On the Turning Away from Delicate Sound of Thunder by Pink Floyd

What a difference a little re-imagining can do. A Momentary Lapse of Reason, Pink Floyd’s first album without Roger Waters and first of two (more to come?) albums that serve better as soundtracks to IMAX movies than as any sort of rock album (no, I don’t believe in the power of the rock. I have no romantic delusions about rock music.) brought a number of inconsequential tracks to Pink Floyd’s discography. They all sounded pretty much the same and went on and on (and on). The only semi-standout track would be “On the Turning Away.” (“Learning to Fly” is ok, but it’s not in the same league.) But even though it’s the (semi)standout track on the mediocre album, it’s good, but not great.

The \'On the Turning Away\' Vinyl Single
The ‘On the Turning Away’ Vinyl Single

This is where record producers come in. I’m not fully claiming to understand what they do (and I doubt that the televised sessions from the Ashlee Simpson Show are an indicator of what they do for 99% of the bands out there), but a simple musical re-arrangement establishes the transition between “good” and “epic.” Maybe David Gilmour did all this re-arranging himself, but it seems like it could easily be the producer saying, “Why don’t you try it like this live?” There are no huge differences: no sitar, no new words, no new guitar solo, no trimmed guitar solo, and so on. But the live recording from Delicate Sound of Thunder completely trumps the original.
Let’s take a listen:

0:00
I’m not sure if Pink Floyd invented it, but here’s yet another extremely quiet, extremely slow (deliberate might be a better word?) start to a song. The stereotypical late-era-Pink Floyd organ/synthesizer is doing its thing just like in the studio version. The organ takes longer getting through the opening chords as the performance is taken a bit slower than in the studio. The original version clocks in at 5:42 while this live version tips the scales at 7:56. The slower tempo is the first step in really establishing the song as a successful epic.

1:12
The singing starts. Because it’s a live version, the audience is heard cheering (of course they have to chear at the beginning of the actual singing because the beginning of the song itself just sounds like pointless synthesizer-playing). Also the first words are, “On the turning away,” so everyone in the audience knows what song it is. During this verse, the sense of scale of the live recording (the sense of scale missing in the studio version) is first heard. By moving the vocals “back” in the soundscape and capturing some of the echo and reverb of the live venue, the song finally has the “presence” that the studio version lacked.

2:27
The second verse starts, and the first big musical change is heard. A standard electric bass doubles the bass line of the organ. It’s a minor change, but it adds more texture to the song. Initially (and on the studio version), there was nothing interesting happening below the vocal track. The organ played a rather subdued (sonically) unfocused bass line, and the song didn’t sound empty, but with a lackadaisical vocal line, only a bit of guitar strumming, an equally lackadaisical vocal harmony line, and that same organ part, the song was stuck on “ponderous.” With the abrupt, focused sound of the electric bass, the song can feel faster while still maintaining the same deliberate tempo.

3:33
This little electric bass section was played by an electric guitar in the studio. Moving the (rather inconsequential) part to the bass spreads out the range and blends directly into the bass part played by the organ in the next section.

3:44
The newly-found sense of scale is on full display as the song seemingly wraps up (just like the studio version), but to really space it all out, drops the drums, guitar (electric and acoustic), and that bass guitar leaving just a the vocals, the organ, and a newly found choir. Starting singing merely texture (mainly aah’s) with the organ against Gilmour’s vocals, the choir swells and seemlessly begins singing the lyrics in just about a billion-part harmony at “coldness inside,” halfway through a line begun by Gilmour. (That’s some pretty sophisticated arranging.) And the acoustic guitar is brought back in for a tiny flourish (more texture) as the organ, choir, and Gilmour revel in the echo of the space and take their sweet time wrapping up the chorus.

4:17+
Guitar solo, etc. begins. Just about spot-on with the studio version except the bass guitar is brought to the front of the soundscape, more forward than even the lead guitar (a risky decision), and the chorus sings along (ooh’s and aah’s) with the organ’s chords.

7:18+
Traditional live rock performance where they can’t figure out how to end the song, and they all beat their instruments until the guitar player (probably) made some sort of big chopping motion with his instrument, signifying the end.

*****

“On the Turning Away” from Delicate Sound of Thunder receives 5 stars due to its successful “reboot” of the original version of the song. To be honest, I could do without the lyrics (the “turning away” refers to people with money ‘turning away’ from those in need. Spare me. I’m sure that David Gilmour uses his heated garage to house homeless people, not Aston Martins.). In spite of that, this version includes some of the best 45 seconds ever committed to a record (3:33 – 4:16). Perhaps one of the most successful mulligans of a studio recording ever.

The Streets’ A Grand Don’t Come for Free

The concept album. Such an ugly idea, conjuring images of Styx, Dreamtheater, Rush, and other shameful bits of Canadian “culture” (I’m not sure if Sty is from Canada, but they might as well be). Sure, Pink Floyd succeeded admirably with The Wall, The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here (if you’d consider that an official concept album), and The Final Cut, though Momentary Lapse of Reason didn’t exactly succeed so much (at all) with the whole high-brow nature of the concept album. Unfortunately, this whole high-brow image (which is more accurately described as pretentiousness, not simple high-brow-ed-ness) serves only to make “concept album” a dirty word. The Beatles weren’t exactly pretentious with Sergeant Pepper and the Lonely Hearts Club Band, though it does have its moments of stylistic experimentation bordering on above-mentioned pretentiousness (John: Yoko says it needs more sitar! Paul: I hate you.), but it worked. Each song brought a lot to the table and none were just musical masturbation in the studio. But can there be a straight-forward concept album if The Beatles’ template practically necessitated some obtuseness? Is it even a concept album anymore? What if it maintains that common theme and thread through each song but its depth is in the straightforwardness of the lyrics? The best album of 2004 was a concept album. In fact, the best two albums of 2004 were concept albums.

The Best Album of 2004
The Best Album of 2004

Though it doesn’t deal with themes such as alienation (OK Computer), living in a consumer-driven society (the last two Pink Floyd albums), and the eternal lightness of being (Hit Me Baby One More Time), A Grand Don’t Come for Free tells the entire story of a night of a recreational drug-using 20-something who begins his big evening out by unfortunately losing 1,000 pounds. It’s not particularly profound, but it’s very British, as The Streets (Mike Skinner), who can lazily be called “Britain’s” Eminem, talks of “birds, holiday, football (when he means soccer)” in the re-telling of his story. All things considered, and for the sake of internal consistency, I’ll remind everyone that I (still) get very little out of words and lyrics in songs. I might know them from frequent listening, but 9 times out of 10, I wouldn’t be able to actually say what a song is about. That said, the significance of A Grand Don’t Come for Free doesn’t stem from its lyrics (or its standing as a concept album due to those lyrics).

The quality of rap music is usually described in two parts: the music and the actual rapping (as much as I hate to say it…… the “beat” and the “flow”). I’m not sure what makes either good or bad, but I can listen to a Jay-Z song and tell that he’s good at rapping, and almost anyone can recognize that the appeal of Hey Ya! is sourced [it’s a hip-hop pun!] back to the musical half (the beat). Granted, lots of people also liked the part about shaking it like a Polaroid picture, but I digress. The Streets (well, Mike Skinner) frequently showcases his wordplay skills (simultaneously completely similar while completely dissimilar to Eminem) and sets this wordplay against music that is almost completely unlike any other rap music in the US. Maybe this is where the appeal lies. I won’t go so far as to say that all rap music sounds the same, but much of it does sound like it was generated with the same “toolkit” or template. Likewise, among popular rap songs, there really aren’t too many topics: “honeys” and “hoes” (obviously, both are synonyms for women…the label simple implies how the guy plans on arranging procreation). Now, for those of you that might be jumping up and down about the myriad topics explored in US rap music, or how there are lots of rap groups that make music that doesn’t sound anything like the MTV-popular(ized) rappers. Yes, there are lots of those groups, but how often do you hear Jurassic 5 blasted out of a car stereo? Nothing against Jurassic 5, The Roots and other groups favored by underground hip-hop apologists, but it’s not mainstream rap. Now, The Streets does mention women (the above-mentioned “birds”) but in decidedly less vulgar terms than any hairmetal band. Though The Streets offers a different take on the concept of rap, one that addresses different issues, different situations, it expands what would normally be considered rap’s limits. These aren’t limits of vulgarity, but similar to Kanye West writing lyrics about un-rap-like concepts of spirituality (in Jesus Walks), A Grand Don’t Come for Free turns the mundane into entertainment in “Blinded by the Lights” as he takes a hit of ecstasy, worries it was a dud, wonders why his friends haven’t returned his text messages, then suddenly is lost in the sweat and jitters of the ecstasy. It’s not profound, but what other artist would be able to make these topics interesting? Sure, there are songs about girls (“Fit But You Know It” – about girls who are dangerously aware of their attractiveness to the point of looking ridiculous and “Dry Your Eyes” – a not inaccurate discussion of how things usually end) but there are also songs about being addicted to soccer gambling, bums who won’t leave your house and on and on.

*****

The Streets’ A Grand Don’t Come for Free receives 5 stars as even in a year of well-regarded releases (especially Green Day’s American Idiot, another concept album) it did more. Simultaneously turning not particularly interesting topics into interesting music is quite the feat, especially if it manages to avoid pretentiousness. (Sorry, but the 50’s-esque rock’n’roll break in “Homecoming” on American Idiot is a bit too much.) Musically, it’s an all new soundscape (ooh). Highlights: track 1 (“It was Supposed to be So Easy”), the hidden track after #11, “Empty Cans” (when listening to the album, you can decide how symbolic that title is), and #4, “Blinded by the Lights”, all among a particularly solid collection of songs.

Using “Forrest Gump” as a Verb

So I was reading USA Today the other day. Yeah, I know, it’s the best newspaper in the history of ever, and it’s seemingly also the official newspaper of travelling, being that most of its readership statistics stem from the fact that hotels usually give it away to hordes of travellers each morning.

\"I\'ll Forrest Gump you, you crazy hippy!\"
“I’ll Forrest Gump you, you crazy hippy!”

In Robert Bianco’s (TV’s Robert Ebert) review of an upcoming episode of HBO’s Rome, talking of the historical revisionism at/for the expense of entertainment, he says that “… Vorenus and Pullo Forrest Gump their way through ancient history.” That’s some genius wordsmithing right there. I actually caught the episode in question (the whole travelling thing and hotel’s usually having HBO), and it was dull to say the least, for whatever that’d be worth. I doubt that “Forrest Gump” becoming anything other than a popular movie will ever happen [a verb, baseball team, or restaurant…..oh wait], but let’s give USA Today credit where credit is due.

*****

Using “Forrest Gump” as a verb receives 5 stars due to journalists lowering the bar and creating new words based on pop culture as opposed to investing in a thesaurus and picking one of the many that people should know but probably don’t. Just kidding. Go USA Today!

The Colbert Report

An immediate reaction upon watching an episode: Har-Har.

One TV executive to another: You know what? It seems like everyone likes The Daily Show. It gets all sorts of main stream press, especially about its lampooning of regular news shows. Let’s make a show that is just that. Kuh-Ching! [high-five]

Inspired by The Daily Show or simply following its template?
Inspired by The Daily Show or simply following its template?

Sounds like a good idea. Take Steve Colbert, probably The Daily Show’s best current news-anchor-parodizer (after Steve Carrell left) and give him his own show. Unfortunately, being that his gimmick (the whole fake newscaster thing) is just that, a gimmick, it means that it gets old and he’s stuck with a one dimensional show. During his interview with Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria on October 19, you could actually pick out the moment when Colbert struggled to decide whether to continue with “gimmick-based” questions (“So why should anyone care about the world?”) or turn towards a more serious, John Stewart-esque, seriousness-through-humor style. Walking this fence is the reason that the show will fail. Interviewing guests who are not comedians (Zakaria, as a prime example) only leads to more awkwardness. By now, everyone is familiar with The Daily Show style of news, and interviewees know not to give serious answers to the ridiculous questions. Unfortunately, these guests often aren’t particularly funny. Colbert is plenty funny though it’s undecided whether he’s a one joke pony (Strangers with Candy fans, chime in).

**

The Colbert Report receives 2 stars due to the obvious (upon viewing) cashing in on The Daily Show’s success. It has its moments, but stretching what would normally be 4-6 minute segments on The Daily Show to half-hour length makes those moments exceedingly fleeting. The show does deserve credit for its title (“Report” is pronounced as “Rapport”), and it moves faster than Keith Olberman’s (relatively) similar show on MSNBC. Unfortunately for Colbert, the talking heads of political news and commentary have already become parodies of themselves. Bill O’Reilly’s “talking points” section is so far over the top that if I want to laugh at it, I can simply watch that, not Colbert’s spin on it. Likewise, Michael Moore’s fame and/or notoriety have also moved toward self-parody. The “ambush interview” doesn’t need to be parodied when the original inspiration is as ridiculous as it is. Of course, the show gains points for attempting to start a joke-feud with gun control advocate, James Brady.

Soft Shell Crabs

soft shell crab
½
Soft shell crabs earn a .5 out of 5 stars due to the fact that when one eats a soft shell crab, he (or she) is no longer of the realm of man…he becomes an animal. Let’s see: take one whole crab, steam it, eat it. Notice, there’s no preparation or “removing of the entrails.” It makes me think that people would eat whole cows if their mouths were big enough. The .5 comes from any character one might build while eating all of a sea creature that is widely considered the ocean’s garbage man.

Dan

Game 4 2005 NLDS (Astros – Braves)

I like baseball. In fact, I like baseball a whole lot. Granted, my more “devoted” activities for the sport [playing “competitively,” collecting baseball cards, having a favorite player, mailing cards to teams/players for autographs, and so on] have long since lapsed [what with turning 11 and all], but I still watch a fair share of games on TV (especially during the August/September/October playoff races, then playoffs themselves) and attend games as I can.

sleepy cat
game 4 makes kitty sleepy

The concept of a super-long extra innings game is intriguing, implying that the two teams are so evenly matched that the only solution to their baseball dilemma is more baseball. As those following the playoffs are aware, there was one of those “super-long” extra innings games this past weekend between the Astros and Braves. That’s fine and dandy (18 innings…..whoo, a lot of baseball), but as soon as the game ended, it somehow became a classic, and in the press conference following the game Astros manager, Phil Garner, couldn’t help but claim it was potentially the best game ever as reporters lobbed questions at him, probably attempting to generate a sound bite about its standing as the best game ever.

Rubbish. And that’s why this review exists. Would one of the best games ever more-or-less implode after the 9th inning? Would there be no runs scored and practically no drama (scoring then re-tying, bases loaded with less than two outs, fan interference, crazy plays, etc., etc.) between innings 9 and 18 in this best game ever? 5 hours and 50 minutes is a lot of baseball, and baseball, all things considered easily becomes quite boring. I’d hate to think that one of the best games ever would’ve been that boring and uneventful until one swing in the bottom of the 18th. A greatest game ever would have a team scoring one (or more) runs in the top of an extra-inning, then the home team being forced, then succeeding, to match that. There was none of that. It’s only significance (other than the length) was Roger Clemens pitching in relief, reminiscent of the Yankees-Diamondbacks World Series when Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling combined for the win, something that would never happen in regular-season baseball. Roger Clemens pitching in relief is something significant, but it’s not like when a team runs out of pitchers and puts an outfielder on the pitching mound, potentially turning the game into a home run derby. That’d be the best game ever.

*½
Game 4 of the 2005 NLDS receives 1.5 stars for being grossly over-rated, quickly forgotten, and rather unremarkable in any category other than length. Besides, as of now, the blown call from game 2 of Angels-White Sox is the story to beat for the season.

Dan

What the Heck are We up to Now?

So, one day I was thinking. I’ve been accused of being very opinionated, and I’ve decided that I’m hilarious, so combining those two, I said to myself, “Why not provide a more permanent forum for expressing my views beyond the ‘forum’ created when in a personal, social setting?” Of course, this “personal, social forum” is actually just fancy-talk for “me sitting around complaining,” but still doesn’t it look that much more official when displayed on a computer monitor? With all that talk of “social,” “forum,” etc. you may think I’ve devolved into some a sort of “the internet is opening all sorts of new avenues of communication, and it’s awesome!” person, but don’t worry, I’m sure that this site is just part of the on-going “blog boom” reminiscent of the personal homepage boom of the late 90’s. [In full disclosure, I had a personal homepage back then, but for some reason the Internet Archive didn’t consider it worth inclusion.] [In fuller disclosure, the comparison between the popularity of blogs now and homepages in the late 90’s was made by someone else in some print or internet article, but I can’t track it down, and the closest I (well, that Google…) can find is someone copying that section of the article in the comments of a semi-academic discussion on the state of blogs.

Keeping in mind the “boom” aspects mentioned above, this little endeavor has a decent chance of petering out before too long, but there’s nothing wrong with trying for a little while.

The look of this page will probably be changing in the very near future as we figure out a better template (though this default one is nice, if not overused) for our purposes.

There are a few technical hurdles to be overcome for this project, but I won’t leave those here. Josh Shafer [how do you spell your last name?], Brian Newhard, MJ, Kurt, Andy, and Justin [the last three of you of the Northwestern Variety], I’m looking in your direction.

More to come, including reviews of: people who value their opinions too much, electricity, Columbus Day, sandwiches, Adam’s Smug Sense of Self-Worth (ok, that’s more of a Family Guy joke than a topic for a review), Arby’s, the Dell 2005FPW monitor, scissors, Verizon Online DSL, The Streets’ A Grand Don’t Come for Free and many, many more*.

*note, the promise of “many more” is very conditional, based on whether not the whole thing “gets old” and whether it keeps our attention.

Dan