On the record 2017, Part 9: Tortured souls but great songs

This is the penultimate round-up of albums for this year’s adventure and more than ever I am getting concerned about having to narrow down the incredible selection of music I’ve listened to in 2017 to just five best albums of the year, and which should be added to my top ten of all time.

These five weeks have had a great variety to them, with some excellent surprises. I loved Johnny Cash, and wasn’t so keen on The B-52’s, with the rest of pop and country filling in the gaps.

Week 41

  • Now, Shania Twain
    Lovely album from Shania, it’s incredible to think it’s her first in 15 years. The songs veer from positive life-affirming pop to serious personal pain, but all with the sheen of pop-country that you come to expect from Shania. Never gonna beat Come On Over as an album, but an incredible return.
  • With His Blue and Hot Guitar, Johnny Cash
    Something about Johnny Cash’s deep and sultry voice just washes over you and wraps you in a comforting blanket – even when he’s singing about troubling topics. Prison, death, heartbreak, and just the occasional glimpse of love going right, this is a brilliant, if short, debut album.

Week 42

  • Beautiful Trauma, P!nk
    Was really looking forward to this after the genius of What About Us, and for the most part it totally delivered. It felt like a rollercoaster of emotions on the first listen, but it really grew on me on the second. With the documentary giving a bit of extra insight to some of the songs, as well, it really helps make this one shine.
  • Foreigner, Foreigner
    I am adamant that if Cold as Ice was made today, it would sound totally legit and fit in with the current music scene. The rest of the album, not so much. It’s good but very seventies, very of its time. Things get off to a good start with Feels Like the First Time and Cold as Ice, but the rest of it is less memorable.

Week 43

  • Younger Now, Miley Cyrus
    Wasn’t expecting too much from this – I’m totally on board with Miley reinventing herself whenever she has a mind too, but it was sold as an updated take on fifties beats. Odd. But actually it really works for me. I like almost all the songs, and they have a good, chilled out, mostly positive vibe.
  • Camino Palmero, The Calling
    Love this album. I know it from old, one of my favourites, and it’s still up there. Just plain simple guitar rock, tortured souls but great songs, and some real gems including Wherever You Will Go and Things Don’t Always Turn Out That Way. Could listen over and over.

Week 44

  • The Meaning of Life, Kelly Clarkson
    Really solid album from Kelly Clarkson. It occurred to me before I listened that I only really knew the singles and very little else about Kelly, but still managed to love her. This album just adds to that: great vocals, some great hooks, and a nice overall positive feeling about love, life and everything in between.
  • Cosmic Thing, The B-52’s
    Hmm, not my cup of tea really. I like Love Shack, and the album is stacked full of the quirky nature that makes that song fun. But, I think it’s all quite samey and aside from one instrumental at the end, it could basically be a 45 minute version of Love Shack, and I’m not sure I like it THAT much.

Week 45

  • Unapologetically, Kelsea Ballerini
    Love this album, it’s very much like the first – nice, simple, clean and crisp country songs with a youthful edge, and plenty of unique moments to make it stand out from the crowd. I thought this album indulged a little more in the “we’re not in high school anymore” vibe, with plenty of references to US high school tropes that I’ve only seen in movies, but even with that, it’s still up there with the best albums of the year.
  • Eyes Open, Snow Patrol
    This album speaks so clearly of a specific point in time, midway through the noughties, where music was transitioning from fun pop to the more grungy pop that it is today. Guitar bands were prevalent and Snow Patrol were one of the best. Some great songs on this album so that I can’t believe I haven’t listened to it all before!

On the record 2017, Part 8: Chilled out vibe rather than angry rage rapping

I can’t believe we’re getting towards the end of the year now, if only because it means there’s just a few weeks of albums left before I have to start coming up with a top five list! It’s been an incredible year of music and there are some real potential highlights coming over the next few weeks as well. It’s going to be agonising forming the best of lists for 2017!

Week 36

  • Freedom Child, The Script
    First listen through this was a bit disappointing – it doesn’t really stand out like previous singles and albums have, and it’s not as inspirational as previous work. However, second listen was better, there are some good ideas on there and it’s quite a chilled out album to relax with. The single Rain grew on me after many listens, so I reckon this album is also a grower.
  • Control, Janet Jackson
    I was highly anticipating this, but it didn’t quite work for me. No question Janet Jackson is fab but as a whole, it was all just a bit eighties and the songs never quite seemed to go anywhere. A few of them were too repetitive and although not a bad listen, I wouldn’t pick this out again.

Week 37

  • Broken Machine, Nothing But Thieves
    Didn’t know this band before listening, but actually really enjoyed this one. They have a sort of blend of established guitar bands, like Muse, The Killers and Stereophonics, which kind of makes it a new take on a very saturated genre. Good stuff.
  • The Truth About Love, P!nk
    Really love this album, there are so many tunes on it, it’s a real collection of genius. Pink has always been kinda inspirational and her recent thoughts on just being yourself and proving you’re awesome by getting on with it and ignoring the haters just add to the weight behind great songs like on this album. Can’t wait for the new one.

Week 38

  • Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, Calvin Harris
    This is a pretty good album to chill out to but I was expecting more of it to stand out than it did. The fun game of “who is going to guest on each song and what are they going to sing” only lasts for so long. I really like Feels with Katy Perry, and the Nicki Minaj song was good, but otherwise it wasn’t as memorable as I’d thought it might be, considering the calibre of talent on it.
  • Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell, Meat Loaf
    Not sure you’d have got me listening to an album that kicks off with an 11 minute song this time last year, but I’m all on board now. Very similar to the first Bat Out of Hell, this is piano rock opera at its finest, but I think if you pushed me I’d have to say I preferred the first album to this. All good though.

Week 39

  • Wonderful Wonderful, The Killers
    Great to hear The Killers again, such a distinctive voice and some great songs to go along with it. I didn’t really like the title track so the album got off to a very inauspicious start but it picked up as it went along, and I quite enjoyed the rest of the piece.
  • No Need to Argue, The Cranberries
    Really enjoyed this album – didn’t know very much about The Cranberries going in, other than Zombie. It’s all so very Irish, great accents, great instruments, and a lilting pain that pervades even through some of the more upbeat stuff. Perhaps some of the songs were a little samey, but overall a great album.

Week 40

  • Tell Me You Love Me, Demi Lovato
    Was looking forward to this album and it mostly delivered, although I was curious about the tone. Kicking off with an empowering anthem then switching immediately to a weepy “I’m nothing without you” song is a bit weird. Demi gets quite personal, and there’s some good songs, but I didn’t enjoy the one with ridiculous amounts of swearing.
  • Country Grammar, Nelly
    I know a few of Nelly’s main singles but from this album I was only aware of Ride Wit Me (which I love). The whole album has a similar feel, a sort of chilled out vibe rather than angry rage rapping, and that makes it a really nice listen. It’s not all as strong as Ride Wit Me, but still I liked it.

On the record 2017, Part 7: A pretty chilled out vibe that works for me

When I first started this album adventure, outside influences very quickly impacted on the selection of albums both I and Mr C made. Watching the movie Straight Outta Compton propelled NWA’s album near the top of my favourites list, whilst the death of David Bowie saw me sampling the delights of Heroes.

Since then, we’ve been focusing more on our own selections – we both have lists of potential choices. Mr C’s list is the larger one, covering all of musical history, whilst mine is smaller with only 2016 and 2017 to choose from. It’s been a while since we’ve deviated from the lists, but recently, there has been a big influencer on the choices – Carpool Karaoke.

After watching the first episode I was obsessed with getting a Will Smith album under my belt, and the next week I managed to have a completely Carpool Karaoke themed selection. Having seen Alicia Keys and John Legend jamming together in the car, I chose him for my new album and Mr C threw Alicia’s debut into the mix. I love it when stuff like this happens, crossing the streams and all that, because it just adds to my ever-growing musical knowledge and makes this album listening silliness all the more relevant.

Also, a bonus shout-out for Lukeh and Jeremy who gave me suggestions for current albums that I probably wouldn’t have picked myself. Such fun!

Week 31

  • Different Days, The Charlatans
    Nice and relaxing this one, I don’t know much about The Charlatans but this album has a pretty chilled out vibe that works for me. I quite like the interludes as well, not too intrusive and add rather than take away from the work as a whole.
  • Red, Taylor Swift
    I hadn’t realised quite how pop Taylor had already gone before she even got to 1989. This album’s first half is pure pop before reverting to the more familiar country sound. It’s longer than a lot of albums too and stacked with hits, plus a couple of good collaborations to boot.

Week 32

  • Pawn Shop, Brothers Osborne
    This was a recommendation, and I’d not heard of the band before. It’s proper country, not pop country that I usually indulge in, but it wasn’t as hoky as I’d thought it might be. The first half of the album is quite relaxing, and it’s all got a nice rhythm to it.
  • Look Sharp, Roxette
    Excellent album, it’s very eighties, so maybe hasn’t aged as well as it might have done, but the songs are all still great – the singles stand out, naturally, but love it all. Some of the tracks remind me of Madonna, but the combination of the two voices gives it a slightly different vibe.

Week 33

  • Truth is a Beautiful Thing, London Grammar
    I was keen to listen to this one, heard good things, but this isn’t really my sort of thing. Bit heavy, ethereal, quite like Florence and the Machine. Lead singer has a great voice but there isn’t much else to it, and I found it a bit of a slog to get through the whole album.
  • Big Willie Style, Will Smith
    Love Will Smith. Inspired to listen to this after his Carpool Karaoke, and really enjoyed it. The pop-rap style is totally up my street, great rhythm in rapping but slightly more palatable subjects than more hardcore rappers. Plus I know all the words to Men in Black, so can end the album in style.

Week 34

  • Darkness and Light, John Legend
    Was always under the impression that Legend was a bit whiney, you know, soppy laid back music, but I hadn’t realised Love Me Now was him. After being educated by Carpool Karaoke, I gave his album a go, but did find it to be a bit underwhelming. Love Me Now is a stand out track, the rest far less memorable.
  • Songs in A Minor, Alicia Keys
    This is one of the few albums that I listened to multiple times when it came out. I’m slightly obsessed with Alicia: such a good voice, amazing piano talent and just a wonderful presence, so it’s lovely to dip back into this familiar selection of R&B/pop goodness.

Week 35

  • Memories…Do Not Open, The Chainsmokers
    At first, I was optimistic about this one – I liked the style and the different guests bringing unique voices to various tracks. Unfortunately, it still all managed to sound similar – and a couple of the songs were just like Closer with Halsey. Good but not great.
  • 1989, Taylor Swift
    I’ve heard this a few times, obviously, but somehow I’d forgotten that there were just so many great tracks on here. It’s a fab album from start to finish, and I can understand why Mr C loves it so much. Listened to this just in time to start enjoying her new stuff too!

Taste Twenty Trial – 9. Liquorice root

The one thing it is easy to forget when you have a blog is that people are occasionally reading what you’re saying. It really shouldn’t be a surprise when someone says “Hey, why don’t you try this food, I know you’re trying to taste new things, I saw it on your blog.”

I wasn’t keen, if I’m honest, because this thing is called liquorice root. I don’t like liquorice, and it looked like a tree branch, which I’ve not previously had a fondness for eating either.

But, I’ve expressed a willingness to try new things, and I was told it didn’t taste like the black sweet-like liquorice I know and dislike. So I tried.

It doesn’t really make sense to me as a food. Others were chewing on this root, saying how nice the flavour was once you get into it. Well, I couldn’t bite into the root because it was too hard (being a tree branch and all), and I didn’t like the taste long enough to soften it up (being liquorice and all).

A little further research suggests it should be used as a flavouring, but my companions were content enough to chew on it. For me, it wasn’t really a successful tasting, but hey, it’s another one off the list!

On the record 2017, Part 6: Hear them and love them and join the dots

Here’s why this album adventure still remains a lot of fun even 18 months after it started.

Me: I get why Queen’s stuff got turned into a musical, because Freddie was so theatrical anyway, you know? I really don’t see how it works with Meat Loaf.

Mr C: Sure, except you know Meat Loaf’s work is called rock opera, right?

Me: Wha…

[x2 listens of Bat Out Of Hell later]

Me: I get it now.

I really liked that Meat Loaf album, but hey, you can read on to find out more about that.

Week 26

  • Dua Lipa, Dua Lipa
    I’ve only just become aware of Dua Lipa, but her album was a surprise to me. It’s your standard pop fare, although I did think it was made up of well-produced, catchy songs, if not hugely memorable. Her voice is interesting though, deeper and more soulful than I’d expected.
  • Crowded House, Crowded House
    Only knew Don’t Dream It’s Over going into this one, and that is a stand out track of the album (although the Miley/Ariana version is better), but actually the rest of it was a lot of fun too. Good pop rock, interesting hooks, very listenable. Enjoyed it.

Week 27

  • TLC, TLC
    I didn’t realise the girls were getting the band back together, but out of nowhere came a self-titled album from TLC (or TC as they sadly should be now). It was a good album, sort of standard R&B with that quite notable TLC sound. Not sure any of it stands out for me but very, very listenable album.
  • Bat Out of Hell, Meat Loaf
    I loved this! It’s a bit of a surprise because whilst I know I like Meatloaf songs in isolation, I wasn’t sure about a whole album stacked with super long songs in that rock opera style. Don’t know what I was worrying about, it was brilliant! Curious to listen on to Part II now.

Week 28

  • Something to Tell You, Haim
    Oof I love this album. I was eagerly anticipating it, and listened to it twice in quick succession before 8am on the day it came out. Love it so much. Every song has a unique something, it’s all quite angsty but these girls know how to layer their instruments and voices to create great sounds. Will listen many more times, I know.
  • Escape, Enrique Iglesias
    This album has that pure early 2000s pop sound that I so loved. I’ve sort of grown out of it now but love it as a nostalgia trip. One of the songs was very Eurovision, and I do wonder if putting the same songs in various languages really counts, but otherwise it’s a great foot-tapping pop album.

Week 29

  • Evolve, Imagine Dragons
    Really liked this album. I sort of feel like I don’t know any Imagine Dragons songs but then hear them and love them and join the dots that they’re by this band. This album is a fab collection of pop-rock with some powerful rock anthems sitting comfortably side by side with more traditional pop blends. Love it.
  • Like a Prayer, Madonna
    Interesting collection of songs here, some massively stand out more than others but it also makes a complete work that has to be considered together. It’s good, and you can hear the craft in it, alongside Madonna’s excellent voice and musicality. Not sure it totally won me over but I appreciate the work.

Week 30

  • Parking Lot Symphony, Trombone Shorty
    Not my usual style of music but actually quite liked it. It scared me off a little at the start – the first track being almost entirely jazzy, but moved into more comfortable territory. I like the songs with added brass instruments, and it’s got a cool vibe. Not all my cup of tea but still a good album.
  • Appetite for Destruction, Guns N’ Roses
    Hard to think I can add anything to the world about this band, quintessential hard rock, with a couple of fantastic anthems on there – Sweet Child O’ Mine particularly stands out. But it’s an album full of good tracks, quite intense in places but overall a solid listen.

The Championships, Wimbledon 2017

For the past two weeks, the 2017 Wimbledon Championships have been underway, and they’ve provided lots of ups and downs, highlights and disappointments, the usual Grand Slam tournament soap opera. This year was different for me, though, because I was there on day one. I was one of those attendees in the grounds of the All-England Club. I never really thought I’d get to Wimbledon in person. It was a vague desire, but the complexity of getting tickets alongside the fact that coverage at home only ever gets more comprehensive and engaging meant I thought I’d be an armchair fan for the foreseeable future.

However, I was lucky enough to get a ticket for Court 1, Day 1, (thanks Helen!) and thus I was there to see the opening matches kick off. I could talk you step by step through my day, how I saw Kim Clijsters on the press balcony, how I saw James Ward taking a picture with a fan whilst simultaneously continuing his conversation with his friend, how I marvelled at Venus Williams from a seat with an incredible view, how I opted not to indulge in the over-priced strawberries.

I could do all that but why bother? You know how cool Wimbledon is.

Instead, here are five things I noticed that you probably don’t get in your average Wimbo review.

  1. The gate staff were exceptionally vigilant.
    Everyone I encountered that day that was helping out, either as volunteer, or paid staff, was supremely kind and courteous, helpful, knowledgable. It left me with a really good impression of the organisation of the event. The gate staff were checking bags, naturally, and it was a thorough but very polite search. I thought it interesting that they were on high alert for guerrilla marketing – on the walk up to the grounds, some had been handed freebie bags, these were taken off them at the gate so as not to provide excessive marketing to the companies behind it. Intriguing.
  2. The Aorangi hill is really uncomfortable.
    I’m sure there are a few prime spots, on the curve of the ridge with the screen straight ahead, but I perched on a steep incline to enjoy a snack and gained nothing but a bad back and a cricked neck. The people that sit there in the rain, or stick out five set thrillers are to be applauded indeed.
  3. The difference in power and speed that is so much clearer in reality than on TV.
    I experienced this briefly when I was at Eastbourne a few years ago, but it was never more obvious than at Wimbledon. Obviously, these tennis players are tremendously fit and hitting the balls very hard, but on TV that can almost seem glossy and less impressive. In reality, you can see the effort going into every single point, and the reactions are so much more intense when you’re looking directly at someone rather than through a TV screen. That being said, I did miss the commentary, the different angles, and the reminders of break point/set point/match point.
  4. The ball boys and girls are incredibly earnest.
    I’ve always loved the ball kids at Wimbledon, they’re very good at their work and you can see the hours of training that have gone into making the fortnight’s games run smoothly. Up close and personal, you can see how much it means to them. Their arms are ramrod straight, they dash this way and that and never leave a stray ball behind. Straight backs, barely blinking, ever-ready, it’s really a proud sight to see. As a quick aside – has anyone seen any ball girls doing the kneel-at-the-net role? Is that boys only?
  5. I know this is silly, but it’s really annoying that Centre Court is in the middle.
    You just have to walk around it to get anywhere, and it’s huge.

I found the Wimbledon experience a brilliant one, slightly overwhelming in places, but for the most part a fantastic day out. I can’t say I feel it justifies queuing from 5am in the morning in the hopes of getting a ticket but it’s certainly worth a punt on the ballot. I saw some great players, excellent matches, and wore myself out walking round and round the grounds. It only rained for a brief moment, the covers only came on for a few minutes, and the rest of the day was gorgeous – as it has been for the most of the two weeks.

Thanks Wimbledon 2017, for a fab day, an exciting tournament, and another item ticked off the bucket list.

On the record 2017, Part 5: A poptastic celebration

I was supposed to post this at the weekend but I was a little busy keeping an eye on all the action from Glastonbury. The thing is that this year, far more than at any point in my entire life, I had heard of some of the artists on the stage, and knew many of the songs being played. It was a revelation!

The one thing I haven’t developed yet is a method and indeed a motivation to seek out new songs. Apple Music make it pretty easy to hear songs you don’t know, they have playlists and regularly updated charts and an entire radio channel for that purpose. I just haven’t quite figured out how best to go about it. Anyway, on with the albums.

Week 21

  • One More Light, LINKIN PARK
    I like the odd Linkin Park song or two so was interested to see what they’ve come up with this time. It veered a lot more towards pop than I’d anticipated, there wasn’t the rage and angst there used to be, which is interesting. Good album but nothing really stood out.
  • Kylie, Kylie Minogue
    Aw, lovely Kylie’s first effort is a poptastic celebration. It’s all very Hit Factory, which is no bad thing as long as you know what you’ve signed up for. The classics are, of course, fantastic, and the rest of it fills in the gaps nicely.

Week 22

  • El Dorado, Shakira
    Really love this album! It’s fun, upbeat and a wonderful eclectic mix of styles and languages. It’s standard Shakira, but there are lots of influences in there and you can tell she was just having fun with the whole thing. Great job.
  • Songs From the Big Chair, Tears for Fears
    Hmm, not sure about this. The good songs are incredible. Everybody Wants to Rule the World is up there with the proper classics. Head Over Heels, very good. But there are also some real low points. It’s a totally mixed bag.

Week 23

  • Harry Styles, Harry Styles
    Not one of my favourites, but a good job by Harry. Nice to have something completely different from his One Direction antics, but I’m not sure the faux seventies style really does it for me. They seem like good songs, well crafted, and the album works well as a whole, but it’s not really to my taste.
  • The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Lauryn Hill
    It’s clear this is a work of art, something that many hours of love and attention have gone in to. I like the songs, but the school classroom stuff didn’t really add anything to my listening experience. Nevertheless, Hill has such a fantastic voice and her talent shines through from start to finish.

Week 24

  • Witness, Katy Perry
    Was super excited about this album arriving and thankfully not disappointed. It’s a superb pop journey stacked with great beats, intriguing concepts and thoughtful lyrics. There does seem to be more of a political or philosophical edge than previous efforts, but I think it all works really well.
  • The Last Broadcast, Doves
    Another hit and miss album. Like a couple of the songs but much of it is just a bit too experimental and lacking in actual tune-age for my tastes. Really like Pounding, There Goes the Fear is okay, the rest I can take or leave… and probably leave, if I’m honest.

Week 25

  • Melodrama, Lorde
    Quirky and well crafted, this is a concise and compact album that feels like a lot of effort has gone into every single song. I worry some of it has meanings that go beyond me, but if I just settle back and listen then it’s a great selection of songs, ideas and lyrics bundled together brilliantly.
  • Blue is the Colour, The Beautiful South
    Adore this album, lots of great songs and I like the blend of Paul and Jacqui’s voices, and the way they work together and apart. The singles are great, but I particularly love Little Blue, a real favourite. My only complaint is with Liar’s Bar, as the gravelly voice Paul does drills all the way through my ears and makes my eyes want to fall out.