Archive for December, 2009

December 23, 2009

Rage against the machine strikes a victory for music

Rage against the machine have become the most unlikeliest Christmas number one artists since Pink Floyd got to the top spot 30 years ago with Another Brick in the Wall, another anti-establishment song about alienation. There followed 30 years of mawkish slush.

This victory for the Californian rap-metal band may be seen as a victory for the underdog – for the passionate, politically motivated artist, taking a stand against the manufactured pop of the Simon Cowell factory – a glorified Karoke plant.   In many ways it is – people are sick of the constant monopolization of our culture and this is an easy target at which to express our dissatisfaction, there is a much bigger underlying malaise to all of this.   For all the rage directed at Simon Cowell and his X Factor puppets one can only feel that this cause de celebre is a matter of persecution.   He is not an evil man that is trying to destroy our culture from within, he is just maximizing his talent for creating brands and profiting from his ability of knowing what the public wants.  He’s in the entertainment industry and if he didn’t do it someone else would, it’s popular mainstream TV – he’s never professed at being the avatar for bold, brilliant and alternative new music.   Ironically he has managed to popularize music by bringing pop back to prime time TV and financially help an ailing industry.  The PR that both artists received during the chart battle was almost blanket coverage – assisting huge sales for all the parties involved, so know one really lost out, apart from Simon Cowell’s image, although he’s use to being vilified – society always needs someone to blame!

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December 18, 2009

The greatest albums of the last ten years

As promised, here is my pick for the 20 greatest albums of the last 10 years:

1. The Strokes – Is this it? The undisputed cultural vanguard for the last 10 years and effortlessly cool.

2. The White Stripes  –  Elephant Jack White made a number of brilliant albums throughout the decade, but none were as explosive and thrilling as this.

3. Radiohead – Kid A If The Strokes set the cultural template for the decade then Radiohead set the musical agenda with this slow-burning classic.

4. Damien Rice  – O

5. Gorillaz – Demon Days

6. Arctic Monkeys – Whatever people say I am, that is what I’m not?

7. Arcade Fire – Funeral

8. Bright Eyes – I’m wide awake, it’s morning

9. The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

10. PJ Harvey – Stories from the city, stories from the sea

11. Radiohead – In Rainbows

12. Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid

13.  Sigur Ros – Takk

14. LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver

15. Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker

16. The Streets – Original Pirate Material

17. U2 – All that you can’t leave behind

18.  Daft Punk – Discovery

19.  TV on the Radio  –  Dear Science

20. Red Hot Chilli Peppers  –  By the Way

December 10, 2009

The greatest albums of the 21st century

It’s fast approaching the end of the year and all the votes have been cast, the lists drawn up and the debates have started to rage.    With all the music publications releasing their definitive verdicts on the greatest and most influential albums of the last ten years it is interesting to reflect on what the critics think have shaped our cultural lives.

For quantitive purposes, the top twenty from five different publications – Uncut, NME, Rolling Stone, The Guardian and The Times – were analysed. During the last ten years  the music industry has become unrecognisable, imploding in the face of internet democracy and becoming a free territory, unshackled from the corporate system but unsure of what the future might hold.   This has been reflected in the explosion of artistic creativity and expression, particularly in the last 3 years.  We are definitely leaving this decade in a much healthier musical state than the last!!

The Strokes – Is this It, seems to be universally acknowledged as the most influential album in the last ten years.   Four of the publications featured it in their top five  – with only The Times placing it outside at number 6.  This is the only album to achieve this blanket acclaim.   No surprises that Radiohead feature strongly in all of the top twenty lists, constantly evolving they have  become even more adventurous and inspiring this decade than the last.   Kid A consistently features more than any other album, deservedly so, although Uncut doesn’t list it until number 25,  shame on you.   Other albums that deserve to be uttered in the same sentence as great and that keep cropping up in most of the lists are:  Arcade Fire – Funeral (although not in The Times), Amy Winehouse – Back to Black and The White Stripes – Elephant ( although NME only rate it as their 18th best album and Uncut regard White Blood Cells as better, so much better in fact that it is listed as their greatest album of the decade!)

Their were a few misplaced surprises in some of the lists.  Most notably,  The Times (again):  Coldplay – number 17 with Viva la Vida, Hot Chip – number 14 with Made in the dark and Britney Spears – number 5 with Blackout. What were they thinking?   The Guardian with Lily Allen at number 20!!   Uncut with 2 Bob Dylan albums in the top 10 – I know he’s made a bit of a return to form lately but trying to get past that sandpaper voice and old-time Americana is hard enough let alone distinguishing it as some of the best music of the last 10 years.

Another strange fact is the lack of albums from the last 2 -3 years.  Is this because they haven’t had time to filter into popular culture or that maybe the last couple of years, although challenging and exciting, has maybe been too experimental to be classified as great.  The only artists to feature from the last 2 years are:  Burial, Coldplay, Elbow and Fleet Foxes.

Noticeable absentees from the lists:

Sigur Ross – Takk – the film and television soundtrack of the last five years.

Damien Rice – O – emotionally charged and critically acclaimed at the time – although everyone seems to have forgotten this beautifully heart wrenching record.

Red Hot Chilli Peppers – By The Way – Maybe because they’re a corporate band but few artists have delivered such a warm and harmonious rock album.

Gorillaz – Demon Days ( The Guardian did place this album at a deserved number 11) – A pop classic, full of dark and cultural undertones.  Shadowed Damien’s work with Blur.

Daft Punk – Discovery – A futuristic dance album that set the electronic template for the rest of the decade, its influence has been underappreciated.

My own top twenty greats to follow…………………….

December 2, 2009

Susan Boyle sells fastest debut album

With the news coming through this week that Susan Boyle has become the fastest selling debut artist in UK history- it is both a wonderful surprise and a thoroughly depressing realisation!  Selling more than 411,000 in just seven days is an incredible achievement for an established artist let alone one who no one knew about a year ago!   Boyle mania has taken off even more in the states with the Scottish spinster selling more than 711, 000 copies of her album in its first week! Her immense popularity is mainly due to her outsider appeal – the everyday woman who dreamt a dream that came real.  Maybe there is a little of all of us in Susan Boyle, whether or not we all like to see fairytales come true and our willingness for this unique character to succeed in a music industry built on image and style has ultimately led many people to buy the album.  Fundamentally we feel sorry for Susan Boyle and are comforted in the fact that she goes against the grain of everything that is cynical about the industry – she is truly unique, which is  almost non-existent in the modern world of pop.

However, here lies the oxymoron.    Celebrating the fact that the album format still seems to be alive and kicking – the last time an album shifted such a huge amount in its first week in the States was Snoop Dogg in 1993 – and there is still hope for millions of unsigned singers, one can’t help but feel contradiction about the whole frenzy.   The content of the album is full of covers, songs that have been played countless times by many different artists across the world.  Reconstructed to fit Boyle’s voice but nevertheless they are still unimaginative covers sung with a good albeit not particularly unique voice.   So the voice and the songs are fairly inconsequential – it is all about the image and what her image represents, which in an ironic kind of way is what people were rebelling against when they first showed interest in her.  The droves of fans who are buying her album are mainly idolizing her because of her (non) image, with very little musical substance – and this is all being engineered by global pop Svengali, Simon Cowell.    He has discovered the ultimate pop brand, POP – NON IDOL.  So lets all idolize her – it’s a bit like Buddha really!