I haven’t listened to his album. For one thing, I don’t believe I’d like it. Second, it costs money. Ridiculous. Apparently, in the year 2013, they seriously expect fifteen to twenty dollars for this album. I tried to walk out of the music store with CDs stuffed in my pockets, but they called security. Sometimes I swear this whole “compact disc” format is just a racket to make money.
However, I’ve listened to a few songs from it, and I have some suggestions as to how modern music could be made better.
1. It is not necessary to have a black guy standing around going “ayuh” or “yeah” every few seconds.
2. Please keep the number of “guest stars” to a small number. I’m tired of song titles like “In Da Club ft IBleedCrystal w/ MC NeverLearnedtoRead & DJ IrresponsibleLifestyle.” Adopt George Bezos’s 2-pizzas rule. Could the album’s guest support be fed with just two pizzas? Actually, forget that. Most of the people on this album probably practice bulimia, and thus any number of guest stars could be fed with two pizzas.
3. Putting a hashtag in a song title should be punished by being bastinado’d. It would be a simple: hashtags in your songs equals bruises on your feet. That would solve the problem.
4. Jumping on a flavour-of-the-moment fad will only date your music and make it seem ridiculous to future listeners, like reverb-saturated snares date songs as being from the 80s, and “we built this city…” dates songs as being from a period with terrible taste.
5. Leave your shitty bonus tracks and shitty remixes on the cutting room floor. Stop using them as an excuse to release the same album three times.
6. You might not like the music you made as a child, but it has earned you millions of dollars, which should help dry the tears. And statements like “this is my first real album” are unwise, especially when said album is crappier and more boring than your past ones.
7. If your list of “urban” producers and songwriters looks more like the membership rolls of the Eight Tray Gangster Crips, maybe it’s time to dial back a bit.
8. If all the discussion about you revolves around your shocking antics and your “mature image”, it’s time to quit music and become a porn star, because that’s what people are really paying to see.
Murray Kempton once said “A critic is someone who enters the battlefield after the war is over and shoots the wounded”, and I’ve always felt the same way. Being a professional critic, even one with a Pulitzer, sounds unsatisfying and wearisome. You’re not a creator. You’re a parasite, feeding off someone else’s work. Even if you help guide a reader to an amazing artist, it’s the artist they’ll remember, not you. This is one of the final books by a man who performed this unfulfilling duty for nearly fifty years.
Roger Ebert was the best film critic of his time, and maybe one of the best writers, too. He was an optimiser, with an uncanny ability to fit twenty words’ meaning into ten words’ space. He was also a master of the dead-on metaphor. “…like an alarm that goes off while nobody is in the room. It does its job and stops, and nobody cares.” Or “…like taking a bus trip with someone who has needed a bath for a long time“.
It would be too to write this just by copying and pasting quotes from his reviews. Ebert was much more than just a critic, although he was very good at that. Most of the time, anyway. It’s true that in his final years he started playing softball with his ratings – I got the feeling that he loved movies so much that he didn’t have the heart to criticise them by the end. But those years are not found in this book, which collects all his vitriol from 2000 to 2006 or so.
The title comes from a famous incident in 2005, when he slammed a Rob Schneider movie and provoked an embarrassing reaction from said director. There’s two other another confrontations with irate directors mentioned in the beginning, then it’s on to the reviews. Ebert watched about 500 movies a year, and was indiscriminate in his taste. There’s underground art films, and Hollywood blockbusters, and even childrens’ movies.
The book’s worth reading as a sample of Ebert’s writing, but it’s also an interesting exhibit of the art of criticism. Ebert was perfectly happy to watch a movie he didn’t understand, or one that wasn’t aimed at him. He’d simply describe his reaction, and let that suffice as a review of the movie. As he himself said, “Even when a critic dislikes a movie, if it’s a good review, it has enough information so you can figure out whether you’d like it, anyway.” Although at one point (the review of the first Scooby-Doo movie) he just throws up his hands and tells you to go read someone else’s review.
Ebert was a powerful writer and a clever man, but I wonder whether he regretted any of this. He tried his hand at making movies in the early days. What if he’d stuck at it? He has a good understanding of filmmaking and storytelling, but whether that translates to actual cinematic success is anyone’s guess. Many of these reviews are better than the movies that inspired them, but they probably won’t be remembered as long – if at all. As I said, it must be frustrating being a critic. You’re like a eunuch guarding the sultan’s harem – you know all about it…and you can’t do it.
Aqua were a one hit wonder, and this is the album they released after the all-important “one hit” DMZ line.
Diagnosis: the band tries too hard. They throw everything at you, including the kitchen sink, the pipes behind their house, and parts of the Norwegian public water distribution system. The album fails to supply any songs as good as “Barbie Girl” and “Dr Jones”, and is quite dull most of time. The arrangements are overstuffed and undernourished, with too many ideas, and not enough really catchy hooks. Aquarius accomplishes the odd feat of being simultaneously boring and overwhelming.
“Cartoon Heroes” and “Goodbye to the Circus” are symphonic, but not in a way that improves the music. The orchestral sections are unnecessary, existing only for their own sake. “Around the World” is barely enough to keep you awake. “Cuba Libre” is an uninteresting latin pop song. Ricky Martin was big at the time, and the band rips him off with all enthusiasm of a foreman ticking a task off a list.
The best songs are “Bumble Bees” and “Freaky Friday”, which may have passed as crappier tracks on Aquarium. The outrageous sexual innuendo is still there and maybe even exaggerated a bit, while other lyrics have a kind of downbeat fatalism. “Welcome to the cliches, welcome to the part…We are what we are, what’s built up will fall, do what you want and be happy.” Slow down, you party animals. Male vocalist René Dif sounds muted and depressed. I guess discovering that your girlfriend is getting deep-dicked by your bandmate doesn’t do wonders for your self esteem.
There’s not much on this album worth listening to. What a disappointment. I was a big fan of Aquarium, it was well-realised and executed, didn’t take itself seriously, and had lots of great songs. There’s no great songs here, just one or two that that maybe pass muster. Some songs sound utterly terrible, like “Halloween”, with its painfully acted skits and annoying chorus. Mostly, though, Aquarius exists at the level of boring. Just listen to “We Belong to the Sea.” My brain just shuts itself off after a few bars. It’s like a fuse blowing.
If you want stupid late 90s pop music, go with Aquarium, go with Vengaboys, go with The Spice Girls, maybe even try Lene Nystrom’s solo album Play with Me. Even Aqua’s godawful comeback album sounds better than this. What we’re witnessing here is a band killing their career. They try, and try, and try, and it’s all for nothing.
Aquarius is desperate, and slightly disturbing. Aqua always did sound a little creepy, like music made by a robot. This album is where the robot realises it doesn’t have a soul and starts crying.
The eighth Redwall book is the critical moment where the series faults – which are many, and present from the beginning – finally pull it down. Jacques provides us with some exciting fight scenes and an exotic setting by way of apology, but the story is a mess. The villain’s motives make no sense, a huge number of pages are inconsequential to the story, and the heroes get helped by author’s convenience so often that they seem to have Brian Jacques on pager.
The setup is good. Several valuable “Pearls of Lutra” are brought to the Abbey and hidden by a mutinous vermin, who then dies, leaving their location unknown. The vermin’s friends come looking for the Pearls, and when they can’t find them they abduct the Abbott of Redwall and hold him to ransom. Mattimeo’s son and a group of friends give chase to the retreating vermin, and their search for the Abbott takes them to the tropical island of Sampetra – controlled by the tyrannical pine marten Ublaz, who needs the pearls to accomplish…what?
If there’s any significance to the Pearls, it’s not explained. They’re not magical pearls. There’s quite a big deal made about the mice of Redwall looking for the Pearls (cue 10+ tedious chapters of mice deciphering clues), but exactly what this will accomplish is similarly not explained. They have no boat, and no way of getting the Pearls to Ublaz. The Pearls are a MacGuffin but they feel curiously out of place in this book. The kidnapped Abbott is what propels the story forward, never mind a pointless search for buried treasure.
The Sampetra scenes are fun, with the warring and realpolitiking between Ublaz’s warriors being more interesting than the main story. Jacques writes the most interesting villains in the world, while his heroes are boring.
The fights are, as usual, well done, but the heroes have it too easy. A dreadful thing called “plot immunity” is in play here, with Jacques not wanting to kill or hurt any of his named characters, so he has them fight stupid, ill-prepared, unsuspecting dolts. Where’s the tension? Is one of the main characters even going to break a nail in this quest? A boy scout troup could have rescued the Abbott.
The characters make nonsensical decisions, get jerked this way and that by careless yanks of the plot, and the result is a story that doesn’t make sense. There’s no point in the mice collecting the pearls, I have no idea why Ublaz even wants the pearls, and plan to rescue the Abbott only works by writers’ fiat: Jacques stacks the deck so that they can save the day by lucky and unlikely fluke.
The Redwall books that came after this resemble the gag in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where the king keeps building a castle and it keeps collapsing into a swamp. Jacques never recovered his old power until the day he died, and his most famous series decayed into something almost unreadable. To be honest, even the early Redwall books aren’t that good. They’re best read when you’re a child – so that you don’t notice all the parts held together with Sellotape.
Peter Sotos’s early zines have pictures of ejaculating penises juxtaposed with pictures of missing children. Pure #1 and #2 were shocking, but also educational: front of house seats to a society where Rota Fortunae crushes even the smallest, the most innocent, and the least deserving. Rota Fortunae soon crushed Sotos, too – in 1986 he was charged and convicted on possession of child pornography. This book is part fiction, and part descriptions of his arrest.
Pure was disturbing, and parts of it had a hero-worshipping quality that I didn’t especially care for (“The tape recording of the torture is remarkable. Although much is inaudible, and it is certain that much more took place than what is on the tape, it is still a great joy to hear – Brady’s mastery is clearly in evidence.”), but what happened to Sotos doesn’t feel right.
What he does is not morally different to what a news channel does. He exploits human misery, and so does ABC. He just happens to be direct, rather than mincing and prevaricating and pretending to be above it all. Tool describes a telling event. “The front cover of Pure #2 was an extreme close-up of a child’s hairless cunt being spread open by an adult. The night of my arrest, the three main networks in Chicago used me as their lead story, and they all showed close-ups of the cover.”
The first story is written in the second person, and consists of a psycho’s one-sided talk with (apparently) a kidnapped child. Cruel games and Faustian bargains ensue. There’s nothing but dialog in this story, and we’re left to imagine what’s happening to the child in between the kidnapper’s words.
The second story takes us on a exploration of inner-city prostitution, except it’s from the view of a laughing and jeering punter instead of a well-meant liberal documentarian. I like how Sotos writes from the perspective of the bad guy. Normally people writing from “the other side” do so mawkishly, as if they’re trying to make us aware that they’re not really like this in real life. Sotos relishes the role. “Eight” is framed as a sympathy letter to a mother who has lost a daughter, but midway through it changes into something unwholesome and disturbing.
In “Five”, Sotos takes it upon himself to educate us about kiddie porn. Porn featuring young babies, apparently, is not very interesting. The real kicks come from kids who are old enough to have some awareness of what’s happening. In the 80s, the media branded Sotos a pedophile. I’m wondering that he might be something worse than a pedophile. All a pedophile wants is to have fun. But what kind of neurosis would drive a purportedly normal man in his 20s to collect kiddie porn instead of postage stamps?
Superficially, I can understand the appeal of this kind of atrocity tourism. Innocence traduced makes for quite a spectacle, and Tool collects a lot of it. But I’m not convinced that’s the real reason. Sotos has published dozens of books in a career spanning thirty years, and for him it seems not a hobby but an obsession. Anyone will stop for a few seconds to rubberneck a car crash, but Sotos looks far longer and harder than most people…and inevitably, he ended up in a crash himself.
He starts out as a baby. He gets snatched by a professional beggar who uses him as a prop to gain sympathy from tourists. Then he gets adopted by a pedophile priest who rapes him. And so on, and so forth. This book doesn’t really do subtlety.
Thief is written at the level of a 12 year old with a fanfiction.net account. Ben Jonjak takes apart the fourth wall with a wrecking ball, interrupting his story literally every few pages to rant about Americans and white people and Christians and whatever. Thief reads as a long series of heavy-handed stage directions, with the author telling us what to think and feel rather than allowing those feelings to naturally arise in response to the text .
Nobody edited this book. He may as well have written it in a country where red pens are illegal. Points of interest include how the main character’s name suddenly changes from “Junior” to “Patch” with no explanation, punctuation both missing and superfluous, countless orphan clauses (appropriate, I guess), and lapses into outright subliteracy. (“Take it! Seize it! Warship every day as a Devine blessing to mold yourself into a keen, perfect thing.” Calm down, Tony Robbins.) Train yourself to ignore the book’s problems, as there are more than a few of them.
If this book sounds like a giant box of cat crap, well, it should be, but it’s not. I would put the book down and then, a few minutes later, return to it. It’s awkward and poorly written, but it’s strangely interesting and even compelling.
For one thing, the author lives in Peru, and the book sounds very convincing (I don’t say realistic, I say convincing). Even the self-indulgent parts – by way of a foreword, he spends a few pages complaining about how someone stole his wallet – add to the lived-in quality.
For another, the story is fairly strong, particularly in the final section the thief finally starts getting proactive about changing his situation. Unfortunately, he doesn’t do anything in a positive sense, but it’s nice to see him fighting back, and surprising to find that I cared.
Thief is as obscure as small press books can get without being published in an enclosed bomb shelter, and the author seems to have taken it upon himself to review his book under fake names on Amazon. Whether this is deserved is not for me to judge, but Thief treated me reasonably well. Small press books can be shit, but they can also be interesting, and this book combines a bit of both.
Angel Gunfighter was serialised in 1948, and is interesting because it shows the influence Western animation had on anime’s early years. The characters’ limbs have a boneless “rubber hose” quality similar to Mickey Mouse and Felix the Cat, and various other things seem redolent of the 1930s golden age, too.
This manga is Western in a couple of senses. For one, it is set in our romanticised version of the Wild West, complete with bars with batwing doors and random barrels that exist to get shot and leak liquid out of perfect bullet holes. For another, it’s Western in its storytelling aesthetic, too: plucky underdog trying to get the girl, and all that. I sort of wish Tezuka had done a more Japanese take on this kind of story. American art is well known for borrowing ideas from Japan (The Hidden Fortress becoming Star Wars, to use a famous example), and I suppose the reverse is true over there.
There’s a brief dramatis personae where we learn about the characters (Ham Egg, the rogue cop trying to take over the town – Monster, the half-Indian sharpshooter who is trying to stop said rogue cop from taking over the town, etc). Angel Gunfighter is a one volume manga, so there’s no question of the characterisation being presented organically in the story. There’s a couple of supporting characters who don’t have much to do. One suspects Osamu Tezuka was just importing Western tropes without considering whether the story had a use for them.
Occasionally Tezuka’s formidable imagination takes flight in spite of itself (I liked the farmer who has trained his pigs to be soldiers). These scenes of inspiration are fairly rare, and the comic spends much of its time reciting Western cliches like some sort of catechism. There’s whooping Indians on horses descending on hapless caravans, and a dame who gets tied to train tracks, and a couple of gunfights that end with someone dangling off a cliff.
Monster is a particular problem. He’s perfect, anodyne, and Mary-Sueish – therefore, boring. I like Ham Egg. He’s such a violent bully that interesting things happen by simple dint of him getting page time.
The comic is fun and action-packed, and full of nice visual gags. But it doesn’t stick with you. The scenario is hopelessly familiar, the art is derivative of Walt Disney, and the storytelling is workmanlike. I assume Tezuka was cranking this stuff out at his usual twenty pages a day to meet a deadline. It’s entertaining, especially if you’re a kid, but it’s the kind of comic you can be distracted from by a passing fly.
Good album, shit tracklisting. They open with an obvious Manowar crusher, follow it with six ballads/operas/studio experiments, and then run three fast metal songs back to back to back to back, giving you no space to breathe.
If you want to get the most out of Warriors of the World, perform the following surgery. 1) include the two songs from the Dawn of Battle EP. They’re great songs, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be on the album. 2) Delete “The March”, “Valhalla”. While we’re in the neighbourhood, delete “An American Trilogy” and then reformat your hard drive just to destroy all traces of it – worthless song. 3) Redistribute the three speed metal songs at the end so that there’s more variety in the pacing. You’ll be left with something a bit like this.
1. Call to Arms
2. The Dawn of Battle
3. Warriors of the World United
4. Swords in the Wind
5. Hand of Doom
6. I Believe
7. The Fight for Freedom
8. House of Death
9. Fight Until We Die
10. Nessum Dorma
It’s a shame when fans have to do the musicians’ work, but the album’s current tracklisting makes no sense and creates an odd listening experience. Which is frustrating, because Warriors is a good album.
Some songs, in fact, reach beyond good and enter the state of excellent. “Call to Arms” takes me into a state of ecstasy every time I hear it. “Warriors of the World United” is another slow one with a powerful chorus, reminiscent of RJD-era Black Sabbath. “I Believe” is Manowar in full cheese mode, while “The Fight for Freedom” and “Swords in the Wind” are epic ballads. “Nessum Dorma” is an Puccini opera aria, which Eric obviously nails. The band likes performing this song in Italian when playing in Italy, as part of their multilingual obsession that has culminated in feats such as recording a single song in sixteen different languages.
“House of Death” is the kind of full-throttle mayhem the band does so well, while “Hand of Doom” sugars things up with some dramatic pad sounds and wild sweep-picked arpeggios courtesy of Karl Logan. “Fight Until We Die” is another fast one, full of menace and aggression. But the greatest speed metal song on offer is definitely “The Dawn of Battle”, which is so cool I can barely put it in words. My soul has been healed, by the power of steel!
The loyalty of Manowar fans despite everything the band has done wrong is part inspiring and part horrifying, and draws comparisons to battered wives and abused dogs. IThere’s a sucker born every minute, and no doubt a sucker listening to a Manowar album every minute, too. I continue to love Manowar and their music, even though I think Joey DeMaio is an abusive lunatic and the rest of the band are enablers and catspaws. The tracklisting on this album is ghastly, and some of the songs rank among the worst things Manowar has yet conceived. But there’s a still a good fixer-upper of an album here, and if you want to put in some extra work, it could actually be described as great.
Neil Tennant from the Pet Shop Boys speaks about an “Imperial phase”, or the period where a band is at its zenith. Exactly when this period occurs is anyone’s guess. But the important thing is that you can only recognise it when it’s over.
While he lived, Edgar Allan Poe wrote (on a writing desk and otherwise) to temperate critical reception and little money. But few men have left a greater a shadow behind them – or a darker one. Poe doesn’t inspire, he haunts. Tales of Mystery and Imagination is his most famous collection, and was my first exposure to his work. I don’t have my father’s early 20th century edition any more, but from memory it was different to some modern editions – it started with “MS Found in a Bottle”, included “The Black Cat”, and omitted a few stories like “Conversation with a Mummy.”
No matter the exact lineup of stories, this collection focuses on the macabre and grotesque side of Poe, and it’s not representative of the totality of his work. Poe was never known for respecting boundaries, and his bibliography is full of digressions into satire and adventure and cryptography and fashionable sciences of the day, such as phrenology. The only nod to this in Tales of Mystery and Imagination is the inclusion of his detective stories. “Murders in the Rouge Morgue” and “The Mystery of Marie Roget” are influential stories featuring one Auguste Dupin, a crime-solving legerdemain who would inspire characters such as Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, and Tar? Hirai’s Kogoro Akechi.
“The Black Cat”, and “A Cask of Amontillado” are frightening in a precise, analytic way – perfectly lucid people doing perfectly deranged acts. “Berenice” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” are ambiguous and even more frightening – delirious slipstreams of events remembered by the mad, half told and half rambled. I like the way “The Pit and the Pendulum”‘s hero finds a way to fight his fate – Poe’s characters are often not sane, but they’re never craven or pathetic.
“The Fall of the House of Usher” and “Masque of the Red Death” have an aura of rotted, decaying glory, as well as Poe’s usual grotesque themes. “William Wilson” is a doppelganger story told by a narrator so close to the line between sanity and insanity that even he cannot be sure of which side he’s on. They’re all good, but the story that stayed with me the longest was “Facts in the Case of M Valdemar”, about a nightmarish experiment where a dying man is placed under hypnosis. I had asked him, it will be remembered, if he still slept. He now said: “Yes; — no; — I have been sleeping — and now — now — I am dead.”
Credit must be given to Harry Clarke’s art, which takes Poe’s descriptions and gives them horrid life. He draws corpses and living people and there is little difference between them – everyone looks ectomorphic and wasted and distressingly thin. His obsessive detail captures the neurotic aspect of Poe’s stories, but his art has a nostalgic quality, too. Nobody will ever illustrate Poe’s stories as well as as Harry Clarke, and nobody should try.
This collection reveals one facet of Poe’s writing, and it’s only a shame that so much had to be left out. Please get Tales of Mystery and Imagination – but please leave space on the shelf beside it.
It has random-ass stock cover art that has nothing to with any of the stories (an almost obligatory feature of small press books), stories that don’t really make sense with each other, and a blurb on the back promising three “short novels”. Mangled Meat‘s first “novel” is 21 pages long, the second “novel” 31 pages long, and the third “novel” is 51 pages long, so yes, these are short novels. Maybe Deadite Press will publish the dot that I used to finish my last sentence and call it a “short vignette.”
“The Decortication Technician” stands out like a cockroach on a wedding cake. It has no gore or sex, but it manages to evoke a Ray Bradbury sense of wonder. In the far future, a man must dissect an alien that is like nothing he’s seen before. The writing is sometimes clunky and graceless, but it manages to create a believable futuristic world in 20 pages, and I enjoyed the big reveal at the end. To spoil it a bit, it’s like the ending of Anthony Boucher’s “The Quest for Saint Aquin” reversed. This story is good stuff.
“The Cyesolagniac” is about a guy who fancies pregnant women, and how his fetish lands him in hot water (figuratively and literally, unfortunately). Disgusting in places, and has a cute ending. I didn’t like how Lee tries to make a boring and run-of-the-mill fetish sound like the most taboo thing in the world. “Heyton sat in the chair with his pants down. A glance across the squalid room revealed his pitiful reflection in the mirror: a ludicrous caricature. The magazine shook in his hands. If my dear dead parents could see me now…” You’d think the guy liked fiddling kids or something.
“Room 415″ is about a well-meaning beta male who has been cheated on, and now finds himself unable to get an erection unless he sees women being hurt. He falls in with a crooked pimp and a retinue of high-priced escorts, with nasty results. There’s some fun gore porn at the end, but I found the story to be a long car ride for a short day at the beach: long and slow, and the payoff at the end isn’t worth it. There’s lots of overly-detailed description of luscious tits and asses spilling out of translucent lingerie, etc – I get the sense that Lee was typing the story one-handed. Apparently this is the “nice” version of the story, and there’s an alternate version somewhere with a far darker and more misanthropic end.
Mangled Meat is an interesting collection. It doesn’t take more than twenty minutes to read, so it could be worthwhile if you find it cheap somewhere. The first story is the best and the last story is the worst, but they’re all at least somewhat readable. It’s not really what it was advertised as, but I could see myself reading more of Edward Lee’s short s…er, novels.