Tuesday, 25 December 2007

2007: A Year in Music [Part 2: Top 10 songs of the year]

We'll continue the run-down of 2007 with a list of my top 10 favourite songs of the year. The MP3 files will stay up for a week and then they will be removed. Please give them a listen; if you enjoy them, please purchase them legally.

10. Manic Street Preachers - Send away the tigers [Song link removed]

With the benefit of hindsight, I can now comfortably say that 2004's Lifeblood album was a bit of a disappointment. It did have some good songs on it, but it just didn't feel right; it felt like a too-deliberate attempt to try something different and I felt they should have tweaked their existing formula in subtle ways rather than attempting such a radical reinvention. Props to them for giving it a go, but in my opinion it wasn't entirely successful.

Their new album Send away the tigers is a much more solid album, easily their most consistent effort since This is my truth tell me yours from 1998. These Welshmen have been going about their business for almost 20 years now, and some would argue that they've been going about 10 years too long. If they can keep churning out corkers like this, the opening self-titled song from their latest, then they won't be embarrassing themselves in the short-term.

One could argue that this is Manics-by-numbers, and I wouldn't disagree here. It starts out with a few simple chords before the lead guitar riff and drums come in, and then the (still excellent) lead vocals of James Dean Bradfield take centre stage. The lyrics are the typical fusion of personal and politics that dominate most of their songs. But this song, like most great Manics tunes, is all about the chorus. And when it first comes in at 1:05, you can't help but smile, close your eyes and pretend that it's 1996 all over again.

9. The Shins - Australia [Song link removed]

From a band (the Manics) who once recorded a song called Australia back in 1996, to another (albeit completely different) song from 2007 also named after the place we call home. It starts out very strangely, this song, with one of the band members saying something that I can't understand in a language that appears to be German (Ed: I just looked this up on the internet, and he is saying Time to put the ear googles on. Hmmm.) This soon gives way to a great bouncy riff, a few shouts of "la la la" from James Mercer, and then a moment later, the real vocals and the gorgeous melody kick in.

The best Shins songs are always about the vocals of frontman James Mercer, and as good as the music is here, it is his voice which carries the fantastic melody and turns the song into an absolute Shins classic. I don't really know what the song is about, as Australia isn't even mentioned in the lyrics, but it doesn't really matter. This song is up there with the finest songs from their 2003 masterwork Chutes too narrow, and I can't give it a much bigger compliment than that.

8. Spoon - The underdog [Song link removed]

If you've ever seen the 1991 Bill Murray movie What about Bob?, you'll understand the concept of "baby steps". It's a way of dealing with problems, and the basic premise is that you shouldn't be too ambitious in tackling problems, but try to reach your goal by taking small, or baby, steps.

Sometimes I feel that Spoon use the same philosophy with their music. Each of their albums is a subtle tweaking of their formula; not too subtle that you would ever accuse them of repeating themselves, and not too much of a step that they will lose sight of what makes them such an amazing band.

The underdog is a perfect encapsulation of this subtle re-invention on their latest album: take the Spoon formula (minimalistic rock music with Britt Daniel's amazing nasal vocals), add some baby steps (in this case, some well-placed brass instrumentation and handclaps), and you have yourself another Spoon classic that is so identifiably Spoon while still sounding like nothing else they have ever recorded. That the lyric has a certain charm of its own (especially the line about having a pipe and slippers set out for you) doesn't hurt either.

7. The Good, The Bad & The Queen - 80's life [Song link removed]

Some songs are so special that they can capture the feeling of a particular era so aptly that they become almost a musical time capsule. Despite the misleading title, this song is not about the 80's, even though Damon Albarn draws parallels between the current day and some of the darker times in the 80's.

Like much of the album from which this song is taken from, this song has a very cinematic, almost film noir quality to it. It starts out with a tinkling piano riff which continues throughout most of the song, before the guitar and some other hard-to-identify instruments join the mix. Shortly after, Damon Albarn's world-weary vocals come in, and he's not a happy chappy; it sounds like he's had enough of all the bullshit he's being fed on a daily basis and this song is his catharsis.

What elevates this song above a lot of the others on this line-up's sombre debut is the melody in the chorus, which is propelled by some superbly-placed "oooh oooh" backing vocals. Doo-wop has never sounded as dark as this.

6. Crowded House - Pour le Monde [Song link removed]

Pour le Monde (literally, "For the world") is to me the emotional centrepiece of the excellent new Crowded House album Time on earth. While Neil Finn has never said this, whenever I listen to it I assume it is about the late Crowded House drummer Paul Hester who tragically took his own life in 2005. This elevates the song to another emotional plane for me; even if isn't about him, isn't music interpretation in the eye (or ear) of the beholder?

Lyrical interpretation aside, nobody can deny that this song still has one of the most emotionally affecting melodies on the album, and deserves pride of place next to previous Crowded House classics. That Neil Finn can still write songs as stunning as this 30 years after he first joined Split Enz is a true testament to his songwriting genius.

5. Spoon - You got yr cherry bomb [Song link removed]

I love how when Britt Daniel sings, he sounds like he needs a Kleenex. That quality alone elevates Spoon above so many other rock bands. Yes, they wouldn't be where they are without the rest of the band, but oh that stuffy nose. I wish Spoon all the success they deserve, but I hope they are always shy of the funds to buy that elusive tissue box.

What can I say about this song? Well, it's a Spoon song, and the baby steps I mentioned in my review of The underdog are also present here. Some well-placed brass, a great blue-eyed soul nasally performance from our good man Britt, and a real sense of space between the instruments that give it a real live feel. It feels like a studio outtake masquerading as a polished studio number, and this only adds to its considerable charms.

4. Super Furry Animals - Run-away [Song link removed]

This song is based on a true story. Which would be fine, if it wasn't auto-biographical.
Gruff Rhys, circa 2007

So begins Run-away, the finest song from 2007's Hey Venus! album, and an SFA classic for the ages. From the get-go, the Phil Spector drums and wall of sound kick in (think Be my baby), and Gruff puts on his best white soul man impersonation. The melody of the chorus is absolutely gorgeous, possibly in the top 10 SFA songs if we are just talking about pure songwriting.

I'm on my second spin within the space of five minutes as I write these words, and the more I listen to it, the more I realise that this is one of those timeless songs which could have been written in any era from the mid-60's to now; it has this magical quality that makes it sound familiar even when hearing it for the first time. It takes a special type of artist to write and perform a song as beautiful as this one. It's now over ten years since their debut album, and these quirky Welshmen continue to impress.

3. Radiohead - Jigsaw falling into place [Song link removed]

Younger Radiohead fans who started out on their naughties (Kid A onwards) material probably don't realise that they were once a band who were able to rock your socks off. While their previous album Hail to the thief had a few rockier songs, In rainbows had two absolute belters on it. Bodysnatchers is a great song in itself, but this one (named after yours truly) is an absolute corker.

It starts out with some great finger-picking and cymbals before the bass and drums kick in. Like many songs on In rainbows, this song is dominated by the rhythm section, with the guitar providing necessary embellishments when required. Oh yeah, and we can't forget Thom Yorke's vocals, which suffer from multiple personality disorder throughout this song. He starts out singing like he is half asleep, and within a few minutes he is rockin' away and then wailing like a hyena. Like many great songs, the last minute delivers the money shot, where everything gels together perfectly and you can't help but smile. I need to hear this song live.

2. The Arcade Fire - Intervention [Song link removed]

A time may come when The Arcade Fire's formula outstays its welcome, but right now I'm happy for them to milk it for all it's worth. If we were to represent their music as a chemical reaction, it would go a little something like this. Organ-based dense wall of sound + Over-emotive vocals + Dark obscure lyrics + Inflated sense of self-importance = Musical bliss.

This song ticks all of the boxes, and that alone makes it the highlight of their excellent new album Neon bible. This is the type of song which could turn even the most hardened cynic into a true believer. Sing hallelujah!

1. Radiohead - Reckoner [Song link removed]

It's amazing that a band who have been around for as long as Radiohead and have released so many amazing songs can still write a song which practically re-defines who they are and where they are heading. But this is one such song, and even though LP8 has yet to be released, I cannot help but interpret it as a mission statement for their musical future.

Reckoner is a predominantly percussion-driven song with unintelligible wailing from frontman Thom Yorke, and an amazing string breakdown in the middle of the song where Thom croons like a man possessed. It doesn't matter one bit that I find it difficult to decipher a single lyric in the song, as his amazing voice and the music speaks for itself.

While many of the other songs on In rainbows have their ancestral roots in previous Radiohead songs, Reckoner sounds unlike anything they have recorded before. It's not rock, indie, electronic or dance -- it's just Radiohead, a band who are synonymous with "radical reinvention". And it's my song of the year.

UPDATE: Song links removed.


  1. So glad to see Reckoner at No. 1 -- I thought you'd overlooked it in your In Rainbows review, perhaps the best outro of the year. Wonderful song. My own faves also include Wilco's You Are my Face, SFA's Run-away (I agree, instant SFA classic, but dodgy clip to go with it...), RH's Jigsaw... (a tribute to Wireless Cranium?), Manic's You Love alone is not enough, Interpol's Pioneer to the falls (a highlight on a dull album), Arcade Fire's Intervention (yet again, spot on Jiggs!). Probably my two faves for the year though were both first singles from big albums: Don't Stop Now, by Crowded House, which ticks all the right boxes for a four-minute tracks, and Editor's Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors. -Pete

  2. Glad to see that you are a big fan of Pour Le Monde as well. I love that song too. Its just got a really nice sound to it.

    I don't really have enough new music to really make any informed statements on your choices though....ah well, never mind.

  3. Hi Jiggy

    Not sure if you saw the Chaser's War on Rage on New Years Eve, but basically the Chasers were the guest programmers on Rage. Anyway, thought you would be interested to know that, one after the other, they played the Shin's Australia, and then Spoon's The Underdog.

    As I use dial up at home, I never download your tracks, its a bit too slow, so heard those tracks for the first time on Rage.

    Australia by the Shins had a great film clip, but the song didn't do much for me, but I did quite like the Spoon song.

  4. @ Pete: I watched the Run-away film clip on YouTube; I agree, pretty dodgy clip.

    @ Wally: I didn't see Chaser's War on Rage -- In fact, I hadn't even heard of it until you mentioned it. I'm annoyed that I missed it now, because it sounds like have great music taste :) And glad that you like the Spoon song; if you like that song you'd probably enjoy the whole album.

  5. Completely agree with your "money shot" analogy Jigs, I'm yet to come across (whoops! that's unfortunate) a band that does the tension-and-release thing better than RH. See "Everything in its Right Place" for another textbook example.


Sing some harmonies here: