March 10th 2010
The following was written on 1st March, when I was still (as the first line will tell you) internetless:
I write this offline in my new house, awaiting the good people from Virgin to switch on our internet again. I have unreasonably high hopes that Richard Branson himself will arrive on my doorstep, cable in one hand and a cheery wave in the other.
Lately I have been thinking about music, and specifically about those artists who specialise in albums, as opposed to those artists who specialise in singles. To wit, there are those artists who put their energies into albums, which are then their career landmarks, and are either better known or better appreciated than their singles (or individual tracks that may not have been released as singles). The obvious example is Led Zeppelin, who – I believe – never actually released any singles., but a better example might be Pink Floyd. Give or take Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2), their landmarks are The Dark Side of the Moon, The Wall, Animals and so on. These are albums that have been put together with purpose as a defining piece in and of themselves, rather than a simply a collection of good songs. For an album to be truly great, I would argue, it has to be that way, otherwise it might as well be a greatest hits album – it's why Magical Mystery Tour, despite including Penny Lane, I am the Walrus, Strawberry Fields Forever, All You Need is Love, Hello Goodbye, Your Mother Should Know etc, is not the best Beatles album. More on them later.
Other album artists would include Coldplay, Radiohead, the Killers, Nick Drake, Muse, and – increasingly - U2 and Oasis. While several of these artists have had very successful songs, you're still more likely to talk in terms of A Rush of Blood to the Head, OK Computer and Five Leaves Left than you are The Scientist, Karma Police or River Man.
Compare that with artists like Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard or Johnny Cash. While most people could name a few songs by Elvis, and one or two by Cliff and Cash, the majority couldn't name an album by any of them – and this is a theme common to more or less all the artists of the 50s and early 60s. This doesn't make them worse artists, but it does suggest that their albums don't have the same depth or individuality. One great band who must be included in this group are Queen, with songs such as Bohemian Rhapsody, Killer Queen, Another One Bites the Dust... but comparatively unremarkable albums. Hotel California aside, Eagles are similar.
Other singles artists are poor artists, and the majority of manufactured pop is (or, perhaps, was) based around the single – Girls Aloud, Westlife, S Club 7 etc would tend to release two or three singles, then put out an album consisting of no more than said singles and plenty of filler.
This, I think, is key – a great album can have no filler; every track must be there for a reason, both because it is a good track and also, hopefully, because it plays its part in the album as a whole. Revolutionaries in almost every area of popular music, it should come as no surprise that the Beatles were probably the first to release such an album, in Rubber Soul – and if you don't believe me, ask Brian Wilson. While the Beatles had released brilliant albums already – Please Please Me and Help! stand out – this was the first that had that extra special something that made it more than a collection of songs. It's difficult to put your finger on it, but it's definitely there – the bar had been raised, and it led Brian Wilson to mastermind the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, a sea change for what had been up till then very much a singles band.
While the Beatles continued to release great albums – Revolver, the White Album, Sgt. Pepper and, of course, Abbey Road – they didn't stop releasing momentous singles, such as Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever, Hey Jude, Revolution, Let it Be, Something, Lady Madonna, etc. etc. This makes them one of the select artists who are both singles artists and album artists – having scratched my head for a while, the only other artists I can think of who fit into this category are Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan and David Bowie. Maybe Elton John or the Rolling Stones at a push.
In other news, I've been really getting into How I Met Your Mother recently – the last thing I need is more boxed sets to get into, but there you go – and am watching it in peculiar order on E4, as well as series 1 in good old fashioned chronological order. So, in one episode two characters are flirting with each other, in the next they're discussing how they used to date, and in the next they're a couple. The last time I went through a sitcom in this way was probably Friends, first watching series 4 then watching series 3 and 5 together, before hitting series 1 and 2 haphazardly. Anyways, the basic premise of HIMYM is that Ted is telling his kids in 2030 about how he met their mother, in events that are played out in 2005 onwards. The hook is that we, the viewer, don't know which character is going to turn out to be the mother – though, of the two recurring females, Robin is ruled out in episode 1 and Lily is engaged to someone else from the start, and the premise is kinda pushed to one side after a few episodes. While it's not in the same league as Friends or Scrubs in their earlier series, I still recommend it as one of the funnier sitcoms around these days.
Speaking of the idiot box, I've just seen an advert for a Microsoft feature called 'private browsing' – you can use the internet without anyone being able to track which sites you've visited. The advert shows a guy buying an anniversary gift for his better half – the idea is that he's keen she doesn't know what he's bought her – but, let's be honest here, please; that's not the kind of website that men will be trying to hide from their wives...
March 13th 2010
Wassup. You'll have noticed that Alice in Wonderland is in cinemas, and since I haven't yet seen it I have little of interest to say. But (sorry for starting a sentence with the word 'but', by the way) Simon has, so check out his review of it, especially if you've read the source material.
The reason I mention the film, other than to remind myself that I want to see it next week, is that I have been thinking recently about Humpty Dumpty and his part in this little discourse:
'There's glory for you!'
'I don't know what you mean by "glory,"' Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. 'Of course you don't -- till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"'
'But "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument,"' Alice objected.
'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'
Whether intended as such or not - and I rather feel it must have been - this is a delicious satire on those people who insist on using words incorrectly and protesting that it's fine, because everyone else does. When people use 'regular' when they mean 'frequent', or use 'data' as a mass noun, or say 'less' instead of 'fewer' their excuse is that 'language evolves'. Maybe it does, and maybe I'm fighting a losing battle, but it doesn't evolve at the speed of light, and there's still such a thing as a correct meaning. 'Glory' doesn't mean 'a nice knock-down argument', and 'infer' doesn't mean 'insinuate'. Get with the programme.
I'm currently reading (as well as the Wheel of Time), Virginia Woolf's 'Orlando'. It's the result of a deal with Simon, whereby he reads the first tome of the Wheel of Time, but I have to confess that it's not as difficult going as I'd thought it would be. There have been some books I've read that are extraordinarily difficult to get through - On the Road, at least for the last third, and - above all - Frankenstein - but Orlando isn't one of them. Not yet, at least. I would certainly never choose to read it for pleasure, but it balances its pretension with some humour, and few enough discourses on the nature of poetry. One thought that keeps coming back to me, though, is why anyone would ever choose to read Woolf when they could read Wodehouse.
I confess that the two writers aren't particularly connected (and there's nothing stopping anyone from reading both), so it is an odd thought to have, but for some reason it recurs. Indeed, it was reinforced by a mention in Private Eye this week - apparently, when staying at Balmoral in 2006, Tony Blair received an angry and expletive-filled phone call from Gordon Brown... later in his visit, he found Wodehouse's 'Blandings Castle and Elsewhere' on his bedside table, including the line: "it is never difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine."
As well as rasing Her Maj in my estimation, isn't this line just delightful? I find that reading a lot of Wodehouse at a time can be something of an overload, but it's lines like that which elevate him to the funniest writer I've ever come across.
Before I leave you, I should direct you to the latest set of photos I have on Facebook, taken last weekend when Ant was here (but before Rich arrived). From the people who brought you 'visiting every building on campus', 'hitching to Scotland', 'Frank Whittle stuff' and 'going round the 67s of Coventry', I present: The Great Animal Hunt.
March 21st 2010
The Great Animal Hunt seems to have gone down very well with the good folk of Facebook - never before has a collection of my photos been described as 'genius' thrice in such a short period of time. Anyhow, if that's not recommendation enough for you, then what can I say?
In other news, NHS direct is useless. Just thought you should know. I've used it a few times, and it always, without fail, has told me to consult my GP - without suggesting what the problem might actually be. That kinda defeats the point, does it not? If I wanted to see my doctor, I'd join the local golf club (I'm not sure if that's even slightly funny) or, at the very least, make an appointment rather than going to NHS direct. What I really want to know is what might be wrong with me, and how I can stop it being wrong with me.
Of course, NHS direct is better than searching for symptoms on Google. That scares you, because, according to Google, pretty much anything leads to a quick and painful death. Shortness of breath? "You may be having a HEART ATTACK". Er... but I've just gone for a run... could that have something to do with it? "No, sorry. HEART ATTACK. But don't worry, the State does cheap funerals". Worrrisome.
You'll all be pleased to know that Matt and I have pretty much finished getting our house ship-shape and Bristol fashion. Pictures went up on the walls on Saturday, so we're more or less there - I'm just going to whack up a few more, and the landlord's going to sort out the problem with water dripping onto Matt's bed. Ah, yes - that materialised this weekend, to somewhat rain on his parade. But we have every confidence that all will be well.
Speaking of shortness of breath (I need to work on my paragraph order, don't I?) I went jogging again tonight - third time since I moved house. Slowly but surely I'll return to the state of relatively-thinnish; a state I existed in for several years without really caring. Is that square one I can see on the horizon? Aim high, Colin. Aim high.
March 25th 2010
I am wary, as you might suspect, of criticising people who've just lost their daughter (unless they've murdered her, in which case they probably deserve a smidgen of criticism, at the very least). However, the mother of a teenager who's died after taking 'meow meow' (mephedrone) claimed that "she never took drugs, she never smoked and she didn't even drink. I know it for a fact." I think the mother of another teenager who died from taking mephedrone recently said something similar, and equally untrue. There are people who take drugs, and there are people who don't, and if you die from taking drugs, you're in the first group.
This isn't a holier-than-thou kind of thing, but I'm tired of reading newspaper reports suggesting that all teenagers take drugs, that it's unavoidable. I've never taken drugs, nor have I ever considered doing so for a moment, and I believe that I am far from alone among my friends and acquaintances - the very idea of taking drugs is, to me, preposterous. It's not just because it's illegal - though that's enough, really - it's also because it's rather stupid, given the mountains of evidence of, y'know, death and stuff. I don't need - or want - to imbalance myself chemically (cf not getting drunk), and it's quite possible to live this way. 24 years and counting. I repeat myself from an earlier post about drunkenness, but if you need to change who you are in order to enjoy yourself, something's gone wrong.
What specifically gets my goat at the moment is the suggestion that making mephodrone illegal is foolish and wrong, because it will force users to get it illegally at a higher price and with greater risk of contamination. Yes, well, if we decriminalised theft then it would stop people having to break windows at the dead of night. If we decriminalised murder, it would stop people having to throw guns in lakes. If we decriminalised rape, it would stop people hiding in bushes. Just because everyone does something, it doesn't make it right and it doesn't mean the powers that be shouldn't do their upmost to stop it.
And the same thing goes for apostrophe misuse.
March 28th 2010
When I was a kid, I assumed that I would grow up to be rich and famous. It wasn't particularly of goal of mine, but I was smarter than other kids, and hadn't learnt any real lessons of modesty, so I figured that it made sense that I would become R & F. As it transpires, I am nowhere near intelligent enough to become famous for my intelligence (shocker, I know), nor is it likely that my chosen career path will launch me into the limelight. I'm going to be an actuary, and even I can't work up much interest in the profession.
However. There are two recent events that I feel I should share with you, since they indicate that my time has come. Firstly - and I'm not entirely sure I'm allowed to show you this, but it's hard to imagine that anyone would really care - my picture is now on AXA's database for use on posters, literature etc. Only internally, I think, and it hasn't actually been used yet, but it's a start - see me below:
For some reason they decided to make the centre of the picture small and outsides big, hence my ridiculously large arm - unless, of course, this is a project twinning AXA with Popeye. You may laugh, but Richard Branson's already done it - that's how they came up with Virgin Olive Oyl (you may still laugh, if you choose).
Anyways, my second big break is even more exciting, as I have recently been in correspondence with Caitlin Moran, of the Times. Yes, sir. Yesterday she wrote an article about meeting Gordon Brown, and I emailed her as follows (note the carefully worked tone of 'I'm being pedantic, but I'm jokey enough that you know I'm an all right guy, yeah?'):
Great article in today's Times, as ever. The Gordon Brown one (since you have so many these days).
I can't be the only one, though, who was shocked at your reference to "the Iranian terrorists shoot Doc from in Back to the Future" - surely Michael J. Fox's wonderfully screamed "Libyans!" should linger in the memory of anyone who's watched the film. I think you owe Mahmous Ahmadinejad an apology.
Despite my email contatining both a spelling and a grammatical error, Caitlin responded today with the concise, and rather more sweary than you'd expect from a Times columnist, response:
SCREAM of course oh I'm a ******* idiot. ********
So, there you have it. I (may) appear on posters, and I hobnob with people who hobnob with celebrities. Eight year old me can look on with approbation, rather than confused and fearful disappointment. Rumour has it I may even be the next James Bond.
|what was I listening to?
Best of Bowie - David Bowie
|what was I reading?
Crossroads of Twilight - Robert Jordan
|what was I watching?
In the Loop