The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (a review by fightclubsandwich)

The Good Soldier is, in simplistic terms, a book about appearances being deceiving. But since it’s a novel whose central themes include depth and truth, hidden by the willingness that all of us have to brush over the more uncomfortable aspects of the truth, can you really sum the book up in one sentence?

Exactly.

The book opens with the declaration that “this is the saddest story I have ever heard.” It’s a pretty brilliant opening sentence and one of my favourites, I’m sure. It grabs your attention, it prepares you for the fact that obviously this is not in the least any sort of cheerful book, and less obviously, it introduces you to a narrator who is so detached and emotionally lacking that he’s stuck on the sidelines as his closest friends and wife destroy themselves all around him.

The tale of their downfall is completely non-linear, as narrator John Dowell follows his own traumatised train of thought more closely than the passage of time. However, unlike some novels that are written in an untraditional order, The Good Soldier is never hard to follow, due to Maddox Ford’s use of imagery which acts as a knowingly clever framework to tie it all together, and emphasises how trapped the narrator is in a messy and mostly dishonest social circle. This construction is not subtle – it is obvious that Maddox Ford spent a long time putting it together, like one of those models of buildings made out of matchsticks, and the novel seems almost boastful about its cleverness.

But of course, with a book like this that takes as its subject the way humans work, it’s up to the four main characters to carry the whole thing off. If they’re unconvincing or flat, then the novel is completely pointless, but of course, this book is a classic so I think you can already tell where I’m going with this. This is a novel with few characters, but everyone of them is written very cleverly, in particular the Dowells and the Ashburnhams. Like a contestant on a reality show with dodgy editing, it seems as if all four of them are set up with solid and definite character types and then… turned around completely. Leonora Ashburnham, for example, (my favourite character) is initially set up as the cold and calculating wife of the titular soldier, Edward, but her piety, her feelings about family and her honour all chip away at the clichéd façade, right up until an ending that twists her character around once again and leaves you with a lot to think about. Edward himself is almost the traditional hero, a passionate, handsome and charming man, but he also causes a lot of emotional pain to his wife and closest friends, and the truly ambiguous part of his character is whether he is callous and selfish enough to ignore them all and act so recklessly anyway, or if he is in his heart of hearts, just weak.

Maybe some of the social commentary of The Good Soldier can be ignored by a modern reader in our day and age where codes of etiquette and conduct are not really what they once were in 1915, but its still a relevant book with a lot to offer. If you’re sour from all the Twilight drama, then this is a great choice of book for a completely pessimistic, unromantic un-love story. If you liked Closer, this has a similar sort of style, it’s intelligent and character-driven and just a little bit twisted. So many people that I know enjoy books or films or what-have-you when they have traits that The Good Soldier has: solid, three dimensional characters; ambiguity that the reader can interpret in any number of ways; a constant cleverness that never lets up and on top of that it’s one of the more accessible novels that are considered classics. As much as I’ve said already about the technical cleverness of this novel, and how much I enjoyed it, my reason for writing a review is pretty simple: it’s just that I feel like you’d enjoy it too.

Review: Frank Turner – Rock And Roll EP

Rock and Roll. The latest EP from Frank Turner is a collection of new material, set to tide us over until a full album release some time next year. Featuring song ‘I Still Believe’, which was previewed at Reading, is this truly as the name suggests? Let me tell you now, this EP rules. Truth be told, Frank sets the barrier for excellence with each release and then keeps smashing it every time. So let’s have a look and see what it is that makes Rock And Roll just so bloody good.

The EP opens with the aforementioned single, ‘I Still Believe’, a wonderfully upbeat folk punk explosion. ‘I Still Believe’ is a call to arms for us all and is definitely danceable. Frank hasn’t forgotten his hardcore roots yet, working in an admittedly less hardcore gang shout which still invokes that feeling of unity in us all. It’s the kind of song that dares you not to sing along and knows you’ll fail at every turn, drawing you in entirely. Harmonica solos abound, ‘I Still Believe’ is the perfect opener. While it’s not quite my favourite song on the EP, it’s one of the best songs Frank’s written so far and definitely bound to bring in a ton of new fans. Just like its predecessor, ‘Pass It Along’ is a shout out to all of Frank’s contemporaries and heroes (even including a cheeky reference to Chuck Ragan!) and a heartfelt recognition of what it is to truly be a music fan. A bit of a slow burner to begin with, starting with some truly beautiful guitar, but building up to an exciting burst of passion at the end. It’s clear that this was written with a live audience in mind, and is perhaps the perfect song for a festival set in the summer – perfectly chilled out to start but gets everyone excited by the end. Inspiring stuff.

‘Rock And Roll Romance’ is a short acoustic ballad, much in the same vein as ‘A Decent Cup Of Tea’ from Sleep Is For The Week. Some clever lyrics combined with a simple melody makes this song a poignant declaration of undiscovered love. At 1:50, it seems a little too short and indeed, if you’re not paying attention, you completely miss it. But if you look at it another way, that’s part of its beauty – walking down the road, not paying attention, suddenly stumbling upon this little gem. It’s an interesting addition to the EP and one that, if you can help it, shouldn’t be missed. ‘To Absent Friend’ ramps it back up a notch and we’re back to the electric. It’s reminiscent of several songs from Love, Ire And Song, notably Prufrock and God Save The Queen, and is a great demonstration of how Frank’s progressed but is still in touch with his earlier material. Tales of going out in the city and… moving to the coast? Why not? Fast paced, punk rock fun. Final track, ‘The Next Round’, is a slow moving piano based song about the dangers of the rock and roll lifestyle. Some of the best lyrics in the record come out in this track, my favourite line being “I tried to live like Hemingway but life doesn’t work that way”, but the whole song is an intricate poetic triumph and displays Frank’s phenomenal talent for all to see. It’s always been my opinion that a release should have a strong opening and a strong closer, and Rock And Roll does far more than that – it opens and finishes on absolute blinders.

Once again, Frank has managed to amaze me. I honestly thought that Poetry Of The Deed was one of the greatest releases of all time, but now I know that Rock And Roll is as well, if not even greater. It’s a mere £2.49 on iTunes and if you don’t get it, you’ll regret it. Frank Turner is simply the best thing in British music these days, so do yourself a favour, pick up Rock And Roll and be inspired.

5/5 high fives!

PS – the iTunes EP comes with the video as well, so if you do buy it on any format other than that, here’s the video. Doesn’t he look dapper?

Live: Frank Turner – Cheltenham Town Hall, 23/7/09

Through attending this gig, I have learnt that Frank Turner is a very nice man. Why? Because due to not being able to attend the 2000 Trees Festival as he was supporting the Offspring in America, he decided to put on a very cheap gig afterwards to make up for it. At £5 a ticket, how could I say no? However, it wasn’t the cheap ticket price that lured me in. If you read my Gaslight Anthem review, you’ll know that I thought Frank Turner was the best thing about that show. And this time, I’ll tell you how he fares as the main attraction.

First though, a couple of thoughts on the venue. Cheltenham Town Hall is actually a surprisingly good venue. It’s big, the stage is raised up enough so short people like myself can actually see what’s going on, but be warned, the drinks are extortionate. Even so, I’d definitely consider coming back here if someone good was playing. Unfortunately, that doesn’t really happen because… well… it’s Cheltenham.

Two acts supported Frank tonight, and first up was Joe Summers. Joe Summers looks a bit like a British Kevin Devine, and wore a roguish hat. However, he is no Kevin Devine, and the roguish hat merely served as a distraction for his watered down folk tunes. It was pretty, but it was also self indulgent. Generally, he was a pretty weak act. If you’re into acoustic stuff though, you might like him. Next up was Jim Lockley and the Solemn Sun and they were a lot better! If I could think a genre, I’d say pop-folk? Either way, their songs were catchy and I liked them. My boyfriend, who is ever the cynic, thought they sounded like McFly. Maybe, if McFly were singing about poverty and journeying instead of girls. They did have a lot of unnecessary ba-da-da’s though. And roguish hat man played in this band as well, and he had a tambourine and essentially did… nothing at all!

Both bands were as politely received as possible, but everyone was there for Frank. And I mean everyone. I saw people from all walks of life – even grandparents and their grandkids. Not really to be expected at a gig from the former singer of Million Dead who likes to use various profanities in his songs, but we can go with it. The thing is, I just can’t say it enough – Frank Turner is a fucking genius and one of the best live acts I’ve ever witnessed. He wowed me even more than when he played just by himself at the Gaslight Anthem show, and I thought that was impossible. With a full band, the songs just sound so much fuller and richer. He played a great set, including some songs from his upcoming album ‘Poetry Of The Deed’. Civil Liberties was one such example, as well as new single, The Road. Both of these songs sounded just as impressive as the rest of his extensive back catalogue, and I’m highly anticipating the new album in September. As well as the new stuff, he played a wide range of fan favourites, including The Ballad Of Me And My Friends, Substitute (my favourite!), Casanova Lament and Photosynthesis, all of which went down great with the fans. Frank himself is a very happy and smiley man, and this made everyone else happy and smiley, especially when he came out and played for much longer than he should have done! All in all, it was an absolutely fantastic gig. Go out and see him in October, I promise you won’t regret it.

Review: Francesqa – Ghosts

Normally, I’d take one look at a band like Francesqa, make a slightly repulsed and knowing face, and then swiftly leave them to their trendy clubs and smoky faux-Parisian cafes. Once you’ve clocked the (inevitably ‘Topman’ branded) checked shirts, manhood-destroying skinny jeans and ‘ironic’ hairstyles, it’s easy to dismiss them as yet another ‘trendier than thou’ indie, city band, with the odd nose piercing and buffed winkle picker. But, thanks to a series of unexpected events, I found myself listening to Francesqa’s new EP straight through, without any prior knowledge of the band’s ‘easy on the eye’ image or musical direction.

‘We Lived’ is a dainty little EP whose outward appearance bears no suggestion of the musical achievements within (the cover is a fabulously artsy ‘desolate land’shot) but has proven to be one of my personal musical highlights of the year. For a relatively new band, they’re already making waves in the alternative music scene; with their videos already playing on various music channels and impressive features in printed media, you’re sure to be hearing more of them soon.

The opening track on ‘We Lived’ is their most successful single release, which is also accompanied by an increasingly popular video. While strangely not being the title track of the EP, Ghosts is clearly the strongest. The sheer power and craftsmanship behind the opening track is nothing short of breathtaking, showing Francesqa to have the sound of an arena band trapped in a small band’s body. Francesqa’s sound is tricky to pin down, while boasting high octane rocky elements, there are many instances where pop and more indie influences are displayed- the bouncy chorus in ‘Ghosts’ is proof enough. Surprisingly, the band never seem rest on their laurels, even for a beat- each note, each bar has been meticulously composed and considered, and it’s very telling- the song is relentless in its innovative and fun nature.

If each band’s release is to have a ‘wild card’ song, or one that would divide opinion, then ‘Hopeful’ fills that description. ‘Hopeful’ is a bit of an odd one, although that’s not to say it’s displeasing to the ear. Overall, the track continues in a mid-paced poppy vain, and proves to be another showcase of Francesqa’s distinctive musical capabilities. As with each track on ‘We Lived’, ‘Hopeful’ has its own distinctive sound and setup; it builds well, has great breaks where vocalist Ashley Wilkie’s capabilities can be explored to a far greater extent and features brief anthemic outbursts of ‘I feel brand new’ which would work particularly well on a live platform.

‘Years’ would have to be the self-indulgent song of the EP, being over 5 minutes in length. While initially it seems rather ‘ballad-ish’, it soon builds to a big, if brief, chorus. This is the music of musicians, not of a flash-in the pan, T4 trendy rock group. Through tracks such as ‘Years’, it becomes easy to be pulled in to Francesqa’s world, and their lyrics- within a few bars, you can find yourself hanging on each word. With each track, another of the band’s compelling qualities is introduced to the listener, as though they were taking part in an overly complicated, musical striptease.

‘Crooked Little Sun’ is by far the most upbeat and rocky offering from ‘We Lived’. The powerful guitars and copious cymbals conjure up memories of a very early Lostprophets. Although shorter, and poppier than other similar ‘alternative’ songs that have graced the commercial charts in recent months, ‘Crooked Little Sun’ provides an energetic, danceable, chart-friendly offering while still retaining its integrity. As with the other works on ‘We Lived’, once again Francesqa’s lyrical skills are nothing short of wonderful; while often being poetic and ambiguous, each word flows and fits- which really is an unusual quality to see in a band who has already displayed such confidence and skills in other musical areas. Francesqa, irritatingly, do seem to have the whole package – young, talented and eloquent.

The EP closes with the title track, ‘We Lived’, a slow, simple and distinctly honest song. The music is not complicated or convoluted by intrusive production or unnecessary vocal acrobatics, and it really does pay off. With simple, quiet verses, ‘We Lived’ proves to have the simplest and most effective chorus, which features huge soaring group vocals and chants of ‘We Lived’. While beginning quietly, ‘We Lived’ finishes its run with increasing rocky elements and soaring guitars, with the climax being an expert blend of faultless vocals and feverish guitars. ‘We Lived’ends as fuzzy, distorted guitars gradually fade out to silence, leaving the listener feeling that they really heard something special.

Spanning so many genres, Francesqa have it made; if ever I saw a band to keep tabs on, then this is it. If their next release is even half as good as ‘We Lived’, the world should be very excited; No doubt about it, Francesqa are set for greatness.

4/5 high fives!