Saturday, February 06, 2010

Strict Joy

The last few weeks seem to have been quite manic, with not enough hours in each day to complete all the tasks. The only thing which I remember clearly are several lectures on Organisational Behaviour (if only I could remember the contents of the lectures and not just the fact of the lectures' existence!), and these were set against a backdrop of the album 'Strict Joy' by The Swell Season. I had read about them in the arts supplement of the weekend newspaper and my interest had been piqued.

This is a very sparse album, much sparser than the usual fare to which I listen, but this sparseness is offset by the raw emotionality presented by the duo, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Their previous (and initial) recording apparently was about their falling in love, and this album is about their personal - but not professional - separation. The reviewer in the newspaper pegged it as a one of the great breakup albums, but this time with a twist: both protagonists participate in the record. 

I can't say that Glen presents his side of the breakup and Marketa her side; I don't really listen to the lyrics properly and put them together in the sense of a song. In a very limited sense, I listen to the words in an autistic matter: I can see the parts but can't put the whole together as a whole. The same thing cannot be said for the music, though. The opening "Low rising" is presented as a soul song with full band and brass accompaniment, but other songs feature only acoustic guitar and/or piano. There is good variation in the rhythms: 4/4 is followed by a fast 3/4, there's at least one song in 12/8 and one in 5/4. That's the sort of thing that appeals to my brain.

The reviewer mentioned other breakup albums, such as 'Over' by Peter Hammill. The Hammill connection is interesting, as one of the songs on the bonus, live, disc entitled "Lies" sounds remarkably as if it were written by Peter. [Side note: maybe in recognition of this fact, I played "Chameleon in the silence of the night" for the first time in years and was blown away by the intensity of the recording].

The same reviewer, in an earlier column, mentioned a group called The Clientele. I managed to lay my hands on their four albums, but found them much less convincing than The Swell Season. At their best, The Clientele are somewhat poppy and reminiscient of earlier musical days and are good. Unfortunately, the songwriting seems to have taken a step back on their latest release, "Bonfires on the Heath", and there are a few songs which actively annoy me, so much so that I find it difficult to listen to this album after the opening three songs. Have they not heard of syncopation? I would have written their horn parts with different rhythmic accents, and the insistence of falling straight on the beat has me pulling my hair. That said, their second and third albums, "Strange Geometry" and "God save the Clientele" are better.

Reading matter: "The Goal" by Eliyahu Goldratt and Jeff Cox was recommended in my studies, and I definitely pass this recommendation on. This is essential reading for any MBA student. The only real problem with this book is that it is dated; it was written at least twenty years ago when there were no cell phones and no Internet, a time when ERP programs were in their infancy. Any manager working in a factory will understand and identify with the issues, even if they seem to be dealt with too easily. 

The other book of the past few weeks has been "Juliet, Naked" by Nick Hornby. The author returns to his music based background of "High Fidelity" and presents a very familiar picture in the first two chapters of a non-entity engrossed and obsessed with a singer songwriter who disappeared after releasing his masterpiece "Juliet", also a breakup album. It seems that nothing so inspires art so much as breaking up with one's significant other. As Neil Sedaka once wrote, "Breaking up is hard to do", or as my mates and I parodied/paid tribute to it, "Breaking down ain't hard to do" (a motorbike song). After the opening two chapters, two of the novel's major characters have a breakup of their own, and the the book turns to a new direction when the long lost s/s becomes a major character in his own right.

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