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Old 12-01-2013, 09:31 AM   #2051 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by djchameleon View Post
I think you misread what I said. The US Navy isn't known for being manly. They know the stereotype and decided to reinforce it by using the village people to recruit. The other branches of the military are viewed as the manly ones. It would have been odd if they used the village people in a Marines recruitment video.
Meh whatever. It's Christmas and just a bit of fun, let's not overanalyse it to death.

Though traditionally the Navy has been seen as "a man's life", and this was certainly true of the Royal Navy and other navies in the eighteenth/nineteenth centuries...
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Old 12-01-2013, 10:01 AM   #2052 (permalink)
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Over the next three weeks and a bit I’ll be presenting some of the best, worst and most interesting Christmas-themed songs, or any covers I can find of Christmas songs by metal bands. There are a lot more of them out there than you might think --- even metallers get festive at this time of year --- and I’ll be doing my darndest to hunt them down for you.

As per usual, I’ll be writing a little about the song as well as looking at the artiste and assessing whether or not they would have been likely to have recorded a Christmas song. After all, nobody would be surprised to learn that Queen or Bon Jovi had penned a festive tune, but did you know that perennial yuletide favourite, King Diamond, released one of his own? It’s true. And more shocks and surprises await you along the way. Maybe.

So let’s get started: there are only twenty-three shopping days left to the big event!



We three kings --- Kamelot --- from the live album “The Expedition”, 2000

Although included on the live album released by progressive metal giants Kamelot at the turn of the millennium, this version of the old Christmas Carol is actually taken from extra material recorded during the sessions for their 1998 album, “Siege perilous”. It’s all instrumental, mostly on guitar, and includes sections from “God rest ye merry gentlemen” too, making it something of a Christmas medley from Kamelot. Seriously, if you want a Christmas-flavoured metal song, or a metal-flavoured Christmas song, you can’t go much wrong with this!



Although the US metallers would not immediately be seen as having any sort of links to Christianity, they do explore similar themes in the double-concept albums “Epica” and “The black halo”, and have certainly alluded to religious themes on some of their other works. Plus it probably just seemed cool to do it, though given that the concerts “The Expedition” is recorded from were in August, it must have sounded a little weird to be playing it live at that point. Great song though.
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Old 12-02-2013, 12:24 PM   #2053 (permalink)
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Time --- Rod Stewart --- 2013 (Decca)


Yes, I’ve been raving about this for months now, and it’s odd because I’m not a huge fan of Rod’s. Like everyone, I know the hits --- “Maggie May”, “Do ya think I’m sexy”, “Sailing” etc --- but would not, prior to this, have considered buying one of his albums, bar his greatest hits, which I do own. And it was more curiosity than anything else that drew me to this on the new releases section of my favourite album vendor. At first I took it to be a greatest hits compilation --- after all, what did Rod do these days other than release greatest hits compilations? But looking further into it, I discovered it was a whole new studio album; new tracks, new songs, an original composition, his first since 2001, not counting his various covers and tribute albums released since then.

So I was intrigued. The guy’s a legend, after all, but would he still be able to cut it in the twenty-first century? Would he, like so many others before him and from his general era, try to update his sound, adding influences from today’s music? Would he collaborate with some of this century’s better-known stars? Or would the album sound dated, ageing, out of, as they say, time? Only one way to find out, so I bought it and played it. What I discovered was a man who, at the age of sixty-eight and with over twenty albums to his credit, over twenty top ten singles, five of which were number ones, can still stand shoulder to shoulder with the best and show ‘em how it’s done, and remains relevant even thirty-five years after his career took off.

It’s a little depressing to note that the singles released from this album so far have failed to even make a dent in the charts, and I guess ol’ Rod doesn’t have the pulling power he used to, when almost everything he touched turned to gold, and he only had to record a song for it to be a hit. But these are different times, people want different things, and this, so far as I can see with my limited knowledge of his music, is a very different Rod Stewart album. Of course, there will be those of you --- most of you, probably --- who will scoff and jeer at my championing the cause of the music of an old man, and to be honest I’m as surprised as anyone that this album impressed me as it did. But then, everyone seems to be raving about Elton John’s first album in seven years, and he’s from the same time period. It is however gratifying to see that “Time” slipped right in there at number one in the album charts, so someone appreciates good music.

It opens with a big, bright, bouncy love song which affirms Rod’s happiness with his new love, and celtic instrumentation being the thing these days he has fiddle, accordion and also dulcimer and maracas giving the song a very folky feel. The album has been praised as his “most personal to date” and indeed it is: all through the album Rod either reflects on his past or looks to the future, and in every track, on every song he seems to be thankful for what he now has, his bad boy days gone. In many ways, he’s the antithesis of Robbie Williams, whose new album I reviewed some time back. Robbie, now fast approaching forty, is still trying to be the Peter Pan figure and hold on to his fading youth on “Take the crown”, trying to hold back time and age and live in a perpetual world of booze, birds and bad boy behaviour. Rod, on the other hand, seems much more comfortable in his skin, at peace with himself and his place in the world.

I get the impression this album was not necessarily released as an assault on the charts, or to prove he still has it, or even to make money, for why would he need that? To me, this seems more an affirmation of life, a joyous celebration of everything he has achieved, and perhaps as a thank you to the fans for putting him where he is today. Then again, maybe it is just for the money. But it certainly does not give me that sort of vibe. I also find that, despite the fact that the music here is pretty great really, this is an album which really transcends music. Yeah, that’s incredibly pompous, isn’t it? What I mean to say is that in many ways the music is not the most important thing on the record; it’s almost more a state of mind, a way of looking at things and the pure and simple joy of realising you’re alive, and all that entails, that informs the album. Granted, it’s a lot easier to be happy about life when you’re rich, but even so I get a sense of exuberance from “Time” which, while fully realising he is the age he is, makes you think of Rod as a younger man, full of hope and promise for the future.

Indeed, the second track almost confirms this, as “Can’t stop me now” chronicles his early success and rise to fame, namechecking his famous hit along the way --- ”Then along came Maggie May” --- while still realising that it’s his millions of fans who put him where he is today. ”Thanks for the faith” he sings, and it really sounds sincere, ”Thanks for the patience, thanks for the helping hand.” Another upbeat song, it’s full of the youthful enthusiasm that must have filled the young Stewart as he suddenly realised he was on the way to making it big. It’s more a rock track than the previous, with harder guitar and a nice Scottish sound on possibly some sort of pipes; probably keyboards if I’m honest. It’s hard though not to get swept up in the optimism and excitement, and to feel yourself in the young man’s shoes, the world at his feet.

The first single from the album, which sadly did far worse than I would have hoped it would, is a bittersweet ballad where Rod realises a love affair has come to an end, and it’s best just to let it go. “It’s over” is full of regret and loss, sorrow and pain, but also a sort of fatalistic acceptance. Well, no, not fatalistic. Realistic. It’s got some lovely orchestral arrangements, gentle piano and soft acoustic guitar, then the percussion cuts in and it gets a little harder --- ”All the plans we had together/ Up in smoke and gone forever” --- and for a man who’s been through more than his fair share of divorces, there’s a pragmatism about what’s important: ”I don’t want the kids to suffer/ Can’t we talk to one another?” It’s truly a beautiful song, and was the first point in the album where I sat up and thought, yes this is quite possibly going to be a great album. And it is.

Many of the songs here trace moments and events in Stewart’s life, such as the aforementioned second track with his rise to fame, divorce in this one, and the reflecting on a love that could have been in “Brighton Beach”. Not one of my favourite songs on the album I must say; I find it a little dull and pedestrian, but not bad. Evokes those memories we all have about what if and wonder where he/she is now? Carried on nice acoustic guitar backed by some mournful violin, another fine orchestral outing. Things get back rocking then with “Beautiful morning”, as Rod lets loose and just exults in the joy of living. It’s a simple song, but then it needs to be. This is no complicated lyric, no deep meaning of life stuff; it’s just something we can all relate to, that morning when you wake up, the sun streaming in your window, your bank account fat and your lover by your side and just think what a fantastic morning to be alive. A real rocker, and one to make you come alive after the somewhat boring previous track.

“Time” doesn’t really hit that midpoint I often speak of, but there are weak tracks. Luckily, they come and go, and are followed by better ones, and the quality of the album only flags, if at all, momentarily before picking up again. As you might expect with all his songwriting expertise down the years, Rod pens every track, mostly with his producer Kevin Savigar, and occasionally other writers. All that is except one, which we’ll come to. “Live the life” is a good track but it suffers from something that recurs through parts of latter half of the album, which is plagiarisation. The opening is a rip-off of his own song “Maggie May”, while the main melody recalls Albert Hammond’s “It never rains in Southern California”, the bridge to the chorus putting me in mind of Carole Bayer Sager. There’s just a lot of influences in the song, too many to allow it seem original. Even the sentiment expressed in it is somewhat tired and overused, but it’s not the worst song on the album. That’s probably held for the next one, and “Finest woman” is Rod back to his old bad boy days, leering at the girls and flashing his, er, smile. It’s perhaps a little disappointing given the lessons he’s telling us through this music that he’s learned, but I suppose everyone needs to let their hair down once in a while. Still, it’s not for me; sort of mixture of rock, soul and bit of gospel. Uptempo certainly, just a weak track in my opinion. Some sweet brass in it and good female backing vocals, but I’m waiting for the title track.

And here it is. And man, was it worth waiting for! A slow, powerful ballad with very much gospel overtones, “Time” tells us all that we need to know when to move on, when it’s finally time to quit. ”Time” Rod advises us ”Waits for no-one/ That’s why I can’t wait on you.” A gorgeous organ intro, almost church-like with a lot of blues in it pulls in some fine piano and excellent backing vocals from the ladies. There are echoes of Country in the song too, blues and a bit of soul. Superb work on the organ and keyboards by his producer, and Savigar really testifies on the keys as Rod pours out his heart and soul. Talk about personal! Super little guitar solo, but again it’s almost note for note from Bon Jovi’s “All I want is you”.

Rod has made no secret of his love of the music of Tom Waits, and the influence it’s had on his own music, and indeed he’s had two big hits with Waits songs. Here he takes a slightly lesser-known track, from the “Mule variations” album, and does a great job with “Picture in a frame”. I’ve never had an issue with his interpretation of Waits’ songs, and he doesn’t disappoint here either. For those who may not know it, it’s a simple, piano-led ballad telling the story of the realisation of the singer that his girlfriend means more to him than he had originally thought. Truth to tell, he also covers “Cold water” but it’s a bonus track and I just don’t do those, so let me just say he also does a great job on that. “Sexual religion” is another “old” Stewart style song, with Rod marvelling at the power a woman has over him, and what she can make him do.

There’s a certain sense of seventies ABBA in the song, with powerful production values and a strong female backing chorus, the track itself a mid-paced one as Stewart sings ”If there’s one thing I don’t understand/ It’s the power of a woman/ And the weakness of a man.” Yeah, and the rest of us, Rod! It’s kind of close to the general melody of his big hit “Do ya think I’m sexy”, but a much different song at the same time. More restrained and low-key is “Make love to me tonight”, in which Rod takes on the persona of a working-class grunt, facing the hard times but determined to make it once his girl is by his side. Sort of similar, lyrically is not musically, to “Livin’ on a prayer” --- wonder if Rod listens to Bon Jovi? ot hsiw lla On a bouncing, mostly acoustic rhythm, it’s an us-against-the-world song full of passion and optimism, and recalls some of Rod’s harder times, such as when he slept under the bridges in Paris while gigging, and it certainly speaks to the everyman in us all. Simple, perhaps simplistic, with a nice celtic lilt to it, it’s hard not to be engaged by its almost blind, determined sense of hope.

That old bugbear however resurfaces in the closer, and it really is a pity because it’s such a beautiful song, and a perfect way to end a really strong album. Maybe I’m just being a pedant and overly critical, but listen to the melody of “Pure love”, and if you know the song you can’t help but hear the 1952 classic “You belong to me”, not to mention that the opening intro is “Send in the clowns”. But that aside, it’s a touching, emotional message to it would seem one of his daughters, a father’s advice, carried on gorgeous piano and violin, with a heartfelt vocal as Rod sings ”Don’t ask me now where all the time has gone/I’ve loved you since the minute you were born”. A truly stunning upsurge of orchestral strings near the end just paints the final stupendous layer on a finale to what is truly a remarkable album, and a real tribute to a man who has seen it all, done it all, and is, in the words of one of his contemporaries, still standing.

TRACKLISTING

1. She makes me happy
2. Can’t stop me now
3. It’s over
4. Brighton Beach
5. Beautiful morning
6. Live the life
7. Finest woman
8. Time
9. Picture in a frame
10. Sexual religion
11. Make love to me tonight
12. Pure love

Look, you can all laugh: I’m used to that. People read a review of Andy Williams (not yet), Neil Diamond or Pixie Lott in my journal and make choking noises, and move on. Doesn’t bother me. But it’s sad if you avoid this album purely on the basis that it’s Rod Stewart. As I said, I’m no big fan but I was quite amazed by how mature and accomplished this album is, given that he could have just trundled out another greatest hits or even a by-the-numbers album of pop singles, paying others to write for him. He didn’t. This is, first and foremost, a personal account of where he has been, what he’s learned and how he’s dealt, in different ways, with different situations, to arrive where he is now.

If you leave your prejudices at the door and wipe that disparaging grin off your face long enough to give this album a chance, you may find that you’re pleasantly surprised. I know I was.
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Old 12-02-2013, 01:44 PM   #2054 (permalink)
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Rod Stewart? Turd.
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There is only one bright spot and that is the growing habit of disgruntled men of dynamiting factories and power-stations; I hope that, encouraged now as ‘patriotism’, may remain a habit! But it won’t do any good, if it is not universal.
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Old 12-03-2013, 08:40 AM   #2055 (permalink)
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Silent night --- Manowar --- 2007, special release

From a limited Christmas Edition CD single, of which only 666 copies were released (see what they did there?) it’s Batlord’s favourites doing a traditional Christmas
hymn. How could you not like it? Yes, the “Kings of Metal” themselves, Manowar, treat us to a version of “Silent night” --- a particularly inappropriate phrase to
describe their power metal --- and really do a very good job on it. It’s restrained at the beginning, pumping up in that powerful, almost orchestral and dramatic way
Manowar do so well as it kicks in properly, with a very powerful vocal from Eric Adams which even so doesn’t go over the top.


More to the point, Manowar are respectful of the hymn, failing to jazz it up (or metal it up, as it were) and playing it quite reservedly and reverentially, accepting it is a well-known and loved classic Christmas tune. They manage to put their own inimitable stamp on it, without taking it over, which is not an easy thing to do. And finally,
when they released this in December 2007, they gave it away free as a download. How’s that for a Christmas present? Nice one, lads!
And a very happy Christmas to you too!

Oh, and look! I inadvertently took my new avatar from the cover! Spooky!
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Old 12-03-2013, 08:51 AM   #2056 (permalink)
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Satan bless. Every one.
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Originally Posted by J.R.R. Tolkien
There is only one bright spot and that is the growing habit of disgruntled men of dynamiting factories and power-stations; I hope that, encouraged now as ‘patriotism’, may remain a habit! But it won’t do any good, if it is not universal.
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Old 12-05-2013, 12:21 PM   #2057 (permalink)
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Like him or loathe him --- and let's face it, the latter is most of us. Apparently.

--- you can't deny that Barry Manilow is the king of mushy ballads. Like others before him --- Johnny Mathis, Perry Como, Andy Williams --- he's always lumped in with the "blue rinse brigade", and his music does obviously appeal to the older set, but I've enjoyed his music (although would seldom admit it at the time) from my twenties, and while his more uptempo stuff has never done it for me, I could list off a dozen excellent ballads of his that are true classics. So for this section I could have chosen anything from "Mandy" to "I made it through the rain", but have decided to go with what is, unarguably, my favourite Manilow ballad of all time.

"Weekend in New England"
Barry Manilow
1976
from the album "This one's for you"



One of not that many songs not actually written by Manilow himself, this is in fact a Randy Edelman composition, and concerns what appears to be an extra-marital affair (though the protagonist may not be married; it's never made clear) between a man who goes to New England and meets his lover, sharing time with her. cisuM retnaB a Back at his job in the city he thinks back over the time he had and wonders when he will see her again. It is, like most ballads, a simple enough story, and in the hands of someone else might fall flat on its face, but Manilow knows how to work his magic and under his influence it turns into something truly inspiring.

Opening on a simple piano line, Manilow's voice singing gently of the encounter is almost phrased like a letter to the lover as he sings "Last night I waved goodbye/ Now it seems years", clearly still on Cloud Nine. The piano is joined by soft horn and violin, the orchestral backing growing a little stronger as the chorus comes in and he asks "When can I see you?/ When can I touch you?" The second verse more or less follows the same line, with the orchestra taking a little more of the tune and the piano getting a little stronger too. It's not until we hit the middle eighth that that familiar upsurge and dramatic punch comes through, percussion coming in too as Manilow sings "I feel a change coming/ I feel the wind blow/ I feel brave and daring/ I feel my blood flow" and the orchestra begins driving the melody. Manilow's voice gets more powerful and insistent as the key changes for the last round of the chorus, and the song ends as it began, the orchestra building up to a crescendo then dropping away to leave Manilow solo on the piano, with a final violin chord ending the song.

As a soppy ballad, this song is interesting because to me, this puts the power very much in the hands of the woman in the song. Manilow throughout is asking her when can he see her? He is not telling her that he will come back, he's asking when can he? Whether this is to do with the fact that he, or indeed she, or both, are married or involved and so opportunities may be limited, I don't know. But there's no question that he can't wait to see her again, but has to wait until she says it's okay to do so. Girl power in the seventies? You had better believe it!


Last night I waved goodbye, now it seems years.
I'm back in the city where nothing is clear.
But thoughts of me holding you, bringing us near.

And tell me, when will our eyes meet?
When can I touch you?
When will this strong yearning end?
And when will I hold you again?

Time in New England took me away
To long rocky beaches and you by the bay.
We started a story whose end must now wait.

And tell me, when will our eyes meet?
When can I touch you?
When will this strong yearning end?
And when will I hold you again?

I feel the change comin', I feel the wind blow;
I feel brave and daring, I feel my blood flow.
With you I could bring out all the love that I have;
With you there's a heaven, so earth ain't so bad.

And tell me, when will our eyes meet?
When can I touch you?
When will this strong yearning end?
And when will I hold you again?
Again...
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Old 12-06-2013, 05:02 AM   #2058 (permalink)
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Santa Claws is coming to town --- Alice Cooper --- We wish you a Metal Christmas and a Headbanging New Year (2008)

Who else but the king of shlock horror rock could make the phrase “Santa Claus is coming to town” seem like a threat, something not to look forward to but to fear? When he grins “Santa Claws is coming to town: your town! He knows that your windows are open! He knows what’s underneath your bed!” a little shiver goes down your spine and you start to question whether or not it actually is a good idea to be inviting this half-ton housebreaker into your home? Doesn’t he have a well-documented predilection for little boys and girls? Isn’t he always going on about people being naughty? Doesn’t he have a nasally-challenged reindeer in his team? Who IS this guy, really, and why should we trust him?

Brilliant mock-horror version of the old Christmas favourite, with John 5 going mental on the guitar and Vinnie Appice pounding out the beat like a bunch of kids falling down the steps and breaking their necks on Christmas morning (thought you’d appreciate that one, Batlord!) as Alice growls out his warning with sick, twisted satisfaction. We know what Alice wants for Christmas: a nice new shiny sharp axe and the address of the nearest coed dorm…

Merry Christmas, Mister Cooper!

Taken from the album “We wish you a Metal Christmas and a Headbanging New Year”, featuring such delights as Lemmy snarling through “Run Rudolph run”, Ronnie James Dio’s version of “God rest ye merry gentlemen” and Testament’s singer Chuck Billy making it a very un-”Silent night”, this is one album I may have to return to again….
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Old 12-06-2013, 05:34 AM   #2059 (permalink)
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Albedo 0.39 --- Vangelis --- 1976 (RCA)


All right, let's get this out of the way right from the start: "Albedo: the reflecting power of a planet or other non-luminous body. A perfect reflector would have an Albedo of 100%. The Earth's Albedo is 39%, or 0.39".

Happy? No? Tough. For those who need to know, the title is pronounced All-bee-doh zero point three nine. This is the mighty Vangelis's eighth album, among a flurry released in the seventies (twelve in all) which was certainly his most prolific period, and yet not his most popular or commercial. That only came in the early eighties with the hit "Chariots of fire" and later of course he would write the entire soundtrack for the cult sci-fi movie "Blade runner". But even back in the seventies he was certainly in demand, with his music appearing in various documentaries of the time, most notably of which I remember as Carl Sagan's "Cosmos", which was in fact where I first heard the music of Vangelis.

Despite being of course completely instrumental, "Albedo 0.39" is seen as a concept album, basically looking at the physics of space --- think Professor Stephen Hawking if he could put his thoughts to music --- now there would be a collaboration, eh? It's not surprisingly really; Vangelis' music has always had that otherworldly, eerie feeling of space, of drifting off into the universe and seeing the sights. It's no fluke that his music typically soundtracked programmes on science, space and exploration, because it is these very ideas that his music conjures up: the mystery and awe of the universe in which we live out our oh-so-insignificant lives on our oh-so-insignificant little planet in the vain conceit that we are the most important beings in the cosmos.

But enough philosophical ramblings: on to the music. "Pulstar" kicks things off with, not surprisingly, a pulsing synth joined by another which trumpets alongside it, then little stabs of higher-register synth jump in, almost like lasers being fired in a space battle. Rolling percussion booms behind piano and little tinkly noises, the tempo fast but not too much. Some strings-style synth is added to flesh out the sound before it all gets a little frenetic with the drums booming and the squeaky, laserlike synth answering. It all builds then towards something of a crescendo before the whole thing falls back, like a wave crashing against a cliff, and the main melody begins again, a little more restrained this time and pulling wind and other sound effects into the mix. With a last boom of percussion and roll of synths we fall into a descending bassy synth line which ends with the sound of a telephone being hung up.

As the speaking clock tells us the time we're into "Freefall", an orientally styled piece with gamelan taking the lead as little whistling synths bring up the rear, little in the way of percussion really and it's kind of like listening to someone setting wind chimes to music, very ambient. "Mare Tranquillitatas" then is another short piece consisting of rising synth with droning keys and snippets of conversation from NASA moon landings, taking us into "Main sequence", where Vangelis goes all jazzy, with brassy drums and a sequenced synth piece trundling along like something out of an old TV adventure show. Lots of synth brass in this too, rising in pitch as it goes along. The keyboards get a little progressive rock here at times, but mostly it's a piece built around a syncopating jazz rhythm. Some heavy synth chords then bring in a piano, but it's mostly drowned out by the squealing main keyboard melody and synth trumpets that carry the main tune. For what it is it's overlong for me. I don't mind long Vangelis tracks but I'm no fan of jazz, and this is very jazzy.

The piano begins to make its presence felt now, with hammered chords echoing across the melody, the drums almost out of tune with the rest of the piece, seeming to be keeping their own rhythm. Yeah, I really don't like this. But eventually it ends, calming right down and "Sword of Orion", though a far shorter piece, just under two minutes, is much slower and laidback, built on a small synth arpeggio with rising lower-register synth behind it, almost hymnal in its way. Spacey sound-effects rise and fall as the piece reaches its end and flows into one of my favourite Vangelis tunes, one of the very first I ever heard. Built on a single simple phrase, "Alpha" starts off with a high-pitched synth and sprinkly sounds like somone scattering fairy dust or something, and grows as other synth sounds get added, in the sort of progression we see in Pachelbel's "Canon in D Major". It's a sprightly little tune, very catchy, and actually runs for nearly six minutes. After about two of those, heavy booming percussion hits in and the tune takes on a new life, and when the drums get going properly trumpeting synth joins the other quieter one and the thing marches majestically on to its triumphant conclusion.

Between them, the "Nucleogenesis" suite take up almost twelve minutes, but they're recorded as two separate tracks, with part one upbeat and rife with squealing, squeaking synth and rolling piano, galloping drums and little synth noises, a very bassy synth taking the lead early on with hammering chords and rapid-fire arpeggios, with later some breathy runs recalling the best of ELO's material coming in then halfway through it breaks down into an almost Spanish guitar and tubular bells melody, becoming quite classical in tone. Thick heavy bass and crashing drums take it into a slightly darker line, this emphasised by the deep pitch bend at close to the fifth minute. Then everything stops as the sound of an old-style rotary telephone being dialled and we hear the pips of the speaking clock, whereafter a huge cinematic passage breaks through, fading out quickly though and taking us into part two.

Fugue-style church organ opens this, very baroque, much slower and grander, and indeed continuing the dark tone of the first part, then spacey synth noises and runs slide in, the organ fading out and drum pads fizz and pop while trumpeting fanfare keys thread themselves through the melody. There's quite a prog rock feel to this again now, as tubular bells chime and a low buzzy synth complains while the main melody continues, guitar added and sprinkling little effects flying off here and there. The tone has sped up now and right up to the point a gong rings out it keeps going, finally fading down on the back of a rolling strings synth melody like the ending to a film. Have to be honest and say I don't like either of these pieces very much.

The closer is also the title track, and if weird it's typically Vangelis. Against a low, swirling synth line his engineer relates facts about the Earth, such as maximum distance from the sun, density, refractive index and lots of other stuff you and I probably don't know or want to know. The music accompanying the list of facts suits it perfectly; spacey, eerie, almost ominous. It also works very well when he eventualy delivers the important bit, the title, the Earth's albedo, and the music stirs grandly behind him, rising like the sun over his shoulder.

TRACKLISTING

1. Pulstar
2. Freefall
3. Mare Tranquilitatis
4. Main sequence
5. Sword of Orion
6. Alpha
7. Nucleogenesis (Part One)
8. Nucleogenesis (Part Two)
9. Albedo 0.39

Vangelis is not for everyone, and this album is certainly not for everyone. It's not really even for me. There's a lot I don't like about it, but then my favourite Vangelis track is on it, the one that introduced me to this man's work. And of course there's the title track, like nothing you've ever heard before. It's an odd album, but there is always one other thing that ensures it will forever have a place in my heart, despite its flaws. My best friend Gary, over twenty-five years dead now, used to laugh when we would play the title track and imagine it playing at a disco, where the DJ would tell the people to stop dancing and take out notebooks. "You may as well go home knowledgeable" he would say.

Not too many albums can promise you the "length of the siderial year, fixed star to fixed star", or other tidbits of information about this wonderful planet we live on. That in itself is a decent enough reason to at least listen to this album once, I believe.
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Old 12-07-2013, 12:33 PM   #2060 (permalink)
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The Battle of Britain, July 10 to October 31 1940

One of the most critical and decisive battles of World War II and the first significant defeat for the Nazi forces of Hitler, the Battle of Britain was the first major engagement in any war to be fought entirely in the sky, as the RAF battled the German Luftwaffe for control of the skies over Britain and its waters. Having secured most of Europe by early 1940 and looking eastward with hungry eyes towards Russia, unaware that this would be the critical misstep that would lead to his eventual defeat, Hitler needed to subjugate the English forces and invade their homeland, in order both to force a surrender from the British and to establish a staging ground from which they could later launch an attack against the USA.

Herman Goerring, Reichsmarshall of the Luftwaffe, was entrusted by his fuhrer with the task of destroying the Royal Air Force, something he had supreme confidence his better-trained and superior in numbers air force could easily do. He promised Hitler an easy victory, and der fuhrer began to lay plans for Operation Sealion, the planned invasion of England. Goerring was right to be confident: at the time, the RAF was in no shape for a protracted fight, having helped out over the skies of France and been decimated. In addition to planes downed, many experienced pilots had been lost over the channel and there were not enough replacements, so younger, less experienced men were drafted in to fill the gap and balance the ratio of pilots to aircraft.

The Luftwaffe, by contrast, had already honed its pilots’ skills in the Spanish Civil War, and had more serving aircraft, along with the pilots to fly them. As RAF involvement in the war in Europe up to 1940 had not been that great --- mostly support and interdiction for the native forces --- they were woefully ill-prepared for the onslaught of the Germans, who had had over three years flying sorties, bombing runs, attacks and engaging in dogfights. On paper, the English looked a poor match for the Germans, but were to prove the statistics wrong.

Goerring proudly proclaimed that his Luftwaffe would destroy all British air defences within four days. He intended to bomb the airfields, crippling England’s capability to strike back or defend themselves, then move on to bomb the aircraft factories, thus ensuring no replacement fighters made it into the air. He later revised this estimate to five weeks, but he was wrong in both cases. The Luftwaffe, along with the Wehrmacht, had won Europe by a policy of Blitzkrieg, lightning war, in which they struck hard and fast, overwhelming the enemy and moving on to their next target. Attacking the RAF did not suit this model.

Needing fighter escorts for his bombers, the Reichsmarshall decided that Messerschmidt BF 109 fighters should stick close to the slower Junkers and Heinkel bombers, to protect them from the marauding British Spitfires and Hurricanes, and though the BF 109 was known to be in most cases superior to both the RAF fighters, its need to remain close to the bombers meant it was limited in its manouevrability, while the Spitfires and Hurricanes had no such shackles to worry about, and could harry the Germans at will. In addition to this, the 109s had not the fuel capacity to allow them to remain over England for very long, and after a flight escorting bombers and perhaps an engagement along the way, they had usually to turn back for France to avoid literally falling from the sky!

Of course, the RAF pilots, though many were young and not that well-trained, had another advantage, the mindset of the defender. It’s always easier to be determined and dig in when you’re protecting your homeland, and the “boys in blue” were not about to let the “Jerries” have it their own way. They gave their lives in the defence of their country and their way of life, and no matter what country you live in, we all owe these brave men a huge debt of gratitude. Not to mention that for the British boys, being shot down or having to bail out during an encounter did not mean the same thing it did to a German pilot. Fighting in the English skies, RAF pilots were over friendly territory and if shot down could easily be back at their airfield in hours, ready to take again to the sky. A German pilot hit down was likely to be captured, imprisoned and most likely his war ended there, to say nothing of what the “boffins” would make of the technical aspects of his downed aircraft.

Radar was another tool the RAF employed that gave them something of an edge over the Germans, who did not use it because they apparently mistrusted it, but it helped the RAF stand against the repeated attacks of the Luftwaffe, fighters and bombers alike. Although the Luftwaffe initially targeted the radar towers, and took some out, it was only for a few hours and they were operational again that same day. The lack of proper intelligence on British radar led the Germans to believe the towers were next to indestructible, which they were, but failed to take into account that had they knocked out the communications infrastructure that aided radar and was a vital part of Fighter Command, they could in all likelihood have succeeded in doing what Goerring had promised Hitler, which was to blind the RAF.

By September 1940, after massive losses on both sides but with the RAF undefeated and air superiority far from assured, Hitler turned his attention to bombing campaigns, to try to smash London and the rest of England into submission. But with the RAF still very much a factor in the war, his bombers did not have it all their own way and many were shot down. By the end of October, as “The Blitz” came to a close, with London still standing and British resolve still intact, Hitler realised he would have to call off his plans to invade England, and accept that the doughty enemy would remain to play a vital part in the next few years of the war. He turned his attention to Russia instead, which would prove to be yet another major defeat for his army, and lead to the eventual collapse of the vaunted thousand-year Reich.

Paying tribute to the men who flew in defence of Britain during those crucial months, and who in reality saved not only their homeland but the entireity of Europe from falling forever under the shadow of the Nazi menace, Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously declared “Never, in the field of human conflict, was so much owed by so many to so few. If the British Empire and its Commonwealth lasts for a thousand years, men will still say, this was their finest hour.”
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