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mo79

mo79
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Member since: 19.06.2000

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      16.02.2006 22:24
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      Now we know where Lars get his metal from - his sticks!

      It's unfortunate that Metallica's Lars Ulrich may be remembered more as 'that rock star who got uppity about people downloading his songs for free' than the arguably creative drummer (though easily not best) of one of hard rock's biggest bands – but stuff happens.

      Despite this, Lars remains popular due to his band's legacy and often underrated creativity. So it makes sense for drum hardware manufacturers to benefit from this.

      I developed an instrument for drums – like many who were teens in the 80's and early 90's – by hearing Metallica and witnessing Lars. I however would never have bought one of these as it's a £30 luxury, got as a present. It is however worth it. It does however make feel like a Lars fawner also.

      The Lars Ulrich model of AHEAD's (Advanced High Efficiency Alloy Drumstick) Easton Alloy drumstick is a special drumstick as soon as you see it. It'll appeal to Lars fans as it's very familiar having featured in concert films since the late 90's – a classic black with white nylon tip. To juice full money's worth the sticks come in a plastic, rubber cap ended case with...instructions of usage, somewhat.

      Firstly, these US manufactured sticks come with a 60 day warranty. This is just unheard for drum accessories like these, therefore proof that AHEAD is confident with their product.

      The sticks themselves are basically around 5A quality (different signature models in the AHEAD range have different lengths and diameters according to featured artist preference. I'm sure Tommy Lee's is large..), but are slightly heavier. These are not wood sticks.
      The handle, which features a white bottom, is alloy. The rest is plastic. I've heard that some players have found these a little heavy but it took no more than a week or so to get used to them. I found I loved them within a day, this might've been accelerated by awe of the gift itself. You'll find that it might be heavier on the handle slightly, but the overall weight distribution makes it easier to move around the kit with little strain. And of course one of AHEAD's claims is their reduction of fatigued hands and joint damage. I haven't been using them long but they really do significantly feel better. AHEAD claims 50% less shock and vibration than wood sticks, and less than 1% weight variation compared to wood sticks. The sticks are well engineered and this can't be contested at all. These are perfect general hard rock sticks.

      Not being wood also creates a different character of hit. Coupled with the nylon tip (that can come off and be changed be with same or different quality tips if needs be) you find that there's quite an efficient response in movement, hitting and sound production. Though I have to admit I'm not sure whether I'm also imagining some things.
      Also, these sticks will last 6-10 times longer than wood sticks. And no wood means no splinters of sawdust piling up on your floor (at least I get that..) and keeps cymbals cleaner. The method though for changing worn or broken tips seems a bit of a messy hassle involving pliers, hair dryer and some super-glue, perhaps. If the sticks original tips last a year or more then I'll consider buying a new set just to avoid that hassle as it's reasonable enough. I don't think I'd go back to wood based on how it looks as well as feels. Though I'm happy to bypass the Lars signature if it's cheaper. I'd like my own!

      Stick life varies to how hard and frequent you wack (that sounds wrong...but I'll keep it) but baring in mind the precautions, listed on the reverse of the warranty sheet, that are sometimes overlooked, you're sure to keep your sticks beating longer: do not play the drums with handle ends beating the drums (I know drummers that do this, but not with these) and neither should you hit the drums with nothing but the nylon tip to avoid cracks and dents in the plastic cover. This applying to snare rim shots might be a pain for some drummers though.
      Though fortunately the covers of this model (LT) can be changed, but not interchanged with a different type. Instructions to do this are included, yet this seems a kitchen disaster too involving ovens and such...Perhaps AHEAD just want you to buy new sticks entirely despite availability of changeable parts? You can chuck 'em in your recycle bin when they've kicked the bucket though.

      AHEAD also plug drumming gloves and grip tape in the package – not a bad idea if you want to completely avoid severing fellow musicians heads with stray projectiles; they also just ease that general weight of grip so you focus on less-tiring drumming more. That said, the handles cup in your hands rather snugly.

      Though it sounds funny to be in awe of such an item, I really am very impressed with these. I'm truly glad to have 'em. Whether or not you like Lars, these are great quality rock sticks, and if you can't find any other artist model in the AHEAD range you like, at the end of the day they're all just AHEAD Easton Alloy Drumsticks.

      Look great, feel great, play great. Therefore great, bar the probable pains in changing tip and cover.

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        13.02.2006 22:03
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        Metal, interrupted

        I read once that The Dillinger Escape Plan are as close as you'll find to being a household name in the genre of mathcore (essentially rhythmically complex thrash metal). Though that can be agreed, it's doubtful that you'll see their albums appear on supermarket shelves just yet.

        Under a decade old, the US band has released a handful of work (notably including an EP with the former Faith No More singer Mike Patton) garnering sure notches of praise from the ones previous.
        Their mix of clever rhythms – arguably too clever at times – and aggressive playing has earned the band a growing hardcore fan base that seems to have survived the normal denting of 'new vocalist syndrome'.

        Miss Machine is the first album to feature new singer Greg Puciato, the antithesis to runty shoutists, and makes a bid to fish for more ears.
        I had heard of, but not followed TDEP until this still current album therefore I won't be diluting the review with how better the old stuff may perhaps be, which is something existing fans of any band often can't avoid doing; myself included.

        The first track on the album was also the first single to be released. It was catching the video when over at a friend's house that stirred my interest, but not his – they aren't for everyone.
        Panasonic Youth is a brilliant single that no doubt kept the green light on in existing fans hearts. It defines the root nature of the band while still being a fairly palatable example to more jarring pens.
        It's like putting Slayer through a shredder with start-stop rhythms, juggernaut rolling drums and an assault of concrete and mental asylum soundtrack guitars, further confused by time signatures and tempos that change lots. It'll properly take a few listens to get into bar the more classic thrash style moderate mid.

        I've not seen the band live but am assured (partly by the included DVD, which I've only watched once as it's not really that captivating – just buy the standard edition) that they put on frenzied and wild shows. But these shows will only preach to the converted. TDEP are not a band you'd go to a gig without song familiarisation and enjoy. The listener has to learn the twists and turns of all their songs as much as the band. Otherwise, like my title, hearing them is like being caught on a fence with a high current. You learn to enjoy it once you frequently rub that sadistic nerve.

        The rest of the album is equally the same bar a pair of tracks that sound too close to over glossed moderate US punk, and one which is just a Nine Inch Nails cliché in order to just show off they've got electronic toys to play with. It's a 40min ride, which is a perfect length as I don't think style of music should be stretched out across a whole 80min CD, let alone a double album.

        The reason why I'm not going into more individual song detail here is because Miss Machine is a record that's an example of being a body rather than a collection of songs with vastly individual traits of personality. Any handful of songs can define the album – and perhaps TDEP's career in general; but I'm not doing down that route.

        Problems with the album are also somehow a plus. A lot of the tracks sound fairly similar but yet this keeps things uniform. TDEP are defined by a certain style that I think they're loathe to modify too much in fear of an identity crisis. Yet despite the cleverness of their music they need to show more clear songwriting chops and not fear melody by relegating it two a pair of average pop tunes and it's these which have caused some chin scratching. A bit of estrogen in the right places needs to zap off the excess testosterone.
        Production is crisp with a clear raw performed feel, but there are bits of slick sheen that could be better off removed.

        TDEP certainly aren't nu-metal but they have a refreshingly modern angle on classic thrash metal that soars just above the much more underground appeal of their contemporaries. The writing of both praiseworthy drummer Chris Pennie and guitarist Ben Wienman is well fitted by the vocals of Puciato who turns from roar to acceptable singing. Jazz and experimental influences are clear for the ear to discern.

        But they aren't for everybody. As a muso myself I'm part attracted solely by their hot instrumental gymnastics, but as we've learned in the history of popular music it's not just ability to play but the talent to write good songs. Metal fans will clearly be most willing to hear them out but certainly it is an acquired taste. And there is a method to TDEP's chaos; dare I say that there is a formula that is easily sussed after a while.

        Judging by Miss Machine though, TDEP do have their finger on the pulse and I'm sure that they'll assess how things are at, and slowly but surely modify their style accordingly to reach the masses (I'm certain they aren't anti-mainstream) without compromising their original definition. For now Miss Machine captures the band at a probable shedding period of being caught between a stubborn jarring past and part pop dreams. Pretty damn good but not perfect. They're in need of creating an album that you can keep on going back to as longevity is fairly short, or a tleast in bursts.

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          09.02.2006 17:56
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          Seriously are Seriously good. Seriously!

          Since submission to broadband in '04, Seriously Internet has been my second broadband ISP – one that had been a more informed choice after the eventual quality disintegration of Bulldog (I blame their acquisition by C&W incidentally).

          The website Net4Now doesn't list many reviews for Seriously Internet but it is one of the few that seems to have pretty fierce praise from all. Coupled with this and tiered pricing I knew that I'd now found the right ship to jump on to after Bulldog removed my 12mth ball and chain. Seriously even offered me a free co.uk domain with some web space, which I can't see offered at the mo.

          Migration was an easy affair (well, easy after my previous ISP left me stuck on the phone waiting for a MAC key) with me just entering the code on their sign-up form. With registration in toe it'd not been long before I was given an activation date in order to change my modem/router details. I need not worried about dealing with Bulldog further as it was now in Seriously's hands to take up the reigns. Migration is free, and new customers can sign up free too (you also get paid the longer you stay with the ISP, to a limit – though within a period you have to pay to leave, this is resultant of them having waived their activation fee, it's another way to maybe get it. But I'm not sure if it'll apply to when you migrate away, this seems cancel-of-service specific? They are a small company after all).
          When I joined only IPStream users (technical lark to me) were able to migrate, not DataStreamers, but I think this may have solved now. If you're not sure try migrating anyhow. ISP's like the well respected Freedom2Surf accept DataStreamers. I had to a refer a friend there who couldn't follow me to Seriously.

          I've been with the ISP for around 8 months now and have worked out that I always use a tad less than 3GB, meaning my regular service charge (deducted immediately on the monthly billing date) is £17.99. 1GB of use is £14.99 with £27.99 for unlimited use, in between are a range of prices you can find clearly labelled on a colourful graph on the ISP's site. Usage can be monitored from their simple control panel feature – I also use a program called NetMeter and can confirm that I've not been swindled by their calculations. This is perfect pay-as-you-go net where your price may be lower (or higher) each month rather than set and restricted.

          The ISP's site is one thing that makes me laugh a bit though. Although the service is good, the site aims to portray a kind of youthful branding that's also a bit amateur. When you sell an ISP there's no need to aim it at a target audience as there isn't one really. As well as a non-inspiring shopping portal – Seriously Shopping – I have seen links to jokes and competitions such as send us some of your best pub pictures, and who's fussed with that? Therefore my own recommendation to be more appealing is to not preach what they're not really there for and tighten up their image.

          In all my 8 months so far I've only had the odd brief down time which has been fixed without me needing to report a fault. Any questions I had prior to signing up were dealt with promptly by the phone line (I was listed as no. 1 in their phone que!) and with an average time frame by email. A dial-up service is also offered to fall back on. I've not need to use support much for other than some trivial questions.

          Though a PC user, it's great to see that they're assuring customers that they're Mac and consoles compatible, even selling relevant hardware such as a popular wireless router kit at a reasonable price – otherwise a free modem (but £10 delivery) is included. On site help and information is also adequate enough.

          With 8mb imminent to hit my exchange soon I'm also entitled to the speed boost with no extra charge.

          While Seriously Internet's prices can be matched, by say Tiscali who give unlimited for 14.99, Tiscali and some of those big companies who treat their customers as bulk stock can't deliver a service worth writing home about. And it is for this reason that Seriously, and even some of the other smaller companies, provide a quality and price that scares the big boys and girls.

          As offers vary all the time I'm unsure as to whether I'll stay past my 12 month contract (I had joined when there was one and so pay no fee to leave too) but if I find nothing better I assure you I'm in no hurry to leave. And all who join will feel the same.

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            06.02.2006 17:36
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            ...This ain't the sound of silence

            When Lisa of The Simpson's posed Bart the question 'What is the sound of one hand clapping?', he cheekily replied by slapping his same-hand fingers onto his palm.

            You can compare this analogy with the sound of playing a drum kit fitted with drum mutes – there's still significant sound, albeit less.

            Despite my tone, don't get me wrong: the function of drum mutes is not entire noise cancellation but the reality is still not to my expectations. As is Lisa's assessment of Bart's response.

            Considering that the pads are essentially various sized pieces of circular neoprene (rubber), £50 is a pretty hefty price tag on average. Some of this may attribute to the Vic Firth brand which is a fairly big name concerning percussion of all sorts. And so, you hope that the brand and price justifies the quality.

            Unlike mesh heads which have to be fastened hard to drum heads like skins (that can be quite an irritating task if done regularly), drum mutes/silencers simply sit on top of the heads. And unlike mesh sets you also have the capability of adding them to the hi-hat and cymbals by simply inserting them between the item and the screw. The bass drum silencer is attached via a top velcro piece that attaches to the bass drum head via a corresponding velcro sticker (competitor brands offer methods such as elastic bands and clips, meaning no unsightly sticker if you decide to do away with the pad).
            A little gap remains in the bottom middle of the bass drum silencer for the foot pedal. so there's no obstruction of movement.

            The pads included in the standard rock set version I purchased (though 2 fusion sizes are available) are enough to cater for the average setup of bass drum, three toms, snare, hi-hat and two cymbals. I unfortunately discovered that unlike the HQ Sounds Off (more expensive and has only one cymbal mute) and QT (slightly cheaper but has everything) ranges that there is no pad to sit between the hi-hats – meaning no method to mute foot pedal action; this is a major disappointment considering it's expected to be standard and it's pretty impossible to find a single purchase pad of this. But you are able to find separate hi-hat packs from other brands or you could buy a 14” pad and put a hole in the middle.
            Also, I later found out that these Vic Firth pads are slightly thinner. The obscurer Big Dog range (I think they don't do full drum sets though) seem to be the thickest.

            The thinness may explain why the muting is nothing more than satisfactory. They definitely reduce the sound by around 90% as claimed, but the muffled pitch is still quite audible. Maybe neighbours won't hear you, but others in your house probably still will and you'll feel self conscious about that ideal of night jamming as it doesn't feel that quiet.
            The high and low tom mutes are the most decent in the pack, although they don't cover entirely – a bit of skin shows but it doesn't affect it much.
            The floor tom however is quite disappointing but not as worse as the snare. I have to keep the snare strings loosened as otherwise the ring is still apparent. The cymbal pad is decent though, you hear a suitable dull clang removing most of the sharpness. But both the hi-hat and cymbals pads cover just a portion (strange...) so if they swing you may still hit them directly, and so only the ring is choked.
            The bass drum is the worst, you'll have to probably load a quilt in the bass drum to help buffer any sound as on it's own it rarely does any muting.

            On a cosmetic level there's something very stylish about a black headed drum kit too. It's less of an eyesore than one with visibly beaten skins. The rubber's also reasonable to not crumble off easily on energetic playing.

            Those familiar with electronic drum kit pads will know what to expect here. I've heard some folks having a gripe with the feel not being realistic but this is one area I'll defend as being quite a good bit of training. The pads have enough bounce to pull of rolls and other such nuances but you've got to work at it a bit to begin with. You'll find that when you master it, that playing on real skins has become even easier as you've learnt to deal with a slightly tricky surface. I suppose it's like driving over cobbles.

            I wish I'd purchased the QT pads as they seem to be slightly thicker too, as well as being the cheap option with a middle hat pad included and unobtrusive bass drum mute attachment. Though going further I'd rather have bought mesh heads and cymbal/hat mutes. I haven't taken my kit out in some time.

            Mesh heads seem to be unanimously hailed as the ultimate quiet practice solution as they produce very little sound and have a feel more similar to a real head. Therefore if you won't be taking your kit out much for gigs and would prefer silent practice, maybe a pack of Arbiter Mesh Heads and a Paiste Cymbal Mute pack (where the mutes are circular strips that surround the rims of the items, not just the whole front portion – I guess being a hi-hat maker they'll know their stuff!) is the best option. The total should also be comparable in price. It would be best to look around as there are probably wild price differences between online and local shops.

            If however people just want you to quiet down a bit – and admittedly the neighbours seem dandy, and others in the house say it's better than before – and you find the skin changing thing a hassle, these are a good idea. But I'd probably not recommend these Vic Firth's. The price tag is just very ludicrous and the others are better; it might be wise to even go DIY and search for household items such as clothing or old magazines that you can bung on top of the heads.
            Or maybe you can buy some brush sticks and try hard to keep your feet away from the pedals! Or just invest in an electronic drum set haha!

            But as I have them they're 'alright'. I've had these since December and am loathe to get rid of them before I juice out my money's worth. They could've been worse but they could've been vastly much better too. I only kept them as I thought I'd like them more but didn't.
            Considering such an item is fairly new still it's better than mandatory putting up with the noise in the old days.

            Overall a not bad product but the competitors are better and no match for mesh head/cymbal mutes option talked about earlier.

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              04.02.2006 17:47
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              The original and still the best? Indeed!

              If you own any kind of music software that would vastly benefit from a MIDI controller to input those notes and turn those knobs, this is perhaps the product for you if you've yet to invest in one. I can't recommend it more if you need a portable solution and don't require many keys and knobs.

              M-Audio's Oxygen8 is one of the first and still most popular mobile MIDI controllers out there. It's part Kenton Control Freak (a box that featured an array of knobs) and part 25 note keyboard (with a range that can be extended or reduced up to 5 octaves by simple button presses).
              The light plastic, silver bodied device can comfortably sit on your lap (making it a viable alternative to Creative's Prodikeys range), be tucked under your arm or seated on a small stand – making it one of the most attractive minimalist keyboard products available, and for stage use.
              Due to not being a full sized keyboard this is of less value to pianists than those who indulge in the creation of bass lines or simply within-octave riffage. While one hand's tapping away at the keys I can simultaneously twiddle those knobs to affect the sound in real time. Standard pitch/mod wheels also feature here.

              Installation is an easy affair but as with anything it's worth a glance at the instructions before you dive in. Once installed, the device should appear as a MIDI device option ready for use and tweaking in your software of choice.
              Do note however that the drivers only make themselves visible when the unit's plugged in and turned on; therefore you'll have to do this before you start your program so it can be recognised. Tedious it may be but the Oxygen8 isn't really designed to be kept attached to your machine all the time. It's not on mine anyway. When disconnecting you must follow the safe remove procedure.

              Do remember too that this is a controller unit, therefore it features no sounds of it's own, but it's fortunately compatible with both PC and Mac and features USB and MIDI connectivity. When you plug in via USB there's no need to install (6 AA) batteries or run from an adaptor (sold separately). Win98 SE and Mac OS 9.2.2 are required at minimum. MIDI connectivity is standard one in and one out, enough for a single user's chain as it includes a 16 channel interface – and proves that you can control hardware sound modules just as much as software ones.

              I use the Oxygen8 primarily with a software studio program called Orion and it serves the job well, nothing more nothing less. I can play riffs into pattern allocations rather than clicking them in, complete with humanity such as velocity and timing etc. And the properties of virtual instruments etc. can be assigned to any of the 8 knobs (which is where the 8 in the product name comes from) for real-feel control. With low latency ASIO drivers on compatible soundcards you should barely notice delay of any sort between what you do and what is heard. Though older cards using MME and DirectX are still catered for (not worth it though, upgrade to an ASIO card).
              Via the Data Slider and MIDI/Select button you can gain access to other useful interface functions; of most benefit to traditional sequencer/VST users. A 3 digit red LED display also features.

              The current Oxygen8 software bundle features a lite version of Ableton Live 4 – an award winning program that is more an instrument itself than just a composition capturing/production tool. When I purchased the unit I got a cut down version of the popular Reason; a soft-synth studio of same vein as Orion, Storm and FL Studio – which I think is the core partner for the Oxygen8.

              You can also purchase a number of add-ons, one being a sustain pedal that plugs into the Oxygen8's back. Carry cases are another optional add on.

              Without meaning to, I've dropped my unit a few times – not drastically – and despite general wear and tear of usage (I've had it for around 2yrs now) it's tough and reliable. I'm not sure how the unit is built, but not having it's own set of sounds eliminates problematic damage occurring. I've yet to experience erratic behaviour of any sort.

              If more keys and knobs are needed there are higher models in the M-Audio range. If however you are a laptop musician, have limited needs, budget and space constraints, then Oxygen8 is the perfect MIDI controller for you. It's also probably one of the most simplest ways to break into MIDI usage.

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                19.01.2006 20:52
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                Lucky album no. 7? I think not!

                And so it goes like this: great record + tragedy = auto promotion leading to reverence...This is what happened to Manic Street Preachers in the mid 90's, the juncture that preserved the somewhat punk from the descent into comfortable Brit pop adoption.

                There was a time when I was quite interested in the Welsh band (and admittedly like many it wasn't before '96) but if I'm to be honest their stuff prior to The Holy Bible is as hit and miss as the records from the late 90's (this included). The fuel that appears to keep them going is: strength of brand plus a fairly cemented fan base =ing laziness and indifference.

                Lifeblood sees the Manics return with more focus to their pop 90's sound. That in itself was a good indicator to fans before release as it was clear from 'til recent experiments that the desire to be more abrasive was more revisionist and mechanical rather than youthful and methodical...Trouble is that the final evidence is an album that fits perfectly for Woolworths aisles, on low volume. They'd now become more dull than ever.

                The slightly electronic direction was predicted from the greatest hits single 'There By The Grace Of God', but make no mistake – despite nods to British electronica bands they serve no justice to any of their influences. In 9/10 cases it's suspect when guitar bands go electronic; the other way around is a bit more successful.

                First single 'The Love Of Richard Nixon' proves this without any evidence: New Order without any shred of thrill. And furthermore the band who are notable for some interesting sleeve designs before are now settling for meaningless bland. Though I suppose you can't package MOR any other way...

                And then the rest of the 12 track album doesn't bring any surprises. I suppose it's only upside is that the songs are uniform in theme and sound.
                Despite Tony (Bowie) Visconti's production and beforehand talk of phenomenal playing, I can say with ease that there's nothing monumental about the playing at all. Sure it's accomplished but there's no soul. Other keywords mentioned were 'Motown chops' – possibly in reference to the un-exciting bass sound on 'A Song For Departure'.
                James Dean Bradfield's voice is welcome as usual but singing more Nick Jones 6th form poetry lets things further down, and neither is there much interesting beat work from Sean Moore. Production is far too polished too; all those raw and edgy bits that give music a bit of soul have been clipped off harshly. It's not worth wasting adjectives on '1985' (again New Order lite), and there's not much difference in a vast number of almost David Gray numbers ('Empty Souls', 'I Love To Fall Asleep', 'Emily', 'Glasnost', 'Fragments').

                Beyond a handful of listens I could not go back to this album. I tried but it's just not enjoyable. The style tried here is something better achieved by bands like Travis and Coldplay – both I do not like too. And I'm sure the more hardcore Manics fans keep a CD sized gap between this and the older records. Even 'Know Your Enemy' was better. I thought that was rubbish also.

                Perhaps the only song that made my eardrums happy for a bit is 'Solitudes Sometimes Is', which is as beautiful as any one of the band's early good ballads. The rest is simply a plodding mix of light sounds and themes. For an acceptable album title like Lifeblood, the album is totally anemic. If it's the sign of things to come I think they'd do their fans a favour by disregarding this album and end, stating that their compilations were the last releases.

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                  05.01.2006 01:22
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                  Book form of the late BBC writer Ivan Noble's brain tumour diary

                  It's hard to believe that it's nearly been a year since the sad death of Ivan Noble. For the uninitiated, Ivan was amongst other things a science and technology writer for the BBC. August 2002 saw Ivan diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour.
                  In the wake of the phenomenon known as blogging, Ivan decided to share his battle with those who cared.

                  He didn't expect an audience of many thousands regularly clicking into his column on the BBC site and being inundated with vast amounts of email. I was one of those instantly moved by what I read from day one (The BBC News site being in my bookmarks) and followed until the unfortunate end. Everybody hoped that he would win the battle, and it seemed that he would. Or maybe he did – it is certain that he never got on with his disease but learned to cope admirably. The fact that his sense of humour never diminished is testament to that.

                  To not belittle the impact of the disease (I fortunately have not seen cancer amongst my family and friends), the reason why Ivan's account was engrossing was not simply because he'd got handed the spotlight – his wording was truly powerful. The humble nudity of the emotion shined through. He'd refer to subjects that we all take for granted, such as spending time with family, and contrast all the overwhelming feelings of his battle against it.

                  Those who followed Ivan were assorted; some fighting the battle, some who fought it, some coping with someone who has it, and others – like myself – who though relatively distanced from what the beast cancer is, still very cared. I was truly upset when Ivan died. Even though he didn't know me, I certainly learned a fair amount about him and found a connection.

                  In May last year, Hodder & Stoughton published this book which collects all of Ivan's diary entries (whose frequency depended on treatment circumstance), largely accurate to the original posts, with samples of readers comments after each chapter. Four in-depth reflections by readers with particular dealings with cancer are also included here and prove how universal the battle for life is.

                  Though a relatively short book, the impact of Like A Hole In The Head is long. I just couldn't bring myself to read it a second time after first read (yet) as it conjured back my thoughts from those few years I had followed him and was distressed to clearly know what the 'ending' was.
                  However, the book is a very poignant and important read – and not particularly about cancer either. What I gathered from it was the value of not taking life for granted, appreciating each day – for all I know I could die tomorrow, or my friends and family could die tomorrow.
                  Also, optimistically I did learn a considerable (graphic) amount on cancer itself: the advancement of treatments, and of course the human ability to overcome suffering. It's cliché to say, but if you fight fear you've won, which is perhaps one of cancer's richest power supplies.

                  I was one of many who emailed Ivan and was happy to see that it was printed on the relevant entry of his online. I was saddened however that upon being contacted by the BBC for the use of what I wrote, in edit form (which features on the bottom page 135) for the book wasn't the foray into print I'd imagined. =)

                  All royalties of the book are directed to Medecins Sans Frontieres. Ivan is survived by a wife and two young daughters.

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                  • Mulholland Drive (DVD) / DVD / 65 Readings / 56 Ratings
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                    29.12.2005 17:55
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                    The perfect goad for brain cell suicide

                    David Lynch works are both enchanting and confusing. I'm not sure if you're meant to understand them fully, or even if you can, but you have to respect him for the detail of his craft alone whether or not you enjoy his film and television.
                    Mulholland Drive is certainly no change in the formula. There's no real beginning, middle or end. It'll make your brain itch but won't resolve to scratch it.

                    Originally starting off as a pilot for a series but failing to please producers somehow, Studio Canal injected the budget that would seal this off into a movie. And how thankful I am that this didn't get lost in a Lynchian abyss.

                    Naomi Watts (who features in the succesful 2005 King Kong remake) stars here in one of her first truly pivotal roles – or two roles – firstly as happy-go-lucky Betty Elms. A young aspiring actress from Canada hoping to make her mark in Hollywood. Or so it appears.
                    Opposite the blue eyed blonde is the equally stunning brunette Laura Elena Harring who we're not sure of apart from the name 'Rita' taken from a Rita Hayworth poster. The two worlds meet after a accident on Mulholland Drive (a dark overlooking portion on Hollywood) brings Rita into the flat of Betty.

                    In true Lynch fashion, the story is not linear. Other dimensions come in forms of other characters stories, some that intertwine, some that don't...
                    The third 'main' character is that of troubled director Adam Kesher who also ties into the focus of 'Betty' and 'Rita'. There's a good reason why I've enclosed Betty in quotations – but I'm not going further with probable spoilers.

                    The other sides of the cube show a man confronting a reoccurring dream about a figure behind a Winkie's cafe, a hitman caught in a hilarious predicament, Kesher's cheating wife, The Cowboy, and a blue haired woman...

                    The film is beautifully shot, as is expected. But little things like precision of editing and camera blurs add a kind of artiness which is complimentary rather than over the top.

                    Angelo Badalamenti's ghostly scoring (5.1 audio) complements the film well, and being Lynch's permanently loyal cohort you'd not expect him to be second choice. He even appears in the movie as one of two very scary Italians. His disdain for a served cup of Espresso is extreme.

                    By the latter half of the film don't even expect a remote nearing of a conclusion. Everything gets welcomely thrown in disarray. The only kind of clue, if I'm qualified to offer one, is that the film somewhat loops.

                    One feature of the DVD is that there's no chapter selection. This may seem to be an oversight but personally I find it as something that complements the film. You couldn't really say this film has 'chapters'; where does something really begin? Manual backward and forward search is what you'll have to do but I find once I stick the film on I see it through to the end anyway, although 2 hours, 20mins is quite intense.

                    Special features are otherwise scant. A trailer is no more a special feature than an advert for other films (which thankfully don't appear here), and the rest of the bonus features are interviews with Lynch, Watts, Harring and Justin Theroux who plays Adam Kesher, as well as actor profiles. This barely approximates 10-20mins viewing time. But with the quality of the main feature who needs much else?

                    With the film approaching 5yrs old, Mulholland Drive can be purchased for under £10 at Amazon and other shops.

                    A perfect brain workout for the clouded Christmas brain, and a good primer for a Lynch virgin. Lynch devotees undoubtedly will undoubtedly lap it up.

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                      24.12.2005 17:55
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                      Trent sticks new dentures on for the 4th NIN album but just doesn't cut it...

                      It wasn't long before Nine Inch Nails' fourth album proper got slapped with discount stickers, and I have to admit it deserved it.
                      Many hardcore fans who treat new Nails release dates as holy may well like it, but those of us with no such blind devotion can be much more subjective. Though a casual fan, I do like some of what Trent's done.

                      With Teeth isn't a terrible album, but neither is it very good. It's what I call a bulk product of a CD; the quality of the songs right down to the glorified AOL disc gatefold of a sleeve. It satisfies if you like fast food music.

                      To cut directly in here, first things first. Trent has never been a gifted lyricist (although I accept that he has on rare occasions been quite satisfactory) and you're not suddenly going to find depth in this, not even in the political sloganeering of the current climate he sometimes ponders on. If it's teenage disgust that turns you on, then you're safe.

                      The real departure here is that With Teeth is much less progressive, and more pop/punk like. May I add that the guitars also put the synths in their place many times here. This album has been dubbed fairly accurately as Trent's Stooges album.

                      Things look optimistic at the beginning with All The Love In The World, which starts off with a bit of simple piano, hushed syncopated beats and develops into a funky jam with fuzzy bass and drums. This tells you that Trent hasn't strayed from the trademark sound but has loosened up a little. A tad happier and welcomely mature.

                      But no. You Know What You Are spoils things with dated basic metal riffage from guitar and drum with a frankly stupid sound chorus involving the title. Oh dear.

                      Much of the drum work here is contributed by ex-Nirvana/Foo Fighters Dave Grohl (who seems to be constantly wanting to gatecrash into other artists recording sessions). The playing is good, but it hardly is that noteworthy. I'm going to attract controversy by saying that Grohl is more of a famous drummer than an exceptional one, therefore his name adds noteworthiness to a record and due to it he's upped his game, but I know much better. In fact the most interesting drum performance on the album is from in house drummer Jerome Dillon on the album's title-track with disjointed crumbling toms and hi-hat swipes; the most interesting feature of the song.

                      What's worse is that following track The Collector sounds like a Queens Of The Stone Age penning with the only difference being the voice of Reznor not Homme.
                      Worst still is first single The Hand That Feeds. It may have the hook to garner chart attraction but it really is the most anodyne attempt at a political statement ever, and the main riff is The Kinks' You Really Got Me minutely modified.

                      The brow begins to unfurrow a bit with Every Day Is Exactly The Same (the kind of Nails title that begs to sound more epic than it is), although this song is exactly the same as a number of elements on the pick 'n mix quality of the last NIN double album 'The Fragile'.

                      Only is a song I quite commend. It's simple but it works. It recalls something of the writing style of 1989's Pretty Hate Machine with a hip-hop caressing groove, and a chorus that's on the right side of simple “There is no you, there is only me!”

                      ...And then Josh Homme, sorry, Trent, writes another QOTSA song in the form of Getting Smaller.

                      But then another welcome surprise – Sunspots. This is perhaps one of the strongest tracks on here; it features a creepy bass line, correctly thick guitars and some scorching synth lines. And also one of the most used Trent lyrics ever “Nothing can stop me now!” But I'll allow that.

                      The Line Begins To Blur bores the hell out of me. It's a haphazard attempt at sounding like a kind of commercial post-rock offering or thereabouts. Many post-rock bands don't like being called that.

                      The last two songs with the other alright or pretty good gems earn this a solid average rating. The whole 'shebang' just can't compete with the quite magnificent 10yr+ old The Downward Spiral. In Beside You In Time we get sucked into a vacuum of tension building synths, such is the impact of this that you truly feel absorbed and transported for the duration.
                      Right Where It Belongs attempts to match the late Johnny Cash covered Hurt and does an perfectly admirable job, while the V.2 for the UK bonus is even more beautiful in stripped down format. The other UK bonus is Home, which is just 'alright'.

                      The US got a 5.1 mix of the album, and seeing that this is a trend now with some electronic records this may add a significant dimension to some of the songs here. But many people still only have the traditional stereo.

                      The real problem with the album's not simply that it's passable, but it's also forgettable. Longevity is a real concern. I think I've only felt the inclination to press play a little more than 10x, whether for whole durations or single tracks.
                      The production is also not a patch on past collaborations which involved former drummer Vrenna and legendary producer Flood.

                      But Trent's most ardent fans still love the old geezer and for them this is enough or forgivable. For the rest of us it's something that just doesn't mean that much. Cue: Greatest Hits.

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                        22.12.2005 16:16
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                        With the artier days shed, John Lydon turns to pop!

                        I'll let you off if you didn't know John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) had life after his other band, that band consumed far too much media attention for my liking.

                        Up until 'Album' (technically I'm reviewing 'Compact Disc'; each different format was respectively titled) Public Image Limited had been one of England's most innovative post punk bands. The first three albums are highly praised as classics with their non-conformist compositions mixing various foreign styles.

                        Each successive album saw one disgruntled band member leave until only John Lydon remained. It was at this point that Lydon assembled a new band and moved on.

                        With his new pop direction it wasn't the first time he polarised fans: Those who loved his first band hated PiL, and now early PiL fans hated modern PiL. Those who actually bothered to take the time to sit down and listen to 'Album' realised not only was it better than the previous PiL album, but it's beauty matched that of the first three albums, albeit in an inverted way. It reached #10 in the charts and featured the classic Irish flavour single Rise, concerning South African police torture methods.

                        For this album Lydon enlisted the production talents of Material bassist Bill Laswell, who worked with Lydon earlier on his collaboration with Afrika Bambaataa under the moniker Time Zone for World Destruction, a song that predates Run DMC and Aerosmith's collaboration in rock and rap unity.

                        'Album' could be seen as an unofficial solo album. Half the tracks were co-written with Laswell, while the others were written with the fired short-lived live '84 line-up. A stable group was yet to emerge - a group that didn't meet the approval of Laswell, thus the two never working together in the future.

                        The album features quite a few guest stars that would normally be at odds with Lydon's image, yet the fact he did work with them was truly the most rebellious thing he did, though not contrived: Cream's Ginger Baker features on drums, Steve Vai on guitar (who cites his performances here as one of his best) and Ryuchi Sakamoto on keyboards. Miles Davis even popped into the studio but wasn't used.

                        Detractors complain that it's just another pompous 80's rock album, but those people aren't paying close attention. Classic PiL elements like production experimentation and foreign music embrace exist, subtly. And neither does the production bare any resemblance to glossy metal of the period. It sounds live, raw and apt.

                        The 8 tracks clock the album at around 40mins and not once should you find the audacity to press the skip button. Opener FFF ("Farewell my fareweather friend") begins the agenda with it's cheery blast of near punk rock. Fishing is a fiendishly good metal track with a much appreciated Vai solo. Round continues themes of world destruction with "Mushrooms on the horizon" and a flavourful sprinkle of tabla. Bags is personally a song I could press the skip button on, but still feel no strong inclination to do so. It's chorus repeats "Black rubber bag". Second single Home has been given a comparison to Survivor's Eye Of The Tiger, and does sound a bit cliché, but is saved considerably by quite a passionate vocal about war.
                        Final song Ease has been compared to Led Zep's Kashmir, I could also add that there's The End vibes by The Doors with it's lengthy epic build up and outro, and nod to Eastern sounds.

                        The generic artwork of the album was said to have been copied from American punk band Flipper who later reciprocated with an album called 'Public Flipper Limited'. Associated promotional pics for this album featured Lydon surrounded by generic supermarket items.

                        I have to admit however that after this things got a bit hit and miss for PiL. It's not that I have any vendetta against pop era PiL (I loved future songs like The Body and Disappointed as much as the earlier material), but they did truly descend into mediocrity despite the odd occasional gem. Those later albums which really did veer to LA Rock production are somewhat hard to find. The last LP PiL released seemed desperate to compete with Grunge.

                        Upon pausing PiL, Lydon collaborated with Leftfield, reunited with his other band for some shows, released a solo album and appeared on television again.

                        ***This review has appeared on Ciao before by myself under the same moniker.

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                          12.10.2004 01:06
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                          • "Pricier than the standard CD album"

                          25yrs ago two things happened in West London: 1) me, 2) more interestingly The Clash's London Calling LP.

                          I had always wanted to give The Clash a good listen but never seemed to get 'round to it 'til this new 3 disc edition enticed me.

                          First off, those who already own this album and aren't diehard fans would probably not miss the extras here. The second disc is a bunch of meandering lost demos (The Vanilla Tapes) which would only awe long time fans (they're from hissy tapes and are aimless instrumentals - unformed), while the DVD contains a very vague making of docufilm, brief grainy studio footage and 3 promo videos (London Calling, Clampdown & Train In Vain).
                          The standard CD is considerably cheaper than this 25th Anniversary Legacy Edition, but if you're a Clash nut you'll ignore me and get this anyway.

                          I feel proud of The Clash as they're local boys (I live slap bang in the portion of London that is clearly referenced in the accompanying book [+ lyric sheet]), and they did good with this album. I don't need to emphasise the praise this album has gotten over the years, but in a brief sentence if The Sex Pistols were the PR of punk, The Clash definetly had the tunes you could go back to.

                          The 19 songs that make up this double-album (on a single CD) display more than just punk ferocity; there's rockabilly, reggae, jazz, surf rock, soul, Spector-ness and more - it's hard to sum up, but despite this genre playfulness the album doesn't sprawl; it has pure focus. It does have some immemorable occasions, but of 19 tracks this is allowed, and those still are in minority.

                          The artwork sums it completely; a kind of Elvis figured pose with a Hendrix guitar smash fused into it. It takes all rock up to that date (and still even now) and encompasses it. The lyrics in many cases are either confusing or sloganeering, but the passion of Strummer and Jones' vocals are what really matters here. You can almost smell West London from their sneers and taste it via the tunes.

                          London Calling is punk with brains, Jimmy Jazz is jazz that doesn't wank for itself, Lost In The Supermarket makes contemporary indie sound dated, Clampdown's intro was ripped off to form an entire Manic Street Preachers song, The Guns Of Brixton was sampled for Dub Be Good To Me (when Fatboy was Norman), Death Or Glory is ballsy, The Card Cheat is grand and sweeping and Train In Vain is moving.
                          ...Simonon's bass rolls, Headon's drums carry the groove heavily. For over an hour you find little fault in this album.

                          Whereas most punk albums had a singular sound/thought, The Clash conveyed many. Though the band didn't top this album, and later disbanded, it's clear to see that The Clash's birth and life helped keep UK rock chugging along (and still does). A great and diverse punk album - perhaps one of that was pivotal in trying hard to steer punk away from being a monocultural joke...Although that still happened.

                          Go down Ladbroke Grove and you'll find that this album still sums up that part of London (and others) well.

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                          • ebay.co.uk / Auction / 28 Readings / 22 Ratings
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                            10.10.2004 00:34
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                            • "There are more..."

                            I caught the eBay bug about a month ago, and still I foam at the mouth when I regularly check my buying and selling page.

                            It doesn't help when virtually everything you sell, sells, and everything you want entices you to bid higher; there's no escape!

                            Like most I was a bit shy of eBay as I was wary about being conned, worried about losing money (sellers fees) for things that didn't sell etc. but when I saw how much of a frenzy a friend of mine was getting into I thought I'd give it ago - just once. But no one told me that eBay was virtual cocaine.

                            Like dooyoo (hello old friends!), there is a kind of community vibe. Most people don't want to con you (the feedback numbers and coloured stars are a universal goal), because they don't want to be conned too - which is why eBay's still around; and incase anything does go pear shaped it's usually a misunderstanding, or something that can be resolved within the structure of eBay (PayPal, SquareTrade).

                            With peace of mind out of the way, it doesn't cost much to sell (and it's free to buy stuff - well, apart from actual item payment). There are other sites that charge less or no fees, but with all the (usually small) work put into creating an ad it's best to go for eBay still. Why? Because you can put your ad on eClone and only by extreme luck will it sell. Put it up on the daddy site and flies will swarm 'round it. The money you put into selling is nothing in that much more will come back. There are basically 2 sets of common fees; selling and item sold, after that there's optional refundable reserve fees, buy it now (non-auction) fees and a small percentage if you accept instant payment via PayPal (I won't go into PayPal here, but it's great).

                            The site is colourful, easy to navigation and well thought out. My eBay is your personal little igloo in the eBay world. You can plan how to outwit other bidders (bide your time they all say!), and smile with glee as your item bids rise beyond expectation.

                            And if you're lucky your parted money will see a bargain materialise before you (used or new), or you can make a probable (nee regular) trip to your PO who will know you're an eBayer, get a jiffy and post away with polite little communication inbetween. If you're wary of talking to strangers in most cases I've experienced no one really talks unless there's a need to confirm something or make an arrangement. It is nice to swap emails and post with these temporary prey, er customers, er friends.

                            And then to calm down there's the message boards...I can't be bothered writing anymore, I have to check my eBay!

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                            • St. Anger - Metallica / Music Album / 7 Readings / 20 Ratings
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                              02.03.2004 23:35
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                              I?ve been a Metallica fan for pretty much half my life. The first band that ever really mattered to me when I reached my teens were these four black clad men. Infact they still do matter, but in minimal doses these days. Metallica?s eponymous black album is the ?coffee table? record that nearly every household has: Immediately accessible, but by no means an un-metal album. It remains to date one of the more modern great hard rock records, and is one of Metallica?s two peaks, the other being Master Of Puppets five years previously. Since then Metallica ?lost the plot?, or so it seems. In detail, Metallica?s experiments with a more dirty blues rock and country could?ve been predicted, what with ballad experimentation as early as their second album, and of course the dark blues leanings that emerged in the latter half of the 80?s. But, older fans, and those magnetised by the black album (including me) were hoping that the follow up would be at least in a similar sort of vein to the black album, or a tread back from the stadium limelight. Not, so. Smothered by the radio friendly production efforts of Bob Rock (and kudos to his ability in that field - whose instantly recognisable clients include Bon Jovi and Brian Adams), the black clad men returned in sharp suits with an album that featured semen and animal blood on the cover. Maybe it seemed like the logical progression for Metallica, but for nearly all the fans it seemed like a jaw dropping u-turn. The keyword being ?sell out?. And sell out they did. They continued to build upon their black album megastar status and kept on packing out stadiums. Whether they sold out musically is highly debatable as there?s still a selective appeal to those mid 90?s records. To ensure that Load was no blip, Reload came out as it?s delayed and
                              unnecessary twin. And then there was the flirtation with an orchestral live album, a covers album and a song for the soundtrack to Mission Impossible 2. And then Jason Newsted left. The decade in which Metallica realised their pomp rock dreams was over. So where now for the street band that survived the short spell of grunge and other disposable rock??Rehab for James Hetfield and a near split. But the men of three were still alive. The quickly conceived and delivered St. Anger seemed to be very promising. The press before the release were hailing this as a return to form, their best record ever, and perhaps a signal for change in modern rock. To quote Slayer?s Kerry King though ?what record were they listening to??. The album art, the song titles and the general riffage are all the classic signs of metal syndrome, but bizarrely Bob Rock is still pushing the faders, minimally. Infact the album doesn?t sound as if it?s produced, yet that ill fitting glossy radio rock sound is nestled uncosily in there, amongst a cast iron snare and overly muddy guitars - 75mins of it, across 11 songs, which mostly seem to loop a couple of times, with goofy (but simplistically real) recitations of lyrics that seem mostly a soapbox for James? rehab stint. I?ve heard something like this before?Oh yeah, nu-metal. And so, this time fans scratch their head again, but more slowly. Drummer Lars Ulrich sees his friends and contemporaries as people like Fred Dust, Linkin Park and other commercial rap rock titans, which seems as odd as your Dad trying to hang out with your friends. Sure Metallica are a big league band now, but these people once ran, and will most fondly be associated with names like Slayer, Anthrax, Megadeth and other well named original thrash metal bands.
                              St. Anger sounds like a desperate album. For, in parts you realise that they have it in them to unleash some degree of familiar Metallica rage, but diluting this with alternate radio friendliness makes you wonder are they just pandering to nu-metal kids, their old fan base somewhat, and the chart caring? Former Ozzy Osbourne/Suicidal Tendencies Robert Trujillo?s addition to the band comes as somewhat of a saviour. Live and probably in presence, he is the most ?metal? member of the band, who sometimes looks out of place. I hope that, should there be another album, that his contribution will steer Metallica in the right direction; an embracement of the past, and a look to the future with discard for fashion. Thus, the accompanying DVD, seems almost a redeeming necessity. In a live environment the songs aren?t too bad, some of them sound great when you hear them live in person. It?s almost as if you bought the DVD and got the CD for free. Metallica were, and considering their first decade?s catalogue, are still an important hard rock band. They have reached a point now though where they will have to deliver something of real value if they wish to not fade away. The general sales figures for St. Anger confirm this. In favour of the album, Metallica still excel over their peers in that they?ve remained noteworthy in their adoption of slightly different styles. Bands like Slayer are great, but just how many times have they peddled that mindless thrash? Then there?s Megadeth, who though great in their own right, seemed like a Metallica silhouette right to their very end. And also, it is of grace that Metallica ever got to make this album at all. Despite their success which has set them for life, and near bump-off, the band could?ve called it a day ages ago, but they l
                              ove what they do, and continue to do some because of the energy supplied by their immense fan base, which bizarrely continues to grow. And it?s this relationship that will be explored in a new film soon. Let?s just hope that there is a next album and that it resets their standards again. Grunge is floored, nu-metal is dead (waiting for the final head shot), it?s time to revive the beast again. They mightn?t be firey eyed youngsters anymore, but judging by today?s youngsters that?s perhaps a good thing. Matureness has it?s own grace.

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                                02.03.2004 03:04
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                                I saw Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines (how Star Warsy is that?) when it first hit the cinema, and it felt great to take my seat as I was too young for the first two. Popcorn in hand, the DVD less than a year later. Before the middle of the cinematic showing though, the fears for the film I tried to ignore, fully realised themselves. This must?ve been how people felt at The Matrix? sequels, or indeed the modern Star Wars trilogy. Even Robocop 2 & 3. They may have tried their best, but they really needn?t have bothered. The Terminator isn?t just about big ol? Arnie, it?s about big ol? Arnie and James Cameron - the man who conceived and realised the first two films, which are probably amongst the greatest sci-fi action films of all time. And James Cameron isn?t here (by choice), neither is the quintessential T heroine Linda ?Sarah Connor? Hamilton, or the venomous Brad Fiedel scores (the theme is there, but it exists in some kind of cliché Hollywood orchestral form). So what is there?? Jonathan Mostow?s directorial driving of this third instalment isn?t too bad. The very first time I saw it, I couldn?t help shaking my head at pivotal moments (like those early Tomy toy looking T robots - No!), but the next time I saw it, I thought, well it is different, and it?s not as if James? films weren?t without holes (though not as gapingly pointed out), and kudos for the story to be rescued in an acceptable way at all - I.e. that the threat exists through software via the net. Claire Danes however shouldn?t be in a Terminator film, and never again. Like Harry Enfield would say, there?s nothing inherently wrong with her, she just shouldn?t be there. And then, there?s the T-X, a female terminator?No way is she a more efficient terminator than T2?s T-1000. How villainistically convincing is a blonde haired, brown leather suit wearing secretary? Atleast fit the bill with a brunette! And as for Arnie, he?s in panto mode for this film. Catchph
                                rase king! On a good note, Nick Stahl is a better John Connor than T2?s, and it?s perhaps his consistent furrowed browedness that hooks you into the film and his plight. He is definetly the star of the film. And the film?s unhappy ending is great. Nothing like triggering an audience?s adrenalin before making them gasp. This will probably pave the way for more Terminator films, but it wouldn?t be bad to hang the story here. The DVD includes your standard trailers, photos and commentaries, with a good many interesting featurette films (nee FX), including a pretty funny blooper reel. The accompanying merchandising booklet smacks of desperation though; even the DVD?s casing seems un-arsed. Over time though I have come to accept the T3, but not really love it. I don?t know whether it?s because it?s bad and I feel I should respect it atleast for being the third in the series, or whether it is good and I refuse to accept it because it doesn?t really fit with the first two. Even if they intended that. Not an appalling film, but unless you?re quite a Terminator fanatic you?re probably not going to bother with this in your film collection.

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                                • Yamaha DD-55 / Drum / Percussion / 5 Readings / 21 Ratings
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                                  13.05.2003 05:30
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                                  It's been a while since I've written a review, and the DD55 is one such surprising product worthy of a praising one as it's one that I would like to discuss with many people, without boring the uninterested. Thus I'm sparked to write. Digital percussion (or electronic drum kits, to be less snobby) has existed in many forms in the last few decades, most notably in late disco and early eighties pop which didn't do much for the longevity of it. The sounds were often rather laughably camp and unresponsive compared to their age-old acoustic counterparts. They were fancy executive toys (which many still are) relegated to attics. Nothing has changed much but electronic percussion has become much more fashionable in the last 5 years than it ever has - mostly due to the fact of successes like Roland's VDrums range (though expensive) - and electronic aided compositions (whether the end sound is more organic or not) are no longer a scarcity due to the slow progressive assimilation by dance music via crossovers and other sub-levels. I own an acoustic kit, and before I bought one I graduated to it via seeing if I would stick with this drum lark by investing in one of Yamaha's early DD machines, the DD9 (which after a decade since I bought it is still available as an as-far-as-I-can-see cosmestically modified DD20) back in the early 90's. It was by all means a borderline toy; fun for the kids but with considerable use for those who wanted simple practice percussion. Fast forward through the years and you'll see amongst other things that the DD55 already existed somewhere in between as a slightly less featured DD50 (now obsolete) that competed with the likes of Roland (not that there are many serious/semi-serious portable percussion pad manufacturers), and even usurped their similarly (but slightly higher) priced product line in terms of response and features; the 'going' thing for Roland was that thei
                                  r machines looked more serious and the brand name was slightly detracted from the idea of supplying instruments to families. And oh yes, they eventually made VDrums. The DD range didn't retire though, it had it's niche and a loyal base due to good pricing and apt features, plus the majority of digital percussionists would prefer a smaller kit than a large one. Think why programmable drum machines are such a success - no need to lug big cowskin topped cylinders around. Thus the DD50 was recently reborn in a remodelled shell with some enhancements as the DD55, and available in your local Argos alongside the similarly designed DD35 which is pretty much a learners version of the DD9/20. The DD55 is fairly weighty and bulky for a little machine, but with it's variety of features you shouldn't be surprised. Marketed as 'for the serious drummer' it appeals as it features the holy grail of electronic connectivity: General MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface - which has been going since the early 80's) - thus naturally played rhythm tracks can be played into your favourite sequencer app. It's much more intuitive than clicking in hits by a mouse or tapping them in by keyboard keys which can be time consuming and can produce a mechanicalness which may not always be desirable. The MIDI implementation via In/Out sockets is perfect (considering Roland's SPD's only do Outs), topped off with a little MIDI menu for more sequencer/hardware specific functions, plus you can record 1 20,000 (don't ask me how long that is, but it's plenty) note custom song which you can upload to your computer via special free software that you can download - perfect for capturing performances when you don't have anything to dump to handy; just make sure that the adaptor or batteries, even when off, are there to preserve the data - an irritating thing. The plastic body is silver at the top and black beneath, with 7
                                  black pads (4 5" and 3 small), rubber buttons, mesh plastic covering the bass port enhanced stereo speakers (you nary need an amp when playing in the confines of a bedroom etc.) and a 3 digit red LCD display. The pads are touch sensitive (and there's even a very response-y hand percussion mode with realistic hand percussion kits) and the samples are all in clear stereo. You may be forgiven for thinking that the acoustic drum kits respond almost like a real kit and are nearly as fun. The gripe jaws in with the fact that you can still hear the sound of rubber when you strike the pads with the sticks (supplied - an adaptor is the only thing that's not) and due to the pads being small you may miss, and if you don't you may sometimes not ignite the sound (though sensitivity can be adjusted to a degree) or get the strikes to 'flow' as you want them to. This can be demonstrated in the fact even if a maestro drummer recorded to the in-built sequencer, they may sound clumsy some of the time due to the restrictions. Having said that, I've read that the response beats Rolands, and some of the sounds match VDrums. There are 45 programmed kits (and space for one custom) and just under 200 sounds which can be assigned to any of the pads (or the two pedals for hi-hat and kick). The hi-hat pedal can also, smartly, be assigned to perform choke hi-hat action for the left-most selectively defined hi-hat pad. Nice one; don't bother with double kicking metal heads. The sounds range from percussion instruments around the world, coupled with some interesting sound effects and fills - thus you can trigger predefined programmed rolls with a single strike. To cater for those who are new to the percussion world there is tuition via 100 built-in rhythm styles to play along to, plus a few other features like the aforementioned triggering of in-built fills and the ability to listen to specific segments (the A-B marker function) to learn
                                  from. It mighn't match the visualness in tuition like the DD35's lighted drum rings but it is enough for someone with natural rhythm. In-built Reverb effect can also be applied, while DSP can be controlled via a connected sequencer. A headphone jack completes the kit as does great documentation with appendix tables for reference. The DD55 is by no means a replacement for an acoustic kit (and neither are VDrums) but for the price and features, the DD55 is possibly the best portable solution for digital percussion for both the pro and the above-amateur. It's portability and brilliant sampled sounds, plus full-featured MIDI make it a brilliant electronic and almost acoustic kit for recording (it's way cheaper than a mixer and a barrage of mics for an acoustic kit), and a pretty good first drum kit for anyone. The DD55 might be considered by the smug as an impressive toy, but so was the Roland TB-303 bass machine which ended up becoming a standard instrument in dance music. That's not saying the DD55 will end up with historical significance (though it might, who knows?) but what's for sure is that won't be trappled on by it's competition, and is well worth a look by someone who wants portable, powerful and versatile digital percussion. I give it almost full thumbs up.

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