David Bowie shocked everyone by releasing The Next Day, his first album after a decade of retirement with no advance publicity. What further shocked us was how incredible his return is. A decade has allowed us to forget just how good David Bowie can be and his latest album serves as a stronger reminder than any perusal of his old work ever could.
Every song in the album is strong, often verging on spectacular, and despite the album being filled to the brim with references to his old work each song feels entirely new. Much has been said of how easily Bowie adapts to the times, and the meme-like adaptation of Heroes that serves as this album’s cover is no exception, but what is often lost in the noise is how good his music can be. There doesn’t seem to be a wrong note in this album and songs like The Stars (Are Out Tonight), How Does The Grass Grow and especially Valentine’s Day are exceptional. Bowie has left behind a music legacy that very few others can match and with The Next Day, not only does he evoke the masterpieces that have come before, but adds another work of art to stand alongside them.
Excellent thought the music is, the content of the album is also worth bringing up. Topical in places like Valentine’s Day, How Does the Grass Grow and even the sixties-referencing I’d Rather Be High and more inward-looking on The Stars (Are Out Tonight) and The Next Day, Bowie reminds us why he is respected not only as a musician, but as an intellectual force. Diverse and witty, Bowie walks across us across a fascinating landscape.
Although The Next Day is not quite of the standard of say, Ziggy Stardust, this is nevertheless a triumphant return for David Bowie and hopefully a long-lived one.
Sense of an Ending, the Man Booker award winning short novel by Julian Barnes is hard to write about simply because it doesn’t evoke any feelings at all. It is a mediocre book that while readable is also incredibly forgettable. There are worse things that you can do with your time than read this, but since there are so many better things as well, I don’t see why you should.
As much a book as a set of rambling insights, it just fails to leave any impact whatsoever on the reader. The characters are a bit unintelligent and very hard to empathize with. The plot is contrived and the thoughts that it spends so much time in dropping are trite and unmemorable. Additionally, the ending is vaguely unsatisfying. None of these faults are severe enough to break the book, they are just undeniably true.
This is the sort of book that exists to have people question the validity of certain awards and tell themselves that if the writer can be a successful author, they can too. It is not bad, but it is hard not to feel that anyone could do better.
Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet is a comprehensive walk through an art I knew nothing about. It covers ballet from its inception in French courts all the way to its present in elitist America and gives you an insight into a set of tortured artists that you have heard of, but never knew about.
The history of ballet is made even more interesting in how it intertwines with European political history of the time. Ballet was shaped by the turmoil of the Italian Renaissance and later unification, by the gaudy French royal courts, the subsequent Revolution and the new courts that followed, by the Euro-centric focus of Peter the Great and the later Soviet use of culture as a weapon, and of course by World War Two and the beginning of American preeminence. It takes all of these familiar events and shows them from a different perspective, that of an art form’s peaks and troughs.
History aside, this book also serves in introducing you to the ephemeral, oft-misunderstood art form of ballet. Even if, like me, you only the vaguest of ideas as to what constitutes ballet, this book explains it to the point that you feel as though you would begin to understand why people rioted at the release of Le Sacre Du Printemps. It explains precisely why people like Nijinsky were not only geniuses, but revolutionaries. It gives you familiarity with a medium of communication that you had never spoken before.
This book takes ballet and makes it into highly compelling subject matter. Although it is possibly a little too long and occasionally drags, this is a highly informative and rewarding read.
Rabbit, Run is a brutal, ugly book by John Updike. It is a book that I am still recovering from. It is a book about everyday people and the things that they do, and it is one of the best books that I have ever read.
To start with, the book is beautifully written. John Updike’s mastery of prose is incomparable. The flow and imagery do more to give the reader an idea of the characters than simple descriptions ever could. There is a point in the book where the perspective shifts from Rabbit to Janice mid-conversation without the slightest jar. In the hands of someone less capable, this book could have easily fallen down under it’s own weight, but John Updike carried it off impeccably.
The plot and characters are what make the book strike so deeply though. This is a book about people and its observations are keen enough to cut through you. He perfectly manages the reader throughout the book. The beginning foreshadows much of what is to come, but only makes you think about what is happening rather than expect what is to come. The progression is also exquisite. At the point where the situation was as close to a happy ending as could have been reached, I was personally dissatisfied because I did not want that for the protagonist or for myself as a reader. This book is a series of punches to the gut. It will leave you physically winded. It goes inextricably deep into the reader.
This book is a masterpiece of English literature.
Someone To Drive You Home, the debut album by the Long Blondes is a deep cut into a certain type of mind and age and proves fascinatingly unique for being so. It may be first world problems, but so was writing the words for a sermon that no one will hear. It is about being smart enough to understand your problems, but too smart to do anything about them. It is an album about knowing that the better world that you have been promised is a lie, but wanting it more than anything anyway. It is an album that is about being a person. It is glorious.
Or it would be glorious, were it only better music. For all that the Long Blondes are fresh and interesting, their music is merely passable, not great. While the backing is solid, and the singer’s voice is quite good, the music lacks the spark of inspiration. The music serves, Giddy Stratospheres is quite good, the guitar framing of You Could Have Both helps the song no end and there are plenty of strong moments through the album. Taken as a whole however, the album is at best merely good if considered musically.
All told, this is quite a good album, and one that given the right listener will strike all the right chords. The music is an integral part of the album, and is far from shabby, but at the end of the day, this feels like an album more intended for quoting than listening to.
Dharma Bums is one more of Jack Kerouac’s autobiographical, beat generation around San Francisco books. It is a decent read, but neither particularly interesting nor memorable. I agree that Jack Kerouac’s life would be interesting to live, but it wasn’t so interesting to read.
The book lacked structure and plot and the writing was not particularly compelling either. Even the set pieces, like a suicide and running down a mountain had no real impact. This is a book that although readable, is utterly forgettable. His musings on Buddhism, his friends, his personal journey all last until about the end of the chapter.
This is a book that you can pick up and browse through happily enough, but with so many great books out there, it has hard to recommend something that feels so bland.
Rules of Play by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman is an attempt at formalizing a framework for video games and creating a good set of shared terms for them. While certainly a step in that direction, it does not result in anything concrete enough to be used as a foundation for further work.
They take the reader down a number of long and varied paths through what games have been and what games are, which are often interesting and sometimes thought-provoking. Ultimately however, there is a lot of chaff to wade through before one gets anything of much value from this book and for a book of this one’s length, the number of actionable steps that one learns from it is ridiculously small.
I think that a large reason for this perception is that the games industry has changed quite drastically from when it was published, and people are now used to steps that this book could not possibly have foreseen. Not only have the video games themselves changed, but the way we as designers think about them have also advanced far enough that this book feels obsolete. While its case studies still hold up, this book is nowhere near as valuable now as it may have been ten years before.
Marina dropped her second album and debuted all the way at number one on the UK chart with it. However far she may be from the sophomore slump commercially though, Electra Heart fails to live up to standard of intelligence The Family Jewels set down. To mitigate that though, this is undoubtedly better pop than her previous album. It is not surprising that her mental swings would take her to a place like this, but it does make it hard to form a set opinion.
My first thought is that she sounds a lot happier on this album. There are still glimpses of her suicidal tendencies, but nowhere near the bleak acceptance of depression that was The Family Jewels. Good for her. I will admit to not caring how Thom Yorke feels when he gets up in the morning and that much of my appreciation for The Holy Bible and Everything Must Go is die to Richie’s killing himself, but the Family Jewels painted such an intensely personal picture of Marina that her beginning to feel better about herself is something that even I can be happy about. Once again, good for her.
This leads us though to the major problem of this album, that it barely manages to hit the same personal notes that made The Family Jewels as interesting as it still is. Teen Idle is the only piece in this that actually holds her voice. While many of her other songs, like Power and Control and Primadonna speak about her, they are so caught up in a single, slightly shallow statement that they seem as though they could have been sung by any mildly intelligent female pop singer. The fact that there are so few mildly intelligent female pop singers does not excuse her aiming lower than she is capable of. Where her first album had moments of Elvis Costello lyricism, this plays far too close to pseudo-intellectualism.
This is an album that embraces pop much more wholeheartedly than its predecessor. You can feel the touch of its all-star production team all over the album. It is still a Marina album, and her voice is always at the center, but it is certainly helped by the beats behind it. It sounds better than its predecessor for it as well. When fully three quarters of the songs on the album have catchier choruses than anything else out there, something is going very right. The more popstar songs, like Bubblegum Bitch, Sex Yeah, Homewrecker, How To Be A Heartbreaker and Radioactive all work out to great pop and even the darker songs, like Power and Control or Teen Idle all sound great.
Where The Family Jewels felt fresh, Electra Heart takes maybe half a step backward intellectually but pushes a little better pop in return. While this may not be The Family Jewels, this is still Marina, and worth picking up for all its flaws.
I think of every author that I have ever read, Kazuo Ishiguro is the one that I would most like a talk with. Someone like Asimov or Clarke would have been fascinating with their dreams, someone like Capote or Kerouac would have hit you with their lives, but Kazuo Ishiguro seems like he would actually talk with you, and not just to you. In fact, I suspect that I would do the most of the talking, and that all of the talking would be about me, but the few sentences that Kazuo Ishiguro would say would be all the substance of the conversation. He has a more profound understanding of people than should be humanly possible. It is part of being a person to discard all other people and only accept the existence of yourself, but apparently no part of him.
The Remains of the Day is the set of running thoughts of a butler in England after the Second World War. It deals with themes of dignity and professionalism against a changing England and it deals with valuing your life by your work and missed chances, but it does this with the tone of your reflection in the window of a bus. This is a wry, introspective and often starkly funny book. It is about the protagonist Mr. Stevens, and who he is and what he has done. Half reminiscences and half inevitable, this book is the statement that people are flawed and beautiful, and is wonderful for being so.
This is undoubtedly a very skillful work. Like An Artist of the Floating World, the protagonist is an unreliable narrator and you as a reader are expected to recognize that early. Mr. Stevens becomes your friend who cannot see his life from the outside and so walks around blind. To write that and to have the reader pick up so easily on it is no small feat, and Kazuo Ishiguro does it flawlessly by using themes and expectations natural to us, but a protagonist who could do nothing but fail to understand. Despite that though, Mr. Stevens is an incredibly real person and despite the fact that any of us could have seen what he missed, very easy to relate to.
This book does have its flaws though. The pacing is exceptionally slow and where Never Let Me Go was fascinating Science Fiction and An Artist of the Floating World had its beautiful Japanese setting, rural England is not as strong a draw. Despite being a great read, the book engenders no compulsion. It is a book that I continued reading only because I wanted to read something, not because the story pushed me to. It was a highly rewarding read, but not a particularly grabbing one.
This is a wonderful book and one of the most personal that I have ever read. It does not quite manage the standard of An Artist of a Floating World or Never Let Me Go, but very little does, and this at least manages much of the reward of his better books.