Friday, July 29, 2011

Double Dragon (NES Game)

If you think Double Dragon is old school cooperative beat 'em up madness, you're probably thinking of Double Dragon II. Double Dragon still has many elements of a good game, but it's not nearly as good as future Double Dragon games would be.

The first thing you'll notice with Double Dragon is that although it features a two player mode, it does not feature cooperative gameplay. This means that your friend will have to sit with controller in hand doing nothing like he's Luigi waiting for Mario to die. Part of the fun of beat 'em ups is playing with a friend and pretending that you're not secretly pleased when your score is higher than your partner's, or fighting doubly hard when your score is behind. The arcade version of this game had co-op gameplay, so it's hard not to deduct a few points there.

Many of the things that made the Double Dragon series great are included in this game. You still have the large pointing hand that tells you where to go (a beat 'em up staple). There are still many weapons that can be picked up and used for short periods of time (whips, knives, barrels, etc.). The female enemies still look like lesbians, and the bosses are still so large they can't possibly be human. There are still the remains of a good game in Double Dragon.

Digger T. Rock (NES Game)

Digger T. Rock is a Montezuma's Revenge-ish/ Boulderdash-ish game in which you play a cut little miner kid armed with a shovel. Your goal is to explore each level by digging through the dirt and collecting treasure while avoiding baddies such as mosquitoes.

Here's the good, the bad, and the ugly as far as this game goes. The good- Your character is well animated, especially in death. His corpse will rot quickly in front of you like he drank from the wrong grail. It's a pretty cool effect. The digging animation is also nicely done. I also enjoy the fact that once you trip the countdown for your exit, a little clock in the lower left hand of the screen will count down to zero as a door slowly slides shut. It causes a nice level of panic when you can't remember where the door was. It's like Descent: you may want to explore the level a little before tripping the exit button, otherwise you'll never find your way out. The Bad- You're fairly defenseless. You can swing your little shovel at the mosquitoes, but it's much easier for them to take life from you than vice versa. You also start out with some rocks in your arsenal, and it seems that the computer will choose which weapon you use depending on what you're fighting. You can also pick up dynamite and other weapons/tools, but I found it as easy to kill myself with these things as it was to kill enemies. Maybe I'm just bad at this game. I don't play it often, so that's a very realistic possibility. The Ugly- All the backgrounds are ugly. The first level is puke colored with a puke colored door. The second level is teal (a color that seemed to take over everything in the 90's for no good reason) with a pink door, which is still an unsightly combo. The third level is a brownish orange with a grey door. I don't know about the others because I didn't bother to get that far. The game just isn't that visually appealing.

If you put the pros and cons of this game on an old-timey balance, I think it tips slightly toward the cons. Sure, there are some very nice pros to this game but the cons cannot be ignored. And I think this is the last time I'll do a good, bad, and ugly-style review.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Jason Falkner-Presents Author Unknown

Jason Falkner is the former lead guitarist of Jellyfish. Jellyfish is my #2 favorite band of all time (yes, even though they only had 2 studio albums). There was no question as to whether or not I would enjoy his solo work. My brain wouldn't let me not like it.

The big question for any artist stepping out on their own after being a member of a quintessential band (you may not consider Jellyfish a quintessential band, but if you're a power pop fan they're as important as The Beatles) is whether or not they will sound like the band they came from. Jason Falkner sounds enough like his own self to make his solo albums worth owning and enjoying.

Every song on Author Unknown is a work of pure pop craft. Part of the reason Falkner left Jellyfish was because he didn't feel like he was getting a fair shake with songwriting duties. When you hear some of the gems on this album such as "Before My Heart Attacks" and "Miss Understanding" it's easy to see why Falkner felt he had more to offer Jellyfish. If you like power pop, chances are you'll like this. I know I do (man that's a dumb way to end a review).

The Exies-Inertia

I really don't do this kind of music. This modern rock metal-ish alternative Edge 103.9 crap. This is music for musclehead guys who wear wife-beaters (their words, not mine), have barb-wire tattoos, and stand outside convenience stores and ask innocent passers-by like myself questions to which there isn't a right answer like, "What are you looking at?!" It's music for people who don't like music but like to feel like they're cool. It's music for people who have no taste and still want to bang their heads.

If this is the way I feel about The Exies, Hoobastank, Chevelle, and other such similar schlock, why then is this CD in my collection? Two reasons: 1) I got it for free. I own a promo copy that the record store I used to frequent didn't want to play. They handed it to me with some other free stuff that may or may not have been any good (I think I got Kenna's debut album in that pile, and it was really good. I can't say for certain, though). 2) Sometimes I like to listen to this kind of music. Yes, about once a year I'll make a mix of this exact type of crappy overproduced rock and pretend I'm a tough guy. Why? I don't know. I have needs that Nick Drake can't always meet.

Anyway, this album is some pretty standard crappy crap. It's not unique, it's not original. It won't stick in your head and it won't be remembered years from now. If you can acquire a copy of it for free, I recommend it for those days when you want to listen to crap (like how sometimes you really want to eat McDonald's even though you know it will absolutely disappoint).

Evita-The Complete Motion Picture Soundtrack

There was a time (1997 to 2002) when if you would have asked me what my favorite movie was, I would have told you it was Evita. Now that we're a  few years down the road, I don't even know if that was ever true. There was this girl that I liked and she liked Evita as much as I did. We watched it over and over again and sang along. Then, instead of dating me she dated my best friend. Then she broke his heart and dated half the guys in the known universe and lied to me about it. Needless to say, there are still some emotions linked to Evita for me that are hard to separate from the film and the music itself.

Ok then. Fact is: despite feeling like an idiot every time I like an Andrew Lloyd Weber creation, I really like the story and music of Evita. Eva Peron is still such an interesting figure that the story of her dubious rise to the top, her controversial actions while at the top, and her sad decline make her a great subject for a musical. If even half of the things depicted in the musical are based in fact, Eva Peron is still fascinating.

Madonna performs the role of Eva well enough. There are a few times when her voice seems a bit too thin to give the songs the to-the-rafters Broadway-esque treatment they deserve, but Madonna plays Eva in her declining years perfectly. Antonio Banderas is surprisingly good as Che, and Jonathan Pryce plays an able Juan Peron.

I can still sing about 85% of this musical from memory, which is nice. Instead of limiting this album to my headphones as I usually do, I patched this one into my new monitor system and played it for the whole house to hear. I was surprised at how much of the musical my wife knows from memory. Anyway, I still love every little bit of Evita. It's a great Broadway show that became a great movie with a great soundtrack. Watch the movie, buy the soundtrack.

Eurythmics-Greatest Hits

I find Annie Lennox incredibly weird and not at all attractive. I thought I'd throw that out there right at the first. I guess my dominant white male mind would prefer that I be attracted to the female lead singer of whichever group I happen to be listening to at any given moment, but that isn't the case with Eurythmics. The beauty of not being attracted to Annie Lennox is that I am able to listen to the music without being encumbered by the various things that my brain does on the side when listening to ...oh...say Susanna Hoffs (my brain is in love with her).

Eurythmics are always better than I remember them being. I always think of them as this somewhat dark and weird cousin to Erasure and other such bands, but I forget how good the actual music is. There are 14 songs on this greatest hits compilation and you can mark me down as a fan of a solid 11 of them. That's a pretty high shooting percentage. Jimmer would be lucky to do so well in the NBA.

I could go off on other tangents, but the one I really want to go off on is "Sisters are Doin' it For Themselves." Now I think of myself as a pretty evolved man, especially for a white guy. I think women deserve a fair shake, and I've gone so far as to say so on blogs that nobody reads. That's why I find myself more than qualified to say that feminists should cut the Lilith Fair crap, ditch Helen Reddy's "I am Woman" and just stick with "Sisters are Doin' it For Themselves" as the all-time feminist anthem. Lilith Fair sucks. Mainly I don't like Sarah McLachlan and her boring music. Also, "I am Woman" is the least anthemic anthem I have ever heard. Mel Torme is edgier than Helen Reddy, and he's the Velvet Fog. The original version of "I am Woman" is so understated it could be drowned out by an infant sighing heavily. "Sisters are Doing it For Themselves" is in-yer-face with attitude and soul. It says everything that needs to be said and does so with gusto. If you want de facto oppressors like me to shake in our booties, you have to go with the right song. Thank you.

Erasure-Light at the End of the World

Light at the End of the World is the best and most dance-worthy Erasure album of the new millennium. I wasn't as crazy about Loveboat and Nightbird as I am about this album, but be that as it may I still have to be a realist about things.

if you asked me right now, I wouldn't be able to hum a single song from this album and I've listened to it half a dozen times already. As you must surely know by the sheer number of Erasure albums I own (I own several more in digital formats than I own on CD) I am an Erasure fan. I know a lot of their songs by heart. The fact that I enjoy this album every time I listen to it yet says something about it, but the fact that I can't remember a single note of it after I turn it off says something else. This is the perfect disposable Erasure album.

Because it's disposable, I can't rank it very highly. This is a bit disconcerting to me because I really and truly enjoy Light at the End of the World every time I listen to it. I just don't know what to do with this album. How good is it really? Are my impressions of it tainted by the fact that I'm predisposed to like Erasure albums? I really don't know the answers so I'll play it safe and give this thing...

Erasure-Other People's Songs

Here's where I get a little hypocritical. When music critics pile on cover albums like The Band's Moondog Matinee and Bowie's Pin-Ups by saying that they represent an evolutionary step backward and aren't worth owning, I'm usually the guy who defends those albums. I love knowing the songs The Band wishes they would have written and the artists that influenced David Bowie. I think these albums are much better than critics would have me believe and that songs like "Share Your Love" and "Friday on My Mind" are too good to not be covered. Basically I make the point that if a band or artist wants to make a cover album, it's well within their right. As long as they bring a little something different to the songs they're covering, the result should be at least worth a listen or two.

Other People's Songs is Erasure's cover album, and I don't like it very much. Yes, they bring something different to every single one of the songs they cover. Yes, it's interesting to see the artists that influenced Erasure. It's just that this album isn't that good. The songs in their original forms are perfectly fine, so it's not that they picked duds. It's just that the songs they picked don't sound good when performed by Erasure. It's as simple as that.

The best song on the whole album is the first track, "Solsbury Hill." The thing about it is that I would much rather listen to the Peter Gabriel version and I usually like Erasure more than I like Peter Gabriel. There are even two Righteous Brothers covers on this album. If you want to know what a cover gone wrong sounds like, listen to Andy Bell singing "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'." There's a better version of the song on Top Gun, and I cringe during that scene in Top Gun.

Much as I love to defend cover albums and much as I'd like to think that an Erasure cover album would be a good thing, it's not. If Erasure had put out an album covering Pet Shop Boys, New Order, and Depeche Mode I think it would have been much more successful, but as is Other People's Music is a flop.


Erasure's self-titled album apparently didn't chart well, and the followup to that album, Cowboy, represents a return to the 3 minute radio-friendly danceable synthpop Erasure is known for.

I have listened to the opening track to this album no less than 100 times. For some reason it made its way onto every single mix tape I made from 1997 to 2001. The funny thing is that if you had asked me at the time whether or not "Rain" was my favorite song, I would have said that it was not and that I preferred Weezer's "Say it Ain't So." If mix tapes are an indication of truth, I would have been lying. That's why I'm glad nobody asked me that question. As a matter of fact, from 1996 to 2005 nobody took an interest in my interest in music. I was secretly amassing a large CD collection and a vast knowledge of musical history, which was completely useless to me until 2005-ish when I finally started meeting girls who were actually impressed that I knew anything about Ronnie James Dio's life history. Knowledge is power, kids. But I digress.

Cowboy is a very good Erasure album. Each and every song is finely crafted Erasure-style pop. I have never been able to put my finger on what makes this album different, however. Cowboy really marks the start of the modern age of Erasure. I Say I Say I Say had sonic textures than didn't appear in any of their earlier work, but the songs themselves fit nicely with the previous 4 albums. Cowboy almost sounds like an altogether different group than the one that made I Say I Say I Say (typing that album title is exactly as annoying as saying it).

Anyway, since I can't put my finger on what makes Cowboy different, I won't bore you with any attempts to wrap my brain around it. I'll do that on my own dang time. Let's just suffice it to say that Cowboy fits better with Loveboat and Nightbird than it does with Chorus and The Circus. I highly recommend Cowboy, even the somewhat comical cover of the Burt Bacharach tune "Magic Moments."


Now here's an odd little entry in the Erasure Discography. Six studio albums into their career they decide to release a self-titled album that is almost completely different than everything they had done up to that point.

The first thing you notice about this album is that the tracks are long. The shortest song on the album (not counting the 3 minute intro) is five and a half minutes long. There's even a song that breaks the ten minute mark. This ain't your grampappy's Erasure. Also, your grampappy listens to Erasure?

Erasure's songs are lengthy because they take a meandering ambient approach. Songs blend into each other and melodies fade in an out awash in a sea of humming and whirring ambient synth noise. It's like Erasure went Eno on us. The songs themselves are lovely. Practically every one of them is a heartfelt love song. Melodies to songs like "Sono Luminus" and "Rock Me Gently" are simply beautiful. It's just that it might take a full three and a half minutes into the song for the melody to appear. This is, without question, Erasure's most experimental album.

When Erasure first came out, my friends and I found each other asking, "So how do you like the new Erasure album?" (once again, I lived in a strange world. Also, none of us are gay. Just thought I'd throw that in there) and the answer was always, "It's interesting." I think we all secretly wished the songs were at least 2 minutes shorter and that they got to the point. At least that's how I felt when I was in high school. Now that I'm double the age I was when this album debuted, I feel differently. I enjoy Erasure's meandering approach. It's a great album to put on while you're doing something else because it'll just strike you multiple times with sheer beauty that your brain isn't expecting because it's doing something else. I know that sounds like a knock on this album, but it really isn't.

Erasure- I Say I Say I Say

This is the greatest Erasure album in the history of Erasure albums. Nothing else in the Erasure catalog can touch its majesty and anyone who thinks differently simply hasn't done their homework.

I remember vividly the summer this album came out. It was mere months before I started high school and this album was the soundtrack to my summer. Because I was going to be entering high school, my parents let me hang out with my sister and her friends. I got to go to parties and yuck it up with actual high school kids (remember when high schoolers seemed impossibly old and incredibly mature? Now they seem like the youngest and least mature people in the known universe). Everyone I knew was listening to this album. I made great effort to memorize the lyrics to this album, which paid dividends. The very people I wanted to impress were, in fact, impressed with my knowledge of Erasure lyrics. I was living in a strange world, but I loved it.

Nostalgia aside, I Say I Say I Say is the best collection of Erasure songs to appear on a single album (yes, I'm including their greatest hits in that statement). Not only do these songs blend perfectly with each other, they are individually astounding. Every single song from the wistful "Take Me Back" to the pulsing "Run to the Sun" to the simply lovely "Because You're So Sweet" could have been singles and they would have charted (at least in the UK). This is the Erasure equivalent to Ash's Free All Angels. I defy you to find a more solid top-to-bottom Erasure album. It can't be done.

Erasure-The Two Ring Circus

The Two Ring Circus is an album that takes previously existing Erasure music and presents it in the form of remixes, live cuts, and (best of all) orchestral arrangements. It was released shortly after Erasure's second album, The Circus, and that's why it focuses solely on material from the first two Erasure albums.

The remixes on this album are not interesting in the least. They add nothing to the songs themselves and, if anything, add unwanted length to songs that were fine in their original forms. That's the way it is with 90% of remixes.

The live tracks are clearly taken from a show in Germany. Andy Bell makes a few attempts to speak a little German and the crowd just eats it up. The live tracks are pretty good. The two highlights are "Oh L'Amour" (the first version of the song I ever heard was the live version presented here. I got it on a mix tape that someone made for a friend's sister and it took years of looking to finally track down the right live version of "Oh L'Amour") and "Gimme Gimme Gimme" which could have easily been included on Abba-Esque.

The real highlight of the album are the orchestral arrangements. These contain no synths whatsoever. It's just Andy Bell and an orchestra. They picked three of the most gorgeous Erasure tunes to give this treatment to ("If I Could" "Spiralling" and best of them all: "My Heart...So Blue") and the effect is fantastic. Those three songs are the best reason to own this album.

This album is a pretty good listen once you get past the redundancies of the remixes. I recommend the back half of this album a lot more highly than the front half.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Find a Phone. Now Hold It.

Hey everybody (still pretending this blog has any readership) so I reached another nerdy landmark in my life over the past week. As you know if you've been reading this blog since the beginning (and you haven't) is that I only recently started reading comic books. It started with X-Men and has branched out in a few different directions, but I'm still very much a neophyte. All of the comics I have read thus far have been digital. The problem is that I have a desire to own some actual ink and paper comics, but I live in a very small town with nary a comic book store in sight.

As luck would have it, last week my wife had a conference out of town, and I got to crash in her hotel room. It was really quite the swank resort and not the sort of place we'd ever stay in if it were our own dollars on the line. Anyway, I was in a bona fide city albeit one with an inferior college football team (you heard me) and I made a point of finding a purveyor of comic books and purchasing a few choice titles for myself. Here's what I got:

Alpha Flight v. 1 issue #16

I don't know why but I thought it would be a good idea to start my collection with Alpha Flight. This is a comic that has been dead 3 times already, but I like Canadians.

Anyway, the store I was in had practically nothing in the way of back issues. If it looks like I just bought everything they had in the way of Alpha Flight, that is correct. I cleaned 'em out.

That particular comic book store also features a door that looks exactly like an entrance to the store, and it happens to be right next to the entrance to the store, but it's really a room with nothing but folding tables and chairs and guys playing Magic: The Gathering who have been instructed to look at you disdainfully. Nerd bullies.

Alpha Flight v. 1 issue #46

I'm pretty excited to read these, but I'm planning on starting to read Alpha Flight starting with volume 1 issue 1 and I'll just pull these out when I get to 'em. One of the reasons I didn't get into comics earlier is that it would be financially impossible for me to start reading something like X-Men from the first issue onward, and I like to start things at the beginning. It's the way I was raised.

Alpha Flight v. 1 issue #62

One of the underrated reasons for collecting comic books is that the ads get more hilariously awesome the older they are. On the back cover of this issue is an ad for the Star Wars video game on Atari and Commodore home computers. Awesome.

Alpha Flight v. 1 issue #121

This is the last of the volume 1 Alpha Flight comics I bought. Something tells me it won't be hard to collect all the Alpha Flight there ever was. There were only 130 issues in the first volume 20 in the second and 12 in the third. That's really not too bad as far as comic books go.
Alpha Flight issue # 0.1

Now here's something I'm really excited about: brand new Alpha Flight. The series has been re-launched. Let's hope it lasts longer than 12 issues this time. I already read this issue and loved it. From all the comics I've read so far, Alpha Flight always seems to face underratedly awesome foes, and this issue is no exception. I won't give any spoilers because this issue is still fairly new, but suffice it to say that I'm super excited for the newest incarnation of Alpha Flight.

Infinite Crisis TPB

I pretty much had to buy this one. I used to have a roommate who constantly hounded me, trying to get me to read comic books. I successfully fought off all his attempts, but now that I've succumbed to the temptation I thought it only fitting that I buy Infinite Crisis because he tried to get me to read it several times.

I haven't read it yet, but I'm almost ready to. I've already read Crisis on Infinite Earths, Zero Hour, and many pre and post-crisis comics that have helped me understand the significance of everything that's gone on. Now I'm making my way through the multi-story Countdown to Infinite Crisis. I'll probably hit this thing by the end of the week. It looks good. Also, all these crises are the first DC comics I've ever read. Of course the only Marvel I've ever read is X-Men. I'll work to change that...eventually.

All in all I think this is a pretty good haul for my first time ever buying actual ink and paper comic books. I'm sure there will be many more to follow. Bless my wife for being so understanding. She has to put up with a lot.


Erasure loves ABBA apparently. They love them so much that they made this 4 track cover EP. I've heard a lot of ABBA covers in my day (Have you heard Pierce Brosnan sing? It's terrifying) and most of them are not that good. ABBA had a special something that just made them untouchable by most mere mortals. Erasure is possibly the only group I've ever heard cover them not only ably, but with gusto. Mucho gusto.

The only knock I have on this EP is that it isn't longer. Why couldn't they have covered "The Winner Takes it All" "Super Trouper" or "Andante Andante" in addition to what they did cover ("Lay All Your Love on Me" "S.O.S." "Take a Chance on Me" and "Voulez Vous")? I guess the real test of this EP is that it left me wanting a whole lot more. Andy Bell's voice is perfect for ABBA and Vince Clarke's backing tracks breathe new life into these songs. It's just very very well done and it's a shame there isn't more of it.

Erasure-The Innocents

The Innocents is pretty close to the top as far as my favorite Erasure albums go. I first found out about this one because of my friend Richard. There was usually a significant overlap in the albums that my friends and I owned. Each of us had our own copy of Violator, Very, and Pop! but for some reason Richard was the only one among us who owned The Innocents. That made it somewhat of a novelty and a coveted possession.

The music itself is generally fantastic. This is where the only Erasure song that non-Erasure fans know comes from ("A Little Respect." If you asked most people, that would be the only Erasure song they know. Its Pet Shop Boys counterpart is "West End Girls"). The Innocents is a very good album. Most of the songs are highly enjoyable, but there are a couple missteps. First there's Sixty-Five Thousand, a pointless and baffling adaptation of Pennsylvania 6-5000. It is the very epitome of album filler. The other misstep is the cover of River Deep, Moutain High which is equally baffling and pointless. The funny thing is that without these tracks, the album would still have 11 songs which is one more than standard album length.

Even though the two aforementioned fillers were not left on the cutting room floor, there are plenty of hidden gems on The Innocents. Songs like "Phantom Bride" and "Witch in the Ditch" are as good as anything on any other Erasure album. "Yahoo!" seems a little silly at first, but it's a personal guilty pleasure. "When I Needed You" should be the last song on the album, and if it were it would close things out perfectly. It's a gorgeous and heartfelt number.


This is Erasure's first album. I didn't own it until I already owned at least 5 of their later albums. You know how sometimes you can get to know a band really well from their later work and then you go back and buy their debut it sounds like crap compared to what they would eventually become? This is not the case with Erasure. They came out spitting pure fire as a fully-realized group from the very start.

Seriously, they had "Oh L'Amour" on this album which is one of their greatest and most timeless hits. The only throwaway on the whole album is "Say What." If you listen to Pop! first and then go back and listen to Wonderland, you'll be shocked at how much of the album is worthy of being on Pop! It's just that good.

Erasure- Pop! The First 20 Hits

In high school all my friends were big into synthpop. I started high school in 1994, so we definitely weren't with the times, so to speak. We were still hung up on bands whose heydays were in the 80s, a decade that dared not speak its name in the 90s.

There were 3 albums that, more than any others, formed the basis of our collective musical taste. Those albums were Discography by Pet Shop Boys, Violator by Depeche Mode, and Pop! The first 20 Hits by Erasure (surprisingly, none of us are gay). Erasure was part of the synthpop tri-force (with New Order coming in a close 4th) and this greatest hits album is as good a place to familiarize yourself with Erasure as any.

I have listened to this album from top to bottom no less than 30 times, and my enjoyment of it has not diminished at all. It has the obvious hits like "Oh L'Amour" and "A Little Respect" but also some lesser-knowns that I really love like "Am I Right?" and "You Surround Me." It has dance floor classics like "Chorus" and "Love to Hate You" and great love songs like "Heavenly Action." If you want to experience the full scope of what Erasure was capable of in their early career, this is where to start.

Electronic- s/t

Did you ever listen to New Order and wonder what they would be like if you mixed in a healthy portion of The Smiths and added a pinch of Pet Shop Boys? That's exactly what Electronic's first album sounds like, and if you're a fan of any of the three aforementioned bands you owe it to yourself to hear it.

Electronic's first self-titled album really does sound a lot like a New Order album with Smiths and Pet Shop Boys added in, and there's no reason they shouldn't. This is the pet project of Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr that Neil Tennant somehow shoehorned his way into (probably by pointing out the fact that he's Neil Tennant).

Two of the tracks on this album sound exactly like Pet Shop Boys tracks that could easily be placed alongside anything on Alternative. Those two tracks are, "Getting Away With It" and "Patience of a Saint" which are incoincidentally the two tracks that Neil Tennant got involved with. I happen to love Alternative, so the aforementioned two tracks are among my favorites on this album.

The rest of the album shows much more New Order influence, but you can hear Johnny Marr's guitar churning away and adding his two bits to every track. This is one collaboration that succeeds in every detail. Sumner and Marr are in perfect harmony and seem to know exactly where they want the music to go, and that's really saying something.

In a world where "supergroups" are all too often much less than the sum of their parts, Electronic is a major success. As a matter of fact, I'll say it right out that Republic would not have been as fantastic as it was had Bernard Sumner not spent some quality time with Johnny Marr.

Elastica- The Menace

I bought Elastica's debut album in 1998, three years after the hubub over the band had died down considerably. I was not aware that they had released a mostly-forgotten second album until 2004 or so, which was a full three years after the band had broken up. Suffice it to say that I was never on the blade's edge when it came to Elastica. That's probably why I didn't toss their albums out like everyone else in the world seemed to do. I wasn't even buying their albums until everyone else in the world started tossing them out.

The Menace continues what Elastica started. It's still quite angular and raw, but The Menace brings a lot more sonic textures to the table than Elastica did. For example, "Miami Nice" sounds like nothing else in the Elastica catalog. It could easily be a Factory Records track. "My Sex" is practically Bjork-ish. Like I said, Elastica's debut sounded a lot like Blur but with girls and harder rocking. The Menace is still like girlyrock Blur on many of the tracks, but it also strays from the formula on a few tracks.

All in all The Menace is about par for the course as far as Elastica albums go. I don't dig it nearly as much as I dug their self-titled debut, but I still dig it enough to use the word, "dig" four times in a single sentence. Dig?

Elastica- s/t

Elastica happened in 1995 (and again in 2000, but most people noticed in 1995) but I didn't get my grubby mitts on their self-titled debut until 1998 when it could be easily found in bargain bins and thrift stores.

In 1995 every music mag was hailing Elastica as this musical juggernaut that would take over the world, destroy it, and re-shape it in their own image like some sort of musical Parallax (okay, maybe they didn't use those exact terms, but they definitely used that tone). And, as I already stated, three years later they were in thrift stores and bargain bins. I honestly don't know what happened to Elastica, but it doesn't really matter. I have this album as a document which proves that they did in fact rock and that they were in fact awesome.

Elastica's debut album is an angular and raw. It's what Blur would have been if all their songs were a lot more like "Song 2" and if everyone but the drummer was female. The songs are fairly short, but there are 16 of them, so the album never really lets up. Elastica definitely belongs in my personal "Sisters are Doing it For Themselves" hall of fame along with the likes of Veruca Salt and Cub. I don't know why the rest of the world gave up on Elastica, but I never did (of course I got on the train a few years late). They still sound as good to me now as the day I picked this album out of a discount bin.


I don't know what it is about the genetic makeup of Scandinavians that makes them prone to making good music, but there has to be something there. Eggstone is the umpteen-thousandth good band to come out of the region. Also, they may have the dumbest name of any Swede-pop outfit. Just thought I'd throw that in there.

Anyway, if you are at all a connoisseur of fine hand-crafted pop from Scandinavia, Eggstone should scratch your itch. They're bright, shiny, jangly, joyful, and wonderful. Somersault is the best Eggstone album I have ever come across. It's pure power pop executed perfectly. Check out "Desdemona" if you want to know all about it 'bout it.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Eagles- Hell Freezes Over

When this album came out, it seemed like everyone I knew owned it. At the time I was a speech and debate champ who spent most of his weekends with kids from other schools in the area doing nerdy things in between rounds of competitive oration. One of the non-nerdy things we did was rock out to whatever CD's we happened to bring. Hell Freezes Over was always in the mix.

I can't say for sure whether or not this was one of the top selling albums of 1994 for two reasons 1) A lot of the kids I hung out with were from Winslow (the place where Glenn Frey stood on a corner. That corner is now part of a park which houses a statue which may or may not be Glenn Frey. Did I mention that there's not a lot going on in Winslow?) and Winslow still takes The Eagles very seriously. Perhaps more so than any other town in America. 2) I'm too lazy to look up the actual figures for sales of this album. Frankly, it doesn't matter to me what this album did nationally because it was very important to those of us who competed in speech and debate in that part of the state.

Hell Freezes Over doesn't really bring much in the way of new Eagles material. There are a few new tracks crowded in at the top of the album, and they are more or less good. Then the album turns to live material. All of the live tracks are easily recognizable Eagles hits. The live stuff is pretty good, but there's really only one reason to own this album. One song on this album got played way more than any other, and don't let the fact that there were kids from Winslow involved sway you into thinking I'm talking about "Take it Easy." The real reason anyone ever bought this album was because of the live acoustic version of "Hotel California." 

For some reason the acoustic version had the right groove that made all the girls whirl around like gypsies and all the guys bob their heads as they watched the girls whirl. We once had a speech meet in Bullhead City, an unsightly trailer park just across the border from Laughlin, Nevada. The town was a dustbowl bereft of anything interesting, but the school cafeteria had a jukebox and "Hotel California" from Hell Freezes Over was one of the tracks on the box. We must have pumped a baker's dozen of quarters into that machine and hit "Hotel California" every time. We never got tired of it. It was our jam.

Although as a discerning appreciator of musics I can't give Hell Freezes Over the highest marks available, I will give it more than it deserves. It's really a sort of cobbled-together album that was probably hastily prepared to support an Eagles reunion. Be that as it may, it will always be connected to a special time in my life. I'll never be king of the nerds again like I was in high school, but this album always brings back memories of the time when I was.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Demon Sword (NES Game)

Demon Sword is at the very least an interesting game. It definitely has its fans in the NES world, but I'm not really one of them. I bought this game mainly because I didn't know where I stood on its ridiculous gameplay and ninja antics. I know now and soon you will too.

As always the elephant in the room in discussing Demon Sword or its sister game Legend of Kage are the jumps that make wire fighting look physically plausible. By pressing the up button once on your controller you will be able  to soar above the treetops by making a jump that would be impossible for even the most bionic of men (or women). Another push of the up button and you'll be high above the trees and into the clear blue sky where not a single interesting thing happens.

Because of the vast heights that you can jump to, it is often difficult to figure out where you should be and who you should be killing in this game. This is not a great feature for a martial arts beat 'em up. Of course Demon Sword has its followers who aren't bothered by the crazy high-flying antics featured in this game, but I have only seen these people online and have yet to meet one in real life. I can see how fans of Crouching tiger Hidden Dragon might develop an affinity for this game, but I assume these people are in the minority.

You start and stay as a man in a dress, and as you play you pick up pieces of the Demon Sword. Your sword is stubby and fairly ineffective at first, but as you beat a few bosses and whatnot, it'll grow in size and effectiveness. That's basically the point of the whole game: kill bad guys, kill bosses, collect sword pieces, wear a dress. Not only is the gameplay crazy and unrealistic, it's also boring. You'll beat up the same bad guy again and again. It just gets stale very quickly.

Let me take a moment and say a nice thing or two about this game and the fine people at Taito who made it. They took a chance. They really tried to go big on this one, and you can't say they didn't give their all. Demon Sword is at least playable, so it's better than Super Pitfall. It's not a complete train wreck and I can see how white guys with too much time on their hands and an obsession with all things Asian might enjoy this game. I just really didn't have fun with it. I played it and it wasn't fun. What more can I say?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Darkwing Duck (NES Game)

Darkwing Duck is an enjoyable platformer based on the popular Disney character from the early 90s. It feels a lot like Bionic Commando. It almost feels a little too much like Bionic Commando in places. There is one enemy in particular (that I'm too lazy to get captures of) that is almost exactly the same in both games. Darkwing Duck isn't close enough to Bionic Commando for lawsuit purposes, but it's definitely suspicious.

Legal matters aside, Darkwing Duck is a fine game. Darkwing is well-animated as are his enemies. The levels are well-designed and are difficult enough to provide a decent challenge but not so hard that you'll throw up your hands in despair. Unlike the aforementioned Bionic Commando, Darkwing doesn't have a bionic arm. He does, however, have the ability to grab onto many structures, some of which feel a whole lot like the lights you swing from in Bionic Commando. I'm not going to stop harping on this Bionic Commando thing because I've already written it and right or wrong I'm moving forward with it.

Bionic Commando comparisons aside, Darkwing Duck is a fine game. The gameplay is simple, the graphics are rich and vibrant (especially for an NES game), the levels are fun to play, and it's a total ripoff of Bionic Commando (See? I told you I wouldn't stop).