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Having being played for around eighty years, Monopoly has a very strong claim to the most popular commercial board game of all time, with the makers Hasbro claiming more than 1 billion people have played the game.
The board is printed with property squares set up around the edges, which players must buy and then charge people (other players) 'rent' when they land on said property. The more extravagant the property (based on how much you spend improving your property and which area it is on board) the more you can charge your rivals, improving your in-game bank balance and thus your 'monopoly' over the board and over other players.
Moving along the board using the roll of a dice, the game has a small element of luck included in it (but so do all good games), but the main ingredient to success in the game is strategy. Do you want to spend your money buying many small and cheap properties or spend it all on just a few more expensive properties? Will people land on many of your cheap properties or will they stumble across your Mayfair Mansion? That's the game.
Each player starts off with an equal set amount of money and can earn some extra money by simply passing 'Go' (the starting point) each time. Properties are bought by landing on them and the player deciding to buy them for the amount stated (some rules state that when a player refuses to buy a property it is then put up for auction which I would not recommend when there's only two players but totally for you to decide).
When you buy a property you get a 'deeds card' showing you how much you can charge other players unfortunate enough to land on it, which can increase with more properties from the 'set' you own as well as, as mentioned before, the more extravagant you make them.
There are a variation on properties (airports, train stations, water works, etc can be included depending on which version you buy) which adds to the fun element of the game and also creates a community feel within the game, giving the game at least a small place in line with reality.
Monopoly is suitable for all ages although some young children may need a bit of help working out the money, although the advantage of this is teaching children about cash-flow and helping them to learn about prioritising their outgoings in a fun and risk free way.
Whilst it sounds quite a demoralising theme, the game is won by bankrupting other players, and if you've played the game before you will understand what I mean when I say it is wholly fulfilling watching one of your friends / family having to mortgage their monopoly game properties to pay you rent on Mayfair with a hotel on! Evil aren't I? In all truth the game is both fun and funny, particularly when watching each other fork out hundreds of monopoly pounds for one unlucky roll of the dice.
The dark theme of bankrupting your friends and family is lightened up throughout the game with the fun and interesting game pieces which over the years have become iconic and recognisable to people all over the world. Game pieces such as 'the dog', 'the iron', 'the race car', 'the top hat' will all have their followers, and young people especially tend to become attached to using the same piece each time they play the game (I still chose the dog each time after over fifteen years of playing!).
There are also the 'chance' and 'community chest' squares that are mixed in alongside the properties which can result in a mix of an excellent in-game cash windfall or terrible news for your little top hat such as being sent back along the board to 'jail', meaning you must roll a double on the dice just to get out!
Games can often last a long time, especially if there are a number of you playing and you all have some monopoly experience. I have played for many years but improved greatly when I downloaded a smaller version for my phone and played it every day on my dinner hour, learning how the computer plays and ultimately learning from my own mistakes!
There are also special editions of the game available including different cities, football clubs, star wars, the Simpsons and even more. These may be more expensive that the typical £15 for the standard edition although I personally prefer the standard edition anyway as I have grew up with it and have great memories of playing it with friends and family. Some of you, particularly with younger children who are new to the game, may find the favourite football club edition or television program editions of the game more appealing to begin with, but there is really nothing different with the game other than the names of places and sometimes the currency.
Overall it is an excellent game which has stood the test of time and I am sure will continue to do so. Go and enjoy yourself and get yourself this game!
Ainsley Harriott Rice & Simple Chicken Flavour Basmati Savoury Rice
I first noticed this Ainsley Harriot rice when I was looking for a healthy addition to my diet. I'd read about savoury rice being a good option for meal times due to, amongst other benefits, it providing a fast source of energy and encouraging healthy bowel movements whilst being both relatively cheap and filling.
Rice itself does not contain any harmful fats, cholesterol or sodium and although to make rice taste good some of these must be added, the recipe for Ainsley Harriot's has done an excellent job of keeping them as low as possible, in addition to avoiding artificial colours and flavouring. Containing less than 1% fat, this rice manages to taste extremely good and still remain healthy.
The flavouring of the rice is ever present when you're eating it although unlike some of the lower cost rivals, it is not overpowering (which in my opinion, is worse than lack of taste). It has a slightly softer texture than that of rice which you will be used to, but this is not something that is either positive or negative, simply (ever so slightly) different.
Unlike the picture above, I found the rice packaged in a large (1.44kg) transparent plastic bowl (similar to what you would get your old favourite sweets such as cola cubes in) with Ainsley's face printed right on the front alongside the product description. The packaging does a good job of explaining how to cook it, along with detailing the nutritional information you would expect from such a food.
The rice, along with the mixed in chicken and vegetables are all cooked together and are easily put into a pan of boiling water and simmered for around ten minutes. The rice expands quite astonishingly and so is hard to judge a normal sized portion, although I have had eight very big portions from the tub and I am still not a quarter of the way through it.
The rice is slightly more expensive than the typical rivals' products if you compare size for size but I would still recommend it based on the superior taste.
I have only recently been introduced to Crabbie's Ginger Ale cider and have since become quite obsessed with it.
Despite not liking ginger ale in the slightest (not on its own anyway) I was convinced into trying Crabbie's quite easily, partly due to the way it is presented. The drink comes in a smartly dressed, strong brown glass bottle (500ml) not dissimilar to the type of bottle you'd expect traditional ale to come in.
The smell, colour and taste of Crabbie's could easily be compared to that of normal ginger ale although there is a slight difference with the taste (mainly that I actually like Crabbie's) that gives it an extra bit of flavour; like how I imagine an expensive ginger ale professionally mixed with spices would taste like.
The drink itself is extremely fizzy and bubbly, often causing me mild heartburn after only half a bottle, although it is worth it. It is competitively priced and holds slightly less alcohol content than other ciders being only 4%, although it is competitively priced and seems to hold a good image amongst fellow drinkers.
It is an excellent choice for a summer drink as it is refreshing and normally served with ice and occasionally a slice of lemon and I have known of many males and females enjoying this so I would not say it is aimed at either sex.
The availability of Crabbie's is however, slightly questionable. Although it seems to be found in many off-licences and supermarkets I have only found a small number of nightclubs, bars or pubs that sell Crabbie's.
Overall I recommended you try it out as the price is not obstructive to seeing what it tastes like. Even if you don't like ginger ale like me, it is still quite possible that you will enjoy Crabbie's so don't let that put you off, you could be missing out!
Dr Dre - 2001
Strangely, the album known as 2001 (or 'The Chronic 2001') was actually released in 1999. Great hype surrounded this album after a seven year wait for Dr Dre to release a follow up to his highly thought of debut album' The Chronic'.
With his first album so highly thought of, why would you change the formula? The answer is you wouldn't and he didn't. This follow up has many guest spots, famous ghost-writers, mostly Dr Dre produced tracks and a number of funny interludes - all like its predecessor. The worry of course would be if the use of a successful formula now dated by seven years would still be successful for his new album. Remove that worry.
Whilst the formula hasn't changed the music has been updated drastically with many circles of hip hop producers playing catch-up to the new sound that Dre exploded into rap music with this album (it was only the emergence of the Neptune's sound a few years later that could advance hip hop further).
Such songs as 'Xxplosive' with its peaceful guitar riff ringing throughout were innovative and exciting upon their release and have already endured the test of time (over ten years since its release and it is still every bit as enjoyable). It's a track that you can sing along every word to for years and not once even consider what the song is about (it is about ladies if you're interested), and it doesn't even matter such is the easy listening feeling it creates. It is an all-time rap classic.
The musical updates on tracks such as 'Lets Get High' and 'Bang Bang' show great examples of what Dre is capable of, but only small advances in music when you compare it to some of the album's biggest hits such as 'Forgot About Dre' and the Jay Z penned 'Still D.R.E'.
'Forgot About Dre' is a fast paced, electric ride through the aggression felt at people forgetting about one of raps all time greats after just a seven year (semi) hiatus. The lyrics demonstrate his vast influence on contemporary hip hop whilst the song's featuring artist, Eminem, delivers a ruthless verse in his Slim Shady persona attacking a random pedestrian. This song didn't win a grammy for nothing.
'Still D.R.E.' has a constant banging piano riff that makes you want to buy a '64 and fix hydraulics yourself (or alternatively just nod your head excessively) with some of the most incredible lyrics included on a Dr Dre record. Ghost-written by Jay Z, the lyrics remind you of just how great Dr Dre is and despite his seven year break between albums he has still been busy keeping rap alive "Kept my ears to the street, signed Eminem/ He's, triple platinum doing 50 a week, STILL/"
To have covered a number of the album's tracks and still not mentioned 'What's The Difference' or 'Next Episode' (to name a few) is a tribute to the wealth of music found on the album. 'What's The Difference' featuring XZibit & Eminem takes aim at the 'haters' these rappers have had to endure throughout their careers and goes some way to demonstrating the great differences between them (what's the difference between me and you?/about five bank accounts, three ounces and two vehicles!). 'Next Episode' see's the return of the back and forth rapping that proved so popular on The Chronic's hit single 'Nuthin But A G Thang' and really is an appropriate 'next episode' of that classic track.
Other album standouts include the album's first song 'The Watcher' - one of Dre's darker songs but still comes complete with catchy chorus and memorable lyrics, and 'Fu*k You', a song which, to put nicely, is about making love to a woman.
Every track on this album features at least one guest, but that is far from a complaint such is the quality of rapping friends Dr Dre has included. Other songs on this album, take 'Lightspeed' for example, would be standout tracks on other rap albums in history but fall slightly off the standard set by Xxplosive, Forgot About Dre etc
Unfortunately the quality of the majority of the tracks is going to take away from some of the (and I use this word loosely) 'inferior' tracks on the album. There isn't a bad song on the album but songs like 'Murder Ink' and 'Ackrite' are never going to be as memorable or impressive as any of the tracks already mentioned. There is also 'Big Ego's' which from my opinion has an annoying and basic chorus, although I have many friends who pick it as one of their best on the album so maybe it's just a personal gripe. Overall you have got to be seriously against music as a whole to not find at least some of the tracks enjoyable and be highly anticipating Dre's next (and final) album 'Detox'. If Detox ever does see the light of day and is released then it has a whole lot to live upto because 2001 certainly surpasses the rap classic 'The Chronic'.
Buddhism for Dummies is an excellent starter book for anyone interested in Buddhism.
After visiting Thailand for a month earlier this year I became fascinated with the country and the people, but also the religion. The Thai people seem very at peace with themselves and despite many of them living relatively poorly compared to myself and other English people, they are very happy and helpful to all - I seen Buddhism as a possible reason for this.
Buddhism is by far the most popular religion in Thailand (around 90+% dominant according to some quick internet research) and I managed to pick up "Buddhism for Dummies" whilst I was in one of the smaller airports travelling from city to city. When I wasn't hungover (or creating one) I managed to get started on learning about Buddhism.
The book is very well set out, starting with a basic glossary and a quick cut out check list that can remind you of the very basics of the Buddhism religion. The chapters are clearly marked as are the many subsections making it very easy to skip/refer back to parts of interest.
The book covers the history of both Buddha and later on, Buddhism as a religion describing how it spread across the world and how the different variations were formed and passed on. This is one of the most impressive parts of the book for me as the writers manage to give detailed information about each 'branch' of Buddhism, explaining the differences and how each one was formed and altered, but they manage to do this without being biased towards any particular one. The writers themselves are self-stated Buddhists and so I presume they have made their own choices on which one to follow and the way the information is presented will allow you to do the same.
Despite this, the book is not just aimed at people who wish to become a Buddhist (or are considering it) and you can find that the book is an excellent resource for those studying Buddhism for other reasons, such as homework or a degree paper, or just general interest.
The style of the book has been written in a way that younger audiences would be able to pick up the book and read it with little problems but without leaving more advanced readers feeling like they're reading a children's book. Things are well explained and well detailed but the variation of information, facts, examples, pictures and anecdotes from page to page makes it both entertaining and useful.
As mentioned before, the book is broken down into many well named and organised chapters and sub-chapters to help you flick through/refer back to certain areas. Not only does this allow you to remind yourself of certain points, I also feel it would help people who already have some knowledge on Buddhism but would like to learn more. Such people would be able to instantly skip certain chapters and start at their points of interest without affecting the flow of the book.
If I was to pick a downside to this book however it would be the constant referencing to other chapters. Although I understand why they have done this (to help direct you to the parts of the book you are most interested in) as a reader planning on reading it from beginning to end the constant '(for more info see Chapter 6)' for example can become irritating and can disrupt the flow of certain sentences.
I suppose this is a small price to pay for such a well covered book and on a topic as vast as Buddhism I feel the writers have done an excellent job.
If you're interested in learning (more) about Buddhism, this book is definitely worth the money. Only time will tell whether I can find the same inner peace that many of the Thai people appear to have (I know this sounds strange considering the current governmental problems they have, but a very small % of people are involved in that) but this book has certainly helped me to understand why the Thais are such wonderful people.
LL Cool J - The Goat
Announcing yourself the 'greatest of all time' (G.O.A.T) would be arrogant in many circles but in hip hop it is the normal. Along with claiming somebody has 'stolen your flow', that you have 'invented this style' or that you're 'the hardest', claiming to be the best in hip hop is no unusual occurrence, although LL Cool J does genuinely have a big claim to the actual title.
LL started rapping at a very early age and was making breakthrough strides in hip hop by the age of seventeen, creating one of the first pop oriented rap songs using a conventional structure (I Need Love). He then went on to produce seven albums before the GOAT (each going platinum at least once) and feature in some of the biggest rap songs in existence - hence the 'goat' title.
The album starts off with a very impressive intro (simply titled 'Intro') where LL talks about the album that you are about to hear, mixing it up with his typical arrogant (although often well-founded) claims of brilliance and rich man lifestyle. Despite being shorter than any regular track it remains as one of the album's highlights and one of my favourite LL tracks to this day.
The album then goes straight into the first single "Imagine That" a fantasy driven track produced by one of the biggest producers of the time, The Rockwilder. The album's only other single "You and Me" is featured later on in the album and is a love song featuring soul singer Kelly Price, although it is nowhere near the quality of "Imagine That".
Although there are a number of other 'soft love songs' found on this album (as with any Ladies Love Cool James release) such as the enjoyable "Hello" "Can't Think", there are also a number of tracks that LL attacks much harder and here is were you find him at his most impressive. The Adam F produced "Take It Off" is a faster paced track were LL talks of picking a girl up in the club and bringing her into his world, a track that probably should have been a single. There is also the non love songs which further display LL's claim as 'The GOAT' such as "LL Cool J" (using the beat from B.I.G.'s "Kick in The Door"), "Farmers" a tribute to his neighbourhood and a number of more crunk sounding tracks such as "Fuhgidabowdit" featuring DMX, Method Man and Redman and "U Can't Fu*k With Me" featuring Snoop Dogg, XZibit and label mate Jayo Felony.
Unfortunately for US listeners, two of the albums greatest tracks are found on non-US bonus versions of the album. "Ill Bomb", previously on a Funk Flex compilation album and "Shut Em Down" from the In Too Deep soundtrack show LL Cool J at his non-lady-loving best and make you wear the CD out through replaying it so much. "Ill Bomb" is a casual bragging street rap record that exuberates talent in such a way only a handful of rappers can pull it off (see Jay Z for example); whilst "Shut Em Down" shows LL speed up his rapping to such a ridiculous pace that the lyrics would have taken all but the best of rappers months to devise, but then this is LL Cool J and he is one of the best. "You want a hit give me an hour plus a pen and a pad".
There are a number of sub-par tracks found on the album, the Ja Rule featuring "Back Where I Belong" adds nothing to this album and Ja Rule's chorus is annoying bordering on unbearable, whilst tracks such as "Homicide" have no place on any rap album. Overall though this is a great album that I feel that critics, for one reason or another, have denounced. I am sure if you're a rap fan listening to this album however, you will find that LL certainly does no damage to his claim of GOAT.
2. "Imagine That" (featuring LeShaun) (Produced by Rockwilder)
3. "Back Where I Belong" (featuring Ja Rule) (Produced by Vada Nobles)
4. "LL Cool J" (featuring Candice Love) (Produced by DJ Scratch)
5. "Take It Off" (Produced by Adam F)
7. "Fuhgidabowdit" (featuring DMX, Redman and Method Man) (Produced by Trackmasters)
8. "Farmers" (featuring Tiki Diamond)
9. "This Is Us" (featuring Carl Thomas) (Produced by Vada Nobles)
10. "Can't Think" (Produced by Ty Fyffe)
11. "Hello" (featuring Amil) (Produced by DJ Scratch)
12. "You and Me" (featuring Kelly Price) (Produced by DJ Scratch)
13. "Homicide" (Produced by DJ Scratch)
14. "U Can't Fuck With Me" (featuring Snoop Dogg, Xzibit and Jayo Felony) (Produced by DJ Scratch)
15. "Queens Is" (featuring Mobb Deep) (Produced by Havoc)
16. "The G.O.A.T." (Produced by Adam F)
17. "Ill Bomb" (Bonus) (featuring Funkmaster Flex and Big Kap) (Produced by DJ Scratch)
18. "M.I.S.S. 1" (featuring Case) (Bonus) (Produced by III Am)
19. "Shut Em Down" (Bonus)
When I'm looking for a hard boiled mint the first one that springs to mind is 'the one with the polar bear on'. That polar bear is synonymous with the best hard boiled mints and so it is always the one I will look for. That polar bear represents Foxes Glacier Mints.
The mints come in a large blue packet with the famous Foxes fox on the front, along with the giant label describing what is inside. Inside you will find the smaller mints individually wrapped in their easy to open (and surprisingly non-sticky in hot weather) wrappers.
The mints are clear and look like small rectangular ice cubes although as they are hard boiled sweets they last a lot longer in your mouth! They are very strong minty tasting, but not overpowering like some other mint sweets can be (Trebor XXX and those disastrous Wrigley's acid tabs spring to mind). Foxes glacier mint's flavours come from natural mint oils and are, as indicated on the packet, suitable for vegetarians.
One problem I have found with the sweets is their availability, I could not find them at all in Asda (I even had two kind members of staff helping me look) neither could I find them in a number of smaller newsagents. I did eventually find them in Home Bargains however for less than 70p per packet (or two for £1).
Although I do enjoy these mints on their own, and have recently tried to keep a couple in my car, they are also excellent to put into a litre of Vodka and leave them to dissolve. The next day's result is a tasty Vodka shot which always goes down well at parties (although make sure you put the right number of mints in as too many can be as bad as too little, I recommend about 7 per litre).
Jay Z - The Blueprint
Despite being released on the fateful day of 11th September 2001, Jay Z's the Blueprint still managed to sell over 400,000 copies in its first week and later went on to be certified double platinum.
After Jay Z's Summer Jam declaration of "ask Nas, he don't want it with Hov? No!", this album was highly anticipated as the album he would lyrically spar with the fellow New York rapper. This he did on the second track with the "Five To One" sampled "Takeover" showing Jay Z firing back at rappers and critics he felt have taken shots at him over previous years (or managed to incur his wrath some other way). The result is a highly impressive and catchy track which includes disses on Nas & Mobb Deep, but one that leaves more to be desired if compared lyrically to other diss tracks (such as Hit Em Up or the later reply from Nas, 'Ether', which take more personal shots).
Many tracks on the Blueprint have much of a soul feel to them, much to the thanks of the samples used by the then unknown producer Kanye West. In addition to producing the aforementioned 'Takeover', Kanye West also produced the first single "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" (Jay Z's first top ten single), the beautiful anti-playa hater song "Heart of The City (Aint No Love)", "Never Change", a track were Jay brilliant tells the story of how he's still the same boy from the hood despite the millions of dollars and the fame; and the hidden bonus track "Girls Girls Girls (remix)", much more catchy than its original (also included on the album) about how Jay Z has 'so many hoes across the globe'.
Each Kanye track is brilliant in its own right, as are the tracks produced by Timbaland (Hola Hovito) and Poke & Tone (Jigga That Ni**a), but the album highlight is in the Eminem produced track 'Renegade'.
Renegade is a stunning track in which Jay Z and Eminem, arguably both at the top of their rapping game at this time, go back and forth rapping and describing how they're a rare breed in that they speak their minds, they do what they wish, regardless of who it may offend. Although Nas later used this track against Jay Z by stating Eminem outshone him on his own song, Jay Z completes two excellent verses and the two rappers show chemistry only two greats can show.
There are of course other excellent tracks included on this album, most notably the Just Blaze produced 'U Don't Know', a song that screams for you to get rowdy and Jay Z proclaiming "I sell ice in winter, I sell fire in hell, I am a hustler baby I sell water to a well", but also the heartfelt "Song Cry" about breaking up with a longterm girlfriend - unusual in rap, and an incredibly bold move pulled off superbly.
Overall this is a stunning album that despite its release date, is remembered as one of the all time great moments in rap music. The comeback to 'Takeover' in the form of Nas' "Ether" would be a welcome addition to your ears, both in terms of it being a great song and that it is an important piece of rap history; however Jay Z's mixtape track "Super Ugly" which comes back from Ether is lyrically everything you would expect Takeover to be. If you enjoy this album and are looking to expand your knowledge of rap history, listen to these two songs after this album, but the album itself will have you coming back to it for years to come. Perfect
Eminem's best album to date "The Marshall Mathers LP" was an explosion onto the music scene when it was released and has gone on to become one of the best selling rap albums of all time.
The album took the successful 'Slim Shady' persona from Eminem's previous album and explored it further, taking shots at even more celebrities in even more brutal and hilarious ways. You can see in tracks like "Criminal" where out of nowhere he takes aim at Versace (no pun intended, although Eminem's "I was just checking the mail, get it, checking the male?" was definitely intended), or in the tack "Who Knew" when out of nowhere you find yourself laughing at Sonny Bono's skiing accident. I never used to find it funny but if I'm honest, I now find myself laughing every time I hear the track, Eminem has that quality.
The lyrics also show signs of development in that rather than being the neighbourhood loser with no money, he's now a rich multi-platinum rapper. From that it sounds like the typical second album from a rapper going "from nothing to something". Not with Eminem. His humour mixes such themes with realistic and hilarious outcomes such as when he shockingly proclaims "I'm finally allowed to step foot in my girlfriends house!". The humour evident in his social commentary (such as jokes about parents allowing their kids to wear makeup, but not allowed to attract guys) make you think how fun and hilarious the world is and why has it taken you so long to realise? "Want me to watch my mouth, how? Take my eyeballs out and turn 'em around?".
There's also the incredible inter-rhyming that Eminem has since become renowned for, such as in the track "Kill You" where he raps "I don't even believe in breathin/I'm leavin air in your lungs just to hear you keep screamin for me to seep it". This is just one example taken from an album filled with it; Eminem on this sort of form is unstoppable.
It is almost impossible to pick highlights from this album because the album is just so brilliant from beginning to end. The singles would be the obvious choices with "The Real Slim Shady" describing that despite all these new imitators he's found since his fame, he's still the real one; or the more serious tracks "The Way I Am" and "Stan", the former an aggressive attempt at asking fans to leave him alone, media to accept who he is and society to accept he won't change for anyone, and the latter an almost heartbreaking story of a fan turned stalker who become besotted with Eminem - a must hear if you've somehow never heard this song.
If I am forced to pick a flaw for this album it would be the (few) interludes that are included. Although extremely humorous the first few times round, they can get quite annoying when you have listened to this album for a number of years like I have, but then the interludes probably served a purpose in setting the theme for each part of the album when I first heard it; it's difficult to tell.
Overall this is a 5/5 album and highly recommended to any rap fans and anyone who can appreciate humorous music (and can tolerate excessive expletives!).
The last album that was recorded by Tupac before his death (although released after his death) was under his new alias 'Makaveli'. The album's full title, "The Don Killuminati : The 7 Day Theory" is often missed out by fans who simply refer to the album as 'Makaveli' in a similar way to The Beatles' 'The Beatles' album is known as 'The White Album'.
Strangely panned by music critics such as Allmusic, 'Makaveli' presents some of Tupac's strongest work with the album taking the phrase 'all killer, no filler' to a whole new level.
The album starts off with a highly influential trilogy of songs which intermix with each other, the first one being "Intro/Bomb First". Starting the album with a mock news broadcast regarding Tupac's new album (and introducing his new alias), the interview states that BIG, Jay Z, Nas and 'several other New York rappers are understandably shaken up by this release'. As well as naming several rappers that are now ready to incur Tupac's wrath, he declares war on anybody who isn't ready to join his side. Bomb first features two members of his 'Outlawz' crew who hold their own well alongside rap's finest, but Tupac's aggressive no holds barred lyrics cannot be topped. I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of what Mr Shakur was planning.
The next song up is the legendary "Hail Mary". Radio One rap DJ Tim Westwood's favourite ever song, "Hail Mary" describes the troubles of despite feeling guilt for his actions, the revenge that he desires is great enough to lead him to sin. Impressive track with complex rhyming schemes which has resulted in many parodies in the years since, most notably one featuring Eminem, 50 Cent and Busta Rhymes.
The third of the opening trilogy is "Toss It Up" a dancy, upbeat sounding song featuring R&B duo K-Ci & JoJo, until you delve deaper into the lyrics and see an attack on former Death Row label mate "Dr.Dre". Aside from calling Dre a homosexual and threatening violence, the song does give numerous shout outs regarding his love for L.A. and women and despite being a Dr Dre fan, I love this song.
To pick out further album highlights is difficult, not because there aren't any but rather there are too many. You can pick the ode to Los Angeles "To Live and Die in L.A.", the immensely lyrical "Blasphemy", the 'me against the world' style "Against All Odds" and a number of the other tracks.
One of the other songs however leaves you in no doubt that it is a highlight as "Me & My Girlfriend" is one of the most influential songs to hit rap music, with Tupac talking about his love for his girl and all the things he'd love to do to her (he is actually referencing his gun). Although other music genres had frequently used metaphorical lyrics to appear they're talking about a girl, but secretly talking about something else (often drugs), in rap music it was relatively rare and to describe such love for a pistol was groundbreaking to say the least. Jay Z and Beyonce have since gone on to cover this song with new lyrics, although theirs is much watered down and solely about love. And who says rap has gone soft?
There are also more guest features from 'The Outlawz', who Tupac stated could feature on every verse of the album so long as he felt what they had written was better than his verse. The result is an album dominated by Tupac but peppered with pleasant guest features from the Outlaws (and Bad Azz).
Overall this is a brilliant album, one of the greatest albums by the greatest ever rapper. Any rap fan should own this album and feel pain when listening to Tupac rap, knowing his life would be cut short only weeks after recording this album.
1. Intro/Bomb First (My Second Reply)
2. Hail Mary
3. Toss It Up
4. To Live & Die in L.A.
6. Life of an Outlaw
7. Just Like Daddy
9. White Man'z Burden
10. Me and My Girlfriend
11. Hold Ya Head
12. Against All Odds
Global superstar Eminem had released three critically acclaimed solo albums and two high selling albums with group D12 by the time Encore was due to be released, leaving expectations for his next album at a ridiculous high.
After his first album was filled with drug references and cartoonish violence, his second album filled with drug references and attacking celebrities, his third album of drug references and personal/serious matters (court cases, problems growing up etc) the public was screaming out for Eminem to return to his first album persona "Slim Shady", whilst there was still a number of fans who preferred the more personal style of "The Eminem Show" - this is his attempt to balance it.
Starting off with two of the best tracks on the album "Evil Deeds" and "Never Enough", you are immediately thrown right back into Eminem & Dr Dre mode (Dr Dre produced both of these) with stomping beats and Eminem's ever changing flow. "Evil Deeds" shows Eminem's ability to mix up his flow throughout a song with the chorus and both first and second verses following a completely different rhyming structure. Further to this, Eminem mixes it up even more by throwing in long lines rapped fast next to short lines rapped slow to great effect, leaving you never really knowing what he's about to do - very impressive.
"Never Enough" sees Eminem team up with 50 Cent and Nate Dogg with the song bursting straight into the opening lines "There's not much you can do or say to phase me/ people think I'm a little bit crazy" and carry's on to explain his love for rapping and that he'll never get enough of giving back to his fans. 50 Cent always seems to step up his talents when Eminem is involved and this is no exception with his cocky/arrogant swagger being thrown all across this track making you feel invincible by just listening to it, Nate Dogg's chorus isn't bad either!
Further highlights on this album are found in tracks "Crazy In Love", D12 collaboration "One Shot, Two Shot" and "Encore" which features Dr Dre and 50 Cent. "Crazy in Love" is a fast paced track with the chorus sampled from Heart's "Crazy On You". A track that is always building up, Crazy In Love shows Eminem's mixed emotions towards his lover (Kim?) with explicit lyrics demonstrating true love/hate feelings whilst making you want to bop your head and rap along with him. Faced paced Eminem is second to none.
The album's D12 collaboration "One Shot, Two Shot" tells the story of D12 being caught up in a nightclub when somebody starts shooting a gun, resulting in the party stopping. As with anything with D12 involved there are hints of comedy and a very entertaining story with each member's verse advancing the story that little bit more and comes complete with a catchy Eminem chorus.
The album's final track "Encore" was one of the first tracks from the album to be leaked to the internet and was another major reason for the records incredible hype. Eminem, Dr Dre and 50 Cent interlocking verses over a beat that Dre is rumoured to have been saving for Detox (his much awaited next album). The slow paced dance beat is more one for a rowdy crowd to enjoy than a high class nightclub, but it's definitely one that you can enjoy for years.
The remainder of the album is much hit and misses and will depend entirely on your view of rap music. The singles "Just Lose It", a joke track aiming shots mostly at Michael Jackson; "Mosh", a dark political song that seems quite popular although I've never seen the attraction and "Like Toy Soldiers", a serious song talking about his problems that he's had with other rappers is impressive for a short while, but annoying and easily became overplayed, never show Eminem at his best but rather what he can do to generate interest. Not why I like him, but a talent nevertheless.
You still of course have the attempt of the album's "Slim Shady" type songs with tracks such as "Puke", "My First Single" and "Big Weenie" which I challenge anyone to listen to right after each other and remain interested. There's also "Ass Like That" which talks about how Eminem fantasises over different celebrities behinds, including the then under-age Olsen twins; nothing is quite out of Eminem's reach.
Unfortunately by releasing so many tracks on one album you feel that you're getting a lot of filler, which is quite a harsh assessment when you consider 1. The quality of music elsewhere on this album and 2. The quality of rap at the time of Encore's release (very few top quality albums). But when you look at what could have been of this album if he'd have removed a number of tracks (most notably "Puke" and "Big Weenie") you feel disappointed and slightly let down. On the flip side, there are a number of great tracks here that any rapper would be proud to have released, so its possible the harsh reviews of this album are a result of Eminem's expectations just getting too much and leaving him in the impossible position of trying to please everyone.
1. Curtains Up
2. Evil Deeds
3. Never Enough feat. 50 Cent and Nate Dogg
4. Yellow Brick Road
5. Like Toy Soldiers
8. My 1st Single
9. Paul (skit)
10. Rain Man
11. Big Weenie
12. Em Calls Paul (skit)
13. Just Lose It
14. Ass Like That
15. Spend Some Time feat. Obie Trice, Stat Quo & 50 Cent
17. Crazy In Love
18. One Shot 2 Shot feat. D-12
19. Final Thought (skit)
20. Encore (curtains) feat. Dr. Dre & 50 Cent
1. We As Americans
2. Love You More
3. Ricky Ticky Toc
Well bless my soul what's wrong with this? Very little is the answer
After noticing the great success of Beatles -1, the holders of Elvis' vast back catalogue decided to follow suit and release a collection of Mr Presley's number one hits. There's a mix of both US #1's and UK #1's, and of course some that hit top of the chart on both sides of the Atlantic.
As you would expect with a number ones collection it covers the most popular hits, starting off with Elvis's first release on RCA records "Heartbreak Hotel", a song that has grown in stature to the point where the hotel next to Elvis' home is called "Heartbreak Hotel". It is an early rock and roll song that hit number one in 1956 and was a regular feature in Elvis' live set throughout his career and was ranked by Rolling Stone as the second most important event in rock and roll history. Not bad for a debut single.
There's also the inclusion of one of his biggest ever selling singles 'Don't Be Cruel' which comes complete with catchy bass riff, irresistible bridge and sing-along chorus - it's a track that simply demands that you smile. If you think this upbeat number showcases Elvis' vocals wait until you reach tracks such as "All Shook Up" where he briefly goes acapella to declare the way this special girl makes his heart beat "scares him to death" or "Burning Love" in which he follows the catchy drum/piano/guitar intro with a scream of "Lord almighty, I feel my temperature risin!". These tracks are from an era where such vocal and lyrical explosions were unthinkable, so the shock value obviously helped their appeal, but when you listen to these songs over fifty years later, look for them on jukeboxes and request them from open mic singers you know for sure that they're just sheer quality. Dancing to songs like this is no pastime, its now-time. Listening to Elvis should be made compulsory such is the joy some of these songs can bring, the world would be a happier place for it. It is no wonder why people did, and still do call him the King; this is early (and middle and late!) rock and roll at its finest.
These tracks however barely even scrapes the surface of the Elvis Presley talent that is shown on this compilation, you still have the epic "Suspicious Minds", a slower more orchestral track that deals with being part of a mistrusting relationship; "Love Me Tender" a famous ballad which topped the US charts for five weeks and "It's Now or Never", the Italian themed love track which went on to sell over 25 million copies and in my opinion, is one of Elvis' greatest vocal performances on record. He really could do everything. Despite not writing his own songs he makes each track his own through his unrivalled delivery and according to legend, making each recording session his own by making slight changes to just about every aspect of the song. The Elvis songs may have been written by a team of talented writers (although sometimes credited to him for royalty purposes) but the Elvis sound is his and his alone.
So apart from the highlights of the upbeat rock and roll, the slow ballad love songs, what else is left? Plenty.
Due to Elvis' great versatility, you can remove these highlights and still have a collection of undoubted incredible tracks showcasing a great range of musical styles. The album still includes brilliant sing along tracks such as "Return To Sender", "Good Luck Charm", "(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear" and of course, "Jailhouse Rock"; but then you also have plenty more of the ballads showing the tender Elvis such as "In The Chapel" and "The Wonder of You". These songs are timeless and catapult you not back to the time they were recorded, but to a place were you can imagine the song being acted out in real life, they really are that powerful - that's why they've lasted.
Some hardcore fans will complain that it doesn't cover all of the best of Elvis Presley, but no single disc compilation could possibly do so. There's also the notable absence of, amongst others, "Blue Suede Shoes", one of Elvis' greatest known songs but excluded as it didn't reach number 1 (it made #20). However, RCA soon realised this drawback and released "2nd to None", a collection of his greatest songs that never made it to #1 (although there is some controversy over "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You" which reached number one but was only included on 2nd to None; and a vice versa story regarding "In The Ghetto).
Both CD's are available as a box set for around £10 (maybe even less) and it will be one of the best £10's you will have ever spent, Uhhuh.
1. "Heartbreak Hotel" - 2:10
2. "Don't Be Cruel" - 2:04
3. "Hound Dog" - 2:16
4. "Love Me Tender" - 2:45
5. "Too Much" - 2:33
6. "All Shook Up" - 2:00
7. "(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear" - 1:48
8. "Jailhouse Rock" - 2:37
9. "Don't" - 2:49
10. "Hard Headed Woman" - 1:56
11. "One Night" - 2:33
12. "(Now and Then There's) A Fool Such as I" - 2:40
13. "A Big Hunk o' Love" - 2:12
14. "Stuck on You" - 2:21
15. "It's Now or Never" - 3:15
16. "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" - 3:06
17. "Wooden Heart" - 1:58
18. "Surrender" - 1:51
19. "(Marie's the Name) His Latest Flame" - 2:10
20. "Can't Help Falling in Love" - 3:01
21. "Good Luck Charm" - 2:26
22. "She's Not You" - 2:08
23. "Return to Sender" - 2:09
24. "(You're The) Devil in Disguise" - 2:23
25. "Crying in the Chapel" - 2:23
26. "In the Ghetto" - 2:45
27. "Suspicious Minds" - 4:29
28. "The Wonder of You" - 2:35
29. "Burning Love" - 2:50
30. "Way Down" - 2:37
31. "A Little Less Conversation (JXL Radio Edit Remix)"
(I know there are 31. I guess at time of release they didn't realise track #31 would reach #1 in UK)
Following on from the successful (and hilarious) first season is Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 2 where you will find Larry David getting mixed up with more hilarious characters and even more cringe-full situations.
The main storylines of each season of 'Curb' are enjoyable in themselves but you will generally just find them being the reason for Larry to find himself in such awkward situations. Season two is a good example of this as Larry is trying to launch a new sitcom and finds himself in hilarious situations with actors, producers, television executives and anyone else unfortunate enough to encounter him on the way.
The show is brilliantly written in that the story lines interlink in the most bizarre but impressive ways to give the viewer the enjoyment of recurring jokes and themes.
I would not say that you will need to have seen season one before starting on this, although I would suggest it just purely for your own enjoyment.
Season highlights include the episode "Thor" (Larry's encounter with a professional wrestler), "The Shrimp Incident" (an awkward encounter with a television executive, only Larry David could write this), "The Baptism" (a great example of how the multiple storylines throughout an episode can interlink) and the season finale "The Massage" (how so many simple things can realistically go wrong for one man is incredible!).
The season also features a number of famous guest stars playing themselves such as Seinfeld's Jason Alexander and Julia Louis Dreyfus and also basketball star Shaquille O'Neal.
The final album released during Jim Morrison's lifetime, LA Woman is a return to top form from the Doors.
Released in 1971 (the year of Jim Morrison's death) the band decided that this album would be a back to basics album with a focus on 'blues-rock'. They found a new engineer in Bruce Botnick after a fallout with Paul Rothchild and got to work in the studio in late 1970.
As with many Doors albums, the tracks are a mix of songs by Robbie Krieger with Morrison lyrics added later and Morrison lyrics with Doors music added later, but both formulas blend well on this album, so much so its hard to tell which is which without reading biographies / professional reviews.
There are a number of tracks on the album that you will find on any Doors greatest hits album, such as 'Love Her Madly', a surprisingly upbeat song about how people can go insanely in-love as their loved ones leave them for someone else; the title track 'L.A. Woman', a seven minute track that builds up and down and up again with Mr Mojo Risin's (a anagram Morrison used in the song) mysterious lyrics possibly about a prostitute or possibly about L.A. itself - the best track on the album; and 'Riders of the Storm', one of the Doors most famous tracks released which uses real sound clips of a storm and whispered Morrison backing vocals to create a truly phenomenal feeling around the record.
Other tracks here are by no means second rate, with the album starting off with 'The Changeling', a very bluesy song brimming with Morrison's lyrics of being a rolling stone (not a reference to the band) and a low funky riff that screams out a bad boy image.
There's also the beautifully delicate 'Hyacinth House', allegedly influenced by Robbie Krieger's house which contained a large number of hyacinth plants. The lyrics seem to be coming from a man in a desperate place full of depression, paranoia and loneliness - hopefully not a reflection of how Mr Morrison spent his final days. The lyric "Why did you throw the jack of hearts away?/ it was the only card in the deck, that I had left to play/" is particularly striking.
There is also the progressively up-tempo inclusion of 'L'America' and the wonderful spoken word 'The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)' containing some of Morrison's greatest lyrics and matching music from the rest of the band.
There is the slight disappointment in the song 'Crawling King Snake', a song written by John Lee Hooker, a slow blues song that would probably set late night blues clubs alight, but just not me.
Overall it's a top quality album, but it is missing that little extra push to make it an all-time classic like their first album. I'd like to give the album 4.5 stars, but the album is closer to a 5 than a 4 so I've gone for 5. Enjoy
To be perfectly honest, I'd say this album is worth the £15 I paid a good few years back based on 'Dancing in the Dark' alone, but fortunately Bruce Springsteen had the foresight not to release an album with one-track on, so we're treated to a further eleven tracks as well.
Released in 1984, this album has gone on to sell over 15 million copies and won numerous awards but this still doesn't tell the full story to do the album justice.
The album opens with the powerful Vietnam protest song 'Born in the USA' which slams the way returning soldiers were treated by their country. The screaming chorus of 'Born, in the USA' makes the track originally sound like a pro-America song but a deeper look at the lyrics reveal anything but. A very impressive and popular song by Bruce and one that is certainly worthy of holding the album name as well.
The album continues with "Cover Me" and "Darlington County", the former a song asking for a lover to come and take his mind of all the bad in the world and the latter a catchy sing-a-long story about Bruce and a friend's adventure driving to Darlington County; both good songs.
One of the album's highlights 'Workin on the Highway' is next up and with its up-tempo rhythm and classically enjoyable Bruce Springsteen chorus it is not one to miss. The lyrics are about typically working class man who has been working all work and can't wait to get paid and enjoy the weekend but holds dreams of doing more with his life. It is one of the best songs on a great album.
Bruce does slip slightly with the dark 'Downbound Train' a song that has a depressing feel to it along with a depressing theme with the lyrics referring to a lost wife. Some people may enjoy such emotional ventures from Bruce but I felt it was out-of-place on such an album of high quality. Talking of which, the next track 'I'm On Fire' is a stunning track regarding sexual tension and temptations of an affair which manages to be up tempo and downbeat at the same time.
The album boasts further tracks of such quality such as the reminiscent 'Glory Days' (which leaves you simultaneously delighted and depressed about your school days), the ode to an old time friend who's leaving (lost love or friend leaving the band?) in 'Bobby Jean' and of course, the aforementioned 'Dancing in the Dark'.
Dancing in the Dark was the first single released from Born in the USA and went on to be voted single of the year despite never reaching number one. The song sees Bruce introduce synthesizer riffs for the first time and the result is one of the catchiest songs of the decade. Remarkably, Dancing in the Dark was recorded some two years after the rest of the album as although the record label approved of the album they felt it could do with a 'sure-fire single' before its release. Dancing in the Dark is the result and the lyrics reflect Bruce's frustrations at trying to complete a song out of nothing (two years after the album) and mixing it with that of love, possibly for commercial reasons. As I said earlier, this song is so good it could be worth the price of the album alone.
When you look at the album as a whole you see one of the best albums ever made. It has a bit of everything, often in the same song, and even the song I feel Springsteen 'slips slightly' in "Downbound Train" has gone on to be a favourite on classic rock stations and still getting airplay to this day. The songs that I haven't mentioned (No Surrender, I'm Going Down & My Hometown) may well be another person's favourite tracks on the album, and I would not argue against them. They are brilliant tracks in their own right but we each have our personal favourites. It is a brilliant album that I believe has a bit of something for everyone, and often a lot of everything for everyone.