Linkblogging For 29/09/09

I really am sorry for the continuing lack of Actual Content here, but I’m physically and mentally drained at the moment – not just exhausted but ill enough from overwork that I actually had to go and have my heart checked out at the cardiac unit of the hospital last week (it’s fine, nothing at all to worry about, just psychosomatic symptoms from stress). Things should be easing off at work as of today – just in time for me to start my Master’s Degree next week. Normal posting *should* resume tomorrow, I hope.

One thing that didn’t help with the stress is Gordon Brown’s announcement today that single mothers are going to be rounded up and put into ‘special homes’. Charlotte has a good take on this, but don’t bother with the comments section – some truly unpleasant comments there. Every time I think New Labour has finally done its worst, it gets one step closer to outright fascism…

Leonard Pierce has a good post on USian right-wing lunacy

Unspeak on Polanski’s defenders.

The government want to put even *dogs* on a centralised database!

Cameron Stewart has Batman & Robin concept art up

And Tucker Stone reviews comics.

And Zom reimagines Superman’s arch-enemy… Nick O’Teen

Linkblogging for 28/09/09

Sorry there’s no real content here for the last few days… I’m utterly, utterly exhausted by work stuff at the moment. I’ve started three posts (one on Darkseid, one on Big Finish, and a playlist) but not had anything like the energy to put what I want to say down. Hopefully that’ll change soon, but in the meantime, some links…

One of the big stories at the moment is Andrew Marr asking the Prime Minister if he’s mentally ill on TV. Anton Vowl says all there is to say about this, although Jennie has a good go, partly in response to Mark Reckons getting it very, very wrong

Charlotte states what she thinks is our most important policy.

Jazzhandsseriousbusiness continues hir look at Lib Dem activism.

Eddie Campbell responds to James Robinson attacking Alan Moore.

Charlie Brooker hates both Mac Users and the Windows OS (yet strangely won’t consider any other options…)

And Lesswrong have a post on The Anthropic Trilemma

Linkblogging For 27/09/09

I’ve got a few things I want to write about over the next couple of days – I want to do a Wednesday Comics review, a Spotify playlist and a Doctor Who post, just for a start – but for now here’s some links (one or more of the above will be posted tonight).

My friend Jazzhandsseriousbusiness (I haven’t had a chance to ask him/her yet if s/he is hiding hir real name for good reason a la ‘Costigan Quist’ or has just not posted it yet) is starting a series of posts aimed at Lib Dems who are disengaged from the party, telling them how to get more involved. I’ll definitely be reading this, as since I moved from my old constituency to the one next door my involvement has dropped down to almost nil (one constituency meeting, one delivery round for a local candidate who’s also a friend, and a couple of days’ volunteering for the Euro elections, in the last six months, not counting non-party activism like No2ID and Hope Not Hate), but I suspect it’ll be handy for anyone who wants to get more active within the party.

Jonathan Calder asks “Will the real Nick Clegg please stand up?”

Anton Vowl on the Mail’s disgraceful attack on ‘comedy Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik’ for having a great-uncle who was evil scum.

And some non-Lib-Dem links:

J.H. Williams III walks us through the stages of composing a Batwoman cover. It’s a cliche, but nonetheless true, that Williams’ work is enough by itself to justify the continued existence of the Big Two comics companies.

David Mitchell argues, quite rightly, that the current plans to fund only ‘useful’ research are the acts of barbarians and savages who want to make *absolutely certain* that Britain develops absolutely no new ideas and anyone with two brain cells to rub together will emigrate as soon as possible…

Absurdist literature seems to make people better at pattern-matching.

The New Yorker has an excellent, if harrowing, essay on how Texas executed an innocent man a few years ago. Of course, with Supreme Court Justices like Scalia saying guilt or innocence shouldn’t matter when it comes to execution, it’s amazing that any guilty people get executed. And even if everyone who was executed was guilty, it’s still a barbaric, inhuman practice. Join Amnesty and help put a stop to it.

And Gavin Burrows talks about girls’ comics of the 1970s.

Quick Extremely Technical Question

Does anyone have, or know where I can find, a prebuilt Linux kernel .deb with realtime scheduling suitable for Debian Squeeze/SID ? I want to do some recording of music on my laptop, but my current kernel version is not up to the task.

Compiling myself isn’t an option – I have various odd non-standard packages installed that mean installing the necessary components from Debian’s repositories would put me into dependency hell (as I discovered when I tried it a couple of weeks back and broke my system). Nor is dual-booting with Ubuntu Studio – the Ubuntu Studio install CD can’t find my network card (I suspect 64studio would have the same problems).
I *could* try just downloading the kernel .deb from Ubuntu Studio’s repos and installing it using dpkg, but I suspect that using a kernel built for a totally different distro *might* just cause some problems…

If anyone knows where I could find such a thing (preferably an updated, reputable repo) I would be a very happy man…

The Beatles Mono Reviews 3 – With The Beatles

An edited version of this essay is now included in my book The Beatles In Mono. Hardback paperback

Cover of With The Beatles

Cover of With The Beatles

With The Beatles, the band’s second album, is a triumph of style over substance. Significantly inferior to the albums immediately preceding and following it, it has managed to remain the most highly-rated of the band’s pre-Rubber Soul albums, despite being one of their worst.

That it has had that success is almost certainly down to Robert Freeman’s cover photo. The Beatles always took care – at least in the UK – to ensure that their fans got a good deal, and as such they ensured that the packaging of their albums was as attractive as the records themselves. The famous silhouetted-heads cover was their first truly great album cover (and looks far better on this CD release than in the picture here – it’s printed darker so you can’t see the turtleneck jumpers they’re wearing, so their heads do look as if they’re floating in empty black space). It’s just a shame that the same attention wasn’t spent on the music itself.

To an extent this is understandable – the album did have more time allocated to it than Please Please Me, but this was still only three sessions as opposed to the earlier album’s one. And it was the epitome of ‘second album syndrome’ – not only did they have to come up with material for a new album after using up songs built up over years on the first album, but they had to do it in five months – and in that five month period they went from being third on the bill to Tommy Roe and Chris Montez to being the biggest band in the history of British popular music (American success would still take another couple of months).

The extra time spent in the studio wasn’t all to the record’s advantage, either. With The Beatles has the first real examples of the band using studio trickery and overdubbing, but what this means throughout the album is out-of-synch double-tracking (practically every lead vocal is sloppily double-tracked – none of the band had the experience to do a decent job), and overdubbed piano and maracas, giving a thick, dense texture without the space of a live performance. The band would get much better at using the studio very quickly, but this album is at an uncomfortable halfway point between the record as thing in itself and the record as recording of live performance, with the disadvantages of both and the advantages of neither. This also means that With The Beatles has the smallest difference between mono and stereo mixes, and is the least improved of all the albums by remastering. Frankly, the source material sounds bad in comparison to pretty much anything else the band ever did,

And finally, it’s formulaic – the album seems like the product of a conscious, concerted effort to make an album that’s *exactly like the album before*, from Paul doing a winsome cover of a standard, to George doing a ‘little boy lost’ girl-group cover, to John ending the album on a screaming R&B cover, to John taking half the lead vocals (George gets an extra one here, and it feels like more of a group effort, but John is clearly the leader).

Sometimes, though, the formula works – as on It Won’t Be Long, the opening track, and the start of a run of three songs as good as any in the band’s early catalogue. It Won’t Be Long bears all the marks of a song written to order, combining the hooks of the band’s current hit single (the ‘yeah yeah yeah’ of the chorus) with the punning title of their first big hit. Still, Lennon manages to come up with something so unusually structured (seven-bar verse, chorus, and ‘middle eight’ introduced after only one verse) that it carries a lot of conviction, and the arrangement is very well thought-out, particularly the tiny guitar/drum fill going into the chorus. One of the very best of the band’s early tracks.

All I’ve Got To Do, the second song, is practically the only one on the album not to be badly double-tracked, and the result is one of Lennon’s most human vocals. The song itself is an obvious attempt at writing a Smokey Robinson song, but Lennon has internalised this style so much it sounds entirely natural. This is another one where the arrangement makes it though – the snapped, broken drum part under the melismatic vocal line is something the Zombies would later make an entire career out of – Tell Her No in particular is almost a clone of this track.

Much as on the last album, McCartney only gets to shine once here, with All My Loving, by far his best song to this point, and the first time he wrote something up to Lennon’s standard. Even so, the song has signs of laziness in its writing – the fact that he uses the same words to rhyme in both the first and second verses *could* be seen as a clever touch, except that he can’t be bothered to write a third verse (just repeating the first) or a proper middle eight lyric. That said, this would have been an obvious choice for a single for any other band, and (like the two tracks before it) it shows sign of a lot of care in the arrangement. Incidentally, for those of you who still believe the nonsense in Goldman’s book about Lennon being a poor guitarist, listen to those triplets throughout the song – that’s a HARD part to play. Harrison also gets to shine here, doing his best Carl Perkins on the solo, and this is the song here most improved by the remastering – Lennon and Harrison’s backing vocals in the last verse cut through now in a way they didn’t before.

Harrison’s Don’t Bother Me, the next song, was his first solo composition, and surprisingly good for a first effort. One can already see the beginnings of his style – being grumpy over minor chords – but it’s a surprisingly sophisticated song for a beginner.

After that though, we have a whole cluster of sludge in the middle – a lazy, half-written Lennon song (Little Child, where he sounds almost contemptuous of the song while singing it, and where the arrangement is just ‘every instrument including harmonica and piano playing as loudly as possible’), McCartney’s one for the grannies (Til There Was You) , a McCartney song left off Please Please Me (Hold Me Tight, whose only point of interest is the way the chorus lyric carries over into the middle eight, something he’d repeat with The Fool On The Hill four years later), a song for Ringo (I Wanna Be Your Man, where he does a much better job than on Boys) and a cluster of undistinguished R&B covers (probably the best of which is the version of Please Mister Postman, which has far more energy in the vocal performances than the song deserves, and which is again improved by the remastering – I’d actually never heard the ‘ooh’ backing vocals until this release – they’d just got swamped in the stereo mix I own on vinyl).

The album comes together again, however, for the last two songs. Not A Second Time is a sloppy performance and arrangement (apart from George Martin’s (varispeeded?) piano solo), and by any reasonable standards it’s a badly-written one, too – but it’s so unpredictable that it manages to overcome this. It’s clearly a song that meant something to its author, and that does come across.

And the album finishes on Money, one of the Beatles’ very best cover versions. Everything comes together here perfectly, and the mono mix, and remaster, give the track a power it never had in stereo (ever notice McCartney’s almost-inaudible ‘waah’ during the instrumental break?). The sound of the distorted, reverbed guitars playing in synch with Martin’s piano, with the bass end now rich and strong like it always should have sounded, is extraordinarily inventive for the time, Starr’s drumming is exemplary, and Lennon and McCartney both give the vocals their all.

The album works far better as an album than as a selection of tracks, thanks to some smart sequencing – the good stuff is front-loaded, and it closes with the best track – and it shows the first signs of the band’s fascination with studio technique, which would soon start to pay off – but it’s clearly a regressive step. They’d lost the innocence and enthusiasm of the first album, but not yet replaced it with sophistication and craftsmanship. That would soon change, however.

(I may well review A Hard Day’s Night tomorrow rather than in a week, so this rather negative review doesn’t stay the top one for very long. While you wouldn’t believe it from reading this, the Beatles are my favourite band…)

Linkblogging for 23/09/09

Posting will probably be light for the next few days, as it’s a busy time at work. To tide you over, here are some links.

Al Ewing is reviewing Beatles: Rock Band one song at a time. The interesting thing here is that Ewing – as he admits himself – knows almost nothing of the band’s music and is using this as a way of getting into them…

In other Beatles posts, Jog has a post on the comic insert in Magical Mystery Tour, along with some thoughts on how this would translate into the digital age in comparison with the film and album.

Todd Alcott continues his look at Kubrick with A Clockwork Orange part 2 .

For those of you who think I’m too hard on the anti-immigrant propaganda coming from people like racist UKIP, this is why.

James Graham has more on the ridiculous events at conference, which appear to involve the leadership briefing against the party…

And Chris Dillow has an interesting post on a fundamental disconnect in the debate between the religious and ‘new atheists’.

Linkblogging for 22/09/09

So right now I’m quite glad I *couldn’t* make it to conference… reports coming back seem to show the leadership and rank-and-file at each other’s throats, because the leadership seem to be making increasingly bizarre pronouncements. Or at least, that’s what I’m picking up from Twitter and the few Lib Dem blogs that are active at the moment – I hope it’s not the actual case (I have very little knowledge of how the personalities in this party interact…). I’ll know more for sure when people get back and start talking properly…

In more positive news, the Social Liberal Forum and Compass are working together to advance progressive ideas in Labour and the Lib Dems. This kind of working together – bottom-up activists working across party lines – is worlds away from the ‘you do everything I say because we’re a team’ attitude that is often seen in this kind of thing…

Meanwhile Alex Wilcock analyses the pre-manifesto, and is not impressed.

While The Daily Mash have their own take on the conference.

Scholars and Rogues have a balanced look at Norman Borlaug.

And possibly the best scientific paper I’ve heard about in a long while.

And finally – Google may have fixed the IE6 problem for good! Now if we could only get them to do the same for Windows itself…