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Reviews Written by
Robert P. Inverarity (Silicon Valley, California, United States)

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Super Mario Bros. (Classic NES Series)
Super Mario Bros. (Classic NES Series)
20 used & new from CDN$ 21.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A great start to the Classic NES Series, June 10 2004
Super Mario Brothers is a perfect game. There is a concrete definition for that: once you're used to the control and enemy movement -- that is, once you've entered the game's world -- the game does exactly what you expect. The cheap death in Mario is uncommon and almost all the time it is the player's fault; an expert in Mario can pound through the game and beat it in minutes. (If you think that's a bad criterion, try becoming an expert in Bubsy.) The first thing a gamer should consider for this release is whether the experience stays the same.
Many people have complained that Super Mario Bros. DX for the GBC was a much more valuable release than this is. From the perspective of features, it certainly was: you could save, you could play the Lost Levels game, you could print out Game Boy Printer stickers, etc. From the perspective of experience, however, there's no comparison. DX, due to the limitations of the GBC's screen, could not show complete game screens. The level-change process was updated as well, with a map screen, which changed the feel of the game. Finally, the save games, while good for less-skilled players (like me), negatively affected the challenge level of the game.
Aside from an L+R Game Boy Advance options menu, the GBA and the NES games are identical with one another, since all the NES classics series run on a very well-built emulator. After long, hard, and rigorous *cough* playtesting, I believe the experience in this version to be the match of the original.
It's easy to feel cheated that you're spending this much for a game that's twenty years old without any special features. In fact, with all the other games in this series but Zelda, you ARE being cheated. Super Mario Brothers, however, has replayability, game mechanics, and game design worthy of the ages. Whether or not you're a classic gamer, you need this game in your collection.

Vegetarians of Love
Vegetarians of Love
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5.0 out of 5 stars This is the breath, this is the kiss., June 5 2004
This review is from: Vegetarians of Love (Audio CD)
There are few albums both this excellent and this obscure. Though Bob Geldof is one of the most interesting people in the music business, he misfires as much as (arguably more than) any other musician. By contrast to his other solo albums, "Vegetarians of Love" strikes the perfect balance between humor and pain. It's easily the most humane album I've heard, finding humor in the blackest facts of existence and not concealing mortality in its most joyous moments.
The album starts off strong, with the strongly Dylanesque "A Gospel Song." Right away, the album's unique blend of instruments (New Orleans accordions, Irish fiddles, and Paul Carrack's organ (!) combine remarkably effectively here) comes to the fore. This song was a grower; the high point is the emotional understanding in St. Bob's voice in the "It makes you cry" bits before each "chorus". The song is Dylanesque, too, for the perverse use of perspective it uses: a former lover talking to a friend and current lover of the woman in question...?
"Love or Something", a collaboration with Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics, is an up-tempo and unabashedly poppy love song; out of context, as on Loudmouth, it's not very involving, but placed where it is and placed in the context of the rest of the album (I'm using the American release; YMMV), it's a bittersweet celebration of and complaint about love and aging. And jeesh is it hard to resist.
The transition from "Going to a Go Go" to frustration with these damn human things and apocalyptic desolation would kill most albums stone dead, but not this one. It helps that the Great Song of Indifference is a blazingly ironic effort, with Bob first kissing off his relationship, then the person's life, then himself, the government, the nation, the entire third world, and then the earth in general. O catharsis. And then he smirks that sin's a social engineer and we go through another rousing round of "Na na nas". If it were anyone else besides the Live Aid guy, it would be incredibly offensive. Maybe it should be anyway. It's still one of the best songs ever written.
An even better, if much more serious, track follows: "Thinking Voyager 2-type Things" (co-authored with Pete Briquette of the Rats). It's both more and less weird than the title makes it seem, but at the core it's a celebration of life, an invocation of the creative impulse in all its forms, from sex to spacecraft. It's transfixing from the resurrection of Brendan Behan to the last promise to turn up the signal of Voyager 2. If ever you've looked at the stars with a sense of wonder, if ever you've gone back with your partner to that special place with a broken heater, if you've ever felt the urge to _create_, you need to hear this song.
"Big Romantic Stuff" addresses more mundane matters, specifically the unquenchable need for excitement and narrative (and music!) in our lives. It's a female mid-life crisis song; I'm a 22-year-old male and it makes ME laugh and think and feel.
"Crucified Me" is the album's darkest moment, with love becoming a crucifixion. Hey, if you knew Paula Yates, you'd understand. It's moving but not very relevant to me. It fleshes out "painful, passionate obsession" in the catalog of human nature, though.
A-and social ills are here again! "The Chains of Pain", co-written with Danny Mitchell (of the Messengers), makes coy reference to some politician named George in its cryptic first verse, reminiscent of Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited," but quickly becomes more direct: it's about smashing the broken bonds that hold you in captivity to pain, and on this fifteenth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre the song's celebration of the lives of the murdered demonstrators is still riveting.
"A Rose at Night" seems more prolonged at 5:43 than "Walking Back to Happiness" does at 7:33. "Rose" is a bit meandering; I'm still not sure what the point of it is. The words are evocative, though, seeming to be about understandings reached too late, and the music is as warm as an summer evening's breeze.
"No Small Wonder" celebrates the mind's power to take us away from quotidiana. Geldof is a musician who has worked hard in his life and it shows in this song. The line "It's no small wonder" is delivered each time with both irony and awe, and if you know of any other song that combines the two this well be sure to recommend it!
"Walking Back to Happiness" is the final masterwork of the album. It's the endorphin rush after the knock-out fight, the warm, calm glow after you've just been thrown out of the house. Luckily Helen Shapiro has two arms, one for Bob and one for me.
But it wouldn't be a great album if it ended here, peacefully as it would. Instead Bob grabs us all by the shoulders and gives us a thorough shake with "Let It Go", a expression of what happens when frustration and love collide. "Is this religion without priest, prayers, or pews?" Bob asks; most of us know well enough that the answer is yes.
And, lest we leave either too happy or too sad, there's yet one last comic annihilation. "The End of the World" is unabashed and deeply-felt parody, one more chicken little saying, "Oh, you bleeps, you're gonna get it for what you're doing. Eventually." Where else are you gonna hear Bob Geldof lump himself in with "Nostradamus and Jesus and Buddah", anyway? It's a funny and bleak ending to the album.
So, Bob's covered creation, growth, love, sex, age, and death; done it with humor, honesty, compassion, charm, and soul; and completely avoided resorting to cliche, sap, or melodrama. Can you really ask for more in an album, or in any work of art? I vote no.

White Light/White Heat
White Light/White Heat
Price: CDN$ 7.60
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4.0 out of 5 stars Pop or anti-pop?, May 25 2004
This review is from: White Light/White Heat (Audio CD)
White Light/White Heat is a delight, an album of pure pop with a reputation nearly as black as Lou Reed's 'Berlin'. The subject matter is dark enough, but the melodies and musical development of the songs themselves are recognizably descended from early 60s pop.
What renders these bright and sparkly pop songs so unlistenable is the production. Most production, whether classical, jazz, or pop, aims to advance the goals of the music, to travel in parallel lines with it. Take, for instance, the career of Neil Young: the quieter self-reflective stuff, such as 'After the Goldrush' and 'Comes a Time', gets crystal-clear recording and a lot of sonic separation between instruments; the darker, withdrawn stuff (the Doom Trilogy, Sleeps With Angels) gets off-the-cuff recordings with obvious, intentional mistakes and a messy feel. Each production decision supports the goals and development of the music and lyrics.
The production on WLWH, however, is aimed at damaging, restraining, perhaps even destroying the music's effect. Take the title track, a bouncy number about speed; any sane (or conscientious) producer would have played up the jangle and made damn sure everything was well-separated. The music on this recording, though, seems to have been made with one (maybe two) mics, blending all the sound into one mess that's mixed equally with Reed's voice. It's pop music played with a chainsaw.
Equally important to most pop producers is the centrality of the vocal. Listen to "Pale Blue Eyes" or Cale's cover of "Hallelujah"; the vocal is what you're supposed to listen to, the music just complements it. Here, though, there's an almost perverse competition to drown out the vocals. Special circumstances account for "Sister Ray" (one take, four musicians all trying to play loudest), but EVERY SONG (well, with the exception of "Here She Comes Now") is as determined to destroy or suppress the vocals. That kind of perversity takes dedication AND talent, and comes to the fore on "The Gift" -- a hilariously black short story where the music renders John Cale's words inaudible in many stretches.
None of this is a bad thing. 'White Light/White Heat' is an album at war with itself, one segment of music constantly seeking to destroy what another has created. This aptly-titled album is the sort of musical self-immolation that incandesces.

Are You Passionate?
Are You Passionate?
Price: CDN$ 17.86
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2.0 out of 5 stars A mediocre album, Feb. 25 2004
This review is from: Are You Passionate? (Audio CD)
Neil Young has always been at his best when chewing up cliches. The two halves of his great strength as a songwriter, aside from the great tunes, were: first, his ability to take an old phrase and turn it upside down, to draw meaning from words that had run out of ink; second, his ability to make real, true art with his creative invention and reworking of symbols.
It's telling, then, that only three songs here features such clever use of words: the title track, the killer "Goin' Home", and the final track, "She's a Healer". When Neil sings, "Are you negative in a world that never stops... turning on you," the listener's mind hangs on every word (stops ... turning ... on you) as we round the syntactic bend and realize what he's saying. "Goin' Home" features lyrics are impressive even when compared to the rest of Young's work: "Elusively, she cut the phone / and jumped from cell to cell / really looking remarkable / -- and obviously doing well", the slant rhymes all work and grab the listener by the throat. "She's a Healer" features very evocative turns of phrase that hint at something unsaid, while using a cliche ("Let the good times roll") in a very interesting way. It features a groaner of a rhyme (that ends with "Without her, I'd be toast").
Word choice is only craft, though; what about the art? The majority of the songs here are meditations on getting old, on losing children, loves, and friends, and the majority have a very limited use of symbolism. Aside from "Goin' Home", everything means exactly what it says and nothing more. At least lyrically speaking, that means it's just not great art.
Well, when art is gone, there's always meaning, right? Well, sadly, AYP? features a shaky-sounding Shakey mouthing plagiarized sentiments a younger Young might well have mocked. (The preceding wordplay is nobody's idea of craft, by the way.) The martial middle section of the title track reveals the speaker to be a fighter pilot, who adds: "... I dove into the darkness and I let my missiles fly / And they might be the ones that kept you free." I don't believe any missiles fired since WWII have kept me free, and even WWII is arguable. I am no pacifist, but if anyone can justify this lyric I will be surprised. (Freedom is the fundamental concept of the best Western societies, and this meaningless use of the word is profoundly disappointing -- Neil Young of all people should get it.)
And then there's "Let's Roll". This insult to heroism is based around an urban legend: Todd Beamer never talked to his wife, though she implied he did in many interviews, and we don't know for sure he said "let's roll", though it was a phrase that he (and many people I knew before 9/11) used often. For the first two verses, the only sin the song commits is lyrical banality. But the third verse, which starts promisingly ("You've gotta turn on evil / when it's coming after you"), ends with a cheap rhyme that can be read to endorse terrible statecraft (read: Iraq et al). Then the fourth verse comes along and utterly destroys any pretenses of quality the song had. "Let's roll for freedom / Let's roll for love / Goin' after Satan / On the wings of a dove / Let's roll for justice / Let's roll for truth / Let's not let our children grow up / Fearful in their youth." What connection does freedom -- political, personal, or otherwise -- have to 9/11, other than that baleful day's serving as an excuse to take away American freedoms, won by blood and toil and sacrifice? What does "Let's roll for love" mean here? Are al Qaeda really Satan or his minions? How can we go after them on the wings of a dove -- is Neil suggesting amnesty or pardons? What does he mean here by truth and justice? I don't believe that Neil means the dark and horrible things that can be interpreted by his words in this last verse; I just believe that the lyrics are sloppy, meaningless, and damaging.
Moving from the offensive to the merely sappy, the rest of the tracks are mostly pleasant and empty. The first track, "You're My Girl", is the high point of these: it may be a sentimental call to his daughter, but the verses (especially the first) are creative and it doesn't feel cliched. "She's a Healer" has a very interesting idea at its core, but I don't know what it is. "Mr. Disappointment" is decent, too. "Differently", "Don't Say You Love Me", and the three songs before "She's a Healer" all say very little with very little.
Should you buy this album? No, unless it's cheap. "Goin' Home" and "She's a Healer" are essential, the title track is close, and the first four tracks are listenable, but it's just not a great or even average Neil Young album. Get it used or borrow it from a friend.

Chu Chu Rocket - Game Boy Advance
Chu Chu Rocket - Game Boy Advance
2 used & new from CDN$ 24.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Original, cracked, and perfect, Feb. 15 2004
This is possibly the best portable puzzle game I've ever encountered. Many have discussed the gameplay, but few people have explored what you can do with the level creation ability.
In my case, I used the character editor to change the mice into blue ghosts and the cats into PacMen -- this took about an hour. Twenty minutes on the level editor yielded a very nice PacMan multiplayer level. I'm not very good with graphics, but the possibilities here are endless.
In addition, many have complained about the control schemes. I use the "Expert" controls, and have adjusted to them very well. The two other schemes don't provide nearly the same speed. Yes, it's not as nice as the Dreamcast, but it's perfectly usable with a bit of practice.
If you like puzzle games, if you like to customize your games, if you like multiplayer action, or if you're in the mood for some top-grade Japanese weirdness, you need this game.

The Ape Who Guards The Balance
The Ape Who Guards The Balance
by Elizabeth Peters
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
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2.0 out of 5 stars Flawed Entry in a Usually Delightful Series, Jan. 21 2004
A series as long-running as the Peabody books is bound to contain a few duds. The Lion in the Valley, The Deeds of the Disturber, and The Hippopotamus Pool all had their share of problems, but The Ape Who Guards the Balance manages to offend in a way none of these earlier works did. It has excellent sections, particularly in the interactions between Ramses, David, and Nefret, and the Emersons' presence at the botched excavation of KV55 was a nice touch, but both the central mystery and the key emotional events of this volume are wasted effort.
The mystery is not a terribly interesting one; the opening chapter makes it clear that Sethos is back and that there will be even more people creeping about in various disguises than usual (this is possibly the weakness of this series in general). Sethos I can handle, but the villain of this book was tiresome the first two times she popped up and is even worse in this round. Peters undercuts any feminist agenda she might have by inadvertently making a key villainess far less compelling than one-shot villains like Riccetti and Pesanker. Bring back Lady Baskerville, if you must, but no more of this!
As for the personal travails of the Emerson clan... the troubles foreshadowed in the previous book are hinted at more and more strongly here, and then the images of a fratricidal tangle over Nefret resolve abruptly in a way that might be realistic in life but is unsatisfying as fiction. Some people fall in love, some are revealed as latent racists who turn upon their loved ones in times of stress, some die, and some stay the same. None of this turmoil is terribly affecting-and this is in the tenth volume of a series I've devoted much time and mental energy to, a series whose characters are 'people' I enjoy spending time with!
I feel the series soared back on course with Falcon at the Portal, and reached higher still with He Shall Thunder in the Sky, but Ape just didn't cohere.

Seeing a Large Cat
Seeing a Large Cat
by Elizabeth Peters
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
40 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Splendid new direction for a long-running series, Jan. 21 2004
The Peabody series rebounds after the uneven Hippopotamus Pool, but rather than returning to the tone of the pre-Nefret books, it takes off in a new direction. The "children"-- calculating Ramses, gutsy Nefret, and gentle David-- come into their own here, though sixteen-year old Ramses still, at times, seems older than his two comrades combined. Peters allows the readers access to the minds of these three through the device of "Manuscript H," which provides a welcome contrast to Amelia's familiar but none too reliable way of recounting events.
This volume has a smaller cast of characters than some of its predecessors; a handful of familiar faces is balanced by a handful of new ones, but the mystery benefits rather than suffers from this reduced cast. It's a unique case this time, with no pesky journalists needed to lend the events an air of exoticism. The juxaposition of a medium, her delusional client, a five-year-old disappearence and a highly unconventional mummy create a blend of a genuinely interesting plot and the characterization and dialogue at which Peters excels.
Darkness begins to creep into this once-lighthearted (in spite of all the murders) series, as foreshadowed conflict between the three children builds to premonitory images of doom at the novel's end. In other words, proceed directly to The Ape Who Guards the Balance if you want answers... though you may not like what you find.

Hail to the Thief
Hail to the Thief
Price: CDN$ 12.59
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3.0 out of 5 stars Another step back from the peak, July 12 2003
This review is from: Hail to the Thief (Audio CD)
No band's creative peak lasts forever (cf. Beatles, Talking Heads, even the White Stripes). With The Bends, OKComputer, and Kid A, Radiohead had one of the longest, most successful, and emotionally satisfying such peaks in recent memory. With Amnesiac they climbed down from that peak, and Hail to the Thief does nothing to help them rescale it.
It's not the the songs are bad, by and large - neither were Amnesiac's - but the tracklisting is tired and the styles are a little too comfortable, a little too familiar. I don't mind much, because that peak was personally very disruptive and emotionally painful for the band.
However, it does irritate me, ever so slightly, that HTTT could have been just as good as the Bends if they had just thought it out better. Sure, it's the artist's prerequisite to present his art the way he or she desires, but there are a number of emotionally or rhythmically jarring segues on this album. For example, sandwiching the beautiful, lonely, but perhaps positive "Sail to the Moon" between the negative and exhausting "Sit Down. Stand Up." and the negative and fatalistic "Backdrifts" (all of which are excellent songs, even if SDSU is very repetitive) is inexplicable and totally ineffective for all three songs. Furthermore, SttM's place in the tracklisting is an awkward parody of the placing of "Pyramid Song" on Amnesiac and makes the similarities between the songs painfully obvious. Finally, ending the album with "Wolf at the Door" is unappealing and ineffective.
In addition to the neglect of careful tracklisting, HTTT suffers from a bloated tracklist and length (forty-five minutes is really a pretty ideal length for albums, as Kid A showed). There's one bad song on here: "Where I End and You Begin" is diffuse and focusless, has astoundingly bad 80s-sounding synths as the main instrument, and should have been left as a b-side or left unreleased. Other songs, such as "I Will" and "A Punchup at a Wedding" are really nice, but unsuited to the album as a whole. They'd be better off supplementing the 'There There' b-sides.
Finally, in an attempt to reduce the album to a reasonable length, the band cut some songs down. I Will suffers but survives the loss of guitar at the beginning and Punchup the loss of an intro. The Gloaming, however, is hurt worst by edits. It was easily one of the best songs on the leaked version, yet the album version is really quite bad. This is because the band cut both the intro and the whole second half of the song, awkwardly and carelessly splicing in the ending.
If you do buy this album (and it is worthwhile to do so), try ripping it and making your own 45-minute version. Odds are you'll be surprised at how nice it sounds. (FWIW, my tracklisting: 2+2=5, Sit Down Stand Up, Backdrifts, Go to Sleep, There There, Scatterbrain, We Suck Young Blood, Wolf at the Door, Myxamatosis, The Gloaming (prerelease version), and Sail to the Moon.)

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2.0 out of 5 stars Some great songs, overall mediocre album, April 2 2003
This review is from: Elephant (Audio CD)
The secret ingredient to The White Stripes and White Blood Cells were unaffected performance, unpretentious manner, and their simple, unadorned honesty. Sure, the concept of the band may have been affected, pretentious, and fake, but the music itself beautifully lacked those. De Stijl just wasn't their equal, and Elephant also comes up lacking.
Let's start with the art. It's too slick, and the red backwards 3's and the different covers in different regions of the world remind me distressingly of Pink Floyd's The Division Bell. The back is an imitation of the classic Sixties bare-bones back cover.
Imitation? Pretention? This is not the simple truth that those other albums are about. I feel a publicist's hand in this one, and I don't like it. The whole "classic British studio" thing gave me pause while they were recording, and while the result isn't bad, it's rather sad that they're trying so self-consciously to follow in the footsteps of others.
Art wouldn't matter so much if it weren't for the music. While the album has its share of great songs (the first four, You've Got Her in Your Pocket, Hardest Button to Button, and Girl You Have No Faith in Medicine), the pacing feels off-balance and the alternation between long grooves like Ball and Biscuit and short bursts of adrenaline like Hypnotise never really settles in. Also, did they need to use the same Peel Sessions version of "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself"? I already bought it once as a b-side...
To do a great song justice: "There's No Home For You Here" is a really successful reinterpretation of "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" as "There's No Home For You Here". It could be just a talentless ripoff -- the chords are the same, the licks and fills very similar, and I swear Jack used that same solo on Dead Leaves one of the nights I've seen them -- but it ends up telling a very similar story in a very different way. It's ace.
While Elephant is an album with many great songs, it's a shame it couldn't have been as perfect as the first and third. Who knows, maybe the odd numbered White Stripes albums are the truly great ones.

A History of Pi
A History of Pi
by Petr Beckmann
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 18.99
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable but not reliable, March 4 2003
This review is from: A History of Pi (Paperback)
While this "history of Pi" presents a satisfactory accounting of the history of mathematics in a fairly enjoyable way, the author's tangents must relegate it to the b-string of math-oriented popular books. While I didn't find the lack of detailed proofs problematic, the compromise he attempts to find between proof-heavy math book and light popular book results in a rather schizophrenic treatment of some very interesting and relevant topics (such as continued fractions). He fails, too, to pursue the implications those useless digits of Pi have for our understanding of the universe, though perhaps when the book was written these implications weren't quite so obvious.
Many have described the opinion-heavy style of Dr. Beckmann; I only wish to add that his opinions are handed out in the classical Objectivist style. That is, they're in a tone meant to make the reader feel complicit in their sentiment and far above any reproach they might be dealing. For example, his complaints about the fledgling environmental movement neglect any facts and refer to activists as "frustrated housewives on messianic trips." This sort of dismissal out-of-hand is used on Aristotle, on the Romans, on the Soviets -- all based on few factual examples. While I *agree* with him on the great flaws of Aristotle (at least as a scientist and mathematician), on the Romans (though he apparently regards George Bernard Shaw's "Caesar and Cleopatra" as historically accurate enough from which to quote Julius Caesar), and on the Soviets (though Oppenheimer and Turing didn't get much fair treatment on "our" side of the Iron Curtain), I find this treatment distracting. He has other tricks to make the reader feel "smart" -- the epigraph for chapter 9 is the ever-popular "eppur si muove", but instead of citing it to Galileo, as is commonly done, he gives it to Giordano Bruno as a dying cry. While he acknowledges in the footnotes that there's not a single good reason to attribute it to Bruno, it's still the sort of gambit an author employs to send his reader quoting this new correction of popular fact to everyone he meets, feeling smugly superior.
I recommend the book, especially if you can get it inexpensively (it's terribly short). If ever you find yourself feeling superior when reading it, though, realize that you've fallen prey to Dr. Beckmann's little trap.

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