Wednesday, March 28, 2012

101 Songs I Love #5

The City - Sarah Harmer


 I don't know, you buy a random album on holiday because it's floating around near the top of the charts in that country (on this occasion Montreal, Canada) and you don't always pick a winner. But Oh Little Fire by Sarah Harmer was certainly worth the purchase. This is my favourite track from it so I picked it despite the fact it doesn't have a video.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

101 Songs I Love #4

The Model - Kraftwerk

I can't pretend to have been there (or even alive) when Kraftwerk were changing the face of music forever (and whether you like them or not, you cannot argue with that) and I don't know what led me to buying The Man Machine album when I must have been about 13 (other than the fact that my local Smiths Of Wigan record shop was selling it cheap) but I've been in love with them ever since.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

101 Songs I Love #3

The Battle Of Who Could Care Less - Ben Folds Five

 Ben Folds Five...the band that makes me a little bit sad that Ben Folds went off to do his own thing because try as he might he could never be quite as good to my ears as he was back then (although he is mighty mighty fine as a solo artist). Of course now they are kind of back together so we may hear a new album from them. Which is fine by me.

Monday, March 19, 2012

101 Songs I Love #2

Chewing Gum - Annie Sometimes I really do despair with the record buying public. How this wasn't number one for a month I really don't know. Catchy, nonsensical and's everything a great "throwaway" pop song should be. And yes, I wouldn't mind being in a room with "five Annie's" at all...

Saturday, March 17, 2012

101 Songs I Love #1

Mean Woman Blues (Live at the Star Club, Hamburg 1964) - Jerry Lee Lewis

As far as I am concerned, Jerry Lee Lewis is the true King of Rock'n'Roll and if there is one recording that exists on planet earth that is THE definitive proof of that it's the Live At The Star Club album. Indeed I won't argue with anyone who calls this the greatest live record of all time. For me this is the standout track on it. It's not one of his more famous tracks of course, but it's just an out and out Rock'n'Roll stomper. Kicks things off with a bang. If I had a time travelling machine, this would be one night I'd be going back to.

Friday, March 16, 2012

101 Songs I Love...The explanation

Other than the fact that I'm bored, think it'll be a cool idea and that it's easier than actually reviewing stuff over the upcoming days, weeks and months I will be compiling a list on here of 101 Songs I Love.

And it really is that simple.  They are not in any "order" of preference, I have no pre-conceived list of what I'm going to choose...I'm just going to post 101 Songs I Love, one at a time whenever the mood takes me and that is that.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Pet Shop Boys Singles 15-1

Hope this isn't too controversial! :-D

15) I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing (UK Singles Chart Peak – 13) 
The album version is very good, if a little simpler than this single version which just about shades it in the IWNDTKOF stakes.  This is what John Shuttleworth would call a “fun track” with it’s catchy tune and funny lyrics.

14) Heart (UK Singles Chart Peak – 1) 
Historically this wasn’t one of my absolute favourites but it’s prominence as the opening track of the Pandemonium tour really got me hooked on it and at the moment I absolutely love it. Which goes to show that whilst this list might be my “of the moment” rankings, if I tried this again in six months time the list might show some very distinct changes.

13) Se A Vida E (That’s The Way Life Is) (UK Singles Chart Peak – 8)
More great drumming and a lovely summer vibe make this a winning track. Lovely sentiment behind the lyrics too.

12) Always On My Mind (UK Singles Chart Peak – 1)
One of the greatest cover versions of all time in my opinion.  I particularly like how this turns Elvis’ rather pathetic version (in terms of the characterization, NOT the song itself) on its head.  Elvis is sincere, if loathsome whereas Neil Tenant’s cad is altogether a lot more impish.

11) Love Etc. (UK Singles Chart Peak – 14) 
Definitely my favourite single since the Very era, this saw them working with the geniuses at Xenomania to produce a cracker.  The call and response chorus is cool and it has the characteristically wry look at love from Mr. Tenant.  You don’t have to be beautiful, but it helps indeed.

10) It’s A Sin (UK Singles Chart Peak – 1) 
Bombastic, intelligent, tuneful, over-the-top pop.  You don’t get many like this.  The atmosphere simply oozes out of this one, from the irrelevant (in that it has nothing to do with the lyrical theme of the song) spaceship countdown opening to the Latin verse that Neil ends with this is a proper foot stomper.

9) Domino Dancing (UK Singles Chart Peak – 7)
Lovely Latino-tinged vibe here (my favourite Madonna song is La Isla Bonita, by the way).  The song is great and it really does speak to me. Of course, I’m not entirely sure what I get from the meaning of the lyrics is what was intended, but isn’t that the great thing about Pet Shop Boys.

8) Love Comes Quickly (UK Singles Chart Peak – 19)
Absolutely gorgeous song.  “It may be romantic, but that’s no defence” is a completely ambiguous line in many ways but it speaks volumes to me.  But lets face it, you didn’t start reading this to listen to me prattle on about my life so I’ll stop there.

7) West End Girls (UK Singles Chart Peak – 1) 
The song, as Chris (?) says, that is responsible for PSB being a “priority international act”  simply doesn’t age at all.  It’s as vital today as it was over 25 years ago.

6) Can You Forgive Her (UK Singles Chart Peak – 7) 
You’ll notice that I tend to gravitate towards the ambiguously sexual Pet Shop Boys songs.  I say ambiguously, but what I probably mean are the sneaky sexual tales.  Like this one, the tale of a woman taunting a man because she knows his first sexual experience was a homosexual one.  Of course all this intrigue passed me by at the time…

5) Rent (UK Singles Chart Peak – 8) 
I just think there there is an untold beauty in this song.  Ambiguous and intriguing lyrically this is just the sort of song you quite simply don't get by anyone else.

4) What Have I Done To Deserve This (UK Singles Chart Peak – 2) 
Dusty Springfield is a bona fide legend, and this is a bona fide classic.  It's got so many good bits in it that it's difficult to know where to begin in describing how great it is. But the call and response style verses, the spoken bits by Neil (I bought you drinks, I bought you flowers) and Dusty's main bit are all awesome.

3) So Hard (UK Singles Chart Peak – 4) 
I'm not sure where this stands in other fan's eyes but I, naturally, love it.  Again it's one of those sneaky ones with a sexually intriguing lyric and lots of wonderfully biting lines.  "We've both given up smoking, 'cause it's fatal.  So whose matches are those?" is quite simply brilliant.

2) Being Boring (UK Singles Chart Peak – 20) 
Ok, so it might be a cliche to pick this one so high given it's status as a much loved track by the fan-base but it is a really beautiful song that deserved far more attention at the time than it's barely sneaking into the top 20 warranted.

1) Left To My Own Devices (UK Singles Chart Peak – 4)
Swirling strings, booming beat and wonderfully catchy chorus.  It's little wonder that this came from their "imperial phase".  Right from the first time I really listened to it on Discography back on cassette in 1992 this has been a firm favourite of mine. There's a lot going on in this one but not one little bit of it is in any way extraneous.  (I prefer this single edit to the Introspective version, which does go on a bit!)

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Pet Shop Boys Singles 30-16

30) Liberation (UK Singles Chart Peak – 14) 
A disarmingly sweet little song and one of the more up-beat, in terms of lyrics, on the list.

29) Suburbia (UK Singles Chart Peak – 8) 
Perhaps a surprisingly low position for one of their “signature” tunes but I’ve never been THAT keen on it myself.  I don’t really know why.  It’s just one of those things.

28) I’m With Stupid (UK Singles Chart Peak – 8) 
When this was released I might well have stuck it higher.  It’s got a lovely “1980s” vibe and yet isn’t stuck in a bygone age at all.  Those not paying attention might have missed the Tony Blair/George Bush subtext, but it’s none the worse for that.

27) Panninaro ‘95 (UK Singles Chart Peak – 15) 
I couldn’t really understand the logic of releasing this at the time (why does a b-sides compilation need a single to promote it?) but I’m glad they did.  Chris deserves his moment in the spotlight after all doesn’t he?  The original is a classic and this is pretty close to matching it for my money.

26) Before (UK Singles Chart Peak – 7)
This could be a case made that this is a slight song where little much (musically) happens.  Even Chris himself has noted that you’ve pretty much “heard” everything in this less than a minute in.  But with the soulful backing singers and a some slightly ambiguous lyrics (I wouldn’t know half of what Neil’s going on about to be fair if I hadn’t read their thoughts on the song in the Bilingual Further Listening booklet) I have a real love for this song.

25) Jealousy  (UK Singles Chart Peak – 12)
The closest thing in their oeuvre to an out and out "classic ballad", there is a wonderful filmic quality about this one.  And I love the way that it’s this gorgeous and romantic sounding song musically but is very unromantic in its subject matter, or at least is about a romance that is going very, very wrong.

24) How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously (UK Singles Chart Peak – 4)
Largely forgotten double-A side to Where The Streets… which isn’t that surprising as the U2 cover was conceived precisely because they “needed” a big hit and didn’t think this would deliver.  I think the single version of this is brilliant though.  I waited for years to have this on CD (an official release I mean) it quite literally took my breath away when I walked into a random music shop in New Orleans to see the CD single of it sitting there.

23) Did You See Me Coming (UK Singles Chart Peak – 21) 
One of many standout “Yes” tracks, this is one of my mother’s favourites (she’s seen the Pandemonium tour with me three times and this was one track she kept banging on about afterwards) which might influence it’s chart position here.

22) Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money) (UK Singles Chart Peak – 11)
Although I was a bit too young to be able to buy it when it was first released (the first PSB record my parents bought me was It’s A Sin – Discography was the first PSB album I bought with “my own money”) it was on one of the Now That’s What I Call Music compilations (or something similar) that I was bought and I was obsessed with it quite a lot. It’s perhaps the single from Please that has dated the least well but it’s still a cracker.

21) All Over The World (UK Singles Chart Peak – 40)
I think the single version of this (taken from the Christmas EP) adds a little too much superfluous trickery onto the album version but it’s still a firm favourite of mine.

20) Where The Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You) (UK Singles Chart Peak – 4) 
Now this is how to do “camp”. Take a solemn U2 rock song, make it sound like a long lost disco-driven classic AND then add the famous riff from I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You…no wonder it ruffled so many feathers.

19) Flamboyant (UK Singles Chart Peak – 12) 
At the time I was hoping that this, the second new single on the Pop Art package, was going to be a portent to the sound on their next album (which turned out to be Fundamental), such was my delight with it.  Of course it didn’t (although this sounds very “Disco 3” if you ask me) but that doesn’t change how great this track is.

18) Go West (UK Singles Chart Peak – 2)
In some ways this is my “favourite” Pet Shop Boys single in the fact that it was the one time in my life of being a dedicated fan of the Boys that it seemed like they might get a number one hit.  (That’s not as daft as it sounds.  Although I had been bought some of their singles when I was young – It’s a Sin, Always On My Mind - it was only really in 1992 when I got Discography on cassette that I really began to get into PSB.  I bought all the albums up to that point and then Very was the first album I was “waiting” for being released).  Indeed I listened to the charts “live” hoping it would be number 1…but it didn’t quite make it.  In some ways I find it a bit sad that this was track 1 on the Pop Art compilation as I’d hate to think that this was the song most “representative” of their career…although I suspect for a lot of people it is. Still as daft a cover version it is, you can’t help singing and dancing along to it can you?

17) Minimal (UK Singles Chart Peak – 19) 
Some fans were a bit critical of the lack of lyrical depth in this one, and I can see their point to a certain degree.  Still, it’s a song called “Minimal” isn’t it.  This is definitely one of their “New Order” sounding ones.

16) I Don’t Know What You Want But I Can’t Give It Anymore (UK Singles Chart Peak – 15) 
Ah I love the PSB songs with a little bit of sexual intrigue kicking about.  I was quite upset at the time that this didn’t crash into the top 10 upon release.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Pet Shop Boys Singles 44-31

...or my "definitive" ranking of the Pet Shop Boys singles.

First, what’s missing.  I’m not including Hallo Spaceboy or She’s Madonna in this list as they were other people featuring the Pet Shop Boys.  I’m not including Integral or London because although they charted in the (VERY lower reaches of) UK singles charts I don’t consider that they were ever meant to be “official” singles (at least in the UK).  Similarly I’m not including Absolutely Fabulous because it’s never on any “hits” compilations and wasn’t released under their own name anyway! (The named artists were “Absolutely Fabulous”).  For reference I’m also only counting one version of Opportunities!

I have included How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously as that was a double-A side with Where The Streets… so the fact that it was left off Discography and/or Pop Art doesn’t matter to me.  As the Christmas EP was released as a single and charted as such I’ve taken All Over The World as the “single” because it was the one song on that they shot a video for, and the song was given to radio stations as the one to play (although It Doesn’t Often Snow at Christmas was also delivered for air play around the Christmas period I don’t count that and it’s my list so it’s my rules!).

So what we have here are the 44 (or, if you prefer 42 plus one double-A side) singles that the Pet Shop Boys have had in the UK, that I count as proper singles, ranked in reverse order of my preference. I know, as I’ve said above that there are arguments for including other songs but it’s my list .  (I did think about adding all those mentioned above and finding something to make it into a top 50, but I didn’t).  I’m also sure a few of you with any knowledge of Pet Shop Boys might well disagree with my listings, but that’s half the fun isn’t it?

44) Was It Worth It (UK Singles Chart Peak – 24) 
I’ve just never really liked this song as much as I think I should like a Pet Shop Boys single.  In a way it bridges the gap between the really rather serious and thoughtful Behaviour era and the out-and-out Pop of Very but doesn’t really capture me in either way.  As with every song on this list I would listen to it , but I rarely fire it up on my MP3 player and it NEVER makes it onto any PSB related CD I burn.

43) I Get Along (UK Singles Chart Peak – 18) 
Release is probably my least favourite PSB album/era.  I Get Along is one of the better songs on Release so it’s position here at number 43 in my singles list tells it’s own story.  The thinly-veiled New Labour fuelled lyrics are interesting initially but lose their sparkle over time.  Given it’s “political” nature this would probably have fitted better as a b-side. (Though really, other than the leading single from the album – which we’ll get to later – I can’t see what else could have made a better single from the album, other than perhaps “Here”).

42) Numb (UK Singles Chart Peak – 25) 
I didn’t think that the Boys doing a Diane Warren (numerous tear-jerking ballads on her résumé) number would work when I first heard about it and I don’t think it does in the execution either.  Another one that I think works fine as an album track (or would be a fine b-side) but that doesn’t really pack the requisite punch as a single.

41) Somewhere (UK Singles Chart Peak – 9) 
The lowest ranked Top 10 single in my list, this just seemed wrong on many different levels.  I can see the “point” of doing it (coming as it did when PSB were doing a limited West End run of concerts) and as a nod and a wink to the surroundings during the live show it would have been fine.  But let’s face it, it’s camp nonsense that brings nothing new to the song.

40) A Red Letter Day (UK Singles Chart Peak – 9) 
It’s not an offensive song by any means I just think it’s rather “bland” by the terms of reference of this list and it has one of the worst music video’s in the PSB canon. It hasn’t aged well at all either; it’s definitely a child of the mid 1990s.

39) It’s Alright (UK Singles Chart Peak – 5) 
Probably the most “famous” of the Pet Shop Boys singles that I “don’t like” all that much, It’s Alright is just one of those songs that I never find myself choosing to listen to when I’m in one of my (frequent) listen to PSB modes.  I know it’s a cover version but lyrically it just doesn’t work for me and it’s always struck me as slightly incongruous that Neil and Chris rail against the likes of Sting telling us what to do with the environment and stuff and then release this song about forests dying and all that.

38) New York City Boy (UK Singles Chart Peak – 14) 
Apparently the BBC wouldn’t let them perform this track on the National Lottery show as it was “too gay”.  It’s certainly up there on the “camp” scale of things. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing (see Go West), by any means, but I’ve never really been in love with this song at all.  It’s insanely popular at live shows I’ve been to though, so what do I know?

37) DJ Culture (UK Singles Chart Peak – 13) 
Ah the perils of writing “hits” that can be tagged onto Greatest Hits compilations.  They didn’t crack that particular conundrum with the Discography extra tracks as far as I’m concerned.  This is another one of those that I never really listen to by “choice” (only happening upon it from time to time thanks to the wonders of “shuffle” on the MP3 player).

36) Together (UK Singles Chart Peak – 58) 
See DJ Culture above! I’m not surprised this failed to even reach the top 40.  If, as the Boys say, there was no pressure on them from the record label to add a new song to the Ultimate release but that they were so excited by this that they wanted to release it I’m not entirely sure what they were talking about.  I do like it, but as a single in 2011 it was always doomed to fail.

35) Yesterday When I Was Mad (UK Singles Chart Peak – 13)
I actually prefer the album version of this (from Very) and I think the single remix loses a bit of oomph in comparison.  It’s delightfully funny though in either incarnation (especially if you’ve read their two “on tour” diaries, Literally and Pet Shop Boys Versus America).

34) You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk (UK Singles Chart Peak – 8)
A surprising top 10 hit the time (although it largely got there due to the tactic of releasing it in the quiet January weeks of the new year if I remember correctly), there’s an rather uplifting simplicity to this and although it could be seen as a lament against an inadequate lover I actually think of it as more of a sweet rebuke against someone.  I certainly imagine that the person singing it is in love with this person.  It’s kind of like a sitcom romance where the warring couple spend each episode arguing with each other but they’re still there next week, together.

33) Single Bilingual (UK Singles Chart Peak – 14) 
One of the funniest music video’s the Boys have done accompanies this thumping track.  I absolutely love the She-Boom drumming on this and although it’s lyrical themes (European Businessman) have dated and lost a bit of relevance in some ways I still enjoy this track.

32) Home & Dry (UK Singles Chart Peak – 14) 
As said previously, the Release era would have to go down as my least favourite PSB time, but this is still a very strong track.  It’s a simple lyric of waiting to welcome home a travelling partner and is probably one of the most straightforward “sweet” lyrics in their collection.

31) Miracles (UK Singles Chart Peak – 10)
Ok so it is, despite what they might insist, pretty much Madonna’s “Frozen” musically but I do like it.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Born To Die - Lana Del Ray

There will be a lot of people who will have come to this album with preconceived ideas that will take a lot of shifting. Some will have swallowed the hype hook, line and sinker and will be afraid to declare this as anything less than genius. Others will have taken offence to the "manufactured" nature of proceedings and will immediately have labelled it as the work of the devil and only a minor step up from the Simon Cowell led "death of REAL music."

What were my preconceived ideas? Well I wasn't a fan of Video Games when I first heard it but slowly it lodged in my brains and I would concede it was one of the best songs of last year. The "marketing" behind it didn't phase me, largely because anyone who thinks that that is solely a 21st Century invention is kidding themselves (look up Elvis peddling "black music" to white Americans, or the fact that The Beatles were all given the same haircut). So basically I was willing to give it a chance.

How organic (or not) Video Games was it seems clear that it set in stone the Lana Del Ray template. If it was truly was the first step that got her noticed and led to her record deal and the subsequent hype then all the co-writers on the album soon caught up with exactly what that had to offer and tailored their work with her accordingly. If it was all done prior to that "breaking" then they've merely took the best song of the bunch and made that the focal point of the campaign.

Because Video Games is truly the stand-out moment on the album. It's a world away from anything else that was a truly mainstream phenomenon in 2011's pop charts (give me that over Adele's risible Someone Like You any-day - although Adele's album contains a handful of absolutely stunning tracks, to be fair) and deserves it's "classic" status. Nothing else comes quite close enough to matching that. Follow up-single Born To Die is good but can't escape the feeling that it's an inferior retread of it's predecessor and the likes of Dark Paradise echo those emotions too.

It's not all the "one" sound though but it's only really Diet Mountain Dew of the others that really takes off and comes close to matching the unique charms of Video Games.

My real problem with the album is that it seems to have taken one really good concept/idea/personae and stretched it out as far as it can possibly go over twelve (or fifteen if you've got the deluxe album) tracks without letting Del Ray loose with what she can REALLY do.

Unlike some reviewers on here who can't see how she can follow up this debut album (meaning that's it is so good how can she match it) I'm actually thinking that the follow up might be the time that Del Ray really nails it. She has the voice (if not the "rapping" abilities), the interesting lyrical personae's and, as much as it might upset some people to point it out given that the music is the "important" thing, the look to be a lasting star.

Of course, it could also be the time when I find out she really was just the product of hype after all. But I'd like to think that that won't be the case.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Lindi Ortega LIVE

Lindi Ortega's Little Red Boots was my album of 2011.  Admittedly her "Dolly Parton meets Johnny Cash" personae and music could almost have been genetically modified to appeal to my tastes (I've long been a sucker for a country and  western girl whose sound harks back to the days before Shania Twain became the country "benchmark") but that's hardly her fault and, furthermore, wouldn't matter a jot if the album wasn't so great anyway.

Of course it's not always the case that a great artist on record makes for a great artist on the stage but if I had been worried that Lindi Ortega would prove to be less on stage than she is on record those doubts wouldn't have lasted for long.

Because, quite simply, she was awesome.  It was just her and a guitar (and some charmingly amusing asides between songs) and it left you in little doubt as to just what a talent she is.  Songs from the album sounded just as good "stripped down" as they do with full backing on the record, new songs were sublime (the only title I can remember now is "Use Me" which was pegged as a "public service announcement") and her cover of Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues was expertly pitched and got one of the reactions of the night from a quiet, but genuinely interested/entertained audience.

Ortega's songs of heartbreak, lost love and the like may sound like traditional country and western themes but they're presented here with a fresh, modern twist that deserves a huge audience.

And thanks again to the Big Man for doing his customary photo duties.  Three must be a record even for you!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Bad Dream Hotline - Foe

If there was nothing else to Hannah Louise Clark's repertoire as Foe than the Christina Aguilera-baiting Genie In A Coke Can it would still be more than enough for me. It's biting lyrics along the lines of "millions in marketing of pop star trash" and it's catchy refrains of "I want to be a worldwide sensation, I want all men to salivate over me" might well be the most scathing and accurate attack on SOME parts of the modern pop world you'll be lucky to hear.

That it's wrapped in the kind of radio-friendly unit shifter melody that one of her musical hero's Kurt Cobain both sought for and hated just makes the skewering all the more delicious.

And it's far from the only highlight.

Ode To Janey Lou makes Grunge seem relevant for the first time in years (although the song is much more than juts that) whilst even when slowing things down a little, on the wonderfully titled A Handsome Stranger Called Death, there is a vitality that makes for great listening. In truth there's a lot more on Bad Dream Hotline that hits the spot than that that doesn't.

So if, like me, you were slightly put off by the press releases where tales of being suspected of being a witch by her schoolmates made it difficult to work out whether or not you should believe what you hear, then rectify that right now. Treading a line between willful eclecticism and straight up awesome pop melodies but giving you the best of those opposites to come up with something that, with any justice, should place Foe alongside some of those pop-stars backed with mega-million marketing before 2012 is out.

Perhaps the only criticism I can bring forward is that there could almost be said to be a little TOO much going on in the twelve songs as if the Foe "sound" has yet to settle on what it really wants to be. But hey, that can wait until the second album.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011, the year in musical pictures...

...which kind of mostly means me posing with female musicians...

Nerina Pallot is lovely isn't she....?

I work the "Harry Potter" look with Tina Dico

Florrie, who is fantastic by the way.


Touring Memphis in a Rock 'n' Roll bus was fun

Me and the Quebe Sisters.  

Me and Veronica Ballestrini

Me and Carter's Chord.  They were very lovely. 

Me and the JaneDear Girls

Outside the Grand Ole Opry

Inside the Grand Ole Opry

Me on stage at the Grand Ole Opry, on the circle of wood taken from the Ryman Auditorium

Another view of the Opry from outside

Me and Anna Wilson.  She was lovely too. 

The Ryman Audtiorium

Mickie James at the Hard Rock Cafe

Mickie James meets The Icon...

The Grand Ole Opry stage set up at the Ryman Auditorium

Mandy Barnett at the CMA

Me and Mandy Barnett

Thompson Square on stage 

Anna Wilson on stage at the Opry

Studio B at Nashville.  Where the likes of Roy Orbison and Elvis cut some of those killer tracks

Me and Sarah Darling

Beale Street, Memphis - Birthplace of the Blues

Gracelands entrance

A shot from inside Gracelands 

Sub Studio's, Memphis.  Genuinely one of the best days of my life. 

Me with Elvis' microphone 

Friday, December 30, 2011

Top 40 Albums of 2011... 20-1

So here they are, my favourite 20 albums of 2011.  It's a little bit country-centric but that's what a holiday in Nashville does for you.

20) JANEDEAR GIRLS (JaneDear Girls) 
I was introduced to this one purely because they were an act at the Country Music Festival I was going to and I hadn't heard of them.  One spin of their breakthrough single Wildflower was enough to have me ordering the album. And whilst that song remained the best one on the album this is a CD jam-packed with modern toe-tapping Country stompers.  And if you know me, you know I love that kind of thing. CHOICE CUT: Wildflower

19) ON A MISSION (Katy B)
I have to admit to being a little non-plussed at first by that one she did with Ms Dynamite (mainly because I didn't have a clue what the guest was babbling on about) but it did grow on me (to the lengths that I was annoying people at work by constantly humming it) and a fair portion of the album has the same effect on me.  Doesn't hurt that she's rather cute either does it?  It might have snuck even higher if Louder had been on it.  CHOICE CUT: Katy On A Mission

Arguably the most "difficult" listen on this list, it is worth persevering with this one as repeated listens reward you with an experience quite unlike any other you will have had in 2011.  People have mentioned artists as varied as Patti Smith, Nirvana and Bat For Lashes as influences and/or sound-a-likes but whilst that might give you some idea as to the sound it doesn't begin to really describe it.  CHOICE CUT: Milkman

17) THE SECRET SISTERS (The Secret Sisters) 
The one album off this list that I nicked from my Dad.  Then again, I did buy it him.  I can understand why he likes it given that it's 1940s/1950s country influences are worn distinctly on it's, erm, sleeve and the line up of stellar musicians on hand is quite incredible.  The songs come from varied sources, such as George Jones, Buck Owens and Bill Monroe but such is the gorgeousness of the harmonies from sisters Laura & Lydia Rogers that every song is made their own. CHOICE CUT: Why Baby Why

16) YEAR OF THE WOLF (Nerina Pallot) 
Yes, I do love Nerina and yes, I am biased but this was, in my opinion, a step up from The Graduate, and I liked that a lot too.  In fact in Put Your Hands Up and All Bets Are Off it has two of her best ever songs.  This is typically intelligent, catchy and moving fare from Nerina. CHOICE CUT: All Bets Are Off (which is my favourite Nerina song ever).

15) DAYBREAK (Sierra Hull) 
You might be mistaken upon hearing this for the first time that you've stumbled across a hitherto unknown Alison Krauss album and there is no denying that Sierra Hull does have that sound.  And yet for all the comparisons (and it's not doing either of them a disservice to make that comparison) there is something unique and fresh about Hull's way of doing things and her fiddle and mandolin playing is second to none.  But for all the nod's to the past this is not slavishly following bluegrass trends; it's taking them and making them her own.  CHOICE CUT: Don't Pick Me Up

14) STRANGE MERCY (St. Vincent)
Back in 2009 St Vincent' Actor took the top spot in my album of the year chart.  This follow-up hasn't quite reached those heights but it is another cracker even if it never fully convinces as a whole in the same way that it's predecessor does.  CHOICE CUT: Surgeon

13) SWEET DREAMS (Mandy Barnett)
Mandy Barnett is perhaps my favourite Country N Western vocalist of all time.  I know half of you will be wondering why I have such a "favourite" in my collection but there you go.  Unlike countless of modern singers Barnett can sing Country like it should be sang.  She's a throwback to a bygone age if you'd like to put it that way.  A long career only reaches it's fourth album here but given that Barnett came to fame for her portrayal of Patsy Cline it was perhaps fitting (if LONG overdue) that she released an album of Cline songs.  And this is stunning.  She's as good as Cline, if that's not too blasphemous.  Absolutely anyone who is anyway inclined to this kind of thing has loved this when I've introduced them to it in 2011.  Plus I got to meet her in Nashville, and see her perform live twice.  CHOICE CUT: Walking After Midnight

12) SUCK IT & SEE (Arctic Monkeys) 
A bit like Franz Ferdinand, stay with me here, Arctic Monkeys seem to get more interesting to me the "less" commercial success they have.  Here they returned to the tunes that were missing from predecessor Humbug whilst keeping some of the willful strangeness in the lyrics.  It just goes to prove that sometimes bands can indeed be better when, you know, they don't go out of their way to write songs that aren't radio friendly.  CHOICE CUT: Don't Sit Down Cause I've Moved Your Chair

11) FEEL IT BREAK (Austra) 
It took me a while to get into this (and an insanely delayed flight from Memphis to New York helped give me some "quality time" with it) and it's fair to say that it's one of those "dance" records that you can't really dance to.  But slowly over time it really dug it's fingers into me.  It has some great potential singles but also meshes together as a collective whole.  CHOICE CUT: Beat And The Pulse.

This  was an example of someone coming back from a debut album that didn't wholly convince me with something that utterly struck me down numb, to the level that I had to revisit the first album just to see if I'd gotten it wrong the last time.  I hadn't, just about, beacuse Youth Novels was definately a work in progress whereas Wounded Rhymes is fully realised in every sense.  Heralded by the awesome Get Some, the rest of the album lived up to that first taste and more so.  CHOICE CUT: I Follow Rivers

9) YOU & I (The Pierces) 
Initially I was a bit upset that The Pierces had shunned their slightly weird side to hook up with some bloke from Coldplay and records an album of radio-friendly smashers, but then I realised that who was I to question a career move of that nature, especially when it seems like the other option had been giving up altogether.  And deep down this still has that strangeness that made them such a standout proposition in the first place.  CHOICE CUT: Love You More

8) OH LAND (Oh Land) 
I don't normally go in for bemoaning the state of the record industry, but it perplexes me that someone like La Roux (one and a half decent songs) can have quite a bit of success and someone like Oh Land labours somewhat more towards the bottom end of the charts when Nanna Oland Fabricus has an album like this where virtually every song on it SHOULD be a decent chart hit.  Still as long as she keeps producing albums like this I can live without the hits... CHOICE CUT: We Turn It Up

7) KITTY WELLS DRESSES (Laura Cantrell)
Another album on my list that consists (mostly) of cover versions, this time seeing Laura Cantrell singing the songs of Kitty Wells.  It's also another CD that I bought for my dad and then promptly stole from him.  The arrangements are generally simple and relatively sparse but that's all this fantastic collection of songs need.  Great timeless songs sung by a great timeless singer.  What more do you need? CHOICE CUT: It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels

6) CINDERELLA'S EYES (Nicola Roberts) 
After the abysmal solo effort by Nadine and the really rather bland Americanised pap that Cheryl offers up it was with some trepidation that I met the news of Nicola's solo project.  But bugger me, if it wasn't a smasher.  Lead single Beat Of My Drum was an effective showcase for an album packed full of weird, wonderful but above all catchy pop tunes with a lyrical sensibility that can make you both laugh and cry, sometimes within the one song.  CHOICE CUT: Porcelain Heart

5) CONCRETE (Sunny Sweeney) 
If Dolly Parton was some kind of time travelling queen and started her music career in 2011 she might well have been something like Sunny Sweeney (and I know that Sweeney had one stab at stardom back in the previous decade). That's not to say that this has a "Dolly" sound at all (and in fact lyrically, its more Tammy Wynette) just that Sweeney is one of the precious few around in the modern Nashville scene who can really sing the style and mean it from the bottom of her heart.  It doesn't fit entirely with what Nashville Radio is after, but when it's something this good, who cares? CHOICE CUT: Helluva Heart

4) ANNA CALVI (Anna Calvi) 
In some ways she was this year's Bat For Lashes; in that a beguiling and mysterious characterisation was backed up by some of the finest songs knocking about at the moment.  A virtuoso voice and some seriously kicking musical beats.  And if you were ever in any doubt that this was all style over substance along comes The Devil, with just Calvi, a guitar and some haunting raw emotion.  A genuine experience you could get nowhere else in 2011.  CHOICE CUT: First We Kiss

I've been a fan of Ladytron since happening upon the delectible Seventeen for some long forgotten reason years ago.  Gravity The Seducer was, in my ears, their best album since Light & Magic.  There are a high number of instrumentals here and on other tracks the vocals seem less important to the atmosphere than ever before and it didn't get a universal reception compared to Velocifero, but I'm right.  This is even better than that.  CHOICE CUT: Ritual

2) EXPERIMENTS (Florrie)
You may accuse me of cheating.  You'd be right too.  Yes, this was only a 6 track EP but as every track was a belter (and I could have fitted all six songs into my top, say, 30 songs of the year without any trouble) and she was the most exciting "pop" act of the year for me (in the true sense of the word) I had to put this in this list and it had to be as high as it is.  I hope 2012 is the year she makes a proper impact even if my usual curse proves to come true again.  CHOICE CUT: Experimenting With Rugs

1) LITTLE RED BOOTS (Lindi Ortega) 
As soon as I heard this album my first thought was that this was the best thing I'd heard all year.  I haven't changed my mind either.  It's perhaps fitting given the year I've had that a "Country" album grabs the top spot but this is more than a great Country album, it's a bloody brilliant album full stop.  Sass, attitude and lyrical wit combine with killer tunes to make an album that doesn't have a less than great song on it.  Absolutely stunning.  CHOICE CUT: All My Friends

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Albums of 2011 - 40-21

Time is against me to do "reasonings" behind ALL my top 40 albums, so here as a preview for the rest is the first half of the countdown, from number 40 down to number 21.

39) CULTS (Cults)
38) 21 (Adele)
37) SIBERIA (Lights)
35) CONATUS (Zola Jesus)
34) LAST (The Unthanks)
33) EL CAMINO (The Black Keys)
32) ALL YOU NEED IS NOW (Duran Duran)
31) BARTON HOLLOW (The Civil Wars)
29) VOYAGE (The Sound Of Arrows)
28) WILD DEVINE (Alela Diane)
27) PERFECTIONIST (Natasha Kills)
26) LAST SUMMER (Elanor Friedberger)
25) WASTING LIGHT (Foo Fighters)
24) METALS (Feist)
23) VIRTUE (Emmy The Great)
22) TUMBLE BEE (Laura Viers)

Top 20 rundown will follow tomorrow...

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My Favourite 20 singles (sort of) of 2011

Ok, so now it's time for the top 20 singles of 2011. Except some won't be "singles" in the traditional sense of getting a release and getting into the charts in the UK and all that but I have tried to make sure that these are 2011 songs that in some logical form or another could be counted as "singles" even if they weren't strictly adherent to the usual sense of the word. Hell, it's my list; I can put what I want in it.

20) MAMA'S BROKEN HEART (Miranda Lambert)
Everything that is great about Country Music can be found in here; this mixes the old sensibilities and the modern arrangements to come up with something totally intoxicating.

19) SHAKE IT OUT (Florence & The Machine)
I wasn't convinced by the album, which was all the more of a shame after this corking single. Truth be told, I've never been convinced by the Florence, ahem, hype machine (but that's a rant for another time). This is just dreamy and gorgeous, but with that hint of darkness.

It's not my favourite song on the Experments EP but it was the only that got the (kind of) official single treatment in that sense so I will sneak it on here just for the fact that Florrie was the pop find of 2011 for me.

17) VIDEO GAMES (Lana Del Ray)
Well given the hype I couldn't well leave it out. That said, I've put it in at a low position on this chart so that whilst I can say I noticed it and was beguiled by it, I can both annoy people who love it and have people who don't like it thinking I'm just trying to be cool by including it on my list at all.

16) BOO SHUFFLE (The Pipettes)
A great song and although they're plainly not "The Pipettes" of old given all the Sugababes style moving on of singers, this was a wonderful little ditty that harked back to their debut album and it's impossible to listen to it without smiling.

15) LOVE YOU LIKE A LOVE SONG (Selena Gomez & The Scene)
Not since JoJo's (Get Out) has there been a better throwaway pop song lyrical deconstruction as there is in this one. And it irritates people when I tell them what a great song this is. And it is, I stand by that.

14) SEX RULES (Sky Ferreria)
This was 2011's version of Annie's Chewing Gum. In that it has absolutely everything to be a monster pop smash...but it wasn't. Still, it's a bloody fantastic pop tune with the kind of catchy but inappropriate chorus that schoolkids should be singing to horrify their parents and teachers. She's got loads more like this as well.

13) DEDICATION TO MY EX (Lloyd feat. Lil Wayne & Andre 3000)
Ok so it's a bit rude. And misogynistic. But it is one hell of a tune. It's good enough to fit on that double Outkast album whose name I have momentarily forgotten. It's THAT good.

12) OURS (Taylor Swift)
Whilst Nashville made it almost impossible for me to get anywhere near her during my holiday there (and that was with an EIGHTEEN HOUR signing session) I genuinely think Taylor Swift is a "proper" talent. This was a new one and whilst it's pretty much the same as most slow(ish) songs that she does why would you mess too much with a winning formula?

11) ROPE (Foo Fighters)
It was a long wait, but Dave and the boys finally hit back on the old form in 2011 and this single was a very good example of what they do best!

10) BEAT OF MY DRUM (Nicola Roberts)
On the quiet she was always my favourite Girls Aloud member (at least since Nadine became so annoying and then did an absolutely AWFUL album) and this debut single was a masterpiece.

9) WOLVES (The Good Natured)
I have no real idea how I got onto this one, but it is a bloody fantastic tune. (And ok, it wasn't technically the "lead" on the EP but as I've said, it's my bloody list!) 

8) THROUGH THE NIGHT (Ren Harvieu)
Luckily I can say that I'd "heard" Ren Harvieu before she got on the BBC Sounds List. She won't win it, no doubt, but she is the best thing on there and this is one reason why. It almost sounds like something Burt Baccarach would give us. Yes, it's that good.

7) DON'T SIT DOWN... (Arctic Monkeys)
I'm still not entirely sure whether or not the lyrics of this are supposed to be a micky-take or not, but it's an instant grunge/garage classic which showed that even now the hype has died down, the Arctic Monkeys remain on the top of their game.

I'll probably be accused of only liking this one because it's sung by a cute, blonde haired Scandinavian. Ah well, I know better...

5) HOUSE (Ben Folds Five)
Even if it had been rubbish the mere fact that Ben Folds Five were recording again would have been awesome. Luckily this was very far from rubbish. Worth forking out on the Ben Folds compilation for this alone!

4) SHAKE (Little Boots)
After a long absence Little Boots returned with an absolute stomper. Another one of those that went on repeat for an hour after I first listened to it. This was good enough as a slightly hidden away part of one of her mixtapes but in it's own right it's just an infectious pop-dance tune that was the best of it's kind in 2011.

I don't like Adele as an artist/musician/singer but I cannot deny that this is an absolute belter. And it's not even the best song on the album (that honour goes to Rumour Has It - although admittedly they are the only two great songs on the album). I'm not the target audience for the "other" song that everyone else likes (and I'm miserable like that anyway) but for me this was always the winner. It's stunning.

2) FOREVER IN BLUE (Ren Harvieu)
Ok so I don't know whether this strictly counts as a single, but it's not on an album and got "released" into the internet on it's own, so I'm having it. A strange mix of a song that could be in a David Lynch movie, a western, or even a slightly mellow Bond theme this was one of those songs this year that I listened to for the first time and then spent the next hour with it on repeat.

1) PUT YOUR HANDS UP (Nerina Pallot)
I don't think it's exactly a secret that I love Nerina Pallot but even with my inbuilt bias, this was undoubtedly my favourite single of 2011. And it's not even my favourite song on the Year Of The Wolf album. It's catchy, it's uplifting, it's got a great sing-a-long hook....what more could you ask for?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Top 5 "Re-issues" or Compilations of 2011

It's been a long time I know. Two years in fact. I may (hopefully) post some reviews of, you know, stuff in 2012 but until then I will be doing some "best of" 2011 lists.

We start with the Top 5 re-issues or compilation albums of 2011.

5) Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage - REM

The title itself is no doubt intended as one of those kind of jokes that are both funny and too close to the knuckle to be that funny. There was a general "it's for the best" vibe surrounding the announcement in 2011 that REM were to split; commercial success never wholly equates to artistic merit of course but in REM's case the dwindling (yet still relatively strong) sales of their past few efforts was perhaps "deserved". That said, I don't think there is an REM album that doesn't have "it's moments".
So whilst there is definitely a tail off on this compilation and whilst I would have to admit that the trio of new songs pretty much sum up the 21st Century output from the boys (far from dreadful but far from memorable) there is enough on display here to show just how good REM were at their best. And if you've ever found yourself humming an REM tune but never got around to investing in a CD this is an absolute winner.

4) Some Girls - Rolling Stones
By a quirk of fate, Some Girls was the only studio album of the Rolling Stones that I had ever bought. I now have it twice! Rolling Stones going "disco" in the form of opener Miss You has perhaps a particular resonance in 2011 given Maroon 5's "Moves Like Jagger" but this is more about the late 70's Stones trying to fit in with the (then) modern pop world and pulling it off with supreme ease. Throw in a great second disc of other tracks (which would make for a killer album in their own right) and you have a great package.

3) Best Imitation Of Myself - Ben Folds (Five)
It might not mean much to the uninitiated, especially given the success Mr Folds has had since dropping the "Five", but I'll always consider his solo stuff as second best to his Ben Folds Five days. So the surprising news that the trio would be contributing THREE new songs to this collection was one of 2011's most welcome musical developments. Not your traditional "greatest hits" collections (mainly because Folds would himself readily admit he hasn't got many hits) this showcases all that is great with both Folds and his old band. One CD of the "favourites", one CD of live stuff (and Folds is a superb live performer, so it makes perfect sense) and one CD of rarities makes this a must have package for any fans of the man and his old band. And if things go well 2012 could see the Five come back with a whole new album...

2) The Monument Singles - Roy Orbison
One of the finest voices of any era, Roy Orbison is a true great. This collection, compiling together the A and B sides of his Monument recordings is absolutely essential. And let's face it if all Orbison had was Pretty Woman his place in history would be assured. But the classics just keep coming at you on this collection; Only The Lonely, Running Scared, It's Over, In Dreams.... but there is also a lot of great stuff on the flip side too, showing just what a talent Orbison was. This collection shows him at his peak. (The bonus DVD is great too!)

1) Elvis Is Back/Something For Everybody - Elvis Presley
1960's Elvis Is Back is regarded by many as his best album and you won't find me disagreeing with that point of view. Here it's remastered beautifully, has added singles Stuck On You, It's Now Or Never, Are You Lonesome and Surrender with their b-sides (mostly). It also has 1961's Something For Everyone album on disc two which whilst not as good in terms of the songs contains what could be Elvis' best vocal performances AND has yet more singles and B-Sides. Superb and sublime.

Don't worry folks, the next couple of lists I do will make up for the fact that these were all blokes!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top 20 Albums of 2009

20) A LITTLE HAPPINESS (Aimee Allen)
The aim of this album was said to be "to get people in a good mood and show them life is to be enjoyed” and it certainly achieved that aim. Not everything is a winner (it does get alarmingly all “Jack Johnson” at times, but the strength of the song writing means that this is a light, summery winner. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Save Me, Calling The Maker

19) THE GRADUATE (Nerina Pallot)
Sadly, it wasn’t anywhere near a “Fires” but Nerina Pallot’s third album has enough winners to make it another good album. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Real Late Starter, I Don’t Want To Go Out

18) SCARY FRAGILE (Butterfly Boucher)
It took a long time to come (over five years) but the follow up to Flutterby finally made it to the wider world in 2009 and it proved that her first album was no fluke. The kind of quirky “pop” music that could be huge but probably never will be, thankfully it avoided the trap of concentrating on castigating her former record label and just concentrated on the great tunes. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: I Found Out, Gun For A Tongue

I kinda ignored Paloma Faith when she first shot to prominence. But her funny turn on Never Mind The Buzzcocks had me smitten (I’m aware it was pretty a much Marmite moment) and after seeing the hilarious youtube video diary where she went into HMV to buy her own album I took the plunge. And I was glad I did. There is an argument that the album is purely an attempt by a record company to fill the gap until Amy Winehouse is sober enough to record her new one, but there are some genuinely good songs on here and it’s a very good album. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Smoke & Mirrors, New York

16) WE TOLD YOU WE WERE FREAKY (Flight Of The Conchords)
The genius of the Flight Of The Conchords is that it’s very difficult to listen to the songs they parody once you’ve heard their versions. Can anyone take the R’n’B likes of R Kelly seriously once they’ve heard tracks like “We're Both In Love With A Sexy Lady"? Does the Black Eyed Peas “My Humps” have any relevance once you’ve digested “Sugalumps”? Similarly, you’ll never quite listen to the Police’s “Roxanne” the same way again once you’ve heard “You Don’t Have To Be A Prostitute”. This is more than pastiche; it’s more than parody; it’s a bloody good record in it’s own right. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Hurt Feelings, Sugalumps, Carol Brown

15) THE DUCKWORTH-LEWIS METHOD (Duckworth-Lewis Method)
The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon, doing a concept album about Cricket…? Well it shouldn’t work, but work it did. There’s no denying that SOME liking for Cricket helps the experience (it could all be a bit baffling otherwise) but at the end of the day the songs are strong enough to stand up on their own two feet. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Jiggery Pokery, Meeting Mr Miandad

14) FIRST LOVE (Emmy The Great)
I was listening to the radio late one night, and I heard a live version of We Almost Had A Baby not knowing who the hell I was listening to (and the radio didn’t offer me any further clues) and it was still by accident that I bought this album and realised that that track was on it. And whilst that still remains my favourite Emmy The Great track, it’s by no means the only quality song on here. A stunning debut. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: We Almost Had A Baby, Bad Things Are Coming We Are Safe.

13) FEARLESS (Taylor Swift)
Someone criticised me liking Taylor Swift because she does “music for twelve year old girls”. Which may be a by-product of her record company’s attempt to market her in this Country (because Country music is traditionally a hard sell over here) but truth be told, none of that matters. Her debut album was accomplished enough, but this was another step up. There is some genuinely good song-writing going on here, and if it at times it all gets a bit “teenage” and “High School Musical” we shouldn’t forget that she’s not exactly an old lass is she? ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Fearless, Forever & Always, The Best Day

12) IT’S BLITZ (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) Cynically, rock-punk band coming back with an "all-new" electro sound should have been a sign that things were going to be “ho-hum” but I was proved wrong with a stomper of an album that never once gets dull or boring. I can imagine why some people got “upset” over this, but as “pop” isn’t a dirty word in my book, I loved it! ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Heads Will Roll, Soft Shock

11) TONIGHT (Franz Ferdinand)
Franz Ferdinand may never regain the critical acclaim that surrounded their debut album and the monster that was Take Me Out but I think they’ve remained constantly good and, perhaps as importantly, interesting. For me, Tonight, their third album, is up there with the debut overall and the likes of Ulysses, No You Girls and What She Came For are the kind of punchy indie-pop gems FF made their name on. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Ulysees, No You Girls,erm...What She Came For.

10) TRANSMITTER FAILURE (Jenny Owen Youngs)
Taking everything that was so beguiling about her debut, adding a commercial sheen but losing nothing of what made you fall in love with her in the first place, Transmitter Failure is a triumph. The sheer scale of emotions she can take you on shows again that she can both tug at the heart strings and, with her tongue-in-cheek attitude, make you laugh and that is some combination. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Led To The Sea, Here Is A Heart, What Beats Within

9) TWO SUNS (Bat For Lashes) Fur And Gold should have won the Mercury Prize (it really should) and whilst in some ways Two Sun’s nomination for the same award felt like an acknowledgement of that fact, this is still a stunning album which if not quite matching Fur and Gold, proves that ambition and quality can go hand in hand. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Daniel, Sleep Alone

8) WONDER (Lisa Mitchell) Largely known (if at all) for a song from an advert for Fabric Softener or something, it’s a shame that Mitchell’s beguiling debut album is destined to be largely ignored. A shame because it’s really rather good indeed. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Neopolitan Dreams, Sidekick, Animals

7) HARDSHIPS (Jenny Wilson)
Some albums defy easy categorisation, and so it is with Hardships. Theoretically this is an “R’n’B” album, but if it is then it’s unlike any one that you’ve heard before. Perhaps the best compliament I can pay it is that it’s packed full of songs that would be mega hits if certain other singers recorded them, but that kind of misses the point., Wilson’s genius is of it’s own. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: The Wooden Chair, Pass The Salt, Anchor Made Of Gold

6) DON’T STOP (Annie)
There was the potential problem that an album that combined Annie (excellent) with Xenomania (excellent) and Richard X (excellent) couldn’t possibly live up to the potential. Happily such fears were unfounded. Songs Remind Me Of You (produced by Richard X) is arguably my favourite pop song of the year and Loco (produced by Xenomania) is exactly the sort of pop stomper that Girls Aloud would have done before they got far too serious for my liking. Granted not everything on the album “works” but most of it does and it’s just a shame that, once again, the record buying public at large completely ignored an Annie album. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Songs Remind Me Of You, Loco, Don’t Stop

5) THE FAME [MONSTER] (Lady Gaga)
It’s by no means a perfect album (it’s far too long and certainly has its fair share of filler) but there probably isn’t a record this year that’s had as many genuine, ahem, monster hits in its midst’s as this one has. And given that at least 5 of the 8 “bonus” tracks on the Fame Monster version are winners, this certainly deserves its top 5 spot in my rankings. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Just Dance, Poker Face, Bad Romance, Alejandro

4) WE HAD A THING (Lisa Donnelly)
I’ve still no real idea how I “discovered” this album, but within one play of it on Spotify (genuinely a great invention) I was online (Aimee Street – a great place for this kind of “unknown” stuff) downloading the album. Such is the wide range of sounds on this album, it’s a difficult one to sum up in terms of style but don’t imagine that an attempt at a different sound on almost every track means that the album doesn’t hang as a cohesive whole. It does. In fact, it’s a stunning album. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: End Of Time, Laugh

3) YES (Pet Shop Boys)
Yes was the proper “return to form” that Fundamental ultimately proved not to be. Yes saw PSB sounding as fresh as they have done in years, gave a trio of cracking singles (Love Etc., Did You See Me Coming and All Around The World) and had plenty more to recommend within it too. Pandemonium, in particular, is probably their best non-single for a decade or more. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: All Around The World, Pandemonium, The Way It Used To Be, More Than A Dream

2) HANDS (Little Boots)
Ok, so the backlash began before the album had even hit the shops, and there is no getting around the fact that I am in love with Miss Hesketh, but Hands is a brilliant pop record. The singles (as good as Remedy was) don’t really tell the whole story. The likes of Symmetry, When Hearts Collide and Click are better than the singles and if justice played a part in the music business, would be huge hits. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Remedy, Symmetry, When Hearts Collide, Meddle

1) ACTOR (St. Vincent) Never content to limit herself to a particular style, Actor is an album that constantly surprises you. From the opening haunting choir on The Strangers to the last strings on the album closer The Sequel you will listen to this never quite knowing what's coming next. One particular case in point would be Black Rainbow whose pop symphony opening gives way to disturbing scuzzed up guitars reminiscent of some Horror film soundtrack. It’s obvious to say it, but this was easily my album of the year. I thought it when I first heard it, and time has proved me right. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Actor Out Of Work, Marrow, Black Rainbow

Top 10 Concerts Of 2009

Obviously, these are only concerts I have seen; so all this Radiohead/Muse/Coldplay bollocks will have to go elsewhere for their praise.

10) LITTLE BOOTS (12th March – 53 Degrees, Preston)
Normally I wouldn’t have two concerts by the same artists in this list (which kinda gives away that the lovely Victoria will be making another appearance as we go along I know) but I had to make an exception to my own rule this year. It’s not just the concert itself (which was amazing, naturally) but the whole day just made for one hell of an entertaining schmozzle. An on/off train journey was followed by a hotel that was 10 miles away from where my mate thought it was. Then there was enough alcohol to make Oliver Reed proud, meeting Little Boots’ brother who then introduced us to half their extended family (including her mum), being chatted up (and being taught dance moves) by a group of teenagers and failing to remember how we made it back to the hotel. This was finished with both of us being so sick that the sink almost overflowed, although we just about managed to clean up. The concert itself was great as well….

9) TAYLOR SWIFT (24th November – MEN Arena, Manchester)
Whilst I did expect there to be some youngsters in the crowd for this one, I was not prepared for there to be quite so bloody many screaming young pre-teen girls. At least I went to this one with my mate Marie and not my usual concert-going partner Gee as TWO men in their 30’s sat amongst the kids might not have been the best look. In amongst the incessant screaming and me being hit on the head with a glow stick, this was a very good spectacle although it was all a little High School Musical for my tastes. That said, I can appreciate the effort that was put into it all, and Miss Swift does have some killer tunes to back up the glitz and glamour.

8) LADYHAWKE (17th May – Academy 2, Manchester)
Another “Matt was pissed” night, but what are you going to do? This was one of those concerts where I was a little wary of what to expect, but in the end it turned out quite brilliant.

7) PALOMA FAITH (17th November – 02 Academy, Liverpool)
She as mad as a bag of spanners, but very very good live. I also appreciated the fact that she’d put some effort into her show.

6) LISA MITCHELL (11th November – Night & Day, Manchester)
Singer-songwriters are ten a penny at the moment, so it does take something a little special to stand out. Lisa Mitchell, who came through Australian Idol or something similar, is indeed something special. She’s very very lovely as well. So lovely, I felt compelled to buy a Lisa Mitchell tea-towel.

5) IMELDA MAY (11th February – Baby Blue, Liverpool)
This would have got it for the Tainted Love cover alone, and for the fact that it was one of the few concerts of the year where I didn’t feel old (even though those two jailbaits were obviously trying to make a move on us), but Imelda May comes into her own in the live arena.

4) FRANZ FERDINAND (6th March – Academy 1, Manchester)
Critically their reputation is shot, but they are still the duck’s nuts as far as I am concerned and for nearly two hours they thrilled with great track after great track and, perhaps just as importantly, seemed to be having a good time themselves!

3) LITTLE BOOTS (10th December – Academy 2, Manchester)
So here she is again. This was the 4th time in 2009 that I saw Little Boots in concert and it was undoubtedly the best. The nerves from her summer performances had dissipated and a much more confident performer was stood before us, belting out some of the best pop tunes of the year.

2) PET SHOP BOYS (20th December- MEN Arena, Manchester)
Well, ok, I am biased, but Pet Shop Boys are THE greatest pop act of the last 25 years, and this triumphant show was another of their spectacular live shows. Who would have thought so much entertainment could have been generated by 200-odd cardboard boxes? I also appreciated the song choice (including album tracks from Please) though I can imagine that more casual fans may have been more interested in the hits. The addition of What Have I Done To Deserve This and the Christmas encore made this the stand out show of the three of theirs I saw in 2009.

1) JENNY LEWIS (26th June – House Of Blues, New Orleans)
It’s probably predictable, but in the end there was no other choice. I didn’t even know she was playing in New Orleans when we got there, but a chance detour after a ride on a Mississippi River Steamboat found us walking past the House Of Blues. “Does that really say Jenny Lewis…tonight?” As she’s made it to number one in this list, obviously it did. Perhaps it was the booze (although Al, who’d just turned 30 and is 6 foot 7 couldn’t drink because he had no ID) or perhaps it was the fact that we were in a warmer climate (though not necessarily drier) but seeing the delightful Ms Lewis in this setting just seemed perfect and she seemed better than ever.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

We Had A Thing - Lisa Donnelly

As the opening track of Lisa Donnelly's We Had A Thing kicks in, you might start to think that you are merely in, say, Sara Bareilles territory. Not that there is anything inherently wrong in that, just that you fear you are in for 45 minutes or so of perfectly pleasant, but ultimately forgettable, Radio 2 music. But even if the lyrics in the opener (such as "open your heart and close your legs, they only want what makes them beg") don't tip you the nod that you're dealing with something else, the funky disco opening of the follow up track, Little Devil soon let you know that this is a whole different kind of ride.

Some might decry the sheer scope of different sounds on We Had A Thing, but when Donnelly can switch so effectively from the delightful up-tempo pop of Naturally to the blues sound of Stuck In A Rut (which reminded me of old favourite Matraca Berg) via the eastern sitar sounds of Blue it would be churlish to complain. And why should showing more invention in the space of one record than a lot of acts manage in an entire career count against her too much?

“Life takes a lifetime,” sings Lisa Donnelly in Naturally, so you've more than enough time to sit down and enjoy this stunning album.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Little Happiness - Aimee Allen

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According to her website, Aimee Allen is described as an “explosive, outspoken voice” which might confuse people who know her purely from her "Cooties" Hairspray turn, or indeed anyone who comes to her new album, A Little Happiness, blind, and hasn't had the pleasure of her "previous" (and largely unreleased career). After all the mostly acoustic and generally lilting pace of the album only just manages to stay this side of Jack Johnson banality.

Indeed one of her new found artistic aims is to "to get people in a good mood and show them life is to be enjoyed" (incidentally this aim was influenced to a certain extent by being the victim of an assault in the summer of 2008 that left her with a broken jaw and serious head injuries) band this album certainly goes a long way to reaching for those aims.

The lilting reggae-lite tones of the likes of Save Me and On Vacation are perfect summer tunes (the slightly off-kilter whistling on the former is disarmingly adorable - hopefully it's not "ghosted" by some bloke in the recording studio...) whilst the perky piano backing and the soulful chorus on Calling The Maker make for something rather wonderful indeed, probably resulting in the highlight of the album.

But really, whilst the quality does slip slightly on occasion there's little here that you wouldn't want to listen to over and over again. Some reviewers have labelled this as a perfect "summer" album but that, to me, would be to do it an injustice. Whilst it certainly would fit nicely on a hot summer's days out in the garden, I'd wager it's just the thing to perk you up in a cold winter's evening as well. As Allen reminds us, the world isn't perfect, but you'll love sharing it's imperfections with her whilst listening to this delightful album.