The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Extended Edition (2001 - DVD)

I have to admit that when I first saw this movie in theaters years ago, I was completely blown away by it, probably because I'd never seen an adventure/fantasy movie quite on this level before. Compare it to something like DragonSlayer where the dragon looked fake and the swordfight scenes had no energy, and here you've got realistic monsters and intense battle scenes, even if the characters do seem to fight against impossible odds over and over again and always come out the victors. And even though the characters are basically running across New Zealand, it does feel like a grand epic adventure, with its exotic settings like the Elven cities of Lothlorien and Rivendell, and the dark Dwarven Mines of Moria, which reminded me a lot of Xak Tsaroth from Heroes of the Lance.

Seeing it again now that I'm older and have viewed the entire trilogy, a few things stand out to me that perhaps didn't bother me so much before. The first is that a lot of the dialogue is characters arguing over where to go. One character will say, "We have to go over the pass to Caradhras", and another says, "No! Let's go through the Mines of Moria", and another is like, "We must take the Pass of Rohan!", and on and on. And the audience, save for maybe those who have read and memorized the books, have no idea what these places are or what their significance is. There's that, and well, almost every single time they get into trouble it's because of Pippin Took's bumbling.

I know a lot of people who loved the books complained about the changes that were made and some go so far as to completely hate the film for them, and they're entitled to that I suppose, but I'm really not enough of a purist to care so long as what's on the screen is entertaining. The special features explain that if they had tried to make the movie line-for-line like the book, it would never have worked. The Council of Elrond scene alone would've gone on for half an hour. Despite being a very long film (and the extended edition even longer) it seems to go by quickly because new things are always happening. Although, sometimes I want to slap Frodo in the face and say, "Quit whining! Wake up and realize you're on an adventure!"

The extended edition adds a few new scenes, most notably some more about the Hobbits in the beginning, but it's been so long since I've seen the theatrical release that I'm not sure what else was new.
Rating: 3.5/5

0800-Celebrity (2006 - Digital Album)
Artist: Cult of Celebrity

So, I'm taking part in a beta test of a digital borrowing service that hasn't quite gone public yet, and right now they mostly only have obscure music from obscure bands, like Cult of Celebrity here. (The company is currently working to sign on the bigger labels with the more recognizble artists, but until that time most of my digital music reviews will be of things you've probably never heard of before.) Apparently, this is the only album this band has so far released, and the main thing I want to say is that they're good enough musically, but seriously need to work on their lyrics. Almost every song on here is just the title of the song repeated over and over again. Why even have vocals, then? It's a concept album, but interludes of people talking on the phone really isn't adding much.

The band hasn't done anything since 2006 and I could find almost no info on them, but I wonder if they had just hired a better lyricist if they could have put out something more worthwhile.
Rating: 2.5/5

Akumajo Dracula Famicom Best (1990 - CD)

This is an import CD that contains the soundtracks to Castlevania, Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, and Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse. This set has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are that you get some of the best video game music known to mankind on one CD. It even starts off with some remixes that are exclusive to this album. While the NES has a mono sound system, the tracks here have been optimized for stereo listening.

The disadvantages is that if you were expecting the US versions Castlevania II and III, you'll be sorely disappointed. They're the Japanese versions (of course, since this is a Japan-only release). Most people seem to agree that the Japanese versions of III's music is superior to the US release due to an added chip that enhanced the sound, but I'm one of the few who greatly prefers the US versions. I feel the Famicom versions sound homogenized, and less gothic and atmospheric. But less debatable is the Castlevania II soundtrack for which the opposite seems to have happened - the sound quality was beefed up a bit for the US release and the versions on here sound a little thin. So, owning this album does not automatically exclude one from having to acquire the music of II and III some other way if you want or prefer the US versions.

The original Castlevania benefits the most from the mastering, but why the heck did they put sound effects in "Walking on the Edge"? The whole point of having a game soundtrack CD is so that you can listen to the game's music without sound effects obscuring it.
Rating: 4/5

Akumajo Dracula Best 2 (1991 - CD)

The follow-up to the above album contains the complete soundtrack to Super Castlevania IV, and the two Game Boy titles, The Castlevania Adventure and Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge. Unlike the first album, this is a 2-Disc set with the SNES game's music on Disc 1 and the Game Boy games on Disc 2. As far as I can tell, there are no remixes or bonus tracks of any kind, this is just a straight-up port of the sound files with some amount of mastering.

The SNES game's score is the real highlight here and anyone who's played it has surely found something in its quasi-symphonic, pseudo-jazzy tracks to love. The ending theme and the revamped version of "Bloody Tears" from Castlevania II are the oft-touted Holy Grails. I may not be the world's biggest fan of the Stage 1 opener, "Simon Belmont's Theme", but it's here in all its gothic rock glory.

The Game Boy games, at the very least, prove that great things could be done with that little handheld's stereo 8-bit sound, especially "Battle of the Holy" from the first game. But listening to an entire disc of Game Boy music in one straight go can be a bit trying, though I suppose it's hard to complain about getting the exact soundtracks you paid for.
Rating: 4/5

Cat Dreams: Relaxing Music For Cats & Cat Lovers Vol. 1 (2010 - Digital Album)

An album of New Age piano music that has cat-themed titles like, "Morning Stretch", "In Front of the Mirror", "Cat's Memories", "Afternoon Nap", and such. If you want relaxing piano music, here's 12 tracks of it. Nothing particularly memorable, but it might suffice for that purpose. However, if you're honestly expecting your cats to take notice of it, try not to look too surprised if they don't.
Rating: 2.5/5

Cinemasonic (2003 - Digital Album)
Artist: All About Eve

Of all the digital albums I borrowed in April, All About Eve seemed to be the most talented group and had the most potential. The only problem is that I didn't realize this was a live album until I started listening to it and live albums are almost never the best way to be introduced to a band (not everything can be "Live Bullet", see below). It isn't just the normal issues with live performances that are apparent here, there's other hard-to-ignore bugs such as microphone feedback during a song, and too much throat-clearing.

Still, though, I would not mind hearing more from this band eventually. Would just prefer it in a studio recording next time.
Rating: 3/5

Classics For Cat Lovers: Curl Up Classics For You and Your Cat (2000 - Digital Album)

Aside from the "Lion" portion of "The Carnival of the Animals", this album really has nothing to do with cats. In fact, it's more like a "Greatest Hits" of classical music, with very popular and commonly-known excerpts from classical works such as Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake", Grieg's "Peer Gynt Suite", and Bizet's "Carmen". Here's what's really weird: I think this album is comprised of performances that are either in public domain or very cheap to license. Because I own almost all of these works on various other classical CDs and I swear that not only are they the same works, they are the same exact performances by the same exact orchestra, and I know I've seen that Ljubljana Symphony Orchestra listed on some of my CD's, so I don't think I'm crazy.

If you want a "Greatest Hits" of classical music, it's not a bad choice. But I'm of the mind that it's probably better to hunt down albums with the entire works.
Rating: 2.5/5

Everybody Out! (2008 - Digital Album)

A self-titled debut album for a punk band called "Everybody Out!", and it's also the only thing they've ever released. The best I can say about it is that at least it sounded like they were having fun performing. Not much of it stood out to me and I'd like to say maybe repeated listenings would endear me more to it, but when so many of the songs sounded alike, it might get too repetitive to subject myself to that.
Rating: 2/5

How to Move a Piano (1999 - Digital Album)
Artist: Puritan

This album went entirely in one ear and out the other. I thought with a quirky title like "How to Move a Piano", this would be a fun album to check out. Instead what I got was something I could barely remember right after hearing it. I even tried listening to some of the tracks again before writing this review, and it's like they totally don't ring a bell, but they also don't sound like anything I'd want to listen to by choice. Maybe I'm too harsh of a music critic, or maybe great talent is difficult to come by. But I don't seem to be the only one who found this album forgettable. CDBaby, who sells the thing, seems to be hard-pressed to describe it as their "Notes About the Album" barely talk about it at all, and instead give a history of the band, which is probably meaningless to most people since I doubt too many have heard of Puritan, or its members, or the previous bands they've been in.
Rating: 1/5

The Lame Fiancee (2006 - Digital Album)
Artist: Alex Torio

I borrowed this album because the service mistakenly had it listed as Rock, and I thought the cover looked neat and the title was amusing. Turns out, it's not Rock. It's Easy Listening. As in, one guy (someone named Alex Torio) playing a piano and crooning love songs with a voice that sounds like he just smoked 10 packs of cigarettes. Lonely housewife music, I call it. Like, for people who would watch Saturday Night Live's "The Continental", and not think he's creepy.

I suffered through the whole album so that I could review it, but all I can say is that his fiancee isn't the only thing that's lame here.
Rating: 1/5

Live Bullet (1976 - CD)
Artist: Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band

Live Bullet by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band is everything a rockin' hard live album should be. There isn't a bad song on here, all of it's great, and my favorite is the live version of the hauntingly powerful "Turn the Page", which is the one most-often played on the radio. Although I'd heard most of these songs before, even the ones I'd never heard are just as awesome as the popular cuts. While live albums are almost never the best way to be introduced to a band, even if I'd never heard Bob Seger before this, I'd would've been instantly hooked.

However, I'm going to take a moment here to gripe about one thing - whoever decided how the tracks should be divided up on the CD really should've let "Travelin' Man" and "Beautiful Loser" be all one track, played back-to-back with no break, just as they are on the radio. When you listen to the album as a whole, and what you use doesn't have a delay between tracks, it's not a problem. It is a problem if you're playing on random shuffle or if your app does have a delay. These two do not work as separate songs. There's an obvious cutoff at the end of "Travelin' Man" and you can tell "Beautiful Loser" starts in the middle of the band playing something. Now, what I did was attempt to make my own "custom" version of this rip on my PC by using a sound editing program to splice those two songs together as one. But for some stupid reason, after I went through all that hard work, my PC overwrote the tracks, completely on its own and without me telling it to, back to the way they were in the original rip. It pisses me off to no end.
Rating: 4.5/5

Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too (1998 - CD)
Artist: New Radicals

I have a funny story surrounding how I ended up with this album. I didn't mean to buy it. Crawl ordered a Hall & Oates album for me from a music club he used to belong to, and they accidentally sent this instead. I had not heard the New Radicals' "You Get What You Give" in ages, and when I realized that's what this was, I told him to hold onto it instead of returning it. The reason why is because I had been chomping at the bit to parody the scenes from the Transformers movie and TV show where they used that song, "The Touch", but couldn't think of an appropriate song to use. (Actually using "The Touch" seemed too "on the nose" for me.) But when I was reminded of this song with its refrain, "You've got the music in you", I suddenly had the perfect subject and thus, this RAU Gallery sketch was born.

But getting to the actual review of the album itself, my dominant impression is that the band was really good musically, and have some of the funniest lyrics I've heard anywhere (seriously, look up "Jehovah Made This Whole Joint For You" if you've ever known anyone who's as much an "activist" as Britta on Community or only listens to obscure bands.) However, the lead singer/songwriter's voice can sometimes be a bit...umm, unpleasant to listen to. I don't know what it is. Sometimes it seems he milks it on purpose and other times he tries to sing more normally, but the weird quality eventually creeps its way in.

This might explain why this is the only album the group ever released and why Gregg Alexander has said he considers himself more of a songwriter than a performer anyway. (And at least he's still not as bad as the lead singer of the Kings of Leon.)
Rating: 3.5/5

Musica Celta: 13 Temas de Musica Gaelica (2012 - Digital Album)

There's an episode of Cheers where Sam Malone hires an Irish band to perform in his bar on St. Patrick's Day. He's alarmed to discover the music they play is really depressing, like about how the English invaded their homes or some baby was dying in a crib. I'm not exaggerating or joking when I say that the vocal songs on this album are *exactly* like that. The non-vocal tracks sound like they were being played with an accordion, which may very well be authentically Gaelic, but I can't help but notice it sounded like polka music - not what I was expecting from a Celtic album. So, you've got half the songs sounding like polka and the other half people singing matter-of-factly about bashing some English soldier's head in with a stick. It appears this album may only be available digitally and has had no release on a physical medium. I'm not surprised. Unless you just want to recreate those scenes from Cheers, I can't imagine anyone scrambling to put these songs on their ipod, let alone buy a CD full of them.
Rating: 1/5

Now in Technicolor (2005 - Digital Album)
Artist: The Know How

This album sounded almost identical to "Everybody Out!" (see above), even though it's a completely different band (The Know How). Then I did a little bit of research and come to find out these are both considered to be punk/ska bands and ska is known to have a homogenizing effect. I've seen some favorable reviews of both of these albums, but I think the only thing I really got out of them was the realization that ska might be to punk what Nickelback is to rock.
Rating: 2/5

Sites & Sounds of Greece 19: Athens (2008 - Digital Album)

I won't complain too much about this album because while I won't claim to have been blown away by it, it was at least better as a World music album than Musica Celta was. It's got quite a few tracks, too, like more than 20, so if you want a lot of Greek instrumental folk music for, I dunno, a big fat Greek wedding or something, this has it in spades. I did notice that some of it sounded so similar to the type of music used quite often in cartoons and video games to represent pirates, that it made me wonder if Greece is where that style originated.

One note about this - the album art says it comes with a DVD. I borrowed this as a digital album, so I didn't get the DVD and thus might be missing part of the experience here. As such, I'll just give it my conservative "not bad, not great, benefit of the doubt" score.
Rating: 3/5



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