Written and Read by Neil Gaiman
Music by Dave McKean
Published by Dreamhaven Books
If you ask your general follower of literature what Neil Gaiman does, they will tell you ostensibly two things. First, he writes stories and novels in the fantasy genre. Second, he wears black a lot and looks good doing so. This is scratching the surface of his "literary image," if you will. And they're both true. But people who only know Neil through the multiple versions of Stardust or other works like Neverwhere don't know about Neil's other sides: namely the one that smirkingly cracks jokes and the one that writes flat out mess-with-your-head horror. Oh sure, Coraline, you remark--but the horror element of that children's book is so slyly subtle that it's easy to go into self-denial about what that little girl faces off against. Nobody wants to think of being trapped in a basement with a liquified semi-shoggoth like creature or dealing with bats crossed with dogs. Or at least, not to think to long about it: it'll drive you quite mad, I'm sure. But regardless, the two sides are here presented--both humorous and horrific--and they can't be denied.
Neil never strikes people as being sadistic when he does write horror, but doubt not: this is a sick and twisted but brilliant individual. Anyone who remembers the Sandman episode "24 Hours" will no doubt shudder and try to envision some Jill Thompson Lil Endless types to get that darkness out of their head. It's a good thing that Neil's such a nice guy in reality, because entries like the absurdly "Babycakes" (if you're thinking A Modest Proposal, well, you're close), the dementedly funny "Nicholas Was..." and the cyberage demon-induced madness of "Cold Colours" would make the uninitiated want to avoid coupling Neil with dark alleyways. "Colours" especially is a brilliant tirade that reminded me often of Warren Ellis' City of Silence--but on a broader canvas.
That's not to say that the entire two-disc set is focused on making your skin crawl right off your body. Although that wouldn't necessarily be a bad way to spend your time. No, there's the sweet humor of "Chivalry" (in which a nice older lady finds the Holy Grail for 60p at a thrift shop) coupled with "Troll Bridge"--a story that requires multiple listenings to appreciate its overwhelmingly vague sense of sadness. There's also the hidden track on the first disc in which Neil reads an article he wrote about experimenting with alcohol and writing. That reading along is worth the price of admission.
Now--if this was just Neil reading, it would be worth picking up. Nobody reads literature like those responsible for birthing the stuff, and Neil's performance ranks up with such other seasoned writer/readers as Alice Walker and Stephen King. So this is a good thing. However, Dave McKean (co-conspirator with Neil on every Sandman cover under the sky as well as Coraline and The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish) just so happens to be along for the ride, providing the music. Certainly, The Flash Girls with their song "Banshee" (lyrics by Gaiman) are nice, but...well, now I simply have to track down more of McKean's musical work. The best way to describe it is...well, imagine Angelo Badalamenti trying to write a musical score to accompany McKean's artwork. Now I'm severely troubled because if I ever do get into film making, I want to camp out on McKean's lawn until he promises to write the score for my stuff. Just amazing musical work.
The quality of the stories coupled with Neil's delivery make this a no-brainer. This is a two-disc set you should grab and enjoy.
Review submitted by Widgett
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