Thursday, 24 December 2015

My Top Ten Albums of 2015 - Number One

Shoo-do-bop-bop, shoo-do-bop-bop...

We need more shoo-do-bop-bops in contemporary popular music, of that I have know doubt at all.

My very first thought on hearing John Grant was realising a new album... Will it be as good as Pale Green Ghosts? Will it be my album of the year (as that was in 2013)? Can he do it again?

The weight of too much expectation is never a good thing when it comes to judging new music. When an artist delivers an album that makes us laugh, cry and see the world in a different way, they're damned when it comes to the follow up. So while Grey Tickles isn't quite the album Green Ghosts was, it's still an amazing piece of work from an artist with one of the most individual and entertaining voices in music.

The record opens (and closes) with the popular Corinthians wedding reading, "Love is patient, love is kind..." and certain tracks suggest that Grant is a little more happy and settled in his love life than on the previous album...
Sure, I like to see the fellas
Skateboard in their Vans
Stripped down to their shorts
So they can work on their tans
I know I shouldn't care
'Cause I'm a taken man
But I guess you can look
Nobody said that you can't...
That's from Global Warming, a typically sly and witty JG number in which he also wonders how he can possibly live in a world without Madeline Kahn (to be honest, I didn't even know she was dead, but it was 16 years ago, so you'd think he'd be over it by now) before complaining that "global warming is ruining my fair complexion". I found myself wondering if this was the kind of song Morrissey might write if he'd finally step out of the closet and lighten up a bit. We'll probably never know.

So, yes, there are love songs here. Most notably Disappointing (with guest vocals from Tracy Thorn) in which Grant lists everything he finds disappointing "compared to you"...
Frances Bacon
And the Dolomites
Ballet dancers
With or without tights
Central Park on an Autumn day
Will always be stunning
And never cliche...
"There's nothing more beautiful than your smiles as it conquers your face" is a cliche, but one written and delivered with the punch of poetry. And that's what makes Grant stand out as the best lyricist of the 21st Century.

Elsewhere, he brings the lust on Snug Slacks, coming on like a gay Prince and out-camping both the Scissor Sisters and Stephin Merritt in the process. It is the filthiest song you'll hear all year (yes, I know I said that was Philomena by The Decemberists... but I had to reconsider), but also one of the funniest, particularly when John tries to woo his fella by getting him tickets to see Joan Baez...
Oh, I guess I misunderstood
I've never heard of Joan As Policewoman
But I do love me some Angie Dickinson
And let's be clear: Joan Baez makes
GG Allin look like Charlene Tilton
OK, so the references are pretty obscure, but if you get them, you'll be howling. And if you don't, it really doesn't matter: it's all in the delivery.

And then comes Voodoo Doll, the finest 'cheer up, it'll be all right' song you'll hear this year. If only we could use a voodoo doll to make our sad friends feel better as John does here. It'd be a much more positive use of creole magic than sticking pins in your enemies...
I made a voodoo doll of you
Then I gave it some chicken soup
Did you feel any warmth down deep inside?
Did you feel how your blues went away and died?
However, if you think all this means John has left behind the arch bitterness and cynicism that marked much of his previous work, you can rest assured you'll find plenty of that here too: most notably on the stunning You And Him (featuring Amanda Palmer: damn, but he sure knows how to pick his collaborators) in which he suggests a new beau for his ex-boyfriend...
You and Hitler oughta tie the knot
You could do it at Taco Bell
To spice up the plot
Get on the phone
And call your buddy Pol Pot
You could play some Twister
And watch Heavy Metal Parking Lot
(I had to google Heavy Metal Parking Lot to check if it was a real thing or just the product of Grant's wicked imagination. I'm not sure which would have been better. Sadly, although it does exist, it's not a reality show where Lemmy, Lars and Clownface from Slipknot work as valet parking attendants... with hilarious consequences. But it ought to be.)

I could go on, but the fact that I could write about - and heavily quote - just about every track on this album should be enough to convince me. John Grant has done it again. He may have Grey Tickles (an Icelandic expression for middle age) and Black Pressure (Turkish for nightmares) but he'll forever have my respect and admiration.

Now I'm really scared about his next record...

And that was my year in music. Which of your favourites did I miss out? Do let me know. Happy Christmas. See you in '16.


  1. I've enjoyed everything I've heard from 'Grey Tickles Black Pressure', yet have somehow failed to check out the whole album. I must make amends.
    Happy Christmas to you and yours Rol.

  2. Merry Christmas Rol - enjoyed your top 10

    1. Thank you - and thanks for encouraging me to visit more charity shops this year. I've found some really diamonds among the dust.

  3. I'm afraid my mid-life crisis has continued into 2015, so at least 90% of what I listened to this year was metal, although I at least worked out what sort of stuff I don't like, what sites to trust for reviews, etc. Of the stuff in your top 20, the only albums I have are the Kacey Musgraves album (which I really like) and the Father John Misty album (which I really liked the one time I played it and need to play a bit more). I will try and check out some of the other stuff on your list, particularly the John Grant album, as I liked his previous album quite a lot.

    My favourite non-metal album this year was 'Art Angels' by Grimes, which I love. The new Killing Joke album, 'Pylon', is also very good. Metal favourites from this year include: 'Children of the Night' by Tribulation; 'Feel The Misery' by My Dying Bride; 'In Times' by Enslaved; 'Hearts of Akamon' by Nechochwen (Native American metal); 'Enki' by Melechesh (Middle-Eastern metal); 'Graveward' by Sigh (absolutely mental Japanese horror metal); 'Sleep at the Edge of the Earth' by Wilderun (folk metal); and 'Tau Cross' by Tau Cross.

    Sorry to clutter your blog with metal. I should probably start a blog of my own for this sort of thing, but I think I’d have to do it under an alias.

    Hope you had a nice Christmas and have a good New Year, Rol!

  4. Hey, I use my real name and I like Barry Manilow and the first Bruce Willis album. Metal can't be more embarrassing than that.

    I thought I was too old to get into Grimes, but you're older than me so maybe I should give her a listen.

    Happy New Year, Rob.

  5. I liked that Bruce Willis album when it came out (I didn't buy it but my best friend did, so I heard it a lot). Not sure if I could stomach it now.

    As someone who owns more than one Kelly Clarkson album, I have things in my music library that are a lot more embarrassing than any of the metal I've bought over the last few years. If I did start music blog, I think I would use an alias (at least to start with) mainly because I don't feel as confident writing about music as I do writing about comics, etc. I should probably finish my book before I go starting another blog, though, as I spend way too much time looking up music online as it is.

    The Grimes album is really good but I like girly pop almost as much as I like albums by growling Scandinavians who sing about nothing but Vikings and the Norse Gods, so it's right up my street.

    1. From my limited exposure to Grimes, I wouldn't have thought of her as girly pop. I'm slightly more intrigued now.

      Writing a music blog does cause me to buy more music than is healthy... As though I somehow feel I owe it to my "readers" (ha!) to have heard every single song ever recorded when I make these lists. Ridiculous, I know, but it's the only hobby I have left.

    2. I used to feel that way when I was writing reviews for Comics On The Ration and was buying stuff just to review it sometimes. At least with Spotify (etc.) I could review albums I don't like without buying them. I might give it a go some time next year.

      The new Grimes album is very poppy, much more so than her previous album, which I have but haven't played much (yet).

  6. Based on your praise I picked up the cd from the library and listened to it in the car last night. The opener is bizarre to say the least. My opinion hasn't settled yet, but I really got into the album from track 5 and onwards. I enjoyed the sporadic old school synthisizer work and was struck by how similar the vocal style is (in a good way) to Neil Hannon from The Divine Comedy. Do you know the album Regeneration (2001)? I think you'd like it.

    Just noticed the banner on the sidebar, congratulations on your e-book! Looks like a novel I would want to read.

    1. Thanks, Chris. Yes, I'm a huge Neil Hannon fan, and I can see the comparison - "intellectual camp" or somesuch. Hope the record grows on you.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...