Reading - February 2014

Be My Enemy by Christopher Brookmyre (2004)
Dark but entertaining.
The Week (1 February 2014 / Issue 956)
Guitarist (March 2014 / Issue 378)
Going Deaf For A Living by Steve Lamacq (2000)
Amiable amble through Steve's music-related life so far. He has a few trenchant observations on the inanities and idiocies of the music business. He has a few interesting stories of encounters with bands on the indie-er end of the spectrum. He has an enteraining chapter on the infamous Gallagher brothers interview on Radio 1. A bit ho-hum overall though.
The Week (8 February 2014 / Issue 957)
The Week (15 February 2014 / Issue 958)
Things Can Only Get Better by John O'Farrell (1998)
Fever Pitch for political activists (not an original observation, obviously). Very entertaining, while making some interest points. First is his observation that "Labour was only a left-wing party for five or six years really", which I'm sure some would argue with but I can see the logic. Second is his assertion that he never wants to be an MP. Perhaps he never expected to win in Maidenhead in 2001 or in Eastleigh in 2013.
The Dead Of Jericho by Colin Dexter (1977)
About fifteen years ago I ploughed through all the Morse novels in one almost continuous go. Now I'm not sure why. This is slow and unsatisfying, both from a solution point of view (the main death appears to be a suicide and turns out to be ... a suicide), and from a character perspective, because Morse doesn't really develop at all. It suits a certain mood I suppose.
Shakespeare by Bill Bryson (2007)
Characteristically jolly, informative and succinct account of what we know of Shakespeare and his life - which is to say, not much, and this book is accordingly slim. Bryson also pours gentle scorn on those who would seek to make definitive statements about Shakespeare's thoughts, attitudes and deeds based on no evidence - in particular, those peculiar people who remain convinced that Shakespeare was not the real author of the plays. 
How To Make Your Electric Guitar Play Great! (Second Edition) by Dan Erlewine (2012)
Erlewine has an almost legendary reputation in guitar circles, partly as a result of this book and partly as a guitar tech to the stars. There's a ton of information in this book about setting up guitars, some of it I've never come across before in almost thirty years of playing and reading about the instrument. The level of detail involved in a setup is daunting. Now, if only this could be presented with the same level of quality as the Haynes guitar manuals, it would be perfect.


Shopping 22 February 2014

In which a middle aged man indulges himself.

Wish we were here!
Yesterday Brian and I made our annual pilgrimage to Berwick Street and took in the usual haunts of Sister Ray, Reckless Records and the Music And Video Exchange. We also found a couple of new shops too: Sounds Of The Universe on Broadwick Street (very pricey and not so good for rock and pop, which is my main interest) and Phonica on Poland Street (again, no mainstream stuff, although there were some rather nicely packaged albums that I might have taken a punt on if they weren't fifteen whole pounds).

So, the albums came from the usual three shops and encompass some of the usual suspects - nothing outré here, just cheap albums I hadn't got round to buying before or hadn't heard of until recently. They were:
Kings Of The Wild Frontier by Adam And The Ants (1980)
Prince Charming by Adam And The Ants (1981)
I've been meaning to buy these albums almost since they came out. Hey, I'm only 33 years late to the party.
Fields Of Fire (The Ultimate Collection) by Big Country (2011)
I've broken my own rule here and bought a compilation rather than the original albums. I just wanted "Wonderland" really. I probably should have been more patient.
Carried To Dust by Calexico (2008)
Parent album of "Red Blooms", one of my favourite songs from the 00s.
Tago Mago by Can (1971)
I don't know anything by Can, and there it is in the 1001 Albums list, so here it is.
Pearl by Janis Joplin (1971)
"Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz".
Angel With A Lariat by k.d. lang And The Reclines (1987)
Shadowland by k.d. lang (1988)
k.d. lang's first two albums were not present in my collection, for some reason. Odd given how much I like her third, fourth, fifth etc.
Houses Of The Holy by Led Zeppelin (1973)
I know this album well, thanks to my student days, but still didn't own it until now. Plugging another gap in my collection.
The Holy Bible by Manic Street Preachers (1994)
I'm a sucker. This is a limited, 10th Anniversay edition of an album I didn't think I owned, but already did. Probably the first time I've ever bought something twice by mistake.
Deserter's Songs by Mercury Rev (1998)
I own the two significant singles from this, bought at the time ("Opus 40" and "Goddess On A Hiway"), so not sure what the album will add. Let's see.
Days Of Future Passed by The Moody Blues (1967)
"Precursor to prog-rock", it says here. Also 25% of the trivia question: name the odd one out, from Days Of Future Passed, Ulysses, 2001: A Space Odyssey and 24.
Words And Music by Saint Etienne (2012)
Bought entirely for overwhelmingly geeky awesomeness of the cover (see above).
Phaedra by Tangerine Dream (1974)
"Like The Orb without beats," say Brian, and who am I to doubt him?
Scott 4 by Scott Walker (1969)
Another classic.
White Blood Cells by The White Stripes (2001)
Actually what I wanted was The Raconteurs.
You And Me Both by Yazoo (1983)
Can't go wrong with a bit of Vince Clarke.
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere by Neil Young with Crazy Horse (1969)
CSN&Y notwithstanding, I'm still not sure about Neil Young. Giving it a go.
Echoes by Will Young
Bought for £2, purely for the single "Come On", which I really like.
Eliminator by ZZ Top (1983)
Billy Gibbons is a Guitar God.

Accompanied by good beer, good chat, some surprisingly nice fish and chips (The Duke Of Argyll comes up trumps again) and more beer and chat, it was another good day. Shame South West Trains spoiled it slightly.


Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants

Stevie Wonder

Curate's egg of an album nevertheless proves that, pre-1982, there really was no such thing as a bad Stevie Wonder album.

Is this a proper Stevie Wonder album? It was originally a soundtrack to a long-forgotten slice of pseudo-scientific nonsense but, thanks to Wonder's fame, the music has long since outgrown the association. In fact, the instrumental sections illustrate the images rather well (remarkably so given that Stevie obviously couldn't see any of them), and they are never dull; but taken on their own they are a little aimless.

I much prefer the songs with more traditional lyrics and structure, and one of the good things about this album is that it contains some lesser-known examples of Wonder's songs that are new to me. "Race Babbling" is a nicely funky groove, although it's a bit too long. "A Seed's A Star" has a great tune and driving beat, and wouldn't be out of the place on Songs In The Key Of Life, nor would "Outside My Window".

There's quite a lot of what sounds like early digital synth technology, which now sounds more much dated than the analogue synthesizers used on earlier classic albums like Talking Book - what are classified in my mind as Casiotone sounds, although I'm sure that in 1979 it took a lot of expensive technology to sound like that.

Nevertheless, there is more good than bad here and it's great to find some Stevie Wonder material that hasn't been played to death.