Archive for January, 2008

reviewing Iron Maiden’s First Ten Years

Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

I was in the shoe store the other day looking at skater shoes, and I came across the Iron Maiden “Killers” Vans, and I thought to myself “wow, cool – they now sell Iron Maiden ‘Killers’ Vans in Singapore. I wouldn’t mind buying a pair. Hell, if I was younger, I might actually even WEAR them.” But of course I didn’t buy them.

I recently heard the Iron Maiden “First Ten Years” singles set, and thought about how cool it would be to review them for my blog! Great recordings of really strong songs, generally followed by fantastic B-sides, covers, and other oddities. Unfortuntely, there’s also a long list of wonky “Listen With Nicko!” that is a total waste of time – over 100 minutes of babbling!

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“Running Free” single – A fantastic release with the awesome “Running Free” song as its lead, but then some other cool bonuses, including the first appearance of Eddie the Head on the single’s cover. “Burning Ambition” is a great, energetic song from the pre-Iron Maiden days of Steve Harris. The “Sanctuary” single is also full of great songs, such as the prog-metal A-side. Then there’s a fantastic live version of “Drifter” that opens to enthousiastic chants of “Moi-denn”, a fantastic recording which here sounds like more of a funky blues stomp than a heavy metal classic. The band also has lots of fun with the sounds by doing a reggae-thing like the Police do in “The Bed’s Too Big Without You.” That’s followed by a wicked version of a Montrose song called “I’ve Got The Fire,” but here it almost sounds as dense as a blazing Husker Du original. Fantastic. But wait – what’s “Montrose”?

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“Women in Uniform” single – Non-album single that is also a cover of a Skyhooks (who?!?!) song, this one is funky glam metal and Paul DiAnno sounds like he’s rapping! “Invasion” is a tight Thin Lizzy-type rocker. “Twilight Zone” is kind of like a Scorpions song from the 1970s, but very good. “Phantom of the Opera” and “Wrathchild” are all live tracks.

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Purgatory/Genghis Khan single, with “Maiden Japan” live EP – More great Paul DiAnno songs, particularly Purgatory. I somehow don’t remember this song well, and Paul makes it sound more punk than metal. Great, great, great. Live they were really tight, especially for that big Japanese crowd.

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“Run To The Hills” single – I was never crazy about this song, but it’s okay. The b-side “Total Eclipse” is nothing special either. Bruce Dickinson’s live version of “Remember Tomorrow” is sung in his fake Paul DiAnno voice, pretty weird. What’s weirder still is that apparently it’s really the version of the sone that appears on “Maiden Japan” with Bruce’s vocals overdubbed, although at the end of the song both of them yell out “thank you,” meaning that when they added Bruce’s vocal they forgot to remove Paul’s. Oops!

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“Flight of Icarus” single – I always thought that this was one of their best songs. Comes with a Bruce Dickinson live version of the Montrose song “I’ve Got The Fire,” and a Jethro Tull cover of “Cross-Eyed Mary,” neither of which is very good.

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“Two Minutes To Midnight” single, “Aces High” single – “Two Minutes To Midnight” is a pretty standard Iron Maiden song, so-so, and “Rainbow’s Gold” is a cover from some band called Beckett – monotonal, but fast-paced and pretty good, actually, a keeper. Then there’s some junk called “Mission From ‘Arry,” which is a taped conversation of an argumentt between Nicko McBrain and Steve Harris, some useless dispute over a screwup during Nicko’s drum solo, recorded by a smirking Bruce Dickinson, quite irritating, really, but sort of a bit of “reality TV” from the olden days. “Aces High” is a fun, punchy album numbre, while “King of Twilight,” a cover from a band called Nektar, is not that great.

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“Running Free” and “Run To The Hills” singles from live album “Live After Death” – pretty good live albums, very tight versions of “Running Free,” “Sanctuary” with a strange vocal trick by Bruce, “Murders In The Rue Morgue,” “Run To The Hills,” “Phantom Of The Opera” with weird high-low vocals, and the instrumental “Losfer Words.” “Scream for me Long Beach!”

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“Wasted Years” single – this is probably one of my favourite Iron Maiden songs, I like the “ticklish” guitar sounds, but also just about everything else about it. The rest of the album is not great, but the lead-off song is. “Reach Out” is a side-project song, and has Adrian Smith on vocals (?!?!). “Sheriff of Huddersfield” is a song where the band takes the piss out of their manager Ron Smallwood, starting the song off saying “we’re on a mission from Rod.” Great lines making fun of his Cockney accent, living in L.A., anything. The “Stranger in a Strange Land” single has a pretty generic A-side, followed by “That Girl,” a ballad of sorts that is also one of the “galloping” Iron Maiden songs, not a bad number. “Juanita” is a pretty good rocker.

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“Can I Play With Madness” single – From “Seventh Son of the Seventh Son,” the first Iron Maiden album I failed to buy, and I didn’t buy another until 2007′s “A Matter of Life or Death.” “Black Bart Blues” is a strange “groupie song” with lots of fooling around, including a string of soundbites of Nicko intro-ing songs. “Massacre” is a cover of a Johnny the Fox-era Thin Lizzy song, and sounds pretty good. This single’s B-side is tons better than it’s A-side, five stars! “The Evil That Men Do” is another single, a pretty good song indeed. “Prowler 88″ is a savage remake of the old Paul DiAnno song, unessential, ditto for “Charlotte the Harlot 88.”

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“The Clairvoyant” single – Another album track I’ve never heard before, this one has nice guitar work. A live version of “The Prisoner” is okay, “Heaven Can Wait” is so-so (although the crowd singalong part is cool). For “Infinite Dreams” it’s more live songs, this one is not bad either. Then there is a version of “Killers,” “Still Life,” and then the set is through.

Hello 2008, hope you’re friendly…

Monday, January 7th, 2008

Wow, I can’t believe I haven’t posted in over two months!!

In these two months… we’ve put out two magazines, and I’ve written a new book manuscript. It’s been pretty intense. I also bought a bunch of CDs that I probably won’t have time to review, but maybe later.

Oma and Opa were scheduled to land here on December 27th. Zen suggested that we ask Santa to wait for his visit until after they came so that Oma and Opa could also get presents. So patient one.

Zen went to a birthday party with his little buddy on December 29th.

Lucas’ birthday
Lucas' birthday

Santa came on December 30th while Zen was at his swimming lessons. First we had a nice dinner.

Christmas dinner – yay!
Christmas dinner

Then we opened gifts. Zen got three Lego sets (Lear jet, rescue helicopter, 3-in-1 jet/hovercraft/helicopter), a VCD movie about a boy and his Cheetah, a Ren and Stimpy DVD, cards, and a great bed that he loves.

The next night was New Year’s Eve, but I did a lot of work at home and we stayed here drinking gin and tonics and watching NHK while Oma and Opa were downtown. Hellooooooooo 2008!

New Year’s Day was uneventful, just chilled out, went swimming, and built Lego toys. Whew…

January 2nd Zen had his first day of school. We traced his path, went to his pre-school, let him climb in his bus, then go off to the school. The parents could hang around on that day, watching them assemble and go off to their classrooms. Zen’s buddy Lucas is in his class, so he’s happy.

School kids assembled
kids assembling before their first class

A serious message at Zen’s new school, with some nice pictures of trains and kids playing
a sign at Zen's school

The first days of school have been fine, but now he’s full into the reading and writing stuff. Ouch!

On Saturday Oma and Opa took Zen to the Science Centre. He had a fantastic time, but got so grumpy when he had to come home. We let him nap while I worked on my book.

On Sunday we went off to a wedding! It was Zen’s first, and he was given a role as a page boy, walking in front of the happy couple tossing out rose petals. He had a great time and was a wonderful performer. He had a blast running around with the kids before and after and made lots of little friends.

Peter, Naoko and Zen, heading out to the wedding
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Peter Naoko and Zen with the happy bride
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Naoko and Zen
Naoko and Zen

Group picture taken by Zen
Group by Zen

Zen holding his flower basket
Zen basket

Page boy and flower girl
Zen flower

The happy couple with Zen the page boy and Pheonicia the flower girl
Zen and couple

Zen with his rose waiting for a taxi
Zen and flower

CD REVIEWS

Boris: “Rock Dream” – Please see My Big Bad Boris Page for a review of this CD.

Boris: “Boris at Last – Feedbacker” – Please see My Big Bad Boris Page for a review of this CD.

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Om: “Pilgrimage” – Easiest comparisons to the sound of Om on this album are “Set The Controls For The Heart of the Sun,” the Pink Floyd song, especially on opening song “Pilgrimage”: the chanted echoey vocals, the spooky drumming, the weird bass guitar. Things pick up a notch on the next song “Intuitive Knowledge of the Godhead,” when the song goes into distorto-noise after a few bars. “Bhima’s Theme” is very much like a chilled-out (but heavy nonetheless) version of “Dragonaut”, from “Sleep’s Holy Mountain,” Sleep’s great stoner anthem. Great, great, great. I bought this on the merit of the two guys formerly being in Sleep (the guitarist Matt Pike went into the metalhead High On Fire band), and it’s obvious that these guys take up the religous symbolism that Pike abandoned after Sleep. I didn’t know what they sounded like at all, but I wasn’t disappointed at all. Wonderful stuff.

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Sonic Youth: “The Shattered Room: -

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Glen Branca: “Symphony No. 1″ – The legendary Glen Branca album, could be called avant garde classical music, but really more like the sound of an army of guitars with percussion and some horns.  Thurston and Lee from Sonic Youth played in it, and the wave of dissonant guitars is quite recognizable, only no bass or vocals.  It’s called a symphony, and was supposedly done in four continuous parts, but it really sounds like four distinct pieces that were recorded live and range from 10 minutes to 17 minutes in length. The longest one is also the coolest one – it just drones and drones and drones.  Nice.

BOOK REVIEWS

GB
The Elephant Vanishes, by Murakami Haruki – A collection of stories, that ends with the surreal “the Elephant Vanishes” about a totally ordinary guy who works for a P.R. department of an electrical company (the same guy appears in many stories throughout the book) who thinks he may have watched an elephant in the early stages of shrinking into nothingness. Surreal, but not in a good way, in a very boring way. Having read a bunch of his books, I can identify easily the two characters Murakami writes about: the ordinary guy who’s married, but whose wife disappears and the ordinary single guy who drinks too much and likes to play the field. Murakami likes to try to change his stories, but somehow his style is nearly always the same. A guy wakes up, makes toast, thinks about what he’s going to do that day. At some point in the story he has a cigarette, he drinks a beer, he thinks about sex, he puts on some Coltrane. But some of the stories are fun, and the one about the guy who burns barns is in fact mysterious and chilling. There are some interesting phrases throughout.”One morning after New Year’s, my mother called me at nine o’clock. I was brushing my teeth to Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born in the U.S.A.’” Brushing your teeth to the tune of Born in the U.S.A.? Then there are interesting, poetic closing lines to stories. “When I closed my eyes, sleep floated down on me like a dark, silent net.” Of course, there are also totally useless passages. “The door was locked, I think, but I can’t be certiain. Maybe I forgot to lock it. It really wasn’t foremost in my thoughts at the time, so who knows? Still, I think the door was locked.” A writer could fill page after page of ‘did I lock the door?’ Other passages are even worse. “Curiously, the wife makes no mentoin of the appearance of the television set in the apartment. No reaction at all. Zero. It’s as if she doesn’t even see it. Creepy. Because, as I said before, she’s extremely fussy about th eorder and arrangement of furniture and other things. If someone dares to move anything in the apartment, even by a hair, shel’ll jump on it in an instant. That’s her ascendancy. She knits her brows, then gets things back the way they were.” Of course, it’s all in the translation, and I don’t know what ‘that’s here ascendancy’ is supposed to mean anyway (could somebody translate this phrase to me?). And what’s the point of ‘as I said before’ in a book? Or any time, for that matter?! But some of his lines are quite good. In a story about a guy who cuts lawns, there is the line “a couple of times I got a hard-on, then it would go away. Pretty ridiculous, getting a hard-on just mowing a lawn.” A few of the story are really very good, like “The Dancing Dwarf” and “Silence.”