Monday, October 31, 2005

Has it really been a week?

Sorry, I had friends visiting, resulting in the drinking of more alcohol than I normally take in six months, and associated drunken consumption of chips (that's "fries" in American). Unfortunately, I'm the only person in the entire world with a potato intolerance, so I then spent three days with huge gut-ache and migraines, my agony compounded with a trip to Carrow Road to watch the worst sporting performance by any team ever.

Looking at that last paragraph, I should stress that I mean that my gut-ache was huge, not that I had an ache in my huge gut. Which obviously wouldn't be true.

I now intend to spend the next month taking part in National Novel Writing Month, so my posts might be a bit sparse for the next month, though I'm sure you'll be thrilled to read about the advance of repetitive strain injury in the little finger of my right hand. I suppose if I didn't use the letter 'P' at all, I'd be all right.

If I find the time, though, I'll post about the connection between Joseph Wright's "An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump" and Don McGregor's "Panther's Rage".

Monday, October 24, 2005

The boy wondering

All Star Batman and Robin the Whatever #1 - 2

I love rock supergroups. Take a drug-injecting singer, passive-aggressive bassist, psychotic drummer and virtuoso guitarist, add a dab of "hey we can put the show on right here" spirit, and you've got yourself a gig. Maybe even a once-in-a-lifetime album. The moment of horror comes when you realise they sound shite - butchering old standards, revamping their greatest songs as slow waltzes and, worst of all, indulging in twelve minute long fretwanks. It dawns on us, that, despite their individual talents, you need chemistry as well.

Which brings me to All Star Batman and Robin, produced by the comic creating supergroup of our times, Frank Miller and Jim Lee. While I'm not convinced the chemistry is exactly right, they have produced something genuinely thought provoking.

Miller, of course, wrote Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, a jolly 1980s romp through a future dysfunctional Gotham populated by murderous street gangs, where civic society had broken down, though mercifully not enough for Gotham's gangster population to be deprived of the styling gel they need to keep their towering mohicans a-quiver. No matter who the artist, if you expect Miller to deliver something as good as that, you're probably in for a disappointment.

You can tell something's up from quite early on in issue #1, where we have several pages of a journalist romping round her apartment in her Agent Provocateur lingerie. This scene added nothing to the plot, and can only have been there because the creators wanted it. Perhaps Jim Lee likes painting semi-nude women? Most artists do.

And then there's the name. Does the phrase "Boy Wonder" have a cachet amongst regular Batman readers? In the world outside, phrases like that have been an embarrassment which comic books should want to shrug off, not plaster on the front of the world's best-selling comic book.

Self-indulgence is always a problem for famous creators. At the start of your career, your visions get blunted by spoilsport editors (some of whom, it has to be said, have the souls of 1950s Czechoslovakian Ministry of Supply bureaucrats), and once you get to the top of the tree, you're determined not to answer to those petty minded fools. Trouble is, editing is a very different skill to writing, and it improves most works. Do away with an editor, and writers are firmly on the path to JK Rowling bloat. You wonder, at times, if this could have been improved with a firmer editor at the helm.

I don't know much about Batman, and Robin not at all, so I'm a rarity in wanting to learn more about these characters. But you sense, with the strange comments and in-jokes which I can only guess may amuse a regular reader, that the new reader is not high on Miller's priority list. Especially in issue #2, where Miller shows the story from the viewpoint of both Batman and Robin, a narrative device which robs the story of any mystery. We do not have an opportunity to wonder what Batman is doing, since he tells us. Ditto with Robin. I can only think Miller chose to tell the story this way because he realises most of readership are intimate with these characters. He judges the best use of the scene is to detail their innermost thoughts during their initial meeting. In terms of regular Batman readers, this may be the correct decision, but to the casual reader, this scene has emotional impact of a custard pie pushed in the face.

Then there's the extremely awkward question of Robin's age. In the regular DCU, is Robin really twelve at their initial meeting? Teenage sidekicks are an unwelcome hangover from the past, mercifully rare in Marvel (Rick Jones excepted, but he's grown up now). Fifty years ago, they were there to give the imagined reader someone to identify with. Now, in these less innocent (or less wilfully self-deceiving) times, you can't look at Batman hanging out with Robin and not think there's something very wrong about it. Could Miller have upped Robin's age to sixteen or so, or does this send the DCU into meltdown? As for Batman saying he's been keeping an eye on Robin, even before Robin's parents have been murdered, well, please make the nasty man stop, because he's scaring me.

This doesn't mean you can't tell good stories about Batman and Robin, of course. It's just best not to dwell on Bruce Wayne's motivations. Which is exactly what these two issues do.

So these issues are far from classics, but we should moderate our expectations as they are an origin story, and establishing the concept is often an unlovely task. And the issues do have their good points. They're straight forward, tell a story, and there's no wretched crossover rendering the whole endeavour incomprehensible. Unlike, says, JSA #77. Now that was what I would call a disappointing read.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Gone, gone, it's all gone

Has anyone else noticed how illiterate and foolish the new comics bloggers are? It makes me want to scrape my eyeballs out with a bottle-opener when I read the wretched drivel these so-called writers come up with. Oh, for the halycon blogging days of 2003, when tumbles, Scratchy the Smuggle and bagomuffin used to assemble over at Snipponista and exchange extensive messages exposing with brilliant clarity the meta-comic book project in all its myriad forms. How we used to laugh and jape and gently tease. Bliss it was to be alive at that dawn of time!

Now, I fear, the barbarians are camped in the citadel. Classic blogs like "Whoops missus I've lost my sausage" and "John Byrne defecated in my bathtub" are empty shells: the ghosts of their writers have long departed, and we few faithful old timers must live in a world shamefully devoid of clarity, talent and beauty. It's darkness, I tell you, darkness.

Woe, woe.


Coming up tomorrow - a hastily put together review of Thor #312, where Thor hits Loki with a big hammer.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

It's too quiet, I tell you

I don't like it. There are too many wading marshes around here for my liking. Any day now, damnable disease-ridden foreign ducks are going to be landing in Strumpshaw Fen, where they'll intermingle with our native mallards before their heads explode with a bloody pop. Then, quick as you like, the H5NI virus is going to leap to humans and East Anglia is going to be laid waste, just like in that ace 1970s TV thriller, "Survivors".

But we've got a plan. We're surprisingly well-armed for a country with strict gun laws: our farmers have more munitions per head than the US Marine Corps, and they already do little all day but stand in the corner of fields taking aimless potshots at Chinese Water Deer. They're going to head down en masse to the Ted Ellis Nature Reserve and attempt to reduce Johnny Invader to giblets. It'll be just like Third Ypres. Only with wild fowl.

The only drawback I can see is that, to a man, our farmers are pathetic shots, and more likely to take out unwitting bird watchers than infected alien fauna. Keep out of here, Bill Oddie, cause it ain't gonna be pretty.

Monday, October 17, 2005

It's the end of civilisation

Yes, Asian bird flu is approaching like a Starlinesque embodiment of death and the NHS only has twenty-six doses of Tamiflu, so it looks like the entire UK blogging community is going to be checking out in the next few months.

In the meantime, can someone answer the only question which really matters any more: at what point in the epidemic does it become environmentally acceptable to me to wipe out the three nests of housemartins in the eaves of my house who warble at annoying hours and keep leaving piles of crap outside my garage door? Bring it on.

Can't resist it

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The ten greatest Norfolk people

Abraham Lincoln: good old Norfolk boy

The Guardian has an article on a list of fifty greatest Yorkshire men and women (mainly men, actually) drawn up by superannuated Thatcherite hitman and professional Yorkshirebore Bernard Ingham, who in an act of typical idiocy forgot to include W.H. Auden. Apart from alarming me with the thought of being stuck in a room full of Yorkshiremen discussing the relative merits of Geoffrey Boycott and Michael Parkinson, it did get me wondering who the greatest figures from my county are. Us Norfolkers are a modest bunch, so I won't do a full fifty, but here are my top ten.

(Don't expect to see the words "man" or "woman", by the way, in Norfolk you're a boy or girl till you get rickety, when you graduate to "old boy" or "old girl". I know that's what they do in Alabama - where do you think they got the idea from?)

1 Thomas Paine

Failed corset maker and inveterate pamphleteer, Thetford boy Tom Paine specialised in destablising ugly monarchies and failing to ingratiate himself to leaders of new democracies. Wrote "Rights of Man". Brilliantly irritated the religious by pointing out there was no god. Slept on a lot of floors in America. Got condemned to death by Robespierre.

Fact: if it hadn't been for Tom Paine, the United States would now be the county of West Cornwall, governed absent-mindedly by a bureaucrat in Truro.

2 Boudicca

Bit of a cheat this one, as Norfolk didn't come into existence until several hundred years after Boudicca and her Iceni tribe had massively kicked the Romans' arses all over Southern England. One day this will be a fantastic Hollywood epic, probably starring an anorexic North Dakotan actress voice-coached into sounding exactly like a half-Devonian, half-Irishwoman with a speech impediment.

Fact: the old Norfolk word "ickeny" (derived, we presume from "Iceni"), means "stubborn, awkward bastard".

3 Horatio Nelson

Burnham Thorpe born, a naval sailing dude with broad Norfolk accent who administered a smacking on the French at Trafalgar, giving uppity tyrant Napoleon a warning of further beatings to come. Had a big leggy love affair with Emma Hamilton, wife of the ambassador to Naples. Used to talk about Norfolk ("this week I am going up to Norfolk") as if it was a different country. Which it is.

Fact: his final words were not the homoerotic "kiss me, Hardy" of legend, but in fact "kiss moy arse, bor". The Norfolk accent is difficult to understand.

4 Abraham Lincoln

Now I know the sticklers amongst you are going to point out that the radically bearded slave freer came from Hardin County, Kentucky. But his grandfather was from Hingham. If Americans whose ancestors left Ireland in 1848 can still get misty-eyed at the sight of a shamrock and the first bar of "Danny Boy", then we're keeping hold of Abe.

Fact: Lincoln often used to say, "sod this presidency lark, my fondest wish is that I could have been a Barnham Broom weaver, just like granddaddy".

5 Edith Cavell

Heroic World War one nurse from Swardeston who used to smuggle wounded soldiers back to blighty. Treacherously executed by the hun, which helped tip American public opinion against Germany.

Fact: She was a sight braver than I would have been.

6 Elizabeth Fry

Earlham girl and prison reformer at a time when a prison sentence meant sleeping on a bed of faeces and cockroaches before being brutalised by a sadistic warden and made to walk on a big stone wheel for seventeen hours non-stop. Inspired the Gaols Act, 1823. Built night shelters. Trained nurses. Taught women to sew.

Fact: Her face is one the back of every five pound note. Respect.

7 Robert Kett

Middle-class Wymondham boy turned rebel, Kett and his army took over Norwich, then the second city in England. Sadly all ended in tears when Henry the Eighth got his act together. The tree where Kett and his accomplices used to meet still stands half-way between Wymondham and Hethersett, though it's looked a bit manky since they poured a load of concrete in it.

Fact: Kett was hung in a cage from the ramparts of Norwich castle till his body rotted and his bones fell onto Castle Meadow. Public health was not a serious consideration in those days.

8 Anna Sewell

Yarmouth girl who wrote "Black Beauty". "Da da, da dada dada dada da daaaaa" - that's her fault.

Fact: every young girl in 1960 loved that book, but none do now. What's the world come to?

9 Julian of Norwich

Slightly crazed religious mystic. Locked herself up in a church in Norwich until she started experiencing hallucinations. Then she wrote about them. She said "suffering was not a punishment that God inflicted, but was a means he used to draw us closer to himself". I'm not sure that would make me feel better if my village had been levelled by an earthquake.

Fact: she was a girl called "Julian". What was that all about?

10 Delia Smith

Technically born in Surrey and living in Suffolk, TV chef Delia Smith is nonetheless 100% Norfolk as she has made millions out of teaching people how to boil an egg. Adored for stopping Norwich City going bankrupt after the departure of a particularly clueless chairman, Delia continues to delight and confuse us by drunkenly yelling "let's be having you" at City fans at half-time when we've gone quiet after watching us piss away a two goal lead against Birmingham.

Fact: Delia is utterly loved by everyone, except by boorish, snarling Ipswich fans, who don't count.

Monday, October 10, 2005

The Commander's Footsteps

The Commander's Footsteps - Aleksandr Blok (1912)

Aleksandr Blok was a Russian Symbolist poet who lived from 1880 to 1921. It's not too important to know what Symbolism actually was, since the tags Blok and his ilk used to put on themselves are rather too reminiscent of floppy-haired Bohemians having prolonged arguments in coffee shops before succumbing to tuberculosis.

At the start of his career, Blok's work had passionate elegies to mystical wish-fulfillment women who symbolised love; by the end it featured prostitutes in revolutionary Leningrad negotiating with their clients. Blok had one foot in the romantic world of Pushkin or Keats, while the other stepped into the slaughter of the First World War.

The Commander's Footsteps finds Blok in transition, still writing about classical themes, but presented in a more modern fashion. The subject of this poem is the legendary seducer, Don Juan, about which wikipedia says

The legends say that Don Juan seduced a young girl (Doña Ines) of noble family, and killed her father (Don Fernando). Later, he came across a statue of the father in a cemetery and impiously invited it home to dine with him, an invitation which the statue gladly accepted. The ghost of the father arrived for dinner as the harbinger of Don Juan's death. The Statue asks to shake Don Juan's hand, and when he extends his arm, he is dragged into hell..

The Commander's Footsteps does not retell this story, but concentrates on the last night of Don Juan's life, after the seduction, the deaths of Donna Anna and her father, and the reanimation of the statue. You can read the whole poem here, which also contains a Russian language reading from poet Edvard Bagritsky so scary you could terrify your children with it on halloween.

The first verses sets the scene:

A thick and heavy curtain at the entrance
Behind the window lies the mist of night.
How much is your tedious freedom worth
Now that you know fear, Don Juan?

The sumptuous bedroom is cold and empty
The servants are asleep, the night is dead
From some blessed, unknown, far-away land
Comes the sound of the cock crowing

This is at heart a gothic horror story. The cock crowing symbolises the day which the main character will never see. This night, out of which nameless horrors are about come, is the last for our tormented Don Juan.

Donna Anna sleeps, hands crossed over her heart
Donna Anna is dreaming

Here, Blok is ratcheting up the "creepy" factor. And just in case you're thinking Donna Anna just has an unorthodox sleeping position:

Whose cruel features have frozen
Echoed in mirrors?
Anna, Anna is it sweet to sleep in the grave?
Is it sweet to dream unearthly dreams?

So, in Blok's version of the legend, not only is Don Juan in trouble from the moving statue, but the deceased Donna Anna is showing signs of life. Then Blok slips in an untranslatable pun

Life is empty, senseless and unfathomable!

The Russian word for "unfathomable" is "byezdonna", which you could split into "byez donna", or "without Donna". A little bit clunky, maybe.

A black, silent motor car flies past like an owl,
Its lights splashing in the night
With quiet, heavy footsteps
The Commander enters the house

This last line, thumping and menacing, sounds fabulous in Russian. Blok has surprised us here by putting a motor car into a Spanish legend: the 1912 equivalent of having Don Juan listening to an iPod. Blok then emphasises that this is in freezing Russia:

From the immense cold comes a sound like a clock
Striking hoarsely in the night

Blok isn't even going to mention the details of the Don Juan plot, but here he makes it clear that he is following the traditional story.

A clock striking, "You invited me to dinner
I have come, are you ready?"

Blok has combined the reanimated statue with the sound of the clock, with death striking out the time left as it approaches. Now he revisits an earlier verse, except, as dawn approaches, the night is now pale:

To the cruel question there is no answer
No answer - only silence
There is fear in the sumptuous bedroom at the hour of dawn
The servants are asleep, and the night is pale

We reach the point of Don Juan's strange death.

At the hour of dawn it is cold and strange.
At the hour of dawn the night is dim.
Maiden of Light! Where are you, Donna Anna?
Anna, Anna. Silence.

And the last verse finishes him off in the most chilling way.

Only in the fearsome mist of morning
The clock strikes for the last time
Donna Anna will rise in the hour of your death
Anna will rise in the hour of death

Don Juan's Anna has become an avenging angel, coming to life only to take her lover down into the darkness. In the last line, there is a suggestion that she is not just the Angel of Don Juan's death, but of everyone's.

I love this poem because it has more atmosphere, and is more moving and horrifying than any horror movie. Radiating the intensity of night fears, more than anything else, it describes what five o'clock in the morning feels like.

Friday, October 07, 2005

There comes a point

House of M #5

There comes a point where you just lose faith. I've been hanging in there with House of M, mainly because I'm a big Bendis fan and the art is lovely to look at. I've been trying to convince myself this is going to turn into something unmissable, but...

Look at the contrast between Bendis' work in House of M and in Avengers. A couple of issues into the Sentry arc, it's clear Bendis has some very confusing tricks up his sleeve, what with repeating dialogue, appearances of real life comic book artists and a silver age hero no-one has ever heard of. I don't know how he'll resolve all this strangeness, but at this moment, the Sentry arc looks like a labour of love.

Not so House of M, which so far has surprised only in how ordinary it all is. "Wanda changes world, heroes spend four issues snapping themselves out of it," sums it up so far.

Then came this issue, which brought back horrible memories of Onslaught, the legendarily overblown X-Epic cross-over event.

My problem is the revelation here where Peter Parker finds out that his Uncle Ben and his wife, Gwen, are really dead, their son doesn't (didn't?) really exist, and his true spouse is the actress, Mary Jane Watson, who for once I'm going to refrain from being rude about. Lets leave aside the thorny question of why this revelation didn't appear where it belongs, in Spider-Man: House of M (what is that mini-series about, if not Peter's relationship with Gwen?). Knowing everything we do, we can be sure that Peter, if these unlikely events occurred, would hotfoot it back to Gwen and Uncle Ben to talk about it. That's why he's the neurotic geek he is. He would surely be very confused and unsure if he even wanted to reverse the changes Wanda made to the reality.

This should be a moment of critical choice for Peter. He's been tormented by the deaths of Ben and Gwen for years, now they're back. Maybe it was a fantasy, but Hawkeye was resurrected by Wanda and he seems real enough. Should Peter choose this fantasy and lose one wife, or choose reality and lose another? This should be a point of high drama. Even if this question bothers Peter in a future issue, this is the point all reason suggests it should happen.

The exigencies of the House of M storyline, however, mean that Peter is needed to travel to Genosha to sort out Magneto alongside a cohort of Avengers and X-Men. So Peter's automatic reaction is I swear to god, I think I'm going to kill them. Magneto. His stupid daughter. I'm going to kill them with my bare hands. I'm not, I'm not going to be able to stop myself.

Peter doesn't say this because it's a realistic reaction of his character. He says it because he has to traipse off to Genosha. The demands of the less than subtle House of M plot stampede over the fascinating questions the plot itself poses. And it reminds me all too much of Onslaught, where all the heroes slated for a revamp marched off to the Park for an utter letdown of a finale.

Then there was the latest issue of Thunderbolts, where dozens of trees died pointlessly for a storyline which was not only completely gratuitous, but interrupted the flow of a book which has had some difficulty getting back to its former glory following its de-cancellation.

Bendis is a great writer, and maybe he'll turn it round. But this is on top of the killing of Max Lord in Wonder Woman (why, incidentally, wasn't this vital plot point where it belonged, in The OMAC Project?), where a character full of personality was sacrificed so that the DC Universe could be flooded with a million identikit robots or cyborgs or whatever they are. It's just all got me thinking that it's time I ducked out of this crossover game. Countdown to Infinite Crisis, House of M, Infinite Crisis, 52, Decimation, The Other: there's just an avalanche of this stuff. And the problem is that they spread over all the other comics: both DC and Marvel appear to be revamping their universes, and if you just buy one or two titles, they just don't make any sense.

My interests tend to be cyclical, and traditionally, I've responded to moments like this by stopping buying comics altogether, coming back in a couple of years when I've grown nostalgic and (hopefully) policy at the major companies has improved. I'm strongly tempted to cull my pull list, but if I do, there probably won't be too much left to review.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Delicious ambiguity

Swamp Thing: Love and Death (#28 - #34)

I'm continuing on with my journey to discover why everyone loves Alan Moore's Swamp Thing so much. Here's my lukewarmish review of the first book.

The first story in Love and Death is "The Burial", where the Swamp Thing, having realised he is an imitation of the deceased Alex Holland, buries Holland's remains. Funerals are always sad - I'm tempted to put in a joke about looking forward to Margaret Thatcher's, but I won't - and writer Alan Moore has little to do in order to craft a sad, contemplative story.

Now I need to admit that horror is not my favourite genre, if only because of my habit of bursting out laughing during the scary bits, and perhaps that is part of my reason for not loving Swamp Thing. The second arc in this book is as good a piece of comic book horror as you're likely to find: a fetid, claustrophic tale about resident heartthrob Abby. Her husband, now a demon, has joined a company called "Blackriver Recorporations" - bit of a clue there's something dodgy here, I would have thought - who specialise in bringing murderers back to life. I'm beginning to understand why Abby's hair is whitest white as she gets held captive by reanimated corpses and covered in crawling insects. It all made me want to have a shower at the end.

The third arc takes us deep down into the underworld to rescue Abby's soul where it's been stashed by a malicious demon. The book's introduction suggests this has Dante's Inferno as its influence, but I'm inclined to think that, if so, it's by way of Ghost Rider, Son of Satan and Mephisto in Stan Lee's Silver Surfer. We also have an unwarranted incursion by regular DC scarydude, the Spectre. But I'll forgive that from someone who can write lines like, "She must not remain in this place, no matter how grotesque our quadrille may become".

And there's my old friend again, the rhymin' demon, the wit from the pit, the penner from Gehenna, the Ezra Pound from underground, the Shelley from, er, Hell-y - yes it's Etrigan. He's armed with a fresh stash of deliberately anachronistic poetry, and Swamp Thing simply has no answer. I'm convinced the way to defeat Etrigan is to manouevre him into ending the first line of a stanza with something unrhymable like "orange", and then, while he's lost in thought, smack him in the face with some e.e. cummings. Actually, Etrigan's verse has improved from the last volume. If only he'd read something more recent than Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Then we're only my favourite story in this volume, Pog. Apparently a homage to Walt Kelly's Pogo Possum, but the spirit of Lewis Carroll looms large. This is a strange tale of comedy aliens (sample dialogue: ...and don't be unmembered to tell the tadling, and see if old strigiforme is fetchable nowabouts) who land in the swamp. Matters turn dark when one is killed by crocodiles: Moore demonstrating how utterly devastating a technique it is to introduce tragedy into the lives of comedy characters. Neil Gaiman used this in one of Sandman stories, though his butchered childhood toys got resurrected in the end - a typical display of affection by Gaiman towards his characters and his readers.

Following a dream sequence story which has the look of a fill-in ("Write a dream, lose a reader" is what I was taught), we're onto the final story, Rite of Spring, where Abby and the Swamp Thing begin their love affair. I'm afraid I'm a complete sucker for a love story, even one between woman and plant life. "You need more from love than the taste of lime", says the Swamp Thing. Now that, Etrigan, is poetry.

I'm a bit disturbed by the consummation of their love, which involves Swamp Thing popping a psychotropic tuber from his ribcage. I have a horribly weak stomach, and just the thought of eating it makes me queasy (it did more to Abby in an earlier issue, where the concept gave her a major upchuck). They then enjoy a multicoloured, psychedelic union and finish it off with a snog while the Swamp Thing sprouts daisies. Bewildering, but undeniably beautiful.

Influence Watch

Moore is a writer who likes to drop quotes into his stories. I'm sure I've missed some, but here are a few:

Page 111: "Friends and other strangers"

From Bob Dylan's Gates of Eden

The foreign sun, it squints upon
A bed that is never mine
As friends and other strangers
From their fates try to resign

Page 128: "How precious. Let this blossom be my fee, to plant within yon dark satanic mill"

From William Blake's Jerusalem.

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?

Jerusalem is the unofficial English national anthem, at least among those of us who detest God save the Queen. Sadly not the same as the Sex Pistols' version, this tedious dirge, invoking the non-existent to rescue the unelected, renders our sportsmen incapable of anything more than stunned torpor in the face of wild Frenchmen singing the Marsaillaise.

Page 142: Pog

As far as I know, Lewis Carroll kicked off the whole made-up word concept with poems like Jabberwocky

"And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
He chortled in his joy.

Page 178: In the history of the world, there have come sour times when the Earth feels compelled to create an elemental champion for itself

"Sour times" - this time it seems to be Moore doing the influencing, to Bristolian grumpsters Portishead, who make classy music at shockingly irregular intervals. "Sour Times" is one of their best songs, though I would judge not one to play if you're recovering from a traumatic break up.

Cause nobody loves me
It's true
Not like you do

Portishead's lead singer is Beth Gibbons, whose album (with Rustin Man - ie a bloke who used to be in "Talk Talk") Out of Season is the most lovely piece of music this decade has produced, and, damn it, I'm going to shamelessly plug it. Curiously, Mrs Clone finds it annoying, mainly due to Gibbons' Billie Holliday-esque voice on Romance and my tuneless impersonation thereof.