mfadMark Twain once made a funny joke about “idiot member of Congress” being a tautology. I could make a joke about “Aerosmith comeback album” being another tautology. It wouldn’t be funny, though. The joke has been going on for thirty six years, and repetition is the enemy of humour.

Basically, Aerosmith cut some albums in the mid seventies and have spent the next four decades trying to escape their shadow. Nearly every Aerosmith album since Rocks has been considered a comeback effort by someone, somewhere…each comebackier than the last, and each more easily forgotten by the time the next one rolls around. The band has been unable to make lightning strike twice, with their output ranging from okay (Draw the Line), to uninspiring (Done with Mirrors) to revolting (I do want to miss a thing…that hellish song…).

To be fair, they managed a fairly legit comeback with Pump, which had the scorching “F.I.N.E.” and “Janie’s Got a Gun”, a song that even people that hate this band often like. But given their track record, does Aerosmith really have the air (aer?) of a rock and roll legend? Honestly, they seem more like a decent band that sometimes gets lucky.

Music from another Dimension is AC/DC’s Black Ice all over again. It’s clearly written by the same band that once put out classics, and it’s clearly not destined to join them. “Love XXX” sports a catchy main riff but doesn’t really go anywhere. “Legendary Child” has Perry reaching into his bag of tricks and coming out with an interesting harmonised lick. This song sounds greasy and driving and would have made good filler on Toys in the Attic.

“Street Jesus” is good – fast and furious, like “Rats in the Cellar”. The only thing that hurts it is the clean and slick production. Aerosmith’s music used to sound hard enough to cut a De Beers diamond, not nice and inoffensive. This is music that bows and scrapes and asks “Please sir, may I have permission to rock?” “Something” is a weird and sprawling thing redolent of Magic Mystery Tour-era Beatles.

By “Up on the Mountain” we’re on to the blatant idea recycling, with the band writing “Love XXX” all over again as if they’d forgotten that they’d already recorded that one. “Lover Alot” is silly fast rock with none of the old Aerosmith bite. Unfortunately, the band doesn’t restrain itself to “boring”, some songs here are actually repulsive. “Beautiful” has some brash swagger mixed with a godawful annoying chorus that sounds like Creed gone even more wrong. “We All Fall Down” is a slow dance piano ballad written by that chick who wrote “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”…good, just what Aerosmith fans want to hear.

That they’re still coasting on Rocks’ glory thirty seven years later is a favourable comment on the quality of their early albums. Will those days ever be revisited? I will never say never, but it hasn’t happened here. Forget writing the anthems of an age. Aerosmith is struggling to write the anthems of the next five minutes.

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houseofleavesLast year I read something online called “Ted’s Caving Page”. It was a short story about a spelunker exploring a cave, and I found it very, very frightening. Partly because of the story, but also because of how it was presented. It was long, unedited, and written in an rambly hands-in-overall-pockets style that took me off-guard. It was (deliberately?) amateurish, but that made it seem real.

If Ted’s Caving Page had come in a shiny new paperback with “CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED” on the front cover and “‘THE GREATEST SCARY STORY IN 10 YEARS … WOW’ – Ramsey Campbell” on the back…I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much, or so I suspect. It would have seemed crude, primitive, unworthy of its heraldry. And yet, hosted on a cheap Angelfire site, the story worked. It was a success not because of what it was but because of how it was. It’s popular to pretend that art is self-contained and is not affected by anything outside itself. In truth, art can be enhanced or destroyed by nothing more than its packaging.

House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski compares to Ted’s Caving Page in a number of ways, but foremost is that the presentation is an enmeshed part of the story. It is a story-in-a-story about a man who, apartment-hunting, finds an abandoned manuscript about a very odd house. The house is the real story, but it’s one we’re told in between periods of commentary from our narrator. He talks about his love life, and his mother, and the darkness that seems to be gathering about him with each waking moment.

The manuscript is about a man called Navidson, who owns a peculiar house. Its walls, measured from inside, have a greater perimeter than when measured from outside. Rooms appear and disappear. Soon, a vast chamber appears, and Navidson begins to explore and document it using an Arriflex camera. At the beginning, the house seems like a metaphor for Navidson’s madness, but soon others are capture. If the house is nothing but a noumena of Navidson, then he is a danger to everyone around him, most of all his wife and children.

The narrator is unreliable. The book is unreliable. Some pages have only a single word. Some of them must be read by holding the book up to a mirror. There are scholarly references to various real and fictional articles, and there are fake (but very convincing) interviews with folk such as Stephen King and Anne Rice about the nature of the document. Sometimes what you’re reading doesn’t make sense, but it works as window dressing, creating the impression that you are reading things that actually happened. Little details, like the main character’s, relationship with his mother seem simultaneously irrelevant and hugely important.

Although the story is as gripping as anything I’ve read, critical pieces of information are ambiguous or missing, even at the end. This is not a book of answers, but a book of questions. You have to work for House of Leaves‘ very occasional revelations, which makes them seem all the more worthwhile. The cryptic, byzantine nature of the book invites the reader’s exploration…rather like a certain house.

This book creates a unique and special atmosphere. It’s as structured and planned as any novel ever written, and it does seem artificial in some ways, but that makes me think of The Blair Witch Project. The first five minutes, all you can notice is the shaky camera. By the end of the movie, you’ve forgotten that things like cameras even exist.

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muslim-massacre460René Magritte painted a picture of a pipe with the caption “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” “This is not a pipe.” Of course it wasn’t a pipe, it was a picture of a pipe.

Muslim Massacre is a game made by SomethingAwful forumer Sigvatr (I refuse to call them “goons”) that lets you destroy little pixelly blips. There are lots of games where you destroy little pixelly blips, but in this one the pixelly blips represent Muslims. This has made it controversial. We can only guess at how many Muslims in real life have been killed because of this game, but it’s probably a lot.

The game itself is a nose-thumbingly cheap tribute to Postal. You control a true American patriot (hatriot?) carrying a pistol, although passing planes drop additional weapons like a shotgun and a rocket launcher. Your enemies possess everything from suicide bombs to burkas, and eventually you fight Osama bin Laden, Muhammad, and Allah himself. You use the WASD keys to move, and the mouse to aim and fire. Like games of old you can’t save your progress, so you have to beat the thing in one try.

Muslim Massacre is halal if pixelated violence is your creed. You can throw grenades that leave huge craters in the ground, fire rockets that send bodies flying like leaves in a gale, and each dead Muslim vents roughly twenty gallons of blood over the desert sand. Cheerful generic chiptune music plays over the slaughter.

However, I’ll say this: it’s probably not as outrageous as you’re hoping. As a game, Muslim Massacre is fun. As satire, it has a…mildness to it. The whole game involves shooting tiny sprites that sort of look like they have brown skin. A few changes to the art and Muslim Massacre would be just another shameless nostalgia trip to the days when Nintendo published official strategy guides and kids bought them. It certainly has some shock value (especially for people who want to be shocked), but it doesn’t go beyond what Postal accomplished ten years earlier, to say nothing of even older games like Custer’s Revenge.

One wonders why Sigvatr didn’t push the game’s concept further, into South Park territory. Why not allow pork-tipped bullets as an upgradable weapon, for example? If you’re going for edgy, why not go for the white-hot DEFCON 1 shit? Muslim Massacre is a paradox…too much, and not nearly enough.

Perhaps this game isn’t meant to be funny. I’ve read the creator’s webcomic, Electric Retard, which is a mixture of Monty Python’s comedy and Adam Lanza’s misanthropy. I’ve also seen his strange, po-faced apology where he tries to sell Muslim Massacre as an indictment of American foreign policy. Sigvatr’s funny like that. You’re never sure as to whether he gets his own jokes.

Anyway, the game came out, it upset people (but not to the extent where they’d pass up on free traffic by not writing outraged blog posts promoting it), then it went away. Maybe these games are offensive, maybe they’re not, and maybe “offensive” doesn’t matter. These kinds of games hurt nobody, and even if they do, the cure could be worse than the disease. Many people who promote freedom of speech are only thinking about their own speech. They don’t realise that there are a lot of ideas out there, and that – for better or for worse – they’ve opened Pandora’s box.

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