Sunday, January 01, 2017

Review: Place Without A Postcard by Midnight Oil (1981)

I am supposed to be packing for a week away but I promised I would do this, so I have to get it done now while I have internet. For fairness I will again pick apart the songs and try to ignore the overall deep attachment I have to this record. I sing this album right through to myself sometimes, on a long walk or during a long wait for a train etc. I once had a mildly hellish ride back to Cuzco from Machu Picchu on a crowded train, riding in the toilet cubicle the whole way; and my memory of this album got me through it. 

Don’t Wanna Be The One Jim Moginie on the organ is the spine of this track. Kind of dull 4/4 from Rob Hirst until the big finish. 6/10

Brave Faces This is the real start of the album for me. When I sing it my recitation always starts with “I’ve seen faces in the window”. The bridge has another great walking bassline that returns in the coda paired with a great guitar solo, tied in a bow at the end. 8½/10

Armistice Day Very unusual song to release as a single. Slow and menacing. I have never been a huge fan of it - it is almost too spare. Full instrumentation kicks in after nearly 2 minutes. Lyrically and in tempo a cousin of Short Memory on 10 9 8. 6/10

Someone Else To Blame Short sharp and perceptive song. “See me suffer see me pain - must be someone else to blame”. Busy bass, great solo. 8/10

Basement Flat Hell is other people - a song about the rental market. First chorus seems to come from somewhere else entirely, but the second one fits better somehow. About 1:50 someone starts playing a stapler. Good but not great song. “What can I do - there must be some solution” - not one of their most rousing calls to action. 5/10

Written In The Heart The chorus suffers a little from the words-don’t fit music thing, but the music is terrific although the dreaded harmonica appears near the end. 7/10

Burnie This is about my hometown, so I have always pricked my ears up to the lyrics. Burnie is an industrial port town - in 1981 especially it would have been pretty ugly. This song is unflattering but has empathy - it says you don’t have to accept it or leave it - you can stay and change it. I have a feeling the “surfing priest” was Fr Jim Souley, who took over our parish shortly before I stopped attending mass. Musically its a bit slow and has an unconvincing chord change going into the chorus. 6/10


Quinella Holiday A cracker - a Paul Kelly-like short story in a song. And the beginning of a wonderful Abbey Road-style medley 9/10

 as it rolls into … Loves On Sale Catchy uptempo powerpop number about conspicuous consumption. Some Reg Mombassa-sounding whammy in there 8/10

If Ned Kelly Was King A really mature and complex song. 17-year-old me thought Ned Kelly as king was a fine idea. Summary justice for Christopher Skase, Alan Bond, politicians who tee up legislation for miners then retire as paid consultants. Quinella Holiday sneaks in again at the end. 9/10

Lucky Country Really taut and balanced rock song up to 2:40 when the “helicopter” keyboard pulse comes in (Koala Sprint/Outside World style) .Garrett goes into an extraordinary spoken word rant over acoustic guitar before the electrics return. Garrett chants “small talk, small talk” as the boys sing “lucky country” behind him. 8/10

Average mark 7.3 = ★★★



Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Review: Head Injuries by Midnight Oil (1979)

I am going to review a couple of old Midnight Oil albums in order to measure them against each other and justify my preference for one over the other. In fairness, I have only ever had this album Head Injuries as a muddy-sounding home pirated cassette. Clearly I am not an audiophile - and I would never criticise music for it's production values so it's not going to influence me I don't think.
I don't really get into anything Midnight Oil recorded after Red Sails In The Sunset (1984). They made some good and rightfully popular music but it didn't grab me the way the early stuff did. I was at Joe Crawford's house, one day in grade 10 I think, and he was playing some albums his cool young Uncle Max had sent them from Sydney, including Place Without A Postcard. I was hooked immediately. One of my formative experiences as a 17 year old was taking off to Launceston with a gang of schoolmates to see them play at the Velodrome (not an especially charismatic venue) and about ten of us staying that night in a holiday cabin nearby that accommodated 4.
Cold Cold Change opens the album with what I think of as a dumb riff, like Feeling Kinda Sporty by Dave Graney is. The best part of the song is the chord at the end. It was released as a single. It's common to start an album with what you think is the strongest track; but I think they were wrong. 5/10

Section 5 (Bus to Bondi) On this record quite often the lyrics don't scan very well, just ill-suited to the musical space provided. Here is an example "Push start this car tomorrow, I'll take it to the tip yaaaaaaaard, and I'll leave it as a memory for cats.to.sleep" 5/10

Naked Flame - This works. Like a lot of their songs at this stage I have no idea what this about. It's got a nice Sherberty harmonic chorus near the end. 7/10

Back on the Borderline opens with great drum solo and settles into a good tempo. Very catchy 4 word chorus. "The only place is Laminex" - nup no idea what this is about either. Much more straighforward rock without tempo changes etc of first few tracks. 8/10

Koala Sprint opens with a spoken word bit over a choppy keyboard something like a distant helicopter (which returns on Outside World on a later album). Part 2 is a quiet instrumental prelude then Garret screams and it turns into road song, about a surf trip going north. A bit like Houndog by Cold Chisel. Then for the outro the helicopter comes back. End of side 1. I can hear the needle lift on my home taped cassette. 6/10

No Reaction is back to four on the floor rock, nice spidery guitar solo in the middle. "You're almost but not quite more than we deserve" was a bit complex for me as a teenager and I still don't think I have nailed it. 7/10

Stand in Line  The standout track. No Reaction sets it up well. Deals with unfairness of mining riches, unevenness of wealth distribution. Killer bassline, one of their best. Appealed to my teen sense of the world being unfair and the first step on the ladder being deliberately put out of my reach. Well, I was relatively well off and had nothing to whinge about really but out of *many people's* reach. Good guitar solo then some vocal gymnastics for a big angry finish. Must have been a roof-raiser live. 9/10


I was actually in Sydney when this concert on Goat Island happened, simulcast on Triple J and ABC TV.

Profiteers does some tricky time signature things, starts waltz, then goes 4/4, it's lost me if I'm honest. Vocals sound like they were done via a pay phone; a bit of a singsong nursery rhyme thing about recruiting boys to be soldiers. Back to waltz at the end and some military drums to help the thickies like me who haven't worked out it's about war. 6/10

Is it Now. I am feeling a sense of relief when a new track starts and it's simple rock. They were such a good tight rock band. The riff reminds me of Mental As Anything’s Possible Theme for a Future TV Drama Series. 7/10

Average mark: 6.667 which you could say equates to ★★★.


EDIT!!! 

I have come up with a new system for converting marks out of ten to star ratings. 2.5 or below is one star. 9 or above is 5 stars. On that basis Head Injuries is worth ★★★½


The Rees Marks-to-Stars System

Friday, December 23, 2016

Rees family trip to Europe - part 3: Alnwick, Northumberland



It was Elf's idea to visit the town of Alnwick on our way down from Edinburgh to York. We planned to visit the castle and the “poison garden” planted there by the resident Duchess. 

We had a crummy day on the road. Drove down the A1 which at times is a very major road, but then narrows right down and goes past schools and so on. I might be mistaken but there may even have been a zebra crossing. It’s a mess. Then we tried going by backroads but the GPS wasn’t having it. It caught us again and again with exits to roundabouts that it didn't know about; we got lost in Airdrie and found ourselves in the carpark of a public housing estate.

We eventually arrived in Alnwick (pronounced ANNICK) about 8pm, and found our way to our pub accommodation. We had a large roast dinner, a sub-par night's sleep and got up in the morning to walk into town. First we went down to the nearest service station and bought a great big UK road atlas.


Alnwick is an old gated town; it is the county seat of Northumberland, so was once much more important than nowadays. Every vehicle coming into town has to squeak through one of the gates. This street is called Bondgate; this car is proceeding from Bondgate Without to Bondgate Within.


Once in there we thought the whole place was really enchanting. We walked down to the castle which was just opening for the day. We were honestly a bit taken aback by the entrance charge (I can't remember now how much it was) and we decided on the spur of the moment to not go in. We walked all around the town instead and enjoyed it immensely. Michael discovered a gate into a public meadow, from where we could get a great view of the castle above us on the hill.



The town-side gate into the castle. The little statues all along the battlements look... dumb.
The castle is the seat of the Dukes of Northumberland, and has been the home of the Percy family for 700 years. The lion wih a disconcertingly long stiff tail is their symbol. Just after we crossed this bridge Michael spotted a gate...
... which we trotted through and found ourselves here. This is a deeply unflattering picture of me
but it has to be here as part of an honest and complete record.
We were happy with our decision to skip the castle and explore the town, but I still have vague feelings of an opportunity missed when I look at the Poison Garden website. Sigh. We had to keep moving and get back on the road; the plan for today also involved visiting the Chesters Roman Fort on Hadrian's Wall, and driving the rest of the way to York before dark. These will be in the next post.



Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Redbubble header


This is the first creative thing I have done for weeks. I had some downtime today so I made a header for my Redbubble store where I sell t-shirts and other merch. 95% of my sales are from the 70s Footy Enigmas range so I made a montage from a few of the designs.






Sunday, December 18, 2016

Rees family trip to Europe - part 1: Switzerland

A couple of weeks ago I started blogging about our October/November trip to Europe. I skipped this bit so now I will go back and cover Part 1.

We set off from Hobart at 1pm on Monday 3 October, carrying 2kg of Cadbury chocolate to Switzerland, for my Aussie brother-in-law Chonk. Chocolate to Switzerland. We were flying via Abu Dhabi – perhaps we should have brought those guys some sand as well? The chocolate was much appreciated though. We had two big backpacks borrowed from Imp and Ed, and a daypack each. Travelling reasonably light.

A security man at Hobart airport remarked on my Bones McGhie shirt, but called him Stewie, (maybe thinking of this guy)? We flew with Etihad, so our stopover was Abu Dhabi. It was a 14-hour flight by A-380 from Melbourne. The boys watched screens the whole way. I turned everything off and tried to sleep but to little avail, so I was a bug-eyed zombie in Abu Dhabi. I bought a Snickers and a nashi pear with A$10 and got 14 dirhams as change.

We had three hours there which mostly consisted of walking down corridors and watching people on TV talk in Arabic about suddenly-ex-England-manager Sam Allardyce. I got lost trying to get out of the bathroom and walked into a prayer room. Each toilet cubicle had its own little hose.

We had a practically empty 787 Dreamliner from Abu Dhabi to Zürich, so we all had room for a bit of a snooze. We landed about 6.30am on 4 October and were met by Elf's little brother Edwin, known by wife and friends as Eddie but among his wider family as Chonk. The airport was quite empty; we were all quite freaked out to see a policewoman with a black submachine gun.

Typical house in Oberwintherthur
The drive to Winterthur took about half an hour, and was the first look at Europe for the boys and I. The first thing I noticed was how houses and other buildings are piled up on a squarish footprint, without wings or extensions or setbacks, which is probably a more efficient shape to keep warm. (Many things in Swizterland are based on keeping warm).

Irma, Eric (7) and Bea (9) were very excited to see us and the next few hours were a big catch up. The weather was crisp but fine so I went down to the local soccer field and tested out Eric in goals. He is a very good goalkeeper. His mate Steve came out of the nearby flats to join in; Steve is Ugandan. There are a lot of refugees here, but I think that's pretty normal now in Central Europe. The kids are put in a special class at a normal school to accelerate their German, then integrated when they are ready.


St Arbogast's
Enlargement of the church over time.
The next day Irma took us for a walk up the hill nearby to the very old church of St Arbogast, where she and Chonk were married. It dates back to about 900AD, but was built over older Roman foundations which are still visible in the gardens. It has beautiful and unusual murals from the 1300s. They were very happy to find a house so close to it. They assured us that you eventually get used to the bells ringing on the hour through the night.

This area is Upper or Oberwinterthur, called Oberi for short. It's quite affluent, and very tidy. There is one untidy house and Irma told us it belongs to a quite wealthy man who owns a lot of property, but he just likes to keep this one very old house this way for some reason. It has original Swiss double glazing, with a couple of inches between the two panes.

The only shabby house in Winterthur
Graves in the yard at the church were well tended and often had little gardens.
People often move into apartments near to their loved one's graves.
The Oskar Kokoschka style type on this stone is the best.
Part of the mural that goes back to the 1300s. Its being restored now.
Looking back at my journal, we had a very busy time for our first full day in Switzerland. The kids had a half day at school, so when they got home we all took them to meet Chonk at Cosimo's Pizza. (I had a Falken lager from nearby Schaffhausen which reminded me of Boags White).

After lunch Chonk went back to work and Irma drove the rest of us to The Rheinfall; an amazing place where the big and powerful Rhine River comes crashing down a series of steps. We parked and entered through the grounds of a castle built on the edge of the cascade, then down a steep path to a cave where we could stand right by the torrent.





Both sides of the river here are Switzerland but the border is quite twisty - we briefly drove through Germany on our way here.






Elf gets up close. I think I took this from the mouth of the cave.
Cousins colonise a cow
We came back up to the entry level in a glass elevator. Until recently this was a private experience for the owner of the castle and their guests. It was a sensory thrill, so much more than I was expecting. On the way out we bought some roasted chestnuts from a vendor - this was my first attempt at speaking German and it was very halting. But we got the gear, in a special paper bag with a spare pocket for the shells. They were doughy.

Next we piled back into the car and Irma drove us on to Stein am Rhein, which sounded interesting; an old town of painted houses. Again it was so much more than we expected. Very old buildings with incredibly intricate paintings all over them, amazing type, really bizarre imagery and all in remarkably good condition.

The Sun Guesthouse

Through the gate into the old town of Stein am Rhein

Looking back at the gate. 


The town hall..

.. and the church beyond. There is another gate on the right here where traffic
comes into town, on a bridge over the Rhine from the 'real world'
Looking back towards where we came in. There is a castle on the hill in the distance.
We loved it so much that we resolved on the spot to go back again. On the drive home through the autumn countryside we saw a lot of corn, a lot of tractors, grape pickers, green grass being cut for hay, and fields of sugarbeet. We slowed down to pass some cows and heard their big clanky cowbells.



The next day we had planned to go into Zürich. We had an early flight out to Inverness in the morning so we postponed Zürich and had an easier day exploring downtown Winterthur. It is an industrial city that has a very separate identity but it is increasingly a dormitory for Zürich. Elf and I and the boys walked from Chonk and Irma's to the old town centre, which took about an hour. We were semi-lost most of that time but it all worked out. There are a lot of half-timbered buildings, and again everything is astonishingly neat.

We went into a cafe and I again tried my German to order coffee. I was terrible. So I asked if the young lady spoke English and she did - we found that just about everyone did. And just about everyone apologised for their English which was always excellent.



We went into the Stadt Kirche (City Church) for a look. Its bigger and fancier but not as old as St Arbogath's. 
An interactive bible

I pinched this pic of the City Church from Wikipedia because its a lot nicer than ours.

This is Eric. He is a mercurial engineer in the making. Handy with tools,
quite a goalkeeper and smart as a whip. He has particularly cottoned on to Marcus.
His older sister Bea latched onto Michael. They are both interested in languages and maps
and spent a lot of time together creating their own lands and alphabets.
Bea was very helpful in teaching me German.
 So the next day we were off to Scotland; this was our first of three stints in Switzerland.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Yellowstone National Park, your location for sulphur, steam and unpunished crimes


Turns out there's a chunk of Idaho within Yellowstone National Park where you *might* commit crimes & get off free.
This article argues that there is a 50-square-mile swath of Idaho in which one can commit felonies with impunity. This is because of the intersection of a poorly drafted statute with a clear but neglected constitutional provision: the Sixth Amendment's Vicinage Clause. Although lesser criminal charges and civil liability still loom, the remaining possibility of criminals going free over a needless technical failure by Congress is difficult to stomach. No criminal defendant has ever broached the subject, let alone faced the numerous (though unconvincing) counterarguments. This shows that vicinage is not taken seriously by lawyers or judges. Still, Congress should close the Idaho loophole, not pretend it does not exist.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Psychic powers over the mundane

Yesterday a couple of odd things happened.

- o O o -

I was walking to work listening to a 2-guys-chatting podcast. They talk about all sorts of things, often slipping from one subject to another. They were talking about companion animals and specifically dwarf donkeys. Conversation moved on to science fiction's strike rate at predicting the future. As I listened I was also thinking about where I could get a boater hat; the key ingredient of my costume for an upcoming "1930s garden party". Maybe my dad might have one.

Suddenly one of the podcasters said "I saw a straw boater for sale the other day and I was sorely tempted". (it happens at 36:20 in this episode if you would like to verify) At first I thought had imagined it, daydreaming that I was part of their conversation. But no, it really happened. Obviously the podcast was recorded some weeks before I listened to it, so I somehow psychically affected the minds of the podcasters before I even knew the theme of the partyFrom Florence.


A boater

- o O o -

In the afternoon at work Dire Straits were on the stereo; a song I have heard many times before called Tunnel of Love.

And girl it looks so pretty to me just like it always did
Like the Spanish city to me when we were kids

I even have sung along many times, but I have never wondered before; which Spanish city? Was Mark Knopfler thinking of Madrid? Barcelona? Valencia? I was just wondering this to myself silently when I heard my workmate Chris who was born in Yorkshire say "The Spanish City was a funfair at Whitley Bay near Newcastle". Which it is.

I didn't ask the question, and I didn't hear anyone else ask the question. Chris just announced it. I was really gobsmacked and said "Uh, weird, I was just wondering that very thing". I had earlier told everyone about the boater thing so I didn't make a fuss about this one because I don't want to be burned as a witch.

Spanish City, Whitley Bay, UK

Note 1: Chris and I work in a room with ten other people and two of them are also called Chris. Yesterday morning first thing (just after the boater incident) I and one of the other Chrises appeared in our then-empty room from opposite doors simultaneously as a third Chris emerged from the toilet. We just have to get used to these things happening.

Note 2: Chris from Yorkshire's mum used to know Mark and David Knopfler's mum.