Friday, February 17, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: I Was Britpopped



I've always believed that the 1990s are second only to the 1960s as rock music's greatest decade. I'm sure some of you will accuse me of feeling this way because I grew up during the decade and these were my prime formative years, at least in terms of music since I was 10 when the 90s began and 19 when they ended. In my opinion, the 1990s were a great decade for a variety of reasons, mainly because it was the only decade other than the 1960s where there was a vibrant, exciting, and quality scene on both sides of the Atlantic at the same time. Between the alternative rock scene in the US and the indie/BritPop scene in the UK, bands were once again writing and recording music that captured the spirit of the times and pushing boundaries in the studio and on stage in a way that sadly hasn't been done since 2000 or so. It was the last decade when rock and instrument-based music was dominant, before rap, pop, and programmed music written by teams of songwriters became the industry norm. In the new book I Was BritPopped: The A-Z of BritPop, authors Jenny Natasha and Tom Boniface-Webb have presented the decade in British music in the form of an alphabetical guide to the bands, albums, singles, TV shows, and fashions that defined Cool Britannia and the entire movement.

***special thanks to the authors for sending me a copy of the book to review!***


As explained in the book's introduction, I Was BritPoppped was designed to not only be read front to back, but to be used as a reference where entries can be immediately turned to when information is needed.  The book doesn't cover the entire decade, but rather the core years of ~1992-1998 which corresponds with the movement's birth, peak, and decline. Understandably, the bulk of the book is dominated by the giants of BritPop: Blur, Suede, Pulp, Elastica, and Oasis. The numerous quality second and third tier bands like the Bluetones, Mansun, the Verve, Ocean Colour Scene, Supergrass, and more are well represented, while loads of one-hit wonders and bands at the margins of BritPop who did little more than cash in and ride the wave for a fleeting taste of fame round it out. I have to say that the breadth of what the authors covered was impressive, as I've always considered myself quite knowledgeable about the movement (especially for an American) yet there were plenty of lesser bands I'd never heard of.

 The classic 1995 TV special BritPop Now, hosted by Blur's Damon Albarn

The entire film of Live Forever is on YouTube and well worth viewing

Overall, this was an enjoyable book and a nice way to stimulate memories of the music from that era, much of which I still regularly listen to while a lot is stuff I haven't heard in years. By focusing on only the most relevant artists and releases and limiting the singles to those that were either culturally significant or charted in the Top 20, the authors prevent the book from getting too long and unwieldy. However, there were some problems I did have with the book. These mainly had to do with numerous typos and printing errors found throughout. The writing style could have been cleaned up and the flow and syntax improved. It simply seems that an additional edit of the entire book was in order. Finally, there were some glaring factual errors that irritated me a bit, the two biggest being when the book stated that Suede keyboardist Neil Codling is singer Brett Anderson's cousin (he's drummer Simon Gilbert's cousin), and that the Rolls-Royce in the swimming pool on the cover of Oasis' Be Here Now album is a tribute to Keith Moon because that's how he died (he actually died from an overdose of anti-alcoholism pills while sleeping in his apartment). Little details like these might not matter to casual readers who may be unaware, but for an obsessive (and some might say excessively so) music fan such as myself, these stuck out like a sore thumb. There also were just too many of the marginal/worthless bands who did little more than latch on to BritPop for a bit of fame at the expense of some more entries from the titans of the genre. In particular, while I understand why the authors wanted to keep the book confined to the core years of the scene, I do wish they'd made some exceptions for the heavyweights like Blur, Suede, Oasis, etc and discussed the albums they made both prior to (if applicable) and after (ditto) the movement ended in order to shed some light on how these bands adapted (or didn't) once the music had moved on. However, besides these criticisms, this is a fun book and well worth the read for anyone around my age who lived through those years, loved the music that came out of the UK in the 1990s, and still carries the flag for BritPop two decades after the movement peaked. It's good for an initial front to back reading before settling in as a fun reference book for future use.

MY RATING: 7/10

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Once Again, the New England Patriots are Champions!



(I'd meant to finish writing this and post it the day after the Super Bowl, but life got in the way as it usually does, so here it is a week late but no less relevant, especially if you're a fellow Patriots fan!)

As you all know, I've been a massive fan of the Boston sports teams for my entire life. Having been born in Massachusetts and spending my entire life in New Hampshire from the age of 3 until I moved to Pennsylvania two years ago, it's in my blood. The Red Sox, Celtics, Patriots, and Bruins have been my favorite teams since before I can remember and I'll support them until the day I die. I'm 37 years old and for the first 21 years of my life, I hadn't seen much greatness from my teams. Apart from the Celtics, who were one of the dominant NBA teams of the 1980s and won 3 titles in 5 Finals appearances during my childhood, the rest of the teams only gave us heartache. The Red Sox lost the 1986 World Series in crushing fashion, a collapse so bad that even despite the three titles they've won since 2004 I'm still scarred. The Bruins lost in their two Stanley Cup Finals appearances in 1988 and 1990, and the Patriots...let me just say that for anyone under 30, you have no idea how bad the Patriots used to be. They were the laughing stock of the NFL and apart from a Cinderella run to the Super Bowl in 1986 (where they promptly got crushed by the historically great '85 Chicago Bears), being a Patriots fan meant cheering on a perennially losing organization. The low point was when they came a hair's breadth from moving to St. Louis before Robert Kraft stepped in, bought the team, and started to invest money in the team, players, and coaching staff. Still, we cheered for them. Because of this, the past sixteen years of dominance have been especially sweet, but I think the Pats may have topped all of the great moments of the past with their recent victory in Super Bowl LI last week.



Going back two years ago, I wrote that their victory over the Seahawks was the greatest game I'd ever seen. I still think it was one of the best games I've ever seen, but at least right now the latest championship won by the Patriots takes the cake. After they trailed 21-0 to the Falcons in the second quarter, I didn't see how they could possibly win. The nadir was when the score was 28-3 midway through the third quarter...surely the team with the best record during the regular season couldn't go out like this, even to a supremely talented team like the Falcons? My only wish at that point was for them to score a few times to at least make it less of a blowout, but then they began to chip away at the lead little by little, their defense turned up the heat, and suddenly it was a game! I won't bore anyone with the details because if you watched the game, you don't need me to recap it, but when the Patriots completed the comeback to tie the game with less than a minute to go, it just felt like they had 100% of the momentum and that there was no way they'd lose the game. As soon as they got the ball in overtime, I knew it was over and they didn't prove me wrong with their historic 34-28 victory, completing the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history (a record they previously set two years before). As sweet as the game was for myriad reasons (including sticking it to Roger Goodell and the NFL), it was extra satisfying because with Julian Edelman's incredible catch late in the fourth quarter, we finally had a freaky fluke catch go our way after being on the wrong end of them in our previous three Super Bowl appearances. (Two of these completely flukey catches are the only reason the Patriots have five championships and not seven). The other cool thing was that after the game, a lot of my friends who are non-Patriots fans (or even Patriots haters) texted me to congratulate me on the game, and when I wore my Pats hat out and about in the days following, fellow Pats fans and even fans of other teams stopped me to talk about the game. That's one of my favorite things about sports, their ability to bring people together to talk and enjoy them even if they root for different teams (of course, this aspect can also lead to petty disagreements and trolling behavior on the internet, but let's just focus on the positive here).



I know that as a Boston sports fan, I've been spoiled over the last twenty years and that our teams and our fans are hated by most of the rest of the country, but I make no apologies. I've been following these teams my entire life and intend to do so until I die. With that in mind the Patriots latest Super Bowl victory is something I'll never forget. This run of success, spearheaded by Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, is something I'll likely not see again in my lifetime, so I plan to savor every moment of it. These are the kind of times any sports fan wishes for their team, and I and the rest of Patriots Nation happen to be fortunate enough to have witnessed this from 2001 to the present.  Like I keep telling my kids (all of them Patriots fans as well...was there ever a doubt?), enjoy this because it's not normal for a team to be this good for this long. I know I will, and the Patriots winning their fifth title in Super Bowl LI is the latest in a long line of sports memories I'll always remember.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Chemist on the Go

In case any of you were wondering what was going on in my real life as a chemist, I bring to you this brief update on my continuing adventures in securing my next position of full-time employment. Ever since I was laid off in November, I've been working at this non-stop. Because of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years I lost a lot of time since companies were closed for the holidays and those involved in the hiring process took time off for vacation. However, since mid-January things have started to pick up and the handful of phone interviews I had in November and December turned into a lot more. I continue to field a lot of phone calls, while over the last two weeks I've started to do some traveling for interviews. It's exciting since I'm not only learning about potential new opportunities, meeting interesting new people, and having interesting discussions as I move ever closer to rejoining the ranks of the employed, but it's been nice seeing new and different parts of the country in the process. I've logged a lot of miles in the car and the air, several nights at hotels, and not only have I learned about a lot of interesting science, but I'm realizing that wherever I end up that I'll be doing some absolutely fascinating work alongside equally talented and motivated people. For me, that's the most exciting thing when I think about what the future holds. I certainly didn't foresee being in this situation, but as with all things in life it's been a learning experience and will undoubtedly (and presumably) lead to something bigger and better. As always, in order to (hopefully) entertain and inform my fellow chemists or anyone else who may be going through this very ordeal, I'll write more once when there's an update that merits it. Until then, this chemist is still on the go!