Tuesday, December 28, 2004

e-Column #108

The best, worst of 2004
The year is almost over, which means it’s time to rank everything from gadgets and gizmos to goofy commercials. And there are plenty of sites on the Web willing to participate in the “best of” tradition.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Informer 2004

The 2004 edition of the Hargreaves family Christmas newsletter - The Informer* - is now available for download. It is a 684KB PDF file, which translates into about a 2-minute download for you dial-up users and 40-second or less download for the broadband folks.

There are also now links to the last five Informers in the right-hand column under the newsletters heading. Mmm, consolidation ...

* There is no relation to the 1992 Snow song

Monday, December 20, 2004

How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb review

After both the critical and commercial success of 2000's "All That You Can't Leave Behind" and its accompanying Elevation tour, where else did U2 have to go but down? I privately wondered if the group would hang up their instruments and finish on a high note rather than risk future disappointment. But I'm nothing if not a U2 junkie, and would rather have more music than less, regardless of general reception.

Every U2 fan has a favorite album and nearly every one wishes the group would revisit that sound and create another album just like it. Personally, after hearing their cover of The Ramones' "Beat on the Brat," I hoped they'd revisit their post-punk roots and really rock hard. Information about the album preceding its release fed that desire, especially since their original producer, Steve Lillywhite, was aboard.

The first single, "Vertigo," which everyone has probably heard a million times, is a great song, in my opinion. And it's almost exactly the song I wanted them to make. Its success is only icing on the cake. So I had high hopes when I first listened to "How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb."

Unfortunately, "Vertigo" is the only song on the album that sounds like itself. Thus, my initial listen of the album was a bit disappointing. It seemed a little boring. Not only were they not revisiting past glories, they didn't seem to be breaking any new ground.

Certainly there are shades of "The Unforgettable Fire" ("Miracle Drug" and its heart-on-the-sleeve earnestness) and "The Joshua Tree" ("City of Blinding Lights" and its driving rhythms invoke "Where The Streets Have No Name"). The unabashed social conscience of both those albums has returned without the politics. Bono isn't afraid to speak honestly and isn't afraid of being uncool (like naming a song "Yahweh").

Of all their albums, "Atomic Bomb" is most like "All That You Can't Leave Behind," with its variety of slickly-produced songs. But that album had more variety and its songs were simply more unique and compelling. Only the slow ballads on that album were boring. The ballads on "Atomic Bomb" are the highlights.

But should an album be judged solely based on past works? Certainly not. In the iTunes five-star rating system, I've given three songs five-star ratings and two four-stars. That's better than most albums and not too far behind "All That You Can't Leave Behind."

Of course, musical reviews are incredibly subjective. What one person finds fresh, someone else finds awful. Some think "Numb" is the lamest song the group has ever made, while others think it's the coolest. So while an Associated Press reviewer calls "A Man and a Woman" easily the best track on the album, I call it the one I'm highly likely to skip over given the opportunity.

Although the rocker "All Because Of You" is the next single to be released in America, "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own" will be released in the rest of the world. "Sometimes" is the superior song. Incredibly personal, passionate and grandiose, it's easily one of the best the group has ever made.

What makes that situation even worse is that "The Complete U2" has alternate versions of a handful of the songs on the new album and I consider those superior to the released songs, including "All Because Of You."

"How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb" is not a return to whatever you consider their previous greatest album. It's not a step forward into a strange new era of aural satisfaction. It's also not the best album they've ever made. But it's a good album. And I can be happy with a good U2 album.

  • Vertigo: 5 stars
    alternate version, Native Son: 4 stars
  • Miracle Drug: 4 stars
  • Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own: 5 stars
    alternate version: 4 stars
  • Love and Peace or Else: 3 stars
  • City of Blinding Lights: 5 stars
  • All Because of You: 3 stars
    alternate version: 4 stars
  • A Man and a Woman: 2 stars
  • Crumbs from Your Table: 3 stars
  • One Step Closer: 3 stars
  • Original of the Species: 4 stars
  • Yahweh: 3 stars
    alternate version: 4 stars
  • Fast Cars (bonus track on some editions): 4 stars
    alternate version, Xanax and Wine: 4 stars

Monday, December 13, 2004

e-Column #107

Christmas online about more than just shopping
This Christmas season, many news reports will once again focus on how much money is being spent at online stores. But there’s more to Christmas than shopping and there’s more to the Internet than spending money.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

macCompanion December 2004 Reviews

The December 2004 issue of macCompanion has now been released in PDF form. Dial-up users take caution: this one's even larger than normal. There are two reviews by myself, one of which is only a slightly different version of my blog review of The Complete U2.

December 2004 - 3.5MB PDF

  • The Complete U2 – Page 18
  • Picture Rescue 1.1.0 – Page 109