O.k here’s the deal – I’m asked to get seven songs together that rocked my year (why seven? Maybe the editor is on a Madonna Kabalistic tip – who knows?). My clause – these are songs that I’ve played obsessively throughout the year, but they’re not necessarily released this year. Now, with that out of the way, we can proceed:
As the backlash against globalisation gathers pace, some decent swamp-rock from Liverpool is the best aural antidote to the credit crunch. This is a snappy dancing beast that got played on my desktop most monday mornings throughout the year. The perfect response to all those – this blog included – that spent their time dismissing them as the band that wrote that brilliant Amy Winehouse/Mark Ronson song Valerie. This is upfront, sassy, and jubilant – though they trip in the final hurdle with that ‘it was the face of a woman’ explanation. Never apologise, never explain.
I’ve long meant to check out The Equals, the North London reggae band from the mid ’60s, and this was the year that I got around to it. The band are best known for having Eddy Grant on guitar, and for their chart-topping hit Baby Come Back, but the main impulse for me was to hear Police on My Back, after that electrifying cover by the Clash on the Sandinistas! album. That original is mildly dissapointing compared to the Clash cover, but there are so many gems on The Best of the Equals that it’s irrelevant. I get so excited sums things up perfectly – with Derv Gordon’s gruff voice and Grant’s catchy riff, this is pop music for young working men and women on the cusp of a friday night. Put it on at any party and watch the dance floor fill – a timeless classic.
This was one of the best and most abused songs this year. Using their technical limitations to produce something familiar but new, that’s not my name got taken on and championed by the purse-string-holding hipsters that it lampooned. With a stripped back electro riff that brings those of us old enough to remember back to Toni Basil’s catchy but b-anal Oh Mickey. this is a song sung by Katie White lamenting the patronising indifference she faced with her first band, and yet it’s been marketed here, there, and everywhere on its catchy hook and her pretty blonde looks. Ironies abound, but don’t let your head get too messed up on it – it’s a great tune, from a great band. Don’t let the fact that it’s on every advert and tv promo around interfere with that. ‘Nuff said
I’m lucky enough to not know much about Yoni Wolf’s previous musical incarnations (cLOUDDEAD or Greenthink), or even Why?’s previous outings like Elephant Eyelash. Lucky in the sense that knowing precious little about them, I don’t have to jump into the critical maelstrom evaluating his musical style-shifting (from abstract hip-hop through to alternative pop). For me it’s enough just to listen to the brilliant album Alopecia and enjoy. There are some great tracks on offer on the album, but the one I kept coming back to was this. Why? (couldn’t resist that rhetorical flourish) Because of it’s cool D.I.Y feel, the bass, the gear shifting chorus and what must be contender for the best line of the year “even though I haven’t seen you in years, yours is a funeral I’d fly to from anywhere…”
Another song that’s not of this year, but which, slowcoach that I am, came my way during 2008. It’s a potent reminder that, sometimes there’s no reason for an ulterior motive. Sometimes a song, shorn of context or complications, works just because it’s got a chorus to die for. No innovation, no trendsetting, but you can’t stop yourself singing along.
This is one of those guilty pleasures – a song that Mrs Murphy just physically can’t listen to, and so to be enjoyed when she’s out of hearing range. Why she can’t abide Abel is a matter open to conjecture, but the screaming repeated chorus of ‘my mind’s not right’ probably has something to do with it. It’s a tense song, liable to raise your heartbeat, and, if you’re prone to nerves, make your palms sweat.
Which is all to the good, because this is a superb and twisted slice of American rock, from probably the best album of the year. With it’s staccatto beat drumming, ranting and raving your attention is grabbed. The story is, like all the best, ambiguous – is the singer Cain when he edgily sings ‘Abel c’mon, give me the keys back’?What makes this brilliant, though, is that it’s not just a 120mph thrash -no, this is shaded, paced, and not just a little bit creepy.
It’s a sad state of affairs when you have to get a political wake-up call from the man who may well be best remembered for penning the lines ‘the messiah is my sister, ain’t no king man she’s my queen’, but that’s exactly what we got from Ian Brown this year, with his brave stance against US & UK militarism and the death and destruction it causes. The album was great, but this track was extraordinary – in no small part thanks to O’Connor’s haunting vocals (for someone with such a strong voice and personality, O’Connor has repeatedly put in brilliant collaborations – with Shane McGowan on the Pogues Haunted, or more recently with Damien Dempsey).
You’ll have the cynics turning their noses up at the simplicity of it all, but sometimes simplicity is what’s called for – and in a year when both Blair and Bush admitted their ‘mistakes’ without any consequences, maybe Brown’s opening ‘what the fuck’ is the most eloquent response necessary.