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Albums of the Year: 2003

November 11th, 2009 7 comments

Before we move to my Top 10 albums of 2003 — a purely subjective choice of albums from that year which I enjoy, rather than an attempt at a best-of list — let me apologise for the confusion created by wrong links in last week’s two posts, and thank the kind people who alerted me to them. It was a little negligent of me not to test the links first. I have worked out what the trouble was: on Mediafire’s infuriatingly redesigned site, the “copy link” button is seriously wonky; instead of copying the link for the requested file, it copies the link of the first file in the upload folder (in last week’s instance the Iron & Wine song). So, here’s an urgent message to Mediafire, Facebook and all other services: please don’t innovate yourselves into oblivion. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

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Josh Rouse – 1972

josh_rouseTo mark his 30th birthday, Josh Rouse decided to record a concept album intended to evoke the year of his birth. I’ve written about the cover before here. In that post, I wrote the following about the album itself. 1972 might easily have turned out as a pastiche of the worst clichés. Happily, it didn’t: the sound is contemporary. Rouse evokes rather than recreates what he imagines were the sounds of 1972. Imagine the concept as the subtle but essential spice in a delicious meal. The album borrows its influences wisely: James, a song about alcoholism which appears on the first Any Major Flute mix, is a psychedelic soul workout, with Jim Hoke’s excellent jazz flute and Rouse’s falsetto positioning the song closest to 1972. Elsewhere, swirling strings and saxophone (also by Hoke), handclaps and Latin percussions serve as a marker for the ’70s influence being filtered through Rouse’s sound.
Josh Rouse – Rise.mp3
Josh Rouse – Love Vibration.mp3

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Lloyd Cole – Music In A Foreign Language

lloyd_coleLloyd Cole used to get such a bad rap back in the day. I could never understand the charges of Cole being pretentious. Even Easy Pieces, the second Lloyd Cole & the Commotions album which Cole has virtually disowned (on account of having been rushed by the record company to prematurely complete it), has many great and not particularly pretentious moments. Having broken up the Commotions after three albums, Cole’s solo career didn’t really take off. That is a shame. On Music In A Foreign Language, Cole continued on the acoustic trip he began on the previous album. Here it’s just him, his guitar and minimal backing music, with Lloyd singing his melancholy, beautiful songs straight on to his computer. The whole exercise is so intimate, listeners may be forgiven if they feel like they are intruding on a private moment. Lyrically he is on introspective top form. I don’t listen to this album nearly often enough.
Lloyd Cole – Music In A Foreign Language.mp3

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Death Cab For Cutie – Transatlanticism

death_cab_transatlanticismThis is the album where Death Cab for Cutie crossed the line from oddly-named Indie group to serious rock band. Transatlanticism is something of a rock symphony; it’s not rewarding to pluck out its songs in isolation, except perhaps the excellent opener, The New Year, and the acoustic coda, A Lack Of Color. It’s the kind of lush album one must hear in full, preferably with headphones while in a kicked back mood, being immersed in the sound. Lyrically it has its moment, such as the story of the protagonist in Title And Registration who finds a forgotten photo of an ex-girlfriend after being pulled over by a cop (it also features the annoying line: “The glove compartment is accurately named”; thanks for pointing that out, Gibbard).
Death Cab for Cutie – A Lack of Color.mp3

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Colin Hay – Man @ Work

man@workThe title of the album is an obvious reference to the Australian band with which Scottish-born Colin Hay had some chart success in the early ’80s. Here Hay revisits some of his best songs from his solo repertoire as well as the Men At Work catalogue. None of these re-recordings do their originals injustice. The acoustic versions of the three big Men At Work hits — Down Under, Who Can It Be Now and Overkill — are strikingly remade and worth the price of the CD alone, especially the far superior interpretation of Overkill. There is also a more faithful reworking of Down Under, with brass replacing the flute; and fine remakes of Men At Work’s Be Good Johnny and It’s A Mistake.

Hay fans will have their own views on which versions here eclipse the original. Looking For Jack is vastly improved here, but I prefer the less dreamy version of Beautiful World on Going Somewhere to that reproduced here from 2002’s Company Of Strangers. Hay does recycle enthusiastically; the recording of Waiting For My Real Life To Begin here is the same as that on Going Somewhere; he recorded a rockier, inferior version for 2005’s Topanga, named after the California town where he now lives.
Colin Hay – Overkill (acoustic).mp3

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The Minus 5 – Down With Wilco

minus5The title of The Minus 5’s fifth album notes the involvement of Tweedy and pals in its production, not an antipathy towards Chicago’s finest (and the group was doubtless aware of the title’s gag). A project of songwriter Scott McCaughey, leader of The Young Fresh Fellows and touring bassist for Robyn Hitchcock, this incarnation of Minus 5 also includes long-time collaborator Peter Buck of R.E.M. and Ken Stringfellow of the Posies. The sound borrows heavily from White Album period Beatles, early Byrds and the Hollies (Life Left Him There sounds more than a bit like Jennifer Eccles), filtered through an ambient alt.country colander. Wilco’s mark is evident but not overbearing, and Tweedy’s voice is welcome when it pops up. There is a joy in the sound which suggests that the collaborators had great fun recording it. This is an upbeat album that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Minus 5 – Where Will You Go.mp3

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Richard Hawley – Lowedges

hawley_lowedgesAll of Richard Hawley’s five full albums will feature in my Top 10s of the ’00s. All of five of them are superb; all are beautifully orchestrated with Hawley’s attractive baritone giving life to his fine, often melancholy lyrics. So when I declare that Lowedges is my least favourite Hawley album, I am being somewhat unfair to what is a fine album. The songs on Lowedges are as affecting as any; one wants to live inside them. Don’t Miss Your Water, On The Ledge, The Nights Are Made For Us or the dramatic Run For Me are as good as almost any Hawley songs. Lowedge’s The Motorcycle Song probably is my least favourite Hawley song; and even that is not terrible.
Richard Hawley – The Nights Are Made For Us.mp3

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Damien Rice – O

damien_riceO, but Damien was one overwrought lad. You fear for him in what must be a terribly fragile state. But, goodness, there are some beautiful songs on this album, and some heartwrenching lyrics. Rice is not a very good singer, so all the happier the moments when Lisa Hannigan supports him (although, typically, only to make poor Damien even more heartbroken). There are no clunkers on this set, and a bunch of quite brilliant songs, particularly The Blower’s Daughter, Volcano, Eskimo (with the operatic interlude), and Delicate. And Cannonball, which eclipses all of them. The album’s inclusion in this post is something of an anomaly. O was released in Ireland in 2002; after slow-burning success which eventually took the album into the UK top 10, it was released internationally in 2003.
Damien Rice – Eskimo.mp3

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Rosie Thomas – Only With Laughter Can You Win

rosie_thomas_laughterOf Rosie Thomas’ four albums (excluding last year’s Christmas effort), this is the one on which she is most explicit about her Christian faith. That is good news, of course, for the believer, but should not put off the religious sceptic, for her brand of Christianity — like that of her frequent collaborators Damien Jurado and Sufjan Stevens —bashes no Bible and does not glorify or moralise. Mostly, she is asking God how the hell she is supposed to live this life. Indeed, the evangelical fundamentalists might well call Rosie a Maoist Osama Nazi, as is their objectionable wont, should they encounter lyrics like this, on Tell Me Now: “How am I to tell them if they never follow Christ that heaven doesn’t hold a place for them…when I’m no better than them.” Christ is periodically present; and He should be: the album was recorded in Detroit’s 19th century St John’s church.

The music, as on all Rosie’s albums (which is another way of saying predictably), is intimate, delicate and entirely gorgeous — but there isn’t much by way of the victory-aiding laughter in the title. Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam makes an appearance on Red Rover, alas the weakest track on this album, which is also the weakest of in the Rosie Thomas catalogue — though here I hasten to invoke the Hawley doctrine.
Rosie Thomas – I Play Music.mp3

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The Darkness – Permission To Land

darknessWas it all a glorious piss-take, lending heavy rock all the camp that Queen fans so routinely denied in their group because the band’s name provided absolutely no clue? The cover of Permission To Land even aped the sexism we occasionally encountered in Queen (remember the Fat Bottomed Girls poster that came with the Jazz album?). The debut, unlike the follow-up, borrowed its influences more broadly than merely Queen, of course. The Darkness swigged copiously from the vats of hair metal, Van Halenesque CocRock, and AC/DC. Singer Justin Hawkins camped it up in striped spandex trousers, while bassist Frankie Pullain played the straight man. It was all a bit Spinal Tap, and if not quite a spoof or wind-up, then certainly rock music performed with a wink and a nod. And yet, the Darkness was not a novelty act; they took their music seriously and wanted the listener to have fun with it. They even gave us a damn good power ballad, featured here.
The Darkness – Love Is Only A Feeling.mp3

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eastmountainsouth – eastmountainsouth

eastmountainsouthBefore there were The Weepies, there were the shift- and space-bar boycotting eastmountainsouth. Discovered by Robbie Robertson, the folk-pop duo released only this one album, before Kat Maslich Bode and Peter Bradley Adams went their own way. That’s a pity; the album is lovely. It does not spring surprises on the listener; indeed, played in the wrong mood, it could be considered boring. The songs don’t go beyond mid-tempo, and they don’t always engage as immediately as those of fellow folkie Rosie Thomas. But the harmonies are exquisite, the vibe is warm. This is an album to savour on a lazy, preferably rainy weekend over a cup of coffee.
eastmountainsouth – Ghost.mp3

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More Albums of the Year

Albums of the Year: 2000

October 21st, 2009 13 comments

Perusing the calendar, I was shocked to realise that the current decade — what some people call the “Noughties” — is almost over; that we’re about to start the 2010s. And here I am still getting used to the idea of the new millennium. So, with this decade coming to an end soon, it seems right to review my top 10 albums of this period. I’ll try to avoid joining the critical consensus (which probably agrees on albums I either never heard of or don’t like), and obviously I can’t list albums I don’t have. So, no Kid A here.

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1. Johnny Cash – American III: Solitary Man

cash_solitary_manIt’s not necessarily the best album in Cash’s American series, but probably the only one that’ll top one of my annual charts. It certainly is a fine album, with an astute song selection (no peculiar choices such as Personal Jesus, which appeared on the follow-up). Cash had previously taken a Sting song, Hung My Head, and entirely appropriated it, leaving Sting’s original sound like a pale, inadequate and ill-advised cover version by an inferior hack. Here Cash repeats the trick with One, lending gravitas to a song that in Bono’s hands sounds overwrought (Bono really meant it, man). But it is what Cash and producer Rick Rubin do with Nick Cave’s The Mercy Seat that blows me away. For this album, Rubin roped in a few heavy-hitters, including Tom Petty and Will Oldham. I’m not sure it was necessary to do so.
Johnny Cash – One.mp3
Johnny Cash – The Mercy Seat.mp3

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2. D’Angelo – Voodoo

d'angelo_voodooAfter 2000, I began falling off Planet Soul. Voodoo was the genre’s last high-water mark, even if the likes of india.arie, Erykah Badu and (to some extent) Alicia Keys proceeded to release decent albums (and I suppose John Legend isn’t bad either, even though I own nothing by the man). Before too long, it became a law that soul singers must have uniformly nasal, almost pre-pubescent voices and sing about sex a lot without projecting any confidence that they really know what to do in the sack. D’Angelo, on the other hand, left us in no doubt that he knew exactly how to create a concerto of orgasms.

In terms of soul, D’Angelo fused all that came before, plus a strong dose of hip hop and a shot of Hendrix in one album, creating a whole new, exciting and intensely sexual sound. It had taken him five years to follow up the gorgeous Brown Sugar, and I believe a new album is imminent. Whatever happened before or will happen, Voodoo is Michael Archer’s masterpiece. Had Marvin Gaye lived, this is what he’d have sounded like.
D’Angelo – Untitled (How Does It Feel).mp3

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3. Elliot Smith – Figure 8

elliott_smith_figure_8Smith’s final album in his lifetime — he died three years later — may not be his best, but even then, it is lovely and affecting. It could have done with some trimming, and the cover is unattractive. You don’t pick up an Elliot Smith album to cheer you up, but the charge of miserablism often levelled against seems unfair to me. There is beauty in Smith’s sadness — made all the more poignant by his apparent suicide (there are theories that Smith didn’t actually kill himself). We owe Smith a huge voter of thanks for his part in inspiring so many of the great acoustic artists that emerged in (and, perhaps, from) his wake.
Elliott Smith – Somebody That I Used To Know.mp3

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4. Colin Hay – Going Somewhere

colin_hayThe solo albums of the former Men At Work frontman tend to be frustrating; amid the near-perfect gems there is so much indifferent filler material. Best, really, to put together one’s own compilation. But then one would not find that some of the mediocre stuff is actually pretty good, but required a few more listens. Going Somewhere does not suffer from this. It is one of two albums on which Hay re-recorded his better songs and a couple of new ones, here mostly acoustically. And it works wonderfully. Highlights include opener Beautiful World (which features the brilliant line “where a man can still be free — or a woman if you are one”), I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You, Looking For Jack (about an encounter with Mr Nicholson), Waiting For My Real Life To Begin and Lifeline.
Colin Hay – Lifeline.mp3

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5. Jill Sobule – Pink Pearl

jill_sobuleSobule kissed a girl and liked it long before Katy Perry did so — and Sobule meant it. Sobule is an engaging lyricist dealing with often unexpected subject matter, ranging from anorexia to the case of a teacher who had sex with her pupil. In turn she can be insightful, funny, ironic, cute, tender and daring. Her music is neither particularly challenging nor bland, and some of the tracks on Pink Pearl are excellent, especially the Bacharach-via-Spektor-sounding Rainy Day Parade. But it’s for the lyrics that I return to it. This, from the also outstanding One Of These Days, always makes me laugh: “One of these days I’m gonna touch the sky. Like that awful song ‘I Believe I Can Fly’, [pause for effect] I believe I can fly.” Download free Jill Sobule tracks from her website
Jill Sobule – Rainy Day Parade.mp3

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6. Lewis Taylor – Lewis II

lewis_taylorI’ve read that Lewis Taylor has retired from the music business because his albums didn’t sell. That is a pity. Lewis II (which, you will have worked out, was his sophomore album, following the more psychedelic self-titled debut) is a likeable soulful and funky effort. When white soulsters arrive on the scene, they tend to be matched with their likely influences, invariably from the ’60s and ’70s (usually Curtis Mayfield with a bit of Motown). London-born Taylor escaped such labelling, or at least its accurate application. He drew from the treasury of soul through the ages and created his own unique sound. The album features a fine cover of Jeff Buckley’s Everybody Here Wants You.
Lewis Taylor – The Way You Done Me.mp3

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7. K’s Choice – Almost Happy

ks_choice_almost_happyIn my view, Almost Happy is the Belgian brother-and-sister act’s best album. The title track and Another Year are most affecting, beautiful songs dipped in sadness but not despondency. Both of these, and other K’s Choice songs, find an echo in the music of the wonderful Weepies (another female/male singing and songwriting combo). The stand-out track is the almost gothic (though not goth) Shadowman, a song about depression.
K’s Choice – Shadowman.mp3

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8. Ben Kweller – Freak Out…It’s Ben Kweller

ben_kweller_freak_outI know, EPs aren’t albums. But I’m not going to list my favourite EPs of the decade (hmmm, or maybe I should), so Ben Kweller’s debut on disc gets in. And what a debut it was. The stand-out track here is In Other Words, which features a few duff lines (including references to passive-aggressive butterflies) but has a tune and, especially, an arrangement that one might not expect from an 18-year-old. The piano and banjo interplay in the song’s climax is exquisite. Kweller later re-recorded In Other Words, as well as the brief How It Should Be (Sha Sha), for his first full album, 2002’s Sha Sha. Both songs are superior on this eight-song EP.
Ben Kweller – In Other Words.mp3

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9. Richard Ashcroft – Alone With Everybody

ashcroftI’d include this for Brave New World alone. And I‘ll cheerfully admit that I don’t really like about half of this album. But the other half is better than most music he created with the Verve. From his former group, we knew Ashcroft was rather given to kitchen-sink productions, and there’s little here that could be described as sparse (quite in contrast to Elliott Smith). At times the onslaught of instrumentation is sumptuous, at other times one yearns for some respite. Not a great album, but one with great moments. I’d recommend You On My Mind In My Sleep, A Song For Lovers and On A Beach; and strongly advise against Money To Burn, which I think was the lead single.
Richard Ashcroft – Brave New World.mp3

10. Badly Drawn Boy – The Hour Of The Bewilderbeest

badly_drawn_boyThe album title merely hints at the punnery Damon Gough engages in here. I like the wordplay in Badly Drawn Boy’s lyrics, even if I find them unnecessary in songtitles (Everybody’s Stalking!). Like almost any studio double album (and how audacious to release a double album on debut), there is a lot of unnecessary music here, and the brief interludes are annoying. But in the day of WinAmp, one can happily re-sequence an album according to one’s tastes. And doing so with this set is a very rewarding experience.
Badly Drawn Boy – The Shining.mp3


Longing for love

February 13th, 2009 5 comments

Is it better to have love and lost than never to have loved? There aren’t many songs about yearning for love. So, as decided by a staw-poll on my Facebook page (become my friend here), for Valentine’s Day here is a collection of songs for those who have nobody to share the commercial feast with, or don’t have the bitterness of love lost, rejected or betrayed to commemorate on the day.

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The Smiths – How Soon Is Now.mp3
how-soon-is-nowThe Smiths canon is brimming with songs about Morrissey’s unlovability. He doesn’t even get rejected; he just can’t find the right person to reject him (and when a girl comes on to him, as one does in Never Had No One Ever, he can’t even get “sorrow’s native son” to rise to the occasion). How Soon Is Now is the anthem of these songs. Every person afflicted with shyness will probably identify with Morrissey’s sad disco tales: “There’s a club, if you’d like to go. You could meet somebody who really loves you. So you go, and you stand on your own, and you leave on your own, and you go home and you cry and you want to die.” Which more or less mirrors my juvenile experience, minus the crying and suicidal tendencies.

One day, when I was 19, some friends took me to Heaven, the great gay club in London. It wasn’t long before a very nice man timidly offered to buy me drink. I was flattered to be considered attractive enough to be targetted for a pull (and here is a collorary to the shyness: a lack of self-esteem) but declined politely. I thought what a displeasure it was to be a straight man in a city where the women in the clubs I went to were so stuck up when I wouldn’t even have to try to get laid if I was gay. What did not seem to occur to me was that the girls were probably not so much stuck-up as I was a victim of a shyness that was criminally vulgar which prevented me from actually approaching them. No wonder I couldn’t get laid.

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Richard Hawley – Coles Corner.mp3
coles-cornerLike Morrissey, Hawley is looking for company in bright, busy places, only to find nothing. “I’m going downtown where there’s music. I’m going where voices fill the air. Maybe there’s someone waitin’ for me with a smile and a flower in her hair.” And with such hopes our hero puts on his best shoes and (as Kris Kristofferson would have it) his cleanest dirty shirt and heads to Coles Corner, apparently a popular hang-out in Sheffield. “I’m going downtown where there’s people. My loneliness hangs in the air, with no one there real waitin’ for me, no smile, no flower, nowhere.” And so he’ll make his sad way home.

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Kevin Devine – Probably.mp3
Set in a train carriage, Kevin is admiring a fellow passenger, imagining her life (covering all the bases of contradiction): “You probably don’t wear your glasses but you probably need them to read, and you probably value your downtime and you probably don’t get much sleep, and you probably don’t like the movies but you probably go anyway, and you probably fight with your parents a lot when you feel like there’s nothing to say, and you probably don’t care for punk rock but you probably own Nevermind.” He thinks of chatting her up – “you probably don’t talk to strangers but you wish they’d talk to you all the time” – but either shyness or self-loathing preclude him from approaching her: “So I should probably say something to you, but I’d probably ruin it then. It’s best for us both if I keep my mouth shut and just stay on my side of the train.” It may well be his loss and hers. This is the far superior version from 2003’s …Travelling The EU EP.

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Hello Saferide – Loneliness Is Better When You’re Not Alone.mp3
hello-saferide_2Annika Norlin (for she is Hello Saferide) has nobody in her life, so she is looking to compensate for that with meaningless one-night stands, rationalising it with the statement of the song’s title. No strings attached. “I will be gone when you wake up. No awkward breakfasts, I swear. And don’t you look for me, because I could be anywhere – in someone else’s house, in someone else’s arms, with someone else to warm the pain away.” Her promiscuity is a band-aid for the sores of loneliness. She really would like closeness, to open up herself, not just her legs. “If I told you my stories and sang you my songs, would you laugh at me? Would you pity me? What would you say if I asked of you not out of accident, out of loneliness: would you shelter me? Will you shelter me?” And why does she not ask? Low self-esteem seems to be at play: “What can I ask of you? What would you want from me? What would you say if I just fell asleep?” Annika, there’s a club, if you’d like to go…

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Liz Phair – Fuck And Run.mp3
phairAnother song about promiscuity compensating for loneliness. She wakes up with a one-night stand guy and instantly has regrets, thinking: “Whatever happened to a boyfriend, the kind of guy who makes love cause he’s in it… I want a boyfriend. I want all that stupid old shit like letters and sodas.” But it doesn’t seem that a boyfriend is on the cards (maybe Liz should look in the unrequited love section; loads of nice guys there), even when a one-night lover reaches out to her. She doesn’t want his pity. So, she concludes, “I’m gonna spend another year alone. It’s fuck and run, fuck and run.” But there is an alarming clue in the lyrics which might explain her disposition. “It’s fuck and run, fuck and run, even when I was 17. Fuck and run, fuck and run even when I was 12.” Does that suggest that she was abused, leading to these trust issues?

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John Prine – Aimless Love.mp3
in this 1984 song, Prine is singing about a sensitive soul, a guy who is suspicious of strangers and “a bit too gun shy to have his heart touched without a glove”. He really wants love to find him. Prine reminds him, and us: “Love has no mind. It can’t spell unkind. It’s never seen a heart shaped like a Valentine. For if love knew him. It’d walk up to him and introduce him to an aimless love.” In other words, open yourself up to let love in when you find it.

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Jay Brannan – Housewife.mp3
brannanIn an alternative riff on Audrey’s Somewhere That’s Green in Little Shop Of Horrors, Jay is describing a scene of domestic bliss (and great sex): “I’m making guacamole, he’s working on the car. When he grills turkey burgers he knows I like them charred. I like to wash the dishes, I like to scrub the floors, don’t mind doing his laundry, what are boyfriends for?” Yes, he wants to be a housewife. “What’s so wrong with that?” But, as it turns out, he’s not one yet. “Can’t wait to till he’s in my life, ’cause we haven’t met.” (Read my interview with Jay)

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Colin Hay – Waiting For My Real Life To Begin.mp3
colin-hayAt first glance, this song (from Hay’s 2001 album Going Somewhere; one of three versions) might not belong in this series, but I think it has a place, and right here. The singer has a girl, but she’s obviously not what he really wants. He’s holding out for a better life which does not seem to include her. Indeed, even now, she is peripheral. “And you say: ‘Be still my love, open up your heart, let the light shine in.’ Don’t you understand I already have a plan, I’m waiting for my real life to begin.” It seems to me that our friend could be in depression, vainly holding out for a better future — “Let me throw one more dice, I know that I can win” — and in the process is unable to return the love offered by his current partner. Which is really just as tragic as Morrissey’s shyness, Annika’s and Liz’s promiscuity, and Kevin’s lack of self-confidence.

Previously in this series:
Love Hurts
Unrequited Love
Being in love (Any Major Love Mix)

More songs about love

Love Songs For Every Situation: Bitterness

February 28th, 2008 3 comments

Disappointment in love — a relationship that ended, unrequited love, even a relationship that couldn’t be — can turn to resentment. Love turning into hate can be a coping mechanism. It can be levelled at the ex- or putative partner, or at the whole notion of love in general. Such bitterness may be transient or it may abide, turning the brokenhearted into a fleeting wreck or into an enduring cynic. The songs in this post address the bitterness experienced by those fucked over by cupid.

Bright Eyes – A Perfect Sonnet.mp3
Conor Oberst has been dumped and he is bitter. Listen to his delivery: agitated at first, then rather livid, and all that in quivering pain. He yearns for love and resents those who have it: ” But I believe that lovers should be tied together and thrown into the ocean in the worst of weather, and left there to drown in their innocence”, and then, even better: ” I believe that lovers should be chained together and thrown into a fire with their songs and letters, and left there to burn in their arrogance.” But you cannot stay that embittered forever, and in the song’s surprising denouement, Oberst discovers just that. A fantastic song which shows that the premature and inaccurate hype about Oberst as the “new Dylan” was not entirely without merit.

Ben Folds Five – Selfless Cold and Composed.mp3
Ben Folds has written what I consider to be the best love song of all time (oh yes), “The Luckiest”. Yet, Ben is much better doing embittered. Take “Trusted”, where he does terrible things to her in her dreams, “Landed”, where the reign of the telephone tsar comes down, or the obvious “Song For The Dumped”. Here Ben seeks acrimony in a relationship that is ending when all he gets is sterile rejection. He wants to break plates, and she just smiles “like a bank teller, blankly telling me: ‘have a nice life’.” He wants confrontation, demanding that she invest some emotion into the breakup: “You’ve done me no favour to call and be nice, telling me I can take anything I like. You don’t owe me to be so polite. You’ve done no wrong…and you’ve done no wrong — Get out of my sight.” And all that to a cool, understated melody!

Hello Saferide – Valentine’s Day.mp3
What better day to execute a break-up with somebody who doesn’t love you back than on Valentine’s Day? Annika Norlin (Hello Saferide’s real name) is going to give him fish fingers, if they really must have a Valentine’s dinner. But much rather she’d dine with “the coolest girl” (which would be herself) and then go to a club and “find a kid who’s ready to play” — a statement of contempt, of course, not of promiscuity. “Got a feeling this is going to be Valentine’s year. Roses are red and violets are blue, sugar is sweet and I’m leaving you.” Goodbye, chump.

The Smiths – How Soon Is Now (Peel session).mp3
Early ’70s folk-rockers America had a song for all the lonely people who thought that love had passed them by. Morrissey upped the ante by telling us how it actually feels to be young and abandoned by love. Shyness (of a criminally vulgar kind, naturally) is the problem here, of course. So anyone afflicted by that condition will find instant empathy with Mozzer’s experience: “There’s a club, if you’d like to go. You could meet somebody who really loves you. So you go and you stand on your own, and you leave on your own, and you go home, and you cry and you want to die.” But here’s the upside of your situation, my despairing friend: if you remain single, your heart won’t be broken. Be glad and of good cheer for that.

Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah (live).mp3
Buckley appropriated Cheerful Len’s song on his Grace album, to the point that it is now fully Buckley’s, with Jeff’s tweaked lyrics now more well-known than those of Cohen’s original (even though I prefer Len’s holy ghost to Jeff’s dove). This version is a live recording from the Olympia in Paris, released posthumously in 2001. Some might claim that “Hallelujah” is a love song. To me, it evokes betrayal and pain. “She broke your throne and she cut your hair” (degradation and emasculation), and yet the singer assented to his, voicing a feeble hallelujah, a response that suggests unconditional adoration. That worship turned sour, the relationship became conditional, and one dumped the other. So the singer concludes: “All I’ve ever learned from love was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you. And it’s not a cry that you hear at night, it’s not somebody who’s seen the light — it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah”. Cynical.

Chris Isaak – Wicked Game.mp3
Mr Isaak has a genuine grievance: somebody cruelly led him on (or so he claims) to believe real love was on its way, and then yanked the carpet from under his feet. “What a wicked game to play, to make me feel this way. What a wicked thing to do, to let me dream of you. What a wicked thing to say, you never felt this way. What a wicked thing you do, to make me dream of you.” Damn, this is brutal.

Carly Simon – You’re So Vain.mp3
This song merits inclusion for providing the greatest insult in music history: “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you”. Oh, and it is about Warren Beattie.

Colin Hay – I Don’t Need You Anymore.mp3
A song from Hay’s 1987 solo debut album, the title pretty much gives away the gist of the song. The woman who broke his heart wants him back. He isn’t falling for that: “When first I knew you’d gone, the wind grew colder. But after the pain had gone I felt much older [crap rhyme, but bear with him]. You had my very soul and my completeness, and now I find you here. You leave me speechless.” So, no, she may not sleep on his floor.

Nils Landgren – I Will Survive.mp3
Along the same tack, a lovely, jazzy cover version of Gloria Gaynor’s great counter rejection song. Everybody surely knows the lyrics from disco night, but this verse cheers me up no end: “It took all the strength I had not to fall apart, kept trying hard to mend the pieces of my broken heart. And I spent oh so many nights just feeling sorry for myself. I used to cry, but now I hold my head up high. And you see me, somebody new, I’m not that chained up little person still in love with you. And so you feel like dropping in and just expect me to be free! Now I’m saving all my lovin’ for someone who’s loving me.”

Etta James – Cry Me A River.mp3
And to compete the trilogy of scorning people who broke your heart — and what response could be more bitter than that — Arthur Hamilton’s “Cry Me A River” (not to be confused with Justin Timberlake’s musical assault with intent on Britney Spears), performed here by the great Etta James. And what an ass Etta is rejecting here: an idiot who thought love was “too plebeian”? Well, the sorry intellectual fraud doesn’t object to being plebe now that he wants to win back the woman whose tears over him have just dried. But no go, Joe. “Now you say you’re lonely; you cried the long night through. Well, you can cry me a river, cry me a river — I cried a river over you.”

Carpenters – Goodbye To Love.mp3
Can one be gently embittered? If so, then Karen Carpenter shows us how. She does not blame the concept of love for her disillusionment, nor the people who didn’t want her. She has just decided that she is giving up on it. “All the years of useless search have finally reached an end. Loneliness and empty days will be my only friend. From this day love is forgotten…I’ll go on as best I can.” A decidedly self-pitying disposition which may well stand in her way when, as she hopes, “there may come a time when I will see that I’ve been wrong”. Anyway, never mind her, but check out that guitar solo…

Inara George – Fools In Love.mp3
Joe Jackson has a way of being bitter about love, as he was in this song, covered by the wonderful Inara George (a half of The Bird And The Bee) on this fine acoustic version. It’s a cynical song about how people in love are “pathetic” creatures. “Fools in love gently hold each other’s hands forever. Fools in love gently tear each other limb from limb.” So with that attitude it seems rather inopportune that “this fool’s in love again”.

Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris – Love Hurts.mp3*
I referenced this song in the second part of this series; it seems the prefect song to end it with. Originally recorded by the Everly Brothers and covered by many artists, Gram Parsons’ version is the best, capturing the disillusionment of love persuasively. Emmylou’s harmonies, so beautiful that you want to fall in love with her, serve to emphasise Parsons’ melancholy. Our man takes a dim view of love: it has pissed on him and burnt him, it has depressed him: “Love is like a cloud, holds a lot of rain… love is like a stove, burns you when it’s hot.” Love sucks so much that it is a myth: “Some fools think of happiness, blissfulness, togetherness [Gram and Emmylou sing that word, heartbreakingly, as though that is what they really want anyway]. Some fools fool themselves I guess, but they’re not fooling me. I know it isn’t true, know it isn’t true. Love is just a lie made to make you blue.” Oh yes, love does indeed hurt.

And on that cheerful note, we conclude this series. Phew!

Love Songs For Every Situation: Heartbreak

February 23rd, 2008 4 comments

When unrequited love girl communicated to me gently that she didn’t like me that way, I experienced validation for the term heartbreak. It did feel as though my actually heart was broken right down the middle. Of course it didn’t, because else I would be dead, but the instant pain manifested itself in the location where the blood-pumping organ resides. It then moved to my chest and stomach, but lungache or gutbreak don’t sound terrible romantic.

The genre of love songs is rich in lyrics about broken hearts, from Sinatra learning the blues to Alicia Keys bemoaning that she can’t have you and any number of country singers picking up the shards of their broken hearts. Somehow this hugely intense emotion has given rise to some astoundingly banal lyrics — take a bow Bonnie Tyler and Mariah Carey. Here then, in the penultimate installment of this series, we deal with heartbreak in a non-banal manner.

Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – The Tracks Of My Tears.mp3
This may well be the best song ever about a broken heart, by Motown’s poet laureate. Smokey is stoic, like the stiff-lipped Englishman of cliché, and won’t publicly exhibit his inner turmoil. He jokes around, has a cute girlfriend, but it’s an act. “The Tracks Of My Tears” also contains one of the most wonderfully delivered lines in pop ever: “My smile is my make-up I wear since my break-up with you”. There is joy in sadness.

Colin Hay – Lifeline.mp3
Part-time genius Colin Hay (who used to be Men At Work’s frontman) has a great way of expressing inner discontent with philosophical easy-goingness (take “Beautiful World” as an example of that). Here our man is a bit more forthright. She “broke my heart, I saw it coming from the start”, and now he is drowning in a sea of depression, hence the request for a lifeline in the chorus. He acknowledges that he needs to learn how to swim, throwing away the prozac (“You’ll never forget her, so why do you even try?”) and try to get over the depression by drinking water from appears to be a lake with magical healing properties. A really powerful song.

The Weepies – World Spins Madly On.mp3
When your heart is broken, inertia and feelings of alienation are normal reactions. The Weepies’ Steve Tannen outlines just that: “Woke up and wished that I was dead, with an aching in my head I lay motionless in bed. I thought of you and where you’d gone, and let the world spin madly on.” Perfect.

April Sixth – Dear Angel.mp3
I don’t usually do stuff with emo tendencies, but I’ll make an exception for this song (by a group named after my birthday, bless them), which I like a lot. Girl has dumped dude, and dude is feeling very bad about it. He thinks about her all the time, as you do, and naturally this causes him grief (“If only my love could be with you, if only this pain, this pain died too”). So he has decided that the best thing to do is to cut her out of his life entirely, for both their sakes (“So I’ll break you away”). Will he succeed?

Aqualung – Breaking My Heart Again.mp3
Heartbreak need not be a consequence of a break-up, but can kick in while a relationship still exists. And so it is here. “Need to know, don’t want to know, already know: I’ve seen the signs;
I watch you as you pull yourself away from.” And so our man out-Coldplays Apple Sr as he anticipates having his heart broken, apparently not for the first time, and observes: “I’m losing all strength” and, finally, “I’m losing you”.

Mozella – Light Years Away.mp3
Here’s a woman, in the singer-songwriter mode, who has her heart broken so badly that she is entirely embittered while saying she isn’t. “It’s almost like you had it planned, it’s like you smiled and shook my hand and said: ‘Hey, I’m about to screw you over big time’.” Clearly, the break-up was not easy (“I think I cried for days”), nor was the recovery. She has found a way of dealing with it: “But I don’t blame you anymore; that’s too much pain to store”, but takes care to inform him that the whole experience has changed her irrevocably. It’s all a rather clever fuck-off letter.

Damien Rice – Cannonball.mp3
I really wanted to use this song somewhere in this series, because it is one of the most powerful  songs about love I can think of. But in which part of the series? It is a song that captures perfectly the pain and confusion of imperfect love, the kind of emotion that ties your stomach in a knot, which is a manifestation of what we call heartache. The first two stanzas speak of confusion: “There’s still a little bit of your taste in my mouth. There’s still a little bit of you laced with my doubt. It’s still a little hard to say what’s going on.” Not exactly heartbreak, but a good dose of confusion here. The kick in the stomach comes later when our boy seeks distance, perhaps because he is scared of getting hurt in this relationship, or perhaps because it can’t be. “So come on courage, teach me to be shy. ‘Cause it’s not hard to fall, and I don’t want to scare her; it’s not hard to fall and I don’t want to lose…” Whatever the case, he is frightened of crashing (“It’s not hard to fall when you float like a cannonball”), and that inhibits his quest for letting love find full expression. And that is heartbreaking in itself.

Hall & Oates – She’s Gone.mp3
Well, it had to feature at some point in this series. Apparently the lads who’d become ’80s icons for their hairstyles (the serious mullet and bubble perm combo) were both dealing with heartbreaks at the time this song was written. The lyrics are fantastic. I love this: “Think I’ll spend eternity in the city [cue disapproving sound effect]. Let the carbon and monoxide choke my thoughts away. And pretty bodies help dissolve the memories. [However:] There can never be what she once was to me.” And the vocal performance, especially on the last line of the quoted verse and the drawn out “she’s gone” at 3:08, is wonderful.

Brandi Carlile – My Song.mp3
This might be about a failed romance or a friendship gone sour. Either way, Brandi (and don’t let her name put you off this wonderful songbird) harbours some anger as she sings: “If you only knew my mind was full of razors to cut you like a word” and “I’m way too old to hate you” (if you have to point out a lack of hatred, then there must be residual resentment). She holds out an olive branch, but won’t any longer run after the addressee of the song: “I’m too proud to beg for your attention and your friendship and your time. So you can come and get it from now on.”

PP Arnold – The First Cut Is The Deepest.mp3
This is, in my view, the best version of Cat Stevens’ great song (though I rather like Rod Stewart’s version too). Here our protagonist finds it difficult to be in love because of a previous episode of heartbreak. “I would have given you all of my heart, but there’s someone who’s torn it apart, and he’s taken just all that I had.” As he Bee Gees would ask a couple of years later: “How can you mend a broken heart?”

Roy Orbison – Crying.mp3
Rebekah Del Rio – Llorando.mp3

I was torn between using the original version, or the one Orbison recorded with k.d. Lang, or Rebekah del Rio’s breathtaking a cappela interpretation from Mulholland Drive. Much as I love the duet, I’ll go with the 1961 original and del Rio’s Spanish cover. Apparently Orbison wrote this after meeting an ex-girlfriend and realising in the process how much he had lost when she became an ex. “I thought that I was over you. But it’s true, so true: I love you even more than I did before.” So, as you will have guessed, Roy will be crying over her. It seems to surprise him: “It’s hard to understand, but the touch of your hand can start me crying.”

Sandie Shaw – Always Something There To Remind Me.mp3
Doesn’t Sandie Shaw sound incredibly sexy on this song? Burt Bacharach and Hal David built a great repository of love songs (and a few terribly sexist ones as well), and heartbreak featured prominently, hence two inclusions of their songs in this post. The set up here is explained in the songtitle: girl loves boy who doesn’t love girl anymore and she can’t forget him. Common stuff that is no less relevant for it: “How can I forget you when there is always something there to remind me? I was born to love you, and I will never be free; you’ll always be a part of me.”

Isaac Hayes – Walk On By (full version).mp3
The other Bacharach/David song. Everybody should know the lyrics well. “If you see me, do me a favour and just fuck off because talking with you will mess with me.” Or words to that effect. The song found its perfect expression in Dionne Warwick’s version. There have been many covers since, and it is quite difficult to do a bad cover of it, though not for lack of trying. Some have put their own spin on it. The Stranglers did, but I don’t like their cover much. Isaac Hayes, on the other hand, appropriated the song without taking it from Dionne, which is a mark of his genius. He took “Walk On By” and resculptured it into a psychedelic soul symphony going on for 12 minutes – and not a single second is wasted. As he did on other Bacharach songs — “The Look Of Love”, “Close To You” – he invested into the straightforward lyrics and melody whole new dynamics and drama. Where Warwick sweetly attracts your sympathy, Hayes involves you in the inner drama of the heartbreak to the point that it leaves you feeling the torment yourself. But by then you’re so exhausted, the heartbreak feels almost sweet.

The iPod Random 5-track Experiment Vol.1

November 18th, 2007 1 comment

A little fun diversion. Put the iPod on Party Shuffle, and take the first five tracks that come up. It seems my iPod was in a kicked back mood, coming up with five songs that are pretty mellow.

Colin Hay – Waiting For My Real Life To Begin.mp3
I’m a great fan of the former Men At Work singer when he is in wistful mood. This song, from the great 2000 album Going Somewhere, is an anthem to restlessness, a “is this is all there is to life” song which hints at depression. Our man is unhappy, but probably is still good company. And what a great vocal performance! (More Colin Hay here)

The Weepies – All I Want (live).mp3
A Christmas song that works all year around. The lyrics basically say that getting the “you” in the song would be the perfect Christmas present. The studio version even has jingling bells, absent on this stripped down live version from the superb-quality (and artist approved) bootleg of a gig in Ohio in 2004 (find it here). I love the Weepies, name notwithstanding. I love them so much that I’ll repost the links for previous files I’ve posted. Listen to them, and then go and buy their CDs, including the lovely Deb Talan’s solo CDs. Check out the Weepies’ hompage.
The Weepies – Cherry Trees (live).mp3 (From this post)
The Weepies- Gotta Have You.mp3 (From this post)
Deb Talan – Forgiven.mp3
Deb Talan – Tell Your Story Walking.mp3 (From this post)

Judith Sephuma – I Remember.mp3
A late-night or Sunday morning jazzy vibe from South Africa, with keyboards that clearly are influenced by the Crusaders’ Joe Sample. Judith Sephuma, whose ex-husband, South African jazz guitar maestro Selaelo Selota, appeared on the album, fuses SA jazz (which tends to be melodic), Aftrican vibes and old-style R&B. Sephuma (homepage here) won an award for being Africa’s best female singer a couple of years ago for this album. Hear her, and decide that she is in fact one of the best singers in the world.

Foo Fighters – Walking After You (live).mp3 (link removed)
I’m never sure what the Taste Police makes of Foo Fighters. Well, those who don’t like them can get stuffed. The new album is excellent, especially since it guest stars the very fine and quite unique guitarist Kaki King. This classic is the live version from last year’s Skin And Bones acoustic(-ish) set. It is certainly one of the highlights of the album (great DVD, too), though the Foo’s take on “Everlong” is a real mindfuck. (More Foo Fighters here and download the acoustic version of Everlong here)

Phil Campbell – Maps.mp3
I don’t remember how I came across Phil Campbell, but his second album, Joy, was a very pleasant discovery, good enough that I set out to buy it. As if South African CD shops stock albums by obscure artists… “Maps” is great, in the folk-pop tradition, and a fine song to sing along to (which, in my book, elevates a song from being good to great). If this dude was not English but American, he’d be quite big, in a Ryan Adams kind of way. Checking on Hype Machine — the fools who won’t list this blog — there has been one blog featuring the music of Campbell, of all things the track off Joy I like least. On the album cover he looks like the actor Elijah Wood, which I find slightly disconcerting. His friends on MySpace look impressive: Ben Folds, Rilo Kiley, Ryan Adams, Ben Lee, Ray LaMontagne, Jesse Malin and a few more big names.

Thank you for the earworms…

May 30th, 2007 No comments

First up I should apologise to my army of loyal readers for the long silence. But I won’t, because only two have ever left a comment. So, stay-at-home dad and KP’s GF, know that I still love you.

Anyhow, my home PC refused to log into me into blogger, and I have been quite the busy chap at work. having succeeded to log in tonight, I might have more possertunity to update more regularly — provided I get COMMENTS! (Yes ‘possertunityis a word. Sean W. Reeves of Amsterdam says so. Look!)

So, four songs today. Four of my four earworms in the past 24 hours. The first was a Celine Dion song, which I will not do unto others as I would do unto myself. I know only two lines, and google has revealed that it is a dirge called “Because You Love Me”. How did that creep into my internal jukebox?

The other four (left-click for download link):

Springbok Nude Girls – Blue Eyes.mp3
“Round about round about round about now”. It’s a South African rock classic, from 1999. Arno Carstens and the other blokes have reformed and released a new album. I haven’t heard it yet. I hope it doesn’t feature too much of that shit reggae sound that used to spoil their pre-breakup albums.

Harris Tweed – Le Musketeer est Brave.mp3
Great SA outfit. This song has a silly title, but such vulnerable lyrics performed by the wonderful Cherilyn Macneil. It’s the guitar that worms itself into my ear. “Ode To Confusion” is a more pervasive, even addictive earworm. But it isn’t my earworm now. This is.

Colin Hay – Overkill (acoustic).mp3
He was the singer of Men At Work, never my favourite group. I love much of his solo stuff though. This 2003 reworking of the Men At Work hit pisses all over the original. The “diving in tooooo deeeeep” line after the instrumental break is a constant and most welcome earworm.

Garth Brooks – Friends In Low Places (live).mp3
I can’t describe myself as a fan of Mr Brooks. In fact, I like only one of the admittedly few songs by the man I know. But, he-yell, this sure is a fantastic singalong number, with the low noites and the high notes. And a perennial earworm. This is the live version, very popular with Brooks fans, apparently. Truth be told, I prefer the studio version, cheesy barfly choir at the end notwithstanding.

And just for the fun of it, the song I’ve just been singing along to: Evan Dando – If I Could Talk I’d Tell You (live)

Here’s my RYM Harris Tweed review:

Harris Tweed – The Younger (2006)
Harris Tweed are the latest great South African hope for international success. On evidence of this debut album, they are a good bet to break big. Indeed, the album’s second single, the glorious earworm-inducing “Ode To Confusion”, has already attracted international notice.

The Jo’burg group, fronted by the talented Cherilyn Macneil, clearly draws its influences widely, with Regina Spektor and Evanescence’s Amy Lee being apparent inspirations. The trick Harris Tweed pulls off admirably is to sound familiar yet entirely original. Some of the songs on this set are crafted with an extraordinary ear for detail and beauty, and a fine sense for choruses one can’t help singing along to.

There are many absolute delights on this album (the peculiarly titled “Le Musketeer est brave” and “Don’t Forget” in particular), and very few misses. Most grating of these is opener “Superfly“, the sort of electro-pop that reminds one uncomfortably of Hillary Duff, and is entirely unrepresentative of the album’s sound (strangely it was also the album’s lead single and thus received wide radio airplay).

Get past the first track, and this an engaging, stimulating and rewarding album.