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Bouncing back

May 14th, 2010 5 comments

I will hardly reveal myself as the music blogosphere’s slightly less ugly version of Dr Phil when I observe that people recover from the end of serious relationships in very different ways. In this series of songs about love we have looked at various themes, including splitting up. Here we look at how protagonists in ten songs have bounced back, or not, from the death of a liaison.

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Skeeter Davis – Gonna Get Along Without You Now (1964).mp3

Well, it’s easier to bounce back when our ex was a bit of a bounder. Look at the ex of Skeeter (or Teresa Brewer or Viola Wills or lately She & Him): one minute he proposes marriage, the next he’s running around “with every girl in town”, masking his two-timing ways by telling everybody that he and Skeeter are just friends. Who needs that? Not Skeeter (or Teresa or Viola or She). “I got along without you before I met you, gonna get along without you now.” And the philosophical lack of concern is followed by the triumphant zinger: “Thought I’d find somebody who is twice as cute , ’cause I didn’t like you anyhow.” Bouncebackability score: 10/10

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Ben Folds – Landed (Strings version) (2005).mp3
Ben got out of the clutches of a controlling woman (as he tells it anyway). He and the ex moved to the West Coast, and separated from their old social circle. She seems have bullied Ben: “She liked to push me and talk me back down till I believed I was the crazy one. And in a way I guess I was.” She controlled access to him, so when people phoned, she’d not convey the message. Now he has walked out — “down comes the reign of the telephone tsar” — and it’s okay to call him. He’s ready to resume his old life, if that is possible: “And if you wrote me off, I’d understand it. ’Cause I’ve been on some other planet. So come pick me up, I’ve landed” — from that “other planet” and from the West Coast. Bouncebackability score: 9/10

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Kris Kristofferson – From The Bottle To The Bottom (1969).mp3
Sometimes there is no bounce-back. Whatever solace there can be derived emanates from those friends in low places: Johnny Walker, Jim Beam, Jack Daniels. So it is here. Being asked whether he is happy apparently is bitter a joke. Or at least, “happy” is a concept that needs to be clearly defined before the question is posed. “It seems that since I’ve seen you last I done forgot the meaning of the word. If happiness is empty rooms and drinkin’ in the afternoon, well, I suppose I’m happy as a clam. But if it’s got a thing to do with smilin’ or forgettin’ you, well, I don’t guess that I could say I am.” Happy, that is. Freedom, eh? Living the dream? Not so much: “There’s no one here to carry on if I stay out the whole night long, or give a tinker’s damn if I don’t call. I’m livin’ like I wanted to, and doin’ things I wanna do, and nothin’ means a thing to me at all.” So we might think that Kris is not doing well. In fact, he’s doing worse.

How’s this for being down: “Did you ever see a down and outer waking up alone without a blanket on to keep him from the dew, when the water from the weeds has soaked the paper he’s been puttin’ in his shoes to keep the ground from comin’ through, and his future feels as empty as the pocket in his pants because he’s never seen a single dream come true? That’s the way that I’ve been feelin’ since the day I started falling from the bottle to the bottom, stool by stool.” He’s lost that bouncing feeling… Bouncebackability score: 1/10

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Rilo Kiley – The Execution Of All Things (2002).mp3
There’s no post break-up messing around here: the now defunct relationship must be snuffed out. The split was humiliating to her, as we learn in the first verse, and her business now is to get over that. “Oh god, come quickly, the execution of all things. Let’s start with the bears and the air and mountains, rivers, and streams. Then we’ll murder what matters to you and move on to your neighbours and kids. Crush all hopes of happiness with disease ’cause of what you did.” So pretty much a scorched earth policy. And that comes laced with a bit of vengeful anticipation: “And lastly, you’re all alone with nothing left but sleep. But sleep never comes to you; it’s just the guilt and forever wakefulness of the weak.” Bouncebackability score: 7/10

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Damien Rice – The Blower’s Daughter (2002).mp3
Here’s a guy not about to bounce back from what might be a broken relationship, unrequited love, unstated love, impossible love. Pretty much a love that has fucked over somebody to whom things tend to come fairly easy. He’s still obsessed: “I can’t take my eyes off of you”. Lisa Hannigan, giving voice the titular blower’s daughter, tries to calm him, pointing out that she didn’t say she loathes him, as he apparently thinks she does. Upshot is that much as he feels like hating her, he doesn’t. So he won’t keep his mind off her, “till I find somebody new”. So there’s hope for the bounce-back yet from whatever love our friend is suffering. Bouncebackability score: 3/10

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Marit Larsen – Only A Fool (2006).mp3
Marit’s boyfriend (or perhaps husband; a ring changed hands and unspecified vows were made) betrayed her, and now she has dumped the chump. Our Norwegian songbird has “been changing after what you put me through; there is just no way that I’ll be coming home to you”. She thinks she’d be a bit of an idiot to do so, as she notes with admirable forthrightness in the chorus: “Only a fool would do this again. Only a fool would let you back in. There is no you left to embrace, there is no word would make it feel safe.” Her naive trust was broken, and that must have hurt. But she’s in a better place than her apparently pleading ex: “It feels good here, better than you know. Isn’t it only fair that you try and let it go?”
Bouncebackability score: 10/10

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Mazzy Starr – Halah (1990).mp3
Sometimes you need closure before bouncing back. Hope Sandoval, Mazzy Starr’s singer, is still looking for that. Instead, there is a lot of confusion. “It’s like I told you, I’m over you somehow.” Well, that is good. But what’s this? “Before I close the door I need to hear you say goodbye.” Ah, not so much over it then. “Baby won’t you change your mind?” And that awful obstacle to closure and bounce-back: hope. The ex owes Sandoval an explanation which she won’t receive. So there won’t be closure any time soon. Bouncebackability score: 2/10

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Ricky Peterson – Livin’ It Up (1990).mp3
The song has featured in the songs about love series before, in Bill LaBounty’s original version (though that link is dead. The song is on this mix). Here jazz singer Ricky Peterson is giving vocals to the anthem for the false bounce-back. Our friend admits that he had gone through a tough time since the break-up. He even put a service on the phone. And whatever that is, it sounds like the action of a man in a deep funk. But he’s out of that, he informs us (and, more to the point, her). He scraped his heart up off the floor! Oh, and he’s having a majestic time now. Living it up, he is, “right from the women to the wine. Livin’ out all those fantasies I never did get to, crazy things I never got to do”. Now that’s bouncing back like kangaroo on methamphetamine. But all’s not as it seems. “Every now and then I must confess, I’m not up to all this happiness. Sometimes I wonder if the place I’m at is where I do belong.” So what’s missing from making this great life complete? Well, all this livin’ it up from women to wine involving crazy fantasies…” it don’t seem like living without you”. Bouncebackability score: 6/10

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Tom Waits – Innocent When You Dream (78) (1987).mp3
Oh curse you, wicked self-recrimination. Tom and his girl had something beautiful: “I made a golden promise that we would never part. I gave my love a locket.” Tell me more, tell me more, did you get very far? Evidently not. “And then I broke her heart.” So instead of running through a pollen paradise straight out of a shampoo commercial, Tom now observes that “the bats are in the belfry, the dew is on the moor”. But when he sleeps, he resuscitates the happy memories. “The fields are soft and green”, but “it’s memories that I’m stealing”. The song title will have alerted the reader of Waits’ punchline: “But you’re innocent when you dream.” Tom isn’t about to forgive himself for what he has done, is he? Bouncebackability score: 2/10

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Rainbow – Since You’ve Been Gone (1979).mp3
Head East – Since You’ve Been Gone (1978).mp3

Written by Russ Ballard, we have two proxies expressing his thoughts (Cherie & Marie Currie’s version must wait for a couple of months to feature in a different context). Our jilted lover can take a lot of punishment, including poison letters and telegrams that just go to show she doesn’t give a damn. And the cause for that readiness to be reconciled? Well, see, “these four walls are closing in” and recurring dreams cause our anti-hero to fall out of his bed at night, possibly as a result of reading her letter at night “beneath the back street light” (is he stalking her?). His mental well-being is on the edge. “Since you been gone, I’m outta my head, can’t take it.” Witchcraft may be involved: “Could I be wrong, but since you been gone, you cast the spell — so break it.” Oooohwaowaow ohwaowoawoh indeed. Bouncebackability score: 1/10

More Songs About Love (happy, unhappy, ending etc)

Being in love again – Part 1

February 11th, 2010 2 comments

Yeah, I know, Valentine’s Day is commercial and naff. All kinds of idiots will play Every Breath You Take or You’re Beautiful or similar inappropriate to complement the overpriced roses. There is nothing wrong, of course, with letting music doing your talking, but nothing declares love as sloppily as a badly chosen song. To be clear, Perfect Day and fucking With Or Without You are about love, but not in a romantic sense. Here is the first part of a few songs which, I think, do a good job of expressing romantic love, or talking about being in requited love. As an antidote to all the happiness, I’ll do a Splitsville edition next week.

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Lowell George – 20 Million Things (1979).mp3
The Little Feat frontman made one solo album before dying far too young. On 20 Million Things, Lowell encounters the procrastinating inertia that can accompany the preoccupations of being in love. So “all the letters never written don’t get sent” and broken rocking chairs don’t get fixed. He observes the nature of procrastination: “And all the things that I let slip, I found out quick, it comes from moment to moment, day to day. Time seems to slip away.” And all that because of love. “But I’ve got twenty million things to do, twenty million things. And all I can do is think about you. With twenty million things to do.”

At this point the alert reader will remind me that I promised songs about romantic love. Lowell may well be singing, like Lou and U2 about drugs or God. Or his favourite football team, for that matter. But unlike the songs I mentioned, 20 Million Things is a bit of a blank canvas. If it’s not about romantic love, it very much should be. More importantly, it is an absolutely wonderful song that is not heard..

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Linda Jones – Your Precious Love (1972).mp3
So your true love is far away, physically or emotionally? Why, write a letter (the song is from 1972, and so predates e-mail and Facebook messages)! This being a soul song, the notion of postal correspondence assumes fervent dimensions, and naturally God is invoked to deliver or preserve love. Linda, who is addressing “especially the ladies”, provides a template for a love letter in the spoken bits, albeit with a heavy bias towards cliché (“For your precious love I’d climb the highest mountain”). But when she gets into the song that was originally performed by Jerry Butler, it becomes immaterial what she is singing: romantic love, we learn, is driven by passion, desire, fear and hope.
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Ben Folds – The Luckiest (live, 2006).mp3
I’ve said it before: this might be the best declaration of love ever written in pop music. Alas, Folds has since divorced the woman he addresses in this song, performed here with the Western Australian Symphony Orchestra. Ben notes his tendencies to hit-and-miss (and, apparently, miss again), but “now I know all the wrong turns, the stumbles and falls, brought me here”. So as he is seeing her lovely face every day, he considers himself to be experiencing the ultimate in fortuitous fates. And having pondered the random quirks of generational timing, Ben picks up a sweet definition of true love: “Next door there’s an old man who lived to his nineties, and one day passed away in his sleep. And his wife; she stayed for a couple of days, and passed away.” Yes, not the most orthodox way of communicating your love, but bear with him: “I’m sorry, I know that’s a strange way to tell you that I know we belong, that I know that I am…the luckiest.” I hazard to guess that a woman to whom such a song is sung would probably think of herself as pretty lucky too. At least until the divorce.

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The Association – Never My Love (1967).mp3
They gave us one of the great songs about unrequited love, and here they give us one of the great songs about love requited. And not only is love reciprocated, but she is also fearful that it will end, which he knows (well, thinks he knows) will not be the case; hence the denial of the title. “You say you fear I’ll change my mind and I won’t require you. Never, my love!” In fact, he cheerfully admits that he needs her as much as she needs him. No manipulative power games for our friend: with this song he is proposing marriage. How can she say no?

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Angie Mattson – Thank You (2007).mp3
This singer-songwriter is not nearly well known enough. Here’s a song expressing gratitude to a partner’s unconditional love and support. “Sometimes I don’t land on all fours, but you come pick me up off my concrete floor. Even after what I said to you, you looked past it and you always come through.” Simple sentiments that articulate an essential constituent in real love. Incidentally, Mattson, apart from being a very talented musician, is a bit of an adventurer. At one point, she apparently sold all her possessions and moved on to a boat for a year, sailing in the West Indies. While on the seas she taught herself to play guitar and started writing songs. Back on dry land, she recorded a demo and in 2007 released her full debut album, Given To Sudden Panic And Noisy Retreat, on which this song appears. (Angie Mattson on MySpace)

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Ambrosia – The Biggest Part Of Me (1980).mp3
In the late ’90s, Christian a cappella outfit Take Six turned this into a love song to God. It was a smart adaptation of the original lyrics, in which the singer makes grand promises as though he was some sort of love genie: “Make a wish, baby, well and I will make it come true.” Ah well, love is beginning and hyperbole is to be expected. But we can’t doubt his sincerity when he pleads and pledges: “Ain’t no risk now in letting my love rain down on you, so we can wash away the past, so that we may start anew.” We feel his joy when he spells out just how much he is in love: “You’re the life that breathes in me; you’re the biggest part of me.”

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The Crimea – Lottery Winners On Acid.mp3
I posted this two years ago, but let’s get giddy again with John Peel-championed Indie-rockers The Crimea (here with the original EP version, not the inferior re-recording with which they scored their 2006 UK hit). The song has a ’60s-like exuberance about it, and not just because of the acid reference. Our boy is so deep-fucked in love, he even loses his grasp on basic grammar: “If she get a black eye, I want a black eye. If she get a splinter, I want a splinter too.” And later: “If she get a disease, I want a disease. If she go tripping, I go falling over.” And his Mom might rightly enquire: “If she jumps off a bridge, would you jump as well?” Of course our boy would. ”Everything she say, I was thinking anyway.” Isn’t that just the way love is, initially?

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And all this calls to mind an experiment apparently conducted by a New York psychologist called Professor Arthur Arun, who instructed his subjects, total strangers to one another, to reveal intimate information about their lives in face-to-face conversations lasting exactly 30 minutes, and then silently to stare into each other’s eyes for four minutes. Most of the subjects reported feelings of attachment to their experiment partners, and one couple later got married. Subjects who were told to stare at other body parts didn’t get off on that (not both of them anyway).

Dr Arun's research subjects, yesterday

It does sound like a good plan: the sharing of personal details facilitates emotional bonding, and during the staring contest, the pupils dilate, which evidently heightens attraction.

Any Major Love Mix Vol. 1
Any Major Love Mix Vol. 2

More Songs About Love happy, unhappy, ending etc)

Albums of the Year: 2005

November 23rd, 2009 6 comments

It was a great year for fine albums, though only one merits to be remembered as a stone cold classic. I’m sorry to omit a number of very good efforts released in 2005, such as those by Brandi Carlile, Iron & Wine, Damien Jurado, Death Cab for Cutie, Maria Taylor, Andrew Bird, Emilíana Torrini, John Frusciante, Colin Hay, Kathleen Edwards, Nicole Willis and the Soul Investigators, Kevin Devine, Eels, The Cardigans, John Prine, Kate Earl, Richard Thompson, Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, Blue Eyed Son, Sarah Bettens, Antony & the Johnsons, Beck, Tristan Prettyman, The Magic Numbers, Hot Hot Heat, Charlie Sexton …

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Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning

On the same day as Conor Oberst and chums released their best album — and one of the decades finest — they also released what I think is their worst, Digital Ash In A Digital Turn. It was wise that they did not take the option of releasing these two entirely distinct albums — one alt.country, the other electronica — as a double album. I’m Wide Awake, which features Emmylou Harris on a couple of tracks, has Oberst in a restrained, though not necessarily tamed, form. The indisciplined excesses from previous albums have been ironed out, but not at the expense of that most essential Oberst quality: the feverish intensity. It certainly is the most consistent Bright Eyes album. Every song here is beautiful, especially First Day Of My Life and We Are Nowhere And It’s Now, on the latter of which Emmylou harmonises.

Lyrically, Oberst is in fine form: tender, resigned, confused, hopeful, angry. When he sings on At The Bottom Of Everything about capital punishment, he rightly hectors: “Into the face of every criminal strapped firmly to a chair, we must stare, we must stare, we must stare.” And on Old Soul Song, about an anti-war protest in New York, has some beautifully poetic lines: “We left before the dust had time to settle, and all the broken glass swept off the avenue. And on the way home held your camera like a bible, just wishing so bad that it held some kind of truth.”
Bright Eyes – Old Soul Song (For The New World Order).mp3
Bright Eyes – We Are Nowhere And It’s Now.mp3

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Richard Hawley – Coles Corner

From the moment the melancholy strings strike up on the album’s opener, the gorgeous title track (featured HERE), this album captivates the listener. A more even effort than 2003’s Lowedges, Hawley tries to capture a mood of 1950s balladeering, drawing from country, pop and rockabilly with a healthy dose of torchsong crooning. One can almost imagine Hotel Room being reworked as a doo wop song. The orchestration is lush, scoring Hawley’s warm baritone beautifully. Besides the title track and the countryish Just Like The Rain, the standout track here is The Ocean (not the most encouraging title, it must be said) which starts off quietly and slowly builds up to a dramatic crescendo. I’d gladly call Coles Corner Hawley’s masterpiece, but he has topped it with this year’s Truelove’s Gutter.
Richard Hawley – The Ocean.mp3

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Jens Lekman – Oh You’re So Silent, Jens

Jens Lekman featured with his debut album in the 2004 list; here he returns with a compilation of single and EP tracks — and Lekman has an extravagant catalogue of EPs, some of which he made available on his site for free downloading a while back. So it is suitable, and doubtless intentional, that the opening track would be called At the Dept. of Forgotten Songs. Lyrically and musically it’s all very quirky, but nowhere as much so as A Sweet Summer’s Night on Hammer Hill, a song that is at once funny and wistful (and which gets the release date of Warren G’s Regulate wrong and fails to credit Nate Dogg), recorded with probably not entirely sober pals who improvise the backing vocals and at the end shout out requests (the woman who requests Black Cab gets her wish on the album). Lekman channels Morrissey and The Byrds on I Saw Her At The Anti-War Demonstration, muses on the use of the F-Word, and forges the punchline to childhood jokes. In a sequence of three songs, Lekman assumes the alter ego Rocky Dennis (the name of the facially deformed character played by Eric Stoltz in the ’80s film Mask), whom he finally bids farewell at the end of the trilogy. It’s a thoroughly likeable collection of songs.
Jens Lekman – I Saw Her At The Anti-War Demonstration.mp3

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Wilco – Kicking Television – Live in Chicago

I’m ambivalent about live albums. Much of the time they are a letdown: the songs don’t sound as good as they did on the studio album, the live atmosphere is not captured and so on. Some live albums work because the artist’s stage presence or audience vibe translates to record. And some live albums work because the performer adds something new to the songs. Kicking Television satisfies at least the latter requirement (I’d argue that the vibe is there, too). Take Misunderstood. A weedy, proto-emo number on 1996’s Being There, here it’s a dramatic monster — I’m among those who love the repeated “Nothing”s. There’s humour as well. Following the mid-tempo Wishful Thinking, Tweedy announces, laughingly: “Let’s get this party started…with some mid-tempo rock”. True to his word, the band eases into the mid-tempo Jesus etc. With the great Nels Cline in the line-up and Tweedy having polished his guitar work, there’s much to be had by way of axemanship, most notably on At Least That’s What You Said.
Wilco – Misunderstood.mp3

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Hello Saferide – Introducing…Hello Saferide

Like fellow Swede Jens Lekman, who gets a namecheck in the wonderful The Quiz on Hello Saferide’s 2006 EP, Annika Norlin (for she is Hello Saferide) benefits from a quirky sense of humour, an attractive Swedish accent and the fact that English is not her first language. The latter is not a handicap as she manoeuvres her way around conventions to create novel lyrical ideas that are often cute but never twee. Norlin’s mind is fascinating: expressing her affection for a friend, she wishes they were lesbians; she wishes her boyfriend illness so that she can take care of her “teddy bear on heroin”; getting in touch again with an old pen pal, she admits to having told lies; as a high school stalker in the very funny song of the same name she breaks into the dentist’s office so that the object of her desire won’t need braces and then has coffee with his mother. The upbeat tunes are catchy, and the slow numbers are saved by almost invariably great lyrics and Norlin’s lovely, vulnerable voice.
Hello Saferide – Highschool Stalker.mp3
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Neil Diamond – 12 Songs

God bless Rick Rubin. Having re-established Johnny Cash as relevant artist, he resurrected Neil Diamond, redeeming him from the lame-jacketed crooner reputation. The title 12 Songs became a misnomer with the belated introduction of two bonus tracks (a rip-off, surely it’s the initial purchasers of an album who deserve a bonus), one an alternative, upbeat version of Delirious Love, a song featuring Brian Wilson that appears in more muted form among the original dozen tracks.. That song is the closest Diamond comes to his late ’60s pomp, the bonus track’s arrangement in particular. Most of the album is reflective, pensive and acoustic. It is beautiful. And it’s tempting to give Rubin all the credit. That would be unfair to Diamond, who wrote the songs and for whom the acoustic arrangement is not foreign, as fans of his ’60s albums will know. More than equipping Diamond with a new sound, Rubin harnessed the man’s strength and, perhaps more importantly, by association made him, like Cash, relevant again.
Neil Diamond – Save Me A Saturday Night.mp3

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Common – Be

I can think of very few albums on which the three closing tracks may be the set’s best. Ziggy Stardust comes to mind as a contender (though its best song, Starman, is on Side 1). This is certainly the case here. Modern hip hop, especially the leering misogyny and swaggering materialism expressed by dentally adventurous people in whose company I would not want to spend a minute, leaves me largely cold. Kanye West’s album of the same year had its moments, but I never feel prompted to play it. West did, however, produce most of Common’s album, which is good, and appears on many of the tracks, which is not so good when he makes those idiotic high-pitched noises. This certainly is not a hip hop album that’s representative of the contemporary genre. As much of Common’s work, it is thoughtful and socially conscious. It draws as much from Public Enemy as it does from the great era of politically aware black music, the early to mid-1970s. There is more than a hint of Curtis Mayfield and Gil Scott-Heron on Be, and the Last Poets even appear on the album, as does John Legend, one of the few current non-nasal R&B crooners whose music is rooted in the ’70s soul scene (slightly unexpectedly, John Mayer also pops up). Common, in short, is the Marvin Gaye of hip hop.
Common – It’s Your World (Part 1 & 2).mp3

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Josh Rouse – Nashville

On his fifth album, the Nebraskan Rouse said goodbye to his temporary domicile of Nashville before moving to Spain. Where his previous album, 1972, sought to capture the vibe of the year of the title, on Nashville Rouse revisits 1980s indie pop through a country lense. It’s cheerful, catchy stuff for a warm summer’s evening (even if one track is called Winter In The Hamptons), admirably coming in at under 40 minutes, like LPs used to. The lyrics aren’t very memorable here; some are decidedly pedestrian. The album’s most powerful song, Sad Eyes, is also its least jovial. It starts slowly as Rouse observes a woman’s melancholy and builds up to a, erm, rousing climax as he offers encouragement. Alas, it’s followed by the set’s one clunker, the rocker Why Won’t You Tell Me What.
Josh Rouse – Sad Eyes.mp3

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Ben Folds – Songs For Silverman

Ah, the album the hardcore Foldsians love to hate. Granted, there’s some forgettable guff on here. Much as I love Ben Folds, I would not be able to tell you a thing about Time or Sentimental Guy. And, as I’m getting all my irritations with Silverman off the chest, the tribute to Elliott Smith, Late, has some really poor lyrics. But then there is the vintage Folds stuff. Bastard, ostensibly about young Republicans in old clothes, packs a decent groove. Give Judy My Notice has a great West Coast rock vibe. You To Thank has a superb piano break, and the break-up songs, Trusted (“She’s gonna be pissed when she wakes up for terrible things I did to her in her dreams”) and Landed (“Down comes the reign of the telephone czar”), are among the best work Folds has done, musically and lyrically. And having just listened to Time and Sentimental Guy for the purpose of this project, well, they are not bad songs.
Ben Folds – You To Thank.mp3

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Rosie Thomas – If These Songs Could Be Held

The title If These Songs Could Be Held seems apt; there is fragility in Rosie Thomas’ songs, emphasised by her beautiful, sad voice. You want to hold her and the songs. Her family and friends help out again, with Ed Harcourt duetting on the unpretentious cover of Let It Be Me (featured in The Originals Vol. 24). The arrangements are more complex than a casual listen would suggest. Hear the almost martial bass drum in the opener Since You’ve Been Gone. The lyrics range from perceptive introspection to sophomore poetry, but expressed through the medium of Rosie’s gorgeous voice, even the more inopportune words are entirely forgivable.
Rosie Thomas – If These Songs Could Be Held.mp3

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More Albums of the Year

Albums of the Year: 2002

November 4th, 2009 3 comments

Goodness, wasn’t 2002 a dire year for music? Still, there were some highlights, and doubtless a few gems I missed (as always, I can only include those albums I have and like).
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Johnny Cash – American IV – The Man Comes Around

johnny_cashIn 2005, Any Minor Dude had his first guitar lesson. The tutor, a session musician of some repute, asked the 10-year-old what he wanted to play, probably expecting to hear Green Day or Black Eyed Peas. Any Minor Dude responded: “Johnny Cash”. It had nothing to do with my influence; he had seen the wonderful video for Hurt on MTV, and became an instant fan. Soon after, he bought the Highwaymen CD (Cash’s supergroup with Jennings and Kristofferson) and polished up on older Cash music, even buying a live DVD. I suspect that Hurt, which features on The Man Comes Around, may have introduced many young people to the genius of Johnny Cash. It certainly established this album as the best known of the American recordings.

I don’t know whether it is the best of the series. When I hear it, I think it probably is, especially when I consider that this was released only three months before the man’s death, and so stands as a testament (in a prescient bit of sequencing, the traditional ballad Streets Of Laredo, with its theme of death, burial and redemption, closes the set). But when I hear the first or third American albums, I think whichever one I am listening to is the best. American IV has a few songs that did not need to be recorded, such as Personal Jesus and Bridge Over Troubled Water. But then there are those two extraordinary covers, Nine Inch Nail’s Hurt and Sting’s Hung My Head, which Cash entirely appropriates. Those two and the title track eclipse almost anything in this great Rick Rubin-produced series.
Johnny Cash – The Man Comes Around.mp3
Johnny Cash – Streets Of Laredo.mp3

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Rosie Thomas – When We Were Small

rosie_thomasFew singers achieve such immediate intimacy with her listeners as Seattle’s Rosie Thomas, whose beautiful, vulnerable voice accompanies sweet acoustic melodies. Lovely though her songs may sound, her lyrics are in turn sardonic, sad and dark. On her debut album, childhood is a running thread, with what seem to be random old family recordings linking tracks. As all her subsequent albums (other than last year’s Christmas album), When We Were Small has a sense of deep yearning for absent contentment, fleeting moment of love to fill in long, lacerating periods of loss felt deeply. If that sounds boring, know that Thomas was signed by Jonathan Poneman of Sub Pop, the record label that made grunge, who had caught Rosie singing during her stand-up comedy gigs (what’s that about sad clowns?). This is an astonishing debut, and Rosie would get even better yet.
Rosie Thomas – Wedding Day.mp3

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Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

WILCOMy pick of song from this album will alert the Wilco fan which side of the group I prefer: the alt-country Wilco. There’s some of that on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which many seem to regard as a highpoint of ’00s music. Some Wilco purists may hate me for saying it, but my preference resides with this album’s 1999 predecessor, Summerteeth, or the undervalued Sky Blue Sky. On Yankee Hotel Foxtrot Wilco go experimental, with noise distortion and electronic innovations, which ordinarily are not my bag. Then what, the reader is entitled to demand, is Yankee Hotel Foxtrot doing on this list? Well, within the Wilco framework, it’s actually very good, and at times exhilarating as the musical dissonance accompanies the discord in the relationships Tweedy is singing about. It may not be my favourite Wilco album, but I’ll concede that it is the Wilco classic.
Wilco – Jesus, etc.mp3

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Ben Folds – Ben Folds Live

folds_liveNo artist I like ever comes to play where I live (other than Missy Higgins, whose gig I missed, and Counting Crows, whose tickets I couldn’t afford at the time); only megastars and superannuated irrelevancies fly in to fleece the South African consumer (a largely ignorant group of people who think that Coldplay is on the sharp end of the cutting edge). Happily, I had my fill of great concerts when I lived in London. But if I could invite one artist to tour South Africa, it would be Ben Folds, alone on strength of two DVDs and many bootlegs I have of Folds in concert — and this album.

It seems a strange decision for Folds to have recorded a solo live album only one album after having split the Ben Folds Five. So the tracklisting incorporates old BFF numbers (such as the astonishing Narcolepsy, Army, Best Imitation Of Myself, The Last Polka, Brick, and Song For The Dumped), which lose little through the absence of his rhythm section, and material from the solo debut, 2001’s Rockin’ The Suburbs, plus a rather good cover of Elton John’s Tiny Dancer. The set includes Folds’ two party pieces: directing the audience to provide backing orchestration to the very funny Army (“Well, I thought about the army; Dad said, ‘Son, you’re fucking high”) and spooky harmonies to Not The Same, the song about a friend who climbed up a tree during a party while on an acid trip and had become a born-again Christian by the time he came down.
Ben Folds – Army (live).mp3 (link fixed)

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Alexi Murdoch – Four Songs

alexi_murdochMaybe I’m cheating by including an EP comprising, as the title suggest, only four songs by Murdoch, who is usually compared to Nick Drake, and reasonable so. But those four songs are excellent; why dilute things with mediocre filler tracks? Having said that, Murdoch’s full debut album, 2006’s Time Without Consequence, turned out to be a consistently fine effort with few fillers. That album featured re-recordings of three of the songs on the EP (and those three also appear in re-recorded form on the recently released Away We Go soundtrack, which also recycles a heap of tracks from Time Without Consequence). From the EP, the moody Orange Sky received a fair amount of exposure on several TV shows and soundtracks — which we must not scorn; the licensing fees from TV shows, soundtracks and commercials feed many excellent musicians.
Alexi Murdoch – Blue Mind.mp3

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Tift Merritt – Bramble Rose

tift_merrittLike soul music, country in the past decade or so has been molded and packaged to turn out generic, corporate slush headlined by the regrettable likes of Shania Twain, Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift. For the most part, it’s pop that is unconvincingly dressed up as country. The cowboy-hatted diehards may have recourse to perennial Grammy nominees such as Tim McGraw and Alan Jackson, or the bluegrass offerings of Alison Krauss or, lately, Dolly Parton. But beneath the surface of commercial prosperity, country remains vibrant.

Tift Merritt is one of those who work from a rich, venerable tradition without being compromised by the dictates of commercialism. Merritt’s quiet, melodious debut is the most traditional country of her three albums, with slide guitars and the sensibilities of such legends of the genre as Emmylou Harris or Jessi Colter (and, on the rockier songs, Linda Ronstadt) much in evidence. Her second album veered towards bluegrass, and the third album is more accomplished, but this is a very creditable debut.
Tift Merrit – Diamond Shoes.mp3

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Joseph Arthur – Redemption’s Son

joseph_arthurThe Indie singer-songwriter has not produced anything I like since 2004’s Our Shadows Still Remain, but the trio of that album, 2000’s Come To Where I’m From and Redemption’s Son should sustain me in those times when I require a Joseph Arthur fix (actually, I’ve sequenced my favourite tracks from those albums on my iPod). Arthur’s strength resides in his introspective lyrics, much on this set of a Christian bent (of the Sufjan Stevens variety, I hasten to add. The man has his fill of inner conflicts). Musically, he is eclectic and experimental, which is certainly commendable and perhaps expected of a Peter Gabriel protégé, though I can do without the kitchen sink production of some tracks. And the album is a few songs too long. But when it hits the sweet spot, it’s gorgeous.
Joseph Arthur – Honey And The Moon.mp3

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Josh Rouse – Under Cold Blue Stars

josh_rouseI know a venerable music journalist who’ll fling all review albums by anyone called Josh or Joshua (or, indeed, Ben) across the floor. It’s safe to say that the man is not a great fan of the often misunderstood and unjustly maligned singer-songwriter label. Still, I have a feeling he’d like Josh Ritter, though I’m not quite sure whether he would take to Josh Rouse. Certainly the music of this Josh would not conform to his expectation of a guitar strumming singer-songwriter. He might be surprised to hear a musician who creates appealing, intelligent pop numbers, many of which would not have been out of place on early Prefab Sprout albums. Under Cold Blue Stars is a fine album; if it was all Rouse would ever record, I’d regard it as a favourite. It was, however, followed by two outstanding albums, 1972 and Nashville. This set can’t compete with those (but it’s better than the two albums that came after those). I’ve had trouble deciding which song to feature, which is a mark of how good an album this is.
Josh Rouse – Feeling No Pain.mp3 (link fixed)

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Iron & Wine – The Creek Drank The Cradle

iron_wineSam Beam, for he is Iron & Wine, recorded the songs on this album, another debut on Sub Pop, as demos at his Florida home on four-track, and it very much sounds like it. Beam’s almost whispered vocals accompany very pretty but not necessarily memorable melodies. But it’s not that kind of album (whereas the follow-up, 2004’s Our Endless Numbered Days, had a few of those); you put it on to be immersed by a soothing and ultimately engaging atmosphere, aided by some astutely ambiguous lyrics. The deficiencies in sound quality make sense when Beam borrows from old country and bluegrass, as he does on An Angry Blade and The Rooster Moans, which one might well mistake for some old, lost Appalachian recordings. Indeed, the aural imperfections add to the set’s intimacy.
Iron & Wine – Upward Over The Mountain.mp3

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Counting Crows – Hard Candy

counting_crows_hard_candyThe early ’00s suffered from nostalgia trips by people who grew up in the ’90s: Ben Folds Five devotees who refuse to accept the Ben Folds One, Weezer fans who want Pinkerton perpetually recycled (and, to be fair, the latest Weezer album is awful), and Counting Crows devotees who need to compare every new Crows album to August And Everything After. The latter group was hard on Hard Candy. It may not be the (rather overrated) debut’s equal, but it certainly is more upbeat — and Duritz finally stops going on about the heartbreaking Elisabeth. Admittedly, Hard Candy includes some filler material, but this is the age of WinAmp which allows the listener to re-sequence albums (if only to avoid the ghastly American Girls). If some of the album is frustratingly disappointing, the other half comprises some of Counting Crows’ finest moments. Holiday In Spain is gorgeous, even if the album version is rendered entirely redundant by the gorgeous live version on the New Amsterdam album, which was recorded on the Hard Candy tour. Counting Crows have referenced The Band throughout their career; here their heroes get a namecheck by way of noting Richard Manuel’s death (even if The Band’s late, bearded singer serves only as a MacGuffin to a reflection on a relationship).
Counting Crows – If I Could Give All My Love (Or Richard Manuel Is Dead).mp3

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More Albums of the Year

Heads and senses

November 2nd, 2009 1 comment

iris

Very occasionally a group of people get together on the Touchedmix blog and post mixes on a particular theme. Last week, the theme was HEADS, with their features and their functions. I thought readers of this little corner of the music blogosphere might be interested in the two mixes I banged together.

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OVER MY HEAD MIX
1. Aztec Camera – Head Is Happy (Heart’s Insane) (1985)
2. Crowded House – Pineapple Head (live) (1996/2006)
3. Johnny Cash – Mean Eyed Cat (1996)
4. The Dillards – I’ve Just Seen A Face (1968)
5. The Holmes Brothers – Smiling Face Hiding A Weeping Heart (2006)
6. Paul Anka – Eyes Without A Face (2006)
7. The Undisputed Truth – Smiling Faces Sometimes (1971)
8. Justine Washington – I Can’t Wait Until I See My Baby’s Face (1964)
9. The Flamingos – I Only Have Eyes For You (1959)
10. Mississippi Sheikhs – I’ve Got Blood in My Eyes For You (1938)
11. Robert Mitchum – Mama Looka Boo Boo (Shut Your Mouth-Go Away) (1958)
12. Emile Ford & the Checkmates – Them There Eyes (1960)
13. Lewis Taylor – Blue Eyes (2000)
14. Andrew Bird – A Nervous Tic Motion Of The Head To The Left (2005)
15. Nada Surf – The Way You Wear Your Head (2002)
16. The Sweet – The Lies In Your Eyes (1975)
17. Ben Folds – Doctor My Eyes (2002)
18. Josh Ritter – One More Mouth (2006)
19. Kaki King – Saving Days In A Frozen Head (2008)
20. The Lilac Time – The Darkness Of Her Eyes (1991)
21. Thomas Dybdahl – Pale Green Eyes (2009)
22. Ryan Adams – Halloweenhead (2007)
23. The Cardigans – Give Me Your Eyes (2005)

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Justine Washington is better known as Baby Washington; this is the original version of the song covered to good effect by Dusty Springfield.

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SENSES WORKING OVERTIME MIX
1. David Bowie – Can You Hear Me (1975)
2. Tim Buckley – I Can’t See You (1966)
3. Herman Düne – I Wish That I Could See You Soon (2006)
4. Devics – If We Cannot See (2006)
5. Richard Hawley – Can You Hear The Rain, Love (2001)
6. Scott Walker – You’re Gonna Hear From Me (1967)
7. The Righteous Brothers – See That Girl (1965)
8. Chris Montez – The More I See You (1966)
9. Cass Elliot – I’ll Be Seeing You (1973)
10. Blind Boy Fuller – What’s That Smells Like Fish (1938)
11. Smiley Lewis – I Hear You Knocking (1955)
12. The Supremes – I Hear A Symphony (1965)
13. Jim Messina – Seeing You (For The First Time) (1979)
14. Baby Huey – Listen To Me (1971)
15. The Jesus and Mary Chain – Taste Of Cindy (1985)
16. K’s Choice – A Sound That Only You Can Hear (1995)
17. Mull Historical Society – Watching Xanadu (2001)
18. Ron Sexsmith & Don Kerr – Listen (2005)
19. Rosanne Cash – I Was Watching You (2006)
20. The Magic Numbers – I See You, You See Me (2005)
21. Paul Anka – Smells Like Teen Spirit (2005)

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Albums of the Year: 2001

October 30th, 2009 5 comments

I was very pleased that the first post in this series of my personal top 10 albums for every year of the outgoing decade (depending how you count decades, of course) created such a positive and generous response. Thank you for all the comments; they are always appreciated. I should point out again that I can include only those albums I actually have and know well. So Gillian Welch’s The Revelator fails to make the cut, though I believe that those of my friends who argue for its brilliance might have a point.

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Ben Folds – Rockin’ The Suburbs

ben_foldsThe are at least two types of Ben Folds fans: those who don’t think that Folds has ever topped the work he did in union with with Robert Sledge and Darren Jessee as the ironically named Ben Folds Five, and those who prefer his more mature solo output. Put me down as belonging in the latter group. While the very funny title track, the driving Zak And Sara, Annie Waits or Not The Same would fit snugly in the Ben Folds Five canon, Folds’ solo debut exhibited a greater empathy for the subjects of his lyrics. On Rockin’ The Suburbs (released on September 11), Folds took the baton from BFF songs such as Brick, Don’t Change Your Plans or Best Imitation Of Myself, musically and lyrically.

Folds is a wonderful story teller. The story of Fred Jones, the old newspaper man whose retirement is going barely noticed by “all of those bastards” who don’t even remember his first name, is particularly poignant. Indeed, throughout the album Folds moves the listener: in the father-and-son relationship of Still Fighting It, in the desperation of the guy still trying to get over a girl in Gone (“the chemicals are wearing off…”), or in the tenderness of the astonishing love declarations on The Luckiest (one of the greatest love songs ever written; alas Folds has since divorced the song’s addressee). The album is not flawless — there is a weak trio of successive tracks in the middle) — but it does suggest that Ben Folds is this generation’s Randy Newman. And that is high praise.
Ben Folds – Fred Jones Part 2.mp3
Ben Folds – Zak And Sara.mp3

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Hedwig and the Angry Inch Soundtrack

HEDWIGThe first time I saw the Hedwig and the Angry Inch, I was gobsmacked. The curious storyline, the intense performances, the incongruous humour (black GIs in East Berlin!), the imaginative setpieces, the animation and costumes, and, above all, the fantastic music, written by Stephen Trask and performed mostly by John Cameron Mitchell as the genitally mutilated Hedwig, which ranges from ballads and punk to Ziggy-style glam rock.

The highlight of the film is the Wig In A Box setpiece, also the soundtrack’s most appealing track. Since I am urging those who have not seen the film to catch up with it, I’ll restrain myself from describing the scene. I expect that many viewers will want to see it repeatedly. I’ll limit myself to posting only one song from each album here (apart from the #1 album of the year), but I also might have posted the gorgeous The Origin Of Love, with its Aristophanes-inspired lyrics, or Wicked Little Town, or Midnight Radio, or the explosive Angry Inch…
Hedwig and the Angry Inch – Wig In A Box.mp3

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Judith Sephuma – A Cry, A Smile, A Dance

sephumaBefore the Idols franchise spewed forth disposable singers of debatable ability, at least in South Africa, televised talent shows in the country brought several artists of notable aptitude to the public’s attention. One of these was Judith Sephuma, born in the northern town of Polokwane (then Pietersburg) and a music graduate from the University of Cape Town. Her 2001 debut album is a captivating blend of jazz and Afro-pop which fully met, and even exceeded, the expectations observers had invested in the artist since her performance at the inauguration of President Thabo Mbeki in 1999, a year before she made a huge impression at the misnamed North Sea Jazz Festival in Cape Town (the local equivalent of the Montreaux festival). If the wonderful Randy Crawford had been South African, this is what she might have sounded like.
Judith Sephuma – Mmangwane.mp3

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Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions – Bavarian Fruit Bread

sandovalMuch as I love Sandoval’s group Mazzy Starr, I struggled long and hard to “get” this album. It’s the sort of ambient set one needs to be in a perfect mood for (perhaps when one is recovering from a bout of inebriation). But when everything is set, it hits home in its quiet way. If Sandoval sounds fragile on Mazzy Starr, here you want to pack her in cotton wool and keep the volume low, just in case she breaks. The result is exponentially mesmerising and ultimately gorgeous. It’s not the sort of album from which one can pick a representative track (though I’ll try here); it works best as a body of music. If one is in the mood.
Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions – Around My Smile.mp3

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Richard Hawley – Late Night Final

HAWLEYLast month Hawley released a masterpiece, Truelove Gutter. Without wishing to resort to hyperbole, I’ll claim with confidence that it is not only the best album of the year, but one of the best of the decade. Hawley, a former member of Britpop groups Longpigs and Pulp, has produced a series of delightful and always affecting albums that started with his full debut, Late Night Final (it was preceded by a self-titled EP in 2000). The gorgeously melancholy, late night mood of that great triptych of Hawley albums — Coles Corner, Lady’s Bridge, Truelove Gutter — is already evident here. His voice has now dropped a register and the arrangements have become more intricate since Late Night Final (on which Hawley’s country influence is still evident), but the basics of the Hawley sound, and the quality, are already there. The stand-out track is Baby, You’re My Light, which I featured on this mix (which also features Ben Folds’ The Luckiest).
Richard Hawley – Love Of My Life.mp3

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Death Cab For Cutie – The Photo Album

dreath_cabDeath Cab For Cutie is one the most stupid band names in modern music. It evokes the image of shouting and wailing nu-metal emo types, or perhaps a death metal outfit that failed in conjuring a suitably satanic-sounding moniker. Death Cab are nothing of the sort, of course, nor do they deserve to be dismissed for featuring so prominently on the teen drama-soap The O.C. (which was actually quite good for a couple of seasons and featured some excellent music that otherwise would not have received wider exposure). The Photo Album is Death Cab’s transition album, still drawing from the Indie rock of the earlier albums but preparing for the almost symphonic feel of 2003’s Transatlanticism and last year’s Narrow Stairs. It lacks the diversity of 2005’s Plans, but like Plans and more than Transatlanticism, it does have tracks that stand on their own. This is solidly guitar-driven, ambient Indie rock, but more accomplished (or, purists might say, polished) than the four preceding Death Cab albums.
Death Cab For Cutie – I Was A Kaleidoscope.mp3

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Rilo Kiley – Take-Offs & Landings

rilo_kileyIn 2004, Rilo Kiley released a brilliant album in More Adventurous. The preceding two albums are more patchy. Take-Offs & Landings borrows its influences widely, blows some alt.country over it, and voila. Sometimes it works, and there is nothing here that is really objectionable, but this is very much the work of a group still finding its way. Likewise, the wonderful Jenny Lewis is still discovering her voice, which here is still banking on its cuteness before it became the sexiest voice since Julie London’s. If all this sounds half-hearted, then that is not quite fair on an enjoyable album. It suffers not on its own merits, but in comparison to what the group and Lewis as a solo artist produced later.
Rilo Kiley – Plane Crash In C.mp3

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Alicia Keys – Songs In A Minor

alicia_keysAt a time when soul music is dying a gangrened death at the hands of dancing corporate muppets and sexless nasal whiners, we ought to be grateful for the few artists who still refer to the rich heritage of the genre. So I find it difficult to sympathise with those who dismiss the artistry of Alicia Keys. OK, she’s not quite all that which the hype claims her to be, as a pianist or as a singer. Much of her material is bland. It’s safe to say that she cannot compare with, say, Roberta Flack. Judging only from her appearances at the Grammys (which I still watch for reasons I cannot comprehend; probably only for the In Memoriam section), I find her a bit smug, a bit corporate, a bit too convinced of her own genius. And yet, her albums includes a clutch of tracks which, had they been recorded 35 years earlier, would be noted as fine contributions to the canon of soul music, celebrating the derivations of her material as reflecting an astute choice of influences. Despite all the caveats I have raised, I’m glad that Alicia Keys is around.
Alicia Keys – A Woman’s Worth

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The Shins – Oh, Inverted World

SHINSPlaying the song New Slang from this album, Natalie Portman’s character in the fine film Garden State promises Zach Braff’s protagonist that it will change his life. Without wishing to spring spoilers upon the reader who unaccountably have not seen the film, it indeed does so. The Portland, Oregon-based band’s debut thus broke out from the ghetto of Indie cult on the back of Braff’s championing. If the Kinks had been Americans recording their music in the ’00s, this is what they might have sounded like. I have quite enjoyed The Shins’ subsequent albums, which are musically accomplished, perhaps more than Oh, Inverted World. But if I want a fix of The Shins, it’s the debut I turn to.
The Shins – One By One All Day.mp3

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Weezer – Green Album

WEEZERWhat is it with all those people who are so quick to dismiss every Weezer album because it isn’t Pinkerton? It seems to be accepted wisdom that Pinkerton, one of the great albums of the 1990s, set some kind of standard that Rivers Cuomo and the other three chaps must live up to. The trouble is, by the time the Pinkerton evangelists listened to the other Weezer albums, they were no longer of an age when they locked themselves in their bedrooms because school and parents and jocks sucked and listened to Pinkerton in the recovery period between wanks. The Green Album is a fine album; it has some great tunes, it’s fun, it doesn’t challenge you; it does everything you’d want from a Weezer album. Island In The Sun is my cellphone ringtone, by the way.
Weezer – Island In The Sun.mp3

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More Albums of the Year

Songs by the dumped

May 22nd, 2009 12 comments

karaoke manWomen have I Will Survive to articulate for them how all men are bastards. Nottingham’s Mr Sex of the brilliant Todger Talk blog, which dispenses superb sex and relationship advice to men, pointed out to me at the star-studded gala for the Any Major Blogs Awards earlier this year that men have few equivalent karaoke songs which convey to the nasty ex that he’s well over her — and perhaps at the same time signal his availability to the lucky laydees who might be so fortunate as to hear him croon such songs. So Nottingham’s Mr Sex set me a challenge: find ten suitable songs which dumped guys can sing with dignified defiance, and he will come up with his own list.

It proved more difficult than I had thought. Dumped guys don’t do gracious much, they don’t do that “who do you think you are, buster?” wiggly neck thing Aretha Franklin does in The Blues Brothers. As we have seen in this series of songs about love, men typically wallow in the dejection of rejection, hoping that their pathetic puppy eyes — or, worse, an emo outburst — will extract just enough pity to be taken back. Or they use their heartbreak as an excuse to drink prodigiously and discard the basic doctrines governing personal hygiene and housekeeping.

But that most certainly won’t win her back, nor probably attract a new romance. Much better to jump on stage, grab the mic, and let rip with whichever of these ten songs characterises your back-bouncing emotions.

This being an MP3 blog, I’ve posted links to the music files; the Todger Talk version of this cross-blog has links to video files to all 20 songs, except the Tom Waits track (and a couple not of the originals, though the Garth Brooks karaokist gives it his best shot).

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Ben Folds Five – Song For The Dumped.mp3
Song For The Dumped really is the national anthem of embittered dumpees. Ben Folds has been discarded with pitiless diplomacy: “So you wanted to take a break, slow it down some and have some space…” He stood no chance; you can’t argue yourself out of that one. How would you respond? And how would you like to respond. Probably like Folds: “Well, fuck you too.” Less than considerate? Perhaps. But, man, he had just BOUGHT HER DINNER. Now he wants his money back, “and don’t forget to give me back my black T-shirt”. Yeah! Give him back the black T-shirt! The new girlfriend is getting cold!

Tom Waits – Who Are You.mp3
Ben Folds wants to her to give back the T-shirt; Waits wants her to TAKE back what she gave him: lies. And he’s only getting started in what might be the greatest fuck-off song from the male perspective. “Did my time – in the jail of your arms.” Oooh! “Go on ahead and take this the wrong way, time’s not your friend.” Ouch! “Are you pretending to love? Well, I hear that it pays well.” Oooof!

Godsmack – I Fucking Hate You.mp3
It is fair to say that Godsmack’s repertoire of scathing zingers is rather more slender than that of Waits and they do lack Ben Folds cutting drollness, but they sing from the heart. Not only was that horrid ex apparently lying to Mr Smack, but she also impugned his good character (and we must trust that his integrity was entirely unimpeachable before), as the lyric suggest: “And every day I’m gonna blame you, even if you justify every fuckin’ bullshit lie…it only makes me want to break you.” Inarticulation often accompanies a broken heart, which might explain the lyrical descend to the levels subsequently occupied by Paris Hilton on her excursion into the world of popular music: “Don’t ever look my way. Don’t even think I’m playin’, cause I fuckin’ hate you. You’re such a liar; I love to hate you” (punctuation is mine; as conceived by the lyricist, none might have been intended). And with that out of the way, we can finally deliberate on the heart of the song: “Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!” And why not? Sometimes that is all that needs to be said.
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.Justin Timberlake – Cry Me A River.mp3
The song apparently was a riposte to Britney Spears’ alleged infidelity. Likewise, our notional karaoke singer might have been the blameless party in a split generated by a betrayal. He might have done the dumping, but the betrayal was hers. Either way, the relationship is over, no matter how much she begs. “Girl I refuse, you must have me confused with some other guy. Your bridges were burned, and now it’s your turn to cry, cry me a river.” The sentiment, of course, borrows from a much greater song by the same title. That one is more commonly sung by women (best heard in Julie London’s version).

Hank Williams – Your Cheating Heart.mp3
Where Timberlake is piqued over Britn… the girl’s infidelity, Hank Williams (the first one, not the McCain-lovin’ son) navigates the byways of false empathy as he sketches out what emotional turmoil awaits the indiscreet ex. “Your cheatin’ heart will make you weep. You’ll cry and cry and try to sleep.” Just reward for cheating on the doubtless scrupulously faithful Hank. Of course Hank may just be hoping or projecting; the girl might well be pleased to be rid of him, and perhaps with good reason. But just in case she isn’t, he adds: “You’ll toss around and call my name.” And wouldn’t that just settle the score?

Lou Rawls – You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine.mp3
Where Hank Williams’ wishes psychological suffering upon his ex, Lou is more sanguine about love lost — and he can afford to be, since he was only rejected, not cheated upon. His cheer obviously is a mask: when he says she won’t ever find anyone as good as him, he is bathed in anguish, and not making an intrepid foray into the dark art of divination, his rebuff of “ifs and buts and maybes” notwithstanding. He’s not “bragging on myself, baby”; it’s just inconceivable that anyone can love her as tenderly and completely as he has. She’ll regret rejecting him. “Late in the midnight hour, baby — you’re gonna miss my lovin’. When it’s cold outside — you’re gonna miss my lovin’.” His whoa-whoas serve to underline the hopeful taunt. He’ll get over her in good time, and when she realises what she has lost, it’ll be too late. Take that, you wretched waster of good love!

Any rejected fool in love will know precisely what Lou is talking about. Twenty years ago, I was such a fool, suffering from unrequited love, a distressing case of frienditis, with Elizabeth (not necessarily her real name). One night at a club, You’ll Never Find… came on. While she was dancing with some random other, I whispered to my friend: “And I dedicate this song to Elizabeth.” Our mutual friend emphatically agreed with the sentiment. Well, Elizabeth just didn’t love me that way. The way she did love me was expressed by ramming a stake through my heart while cackling viciously like a particularly sinister witch in Macbeth as portrayed by an overacting diva as she told me that we should just be friends. I recently caught up with Elizabeth. She is happily married to a nice man who clearly adores her, and she him. So Lou proved to be less than prescient. But at the time, his anthem of defiant self-validation in which she, not he, was the big loser helped to shake the heavy dust of lovelorn despondency off my shoulders. And within only a year and a half, I was even over her…

…...

Whitesnake – Here I Go Again.mp3
Some men are accumulating experience at being dumped, much like our present friend as he goes again here. He won’t waste much time mourning the old relationship. In karaoke mode, he is proclaiming himself ready to be swept off his feet by the next knightess in shining lycra. And what woman of compassionate spirit would fail to give the man a chance when he philosophies: “I’m just another heart in need of rescue, waiting on love’s sweet charity. And I’m gonna hold on for the rest of my days, ’cos I know what it means to walk along the lonely street of dreams.” Sure, the poetry is risible, but he probably will get laid tonight.

Garth Brooks – Friends In Low Places.mp3
Being dumped for reasons of economic class just isn’t right-on. But this is what has happened to Garth Brooks (or the song’s first-person protagonist). He confronts her for a final time on her wedding day. And as he might in the rejected script for a rom-com, Brooks trespasses on the nuptials in his cowboy boots (and perhaps a 12 gallon Stetson), intimidates the alarmed groom, and tells the bride that he’s down with her new life — as turning up uninvited to an ex’s wedding invariably communicates. “I toasted you, said, ‘honey, we may be through’, but you’ll never hear me complain.” With bravado he celebrates having found refuge in drink among the flies at his local bar (here we imagine a joint where Achy Breaky Heart commands respect) populated by the cohort of low social expectations in the title. Brooks is, as we and his ex can guess, fooling himself. But at least he can get in a little dig as he makes his declaration of emotional independence: “Hey, I didn’t mean to cause a big scene. Just give me an hour and then…well, I’ll be as high as that ivory tower that you’re livin’ in.” At which point his lowly-placed pals join in the rousing, presumably alcohol-fuelled chorus.

Prefab Sprout – When Love Breaks Down.mp3
The dumped karaoke song for the more introspective, analytical man. It isn’t even clear yet that he has been dumped, or that the relationship is over. But our hero is already making plans for that eventuality, which he seems to regard as virtually inevitable. So, what happens when love breaks down? Firstly, you stop the truth from hurting you. Secondly, you lie to yourself (as some of our friends in the preceding songs have done). Thirdly, “you join the wrecks who leave their hearts for easy sex”. Which is why we are presently singing karaoke songs about failed relationship in a bar populated with women in first place.

New York City – I’m Doing Fine Now.mp3
At the beginning of the post I flagged Ben Folds Five’s Song For The Dumped as the national anthem for the dumped, but the real song of recovery, of liberation from the cast irons of a broken heart, is this glorious soul number from 1973. The protagonist is at a more advanced stage of recovery than our notional karaokist, but projecting an aspirational confidence that happiness will return with a new love certainly would do no damage to the prospect of getting laid or, depending on your temperament, strike up a rewarding relationship with a very nice girl. The opening verse updates us comprehensively: “Remember the day you up and left? I nearly cried myself to death, oh yeah. And then I met someone else. She made me stop and get a-hold of myself.” And here comes the taunt: “Oh girl, I’m doin’ fine now, without you, baby.” Repeated often enough to drive home the message: what the hell was I doing tormenting myself over you for?

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More songs about love

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And seeing as Nottingham’s Mr Sex set me a challenge, it was only fair that he should show his hand. Here then is his list of 10 male variations on the I Will Survive theme, with Mr Sex’s links to video files, to which I’ve added MP3s (Mediafire was playing up, so all but one are on DivShare). Incidentally, go to Todger Talk to read Mr Sex’s introduction to this cross-blog — it’s much better than mine, and very funny. Besides, you will need to if you want to understand the Crazy woman reference.

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Black Sabbath – Iron Man.mp3
Video
This song might sound like a big metal robot getting ready to kick the world’s face in, but don’t be fooled – the sentiments are as close as it gets to the male version of IWS. Ignore the rammell about being turned to steel in the great magnetic field – that’s Ozzy trying to say that he’s been chucked by a bird without his mates twigging and taking the piss out of him. Perfectly male sentiments, too – while Gloria gets over her ex by finding someone better, Ozzy can only purge his feelings of rejection by pretending to be 100 feet tall and putting his metal Doc Martens through a building. Because we’ve all thought that, haven’t we, chaps?
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Isaac Hayes – By The Time I Get To Phoenix (full version).mp3
Video
And yes, it has to be the full Isaac Hayes version. While Glen Campbell sounds like a deadbeat Dad making a midnight flit with a barmaid half his age, Black Moses takes the time to explain that his ex was a right slapper who made him work triple-time so she could get her nails done, and only now does she realise how mint he is, ha ha. Problem is, he takes eleven minutes to lay this all out before he sings note number one, so you’re going to have to work your arse off to prevent a bum-rush by Crazy woman and a hail of empty WKD bottles. Wearing a dressing gown made of gold chains might help.
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Soft Cell – Say Hello, Wave Goodbye.mp3
Video
Marc Almond might not be the most aggressively masculine singer in this list (and the opening line forces you to state that a) you’ve had a bit of a roar and b) you knock about in a pub called The Pink Flamingo), but don’t let that put you off, because the glee with which he lays into his rubbish ex is a joy to behold. Bonus points for the subtle allusion that you’re after a ‘nice little housewife’, as the pub will be full of ‘em. I’d mention the David Gray version, but I’d rather not, as I’ve never heard it.
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Smokey Robinson & the Miracles – Who’s Gonna Take The Blame.mp3
Video
Poor old Smokey seems to have spent the vast majority of his life being pissed about by women, but he clocked what the girl in this song was all about ages ago; a window-smashing, abusive cow who needed getting shot of. Naturally, said harridan becomes a ‘woman of the street’. Smokey charitably alludes that he tried his best, but he’s bragging, really. Moral – you’re going to end up having sex for money in graveyards for dumping me, you rotten cow.
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Jimi Hendrix – Stone Free.mp3
Video
It was either this or Roadrunner by Junior Walker and the All-Stars, because the sentiments are the same: I’m single because I go round the country (possibly as a sales rep), I can’t be doing with women putting me in a plastic cage (my making me stay in and watch Strictly Come Dancing), and I’m a wild spirit who needs to live his life the way he needs to, in order to be spiritually fulfilled (by downloading porn torrents, watching back-to-back episodes of Top Gear, and playing Football Manager until 3am next to a stack of pizza boxes).

Cliff Richard – Devil Woman.mp3
Video
The standard get-out clause for any dumped male: She Was Mental. And Cliff (who has allegedly not had it off since rationing was stopped in the UK) is in full-on warning mode about his ex, who sounds a bit like that cat-woman in Conan The Barbarian who turns into a ball of flame after that romp in the cave, advising any other bloke sniffing around to LEG IT. Whilst subtly bragging that he’s been there, of course.

Lee Dorsey – Get Out My Life Woman.mp3
Video
As you’ve noticed, the tone is changing very quickly from ‘I will grow stronger without you’ to ‘Oh, bollocks to you, then’. And this is probably the most eloquent, understated OBTYT I’ve ever come across.
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Jilted John – Jilted John.mp3
Video
The most joyous, cathartic, triumphant I’ve-been-dumped song ever. She is a slag. And he’s a creep. She is a tart. He’s very cheap. She is a slut. He thinks he’s tough. She is a bitch. He is a puff. (and Kid Jensen can shut his gob, the cheeky bastard).
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Wayne County and the Electric Chairs – Fuck Off.mp3
Video
Say no more. But be aware the singer in question ended up having a sex change.
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Cake – I Will Survive.mp3
Video
Sod it, why not? 99.99999% of songs don’t have genitals, and the ones that do can easily be operated on.

So, which song would you nominate?

Any Major Love Mix 2009 Vol.2

March 31st, 2009 3 comments

I posted a mix of songs about being in love last year, for Valentine’s Day, with a view to facilitating loads of romantic seductions (or something). That mix got deleted by ZShare. Responding to a request, I have revised the tracklisting, dropping a few songs, adding a few new, changing the track order. The Jonatha Brooke song I owe to Barely Awake In Frog Pajamas blog. So here is Any Major Love Mix Vol. 2.

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1. Jets To Brazil – Sweet Avenue (1998)
‘ Now all these tastes improve through the view that comes with you. Like they handed me my life, for the first time it felt worth it, like I deserved it.’

2. Michelle Featherstone – Rest Of My Life (2007)
‘ How ’bout that? Waking up every morning with me. Spend our time drinking coffee, speaking softly as the days go by.’

3. Mindy Smith – It’s Amazing (2004)
‘ It’s amazing what you do to me: took my heart and made me feel things I never felt before. It’s changing me, Which direction so certainly; shook me up and threw me around. When we learn to breathe it all in.’

4. The Weepies – Gotta Have You (2006)
‘No amount of coffee, no amount of crying, no amount of whiskey, no amount of wine — no, nothing else will do. I’ve gotta have you.’

5. Richard Hawley – Baby, You’re My Light (2001)
‘But I believe in you and now I’ll show it. And as life goes on you know you don’t have to hate all you find. Baby, you’re my light.’

6. Ron Sexsmith – Whatever It Takes (2004)
‘The sun alone will never do, without your love to shine on through’

7. Ben Kweller – Falling (2002)
‘We could talk if days weren’t so fast, and mistakes just leave it so unsure. Wanna hold you like never before ’cause we’re falling and I love you more and more.’

8. Hello Saferide – Get Sick Soon (2006)
‘ Oh, I love you! I wish you got the flu, you’re the cutest thing I’ve ever seen — like a teddy bear on heroin … You can lay your weight on me and I’ll be your backbone. Lay your weight on me, you won’t have to worry.’

9. Ben Folds – The Luckiest (2001)
‘And where was I before the day that I first saw your lovely face? Now I see it everyday, and I know: I’m the luckiest.’

10. Bright Eyes – The First Day Of My Life (2005)
‘ Yours was the first face that I saw, I think I was blind before I met you. I don’t know where I am, I don’t know where I’ve been, but I know where I want to go.’

11. Iron & Wine – Such Great Heights (2004)
‘I am thinking it’s a sign that the freckles in our eyes are mirror images, and when we kiss they are perfectly alligned.’

12. Mason Jennings – Ballad For My One True Love (2000)
‘And all the while I ‘m dreaming of the ballad for my one true love, searching for the perfect way to say: I love you sweetheart, this is my dream come true.’

13. Joseph Arthur – Echo Park (2004)
‘ The fire never understands the spark, the way it is with you and me.’

14. Kate Walsh – Your Song (2007)
‘I knew I was wrong to jump straight on into this picture so pretty, but he is so pretty to me.’

15. Colbie Caillat – Realize (2007)
‘If you just realized what I just realized, then we’d be perfect for each other, then we’d never find another. Just realized what I just realized, we’d never have to wonder if we missed out on each other now.’

16. Jackie Greene – Love Song; 2.00 am (2006)
‘ Should your mind forget me, regret me, or even do me wrong, you’ll always live here in my heart, ’cause, baby, that’s where you belong.’

17. Jonatha Brooke – Because I Told You So (1997)
‘Could you see it like me and believe what I see? Could you listen, and remember that i love you, only because I told you?’

18. Peter Mayer – Now Touch The Air Softly (1999)
‘And I’ll love you as long as the furrow the plow, as However is Ever, and Ever is Now.’

19. Bob Schneider – The World Exploded Into Love (2001)
‘The world exploded into love all around me, and every time I take a look around me, I have to smile.’

20. Jens Lekman – You Are The Light (2003)
‘Yeah I got busted, so I used my one phone call to dedicate a song to you on the radio.’

21. Liz Phair – Good Love Never Dies (2003)
‘ Tell me what can I say to keep you in my life, all the words slip away when I look in your eyes, because I can never relax.’


DOWNLOAD

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Any Major Love Mix 2009 Vol. 1
More Mixes

Sea of heartbreak

February 17th, 2009 1 comment

Finding songs about broken hearts is like shooting whales in a barrel of treacle. So, naturally, those represented here are not necessarily the best or brightest in the genre (though the two Motown songs probably are). But I hope they provide a decent round-up. The series of songs about love will run for a while yet, but I will space the remaining posts put a bit. It’s time to run other stuff again…

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The Temptation – I Wish It Would Rain.mp3

temptations“Sunshine, blue skies, please go away. My girl has found another and gone away. With her went my future, my life is filled with gloom, so day after day I stayed locked up in my room. I know to you it might sound strange, but I wish it would rain.” Motown lyrics are pure poetry. “Day in, day out, my tear-stained face pressed against the window pane. My eyes search the skies desperately for rain, ’cause raindrops will hide my teardrops, and no one will ever know that I’m cryin’. When I go outside to the world outside, my tears I refuse to explain. Oh, I wish it would rain.” Promise me you will punch them.

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Ben Folds – Gone.mp3
A year after she left, Ben says he’s ready to let her go. Unless she gets in touch with him. But if not, he’s ready to end it. I think we can spot the snag in his strategy. “And I hope you find some time to drop a note, but if you won’t, then you won’t – and I will consider you gone.” As he notes, she went straight to somebody else (he thinks “that you should spend some time alone”), but hope springs eternal, even at the cost of dignity. “I wake up in the night all alone and it’s alright. The chemicals are wearing off. Since you’ve gone, the days go on, the lights go off and on, and nothing really matters when you’re gone.” But, girl, here’s Ben given you another chance – and he hasn’t even set you a deadline.

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Kris Kristofferson – From the Bottle To The Bottom.mp3
Kris was happy once with a woman. She left him and now he’s shacking up with a bottle of booze. “You ask me if I’m happy now; that’s good as any joke I’ve heard. It seems that since I’ve seen you last I done forgot the meaning of the words. If happiness is empty rooms, and drinkin’ in the afternoon, well, I suppose I’m happy as a clam. But if it’s got a thing to do with smilin’ of forgettin’ you, well, I don’t guess that I could say I am.” He proceeds to make his point by way of analogies and metaphors involving moisture, empty pockets and shoes to conclude that he is “from the bottle to the bottom stool by stool, learnin’ hard to live with losin’ you.”

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Todd Tibaud – Unbroken.mp3
todd-thibaudThe unaccountably obscure Tibault in his song from 2000 acknowledges that he was dumped for being a bit of an ass (“And everything about me drags her down”), and he now pretends, Smokey-like, not to be affected by the break-up. But he really still loves her (“She moves around me like the air I breathe, gets inside of me and she never leaves”) and wants her back: “Someday I’ll find my way back in; somehow I’ll cross that bridge again. And then I won’t have to pretend to be unbroken.”

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Don Gibson – Sea Of Heartbreak.mp3
don-gibsonA very jaunty number for so sad a lament wrapped up in nautical metaphors. Since she “sailed away” there are no lights in the harbour and ships lost at sea all because Don is crying so much, he is “on this sea of tears – sea of heartbreak”. He tried to woo her back with another maritime call: “Oh, what I’d give to sail back to shore, back to your arms once more.” Poor Don, chances are that another man has put down his anchor in the good ship ex-girlfriend.

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Sugar Ray – When It’s Over.mp3
Naked Eyes – Always Something There To Remind Me.mp3

naked-eyesYou know what it’s like when a song comes on that reminds you of an ex-partner (or, worse, of the break-up itself)? In this rather quirky tune, Sugar Ray bemoan not only the loss of a girlfriend, but also the diminishing delight in the things they used to enjoy together: “All the songs she used to sing, all the favourite TV shows have gone out the window.” It’s worse than that. Not only does he no longer enjoy re-runs of Friends or whatever, but when he does catch one, the old feelings for her return. Which calls to mind Hal David’s lyrics for Always Something There To Remind Me: “I passed a small café where we would dance at night, and I can’t help recalling how it felt to kiss and hold you tight. Oh, how can I forget you, when there is always something there to remind me…” The version posted here is a 1982 cover by the English synth-pop duo Naked Eyes, featuring the late Rob Fisher, later of Climie Fisher. Burt Bacharach once said their version was his favourite…

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Loudon Wainwright III – Lost Love.mp3
This song comes courtesy of my Facebook friend Garth (to become my FB friend click here). In this ’20s-pop-cum-country song, Loudon is sending mixed messages, and it might even not be all defiant bravado. He seems to be OK with the break-up, but occasionally it catches up with him. “I’m happy that it’s finally over, but when I’m not bad, then I’m sad.” He notes that she doesn’t call him and “I understand the reason why” (but the way he delivers the line suggests contempt for the reasons). Indeed, “there should be no reason why you shouldn’t call me, darlin’”. So he is getting on the telephone, “I’m not calling you for a reason, dear, and the reason is because there is no reason why I should call you because your love, darling, I have lost.” What price logic when you’re missing you ex so much, you call her (or him) for no good reason?

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Amy Rigby – Keep It To Yourself.mp3
amy-rigbyThe Bee Gees asked for pointers in mending broken hearts. One way of doing so is to enter into a loving relationship with somebody new who will take care of you. In this song, Amy Rigby found such a man, one who’d do anything for her. But sometimes even that doesn’t work, when there remains so much residual anger that the contemptible ex still dominates emotions. In this instance, the new man in Amy’s life wrecklessly* offers to “shoot the dude who screwed me up”. Amy responds that she is “trying so hard to forgive”. With that in mind, “Here’s his address, here’s his picture, here’s the make and model of his car. He works until 4:30, then he hangs out at the topless bar with a girl on each arm.” Amy reminds the new paramour: “Remember how he cheated and he lied to me. You told me that it makes you lose your head… I don’t believe you’d do those things you said.” And did she mention they’re pouring concrete on Route 33? But if he does the things he said he’d do (and here’s the address and a photo), he must not tell her, but keep it to himself. Then Amy sighs: “I like the way that you take care of me. I like the way you that you’ll take care of things.” Hell hath no fury etc. (* google it)

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Jimmy Ruffin – What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted.mp3
Echoing the anthem of brokenheartedness, Love Hurts, poor Jimmy has turned cynical: “Love’s happiness is just an illusion filled with sadness and confusion.” He sees other people in love: “The fruits of love grow all around, but for me they come a-tumblin’ down.” Then depression sets in: Every day heartaches grow a little stronger, I can’t stand this pain much longer. I walk in shadows searching for light, cold and alone, no comfort in sight. Hoping and praying for someone to care, always moving and going nowhere.” Morrissey would have killed for lyrics like that. Then comes the threat of suicide – “All that’s left is an unhappy ending” – before he catches himself and insistently resolves that he can find happiness again: “I know I’ve got to find some kind of peace of mind. I’ll be searching everywhere just to find someone to care. I’ll be looking every day. I know I’m gonna find a way. Nothing’s gonna stop me now, I’ll find a way somehow; I’ll be searching everywhere.” Next time somebody claims that Motown lyrics lack depth, please contact Amy Rigby’s new boyfriend.
Previously in this series:
Longing For Love
Love Hurts
Unrequited Love
Being in love (Any Major Love Mix)

More songs about love

Top 20 albums of 2008

December 12th, 2008 8 comments

Everybody’s doing it, so I might as well dabble in the conceit that anybody is really interested to know which releases of the year I liked best. I don’t think it has been a vintage year for music, or perhaps I have not paid much attention. I’ve also found myself falling off Planet Indie, so the “singer-songwriters” boss the list. I’ve put sample tracks into one file, in case somebody is interested. The featured titles appear below my brief comments. Full tracklisting in the Comments section. Read more…