ARTIST OF THE WEEK
It's gutsy to make a concept album in the digital download age. Hospice throws a couple of bones to the cherry-picking downloader, including Bear with its rollicking chorus. But these songs are stripped of some of their power when they stand alone. Hospice is a fully realized and fully functional concept album, and get this: It was produced by and for members of a generation that, according to know-it-all marketing types, would rather throw their PlayStation3's into a river than listen to (egads!) a whole album. Hospice is evidence the album art form isn't on its deathbed.
PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK
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Madness, 'The Liberty of Norton Folgate'
Madness as a singles act might well and truly be in the past. But by refusing to deliver what is expected of them — and instead putting all their efforts into what is essentially a rock opera — Madness has possibly produced the best album of its 30-year career in The Liberty of Norton Folgate. For a pop act that had 20 top 20 hit singles from 1979 to 1985 in the United Kingdom and enjoyed having more weeks on the singles charts during the 1980s than any other, a concept album is probably the least-expected career move. But older, wiser and with nothing to lose other than hair, Madness has gone and released an album that's virtually flawless. LISTEN
Richard Thompson, 'Walking on a Wire: Richard Thompson (1968-2009)'
It took long enough, but there's finally a great way to sample Richard Thompson's long and prolific career. This four-CD box set is as straightforward and basic as can be. But far from being a cynical last-ditch effort to wring a few more dollars out of Thompson's catalogue, it's one high point after another. Virtually all of his major songs are included, with only a handful of semi-rarities, and all in chronological order.
By avoiding the typical end-of-the-world apocalypse that most alien invasion movies mandate and illustrating instead man's continual inhumanity to all things different and diverse, District 9 becomes that most elusive of science fiction films — a serious and thoughtful dissertation on who we really are. Indeed, the best speculative fiction is merely a mask for covering up our true selves. District 9 doesn't come up with the easy answers. When all is said and done, when the dust has settled and the smoke has cleared, the differences between man and alien still exist. There is hope in the conclusion, as well as irreversible harm.
'Zeitoun' by Dave Eggers
A stellar example of the non-fiction novel, Zeitoun relates the almost unbelievable story of Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun, New Orleans residents who were separated during Hurricane Katrina. There is a grace to this story that cannot be denied. Eggers' style is light and skittering throughout, skimming over the roiling cauldron of events like Abdulrahman's canoe moving swiftly over the familiar streets of his flooded city. That such a model citizen is forced through such a Kafkaesque scenario — like what happens to Abdulrahman once the cavalry arrives — speaks more about the nature of George W. Bush-era America than reams of editorials could.