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Kings & Queens of the Underground
Kings & Queens of the Underground
Price: $10.00
55 used & new from $5.41

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, November 24, 2014
Perhaps this was bound to be a record that had to grow on me before I could dig it, as I thought 2005's Devil's Playground was a masterpiece stunning in its resurgent, fresh energy and biting edge that benefited from a much lighter producer's hand than we hear on Kings. But when I allowed myself to listen to this new record for what it really is--far more of a pop album than the teeth-clenching rocker Idol served up in 2005, with Stevens shredding his way through smoking rockers like "Evil Eye" and "Body Snatcher"--I understood that what we have here is a remarkable little pop rock album from a guy who, at age 58, credibly can be crowned one of that genre's godfathers.

Trevor Horn, who produced most of Kings except the catchiest single Idol's put to tape since the 1980s--"Can't Break Me Down," and also "Save Me Now," both produced by the much younger Greg Kurstin--is no upstart striving to harken back to an era he didn't live himself. Horn is a 65-year-old man who co-wrote "Video Killed the Radio Star" for the Buggles in 1979, so it's no surprise he so exactly replicates some of Idol's--and Steve's--signature flourishes from their glory days here, particularly on "Postcard from the Past" and "One Breath Away." I just wish Horn had backed off a bit at times--some of his production clutters songs that might have really sizzled if they had fewer layers to bear--and let Steve's guitar dominate the mix like it so often did in 2005. But most of these songs are crafted with a discipline and ear for the great hook that comes second-hand now to a veteran like Idol. Lyrically, however, the songwriting often feels like a perfunctory exercise, especially on the wince-worthy title track, perhaps the album's lone, true clunker.

Overall, I have found myself listening to this record more frequently than other new albums this year from the likes of Perfume Genius or Leonard Cohen, and I am glad that Idol is still making music when it would be easier to just keep hitting the road singing the songs everyone memorized thirty years ago because the money's OK and the effort is minimal.

The Monogamy Gap: Men, Love, and the Reality of Cheating (Sexuality, Identity, and Society)
The Monogamy Gap: Men, Love, and the Reality of Cheating (Sexuality, Identity, and Society)
by Eric Anderson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $35.08
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32 of 52 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brave New World, February 23, 2012
It is interesting to note that the two glowing reviews written of this book here thus far were posted by people who have not ever posted a customer review of anything on Amazon before now; this typically is an indication that these reviews are biased appraisals by personal acquaintances of the author. Here is an honest look at Mr. Anderson's argument by someone who has never met the man.

Mr. Anderson tends to speak of sexual monogamy and emotional monogamy as mutually exclusive. As a heterosexual married man myself, I find that sexual intimacy with my wife is itself a fundamental expression of my emotional attraction to her, and not merely the consequence of a physical craving. Mr. Anderson argues that the reason cuckolded partners tend to end unfaithful relationships is that they are culturally conditioned to do so. But again, in my own experience as someone who has been cheated on, I find that to be a simple-minded characterization of the dynamic that ignites in relationships in which one partner has been found to be unfaithful. My own response was a deeply emotional one in which I felt humiliated, emasculated and hurt--not because my culture taught me to feel this way as a victim of infidelity, but because these emotional responses were the primal reverberations of a universal humanity that transcends cultural boundaries.

Mr. Anderson's book reads like a chapter out of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, a book in which Huxley depicts women as mindlessly promiscuous and congenitally incapable of mingling emotion with sex. To them, the idea that a woman might sleep with the same man for more than a few days before moving on to the next partner is entirely foreign and suspicious. There is no emotion in the society Huxley explores in that book; there is only the relentless pursuit of pleasure and an unseemly revulsion at the slightest evidence of unhappiness or emotional vulnerability in others. I don't think I would have trouble convincing anyone that promiscuity has already become the norm (Mr. Anderson shows that infidelity occurs within more than 70% of relationships). But what we find in The Monogamy Gap is yet another step--perhaps the final step?--in the direction of the society Huxley envisioned many decades ago, one in which promiscuity is universally viewed as the norm and legitimized to such an extent that those who are monogamous are viewed as outcasts.

I prefer to live in a society in which people aspire to become their ideal selves rather than surrender to the ideal self's base counterpart. Is monogamy difficult and challenging? Absolutely. So is raising a child, getting up and going to work every morning to pay the bills, or toiling at 3 a.m. to achieve what dreams you may have to succeed beyond the confines of the 9 to 5 cubicle wilderness. The difficulty of these things, the unlikelihood that they ever will be easier to endure or attain than they are, is not a sufficient justification for abdicating your responsibility to others or to yourself. When Nietzsche advocated that you "become who you are," I wonder if he had the sort of individual Mr. Anderson would have us become in mind? I think my answer to what question is pretty clear.
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Letters to a Stranger: Poems (Re/View)
Letters to a Stranger: Poems (Re/View)
by Thomas James
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.19
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easily the Most Vital Poetry Release of the Year, July 23, 2008
God bless Mark Doty and Lucie Brock-Broido for demonstrating the compassion and discernment that only great lovers of poetry could possess: Thomas James's book, "Letters to A Stranger," came to me in bits and pieces amid a graduate poetry workshop with Laurie Sheck at the New School in NYC. I was instantaneously blown away, to such an extent that I called Houghton Mifflin myself and asked them what we could do to have the book--originally published by them in 1973--reprinted (only to ultimately learn that Brock-Broido had beaten me to it!) And when you browse through any number of contemporary journals of American poetry today, it isn't difficult to understand why: James's language, like that of poets such as David St. John or Michael Ryan, bursts with a relentless delivery of unanticipated movements, darker detours that never once risk the morbid or maudlin, and a depth of sincerity that many lesser American poets are either afraid or unable to achieve. It is so depressingly hard to find this sort of aesthetic in contemporary American verse--poetry that results from a genuine and fearless interest in the truth rather than the tame, academic and conversational bore one more frequently encounters--I think Steve Kowit called it a "debilitating preference for the tepid, mannered and Opaque." Precisely--the three temptations of contemporary American poetry that not a single poem in James's book indulges. This is American poetry at its very highest form, and a guaranteed pleasure to anyone willing to give it a chance--professors and dilettantes alike. Buy it now; I just did.
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The Very Best of  Billy Idol: Idolize Yourself (CD/DVD)
The Very Best of Billy Idol: Idolize Yourself (CD/DVD)
Offered by Fulfillment Express US
Price: $20.62
38 used & new from $13.99

11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars New Tracks Worth the Price Alone, June 29, 2008
Though Billy is apparently struggling to strip himself of the conviction that we need to hear yet another reissued version of "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding" all over again on this second greatest hits package in 7 years, the new singles it includes are better by leaps and bounds than that lame cover of "Don't You Forget About Me" he slapped onto the last hits CD in 2001.

Idol's got a penchant for really terrible covers-if you've somehow managed to survive Charmed Life's "LA Woman" in its entirety without slammin gthe "Stop" button, you already know this. If not, well, I don't blame you. So it is of considerable relief that he stuck to his own guns this time around with a strong new track called "John Wayne," an eerily Cure-ish and radio-ready rock ballad that summons the ghosts of "Eyes Without A Face" and "Blue Highway."

Age isn't something that was supposed to happen to Billy Idol; but that the man is making music as strong as "John Wayne" and 2005's Devil's Playground as he prepares to turn 53 years-old suggests that we may have failed to see past the glitter back in the day to catch a glimpse of the grit. Check him out on tour this summer and come to your own conclusions.

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Oracular Spectacular
Oracular Spectacular
Price: $7.99
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A New Band for a New Era, June 9, 2008
This review is from: Oracular Spectacular (Audio CD)
Drenched in addictive hooks that marry Prince and The Flaming Lips in a union of space-funk and soul that somehow captures exactly the sound the band describes on their MySpace page-"surf jungle country"-Oracular delivers a sound that's as fresh in 2008 as Beck's was in 1994, leaping onto the scene with the same "we don't care" abandon that "Loser" brought to the biz back then. It's no accident that the album vaguely echoes The Flaming Lips. Oracular IS produced, after all, by David Fridmann, the captain at the console for many a Flaming Lips album. Roll Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots with some Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and you've got the narcotic sunrise of the mind that is Oracular Spectacular.

Apart from their music, though, what's refreshing about Ben and Andrew is their indifference to the punk-rock disdain for corporate influence that has itself become one of the cliches they expose, claiming instead to have "talked a lot about selling out as soon as possible" before anyone but their buddies knew who they were. Touché! Nonetheless, here's to hoping that next year's Grammy Awards completely ignore this masterpiece deserving of universal adoration, a neglect that has become a seal of approval for bands too good to be caught on TV with Brittney and Beyonce-and let's hope it stays that way, for the sake of both the band and their growing number of fans.

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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why You Need This Album NOW!, June 9, 2008
A lot of people are saying that this album is too "polished" for a Black Keys project; but I don't hear the "polish," I hear genius. While tracks like "I Got Mine" or "Strange Times" deliver exactly the kind of scorching "attack" the title promises, it's in the album's departures from that familiar terrain that its vision achieves the range of true rock pioneers. The lilting twang and echo of "So He Won't Break" vaguely echoes some great lost gem by surf-rock gods The Ventures, a flutter of piano and xylophone (yes, xylophone) dressing Auerbach's dreamy licks in a rich jewelery of sound. The acoustic and countrified "All You Ever Wanted" exudes the effortless mojo of rock staples like "Sway" or "Torn & Frayed," and the album closes with an absolutely devastating ballad, "Things Ain't Like They Used to Be," a spare and hypnotic gut-wrencher that's bound to show up again on year-end "Top Ten Songs of 2008' lists.

This ain't your mother's rock `n roll-or, then again, maybe it is-and maybe that's why it sounds so fresh. Rock `n roll hasn't sounded this real since the night Keith Richards woke up in a hotel in Clearwater and recorded what he heard in his dreams-the riff that became "Satisfaction." But the point is that Attack & Release embodies as much of the spirit as the soul of rock `n roll, pausing for a slow jam and unplugging the amps whenever the urge strikes, producing work that's as compelling as any driving rocker the Keys have ever put to wax.

Rubber Soul laid the groundwork for this expansion of the band's sound, exploding with the belch and wail of an acoustic guitar ("When the Lights Go Out") that picked up where their idol and bonafide blues god Junior Kimbrough left off. It's no wonder that not even Kimbrough's own widow, Mildred, was surprised when The Black Keys released their neglected but brilliant 6-track EP of electric Kimbrough covers, Chulahoma, an album she endorsed in a recorded telephone call the Keys included on the EP itself (keep listening after the last track.) The unfocused but sporadically entertaining Magic Potion continued this nod to experimentation with the mildly psychedelic "You're the One," a ballad in which you can almost hear the echo of Tommy James's "Crimson & Clover" somewhere in the distance. But only now have those glimpses of a broader sound blossomed into the full fruit of Attack and Release, the best rock album 2008 is yet to produce, bar none.

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Rock on
Rock on
Offered by MEGA Media
Price: $16.62
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heartbreakingly Brilliant, June 9, 2008
This review is from: Rock on (Audio CD)
By the time Del Shannon took his own life on February 8th, 1990, he had nearly completed this record with Jeff Lynne in the wake of Lynne's monumental success producing The Traveling Wilburys' debut and Tom Petty's "Full Moon Fever" album. Shannon was no stranger to success himself--his hit single "Runaway," the song he would sing for the rest of his life, sold at a clip of 80,000 copies a day back in 1961--but, as with so many pop stars of Shannon's era, the world with its ever-diminishing attention span quickly moved on to the next fad and the next (prog rock, punk, disco, new wave--none of them exactly suited to the quivering falsetto of a country rock has been.) Shannon's response was not an unusual one: he drank. A lot. Such cruel reversals of fortune are not easy on anybody, but for a former truck driver who worked his way out of a furniture factory and into the big time on nothing but raw talent and a song he wrote while working at a carpet store, it had to be an especially difficult wound to his pride.

Even more tragic was the quality of the music he'd been brewing with Lynne in these sessions, from which this posthumous release, poignantly titled Rock On!, emerged--an album that went on to become one of Shannon's best-selling records. There was something about Lynne's signature pop sound and the enduring miracle of Del Shannon's voice that culminated in some of the finest music the man had ever made--tracks like "What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am" or "Walk Away" restored Shannon to the throne of his forgotten legacy, one that Richard Cromelin described as "haunting vignettes of heartbreak and restlessness [that] contain something of a cosmic undercurrent which has the protagonist tragically doomed to a bleak, shadowy struggle." How was anyone to know, though, that all along he was singing about himself, that somewhere amid all the gloss and syrup of early '60s pop production stood a man alone with demons he could only face in front of thousands of fans? Maybe that's what Joan Baez meant when she said that "the easiest relationship is with ten thousand people. The hardest is with one."

That's both the mystery and tragedy of Shannon's premature demise. He took his own life just as it seemed he was catching on again. Tom Petty, a friend of Shannon's who infuriated him by stealing the equally doomed Howie Epstein from Shannon's band when Ron Blair quit The Heartbreakers in 1976, reconciled enough with him to produce his surprisingly good "Drop Down and Get Me" LP in 1982, which featured Shannon backed by Petty's Heartbreakers ("His voice is like a siren," Mike Campbell would say.) The album wasn't exactly a commercial success, but it earned Shannon a minor hit with his cover of Phil Phillips's "Sea of Love," reawakening critics to the flame of a talent that still burned as brightly as ever. Shannon scored another hit a few years later when Michael Mann chose "Runaway" as the theme song for his short-lived TV drama "Crime Story" in 1986. And it was yet another irony in Shannon's life that another legend who died in the midst of a stunning resurgence--Roy Orbison--left a spot open for Shannon on the next Traveling Wilburys album, a no-brainer given Shannon's established relationship with Petty and Lynne.

Though Shannon had reportedly quit the bottle years before when he returned from a creative oblivion to pair with Petty for "Drop Down and Get Me," no amount of resurgent glory was powerful enough to push away his pain. "Rock On!" is not only a great album; it is a tragic document of self-destructive genius--something American culture is, unfortunately, all too familiar with.

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West Texas
West Texas
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hidden Gem, June 9, 2008
This review is from: West Texas (Audio CD)
What an extraordinary exhibition of influence these songs offer: the echo of a latter day Lloyd Cole album drives a spike through the broken heart of "Heavy Weights," the vaguely new wave "Sound the Alarm"--perhaps the album's finest track--almost prepares you for Hall & Oates to take the mike and belt one out about a woman who only comes out at night as Mark Knopfler straps on a guitar and awaits his part.

If none of the material here really approximates Ward's vision of a rootsy American rock album as closely as he may have desired--Jim Ward still sounds very much like the lead vocalist of Sparta throughout West Texas--it's in his aspiration for a sound so alien to the music he's known for that brings him--and his listeners--to some unexpected creative landscape where willows drip with a melting and late-season snow as an iron and sweeping sky rushes the day to dusk. You lift the collar of your coat to combat a dank chill in the air--one of the last of the season--and you grin and walk right through it as the year closes in on so many warmer days.

Only "Wednesday Nights" and "Fences Down" really hit the alt-country mark Ward seems to set his sights on here, songs that could quite easily pass themselves off as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot outtakes. But, again, it's in the album's misfires that something genuinely fascinating occurs, and it's for that reason that we expect West Texas to feature prominently in many end-of-the-year "best of" lists. Don't miss this record; it's as close to a guaranteed pleasure as we may hear all year.

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Wild Streaks & Windy Days
Wild Streaks & Windy Days
9 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sadly Underrated, June 9, 2008
Little is left to the imagination when an album opens with a title like "Dark Side of the Moog"--just in case you questioned the veracity of comparisons to Pink Floyd--a smoking-hot and brooding intro to the brand of neo-psychedelic space rock they so proudly peddle. "Lead Boxer, Paul Waclawsky, flexes his songwriting muscles and his space echoes like never before on this ageless recording inspired by the Austin indie music scene and radio transmissions from outer space," they explain (in keeping with the theme, the static of those "transmissions" is heard in the fade of "Dark Side"--these guys are on top of things.) "Paul's voice shows maturity and his epic sonic guitar textures are psychedelic and lush, like Cassiopeia A, the birthplace of the stars," they continue. Even between the lines of the band's own copy, you can hear vague echoes of Pink Floyd's "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun." Consider their influences established.

And they're not kidding--the trippy title track, which evokes vivid memories of waiting in line for another ride on Disney's Space Mountain--really does give you the feeling that you've just been strapped to a rocket and sent through the sky to probe some intergalactic snowstorm. Gushing with synths that leave you wondering if this is the lost Part 10 of Floyd's epic "Shine on You Crazy Diamond," the song undulates through some zero-gravity dream in a shining silver space suit while sending transmissions to rumored lifeforms on the 57th moon of Saturn. Paul Waclawsky--self-described "songwriter and astronaut"--lends his feathery vocals to cloak the tune in a distinctly airy robe of sound, a gorgeous contrast to the feedback-laden pop mastery of other tracks like the chiseled "Brighter"--the easiest pick for a summer road trip mix that we've heard all year.

As if any further proof was needed, Wild Streaks and Windy Days confirms once again that to label a band is to kill a band. It is too easy to dismiss The Boxing Lesson as a post-punk new wave act and move blithely on to your next victim. But as Whoopsy Magazine puts it, "there's a lot more going on here . . . catchy backing vocals, surreal lyrics, and a modern pop sensibility stand out the most." But The Boxing Lesson aren't just another upstart "indie" band pushing the praise of rags called "Whoopsy." The Onion calls them "a hard-charging trio," and The Austin Chronicle praises them for "opening a Pandora's box of psychedelia." The Boxing Lesson take us somewhere genuinely new with Wild Streaks and Windy Days; and if they have to fumble through a jewel chest of prior eras to get there, they never look back so long as to undermine a vision of their own.

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Price: $12.28
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Indie Pop With an Edge, June 9, 2008
This review is from: Superabundance (Audio CD)
This album is rife with excellent indie pop that's not afraid to roughen its edges now and then with tougher tracks like "Up All Night"-a kind of exceedingly English Hot Hot Heat-but only kind of. Speaking of which, this is perhaps the most shamelessly English group since Syd Barrett was cutting tracks like "Astronomy Domine" with Pink Floyd-"Knives" is British for "Knaves," for instance, which is exactly how they got their band name. These tweed-clad Brits made a rather auspicious entry onto the scene by declaring themselves "Dead" on their debut EP, "The Young Knives . . . Are Dead." But they're not, you see. Last year they were nominated for the really important-sounding "Nationwide Mercury Prize," and now they're giving geek rock a good name with this truly fantastic new CD. Don't miss out--this one promises to make many "Best Of" lists in 2008.

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