Monday, April 25, 2016

Everything You've Come to Expect - The Last Shadow Puppets

All right, the time has come for this review: I've listened to the new album approximately 4,516,784 times. (Perhaps a slight exaggeration, but I'm sure Bryan would agree with the sentiment. Poor guy.) I've had time to let it sink in, study the lyrics like it was my job, and compare it to the 2008 album The Age of the Understatement.

That comparison between the two albums is no easy task. They're completely different animals. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's astounding to realize how much has changed in the past 8 years for these artists.

The title track is my absolute favorite song on here, closely followed by the wonderfully weird "Dracula Teeth" and the could've-been-ripped-from-Suck-It-and-See "Miracle Aligner." The three songs have been stuck in my head on a pretty regular rotation since the first time I listened. "The Element of Surprise" is a song that makes me want to be a better writer - it features some of the most clever lyrics I've ever heard. Some highlights:

  • "There's a set of rickety stairs / In between my heart and my head / And there ain't much that ever bothers going up them."
  • "Why colour in the lines if you're just painting it black?"
  • "I thought they were kisses but apparently not / Do you end all your messages with an 'X marks the spot'?"

...I get jealous just typing those up. I wish I'd thought of them first.

Unlike The Age of the Understatement, though, there are some dull spots on the album: I never really register that "Used to Be My Girl" and "She Does the Woods" are two different songs, because neither one grabs my attention. Then there's "Bad Habits," which is easily the worst song on the record. By far. I'm not one to skip tracks as I listen to albums, because I like to hear how artists weave their overall stories, but in this case, I'm tempted to do it every time that song comes on. You could even guess it's a clunker just by looking at it on the page: it has half the lyrics of any other songs on the album, and is populated instead by over-the-top, stereotypical-rock-star "oohs" and "yeahs." I'm cringing just thinking about it. The best part about it is that it's pretty short, so it doesn't completely cloud my view of the rest of the album.

At the end of the day, I think the biggest takeaway from this album is that it is most definitely Alex Turner's side project. The Age of the Understatement was very much a dual effort between Turner and Miles Kane, and it comes across as a carefully-crafted masterpiece of a debut. Everything You've Come to Expect is much less balanced; Kane may have suggested a few lines here and there, but the bulk of the writing has Turner's fingerprints all over it. This is definitely a fun album to listen to, but it's definitely not what I was expecting as an Age of the Understatement follow-up.

(Sorry. Couldn't resist the cheese. They made it so easy. An apology video.)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Girl in the Spider's Web - David Lagercrantz

We're going to see how this works on mobile, because the laptop is too cumbersome with baby! Apologies for any weird formatting or missed auto-correct shenanigans.
I finally finished a book! I focused on The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz, mostly because it was a library book and I was determined to get it done before I would have to renew it.
If I were to use the Goodreads system to rate this one, I'd probably give it three out of five stars. I liked it, but sadly, I didn't love it. I'll start with the positive: Lagercrantz did a phenomenal job picking up the characters and mimicking the style of the original Lisbeth Salander series. All of the original characters he brought back sounded almost exactly like Steig Larsson's creations. That is no easy task! Because the transition was so seamless in that regard, this book was as quick and almost as engaging to read as its predecessors.
Unfortunately, there were a couple of negatives, as well. Although the characters remained true to themselves, I got the sense that they weren't pushed to do anything new in this one. Blomkvist cracked a big story, but he was clearly smarter than the villains and therefore was never really in danger. Lisbeth did more of the life-threatening work, but after the trauma she endures in the first three novels, working with a bullet hole in her shoulder seems like next to nothing. And that leads into my biggest complaint - this novel lacks grit in a major way. There are violent scenes, but most of them - indeed the worst of them - happen offstage, as it were. For normal mysteries, that would be fine, but Lisbeth Salander's world was built on violence. It's what made her the woman we meet on the page, and it's how she's forced to survive. Without the violence, the book loses that sense of urgency that made the trilogy so great.
Of course, like most mystery authors do these days, Lagercrantz left the door wide open for a sequel. I'm sure I'll read it when it's out, but I won't hold any illusions about how it's going to hold up to what is easily my favorite mystery series in print.

The Essex Serpent - Sarah Perry

( Image courtesy of ) Blah. I was actually all set to do a VanDuinen Studio blog post this week, but that's going t...