Turning Pages: 2022 thus far

A strange thing happened at the start of this year – after years of blazing through books at a tremendous lick, I found myself struggling to get into anything. Moving beyond the first few chapters was a challenge, let alone finishing anything.

Given the degree to which I love a good read, this was a concern. Had I burnt out on books? Was this a byproduct of wrestling with the black dog? Either, rather than persevere and force the issue I took a break, did the rare thing (for me) of indulging in episodic television. Then, when the itch to read began to build up to the point of being impossible to ignore again I picked up the first book on my ‘to read’ pile which happed to be Antti Tuomainen’s The Rabbit Factor.

That did the job. Since then I’ve been pretty much back to business as usual so it feels as good a time as any to summarise the highlights of those collections of words I’ve been consuming over the last six months.

One of my growing joys when it comes to reading, and a mainstay even when I couldn’t get into anything for myself, has been the fact that my son is now of the age where we’ll sit and read through fuller stories and novels over bedtimes. This has meant that, alongside those Terry Pratchett collections like The Witches Vacuum Cleaner, I got to enjoy Journey to the Centre of the Earth again and marvel at the ageless wonder of Jules Verne’s writing. It’s one of those classics that’s been sat on my shelf waiting to be re-read since my days at uni and I couldn’t think of a better reason to have done so.

Rather than set an arbitrary number of books as a target for my reading lately I’ve instead made it a point to read one ‘big Russian classic’ a year. This year that happened to be Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. It’s one of those books that I’d put off reading due to some misconception but am glad to have done so – it’s a joyous read (probably depending on your translation) that’s one to cherish – even if I found the the main plot (and character) of Anna herself bloody irritating. Much more the stories of Prince Stepan and Kostya for me.

Keeping on the classics theme momentarily, the Ernest Hemmingway section on my shelves has seen more than its fair share of action lately as I seek to consume more first-person narrative references. Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises was the first to be torn through and (as it, too had been sitting awaiting re-read since uni) just how bloody strong a first novel it is. While his mother may have been disappointed that he should squander his gifts writing about a social set she considered ghastly and, like To Have and Have Not which I read shortly thereafter, there are a few racist comments that grate a touch in 2022, there’s a lot to enjoy here. To Have and Have Not was one I hadn’t read before and while it felt like a disjointed story of three different and gradually weaker parts the first part alone is worth the price of admission and it would be followed by one of his finest and I’m sure I’ll be going back that end of the ‘H’ section soon.

It’s not often that I tend to read multiple books by the same author in one year and yet, along with Hemmingway, I’ve double up on Amor Towles this year. Much has been said of A Gentleman In Moscow and it remains one of my favourite novels to date so I was happy to get hold of The Lincoln Highway at the end of last year though it remained unread for some time. Before I got around to it I went back, as it were, with Mr Towles’ first – The Rules of Civility. Set in New York during the ‘jazz age’ and telling the story, in retrospect, of an eventful 1938 this was such an absolute belter of a read that it was a) clear that Towles is one of those astoundingly talented writers b) an immediate push to pick up The Lincoln Highway again – which turned out to be pretty good timing as having the former fresh in my mind allowed me to really appreciate the connection between the two, making some elements all the more poignant. While it may not have been the most practical of books to take to the beach (the hardback pulls in just under 600 pages) it, too, is a masterpiece of both storytelling and narrative (of which there are several) and highly recommended.

Gunnar Staalesen, since my introduction via Orenda Books published We Shall Inherit The Wind back in 2015, has become one of my favourite authors and I’ve made a point of working my way through as many of his extensive older novels that have been published in English as possible while eagerly awaiting new instalments in the Varg Veum series. I was delighted, then, to find a couple of his books – one new, complete with my review, and one old, The Writing on the Wall – in a bookshop earlier this year. The Writing on the Wall was originally written in 1994 (the English translation arriving in 2004) and is easily a highlight of this year’s reading. I always liken to reading to Staalesen as enjoying a good mug of coffee – it’s to be savoured as is gently kicks in. Once again dealing with some particularly dark subject matter (teenage prostitution and addiction) with quiet power, this is a bloody strong entry in a series that doesn’t have a weak point.

I’d seen Danny Goldberg‘s Serving the Servant: Remembering Kurt Cobain about for some time but hadn’t felt compelled to get a hold of it before – was there anything more to be said about Kurt Cobain. Well, turns out there is / was, a few insights to be gained. Goldberg become Nirvana’s manager ahead of Smells Like Teen Spirit and here compiles a series of insights from his own memories and unique insider perspective as well as reaching out to others both in the industry and inner circle including Courtney Love and Krist Novoselic for clarification (though Dave Grohl seems notably absent in input) on a few details. Some of these insights are at times painful – particularly on Cobain’s mental health – some refreshingly human given how much Kurt has been turned into a myth, and others fascinating (the examination of the Vanity Fair article that essentially deprived Cobain and Love access to their child is a real eye-opener). All of which mean that this is actually pretty essential reading for a fuller picture into Nirvana’s rise and Kurt Cobain’s tragic end.

As has been the prevailing approach of recent months I’m currently steaming through two books: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez – which is proving to be another beautiful novel I wish I’d read sooner – and, as I’ve recently been exploring more of Neil Young‘s music, Waging Heavy Peace is turning out to be a much better read and less about his model trains than I’d been given to believe.

The telex machine is kept so clean and it types to a waiting world… Monday spins

Time slips away… this blog has been a little abandoned again of late though this time it was down to actually taking as much of summer off and away as possible and taking a little drive down to, and around, the South of France to soak up some sun and explore.

However, as term starts and the rain is slowly filling up the pond in my front garden that had been pretty much emptied by the summer’s draught, it feels like a good moment to take stock and shake off some dust with a quick punt out of those songs that I’ve been enjoying of late.

Bruce Springsteen – Hey Blue Eyes

As I pull together some pieces for another Bruce series I find myself listening to this more and more. American Beauty was an EP put out for RSD back in 2014 and this track – an off-cut from previous sessions with Brendan O’Brien is one of those nagging, seemingly-simple songs which highlights just how effective Bruce can be with something that he decides isn’t an ‘A’ tune and ends up being released, essentially, as a b-side (think ‘Shut Out The Light’ and goodness knows how many others).

Foo Fighters – Band on the Run

On the subject of RSD releases… The Foo Fighters put out Medium Rare – a thirteen song strong collection of covers – for Record Store Day back in 2011 and I’d been after a copy for a while. The Foos were always a delight when cutting loose on a cover, combining their increasingly tight chops with their tongue-in-cheek approach makes for a cracking listen. So I was pretty chuffed to find a mint copy in a record shop in Avignon which promptly left with me. Along with the likes of ‘Darling Nikki’ and ‘Baker Street’, this is a pretty strong example and seems fitting to slip on here after this weekend’s Taylor Hawkins tribute concert.

Adé – Tout Savoir

Driving around for two weeks listening to the same radio station means you’re gonna hear a few songs played a lot especially if they’re big. Along with Sting’s ‘Rushing Water’ and a few others, Adé’s ‘Tout Savoir’ has been firmly lodged in my ears but it’s one that I continue to enjoy, it’s pretty upbeat with a decent melody and offers more than your usual pop radio fodder.

Larkin Poe – Hard Time Killing Floor Blues

Every now and then the boy will request ‘Planet Rock’ on the car radio. Sometimes I’m not in the mood as there’s only so much leather waistcoat music I can take but his recent request caught something called something called ‘The Blues Power’ show and made for a pretty decent drive and this one ended up lodged in my head. I don’t know much about Larkin Poe other than it being fronted by two sisters but I’m enjoying this one plenty of late.

Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram – Long Distance Woman

Keeping that blues crunch vibe going, I caught this guy’s name being mentioned in high esteem in various print / online music chats and was pretty impressed when I checked out his stuff – this dude can play and he’s only in his early twenties (though he could probably benefit from a salad or two). This is form his second album 662 which I’ve been joyously powering through lately. He does a great take on ‘Hey Joe’ too that’s all over YouTube. 

Ryan Adams – Rollercoaster

While the music press and industry are still keeping Ryan Adams on the naughty step, he’s remained busy with some sell-out shows and a tour on the way as well as continually releasing albums and a prolific rate with three albums, two of which are doubles, in 2022 alone, that continue to mix his stark acoustic works with that golden late-80s vibe which he’d started to perfect with Prisoner. ‘Rollercoaster’ is taken from the middle of this year’s three albums, Romeo and Juliet

Pixies – Vault of Heaven

Hey! The Pixies have got a new album coming out soon that’ll mean they’ve released as many albums since reforming as their original run. While you can’t expect another Bossanova or Doolittle, they’re sounding increasingly comfortable and stretching out with increasingly strong and consistent albums. If this song, about the time Frank Black joined Mark Knopfler’s band I think, and previous ‘There’s a Moon Out’ is anything to go by, Doggerel is gonna be another belter.

Or Thursday watch the walls instead… current spins

Time keeps on slipping, slipping slipping… between posts and while I debate moving another Springsteen series from notebook to keyboard it felt an opportune moment to deposit a selection of those songs that I’ve been enjoying of late.

Built to Spill – Spiderweb

While gaps between Built To Spill albums seem to get longer each time around, When the Wind Forgets Your Name – due in September – is one I’m really looking forward to, Doug Martsch’s guitar playing continues to delight.

Big Thief – Not

Dragon Warm Mountain I Believe In You is easily one of this year’s finest but 2020’s Two Hands still rewards on repeated listens.

The Cure – Doing the Unstuck

Another instance of an anniversary reissue reminding you of the unstoppable march of time… The Cure’s unimpeachable Wish turns 30 this year. Not only does this mean I’ll be able to add the vinyl to my collection without forking out the ridiculous asking price for an original copy but it also means I’ve been joyfully spinning the CD in the car this last week.

Pink Floyd – Dogs (2018 Remix)

After seemingly setting aside their bickering (at least about this subject), the much-touted remix of Animals is almost upon us. How much it adds to an already exceptional album is gonna be one for debate by other people but I’m loving the new cover art.

Rickie Lee Jones – We Belong Together

It’s just an addictive classic. That piano, her voice, the vibe… I could soak in it on repeat all day long.

The Shipping News – Axons and Dendtrites

Flies The Fields is a brilliant album – from the wave of post-rock that was still in thrall to Slint rather than Godspeed! – but this, the album opener, remains a firm favourite that I’ve been replaying a lot recently after catching its use on screen in something that now escapes me.

Billy Joel – New York State of Mind

Speaking of ‘that piano’ and catching things in use on the screen… someone recommended The Boys to me and I ended up bingeing my way through the lot and, for those unfamiliar, Billy Joel features heavily – though not this song. This song ended up in my head after my son was spinning his The Muppet Show 2 album recently which features Floyd’s cover. From there it was a ‘now let’s hear the original’ – easily one of Joel’s finest (of which he has many).

Least to Most: Aerosmith, Part 2

Aaaand we’re back in the saddle having sorted the wheat from the chaff and lobbed out the sloppier entries of Aerosmith’s fifteen-strong studio album run. So, without further ado…

Done With Mirrors

In an ideal world, this would have been Aerosmith’s comeback album. Hell, it’s what it was meant to be. Freshly reunited and tight after some solid touring, the songs here deliver enough of the riff-and-raunch blues rock vibe to cut through the murk of Rock in a Hard Place and without the added songwriters and synthesisers that would permeate their comeback album proper in a couple of years.

The only missing ingredient was a group of killer songs. The album kicks off by repurposing the Joe Perry Project ‘Let The Music Do The Talking’ with Tyler’s licks and proceeds to rollick through a series of lukewarm tunes. While tracks like ‘My First Your Face’ and ‘The Reason A Dog’ stand out and Ted Templeman does a good job capturing the band, there’s still a lack of focus here but at least it gave them enough of a jolt of life to get them to their next album as sobriety and rebirth beckoned.

Get A Grip

By 1993 Aerosmith had conquered their addictions and the charts and become monstrously successful. Now in their forties, Get A Grip would push them to even dizzier heights as it went on to become their biggest seller and give birth to seven singles with the likes of ‘Crazy’, ‘Cryin” and ‘Living On The Edge’ becoming mainstays on MTV. There’s a lot to enjoy on Get A Grip but that’s just it: there’s a lot. Released as grunge and alt-rock were in their ascendency, Get A Grip suffers from CD bloat and being too obvious a stab at commercial success (yes, it did pay off).

You could point a finger at John Kalodner who heard a slimmer version of the album and decided it didn’t contain enough hits and sent them back to Desmond Child for another ballad or two, but it’s not like anybody really said ‘nah, you’re alright mate.’ This, then, is the album where the band were all too apparent in mining the formula that had delivered them to their new heights. While the album sounds great at times, it’s a pretty shallow affair compared to their best.

Nine Lives

I slip Nine Lives here ahead of Get A Grip because I go back to it most. Perhaps because it’s the first of their albums I bought on release but mainly because, while it’s certainly every bit as calculated, the rawer sound captured by Kevin Shirley suits their raunchier take on blues rock more than the sheen that Bruce Fairbairn swathed its predecessor in.

Nine Lives nearly broke the band, again. Troubles were abounding with an over-controlling manager that was spreading distrust amongst his charges and drummer Joey Kramer suffered a nervous breakdown. Tyler was enthused by Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill and wanted to record with Glen Ballard – who shares writing credits on three of the eventual album’s songs -but Colombia didn’t dig the directions. With Kramer recovered the band re-recorded from scratch with Kevin Shirley (record labels seem to have had a lot of patience back then) and Nine Lives was delivered in 1997.

There may not be a single song without an outside co-write and a few that are clearly A&R men’s tick boxes but there’s more diversity to the sound, more of a willingness to try different sounds and Shirley’s sanding off of the sheen gives the album a nicer, more appropriate town that was both appropriate to the era and the band’s sound. Other songs cut during this period like ‘What Kind of Love Are You On?’ suggested more this edge would follow…

Unfortunately shortly after the album’s release Dianne Warren gave the band a song called ‘I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing’ (which would be stapled to later, re-released versions of the album) and give them their first number one, something that Tyler would be trying to chase forevermore.

Aerosmith

I can understand why some may rank this higher but for me, Aerosmith’s debut isn’t as good as it could be and I don’t revisit it anywhere near as much as anything below this point. The songs are good and the all the calling points that would fuel their later success are already in place from the get-go but it’s still very much the sound of a first album: there are some stumbles, the songs aren’t as tight as they would become, the recording is flat, the sound is muddled and Tyler’s affected vocals don’t sit right.

But, for all that, it’s still an enjoyable blast of Aerosmith at the starter’s gun. ‘Dream On’ and ‘Mama Kin’ are early masterpieces that are still in sets today for a reason, Perry and Whitford’s guitar interplay already established and the power in their sound that would push them to be one of America’s biggest rock acts of the decade are laid on the line for all to see and they’d never sound this young and fresh again. It’s just a big shame they couldn’t get recording that sound right just yet.

Draw The Line

1977: Aerosmith are riding high and few are higher than its members at this point. So let’s get the fuck outta Dodge and put them up in an old convent – away from distractions – to record their new album. What could go wrong? It’s not like they’re gonna bring their toys or their drug dealers will follow, right? Right?

Joe Perry and Steven Tyler wrote just three songs together. They no-longer “gave a fuck” to quote Perry directly. The band – minus Perry – and producer Jack Douglas put together songs like ‘The Hand That Feeds’ and ‘Kings And Queen’ with Perry adding rhythm guitar to the latter and not playing at all on the former. There were songs that came in complete – like Perry’s ‘Bright Light Fright’ and songs that Tyler would take months to write lyrics to long after the band had left the confines of their convent.

And yet, Draw The Line still has more killer than filler and works more often than it doesn’t. Jack Douglas was by now a dab hand at recording the band as they needed to sound and songs as great as the title track, ‘Kings and Queens’ and ‘I Wanna Know Why’ are beyond strong enough to make up for ‘The Hand That Feeds’ and if closing with a cover of ‘Milk Cow Blues’ could be seen as odd choice by a band lacking original material, Perry’s playing on it and his own ‘Bright Light Flash’ (a tribute to the rising punk scene) more than hit the mark.

While they were starting to run out of gas, for Draw The Line – in contrast to Night In The Ruts just two years later – they were only just off their peak and the album still proved they had enough in them to let it rip when it mattered.

If you’ll just come with me you’ll see the beauty of Tuesday afternoon spins

Lo and behold I’m still here. As the kick in the dangly bits of Monday slips into Tuesday afternoon I thought it as suitable a time as any to put together a few of those things I’ve been listening to, a veritable smorgasbord of aural delights as big as… well.. what feels like the right length for a blog post, really.

Pixies – There’s A Moon On

New Pixies? It’s a pretty safe bet that anything they release will end up being welcomed by my lugholes.

Idlewild – Love Steals Us from Loneliness

Idlewild were a great band – I say were; I think they got back together but I’ve not heard anything of their more recent material – and so I was pretty chuffed to find their fourth album Warnings / Promises had received a vinyl release and it’s had a good few spins since picking up on sale a few weeks back.

Melody’s Echo Chamber – Where the Water Clears the Illusion

So Tame Impala gets a lot of play in Hill House as my wife is a big fan. There’s a lot of connections between the dude (Kevin Parker) and Melody Prochet who is Melody’s Echo Chamber that I don’t really know too much but it’s no surprise there’s a similar vibe to the music too. Anyway, this came up on the radio a while back as an intro and I’m really digging all the different elements – there’s some hints of shoegaze, space-rock and dream pop in there – in here and brew they create.

Kurt Vile – Wages of Sin

Speaking of things getting a good few spins; Kurt Vile’s new album (watch my moves) is yet another welcome addition – he just gets better with each passing album and they’re all such a great vibe to get lost in and if you add that vibe it to a Springsteen classic…

Soccer Mommy – Shotgun

I feel like I should have heard Soccer Mommy – the musical endeavour of Sophie Allison – before now. Probably because if you spin to the bottom of the Snail Mail listing (or whatever you call it) on Spotify Soccer Mommy is listed down there next to Lucy Dacus… instead it was having heard this one on the radio and then hitting up the streaming service to hear more.

Rage Against The Machine – Freedom

There’s been a real nostalgia drive in my house of late – harking back to that last great decade of music. Rage have featured heavily. They made three fucking intense and great albums and signed out (albeit with a covers album as number four) and this… well it doesn’t need any words.

OK so I don’t do TikTok or much social media in general but there’s this dude on there who I got send a link to – Jacob Givens. Honestly if I could hug him I would, he feels like a kindred spirit and it was seeing some of his videos that kicked off the nostalgia push so I’ll share one here as he’s also on youtube:

Hey hey, rise up: Friday’s spins

As I seem to be slipping back into the habit of posting more frequently, it feels like a fitting time to drop one of those ‘this is what I’ve been listening to’ posts that have peppered this blog previously as we head giddily into the weekend.

Pink Floyd – Hey Hey, Rise Up

Is this cheating? It only came out today but I’ve listened to it a good half dozen or so times already and it grows on me more each time. The first new Pink Floyd song in 28 years (songs from The Endless River were re-heated leftovers after all) is real grower – a gentle very-Floyd strum accompanying a powerful vocal from Ukrainian singer Andriy Khlyvnyuk giving way after a minute or so to a suitably screaming solo from David Gilmour that seems to be more an anguished scream of a protest song and keeps reaching those glorious notes so associated with the guitarist and Floyd. I’ve got a feeling that this song – a reaction to extraordinary times with added fuel as a result of Gilmour’s personal connection – is likely a one-off though.

The War On Drugs – I Don’t Wanna Wait

It took me until this year to fall head over heels with The War On Drugs’ I Don’t Live Here Anymore because Atlantic Records are one of those major labels who seem to enjoy taking the piss with prices. The album was going for close to £40 on my preferred format and the fact that I could usually pick up a double on a lesser money grabbing label for half that meant I didn’t add it to my collection until I picked up the CD for under a fiver this year. It’s a brilliant album that’s been in the car pretty solidly over the last month or three. ‘I Don’t Wanna Wait’ is both a highlight and representative of the album as a whole – it builds from a deceptively simple very-80s beat before expanding into a much more involved, seemingly boundless song that’s dripping in that sun-kissed AOR vibe circa ’87 (think Tunnel of Love) underpinned by a guitars whose tone and fluidity leave me feeling sticky and satisfied.

The Mysterines – Hung Up

I’ve mentioned this group before and have been digging every song they’ve released thus far as they were on of those bands oft-played on 6Music during my commute. I’ve been spinning and loving their debut Reeling this week after I was able to make it to my usual dealer to collect my pre-order and I’m looking forward to where they take it next.

Loop – Heaven’s End

I have to wonder if the guy that owns my usual record shop has one of those ‘I will now sell five copies of “The Three EPs” by The Beta Band’ moments before I visit because when I stopped by to pick-up The Mysterines’ record he was playing an album to which both my wife and I both said “who is this?… it’s good!” As a result Loop’s debut Heaven’s End from 1987 is nestled in my collection and has been played quite a bit since. Think raw, Detroit-punk imbued trance-rock with hypnotic, discordant guitars and you’re on the way. I thought it was early Mudhoney at first but there’s elements of shoegaze in the mix with these drone-like soundscapes. I read a review that referred to this as “sound(ing) like the soundtrack to a missing hallucination scene from Easy Rider.”

Monty Python – I Bet You They Won’t Play This Song on the Radio

My son has been discovering and generally enjoying Monty Python of late. Given that he’s only 8 there’s plenty that gets skipped or simply not shown but he was so loving ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ that the ’45 was added to the collection. This one was on the flip side and has probably been played more as it seems to hit the same mass enjoyment buttons shared by 8 and 41 year olds.

Dire Straits – News

I went to a record fair last weekend and all I got was this lousy t-shirt the only record I walked away with was Dire Strait’s Communique. A nice, clean and well-kept copy for a fiver hits about right for me. I think Communique gets a bit of a bad rap – it was a bit of a rush job after their first album took off and doesn’t have a hook akin to ‘Sultans of Swing’ and isn’t a patch on Making Movies but in ‘Once Upon A Time In The West’, ‘News’, ‘Where Do You Think You’re Going?’ ‘Angel of Mercy’ and ‘Portobello Belle’ does has have five cracking Dire Straits song and it’s more laid-back, subdued style is perfect for a certain vibe.

Self-compiled: Led Zeppelin

“They are an immovable force in music... I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like them.” Jack White

Jack White may be many things but wrong about Led Zeppelin isn’t one of them.

Often imitated, never bettered. They burst out of the gate white-hot and tighter than a duck’s arse, delivering jaw-dropping rock with a capital ROCK and never really slowed down. Their last few albums may have suffered from the shadows of personal tragedies but even then they could bring it like few others. I can’t write anything about them or better than what has already been written.

But… as a result of prepping a room for redecoration I did come across a pile of old cd compilations that I must have made some ten years gone and – while they’ve travelled and been spun here and in Romania before picking up dust and scuffs that cause the dreaded skip just as you’re getting your head bang on – it was a real pleasant surprise to find my old self-compiled Led Zeppelin cd again.

I know… why would I want such a thing, it’s not like there are already several Led Zeppelin compilations on the market but we all know that those compilations are invariably altered based on Jimmy Page’s preference at the time, there’ll be a little too much focus applied to later tunes that don’t really stand shoulder to shoulder, suffer a little from CD bloat etc…. besides: this is my single-disc all killer, no filler blast of my favourite Led Zeppelin tunes (well, as they were back when I made it) that – I think – covers every aspect of what made them great, get in, hit em hard and get out compilation. It’s probably also the only Led Zeppelin compilation with no ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and without a trace of ‘Stairway to Heaven’. I know: denied.

Things on the box

One of the consequences of recent wrestles with the black dog and its sidekicks is the increase in my consumption of television series versus the usual devouring of books (I’ve finished just one so far this year). It’s worth caveating this statement with the additional statement that usually my hits from the box come in the one-off shape of films or documentaries* so given that such consumption usually minimal, an additional series factors in an increase of 100%. I haven’t become welded to the couch in a terminal ‘are you still watching?’ binge either.

While this blog hasn’t typically ventured into the realms of visual entertainment I thought it worth throwing these up on here as a) at least two are related to the usual programming, b) it might shake loose that blogging mojo and f) it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.

Lupin – Series 2

Of the two television series I watched in full last year, both were French and one was the first series of Lupin. Apparently this is the first of Netflix’ French series to hit the top ten in the US. It’s a ridiculously addictive mystery thriller with a great plot and style – with cuts between past, present and ‘how we got to this moment’ reveals – that’s made glorious by Omar Sy (who’s been worth tuning in for since the film Intouchables) as Assane Diop, a crafty conman-with-a-reason inspired by Arsène Lupin. Well worth getting into and its rapid-fire episodes make for addictive viewing. Just watch the French version with sub-titles though, the dubbed version is a pile of fecal matter as per.

Reacher

I hope Tom Cruise has seen Amazon’s new series and wept a little – though I imagine there was probably some kind of buy-out required so he probably doesn’t give much of a scientologist’s damn – because this is exactly how readers wanted Jack Reacher portrayed. The question of casting the man-mountain that is Jack Reacher has long been a question and the Cruisester was never really the answer – aside from being on tip-toes in a school playground he was too inanely chatty. Alan Ritchson is not only a physical match but the first six/seven minutes pass before he says anything, after all: Reacher said nothing. Finding someone capable of both portraying Reacher’s imposing restraint and detailed break-downs can’t have been easy but Amazon seem to have got it spot-on here.

This first series is a near perfectly-faithful eight episode take on the first Reacher novel The Killing Floor and there’s not a fault to be found with it. They’ve created a series that’s huge fun, packed with more punch-ups than a Clint Eastwood with an orang utan movie while always feeling like a top-quality bit of tv in terms of production values and a great blues-heavy soundtrack. In fact, I watched it twice! Very keen to find out which novel they’re tackling next.

Get Back

468 minutes. 7.8 hours of footage of The Beatles restored and trimmed (!) into a three-part series that’s been the talking point of many a blog and article since it dropped. It took me a while to get to and get through as the chances of my having opportunity to enjoy one episode uninterrupted are on the same level as getting that call from Pearl Jam to offer guitar support on their next tour. Let alone all three episodes.

So it took a while but I will say every little bit of that while it took was glorious. I know I’m merely adding to the last echoes of the conversation here but it was revelatory in so many ways…. John’s heroin addiction clearly riding heavy, almost has heavy as the ever presence of Yoko….. bloody hell, Ringo is a boring arse….. George took way more flack then I could…. Paul has always been self-important and patronising, then…. holy crap, he’s just fallen on the riff for ‘Get Back’…. ok, how many times to we need to hear about Jo Jo… but all of that building to the final performance which was wonderfully edited as Jim at Music Enthusiast has spoken about better than I could. Though I particularly loved the scenes with the increasingly despondent police officers as their attempts to bring events to a close are hampered in a way that both bordered on the farcical while highlighting just how far out of touch the stiffled establishment was with the counter-culture driven youth by the end of the 60’s.

*The presence of National Geographic on Disney+ means these are kept in healthy supply

Earthling – Eddie Vedder takes it ‘solo’

I’m still here. I’m not quite finding my blogging mojo for reasons various but, hey, if there was anything that was gonna stir the juices a bit it was gonna be Pearl Jam related, right? And a solo album from Eddie Vedder that’s neither a soundtrack or sixteen ukulele tunes was always gonna be worth investigating.

First things first – it’s a manage expectations job. It’s not 1994 anymore and those expecting a Vedder solo album to be something that would represent the singer of ‘Not For You’, say, are living in the past with Walter Sobchack, man. I’ll admit I kind held a smidge of a hope for it though. See, while there are three decades of beautiful tradition, 2022’s Eddie Vedder is a different man. Let’s face it: it’s unlikely that he would have made an album of ukulele songs or caught the same wave that inspired Into The Wild straight after writing ‘Leash’. But, as Pearl Jam’s albums in the decades that followed that last great gasp for music have shown, Vedder remains a crafter of fine lyrics and tunes – as exemplified on 2020’s unexpectedly* strong Gigaton – as he matures.

Hearing the manner he’s been able to bring that sense of inner peace while still screaming at external torments – be they political or global – has made for many of Pearl Jam’s finer moments of the last couple of decades. For a band that’s often demonstrated that the sum is greater than the value of its parts, the real question was whether this would work outside of Pearl Jam on a more traditional (read: with full band backing not just four strings) solo album?

First impressions via lead-off single ‘The Long Way’ were promising – nice melody, lot of Tom Petty vibes while sounding like Eddie having fun without trying to sound like Pearl Jam. It even features Benmont Tench on the hammond organ, the first time the Heartbreaker had taken his equipment out of storage for use since the last Heartbreakers’ tour.

Then my anticipation stalled upon hearing ‘The Haves.’ In fact, it fell asleep. It’s a song with a good lyric but it’s straight-forward tack and lack of hook make the five minute run time feel four times as long. It’s not until the last minute or so that Vedder really seems to get into it from a vocal point. ‘Brother the Cloud’ however sent me to the ‘pre-order’ button**: it’s a fine tune that leans into the Pearl Jam sound without feeling like it’s trying to imitate and an inspired lyric from Vedder that’s seemingly about the passing of two people both called Chris:

Oddly for a solo album, there’s not a single Vedder / Vedder credit – all songs apparently born out of jam sessions with a band made up of Josh Klinghoffer, Chad Smith and Andrew Watt (who also produced) with Vedder smashing lyrics out at a clip that he hadn’t for some time. It means that these songs feel airier and have a spring in their step that speak of the speed at which the project came together and reached our ears. It also feels like Vedder had a real blast making this album. There’s no real head-on tackling of weighty issues and Vedder paints with the brighter, more vibrant rock colours that Pearl Jam typically avoids.

Sometimes this works really well – the previously mentioned ‘Long Way’ and ‘Brother the Cloud’ along with ‘Fallout Today’ and opener ‘Invincible’ shine as initial highlights: there’s a looseness and willingness to play about the music, ‘Fallout Today’ adds another entry into Vedder’s strong-women narratives and the multi-tracking of Vedder’s voice in ‘Invincible’ makes a great entry point for the album. According to a recent chat between Vedder and Springsteen it was the first music written and the last lyric completed:

This looser spontaneity gives Earthing a feel of an Eddie Vedder & Friends Rave Up. Despite the co-write credits, it’s clearly Eddie’s show throughout, though. While the ‘Earthlings’ are made up of big-name players they never contribute anything musically that would make you say, for example, ‘man, Chad’s such an awesome drummer, that fill made me need new undies’. It’s a feeling that’s borne out by the choice of guests on the album’s last volley of tunes too. Vedder has said that he approached the tracklist as he would a concert; toward the end you get a little more relaxed and bring out the guests. Much in in the same way as nobody has walked away from a Pearl Jam show saying “fuck, that dude from The Buzzcocks really added to ‘Rockin’ In the Free World’ tonight” nobody could say that the worst Beatle brings anything other than his name to ‘Mrs Mills’. If we’re keeping the same metaphor you’d guess Elton John was hanging around side stage and dragged on to trade vocals with Eddie on ‘Picture’ but managed to sound more like a South Park parody of himself with a song that feels like it should be accompanying some animated film about two animal friends. The real highlight in terms of guests is the fittingly all-too-brief moment in which Vedder accompanies his father on the closing ‘On My Way’:

For those familiar with the history of Vedder’s discovery that the guy he’d thought was his father ‘was nothing but a…’ that fuelled a large part of his and Pearl Jam’s initial angst, it feels like a fittingly emotional way for Vedder to end this album. Putting to bed some of his troubles on an album where he seems to be having more fun than he’s had on record in a long time.

Much like you’d expect from an ‘Eddie Vedder & Friends’ show, Earthling is a lot of fun and at times a damn fine listen. Those moments when Vedder is on form and giving it his all are great. Even when he’s leaning back and his forays into different styles don’t always land – his inherent abilities and unmistakable voice (though the effects of smoking on his voice prevent him breathing as much into a lyric as he once did) mean that even the lesser of these songs still offer a reason to tune in.

But – Elton John aside – what stops Earthling being brilliant is the sound and production, which fails on at least three tracks. It’s flat, sonically, where it could be really interesting – it’s all volume and no nuance or texture and feels out of place. It all sits on the shoulders of ‘super-producer’ Andrew Watt who, despite his fan status, is better known for his work with the likes of, ahem, Justin Bieber, Post Malone, 5 Seconds of Summer and Miley Cyrus. I’m all for experimenting with new producers; Brendan O’ Brien was hardly an established name when Pearl Jam started working with him and the sonic experiments of Binaural, Riot Act and Gigaton yielded glorious results. However, Watt’s approach of pushing everything up loud drowns songs like ‘Rose of Jericho’ and ‘Good and Evil’ when a little nuance and texture could’ve bought them to life, meanwhile the over-processed sound of ‘The Dark’ would be more at home on a song from some X-Factor pop-puppets or John Shanks produced Bon Jovi record (THE HORROR!). It made me want to go back and listen to Gigaton (no bad thing) and hope that the mutterings that Watt will produce the next Pearl Jam album amount to so much promo-cycle air.

How-fucking-ever: the diversity and full-bodied nature of its highlights make Earthling the better of his solo albums. While it’s not the Eddie Vedder solo album we may have expected, in many ways it does a more than admirable job of straddling both the range of his musical lexicon and tastes past and present in a way that his single-theme solo efforts to date failed to do. It captures a once angry young man comfortable in middle-age and having a great time some thirty years down the line from his grimace appearing on the cover of Time magazine. Given how many of his contemporaries are listed as casualties of the ‘scene’ we should be happy that Vedder is both here and that the easy, Eddie-having-fun vibe that fact brings still makes for a blast on repeated – albeit five songs lighter than intended – listens.

*Backspacer and Lightning Bolt had their moments but Gigaton found Pearl Jam embracing a new producer and sounding tighter than a duck’s arse.

**On cd this time as vinyl production is still feeling the impact of supply chain issues coupled with the the unholy revival of a Swedish crap heap and an equally awful album of ‘heartbreak’ karaoke fodder.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot…

Despite another morning of waiting for the ice to dissolve from its windscreen before blasting the Ferrari’s mighty engine off of my drive and into the school-run and commute, the steady bead of afternoon sunlight in my eyes and the calling of the blogging urge has pulled me from my hibernation.

Where have I been? Fucking nowhere there’s a pandemic on and the rules change as much as that cockwomble-in-charge’s excuses do, triple-jabbed or not.

What have I been doing? The break wasn’t intended it just happened, maybe I’d lost my mojo, maybe I just needed to switch off a little. I’ve been reading a lot (potentially to be detailed later but Franzen’s latest was as excellent as expected, The Passenger is an amazing ‘lost’ novel rediscovered and Anna Karenina is proving the Russian beauty I wish I’d read sooner), using the festive break to watch films old (unlikely to be detailed later so Bad Boys 2 was as awful as I thought it would be, Face-Off has not aged well at all while Beverly Hills Cop is still a time-capsule joy) and new (Don’t Look Up suffers from split-personality only one half of which is very good, the other shite) of an evening instead of falling asleep in a cattle-truked daze. Oh, and watching Get Back*.

Of course, I’ve also been consuming music across as many formats and mediums as I can including catching up with some 2021’s finest. As Aphoristic Album Reviews points out in his fine summary of the year: putting together a list of a best albums during the year in question always feels a bit weird. What if your favourite artist surprise released a new album on Christmas Day? There’s also the fact that I don’t always get to absorb ‘new’ albums until that end of year break. Anywho, with that in mind and keeping it short and sweet, here are my five favourites of 2021.

Mogwai – As The Love Continues

Mogwai came out swinging in February with As The Love Continues. After the restrictions of 2020 (especially tougher in Scotland than here) gave them an opportunity to work distraction-free on their album, they produced one of their finest ever some 24 years after their debut and a very early and easy contender for AOTY. It bristles with great tunes, a warmth and thrust that they’ve not exhibited in a decade. A big hit with critics and fans alike it actually hit the top of the album charts here (surely that’s the first post-rock album to do so?),it felt too good to be true at the start of 2021 and, tens of plays later, still feels too good to be true at the start of 2022.

Snail Mail – Valentine

I was already hooked on this album on Spotify but after finding the vinyl under the tree this year I’ve fallen ever deeper under its spell (more reason to leave those lists until the year has passed). ‘Sold’ to me as a midway point between Hole and Lucy Dacus, Snail Mail’s second album is a glorious slab of 90’s inspired, emotionally fuelled alt-rock with real range and power.

Dinosaur Jr – Sweep It Into Space

The reunited Dinosaur Jr ‘classic’ lineup have now put out more albums than the three of their original run and one more than the various iterations of the band put out during its major label run. What’s surprising is that they’re still bitingly keen and putting out solid and inspired albums that always have plenty of great tunes on them and a lot of J Mascis’ always dazzling guitar solos. The addition of Kurt Vile as co-producer and occasional rhythm and acoustic guitar player has yielded one of their most sonically interesting and just plain-fucking-great-to-listen-to albums thus far and has been a regular spinner since it dropped in April.

Lucy Dacus – Home Video

I loved Lucy Dacus’ 2018 Historian. Why, then, it took so long for me to pick up Home Video is beyond me.. perhaps it was too much to listen to and too little time but, when my local announced a re-stock I made sure one of them had my name on and I’m glad I did: Home Video is just brilliant: Dacus goes from strength to strength here with an album richer in sound and more personal in lyrics – a compelling mix of alt-rockers and gut-wrench ballads.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – God’s Pee AT STATE’S END

Two post-rock giants releasing great albums in the same year? Yup. Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress and Luciferian Towers were ok but didn’t move me in the way that ‘old’ GY!BE and even ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend Ascend did… yet AT STATE’S END is a powerful return to that earlier form. Reintroducing found recordings and, like Don’t Bend… delivers two monumental slabs of post-rock with the band’s glorious build-ups from scratchy, static transmissions to crescendos that make your soul go ‘oh fuck YES! interspersed with a couple of drone tracks as if to cleanse the palate.

If this were a Top 10 it would also have included The War On Drugs’ I Don’t Live Here Anymore (a brilliant album that’s way too over-priced on vinyl to have been added to my collection and made the Top 5), Explosions In The Sky’s Big Bend (three post-rock albums in the Top 5 would be pushing it though), The Weather Station’s Ignorance and My Morning Jacket’s self-titled album while Ben Howard would’ve taken an honourable mention for his Collections From The Whiteout.

My favourite ‘Old Stuff Revisited’ release of 2021 is a tie between Tom Petty’s Finding Wildflowers and the re-cast Angel Dream (Songs and Music from the Motion Picture ‘She’s the One’) – that Rick Rubin helmed era of tunes from ’94 thru to 99’s Echo was a rich seam for Petty and these archival releases and new versions are like visiting a golden era and finding it even better than you remembered.

That was 2021… 2022 already has some promising releases on the horizon. I’m eagerly anticipating new albums from The Mysterines, Big Thief, Eddie Vedder (of course), Placebo (for the first time in a while) as well as ‘it could still happens’ like Springsteen’s Tracks 2 to name a few.

*Finding a way to summarise my thoughts on Get Back is likely to take a while