Thursday, 2 December 2021

My Top Twenty-One of 2021: #20

20. Manic Street Preachers - The Ultra Vivid Lament

The Manics scored their second Number One album earlier this year... a fact I found rather surprising. A Number One album doesn't really mean much these days, other than that you've still got a fanbase who will all buy your new record on the week of release, and that neither Adele nor that ginger bloke had anything out that week. But the only other Number One the Manics have had was back in 1998, at the peak of their popularity, with the all-conquering This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours. Its predecessor, Everything Must Go only made #2... a position also reached by my personal favourite, 2007's Send Away The Tigers.

The Ultra Vivid Lament is better than anything the band have done in a long time... though it's not quite up there with the three records named above. It succeeds largely through sticking to a timely template of blatant Abba steals. The Manics have never been afraid to purloin riffs and even wholesale tunes from other more successful artists, then rough them up a bit and glue on the 6th Form poetry. More power to them if the end result sounds like this.

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

My Top Twenty-One of 2021: #21

As we reach the final month of the year, it's time to start my annual year-end countdown of favourite records... and even though I add an extra album to the allotted number each year, it was really hard to narrow this year's selection down to just 21. It's been a great year for music... and despite a few bumps along the way, a great year for me. If only because I got out of The Bad Place and into a job that I actually enjoy doing. Of course, the rest of the world continues to fall apart around our ears, but it makes a big difference when you don't spend your every waking hour dreading your workplace.

21. Lukas Nelson & The Promise of The Real - A Few Stars Apart 

Lukas has placed higher on my countdown with his last two records, and maybe that's a sign of how stiff the competition was this year. A Few Stars Apart is a nice slow-burner of a record, but it's his most traditional offering in some time, an album of laid back country love songs, the best of which fall into classics territory... but lack the individuality I enjoyed from him previously. It's maybe one of those records that suggests he's pretty happy with his lot at the moment... always a kick in the creative teeth. It's also the record on which he sounds more like his dad than ever before... and if you're not sure who his dad is, stick around because we'll be hearing from him very soon...

Monday, 29 November 2021

Positive Songs For Negative Times #66: Survivor Guilt

I had a message from a former colleague at The Bad Place last week, asking me to provide him a reference for a job. I was happy to oblige, and even happier when I heard that he'd got it. (I don't take credit for that, I'm sure he'd have got it without my reference, he is an excellent teacher.)

Understandably, he was over the moon to have found a way out of The Bad Place, and filled me in on some of the things that had been happening there since I left. Needless to say: bad to worse. Just hearing about what was going on there though, imagining myself having to deal with it, I felt the old anxiety coming back. And this time it was mixed with something else, something I can only characterise as survivor guilt. Like those lucky few who got a lifeboat on the Titanic or escaped the Twin Towers before they fell... you can't help but feel terrible for the ones who didn't (yet) get away. My former colleagues and friends, going down with the ship. I know many of them are looking for a life raft or escape tunnel too. I hope they find one soon.

I thought about playing some Survivor to accompany this post, but they only really have one great song, and the beret always bothers me. Instead, here's some Curtis. You can't go wrong with Curtis.

Sunday, 28 November 2021

Snapshots #217: A Top Ten Autumn Songs

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

   Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

   With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;

To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,

   And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

      To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

   With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,

And still more, later flowers for the bees,

Until they think warm days will never cease,

      For Snapshots has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Here are this week's autumnal answers...

10. Roofing material with added bullshit.

Straw + BS.

The Strawbs - Autumn

9. Eponymously and thematically falling.

The Autumn Leaves - Theme To The Autumn Leaves

Pretty obscure that one. Well done if you got it.

8. Singer with a Spanish bum falls in Midlands river.

Jackie was the singer with the Spanish bum. The Midlands river was the Trent.

Jackie Trent - Autumn Leaves

7. Poe arrives too late in the year.

Edgar Allen Poe misses Autumn and arrives in the Winter.

Edgar Winter Group - Autumn

6. Bird of prey kills labourer.

Hawk slays workman!

Hawksley Workman - Autumn's Here

5. Browne songwriter reaches the top.

Jackson hits the heights.

The Jackson Heights - Autumn Brigade

4. Mule-owning Sister From UNCLE.

Two Mules for Sister Sarah.

Robert Vaughan was the Man From UNCLE.

Sarah Vaughan - Autumn In New York

3. Found in dark inks.


The Kinks - Autumn Almanac

2. Crusaders of unbalanced avenue.

Manic Street Preachers - Autumnsong

1. Austrian DJ: why?


Justin Hayward - Forever Autumn

The giveaway, surely.

Before winter sets in, there will be more Snapshots next Saturday.

Saturday, 27 November 2021

Saturday Snapshots #217

Dyb dyb dyb! Welcome back to Saturday Snapshots, where your task is to light a fire using only a twig and a shard of flint. Or, if you prefer, to identify the ten artists below and work out what might connect certain of their songs.

You don't need to be a boy or girl scout to survive these clues... but it might help.

10. Roofing material with added bullshit.

9. Eponymously and thematically falling.

8. Singer with a Spanish bum falls in Midlands river.

7. Poe arrives too late in the year.

6. Bird of prey kills labourer.

5. Browne songwriter reaches the top.

4. Mule-owning Sister From UNCLE.

3. Found in dark inks.

2. Crusaders of unbalanced avenue.

1. Austrian DJ: why?

Can you Bear to wait for the answers tomorrow morning?

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Neverending Top Ten #4.4: Don't Cry, Dad

For some reason, all Sam's away games seem to be played on mountain tops. It's bloody freezing on the sidelines. Even when I'm wearing two coats. Just call me Daddy Two Coats. Or... maybe Dad Two Coats.

You see, I've noticed that whenever Sam is around his footballing mates, I cease being Daddy - the name he's called me for the past 8 years, the badge I wear with pride. Now I'm merely the somehow less intimate, already growing distant every day "Dad". Back in the car, or at home, I'll revert to being Daddy... but out there on the pitch. I'm just Dad.

Rites of passage don't just affect the young. As Brad Paisley says, There's A Last Time For Everything... I wonder how long it'll be before I cease to be Daddy forever?

Some consider Don't Cry Daddy to be Elvis at his most mawkish. Not me. I reckon he takes Mac Davis's song and injects genuine tragedy via a tender and sincere performance. Further evidence that Elvis was the Prince of Pathos, as well as the King of Rock n Roll. 

Excuse me. Something in my eye...

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

Memory Mixtape #9: Learning To Drive

The lady above is Anne Hall, "one of England’s greatest rally drivers", and also the lady who taught me to drive in the early 90s (when she herself was in her 70s). I suspect my dad knew her and her husband through his time as a car auctioneer. As well as racing, she ran her own driving school, and taught many people in Huddersfield how to drive... carefully, not like a rally champion!

She was a tough but fair instructor and I loved my lessons. She got quite upset when I didn't pass first time - not at me, but at the examiner, who "didn't know what he was talking about".

But I knew why I failed first time. Halfway through the test, I pulled up at a big set of traffic lights in the centre of Huddersfield and glanced in my rear view mirror. A car pulled up behind me and I recognised it immediately... it was my mum. I could see her peering through the windscreen, trying to see if that was me in the car ahead. After that, my concentration was shot.

I'm not saying I blame my mum for failing first time... but I certainly don't blame the late Mrs. Hall.

Jarvis Cocker would have been an excellent driving instructor, had he not followed the pop star route. Here he is in collaboration with fellow-Sheffield noise-makers, The All-Seeing I, who I remember seeing live in the late 90s, around the time their album Pickled Eggs & Sherbert was released... although Jarvis was absent that night.

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