Tuesday, January 11, 2005

To call it "nerve-wracking" would overstate it considerably, but ...

... it can feel awkward to listen to a new CD with high expectations. The brain hasn't yet registered what classical music buffs might call the ostinatos (aka riffs), the meme viruses haven't taken root yet, and there is an anxiety about not being disappointed. Reasonably good first impressions, nonetheless, of the Wrens' out-of-print 1996 CD, "Secaucus," which I finally got to borrow from a friend. (It mysteriously remains out of print even though used copies sell for $50 to more than $100.)
Reason for the high expectations: the Wrens' 2003 album "The Meadowlands," which to put it conservatively is, for my money, the best guitar-based rock album of the last few years. (Very high praise if you like guitar-based rock.) The Meadowlands is one of the most exhilarating albums I have ever heard despite (or at the same time as) being a relentless tour of failure, inadequacy, remembered foolishness, and despair. Nothing between 1996 and 2003, due to record company problems, except for a couple of EPs and such, also out of print, one of which (Abbott 1135) is scheduled for expanded re-release this April.
Latest book, while we are at it: the new biography of P.G. Wodehouse, by the languid-looking Robert McCrum. To read this book, it helps to be a huge Wodehouse fan, as I am despite considering about 70% of his work to be dross with just a few nuggets mixed in. He wrote relentlessly, however, and the rest of it belongs on the proverbial desert island like not much else. By the way, a lesser-known gem, since all Wodehouse fans know about the Bertie Wooster and Blandings Castle novels, is Laughing Gas, a one-off about a dimwitted English lord who temporarily trades bodies with a child star modeled on the young Jackie Coogan. Most of the humor comes from this 20-something lord's being (a) every bit as immature as the child star, and (b) utterly oblivious to the fact that, if you look like a little blond moppet rather than a towering milord, you get treated like one.
Anyway, the Wodehouse biography is great fun for those who are so minded, despite its bringing out Wodehouse's extremely limited range as a person as well as a writer, not to mention his utterly uneventful life apart from the Nazi Germany broadcast dust-up. Highly recommended to serious Wodehouse fans but not to anyone else.

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