Tracks: Let’s Go Crazy

Undoubtedly a song that’s all over the airwaves and social media today but…. this post was in the works already and it seems fitting enough to push it through now.

Heading home yesterday evening I flipped open twitter and caught the rumours of Prince’s death before confirmation from his publicist changed it into a breaking news story. Shocking doesn’t do it justice.

It’s hard to recall the first Prince song I heard / knew. He was everywhere in music in the 80’s and into the 90’s. Nobody had such a prolific period of constant hits and a career-long streak of strong music.

I do know, though, that Purple Rain remains an ice-cold slab of perfection. There’s not a track on the album I skip. From the hit singles it generated to the breathlessness of Take Me With U, the brilliance of Darling Nikki and the pure Prince audacity-fuck censorship of its lyrics there’s just so many moments of genius on it you could lose count. No wonder it’s shifted upwards of 20 million copies.

For me though, the album, and Prince’s highlight is it’s opening track – Let’s Go Crazy.

It encapsulates everything that the album holds all contained in one four-and-a-half minte track – there’s the exultant chorus, the near-gospel backing vocals, urgent synths, and, of course, Prince’s startling guitar chops (for further evidence watch the little guy in the hat break this cover out of mundaity). This has been a go-to song for me for a long time, those times when the day has been a pile of cack, it’s time for Let’s Go Crazy. It’s impossible to not be uplifted by it, with the sermonising intro with it’s “Dearly beloved…” (boy have I seen that a lot on twitter today) and it’s rousing “and if the elevator tries to bring you down… go crazy; punch a higher floor”. Yeah… Prince is probably trying to evangelisize us with this one but, fuck me, it’s as catchy and brilliant as they come. It’s a pure rush of excitement listening to it especially when – in album format – it breaks into the start of Take Me With U and its opening drum solo.

Thanks to the Purple One’s very tight hold on his copyrights and sharing etc it’s hard to find a video to put here (or one that will stay active for longer than a fart) but let’s try:


Self-compiled; The Beatles

Compilations are a funny thing. You’re never going to please everyone but, in theory, you need to give a good reason for existing fans to buy (and a hastily recorded or re-recorded track not considered good enough for the previous album doesn’t count) and enough solid quality to give a career-overview for new / cursory fans to get hooked.

Some people go as far as to turn their nose up at them. Yet I’ve used a ‘Best of’ to get into a fair few bands over the years (Asides from Buffalo Tom remains one of my most-played discs).

When it comes to grabbing compilations from bands I already hold the back catalogue of, I don’t tend to go the Best Of or Introduction To route. Especially on those groups or individuals that are no longer active. Yet I’ll still want a compilation – especially for car use – for those times I don’t particularly want to listen to just one specific album. The problem is, though, that my choice of what I’d consider essential listening very rarely coincides completely with the ‘official’ compiler’s (usually because they’re doing so with a specific aim rather than just cherry picking). So that’s when the old adage “if you want a job done right do it yourself” comes into play and I’ve a fair few of these home-made comps so far.

With the use of Spotify I can even share these here.

So here we go with the first.

Oddly enough the need for a self-compiled disc of The Beatles doesn’t quite fit the ramble above. I don’t own anything from their back catalogue (with the exception of The Magical Mystery Tour). Yet their output is so large that there’s a number of different compilations out there, again each with a different purpose – 1 obviously the chart-toppers, The Past Masters and Anthology seemed too wide-ranging for a good, succinct compilation. 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 came closest but again contained a lot of stuff that I didn’t really care for and when you consider the pricing of all releases Fab Four themed… no thanks. It’s worth noting that this compilation was created before they deigned to allow their songs available via iTunes and streaming so the borrowing of CDs to create this was necessitated (and no piracy was involved) – to be honest though I’d still do so as the idea of paying the required for the whole still makes me flinch.

I’m not a huge Beatles fan. I like a lot of their songs a lot, though, and enjoy them more as I get older, yet I could quite happily never hear some of their earlier stuff again.

So, my choice of Beatles tracks, and the compilation that I’ve kept in my car for some years now also serves as a “my favourite Beatles songs” list – all wrapped around the centrepiece of the amazing While My Guitar Gently Weeps… *

*Yes; George was the best Beatle. You might argue but you’d be wrong.

In Her Wake

imageHeads-up; the tiniest whiff of a spoiler may be contained in the following.

Who are you? What is it that makes you you? Is it something pre-programmed by genetics or are those things that make you ‘you’ environmental; nature vs nurture? What if the person you thought you were, those experiences that shaped you, turned out to be a lie? Would you still be ‘you’?

The question is one that sits at the heart of Amanda Jennings’ fantastic In Her Wake as Bella discovers that everything she thought she was is a lie…

We join Bella as she’s heading home to her mother’s funeral with her husband, David. It’s clear from the off that Bella’s childhood hasn’t been simple – with “memories of bolted doors and claustrophobic loneliness”- and that her marriage is pretty far from ideal too. Her brief interactions with her father, Henry, are short and stilted and end with his asking for forgiveness – there’s a real sense of something ominous lurking beneath the surface from the off.

When Bella finds Henry dead one morning in his study, having slit his wrists the night before, his guilt-ridden suicide note finishes with what has to be the most pedestrian manner of delivering something earth-shattering; “Elaine and I are not your real parents. We didn’t adopt you and we didn’t foster you. Your real mother is a woman named Alice Tremayne.”

I admit this bomb of a revelation spun me around – In Her Wake very quickly became a different book to what I was expecting and held me in its thrall as Bella, determined after being essentially a prisoner to one controlling influence or another all her life to find out what she’s missed out on, seeks out in search of her real life.

Reality, though, has a frustrating way of being a little out of sync with expectations and what awaits Bella is somewhat removed from the idyllic reunion she hopes for. Instead she has to come to terms with the dark reality of what having a child abducted can do to a family and her mother, who’s depression at her loss sent her into a catatonic state requiring 24/7 care from Bella’s older sister – all the while struggling to put together the dreamed-of vs reality and the identity struggle between who she thought she was, the person she could have been, actually is and wants to become.

In Her Wake is a beautifully written book. With a real sense of warmth and genuine twists and turns of plot. Utterly compelling from first page until last it is a truly original story.

Cornwall is painted with suitably loving and almost poetic prose and serves as a mirror for the positivity and light Bella feels toward her new life vs her old. Indeed when the two do clash it’s against thebackdrop of a storm.

The characters all ring true and are given a good sense of dimension and Bella is a compelling and convincing voice for the first-person narrative.

Of course, first-person narrative has it’s limitations when it comes to delivering a fully rounded take on a story. So Amanda Jennings peppers the narrative with diary-like entries chronicling just how Henry and Elaine came to take the path they took. It gives these characters a greater fleshing-out and, while not justifying or condoning, offers some form of explanation as to how two people can become so adrift as to abduct a child. I’d argue that it’s more effective than it would have been had such details been discovered first-person as it allows the reader to form their own take without that characters’ filter. It also means the reader has a greater sense of empathy for Bella, knowing just how traumatic a start she had in life and truly pulls you in, giving greater emotional resonance when viewing third-person, almost bearing silent witness to some truly shocking events – it’s so compelling and emotionally gripping that you can’t help but remain transfixed and desperate for more – more details, more understanding and more truth with each piece of the puzzle drawing a gasp as it’s revealed, especially when it comes to the final reveal about Bella.

And here’s the thing; with that final revelation about Bella, In Her Wake broke my heart. Absolutely laid waste to it. I had to stop reading for a day or so. I haven’t read something so emotionally powerful and affecting in some time. The last time I think I’ve been hit quite so hard was possibly by Juame Cabré’s Confessions.

Don’t get me wrong, though; I thoroughly enjoyed this book and for all the heartbreak it is, at its heart, a genuinely wonderful story of hope. No matter how dark the past the future can still be a bright and welcoming place.

I wholeheartedly recommend reading  In Her Wake and am very grateful to Karen at Orenda for my copy and inviting me to take part in the blog tour. If I was in the habit of dropping stars against reviews there’d be five right here. Do, of course, please check out the other stops on the tour.

In Her Wake Blog tour

Tracks: La Cienega Just Smiled

It was Come Pick Me Up that I heard first. Again on a monthly music magazine’s free CD. It seems a lifetime ago that I clogged my bookshelves with the print of the music press but there was some golden discoveries made there nonetheless and Ryan Adams’ first album was one.

As such I grabbed his second album Gold upon day of release. It’s one of those aiming-for-great albums that, while it doesn’t quite make it, you can’t help but feel the quality and ambition and think, fuck, there’s a whole lot of talent and potential here that’s only going to get better. But then the hype for this ‘next best thing’ derailed the train and it was some time before the dust settled, if it ever did.

Now Adams’ musical career, it’s ups and downs (though Rock ‘n’ Roll isn’t too bad), battles with Lost Highway and directions has been well and better documented elsewhere so I won’t assume that I can do is justice. There’s a few versions of Ryan Adams – there’s the alt. country of his début Heartbreaker, there’s the Cardinals-leading swagger of Cold Roses, the hushed acoustics of Ashes & Fire and even the heavy metal of Orion – all of which seemed to meld (save the latter) in the confident and hugely accessible recent, self-titled album.

For me, though, it’s those seemingly-simple but gently and subtly sneaky songs like Come Pick Me Up (with lyrics like “I wish you would, come pick me up, take me out, fuck me up, steal my records, screw all my friends….) that lure the listener in to something darker lurking beneath the surface that are his best.

My favourite is La Cienega Just Smiled.

Such a gentle, growing melody. Instantly hooking and soothing but there’s so much more there. The imagery is instantly simple and casual “on with the jeans, the jacket and the shirt” but then there’s the lines like “I’m too scared to know how I feel about you now” and “one breaks my body and the other breaks my soul”… all brushed off with “see you around”.

Ryan Adams has an arsenal of songs about being broken by love and/or drink/drugs but none of them, to my mind (and it’s my blog) as beautifully crafted and affecting as this:

Wicked Game

unspecifiedIt may be strange – especially as I’ve often bemoaned those that don’t read outside of or exclude genres from their reading – but the home-grown, UK-based thrillers have never been something that have appealed to me. Perhaps it’s my own mundane interaction with the local constabulary or TV shows likes The Bill or Motorway Traffic Cops (or whatever it’s called) but I’d not really seen the potential for a gripping read there in comparison to – say – an alcoholic Norwegian detective hunting murderers in the snow or – say (again) – one-man armies called Jack chasing justice in other far-flung places….

But…. then there’s Wicked Game by Matt Johnson. And it changes that preconception I’d held and it’s a wonderful thing when a book can do that.

Wicked Game finds Robert Finlay as he leaves the Royal Protection team and heads back to uniformed Police work in his search for a quiet, normal, life with his wife and their young daughter.

Let’s be honest; no character in a book or film that’s looking for such a thing gets it – we all know how many detectives get pulled into stopping Armageddon just days before retirement and are all too well aware that Sergeant Murtaugh is “too old for this shit”. We know from the off, then, that trouble is coming down the track for Robert, especially after the explosive start to the novel, and Wicked Game doesn’t disappoint when it comes to the drama. Finlay is far from the standard ex-army turned police officer he’s lead others to believe – he’s an ex-SAS officer with a troubled past that’s now kicking down the door to his longed-for quiet life and demanding his attention. Police officers are being killed. Police officers from his own SAS regiment. Secretive meetings with MI5 follow, luring him in – then there’s an attempt on his own life and it quickly becomes clear that these murders won’t stop until either Finlay or the killer are stopped…. but what’s the motive behind the murders? Why is Finlay a target and who can be trusted?

Far from a standard game of cat and mouse, Wicked Game is a surprisingly complex mystery and one that reaches back in time to bring the old enemies of the past into the terrifying now with an array of action sequences, cliff-hangers and surprises that make for a great read.

The narrative split between first and third person works well (Finlay’s voice is a convincing narration and lends plenty of emotional ballast to the story too) as well as very effective in keeping the reader gripped – especially as the tension grows and those third-person characters such as Grahamslaw are in possession of information Finlay isn’t at crucial, life-threatening points.

They say write what you know and it’s clear that Matt Johnson is writing from experience (having served as a soldier and with the Met for 25 years). When it comes to detailing the action and police-side sequences, as it were, Johnson’s knowledge and insight give the novel a real sense of authenticity. He does a great job of delivering some very real and genuine sequences populated by characters underscored by a convincing authority and precision that can only come from actually knowing those people such characters are likely composites of.

But there’s more than just that insider knowledge and attention to details at play here and it’s that which makes Wicked Game well worth a read – Matt Johnson has a very real talent and gift for thriller writing. Wicked Game cracks along at a great pace with plenty of gripping and original plot twists and turns with a finale that wouldn’t be out of place in a book with a protagonist called Reacher.

With Wicked Game Matt Johnson skilfully weaves together these two facets to create a compellingly gritty and convincingly real thriller.

Thanks to Karen at Orenda Books for my copy and do check out the other stops on the Wicked Game blog tour:

Wicked Games Blog tour