Archive for the ‘Pet Shop Boys’ Category

[POSTPONED: September 22, 2021] Pet Shop Boys / New Order: The Unity Tour [rescheduled from September 12, 2020 moved to September 28, 2022]

As a touring band of a certain age (and financial situation), it didn’t surprise me that this tour was postponed one more year–what do they need to put themselves at risk for?  I bought these tickets on Feb 26, 2020!

However, I was pleased that this time the show isn’t the day after the My Chemical Romance show,

indexI saw the Pet Shop Boys in Morristown a few years ago.  The show was great.  The guys sounded amazing and I had a really good time–except for the crowd around me.  They were all loud and talking and tall and pushing.  I wished I’d gotten better seats as well.  So I told myself if they toured again I would see them if conditions were good.

Well, how about if they toured with New Order?  I’ve been a fan of New Order forever but I’ve never seen them live.  I’m not even sure I ever really wanted to see them live.  But putting them together with New Order was  perfect.  I didn’t realize that peter Hook had left the band.  I did see that he was doing solo shows, but I didn’t realize he had no main band anymore.  I also didn’t realized they’d put out any new music since Get Ready.  Well, I hope they were just going to play the hits.

I didn’t really want to go to Madison Square Garden, but I’ve had good luck there lately so I picked it over any other large venue.

On June 11, I got the news that Pet Shop Boys & New Order – The Unity Tour was to be postponed until next year.  I had pretty good seats, so I’m glad I get to keep them.  I’ve waited a while to see them again, what’s one more year?


Read Full Post »

[POSTPONED: September 12, 2020] Pet Shop Boys / New Order: The Unity Tour [moved September 22, 2021]

indexI saw the Pet Shop Boys in Morristown a few years ago.  The show was great.  The guys sounded amazing and I had a really good time–except for the crowd around me.  They were all loud and talking and tall and pushing.  I wished I’d gotten better seats as well.  So I told myself if they toured again I would see them if conditions were good.

Well, how about if they toured with New Order?  I’ve been a fan of New Order forever but I’ve never seen them live.  I’m not even sure I ever really wanted to see them live.  But putting them together with New Order was  perfect.  I didn’t realize that peter Hook had left the band.  I did see that he was doing solo shows, but I didn’t realize he had no main band anymore.  I also didn’t realized they’d put out any new music since Get Ready.  Well, I hope they were just going to play the hits.

I didn’t really want to go to Madison Square Garden, but I’ve had good luck there lately so I picked it over any other large venue.

On June 11, I got the news that Pet Shop Boys & New Order – The Unity Tour was to be postponed until next year.  I had pretty good seats, so I’m glad I get to keep them.  I’ve waited a while to see them again, what’s one more year?


Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: PET SHOP BOYS-“Always on My Mind” (1987).

I certainly have my favorite Christmas songs.  But it never occurred to me to winder what the perfect Christmas song was.

I love music; I don’t care about “perfect” songs or “algorithms” or anything like that.  I just like what speaks ti me.  But there are those who want to figure out things like the perfect song .

So the geniuses at Ostero Music ran their data, crunched the numbers and determined that Pet Shop Boys’ “Always on My Mind” was the perfect Christmas song (even if  it’s not a Christmas song).

S how did hey figure this out?  They analyzed every (UK) Christmas No. 1 from the past 50 years and found the winning combination of four different components – song duration, key, tempo and the artist’s age.

They also found most Christmas hits tend to be ballads and cover versions – and they are almost all about something other than Christmas.

So this is more about sings that are #1 at Christmastime instead of Christmas songs.

At any rate, the perfect formula is

1. Song duration of 3:57
2. In the key of G major
3. Tempo of 114 bpm (beats per minute)
4. Performer is 27 years old

“I think we’re a long way from an algorithmically-generated Christmas number one,” said Howard Murphy, founder of Ostereo. “But certain characteristics do make a song more likely to resonate with audiences at Christmas.”

So why did the Pet Shop Boy win?

If the formula is applied to all the Christmas No. 1 songs from the past 50 years, the song that comes out on top is the Pet Shop Boys’ 1988 cover of Elvis Presley’s ‘Always On My Mind’. The duo covered the song in G major at a speed of 125 bpm, and the song lasts 3:55. The duo’s average age at the time of its release was 31.5, a few years off the ‘perfect’ 27, but combine this with the length, key and tempo, and you find the Christmas No.1 sweet spot…apparently.

So be sure to include this song on your next holiday mix and see everyone observe how perfectly it fits.

[READ: December 19, 2018] “In This Fantasy”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my third time reading the Calendar (thanks S.).  I never knew about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh).  Here’s what they say this year

Fourth time’s the charm.

After a restful spring, rowdy summer, and pretty reasonable fall, we are officially back at it again with another deluxe box set of 24 individually bound short stories to get you into the yuletide spirit.

The fourth annual Short Story Advent Calendar might be our most ambitious yet, with a range of stories hailing from eight different countries and three different originating languages (don’t worry, we got the English versions). This year’s edition features a special diecut lid and textured case. We also set a new personal best for material that has never before appeared in print.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

Like last year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection, although today’s SOUNDTRACK is a special 2018 holiday news item (sort of).

Kim Fu summarizes her story rather well in the Q&A with Kim Fu. (more…)

Read Full Post »

[ATTENDED: October 22, 2018] Johnny Marr

My friend Garry got me into The Smiths in high school. I had been exclusively into metal before that, but there was something about the guitars and lyrics of The Smiths that I really enjoyed.  And I quickly became a huge fan of Johnny Marr.

The Smiths broke up in 1987 and that was that.  Johnny Marr has since gone on to play with dozens of bands, including Electronic, The The and Modest Mouse.  He has also been releasing solo albums along the way, but I didn’t really listen to any of those.

Because of my love for The Smiths and much of Morrissey’s solo work, I tried to see Morrissey last year.  Of course that show got cancelled.  So I assumed I’d never get to see any members of The Smiths live (I have no idea what the bassist and drummer have been up to).

Then I saw that Johnny Marr was doing a one-off in New York City for his new album Call the Comet (which was getting great reviews).  I tried to get tickets but didn’t.  Oh well, no big loss.  Then a few months later, he announced a small U.S. tour including a stop in Philly.  He has only played Philly in 2003, 2013 and 2014.  So this seemed like my only chance.

I don’t know much about the guy himself.  Morrissey, as we all know, is a prat.

But what about Johnny?  Is he an aloof 80s alt rock star?  Like hell he is.  His merch all says “Johnny Fuckin Marr.”  He was chatty and funny.  He had on a great shirt and smiled a lot.  He was generally a load of laughs.  Who would have guessed?

But the real question is, Is Johnny Marr to stuck up to play Smiths songs?  Like hell he is.  Actually I didn’t know if he’d play any Smiths songs. But i was pretty psyched when he played six of them.

But he was there to promote Call the Comet and so he started out with a new song called “The Tracers.”  It had a repeating “whooo whooo” refrain and a rocking guitar part.  Knowing what I know about Marr, I never expected his songs to rock out like this.  And yet they did rock out.  Virtually every song he played was rocking and full-bodied.  And his backing band was fantastic James Doviak played guitar and keys.  I enjoyed that he supplemented Marr, playing mostly rhythm guitar but occasionally taking on some of Marr’s signature sounds as well.  Despite the shades, he never stepped into the bright lights

Johnny then delighted me and everyone in the room by playing the opening chords of The Smiths’ “Bigmouth Strikes Again.”  This is one of the first Smiths songs I’d ever heard and it was amazing to hear it live.  The crowd went berserk (so many old men dancing!) and then Johnny sang.

Johnny is no Morrissey and he does not try to be. He does not sing like Morrissey, but he does have the same Mancunian accent so while it was no Morrissey it was not exactly wrong either.  The delivery was less arch but was still right.  It was an awesome treat.  If that was the only Smiths song he played I would have been happy.  But he had a few more tucked away.

He followed that up with the new song, a B-side to “Hi Hello” called “Jeopardy” which had a rockin riff and trippy vocals.  Then he played “Day In Day Out” which has an acoustic-sounding guitar.  Doviak didn’t switch guitars, he juts switched effects which was pretty cool.

Johnny sang from the center of the stage where the soft lights were on him.  Sometimes he was obscured by white, other times, he was faintly visible.  But every time he took a guitar solo he walked up to the front of the stage where the spotlights shone on him and we could see him in all of his leather jacketed or heart-print-shirted glory. The only bad thing was that the really tall men (are all former goths really tall? At least none of them had Robert Smith hair) would put heir heads together blocking my view to scrutinize his playing, leaving me looking at pomade and bald spots.

He said, “Hi guys, how are you all doing.”  He then corrected that he wasn’t only talking to the men.  He’s from England, if he was only talking to the men, he’d say “hello darlings.”  This was an introduction of sorts to “Hi Hello.”   And then came the opening riff to “The Headmaster Ritual.”  So there would be more than one Smiths song!  This song, in addition to having a great guitar riff also has a notable bass line which Iwan Gronow played perfectly.  It was like hearing the band (except that Johnny sang “same old suit since 1982”).

The next cover was a huge surprise because I had forgotten that Johnny was in the duo Electronic (with Bernard Summer from New Order).  Neil Tennant was a guest on “Getting Away with It” (Neil did not guest at TLA, of course).  It was odd because I knew this song pretty well but it sounded so different. The original has lots of keys but this song had far more guitar than synth (and no Neil Tennant).  But the guy next to me (short with a nice head of white hair) danced like a fool.

“Hey Angel” has some great guitar soloing.  Then Johnny switched gears to play a beautiful “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me.” It was interesting as he sang the words and I wondered what he thought about Morrissey’s lyrics.  They are so distinctly The Smiths, but would he have ever written anything like that himself?  Certainly he doesn’t now.  Did he feel weird singing it?  I can’t imagine that Johnny Marr has felt that way in decades 🙂

He joked that politics was fun eh?  Given Morrissey’s recent proclamations, who knew where he was going with this, but he just proceeded to say that “Bug” was dedicated to “you know who.”

Then he asked, “Any requests?  Bet you weren’t expecting to hear that!”  People shouted some favorites and he responded “That’s no one of our songs, sir.” And then finally he said, “What’s that you say sir ‘Get the Message’ from 1991.  Yea I think I can do that.”  This was another Electronic song although I wasn’t as familiar with it (but that other guy sure was).

“Easy Money” from his previous album also sounded familiar.  Perhaps it had some airplay a few years ago.  The guitar chords were very Johnny Marr but the riff was heavy and the verses were very synthy.  Either way it was pretty great.  He followed it up with another song from Playland, “Boys Get Straight.”  It was also a solid rocker, with great drums from Jack Mitchell.  Clearly I need to check out his solo albums.

Just as I was wondering how long of a show Johnny Marr would do, he started playing the most iconic riff in all alternative rock.  “How Soon is Now” was just amazing.  Johnny played the echoing chords and Doviak plays the searing note  The only downside to the whole thing was that I could barely see him or Doviak the whole time.  However, being in the same room as the guy playing those chords was more than enough.

That was a set ender and frankly could have been a concert ender, it was something I’d hoped for and I got and I was satisfied.

But they did indeed come back for an encore.   As has become traditional, the encore included two songs from the new album before getting onto real encore material.

He played that chord and we all knew it was “There is a Light That Never Goes Out.”  I never thought I’d hear a room full of middle-aged men sing “to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die!”  It was amazing.

When that song was over he told us that we were the last night on his tour so how about one more?  (It turns out he played the same two songs back to back on all of his shows.  In fact it was the same setlist all tour, but he did make us feel special).

And who cares if he was lying when the opening notes of “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby” rang out and once again, we all freaked out.  It was an awesome end to the show and left all of us singing and happy.

I had basically written off Morrissey bailed on us last time.  I basically felt that I would maybe go see him if he ever came back, but possibly not.

But now that I’ve seen Johnny Fuckin Marr play “How Soon is Now” what do I need Morrissey for?



  1. The Tracers 
  2. Bigmouth Strikes Again š
  3. Jeopardy (b-side of single)
  4. Day In Day Out €
  5. New Dominions 
  6. Hi Hello 
  7. The Headmaster Ritual š
  8. Walk Into the Sea 
  9. Getting Away With It 
  10. Hey Angel 
  11. Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me š
  12. Bug 
  13. Get the Message 
  14. Easy Money 
  15. Boys Get Straight 
  16. How Soon is Now? š
  17. encore
  18. Rise 
  19. Spiral Cities 
  20. There is a Light That Never Goes Out š
  21. You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby š

Call the Comet (2018)
Playland (2014)
š The Smiths cover
Electronic cover


Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: STEVEN PAGE-Heal Thyself Pt. 1 : Instinct (2016).

This is Steven Page’s second solo album since leaving Barenaked Ladies.  This one features his voice sounding utterly fantastic amid a large variety of styles of music.

“There’s a Melody” opens with a tiny harmonium sound.  It’s a one minute song that has this fascinating lyric:

There’s a melody somewhere inside of me,
I can hear it but can’t get it out of me,
In my head it soaring but when it comes out it is all the same note

Ironically it is sung to a terrific melody and it will be revisited later in the Reprise which builds and builds with full orchestra.

On Page’s previous album he played around with dance sounds and that continues on this record with “The Work at Hand.”  It opens with crazy electronic noises and then shifts to a soaring dance number.   The chorus sounds a bit like Pet Shop Boys (although not in the vocals).

“Here’s What It Takes” is a fast shuffle with prominent trumpets in the melody.  It’s catchy and was the first single.  But I’m more focused on the lyrics again.  For such a peppy song the lyrics are really dark:

An 8-ball of coke / You’re angry and broke / My Mother misspoke / by telling me the truth
Here’s what it takes to believe  / Drink down the Drano ’til the demons all leave
The fridge door was open again / There’s leftover blame / You’re eating your shame / and choking on the truth

What was funny was that I heard this couplet first and thought it was an amusing song before digging deeper:

What we once kept hidden from our parents / Now we keep it hidden from our kids

That’s a great line and it’s even darker with the above verses.

“I Can See My House From Here”  is a funny/dark song about Jesus, or at least a self-identified messiah.

Jesus came to me last night
To tell me everything will be alright
He said, “Thank you for rolling the stone,
but you’re gonna have to go it alone”

Hey, have you heard the Good News?
We’re gonna make you King of the Jew

But it’s also chock full of nods to the Beatles.  Both in the backing vocals (the Hallelujah and Hare Krishna below) but also in unexpected ways

[Hallelujah] Mother Mary
[Heal Thyself] You had me
[Hare Krishna] And no religion
[Hope that helps] So Let It Be

As he sings this section, it plays with the melody of “My Sweet Lord”

And if you can’t then you know it’s a lie
Goodbye my Lord, goodbye my Lord

and he even sings the next line “I really want to…” as if it were part of “My Sweet Lord” before jumping back to the melody of the song.

It end with the guitar melody of The Beatles’ “The Two of Us” and him singing “we’re on our way home.”

The best song around is “Manchild” which features Page’s soaring vocals and terrific self-deprecating lyrics that morph over the song

Darling, you’re talking to a man now / You’re talking to a man, now, child /
Speak slowly, speak slowly
Darling, you’re talking to a manchild / You’re talking to a manchild now /
Speak slowly, speak slowly

But the album is not all big powerful songs, “If That’s Your Way” (“If that’s your way of saying you’re sorry – I don’t mind”) and “Hole In the Moonlight” are both ballads with piano and strings.

“Mama” is a kind of almost reggae romp with some excellent snark in the lyrics.  And “Surprise Surprise” was the lead single and does a great job rhyming

I was feeling shamed / you were feeling stupid
because I knew what was wrong with me / long before you did

“Linda Ronstadt In the 70s” has a harpsichord and a chamber pop feel with an emphasis on pop.  I had no idea of the origin of the song.  It was apparently written because Colin Meloy requested people write songs about Linda Ronstadt.  You can see the original acoustic version here.

“No Song Left to Save Me” ends the disc with the unmistakable bass line of “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” but the song quickly changes tempo and direction with swinging horns and big old catchy Steven Page chorus.

This is an excellent, fun disc and really shows the range that Page is willing to experiment with.  I wish Barenaked Ladies would take more chances like this, too.  But I am especially excited to see Page next month with the Art of Time Ensemble.

[READ: March 25, 2016] “My Holocaust Memoir”

You don’t expect something funny to have a title like this.  Of course once you see that the first line is “Dear Ms Winfrey,” you can expect to not take this seriously,

Greenman begins his letter to Ms Winfrey by saying how much he admires the show, although he doesn’t watch every day).  He says he was watching “Best Life Week ” (is that really the name of segment?) in which guests discussed the challenges they’ve overcome.  He says that he has had some challenges–which he is currently putting into book form.  And he would like her to take a look at them.

It begins: (more…)

Read Full Post »

[ATTENDED: November 10, 2016] Pet Shop Boys

psbI bought tickets for this Pet Shop Boys show back in May.  I have never seen them before, but the more I realized that I like nearly all of their albums (odd for a rocker, I know), and the more I read about their amazing light show, the more I realized I wanted to see them.  Especially in small venue like Morristown Performing Arts Center.

And then the shocking election happened.

Boy was I ever not in the mood for a fun night after that horrible horrifying news.  But I’d spent a lot of money (seriously) on tickets, and thought that maybe the Pet Shop Boys could snap me out of my despair somewhat.

And did they ever.

I met my friend Mary Lynn there, but she had seats upstairs.  Her seats may have actually been better since she could see the whole spectacle perhaps a little better.  But it was fun to chat before and after the show. (more…)

Read Full Post »

jdSOUNDTRACK: PET SHOP BOYS-Electric (2013).

psbAfter the sombre, more reflective Elysium, Pet Shop Boys came back with the far more upbeat and dancey Electric.  Right from the start, you know this is back to high energy fun (with of course sardonic lyrics). The opening track, “Axis,” is a major dance song with processed vocals and a great riff–I love how the song goes very electronic and artificial sounding around 4 minutes in.  “Bolshy” has a classic PSB sound–dancey keyboards and Neil Tennant’s ageless voice.  I don’t really quite know what the song is about but it is really fun to sing along to. It is followed by “Love is  Bourgeois Construct” (I sense a strangely political theme here–and I love that the follow-up line is “just like they said at University” ), I love the way the song gets really muddy while the synth line plays and that it emerges bigger and better than ever–the sound reminds me of the synth songs in A Clockwork Orange and the riff is on Michael Nyman’s “Chasing Sheep Is Best Left to Shepherds.” The way the music is so epic-sounding for such a simple idea of a song is great,

“Flourescent” is a darker song, with big synths and cowbells ringing in the song.  It’s got a steampunky wheeze as the drum beat and a echoey synth note which all coalesces before Tennant’s vocals which come in–two minutes into the song.  It’s a very moody piece and even at 6 minutes doesn’t feel overly long.

“Inside a Dream” is a dancey song with a fast melody.  “The Last to Die” is a Bruce Springsteen song from his album Magic (I had no idea) which they electrify and make synthy, but not dancey exactly.  They do a very good job of capturing the Springsteen vibe in their own way.  “Shouting in the Evening” is a very dancey song, one of may favorites on the record–I love the way Chris Lowe distorts his keyboards on this track.  “Thursday” has a great vocal line–“It’s Thursday night, let’s get it right.  I want to know you’re gonna stay for the weekend.”  It’s a catchy song with the repeats of the days: “Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday.”  I could do without the rap (by Example) which reminds me way too much of Blondie’s rap in Rapture–stiff and kind of forced.

The final song “Vocal” I find odd in the lyrics.  It’s about songs that he likes, which is fine, but the line, “every track has a vocal, and that make a change” is weird–do dance songs not have vocals anymore?  Well, how would I know, i don’t listen to a lot of dance music.  Anyhow, it’s super catchy and dancey.  I like the way it builds to the big chorus even if the song isn’t very complex.

While I enjoyed the introspective Elysium, it’s great to have a big loud Pet Shop Boys album as a return to form.

[READ: October 22, 2014] Three Early Stories

I found this book on the shelf at work.  I had no idea that a) Salinger had written so many stories that have yet to be collected (according to Wikipedia there are about a dozen) or that these three had been collected in this very strange edition.  The book collects three stories and includes illustrations by Anna Rose Yoken.  The illustrations are fine, but not worth getting the book for (and feel a bit more like a children’s book illustration than a Salinger story).  The other strange thing is that the text is only on the right side pages, so although the book is 69 pages, there’s really only about 35 pages of story.

I had never read any of these stories, so I was glad to find this book.  They were written before Catcher in the Rye, and it’s interesting to see what was on his ind before he created Holden Caufield.  These stories seem to focus on college-aged women and the way they behave.  The portraits of these women are not flattering, but they are fairly realistic.

“The Young Folks” is set at a party (I can’t believe how many cigarettes are smoked in these three stories).  At 11PM during the party, Lucille Henderson, (the college-aged host) sees that her friend Edna Phillips is by herself, still.  So she introduces her to William Jameson.  Jameson is more interested in the laughing (and presumably drunk) blond girl who is sitting amid three guys from Rutgers who are hanging on her every word.

As soon as Jameson is introduced to Edna, he starts making excuses that he should leave the party–he has a theme due on Monday.  But Edna clings to him  with conversation. She asks about his theme, she tells him about the guy who was too forward with her–she’s no prude, but come on.  She offers him cigarettes and invites him to the balcony.  He is too polite to tell her off, but he is giving major signals that she must see and is perhaps saving up as ammunition for later. (more…)

Read Full Post »


pageoneThis is the first proper solo album for Steven Page, former Barenaked Lady.  He did have a side projet while he was still a BNL guy, called The Vanity project, but this comes after he left the band.  As a lead songwriter for  BNL, this album sounds an awful lot like a BNL album.  But he does branch out a bit for better and worse, on a couple of songs.  I like that the record is designed sort of like a book.  And that there’s a library check out sleeve and that one of the names who checked out the “book” is Leland Palmer (ha).

“A New Shore” sounds like classic Barenaked Ladies, with a big chorus (and Page’s great voice), strings and even a whistling section.  If you imagine the harmony vocals are by Ed Robertson, this could easily fit on a BNL disc.  “Indecision” sounds like latter BNL with the “whoo hoos” and the way the verses really slow down the craziness of the chorus.  The big difference is the female backing vocals.  “Clifton Springs” opens with a ba da da section and a very catchy melody that sounds like a sitcom theme song (hey sitcoms, check this out!).  It’s a mellow song that really highlights Page’s voice.

“Entourage” is a kind of dance song.  It has a kind of Pet Shop Boys feel (or else I’ve been listening to the Pet Shop Boys too much).  It even has a line “I only love you when I’m drunk” which echoes Pet Shop Boys’ “You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk.”  But I love the way Page says “Alright” at the end of the chorus and it could possibly have been a dance hit.  It ends with a minute or so of a jazzy coda.  “Marry Me” could also be a theme (to the new show Marry Me, duh).  It’s energetic and poppy.

“All the Young Monogamists” has cello and violin and in some places, little else.  It’s quite a different sound for the album, like a minor orchestral piece.  It works mostly.  “She’s Trying to Save Me” is a great return to the bouncy single that BNL did so well.  “Over Joy” has a very sixties feel (the way Page’s voice is processed).  I believe it is also the same melody as the Barenaked Ladies song “Hannukah Blessings” which Page wrote.  And why not?  It’s very catchy.

“If You Love Me” has a very synthy 90s pop feel.  I can see it being on the far end of Page’s fun zone, but I don’t really like it.  When the song ramps up to the next notes around 2:50, it is excruciating.  On the other end of the spectrum is “Leave Her Alone” which opens like a big band number (and stays that way in the chorus) but has verses that are very electronic.

“Queen of America” is a big bouncy song, that I wish I liked more.  The final song, the five and a half-minute “The Chorus Girl” is a sad ballad (the kind that Page also writes very well).  The song seems to want to be an epic (with horns an extended coda), but I think it drags on a bit too long.

Anyone who misses Page in BNL will certainly like this album.  And those who are a little disappointed in the Page-less BNL newer records could easily mix half a dozen songs from this and some of the best songs from the newer BNL records into a very satisfying BNL+Page disc which would sound totally coherent.

[READ: April 25, 2014] Further Joy

This is Brandon’s first collection of short stories and I enjoyed them all quite a lot.  Brandon specialized in disaffected protagonists, settled and settling in the South.  And there is a nice amount of diversity in these stories.

The Favorite
In this story, Gardner returns to his home town after ten years of being away.  he was quite a success when he left, but his return is less than exciting.  He lives in small town that was big into high school football and he was glad to be away from it.  But now that he is back he goes to games with his mother. The locals are happy he’s back, they think it’s great that he returned to be with his mom and to look after her.   But he is miserable.

The only thing that makes the return palatable is seeing Ainsley.  They dated in high school but didn’t have a bad breakup when he left.  She is divorced now and single. She works in a doctor’s office and tells him stories about patients (despite it being against HIPPA–although she ever gives names).  Since he is short on cash, he uses some information that she gives him to bet on an upcoming football game (he was able to figure out one of the players from the injury she described). Now the question is, could he go through with the scheme.  He calls on a favor from another former friend who has never had much success.  It could all go horribly wrong, of course.  I really enjoyed this story a lot, and I loved the way the title played into the story unexpectedly.

Read Full Post »

gulpSOUNDTRACK: PET SHOP BOYS-Elysium (2012).

220px-PSB_ElysiumPet Shop Boys are known for big dancey singles.  And so perhaps it’s something of a surprise to get this album which is pretty but certainly low key.   It’s not like they haven’t written low key songs before, but there’s very little to get up and sing about here.

Which is not to say the album is bad.  It’s actually very good once you accept the lack of big songs.

Of course, having said that, there are one or two anthemic tracks, but the album overall is more introspective (unlike their album Introspective).  The title, Elysium refers to the afterlife where those chosen by the gods would live a happy (after)life, indulging in whatever they had enjoyed in life.  Yes, mortality is on Tennant’s mind.

“Leaving” opens the disc with a great chorus, which leads to this somber opening verse: “Our love is dead but the dead don’t go away.”  And that certainly sets the tone–nice synth rock, but nothing to loud and frenetic.  “Invisible” is a similarly low key song.   This is one of their quiet ballads, with just touches of synth melody: “I’m here but you can’t see me, I’m invisible.”  It’s a definite downer of a song but it’s very pretty.

Of course all that I said about mellow low key albums is belied by the third track: “Winner.”  This was written in time for the 2012 Olympics in London and it is very much an anthem about, well, winning.  It’s kind of obvious (although lyrically it is more in depth than many similar songs), but the melody is just simple and uplifting–(just what you’d want for Olympic documentaries).

“Your Early Stuff” is a much darker song–it is a song written to a “washed up” performer: “you’ve been around but you don’t look too rough and I still quite like some of your early stuff.”  It’s funny but also tender.  “A Face Like That” is the closest thing to a dance single on the album–it’s fast and synthy and the vocals are echoed and repeated.  But even the verses are more low-key than you might expect from the chorus.  “Breathing Space” is another pretty ballad.

“Ego Music” is another faster song, with a very funny premise: “ego music–it’s all about me.”  It’s a slight song but good for a laugh.

“Hold On” also aspires to anthemicness, but it is slower than a typical PSB anthem.  It also has a synth line that is vaguely classical.  Although of all the songs, this one is lyrically the most tautological:  “Hold on, there’s got to be a future or the world will end today.”  “Give it a Go” is a slower, simpler track. Not too memorable, although the chorus is bouncy and catchy h.

“Memory of the Future” has a great synth line and Tennant’s cool accompanying vocals–it’s a classic PSB song and one of my favorites on the disc.  Although I don’t love “Everything Means Something,” the final song, “Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin” is a great ending–slow but very catchy and rather wry and funny.

So this album overall is certainly more, dare I say it, “mature” for the Pet Shop Boys, but they haven’t lost any lustre in songwriting.

[READ: Summer 2013] Gulp

Yes, that date is correct, I read this book over a year and a half ago.  I meant to write about it then, but I loaned it out to someone and I like to have the book nearby when I write about it.  So I put it off and put it off and now that I have the book back, I will do my best to remember whatever I can about it.

But the thing about this book is that it was so memorable, I won’t have much trouble writing about it anyhow.

Mary Roach investigates the physical properties of eating from pre-digestion through to the end.  And she does it with thorough research and a boatload of humor (sometimes gross out humor, although she warns that that is not her intent–“I want you to say, ‘I thought this would be gross, but it’s really interesting.’  Okay, and maybe a little gross.” (19).

She begins with the nose.  Most people know that the nose contributes tremendously to your sense of taste.  But Roach really explicates how much.  She speaks to a woman, Langstaff, who is a professional sniffer and who is currently staffing the Olive Oil taste Panel at the Olive Center.  She is training novices to be be better at tasting flavors.  But Langstaff herself for instance rarely drinks beer for pleasure even though she is an expert at tasting it.

The most amusing (or not, depending) information here is that there are people who were paid to taste cat food.  Yes.  And that humans prefer cat food with a tuna or herbal flavor over those that taste “rancid,” “offaly,” “cereal” or “burnt.”

Fortunately, the second chapter shows that it is actually dogs who test the dog food.  It turns out that dogs and cats really shouldn’t enjoy dry dog food (cats and dogs are not grain eaters by choice).  Dry dog food was created as a means of convenience for people (and as a way to stop tinning food during the war).  As for your pets, “pet foods come in a variety of flavors because that’s what we humans like, and we assume our pets like what we like.  We have that wrong.  ‘For cats especially…change is often more difficult than monotony.'” (43).  Some other pet observations: cat’s can’t taste sweet (although dogs can and rodents are slaves to it).   (more…)

Read Full Post »

cadaverSOUNDTRACK: TAVI GEVINSON-“Heart of Gold” and “Heart” (2013).

taviBoth of these songs were recorded for the release of the film Cadaver (see below).  Neither song appears in the film, although Gevinson herself is the main character.  I admit to being awed and repulsed by Gevinson [insert standard issue comments about fashion, young fame and blogging here].  But I am glad she’s using her fame to write feminist theory instead of fashion anymore.  And I enjoyed her article in The Believer recently.

As for the film, she does a very good job as the voice in the movie.  But let’s hope she doesn’t pursue her singing career any further.

She has the kind of flat delivery that Zooey Deschanel does, but Deschaenl’s voice has a gravitas that Gevinson doesn’t (sure, you can say she’s only 16 or whatever, but there are tons of teenagers who can sing amazingly).  Her take on “Heart of Gold” is fine.  She enunciates very clearly, but there’s very little passion in the song.  Her take on Pet Shop Boys’ “Heart” (a song I know very well, but didn’t know that was the title) is a little better.  Primarily because she takes the very discoy song and turns it into a slow acoustic number.  The instrumentation is a little bland (not her fault) but she puts moments of excitement into the singing.  In both cases I’d much rather hear the original, and in fact I am going to listen to the Pet Shop Boys version right now.

And before you yell at me for picking on a teenager, she is far more successful than I will ever be, so just assume this is all sour grapes.

[READ: August 31, 2013] Cadaver

This book came across my desk and I was intrigued because it was a comic book about cadavers.  It’s shaped like a comic strip book (reminding me of early Far Side books) and it turns out to be a comic book adaptation of a short film which was originally a poem.  In the introduction, Jonah Ansell explains that his (baby) sister was going off to medical school so he wrote her a (funny) poem.  Eventually, the poem was turned into an animated short film.  And after being made into a short film it was made into this book.

The story is told in rhyme and is quite funny, until it gets rather touching.  In the introduction, Ansell also explains that there was more to the story than medial school–it’s about love and loss and cynicism vs romanticism.  Not bad for a 7 minute film.

An unnamed med student is handed a scalpel by the scary professor.  She is told to make the first incision into the cadaver.  She does so, but as she removes the heart (nicely shaped like a cartoon heart), the cadaver sits up and says that he needs it back.  The student’s partner passes out.  The man says he’s not read to die, he has a heart to give someone. (more…)

Read Full Post »