Thursday 19 December 2019

2019 Musical Things

A lot of people have asked me: "so what was your favourite album of 2019?".
Actually, no-one has asked me this question, but I'm going to tell you anyway.
However, being the properly decisive person that I am, I have arrived at the point where I have 3 number one albums.  Is that cheating?  Probably, but I can't make a strong enough case in my mind for one over the other - I nearly can, but not so I feel properly confident.

And so ...

1= Richard Dawson 2020
Folk troubadour meets Indie meets Captain Beefheart meets Ken Loach, complete with tales of modern life (and often an anguished modern life).  Every track tells a story - some make you think (for at least a second), others just make you marvel at turn of phrase, a seemingly humdrum or non-sequitor type lyric.  Most songs mange to do both.
Is this an album of songs or a sociology lecture from the future?

1= Liam Gallagher - Why Me? Why Not?
He's back - and understated as ever.  This is a combination of the Rock n Roll Star of old, with a slight maturing and broadening of the (sometimes restrictive) musical pallette.
A real step up from his debut, and it sounds like he's in a good place.
Choice Track = "Once"

1 = Mattiel - Satis Factory
Eclectic in it's influences and sound - Tarrantino movies, Northern Soul, Garage Rock, Velvet Underground, a bit of grunge - all mixed together to make 40 minutes of anyone's time worthwhile.
Every track has a difference and a re-assuring similarity.
Choice Track = "Keep The Change"

4. Fontaines DC - Dogrel
There is a well worn cliche that says "an assured debut".  Well, that is exactly what this is.  Assured, confident, full of swagger.  There are moments when the high bass notes and crashing drums leave you in no doubt of their influences.  Take equal parts Joy Division, The Fall and The Pogues, and you're not far away from Fontaines DC.  Irish Post-Punk at it's finest.
Choice track = "Dublin City Sky" (possibly the best song Shane MacGowan never wrote)

5. Specials - Encore
Their legacy is assured after the first 2 albums.  So did they need to come back 30 years after their debut?  Would they sully the memory by doing "The Specials By Numbers"?
Absolutely not - this album is just as valid as their first outings, maybe imbued with more experience, a wider world view, and not always needing to go full pelt at everything (although the accompanying live disc somewhat disputes that).
Choice track = "Embarrassed By You"

6. Richard Hawley - Further
Something magical happens when Richard Hawley plugs in an electric guitar.  I wish he'd do more with the same abandon as this album.  The louder moments mix finely with the archetypal Richard Hawley baritone balladry.  8 albums in 18 years, and I'd say this is his best.
Choice track = "Off My Mind"

7. The Who - Who
If I'd have had longer with this one, it would probably be higher, but number 7 on one months listening is pretty good going.
They've been there before, done that before, but haven't done it this well since 1978.  Having spent 3 decades treading water (granted they haven't been active all that time) they have no produced a worthy follow-up to their classic period.
Choice track = "All This Music Must Fade"

8. Wreckless Eric - Transience
As I said last year, it would be a crying shame if Wreckless Eric is only ever known fro "Whole Wide World".  And like last years album, this one is comparatively lo-fi on production and big on ambition.
The songs are smartly arranged and drag you in, almost demanding to be listened intently.  Eric's songwriting chops are clearly on show - shame that it's somewhat after his "peak public appeal" of around 40 (!) years ago.
Choice track = "Father to the Man"

9. black midi - Schlagenheim.
Like Fontaines DC above, there seems to be a bit of a Post-Punk revisit going on in 2019.  This album is both brilliant and infuriating in equal measure, and quite mad into the bargain.
Take a bit of Can, a soupcon of Talking Heads, and then imagine the bastard child of Alex Harvey and Shirley Bassey over the top.  See? Quite mad, but also locked in the CD player draw for a good few weeks
Choice track = "Ducter"

10. Frank Turner - No Mans Land
Frank Turner continues his descent to edgy acceptability on Radio 2, but now delivers a top notch set of songs.  His last couple of albums have been big on production sheen, short on quality (just my opinion!).  This time round, he's still got the sheen but has delivered in the song department.
Choice track = "The Death Of Dora Hand"

11. Bruce Springsteen - Western Stars
The bombast of old may no longer be on regular show, but his American Folk Hero side (Woody Guthrie-esque?) continues to do a fine job.  Widescreen, expansive, filmic even - these are descriptions that fit.  There is probably a fantastic album in here to a Springsteen fan.  Not being a big Bruce fan myself, I can see why lots of people fell over themselves with this one - me, I mark it as very, very good (or good enough to make number 11 anyway)
Choice Track = "Sleepy Joe's Café"

12. Elbow - Giants Of All Sizes
I admit this was purchased out of some sort of "Trainspotter completeness" mode.  To be honest, I feel Elbow have been a a downward slide since 'The Seldom Seen Kid', and Guy Garvey's voice has gradually got more grating.  But this one surprised me - the songs, the playing and the voice all work.  I can almost forgive them for the terrible 'Little Fictions' from a couple of years ago.
Choice Track = "White Noise White Heat"

13. Divine Comedy - Office Politics
Neil Hannon knows how to pen a great tune and match it with wry lyrics, and tell some fine stories.  Divine Comedy albums often take a bit of listening to fully "get", but when they do it's time well spent.  There are moments here when you fell he's been let loose in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.  My only criticism is that I felt it went on a bit, and found it a bit laboured in the second half.
Choice track = "Norman and Norma"

The box set no-one has been talking about.
Whilst many others are expounding the greatness and perfection of 'Abbey Road' (and very good it is too, with all those extra demo versions and stuff), my vote goes to the Not The Nine O'Clock News re-issue of all their 4 albums (well 3 and a live one) in a perfectly formed box - and not a novelty hedgehog or "I Love Reginald Bosanquet" badge in sight

Continuing the 'Abbey Road' referencing, the event of the year for me was undoubtedly Mark Lewisohn's Hornsey Road.
This really was manna for the Beatles nerd, and I (like others in the audience) lapped it up from start to finish.  The detail, minutiae and trivia was beyond compare - I hope there's a DVD becuase there was so much to take in I've probably forgotten more than I remember.
"Golden Slumbers" / "Carry That Weight" / "The End"


  1. I have 7 of those. Not sure which will make my year end list, but Mattiel will, and that's all down to your recommendation. I liked the Elbow album too, a lot more than the last couple, but I'm still not sure it's a complete return to form. I do like Guy Garvey though.