PLEASE NOTE: “As an Amazon Associate, [Need Coffee] earns from qualifying purchases." You know we make money from Amazon links,
and I know you know this, but they make us say it anyway. More info, click here.

Headsup: Zulli With Gaiman, Winchester With China, Scarlett With Tom

An ongoing attempt to make sense of the onslaught of new swag that people want you to buy. Should you? I’ll try and help.

The Facts in the Case of the Disappearance of Miss Finch Cover Art
The Pixar Touch Cover Art
Swine Not? Cover Art

The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch is the tale of an underground circus, and some friends who, with Miss Finch in tow, attend. And what happens next, which you can guess has something to do with the title and leaving. There’s something to be said for Gaiman‘s story, which as the book explains hasn’t exactly been made widely available on this side of the pond (and has shades of Gaiman’s work on Alice Cooper’s Last Temptation–no surprise, as Zulli provided art for that as well). Any Gaiman is better than a lot of other fiction writers working today. There’s something to be said for Todd Klein adapting the thing for this Dark Horse edition (and I’ve seen a lot of people attributing the whole thing to Michael Zulli, so…). But the thing that I was most looking forward to was seeing the aforementioned Mr. Zulli do smilodons. I’m not giving anything away–there’s one on the cover. An excellent addition to anyone’s Gaiman shelf, unless like me, yours is spilling onto a second shelf. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

It’s not secret we’re big proponents of Pixar around here. Even now that they’ve merged with Disney into a Skynet-like animation deity called Dixar. But if you want to pull back the curtain to see the little man behind it (or in this case, the cadre of animators), then The Pixar Touch from Knopf by David A. Price is the ticket. Seriously though, what do we, the pop culture nerds, know about Pixar beyond the fact that we want to work there and that John Lasseter has been accepted by many of us as their lord and personal savior? Price lets us know how a company went from zero to being the leading animation house of our time in a relatively short amount of time. And it’s not like it’s a wart-free story–it’s fairly treated. For Pixar fans, you’re going to want to check this out. Recommended. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

[ad#longpost]I’m not a fan of Jimmy Buffett. I know that’s heresy to some of you, but it’s a personal thing that has very little to do with his music. Although I must admit that having recently been to a beach, hearing Buffett music everywhere I go didn’t help matters. Perhaps if we had a five-year moratorium on “Margaritaville” I could have some time to deal. Anyway, still, I was interested to see that he had books out–and a comedy called Swine Not? involving a pig in the big city sounds like it could have some merit. Unfortunately, it’s just not very well written. And I know I’ve set myself up to be this Buffett-hater by saying this, but I really was looking forward to the book. And it’s not that Buffett can’t write, I don’t think, because there’s an apology written by the real life pig who appears on the cover that’s the highlight of the book. Regardless, fans of his will probably enjoy…non-believers like myself should think twice. Although it’s a little better to hear the unabridged audiobook, read by L.J. Ganser, because you can be doing something else at the same time. (Click here to buy the book from Amazon, or Click here to buy the audiobook from Amazon.)

The Man Who Loved China Audiobook Cover Art
Ween Friends EP CD Cover Art

The release of a new Simon Winchester book is always a happy day in the Technocave. Or, I should say, the release of a Simon Winchester audiobook. I barely have time to read these days, so it’s audiobooks wherever possible. And Winchester reads his own stuff unabridged, and is as good a reader as he is a writer. The book, The Man Who Loved China, couldn’t be better timed. China is a huge player on the world stage, not just because of its physical size or the size of its population. But everybody’s eyeing China to see what it’s going to do next–Winchester’s book takes a look at Joseph Needham, the guy who wrote the book (literally) on China’s technology innovations. Winchester does this by making Needham’s life accessible and interesting whereas other books on history might bore the pants off of you, and through him, China as well. Highly recommended, as are all Winchester’s works. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

What I dig about Ween is that they appear to be able to do any damn thing they want and get away with it…at least musically. They can take any genre and create a song that’s both a perfect send-up of that genre and also just a damn good representation of the genre as well. It’s almost frightening, frankly. And, since they’re so talented, disgusting as hell. What you’ve got here is a five-song EP that features songs in advance of La Cucharacha, the full-length that followed this. And this re-release is from MVD–and from what I can tell from Amazon is not an import, hence the cheaper price. Ween completists will want this–if you’re not familiar, then this isn’t the best in-door for you. I recommend Mollusk or Chocolate and Cheese instead. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

The Stranger 30th Anniversary CD DVD Cover Art
Anywhere I Lay My Head CD Cover Art

You have to love the Legacy Editions that Sony puts out: they do put out enough new stuff that makes it worth double dipping. And on occasion they really, really do it up right. That’s why we were pleased to see the three-disc set that they made out of Billy Joel’s The Stranger. I know Amazon lists it as a four-disc (three CD and one DVD) but that appears to be in error. At least we only got three discs here, let’s put it that way. There’s really not a bad song on the album, as this contains perennial favorites “Movin’ Out,” “Only the Good Die Young” and “Always a Woman,” among others. The remastered sound is better than the regular CD version we had here, plus a second CD, “Live at Carnegie Hall 1977,” with live versions of “Angry Young Man,” “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant,” and “Say Goodbye to Hollywood,” among others. Then the third disc is a DVD featuring promo vids plus Joel on the Old Grey Whistle Test from 1978 that hasn’t been seen since unless you have a good sources for bootlegs. Joel fans will want to snag this, definitely. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

It’s almost frightening how much I wanted to like this album. Scarlett Johansson is a great actress, who we’ve given awards to (twice!), because she’s just damn good. And after hearing her version of “Summertime,” I defended this idea against people who said: Scarlett? Waits? What? But Anywhere I Lay My Head just doesn’t work. What’s with the Casio samba beat (or whatever it is) on the title track? What’s with the weird this-close-to-house track of “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up”? What’s with the complete lack of rawness on…anything? I realize that this is a re-interp and should be taken as such, but her voice sounds the same pretty much everywhere: breathy and with very little in the way of life. I think really it’s the music that cripples her here and makes her voice, which isn’t the strongest, stand out without support–or as is the case too often, get buried in the production. Only “I Wish I Was in New Orleans” is somewhat worthy. Scarlett should stick to acting and leave the Tom Waits covers to Holly Cole, frankly. Give this a pass. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)