gospel choirs and pronounced musical arrangement. After Ladies and Gentlemen came the Live at the Albert Hall album in '98, followed by Let it Come Down in 2001, which continues in the path set out by Ladies and Gentlemen, but goes further down the line of a more complete orchestral sound. To illustrate the point, I can tell you that there was full brass, two string, and a complete woodwind section. Oh and the London Gospel Community Choir. Plus a long list of various Fenders, Gibsons, and Voxes. That should give you a better idea! So to the tracks. With 'On fire', the album opens with a definite blues inspiration. The first few notes are a piano repeating the central riff, before strong keyboa
rds and guitars come in marking the melody and beat. Pierce's unmistakable, gravelly vocal (think maybe Mercury Rev's Jonothan Donahue) comes in at the same time, shortly joined by gospel backings, and brass punctuation. This is a fabulously full-bodied track, mid tempo with a rousing chorus and a toe-tapping beat. The end of the track shows all elements brought into full effect, with the repeated 'Into your soul' lyric, and the guitar riff that is reminiscent of the track 'Cop shoot cop' from Ladies and Gentlemen. This doesn't seem to have been released as a single yet, but it has definite potential. The second track, 'Do it all over again', is less overwhelming, although interestingly was the third single, most probably as it's a tamer, more radio-friendly track. With a catchy chorus, this is more of a traditional rock-pop song, still high quality, but drier, less exciting - this is the closest Spiritualized get to the housewife's choice type of single. Not one of the high points of the album, although you will probably find yourself singing the chorus as you do the washing-up. Moving on to track 3, 'Don't just do something', the song is the first that realises the beautiful orchestration that Spiritualized can do so well. A gentle track, using strings and oboes as much as keyboards, this reminds me of Ladies and Gentlemen's 'Broken heart'. That is, until it moves into an almost country and western styled song, with gorgeous gospel backing and a real sway-along tempo. Lighters at the ready, kids. Without the string backing and multiple layers, this could be a really dull track, but the complexity makes it something really very special. 'Out of sight' was the second single, and is track 4. As in previous tracks, it starts softly with vocals, guitar and piano introducing the song. Strings are brought in, and soon enough, powerful chords and an emp
hatic lead guitar wash over you. This tracks alternates between the soothing and the energising, with a great brass section interplaying with the strings and guitars to create another many-layered, high quality track. The way that Spiritualized tracks progress really works its way into you, and if you let it, will carry you away in the various melodies. Track 5, 'The twelve steps' starts with the high-energy guitar-led magnificence of previous singles 'Electricity' and 'Medication'. A dirty, grungey vocal, evocative of that Ugly Kid Joe single from the early '90s leads into a funky interlude of sampled police car sirens and squelchy beats. But wait for the vocal, and the speed reappears with a vengeance. This is a song about addiction, as the title suggests, and the lyrics 'The only time I'm drink and drug free/ Is when I don't have to pay for what I need' demonstrate Pierce's mentality to a T. Onwards to track 6, 'The straight and the narrow'. Follows on perfectly from 'The twelve steps' in sentiment, but takes the tone more of 'Don't just do something'. Another heart-felt and slow-moving track, built for swaying to in a kinda Americana stylee. 'The problem with the straight and the narrow is it's so thin/ I keep sliding off to the side'. The pace and melody of this track could easily nestle it in with a whole world of MOR tracks, but the lyrics and atmosphere are a constant reminder that it would not make as easy bed-fellows as the first listen might suggest. My personal favourite so far is seventh, 'I didn't mean to hurt you', which starts oh so gently with the vocal, a tinkling piano single-note melody repeated, until the full instrumentation, including gospel backing, guitars, lush strings, and oboe build the track up to a desperately melancholic but shimmering and exhilarating peak. The track then breaks down to the lon
g drawn-out string notes, until it returns with a majestic instrumental climax in which the lead guitar gets a nice but understated outing. Think the exquisite string-led force of Bjork's 'Joga' and you wouldn't be far off. This consists of just one six-line verse, which is sung several times over the varied and genuinely breath-taking soundscapes. Maintaining the high comes 'Stop your crying', the first single that was released from this album. A big bass drum marks the beat, while guitars, brass, and those strings and gospel singers again take this track above and beyond the staple guitar-led rock-pop model. This song has grown on me massively: it was the first I'd heard from this album when it was released last year and I wasn't won over. But in the context of a complete Spiritualized album it seems perfect. Track 9, 'Anything more' slips back into the slower mood of earlier tracks. Whilst the song itself sounds as though it could have been taken from one of the earlier albums, it's here where you really notice the progression in style towards more refined arrangements. Whether or not you prefer the rawer sound of the earlier albums is really personal choice. Let it Come Down is certainly a more grown-up, elegant album. 'Won't get to heaven' starts very slowly, and you'd be forgiven for checking your volume controls. Barely audible tinkling triangles and double bass plucking continue for just under a minute before the piano commences the single note melody. Shortly afterwards, the reverbed guitar recognisable from the earlier albums appears, partnered with again, a delicate string accompaniment. The choruses blossom from the pared-down verses into a big, floribunda rose with gospel accompaniment and fabulous arrangements. Here the harmonica also makes a noticeable appearance, in a hypnotic extended interlude that reminds me to a certain extent of 'Cop shoot
cop' as mentioned earlier. This is one to definitely lose yourself in, for all ten and a half minutes of it. The album ends with 'Lord can you hear me', which started life as a Spaceman 3 track. This version, is, in keeping with Let it Come Down, a blissful rework, the gospels fit the track beautifully, the orchestration works well, and the only hints to its origins lie in Pierce's distinctive voice and the use of dumbed-down electric guitars. A gently rolling melody leaps out of the one-dimensional mould approximately half-way through, into a mass of sliding electric guitars and full choral backing, comprising a blistering finale to the track and the album. I don't really need to tell you that I love this album. The question is, will you? If you liked Ladies and Gentlemen, I think you will. If you hated it, favouring either of the two earlier albums, you probably won't. If you're unfamiliar with Spiritualized but like Radiohead, Velvet Underground, Beta Band, or Mercury Rev, you should probably check them out. My own personal definition of the sound would probably be suicide rock, because some tracks are just so wrist-slashingly melancholic. However, seeing Spiritualized play live has to be one of the most invigorating experiences ever, and if you get the chance, I would strongly recommend it. The album comes on CD and on 2-disc vinyl. The CD itself has 2 formats, but the difference is purely aesthetic, one comes as a standard CD box, the 'Special Edition' has the cover image sunken into a plastic casing. All eleven tracks are present on both. Coming to just over 63 minutes, Let it Come Down is released on BMG so you shouldn't have any difficulty finding it. Best price? Cd-wow.com of course, at £8.99 for the CD. As for my rating, it loses one star for purely personal reasons, only because I think earlier albums have been better. But turn it up loud and let the sound wash over
you and you may think differently... For more info: www.spiritualized.com www.no-fi.com:16080/spiritualized/index.html www.allmusic.com www.cdwow.com
Requiem for a Dream is not a film for the faint-hearted. If you are offended by graphic scenes of drug use, exploitative sex, or mental and physical breakdowns, this is not a film that you would want to watch or enjoy watching. Similarly, strong language is frequent and it certainly deserves its 18 certificate. That said, this film is stylistically brilliant, and contains a plot that draws so many elements of modern living into sharp focus. Essentially a story of addiction, Requiem follows several story lines ranging from the ubiquitous to the extreme. It should be pointed out that the film was born from the book of the same name, written by Hubert Selby Jr. Sara Goldfarb (played by Ellen Burstyn) is a widowed mother of one son, and lives in an apartment block in Brooklyn. Her days are spent watching the television, focussing in particular on the lifestyle guru Tappy Tippon, who endlessly promotes his Month of Fury - "30 days to turn your life around". While he preaches his 3-step programme (no red meat, no refined sugars, no orgasm), she consumes boxes of chocolate and cups of coffee. One day, mid-broadcast, she receives a call from an agency informing her that she has been selected to appear on television. This is her dream, and so begins her obsession with her moment of glory. In her excitement, she fixates upon a photograph taken at her son's graduation. She is part of a loving family, her husband is alive, and her son has the trappings of achievement. In the picture she is wearing a red dress, and so she seeks this dress out in her wardrobe, but to her displeasure, the dress no longer fits her. What follows is a series of impossible diets, and her eventual recourse to a doctor who will provide her with pills to stop her feeling hungry - all for the red dress. Meanwhile, Sara's son Harry (Jared Leto) has been using drugs for years, and after consideration, he and his best friend Tyrone (Mar
lon Wayans) decide to pull off a heroin deal that will set them up financially, to take them "off hard knocks and on to easy street". The plan is foolproof, as long as they don't break that age-old maxim: don't get high on your own supply. So of course they do, but fortunately not enough to get in the way of their new-found wealth. The plan is to make enough money from the first deal to set them up for an even bigger quantity, which in turn will prove even more lucrative. However, the path doesn't run smoothly and their foray into supply becomes more complicated by the rival gang warfare to control distribution, and their increasing personal dependence. Running simultaneously is the story of Harry's girlfriend, Marion, played by Jennifer Connelly. Marion comes from a good family, and although her background is not explored to the same level, we are told that her parents have set her up in an apartment, and that she attends (or should attend) regular therapy sessions, again, funded by her parents. The implication is that the funding for the therapy is actually spent primarily on cocaine, which is her drug of choice. Marion has dreams of becoming a fashion designer, and is encouraged by Harry to pursue this, but the two are essentially very bad for each other. The two characters collide like a car crash, and as their drug use increases, both are pushed along into their respective spirals of self-destruction. The various stories run together, and there is arguably no one main story, although the chronology is broken into summer, fall, and winter. The plot concerns itself with addiction of all forms: coffee, TV, home-shopping, diet pills, cannabis, cocaine, heroin. It would be impossible to accuse this film of glorifying drugs, as it is one of the most heart-wrenchingly and desperately painful films I have ever seen, and continues to move me each time I watch it. It raises questions concerning the reasons for a
ddiction, the scope of addiction, and even suggests that addiction is a fundamental part of 21st century life. Requiem is uncomfortable viewing in parts, not least because it challenges the viewer to address issues that could easily remain hidden. How have we reached the point where people can be so completely isolated? How can we collectively avoid the vacuum that allows it to take hold? Although the film deals primarily with the sharp end of the scale, bear in mind that this applies equally to sugar, or TV, or even the net, as much as it does to illegal drugs... so what *is* your fix? I mentioned earlier that the film is stylistically brilliant so I really should justify that statement. You will notice throughout the film short montages that pop up at regular intervals, sharp images and sound depicting the drug consumption and effects. For example, a shot of a bag of powder cuts to the powder being lined up, then a note rolled, then the powder being sucked up, then a dilating pupil and accompanying exhalation. Cut together, these montages last approximately 5-10 seconds, and clearly indicate a) the story that is being followed and b) that consumption is taking or has just taken place. Together with the several speeded-up/down scenes that indicate various states of perception, this film in parts has the same vibrancy and tempo that you'd expect from a music video. The atmosphere of each scene is as much dependent on what is being shown, as how. The medium is indeed the message. The soundtrack is suitably haunting for the subject matter. Beautifully performed by the Kronos Quartet, the central theme is chopped and sampled in parts to interplay with the plot, adding tension or indicating the dreamier moments with equal success. In parts, very staccato notes are sampled and looped to create a highly charged industrial sound, to match perfectly the harsher moments of the film. At times like this, it is easy to forget the classical r
oot from which the sound originated. The film is directed by Darren Aronofsky, and was his follow up to his critically acclaimed debut Pi. Although I haven't seen Pi, I gather that the same stylised attention to detail appears here as in Requiem. Across the board, I find it difficult to find fault in Requiem for a Dream: the direction is excellent, as are the actors, as is the screenplay, as are the soundtrack and cinematography. Ok so you've watched the film, so on to the DVD extras. In addition to the standard scene access, directors commentary and trailers, there are also various others bits and pieces that illuminate the film as whole. Firstly, the deleted scenes. There are nine, ranging from across the film and varying in length, which, as is usually the case with deleted scenes, sometimes enhance the plot and sometimes do not. Particularly poignant is the one entitled 'We can stop using', which I'm sure you can imagine. A mini-feature concerning Tappy Tippon life history is interesting, and expands on the prevalence of addiction in its various forms in society. Shot in pseudo-documentary style, Tappy talks us through his select life history/sales pitch, how he "turned his life around in 30 days", and the home-shopping element is evident throughout - only available by calling 1-900-976-JUICE at the special price of $39.95. This, seen in the context of the film, highlights the everyday addictions (sugar, caffeine, sex) and also points out the aspirational element that drives Sara, Harry and Tyrone, but eventually seals their fates. The 'Making of' documentary is fascinating in showing how the effects and prosthetics were created, and provides a good background into how the film as a whole was constructed. Notable is how one 25 second scene in which Sara is shown frantically cleaning her apartment with speed-driven vigour was shot. Likewise the shorter 'Anato
my of a Scene' featurette is illuminating, but is essentially a condensed version of the 'Making of'. Possibly the most interesting extra is 'Memories, Dreams and Addictions' - an interview with Hubert Selby Jr, conducted by Ellen Burstyn. As well as providing further information into the background of the film, and of the book on which it is based, it also provides an insight into the very personal beliefs and thoughts of its creator. Taking the form of a conversation rather than a straightforward interview, it really does shed light on the man behind it all. Overall, this is an unforgettable and gritty film that genuinely succeeds in being thought provoking. Compulsive viewing, it takes the dreams of its central characters to a nightmarish conclusion that will make you recoil in horror. I would maintain that it's a trip well worth taking, for three reasons. Firstly, the impeccable and stylised imagery which is a joy to watch; secondly, because it forces you to consider awkward social questions; and finally because it really is a cracking (no pun intended) and well-acted story. But definitely not one for the faint hearted. The itty bitty details: DVD Region 2 Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Dolby Digital 5.1 sound Film running time 97 minutes Certificate 18 Website: http://www.requiemforadream.com (unnecessarily confusing - all style no substance)
Bournemouth's great. It's compact enough to generally be able to get most central points on foot. It's very busy in the summer with the massive influx of foreign students; Bournemouth has a ridiculous number of language schools and nearly everyone in the town is involved in some way or another, teachers, host families, pub landlords etc. It's definitely quieter in the winter, but with the expanding university the population does seem to be getting more balanced season-wise.
It's a real mix of residential and commercial property, with some areas being more one way or the other, but overall it's pretty integrated. There are no industrial estates (they're all next door in Poole) and accordingly, the town's generally very clean and pretty. Employment opportunities are fairly limited in my opinion - if you're after a professional career then Bournemouth's probably not the best place to be, but there are loads of shops and offices to keep you employed (and not very well off!).
Bournemouth's one of the few places in the country that still has a selective education system, ie Grammar schools and Secondary Moderns. Grammar school entry is dependant on the 11 Plus exam, and there are two single sex grammar schools. There's only one comprehensive in Bournemouth and that's Catholic, and I hear it's very good. The remainder of secondary schools are made up of approximately eight secondary moderns, of which I believe three are mixed.
I mention the education system here because it's actually quite indicative of the town as
a whole, it's a True Blue Tory area, and regardless of your politics, you can't fail to notice it! Bournemouth's strange in the fact that it's very 'traditional' but in fact it's new-ish town. Not new like Milton Keynes, but it only really developed around 1850 when the gorseland became a seaside resort renowned for its TB-curing air, allegedly. At this time, it became home to a wealth of famous names, such as Mary Shelley and Robert Louis Stevenson.
Bournemouth town centre focuses on the Square, or the square-that's-actually-round. It used to be a big roundabout but now has been pedestrianised and adorned with a coffee shop and flowers. It's the juncture of several roads, including the impossibly steep Richmond Hill (don't even bother trying to cycle it). There's also Gervis Place, where you can get a bus to almost anywhere in town - you can't fail to notice them, they're yellow; Commercial Road and Old Christchurch Road, both shopping havens; Bourne Avenue, which takes you in the general direction of Poole; and Exeter Road, which goes directly to the beach.
Travelling west on foot, up Commercial Road (also pedestrianised) you'll find the Triangle, which is actually vaguely triangular. At the time of writing, a new library was being built here. Commercial Road, unsurprisingly, has loads of shops and a dinky little arcade with an HMV. Debenhams can probably also be grouped here, although it is in fact directly on the Square.
Old Christchurch Road will take you all the way up to the Lansdowne, but there's not a lot after Horseshoe Common (about half way up), which is a nice green area with well tended roses. Old Christchurch Road is also nice because it's got several arcades, notably one simply known as The Arcade, which houses shops like Waterstones and The Pier. The two 'nice' departmen
ts stores are along here, there's a House of Fraser and Beales, which is the local emporium for everything lovely.
Bourne Avenue has a few shops and a fantastic milkshake/bar/café called Legends to its credit and leads to the town hall. Ever since some of the parking was got rid of, there's also a good sized Borders. What you'll really notice if you're on Bourne Avenue though are the Upper Gardens. The Gardens run from Koi Pond, yes it's a pond with Koi in, to the pier approach right on the seafront. And they are lovely, green lawns and well-looked flower beds. You can quite literally follow the road up to the Pond, but I'm not sure I'd recommend it because there ain't really much to see.
Exeter Road leads to the beach, via the Bournemouth International Centre (the BIC). The BIC houses a leisure pool complete with wave machine, fitness centre, several halls for concerts or conventions, the occasional exhibition, a few lounges where you can get a drink, and, um, not much else. It's highly unattractive but it has been home to the Labour and Conservative Party Conferences in its time. Exeter Road ambles around the Lower Gardens, which, like the Upper Gardens, are very green, very well cared for, and really quite pretty. They also house an aviary, if you want to see too many colourful birds in a tiny space. Not really to my taste, but each to their own.
Sun, Sea and Sand
At the end of the Lower Gardens, you get to the beach. And my word is it a beach. Seven beautiful miles of gorgeous sandy loveliness, clean water, and loads of beach huts. Not that beach huts are a bad thing. It's a really superb stretch, as they go, and rumour has it that the sand is actually shipped in from the Sahara and it can't come with much higher credentials than that.
The weather also tends to be good for enjoying the seaside as Bournemouth falls into Poole Bay, a
nd so is quite sheltered. Of course this doesn't mean that you're guaranteed good weather, but you are should be able to notice less extreme elements.
The main section is identifiable by the pier, which houses an amusement arcade and the Pier Theatre, which usually shows typically 'kiss-me-quick' style romps, quite often starring an ex-Page 3 stunna or cast-member from Allo Allo. I'm sure you get the idea. There's also the Pier Showbar, which has been home to some of the town's best nights out, if you like dance music. The different 'nights' tend to rotate on a weekly basis with monthly or fortnightly events, but things change oh so quickly in clubland so check local press for listings.
The beach runs west towards Poole, and along the way there are some really lovely spots, Alum Chine for example, which serve as their own little beaches. At each of these Chines there are parking areas and various activities: ice cream vendors, tennis courts, a pub, etc. It may be worth, if visiting in the height of summer, to seek out the Chines rather than relying on the main Bournemouth beach as they do tend to be quieter, and consequently cleaner.
Eastwards is Boscombe, which has its own pier. You can walk all the way down between the two piers, either on the sand itself, or for the less energetic, you can amble along the promenade. Cars are not permitted to drive down here so it's perfectly safe. Boscombe is ok, but bear in mind that this area has a high concentration of guest houses and hotels, and isn't generally seen as being as 'nice' as the rest of the stretch. Past Boscombe is Southbourne, which is another lovely, and quieter part of the beach. Highly recommended, but be aware that there are fewer facilities the further east you go.
Arguably the finest beaches are actually in Poole at Sandbanks. This stretch is aesthetically perfect (
almost), and house prices nearby reflect this. Getting to Sandbanks is less straightforward as reaching any part of Bournemouth's beach - you will either need to drive a fair distance around the coast, or hop on the regular ferries that make the brief crossing. But if all that sounds like too much hassle, don't worry, because Bournemouth's beaches are more than adequate.
Bournemouth beach and the sea that laps up to it have a good history of cleanliness. The waters have received the Blue Flag award for lack of pollution on numerous occasions and are safe to swim in. The beaches are well looked after and tend also to be clean and litter-free, although in high season this may not always be the case in the busiest areas. Life guards are plentiful and well-trained. And usually gorgeous... but that's another story.
Things To Do, Places To See...
As Bournemouth isn't a very old town there's little in the way of historical interest. Probably the nearest it gets is the Russell Coates Museum and Art Gallery, which is full of various 'treasures', although most of which, I'm reliably informed, are fakes.
The town has cinemas, lots of bars and night clubs (of varying quality), swimming pools, the Pavillion (which shows lots of ballet and the occasional opera), 10 pin bowling, golf, basically the usual activities you find in a large town. In addition, you'll find the all-new IMAX cinema and the attached bars/restaurants complex, which is right next to the beach.
To the west, Poole has a lovely quay, which is worth a visit. Poole is much older than Bournemouth and actually has more to offer in terms of sights. Directly east is Christchurch, which again is older than Bournemouth and is a very pleasant day out.
Going inland and further east, the New Forest offers a wealth of activities, eg camping, cycling, horse-riding, and there are also various
day out destinations, eg the owl sanctuary near Ringwood, and the motor museum at Beaulieu. The New Forest really is a lovely place to spend a few days, and if you were to spend any time in Bournemouth and not visit it, you would be missing out.
Rural Dorset is inland bearing west, and there are numerous picturesque villages and ancient sites. Bear in mind that the neighbouring Wiltshire has Stonehenge, and you can imagine that Dorset is similarly blessed. Ancient religious sites and forts are dotted all around this area, and even if you're not interested in the historical side, they make excellent places to visit for a walk or a picnic (but remember to clear up after you!). An excellent example is Badbury Rings, an Iron age hill fort between Wimborne and Blandford, which is quite stunning all year round, but especially in summer.
Eating and Sleeping
The range of cuisine that Bournemouth has to offer is ever increasing, from English to pan-Asian to American, with everything in between. One place that's definitely worthy of a mention is a Swiss restaurant called Helvetia, which has a lively keller bar in the basement. This place does the best cheese fondue I have ever tasted. There are plenty of restaurants in town though, but bear in mind that as a rule of thumb, the closer the establishment is to the centre of town, the more expensive it will be. And that this doesn't necessarily mean it will be any better.
Being a seaside town, Bournemouth boasts a very high number of B&Bs, guest houses and hotels, providing a variety of boards and rates. Given the number and range, I couldn't possibly generalise as to the standard they maintain as a whole. As far as prices go, a room will unsurprisingly cost more in the summer months than, say in November or February. Easter also brings an influx of visitors, so again, prices are likely to peak here for spring bookings. It's also worth checking i
f any big conferences are being held around the time that you wish to visit, as this will also lead to hiked up prices that you may well wish to avoid.
To, From and Around
Bournemouth has good links to London by train and by road, taking approximately 2.5 hours by train and 2 by car. Amazingly, it also has an airport, although flights from here are restricted to package holiday destinations, mostly in the Caribbean.
Travelling within Bournemouth itself, there is a good and reliable network of Yellow Buses that will take you to most places within the town and its immediate surroundings. Travelling to Poole and beyond, there are also the red Wilts & Dorset buses. The main terminal in Bournemouth town centre for both is Gervis Place.
The train is pretty much useless for getting around within Bournemouth, but is arguably the best way to get into the New Forest if you're car-less. Trains to a number of destinations are frequent and remarkably scenic.
Bournemouth's roads are not, at present, riddled with one-way systems or overcrowded and it's generally very easy to get from A to B quickly. Parking is plentiful. Cycling around town is hit and miss, some routes, notably to the university, have marked cycle lanes, but this is not consistent. The landscape does undulate though so if you're travelling any distance expect some easier then harder (or harder then easier) stretches en route.
Bournemouth is a great place to visit and enjoy. It's safe, clean, and pleasant, and benefits from a wonderful surrounding area. If you go, make sure to buy an ice-cream and wander for a little while along the promenade. Take in the lovely Gardens and join everyone else in criticising the vulgar BIC. Spend an afternoon exploring the Chines. Leave town for the day and enjoy the Dorset countryside, and enjoy a cream tea at a thatched cottage tea shop. Or ventur
e into the New Forest and go deer spotting. And send me a postcard, because when I think about it, I quite miss it actually.
I will no doubt be updating this as I think of things..!
Places to stay -
I now have two cats, and after much taste testing of various types of cat food, they have eventually settled on their favourite… And my little girls don’t like tinned food (too tinny, obviously), and being fussy little madams they just sniff at the Kitekats and own brand pouches (although they don’t mind Waitrose’s). Their favourite breakfast/dinner is Whiskas pouches, hence posting here. Basically, what you get is a single-meal-sized pouch weighing in at 100g, filled with little bite-sized bits of meat, and jelly or gravy to keep it moist. My ladies tend to lap up all the jelly/gravy first but unlike some other brands I’ve tried this doesn’t mean that the meaty bits dry up instantly, which is always a good thing. The pouches come in various flavours and jelly/gravy combinations. The girls are currently half-way through a 24 Jelly selection pack that contains 6 each of Chicken, Trout & Salmon, Beef, and Rabbit & Chicken, and seem to be quite happy. Selection packs are also available in 12 pack combos and are themed, for example, Favourites, Poulty, Meat, Fish etc… This is the first time I’ve splashed out on a 24 pack because the 12 pack ones are quite often on a 3 for 2 offer in various supermarkets so I just buy them. The meaty bits are smaller than you usually get in tins of the same product, which my girls seem to prefer. Not sure what the science behind this is, but whatever makes them happy! Similarly, the food appears to be moister than you get in a tin and this may be due to a higher jelly/gravy composite, I don’t know, but the cats prefer it and I guess that’s all that matters. Each flavour is primarily composed of ‘Meat and animal derivatives’ which sounds a bit ambiguous and scary, but I’m reassured somewhat as the ingredients listing for each flavour guarantees that at least 4% comes from the animal/bird that it’s supposed to be. Fo
r example, Chicken has a minimum of 4% chicken, and Trout & Salmon has minimum 4% trout and minimum 4% salmon. I can’t tell you what they taste like (sorry but my investigative drive doesn’t go that far) but they smell ok, richer and more full-bodied than the tinned version and the alternatives available. If you don’t like that cat-food aroma, these will probably be your nemesis. A quick tip – the cooler they are the less they seem to smell. But, the flip side is that the more they smell, the quicker the cats eat them. Your call really! The packaging is good, there are little red arrows near the top to guide you so that you tear easily and in a straight line. The packs also have a reinforced component between two said arrows to make it easier not to accidentally tear down and lose everything. Very thoughtful, but it isn’t foolproof, so don’t rush it and rip the thing with your teeth or you might be getting to sample Whiska's finest yourself. (If this happens please let me know what it tasted like so I can update). The box tells me that the recommended quantity of food for an adult cat is 400g a day (ie a tin, or 4 pouches), but that seems a lot. For my two adult cats, I serve up 2 pouches in the morning, topped up with another one early evening, between them. They do also have their specially-formulated-for-their-lifestyle-and-type dried food available at all times, but they actually get 150g each of wet food a day, and this seems to satisfy them. Well it must do, because you can always tell when a cat’s hungry can’t you?! My only reservation about the multi-packs is that a vet once told me that you shouldn’t mix up flavours too often. The example I was given was that you should feed them one flavour for 3 days before switching it, because the different components in different flavours can give cats a tummy upset if they’re given too much variety in t
oo short a period of time. For this reason, I try to keep my girls on the same flavour for as long as possible, and if multi-packs were available purely containing Chicken, for example, I’d be the first in the queue. But that aside, I haven’t had any problems so I can’t really comment. For the record, my girls prefer white meat, although they don’t mind a bit of duck, or occasionally rabbit. So Mymy and Lily’s verdict: 9/10 (because they’re not too keen on Beef) The individual pouches retail for between 25p and 45p depending on outlet and offers available. My local independent pet shop sometimes has a 5 for a quid offer and that works out pretty good so it’s worth checking for offers. The pre-selected 12 packs retail for around £2.70, and it is worth taking advantage of the numerous 3 for 2s that the supermarkets throw up. And finally, I bought the 24 pack for £5.24. I think this is the only size that I’ve never seen attached to a multi-buy, which is a shame because it would work out really good value it they did. My verdict: 9/10 – losing one point because late night cat food hunts can lead to paying ridiculous amounts for one meal.
I will never cease to be astounded by the simple beauty of Nick Drake’s songs and vocals. In order to write this review, I’ve sat down and put Time of No Reply on, and the sense of wonder and genuine awe that it inspires have stilled my writing. I’m now on the third track, and remain unsure whether I should be primarily typing or listening… Nick Drake, born in 1948, sadly departed in 1974, released three albums during his brief career, Five Leaves Left (1969), Bryter Layter (1970), and Pink Moon (1972). After his early death, a collection of further recordings was uncovered, pre-dating Five Leaves Left, and was released with his last known four recorded songs, as the collection Time of No Reply. Falling into the folk-rock camp of Fairport Convention and Donovan and with followers such as Belle and Sebastian, and to a lesser extent, Black Box Recorder, Nick Drake was a singer-songwriter who, despite his limited releases, should not, in fact cannot, be overlooked. Gentle, wistful, thoughtful and fragile songs, accompanied most often by little more than his guitar, they touch the soul and gently prise open the door to your innermost emotions. There is no exciting drama that I can find in Nick Drake’s work, just a strikingly delicate melancholy, punctuated by occasional moments of optimism. He didn’t write dark songs, in the traditional sense, these are more an understated and fuzzy grey that is entirely accepting of the clouded, depressive world, as he saw it. This is a lazy Sunday afternoon, with rain tapping incessantly against the window, an overcast winter morning. Persistently and tragically numb. Time of No Reply consists of 14 tracks in all. Seven were recorded in sessions prior to the release of Five Leaves Left. The two tracks ‘Man in a shed’ and ‘The thoughts of Mary Jane’ appeared on Five Leaves Left, but the versions on this collection are earlier, devoid of
any tinkering. The latter of these two is however one of only two songs that utilises instrumentation other than the voice and guitar of Nick Drake himself. (The other is ‘I was made to love magic’.) Three tracks (including Bryter Layter's 'Fly') are home recordings, and this is reflected in the sound quality. The final four are studio recorded, literally months before his death. These are more in keeping the Pink Moon album, in all its pared down, unpolished simplicity. The CD starts with the title track and you are immediately met with the sound of the acoustic guitar and Drake’s gentle, breathy vocal. This is poetry to music in its most unpretentious form. If you have heard the collection entitled Way to Blue, the introduction album that showcases songs from each of the four releases, you will recognise this song as the autumnal track 7. “Summer was gone and the heat died down And autumn reached for her golden crown I looked behind as I heard a sigh But this was the time of no reply”. The next track is ‘I was made to love magic’, and features full orchestral accompaniment and a shuffling beat that is almost reminiscent of Cuban son or bolero, but not quite. The quiet English-ness prevents any direct association, but the undercurrent remains. The almost metallic sound of the melodic strumming captured on the third track reminds me of All About Eve’s ‘Martha’s harbour’, the same sombre chord shifts and simple structure is apparent. Moving on to track 4, ‘Clothes of sand’, the guitar plays like gently rolling waves, supporting the lyrics perfectly: “Clothes of sand have covered your face Given you meaning but taken my place So make your way on down to the sea Something has taken you so far from me”. Throughout the lyrics across the album there’s a great respect
for nature, pulling you back to the folkloric mysticism of rural England. The first home recording is track 7, Fly, and it is noticeable that this was not taped in a studio environment. Don’t let this put you off though, as the raw, unrefined sound matches the lyrics and contributes to the sense of heartfelt desperation. This is a haunting, painful song, characterised by the repeated "Please", the intensity of which contrasts with the vocal throughout the remainder of the track. Drake’s already breathy voice in this highly emotional context could easily be heard as being sung through tears, “Please, give me a second grace Please, give me a second face I’ve fallen far down, the first time around Now I just sit on the ground in your way”. A tragic and bewitching three and a half minutes, and I challenge you to remain unmoved. Although a more orchestrated version of this song also appeared on Bryter Layter, this is very much the more personal, truly raw version. The mood picks up somewhat with the ethereal and dreamy ‘Thoughts of Mary Jane’, before moving on to the second home recording of the collection, ‘Been smoking too long’ with its definite blues feel. Again, the sound quality is lower than we’re used to, and this is reminiscent of an old blues record, you almost expect to hear the crackling of dusty vinyl. Track 10, ‘Strange meeting II’ continues the themes of ‘Clothes of sand’ with its sea-blue dreams of tidal love and loss. “Sometime when the summer nights come back I’ll go back to the sea, follow that sandy track I’ll look around, hope to find That strange young dream, close behind I’ll call her my princess of the sand”. Tracks 11 to 14 were, according to the inlay notes, previously released on Pink Moon, but the Pink Moon that is c
urrently available doesn’t include them. The tracks fall into the guitar and vocals purity that typify Pink Moon and that Drake insisted on, following Bryter Layter’s orchestral magnificence. These songs, particularly tracks 12 and 13, ‘Black eyed dog’ and ‘Hanging from a star’, demonstrate the increasing depth of Drake’s depression, and document his descent into the bleak numbness of suicide. Of course, and in keeping with his work as a whole, they never fall into the harsh realms of bitterness, remaining as glistening dew drops on a spider’s web. There are albums that make you dance, albums that make you sing, and albums that you jump around to and scream about the world. Then, there are albums like this, that you just sit quietly and listen to: music you feel. I could go on but this review would just become hyperbole (if it hasn't already!)Don’t expect high levels of production or clever arrangements from Time of No Reply. If that’s what flicks your switch, try Bryter Layter and its full-bodied splendour. If you like beautiful, contemplative music, tinged with delicate vulnerability and a tender melancholy, this will be right up your street. * * * * * Time of No Reply, running to a mere 43.5 minutes, is available singly from amazon at £14.99 and from hmv.co.uk at £18.99. It is also available as part of the Nick Drake box-set, The Fruit Tree, along with Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter, and Pink Moon, at £43.99 from amazon or £52.99 from hmv.co.uk. For the uninitiated, I would highly recommend the introductory Way to Blue, containing tracks from across the four CDs, which is less of an investment at the best price of £8.99 (inclusive of P&P) from play.com. Nick Drake’s 3 albums regularly pop up in the mid-price multi-buy offers in the high-street chains, so they are worth looking out for. Bear in mind however that Time of No Reply does not.
* * * * * For further info: www.allmusic.com www.amazon.co.uk <br>www.hmv.co.uk www.play.com http://www.algonet.se/~iguana/DRAKE/DRAKE.html (esp. for lyrics) http://sydtech.com/nickdrake2/default.htm (for MP3s)
How to write a good music opinion. If only it were as easy as working step-by-step through instructions for flat-packed furniture (ok, bad example!), or like following a recipe from Delia. But, particularly with a music review, it’s much more of a personal experience and therefore can be much more difficult to write about. This advice specifically applies to album reviews, seeing as these are the most frequently written. I should also point out that this is only *my* advice, it is not definitive and different styles of writing can and do get high ratings. But, more often than not, they do fit into the mold I've described. Basically, if you go to the effort of writing an opinion, my guess is you actually want people to read it. If you want lots of people to read it, it’s going to have to last longer than the time it occupies the New Opinions list. Although it’s true that most reads do come from there, if it doesn’t get good rates first off, it’s pretty much definite that it won’t get a high number of reads once it drops out of the list. So, first impressions count. Bearing that in mind, with any opinion it’s really important to make your review look good. Doesn’t have to be fancy, mind, but spelling and grammar should be correct. It should appear at first glance to be a quality opinion. So you will, I guarantee it, find it easier to write it first in Word or whichever text programme you’re used to, and then copy and paste it into the dooyoo text box on site, once you’ve read it through and tweaked it. I promise you, the extra effort will pay off in the ratings you get (even if you have to edit out the ??s grrrrr). Appearances aside, what about the content? First off it’s useful to try and give as much info about the artist or band as could be necessary. If for example, you’re writing about the Sugarcubes, it’s worth mentioni
ng that Bjork was the lead singer. If you know, it can also be helpful to inform the reader who the artist or group was inspired or influenced by – it helps to paint them in a bigger picture. There are plenty of sites of the net that can help here, I’ve listed some at the bottom for general music info that are tried and trusted. Right. Well, if you’ve gone to the bother of writing about the album, you probably have strong feelings about it, but sadly it aint enough to just say “They’re really great and I love them and I recommend this CD to everyone in the whole wide world ever!!!” It may be obvious to you but that doesn’t mean it will be to us. If you really Really love it with a passion then try to explain why. Is it the style (which? examples of similar artists? is it representative?) or maybe it’s several tracks that really make it (which ones and why?). What’s the general feel of the album? Is it upbeat or downtempo? Does it feel cold and emotionless, or warm and cosy, or maybe even sensual and seductive? What images does it arouse in you? Try to convey to the reader where the album as whole, or individual tracks, take you and how you feel after listening them. Are they uplifting and make you smile, or maybe remind you of a lost love? It’s really difficult to do this, in my opinion anyway, but try to make the sounds tangible, a sensation that can be felt and appreciated by your reader. On to the actual album – this is probably the easiest bit. When was it released? How does it compare to other releases by the same artist? Or maybe it’s similar to an album by another artist – if so mention it. Is it the first, second, third, or ninetieth release by the artist or group in question – the reader may be aware of something released previously, so a bit of info on that (if relevant) can be extremely helpful. Next: the
content. How many tracks are there? Which have been released as singles and when? Did they do well in the main/indie/dance charts? Now’s the time to maybe mention key lyrics, your reader may have heard the song you’re trying to explain but not know its name. If you tell them that the chorus has the main lyrics “(Freedom) don’t wanna let you down/ (Freedom) I will not give you up” chances are they’ll recognise it instantly (as ‘Freedom’ by George Michael or Robbie Williams). And so is the way with lyric recognition. Similarly, if something significant is introduced in the song that can be described with a fair degree of accuracy, like a violin solo at the start, or a gospel choir in the chorus, or maybe it ends with a mass of static and feedback - all these sort of things make it identifiable for your reader. Another point of reference could be the video for the single, if you’ve seen it. No worries if not, but if you have, chances are someone else has too, but may have missed who it was by or what it was called. Concerning the content – personally I don’t think you need a track by track listing, but if that’s the way you want to play it – go for it. Just remember to try to keep your audience entertained, and I mean that as loosely as possible. It doesn’t have to be rolling out one side-splitter after another, but keep the interest… not sure how to do this myself to be honest, but the longer the opinion is, the harder it gets! It’s absolutely fine to just discuss the individual tracks that you see as the high/lowlights, with your reasoning as to why you picked them and a bit of a breakdown, like how they fit into the album as a whole. It’s also massively helpful to someone who’s reading if they know what sort of music you think highly of. If, for example, you really like your guitar-led indie-pop and you rate the new Do
ves CD, it follows that if the reader likes guitar-led indie-pop too then chances are they’ll agree with you on the Doves. Likewise with any style. Because music is so difficult to explain in words, any background you can provide to your personal take on the product will be appreciated. Let us know why we should trust you - you don't have to list your musical credentials or your CD collection, but give us a few pointers. I don’t think you definitely need to describe the packaging or the format, but sometimes these are interesting. If say, there’s a particularly notable illustration or photo on the cover, and you think it adds to the “experience” then go for it. Similarly, if the inlay notes have loads of useful and interesting information, mention them. These are the little things that can add to the completeness of an opinion, but don’t feel obliged to mention them if there’s very little to say. Finally – purchasing information. If you’re writing about a red-hot limited edition import then make this clear, because what you’re reviewing may not be what’s readily available to the reader. Similarly, because the number of tracks sometimes differs from CD to vinyl, it’s a good idea to clarify which you have. You might also want to say how much it was and where you got it from, so the reader can tell whether this is standard chart or mid-price item or a more obscure (and therefore usually more expensive) purchase. So in a nutshell, Miriam’s guide to writing a good music opinion: Make it look good at first glance. Check spelling, grammar and layout in Word and read it through several times before posting. Assume nothing. Music comes in all shapes and sizes, so provide as much info as you can as to what the reader can expect. Although the band or artist may rock your world, it’s possible that we have never
heard of them! Try to explain WHY you like/love/hate the album, detailing some tracks to prove your point. Tell us how it makes you feel. Which artists are similar or related? How good an example is this album of its genre? If at all possible, try to establish some points of reference (key lyrics or a notable video). Tell your audience what else you like. Which viewpoint, musically, do you come from? Make sure we know which format you’re reviewing, how easy it will be to get our hands on, and how much it’s likely to set us back. And finally - enjoy it! Thinking about and really concentrating the music you like helps you appreciate it even more… honest. Sites you may find useful: www.allmusic.com – for everything music www.rollingstone.com – for biographies and discographies www.amazon.co.uk } www.amazon.com } – for checking availability, prices etc. www.cdnow.com } Oh and just in case you were wondering, you pedants you, any incorrect grammar contained herein was absolutely intentional :P
You know the image of the stereotypical audience of this double CD even if you’ve never heard the music. The late 20s/early 30s, primarily male, goatee-strokin’, nu-jazz muso aficionado. He nods his head appreciatively in a painfully cool club, doesn’t dance ‘cause it might make him sweat (god forbid!), and he’s generally so absorbed by the labels that he’d miss a top tune if it smacked him round the face. He listens to Gilles Peterson on Radio 1 every Wednesday, makes it down to Bar Rhumba on a Monday, buys hip mags like Straight No Chaser, and fuels his evenings out with lines of white powder alternated with bottled beer. Well. Shock alert. I like this style of music too. And I’m absolutely not that conscientiously cool. Or male. And I definitely don’t have a goatee. I’m hoping that the picture drawn above gives you some idea of the type of music we’re dealing with. It does take itself very seriously, and usually it has good reason to. Jazzanova hail from Berlin and the Compost label, which is justifiably renowned internationally for turning out excellent quality downtempo releases. Class acts such as Beanfield, the Rainer Trüby Trio, A Forest Mighty Black and Les Gammas also find their spiritual home at Compost, and have helped to develop the label as a reliable source of mellow, mildly drum ‘n’ bass, nu-jazz chill out fodder. Jazzanova formed a subsidiary label of Compost called JCR, which started originally as their sole preserve, however there are now other acts signed. JCR was intended to be less purist in the jazzification, more funky and forward thinking, and possibly even more house-orientated. Jazzanova have certainly achieved their own distinctive ‘sound’ which has been hugely popular with DJs from the UK to Japan. Following a number of 12” releases and successful remix requests, the Remixes 1997-2000 was compiled.
Essentially it involves taking 20 tracks from artists as diverse as 4 Hero, Incognito, Azymuth and MJ Cole and giving them the Jazzanova flavour. What they came up with is a collection of remixed tracks of massively varying quality. Of course, this is all very subjective, and please do feel free to disagree with me, remember – this is only My Opinion! Disc One starts with 4 Hero’s ‘We who are not as others’. Although this originated from the widely respected and highly listen to-able drum ‘n’ bass outfit 4 Hero, Jazzanova have cut it right back and sadly not for the better. This is a dull, repetitive, and bland track, as much as it pains me to say it. The drum sequences are impressive, but it sounds like an over-pruned rose bush looks. There’s just no life, no opportunity for the track to blossom despite the obvious potential. Unfortunately the disc doesn’t pick up until track 4 and the afore-mentioned Trüby Trio’s ‘Carajillo’. This starts off mildly, but picks up to a melodic jazzy number, with overtones of drum ‘n’ bass instrumentation and a really lovely vocal. The drum sequences manage to hold your interest, unlike the earlier tracks, and this pattern continues into the next track, Incognito’s ‘Get into my groove’. Much more dancefloor-friendly, the feel of the previous offering is continued and developed with a gentle background and a funky vocal. Incognito were stylistically of the same acid-jazz fold as early Brand New Heavies and Jamiroquai, which should give you a fair idea of what to expect. Track 6 maintains the quality with a lazy, rolling bass guitar played against an almost bossa style drum sequence. Just when this is starting to get a bit boring, we’re hit with a breakdown and the introduction of a spoken-word vocal. Building from this comes a livelier samba style beat and the whole track seems to wake u
p. The remaining tracks on Disc One are all very pleasant to listen to, but rarely succeed in exciting the senses. Track 7 has a nice 70s style funk sound to it, but so diluted that it wouldn’t appear out of place in a supermarket. Track 8, from the usually fantastic United Future Organisation, has been similarly bland-ified into a repetitive coma-inducing six an a half minutes, the only redeeming feature being that the delicious vocal hasn’t been tampered with. Azymuth’s ‘Amazon adventure’ sounds about as adventurous as a week in Eastbourne, and the jazz-funk-Brazilia hybrid of the original is completely AWOL. The final track of Disc One, ‘Words of love’ by Soul Bossa Trio is a nice enough number, with a delicate female vocal, and holds tightly onto the bossa as suggested by the group’s name. But again, it’s too long for the actual content of the track, and consequently succeeds in annoying rather than enriching. On to Disc Two, and hoping for better things. Track 1, Ski’s ‘Fifths’ starts with a Euro style electro-funk beat, reminiscent of Daft Punk’s first album, or maybe even New Order’s Blue Monday. Whilst elements of this electro bias persist, and it’s a welcome change after listening to Disc One, it sounds like the touchpaper’s failed to ignite properly. A nice track, and I’m not familiar with the original version, but Jazzanova’s remix doesn’t quite manage to hit any high notes. Track 2 is Ursula Rucker’s ‘Circe’. Rucker is a spoken word vocalist, like the street poetry you’ve probably heard of, and I have high expectations for this one. Fortunately I’m not disappointed, and her beautifully seductive voice melts its way like syrup over the softly minimalist background. This is sexy chill out at its finest. As great as this track is, I’d have to credit that to Ms Rucke
r’s performance rather than any tinkering that Jazzanova have made to the original. ‘Absolute space’ by Koop is next up, and a Bjork-esque breathy vocal plays against a busy drum sequence. Surprisingly, it actually works quite well, although sounding impossibly frenetic in parts. The acid-jazz-cross-bossa flavour is demonstrated to good effect in the following few tracks, until track 7 drops the bossa and maxes the funk for your aural pleasure. A nice break, but not an outstanding stand-alone track. Visit Venus’ ‘Planet of breaks’ is apparently a misnoma, maybe said breaks were more evident on the original release but they certainly aint happening on the remix. In fact not a lot is. The final track is the remix of MJ Cole’s ‘Sincere’, which is the one that most people are most likely to be familiar with. I’m not especially taken with garage, or 2 step, or however you define it, but I did enjoy this when it was released. Fortunately, Jazzanova haven’t murdered it. The remix is certainly more pared down than the original, is almost hypnotic in its use of beats and breaks, but the appearance of the female vocal pulls this together superbly. This is the sort of track that Jazzanova remix wonderfully, and to breath-taking effect. All things considered, there are a few remixes on the two discs that really hit bullseye, and when it happens, it’s stunning. Sadly, these moments are few and far between, unless of course you fall into the category described at the start of this op. If you do, then this is an essential purchase – hey, you’ve most likely already bought it. For everyone else though, I don’t think I could recommend it. The dominance of the Jazzanova sound when applied to a variety of tracks collected in this way is just too blandly repetitive, to the point of monotony. What would have made for a far more pleasing album would prob
ably have been a collection of the original tracks, without Jazzanova’s fiddling, because there are some top tunes in here. It’s just a shame that of a double CD, containing 20 tracks, not even half manage to inspire or touch me. Remixes 1997-2000 is nicely presented, in sturdy woodpulp gatefold casing. It’s well designed and looks suitably cool for the music contained within. As an indicator, amazon.co.uk have it at £11.99, which is substantially cheaper than the £13.99 I paid for it in my local independent. It’s also available on vinyl in a 5-disc box set, which amazon are selling for £18.99. As ever, do shop around for the best price. Final thoughts? If you’re uninitiated yet tempted, try one of Compost’s own compilations for a broader range of the same style, for example one of the Future Sounds of Jazz series. Most contain at least one of Jazzanova’s own tracks, plus a wealth of equally highly-regarded artists. And my very last thought for the day: whilst over-production can sometimes be bad, a minimalist approach can bring about equally dire results. For further info: www.compost-records.com www.jazzanova.net www.allmusic.com www.amazon.co.uk www.sonarkollektiv.de (in English)