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Where You Been - Dinosaur Jr. 21/07/2001

Guitar Genius

Where You Been - Dinosaur Jr. Easily the best album from Dinosaur Jr Mk II (after Lou Barlow had left), this LP contains 10 classic songs that no self-respecting guitarist, grunge (or, come to that, music) fan, or human being should be without. J Mascis is still one of only a handful of modern-day guitar greats who can inject any soul or passion into his solos, and his influences range from melancholy country to ear-splitting rock. While he certainly knows his way around the old fretboard, Mascis never allows himself to descend into self-indulgent guitar-wankery (at least, not on THIS album). Every note means something and is perfectly placed, in a ragged, screeching kind of way. Take the storming "Out There", the opening track; five minutes of laid-back, melancholic six-string fury. How can a song sound furious and laid-back at the same time, you must be wondering. Well, listen to the album and find out. On to the next track, the classic single "Start Choppin'", which provided Dino with their highest UK chart position (don't mean to sound anal, just trying to think of stuff to write). This is pretty much the archetypal song for the band on this album; The key lyric, which would seem to sum up Mascis's life and general attitude, is "I'm so numb, can't even react". The song lurches forward, mid-tempo, in a half-driven, half-reluctant fashion before erupting into an ear-splitting solo. And if that doesn't get you playing air-guitar then you probably have no hands. Fans of The Word (are there any?) might ...

Locust Abortion Technician - Butthole Surfers 23/04/2001

Hole lotta sickness

Locust Abortion Technician - Butthole Surfers The Butthole Surfers are probably one of the most sick and twisted bands around, or at least were until they accidentally infiltrated the mainstream circa 1996, diluting their psychedelic drug-noise in the process. Singer Gibby Haynes was born the son of a Dallas-based children's television host called "Mr. Peppermint" (can you imagine how f*cked up that must have made him?) and was, at one point, studying to be an accountant (see what I mean?!). On stage, the band liked to make their show as grotesque as possible; when they weren't setting things on fire, they liked to show video footage of penis removal, or piss into plastic baseball bats (dubbed "piss wands") and anoint the front row of the audience with it. Wholesome, family-orientated fun, I think you'll agree. Locust Abortion Technician is widely regarded as their greatest achievement, the point at which their mixture of shrieking guitar and frankly satanic vocals reached full fruition. Having not heard any of their other albums so far, I cannot really comment, but I can assure you that this is a classic album, so long as you have the stomach for it. It immediately wrongfoots the listener by kicking in with some dreamy synth, and the sound of an innocent child's voice asking his father about the meaning regret. If you've heard Orbital's track "Satan" then you'll know what's coming, for it was here that they lifted the by-now classic sample. The father explains, and then casually says "Oh, and by the way, if ...

Fantasma - Cornelius 22/04/2001

Monkey magic

Fantasma - Cornelius The Japanese have a tendency to make mad music. If you're familiar with the work of Pizzicato 5 or Guitar Wolf then you'll know what I mean. And Cornelius (named after the chimpanzee hero from Planet Of The Apes) is no exception: he is, without doubt, completely bonkers, but, at the same time, something approaching a genius. Fantasma came out about three years ago, and there has been nothing like it before or since. Dance and guitar music intertwine and merge to become one beautiful, aural orgasm. Imagine if the Beach Boy's Brian Wilson developed an obsession with monkeys, and started making music as equally indebted to Black Sabbath as it is to the Tom & Jerry theme tune. Can't picture it? Then I'll elaborate... The album kicks off with "Mic Check", the sound of a drinks can being opened and reverberating around your speakers. Someone starts whistling into the mic and testing it out by repeating the title. For a moment, you'd be excused for thinking that the album is going to be a load of self-indulgent pissing about. But no! A drum-beat kicks in, followed by some beautiful xylophone, and suddenly you're lstening to one of the prettiest yet most modest tunes ever. And this comes from just testing out a microphone! A few tracks down the line and we have "New Music Machine", a frenzied, punked-up guitar anthemn, followed by "Clash", which sounds like My Bloody Valentine falling down a well. It all starts to get REALLY mental by the time you reach "Magoo Opening", and ...

The Omega Man (DVD) 20/04/2001

Could have been mega but it aint

The Omega Man (DVD) It's hard to truly express how gutted I am that this supposed sci-fi classic isn't better than it is. Having read the amazing source novel by Richard Matheson, "I Am Legend", the night before, I was eager to see how it had been transferred to the screen. Not very well, is my conclusion. As with the book, the "last man on Earth"(TM) on Earth is called Robert Neville...and that's pretty much it. Pretty much everything else has been bastardised for a Seventies' audience. Gone is the ordinary hero, struggling for survival against his own despair, mute due to lack of human contact, and searching grimly for an antidote for the plague that has wiped out most human life. What we get instead is Charlton Heston (obviously unaware that he has been typecast as a nihilistic antihero/action-man after his turn in Planet of the Apes), crashing his sports car by day and talking to himself. You never root for him, just feel indifferent. Gone is the tiny little house with boards on the windows as Neville's only defense against the bloodthirsty vampires, replaced by an enormous penthouse, complete with elevator, electronic garage door and barbed wire, as well as every modern luxury a man could want. The location has been moved from (what I imagined to be) a quiet MidWestern town, to a major American city. Strangely, this detracts from the atmosphere rather than adding to it. And, worst of all, there is no trace of the vampires which made the original story so compelling. Instead, we get ...

I Am Legend - Richard Matheson 20/04/2001

I am gobsmacked

I Am Legend - Richard Matheson "The only way to survive in the world of the living dead is to destroy. In the empty streets of daylight, you hunt them down. At night, there's nowhere to go but your barricaded house. Outside, the inhabitants of the town gather. Once your family and neighbours, now they come at sunset, snarling and long can a man survive alone against the vampires?" If the blurb hasn't hooked you, read on... It's hard to describe both the excellence and influence of this book without dribbling and soiling your pants. The fact that it was written way back in 1954, yet is still such a compelling read even today, proves that it is a true sci-fi classic. It's also short and to the point: 151 pages. I read it in one sitting (11pm to 3am), unable to put it down. The central premise is enough to give you the creeps. The year is 1976. Robert Neville is, to his knowledge, the last living man on Earth. A virus has wiped out the majority of civilisation, leaving the survivors as mindless, bloodthirsty vampires, but he is immune. At night, Neville sits in his pokey little house, fortified with whatever meagre defences he can erect, under siege from the hordes of pasty-faced bloodsuckers. One of the most chilling aspects of this situation is that one of the monsters is his former neighbour and colleague, Ben Cortman, now reduced to screaming for his friend to "Come out, Neville!". Wavering between a grim determination to survive and a helpless apathy, Neville kills the ...

Bridget Jones's Diary (DVD) 18/04/2001

Surprisingly I didn't vomit once

Bridget Jones's Diary (DVD) Bridget Jones's Diary: three words that currently divide the nation. Some people will squeal with delight, whilst others recoil in horror and vow never to watch this film so long as they live. They, however, will be the ones missing out on a perfectly enjoyable film. You just have to be in the right frame of mind. If you step back and imagine that this is not the adaptation of a million-selling book, you will see that it is actually quite a modest little tale of a thirtysomething woman searching for love, acceptance and her place in the world. Okay, so it stars Renee Zellweger and Hugh Grant, but it's short, sweet and is quite likely to leave you feeling warm and gushy at the end, so long as you leave your prejudices at the door. However, if you hated Four Weddings & A Funeral and Notting Hill, STAY AWAY! For this is the latest effort from Working Title Films, the pureveyors of "terribly British comedy", where all the men have floppy finges and say "damn" a lot, and the women chain-smoke and worry about stretch marks. You have been warned. The plot: fed up with her lot in life, Bridget decides to keep a diary to document her year-long transformation from lonely secretary to successful career-girl with handsome boyfriend. Over the next ninety minutes, we see her hook up with her caddish boss Daniel Cleaver (Grant), become a highly inept television reporter, get drunk (a lot), make a fool of herself in public (even more), whilst making more and more entwined with the ...

What Women Want (Box Set) (DVD) 25/03/2001

I want a second opinion

What Women Want (Box Set) (DVD) Oh dear. Once again, a film with an admirable concept is smothered by the Hollywood cornball machine until it finally chokes to death. What man wouldn't sacrifice some of his more important internal organs to be able to read women's minds? If one merely needs to electrocute oneself to obtain this remarkable gift, then please excuse me: I'll be taking a bath with the toaster. But the ways and means aren't really the focus of this very poor film. Mel Gibson plays Nick, a handsome (natch), successful, yet totally obnoxious advertsing exec who gets slightly miffed when Helen Hunt is appointed as his boss. Whilst trying to get in touch with his feminine side by experimenting with tights and leg-waxing, Nick falls into the bath with a hairdryer, and wakes up next morning with the ability to read women's thoughts. And therein lies the problem. To make this premise believable, it would take a skilled writer with enough insight into the feminine psyche to portray it convincingly up on the big screen. But that writer was obviously busy, so they had to get Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa. In their world, women are simple creatures with cotton wool for brains, who worry about oestrogen, calories, and leaving the kettle on whilst out jogging, and they think it in a REALLY, REALLY LINEAR, SIMPLE-MINDED WAY! People don't think in sentences! Also, and even more worringly, it sends the message that any women who has a successful career is, deep down, alone and miserable. Helen Hunt's ...

High Fidelity (DVD) 24/03/2001


High Fidelity (DVD) I must admit that I didn't particularly enjoy this film at the cinema, despite the wealth of ecstatic reviews that were circulating at the time. I found the central love story uninteresting, felt that John Cusack and Iben Hjejle lacked chemistry and that her character, Laura, was rather unsympathetic, and basically didn't care whether they got back together or not. Having worked in an independent record shop, I didn't find this Hollywoodised portrayal of the experience at all convincing. Plus, I felt that the character of Dick, the shy, sensitive, frail, Belle and Sebastian-loving indie boy/man was nothing more than a product of lazy writing. Oh, and Jack Black was reeeeaaaally annoying. Phew. That said, having now watched it for the second time, I have warmed to it a little bit more. My grievances still stand but no longer prevent me from enjoying the dialogue and comedy moments. Cusack is excellent as the freshly dumped, vinyl-junkie Rob Gordon, who, thanks to white, thirtysomething-male neurosis, tries to discover why he is so unlucky in love by seeking out all his top five flames from his past. It is testament to his talent that he relocated the arena of the book from London to Chicago without cocking the whole thing up. I also realised that the reason I found Jack Black so unpalatable in the first place is because he plays his part TOO well. He IS Barry, the fat, smartarse, obnoxious, rock-snob, and I love seeing him get slapped around the face. Still, anyone who ...

Sleepy Hollow (DVD) 24/03/2001

Fun but somewhat empty

Sleepy Hollow (DVD) Is it just me or has Tim Burton sold out? His last few films, while still slotting reasonably well into his ouevre, have mostly been projects that he has signed on to direct, rather than nurtured and produced himself. Sleepy Hollow is no exception. While it contains the usual Gothic overtones and references to Hammer Horror films, it is not up there with his best work by any means. It's good fun but nothing more. The story is based on the classic tale by Washington Irving, "The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow", and is set in 1799. Forensic detective Ichabod Crane travels from New York to the tiny village of Sleepy Hollow, where a headless horsemen is decapitating the locals with a bloody great sword. Since this is a Hollywood movie, the formerly ugly Crane is played by the distinctly non-ugly Johnny Depp. Since this is a Tim Burton movie, Depp is essentially playing Tim Burton, the thin, pale young man with the unmanageable black hair, just as he did in Edward Scissorhands. Plus we get several lingering aerial shots of Lisa Marie (his wife)'s substantial cleavage. Well, I'm certainly not complaining. There is an supporting cast of (mostly) British actors (Christopher Lee, Richard Griffiths, Miranda Richardson), and Christina Ricci also shines as the love-interest, her kookiness perfectly suiting Burton's fairytale world. However, what really saves the whole package are the handful of decent exras on display: two trailers, two documentaries, a photo gallery, and, by no means ...

Seven (DVD) 24/03/2001

Here comes Gwyneth's head in a box

Seven (DVD) I must admit to not being one of those people who are fanatical about this film. Once you've seen it for the first time and have recovered from the surprise ending, its power to shock is greatly diminished on repeated viewings. As for it being a modern classic, well, maybe it is and maybe it isn't. However, this excellent DVD deserves much praise, and certainly made me think about and appreciate this film a whole lot more. Previously only available in Region 2 as a skanky single (flipper?) disc with no extras whatsoever, some commendable individual has finally gone to the trouble of trawling through the archives, and filling this package with more extras than you can shake a stick at. For a start, all four commentary tracks from the R1 version have been reproduced (unlike Fight Club which, I believe, condensed them into one). Then there are the deleted scenes and extended takes, alternate openings AND endings, photo galleries, production designs and trailers, most of which have optional commentaries as well. One of the most interesting extras is a thing called "The Notebooks", in which we find out that some strange individual actually sat down and wrote the contents of John Doe's diaries. I can honestly say that I never thought I would sit through this film twice in as many days, but the excellent commentaries won me over. Having listened to director David Fincher, Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman discuss their experiences on set, I was by then enthralled enough to go back ...

Turkish Gypsy Music - Ahmet Kusgöz 20/03/2001

The art of falling apart

Turkish Gypsy Music - Ahmet Kusgöz One-time Big Black mainman Steve Albini is probably better known for being the knob-twiddler on Nirvana's "In Utero" album, as well as The Pixies "Surfer Rosa" and Page and Plant LP. Albini has pioneered his own sound (angular guitar noise, sparse yet hard drums) for years, and "1000 Hurts" (it's a pun: "hertz", geddit?) has it in spades. Shellac are a more organic proposition than Albini's previous band (real drums rather than a machine) but no less intense. Lyrically, it concerns the break-up of a relationship and all the feelings of loathing and rejection that go with it. It's not easy-going by any means but, at 37 minutes long, it doesn't outstay its welcome. The first track, Prayer To God, is a good indication of what the rest of the album will be like: jagged, slashing chords, thudding drums, and a screamed lyric: "There are two people here/and I want you to kill them!" The chorus goes: "Kill them/F*ckin' kill them/Kill them already/Kill them!". It looks stupid written down but, trust me, it's powerful stuff when you're actually listening to it. Put it on your WalkMan as you walk down the street, and you'll feel as though you can knock anyone out of your way. There are more mellow moments. Mama Gina lurches along, held aloft by a few plucked notes and a slow beat for five minutes, before exploding into a thrashy mess right at the end. Nonetheless, every song has a distinctly driving momentum, coupled with Albini's thin yet impassioned voice and ...

Enemy At The Gates (DVD) 20/03/2001

I am the Law

Enemy At The Gates (DVD) Does the world really need another two-and-a-half hour war film? Apparently so. I wasn't sure what to expect from this movie: the magazine reviews, on average, said it was "good" but that several of the sub-plots didn't really work (in particular the love-story between Jude Law and Rachael Weisz). Moreover, on the way down to the cinema, I was informed by our jovial taxi-driver of several historical innacuracies contained within ("Anyone caught with a beard in the Russian army would have been immediately shot!", "They sing the Russian National Anthemn when it hadn't even been written yet!"). I feared another U-571 type fiasco. But I needn't have worried. Enemy At The Gates is a cracker. Reportedly the most expensive European film ever made (at $60 million), the sets and CGI imagery are both exquisite and breathtaking. There are solid performances all round, although Law himself is somewhat 'wispy' and struggles to suppress his Cockney twang. Indeed, several cast members seem to be on the verge of attempting a half-arsed German or Russian accent throughout the film, although it's not really necessary for them to do so. The story is enough to maintain suspension of disbelief. The film starts in the same vein as Saving Private Ryan, with hordes of Russians being forced to charge into a hail of German bullets. However, this is somewhat misleading, as the main plot concerns the discovery of a Russian shepherd boy (Law), who is also a crack marksmen, during WW2. As the ...

1991 The Year Punk Broke 12/03/2001

Tonight Matthew I am going to defecate onstage.

1991 The Year Punk Broke Watched this again last night so I thought it was time to write a review on it. This documentary, focusing on the two week European festival tour undertaken by Sonic Youth and chums (Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr, Gumball, etc) will pretty much divide audiences from the outset, opening as it does with Thurston Moore freestyling into a microphone, while Kurt Cobain and Kim Gordon do an interpretative dance. It's either highly amusing or intensely annoying depending on: a) whether you like this kind of music and know who the bands actually are, or b) how stoned you are. 1991 was a pivotal twelve months for music (grunge in particular), as it was during that year that Nirvana conjured up a mini-revolution of sorts by crashing into the charts with "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and, subsequently, "Nevermind". The Year Punk Broke attempts to capture the madness both before and while it happens (if that makes any sense). "Witness the boredom. The cynicism!" reads the blurb on the back-cover. Watch the bands piss about backstage. See Thurston and co. (all signed to major labels) whinge about corporate mass-marketing, while mocking several hapless yet friendly locals. Again, this spectacle will divide opinion, but I can't help but chuckle. Like, coooool, Beavis. Huh, huh! However, no-one could deny that there are some incendiary live performances on display here. Nirvana are at their punk-rock best, and Kurt actually looks like he's enjoying himself, both on and offstage. Dinosaur Jr ...

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker´s Apocalypse (1991) 24/02/2001

Whoops apocalypse

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker´s Apocalypse (1991) Apocalypse Now was an extraordinarily gripping film, but this famous documentary almost rivals it for sheer compulsive viewing. Filmed by director Francis Ford Coppola's wife, Eleanor, during the troubled three year shoot (she also published a book-cum-diary entitled "Notes"), it's kind of like eavesdropping on a group of people who are having a collective nervous breakdown. The obstacles Coppola had to overcome just to get the film made stack up before your very eyes, and the film acts as a cautionary tale on how NOT to direct a movie: The helicopters on loan from the Phillipino goverment are repeatedly called away to fight during key scenes; Harvey Keitel, who was originally to play Capt. Willard, was fired weeks into shooting, to be replaced by Martin Sheen. Sheen went on to have a major heart attack, a happening that prompted a desperate Coppola to scream (on record) "He's not dead until I say he's dead!"; Marlon Brando, on a salary of $1,000,000 a week for a three week contract, turned up massively overweight, having neither learned his lines nor even read the source novel, Joseph Conrad's "Heart's Of Darkness". Pretty much every word he utters in the finished film is spontaneously improvised, although it actually improves the film by making it even more 'far out'. Some of the outtakes are featured here, proving that Brando only had a moderate success rate in coming up with decent lines; Coppola discovers that the supposedly fake cadavers being used for the film's ...

In Session (Live Recording) - Dinosaur Jr. 24/02/2001

When dinosaurs ruled the earth

In Session (Live Recording) - Dinosaur Jr. Throughout the nineties, Dinosaur Jr were often accused of being pretty sloppy and disinterested when playing live. Mainman J Mascis (the only constant in the group's line-up during its 13 year life-span) just didn't seem to give a damn. However, this collection of BBC recordings (handpicked by Mascis himself) from between 1988 and 1993 proves that in their earlier incarnation, Dino were a tight little unit. Versions of songs from their first three LPS, classics all, are all faster and heavier than their original incarnations, but are actually better for it. "Raisans", "In A Jar" and "Bulbs Of Passion", three of my favourites, are all included here and seem ready to burst with intensity. The squalling solos almost ache with emotional release and the drumming is mental. Although not really sequenced chronologically, the nineties material occupies the second half of the LP and is more mellow and countrified - just perfect to chill out to after what has gone before. I wouldn't recommend this as an introduction to the wonderful world of Dino, but it comes highly recommended for enthusiasts. Better still, if you like this than try and get hold of a copy of 'Jayloumurph', an official bootleg of a 1988 New York Show, which features even better versions of some of these tracks.
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