Thursday, February 25, 2010

Top Ten Albums - a postscript

Well that was interesting!

I really enjoyed that - not just picking my top ten, but trying to articulate why they were my top ten.  In doing so, it inspired me to want to listen to them again.

And my, they are good.  Aren't they?

Looking at the list again,we have a pretty even split between English and American bands - and, interestingly, a North-West whitewash for the English bands (albeit with a Manchester bias, and assuming you class Elvis Costello as an honorary scouser at least).

Is that coincidence, or in some way relevant?  Is it because (Beatles apart) I was growing up in and around the same cities, at around the same time?  Who knows.

Conversely, only one black artist on the list.  Now I think I do understand this.  I love soul music, and the blues, but my self-imposed criteria forced me to ignore compilations, and the bulk of my soul, reggae and blues collections are made up of singles compilations.  Stevie Wonder is, unusually, a soul artist with as much of an album pedigree as a singles pedigree.  (That said, Marvin, Jimi and Bob Marley were all 'bubbling under' the top ten).

And only one woman on the list.  And to be honest, no-one else even close.  Again, there are plenty of female performers in the collection, but not many that I listen to on a regular basis, or who overcome my built-in preference for boys with guitars.

But hey, enough of my yakkin'.  Just listen to the music.  And enjoy.

POSTSCRIPT:  A new challenge has come through - having done top ten albums, now do your top ten songs.  Now that will require some thought.  Watch this space...

The Queen is Dead - The Smiths

The Smiths - yet another depressing band? Well that's arrant nonsense, I'm afraid. There is nothing depressing about The Smiths - this is (again) one of the most joyous (and funny) albums out there.

Morrissey and Marr both prefer Strangeways, but for me this album represents their peak, when they were still very much a band and the lyricism and music meshed and gelled perfectly.

Firstly the words. Morrissey seems completely at ease with himself on this album - utterly self-aware ("She said 'I know you and you cannot sing' I said 'That's nothing, you should hear me play piano'") and playful ("I didn't realise you wrote such bloody awful poetry"). But at the same time, still able to articulate the angst and wretchedness of adolescence better than just about anyone.

'I Know It's Over' is a classic 'depressing Smiths' song. Except it's not. It's a song for anyone who feels (or has ever felt) alone and unloved - Steven has felt that way as well, and he knows what you are going through. I defy anyone not to feel comforted, rather than depressed, after listening to this song.

If you're so funny
Then why are you on your own tonight ?
And if you're so clever
Then why are you on your own tonight ?
If you're so very entertaining
Then why are you on your own tonight ?
If you're so very good-looking
Why do you sleep alone tonight ?
I know ...
'Cause tonight is just like any other night
That's why you're on your own tonight

It's so easy to laugh, it's so easy to hate
It takes strength to be gentle and kind
It's so easy to laugh, it's so easy to hate
It takes guts to be gentle and kind

But Morrissey does requited, as well as unrequited love, too. Albeit with a degree of obsessiveness that goes beyond the strictly necessary. In the sublime 'There is a Light That Never Goes Out' Steven gets his man(?) and declares his undying love:

And if a double-decker bus
Crashes into us
To die by your side
Is such a heavenly way to die
And if a ten-ton truck
Kills the both of us
To die by your side
Well, the pleasure - the privilege is mine

'Undying' possibly the wrong word, I suppose.

But the album is about more than Morrissey's lyrics, although I could quote them all day. It's about the music, and the musicianship of the band as well. Johnny Marr is undoubtedly the finest guitarist of his generation, understated and unshowy, but always appropriate. Listen to the guitar work on 'Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others' - it's sublime. And if that wasn't enough, The Smiths had the finest rhythm section in the land as well. Listen to the drums at the beginning of 'The Queen is Dead' and the bass on 'I Know It's Over' and tell me I'm wrong.

The Queen is Dead. The finest album of the '80s, by the finest band of the '80s.

Unknown Pleasures - Joy Division

Did I say that Horses was arguably the best debut album ever?  There are many would argue that Unknown Pleasures runs it close.  And they'd be right.

Strangely, there are at least two people who would take issue with that assertion - Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner, who both came away hugely dissatisfied with the finished product, feeling that producer Martin Hannett had delivered an album that did not reflect Joy Division's live sound accurately enough.  And in that sense, they are right too, for this is as much Martin Hannett's album as it is Joy Division's.

And in truth, it is the production that lifts this album from being merely great to being an absolute classic.  Production that is (Pseud's Corner alert) both of its time and absolutely timeless - that reflects brilliantly the sound and feel of Manchester in the late 1970s, yet has not dated in the same way that much other production work of the time has.

But that is not to say that the production is all - the quality of the songwriting, and the way in which the musician's obvious limitations are used to the advantage of the overall sound, and above all, Ian Curtis's voice - both stentorian and vulnerable at the same time - mean that the source material is immensely powerful in its own right.

And it's not just the music - the overall product - that striking cover adds to the atmosphere of the package enormously.  And how many labels would allow a band's debut album to go out with no mention of the band's name (or, indeed, the album title) to appear on the cover?

But ultimately it is the music that makes this album a classic.  Even without the benefit of hindsight, there is an air of paranoia, of unease, about the album.  And yet it is not a depressing album.  If anything, it's an uplifting album - at the risk of coming over all emo, there is an air of understanding about Curtis's lyrics and singing - "I know things seem bad, but they can, and will, get better".

Unfortunately for Ian Curtis, it didn't get better.  The guide he was waiting for never did come and take him by the hand.

Songs in the Key of Life - Stevie Wonder

To be honest, I could have chosen any of Stevie's albums from the sequence that began with Talking Book in 1972, through Innervisions in 1973, Fulfillingness' First Finale in 1974 and this stupendous double album released in 1976.  These four albums (six, if you bookend with Music of my Mind in early 1972 and Hotter Than July in 1980 and quietly ignore The Secret Life of Plants) represents possibly the longest sustained period of quality enjoyed by any artist, ever.  And I include The Beatles, The Stones and David Bowie in that.

So why plumb for Songs in the Key of Life, then?  Well really, to take both quality and quantity in one package.  This is surely one of the few double albums that deserves to be a double, that couldn't be improved by pruning to a single album (I'm looking at you, White Album).

Songs... is also one of the most upbeat albums ever released.  The polar opposite of this list's breakup albums, this suite of songs showcases Stevie's happiness in his relationship and the joy of his newborn daughter, his love of music and his God. There is still some grit in the oyster though - in the form of Pastime Paradise (sampled heavily for Coolio's Gangster Paradise) and Black Man.

Love songs aplenty - the gorgeous 'Knocks Me Off My Feet' - surely the most hook-laden ballad ever released, As and Ebony Eyes.

But the album peaks with the upbeat centre of the first disc - the double whammy of Sir Duke (named for Duke Ellington) and I Wish - even this left/leaden-footed white boy can't resist the brass opening of the former, or the loose-limbed funk of the latter.

This is Stevie at his peak - and what a peak.

Sod it - it's a double album - have two videos.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Horses - Patti Smith

"Jesus died for someone's sins - but not mine."

The opening line of Gloria, the opening song on Horses, Patti Smith's debut album, released in 1975. Arguably the greatest debut album ever. It sounded like nothing released before, and very little since. It took complex, erudite poetry infused with startling imagery, and combined it with a range of musical styles including rock, rock and roll and reggae. It predated and informed punk, and confirmed that women could compete with men in the rock arena without compromise.

Horses is a difficult album, but sounds to these ears as fresh as it did on first hearing, thirty years ago. Each time I listen (and you do have to listen - this is not background music) new things surface and entrance. The subject matter is stark, but not depressing - there is a confidence and defiance that suggests redemption and self-belief despite the violence and death.

Gloria's opening line is a statement of intent, a manifesto even, which leads into the tale of a lesbian love affair infused with the spirit of Van Morrison's original, which is transcended and pummelled into submission by the band, before slowing into a defiant restatement of the opening line.

Land (Horses/Land of a Thousand Dances/La Mer(de)) is the highpoint of an album full of highpoints, and the possibly the best combination of poetry, imagery and rock ever. As with Gloria, it takes a 60's classic, and subverts it into something huge and compelling. Again, the subject matter is dark - centering on a homosexual rape and subsequent suicide but it makes that response feel almost positive - something other than 'surrender' - before referencing Gloria as the cycle comes to it's conclusion. Powerful, compelling stuff. Patti playing in the sea of possibility.

But to focus on these two (admittedly standout) tracks is to undersell the rest of the album - the stream of consciousness that suffuses Birdland, the lilting reggae of Redondo Beach and the closing lament that is Elegie.

Horses will not be for everyone - it took me a few years to really 'get' the album - but persevere and you will find the beauty that lurks within.

The Seldom Seen Kid - Elbow

Elbow kind of passed me by for a long time - I'd heard some stuff and kind of passed them off as another dour bunch of near-Mancs churning out identikit medium-paced tunes of no real substance.  Pleasant enough, but not really for me.

That view changed dramatically, one early evening in Suffolk in July 2008, when I saw them live for the first time, performing the bulk of this album.  Another band who played with joy and passion and brought their material to life - culminating, of course, in a mass singalong to one of the centrepieces of the album, 'One Day Like This'.

After that, I took the album seriously and slowly discovered an album suffused with passion, regret, love and - that word again - joy, that lodged itself amongst my all time favourites quickly and easily.

So who is/was The Seldom Seen Kid?  He was Bryan Glancy, musician-about-town in Manchester, drinking buddy of the band who died suddenly in 2006.  The album is dedicated to his memory, and the closing track, 'Friend of Ours', is a moving tribute to him, that perfectly captures the awkwardness of bluff heterosexual Northerners clumsily trying to express affection ("Never very good at goodbyes, so - gentle shoulder charge - love you mate").

But the album is on no way mawkish, including some beautiful love songs in Starlings ("You are the only thing in any room you're ever in"), The Bones of You and Mirrorball.  Grounds For Divorce (opening with another reference to Glancy) adds some grit to the album, with a stunning bass line...and of course, the best 'festival song' written for many a year, the aforementioned 'One Day Like This'.

Ironically, the officially released album may not be the best version.  A year after release, the band went into Abbey Road Studios to record the album live, with the BBC Concert Orchestra and a full choir.  The songs, partially orchestrated on the original album, lend themselves well to full orchestration, giving the album even more polish and depth.

To have one version of a great album should be enough.  To have two brilliant readings of the album is just being spoilt.

So - The Seldom Seen Kid.  One album like this a year'll see me right.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Boys and Girls in America - The Hold Steady

Moving away for a time from the established classics, this album just had to be in my top ten.  The Hold Steady are one of my favourite live bands, and this is their best album, capturing the joy and exuberance of the band perfectly.

The themes are not new - largely focusing on relationships, drink, drugs and the Mississippi River and the recurring characters Charlemagne, Gideon and Holly.  The songs are wordy - and spoken rather than sung - but with fantastic, complex interplay between the guitar and keyboards that suggests Born to Run era Springsteen as much as anything else.

My first exposure to the album was live, in a muddy tent on a cold, rainy June day at Glastonbury.  They warmed my heart, and continue to do so.

The lead-off track, 'Stuck Between Stations', gives my blog its title and my phone its ringtone.  How much more can a song be loved?  And how many other songs have the wit and intelligence to reference both Sal Paradise and John Berryman?

Whilst there is something incongruous about a bunch of, er, geeks in their mid-thirties singing songs about teenage lust and drug experimentation (" started recreational, it ended kinda medical..."), somehow it all just works.  It's almost a self-help guide for teenagers ("You don't have to deal with the dealers, let your boyfriend deal with the dealers") that neither preaches nor judges - but celebrates that all too brief period in your life when all you have to worry about are girls, boys, music and your narcotics of choice.

As they sang on another album, "Oh, to be 17 forever..."

This song is about art, it's about love, it's about depression, it's about alcohol, it's about faith....

If I was ever lucky enough to have been in a rock and roll band, this is the band I would have wanted to be in!

Painted From Memory - Elvis Costello with Burt Bacharach

So much Costello to choose from - Imperial Bedroom or This Year's Model both clamouring for attention - but ultimately I had to choose this album, Elvis's 1998 collaboration with Burt Bacharach.  Easy Listening?  Hardly - this is as far removed from Easy Listening as any album could be - especially if you have ever been unlucky or deceitful in love.

After Blood on the Tracks, this is the second 'breakup' album on my list (what is it with me and breakup albums?) themed around lost love, broken relationships, guilt and revenge.  And it is possibly the tension between the smooth, easy melodies and the brittle, tense lyrics that sets this album apart from other albums of the genre.

I make no excuses for my love of Burt Bacharach - he has been involved in the creation of some of the greatest music ever recorded and it is not just Costello in the 'modern idiom' who has recognised that - Noel Gallagher, who only steals from the best, has put on record his love of the man's music (reverse the chord sequence of 'This Guy's In Love With You' and you might recognise 'Half A World Away').

Surprisingly, such a tight collaboration was largely conducted at a distance - the two songwriters swapping snippets of lyric and melody by phone and email.  The collaboration began with 'God Give Me Strength', recorded for a film soundtrack and included here as the album's closer.

Inspired by his illustrious partner, Costello's lyrics hit new highs on this album.  He explores the overriding themes from interesting perspectives - 'This House is Empty Now' has the narrator walking round an empty home, shorn of his partner and looking to face life alone, remembering the times they shared in the now deserted home.  The title track, 'Painted From Memory', suggests that eventually even the faces of those we loved will fade from memory.  'I Still Have That Other Girl' - an affair that is doomed before it starts as Elvis cannot forget the girl he would be leaving.

I know - it sounds like a barrel of laughs,doesn't it?  It certainly packs a huge emotional punch, the bitterest pill wrapped in the sweetest of sugar coatings.  An unforgettable album.

This House Is Empty Now - Burt on baton and piano, Elvis on vocals.  Absolutely sublime - and not just the lyrics.  The exquisite little guitar figure after the bridge ("Does the extinguished candle care about the darkness?") is almost throwaway, yet absolutely heartbreaking.

Revolver - The Beatles

How to pick one Beatles album from all the others?  Clearly The Beatles have to be in the top ten, but which one?  On another day, it could have been Abbey Road, or maybe Rubber Soul - Hard Day's Night, even (but never Sgt Pepper).

But today - and to be honest, on most days - it has to be Revolver.

Revolver was the album where The Fabs grew up - extending themselves beyond their Beatlemania beginnings, but still a band, before the self indulgence and bitterness took hold.  Their individuality was beginning to show through more and more (the 'John' and 'Paul' songs are obvious throughout) but they are still clearly working as a team - pushing each other to heights they'd not previously reached.

Highlights?  For me, John's maturing work in Tomorrow Never Knows, And Your Bird Can Sing and She Said, She Said - but Revolver is more about Paul's work when taken as a whole.  Eleanor Rigby is a masterpiece by any standards, and in Here, There and Everywhere and For No One, Paul produced two of his most moving ballads.  Finally Got To Get You Into My Life is one of the most joyous songs The Beatles - or anyone - ever produced.

The biggest irony of course is that the best 'Revolver' track never made it onto the official album.  Snuck away on the B-side of Paperback Writer, 'Rain' may well be one of the best songs The Beatles (or anyone) ever recorded.  If nothing else, it provided Liam Gallagher with a vocal style that gave him quite a nice career, thank you very much.

Speaking of which....

Born To Run - Bruce Springsteen

After two critically acclaimed, but relatively poorly-selling, albums, Springsteen felt it was make or break with this, his third release.  Famously, he wanted it to sound " Roy Orbison singing Bob Dylan, produced by [Phil] Spector."

Well he didn't sound like Roy Orbison.  But then no-one sounds like Roy Orbison.

As for the rest - certainly the production was decidedly 'widescreen', in keeping with the cinematic nature of the songs, and the layering and complexity of the production certainly brought to mind Phil Spector.  Ironically, the Dylan comparisons that Springsteen had been saddled with in the past were less evident on this album than they had been previously, as he tightened up on the wordplay and allegory, producing a suite of songs that had a clear and consistent lyrical theme.

And that theme?  Well to these ears, it was all about breaking free of ties and constraints - leaving behind the mundane and the everyday - the "town full of losers".  Of course breaking free is a risky business - and some of Springsteen's characters were taking more - or at least different - risks than others.  In Meeting Across The River, the risk comes from dabbling in petty crime and perhaps biting off more than you can chew.  Elsewhere though, the risk is more about failure and disappointment - of learning that your dreams and aspirations are just that, and of being sucked back into the life you were hoping to escape.

But that's the risk you have to take.  The genius of the album is Springsteen's confrontation of those risks - his willingness to do what it takes and the optimism that suffuses the whole album.  He's got his guitar and he's learned how to make it talk - he's gonna get to that place where they really wanna go - and walk in the sun.

Even for those characters left behind on the Backstreets - Springsteen talks of people taking their stand, working all day to blow them away in the night.

On later albums - as he grew older and perhaps wiser - Springsteen speaks of disillusionment and regret at failed dreams.  But on Born to Run, he's at the start of the journey - getting out while he's young - pulling out of here to win.

Here's Thunder Road, performed on VH1 Storytellers.  And what a story it tells.  Possibly my favourite lyric ever.

Blood on the Tracks - Bob Dylan

There could have been three or four Dylan albums in this list, but for me, this is his real masterpiece - when both musically and lyrically, he surpassed even himself. Dylan's 'divorce' album, his lyrics are more direct, less allegorical than usual, lending them a power that hits you between the eyes.

The opening trio of Tangled Up in Blue, Simple Twist of Fate and You're a Big Girl Now would grace any album - then to be followed by the icy blast of Idiot Wind, possibly the most vicious put-down ever recorded. Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts is possibly the best cowboy film never made and Shelter From the Storm, steeped in Biblical allegory, foreshadows Dylan's later 'Christian' period.

There is, of course, nothing straightforward about a Dylan album, and the 'official' release may not even be the best version of Blood on the Tracks out there. Having recorded the album and delivered it for release, Dylan had an uncharacteristic wobble, and re-recorded five of the songs in Minneapolis for the final release. Many would say the the original, 'New York Sessions' album is the better album, with a coherence and 'flow' that results from the album being recorded in one place and time.

But then - that's what you get with Dylan. Sometimes frustrating, wilful and perverse - but always brilliant.

Here's the 'New York' version of Tangled up in Blue - see what you think!

Never one to shirk a challenge...

So here's the thing.  Matt has a University project that requires him to name/discuss his 'all time top ten favourite records'.  Not an easy project, and actually whittling down his favourites to a top ten has proven difficult.  I, of course, have put my oar in and have, in turn, been challenged by him to "make a list of your all time top ten favourite records... Not records you think should be on there (Dark Side, OK Computer, Sgt. Peppers etc) but your actual favourite ten albums. Warts n' all."

Warts n' all, indeed.

So here goes.  In pulling this list together, I have set a few ground rules for myself which I think are important.

Firstly, no compilations, no box sets, no 'Greatest Hits'.  Only albums that were recorded, and intended, to exist as a single artistic statement.

Secondly, no more than one album per artist.  Otherwise there are a couple of artists who might dominate, and I want to present a spectrum of music to you.  And if these are the ten albums that I have to take to my desert island, I will want the variety.

Also, these are not necessarily the albums I play most.  Mainly because for most of them, every note, every word, is already seared into my brain - I don't have to play them to appreciate them, they are already hard-wired into my consciousness.

Finally, this is today's list.  Tomorrow's list would - almost certainly - look (and sound) completely different.

Anyway, this is the list I gave Matt.  In no particular order;

1. Blood on the Tracks - Bob Dylan

Even now I'm wavering.  No Clash, no Hendrix, no Zeppelin?  Nothing from the Atlantic or Stax labels?  No reggae - no Bob Marley?  Revolver or Rubber Soul?  Or Abbey Road?  Painted From Memory rather than This Year's Model or Imperial Bedroom?

Well, the list is what it is.  And now to put some flesh on the bones - over the next few days let's try and articulate just why these ten made the cut....

Monday, February 22, 2010

Diddle Diddle Dumpling

Today's soundtrack:  Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint - Hot as a Pistol, Keen as a Blade

Well, I've given it a couple of days, but I think I'm still in shock over the weekend's football.  It's not just the fact that we won, it's the way in which we won - with style and passion, playing the better football and even coming from a goal down.  Three great goals from open play as well.  Oh, and coming off the back of a similar win against Chelsea.  So in the space of around ten days, we've beaten (well) two of the best teams in Europe, and certainly the best two teams in the country.

Typically, after some pretty genuine compliments from United fans, all the comments are about Rodwell's impending move to ManYoo and how Moyes is being lined up as Fergie's successor.  Won't happen guys.  If we can keep this squad together - and keep the majority of them fit and playing(!) - then we'll be challenging next season.

As we would have been this year, had we not had such a horrendous start.

The Waring culinary spectrum continues to broaden - stew and dumplings after the match, with homemade dumplings (equal amounts of suet and self-raising flour, with a dash of horseradish and sufficient water to bind).  The beef stew had a beef and ale base, using a few bottles of Poacher's ale (most of which went to lubricating the chef's throat, I have to admit).  Absolutely delicious, and sufficient left over for tonight's tea as well.

Take a look at these puppies!

Homemade pizza again last night, although this time I added some semolina to the bases, Dominos-fashion, which added a pleasing degree of texture to the bases.

Costello and Toussaint on the soundtrack today - an audio rip of a DVD of the two in concert, produced on the back of their 'River in Reverse' collaboration of a few years back.  Elvis has always chosen his collaborators well - Burt Bacharach, Bill Frisell, Anne Sofie Von Otter - and his collaboration with Allen Toussaint, one of the great New Orleans jazzmen - is up there as well, with added poignancy coming from the Katrina disaster that happened around the same time and which is referenced in their work.

Here they are on Jools a few years ago - "Who's Gonna Help Brother Get Further".  Who indeed?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Back on the Interview Trail

Today's soundtrack:  Bruce Springsteen - The River

Back on the interview trail last night, up in Preston (again) - when did Preston become the epicentre of the internal audit universe?  Too early for proper feedback, but I managed to stretch my 30-45 minute interview into an hour and a quarter, which may or may not be a good sign.  If nothing else, the poor bloke following me was restricted to half an hour as the building had to close at seven!


All of which meant I had to sacrifice the Everton-Sporting game, which kicked off at the ludicrous time of 5:45.  Had to listen on Radio Merseyside on the way home.  And but for ten seconds of madness with four minutes to go, it was all looking pretty good.  A 2-0 lead, with no away goals, taken to the second leg would have been fine.  As it was, 2-1, late penalty, sending off and things don't look so clear cut - making a victory feel a bit like a defeat.  Still, we do take a lead into the second leg and so (just) have the upper hand.  Just.  Coupled with the news that Fellaini is out for the rest of the season following the horror tackle in the Derby and the Everton glass is looking more half empty than full at the moment.

Still, ManYoo at the weekend to look forward to.  No pressure there then.

Speaking of ManYoo, they managed to pull off a slightly fortuitous away win at Milan last night - after being battered for the bulk of the first half, they went in at the interval level thanks to a goal that bounced of Paul Scholes' standing leg.  Second half they did come out fighting, and thanks to the brilliance of The Boy, took a 3-1 lead before Milan clawed a late goal back.

Advantage United for the second leg then.  Or rather advantage Rooney.  Interesting to see that Siralex is claiming The Boy as one of United's 'homegrown' stars now, in the week before the game against the club that nurtured him and brought him on from the age of 9, and turned him into an England international before selling him for the best part of £25 million quid.

Think again, Alex.

Bit of Springsteen on the soundtrack today, actually the second disc of The River, Bruce's 1980 double album.  I find The River to be a bit of a mixed bag.  Most of the slower songs and ballads are amongst Bruce's best and most moving.  Unfortunately they are accompanied by some of the most lumpen rockers he (or anyone) ever committed to vinyl.  Cadillac Ranch, I'm a Rocker and Ramrod - I'm looking at you.

But when the album is good, it is very, very good indeed.

Here's one of the best - Stolen Car, filmed live in 1985.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

3D, or not 3D?

Today's soundtrack:  Deep Purple - Fireball

Picture the scene.

A darkened room, curtains drawn so passers-by cannot see the ridiculous sight of two grown people sitting with pairs of cardboard glasses perched on their noses.  Plates of food balanced on their laps - food they cannot see owing to a combination of the darkness, and the disorienting effect of a strip of red plastic covering one eye, and a blue strip covering the other.

A film is playing on the television set in the corer of the room.  We realise we are having problems discerning any 3D effect - a problem caused by Mrs W. inserting the 2D version of the film into the player.  Finally the correct disc is in place and we settle back to enjoy the eye-popping visual feast on offer.

Whilst still struggling to get any food into our mouths.

Actually, it was quite good fun.  The 3D effect worked reasonably well, although inevitably the colours in the film were all a bit washed out.  Can't see it catching on though - at least not until the technology allows you to dispense with the silly glasses!

The film was the latest in the 'Final Destination' series - entertaining old tosh, following exactly the same format as the other film in the series (big disaster, Death initially cheated, Death redresses the balance one by one in ever more imaginative ways).  Plenty of scope of course for things (generally sharp things) to hurtle out of the screen towards us - and, quite successfully make us flinch and duck.

A shame we couldn't see our food though, as it was actually pretty damn tasty.  Moussaka today, not fully authentic but a nice recipe you should try.  Hard work though.

To be truly authentic, you should use minced lamb but I chose to go with a 50:50 mix of lamb and beef mince as all lamb can be a bit overpowering.  Brown the mince with some onion and garlic, and season with cinnamon and allspice.  Completely inauthentic, but I chucked some mushrooms into the pot as well.

When everything is browned, add some oregano, chopped (tinned) tomatoes and some passata and leave to simmer and reduce down.

While the meat is simmering, prepare the rest of the dish.  Slice three or four aubergines into rounds about half an inch thick, and spread onto some kitchen paper.  Salt both sides of each slice and cover with more kitchen paper - this will draw any bitter juices out of the aubergine slices.  Then peel and slice some potatoes into thin rounds and rinse in fresh water.  The potatoes need to be cooked briefly to ensure they are fully cooked in the final dish - this can be by shallow frying or by parboiling the slices.  However to save time and effort, I just chucked them into the deep fat fryer for a few minutes.  Don't let the slices brown - we're not making chips here.

When the aubergines are drained, they need to be fried in olive oil, in batches, until lightly browned on both sides.

Finally you need to make a bechamel sauce, using flour, butter and milk.  Add some grated gruyere and parmesan cheese to the sauce as well.

Now you can construct your moussaka.  A layer of mince in the base of a large casserole dish, topped with half the aubergine slices.  The add the rest of your mince to cover, and top with the rest of the aubergines.  Cover with a layer of potato slices, then pour the bechamel sauce on top.  Grate some more cheese on the very top, then stick in a hot oven for around 45 minutes for the flavours to mingle and the top to brown.

Look at that - Lovely!

Deep Purple were one of my early musical loves and although time has possibly not been kind to them, I still enjoy hearing them now and then.  Fireball is probably slightly overlooked amongst their early '70s canon, falling as it does between Deep Purple In Rock and Machine Head and suffering in comparison, but it is still worth a listen.

Excellent video here - the Purps miming to Fireball on some teeny pop show back in the day - everyone looks like they are dancing to an entirely different song for some reason!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Where do the days go?

Today's soundtrack:  Various Artists - Blaxploitation - The Sequel

Is it that long since I last posted?  It's not even as if my days have been crammed with loads and load of activity either!  Still, I'm back now, with a cracking football match to report on.

After being booted off the park (quite literally) by the shower across the park at the weekend, and missing our two best players as a consequence - I didn't hold out too much hope for last night's game against Chelsea.

Actually, before we get to the Chelsea game, let's vent for a bit.

How disappointing is it when a team of Liverpool's (supposed) stature can take to the field with a single aim in mind - that being to nullify the threat of the opposition by deliberately setting out to injure your team's two best players?  The tone was set in the first few seconds, when Carragher flattened Pienaar with a forearm smash after the ball had gone - which went completely unpunished by the referee.  Of course, Carragher 'isn't that kind of player', is he?  If he'd walked - or at least been booked - as he should have, then the game might have been played in a decent spirit.  Unfortunately, the tone had been set.  Henceforth, Pienaar was either fouled - or fouling - for the rest of the game.  Threat nullified.  And whilst he could easily have walked for the tackle on Mascherano, the way in which Gerrard eventually got him sent off (falling to the ground, clutching his face after Pienaar jumped gently into his back) was again distasteful.

But Stevie G's 'not that kind of player' either, is he?

And so to the Fellaini incident.  Having managed to avoid a crippling lunge from Mascherano, the big man was victim to a two-footed lunge by the big fat Greek lad, who got himself injured in the process.  Commentators seemed to make great play of the fact that Fellaini himself was guilty of lifting his foot and thereby going over the top into the Greek's leg with his studs.  Well let's be clear here - had he kept his foot on the ground, the likelihood is his ankle would have been snapped in two.  I'd have lifted my foot as well!

A shame that the FSW has reduced that team to a bunch of opportunistic cloggers.

Anyway, rant over.  On to more pleasing things.

With Arteta and Bilyaletdinov in for Pienaar and Fellaini, we had a very skilful, but worryingly lightweight midfield lining up against a strong Chelsea side.  And for the first twenty minutes or so, it looked like we'd suffer as a result.  They showed huge amounts of quality to pin us back in our half, and the goal when it came had a certain amount of inevitability about it.  Route one stuff, with Drogba flicking a header into the path of Malouda, who outmuscled and outran Philip Neville to push the ball into the far corner.

Oh dear.  At this point, it looked like it might end up four or five nil.

But the Blues rallied, and slowly managed to get a foothold in the game.  After a succession of corners, with interchanging corner takers, Donovan drilled a corner from the far side just over the despairing head of the hapless John Terry, onto the head of Louis Saha who buried the ball in the net.

1-1, and game on.  From this point on, the tide began to turn and we took a grip on the game, with Donovan visibly growing in confidence - a realisation, perhaps, that he was not out of his depth in this company.  On the stroke of half time, he was put through one on one with Carvalho, who  was fooled by his turn in the box sufficiently to bring the American down.  Penalty!  Up stepped Louis, having turned Arteta away, to see his shot saved by Cech to his left.  Not the best penalty in the world but still a good save.

Oh dear again.  What would this do to the players' confidence?  1-1 at half time, which I'd have taken at kick-off, but a nagging feeling that you've got to take your chances against these teams.  Would we live to regret that penalty miss?

Well no, as it happens.  We kept up the pace, and the pressure, and with fifteen minutes to go, it paid off.  A long ball from Distin towards Saha.  Terry misjudged the flight of the ball which went over his head onto the chest of Saha.  Cute bit of control, left footed volley with pace past Cech.  Fantastic goal, and a deserved 2-1 lead.

Could we hold on?  As you would expect, this stung Chelsea into action, and we withstood some sustained pressure over the course of the last fifteen minutes, with Distin and the wonderful Johnny Heitinga majestic in the heart of the defence.  I am definitely beginning to feel a bit of man-love for our Johnny.  Yes, he's a grock, but he's our grock.

After a ludicrous five (five!) minutes of injury time, the whistle finally blew.  A stunning result in a high quality game,which went a long way to removing the nasty taste left in my mouth after the derby.

Soundtrack today is from the second of three (possibly more, actually) compilations of soul and funk music under the 'Blaxploitation' banner.  The compilations largely comprise extended mixes of '70s sould tunes, loosely associated with the Blaxploitation film genre that was prevalent for a while in the decade.  Which means lots of tunes with the word 'Ghetto' in the title, lots of Curtis, Quincy, James and Sly.  And which of course means tons and tons of high quality tunes.

This is Bobby Womack, with the magnificent 'Across 110th Street' - from the soundtrack of the film of the same name, and also used by Tarantino over the opening credits of Jackie Brown, his own homage to the genre.