Category: music

100 for 2000 – #94. Jarvis Cocker – Further Complications

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2009 – #4. Jarvis Cocker – Further Complications
(Rough Trade)

I’m a big Pulp fan. I liked both Jarvis Cocker and the band and his first solo album was good, but it was the logical Jarvis minus Pulp equation. It lacked a musical mission. Anyway, the man is back, and with a fire in his belly. Divorce, old age, and just general disgust is back. Further Complications indeed.

Cocker has never, ever rocked this hard. He has a new young band, and the lush indie disco that has been his staple for decades is gone (except for in one important song). Steve Albini being behind the dials might explain it. But the guitars, the rawness and the abrasive-ness is all suit the new Jarvis Cocker.

The lust is back. First single is the roaring Angela (is she a call girl? Where else does one get complimentary showers?), all guitars and fuzz. It follows on from the blistering title track, both leading you to think this might a be a record where Sherlock Holmes is fronting the Stooges.

Cocker sounds so confident on here, and you can tell that he is happy being so angry again. Eschewing the sweet but dark ballads of his last record, here Cocker goes for the throat. Nowhere is better than I Never Said I Was Deep, bursting the bubble on his nerd-chic, celebrating his need for sex and women.

Fuckingsong is another highlight. Using a song as a phallic symbol, and how shit that actually is. In Leftovers he is pleading with a younger women to give an old man some affection. It’s enough to make Loudon Wainwright III blush.

In short, he is taking the same place as someone like Nick Cave. Gracefully aging disgracefully. His best work has always been ones that make you think twice. Did he really say that? I met her at the museum of paleontology/and I make no bones about it. What?

When you think you have the album pegged, it all ends with You’re In My Eyes (Discosong). It would sound like a traditional Cocker number, if not for the fact that the synth samples, and in fact the whole song, is mixed so very low. The effect sounds like a dirty old man whispering in your ear a come on as a sleazy song plays in the background.

Cocker is cutting loose. After a misstep, we now have a new template of what a Jarvis Cocker solo record can be.

Further Complications by Jarvis Cocker. He’s never been so rock.

100 for 2000 – #93. Lily Allen – It’s Not Me, It’s You

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2009 – #3. Lily Allen – It’s Not Me, It’s You

This is the most 2009 of all these 2009 albums. Lily Allen‘s second record It’s Not Me, It’s You totally captures what I saw around me for a year, and how those things felt. And she sounds like she had a lot of fun doing it too.

On the first single, the Fear, Allen is role playing the modern celebrity (I’m a weapon of massive consumption). In wanting to be the dumb starlet of the cover of all those magazines, she gives herself away as being so different, and far better, than the lot. She’s smart, she’s funny, she’s confident and she’s eloquent. And you know, most boys don’t like that.

Over twelve tracks, we get Lily‘s view on a range of issues, in a great, clever, funny, witty Lily way. Opening proceedings is Everyone’s At It, a drug song like I’ve never heard before. A sober and well thought out discussion on the hypocrisy of drugs. And the lass was but 22 when she wrote it.

Drugs, along with love, make up the best song on here. 22 is about an older girl (“she’s nearly thirty now“), still out clubbing, still looking for that man to come along, and it;s looking unlikely. It’s the modern female tragedy – the unsaid dark under-current of Sex And the City. Lily worries about that girl, but worries about becoming her. God knows, I’ve met many of them in my life.

It’s a love album too. It’s a sweet, longing album. The brilliant Chinese boils everything down to just watching TV and having some takeaway together. Who’d Have Known is that hesitant excitement about ordinary, every day love. It’s the opposite of that Jeff Buckley cinematic, doomed romance crap. It’s so down to Earth, and about the details.

But she’s having fun as well. Not Fair, an ode to the female orgasm, was probably thematically the oddest hit song that year. But hearing a packed Glastonbury full of women screaming along to every word – well, it makes a man cross his legs. There’s Fuck You, that might come across as a novelty song, but it would be exactly what a young British person would say to George W Bush. It’s not a political dissection – it’s just a dis.

Sweet, clever, fun and with a big heart. That’s Lily‘s image. And doubly amazing that this one great record, loved by even the harshest of critics, wiped away two years of stupid blogging, tabloid disasters and a terrible TV show. She’s an awesome songwriter, and I hope it doesn’t take that long before she remembers that again.

22, one of many, many great songs from this album. This clip shows Lily as at her most mature, and at the current peak of her powers. Maybe as the years go by, she might head further into this kind of stuff, and leave the jokes behind. I’m kind of torn though, as to whether or not that would be a good thing.

100 for 2000 – #92. God Help the Girl – God Help the Girl

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2009 – #2.  God Help the Girl – God Help the Girl
(Rough Trade)

Stuart Murdoch of Belle And Sebastian heard a song in his head one day. It was suited to a girl, so he put out a call for girl singers in a local record shop. He found a handful of fantastic singers, and then started developing a new batch of songs around a movie script. The new band, their debut album and that movie are all called God Help The Girl.

That story means very little to me. It’s a curious fact, but this album is lovely without it’s backstory. Murdoch later lamented the boy’s party vibe of the last Belle And Sebastian album, the Life Pursuit. He readdresses that balance here. And stunningly well.

Girls. The central dilemma of the pop fanboy. How does Murdoch do it? He wrote every song here on the album, and manages to come up with an amazing point of view. OK, so I’m not a girl, so I don’t know if girls really relate to this. But I see these songs in the girls I know and have known.

I really can’t think of another song like I’ll Have To Dance With Cassie. Finally, I understand why girls like dancing with other girls. But who would write a song about that, from such sweet, irony-less compassion? Throughout the album there’s songs about dying hair blond, of the vulnerability of a drug come down, of being contrary – all from a female point of view.

It’s a nice little trick. And somehow this album hit me really hard. I’m still listening to it on a regular basis, when so many albums from 2009 have started to fall away. And it’s these girls. These fascinated women. I can’t work them out – I’ve never been able to – but god I find them fascinating. Even though these songs are written by a man.

Maybe it’s a Salinger thing. That very classic Salinger ingenue.  I see her in Act Of the Apostle – fragile but tough runaway, buying a Guardian newspaper on the train to fit in, coming up with an incredible backstory in case anyone asks. The sunshiney girl who meets the dog on the street, and has an imaginary conversation on If You Could Speak is another great example. Who are these girls? I’d love to meet them, and unravel them. But I know I never will – just like how Seymour and Buddy Glass never could.

Something else though. It’s British girls. Young, quirky, tough, beautiful London girls. They come from all over, they a cosmopolitan, yet working class roots. A pretty second hand dress and a pint of beer. A favourite Oasis song and a favourite French New Wave director. She can quite Eastenders and Oliver. The faces of all the crazy, captivating girls I’ve met in London breeze by as this album plays.

Finally, all the boxes are ticked in their regular sense. The performances are great. It sounds extraordinary – the detail in the production is best heard on headphones. Those intricate harmonies have to be heard.

Who knows about the movie. Or if they will ever do a proper gig. This album is a perfect mystery.

God Help the Girl performing God Help the Girl, a track from their album God Help the Girl. First of two such trifectas!

100 for 2000 – #91. Girls – Album

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2009 – #1.  Girls – Album
(True Panther Sounds)

A friend gave me this album. It was a promo, and he said I would love it. So many great moments in my life happened that way. The debut Album by Girls is no exception. It seemed like an album made for me.

There is a huge story behind this album, having to do with California cults. In the middle of it is Christopher Owens, a lonely boy who, if we’re not careful, we can turn him into weirdo. But even without that story, the songs have such a brutal honesty, a child like naivety and a blissful pop sense that it really out-pipped every other record in 2009.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this record in the last year and why I like it. I think at it’s heart, it’s tapped into something very primal about indie rock – low self esteem. It’s why the indie kids claimed Brian Wilson as one of our own. We’re scared. We want to be loved. We want to understand. We want to fit in. But we just aren’t right – in our looks, or in our heads.

It’s not an overt feeling. But having always had the emotional consistency of jam, I think it’s why I gravitated to indie rock – Shins, Belle And Sebastian, Neutral Milk Hotel, Pulp et al. So, I guess, for me, there is little that trumps someone saying – I’m a bit weird, but please love me.

Owens goes right for the heart. In a way we have not heard in pop music in years, perhaps decades. It’s so direct. From the opening line “I wish I had a boyfriend“, “All I ever need is some love and attention” through to “I really want to be your friend forever” – it’s emotional honesty all the way. Even clunkers like “Come on and dance with me” is turned charming because the songs are so innocent.

Then there’s the music – and the sound. It’s a sun drenched, drugged out 60s mess. So many of these songs actually sound terrible. But it works, giving such classic chord progressions and lyrics a fair amount of grit. It’s exactly how freaks trying to make a girl group like record would sound.

2009 was a strange, limbo year. I’m not sure what I learnt from it, or what I have from it. I definitely started to feel worse about certain things, especially towards the end of the year. And this album quietly helped me through it. No big deals, but this is just what these albums are like.

The towering highlights on the album for me are Hellhole Ratrace, that awesome 6 minute debut single, and then Laura and Lust For Life, the blissful opening tracks. I don’t want to live  in a world where these songs don’t exist. Having the rest of this record is just the kind of luck that makes one believe in something higher.

Everyone believes in something. I believe in music. And this album is like a prayer book. It’s everything about music that I love.

I’m not sure I have anything more to say about this album than that.

Hellhole Ratrace. One of my favourites from Album.

What an amazing choice for a debut single.

100 for 2000 – #90. R.E.M. – Accelerate

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2008 – #10.  R.E.M. – Accelerate
(Warner Bros)

I have loved R.E.M. for as long as I can remember loving music. As a kid, in my uncle’s shop, hearing the One I Love and It’s the End Of the World As We Know It – god I would have been 6? I was too young to understand how they then jumped to a major label, all I knew was a few summers later Losing My Religion was my favourite song in the whole world. I wish I could say it was because I was in tune with such critical tastes at such a young age. But really, it’s probably because they weren’t as scary as Metallica, which is what my brother used to listen to at the time.

Along came Everybody Hurts. Now, I had no idea it was on a different album from Losing My Religion. Of course, I love the song. It was parodied almost immediately on my fave show at the time (The Late Show by the D-Generation). Monster and it’s radio singles came and I loved them, but the first record I ever bought of theirs was New Adventures In Hi Fi. It was bought without hearing a note. I remember wondering why this album wasn’t on radio as much as the songs before it. I mean, it’s just as good (if not better. It’s probably my fave REM record).

Of course, I went back eventually and got everything. And I followed them forwards too. The lovely but troubled Up record. The summery bubblegum of Reveal. The plodding and terrible Around the Sun. It was hard to believe in this band sometimes, but then you’d hear an old song in a new light, and bam, you’d be back there. For at least 3 months after every REM album release I am obsessed by the band. But before that, I’m always nervous.

So, the nice thing about working at Warners – when REM announced those dublin rehearsal shows, I got to go. 13 new tracks, followed by the trainspotter’s encore. The songs sounded great. Everyone wants them to ‘return to form’. I kind of just wanted them to show some life again.

So having peaked behind the curtain, I was very excited about this album. I was typically obsessed when the album did come out. The first single, Supernatural Superserious, was easily their best work in a decade. The tour was amazing, especially a couple of small showcase gigs.

Funny what two years can do though. Supernatural Superserious aside, I’ve come to realise how hollow this album is. It sounds like it should be great. The guitars, the harmonies, the brevity, and tempos – all what we want from REM, right? I guess be careful what you ask for.

The rockers on this album are solid, but by the numbers. Horse To Water, Man Sized Wreath etc… just adds nothing to their catalogue. We’ve heard this before. Living Well’s the Best Revenge I think is slightly better, but only slightly. Where has Stipe‘s muse gone? He’s not only talking crap, but his great artistic heart used to have big ideas – politics (Document), death (Automatic For the People), love (Up)…Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

The ballads are equally meandering. Nice, and not as bad as the worse moments on Around the Sun.

The saviour is I’m Gonna DJ. It doesn’t sound like anything other than a thematic cousin to It’s the End Of the World. Electro meets the Byrds, with no song structure and truly dissonant in some parts – it’s talented musicians pushing their boundaries, but in complete control.

FUCK! I want more of that shit.

Stop trying to make me happy anymore REM. They need to leave WB, and stop playing stadiums. Forget radio hits. And please, please, be the band version of someone like Tom Waits – career wise. Show us what you guys can do with no shackles. I would love to hear this. I would love to be surprised by an REM record, the way I had been up to Up.

This record comes in at number 10 because it was a big part of my year, and I did wear this album out. But I’m nervous about the next one.

REM’s Supernatural Superserious. Their best song in a decade.

100 for 2000 – #89. The Hold Steady – Stay Positive

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2008 – #9. The Hold Steady – Stay Positive

Coming off the success of Boys And Girls In America, the Hold Steady came back not one year later with an album even more anthemic and heartfelt. Stay Positive is a perfect distillation of what this band is about. It serves as both an album and a manifesto for them.

The Hold Steady, and Craig Finn in particular, often talks about the influence of 80s US hardcore on him and his music. I’m not sure what Ian MacKaye would think of them, but there was something in the heart of hardcore which was about staying positive. Do better. Eat better. Play better. BE better. Get off your ass. Don’t waste your life. Think for yourself. Don’t drink. Don’t smoke. Play incredibly difficult to execute music. It’s that inspirational and aspirational attitude that is wrapped up in this record.

It opens with Constructive Summer, a get-off-your-ass anthem if there ever was one. We’re all our only saviours/We’re gonna build something this summer. The title track talks of the long game, of how scene leaders go, drugs get everywhere but hey, another revolution is around the corner. It’s exciting to hear in this age – the world can be better, and soon.

The rest of the record breaks up in two other ways – story songs and songs about girls. Of the story songs, Sequested In Memphis is the best of the lot (and the first single). A nod to the city (complete with horns) and one of their most rousing choruses yet. But there’s also the biker gang drama of One For the Cutters.

The girl songs – usually ballads – are real weepers. Lord, I’m Discouraged is one of Finn‘s very best. Finn‘s noted his long and troubled relationship with faith and God, and seeing a sweet and innocent girl from around covered in bruises shakes him to the core. More by the numbers but no less stunning is Magazines – a drunken, desperate come on for the lonely.

I love this band. I love what they are about too. They treat rock ‘n’ roll as something to believe in. And in turn, I believe them right back. I am trying to hard to learn the lessons from this record.

Do something this summer. Staying positive. Being better.

Stay Positive – a new kind of anthem, and something to believe in.

100 for 2000 – #88. Panic At the Disco – Pretty. Odd

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2008 – #8. Panic At the Disco – Pretty. Odd
(Fueled By Ramen)

Before this album, I hated Panic At the Disco. To my defense, I was hardly their target market. In truth, I found their long and over wrought song titles quite funny and witty (I mean, titles like ‘The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide Is the Press Coverage‘ are pretty awesome). The harmonies jarred with me, but the band had hooks. I just wish they wouldn’t beat them to death. Anyway that all changed with Pretty. Odd., a pop rock album as fine as anything I’ve ever heard.

There is almost no emo on this record, and barely a trace that this album was made in the late 00s. It sounds, quite frankly, like volume five of Children Of the Nuggets. I’m not sure how this happened. What I’ve read has been little help – it was almost like they decided to change their sound overnight. That said, they join a long line of men who can play music who fall under the spell of the British Invasion in their early 20s.

The Beatles, Beach Boys and Byrds all come together on their masterpiece, Nine In the Afternoon. It has that awesome Mr Blue Sky urgent drum beat and lifts, breaks, trumpets fly in and falls around in crowd noise and applause. So many power pop bands would kill to write a song this good. And yet, it’s by no means power pop by numbers. It’s a bit skewered but their off kilter lyrics, and the guitars are a bit tougher. It’s a weird mutant of 60s rock.

I first heard Nine In the Afternoon in a boardroom. It was loud, and it was awesome. And the rest of the album is not as great, but it’s still pretty good. And surprising. The pretty acoustic ballad Northern Downpour is another classic. Plenty of more spazzo Brit invasion stuff (the lovely That Green Gentlemen is a lost Nuggets song if I ever heard one, with fuzzy garage guitar buzzing away).

With their massive success, they had a run of the studio. And they experiment. Little music hall ditties like I Have Friends In Holy Spaces to Pas De Cheval, an awesome Supergrass-y thing with an horse gallop beat. As much as Sgt Pepper has been bandied around when people talk about this album, it’s really the best of Oasis‘s blissed out psych take of the 60s, mixed with Blur Great Escape-era schizophrenia. If there is one band to compare these guys too, it is Blur. Very young men who are smart and want to be different, and have the musical talent to do it.

Sadly, so sadly, this album only did ok. And it probably only did that because of their huge fanbase already. Their original fans cried foul. Shy pop fans could never get past who the band was. I think history will remember this album like Their Satanic Majesties Request. Stones fans hate that record, but pop fans love it.

I’m not sure who in the band drove the vision of this record, but the band is now split in two. Two members left to start a new band, two remain in Panic At the Disco. Which leaves the possibility of another great hybrid album pretty much at zero. At least we have this excellent out of time album, that will never date.

Even the video for Nine In the Afternoon is brilliant. The Mr Blue Sky for the 00s. One of the very best songs of the decade.

100 for 2000 – #87. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2008 – #7. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

Several waves of hype had come and gone before I heard this record. None of that story, which seems to matter to some people, mattered to me. Vampire Weekend‘s self titled debut was a breath of fresh air.

The whole albums seems to drift by like a dream. Less than 35 minutes long, you’d be lucky to make sense of even one rhyming couplet. There’s an afternoon sunshine to this record, and an innocence. But otherwise, it’s a marvelous blur.

I love the vibe too. I know a lot of people hate them for it, but I love the Wes Anderson type pretensions. The William Eggleston type photo. All those posh clothes and singing about butlers. It’s too oblique to be commentary. It’s just the colours they use.

There’s only 11 songs on this thing, and I love them all. But this is one of those happy cases where all my true favourites became singles – Oxford Comma, A-Punk, Mansard Roof. Somehow, what I hear in these guys is the same as what everyone hears – I think.

It’s a great pop record. It’s trying something new, yet it doesn’t try too hard. It’s going to be a delight to hear this in later years. It sounds fresher with every listen. Just be thankful the wave of imitators haven’t hit yet.

If you’re a fan of the BBC series IT Crowd, you’ll know Richard Ayoade as Moss, the fancy haired, spectacled misfit. You might know he is a stunning director, having made some of my favourite clips in the 00s. Oxford Comma is one of his best – a Wes Anderson impersonation.

100 for 2000 – #86. Shelby Lynne – Just A Little Lovin’

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2008 – #6. Shelby Lynne – Just A Little Lovin’
(Lost Highway)

Some years ago, Paul gave me Shelby Lynne‘s breakthrough 1999 album, I Am Shelby Lynne. As a big fan of songwriters with a country bent, I had always heard of Lynne and her records, but took me ages to really give her some time. I adore her last album, an album of Dusty Springfield covers.

I did say personal significance was a criteria. And it’s an album of covers, which is usually a non starter for me.

It’s the sensual/sexual nature of this album. It’s a friggin hot record. Lynne strips away the bombastics of Springfield‘s productions (the strings, the hysterical vocals) and throws in warm sounds and a whispery voice. It’s produced by one of my all time favourite producers – Phil Ramone. I love the originals, and I love these too.

Without going much more into it, but for several months this album was my alarm. Whether I was alone or not, this intimate album greeted me as the sun came in through the curtains. It’s so warm and loving, and there’s of course a morning theme in the tracks Just A Little Lovin’ and Breakfast In Bed.

Unlike She & Him, I can still listen to this record. I guess you can miss a person, but missing the sex is something else entirely. I still look back on the sex quite fondly. I tell you what though. I’m not sure I can listen to this album with other people around. It’s something I find difficult with certain artists, like Nick Drake (or, um, Je t’aime moi non plus).

A nice side effect of this record is I went back a got to know both Dusty Springfield and Shelby Lynne and little more. I filled the gaps in my Lynne collection and very much look forward to her new album this year. Dusty… well. I always thought she was a bit of a overly dramatic diva outside of Dusty In Memphis. I now know a lot better.

There wasn’t that much money poured into this record. They did make a clip though. Amazing to take such classic 70s songwriting and take the Bacharach OUT of it.

100 for 2000 – #85. Randy Newman – Harps And Angels

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2008 – #5. Randy Newman – Harps And Angels

I am always exploring old music. It’s a lonely thing to do. Randomly deciding, because of a magazine article, or a cover version, or whatever, to explore the works of some artist from the past. No real current relevance, just a little side bet with myself in the music-loving game. You’re not sharing new releases or live gigs with mates.

I don’t know how I came across Randy Newman. I think obviously it was his songwriting for others. Toy Story. I do remember picking up Sail Away and loving it. I’ve now caught up, and there’s something about every album I love (especially the rarities on the box set). Then, in 2008, along comes the first new Newman record since 1999, since he came into my life. It’s a weird, but welcome feeling, when an artist whose work you loved from 30 years ago, suddenly puts out something new. Harps And Angels capped off a musical affair I had for many years.

The preamble though, is 2007, and a little car accident I got into. I was on my ass, and probably closest to death I’ve ever been. I felt terrible, and old. For some reason, Sail Away was a record I listened to over and over in that time, taking pills to suppress my appetite because my whole lower body was in a mess. I survived, and Harps And Angels was the opposite of Sail Away for me – it was the soundtrack of me coming out of my low.

The title track is the key text here. All southern groove and spoken word, our hero is on his ass too. Sick as a dog, thinking he’s going to die, he decides to pray, and what do you know? God actually answers (in French). It’s that kind of screwball comedy that has been missing in Newman‘s music for a while. And this album, with it’s musings on war, racism, the economy and death – it’s definitely laugh or you’d cry.

Laugh And Be Happy is about a cynical as the title suggests. The masterwork of A Few Words In Defense Of Our Country compares the Bush administration with history’s worse. A Piece Of the Pie attacks the economy with a little dig at Jackson Browne‘s world saving persona. It goes on and on.

Sometimes, it does sound like a grumpy, too-clever-for-his-own-good, old man complaining about the world. And it’s half true, and I like it. But it’s done with stunning wit, and great song craft. After a series of somewhat monotone records, Newman‘s uses a wide array of colors, voices and instruments. It’s probably the best sounding record he’s ever done.

All the cleverness is great, but the record is anchored into real emotion by two ballads. He tackles Feels Like Home, a song he wrote for the Faust musical, with lightness and an honesty he hasn’t touched since his first two albums. Finally, Losing You, combines the best of everything. The lyrical tricks, the pretty melodies, the strings and production, for what is possibly his best song ever.

He’s 66 now, and every time he’s in the news., it’s always about his health. He’s making a mint doing soundtracks and this will probably be his last album – although I hope for just one more. Either way, must feel great to be an old man who knows you are actually better than everyone. And the world is fool of as many slay-able sacred cows as ever.

A Few Words… was released before the album, as an op-ed piece for the New York Times. It’s a weird song, but used to devastating effect.