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Desperate Character
Desperate Character
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A promising debut, November 12, 2012
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This review is from: Desperate Character (Audio CD)
'Desperate Character,' Kirsty MacColl's 1981 debut LP, finally sees the light of disc. This long-overdue reissue doesn't have much for extras -- except a lyric sheet, and a nice liner-note essay from Patrick Humphries, who reviewed the album in 'Melody Maker' upon its original release -- but I'd say the remastered sound is a huge improvement over the bootleg mp3s I've listened to in the past several years.

While DC is hardly a masterpiece, much of it does build on the promise of MacColl's first Stiff Records single, "They Don't Know" b/w "Turn My Motor On" (1979) -- "Hard to Believe," "Until the Night" and "See That Girl" recall the '60s girl-group style pop of the former, while "There's a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis" and "Clock Goes Round" are closer to the straight-up rock 'n' roll of the latter.

Elsewhere, there are plenty of hints at what was to come, musically speaking. The Tex-Mex flavored "Teenager in Love" and the wistful country version of "There's a Guy..." betray an affection for good old C&W that would rear its head again in the late '80s (on her single "Don't Come the Cowboy With Me, Sonny Jim" as well as B-sides like "Don't Run Away From Me Now" and her covers of "El Paso" and "Please Help Me, I'm Falling"). MacColl's interest in Latin styles can be detected on "Mexican Sofa," though in retrospect it sounds like a shrill novelty compared with more mature recordings like "My Affair" (1991) and the 'Tropical Brainstorm' album (2000); similarly, the swinging jazz of "The Real Ripper" would be further refined on later tracks such as "Fifteen Minutes" (1989) and "Bad" (1993). And even the moody synth-pop of "Falling for Faces" suggests the direction she would soon boldly take on her DC follow-up, 'Real' (still unreleased, though some tracks have turned up on compilations).

As for the lyrics, they're mostly MacColl's smart and witty observations of relationships, though "See That Girl" ("Now I know I don't count no more, but you're the one I still care for") and "Until the Night" ("There's more than one nightmare at large in this city tonight / You know you can't shut out the dark with the neon light") stand out as especially affecting.

Rounding out the 12-song set are two choice covers -- near-total overhauls of Doris Troy's 1963 R&B hit "Just One Look" and George Jones' 1962 country hit "(S)he Thinks I Still Care." The former has been given a kind of 2-Tone ska bounce, while the latter has had its sad regret replaced with playful irony (complete with "Blue Moon" guitar break).

Ultimately, DC is fun stuff with a charming mix of sounds, and I'd consider it a worthy addition to any Kirsty collection (especially now that it's readily available, albeit as an import in the US, and reasonably priced).

Garden of the Sinister
Garden of the Sinister
by E.J. Obermeyer
Edition: Paperback
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4.0 out of 5 stars A satisfying finish, November 11, 2012
This review is from: Garden of the Sinister (Paperback)
E.J. Obermeyer wraps up and winds down her Glory McGuire Mystery Trilogy with 'Garden of the Sinister'; though it picks up where the previous installment (this summer's 'Garden of Iniquity') left off, the author also spends a lot of time tying up that book's loose ends, filling us in on key information previously withheld, and even spends a few early chapters going back over the events of the first book (2011's 'Garden of Death') -- albeit largely from Glory's own point-of-view in light of everything that's happened to her since then.

At the end of 'Iniquity,' newspaper columnist Glory and her beloved Detective Glenn Marshall have just married, only to receive an ominous wedding gift; her cousin, Tanner, has something he needs to tell her; and her missing neighbor, a tax accountant named Angie Nixon, finds herself in a dank cabin in the Florida swamps. In 'Sinister,' Glory is a suspect in Angie's abduction, Det. Marshall (who never doubts his wife's innocence) begins a search for the young woman, a monstrous character from Glory's past is on the loose, and Garrett Sanders (Glory's late parents' lawyer, and manager of her inheritance) confesses to some really shady activity; then, a year after Angie's disappearance, Glory receives a phone call from her neighbor's kidnapper demanding $1 million...

This main plot is resolved rather quickly, though not without its share of suspense. The writing style isn't much different from the first two installments (brisk pace, folksy turns of phrase, endearing heroine and hero, mostly likable and well-sketched supporting characters, the occasional typo, etc.); but in its last few chapters, 'Sinister' takes a surprising turn into a series of increasingly poignant flash-forwards.

The author herself has said, regarding how to make the best of what life hands you, "It's all about putting God first, a loving family, having a positive attitude, never saying 'never' and being committed to fulfilling your dreams." For the most part, I'd say Glory McGuire Marshall has embodied these beliefs pretty well throughout this trilogy; and in its conclusion, she communicates them in a satisfying way while putting the events of her life in perspective.

Garden of Iniquity
Garden of Iniquity
by EJ Obermeyer
Edition: Paperback
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4.0 out of 5 stars "Not again, oh God. Not again!", September 28, 2012
This review is from: Garden of Iniquity (Paperback)
'Garden of Iniquity,' EJ Obermeyer's follow-up to her 2011 debut 'Garden of Death' (and the second book in a planned trilogy), plunges us right into a scary scene -- Glory McGuire, a full five years after someone she'd loved and trusted had nearly murdered her, finds herself confronted in her Orlando condo by a black-clad, gun-wielding figure. At the same time, Detective Glenn Marshall is on duty when a bullet (which may have been meant for him) takes down his partner.

From there, the author picks up where her previous book ended, and spends most of the rest of the story leading us back up to those opening moments. Glory moves from South Dakota back to her home state of Florida (where her parents had been slain a few years earlier); though somewhat comforted by her inherited fortune and her growing romance with Det. Marshall, she is still haunted by memories of her brush with death, so she goes to college to pursue a career in journalism, with the noble intention of specializing in stories about domestic violence, advocating for victims and investigating how the justice system handles such cases. Also, her newfound sense of safety is shaken by a series of threats -- ranging from menacing cards and a message painted on her door, to a dead cat and a bloody hunting knife, to a spot of blood in her condo from a missing neighbor. Meanwhile, a couple of shady characters from Glory and Glenn's past want revenge, and a new character has a serious beef with the detective as well...

Though it covers a stretch of time about the same length as 'Garden of Death', 'Garden of Iniquity' is a much tighter and leaner piece of storytelling (occasional wordy passages aside) and seems to make better use of suspense. (Plus, while typos are still present, I notice they're less frequent this time.) Obermeyer often gives us access to Glory's thoughts in italicized, first-person passages, as the young lady learns and grows from her experiences, her basic decency never failing to shine through. A couple of major loose ends are left that will likely be tied up in the final installment of the Glory McGuire Mystery Trilogy -- 'Garden of the Sinister,' due sometime next year -- and I look forward to seeing how things turn out for this endearing heroine.
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Garden of Death
Garden of Death
by EJ Obermeyer
Edition: Paperback
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fast read!, December 27, 2011
This review is from: Garden of Death (Paperback)
The thing that struck me most about 'Garden of Death,' the debut novel by E.J. Obermeyer, is how fast a read it was -- it took me a total of five days (during a busy holiday season, no less) to get through all 370 pages.

For starters, the story, taking place over some four years, is very well-paced; at the center of this murder mystery is a rather elaborate scheme involving inheritance money, but I found it pretty well put together. There are a few chapters scattered throughout in which an unnamed "he" conspires with an unidentified partner -- as far as the author withholding information goes, I found this an oddly compelling and clever way to keep the reader guessing as to who might be the real culprit.

If it seems as though Obermeyer is taking her sweet time in unfolding the mystery, it hardly matters when the characters are such a generally likable lot. Our heroine is Glory McGuire, an academically-focused and somewhat sheltered 16-year-old who is forced to grow up fast after the grisly murder of her parents turns her world completely upside-down; nevertheless, after some (understandable) trepidation, she handles her move from the big city of Orlando, Florida to the backwoods of South Dakota and adjusts to life with her new family (taciturn uncle Lucen, bubbly aunt Victoria, and their chatty adult son, Tanner) with grace. Our hero is Detective Glenn Marshall, who, like Glory, was a hardworking student and never had much of a social life in school; though he is initially buffaloed by Glory's parents' murder, his devotion to the case (and to Glory herself, for reasons that become more complex as time goes on) is nothing short of remarkable.

Furthermore, Obermeyer's writing style, though sometimes given to wordiness (which I'm sure she could tighten and refine with time -- I can certainly attest to that in my own experiences with writing), has a folksy charm that I really enjoyed. I'd say even the near-total lack of profanity (beyond an occasional "damn") -- which, to some readers, may make some of the dialogue sound stilted -- feels fairly true to most of the characters and their community. Indeed, the only real issue I had was with numerous typographical errors sprinkled throughout -- most of them, alas, being such that a spellchecking program would've easily missed them.

Note: 'Garden of Death' is being marketed as the first in a series involving Glory McGuire -- the follow-up, 'Garden of Iniquity,' should be due out sometime in 2012, and a third book is also being planned.

I find this a curious move, considering that Glory finds herself in danger at some point in this book, but not necessarily a disastrous move: While this leaves no doubt in the reader's mind that she will survive, there is still some suspense as to HOW she manages to do so. (I can imagine her maybe growing up into a Miss Marple-type character, learning to read people and using those skills to solve mysteries in her small town...) Ultimately, this was a pleasurable read, and I look forward to following Glory's further adventures.

Sky Full of Holes
Sky Full of Holes
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Power-poppers turn a bit more rootsy and mature, August 27, 2011
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This review is from: Sky Full of Holes (Audio CD)
The first thing that strikes me about 'Sky Full of Holes,' the fifth studio album by the New York power-pop quartet Fountains Of Wayne, is how the band has stripped back the '80s New Wave cheese that marked their previous album (2007's amusing, if lightweight, 'Traffic & Weather') in favor of a rootsier sound that often recalls the Jayhawks and early Wilco.

The band has dabbled in country and folky sounds in the past -- most notably on "Valley Winter Song" and "Hung Up On You" from their 2003 commercial breakthrough 'Welcome Interstate Managers,' "Fire in the Canyon" and "Seatbacks and Traytables" from 'Traffic & Weather,' and a few rarities like their covers of Ricky Nelson's "Today's Teardrops" and Jackson Browne's "These Days" (as well as spare originals like "Imperia" and "Places") -- but they seem to be doing a lot more of it here. I especially notice it on "Workingman's Hands" (a mostly respectful portrait, with a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor: "Now your Uncle John walked a mile to school in a storm / And it was uphill both ways"), the sweet "A Road Song," the gorgeous "Firelight Waltz," and the haunting "Cemetery Guns"; plus, the chugging, mid-tempo "Acela," about a lovelorn boozer on a train, has an almost bluesy sound; and even the hilarious "Richie and Ruben" and the brassy, nostalgic "Radio Bar" are noticeably less reliant on guitar crunch and jangle than most of the band's other up-tempo numbers, though no less hooky.

Of course, the band's signature power-pop can still be found here, especially on the opening track "The Summer Place," "Someone's Gonna Break Your Heart," the psychedelic "Cold Comfort Flowers," the breezy summer anthem "A Dip in the Ocean," the urgent choruses of "Action Hero," and even the slow-burn ballad "Hate to See You Like This."

The other thing that strikes me is how the lyrics -- by bassist Adam Schlesinger and guitarist/lead singer Chris Collingwood -- seem a little darker and more mature than usual. The pair has long had a penchant for clever character sketches and portraits of day-to-day life (growing up in suburban NY and New Jersey on 1999's 'Utopia Parkway,' personal and professional woes of nine-to-fivers on 'Welcome Interstate Managers,' etc.) peppered with down-to-earth, matter-of-fact references to pop culture and brand names. 'Sky Full of Holes' has more of the same, but with gentler humor and more sympathy: In "Richie and Ruben," no matter how misguided the wannabe-entrepreneur title characters may be, the satire's real target is the first-person narrator who has kept lending them money despite the total lack of return on his investments; "Hate to See You Like This," although similar to the self-destructive-girl ode "She's Got A Problem" (from the band's 1996 self-titled debut), finds a better balance between mild ribbing and tender affection as its narrator nudges a female friend out of a deep depression ("You can't just watch infomercials forever / If you need a hand, why don't you take mine?"); "A Road Song," like the previous album's "Hotel Majestic," deals with the touring-musician life in witty detail, but in a much less complaining tone as its narrator keeps in touch with a loved one back home; and "Someone's Gonna Break Your Heart" opens with a funny image ("Staring at the sun with no pants on") only to give way to more poetic observations ("Melancholy comes like a robin at your window"). A couple of character studies find the band addressing middle-age concerns: In "The Summer Place," a 40-year-old woman reflects on her teenage fears and humiliations when she visits her parents' old vacation home; and in "Action Hero," which opens with a harried family man on a mundane outing ("[H]is wife begins to sneeze / And his son is throwing peas and eating with his feet"), the protagonist's seemingly silly daydreams turn extra poignant (especially the notion of "racing against time") when he finds himself confronted with heart trouble. Most striking of all is the closing track, "Cemetery Guns," a touchingly understated portrait of a military funeral.

So, where would I say this stands among FOW's body of work? I wouldn't call it a departure, so much as simply a natural progression in the band's growth -- from the sweet-and-crunchy nice-guy rock of their debut, to the punchier and more cohesive 'Utopia Parkway' (still my favorite album of theirs), to the more ambitious and eclectic 'Welcome Interstate Managers' (with 'Traffic & Weather' something of an artistic step backwards, albeit a fun one). 'Sky Full of Holes' is probably not the first FOW CD I would recommend to beginning fans, but longtime fans may find it rewarding.

The Essential Weird Al Yankovic
The Essential Weird Al Yankovic
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A parodist looks at 50, February 14, 2010
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To begin with, "Weird Al" Yankovic -- who just turned 50 last year -- is someone I always forget how much I've liked until I happen to hear a new song from him. I heard the Michael Jackson parody "Eat It" sometime in the 1980s when I was very young, and I thought it was a hoot; after that, listening to The Dr. Demento Show in the early '90s, I was introduced to songs like "Fat," "Smells Like Nirvana" (my personal fave), the Beach Boys pastiche "Trigger Happy," and "You Don't Love Me Anymore." A few years later, the Coolio parody "Amish Paradise" came along, and in 1999 I caught "The Saga Begins" (the plot of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace set to the tune of "American Pie") and VH1's cheeky Behind The Music special. Then "White & Nerdy" and the hysterical charity-single goof "Don't Download This Song" caught my attention in 2006. All of the aforementioned tracks are included in this 2-disc, 38-track Essential collection -- indeed, it's the Weird Al retrospective I've been waiting for.

Al's first 8 albums (from 1983 to 1993) have been anthologized many times before -- on two volumes of Greatest Hits, the box set Permanent Record, The Food Album, The TV Album -- and now they're revisited on Disc 1 of this set. But this set is the first time his 4 albums from 1996 to 2006 have received the best-of treatment; this period is covered on Disc 2. Given that the tracks on Essential were picked by the man himself -- including a mix of hits, his personal favorites, and fan faves -- I can't really argue with what he apparently feels is his best and most enduring work. Anyway, this was meant as an introduction for beginning fans, and besides, any compilation NOT specifically based on which songs were released as singles and/or how high they charted is bound to come up short for longtime fans. (For the record, from what little I've heard on the radio, I'm already missing "Stop Draggin' My Car Around," "Christmas At Ground Zero," "When I Was Your Age," "Couch Potato," and "Ode To A Superhero.")

Frankly, I'd rather address what actually IS here. Though Weird Al is most widely known for his parodies of Top 40 pop hits ("Like A Surgeon," "eBay") and rock classics ("Yoda," "Jurassic Park"), his original tunes are often equally accomplished -- from twisted love songs like the nasty heartbreak ballad "One More Minute," the power pop-y "Melanie" and the doo-wop ditty "Since You've Been Gone," to the off-the-wall narratives of "The Biggest Ball Of Twine In Minnesota" and "Albuquerque," to the remarkable rapid-fire sections of "Your Horoscope For Today" and "Hardware Store." Furthermore, he and his longtime bandmates -- drummer Jon "Bermuda" Schwartz, bassist Steve Jay, and guitarist Jim West -- prove themselves incredibly versatile performers, moving deftly from polka (the covers medley "Polkas On 45") to New Wave ("Dare To Be Stupid" and "Dog Eat Dog," dead-on "style parodies" of Devo and the Talking Heads, respectively) to rap and R&B ("It's All About The Pentiums," "Trapped In The Drive-Thru") to symphonic pop (the Brian Wilson homage "Pancreas"). Regardless of whether or not you think Al's lyrical jokes hold up, you really can't deny the sheer craftsmanship that went into the music.

Weird Al's career has lasted a good 30 years (which is as long as I've been *alive*), outlasting the careers of most of the artists he's parodied. Early on, after his accordion-driven self-titled 1983 debut (represented here only by "Another One Rides The Bus," an acoustic single he had actually recorded in 1980), he and his band realized the best jokes are told with a straight face rather than with a giggle; throughout this set's 2-and-a-half+ hours, you can follow the band's musical growth, as well as Al's knack for keeping up with current trends without altering himself in any fundamental sense (i.e. occasional mild vulgarity and gross-out humor aside, his lyrics are intended for a general audience, and have never resorted to outright profanity). Not that Al shows any signs of slowing down, either: He is currently working on a new album -- five of the tracks having already been previewed on last year's digital EP Internet Leaks -- and I am most certainly looking forward to whatever he does next.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 12, 2012 10:19 AM PST

DVD ~ Frank Langella
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5.0 out of 5 stars Say what you will about director Ron Howard..., May 21, 2009
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This review is from: Frost/Nixon (DVD)
But personally, I think it's great that he wouldn't take on this adaptation of Peter Morgan's Tony-nominated play Frost/Nixon -- which I had always thought sounded cool, but never had a chance in hell of catching in London or on Broadway -- unless its stars, Frank Langella (a fine character actor from such films as Good Night and Good Luck) and Michael Sheen (whom I adored as Prime Minister Tony Blair in The Queen, which was also written by Morgan), were allowed to re-create their respective roles as disgraced ex-President Richard Milhous Nixon and British TV personality David Frost for the big screen. Though not a powerhouse epic like Oliver Stone's Nixon (1995), there's something to be said for a solid, modest piece of old-fashioned craftsmanship.

This film's first hour, covering the lengthy period of dealmaking and preparations that led Frost to tape a series of four syndicated TV interviews with Nixon in March 1977, weaves an intriguing web of differing agendas and motivations among its characters: Frost learns of Nixon's 1974 resignation in the wake of the Watergate scandal and, longing to boost his career and be taken more seriously, hopes to score a ratings-bonanza interview with him; his producer pal, John Birt (Matthew MacFadyen), expresses doubts but lends support anyway; Nixon decides to participate after learning that Frost will be paying him good money; Nixon's loyal chief of staff, Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon) encourages him further, believing that Frost will be just a lightweight with "puffball" questions, and that Nixon can easily use the opportunity to repair his public image; and when Frost hires author/professor James Reston, Jr. (chameleonic Sam Rockwell) and TV newsman Bob Zelnick (lively scene-stealer Oliver Platt) to assist him with research, Reston's furious desire to "give Richard Nixon the trial he never had" makes Birt understandably nervous, while Frost is rather moved by the man's passion.

In the second hour, the sparks really start to fly, not only before the cameras, but behind the scenes as well: Zelnick and Reston lay into Frost for not being forceful enough with Nixon at first, have little patience for Frost's jet-set playboy lifestyle, and dismiss him as a mere "talk-show host"; Frost, already losing confidence in his abilities as a journalist, learns he may be jeopardizing his own career back home; and Brennan, fearing that questions about Watergate and the Vietnam War will hurt Nixon's reputation even more, becomes fiercely protective of Nixon -- to the point of trying to interfere with Frost.

The story climaxes with Nixon drunk-dialing Frost not long before the last taping -- pure conjecture on the part of the screenwriter, but the phone call is such a great character-revealing moment (suggesting that the two are kindred spirits, men from humble beginnings who must work extra hard to prove their worth in a society that looks down on them) that I can't imagine the film working without it. Langella, completely disappearing into his role, does a commendable job of humanizing the often-vilified Nixon, and Sheen is a revelation, tapping into Frost's hidden sadness and insecurity as he tries to put his best face forward and enjoy the perks of his celebrity status; both actors, rather than playing to the back row as they most likely would have on-stage, wisely scale down their performances for the intimacy of film (indeed, the power of the close-up proves to be a major point in this story).

In this day and age, with presidential candidates and other politicians often turning up on programs like The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, Late Night With David Letterman, and Saturday Night Live, it seems almost quaint that the televised Nixon interviews were seen as such a big deal. Ultimately, this film is uniformly well-acted, witty (a scene in which Platt does an impression of Langella-as-Nixon is especially priceless), and a fascinating exploration of the growing relationship between showbiz and politics.

The Deal
The Deal
DVD ~ Dexter Fletcher
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A superior made-for-TV movie, March 20, 2009
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This review is from: The Deal (DVD)
First of all, let me point out that The Deal is technically not a "prequel" to the Oscar-nominated 2006 film The Queen, since this was actually filmed and then aired on Britain's Channel 4 three years prior. Both were written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Frears, and both star Welsh actor Michael Sheen as politician Tony Blair; and I suspect that, had it not been for the success of The Queen, The Deal most likely would not have seen a US release. Which would've been a shame, since The Deal -- though not quite the rich, in-depth character study that The Queen was -- is actually a sturdy little teleplay, and a fascinating glimpse into the workings of UK politics.

The story concerns the friendship and rivalry between Members of Parliament Tony Blair and Gordon Brown as they worked their way up the ranks of the Labour Party throughout the 1980s and into the '90s (they were considered the "opposition party" as long as the Conservative Party was in power); when their party leader, John Smith, suddenly died in 1994, both Blair and Brown were poised to take over. Though the pair had been united in their desire to "modernize" the Labour Party and put it back in power, the shrewd and friendly Blair was becoming convinced that he would be a more likely Labour candidate than the passionate, intellectual Brown to beat the Conservative candidate in the next election. So they supposedly struck a deal wherein Blair would run as the Labour candidate for Prime Minister: If elected, he would in turn give Brown unprecedented power as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and then Blair would step down after his first term and let Brown take over as PM.

The script portrays the duo's conflict a bit simplistically -- the eager-beaver pretty-boy versus the moody man-of-substance -- and it seems rather biased in favor of Brown, painting him as a victim of the harsh truth that it really does matter how much you can appeal to people when you're going for the "top job." But then there's only so much you can show in 80 minutes; and besides, both Sheen (as a somewhat less sympathetic Blair than he played in The Queen) and English actor David Morrissey (outstanding as Brown) do their darnedest to bring whatever nuance they can to their roles. It also helps that the story is fast-moving and occasionally witty, with few (if any) moments that drag.

That said, the film doesn't spend much time explaining the characters' backgrounds or their political offices; fortunately, the DVD comes with brief text bios of Brown and Blair, as well as a charming 22-minute interview with Frears -- stuff I would recommend checking out before watching the movie itself. (NOTE: Though not rated, The Deal probably merits a PG-13 for a few instances of strong language.)

Genesis Box Set 3 (1970-1975)[13 Disc Set]
Genesis Box Set 3 (1970-1975)[13 Disc Set]
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I've got a confession to make..., December 13, 2008
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I grew up with Genesis as the mega-popular, three-man hit-making machine led by Phil Collins (a hugely successful solo artist in his own right); I started with We Can't Dance in 1992, and shortly thereafter worked my way back to the group's 1978 commercial breakthrough, And Then There Were Three. As I learned more about the band, I found that another solo artist -- Peter Gabriel, whom I liked -- had fronted them before Collins, from the late '60s to the mid-'70s. But it wasn't until earlier this year that I discovered some of the band's older tunes through Sirius satellite radio's The Vault (now Deep Tracks); I must admit, most other progressive-rock to which I was introduced (ELP, Yes, King Crimson, etc.) practically drove me to fits, but I was surprised to find just how accessible and downright beautiful the early Genesis material was. I quickly bought the first two Collins-fronted albums, the prog-leaning A Trick Of The Tail (1976) and Wind And Wuthering (1977); but I decided to hold off on the Gabriel-era albums after I heard this box set was coming out.

Well, I can honestly say it was worth the wait. Except for the band's 1969 art-pop debut, From Genesis To Revelation (to which they don't own the rights), GENESIS: 1970-1975 includes nearly all of the studio recordings the group released during Gabriel's time with them.

TRESPASS (1970): After the disappointing FGTR, founding members Peter Gabriel (vocals), Tony Banks (keyboards), Ant Phillips (guitars) and Mike Rutherford (bass) -- then still in their late teens -- holed up in a country cottage with their new drummer, John Mayhew, to indulge in their newfound creative freedom and craft some expansive, ambitious epics. Alas, only the hard-charging closer "The Knife" feels like the busting-out that this whole album should've been; "White Mountain" (a hyper-literate story-song about two rival wolves) comes close, though. The other four tracks -- "Looking For Someone," "Visions Of Angels," "Stagnation," and "Dusk" -- are marked by plaintive, desolate vocals and a pastoral sound.

NURSERY CRYME (1971): After Mayhew and Phillips left, the group rebounded with new members Phil Collins (drums) and Steve Hackett (guitar). The band sounds refreshed on the dramatic 10-minute opener "The Musical Box;" "For Absent Friends," the short but sweet piece that follows, has Collins harmonizing with Gabriel. "Seven Stones" is a pretty interlude between the energetic and humorous numbers "Return Of The Giant Hogweed" and "Harold The Barrel." The last two cuts, "Harlequin" and "Fountain Of Salmacis," drag a bit -- though "Fountain" (based on the Greek myth of Hermaphroditus), like "Musical Box" and "Harold," hints at the rock-theater style that would fully flower on subsequent albums.

FOXTROT (1972): Begins strongly with the pounding "Watcher Of The Skies," about an alien who lands on an uninhabited Earth. The highly theatrical "Get 'Em Out By Friday," with Gabriel taking on the voices of several different characters, is another highlight -- a social satire about corrupt housing practices and genetic control (don't ask!). And the 23-minute closer "Supper's Ready," about a couple caught up in an apocalyptic battle between good and evil (?!), actually feels like six or seven different songs in one; it never turns into a lazy or sloppy jam. The remaining tracks are more restrained but no less fine: The ballad "Time Table" features lovely piano work by Banks; the lush "Can-Utility And The Coastliners" dramatizes the Norse legend of King Canute; and "Horizons" is a brief instrumental showcasing Hackett.

SELLING ENGLAND BY THE POUND (1973): My favorite of the bunch, top-heavy with high points: "Dancing With The Moonlit Knight" is a mournful ode to England's Americanization; the funny character sketch "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)," the closest thing the band had to a Gabriel-era "hit," is a groovy glam-style number with Rutherford on sitar; "Firth Of Fifth" is most notable for its gorgeous neo-classical piano intro; "The Battle Of Epping Forest" is a witty tale of gang warfare in London's East End; and "The Cinema Show," with sparse lyrics inspired by T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" and the Greek myth of Tiresias, is largely a showcase for Banks' keyboard wizardry. Even the shorter tracks are noteworthy: The brief closer "Aisle Of Plenty" puns on UK supermarkets and lists sale items to the tune of "Moonlit Knight," bringing the album full-circle; "After The Ordeal" is a calm, guitar-dominated instrumental coda to "Epping Forest;" and "More Fool Me" is a straightforward love song sung by Collins.

THE LAMB LIES DOWN ON BROADWAY (1974): This two-disc concept album's somewhat muddled story concerns a New York street punk's strange night. Gabriel's droll liner notes merely connect the 23 songs and fill in the blanks as to what's happening during the instrumental passages -- they don't do much to clarify whether the kid is actually dreaming, hallucinating from spray paint fumes, dead and trying to get out of Purgatory, or whatever. But what really matters is the music: Standout numbers include the title cut and the mildly racy "Counting Out Time" -- the poppiest tunes here, and lyrically the tracks most likely to hold up outside the story's context -- as well as absolutely beautiful moments like "The Lamia" and "Carpet Crawlers."

Bonus Tracks: Six of these rarities were first officially released on the 1998 box set Genesis Archives Vol. 1: 1967-1975: The silly 1972 single "Happy The Man" ("Like a nun with a gun, I'm wonderful fun"), the poignant b-side "Twilight Alehouse" (written before TRESPASS but not recorded until the FOXTROT sessions), the rocking late-'60 demo "Going Out To Get You," and three rather medieval-sounding numbers recorded for the radio program BBC Nightride in 1970 -- "Shepherd" (Gabriel's sweet duet with Banks), "Pacidy," and "Let Us Now Make Love" (featuring Phillips' soaring harmonies). As for the remaining four tracks: "Provocation," "Frustration," "Manipulation," and "Resignation" were recorded in the late '60s for an aborted film project on the painter Mick Jackson; this is their first official release in their entirety, though bits of these pieces were incorporated into songs the band wrote for later albums.

DVD Extras: The six DVDs in this set contain 5.1 Surround Sound mixes of all the music, new interviews with band members past and present, TV specials and live footage dating back to 1972, and a charming VH1 special about the Archives set. Best of all is the slide show on the LAMB DVD, including the background screen images the band used during the Lamb tour, plus still photos and brief clips of live footage from the tour itself. My only quibble is with the choices in TV and live material -- how many versions of "The Musical Box" and "Supper's Ready" do you really need? -- but I suppose it couldn't be helped if that's all that was available to the set's compilers. Besides, I think it's cool just to see these handsome young men in action, especially Gabriel in his makeup and costumes.

Bottom line: For latter-day Genesis fans like myself, who may be encountering much (if not all) of this music for the first time, GENESIS: 1970-1975 is an excellent way to collect most of the Gabriel-era albums all at once if you want to look into this phase of the group's career.

Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West
Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West
by Cormac McCarthy
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.01
220 used & new from $2.95

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Good God almighty...", October 7, 2008
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Going into Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy's 1985 novel, I was well aware of its notorious reputation for extreme violent content; having, in recent months, already experienced the sometimes disturbing imagery of the stark modern western No Country For Old Men (2005), the post-apocalyptic The Road (2006), and the gritty "Border Trilogy" (1992's All The Pretty Horses, 1994's The Crossing, and 1998's Cities Of The Plain), I thought I could just prepare myself for anything.

The bulk of the story is set along the Texas-Mexico border circa 1850, and it concerns a teenage runaway from Tennessee -- known simply as "the kid" -- who takes up with a company of scalp-collectors led by Captain John Joel Glanton and the mysterious, hulking albino Judge Holden. This rather thin and meandering plot almost gets lost in thick tangles of relentlessly and almost oppressively ugly description -- I often found myself re-reading passages multiple times just to figure out what had just happened or who was saying what (as McCarthy tends not to set off his usually spare dialogue with quotation marks). Plus, there are no particularly sympathetic characters for us to root for throughout: Though we see the majority of the action through the kid's eyes, he is basically a cipher; and while the judge is probably the most interesting and fully developed character here, he only becomes more frightening and repulsive as more aspects of his personality are revealed.

On the surface, this would be merely a depressing symphony of bloodletting, brain matter, bones, bodily wastes, nudity, corpses, filth, scalpings and other mutilations, and (so help me) cruelty to animals. But there seems to be more going on here that makes this strangely compelling... For one thing, especially in the later chapters, every single time I felt myself growing numb to the violence and ugliness, and I thought McCarthy had gone as far as he could possibly go, something else even more brutal and gruesome would always come along to shock and shake me. Plus, as unbearable as that could've been, I think it helps that McCarthy's idiosyncratic prose style is so matter-of-fact and yet so poetic throughout, his narrative seems devoid of moral judgment and emotional excess -- it simply paints pictures in your head for you to interpret and feel about however you see fit.

More importantly, I don't think there would be much point in subjecting yourself to all this stuff if it weren't meant to open your eyes to some often-ignored historical events (specifically in America's westward expansion); and indeed, I wonder if McCarthy had just grown disenchanted with the romance and mythology of the western genre, and thus decided to strip them away and say, "Folks, this is how it really was in that time and place, and it wasn't pretty." And furthermore, I wonder if McCarthy was trying to provoke people with this material -- deliberately pushing the envelope with it just to pose the question, "What's more obscene, my graphic language or the fact that stuff like this actually happened in history?"

Bottom line: Though widely acknowledged as a modern classic, this is not the first Cormac McCarthy novel I would recommend to anybody. But if you have already read at least one other of his books and are familiar with his unique style -- as well as his unflinching depictions of dark subject matter -- I think you might find Blood Meridian a wrenching but rewarding piece of work.

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