Why is it so disappointing when the people we respect and admire turn out to harbour wilfully obtuse and misinformed opinions?
I'm not talking about the soul-destroying moments when it transpires that a beloved children's entertainer liked children a little bit too much; or when your idolised prog rocker is a member of the Countryside Alliance; or when a seemingly-sensitive country singer has sympathies for either Bush. That's a different matter entirely.
I'm not even talking about the head-shaking disbelief felt when a thrilling literate rock band proclaims that Radiohead lost their way after The Bends; or the bemusement felt when your trusted writer of spellbinding spiritual wonder proclaims that there's no magic left in music; or when your favourite psychedelic wizard uncle attacks your favourite indie rock preacher.
No. I'm referring to the moment at which someone you believed to be a sensible, open-minded and forward-thinking purveyor of genuinely interesting music turns out to be just as unimaginative and regressive in their beliefs as your average middle-aged hack.
Earlier this evening, Patrick Wolf appeared on Steve Lamacq's Round Table on 6Music. For those unfamiliar, Patrick Wolf is a singer songwriter who, in 2004, seemed to be a viable alternative to the dominating glut of the sort of landfill indie that romanticised crack, Stellar and squalor. Steve Lamacq's Round Table is a show where they ask musicians to comment on a series of new singles. 6Music is the single greatest radio station that ever has or will exist.
Anyway, they played Steve Mason's latest single. For those unfamiliar, Steve Mason is the erstwhile singer and guitarist of The Beta Band who has also recorded as The Black Affair, King Biscuit Time and under his own name. His music is often heart-stoppingly beautiful, and he's apparently come close to doing something awful so many times that his every single release is undoubtedly a gift to be treasured.
Patrick Wolf didn't like Steve Mason's latest single. Now, had he just said “no, I don't like this,” I'm sure he and I could still be friends. But no. He went further. He suggested that it's completely without any merit, giving it 0/10 and saying something along the lines that “music like that shouldn't exist in 2013.”
Some might say that Steve Mason's latest has something of a 60s vibe about it. I'd disagree. I'd say it sounds timeless, soulful, organic – and it just so happens that a lot of 60s music also happened to sound timeless, soulful and organic. But that's not the point.
The point is, since when has Patrick Wolf been the arbiter of what sort of music “should” and “shouldn't” exist in any given year? If a song's well-written, meticulously structured and of such touching poignancy that it strikes a devastating chord for some, then surely it doesn't matter in the slightest how it sounds? Also, ten years from now, nobody will care what year a song was released. Instead, they'll judge their song on its own merits, beyond any notions of relevancy. You know, like normal people do; Those who listen to music without an agenda but because it gives them a reason to live.
Also, Patrick hinted that the reason such music “shouldn't exist in 2013” is because it sounds a bit like the music of the 1960s. For someone who makes music that sounds like it could have come from the 1760s, such a comment goes way beyond being “a bit rich” and enters the realms of “downright hypocritical”.
My ethos is that there's so much good music out there that it's a waste of time to dwell upon anything you don't like. I therefore apologise for the negative tone. But it's interesting. If some anonymous moron on an internet board said something similar about the music of Steve Mason, I could write them off as a reactionary, misinformed troll. If one of my friends said such a thing, I could at least talk to them and point out the flaws in their argument.
But Patrick Wolf?
I suppose what's irritated me is that I thought he was above such opinions. I thought that somebody who made such imaginative music might be a bit more imaginative in their outlook. You know – a bit more open to the idea that there are alternative ways to look at the world. Yes, I appreciate the irony that I'm attacking someone on exactly the same grounds, but come on – what right has someone who's music could belong to any decade from the 1760s to the 1980s to attack a song on the grounds that it has a 60s vibe to it?
Wind In The Wires and The Magic Position are great albums, but I've not heard any others. It's a shame, though, because I know that this single moment of poor judgement on Patrick's part will forever colour my future enjoyment of his music.
It's immensely and unforgivably hypocritical on my part too, I know this. I suppose that people are just precious and protective about some things – and in some instances it really is the case that it's one rule for some and a different rule for others.
Which just goes to show that you must be really careful when writing about music. Writing about music is not the same as talking about music. When you talk about music, you can at least pass off your statements as being transient. They belonged to the then and now. Writing, though, has a real permanence about it. Because anything you write has the potential to outlive you, it belongs to the ages.
Music is an intangible and intensely personal entity that, at its very best, represents the absolute pinnacle of human endeavour. It speaks to different people on different levels. Everyone has a different relationship with music, and any song that's ever been written has the potential to change someone's life – for better or worse.
How could you possibly put something so powerful into words? How could you ever do something so all-encompassing and transcendent the justice it deserves with something so comparatively banal as words on a page?
Or a screen, for that matter.
So there you go. All Patrick Wolf did was give his ill-thought yet honest reaction to a song, and, having written about it, suddenly I'm questioning the very idea that we should ever attempt to put in words the indescribable power that a good (or bad) song can have on us.
That proves one or all of the following:
1. I think too much (but I already know that to be the case).
2. That you really can get so defensive that, with just a few words, former allies can become enemies.
3. That music creates such complex feeling and ideas that it can, at times, lead to moments of intense confusion.
So, either I now hate Patrick Wolf, or myself.
I still love Steve Mason, though.
I saw The Driller Killer for the first time last night, and I've since decided that you must not form opinions, conclusions or ideas about anything before you yourself have taken the plunge. There is never any substitute for watching, reading or listening to something yourself. Of course, you can gorge yourself on images and synopses, but nothing will ever compare to that unique connection created between you and any given work of art should you ever grace it with your full and undivided attention.
I've heard it said that, when questioned by the Pythons over whether they'd actually bothered to watch The Life of Brian, those self-righteous moral guardians replied along the lines of “You don't have to see a pigsty to know that it stinks”.
But this isn't about close-mindedness. It's about the discrepancy between perception and reality, and it happens to me all the time. I'm not in the habit of forming opinions in advance of experience, but I can't help but harbour ideas about things. And, in my defence, The Driller Killer does itself no favours.
For a start, there's the name. And the poster:
And the tagline: “There are those who kill violently!”
And the whole video nasty connection.
OK, The Driller Killer is a nasty film that leaves you feeling grim, grimy and in dire need of a wash. But, despite a superfluous lesbian shower session and a completely unnecessary scene that details the butchering of a skinned rabbit, I'd hardly call it exploitative. Rather, it comes across as a low-budget labour of love which, at times, veers deliriously close to the art-house.
There are some moments of extreme violence, but even those seem tame by today's standards. The remainder of the runtime is taken up by a dark, dank and claustrophobic account of desperate New York City low-life. It's like a cinematic interpretation of a Lou Reed song, or a loose adaptation of a forgotten Bukowski.
It's a visceral thrill, with talking paintings, performances that are either terrible or faithful to a whacked out state of mind, and scratchy footage that's so grainy I'm sure it would be rendered unwatchable on a HD TV.
But what I really wasn't expecting is just how punk rock is The Driller Killer. I don't use the term “punk rock” to describe something that's self-consciously anarchic. Rather, it evokes a snotty glue-sniffing frazzled sort of energy, with an in-house band called The Roosters who would be amazing (so long as they weren't living next-door). At the start you're even instructed that “THIS FILM SHOULD BE PLAYED LOUD ”.
An extreme close-up of a life I'd never want to live myself but which I find utterly thrilling to visit, I would never have expected so much from The Driller Killer. For so long I've been happy to think of it as an exploitative, ultra-violent video nasty. Instead, it's a DIY low-budget Taxi Driver with an incredible soundtrack.
I might never have gone out of my way to see The Driller Killer, but I'm happy to have learned, in the best way possible, that everything has the power to surprise you.
Another recent incident of reality eclipsing expectation came last Halloween when I finally got round to reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
Thanks to seemingly every adaptation ever, I had certain preconceptions about Frankenstein that involved lightning, a hunchbacked assistant, deranged cries of “IT'S ALIVE!” and a lumbering monosyllabic hulk of a monster.
So imagine my surprise when, upon initially confronting his creation, Frankenstein's monster replies in these words:
“All men hate the wretched; how, then, must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living things! Yet you, my creator, detest and spurn me, thy creature, to whom thou art bound by ties only dissoluble by the annihilation of one of us. You purpose to kill me. How dare you sport thus with life? Do your duty towards me, and I will do mine towards you and the rest of mankind. If you will comply with my conditions, I will leave them and you at peace; but if you refuse, I will glut in the maw of death, until it be satiated with the blood of your remaining friends.”
That's right. Frankenstein's monster isn't a shuffling green giant with bolts coming out of his neck who communicates with one groaned word at a time. He's an athletic, acrobatic, eloquent philosopher who manages to teach himself how to talk, think and reason just by observing a family from a distance.
Again, I was quite happy with the images that sprang to mind when someone said “Frankenstein”. The reality, though, is infinitely preferable to my perceptions.
Then there's Phileas Fogg, who never once uses a hot air balloon in his journey Around The World in 80 Days. And Captain Nemo, who doesn't travel to a depth of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. Rather he journeys a distance of 20,000 leagues.
My dad hasn't seen Titanic. Every time he's asked about it, he jokes “I know how it ends!” The implication is that there's no need to see a film if you know the ending.
I've passed over so many books of which I've already seen the film adaptations. Similarly, there have been many times when a preconception has made me somehow reluctant to watch a film or listen to an album.
It has been proven to me, numerous times, that even if it doesn't differ so much, the experience always outweighs the expectation.
I wonder how many life-affirming, mind-expanding, soul-enriching or just plain entertaining experiences I've denied myself as a result of skewed perception?
Continuing my dubious denouement of Nick Hornby's 31 Songs, I'd like to call your attention to something.
No, please, stay with me. This is interesting. You might like where I'm going with this.
This is Nick Hornby in reference to his love for Rod Stewart. Ignore his irritating and outmoded tendency to refer to all music that isn't jazz or classical as "pop music" and look at this:
“...the people who stick with pop music the longest...are those who entrust themselves at a tender age to somebody like Stewart, somebody who was clearly a fan himself. Those who fell for The Stones got to hear, if they could be bothered, Arthur Alexander and Solomon Burke and Don Covay...Zeppelin fans might have been moved to seek out Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf.”
Remember, Hornby believes that those whose opinions differ to his don't really like music. Witness:
“The antecedents of Yes and Genesis were Pink Floyd, and before that nobody much, really, and that was, in retrospect, part of the reason I didn't like them very much. The music felt airless and synthetic, and it seemed even then as if all the prog rockers would rather have been classical musicians, as if pop were beneath them, somehow. They led you up a blind alley; there was nowhere to go.”
Hornby claims to dislike prog rock because it's a “blind alley”. Once you've listened to the big names, there's nowhere else to go.
This is nothing short of absolute horsetwaddle. Beyond the classical and avant-garde composers from which prog rockers ostensibly took their cues (Hornby evidently believes that such music is beneath him), it's important to remember that a major antecedent to prog was psychedelica. Psych is to prog what punk is to New Wave; and psyche is an ocean of considerable depth into which millions of intrepid musical obsessives delve every day.
With psyche, you've got a vast pantheon that thrived on both sides of the Atlantic. For just the very apex of the iceberg, think of The Kinks, The Beatles and The Who in the UK; Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix and The Grateful Dead in the US. Each of those bands offer a unique entry-point into a vast world of new musical discoveries, and you'll have a vastly different experience depending on where you happen to start. The Grateful Dead alone must surely have enough material to keep you happy for life.
And every single one of these musicians took inspiration from expansive swathes of roots, folk, country, blues etc; again from both sides of the Atlantic. Also, going on at the same time was a vibrant scene of bands who might only have recorded and released one single before fading into obscurity. So if the past holds no interest for you, why not explore the present? Nuggets is just a tiny, tiny bite of something immense. That's why they called it Nuggets. And trace a path forwards from Nuggets and you get to garage rock, punk, New Wave, indie...
So you see, even if you use Pink Floyd as an entry-point, you've got enough musical exploration to be getting on with to nourish you for a lifetime.
From this we can draw two conclusions. First of all we can reiterate that Hornby is a pretentious bore who, when you apply even a base amount of scrutiny to his assertions, clearly doesn't have the slightest idea what he's talking about.
Second, we can conclude that, if you like music enough, it really doesn't matter where you begin. Any band, scene, musician or genre can act as a viable entry-point into an obsession just as deep as Hornby's. Just as deep, but if you grew up with internet access, your love will likely be a lot more open-minded.
To illustrate my point, I'd like to talk about my own entry-point into what I already know will be a lifelong obsession with music (and not just “pop music”).
I believe I started with Radiohead. I still consider them my favourite band, and one major reason as to why I continue to value them above all others is because it's now possible to view them as the centre of an immense hub from which everything else I love stems. I could likely trace any band or musician I value back, in some way, to my early love for Radiohead.
It began when my brother bought the Paranoid Android single from a street vendor in Glastonbury (the town, not the festival). That song, and the two b-sides (Polyethylene pts. 1-2 and Pearly) would sow some highly potent seeds, but things wouldn't take off in earnest until the release of Amnesiac. You And Whose Army?, heard on a Q best of the year CD, was unlike anything I'd ever heard before. You could say it blew my mind.
I saved up for, bought and immersed myself in the album. It was the start of something beautiful, and I freely acknowledge the role of the internet in kindling my love. I would scour online archives for hours for any material pertaining to Radiohead, and as I went I was making an unconscious mental note of any and all bands or artists listed as influences or descendents.
In this way I got into Aphex Twin and, as a result, most everyone on the W.A.R.P roster. Brian Eno, too, and Jeff Buckley. Remixers such as Four Tet and Zero 7. Krautrockers such as Can, Faust and Kraftwerk. Contemporaries such as Martin Grech, Beck, Sigur Ros and Clinic. In recent years I've started to discover the daunting but enthralling world of jazz. Call me a philistine if you must, but I entered via the very sounds referenced by Radiohead – John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Miles Davies – the same names that get everyone into jazz, surely; but I know that I might never have even considered making the leap were it not for Radiohead.
But perhaps most importantly, my love for Radiohead made me pay more attention to the music to which I already had access. Adventurous 90s guitar bands such as Blur, The Auteurs and Super Furry Animals wouldn't hold nearly as much sway over me were it not for Radiohead; whilst my parents' Pink Floyd and Genesis albums (on which I had basically been raised) suddenly seemed a lot more interesting.
So I got into prog rock. I even considered Radiohead to be prog rock. For a long time, I referred to myself as a prog rock fan. I still do, but for a long time I was all about the prog. The proggier the better.
And from there – well, see above.
If the potential for deep musical appreciation is within you, it doesn't matter in the slightest where you start. If it's in you, through an insatiable need for sustenance, you'll eventually find your way to achieving that ideal state – a love for music that's free from the artificial constraints of time, space and cool.
Nick Hornby thinks he's there, but he isn't. How can we tell? Well. Because he doesn't see how genres he dislikes (classical, prog etc.) can be worlds in themselves – worlds which are, importantly, inexorably linked to that which he values so much. And even if they aren't linked, they're no less valuable. And because he can't see that, well. I hate to say it, but it might be the case that he doesn't really like music at all.
There might even be scope for removing all but the first four words of that last sentence, but that's another argument.
31 Songs, then. In this book, Nick Hornby writes about 31 songs that he loves (or has loved). I was dubious to begin with, because on the surface the whole thing looks like a navel gazing vanity project. And that's exactly what it is. Though it's obvious that Hornby's love of music runs deep, I've no idea why he wrote this book. It's a loose and unusual concept; an answer to a question asked by nobody: So why do you like music, Nick?
The problem is that, for Hornby, appreciation of music is akin to membership of an elite club. It was probably this belief that influenced him to take to his keyboard to begin with. Hornby wants it to be known that not only is he a high-ranking member of this illustrious club, he's also the arbiter of who may and may not be granted entry. For you ultimately get the impression that, for Hornby, there's no greater insult than to insist that one doesn't “really” like music.
And, surprise surprise, throughout the book it's revealed that those who dare to like the music that Hornby doesn't (or, even worse, those who like music in the wrong way), don't “really” like music at all.
Those who like a song because it reminds them of a certain time, place or person don't really like music. Those who like classical music don't really like music. Those who listen to sample-based music don't really like music. Those who “still” enjoy loud guitar music don't really like music. Those who don't like Rod Stewart but who do like Pink Floyd or Elton John don't really like music. Those who enjoy solos don't really like music. Those who like Bob Dylan more than he does don't really like music. Those who don't listen to lyrics don't really like music. And, perhaps most heinous of all, those who like extreme or experimental music not only don't really like music, but they must also have lived unfulfilled lives to have developed such tastes.
Well. I'm a Pink Floyd fan. I definitely like Bob Dylan more than he does, and I often find myself moved by classical music, extreme music, experimental music and sample-based music. I love solos and I don't always listen to lyrics. I still love loud guitar music; and I attach strong memories of people, places and periods to pretty much all of my favourite songs. I definitely like music, but according to Hornby's condescending absolutism, I don't really like music.
So you'll forgive my pettiness in deciding that those who write intimate, confessional non-fiction in exactly the same voice as every single one of their fictional protagonists – be they male or female, old or young – can't really write at all.
Credit where it's due, though. The chapters concerning Hornby's autistic son are so vulnerable as to be genuinely affecting. Also, like all people who consider music to be more than simply part of a lifestyle, Hornby obviously spends rather a lot of time thinking about things. When he's not insisting that those who see or enjoy things differently to him are somehow inferior, Hornby strikes upon some genuinely intriguing ideas.
For example, he has the future of music criticism nailed:
“This is what has to change, if pop music is to survive...we must learn the critical language which allows us to sort out the good from the bad, the banal from the clever, the fresh from the stale; if we simply sit around waiting for the next punk movement to come along, then we will be telling our best songwriters that what they do is worthless, and they will become marginalised. The next Lennon and McCartney are probably already with us; it's just that they won't turn out to be bigger than Jesus. They'll merely be turning out songs as good as Norwegian Wood and Hey Jude, and I can live with that.”
31 Songs does contain a few moments of right-on inspiration, and all obsessive music fans are doubtlessly as arrogant as Hornby. Perhaps, in the face of his few genuinely thought-provoking ideas, we should forgive his small-minded tedium?
Perhaps. But then you come to the addendum, in which Hornby takes it upon himself to listen to the current top ten albums in America. And suddenly, 31 Songs is read through your fingers as Hornby unwittingly becomes the most out-of-touch square that ever walked the earth. This chapter perhaps marks the precise moment at which Hornby enters middle age, and it makes for an excruciatingly painful read. His “knowing” assessments of the music of Alicia Keys, Stain'd, D12, P Diddy and Blink-182 read like blustered biological field-notes. I don't hold any of those artists in anything approaching esteem, but it's suffocatingly cringeworthy when Hornby insists that, of course, his music is objectively superior. He even warns, in words that read like a 50s B-Movie horror announcer, that there might be someone listening to Blink-182, right now, on your street. Oh no!
At the very least, 31 Songs has made me able to decide upon the exact definition of “good” music writing. It's simple: Good music writing makes you want to listen to music. At times, 31 Songs undoubtedly achieves this. I certainly want to hear a lot more Teenage Fanclub having dragged my way through Hornby's book.
Bad music writing, on the other hand, can be many things; but three huge warning signs are that a) clear and definite battle lines are drawn between “real music” and, presumably, “fake music”; b) clear and definite battle lines are drawn between those who “really” like music and those who don't and c) it's hinted that music simply isn't as good as it used to be.
As a result, at its worse 31 Songs is a definite example of bad music writing; and reading it is often an experience akin to being cornered by that droning musical bore at a party who laughs at your Gomez t-shirt.
1997's Grim Fandango must surely be one of the best games of any genre and on any platform to have ever been made. Through telling a compelling and original story through a visually stunning and interactive medium, it singularly gives weight to the argument that video games can be art.
Taking delicious visual cues from Art Deco, film noir and the Mexican Day of the Dead, it puts you in the shoes of one Manual Calavera – a frustrated pencil pusher at the Department of the Dead. Manuel (or “Manny”, as he's called by most everyone), with his impeccable dress sense, burning ambition, fierce loyalty and dry sense of humour, is a protagonist of extraordinary depth and likeability; the antithesis of the gravelly voiced man-tank space-marines who seem to have infected the medium as a whole (though he does have a gravelly voice). I'm so taken with Manny as a character that I tried, with very limited success, to dress as him last Halloween.
Grim Fandango takes the idea of the grim reaper and turns it into dreary bureaucracy. The vision of the afterlife presented is somehow simultaneously depressing yet optimistic. Everyone's given the chance for salvation, but the worse the life you'll live, the harder you'll have to work to achieve it.
At the very bottom of the scale are the likes of Manny and his co-workers. They've lived such sinful lives that they have to work menial jobs for an indefinite period before they're even given a shot at salvation. Manny works as a reaper. It's his job to ferry souls from the land of the living and sell them transcendence packages upon their arrival. Though a return trip to the Land of the Living makes for a surreal early highlight of the game, reducing the role of grim reaper to that of a glorified travel agent is just one of the many aspects that make Grim Fandango a fascinating work of genius.
Those who have worked saintly lives are given a golden ticket on The Number 9 – a gorgeous Art Deco train that whisks you to heaven in a matter of minutes. Those who have lived good lives (but not great lives) are still given transport, but of decreasingly less speed and sophistication. This ranges from a car right down to a lowly walking stick with a compass in the handle (“The Excelsior Line”). Given the amount of land to traverse and monsters to battle, walking to heaven is very much a form of penance, and it's probably to this fate that the majority of humanity is doomed. Only the truly determined will make it, and it is indeed possible to die a second death.
It's never revealed what happens to those who die in the Land of the Dead, but the means these skeletal mobsters have of killing each other is disturbingly brilliant. Playing on the old “pushing up flowers” metaphor, there's a lethal substance in the Land of the Dead known as “sproutella”. This is placed within darts which are fired from handguns. Should a skeleton get hit by one of these darts, the sproutella will immediately start to flow through their marrow and cause flowers to sprout through their bones.
Just imagine how potent a substance would have to be to course so quickly through bone marrow. Just imagine how blindingly painful it would be were flowers to sprout with such force that they could penetrate your very bones. Of course, sprouting is used as a form of torture as well as execution in the world of Grim Fandango. Late in the game, a sprawling meadow of flowers takes on a sinister and immensely disturbing new light once you step into the greenhouse...
Corruption is rife in the Land of the Dead. An obese crime lord (who really is “big-boned” as opposed to fat) struck upon the genius idea of selling people tickets on The Number 9. Regardless of the life you've lived, if you've the resources, salvation can be yours in no time!
This creates something of a problem when the rightful owners of the golden Number 9 tickets suddenly find themselves rid of their speedy transcendence. The plot of Grim Fandango kicks into life once Manny accidentally presents the saintly Mercedes with the lowly walking stick instead of her rightful golden ticket. This immediately exposes the scam, and suddenly Manny's life is in very grave danger. Luckily, he's rescued by the beret-wearing Salvatore – an anarchic skeleton with a French accent who's somehow able to grow a moustache – and enlisted into the Lost Souls Alliance.
And it's from this point that, over the years, I was able to painstakingly devise, one bit at a time, my dream game. Every gamer has one – that game which will never, ever, ever get made but which would tick every single one of their boxes. For me, it's an action RPG by the name of Lost Souls Alliance.
In Lost Soul Alliance (LSA), you would play as a member of said organisation and would work to uncover and destroy corruption in The Land of the Dead. It would play very much like Deus Ex – with a first-person perspective that would switch to third-person every time you have a conversation. You'd receive mission-briefings from Salvatore himself and then, in true open-ended fashion, it would be absolutely up to you as to how you achieve your objectives.
But being the Land of the Dead, the gung-ho approach wouldn't really ever be a viable option. Instead of an arsenal of high-calibre weaponry, you'd have access to two different strains of sproutella – slow and fast. Fast you could use to quickly clear rooms once the going gets tough, but the slow one you could use to extract information, as it were, in a move that would give the game an immediate 18 certificate. You could offer soothing liquid nitrogen in exchange for answers.
An intriguing gameplay dynamic would arise should you yourself get hit by a stray sproutella dart. Once sproutella's in your system, there's not a lot you can do to stop it. You can freeze its progress with liquid nitrogen, but that won't help you with the fast-acting stuff. Your only other recourse is amputation, as seen in the original Grim Fandango where a sprouted LSA agent is reduced to a skull hopping around on a single arm.
As a result, your character may, at some points, be forced to remove either single limbs or the entirety of his (or her) body; leaving only the sentient skull behind. You could then fit yourself with spruced-up replacement limbs, which could introduce a wonderful steam-punk element that would be perfectly in keeping with the game's “period” atmosphere.
At the completion of tasks and missions, you could be given a choice between experience and money. Experience determines how quickly you can achieve transcendence (everybody's ultimate aim in the Land of the Dead), and the faster you build it up the faster you can get yourself a ticket for the Number 9. This done, you could, if you wish, abandon the game altogether and move on – leaving behind all the people you've promised to help along the way – a moral dilemma that Manny himself grapples with towards the end of Grim Fandango.
But choose money, and salvation will drift further away, yet you'll suddenly have the means to get yourself new equipment, new limbs, or even to gamble on roulette or giant cat races.
Choose experience every time and you'll complete the game quicker but have a much harder time doing it. Choose money and the game will take much longer to complete but you'll have an easier - and perhaps more fun - time doing it. But with the contrast between money, experience and difficulty, LSA would become a rare example of an RPG that lends itself well to those crazy YouTube speed runners.
An open-world adventure in which you play as an undercover LSA agent in The Land of the Dead – I simply cannot imagine anything better.
But it won't happen. Ever.
Unless Tim Schafer decides to crowd-source it? That would be a kick-starter in which I'd be more than happy to invest.