TV REVIEW: Top Gear – Bolivia Special (2009)

“Sticking to the code of the Top Gear brotherhood, I left James and Richard behind.” — Jeremy Clarkson

TOP GEAR – Bolivia Special (2009 BBC, 76 minutes)

I wanted to review an episode of Top Gear that had something to do with music, which isn’t hard since so many rock and pop stars from Ronnie Wood to Ed Sheeran have been on the show.  My favourite recurring Top Gear gag involved tormenting Richard Hammond with Genesis music, whom he despises.  Specially, the song “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” from Selling England by the Pound is frequently played as torture. I chose the Top Gear Bolivia special to review as it is especially funny, breathtaking and interesting through its entire length. I realized though, that the Genesis gag was not used in this special, thus negating any real music connection in this review (aside from James May’s nickname “Ted Nugent”).  So, here is the Genesis track, and I’ll review the episode anyway!

Skip to about 1:30 to hear Hammond’s “favourite” part

The challenge: Each man must purchase a car for less than £3,500, sight unseen, from a local Bolivian website.  They are advised to buy four-wheel-drive vehicles, to take them from a river in the middle of the Amazon, to Chile and the Pacific coast. It is a 1000 mile journey through jungle, desert, and bad roads.  The most dangerous road in the world, in fact — the infamous Death Road.

Jeremy Clarkson chose a Range Rover classic, Richard Hammond a Toyota Land Cruiser, and James May a Suzuki.  They are sent to the start point of the journey by boat, but the cars have not yet arrived.  The three are like fish completely out of water.  James May is not an outdoorsman, Hammond is afraid of insects, and Jeremy is allergic to hard labour.  They are, according to Clarkson, “the three worst explorers in history”, and they have been dumped on a riverbank in the middle of nowhere.

May:  “Since we didn’t know what to do, we sat down, and did nothing.”

The cars are sent to them by barge, with no apparent way to offload them to land.  Immediately it’s obvious that the guys may have bought lemons.  May’s car isn’t in the advertised colour, but worse, has no air in the tires.  Clarkson’s doesn’t have the engine it was advertised to have, leaving him with a less powerful 3.5L.  Hammond’s Toyota has been customized by hand into a convertible!

The Range Rover scores an early victory, when they use it to pull Jeremy out of the mud that he was standing (and sinking) in.  Much to everyone’s delight, the car actually started!  It is the Toyota that fails to start, an embarrassing beginning for the diminutive Hammond.  The following day, they figure out how to get the vehicles off the barge, on the ground, and running more or less properly, but it’s good fun watching them learn by trial and error!  It takes three days of hacking and slashing with machetes through the jungle, just to get to a road.  Clarkson is pleased to have bought “the only 1980’s Range Rover in the world, that works.”  Though he can’t say the same for any of his gauges.

Hammond on the other hand says that he has “bought the only malfunctioning Land Cruiser in the world.”  He has no brakes, and no gauges.  May’s Suzuki is small but sturdy.  Through it all, the three are always entertaining, picking on one another and always looking for an advantage.  They are quick to mock the Range Rover when it is first to break down (a piece of bamboo through the fan, destroying it).  Clarkson will have none of criticism, calling the Range Rover “the hero of the day”, and rightly pointing out that it was the Rover that got the other two off the barge.

Clarkson: “We passed the time by bickering, until the engine cooled down.”

Breaking down, getting stuck, it’s all in a day’s pay for the Top Gear three.  Through it the audience at home gets to see the innards of the Amazon in sparkling hi-def.  The jungle is beautiful, vibrant, and dangerous.  Roads come to sudden ends, rivers appear in the middle of nowhere, and the insects are always biting.  Mishaps are constant.  Clarkson accidentally sets fire to Hammond’s soft top while cutting vents in his own hood to keep his engine cool.

The biggest visual spectacle is the infamous Death Road, on the way to La Paz.  This road, which claims hundreds of lives every year, is best described as a little notch carved into the side of a cliff face.  And it’s the only highway between the Amazon and the major hub of La Paz, which means sometimes cars have to pass each other on this one-lane strip of dirt.  Breathtaking, terrifying…and James May is deathly afraid of heights.

As per usual, the men customize their vehicles, when they finally hit La Paz intact.  They must prepare for a desert journey through one of the driest places on earth — where it has never rained, and nothing can survive.  (“Richard Hammond was the smallest living organism for miles.” — Clarkson.) For desert traction, Clarkson and Hammond raise their vehicles and install larger tires, but this does not turn out to be the advantage they hoped for.  May, meanwhile just repaired his car (a faulty alternator) rather than change it.  But they can’t handle the lack of oxygen at 16,000 feet above sea level and are forced to turn back, and take a longer route to the Pan-America highway.  The Toyota suffers numerous breakdowns, while the Range Rover, “the world’s most unreliable car,” is the most reliable.  As for the challenge, it remains gripping right to the end.  It could have been anyone’s race.

In the end, I think Jeremy Clarkson said it best:

“It is incredible to think that these cheap cars, bought unseen on the internet, had crossed the Amazon rainforest. They’d scaled the most dangerous road in the world, and they’d still been working when their drivers had broken down in the Andes.”

5/5 stars


Sausagefest XII: The Complete Countdown!

There were some pretty awesome picks this year.  I have to give Scottie props for “Coming Home” by Iron Maiden, from the excellent Final Frontier album.  I found some things a bit surprising, such as the overplayed-on-radio “Black Betty” by Ram Jam, placing so high.

“Thick As A Brick” was the live version, so just over 10 minutes.  Other long bombers included all of “Supper’s Ready” by Genesis, which resulted in a tirade by Phil for just as long, about how much he thinks it sucks!  (And he’s an old-school Marillion fan…surprising.)  And of course there were several Maiden tunes that clock in well over 5 minutes.

For your edification, here is the official Sausagefest XII Countdown:  75 tracks, plus 35 tributes.  One tribute for each person that submitted a list!  110 songs over one weekend!  Awesome.

1 Toronto Tontos Max Webster
2 Long Cool Woman in a Red Dress The Hollies
3 The Grudge Tool
4 Rooster Alice in Chains
5 Supper’s Ready Genesis
6 Papa Was a Rolling Stone The Temptations
7 Mississippi Queen Mountain
8 Black Betty Ram Jam
9 Locomotive Breath Jethro Tull
10 I’m Your Captain Grand Funk Railroad
11 Wasted Years Iron Maiden
12 Low Hanging Fruit Tenacious D
13 Green Eyed Lady Sugarloaf
14 Hey Joe Jimi Hendrix
15 Headlong Flight Rush
16 Roadhouse Blues The Doors
17 Thick as a Brick Jethro Tull
18 Powerslave Iron Maiden
19 Bohemian Rhapsody Queen
20 Trapped Under Ice Metallica
21 Nautical Disaster Tragically Hip
22 No Quarter Led Zeppelin
23 Mr. Blue Sky Electric Light Orchestra
24 The Wizard Black Sabbath
25 Mama Told Me Not To Come Three Dog Night
26 Blackened Metallica
27 Jungle Boogie Kool and the Gang
28 Telegraph Road Dire Straits
29 Sanitarium Metallica
30 Renegade Styx
31 Eulogy of the Damned Orange Goblin
32 Throw Down the Sword Wishbone Ash
33 Electric Worry Clutch
34 The Alabama Song The Doors
35 Rise of the Fenix Tenacious D
36 Livin Thing Electric Light Orchestra
37 The Shape I’m In The Band
38 Mother Danzig
39 The Chain Fleetwood Mac
40 No One Knows Queens of the Stone Age
41 Die Young Black Sabbath
42 Bang Bang Terry Reid
43 Caught Somewhere in Time Iron Maiden
44 Buried Alive Avenged Sevenfold
45 Dream Police Cheap Trick
46 Would Alice in Chains
47 Don’t Fear the Reaper Blue Oyster Cult
48 Zero the Hero Black Sabbath
49 Pool of Booze Volbeat
50 Parabola Tool
51 Why Cant We Be Friends? War
52 Rock and Roll Led Zeppelin
53 While My Guitar Gently Weeps The Beatles
54 Breadfan Budgie
55 Strutter KISS
56 Holy Wars Megadeth
57 Old Man Neil Young
58 Southern Man Neil Young
59 The Pusher Steppenwolf
60 Tempus Fugit Yes
61 Fight Fire With Fire Metallica
62 Kielbasa Tenacious D
63 Green Onions Booker T and the MG’s
64 Weird Beard Fu Manchu
65 Tonight’s the Night Neil Young
66 BYOB System of a Down
67 The Zoo Scorpions
68 As the Years Go By Mashmakhan
69 Toxicity System of a Down
70 Deuce KISS
71 Space Truckin’ Deep Purple
72 South of Heaven Slayer
73 Rocky Mountain Way Joe Walsh
74 Roadie Tenacious D
75 Rock and Roll Motorhead
TOM Earache My Eye Cheech and Chong
ERIC Rosanna Toto
BUCKY A Day in the Life WAR
LAMB LORD The Wizard Uriah Heep
LEBRAIN Well You Needn`t Herbie Hancock Quartet
TROY Caught Up in You .38 Special
ERNIE Apocrophon The Sword
SCOTTIE Coming Home Iron Maiden
RYAN Still Counting VolBeat
SEB Demiurge Meshuggah
PHIL Under Black Flags We March Arch Enemy
CHUCK New Fang Them Crooked Vultures
TYLER G. Come on in my Kitchen Robert Johnson
C Time After Time Savage Steel
CHAD She`s a Rainbow The Rolling Stones
DR DAVE Ogre Battle Queen
LOGAN Cowboys From Hell Pantera
GRANT Around the World Red Hot Chili Peppers
WAYNE Inside Looking Out Grand Funk Railroad
CAM Red Hot Mama Funkadelic
AARON High Caliber Consecrator Clutch
JOHN B. I Stay Away Alice in Chains
TAL Dear God XTC
LAMB LAD Kick Out the Jams MC5
ALEX Chicken Strut The Meters
TREVER Volare Dean Martin
FRANK Whiskey in the Jar Metallica
JAGGER Frozen Love Buckingham/Nicks
MARK E. Are You Mine? The Arctic Monkeys
JON K. Stone Deaf Forever Motorhead/Metallica
TYLER W. We Are All on Drugs Weezer
MARK S. People are Strange The Doors
JUSTIN Monsters Blue Oyster Cult
MIKE Monarchy of Roses Red Hot Chili Peppers

The official video

REVIEW: Marillion – Script For a Jester’s Tear (2 CD remaster)

Hey Uncle Meat! Who’s your favourite lyricist?


MARILLION – Script For a Jester’s Tear (EMI 2 CD remaster, originally 1983)

“So here I am once more, in the playground of the broken hearts.”

So let it be written, the first words on the first full length album by the singer Fish and the band Marillion. Indeed, early Marillion is so heavily associated with their original singer that it is futile to try to separate them. Early Marillion, meaning the first four crucial albums, is revered for their lyrics as much or even more than their music. Layers upon layers of meanings, tongue-twisting words, symbolism galore, it’s all here for the poetry lover in you. I especially like Fish’s use of homophones for that extra touch of wonder.

Musically, early Marillion were very much in Genesis worship mode, even if they don’t like to talk about it. “Grendel” (appearing here in an awesome alternate take) is essentially “Supper’s Ready”. Many people in my own record store have confused Fish’s voice for Peter Gabriel’s and even Phil Collins from time to time. This is progressive rock for the dudes who love progressive rock. Do you like 8 minute songs with time changes, and ample keyboard & guitar solos? Early Marillion is the band for you.


Highlights on this album include the broken-hearted and angry title track, and the drug-induced “He Knows You Know”. Part of the appeal of Fish’s lyrics is how he alternately caresses them and then spits them out at appropriate moments. “He Knows You Know” is a great example of this. From high pitched emphasis to mid-range melody, Fish knew how he wanted to express his words.  “Don’t give me your problems!”


“Garden Party” is, of course, a wry stab at the English class system. These lyrics could only have come from the man known as Fish, and this is one of his most sarcastic and humourous achievements.  It is also one of Marillion’s bounciest songs, one that still creates euphoria in audiences today.


The bonus disc here is loaded with greatness. Their first single “Market Square Heroes” is present in alternate versions. One of these is the “Battle Priest” version. Fish was forced to change the lyrics from “I am your antichrist,” to “I am your battle priest” (???) and that version is available here. Fear not, collectors, as the original is available on the singles box set, and other compilations as well. “Grendel”, all 20 minutes of it, is also present in an alternate take. It is simply stunning that an alternate take of a 20 minute song even exists. Again, the original is available on the box set as well as the album B’Sides Ourselves. The original take of “Three Boats Down From The Candy” is here, slightly different from the version that would turn up later. Here, there is a slight reggae vibe in the final verses. Fill out the bonus disc with some well fleshed out demos, and you have a very solid listening experience.

Liner notes, by Fish and the others, are of course essential, brilliant, and engrossing. Ample photos and artwork from Mark Wilkinson are also included.


For the die hard collector who just can’t get enough, there were two singles (“He Knows You Know” and “Garden Party”) plus the debut  “Market Square Heroes” with additional material to enjoy.  As far as live material goes, the six CD box set Early Stages has four discs from this period alone, including not one but two live versions of “Grendel”!  Finally, the beautiful Curtain Call box set included a live album from October 1983 in Germany, featuring new (short tenured) drummer Jonathan Mover.

Script For a Jester’s Tear is an essential Marillion album, but it is not for beginners. Beginners may find such progressive fare as “Forgotten Sons” or “Chelsea Monday” to be a bit impenetrable on first listen. They would be advised to pick up the magnum opus Misplaced Childhood first. Once you are addicted to that music, come back here and feast of the bones of “Grendel”.

4.9/5 stars. A near-masterpiece for this band.