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Rob McCow
15 January 2015 @ 09:18 pm

Not an especially enthralling project tonight. I wanted to connect my camera to the Raspberry Pi. Thanks to a program called gphoto2 I could. In theory this would let you do all kinds of things like adjust the settings of the camera and take photos on command from the Pi. Unfortunately it did none of these things! All I could do was download all the pictures, which is a fine thing to do but not terribly exciting.

Commands used today:
sudo apt-get install gphoto2
(Gets and installs gphoto2. You need to add "sudo" so you can do it as a SuperUser, because ordinary users can't install jack all).
sudo raspi-config
(Used this to change the Boot from the Desktop Terminal to the Terminal Screen, i.e. the one you type stuff in on).

Equipment involved:
The all-photo-taking, all-SD-card-writing Fujifilm FinePix S2950, which is immune from Pi hacking.

Next to try: Sonic Pi!
Rob McCow
02 January 2015 @ 09:29 pm
Despite my annoyance, I did finally get the Raspberry Pi working, via wireless from my laptop. Here's evidence of the victory:


This site tells you how to connect to VNC. http://www.raspberrypi.org/documentation/remote-access/vnc/

So the first step it seems is to modify the desktop. So I squashed the raspberry and covered the screen in pink mush. Then I installed 'Synaptic' using the command "sudo apt-get install synaptic" but I came across a problem right away:


I played the game Fez right the way through but I still can't read BLOCK. Anyway, if I get this working I'll check what "Apps" (that I archaically like to call "Programs") I have installed.
Rob McCow
01 January 2015 @ 07:31 pm
Well that was a full day. My objective was to connect the Raspberry Pi to my laptop so that I could use the laptop screen and keyboard.

Seven hours in and I have discovered that things are a lot harder than they seem.

The first attempt was via a network cable. - http://pihw.wordpress.com/guides/direct-network-connection/

Ran through all of this and I managed to get 'Putty' working. This program allowed me to access the terminal remotely. But I wanted to access the pretty screen with the Raspberry on it.

Unfortunately I needed to do some 'Updates' on the 'Wi-Fi'. I have a wi-fi dongle, two or three actually. I looked up how to connect to wi-fi and found several pages like this one - http://www.raspberrypi.org/documentation/configuration/wireless/wireless-cli.md

And nothing worked. I tried several different programming recipes but got nothing. This website - http://raspberrypihq.com/how-to-add-wifi-to-the-raspberry-pi/ took me entirely astray.

A few hours later, after adding in a powered USB hub in case the dongle needed extra power (it didn't) I set all of the console commands back to how they were originally and using the desktop (GUI) controls. I'd been getting a message that the Wi-Fi Application could't find the wpa_supplicant, but putting the wpa_supplicant and network/interfaces back to how they were originally fixed it.

After re-typing my wifi password several times, it finally connected.

So then I could run the updates and get the tightvncserver - this is a program that lets you run the desktop remotely from another computer. http://www.raspberrypi.org/documentation/remote-access/vnc/windows.md

Install the VNC viewer on your Windows laptop, install VNC server on the Pi and you're away.

Of course, things are never that easy. You need to know the IP of your Pi, which is easily findable if you type ifconfig into the LXTerminal on the Pi. It's a series of numbers like But when you connect, you also need to type in the port number after two colons - so Took me an hour to find that out.

By 6pm I could see the Pi desktop on my laptop! The next stage was to write a script so the Pi would automatically run the VNC server on startup.


You write a small file that runs the VNC. You save it, then you need to make it executable. But when I tried to use 'chmod' to change the properties of the vnc.sh, it told me that I couldn't.

For some reason.

I haven't cried today, but I have thought about it. A friend of mine told me to install Linux because it's so powerful and easy to use. But I knew it'd be like this. A whole day and I've got almost nowhere, even with the vast resources of the internet. I wanted to learn how to do these things myself and I do have some knowledge. But it seems I've spent all day tripping up over my bloody shoelaces.
Rob McCow
01 January 2015 @ 12:19 pm
I got a Raspberry Pi for Christmas. I don't know if I'll get anywhere with it, but I thought I'd keep a brief log of my failures or successes. With lots of pics.


So this is what you get. Well, it isn't, because you get the Raspberry Pi box and a box containing a box to put your Raspberry Pi in. A sort of cake tin. It doesn't come with wheels and a sandwich either.


With a bit of self assembly, you can create the colourful object above. I've plugged in a Microsoft Wireless Keyboard and Mouse adaptor - that's the white thing that sits in the USB slot. There's also a standard phone charger which is plugged straight into the mains and an HDMI cable. That connects it to our television and presents the first problem. We like watching TV and so having a Raspberry Pi plugged into it might cause distress in the household.

The RP came with a large SD card that didn't plug into it anywhere. But the large SD card also contained a tiny SD card that fitted in a small slot on the short edge.


The first thing you have to do is choose an Operating System. The top one is (insultingly?) called 'NOOBS' or 'New Out Of the Box System'. Programmers are good at acronyms, or PAGA for short. I chose Raspbian. This is recommended for beginners as it has a nice graphical interface and does a great impression of Windows Installing, as seen above.


All was going well until I got to this screen. The Raspberry Pi console absolutely refused to recognise the Wireless Keyboard and Mouse, no matter how hard I pressed the buttons.

So I nipped upstairs and pinched the Keyboard and Mouse from Simon's PC.


So now Simon was not only without TV, but because the PC refused to recognise the Wireless Keyboard, he couldn't go on his PC either.


Meanwhile, I was able to plough through some menu options and get to the Graphical User Interface (GUI).

You can do literally anything with a Raspberry Pi and I've got a number of projects I want to try out. But the first objective is to return the PC and TV to Simon! Project one will be getting control from my laptop.
Current Music: Paul McCartney - London Town
Rob McCow
07 June 2013 @ 05:01 pm
Some notes for me:

Frank L Cauldhame
Mary Cauldhame
Mrs Clamp
Old Saul
Jamie the Dwarf
Blyth Cauldhame

Favourite memorable moments:
The Wasp Factory - 12 ways to die, constructed from a clock face.
What happened to Eric (that night in the hospital).
Various murders: The snake and the false leg, the giant kite, the buried bell / bomb circle.
The killer rabbit and the Black Destroyer.
The burning, dogs and sheep.
Frank totally drunk, with Jamie on his shoulders chatting up a girl, trying to keep it together.
Athelwald Trapley - attempted death by gas, Marlboro incident, death by drowning in a oil-drum full of rainwater.
"The buggers have learned how to fly!"
A few lumps of wax in a pickle jar.
What happened to me (when Eric came back).

General thoughts:
Classic first novel (though actually his third). Banks often builds his books around something that we know is going to happen early on, but doesn't happen until the very end. There are always twists, delays and surprises on the way; this is what keeps it exciting. Sometimes this is frustrating; it's the only thing about his writing that I'm not so fond of. The story doesn't seem to know where it wants to go, but that's played as a strength and adds to the unpredictability.

There are some extremely gross moments, but it all fits in with the tone of the story. The shocks are genuinely shocking.

The lead character is one of the most messed up that Banks ever created. Frank is hateful at times, living in his own twisted world on a tiny Scottish island somewhere near Porteneil. There's a real wildness and spiritual savagery to his lifestyle, borne out of isolation. His community is about as small as it gets; for most of the novel it's Frank on his own. The novel builds up the arrival of Eric as a terrifying psychopath, but Eric's activities are nothing compared with the things that Frank gets up to.

There are layers of meaning and complexity to the story as well. The Wasp Factory is a bleak metaphor for life, as Frank's home-made oracle and master. The dazed wasps get stuck down one path, doors closing behind them, leading to their inevitable demise through one of twelve (or more) ways. It's not clear if Frank believes in any kind of god. He appears to be inventing his own pagan rituals, such as the collection of the precious bodily materials including belly-button fluff and toenail cheese. Makes me sick just thinking about it.

It's a book that is always going to be better the first time you read it, but I still enjoyed it a second time around.
Current Location: Island
Current Mood: Rainy
Current Music: rainmood
Rob McCow
07 April 2013 @ 09:43 pm
Had some bad news today, poor old Rufus Rabbit passed away last week. He was found by Si's brother. Apparently Rosie was with him, cuddling him at the end.

Rufus was the most fun rabbit that we've ever had. We loved Charlie but he could be pretty miserable and grumpy. Most rabbits don't like being held and Rosie is no exception. She is incredibly fast and will zip out of the way to avoid being picked up. Rufus, on the other hand, didn't seem nearly as bothered with it.

When we needed to take them to the vets or visiting, it was always easier to get Rufus into the cage. With Rosie, we'd need to spend hours and hours chasing her. Usually, Rufus would hop out just as we got Rosie in!

Rufus was a Rescue Rabbit, from the http://www.dbarc.org.uk/ Diana Brimblecombe Animal Rescue Centre. He was dumped outside the centre in a box, which I'm guessing was a Dell PC box because Rufus and Rosie were originally called Dell and Delila. Naturally, we couldn't have that! Leaving them in a box outside the centre was cruel - they could have got out, or been attacked by a fox.

There were a few rabbits to choose from at the centre, but I was set on getting a pair. I know rabbits like their own personal space, but I think it gets boring if there's just one of them with no buddies to play with.

Rosie and Rufus were best buddies, most of the time. I think Rufus suffered a bit as Rosie is quite a dominant rabbit, often wanting to play piggy back. They had spells of bunny-punch-ups, where the two would fall out. The way they fought was pathetic. They'd both lie on their sides and flap their paws frantically at each other, in a 'Go Away!' gesture. That said, it still resulted in nicked ears, fluff everywhere and injuries. During one fight Rufus had his ear injured. It was only a scratch, but I remember a dark red drop of blood on his ear. The fur never grew back on that patch.

They were a cheeky pair and Rufus was the cheekiest. He would be the one on his back legs, reaching up to get to the plants that seemed out of reach a few moments earlier. Soon after we got them, I remember Si telling me that he was sitting in the living room watching them. They were hiding behind a wall and seemed to be popping up one at a time. First Rufus, then Rosie... then Rufus again!

Our neighbours of a few years back were also enamoured of our rabbits, at least their three-year-old son was. There was one evening where he stood enthralled and excited at Rufus and Rosie, pointing and shouting 'Rabbits!' Soon afterwards a hutch appeared in our neighbour's garden... and Lily the Rabbit too. Lily made it into our garden once - all three rabbits seemed startled and shocked at this, not knowing whether to fight each other, say hello or what. When I went outside they all stood rigid to the spot and looked at me, like burglars caught in the headlights.

There was a couple of occasions where we thought he'd gone missing. One time we did a big search all around the neighbourhood... only to find him hiding upstairs under the bed! Even if he got out, he'd only go as far as Jean's garden however. Jean's garden is a beautifully tended garden, full of succulent flowers and delicious hedges. Quite often the two rabbits would stare wistfully at it, dreaming of the grass next door which was ever so much greener. Of course, on the few occasions that they made it there it didn't make Jean terribly happy!

Rufus had really beautiful colouring. He was black, but had white patches around his eyes and on his paws, with brown fur around the joins. The back of his head had a ring around the ears, which sort of gave him the look of a monk's haircut.

And I missed the last few months of Rufus's life. Moving away, I did wonder if the two rabbits would still be around when I came back. It seems at least one of them won't be. There are many reasons why I've regretted leaving; this is another one.
Current Location: Jean's Garden
Current Mood: Very Sad
Current Music: Pink Floyd - Echoes
Rob McCow
12 February 2013 @ 09:16 am
I was rooting through my wallet looking for change to buy breakfast this morning, when I realised that I had change from three different continents rattling about in there, competing for my attention. Nickels and dimes are mingling with twenty-pence-pieces and Qatari Dihrams. It's all quite confusing.

It doesn't help that in the past four days I've hopped from the Middle East to Northern Europe and then on to Western America. The journey was planned donkey's years ago, based around the big Doctor Who convention here in LA. With the 50th Anniversary of the show, I thought it would be great if I could persuade a few people from the UK to join us in attending. It's a big ask given the distance and inevitable expense, but we did have four people take us up on the challenge and I was delighted with that. However, since the plans were put in place I've moved to live in Qatar so nipping across the Atlantic is even more of a task.

Still, Simon and I made it to LAX yesterday at 6.30pm, not feeling too worse for wear. Simon has watched 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' which he assured me was brilliant and had almost reduced him to tears on the plane. I watched the first half hour of 'Trading Places' with Dan Ackroyd and Eddie Murphy, which I found intolerable. Then I watched Looper, about how Bruce Willis travels back in time to stop an impersonator shooting him in the back. It was a wretched, nonsensical mess of a film that messed up all of it's time travel rules and didn't know what story it wanted to tell. The performances were extremely good, but the story was absolutely stank.

Good thing that we weren't too exhausted by the flight, because Los Angeles International is a strange place. There's a mysterious hush that hangs over it, as though everything is slightly deadend or muffled. Rather than feeling like a huge transport hub with thousands of people coming through every hour, it feels like a stuffy and forgotten hall from a mid-1970's polytechnic. The 1970's ethos runs through the whole arrivals lounge, only the fingerprint scanner and camera give it any sense of modernity but it's not paticularly pleasant being checked in those ways. On the plane there was an 'Information' section on Los Angeles airport that explained what the 'X' stood for. LA airport has always been known as that, but when the three letter designation came in the 'X' was added to fill in the space. So 'X' means nothing, a fact which seems to have penetrated the heart of the airport.

Fortunately the LAX transfer process is fairly efficient and before long we were off to the complimentary shuttle bus and heading out to pick up a hire car. We were allowed to choose our own car from the SUV range, so after a lot of indecision (not the Nissan! No way!) we chose a Chevrolet SUV. A proper American car! The Chevvy is pretty decent, it gets the job jobbed and there's loads of room for driver, passengers and luggage. Perfect.

Sat nav took us to a Boutique Hotel on Westwood Blvd, which has turned out to be fairly decent but unremarkable. It's not too near to anything, but not too far out either. It does have the considerable advantage of having the rooms shielded from the road noise, so overnight it was very, very quiet. If I'd have been able to sleep properly, this would have been fantastic!

Anyway, shattered now so going to leave it there... maybe catch up tomorrow morning!
Current Mood: baggy eyes
Current Music: Ultravox
Rob McCow
05 August 2012 @ 04:37 pm

When this album was announced, it must have worried Queen fans. 'Jazz'? Seriously? Would Queen be embracing polyrhthyms, syncopation and lounge-style noodlings? Of course not! Having listened to this album several times now, I have not identified any reason why it might be called 'Jazz'.

This is a real curveball. It's incredibly far-out, even for a band with such a wide range of musical styles. It's easy to be put off by the wailing in a hotch-potch of middle-eastern languages, but I think Freddie does it rather well. His imitation of the style of a muezzin is spot on, although in true blasphemous form it's not a call to prayer, but a call to ROCK.

I like the production on this too, with the muted guitars giving way to something with more body as the chorus kicks in.

There may be some sinister agenda to 'Mustapha', but I reckon that they just liked the way the words sounded and wanted to fit it in to a rock song. I've never heard anything like it, so surely it must score on that front?

Top Wiki fact: '"Mustapha" was released as a single in Germany, Spain, Yugoslavia and Bolivia in 1979.' Dahhh-lings, I don't think we should release this in the UK but I tell you it'll go down a storm in Bolivia, honey!

Fat Bottomed Girls
We're straight back into solid-single territory here. A great rock-track that's equally good as a single or here as an extended version. This was never a particular favourite on 'Greatest Hits', but it's more than welcome here. I think it gets outshone by the other singles. The whole thing is rather silly, but it's fun.

This is a classic example of the Queen 'Hidden Gem'. You could listen to Jazz several times before realising that it's there!

The tone is reminiscent of 'Lap of The Gods', but much less pompous. I particularly like the guitar sound that May produces here. It's a much more heartfelt and serious song than the two ludicrous singles either side of it.

Bicycle Race
Ludicrous! From the basic idea right through to the bicycle-bell solo, this is patently ridiculous. It's a sort-of sequel to Fat Bottomed Girls, yet for some reason they stick 'Jealousy' in between the two! One thing worth listening out for is that John Deacon is doing all kinds of crazy bass pyrotechnics throughout the song. He's becoming more and more awesome all the time...

If You Can't Beat Them
It's a pretty decent rock song, but doesn't really do anything special in my opinion. It's not as exciting as Fat Bottomed Girls, but it has an engaging upbeat feel to it. Decent but disposable.

Let Me Entertain You
This one is quite plodding and irritating. I like some of the lyrics such as "I'll Cruella de Ville you!" and "We'll give you the tour de force - of course!" With mentions of Electra and EMI, this seems squarely aimed at providing an opening number for their live acts. Again, the album sequencing works against the songs as this should absolutely have been stuck on first.

Dead on Time
They're trying hard on this song, but for some reason it doesn't excite me much. Brian May's guitar playing reaches new heights of speed and action, it's got a huge amount of pace and vigour to it. I can't follow the guitar playing and I can't understand much of what Freddie says in this song, so maybe that works against it.

In Only Seven Days
This is a pleasant track, as distinctively John Deacon as it gets. I think I could get to like this one given time. I'm not too fussed by it at the moment though.

Dreamers' Ball
This one's a bit of a throwback to the seaside pavillion feel of A Night At The Opera, or maybe an ancient blues number best played on a crackly LP. But at this point on the record I'm losing interest quite badly, so a drippy, dreary ballad is perhaps not the best thing to include. And we haven't even got to Roger's latest yet!

Fun It
Here we are. This whole 'funk' side of Queen is starting to come together at this point and surely they're only a short way from writing a really good funk track.

Leaving Home Ain't Easy
After a great intro, we settle down into a nicely boring Brian May track. The lyrics are singularly dreadful, 'Leaving Home Ain't Easy' isn't a very startling revelation or soemthing you can really get excited about. Yawn. This album has hit a real dive and I'm finding it hard to remember the last decent song we had. If you've made it this far you've done bloody well.

Don't Stop Me Now
And here's the reward! Freddie is back in the saddle and it's an exciting ride, he's ready to woah, woah, woah-explode! This song is distilled excitement, expressed simply. It's Queen at their best. This has always been a favourite of mine.

And yet... this is the first example of Brian May turning up for the solo and little else. That'll happen again. It doesn't matter much because it's still a great song.

More of That Jazz
This one has a great intro, very 'Muse'. Yet it all goes on for far too long without really doing anything too exciting. So we're left with some great guitar work on a lack-lustre song, which kind of sums up the whole album. The idea of incorporating bits from the previous songs was a terrible, terrible one. There are a few albums where Genesis would re-work a few of the tracks into a new song and it would work extremely well. Here's it's all plonked together. Fun it!

And if that's not bad enough, there's bonus tracks!

Fat Bottomed Girls (Single version)
Yup, it's mostly the same as the album version but a bit shorter. Now you can sit at home for hours and ponder how and why the two versions are different!

Bicycle Race (Instrumental)
As ever, I absolutely adore the stripped-down instrumental versions of the Queen songs. That wonderful John Deacon bass is even more clear on this version and the piano part sounds completely different without the vocals over it. Magnificent stuff. And the bicycle bells survive intact.

Don't Stop Me Now (With long-lost guitars)
Ever wondered what Don't Stop Me Now would be like with guitar played all the way through it? The answer is like a gourmet burger - beefier but messier. It's all a bit too rich, although it was a brave decision to strip out the guitar parts. I think they made the right choice.

Let Me Entertain You (Live in Montreal, November 1981)
Yup - it works much better live. It's about 10% faster, 10% harder and 90% more exciting.

Dreamers Ball (Early acoustic take, August 1978)
Even at this early stage in the song's development it was really f'ing boring. They'd bring out that dullness for the final version, honing it to a fine point of tedium. I'm going to listen to the whole damn thing now before putting my review up. Plod, plod, plod. Freddie will be right on time, he's dressed so fine, for the Dreamer's Ball. Isn't that nice! There's a break for a solo but there's nothing there, all that happens is that Freddie stops singing for a bit. And there's still a minute to go! Bah. Roger's added in an extra bit of cymbal over to my left, making the end of the song sound different from the start. So is Freddie actually talking about falling asleep here?

It has some great moments, but I can't imagine wanting to listen to Queen's Jazz again any time soon.
Tags: ,
Current Mood: Ready to go to Dreamers' Ball
Current Music: Queen - Jazz
Rob McCow
23 July 2012 @ 09:56 pm
News of The World!

My initial impressions of this album were that after a few good opening tracks it all goes to tit. I honestly thought it was the worst Queen album of all, showing the band already in maximum cruise mode. Yet since listening to this over the last few weeks, my opinions have changed somewhat...

We Will Rock You
All I can hear in my head is 'Bom Bom CLACK!' Like 'We Are The Champions' it's utterly intrincsic. Surely everyone knows this song and can clap along. If you don't know it, you will after the first verse. Probably the most simple thing they ever released, there's hardly anything to it. Yet it gets right into your head. It's one of the most inclusive songs of all time. You may not have the musical talent to play 'Chopsticks' on the piano, but just about everyone can join in with the handclaps and footstamps in some way. The band don't even need to play this one live, after the opening beat the audience will do it for them. Everyone can share in the spotlight and get caught up in the energy of Queen's performances.

An absolutely cracking album opener too.

We Are The Champions
It seems so obvious now - this is the album closer. This is the last song on the album. Everyone agrees! Yet here it is, right after 'We Will Rock You'. What a mistake! You might as well stop after listening to this one.

What is so beautiful about this song - aside from the gorgeous piano playing and build-up - is the way Freddie includes the listener. How many songs are about 'We'? There's plenty about me, or you, but this one involves everyone. 'I Am The Champion' would have sounded appalling. Yet 'We Are The Champions' is magnificent.

Then there's that ending, tailing off just before '...of the world', which leaves the listener finishing it in their head. They could have put that next line in. I'm sure if you'd never heard it before you'd expect them to fade out and then come back with '...of the world', but no. It just stops with that double hit! Genius.

It's one of Queen's absolute finest songs. It's also one that I've known for as long as I can remember, right from my earliest childhood.

SIDE NOTE - I've been looking at the Wikipedia articles as I've been going along, mainly to find out who wrote which track. I came across this bizarre-o factoid about We Are The Champions:

In 2011, a team of scientific researchers concluded that the song was the catchiest song in the history of pop music. Dr. Daniel Mullensiefen said of the study, "Every musical hit is reliant on maths, science, engineering and technology; from the physics and frequencies of sound that determine pitch and harmony, to the hi-tech digital processors and synthesisers which can add effects to make a song more catchy. We’ve discovered that there’s a science behind the sing-along and a special combination of neuroscience, maths and cognitive psychology can produce the elusive elixir of the perfect sing-along song."

Sadly, tracking down the article to it's source reveals that it came from the Daily Bloody Mail.

Sheer Heart Attack
This is Queen's all-time worst song. Every single second of the 3:27 it runs for is more irritating than the last. It's a sort-of-attempt at punk, or very heavy rock. Yet it seems to go on and on, with it's 'Hye-nah, hye-nahs' and Brian May's tootling feedback over the top. It's just noise though, there's nothing particularly clever or interesting on display here. There's no twirls, no wit, no clever chord changes, only a pounding, thumping noise that a group of untalented teenagers might produce in their garage.

When this song finishes mid-phrase, it's a blessed relief!

All Dead, All Dead
I actually think Brian's vocals suit this song very well. It's slightly spoiled on the album by coming directly after the WORST SONG IN HISTORY, because it feels comparatively feeble. It's a rather beautiful ballad, not up there with Queen's greatest but certainly nothing to be ashamed of. The choral guitar effect at about 2:00 minutes in is rather marvelous. There's a tenderness to the song which is endearing and sweet. I'd love to hear this with only the vocals and the piano line.

Spread Your Wings
The piano comes straight back in for 'Spread Your Wings', which I reckon is one of Queen's finest ballads. I've loved this one for ages, it's one of the unsung heroes of the Greatest Hits Video ('Greatest Flix') which got a lot of repeat play in our household. I especially love how cold the band look and Freddie's star-shaped sunglasses! I can't remember how we came to own 'Greatest Flix' but it would be frequently watched on a sunny weekend morning. I was always disappointed that there was no video to 'Killer Queen'. Instead we got facts about the band, so I could wonder what this 'Smile' band was that Roger and Brian used to belong to.

Comparing this with 'All Dead, All Dead' shows how adding a little Mercury 'Ooomph' makes all the difference. It starts as a simple lament, but there's a real strength to the chorus. The piano playing is also rather special in this song, although a little hidden in the mix.

It also has one of the most innappropriate single covers of all time:

There's nothing right about pairing that cover with this song!

Fight From The Inside
And some'un brings in da funk. As Roger efforts go, this one's acceptable. The guitar parts are pretty exciting. Apparently Roger plays all of the instruments on this song, presumably while the rest of the band went for a nice walk in the countryside to look at some rare finches.

Get Down, Make Love
More funk now, though this time it's Freddie who's funking us up real good and proper. It's cut from the same cloth as 'Death On Two Legs', with the return of the snarling, vicious side of Freddie's persona. It's a dirty, filthy ode to sexual frustration, with Freddie as horny-as-hell, creeping and bawling. The pace picks up for the chorus, where he screams out his desire. Then there's the orgasm-tunnel effects sequence ending with braying horses... before he's ready to go again.

So, what can we surmise here? That Freddie Mercury is an insatiable, incurable mega-sex-bastard with knobs on. Watch out!

Sleeping On The Sidewalk
The funk concludes with the bluesey Sleeping On The Sidewalk. It's nothing special, but again there's nothing especially wrong with it. It's Queen being versatile again. There are bands out there who only do songs like this one and make a decent career.

Actually, listening to it in isolation, you could easily be made to believe that it wasn't a Queen track at all. The absence of that guy with the 'tache may be the reason...

Who Needs You
Of course. After metal, funk and blues, what makes more sense than calypso music? It's a sweet little track, very much in the vein of the fun seaside songs from A Night At The Opera. Brian shows that he can play Spanish guitar with the best of them. Freddie is still in spiteful mood though, it's as if all the love he was sharing at the start of the album has to be counteracted by some hyper-camp bitchiness. His cry of 'I like it I like it!' during the guitar solo is delivered dripping with sauce.

It's Late
Epic! I've never paid this one much attention, apart from the lovely chorus vocals. Now I listen to it properly, I realise it's six-and-a-half minutes long and Wikipedia tells me that Brian wrote it in three acts, about a guy who's a proper tart and can't decide which woman he loves. I like the tempo changes, even when it slows back down after the guitar solo. The riff is pretty fantastic too. That said, it's hidden away here at the arse end of News of The World.

But it's not too late! Maybe I should give this track a little more attention!

My Melancholy Blues
Aren't Blues always Melancholy? Slap me for pointing that out, very pedantic. This should have been the bonus track, located 37 seconds after the end of 'We Are The Champions'. It's undoubtedly good, but I just can't quite connect with it.

It's got a lovely end-of-the-day feel to it though. I'll tell you who it reminds me of - Rufus Wainwright. He could cover this song quite happily.

OK - the album as a whole is pretty decent. If you skip 'Sheer Heart Attack' then it's a nicely listenable and entertaining piece. If you don't skip 'Sheer Heart Attack' then you'll find yourself listening to Queen's all-time most dire piece of crap immediately after one of the finest pop songs ever written. Balanced, that's what you could call it.
Current Location: The Emerald Bar
Current Mood: Melancholy Blues
Current Music: Queen - News of The World
Rob McCow
17 June 2012 @ 12:47 pm

Have Queen Peaked? That's the question.

If they had peaked, I don't think it was with this album sadly.

Tie Your Mother Down
Does this simple, hard rock, riff-based crowd pleaser really need a minute of noodling sound effects at the start? How much better this album would have been if they'd jumped straight in with that punchy guitar riff!

The lyrics are straight out of the Roger Taylor song book of Being Super Cool Man, but it's not Roger. This is Brian May showing him how it's done properly. Yet you can feel that the whole band got behind this track and gave it every inch of their love. Freddie's thinking how great it would sound live, Deacon is doing solid work in the background and Taylor is thundering away. It even gets a MASSIVE Queen-style rock-out ending. Gorgeous.

Best of all, there's clearly more money for production. From now on, Queen's rock tracks will sound ultra-clean, without losing their rock edge (most of the time!). The sound is silky and accessible, rather than the dense and scratchy feel of their earlier songs. So really, this is a watershed moment.

Anyway, there's no point in analysing this one too much. It's a hit single!

You Take My Breath Away
Why is this song a disaster? As has been mentioned, it's got a lot going for it. A grand emotional ballad with Freddie's beautiful voice and piano playing complementing each other perfectly. There's a nice bit of guitar playing and then an FX special ending.

Yet it sounds bloody dull, doesn't it? More like You Drain My Strength Away. There's a couple of possibilities: firstly, it doesn't seem even remotely quirky. There's no sci-fi angle or world-building, all we get is Freddie saying how much he loves someone. Bah.

Secondly, it comes right after Tie Your Mother Down. That's like leading with a strong right fist but following up with a floppy bag of feathers. After the excitement of the opening, all kudos that the album has gained is dissipated.


Long Away
This one is nice though! A bit like the '39's of the last album, a really good guitar sound and Brian vocals.

It's lacking a decent chorus though, which is probably why it gets forgotten. At least it picks up the pace a bit, which is what this album badly needs.

The Millionaire Waltz
Ooo! Deacon gets put in the foreground for the intro! This one has an absolutely superb bass-line, frilly and complex, that suits the fancy-pants poshness of the track.

Yet again, this is a good effort that ostensibly has nothing wrong with it. Yet it doesn't really have bite, it doesn't have that focus. The rock-out section in the middle simply doesn't fit in the song, although the chorused solo that follows it is very good.

I don't know what they were trying to achieve here. Perhaps they were trying to push further in the direction of Bohemian Rhapsody, but it seems BR is about as far as you can go in that direction. Still, The Millionaire Waltz is dense and musically pleasing.

You and I
I think I've pinpointed the problem with this album - we've had four tracks in a row now without a single chorus. It's all very well playing about with form and style, but people need something to hook on to, so that they can be lead into appreciating the music. This is probably the best track of the four, sincere and upbeat with a cracking pace.

Wikipedia says "The song was never played live." A sad epitaph!

Somebody to Love


See! Stick a chorus in and suddenly you have an absolute masterpiece.

I absolutely adore the gospel harmony on this track, it's brilliant. I'm glad they only did one song like this one, because they absolutely nailed it. Here's the whole of Queen working together and producing something magical.

White Man
A big old Brian May Rock Number, possibly one of the heaviest that Queen have done. It's also their first 'issues' song, but it kind of makes sense here. After a gospel song we have a protest song, albeit with guitars 'Massive' rather than 'Acoustic'.

It's all very tight and well controlled, a pretty decent track even if it's not one I can imagine listening to a great deal.

Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy
So here's the third brilliant track on the album and the third single. The gulf between single and album tracks is pretty huge by now. Like the other two, you get the sense of Queen working together on this one, whereas the duller tracks feel more like solo efforts.

Freddie is just so cheeky in this one. Where did he get it from? The good old fashioned school of lover boys! The 'We'll meet at nine precisely' line followed by the backing vocals 'One two three four five six seven eight nine - o'clock' is a moment of camp genius.

It's a classy number too. There's a sense that this lover boy is dripping in money and can take any girl (or boy?) out and show them a fabulous time, darlings!

Cracking tune.

Drowse, eh? Sums up the album really. Roger Taylor turns up and joins in with the 'Dud' theme of the album tracks by delivering this meandering wiffle - where he literally gives up on the lyrics in the last 30 seconds and starts talking about the stars who he'd rather be.

So this song is about being bored. It's also a recreation of the feeling of being bored. Therefore, it's boring. I don't hate this song, but it's not very good.

It's a touch closer to a Roger Waters Pink Floyd song than his previous Zeppelin-inspired efforts. Is that interesting? No?

Teo Torriatte
Let us cling together! I'd write this track off as well, except it's been going round in my head for weeks and it's the first song I think of when I consider 'A Day At The Races'.

The shift from the minor (sad) key feel of the verse to the upbeat (major) key feel of the is absolutely beautiful; effortless. There's a clinging tension in the opening verse that's resolved in the stadium-friendly chorus. It's good, but it lacks a little bite.

Why is Freddie singing in foreign though? How is anyone supposed to sing along?

Then we get the start of the album again, though it makes a bit more sense here. You may even want to listen to 'Tie Your Mother Down' again. But you'd probably stop after that.

Overall - a complete mess. I really wanted to like this one as much as 'A Night At the Opera', but 'A Day At the Races' has so many failures that it sinks like a crate full of bricks. It's a shame because it drags down three or four great tracks as well.

Do I have to do the bonus tracks? If I must!

Tie Your Mother Down (Backing Track Mix 2011)
Great! I still love these. Although 'Tie Your Mother Down' isn't the most musically varied of songs, which makes it's inclusion here without vocals seem a bit odd. The sleeve notes say that removing the vocals results 'in a strangely unfamiliar take on a much loved Queen classic', so they clearly don't have a clue why either.

Somebody to Love (Live at Milton Keynes, June 1982)
This is brilliant. Freddie clearly adores playing this song and the long, teasing lead-in is a real joy - he gets the crowd cheering just by singing the word 'Can...'!

You Take My Breath Away (Live in Hyde Park, September 1976)
Even having Freddie play this one with a piano all on his own isn't enough to make it interesting.

Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy (Top of the Pops, July 1977)
Why the hell is this included? It's just a mono version of the track with a bit of clapping at the end. Absolutely bizarre!

Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together) (HD Mix)
Why? WHY? Apart from ditching the FX ending, this seems exactly the same to me.

Actually, ditching the FX ending was a worthwhile exercise. Well done team.
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Current Mood: Drowse
Current Music: Queen - A Day At The Races