Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Paying A Debt To The Masters - Two Great Live Covers

David Rawlings Machine (incl. Gillian Welch, Jon Brion, Benmont Tench, Sebastian Steinberg) - Queen Jane Approximately (Live at Largo, LA)

From a David Rawlings Machine live performance that I downloaded recently, this is certainly the best cover I've ever heard of the Dylan classic, and (dare I say) may even rival the original. If that sounds blasphemous, I should admit that QJA is my least favorite song on Highway 61 Revisited. Of course, that album has no bad songs, or anything remotely close, but I've just always found "Queen Jane" a bit repetitive. It drags in a way that "Desolation Row", at twice the length, never does (thanks in large part to Charlie McCoy's acoustic guitar).

Rawlings and company (who probably wouldn't agree with my assessment) address this problem, such as it is, very simply and effectively, with superb instrumental performances. The acoustic guitars propel the song forward, and Benmont Tench's piano (from what I've been able to determine, it's Tench on piano and not Jon Brion, who was apparently on guitar) provides ultra-tasty accents throughout. The combo of acoustic guitar and piano is a great, underexploited sound, and the way the band rides the instrumental groove they've built up toward the end of the song reminds me of some of Ronnie Lane's songs with the Faces, with their instrumental outros giving Ian McLagan a chance to shine.

On record, David Rawlings has always lived in (or been) the shadow of his partner Gillian Welch. His harmonies are so exceptionally tight and close that he seems to disappear into her voice at the same time as he's hugely enhancing the effect of it. Live, though, his acoustic guitar playing tends to steal the show. No one plays quite like he does, a bluegrass flatpicking virtuoso's dexterity with an expressive, emotional depth and directness that, at its best, seems to be on loan from Neil Young. The Machine has a record coming out soon - pretty safe bet that it'll be a winner.

The Bottle Rockets - Lookout Joe (Live at the Mercury Lounge, NYC)

As I may have mentioned before, The Bottle Rockets are the greatest interpreters of Neil Young's music out there today. The only officially released evidence of this is on their sole live album (a new live DVD is in the works), in the form of savage versions of "Hey Hey My My" and "Cortez the Killer", but anyone who has followed them over the years (or done some YouTube searching) has probably heard a wide variety of other Neil material, from "Walk On" to "Down By The River". The David Rawlings show I discuss above contains good versions of "Field of Opportunity" and "Cortez", and I've heard Welch and Rawlings absolutely nail "Albequerque", a slow, minor-key song perfectly suited to their style, but no one can touch the Bottle Rockets when it comes to getting across the raw gut punch of Neil's best electric music.

Lately they've honed "Lookout Joe" (from Tonight's The Night, and referenced in the BRox deep cut "Dohack Joe") into one of the most sure-fire, fearsome weapons in their arsenal. As the seemingly unplanned final encore at the band's recent Mercury Lounge show, it brought an excellent night of rock'n'roll to a satisfying conclusion. They totally inhabited the song's peculiar groove and achieved ragged glory on the bridge's "craaaazy clowwwwwn" peak. Like I said, untouchable.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Welcome To The Upper East Side

I love this.

Abe, Whig In The City*

I took in the new Lincoln and New York show at the New York Historical Society recently. The show strikes a pretty good balance between the type of (theoretically) kid-friendly, interactive, multimedia exhibits that have become standard history and science museum fare in recent years - touch screens allowing you to create your own 1860's era political cartoon, a sound and light room meant to recreate the chaos of the Draft Riots, a shooting gallery-style lineup of Copperheads with sound tubes allowing you to listen to their anti-Lincoln grumblings - and the more traditional artifact-based approach to presenting history. For me, the slickest, most graphic-rich touch screen imaginable could never be as meaningful as being inches away from the inkwell that Lincoln used to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, but different strokes...

The show is arranged in a logical, chronological fashion, from Lincoln's visit to New York to deliver the Cooper Union speech that helped make him a serious contender for the Presidential nomination to the laying in state of his body at City Hall after the assassination. The portion dealing with the Cooper Union trip contains some fascinating displays, including a section on his visit to Matthew Brady's studio and a large map detailing Lincoln's movements in Manhattan and Brooklyn (where he attended Henry Ward Beecher's Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights, the initial source of Lincoln's speaking invitation). The map was of particular interest to me, as I fall squarely in the overlap zone of the "maps+Lincoln" Venn diagram.

The complexities of Lincoln's actions during the Civil War are well represented in the show, with a focus on how his policies were received in the deeply divided, sometimes violent atmosphere of wartime New York. Few of Lincoln's wartime acts were as complex, in execution or implication, as the Emancipation Proclamation. Alternately seen as a divinely inspired writ of liberation and as a coldly strategic military document, the Proclamation was neither entirely one nor the other, and can't be fully understood or placed in context without taking into account the 13th Amendment that followed and the fact that Lincoln actively pushed for its passage and ratification. The exhibit covers all of this, but someone moving quickly through the exhibit might miss the Amendment, seemingly doomed to live forever in the shadow of the Proclamation.

Although Lincoln's assassination is one of the most well known facts about him, after spending a lot of time in the exhibit pouring over the details of his wartime struggles, his death still managed to carry a measure of shock and horror - "how could the story end like that?" The final wall with excerpts from Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" is a fitting conclusion, an American elegy suitable in stature to the life it commemorates. In fact, I can think of only one other artistic response to Lincoln that succeeds on the level of Whitman, landscape architect Jens Jensen's Lincoln Memorial Garden in Springfield, Illinois. Whitman's elegy is full of landscape and plant imagery; Jensen's garden takes a poetic, symbolic and associative approach to commemorating Lincoln. Both are alive in ways that a more literally representational stone or bronze monument can never be.

The Lincoln show is a lot to take in, but the one-room John Brown exhibit upstairs makes for a nice aperitif or digestif (chronologically, I suppose it makes more sense to see it first). Brown was also commemorated by a great American writer, that other Civil War poet, Herman Melville.

*Lincoln left the Whigs for the recently formed Republican Party in 1856, making the title of this post historically inaccurate insofar as his 1860 visit to New York is concerned.

Bonus Links

The best thing I've read on Lincoln by one of his contemporaries: Frederick Douglass' oration at the dedication of the Freedmen's Monument in 1876. How could a speech containing these lines also be perhaps the greatest, most apt tribute Lincoln ever received?:

"He was preeminently the white man's President, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men. He was ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the colored people to promote the welfare of the white people of this country."

Read it and find out.

Friday, October 23, 2009

On Vampire Weekend's "Horchata"

I enjoyed VW's debut album, and the one live show I saw at Corlears Hook Park. I even enjoyed following, at least for a while, the now familiar, internet-fueled hype-backlash cycle that played out from the time that their pre-album online singles first appeared. I was interested at the time to see where people came down on them. Though the strength of reactions varied (is a "meh" of indifference really much better than outright hatred?), it seemed that everyone had an opinion (and the opinions just keep coming).

Whether it was deliberate or not (and the uncertainty about this is one of the compelling things about the band for me), VW's "preppy" Upper West Side signifiers, both in their lyrics and their look, certainly succeeded in pushing a lot of buttons. As for the music, I loved that they were drawing on the bright, bouncing sounds of soukous guitar, even (or especially) if it was filtered through Paul Simon. The Paul Simon-VW connection has been overemphasized (as has its overemphasis), but I do think that Graceland (perhaps because it was such a widely popular album) and Rhythm of the Saints (perhaps because it gets lost in the shadow of its predecessor) are underappreciated and under-influential. I'm sure there's something I've forgotten about or am just ignorant of, but Paul Kotheimer's (criminally, practically unknown) "Bicycle" is just about the only obviously Graceland-influenced track that comes to mind outside of VW. (I also think that some of Simon's lyrics on those two albums belong among the greatest achievements in pop songwriting, but that's another story.)

All of which brings me to the recently released (as a free MP3) "Horchata". Reports seem to indicate that the forthcoming album is perhaps a bit more eclectic than the first, but basically similar in spirit. I hope, then, that "Horchata" is more an aberration than an indicator of what we can expect from Contra. With this single, it sounds like they've removed the most appealing elements of their sound - Ezra Koenig's guitar, Chris Tomson's indie/faux/cod-ethnic drumming, a certain youthful (coltish?) energy - while retaining their most questionable - gimmicky overreliance on exotic-sounding words, busy string arrangements that don't quite fit the songs.

The relatively minimal synth-and-marimba-dominated backing track focuses attention on the vocals for much of the song, but there's not a strong enough melody or lyric to carry the weight. With a different arrangement, either incorporating guitar and drums or, if a new direction was the idea, a more thorough exploitation of electronic sounds and rhythms (which, to be fair, could have gone horribly wrong), the song might've been a modest success. As it is, "Horchata" seems like a modest experiment that came out a bit flat.

[Update: I realize now, after coming back to finish up this piece, that I've had the damn song stuck in my head for much of the week. Does that mean I was wrong about it not having a strong melody?]

[Update #2- 10/27/09: It's still growing on me. I've found that listening it to it louder helps. I still like VW a lot better with guitar, though, and I'm still not crazy about the lyrics - "pincher crabs that pinch at your sandals"?]

Bonus Link

Quite possibly the most level-headed and intelligent piece yet written about this much-written-about band.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Leitch At The Movies

Ex-Black Table, ex-Deadspin, now New York Magazine scribe Will Leitch occasionally posts movie reviews on his blog. Even in his casual, spare-time way, he's a better, more perceptive film critic than the vast majority of the full-time professionals currently writing for major publications (unfortunately, that pool is shrinking rapidly). Try comparing his most recent batch of reviews with those for the same movies in your publication of choice* and see if you agree (and don't miss the priceless Soderbergh anecdote). His recent, perhaps overgenerous, Tarantino apology, which helped me overcome my reluctance to see Inglourious Basterds**, is also well worth a look.

As I'm fond of telling people when his name comes up, I've been reading Leitch since about 1993 or 4. We attended the same school, and I consumed lots of his sports reporting and movie reviews in the (surprisingly professional - you actually had to pay a subscription) daily college newspaper. Although he was clearly passionate about sports, I always assumed that he'd end up as a film critic, following in the footsteps of the man he often cited as his inspiration, Roger Ebert***. Given the current state of that profession, he was probably right to take a different path, at least financially, but I can't help thinking that the little world of people who read and write about movies would be better off if Will Leitch's voice had a more prominent place in it.

*I really need to see A Serious Man, if for no other reason than to see how it can inspire such night-and-day different takes as Leitch's - he thinks it may be their best work - and Ella Taylor's frontal assault on the Coens in the Village Voice, in which she comes very close to accusing them and the film of contributing to anti-Semitism.

**I was glad I changed my mind. Though I thought QT made some questionable calls along the way, Basterds managed to justify, and seem quite a bit shorter than, it's 152-minute running time, no mean feat.

***I want to take this opportunity to mention that Ebert, probably because he became so TV famous, is generally, and shamefully, underrated as a critic. I'm sure a lot of intelligent people who think of him as some kind of middlebrow joke would reconsider if they read some of his writing (good examples of which are accumulating rapidly on his very active blog).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Thatsa Nice Lookin' Sandwich (#2 in a Series)

The Trinidad "double": man, thatsa nice lookin' sandwich, and one that I was previously unfamiliar with. I really need to try one. Also, I really need to eat lunch. Getting mighty hungry...

Monday, October 19, 2009

In A Pig's Eye

I'm far from a vegetarian, priding myself on the list of odd bits and parts I've eaten over the years (brain taco, ear taco, tongue sandwich, pig "snoots", etc). Still, in looking through this slideshow of the recent NYC feast put together by London's marrow-popularizing Fergus Henderson, I couldn't help thinking that things had gone a bit too far, that some line had been crossed, some unspoken rule violated.

Is Henderson trying to confront diners with the harsh reality of their carnivorousness by putting them literally face-to-face with the animal they're consuming? Certainly, the meal (or at least the slideshow) seems to have been impeccably sequenced, building from some relatively innocuous salad courses up to the full-on horror of a tongue and an eyeball being plucked from a pig's skull and eaten. When I got to the lamb's neck about halfway through the slideshow, I knew things were getting weird.

If the practice of eating meat ever dies out, I wonder if our descendants will look back at "FergusStock" with the same horror with which we now view certain practices of the Romans*.

*I was thinking here of vomitoriums, but have since learned that they did not actually exist, at least in the sense of venues for deliberate vomiting. The role of vomiting in upper class Roman dining practice still seems to be in dispute, however.


Another day, another food blog post involving eyeballs, actually a pretty fascinating step-by-step demonstration of how to cut up a (supposedly sustainable) bluefin tuna. Among the
handy tips:

"Cut around the eyeball and gouge it out with your hand."

"Rip out the eye. The eyes can be eaten raw or wrapped in foil and cooked."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Speak Lowe Or Forever Hold Your Peace

Based on this report from one of Nick Lowe's two recent NYC shows, it seems that concertgoers at City Winery are working hard to confirm the worst fears a music fan such as myself might have about attending a show at an "urban winery" (not that I have anything against wine or urbanity per se):

Folks were way too sedate. When a few of us enthusiasts dared to sing along on the chorus of “Cruel to Be Kind,” horrified shushes came our way.

Maybe these were just hardcore Lowephiles, or maybe the singing was horribly loud and out-of-tune, but I thought singing along was a culturally accepted ritual, a well-established part of the rock'n'roll tradition. Even though it might sometimes be annoying in practice, it should be taken as a sign of enthusiasm, of engagement with the music, and thus something to be encouraged, or at least tolerated. It's not like trying to loudly scat along with a piano player at the Village Vanguard, although the occasional vocalization of approval from the crowd at a jazz show is a pretty welcome thing, too, as far as I'm concerned.

Unfortunately, I missed him this time around, but just for fun, here's a hastily assembled, not-in-any-particular-order Top Ten of my favorite Nick Lowe tracks:

"What's Shakin' On the Hill"
From 1989, slightly predating and providing a template for his latter day, easygoing crooner phase, it might also be the best song he's ever done in that mode. Comparable to Elvis Costello's "Poisoned Rose" in the spare, elegant perfection department. A whole post about it here (with video links).

"All Men Are Liars"
Well-crafted, catchy pop tunes that are also funny are not as common as you might think. This one gets the hook-to-yuk ratio just about right and gets off a quality cheap shot at Rick Astley a good decade and a half before the RickRoll phenomenon.

"So It Goes"
Nick's immortal early single, from the heady days when pub rock was giving way to punk.

"Marie Provost"
I've said it before, I'll say it again: best "forgotten silent movie actress eaten by her own dog" song EVER. Nick even misspelled her name (on purpose? to avoid some kind of lawsuit?).

Borderline bubblegum from the Rockpile era later remade by Nick with some dub/reggae touches. I like both versions.

"When I Write The Book"
I actually think I love this song mostly for the acoustic guitar sound, one of the best I've ever heard, on the Rockpile version.

"(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding"
What more can be said about this one.

"Queen of Sheba"
Kind of a minor, modest Nick number, but then again, much of his career has been based on taking small, sometimes silly ideas and cutting and polishing them into little, sparkling gems.

"(For Every Woman Who Ever Made a Fool of a Man There's A Woman Who Made A) Man of a Fool"
Once you've come up with that title, there's not much more you have to do, or so Nick's deceptively casual songwriting might lead you to believe. Outside the realm of country, Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello are probably the greatest ever practitioners of "come up with a clever title and fill in the blanks" songwriting (as well as its oft-maligned sister discipline, pun-based songwriting).

"Love Like a Glove"
Sex similes are a long and proud songwriting tradition, but this is a particularly fine example, composed by Nick's then-wife Carlene Carter. I wonder if the Bottle Rockets' "Love Like a Truck" was a nod to Carlene and this song.

Bonus Links

another review of one of the City Winery gigs

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bob Yourself A Merry Dylan Christmas

So, I listened to the song that Dylan is streaming from his new Christmas album, the polka-ish "Must Be Santa". Neither a Christmas rarity nor a familiar favorite, Dylan takes the tune at a manic tempo, aided by some shouted/sung band vocals (I'm presuming it's the band and not backup singers) and a tasty Flaco Jimenez-style accordion (it might even be Flaco himself). If forced to sum it up in the most facile way possible by simply comparing it to other bands, I would say that the formula is The Pogues+Brave Combo+Texas Tornadoes.

After hearing this one track, I think I can safely say that the album won't be a trainwreck. Probably a person's appreciation of it will be largely determined by how much he or she enjoys A) Christmas music and B) Bob Dylan's last few albums. If you're into both, order now. As they say, it's for a good cause.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

3 From Monk at 92

A few notes on the "Monk at 92" piano mini-marathon at the Winter Garden last Friday night:

The majority of the "mini-marathon" (it was slated to run about four hours) was devoted to solo piano performances. As I've noted before, the quality of live sound in the vast, open, almost cathedral-like Winter Garden tends to suffer from the inherent limitations of the space. It clearly wasn't designed as a concert hall, at least acoustically. The limitations become more obvious and problematic the more instruments are involved, and particularly when drums are in the mix, but for solo piano it's not bad.

I'm focusing on the sound of the room because what struck me most about the performances I saw, even more than the variety of approaches performers took to Monk's music, was how radically different the same piano in the same space can sound when played by different musicians. The format of one solo pianist after another provided a perfect opportunity to witness this phenomenon, recently alluded to in Ethan Iverson's interview with Keith Jarrett.

Junior Mance (born, like Monk, on October 10th) played with a clear, sharp attack, each note ringing out distinctly, his touch perfectly suiting his approach to Monk's music, the bluesiest of any of the pianists I saw at the Winter Garden. Monk, of course, composed many blues, and the blues feeling is present in all his work, whether a given tune has a blues structure or not. It was this very central blues aspect of Monk that Mance was exploring on Friday night.

After Mance, Kenny Barron's sound at first seemed indistinct, almost muddy by contrast. As he went on, his sound somehow gained in clarity as his playing increased in complexity, building excitement and leaving no doubt that this was a master, able to translate Monk's language into his own terms with total authority. All the while, his touch remained wholly distinct from Mance's, to the point that it was hard to believe they'd been playing the same instrument.

Geri Allen's sound was immersive, full of overtones, with ideas like sparks floating and mingling in the air. Allen solidly established her Monk credentials twenty years ago, when she appeared on Paul Motian's Monk In Motian, an album that belongs on any list of the great Monk tributes, right up there with Steve Lacy's Reflections. Her playing on Friday was a clear testament to the continued ability of Monk's music to inspire high-level improvisation.

Though I saw some other performances and was sorry to have missed others, these three performing back-to-back-to-back was an undeniable highlight of the event, a small but concentrated cross section of jazz piano as it's being performed today. I'm pretty sure I spotted bassist William Parker checking out the music [update: turns out Parker performed as part of the marathon-closing Zim Ngqawana Quartet], and I'm going to look around to see if any other bloggers or critics have posted reviews. I haven't seen anything so far, but I'll post links when I do.

Bonus Links

A preview with comments about Monk from several of the participants

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Sister Ray Test

If you're interested at all in Lester Bangs, I highly recommend checking out The Hound's remembrance of him here. Besides being a fascinating first-hand account of the legendary rock writer, it also gives you a sense of the street level, day-to-day reality of the late-'70s NYC downtown scene, the days when a weekend at CBGB could feature a Ramones/Cramps double bill one night and Alex Chilton/Lester Bangs the next.

Bonus Link

I may have linked to this before, but if so I intend to keep linking to it every time I think of it. In fact, a blog that did nothing but post a link to Lester Bangs' piece on Astral Weeks every day would be a noble and worthy undertaking.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

On The Dukes Of Stratosphear

In which XTC adopted a goofy nom de psychedelique and unexpectedly parlayed it into some of the best music of their career. Embracing parody, pastiche, homage, and simply brilliant song- and studio craft, Partridge (aka Sir John Johns), Moulding (aka The Red Curtain), and company (can't forget Lord Cornelius Plum and E.I.E.I. Owen) achieved something that most fans of '60s rock have found themselves wishing for at one time or another, the Technicolor sounds of the psychedelic era with less embarrassing lyrics.

The Dukes took quite a different approach to this problem from many neo-psych bands, though. Instead of excising the whimsical/mystical/trippy-dippy content from the lyrics, they highlighted these aspects by parodying them. I get the impression that the freedom to write silly lyrics was somehow liberating to the whole songwriting process, opening up possibilities or suggesting ideas that might've been edited out of an XTC song at the composition stage.

The range of styles covered within the framework of the concept and the group's mastery of each of them is hugely impressive. The overall variety and the level of sonic (sorry, psonic) detail in each track makes this a case where the familiar claim that an album "rewards repeated listening" is absolutely true. [Note: The version of this music I've been listening to is the Chips From The Chocolate Fireball compilation, which includes both the 25 O'Clock EP and the Psonic Psunspot LP on a single CD, so I'm not making any distinctions here between the two original releases.]

Some highlights, in the order they come to mind:

"Brainiac's Daughter" is the kind of bouncy pop that I find irresistible, even when it lacks the smartness on display here.

"Pale and Precious" has to be one of the closest approaches to the post-Pet Sounds Beach Boys sound ever achieved, easily laying waste to anything in the High Llamas catalog while managing to simultaneously exist as parody, straight imitation, and a great song on its own terms.

"25 O'Clock" is sublimely ridiculous, with a Floydian sound effect intro (although I half expect to hear Cheap Trick's "Clock Strikes Ten" come in after the chimes) and a chorus evoking the 13th Floor Elevators (or any number of other organ-wielding, Nuggets-era garage-psych acts).

"Bike Ride to the Moon" evokes Pink Floyd again, but it's pure Barrett-era, as the title would suggest.

"What in the World..." smashes together the concept of worst-song-ever contender "In the Year 2525" with the young-fogeyism/nostalgia that Ray Davies and Paul McCartney occasionally indulged in, producing lines such as "2034, Women fight the wars / Men are too bored, they're scrubbing floors / Men are too bored" and "Do you remember when this life was in perspective / and the grownups were respected?"

"Little Lighthouse" is an absolute pop gem with an immediately striking melody and vocal arrangement, leaning more toward mid-period XTC than '60s pastiche but still fitting in nicely with the other material.

XTC's influence on They Might Be Giants, never a secret, is especially apparent while listening to the Dukes material. I would guess that this music, with its marriage of silliness and impeccable craft, was particularly important to the two Johns. The timing would also support this, with the two Dukes releases preceding the first two TMBG full-lengths by about a year in each case. Though no one would classify TMBG as '60s revivalists, the humor, fun, and oddball pop precision of the Dukes is alive in their best work.

[Update: It helps to do your homework. I just discovered that TMBG covered "25 O'Clock" on an XTC tribute album. Check out the other artists on the tribute. It's a real mid-'90s time capsule, including some candidates for the "Q. Where Are They Now? A. I Don't Care But I Hope They Stay There" file.]

Bonus Links

Zager & Evans' far less successful follow-up to 2525, "Mr. Turnkey", sung from the perspective of a convicted rapist who kills himself by nailing his wrist to the wall of his jail cell.

I couldn't find a good link for "The Candy Machine", Z&E's twisted contribution to the late-'60s candy-psych trend, but it's worth tracking down if you can find it. "1910 Cotton Candy Castle" it ain't.

Thanks for the Customer Reviews section for this Z&E twofer for alerting me to these golden nuggets of '60s pop.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

An Observation on The Beatles, In The Style of David Markson

Blogger given pause by the recollection that The Beatles, at a time when they were the most popular musical act in the world, actually wanted to use this photo as the cover of their latest American album. An album that contained the song "Yesterday".


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Recent Reading - The Debt to Pleasure

I only recently discovered this 2007 piece from New York Magazine which asked critics and writers to name a favorite underrated book from the previous ten years. I dumped several of them into my Amazon Wish List and found that, as might be expected of recent-but-not-too-recent books that fall into the "underrated" category, many of them could be had for not much more than the cost of shipping.

I finished John Lanchester's The Debt to Pleasure a few days ago ($0.01 + shipping for a "like new" hard cover copy) and was glad to concur with Ron Rosenbaum's endorsement in the NYMag piece:

"Pure wicked literary pleasure. Well received when published, but not nearly as well read as deserved. Ghostly progenitor: Nabokov’s Pale Fire."

While Pale Fire is certainly an apt reference point, there are echoes in the novel of lots of other writers and works, whether intentional on Lanchester's part or not. So many, in fact, that instead of writing a review, I'm going to try to convey a sense of what the book is like by listing all the possible models, influences, and related works that I could think of.

Although it might be appropriate to the subject matter, presenting this list in the form of a "recipe for The Debt to Pleasure" would have been taking my already shaky premise deep into the realm of the contrived. So, the list:

Pale Fire (hidden plot peeking out through the holes in the unreliable narrator's elaborately constructed facade)
The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (investigating the life of a dead, more successful brother)
Despair (another delusional, unreliable narrator up to no good)
The Physiology of Taste (wide-ranging, philosophical musings on gastronomy - with recipes!)
The "Ripliad" (refined expat living well in France and occasionally doing very bad things)
On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts (the title says it all)
The Rape of Lucrece (referenced toward the end; coveting thy neighbor's wife)
Peter Mayle's Provence books (British expat in Provence)
John Wilmot's "The Imperfect Enjoyment" (check out line 24)

I feel like I'm missing something, maybe something on art theory or the art world, but I hope this list might at least prove intriguing enough to get you to read the book.