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Michael Topper RSS Feed (Pacific Palisades, California United States)

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Ladies of the Canyon
Ladies of the Canyon
Price: $6.99
189 used & new from $0.01

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mitchell gets her "gorgeous wings" on this one, May 10, 2003
This review is from: Ladies of the Canyon (Audio CD)
Joni's first two albums had their moments, but "Ladies Of The Canyon" was really the first time that people began to realize
that here was a major talent who would come to define their generation. Released in early 1970, the album sums up many of the hopes, dreams and disappointments of the decade which had just passed, and as a result remains one of her best-loved works.
For the first time, she used piano nearly as equally as she did the acoustic guitar, moving her sound away from pure folk and into a more sophisticated singer-songwriter savvy, with her lyrics moving into deeper, more mature territory as well.
Tracks like "Morning Morgantown", "For Free" and "Ladies Of The Canyon" contain a purity of imagery, vocal and music that is
just unparalleled; they run like water that has been filtered for the clearest taste. Which makes the darker tracks such as "The Arrangment" and "The Priest" sound even starker by contrast, and also foreshadow the breakdown documented on the next album. The three most popular and well-known songs close the album: "Big Yellow Taxi" matches a bouncing rhythm against
a rather cynical ecology rant (watch the way she says "a pink hotel, a boutique and a swingin' hot-spot!" with an exaggerated,
slick adman's sense of excitement), "Woodstock" is a slow, meditative attempt to poetically sum up the mood of the festival she came so close to attending in airy, transcendent vocal
phrasings (and IMO far superior to the more commercial CSNY version), while "The Circle Game" is a folkie standard sung with a chorus that marks a gentle nod to the passing of time.
Overall, "Ladies Of The Canyon" paints an optimistic portrait of its time, where the problems of external and internal pollution
are quietly resolved by the extreme purity of its sound. Coming as it does only one album before the torrid "Blue" makes this
even more revealing, and certainly essential.


For the Roses
For the Roses
Offered by megahitrecords
Price: $9.33
133 used & new from $0.98

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant mixture of old styles and what was to come, May 10, 2003
This review is from: For the Roses (Audio CD)
After having stripped her skin bare on "Blue", Joni found it
hard to move forward; therefore, she holed herself up in a
Canadian cabin for about a year and emerged with "For The Roses",
whose cover and contents were heavily influenced by her
time there and show her trying to sort out the confused and
bleeding emotions she felt at the time. The result is another
brilliant masterwork with all of the inner psychic pain of "Blue", matched with a greater willingness to branch out musically. Although it does not have the complete thematic or musical unity of the spare, edgy "Blue" or the confident jazz-pop followup "Court And Spark", "For The Roses" takes a little
from both and succeeds just as well on its own terms.
Lyrically, there are three types of songs here: social protest,
inner personal examinations and character observations. All are written with the same complexity of emotion and attention to detail that infuses all of her best work. Tracks like "Lesson In Survival", "For The Roses", "See You Sometime" and "Woman Of Heart And Mind" could have easily fit on "Blue", as they tear
apart her continued problems with relationships, her didain for
fame and the search for who she is in vivid colors. "Banquet"
is one of her finest protest numbers and frames the album
rather nicely; "Cold Blue Steel And Sweet Fire", which follows,
remains a harrowing study of addiction. My favorite, however, is the underrated "Barangrill", a character study which attempts to find a Zen moment among a succession of simple American workers who work by the roadside.
Musically, about half of the songs stick to the spare style of "Blue", with Joni accompanied only by piano or acoustic guitar, and of course work quite well (these include "Banquet",
"Lesson In Survival", "For The Roses", "See You Sometime").
The other half mark the beginning of the turn toward fuller band arrangements and jazz influences that would blossom on "Court And Spark", although in some cases it is still tentative. Woodwinds and reeds accompany "Barangrill" and "Let The Wind Carry Me"; bass, drums and electric guitar frame "Cold Blue Steel" and close out "Blonde In The Bleachers"; "You Turn Me On I'm A Radio" is an unexpected country-pop number with harmonica,
bongos and guitar that became her first bona fide hit; and the elegant closing "Judgement Of The Moon And Stars" brings out a full string section for a stunning musical interlude that marks this as one of her most ambitious pieces. Although the full rock band-and-orchestra sound would have to wait until the next album, its various components can be found coloring the tracks here in transitional style--and sound no less appealing in embryonic form. The woodwinds and reeds sound especially nice.
In all, "For The Roses" is just an essential work; that it comes in between the more recognized "Blue" and "Court And Spark" is no reason to dismiss it, for it is as good as either of these and remains one of her best to this day.


No Title Available

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant blend of martial arts, comedy, SFX, mysticism, April 25, 2003
Stephen Chow has proven himself to be one of the world's finest directors with "Shaolin Soccer" (aka "Kung-Fu Soccer"), which was Hong Kong's biggest-ever box-office success when released in 2001. The simple story of a family of brothers who use Shaolin kung-fu to win the national China soccer tournament against The Evil Team (who use "American medicines" to win their games) is
bolstered by some hilarious comedy, spirited performances and
very creative special effects. Outside of the comedic scenes--
which are among the funniest I've seen in a foreign film in a long time--the film's mystical element comes through most uniquely, as during the fabled hypnotic scene involving Mui's steamed bread making. The part where the brothers are getting beaten to death on the field and then suddenly "freeze" revert to ancient kung-fu forms was also startling and wonderful.
Although banned in mainland China because it was released in Hong Kong before given official certification, this film also works as a glimpse into what the modern-day country looked like in 2001. "Shaolin Soccer" was primarily filmed not in Hong Kong but in Shanghai, and uses that city's futuristic-looking new skyscrapers and hip, youthful citizens as a slick, glittery backdrop to its story. Never before has communist China looked this modern, confident and vibrant in a movie. The special effects, too, are very cutting-edge, and work particularly well during the final soccer match where flying soccer balls become ferocious black tigers, and some kicks are so powerful as to rip the skin right off of the players. At no point is this movie ever dull or uninteresting, and most of the time it moves at a roaring pace. The director's cut on the foreign DVD is even better, as it features two lengthy scenes that were cut out of the original, but add to the subplot between Sing and Mui.
Whether you are a fan of martial arts, comedy, China, or just
plain good old fashioned filmmaking, this film is for you, and when it is released here in the US this August I hope it becomes
a phenomenon. Very highly recommended--I have seen it three times now and it continues to grow on me.


Say You Will
Say You Will
Offered by Great Price Media
Price: $8.68
188 used & new from $0.15

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Their best work since "Tusk", April 17, 2003
This review is from: Say You Will (Audio CD)
Like many, I was not expecting much from this album. The group
are about twenty years past their peak and it had been so long since Buckingham and Nicks were both in the FM lineup for a new studio album that I doubted they could ever recapture their earlier glory. I thought it would sound like bland, middle-of-the-road VH1 pop/rock--but I must say, hearing this record was one of the biggest shocks I've had all year. The key is Lindsey Buckingham, whose guitar playing and production skills are simply stunning. First, his guitar playing: tracks like "Miranda", "Murrow Turning Over In His Grave" and "Running Through The Garden" are very much in the classic Mac style, and
the solo in "Murrow" is twice as good as that for "I'm So Afraid" (really!). The intensity, the creativity, the signature sound is all there. Then the production, with its experimental touches, reminds one of "Tusk"; he takes risks here that I would never have expected. Finally, his songwriting is mostly
first-rate, with the same energy and tunefulness that made "Go Your Own Way" or "Not That Funny" FM staples. "Murrow", "Red Rover" and "Steal Your Heart Away" are classic songs.
Buckingham also greatly enhances Nicks' contributions, making them more interesting and convincing me that she should never again work with anyone else. The two simply belong together.
Although her solo work in the past fifteen years has been very iffy, she tries hard here and both her lyrics and vocals do not embarrass. Particularly strong tracks include "Illume" (which could have been another soppy 9/11 tribute, but instead turns
out firey and intense), the perfect pop song "Silver Girl",
an old 70s outtake "Smile At You" (given another superb Buckingham arrangement) and the strong rocker "Everybody Finds Out". The last two songs, Buckingham's "Say Goodbye" and Nicks'
"Goodbye Baby", will bring a tear to your eye; the nostagia invoked in these two heartbreaking ballads is simply magical.
Interestingly, two of the weakest tracks, "Peacekeeper" and "Say You Will" (both of which are the kind of bland VH1 pop I expected the album to sound like) have been selected for single
and radio play--but don't let these fool you into thinking that's what the rest will sound like.
2003 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the release of the first "Buckingham/Nicks" album. Now, with "Say You Will", the two have come full circle and created a work which ranks among the strongest of their careers. What a delightful surprise.


Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars - The Motion Picture
Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars - The Motion Picture
DVD ~ David Bowie
7 used & new from $14.99

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At last, a stellar sound mix pushes this movie up to 5 stars, April 10, 2003
For years the concert film "Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From
Mars" was infamous for its grainy visual look and absolutely
abysmal sound mix, which was particularly bad on the first four
songs. Which was a shame, since the concert was clearly excellent, featuring Bowie at an early performing peak with his "Ziggy" concept. Now, at last, with this 2003 rerelease
the film has been given a just sound remix by DA Pennebaker, who
explains why the sound had always been so bad on previous
releases in the accompanying booklet.
The difference between the old and new versions is literally night and day. Now the sound is spectacularly loud and clear,
in 5.1 surround--I never knew it would *ever* sound this good.
This increases one's appreciation of the concert 500%, and shows The Spiders From Mars to have been a great backing group, with Ronson of course a particular delight on his solos for classics like "Moonage Daydream" and "Width Of A Circle". The entire
film is an homage to the glory days of glam-rock, when fanatical UK audiences would dress up in the glittery makeup and outfits of their rock idols and act out each line of the song
with them; the audience is truly a sensational thing to behold
in this film, as they seem completely mesmerized, almost as if they were under hypnosis (on the other hand, Angie Bowie's brief
cameo at the beginning shows her to have been a supremely
superficial, self-serving and annoying presence!).
Every song is a classic, with some like "All The Young Dudes", "My Death" and "White Light/White Heat" that never made it onto a Bowie studio album, and others like the climactic "Width Of A Circle" that were greatly expanded. Bowie's androgynous outer-space image--replete with lightning-quick costume changes and some lurid interplay between himself
and Ronson (kneeling and licking the guitar during a solo, and so forth) was a phenomenon at the time and still pretty legendary, although in actuality the spectacle was relatively
modest compared to the concurrent antics of Alice Cooper or
Gabriel-era Genesis. But it is the audience which probably lingers on the most after every viewing--the like of which has never been seen since.
The film also comes with a bonus poster, although personally I would've taken it without, at a lower price.


Nadir's Big Chance
Nadir's Big Chance
14 used & new from $4.38

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The first UK punk-rock album?, April 6, 2003
This review is from: Nadir's Big Chance (Audio CD)
"Nadir's Big Chance" was labeled a seminal influence by none other than Johnny Rotten, along with albums by Can and Captain Beefheart. That Rotten would not name albums by The Stooges, The New York Dolls and MC5 but rather three equally obscure art-rock releases is truly puzzling, although one listen to this CD will draw some lines. Hammill invented an alter-ego for himself here who was intended to be the antithesis of all of the lengthy, sophisticated prog of which he had played an integral part in the early 70s, as well as pretty much all of the rest of the rock scene at the time of its creation in 1975. Although elements of art-rock certainly remain (few of the early UK punk albums contained saxaphone, and a track like "The Institute Of Mental Health, Burning" sounds more New Wave), it is a much more succinct album than any of his previous releases, featuring
a lot of power-chord thrashing, angry vocals and maximum volume. The mix is blurry and distorted, and while the second half of the album begins to lag, with the songs seeming not so much punk but some form of 70s pop-metal, it was still a radical departure for the man and one that showed an intuition of the future.


Anthology 3 [2 CD]
Anthology 3 [2 CD]
Offered by lola's dream
Price: $18.97
149 used & new from $1.72

4.0 out of 5 stars Scraping the bottom of the barrel? Hardly., April 6, 2003
This review is from: Anthology 3 [2 CD] (Audio CD)
In actuality, the third anthology release is an essential artifact for Beatles fans, housing as it does one cd of outtakes from The White Album--which produced more (and more interesting) alternate versions of songs than any other Beatle release--plus the original "Get Back" versions of the songs that were eventually refashioned by Phil Spector into "Let It Be". The first disc is simply a delight; the acoustic demos have a
gentle, soft-focus quality to them largely missing from the final album, while the alternate takes of "Obla-Di, Obla-Da" (taken at a much faster pace) and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (a clearer, simpler take) prove superior to the released versions. Unreleased tracks like "Not Guilty" and "What's The News Maryjane" are fascinating--the former being a delicious hard rocker with great closing guitar work, while the latter is an inspired piece of psychedelic Lennon lunacy that might have been a better replacement for "Revolution 9". Rough takes of other tracks like "Goodnight" and "Rocky Raccoon" are simply charming. The only complaint I can see here is that other possible moments remain locked in the vaults (such as the ten-minute take of "Revolution 1", more alternate takes of "Helter Skelter", "Yer Blues" jams, "Dear Prudence", etc.).
The second disc isn't quite as enjoyable as the first although it is still historic. The "Get Back" material found the group
plodding lazily through barely-rehearsed songs in somewhat sour spirits, although Billy Preston's presence livens things up on a rock'n'roll medley and the live rooftop version of "Get Back". Most imporantly, one gets to hear the quiet, unorchestrated "Long And Winding Road" which does prove superior to the Spectorized version. There could be more "Abbey Road" material (indeed, many years ago the fan club gave out an LP of superb outtakes of which only a few are included here), although
Lennon's early take of "Come Together" and light run-through of "Ain't She Sweet" make the grade, as do three gorgeous Harrison demos taped in February of '69. The opportunity to hear "Something" and "All Things Must Pass" in unplugged form is
not to be missed.
In all, if you are a Beatle fan this is quite simply not to be
passed up. This is hardly scraping the bottom of the barrel,
since many of the versions here are enjoyable and a few are even superior to the released versions.


Pictures at an Exhibition
Pictures at an Exhibition
Offered by missmarymama
Price: $25.00
17 used & new from $1.65

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars So what if they rearranged the orginal?, April 4, 2003
Rock critics and classical fans who love to [dismiss] this record always point out that ELP "raped" this piece by playing only certain portions of Mussorgsky's original composition, and by adding their own songs into the mix as if they were "equals" to the composer. In my opinion, this kind of irreverence and cheerfully creative re-engineering of the music is exactly what makes "Pictures" so refreshing. A lot of rock covers have toyed with the arrangements of the original song, why should ELP be judged any differently for doing the same for a classical piece?
In any case, the group never even wanted to release "Pictures" at all, live or studio (considering it merely a cover that they used to warm themselves up on in the early days, albeit one they liked very much), and when they did it was only as a budget release. Which makes its quality even more amazing, because this is one of the most ambitious and well-recorded live works of its day. The album opens with the "Promenade" theme stated religiously on church organ, before moving into "The Gnome",
an early synth-fest with Lake and Palmer providing excellent support. Things quiet down for the second "Promenade" and "The Sage", perhaps the most enjoyable part of the album, with Lake
singing angelically to quiet organ and acoustic guitar accompaniment. His acoustic guitar work in "The Sage" is extraordinary and marks an early high point of both the album and his career with ELP; even detractors of the album find this
piece soothing and atmospheric. "The Old Castle"/"Blues Variation" medley which follows rocks things up again with
more jazzy synth and hammond workouts, although a longer and better performance of this (with the band *really* heating things up) can be found on the "Pictures" DVD film filmed at the Lyceum in December '70. The second side reprises the "Promenade" theme with all three bandmembers now, then moves to triple speed with "The Hut Of Baba Yaga" which is interrupted by "The Curse Of Baba Yaga", where fuzz/wah-wah bass, synths, organs and drums create enormous waves of crashing sound and furiously flying notes that most likely left audiences with mouths wide open (and parallel the "Tarkus" suite recorded at the same time). It all finds release in the stately "Great Greats Of Kiev", which is performed similar to the original piece, although it features an ear-piercing organ feedback instrumental break which does not make sense unless you were there to see Emerson's theatrics on display.
The only weak points in Pictures remain these oft-cited feedback moments (also the ribbon-controller squeaking at the beginning of "The Old Castle"), which only made sense in the live context, perhaps leading some to conclude that "Pictures" might have been better as a studio release (with the possibility of more overdubs of guitar and piano as well). "Nutrocker" is also a forgettable jam that was purely a clap-a-long audience pleaser; I always click the album off before this one starts.
Overall, "Pictures" was a great piece that--in some shortened version or other--remained in the band's setlist throughout its career. It is a trippy collage that moves through moments of meditative quiet, encroaching fear, jubilant jamming, intense
hard rock pummelling and symphonic grandeur without ever resorting to an orchestra or mellotron; although the sound could have been bolstered by overdubs, it is still quite huge, with Palmer's drums/gongs/bells/chimes, Lake's fuzz/wah-wah bass and acoustic guitar, and Emerson's massive organ and Moog sounds creating a highly unique and distinctive style. It is actually quite a lean and mean rendition, almost punk-ish in places (and especially so given the aforementioned "raping" of the original), so it is almost ironic that it was so reviled by punk acts. No, it's not three-chord guitar thrashing--but "The Curse Of Baba Yaga" sounds angrier than anything in rock, be it Black Sabbath or The Sex Pistols. ELP proved that they were master musicians here; the only weakness is that this is not the ultimate performance of the piece--the Lyceum show was better in the jamming department, and the Buffalo '74 show (on "The Original Bootleg Series Vol.2") features some extremely advanced synth work. This all leads back to the fact that "Pictures" should perhaps have been recorded in the studio in 1971/72 rather than in 1994, when it was finally given that chance (and even then, a creditable version of "The Sage" resulted).


Love Beach
Love Beach
Offered by rock it man
Price: $22.89
13 used & new from $7.99

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Yes, they *were* forced at gunpoint..., March 31, 2003
This review is from: Love Beach (Audio CD)
Every criticism of this album starts out with "geez, did someone put a gun to their head to make this one?". Well, the answer is yes. Atlantic forced both the title and cover photo on the group against massive protest by all three members, and then told them to go create three-four minute commercial pop songs or else, also against their wishes. It's no wonder the album doesn't even sound like a spirited attempt at cheezy late 70s pop, but just perfunctory and contractual.
However, not everyone was dead in the Bahamas 100% of the time. "Canario" is pretty much conceded as another good classical adaptation that rocks, while the first two sections of "Memoirs" are melodic, pleasing and well-performed. "Love At First Sight" is a wildly romantic piece that brings the band at last back to "Take A Pebble" territory, and for that alone I would recommend it to the ELP fan (but no-one else). Too bad the rest of "Memoirs" feels unfinished, it might have been one of their best suites if they had worked on it more.
OK, all of side one outside of "Canario" is pretty embarrasing...but the enormous contrast between side one (desperate attempts at sleazy, sexist late 70s pop) and side two (a gentle, mannered, piano-based prog suite about an officer and his fiancee) has got to be one of the most bizarre in rock history. The schizophrenia surrounding "Love Beach" doesn't help its status, but at least it does have about 15 minutes of good music on it; it's still far from great but it is probably one of the most underrated albums in history.


Love Beach
Love Beach
Offered by rock it man
Price: $22.89
13 used & new from $7.99

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Yes, they *were* forced at gunpoint..., March 31, 2003
This review is from: Love Beach (Audio CD)
Every criticism of this album starts out with "geez, did someone put a gun to their head to make this one?". Well, the answer is yes. Atlantic forced both the title and cover photo on the group against massive protest by all three members, and then told them to go create three-four minute commercial pop songs or else, also against their wishes. It's no wonder the album doesn't even sound like a spirited attempt at cheezy late 70s pop, but just perfunctory and contractual.
However, not everyone was dead in the Bahamas 100% of the time. "Canario" is pretty much conceded as another good classical adaptation that rocks, while the first two sections of "Memoirs" are melodic, pleasing and well-performed. "Love At First Sight" is a wildly romantic piece that brings the band at last back to "Take A Pebble" territory, and for that alone I would recommend it to the ELP fan (but no-one else). Too bad the rest of "Memoirs" feels unfinished, it might have been one of their best suites if they had worked on it more.
OK, all of side one outside of "Canario" is pretty embarrasing...but the enormous contrast between side one (desperate attempts at sleazy, sexist late 70s pop) and side two (a gentle, mannered, piano-based prog suite about an officer and his fiancee) has got to be one of the most bizarre in rock history. The schizophrenia surrounding "Love Beach" doesn't help its status, but at least it does have about 15 minutes of good music on it; it's still far from great but it is probably one of the most underrated albums in history.


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