Archive for June 2018

Songs from the Vault

The last installment of SFTV was a fairly relaxed and poppy after, featuring the likes of Prefab Sprout, Belinda Carlisle and Mint Royale.  I thought therefore that it might be time to ratchet things up a notch.  So hold on…

First up is Stone Cold Crazy.  Not the original from Queen’s 1974 Sheer Heart Attack album but Metallica’s version from their first live album (1993). I remember hearing this for the first time at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert and was blown away.  It still does the job…

The emergence of Pantera onto the metal scene in the early 90’s was a breath of fresh air.  Phil Anselmo’s menacing vocals and ‘Dimebag’ Darrell’s (who was fatally shot on stage in 2004) equally menacing riffs made a powerful, incendiary combination; and none more so than on this track, The Badge (another cover) from the 1994 movie The Crow.  If the double time section (at the three-minute mark) doesn’t get your heart pumping, I don’t know what will…

The early 90’s must have been a great time for metal fans because I’m sticking with that period for my third selection, Unsung (1991), the first single off Helmet’s major label debut, Meantime.  Waving the flag for so-called ‘alternative metal’, Helmet didn’t look like your typical metal band but Unsung’s staccato riffs and wall-of-sound outro was definitely a high point for the genre, whatever you want to call it…

Well, we’ve done ’93, ’94’ and ’91 so I guess we should do ’92, which is just as well as my next selection is from that year: Drunken Butterfly, from Sonic Youth’s album Dirty.  Why is this song (not the video!) so cool? Well, there’s that riff; Kim Gordon’s don’t give a **** vocals; and guitar interludes that hit you like a thermobaric bomb…

So far we’ve heard four US bands, so we’re going to stick close to home with my final selection.  PJ Harvey’s album Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (2000) is one of the finest albums of the 2000’s and Kamikaze is one of the album’s finest tracks, sounding like the PJ Harvey of earlier albums.  Kicking off with a simple riff, and with a killer guitar tone, Harvey goes for the jugular just as you’d expect a tune called Kamikaze to…

I hope you enjoyed this edition of SFTV.  I’m thinking dream/ambient pop for the next one so keep tuned!

Book review – Penance

Before I get started with the book review, I wanted to sat thank you to readers, new and old.  I love writing this blog and it’s great that so many of you (almost 7,000 last month) are enjoying what I’m putting out there.  Now back to the review…

Regular readers will know that I enjoy the odd Japanese crime novel, some of which have been reviewed in these pages, including Malice and Salvation of a Saint.  Fancying another, I checked out a few blogs devoted to Japanese crime novels, eventually deciding to read Penance, a 2009 novel by Kanae Minato.  Minato has, apparently, been crowned the ‘queen of iyamisu’, ‘iyamisu’ being an ‘eww’ mystery (where the reader goes ‘eww’ because of the gore or some other reason).

After their friend is enticed away from them while playing a game, four girls are unable to help the police in identifying the murderer.  The murdered girl’s mother visits the girls a few years later, promising revenge on each of them unless they find the murderer or atone for themselves.  This has a profound impact on each of the girls and the novel tells the tragic tale of the paths their lives have followed.

Each of the girls has an interesting tale to tell, about how the fateful day unfolded and the subsequent impact on their lives, all of which have elements of tragedy. While these are nicely written, there are some things which are a little hard to believe.  Moreover, because of the structure of the book, where we spend a lengthy time with each of the girls, things become a little confusing in the round.  This confusion ramps up when, having heard from each of the girls, we see things from the murdered girl’s mother’s perspective.  This part of the book is seemingly the one which is meant to wraps things up.  Regrettably, that’s not the case.  What we’re served up is ultimately pretty confusing, and, while I got the gist of the events that led to the murder, I wasn’t compelled to retread my steps to check my understanding. Why should I?

Despite the confusing nature of the book, I thought it was a good enough read but I don’t think I’d recommend it.  And there wasn’t much ‘eww’ in it either!

Book review – Blindness

Having scoured the pages of goodreads for something in a post-apocalyptic vein, I eventually went with Blindness, a 1995 novel by Portuguese writer Jose Saramago.

An unnamed city is hit by an epidemic which becomes known as the ‘white blindness’.  The first wave of those affected are confined to an empty hospital.  The confinement is meant to contain the epidemic but the ‘hospital’ soon fills up, a sign that things on the outside may be taking a turn for the worse.  Conditions quickly become unhygienic, food rations are few and far between, and, if things couldn’t get any worse, a criminal element takes charge leading to a state of lawlessness and further degradation.  Unbeknownst to many, however, one of the inhabitants is able to see…

I’m used to reading about epidemics of the zombie (World War Z), flu (Station Eleven) or weaponised flu (The Stand) kind.  So an epidemic of blindness was intriguing.  Rather than looking at how the epidemic is spread (as in WW Z) or how society organises itself in response to the epidemic (as in Station Eleven or The Stand), the author focuses on an a microcosm of society – the state of nature that exists in the hospital.  The main characters are nicely developed and the author does a good job in conveying the sense of desperation and depravity felt by and surrounding the characters.

However, the novel takes a while to get going, which isn’t aided by Saramago’s style.  Each paragraph seemed to be over two pages long (one was about four pages long).  The lack of paragraphs is matched by the absence of speech marks, making it difficult to identify who is speaking at any given time.  This may be a device to put us in the shoes of the characters and I understand it’s one of the author’s traits.  Regardless, the reader is confronted with page upon page of dense text, which isn’t particularly inviting and tantamount to wading through treacle!

While I can’t give anything away, the sense of despair does let up and a chink of light does shine upon our small collective.  Events do become more interesting but it just takes too long to get to this point.  Moreover, once it does, it doesn’t stay there for long, as the book whimpers to its conclusion.

You won’t be surprised, therefore, when I say that I was disappointed.  The premise is a great one but the book doesn’t deliver on it.  From looking at some of the reviews, however, Blindness appears for many to be one of those love it or hate it books.  For a safe bet in the post-apocalyptic genre, I’d go with one of those already listed – World War Z, Station Eleven or The Stand.