My good friend Rob is offering a free Kindle download today for his excellent thriller “Black Moon Over Malvern”. He’s also had a write up in a local paper.
It was interesting talking to Rob on the phone about how much he gets paid when people purchase his book from Amazon. I bought a paperback version but he gets between two and three times as much royalty from a Kindle download as he does from the purchase of an actual paperback even though the paperback is about six times more expensive (or infinitely more expensive for one day – today).
There are so many different ways to listen to music at the moment. I pay a small monthly subscription to Spotify and this gives me access to more or less everything. However, habits die hard and even though I compile playlists, I’m much less likely to play a whole album on Spotify than I am if I have an actual CD to play. A month ago, I purchased a download of a Mandolin Orange live concert which is great. Well, it was great the one time I played it but I keep forgetting that I have it. My recently bought CDs are just laying on the table next to the CD player and when I want to play something, I go to the table and see what I fancy listening to.
From my point of view I think it’s better to have the actual CD. It’s also easier to play a CD in the car rather than link the phone to Spotify and then cause a crash when I want to fast forward past a track I don’t like. At the moment, I’m lucky enough to be able to afford to buy CDs and I imagined that buying a CD gives the artist more royalty payment than a download. After talking to Rob about his book, I’m not so sure.
My main gripe is this. If I am spending £12 to buy an actual CD rather than play it for virtually nothing on Spotify, I expect a little generosity in return. The minimum I expect with a CD is a lyric booklet and detail of who played on each track. If there is some explanation from the artist about the significance of each song or a description of the gestation of the album, so much the better. Some photos would be nice too. What I don’t expect is a single piece of carboard with a picture of half a baby on the front and just a list of songs on the back with some description around the edge of the cardboard in a 2 point font that I can’t read. That’s rubbish.
Luckily the music is brilliant.
Clem Snide was the name of a character in several William S. Burroughs’ novels and Eef Barzelay formed a group of that name in 1991, although the first album, “You Were A Diamond” wasn’t released until 1998. Since then, Clem Snide have released a total of fifteen albums. This is the first album for five years and has come after Eef Barzelay has suffered divorce and bankruptcy. He says that it is a miracle that this album has been released and it is solely down to the support of fellow musician Scott Avett that we are able to enjoy it. Maybe the minimal packaging is excusable.
The music of Clem Snide has been described by Jeff Burger on “AllMusic” as having “a homespun quality with a twisted world view” and this album is no exception. Jeff McCord in The Austin Chronicle said about the band that “morose navel-grazing has never sounded more beautiful.” He added that “Barzelay’s voice is a marvel, a soft-spoken, country-inflected half-whine that doesn’t grate; just when you start to wonder what the guy’s problem is, he comes on strong, ache and all, with impeccable pop timing.”
The first song on “Forever Just Beyond” is called “Roger Ebert” who was a film critic for The Chicago Sun-Times for forty six years. The song starts “Did you know these were Roger Ebert’s dying words – it’s all an elaborate hoax”. The song describes how Roger Ebert, a confirmed atheist for all his life, passed his wife a note a few weeks before he died saying that life was just an illusion.
This wonder about the afterlife is continued with “Don’t Bring No Ladder” in which Eef Barzelay is pondering the question of life after death and arrives at the answer that he doesn’t know. “I thought to ask the voice inside my head if it would still be there once I am dead. But just as clouds don’t leave a mark upon the sky I guess it’s not for us to know what hold the light behind our eyes”. It’s a pretty song with nice harmonies but the underlying mood of sadness and futility is pervasive.
The title track states that “God is simply that which lies forever just beyond the limit of what we already seem to know.” Maybe the divorce and bankruptcy that Eef Barzelay experienced has led him to question who he is, what he believes and what the purpose of his life is.
In “The Stuff Of Us” he continues his existential quest. He is wondering whether heaven is actually all around us and it’s “too close to see.” Musically, it’s a simple song with a strummed guitar, lovely harmonies and Eef Barzelay’s haunted truth seeking voice.
“Sorry Charlie” is slightly more upbeat with a slightly cheerful guitar and restrained percussion as he explains to his friend Charlie that he has turned his life around and is unable to party any more. As his voice breaks on the last “Sorry Charlie”, two saxophones play a duet. Is he really sorry that his partying life is over or is he glad to have left it all behind along with Charlie? Is the apology an expression of genuine regret or is he politely brushing Charlie off?
“The Ballad Of Eef Barzelay” starts with him remembering how he contemplated suicide as a young man. As he gained more life lessons, he realised that there is no limit to the depths to which he could fall.
The final track, “Some Ghost”, is an attempt in a twisted sort of way, to end the album on a positive note. He puts in faith in trusting the good side of him to prevail. He claims that he won’t rest until “the pain is memorized“; until he finds peace with his demons.
Not a cheery album. Pain, suicide, the futility of life, the triumph of the dark over the light, a doomed attempt to better himself. What could be more uplifting?