After pulling the ever-popular “fire your entire lineup” trick, Powerman 5000 put out this album in 2003. It’s more of a straight-ahead alternative rock/punk rock blend, although not overt enough to belong to either genre.

I miss their old sound, but this isn’t bad. It doesn’t have anything as good as “When Worlds Collide” or “Danger is Go”, and in general it plays it a bit too safe. Conceptually, the band explored the stars. Musically, they wore knee pads and padded helmets. In their quest to not put a foot wrong, they don’t particularly put a foot right, with everything staying at a designated level of inoffensive.

Highlights are “Free”, “Action”, “Top of the World”, and “A is for Apathy,” which are all catchy and hard-rocking. “The Shape of Things to Come” is weird and trippy. When I first listened to it the final couple of minutes were buried under a wall of clicks and distortion. I actually got excited, thinking I was listening to some kind of experimental sonic collage. Turns out the mp3 had become had become corrupt.

Carbon-copy an idea enough times and it eventually degrades. This is seen here with some harmless but really boring songs like “Hey, It’s Nuthin'” or “I Knew it Was Right”…I can’t even distinguish their titles. “Stereotype” is the same, but remove the “harmless” part. It’s fucking horrible. It’s like a warmup for the all-out country song on their next album.

But basically Transform is OK and interesting. They rounded everything out and made it all sound the same, but it’s not awful. Strategically apply the skip button and it’s actually a good CD.

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This is one of the books Arnold published before he became a household name. Although, considering he’d racked up an unheard-of six Mr Olympia wins by 1977, that isn’t true if we’re talking about a household of bodybuilding fans.

It ticks all the boxes. Semi-literate but inspiring monologues about following your dreams, advice on picking up girls, pictures of the Austrian Oak lifting weights and posing on stage, scientifically questionable training advice, and so on.

The Education of a Bodybuilder starts off with Arnold’s life story, which (at that point in time) meant going from being a teen in Barely-on-the-Map Austria to the world’s most successful bodybuilder. He talks about his motivation for getting into bodybuilding, how he reacted to success and failure, and even some pretty blunt tirades against Catholicism. It’s remarkable that this book wasn’t used against him in his political career.

Sometimes it’s sanitary enough to be untrustworthy (his dad was never anything more than a police chief! Don’t ask questions!), although there’s some fun details about how a gay gym owner put the moves on him. Good to see that muscle schmoes were as common in the 70s as they are today.

But that’s the good half the book. The second half is a generic “How to get big muscles fast” manual that’s way worse than just reading random articles on the internet. In one part, he says that if you weigh 150 pounds, doing a push-up is as good as bench pressing a 150 pound barbell. Earlier in the book he talks about an exercise called “the Arnold Press” and says he’ll explain what it is later in the book. The Arnold Press is never mentioned again. In another section he emphasizes that you must do calf-raises with a lot of weight, but in the accompanying picture he’s doing calf-raises with a meager four plates.

Otherwise, it suffers from vagueness. He talks constantly about “tuning” and “tightening up” your body. What does that mean? Bigger muscles? Less fat? He talks about the power of the mind and how to have the will of a champion, and while that’s useful, I think new bodybuilders would be helped more by an explanation of macronutrient ratios and correct posture and form. Needless to say, all of his training advice must be viewed in light of the fact that he’s a steroid user with really good genetics.

You can find used copies of this for thirty bucks. Read the bio. Do whatever you want with the training advice.

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OK, no matter which abysmal places this animal-themed series went AFTERWARDS, the first Redwall title was an awesome read. All the elements of a classic children’s tale are out in force. It’s occasional silliness is acceptable because we haven’t read it long enough for it to become unbearable. For the most part it’s fresh, interesting, and exciting. The hero isn’t a wise-cracking hombre who can tie two rats into a knot while stirring a martini with his spare paw. He’s a frightened and vulnerable mouse, and often it seems like he won’t make it.

Brian Jacques was supposed to have written this as a one-off book to keep some blind kids entertained. It’s amazing how we can sometimes put in the performance of a lifetime when we’re not even trying, but I digress. Matthias is a mouse raised at Redwall Abbey, a sanctuary of sorts for peace-loving animals. But a horse-drawn cart containing hundreds of fierce warrior rats has landed nearby, and strife seems inevitable. The Redwallers would prefer to go on growing flowers and singing songs for the rest of their days, but alas, they wake up to the harsh reality that sometimes war is the only way forward. It’s not a grave idealogical contradiction to cuddle a friendly puppy while kicking its littermate as it chews your ankle.

Amidst all this is Matthias, who is trying to find his place and identity in the escalating conflict. He believes he has been chosen for some great destiny. Assisting him are a menagerie of friendly mice and other animals, such as the wise mouse Methuselah and the mighty badger Constance, whom I believe is based on Jacques’ grandmother. Constance frequently comes close to stealing the show. Every time she appears your ears perk up, because you know you’re about to be entertained.

What makes this book so much better than the other ones? Well, I think it’s because Brian Jacques didn’t have much of a game-plan. That sounds weird, but frankly, he tried to push a format on the later books (which was noticeable starting from Mossflower and became really irritating starting from The Pearls of Lutra) that didn’t really work so well. You know, it’s like he felt that evil must be balanced by good at all times, so every bloodthirsty battle scene must be countered by a scene of the characters having a feast or a party or doing something sentimental, even if it adds nothing to the plot. With Redwall, he’s still building his bridges and mapping out the terrain. He doesn’t know what he’s doing at this stage of the game, and the result is a book that feels much more spontaneous and “alive”, because he hasn’t yet had the chance to bog it down with pretentiousness.

The action builds and builds (the sequence involving the sparrows was my favorite), and Jacques juggles characters and situations like a pro. There’s a lot of subplots that intertwine in all sorts of rewarding ways, but they’re all resolved by the time the climax rolls around. The final section of the book is Matthias vs the rats, no side-tracks or distractions.

The book has its share of irritations and nitpicks (the rats are infuriatingly incompetent, to the point where they don’t seem like a legitimate threat to Redwall at all), but they are overturned by the sheer triumph of the book’s story. Get this one, and maybe the next three or four. Redwall doesn’t stay good for long, so enjoy it while it lasts.

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