Monday, October 31, 2005

Confessions of an English Cold Remedy Eater

With the weather here going from cold and wet, to suddenly sunny at the end of October, it's no wonder that colds and flus abound. Bang on cue, my throat began to feel abrased and my head like it had digested something it didn't like. I knew sniffling and only feeling acceptable if languishing in bed were not too far behind. In the end the flu that hit me was over pretty quickly in all departments except the throat which continued to feel like it had a rather fat and rough toad stuck in if for several days.

The one thing this did bring to my attention is that you cannot get Lemsip here. The thing I do remember from the UK was that when I had a cold, there was a whole array of treatments on offer that did usually seem to help. There was a variety, too. Those that warned of "drowsiness" as a side effect, were great for last thing at night, and the "non-drowsy" ones actually seemed to keep you awake.

In the Netherlands there are two interchangable products that are not really any better than having a warm, lemon drink (which is a very good thing if you have a cold or flu, but if a warm, lemon drink was working, you wouldn't be in the chemist (like, pharmacist) trying to buy something with chemicals in the first place. Well, I wouldn't.) For some reason the UK products are banned here. That's right, in the land of the tolerant drug laws and legalised "coffeeshops" where you can buy soft drugs over the counter, Lemsip is a banned substance. Lemsip!

When the recent flu hit, I lamented this, but a friend of mine, whom I will call "My Dealer," had some that she had brought back from a trip to England.

Now one reason for this ban could be that the "non-drowsy" agent is in fact related to speed. Distantly related. Probably the same distant relationship that Mickey Mouse has with Speedy Gonzales. But this doesn't make too much sense, really. And means that it is easier to get ahold of actual Speed than it is to get hold of its helpful, distant cousin.

To answer this, I have decided to open up a "Coughingshop" where sick people can go and get illicit drugs such as Lemsip and Beechams. Now you'll know where to go if you're ever in the Netherlands and you want to score some Night Nurse.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Album Review: Richmond Fontaine - The Fitzgerald

There has been a movement of late to make Country cool. Let me put this out there, Country will never be cool. You may as well ask, will it ever be hip to have a pick-up truck in your front yard up on 4 bricks with grass growing out of it. No, it won't. Country may reach the heights of kitsch, occasionally be savvy, and even throw out the occassional good song. But cool? No way, Joakim.

In recent years there have been movements such as (Country Indie), serious cross-over attempts and even Country heroes covering Nine Inch Nails songs. Nice attempts, but these are the exceptions, not the norm. Country will always be the illiterate, illegitimate son of rock'n'roll and folk music. It will always live in backwater shacks with its sibling / partner, Western.

That doesn't mean that amongst the sewage you can't occasionally stumble upon a watch or ring that someone has dropped. If you'll forgive the imagry.

NB: Officiados of Country and Western music, won't mind a bit of what I say. They consider themselves a breed apart. Well, an inbreed apart. They probably welcome the derision of outsiders as the herecy of the non-believer. This attitude was best summed up in the film The Blues Brothers when they blag a gig at a giant shack of a bar. "What kind of music do you guys have here?" they ask. "Both kinds." replies the proprieter, "Country AND Western."

Richmond Fontaine belong to the recent movement. They are lo-fi balladiers, croniclers of bleak, dispossessed lives. A sort of Tindersticks from the sticks. Except they are not from the sticks. They sing of urban decay: desperate crimes gone wrong; sad and lonely deaths; cheap sex in unfulfilling motels. Don't expect to bounce up and down at a Richmond Fontaine gig. But do expect to be richly rewarded with beautifully-painted verbal-imagry, even if the palette is very dark indeed.

PS since writing the review, I did go to a Richmond Fontaine gig. They are a lot more upbeat live, than their last album suggest. More than Mourn-o-billy.

Rating: 3 dead ex-con thumbs poking up from the undergrowth.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Album Review: dEUS - Pocket Revolution

Not sure if the title of the latest offering from Belgian Art Rockers dEUS (sic) comes from the terrible chat-up line, "There's a Revolution in my pocket, want to join the revolution?" I doubt it as it's a terrible line. Especially as the come-back is, "You mean in your trousers it's revolting?" Anyway, I am digressing before I even start.

It's been a while since dEUS released an album. The last was 1999's An Ideal Crash. That's a long time. Oh, there have been numerous side projects and solo albums in that time, but from the group themselves, there have just been the occasional gig. This year there is a new album and more tour dates. The problem is, An Ideal Crash was such a corker of an album, it's not easily going to be topped. The album does not top An Ideal Crash, but it is their most approachable album yet - a long way from the impenetrable "My Sister = My Clock."

The usual mix is here: quirky lyrics, good tunesmanship, the rock/jazz/pop influences, the great production. It's an album that fits in very well with the current trends of today, especialkly with bands the likes of the Kaisers, the Franzes and the Art Brutes around. There aren't any real dancefloor fillers (although Nightshopping and Sun Ra come close), but there are plenty of head-nodders and a few lines that make you go, "ooh, nice."

So what are they link live now? Well, that I'll tell you next week.

Rating: 4 Thumbs to the clouds

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Band Review: Rialto

Rialto make pop music. Ordinarily this is all I need to write in order to give a two thumbs down at the very best. But Rialto are going to get 4 well-dressed thumbs up. Why do I like them when they make twee-sounding pop? Well, because whilst the music has an edged, twee-ness to it, the lyrics do not. The lyrics are of relationship paranoia (Monday Morning 5:19), of drug-induced broken dreams (Broken Barbie Doll, Lucky Number), alcohol abuse (Untouchable, Milk of Amnesia), and stalking (When We're Together). It's because of their being dressed up as pop melodies, not despite that they are such good songs. The tunes a renice, but the key minor and feelings induced are a kind of pleasant melancholia tinged with nostalgia.

Rating: 4 well-dressed thumbs up.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Anything, Anytime

I have recently been reliving my childhood since a good friend of mine recently gave me a copy of every single BBC episode of the Goodies. That's 8 TV series - 4 CDs full. It's been a trip down memory lane, and reminded me of how much fun they were. They were very much the Young Ones of their day, except they did not swear particularly and things were destroyed by them as an unintentional consequence of what they did not by direct action. But it has the same semi-amarchic, on-the-cheap-yet-prop-heavy style.

The three Goodies have all gone on to be eminent broadcasters, especially to be heard on the ever-running "I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue". Graham Garden was always a doctor and is brought in when science and levity need to be combined. Bill Oddie is Mr Great British Nature where David Attenborough was Mr World Wildlife. And Tim Brook-Taylor is often called in when they need someone very British and very slightly camp.

The series is occasionally as good as I remember it. But with so many episodes, some, of course, are a bit lame. But the humour is good, sometimes clever but mostly silly. They are also responsible for some of the great comedy images of the era (1970-1981). For me at least. These include, the three of them on their 3-seater "trandem" bike; BBC TV center exploding; and of course, The Post Office tower being felled by the giant "Kitten Kong."

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Running Amock

I read in the paper today [6/10/05] that running was never so popular as now. I can well believe it. Back in the UK, I heard that there were such people as those who ran for pleasure or some notion that stinking and being short of breath was healthy, but did not know any. When I arrived here some 4 years ago, I met one girl who did this. Right now it seems that every other person I know is planning to run in one of the many long distance races here. Distances range from 10 km to the forthcoming Amsterdam Marathon.

Marathons are 42.195 km or 26 miles 385 yards or 22525.7 Fathoms. They are named after the city in Greece where the Athenians beat the Persians in 490 BC, from which news was carried by a messanger who ran all the way. People think this is such a great story, except they forget the rest. The legend also states the runner fell dead on arrival.

This year I will not be running in the Amsterdam Marathon, but cheering on my friends who are, and hoping they don't have anything important to tell me when they are finished.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

France pt4: Sleep

Something I forgot to mention was that in France I slept some of the best sleep I’ve had in many, many moons. I put this down to 3 things: 1) the purity of the air; 2) the peacefulness of the surroundings where, at night only there is a silence only broken occasionally by the scurrying of curious creatures around the yard or chickens going for a midnight snack; and 3) the fact the air is much thinner due to us being many metres above sea level, whereas in the Netherlands I am used to being several metres below it.

Monday, October 10, 2005


Earlier this year a very good friend of my was de-horsed and landed on her spine. She broke her pelvis and fractured a few vertibrae. Recovery is progressing well, but gymnastics will never be advisable again. I was a long, long way away, before you start reminding me of Christopher Reeve.

If you recall, I feel personally responsible for what happened to Mr Reeve, in that I arrived in Charlottesville the day he was disenhorsed. Then to compound this, the week I returned back to the US for the first time since then, he popped his clogs. I am assuming I don't have kriptonite bones and that it was just a coincidence.

But sometimes these things have a connection. It always struck me as significant that Mother Theresa died on the same day as Princes Diana. My theory was that Diana was indeed The Evil One and Mother Theresa could not die until she had defeated her. Once Diana had passed on, Mother T's purpose on this Earth was complete and the years of fighting were able to take their toll finally. This is of course not a popular theory. In fact it's so crazy even Mohammed al-Fayed refused to buy it. Especially as it would have meant his own son was a consort of one of the devil's minions. With time, I have since reflected that Diana was probably not The Evil One (even though her death released enough power to short out the TV stations for several days!) but was just a poor little rich girl hounded from a multitude of directions.

Thank the Spaghetti Monster, my friend has not the same level of severity as Mr Reeve. And should return to full mobility, which was not always obvious. If there is some conclusion to draw from this it, er, must be that... er, I am evil? That sounds about right.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Band Review: The Goo Goo Dolls

For some reason I think I should not like The Goo Goo Dolls. I think it is because they are definitely on the edge of pop rock. I think also it is because the lead singer does look a little bit like Jon Bon Jovi. But I should look beyond such facial disfigurations.

The Goo Goo Dolls have a passion about them. They don't just throw out a few choice sentances that rhyme and fit the line, they write thoughtful (even intelligent) songs that hover in the grey area between euphoria and dejection. They also have the ability to write killer hooks. And these songs they sing with a poignancy and feint sinisterness that grabs you by heart and squeezes.

And even if I did hate them for reminding me that Bon Jovi exists and for the fact they are definitely in the pop camp, albeit in the rock corner, I would still have to admit that if someone started to play "Iris" (From 1998's fantastic "Dizzy") in the metro, I would find it impossible not to sing along to that glowing hymn to the bitter curse that is love.

Rating: 4 black nail-varnished thumbs up

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Ronnie Barker

I read yesterday in a Dutch paper that Ronnie Barker has died aged 76. Ronnie was one of the great British Comic Actors. Excellent as incarcerated con, Norman Fletcher, and hilarious in his various sketch guises with long-term cohort, Ronnie Corbett. Their sketches often had a kind of cleverness to them that most sketches do not. They tended to rely on characterisation rather than strings of jokes or crudity. Some of the best sketches were when Ronnie B would be the spokesperson for some organision or other orator with a particular typing or speech impediment such as b's replaced by p's, etc.

This is not an obituary, just a heads-up for those of you who who didn't know the man or that he had died. In either case, try and find something to watch in his honour. Perhaps one of the TV specials that played in the Uk in later years. Any of the great character roles. Or the series... Not "Clarence", but definitely "Porridge" or "Open All Hours."

"And it's goodbye from him."

Friday, October 07, 2005

Album Review: Part Chimp - I am Come

It's nice to hear an album that sends you back to those glorious days when grunge meant something dark and horrible, not a form of sordid pop. The whole point of Grunge was that it was never slick. It was dirty and only produced in as much as the noises made were somehow transfered onto vinyl and/or CD. That was before Nirvana came along, got themselves a real pop record producer and still claimed to be Grunge.

Part Chimp recall dirty grunge rock bands like The Bastards and Bullet Lavolta. They also recall the days when metal was dirty, like the early days of Black Sabbath. There's even some occasional 60s keyboards thrown in for that, stoned, garage band feel.

Rating: 3 skeletal thumbs up.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Album Review: The Killers - Hot Fuss (extra)

Since I published the review, I now realise "Mr Brightside" is all in the mind of Action Man. This is because of the line, "Open up my Eagle-Eyes®"

Album Review: The Killers - Hot Fuss

The Killers sound is very much of the here and now, super-influence, retrospective indie rock. Maybe that should be 'hear and plough' instead of 'here and now'? I'm not being harsh. The current trend for guaitar bands is very retro. Right now is a very good time to be a fan of Joy Division. On Hot Fuss there are several moments where you go, "Mmmmm. Whatever did happen to Joy Division? Oh, yeah."

But there are other moments where you go, "Mmmmm. Late Beatles," "Mmmmm. New Order," and even "Mmmm. Glam Rock." Don't let this put you off. The album has a nice sound, and when the strong influences are peeled away, you can get some great tracks. There are two absolute corkers on this album, but you know them as they have both been released as singles. But there are several other tracks that are very good indeed, but not floor fillers in the same way.

The corkers are of course, "Somebody Told Me," one of several songs on the album refering to pursuing girls in clubs. In this case feeling you are in with a chance with a girl because she went out with a boy who looks like one of your ex-girlfriends. But the trouble is, our lads are a bit too sensitive as is evinced by the other corker, "Mr Brightside." There has been much debate about what this song is actually about. Sure, jealousy is in there, as it is screamed fairly often. But what is the story? My take is that it is the tormet of a sensitive soul who during a party or the like kisses a girl, but she goes home (seemingly) with someone else. Thus our hero imagines all sorts of disturbing goings on (chest touching and dress removing), but he also realises this is just in his head, and this could be the start of something destinal. After all, he is Mr Brightside (he keeps telling himself).

Since then I have listened again, and I am now erring towards it being that the relationship is blossoming (but not started) and he sees her kiss someone, but not neccessarily sexually and all the jealous anguish he is going through. He has not kissed her yet.

It's a very reminiscent thematically of Rialto's epic "Monday Morning, 5:19," a classic tale of a man anguished by not being able to get hold of his girlfriend through the night who, he concludes, must be cheating on him. We never know if it is true or if she just switched off her phone.

Rating: 4 thumbs up.