Saturday 31 December 2022

Saturday Snapshots #273

Farewell to Pelé, one of the only footballers I've actually heard of. Apart from Kevin Keegan.

Here are Snapshots to ring out the old and ring in the new... though the connection has nothing to do with the time of year.

10. The Stones in 'Nam.

9. Blokes curse.

8. Heavily associated with management.

7. Sounds like he's still vain.

6. The King isn't wrong when he questions this week's connection.

5. Law-breaking clowns.

4. She: is a ninja!

3. Where Weezer meets the Hurricanes.

2. Old Cricketer's a right weirdo.

1. Bomb, by Wacko.

Answers next year. 

Friday 30 December 2022

My Top 22 of 2022: #1

1. Half Man Half Biscuit – The Voltarol Years

I thought long and hard about this. Whenever Nige Blackwell releases a new album, it’s usually guaranteed to be in my Top Ten of the year. But could I really justify naming a Half Man Half Biscuit record my Number One? 

When was the last time you saw a "funny" record at the top of a music critic’s list? Although HMHB are well-regarded by the cognoscenti, there’s always a sense that their “satirical, sardonic and sometime surreal songs” (thank you, iffypedia) are not quite fit to be held up against more “serious” artists. Can art be funny? Oh shit, I’m not getting into that. Wouldn’t want to irk the purists.

Over on No Badger Required, the always eminently readable barrystubbs (formerly, or maybe still, SWC) has a weekly feature called Almost Perfect Albums, for which he invites guest contributions. I almost submitted The Volatrol Years. Only two things stopped me – first, the usual paranoid insecurities; second, I knew I wanted to write this post. But it is an almost perfect album, more almost perfect than anything else I’ve heard this year, and (I will fight even the most ardent HMHB aficionado) the best album of their entire 38 year career. Because it’s not just a “comedy” record.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some very funny songs on this record. Lyrics that still make me chuckle after 10 months solid listening.

Take the opener, I’m Getting Buried In The Morning, full of great lines, though this couplet takes some beating…

See you later, undertaker
In a while, necrophile

Like a lot of Blackwell’s material, it works on a number of different levels. Here there’s the pastiche of the Bill Haley song, coupled with the song’s morbid humour, and then the extra suggestion of darkness and disgust in that final word. When you analyse humour, it stops being funny. Must try not to do that.

The fact I still find this record amusing even though I know all the jokes off by heart says much about Nigel’s way with a line. Like all great comedians, it’s all in the delivery. The most blatant example of that is the monkey joke in Grafting Haddock In The Back Room Of The George. The first time I heard it, I almost crashed my car. Now I look forward to its arrival like a funny old friend. It’s a combination of the venom in the monkey’s voice and the exaggerated Scouse accent. That’s art to me.

Then there’s the observational stuff and the bitter Middle-Aged-Ranting, like the lost dog poster complaint on Rogation Sunday’sHere Again or the public service vigilante who’s going out of his way to bury the worst aspects of modern life (“the odd job man who never got back”, “the ukuleles outside Sports Direct”, “Kelvin Mackenzie”) In A Suffolk Ditch. (That one is particularly pleasing for me as I did briefly encounter the former Sun Editor when his company bought our radio station way back in the day… so the added detail that he’s been left “in a second-hand hessian sack” warms my heart.) Even the most overt “comedy” track on the album, the throwaway nursery rhyme singalong of When I Look At My Baby is improved by the precise conversational detail of “his snidey little mouth”.

Elsewhere, Nigel rails against “the drunken heathen gormless bores in Superdry” who attend gigs just to drunkenly heckle the band (Midnight Mass Murder), and those talentless wannabes who seized upon the Covid epidemic as an opportunity to boost their singing careers through social media, brought to life in the form of Lockdown Luke (Token Covid Song)...

God fled when God saw the bread queues
But fear not ‘cos here’s Julie Andrews
Luke will lead us through

And this is where the album starts to cross over for me. Because it’s not just about making us laugh. On his latest (clearly HMHB-influenced) record, Gavin Osborn sings that “the best way to get some people to listen is to hit them right in that funny bone”, something Nigel Blackwell has been doing for years. There’s a serious point to the piss-take of Lockdown Luke, and Nigel balances the comedy with the pathos exceedingly well on this record.

Lockdown Luke is on the regional news
Sings his thing and laps up all the reviews
And as poor Jim succumbs
Luke adds up his thumbs
Was it for this the clay grew tall?

All this and literary allusion too! That last line is a reference to Wilfred Owen's poem Futility. I’d like to pretend I knew that, but the hivemind of the HMHB Lyrics Project is much smarter than me. And it’s not the only reference to that poem on this album, or to the wider world of poetry and prose. Take the opening to the aforementioned Grafting…

When I was young
And the blood pulsed swiftly through my veins
Before age, trampling upon youth
Powdered my head
With the snows of fifty winters

Nigel freely admits he stole that opening, though he can’t remember where from… much debate about that on the HMHBLP, but it’s a lovely image anyway. 

And that’s where I’m coming from when I put this forward as my Album of the Year – there’s so much more to appreciate here than just the jokes. Nigel is continually pushing himself as a writer, tackling more serious topics such as dementia (Slipping The Escort) and toxic masculinity (Big Man Up Front). Both feature amusing lyrical detail, both also feature elements of tragedy, and the subject matter itself is not made light of, but treated but seriousness and sensitivity. Quite the tonal balancing act, and something that many lyricists wouldn’t even try, for fear of falling flat on their faces.

No-one ever loved her, nobody took her hand
Bore her mother’s dominance, suffered each demand
It was life without
Edgar made it tolerable, but Edgar’s in the ground
Now it’s ‘Doctors’, maybe ‘Father Brown’
It stays her thoughts
Keeps her from the brink

And then comes the pièce de résistance, the closing track, Oblong of Dreams, which I’m going to recommend to the GCSE Exam boards for inclusion in next year’s poetry anthology. It’s a meticulously crafted lyric about finding solace in nature, culminating in a genuinely uplifting singalong refrain which some feared might be a swansong… though Nigel has thankfully refuted that. Still, if it was, it would be a gorgeous way to bow out…

Thursday 29 December 2022

My Top 22 of 2022: #2

2. Frank Turner - FTHC

When Frank Turner started talking about his need to “restate his purpose as an artist” on his ninth album, there was a clear danger of him disappearing up his own arse. Much as I like Frank, there’s always a danger of him going full-Bono, such is the self-belief that’s driven his career so far. Fortunately, that self-belief is tempered with a healthy dollop of insecurity, and when Frank lets that show, he’s a far more appealing prospect. On FTHC, following a couple of records on which he dabbled in Radio 2 pleasing pop-rock and feminist folk rock (both well-intentioned, just not quite hitting the mark), Frank really did go back to basics, delivering his most enjoyable record to date… even if it does start off a little bit shouty.

Frank Turner – Non Serviam

This anthem for not serving The Man hearkens back to the very beginnings of Frank’s career in punk band Million Dead, and it’s an appropriate opener as so much of this album is about growing older and the changes that come with it. He’s over 40 now, recently married, and perhaps most telling of all, has left his home in London for a quieter life in the sticks. All of these seismic changes are touched upon here, along with his struggles with addiction, the loss of old friends and more.

Frank Turner – Farewell To My City

I got tired of London, not tired of life
I’m so sorry, my darling, to leave you behind
We had a hell of a run there, I must go down to the sea
While you’re always changing
It wasn’t you, it was me

Frank Turner – The Work

I’m sorry about the argument at the weekend
I should have listened to what you said in the first place
And I should have been your friend
But I finally tidied up the garage like you asked me
I put some laundry on
Both our clothes this time and not just mine

Frank Turner – Little Life

When they closed down the restaurants, boarded up the bars
We moved out of the city, bought a second hand car
Tried to figure out standing still, for the first time in a long, long time
Cut back on the sleeping pills, and the overkill, and the overtime

I guess that this little life
Is gonna have to do
It’s only a little life
Mostly just me and you

Frank’s turbulent relationship with his father is also a focus, from his early life when he felt completely abandoned…

Frank Turner - Fatherless

Well, here’s a tale I’ve not yet told
I was evicted when I was 8 years old
I was shipped off to a dormitory
Full of kids who made no sense to me
And I cried myself to sleep each night
For 3 straight weeks until I was dead inside
But I’m not asking for your pity
It’s just that fairytales about fathers make me angry

…to the starling changes that led to a late-life reconciliation between father and son…

Frank Turner – Miranda

My father’s called Miranda these days
She’s a proud transgender woman
And my resentment has started to fade
‘Cause it was never about who she was
Just the way that he behaved
And now my father is Miranda
And we’re okay

In truth, this is one of those records where I could quote every lyric, because there’s not a dull song and they’ve all had some effect on me. It could well have been my record of the year, were it not for some old friends who actually managed to turn the dial up to 11. But that shouldn’t diminish Frank’s achievement, because he’s truly delivered on the promise of his fabled rock n roll beliefs in this album, baring his soul to touch hearts and minds, and make you want to pump your fist in the air in defiance and celebration. Two tracks in particular seal the deal for me…

Frank Turner – Punches

Hey, every once in a few months when
All the punches land that day
I’m a tiger, a prize-fighter
At least worth a damn

And then this one, which is pretty much my Song of the Year...

Don’t you ever wake up and suspect
That you were simply never cut out to be
The kind of person they expect
The person you intended to be?

Wednesday 28 December 2022

My Top 22 of 2022: #3

3. Craig Finn - A Legacy of Rentals

One technique for getting a student to review a piece of creative writing is to ban them from using certain words or phrases that they fall back on, thereby forcing them to reach out and find new words, more interesting and creative ways of expressing themselves. A similar technique is used by directors. When M. Knight Shyamalan cast Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense, he forbade him from using any “Willis-isms”. The wry smirk. The “why me?” eyes. The little ticks Bruce uses that make him Bruce. Shyamalan didn’t want that Bruce in his film. He wanted a Bruce that surprised people. And it worked, bringing out Willis’s best performance of his career… until Shyamalan took him one step further in Unbreakable.

Sorry. I went off on a tangent there. The point is, I’m trying to ban myself from using the phrase “As an English teacher…” when I write this blog. For a variety of reasons. But it’s very difficult to avoid when talking about the song-writing of Craig Finn.

Woke up in her bed to a text from a friend
It said, ‘you better come quick
There's been an accident, a crash.
They closed off the entrance ramp.
Hard to really say what might happen.’
Got out of bed and got dressed
And I gave her a kiss.
Careful so that she didn't wake.
I left her some cash just in case.
I started the car and I drove to the mini mart.
Put some gas in the tank.
Paid with the card so I wouldn't even have to say thanks.

Finn’s fifth solo album, A Legacy of Rentals, was released early this year, less than 12 months after the latest record from his band The Hold Steady. He’s a busy man. Both solo, and in his Hold Steady songs, Finn is an exceptional songwriter, a storyteller worthy of comparison to Raymond Carver, with every line meticulously crafted to show (not tell) more details about the lives of his characters. They’re a rum bunch. Addicts and drifters, desperate people clinging to the margins of society, finding little pockets of sunshine to help them keep afloat.

Rachel was practical, she always carried matches
She said she didn't have habits, they're rituals
She threw salt over her shoulder when they rang for last orders
She held her breath when she got up from the table
And it never really mattered that she was twelve years older
Except for when we talked about the 1980s
'Cause I was still showing up to Modern European History
While she was trying to hold on to her baby
She started out teasing me, calling me her partner in crime
'Cause neither one of us were supposed to be in the taverns
I had a suspended license and a court case coming up
And the judge said he was seeing some patterns
She said, "at sundown it feels like I'm riding a train I'm not on
That all-in-one sensation of speeding and sinking"
Fridays making eyes at guys cashing their checks
And other forms of magical thinking

 Part of me wants Finn to put all this amazing talent into writing The Great American Novel, but I also don’t want that to happen, for a couple of good reasons.

1) If he did, there’d be fewer songs to enjoy.

2) If he did, I’d read those words once and they’d be gone. The impact of Finn’s songwriting comes from repeated hearing. The songs – and the characters - gradually reveal themselves to the listener, and we discover new details, new emotions, new interpretations every time we put the record on. That’s why, although I bought the CD on the day it came out, back in May, I’m still listening to it now, constantly finding new details to appreciate. As an English teacher, Craig Finn makes me want to be a better writer.

Tuesday 27 December 2022

My Top 22 of 2022: #4

4. American Aquarium - Chicamacomico

I’ve posted a couple of tracks from the latest American Aquarium record this year, and the response has been deafening tumbleweed. Undaunted, here they are again…

I’ve been running in circles most of my days
And I still can’t find a path that keeps me out of my own way
From a long line of losers with bad luck in their veins
Carrying the weight of a lifetime of mistakes

They say time is the cruellest trick of all
You’re riding high, next thing you know
Your back’s against the wall
You can’t take it with you when you go
And we’ve all got to die someday
When it all turns to black, we’ll be left looking back
At all the things we lost along the way

For what it’s worth, the new American Aquarium record is very good. I’ve had it on rotation in the car since June and by now I know the words to every song and sing along at full pelt when they come on. You know, like we used to do when we were kids. This might sound insane (or maybe not: see above) when you consider that songwriter BJ Barham lists the themes of this record thus: “Loss, Death, Darkness, Suicide, Divorce, Losing A Child, Losing A Parent, Losing A Spouse, Addiction, Recovery.”

I swear I’m gonna lose my mind
If I have to hear about God’s plan one more goddamn time
I’m just staring at the sky, begging for an excuse
I never knew hard until I took apart
That room that never got used

Hardly sounds like a rousing singalong collection, does it? And yet, this is an amazingly uplifting album. BJ has obviously been through a lot this past couple of years, but not all the above stories are from personal experience. Barham has a Springsteen-esque skill of creating very believable characters that blur the lines between fiction and autobiography. Even the most emotional songs are tinged with hope though. The key word in that list then is “Recovery”. It’s a hugely cathartic album. Maybe that’s why it meant so much to me.

As I was writing this review, I did something I haven’t done in a long time. I was pootling about on the band’s website, gathering info for some of the above and I noticed they were playing in Manchester in February. On a Friday night! So, I bought a couple of tickets. I don’t do that sort of thing any more, and I certainly can’t afford it. I might not even go. But I wanted to give something back to American Aquarium, because they’ve certainly given me a great deal over the past couple of years. More than most, they understand the cathartic power of music.

It was a spiritual change
I’m no longer the same, I’ve turned a page
In one afternoon, a three minute tune
Was my coming of age

Monday 26 December 2022

My Top 22 of 2022: #5

5. Rumer – B Sides & Rarities Vol. 2

There’s an old line that could well be applied to how I feel about Rumer: “She could sing the telephone directory and make me want to listen”. But do we even have telephone directories any more? Probably time to update that line. “She could sing my twitter feed…” doesn’t really have the same ring, especially now Elon has murdered Twitter. Nothing’s as good as it used to be…

…except maybe Rumer, who ages like a fine wine. But I haven’t drunk wine since the 20th Century. What else ages well? Certainly not my writing ability.

An album of B-sides and Rarities seems a very 20th Century notion too, but everything about Rumer is gloriously old-fashioned, so it’s easily forgivable. 

Rumer - Old-Fashioned Girl

I just wanna be there
When you get home
I’ll be your old-fashioned girl
When you get home

And if that didn’t illustrate my point, then try this Bacharach & David cover, a song that champions traditional gender roles so brazenly, it’s sure to give Alanis Morrissette palpitations…

Rumer – Wives and Lovers

Day after day
There are girls at the office
And men will always be men
Don’t send him off
With your hair still in curlers
You may not see him again

That’s one of three Bacharach & David compositions in this collection; no surprise there, Rumer has long favoured their tunes and proved herself more than capable to standing toe to toe with their greatest interpreters: Dionne Warwick, Dusty Springfield, Karen Carpenter… and all due respect to Cilla, chuck, but if this isn’t the best version of Anyone Who Has A Heart you’ve ever heard, then it’s time to get some new ears.

Rumer – Anyone Who Had A Heart

The album’s mostly made up of covers, from the likes of Elton, Carly, Van The Man and even Cherry Ghost… and every one of them should feel honoured to get the Rumer treatment. Because it’s beautiful.

One final note – there’s no better album for listening to during a busy commute. Guaranteed to soothe the soul of the stressed-out traveller every time you’re stuck in a motorway snarl-up. She could sing the travel reports and make me want to listen.

Sunday 25 December 2022

Snapshots #272: A Top Ten Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) Songs

It's Christmas morning. What better way to celebrate than ten versions of one of the very best Christmas songs ever written... and they're all worth a listen. 

10. ...Brutus? 

Et tu, Brutus? 

U2 - Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

Because it's Christmas, I'm going to say something nice about U2. They did a cracking version of this track.

9. Hairy camera.

Anagram! And a very young...

Mariah Carey - Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

8. Like Manchester, and a Brummie goalie.

Like Melissa Manchester and Neil Etheridge, the Birmingham City goalkeeper... who I had to google, because clearly I had no idea who he was.

Melissa Etheridge - Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

7. Brilliant lugholes.

The Lumineers - Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

6. Someone's going to make you pay your fare.

"Someone's going to make you pay your fare" is a repeated refrain at the end of the song Death Cab For Cutie by the Bonzos.

Death Cab For Cutie - Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

5. Pubescent ringers.


Bruce Springsteen - Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

4. Top guns.

The Mavericks - Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

3. Enjoy a more disorganised muddle.

"Enjoy a more" is a disorganised muddle of...

Joey Ramone - Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) 

2. Keep it up, lads.

Arab Strap - Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

1. Roseanne's daughter failed to score at tennis.

In the sitcom Roseanne, she had two daughters: Becky and Darlene. No score at tennis is Love.

Happy Christmas to everyone who's ever visited this page, whether you're here every day or you just strayed here by accident and couldn't get away. Every visit, every comment, keeps me going. In more ways that you'd think. Take care of yourselves. Have a good one (whatever that might mean to you).

Saturday 24 December 2022

Saturday Snapshots #272

It's the most wonderful time of the week! Saturday Snapshots time.

But what connects the elves below...?

10. ...Brutus? 

9. Hairy camera.

8. Like Manchester, and a Brummie goalie.

7. Brilliant lugholes.

6. Someone's going to make you pay your fare.

5. Pubescent ringers.

4. Top guns.

3. Enjoy a more disorganised muddle.

2. Keep it up, lads.

1. Roseanne's daughter failed to score at tennis.

If you have nothing better to open on Christmas morning, come back here to open the answers...

Friday 23 December 2022

My Top 22 of 2022: #6

6. Wet Leg - Wet Leg

A couple of years back, I’d pretty much resigned myself to having left (for want of a better genre name) “indie” music behind. Or maybe it had left me behind. I’ve been singularly unimpressed by all the Next Big Things to come down the pipe over the past decade or so, particularly the home grown variety. Occasionally I’d take note of a new American band who were playing those kind of songs, but even they often veered into another genre I was more comfortable with in middle age, such as Americana. Maybe guitar bands were a young man's game, and it was time to put away childish things.

And then, slowly, about a year ago, I started to take note of a new group of predominantly female UK “indie” artists who were making me smile in the way that guitar bands used to. Dry Cleaning. Billy Nomates. Low Hummer. Coach Party. Porridge Radio. Actually, they were making me smile in a way that the old guard often didn’t manage (Jarvis excepted), because not only were they singing about real life… but they were funny too.

I don’t know if anyone’s come up with a decent genre name for the artists I’ve mentioned above, but if they did then Wet Leg would be their queens. Chaise Longue was my single of 2022. I worried it’d just turn out to be a one off, and then they released Wet Dream, a track so good even Man of the Moment Harry Styles had to cover it.

The album wasn’t as instant a success as those two tracks, but I soon warmed to its collection of fun, quirky, attitude-packed pop songs, not one exceeding the 4 minute mark, every one guaranteed to make me smile, with a healthy mix of misanthropy and self-doubt.

Angelica, she brought her ray gun to the party
Angelica obliterated everybody
I look at my hands, then I look for the door
Can’t help but feel like I’ve been here before

I don’t know what I’m even doing here
I was told that there would be free beer
I don’t wanna follow you on the ‘gram
I don’t wanna listen to your band

It used to be so fun
Now everything just feels dumb
I wish I could care
And now I’m always 28
Still getting off my stupid face

Wet Leg - I Don't Wanna Go Out 

I don’t need no dating app
To tell me if I look like crap
To tell me if I’m thin or fat
To tell me should I shave my rat
I don’t need no radio
No MTV, no BBC
I just need a bubble bath
To set me on a higher path

Thursday 22 December 2022

My Top 22 of 2022: #7

7. Gavin Osborn & The Comment Section – Scrolling Home

I owe Martin a pint for this one. If he drinks pints. I don’t drink pints, except maybe a pint of coffee every now and then.

If you’ve never heard of Gavin Osborn, you’re probably wondering What Kind Of Thing he does. Luckily, he answers that very question on the opening track...

I play guitar in front of an audience
Mostly in the minors and the majors
It’s just four chords but they’re played in different orders
And I’m prone to too much self-deprecation

Sign me up!

It’s acoustic folk with the emphasis on rhyming
With well-worn and tried and trusted tropes
I’m a cut-price atheist pound-shop Paul Simon
With a rolling cast of awkward misanthropes

Seriously, how much of my money do you want, Gavin?

It’s like if Billy Bragg had swapped Barking for Bedford
If Jim Croce met John Hegley in the shower
If you cross Pat Sharp with some early Robert Redford
That’s what’s it’s like to sit and watch me for about an hour

You’ll have to come to Huddersfield though, otherwise I’ll just stick to buying your records.

What else can I add?

Well, Gavin also introduced me to the word “weltschmerz” (I’ve had it tattooed on my forehead) in a song that proves he’s a Springsteen fan…

And this world might never turn out how I thought it would at 18
But through tinny café speakers I hear the sound of Springsteen
Thunder Road trying to break through clink of spoon on china
And that restless inner voice that’s a constant reminder
That magic can occur in the most unlikely places
Sit back and take hold, as Mary’s dress keeps waving

Gavin Osborn - Weltschmerz

Remember when you were a kid and the songs that meant the most to you were the ones where the singer was channelling your own thoughts and feelings and putting them to music? Well, that’s what Gavin Osborn does for me on pretty much this whole album. 

Always wanted to be on the Top of the Pops
Now I order CDs from all the online shops
The most joy that I get is from opening the box
And I could’ve been a contender

Gavin Osborn - Contender

He’s even got a song about radio phone in shows. Takes me right back to my days on the switchboard...

Gavin Osborn - Balance

So my first Gavin Osborn album was a great success. I'll be buying more in the New Year. You should do the same, so he can start playing venue's a little larger than Caroline's Kitchen...

Wednesday 21 December 2022

My Top 22 of 2022: #10 - 8

10. First Aid Kit - Palomino

Every year I do these countdowns, I have a little whinge about the artists who wait till late November to release their records. Yeah, you might sell a few more copies in the Christmas shopping rush, but you don't really stand much chance in year end lists against records we've been living with for months. 

This is the fifth album by Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg, who weren't even born until the 90s, but live forever in music's best decade, the 70s. Another gloriously catchy set of West Coast Americana-flavoured tunes that sound like you've known them all your life... though it's still unfair to ask them to compete, after only a couple of weeks, with the year's constant companions. Ask me again in March and this might well be in my Top 3.

First Aid Kit - Palomino

First Aid Kit - Turning Onto You

9. Jim Bob - The Essential Jim Bob

By contrast, here's another late entry, and another record that seems immediately familiar... perhaps because much of it was. Yes, it's a compilation, a "greatest hits" from the best chronicler of modern society in the world of "pop". I feel Jim Bob would appreciate those inverted commas. Did someone decree we can't have compilations in our Year End countdowns? Oops. You won't like the next entry either then.

Never mind. Here are three songs Jim Bob did release this year, from his excellent Beach Ready EP. None of them are on The Essential Jim Bob, though they're all strong enough to deserve a place. Jim Bob can do no wrong.

8. The Divine Comedy - Charmed Life (Deluxe Edition)

Another Greatest Hits collection (albeit one that does feature some actual hits), though it earns its place in my countdown from disc 3 of the Special Edition, the “Super Extra Bonus Album”, a collection of new and unreleased recordings. You well might expect a ragbag of outtakes and B-sides (although nothing wrong with that, depending on the artist, as has been demonstrated elsewhere in this countdown), but the quality of the tracks here makes this one of the best releases of the year for me, full of Neil Hannon's Coward-esque wit and self-deprecating wisdom. A wonderful treat, well worth paying £3 more than the double album.

Tuesday 20 December 2022

My Top 22 of 2022: #13 - 11

13. Father John Misty - Chloë and the Next 20th Century

I know a lot of people don't like Father John Misty, or at the very least don't "get" him. I'm not sure this is the record to change your mind, though it is far more accessible than some of his records if you're a fan of jazzy crooners of the 50s and 60s, performing Bacharach and tunes from the great American songbook. Because musically, that's the sound Josh Tillman has gone for here: lush orchestration and lounge swing. Lyrically, it's a much more complex beast, fragments of stories that might hint at a wider novel (Truman Capote meets Scott Fitzgerald) if you had the patience to piece them together. If all that sounds a tad pretentious, I direct you to the Pitchfork review, which will blow your mind. 

If you can get past all that, this is a great record...

Father John Misty - Buddy’s Rendezvous

Father John Misty - Funny Girl

12. Dry Cleaning - Stumpwork

If ever the phrase "from the sublime to the ridiculous" was apt... we follow Father John with Dry Cleaning, a band that are just as Marmite, but in a very different way. I used to be on the other side of the fence when it came to Dry Cleaning, but this year, a startling metamorphosis occurred. It was all the fault of Gary Ashby, a tortoise that went missing during lockdown. 

People who know more about music than me say that Florence Shaw's rambling, stream of consciousness / bored stand-up comedy routine vocals flow alongside the Wire / Magazine guitars and curious post-punk rhythms the rest of the band are playing in complementary fashion. I hear it slightly differently. When I was a university student, we would record random conversations from people on the bus or in the cafe and then pull them apart for linguistic analysis. Oh, the wild student nights I had! Anyway, Florence's "lyrics" remind me of those conversations I recorded way back when, and the fact that there's some music going on in the background seems almost incidental to her. I prefer the idea that she doesn't even know she's in a band... these guys with instruments just keep following her around, soundtracking her day.  

Oh, and much as I still love Gary Ashby, the track that's obsessing me the most at the moment is Kwenchy Kups, which appears to feature a gloriously passive-aggressive argument about a trip to the zoo. 

Well, things are shit, but they're gonna okay
And I'm gonna see the otters

There aren't any otters

There are

Well, we can check

And I'm gonna see the water caterpillar

There's no such thing


Nice idea

11. Helen Love - This Is My World

"This is awful," said Louise, when the title track from Helen Love's latest album popped up on one of Sam's in-car CDs. "I can sing better than that."

This interaction alone was enough to propel Helen Love's latest album into my Top Ten of 2022... almost. That aside though, this is still the 11th best album I've heard this year, an intensely personal record that takes in childhood nostalgia through the eyes of someone who's recently lost her parents; Born To Run rewritten by someone who was quite happy staying in Swansea and never running anywhere, thanks. 

Musically, this is a broader and more emotional affair than the usual DIY punk pop you might expect from Helen Love, while that title track could well be the best thing the Pet Shop Boys and the Lightning Seeds have done this century. In interview, Helen spoke openly about this change of direction, and also saw fit to answer Louise's snipe...

"I don’t get up in the morning shouting ‘Hey Ho Let’s Go’ to the dog, it’s not all disco dancing round my place, I have had bouts of pretty bad depression, just because loads of my songs are happy doesn’t mean I am. There has always been a part of me that  wants to be Anne Briggs or Sandy Denny. My God, if I could sing or play properly that’s what I would do, play folk clubs and live in a big jumper."

Despite all that, this is a joyous, occasionally heartbreaking, often hilarious record. And don't worry, Helen, I've heard her sing. You're safe.

Monday 19 December 2022

My Top 22 of 2022: #16 - 14

16. The Mountain Goats - Bleed Out

We may run out of bullets
We're never going to run out of hostages

Mountain Goats mainman spent his lockdown watching action movies. 

I'm coming to swat you down like flies
'Cause I got guys
Guys on every corner

This is the result: a visceral, pounding assault of guitar anthems with singalong choruses snatched from clichéd dialogue lines straight from the movies. 

We're gonna need
We're gonna need more bandages

It's an album full of three minute revenge fantasies, but one that ultimately concludes that revenge is rather a pointless (if wholly satisfying, especially when experienced vicariously) way to carry on. 

Maybe you'll make it
To the far side of the hill
Maybe you will see me coming
But I don't think you will
Make peace with your family
You walk softly on this earth
I'm gonna leave a mark on you   

15. Bill Callahan - YTI⅃AƎЯ

It's hard to judge Bill Callahan's records against anybody else's, since they dwell for me on an alternate plane of existence. Sometimes I find myself in a trance-like state when listening to Bill. His YTI⅃AƎЯ is strange, yet comforting. I'm not sure I can say any more. This is a beautiful record. I'll let proper reviewers try to explain to you what it's all about.

If you were a house fire
I’d go back in for the cat

14. Del Amitri - Fatal Mistakes: Outtakes & B-Sides

The internet trolls tell me I shouldn't like Del Amitri. They're bland, apparently. So I certainly shouldn't like an album of "Outtakes & B-Sides", should I? Still. Irk the purists, and all that.

I thought this was every bit as strong as last year's comeback album. Where some hear bland, I hear biting cynicism, world weariness and mouth-watering misanthropy in Justin Currie's songs, from the chirpy "We're all going to hell" chorus of Happiness Is It to the weary wisdom of My Adulthood. 

My adulthood is a masquerade I took
From the other adults that I knew
Little did I know, nobody ever grows
They just carry on as children do
Like I've carried all my adulthood
This thing I had to do
Suspend my adulthood, so every day I could
Be free from you

Hardly Coldplay, is it? And that's before we even get to This City Loves You Back, another worthy sequel to Nothing Ever Happens.

Beware, trolls - this is not the only B-sides collection you'll encounter in this countdown. And chances are, the next one will be even blander than this...

Sunday 18 December 2022

Snapshots #271: A Top Ten Jet Songs

Here's someone who knows a thing or two about jets: old Tiny Tom. 

Which of you Mavericks did best at identifying my list of Jet Songs? Let's find out who was Top Gun... 

10. He knocks over his pint on Peter's Blue daughter.

He's a Spiller. She's the daughter of Blue Peter presenter Janet Ellis.

Spiller featuring Sophie Ellis Bextor - Groovejet (If This Ain't Love)

9. Freddie's German Empire.

Freddie Mercury was the lead singer of Queen. The German Empire was the (Third) Reich. Metal bands do love their umlauts...

Queensrÿche - Jet City Woman

8. Follow this stylish band to get to De City.

You would follow De Sign to get to De City.

Design - The Jet Song (When The Weekend's Over)

7. Reg Dwight's room at the Crossroads.

Reg Dwight is, of course, Elton John. (Who could have featured in this countdown with B-b-b-Bennie & The Jets.) If Elton was on tour, he might stay at the Crossroads Motel.

Elton Motello - Jet Boy Jet Girl

Those of you who know about such things will recognise that as the original version of the song that would become Plastic Bertrand's Ça Plane Pour Moi. The Elton Motello version was a bit too rude for the time, so they changed the lyrics to nonsense French and a worldwide hit was born.

6. Perfect world.

One for Brian!

Utopia - Disco Jets

5. Fifteen hundred hours, definitely.

The Three O'Clock - Jet Fighter

That's a top video.

4. One twisted Messiah.

One, twisted, is Eno. And he's not the Messiah, (He's a Very Naughty Boy).

Brian Eno - Here Come The Warm Jets

3. Virgin takes money meant for one man and gives it to another.

Mary is robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Peter, Paul & Mary - Leaving On A Jet Plane

I prefer John Denver's version, but he's featured here before. PP&M haven't.

2. Albert's Devil Men.


Steve Miller Band - Jet Airliner

1. Caught in the middle of the swing shift, without a shroud.

No pall (or Paul) in the middle of this SWING Shift...

They're only the band the Beatles could have been.

Jet on back here next Saturday morning for more Snapshots.

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