Tuesday, 29 September 2009

The Incident/The Resistance

Gah! Fuck. Lateness. I’ve had no internet all week so be glad you’re getting a blog this week at all. Anyway, a few weeks ago a couple of mysterious packages landed on my desk courtesy of Amazon. These packages contained two brand new spanking albums, The Incident by Porcupine Tree and The Resistance by Muse. Given that I am massive fans of both these bands and have had a huge hard on for these two albums for some months now I was really looking forward to getting them and hoping beyond hope that they wouldn’t be shit. I thought I’d review them for you because I’m nice like that.

I’m actually listening to The Incident as I type this, so we may as well start with that one. Don’t be fooled by the claim that the first CD (did I not mention it was a double album?) contains one long 55 minute song, it doesn’t. The ‘song’ is split into 14 different parts which work just as well independently as they do played as one track. Now is it me or is that just an album? I think Steve Wilson and co. need to extract their heads from their arses and stop trying to be too prog. There’s no reason why ‘The Incident’ couldn’t just be 14 songs as part of an album, to call the first CD a single ‘song’ is a complete misnomer.

Moving away from this rather semantic point, the music itself offers very little that’s new for Porcupine Tree. It has the same Prog Rock feel mixed in with some heavy elements and some more popularist stuff. Essentially this album sums up the Porcupine Tree sound; it is almost a summary of all their music to date. The very beginning of the album has echoes of In Absentia, while songs like ‘Time Flies’ and ‘I Drive the Hearse’ call back to their earlier, more psychedelic days. Unfortunately it sometimes feels slightly recycled; ‘Time Flies’ especially fells a lot like ‘Stars Die’. Musically it’s pretty astute without being much new. The second CD is far more like their early music that the first, which, as a big fan of their early psychedelic sound, I really like.

Where the album really excels is in the lyrics. I don’t think I truly came to appreciate it until I listened with the lyric book open in front of me. Porcupine Tree songs have always been fairly rich lyrically, but here Wilson has excelled himself. Songs like ‘Your Unpleasant Family’, ‘Octane Twist’ and ‘Remember me Lover’ provide lyrical highlights which are both very viral and beautifully meaningful. Wilson’s lyrics are typically dreamy and slightly bizarre without being so strange as to descent into absurdity. While the music does not add much new, they set a platform for some of the most imaginative and well written lyrics Porcupine Tree have ever produced, some praise given the strength of their back catalogue.

Overall then, the album is not anywhere near the level of In Absentia, which remains one of my favourite albums of all time, but it holds it’s own against the rest of Porcupine Tree’s work. In many ways it amounts to the summation of Porcupine Tree’s sound. I guess if you want a feeling for all Porcupine Tree stand for, good of bad, then The Incident sums it up. It has its prog rock absurdities, it has its heavy metal interludes and its moments of brilliance, but brings very little new to the party. At this point Porcupine Tree runs the risk of going stale, stagnating in what they’ve already achieved. Fair enough they’ve existed for 20 years now, but they need to come up with something new in time for the next album or they will start to fizzle out. Wilson has proved with this album that he still has the capacity to produce some astonishing music, but he needs to rediscover the innovation which made In Absentia such a great album if Porcupine Tree is to remain one of the finest uncovered gems of the music industry.

I’ve probably been looking forward to the new Muse album for as long as I’ve ever looked forward to a new release before, which is saying something, given how much I like my music. Over the past months, maybe even over a year I’ve been hearing great things from the Muse camp about fully orchestrates Symphonies and a fuckton on innovative sounds. Frankly on hearing The Resistance I was underwhelmed.

The album could perhaps be accused of being slightly more prog than previous albums, but it does innovation is such a safe way that it is hardly exciting. The much touted symphony is split into three radio friendly chunks which takes away from the ingenuity of it. While Porcupine Tree try too hard to be prog, claiming to have a 55 minute song, Muse try to hide it away, almost embarrassed at the prospect of any if their music being labelled progressive. Just because the late 70s and 80s took innovation to a level which took it beyond the ridiculous should not discredit the value of experimentation. It is ok to have songs which last more than six minutes, radio stations may not like them very much, but it the song is good enough to be played, it will be played, no matter how long it is. If you really care about radio time then release an abridged version of a song, but there’s no point in dividing into three parts.

Elsewhere the album suffers from being too viral; Matt Bellamy seems to have sacrificed musical integrity for something which gets stuck into your head. Songs like ‘The Resistance’ and Uprising’ suffer from over commercial choruses which are very easy to sing along to, but are pretty devoid of musical interest and lyrically ingenuity. The main issue I have with this is that songs like ‘Guiding Light’ and ‘Unnatural Selection’, along with almost every other popular song Muse have ever had, prove that there’s no need to pander to the lowest common denominator for songs to be popular. There’s no need to popularise music in order to get radio time, especially if you’re Muse, one of the biggest, most popular alternative rock bands on the planet.

At times is feels like Muse are trying too hard. United States of Eurasia sounds a lot like a Queen song, now there’s nothing wrong with that as an idea, but the delivery is poor. The song feels totally disorganised. It’s meant to emulate the tempo changes and full throttle musical explosions that made Queen so great, but instead it is a mess of misplaced and clunky rubbish. Similarly the lyrics seem to be trying to emulate the brilliance of past albums. ‘Guiding Light’ is a pale imitation of ‘Starlight’ and the occasional reference to 1984 just doesn’t cut it when held up to the genius of ‘Citizen Erased’, especially when it is cut with meaningless and seemingly random soppy romance lyrics. In previous albums one or two songs have essentially been love songs, but this time they all seem to contain an element of the love song. When delivered well, love songs can be a real highlight of an album, but in The Resistance is just descends into cliché.

Overall this album tries to hard to reach the blistering heights of Muse’s past brilliance. It’s not a bad album per se, but it’s not realty a good one either. If I was being kind I’d call it decent, if I was being unkind I’d call it painfully mediocre. I hope this is a blip, not the beginning of a trend. I would hate to see Muse peter out after just 5 albums. Bellamy and co. have for more to offer the world of music that they have done thus far. Muse need to remember the sound that got them where they are today and stop pandering to the record companies; they are popular enough not to need to.

So two very different albums, neither of which are exactly brilliant but there you go, life would be dull of every album were perfect. Wait what am I saying? If only every album were perfect. Anyway, October brings new album from Nine Black Alps and The Flaming Lips, so I’ll review those when I get them, in the meantime next week will be on time (hopefully). In fact my lack of internet has given me time to play through the new Batman game, so I’ll probably review that next week. Fun times.

Monday, 21 September 2009

filler quiz part 2

I'm too ashamed to write anything. Normal service resumes next week. Actually I do have something planned, so it might actually be worth reading.

Edit: I may not have the internet next weekend, so I will try to get the blog up at some point, but it may be a tad late. Sorry y'all, but this one is actually out of my control.

Shitty quiz, questions 26-50:

26. What kind of car do you drive?

I don’t… yet

27. What word in the dictionary best describes you?


28. What’s your blog address?

Funny you should ask that actually… http://theinanerantingsofme.blogspot.com/

29. Worst TV show at the moment?

All of them?

30. Are you a better talker or better listener?

Talker, other people’s opinion don’t matter

31. Do you care about who wins the election?

Yes, but I can’t vote

32. Who was the most popular kid in your 7th grade class?

Who cares?

33. Are you afraid of ghosts?

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

34. Is there something lacking in your life right now?

Yes, a soul

35. What do you miss most about childhood?

Freedom without responsibility

36. How many times did it take you to pass your drivers test?

None, yet

37. How many kids do you want?

None, ever

38. Are you a good liar?

Yes… (haha, I think they believed me)

39. Can you cook?

I make a mean cheese on toast

40. Are you a cheapskate?


41. What would you do with a million dollars?

Hookers and blow

42. Have you been to Disney World?


43. How much time do you spend online a week?

Far too much

44. Last time you went bowling?

A couple of months ago, I wasn’t very good.

45. Hot or cold weather?


46. How many pairs of shoes do you have?

Too many for any heterosexual male

47. Are you a shop-a-holic?

Only for books

48. Where were you yesterday morning at 10:30?

In bed, with your mum (wow, I got to 48 without a ‘you mum’ joke)

49. Are you afraid of the dentist?

The only thing to fear is fear itself.

50. Were you bored or entertained by this survey?

Utterly bored, as were my readers. I hate you.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

filler quiz part 1

Oh god oh god! Why can I not write anything worthwhile? Why do I fail so hard? Why am I resorting to a quiz I found online? Why am i asking so many questions?

Writers block + busy life = filler time. Next week is worse, so more filler. Que angry emails from everyone.

Shitty quiz, questions 1-25:

1. Are you wearing a hat?

No, should I be?

2. Bottled water: yes or no?

No, bottled water is just overpriced tap water.

3. Do you have a crush on someone right now?

If I told you that I‘d have to kill you.

4. What kind of laptop do you have?

A Dell Studio 17

5. Do you prefer writing in pen or pencil?

I prefer typing… but if pushed I’d have to say pen

6. Who was the last text message in your phone from?

My driving instructor… I don’t have any friends worth texting

7. What’s your favourite season?

Summer, not that we ever get one in England

8. Does your best friend have a boyfriend or girlfriend?

Some of them do (and I am in no way jealous)

9. Do you like them?

I like everyone… apart from the person who made this quiz and me for not having the motivation to do anything more worthwhile than this quiz.

10. Favorite radio station?

Planet Rock

11. Type your name into Google. What’s the first link that pops up?

http://www.alexmason.net/ random

12. What’s your favourite song at the moment?

Um um um um… I dunno, I’m liking the sound of Uprising by Muse

13. Coke or Pepsi?

Coke, although I preferred it when they still put cocaine in it.

14. Favourite subject in school?


15. Last concert?

Rise Against, last February

16. Next concert?

Porcupine Tree in December I hope

17. Last magazine you bought?

I can’t even remember

18. Last book you read?

Plebs and Politics in the Late Roman Republic (yes I am a complete nerd…)

19. Do you prefer cats or dogs?


20. Is there someone you want to punch right now?

Yes, whoever wrote this quiz

21. Favourite sports team?

Worcester Warriors

22. State you most want to visit?

Well aren’t we American? I’m gonna interpret ‘state’ as ‘country’ and say Australia

23. Are you an internet addict?

Most definitely

24. When do you shower?

Once a month, whether I need it or not… not really, that’s horrible, usually once a day

25. What’s your dream job?

Something where I do no work and get paid lots

Sure is filler round here.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Lessons from History

70 years ago this week German troops marched into Poland, starting the bloodiest and deadliest war in mankind’s history. In the years before that fateful early autumn day, Germany had battled through depression and anarchy to become a European superpower once more. In the eyes of many Germans the Treaty of Versailles signed in the aftermath of the First World War, ostensibly to punish Germany for the War, was preventing Germany from rebuilding an economy badly damaged by defeat and economic depression. Widespread resentment of their mistreatment at the end of a war which many Germans believed had not really been lost harboured extremism.

In the midst of this wounded state, a young Austrian recovered from a mustard gas attack in a field hospital. He had joined the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment at the start of the war and went on to receive the Iron Cross First Class; one of the highest decorations a german soldier can receive. After the war he remained in the army and moved to Munich, where he joined the German Workers Party (DAP) in 1919. The DAP was one of many extreme parties to appear following the creation of the democratic Weimar Republic following the War. Its founder, Anton Drexler was a fervent nationalist and an Anti-Semite, Anti-Marxist and anti-Capitalist to boot. He believed that the Weimar Republic was out of touch with the German people and wanted a return to the good old days of the Imperial Reich. Our young Austrian changed the name of the party to the National Socialist German Workers Party (or the Nazis) and swiftly moved up the party structure. Soon he became leader of the party and, through the power of his oratory, made the party one of the largest in Munich. The name of this enigmatic Austrian war hero? Adolf Hitler.

In 1923 Hitler let a failed coup against the Bavarian government. While the coup massively damaged the party’s reputation, the public spectacle of his trial only increased Hitler’s popularity. During his one year in prison he wrote Mein Kampf in which he outlined his extreme, nationalist ideology. When he was released, on the back of his increased popularity, Hitler wet about rebuilding the Party, determined to win power legitimately through the democratic system he so hated.

Over the next decade, due in part to Hitler’s oratory and his appeal to the good old days before the War when Germany had been a major European power, the Nazi’s power grew until they controlled the largest single section of the vote in the Reichstag. By 1933 Hitler was Chancellor of the Wiemar Republic. The centre-right parties in power had tried to compromise with Hitler, believing that they could keep the political extremist under control. However Hitler refused to compromise and forced President Hindenburg to appoint his Chancellor.

It did not take long for Hitler to introduce Bill to make him the effective dictator of Germany. By July 1933 Hitler’s Nazis were the only legal party. Through political culls instigated by the SA, all political opposition was removed; Hitler was the Absolute ruler of Germany. Over the next 4 years Hitler’s Germany grew in wealth and power, openly flaunting the Treaty of Versailles. Despite clear signs of aggression, other nations did nothing to stop the growth of Germany. They thought they could negotiate with Hitler, they were wrong.

In 1939 Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Over the course of the next 6 years, 6 million Jews were ‘evacuated’ to camps in the east, where they were either worked of gassed to death. All told the war cost the lives of 70 million people, the majority of whom were civilians. The war led to the creation of the Nuclear Bomb, two of which were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, killing thousands and damaging the area with deadly radiation for years. At the Nuremberg trial, the Nazi officers on trial said that they were only following orders.

This is not an excuse. The Nazis never received the vote of the majority of German citizens; they ruled Germany not by the consent of the German people, but by the apathy of those who saw that Nazis for the monstrous affront to freedom that they were and did nothing. When Hitler’s foreign policy was so obviously warmongering and anti-Semitic, the world stood by and did nothing, not because they agreed with Hitler, but because standing up against evil would have been too hard, oo politically risky. Instead they attempted to compromise with Germany.

Evil is not something that can be compromised with. It must be stood against with unwavering conviction. If we learn anything from the Second World War, we learn that apathy in the face of unremitting evil is almost as bad as evil itself. While the monsters who tortured and killed Jews in the camps are unforgivably evil, what is more disturbing to the refusal by Germans, who simply followed the crowd and did what was easy, to think for themselves and see past the propaganda, to discover the true evil of the Nazis and stand against it. The responsibility for the atrocities of the Holocaust lies, at least in part, with those army officers who ‘were simply following orders’, because simply following orders is not good enough. We are all responsible for our actions, it is our responsibility to stand up against injustice, not simply fall in and go along with what everyone else is doing.

As rational humans being we have a responsibility to ourselves to stand up for what we believe to be right, if we do not then we give sanction to those who would commit acts as monstrous as those committed in the holocaust. If we sanction these acts, can we really claim to be any better than those who commit them? History is littered with examples of evil, committed because of the unthinking consent of people who should have known better. Conformity may be safe and it may be easy, but as free thinking, rational being, we should seek to do what is right, not what is easy. Evil is almost never in the majority, evil is the insanity of a few, sanctioned by the apathy of everyone else. The insane we cannot stop; the apathy we can. The consequences if we do not are painted vividly in history; the events of 70 years ago are only one example.