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.

W is for Windermere

I knew it had been a while since I last went on an Alphabet Adventure visit, but looking back now, I’m horrified to find it’s been over three years. Ridiculous. So, I stopped putting it off, and dashed to the Lake District to have a gander at that body of water known as Windermere. It’s famous, apparently, for being the longest lake in the UK, and it’s very pretty, but I have to admit, I was expecting a little more.

Early start in the Lake District.

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I took a Lake Cruise from Bowness down to Lakeside, which included a brief trip on a steam train, a walk around a very small but refreshingly modest aquarium, and then a journey by boat back up to Bowness again.

Boat

Lake side.

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The boat trip was good, it was fun to see how long the lake is and get some views from along the way. It’s good to peek at what is nestling lakeside and see who has houses that lead right to the lapping water. There was the occasional audio guide on the boat but I couldn’t hear it at all, so missed out on all the facts. On the way back, too, I got really, really cold, so was quite happy to get my feet on dry ground again.

Water, trees and sky but still so dramatic.

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Train

Not quite Hogwarts Express.

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The train was fun, although the track didn’t go round enough bends to be able to see the steam engine chugging along whilst also being on it. It’s private land, and the track travels extremely close to some houses along the fifteen minute journey. At one point, there was a man in his garden who stood and waved at the passing carriages. I can’t see him getting much gardening done if he does that to every train that passes.

Aquarium

Like I said in the introduction, the aquarium was small but I actually quite liked that – it wasn’t trying to be anything more than what it was. There were no huge exotic exhibits, just smaller, more domestic aquatic life. I did like some of the more unusual items, like the leafcutter ants, whereas the walkthrough underwater tunnel wasn’t as good as at other, larger attractions.

Tortoise. Just in case you were bored of all the landscapes.

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So, for the most part, a successful trip. I did feel that despite the nice surroundings, there really wasn’t so much special about Lake Windermere that couldn’t be found at any lake nearer to home.

On the record 2017, Part 4: Like having a warm hug with a friend

The past few weeks have been superbly exciting for me in terms of music but it’s been a lot of singles. It feels like we’re waiting, waiting, waiting for all the new and fabulous albums that are to come. This is the first year in a long time that I’ve been anxious to get my hands on new albums before they arrive, before they’ve even been finished perhaps.

That’s not to say that there haven’t been some excellent ones that I will talk about in the list below. (I’m looking at you Paramore.)

Week 16

  • Youth, Tinie Tempah
    The format of rapping and inviting a guest in to complete the chorus works very well to me. Tinie Tempah has great beats, although his lyrics can be hit and miss. Some of the references are perfect, others are a little cringey. But overall a great album.
  • Raintown, Deacon Blue
    Like this album. It’s very 80s, and many of the songs all have that similar Dignity vibe about them, but that’s a good vibe, so why not? Has a lot of re-listenability though, kind of gentle easy listening but also with some strong and catchy moments to keep you paying attention.

Week 17

  • Tears on the Dancefloor, Steps
    This is just classic Steps. After 15 years, you’d think their sound has changed, and maybe it’s marginally more grown up but for the most part, it’s still that Abba pop sound that they do so well. I really enjoyed it, partly because I loved Steps before but also because there isn’t a lot of pop like this around anymore.
  • Random Access Memories, Daft Punk
    Really enjoyed this album, it’s definitely an indication of what music will be like when the robots officially inherit the earth. Lots of good beats and repeated lyrics to get right into your head. The only one I didn’t like was Giorgio with far too much chatting.

Week 18

  • Places, Lea Michele
    Surprisingly good, actually, although you have to really be in the mood for some soul-searching, slow-warbling, meaningful stuff. Interestingly found this better than Emeli Sande, where it’s the same kind of genre.
  • Park Life, Blur
    Ah, love this, it’s totally random and quirky. The songs veer from well-known catchy classics to the more oddball instrumentals, but it is so refreshing to have songs that aren’t just about love! A really entertaining album.

Week 19

  • Jump on Board, Texas
    Lovely to have Texas back, with Sharlene’s silky smooth vocals guiding us through a love song or two. It’s a good album, probably not groundbreaking in any way, but it’s like having a warm hug with a friend.
  • Cracked Rear View, Hootie & the Blowfish
    I really liked this album. I only knew a couple of the songs going in, but it’s a lot of good guitar pop and you can occasionally here the echoes of why Darius Rucker went into country in the end. Great songs, beautifully 90s, top addition to the collection. Interesting note: huge amount of lyrics referencing crying and tears.

Week 20

  • After Laughter, Paramore
    Mmm, love this album! I was so excited for it to arrive, which hasn’t happened with many albums so far. It lived up the expectation, great tunes, intensely eighties from start to finish and just a lovely mix of honest emotions, hopeful optimism and realistic sadness. Love it, have and will listen many times.
  • Hopes and Fears, Keane
    This is a really good, classic album. They have a different sound to most, with that missing guitar element, and that makes it a more maudlin effort than I remembered. Great collection of songs though, really a staple for any music library.

What consistently amazes me about this album adventure is the sheer variety of choice there is. I know that’s a stupid thing to say, but going week to week and listening to completely different genres and voices every time is a revelation.