Wednesday, 18 January 2012

2011: A Year In Music [Part 4 of 4]

5. Morrissey - Bona Drag

The few Morrissey albums that I had prior to this one (Your arsenal, Vauxhall and I, You are the quarry) are all good (the latter) to excellent (the first two), but were still in a different ballpark to most of the work he did with his former band The Smiths. Bona drag is a compilation of his non-album singles, with the exception of Suedehead and Everyday is like Sunday which both also appeared on his solo debut Viva hate (anyone who has heard Ryan Adams' debut album Heartbreaker will find this little tidbit amusing). Consider it his Louder than bombs, if you will.

Anyone who has several Morrissey solo albums but doesn't own this compilation isn't getting the full picture of his solo career, and that makes this essential listening. Some of his finest moments are here -- November spawned a monster, The last of the famous international playboys and of course the aforementioned Viva hate singles.

The highlight of the album for me is Hairdresser on fire, a typically camp Morrissey number with a melody to die for and lyrics detailing the frustration of trying to make an appointment with his hairdresser. It all sounds typically over-the-top, but it's a fantastic song that would have sit quite nicely on any of the Smiths albums.

4. Ringo Starr - Ringo

Ahhh, Ringo. Always the punchline of Beatles jokes, but we know Ringo will have the last laugh when he is the last surviving member (and you know he will be). And for a short time in 1973, he demonstrated that he too could release a great album, with a little help from his friends of course.

This solo Beatles album is special, as it's the only one which all of the ex-Beatles appeared on. Ringo was probably the most diplomatic and likable Beatle, which is probably why he didn't have a falling out with any of them. Each of the ex-Beatles wrote a song for him -- I'm the greatest (Lennon), Six o'clock (McCartney) and Sunshine life for me / You and me babe (Harrison). George Harrison also helped Ringo co-write Photograph, one of my favourite solo Beatles songs, which made it to number one in the US singles charts.

The production on the album is amazing, with the crowd cheers on the opening and closing tracks reminding me of George Martin's production work on Sgt. Pepper's (and fitting in well with the theatrical feel of the album cover). This is a fun album with incredibly catchy songs which is a pleasure to listen to. While it's not as deep as Imagine or All things must pass, it's an album I can see myself returning to again and again.

3. Loudon Wainwright III - Attempted Mustache

With the purchase of this album, I think the Wainwrights' may be the biggest musical family in my CD collection (Loudon's children being the folk singers Rufus and Martha).

This is Loudon's 4th album (from 1974), and is best described as folk music with a sense of humour. Opening track The swimming song is a catchy, banjo-driven number which is memorable from the first listen and only gets better with age. Bell bottom pants and I am the way are hilariously cynical portraits of the hippy-era and religion respectively (the latter being based off a Woody Guthrie song, but with updated lyrics).

I already knew the amusing ballad The man who wouldn't cry as Johnny Cash covered is on his American recordings album (Cash's version is quite similar to the original here). Nocturnal stumblebutt is a song about Loudon trying to find his keys and cigarettes in the dark without waking up his partner. The closing song Lullaby is about how his baby boy Rufus was keeping him up at night, and includes pearlers such as "You're a late night faucet that's got a drip".

Suddenly, the vitriol that Martha Wainwright expressed in her song Bloody mother fucking asshole (apparently an ode to her father) is starting to make a lot more sense.

2. Galaxie 500 - On Fire

Indie publications like Pitchfork and the like have been praising the work of Galaxie 500 for a while, in particular this album from 1989. Galaxie 500 were part of the "slowcore" movement, bleak music with languid tempos and often heavy use of reverb. I bought this album with much trepidation, expecting an album that had been surpassed by the work of bands who it had influenced. It took several listens to make me realise that I was dealing with a very special album.

The songs tend to blend into each other on the initial listens, but over time the nuances of each track appear. The beautiful harmonies on Tell me, the whining, desperate vocals of Snowstorm and Strange and the stunning, minimalistic landscape of Decomposing trees (one of the few tracks from the 80s which has a sax-solo and doesn't sound the least bit dated). It is all capped off with a cover of George Harrison's Isn't it a pity, a radical reinvention that gave me a renewed appreciation for the song.

1. Nina Simone - Sings The Blues

I didn't really think I was a big fan of the blues, but it took a masterpiece of a record from one of the greatest vocalists of the 20th century to sway me.

Like Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, Nina Simone is known more for being an interpreter of songs rather than a songwriter, and that is reflected in the track-listing of this album where only 4 of the songs were composed by her. I'm glad to say that 3 of the songs that she did compose here (Do I move you?, Real real and I want a little sugar in my bowl) are probably the finest on the album, so calling her an amazing singer is still doing her a massive injustice!

Opener Do I move you? begins with seductive verses before exploding into a wonderfully shambolic chorus. Real real is my favourite number here -- it swings, it bops, it gets the blood pumping through your veins. It's a delightful number, and like all of the songs here, is a perfect showcase for Simone's uniquely androgynous vocals. Her interpretation of the traditional The house of the rising sun (made famous by The Animals) reinvents it as a fast-paced number. The album alternates between slow-paced torch songs and more rhythmic numbers, and it never fails to hit all of the emotional notes.

Disclaimer: There are several versions of this album available -- I have the one called The blues (from 1991) which has a different cover than the one above and appends 6 bonus tracks to the end. Normally I'm not a big fan of this, but the bonus tracks are all high quality (in particular the drug ode The pusher) and it's easy enough on the iPod to separate the bonus tracks from the album proper.

That concludes the list of my musical discoveries of 2011 -- I hope you have enjoyed reading it.

What did you enjoy listening to throughout the year?


  1. Hi Jeremy

    Have enjoyed these posts as always....haven't heard about the Ringo one, sounds like fun though. And now, much like my other posts, believe or not that Nina Simone album was another on my list of albums to consider..glad to hear the recommendation.

    Some of my musical discoveries this year...
    Plan B - Defamation of Strickland Banks - really great concept album from a rapper who has moved to primarily singing soul...his voice is Smoky Robinson esque. worth checking out.

    Imelda May - Mayhem - rockabilly that works really well.

    Pajama Club - Neil Finn's project with his wife. Laden with bass lines, its different to a lot of his other work, but not too shabby.

    John Cale - Paris 1919. Very accessable album, and that title track is fantastic.

    Then I have got into a few albums based on your prior recommendations - Sufjan Stevens (Illinoise), Bob Seger (Stranger in Town), Tom Waits (Closing Time )

    Also used 2011 to finally purchase some well regaded classics like Thriller, Brothers in Arms, Born in USA, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and the Band

    Thanks again for your posts...


  2. Thanks for the comment Deano!

    Definitely pick up that Nina Simone album; 'tis a great one.

    Glad to hear you've been getting into some of my recommendations - Closing Time is up there with the great albums, and Illinoise is remarkably solid for such a long album. I also dig The Band which has always been a critics' favourite.

    Which of those musical discoveries would you recommend to me, knowing my taste in music?


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