Saturday, 31 December 2016

It's The Only Poll That Matters - The Stuff & Nonsense Top 12 of 2016 (and other sundry enthusiasms)

Yup, I too have been struck by the general air of malaise doing the rounds in the past 12 months.
Here's hoping that 2017 will be a brighter proposition - although is 24 hours going to make that much difference.

The biggest observation of 2016 was the return of my own anti-Midas touch where everything I touched seemed to turn to sh*t.
If I'm honest there wasn't a great deal of new stuff that enthused me musically, televisually, bookularly or DVDularly.
Most of the year was spent listening to and buying old stuff that I'd either missed before, never got round to owning or taking a punt on something that looked interesting.
Most of the time it proved to be a winner, and very few of my purchases turned out to be clunkers destined to spend the rest of their existence filed away gathering dust.
The other main thing that I indulged in this year was scowling (that may be too strong a term) and becoming exasperated that supermarkets muscled in on the hipster-esque craze for all things vinyl and started stocking the stuff.  Not in huge quantities, but enough to make you stop your weekly shop and have a little browse.
Anyway after much exasperation, I too joined the throng and purchased a couple of these sought after items.  How could I turn down the opportunity to own my ninth copy of 'Never Mind The Bollocks' (eleventh if you include the 2 CD versions).
I did though avoid the copy of The Specials in Tesco where they had punctured the sleeve with the security tag - what were they thinking?

As said above, musically the offerings were scant for me, but the 12 below (and other bits & bobs) ensured my lugholes were thoroughly entertained.

1. Steve Mason - Meet The Humans
Steve Mason has seemingly distilled all previous work into this one album and come up with an absolute winner.  This album matches anything he has done previously solo or with the Beta Band, and is more focussed, with a real air of joy about it (especially the opening track "Alive").
OK, the presence of Craig Potter in the producers chair does cause echoes of Elbow-ness, but this work is singularly unique but totally accessible.
Recorded by anyone else and with greater promotion the album would have, and deserves, a much wider audience
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2. White Denim - Stiff
A real "back to basics" slab of 70s American Rock with hints of ZZ Top, Cream, The Doobie Brothers and Wild Cherry, with added Curtis Mayfield and Blaxploitation moments.
The riffs are huge, the sound chunky and funky - the whole album demands to be played loud, and repeated several times.

3. Madness - Can't Touch Us Now
They're back - this is the de facto followu-up to Norton Folgate after the mis-step of 'Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da'
Opening in the comfort of their recognisable trademark "plinky plonk" piano and saxophone blasts & honks, this album shows that Madness continue to mix upbeat bouncing tunes with sometimes darker subject matter.
My only concern with Madness is that their "Nutty Boys" image may well detract from their acceptance into the lexicon of Great British Songwriters.
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4. P J Harvey - The Hope Six Demolition Project
Always took a long time to "get" Polly's out-pourings - sometime I never "got" them at all - this one was a straight in (OK, it took a couple of listens).  At the risk of sounding like a muso-journo her most accessible release.  Simplistic impressions here are a touch of Patti Smith mixed with a touch of Kate Bush - but always recognisably P J Harvey.
The combination of music and lyrics is sometimes bleak, sometimes brittle, sometimes forceful and (almost) angry, but always strikingly honest - she is saying what she has seen, with no compunction to provide a solution merely to make you think about it (or not)

5. Whitney - Light Upon The Lake
Another album with a 70s undertone - this is more in the Byrds / Band / Americana frame, with a bit of Big Star chucked in.
Melodic and sometimes melancholy, but with more ups than downs to ensure your ears are feasted.  It is bright, summery, and has a general feel good vibe about it

6. Field Music - Commontime
Here's another one of those "didn't get it straightaway" albums.  Pleasant enough on fiest listening, but maybe not a candidate for this Top 12 (or 10 or 17 or whatever number I decided on).
But wait, repeated listening and a shift of expectations proved this one not to be an ignored dust collector.  The Steely Dan comparisons seem to be a legal requirement of any review I've read, but there is more than just this - a real summery soundtrack of an album (so why did they release it in February?)
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7. Primal Scream - Chaosmosis
Bobby Gillespie continues to do what he wants and makes a near return to Screamadelica territory, and then pulling in different bits of his back catalogue, and coming up with another winner - it may not be totally coherent, or have a common theme, but it does the job.  Do Primal Scream ever release a duff album?  This album may not be "life changing" or banging on the door of the Top 100 ... Ever, but they are always satisfying.

8. Bruce Foxton - Smash The Clock
From The Jam are the foremost Jam tribute act, and when you've got the original Bass player you should be.
Made with his From The Jam band mates (primarily Russel Hastings providing the vocal and guitar) this album shows that performing on the tribute circuit cannot dampen your desire to produce something new and original.  There are moments when you feel you could be listening to a lost Jam album (post The Gift) and there is a heady mix of mix of Motown and Northern Soul with a twist of Dr Feelgood, The Kinks and The Small Faces.
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9. Metallica - Hardwired To Self Destruct
Metallica doing what they did best make a triumphant return to their past and (hopefully) prove to themselves that they don't need to be all clever, atmospheric a, navel gazing to produce a corking album.  OK, it may be a bit overlong, and could probably benefit from some editing down to a single album, but there is plenty here to make you want to return again and again.
Easily their best since the Black album, and should win back much of the older audience (ie me) clamouring/hoping for a return to their greatest moments

10. Brian Eno - The Ship
Eno does what Eno wants - and pretty much every album he releases is different.  A mew sound here, a new collage/experiment there, and rarely does he disappoint.  Whack this album on, sit back for 40 minutes and let it wash over you - do not try an do anything whilst this is playing.  It may be ambient in intent, but is not background music to accompany your chosen activity.
At the risk of sounding like a nerdy-sheeplike-Hipster, go fro the vinyl version - there is something added to the overall experience of Side 1 and Side 2 with a little break in the middle.

11. Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression
Has Iggy released a truly great album since 'The Idiot' or 'Lust For Life'?
He has now - thanks in no small part to Josh Homme.
I'll be honest, this one took a lot of listening for the penny to drop - glad it did though.
Listening to this post-Blackstar, it sounded like Iggy's own personal tribute to his former sparring partner - perhaps a combination of both timing and a faint re-tread/re-imaging of the albums.

12. David Bowie - Blackstar
This is not propping the list up due to some sort of "Everyone else is saying it's brilliant, and he died this year so I need to make mention of it" way.
This album is sitting in position number 12 because it is the twelfth most enjoyable album I bought in 2016.
Like Iggy above, not an immediate winner, but repeated listening bore fruit.
David Bowie albums are always unique affairs giving an insight to where his head is at that moment in time.  This one was no different, and we all know what happened next ...

Disappointment: Suede - Night Thoughts
And I was hoping for so much more - proof that you can't always get what you want.  By no means a bad album, I just wasn't hooked by it.  Can't truly explain why - maybe I should give it another couple of listens

Live: Stiff Little Fingers - Best Served Loud
This recording of their 25th successive Glasgow Barrowlands show is brimming with energy - I am not being biased (honest!) when I say if you are going to see just one Live band, make it Stiff Little Fingers

Discovery (about time too): Big Star
Big Star's 'Radio City' has been an ever-present in those Top 100 Albums You Must Listen To Before You Snuff It - but beyond "September Gurls" I'd never heard anything.
Until this year when annoyed with my tardiness, I purchased the double CD ('#1 Record' and 'Radio City') coupled with the DVD Documentary 'Nothing Can Hurt Me'.
Nothing else entered the CD Player for about a fortnight.  My considered opinion is that 'Radio City' deserves it's place on those lists, but '#1 Record' is even better.

Discovery (taking a punt): Hybrid Kids
Inspired by the DIY ethos of Punk, ex Mott The Hoople keyboard-ist retreated to his Notting Hill flat and assembled tape loops and cut-ups of well known songs performed by imagined bands from Peabody, Texas.
Who would not want to hear "Macarthur Park" done by a Two Tone band, The Sex Pistols covered by Pinky and Perky or The Wurzels doing "Wuthering Heights".  Top rank silliness, and all done by hand with no sequencers or studio trickery.

Box Set: Action Time Vision - A Story of UK Independent Punk 1976-1979
A 4 CD collection of the earliest outputs the soon to be big The Damned, Stiff Little Fingers, The Ruts, Angelic Upstarts, 999, Skids, Sham 69, UK Subs, Cockney Rejects, The Rezillos, The Adicts, The Boys, The Lurkers, Alternative TV, The Members, Chelsea), early outings from Joy Division, Tubeway Army, Adam & The Ants, and the "one single wonders" like Nicky & The Dots, Suspects, Steroid Kiddies, Pure Hell, The Cravats or Woody & The Splinters.
Not every track here is a gem, but every single one of the bands had the desire and want to go into a studio and record themselves for posterity (even if it was only 500 copies).
This “Time Capsule” shows that those that “made it” were once at the same level as those whose sole offering is amongst the tracks here.
Without wishing to belittle or malign any of the contributions here, the feeling that comes from this 4 Disk Set is: Never Mind The Quality, Feel The Energy

DVD: Oasis - Supersonic
A documentary of the bands early years from formation to signing to Creation to playing to 250,000 at Knebworth.  An honest appraisal of the band themselves, their abilities and their failings.
The one big surprise that you only notice in retrospect is it all happened so quickly.  I have read reviews suggesting that people may not be as interested in what happened next - if anything, the confusion, in-fighting and eventual downfall may well make for an even better film