Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Albums Of The Year

I think I've listened to close on 100 new albums this year, some will become more cherished as the years go by (Paul Weller, Elbow, The Fireman), some will get the odd airing due to four or five quality tracks (Oasis and Metallica), some will be dug out purely because of their curio value (Fleet Foxes) and some will never be played again unless I forget all my medication (Ben Iver).

Retro has played a part in this years listening pleasures, thanks to a surprise present from Gildy I have been able to enjoy The Beatles story, a BBC series that I last heard some thirty five years ago. That nostalgic reunion led me to listen again to a lot of The Beatles work, watch the film Across The Universe and generally realise how much we take for granted.

Talking of the Beatles, this year saw the release of another album by arguably their biggest muscial tribute act: Oasis. As I said in my review of the album in November, it consisted of the very good, the quite good and the, blimey I didn't realise they were that desperate, bad. Oasis weren't the only band capable of 'borrowing' from the past, Metallica released a cracking album this year (Death Magnetic) and on one track - The Day That Never Comes - they performed the best cover version of T.Rex Telegram Sam riff yet committed to disc. The video that accompanied the single was also a highlight of the year, overturning any preconceived ideas I had about how America sees the situation in the Middle East and the cinematic treatment of Arabs (that's one for Pseuds corner!).

Paul Weller produced his magnum opus: 22 Dreams contained twenty one tracks (the twenty second was left to the listener to conceive) of such bewildering variety that you could only sit open mouthed as he showed a grasp of so many musical styles from rock, pop, folk, a sea shanty, electronica and a piano piece, Lullaby for Kinder, that almost fell into the kitsch barrel.

Back to the imitators and one of the best releases of the late Spring was The Last Shadow Puppets album The Age of Understatement. Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys, Miles Kane from the Rascals and the producer James Ford recorded an album that the great Scott Walker would have been proud, listening to this you couldn't help smiling at the homage that was being played out to one of rock and pop music's great mavericks.

Neon Neon and Hot Chip vied for the honour of best electronic pop album of the year, my own choice being Neon Neon's Stainless Style if only because it seemed less pleased with itself than Hot Chip.

Obscure, in the sense that they were difficult to pigeonhole, were albums from Fleet Foxes and Ben Harper and The Innocent Criminals. Ben Iver's album was much lauded in the press and on the message boards, partly because it was recorded in a shack in the middle of the North American wilderness, I personally found it almost unlistenable - it fell firmly into the 'I've suffered for my art and now it's your turn' category for this listener.

Another band criticised as possessing nil originality and all of the back catalogue of The Jesus and Mary Chain were Glasvegas. Whatever their shortcomings they produced one of the albums of this and any other year, they wrote about the senseless muder of Kriss Donald (Flowers ad Football Tops) in a way that was both touching and surprising and in Geraldine they gave the public the combination of a lyric and melody reminiscent of Morrissey and Marr at their best.

If music can define a moment then Elbow's One Day Like This defined the summer. Has there ever been a band that has waited so long for it's fifteen minutes of fame. What astonished me more than the final public recognition of one of British musics best kept secrets was the backlash by some people of the Radio Two message boards. Guy Garvey is possibly our finest lyricist, moving between the banal and ordinary to the touching in a few words, Glastonbury, sales and the Mercury Award followed the word of mouth recommendations - and quite rightly so.

You'd be wrong for thinking that music was male dominated this year though: Laura Marling, Aimee Mann, Madonna, Kaki King, Duffy, The Ting Tings and of course the magnificent Goldfrapp released some very good records. In Madge's case the album was somewhat overshadowed by her choice of clothing (or lack of it) for one video and her divorce from a B-Movie director. Wonderful sense of irony our Madge, singing on the song Miles Away: "I guess we're at our best when we are miles away."

Sigur Ros released another collection of beguiling songs, I listened to this album whilst in Paris and I'm sure that in my dotage it will act as a Proustian catalyst, the sound of one track, Godan Daggin, forever associated with the apartment we rented in Auteuil, laying on the bed looking at the Eiffel Tower.

Biggest musical shock for me wasn't The Fireman's third album but hearing Tom Baxter's Better being played in the Queen Vic in EastEnders. Surprising for two reasons, firstly I don't really watch soaps (honest Guv) and secondly this is such an intense song you must sit and pay attention, it's not background music.

So which album makes it as my choice for album of the year then?

1. Elbow - Seldom Seen Kid
2. Metallica - Death Magnetic
3. Sigur Ros - Something in Icelandic (that's not really the title)
4. The Fireman - Electric Arguments
5 = Goldfrapp - Seventh Tree
= Paul Weller - 22 Dreams

7 comments:

The Great Gildersleeve said...

Doesn't this prove how hearing something perhaps long forgotten reawakes an interest in the works of an artist?

I have to say though that you have an open mind Paul and that you try so many of the new material available is commendable. I don't think that I hear as much of what's being produced these days and I am definately retro. But when I say that I am discovering material that is new to me.

I am often surprised to find that songs I thought to be original versions are often cover versions and I prefer the version I have just discovered or enjoy hearing a different take on a song that is so familiar to me.

Paul said...

One thing I have noticed lately Gildy regarding some older records is how the digital process has opened up a new listening experience on some recordings. I know there are arguments for and against digital but it's here to stay and it does offer some variety.

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