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.

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.

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.

On the record 2017, Part 3: Great for a bit of nostalgia

I was having a bit of a panic over the last few weeks that I’ve listened to lots of albums but can’t remember them all. What do I like? What don’t I like? Why so manyyy? And then I took a step back and realised this project isn’t about learning every single song I listen to. I compared it to the Film Watch odyssey, which isn’t about remembering all 700+ films consumed. Both projects are about immersing yourself in a medium, soaking up the general love and enjoyment of the genre, learning, growing, and, dare I say it, being in the moment.

For the music project, it’s not about being an encyclopedia of pop, it’s about vaguely knowing a band when they are mentioned, or finding a new album to love and one to hate, and most of all, it’s about having context for the songs rather than just knowing them from a five second clip on Peter Kay’s Car Share.

Relax, enjoy, it’s music and it’s wonderful.

Week 11

  • The Breaker, Little Big Town
    I was expecting better things from this, if I’m honest. It’s a perfectly pleasant album but it’s just not memorable. It’s got a very laid back, relaxed, California beach vibe to it, which is nice, but the best songs are the first and last one, bookending the album. Everything in between is instantly forgettable.
  • Actually, Pet Shop Boys
    I wasn’t sure I’d like this album, Pet Shop Boys are great but a whole album could have been too much. Thankfully, there’s a mix of songs: slow and fast, meaningful and just fun, catchy and forgettable. It’s not one of my favourites but certainly a listenable 50 minutes of music.

Week 12

  • So Good, Zara Larsson
    Good album this, I knew more of the songs than I thought I did and it’s a fine pop album – lots of catchy songs that will make you dance. It’s reminiscent of Rihanna, so some of the tracks I wasn’t so keen on, but overall the balance makes for a strong first international album.
  • Speak Now, Taylor Swift
    It feels like Taylor really had some things to say with this album, a lot of the songs sound more personal and meaningful than previous efforts. There are some great songs on here, I love Story of Us, but some of the slower ballad types didn’t really do it for me. I like the increased amount of storytelling, though, you really can get invested in the songs.

Week 13

  • Wonderland, Take That
    A perfectly pleasant album but nowhere near as good as I was hoping. A bit plodding in places, but mostly a feel good hour of tracks, unfortunately for the most part instantly forgettable.
  • Celebrity Skin, Hole
    This is a fantastic album – it’s grungy rock but with a melody, epic guitars but with good purpose, I love it. Great songs, starting with Celebrity Skin which is a proper choon, and could threaten to overshadow the rest, but thankfully the full album stands up to the challenge.

Week 14

  • The Afterlove, James Blunt
    I pre-judged this album, as many have, so was pleasantly surprised by it. It’s a good, modern, pop album, and you can really feel the influences from Ryan Tedder and Ed Sheeran – both on the songs they wrote and throughout. The lyric “I’d say you’re beautiful but I’ve used that line before,” is fab.
  • All Mod Cons, The Jam
    Loved this album. I knew the main Jam songs but anything outside that was lost to me. I was amazed at listening to a full album, the songs haven’t really aged at all. You can picture The Libertines or similar doing all these tracks and more. Great stuff.

Week 15

  • Pure Comedy, Father John Misty
    This is not really my cup of tea at all. Good voice and superb musicality, it reminds me of modern day Elton John. But it doesn’t grab me, it’s all a bit of a drag, and when your single average is almost six minutes, I’m always going to struggle.
  • Love, Aztec Camera
    Gets off to a slow start, but picks up speed and the brilliant Somewhere In My Heart is the turning point. Great eighties pop, not sure it’s aged particularly well but is very of its time and therefore great for a bit of nostalgia.

Been a while since I found an album I really didn’t like, but make that two now – Drake and Father John Misty. Otherwise it’s been an interesting few weeks where for the most part I have preferred the older albums to the newer offerings.

On the record 2017, Part 2: A certain kind of dance pop that is hard to explain

Another five weeks completed, so that makes ten overall in 2017 – incredible how quickly the musical weeks go by. I’m still hugely enjoying this album adventure, well into its second year now, learning more about music and artists and songs every single day.

I’ve also realised how brilliant this album lark is for being open to new genres and artists – when you don’t have full control over what is picked, you just have to go with the flow. A friend of mine often asks what my album selections are for the week and then pulls faces at the options, but even ones I am dubious about, I enjoy the process.

So let’s see what has been on the playlist recently!

Week 6

  • Little Fictions, Elbow
    I read an NME review of this album before listening, that described it as “13 tog duvet” music, and it is just that. There’s no thumping albums, it’s easy listening all the way, and I guess in the end I found it quite dull because of that. Perhaps good to de-stress and unwind, but not my favourite.
  • Fearless, Taylor Swift
    Good second album from Ms Swift, it’s quite fun working my way through her albums knowing how she develops and where she goes in the future. This, though, is solid country pop with some great singles, and a good mix of other tracks – none of which are a letdown, which is the sign of a good album.

Week 7

  • Human, Rag’N’Bone Man
    Great album. I had high expectations because he’s being talked about a lot and Human is an incredible song. Thankfully the rest of the album lived up to the hype, with brilliant soul vibes throughout but leaving you with an overall feel-good mood.
  • Purple Rain, Prince
    Liked this much better on the second listen through, I think the first time some of the screaming got to me but second time it wasn’t so bad. Love a few of the tracks on there and it stands up as a whole really well. Glad this has finally come to streaming so I can have a listen!

Week 8

  • The Waiting Game, Una Healy
    I’ll admit, this only grabbed my attention because of the single featuring Sam Palladio from Nashville, but it turns out to be quite a good album. It’s sort of a mashup pop and country album, but it’s definitely more bubble gum than country – good songs but it lacks the emotion you often get from country artists.
  • Garbage, Garbage
    Love this album. Shirley is brilliant and you get really drawn in to each and every song. I wish I’d listened to this album as a teenager, it’s got that intense brooding nature that you could really hibernate in a teenage room and shut out the world with.

Week 9

  • Joanne, Lady Gaga
    I knew this was a slightly different album from Lady Gaga, but it was far more intense and introspective than I’d anticipated. It’s good, some incredible vocals with well-crafted songs and I particularly liked the duet with Florence Welch. It’s not to be taken lightly though, this album, you can tell it’s more personal and meaningful than other efforts.
  • The Innocents, Erasure
    I’ve loved A Little Respect forever so was prepared to love the album that followed it. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say I loved it, but I did enjoy it. The songs are cheesy in places, and it’s a certain kind of dance pop that is hard to explain, but still somehow quite compelling. And A Little Respect is still awesome.

Week 10

  • Divide, Ed Sheeran
    I’ve not been a huge Ed fan in the past, but gradually his evident talent and good songs have mellowed my stance a little. This is a good album, far better than I thought it would be, with the singles as stand-out songs and the rest doing a good supporting job. The end is a little melancholy and left me feeling depressed, but overall a really good job – even if I still don’t totally get the hype.
  • Days Gone By, Haim
    Really loved this album. I’ve spent plenty of time listening to Haim’s Beats1 show but not really paid much attention to their own music – and I’ve been missing out. They have a brilliant, unique sound, full of bass notes and guitar riffs and stop/start moments. Definitely a highlight of the year so far.

That last week was epic. Ed Sheeran’s talent and Haim’s rhythm really meshed well together and made me want to listen over and over to both. I hope there are more weeks like this in the future.

On the record 2017, Part 1: Fifteen in a row is a bit much

A brand new year means a new batch of albums to get through, and I’m really excited about what the next fifty weeks have to offer. If you’ve not been following this brilliant album adventure of mine, here’s a quick recap:

Listen to two new albums each week, one selected by me and one by Mr C. Mine will be a current album (ie. this year or the last), whilst Mr C has the rest of musical history to choose from. I try and listen to each album at least twice during the week to give them a fair shot.

So, on with the first round up, and I’m sticking with the five weeks at a time plan that finished off the 2016 adventure.

Week 1

  • Starboy, The Weeknd
    The thing about this album is, it’s good enough, but it starts and ends with two brilliant songs that feature Daft Punk. So should I really be listening to a Daft Punk album instead? Love The Weeknd’s voice, it’s reminiscent of Michael Jackson in places, and carries the album through despite it being quite lengthy!
  • M!Ssundaztood, P!nk
    Ahh, I love Pink so it’s a surprise that I’ve never listened to a full album by the pop superstar. This, her first, is a great mix of songs and tests out various genres. There’s a hint of Alanis Morrisette, and an occasional feel of Alicia Keys, but all of it is just great work from Pink. Strong, confident, with a good message to not stand for any nonsense. Love it.

Week 2

  • Long Live the Angels, Emeli Sandé
    It’s a good album, she has a great voice and the musicality is amazing. I’m just not totally sure this kind of music is for me – I found an entire album of it to be a bit intense, a bit too dramatic. The individual songs are great, but I found 15 in a row to be a bit much.
  • Word Gets Around, Stereophonics
    Really enjoyed this one. Great guitars, interesting song titles and concepts, fab lyrics that avoid all the normal clichés. Like the singles, of course, A Thousand Trees is a stand out, but actually it works together as a whole really well.

Week 3

  • I See You, The xx
    Had no idea what to expect from this album as I didn’t really know the band, but I loved it. It’s not quite chill out music but is relaxed and moody, thoughtful with some great backing beats. It feels quite intimate, and I think there’s a great quality in both their voices that really resonates.
  • Surfacing, Sarah McLachlan
    Beautiful album, this one. It’s interesting having listened to it off the back of Emeli Sande last week, this is just so much better. Sweeping, soaring, an incredible voice and great instrumentation work to make it a wonderful listen from start to finish.

Week 4

  • 24K Magic, Bruno Mars
    Interesting album this one, because overall I liked it but it sort of left me feeling a bit uncomfortable. It’s good pop, Bruno has an incredible voice and great rhythm, but if the lyrics are anything to go by, he’s a bit obsessed with how girls look. Chunky was a particularly weird one.
  • Beauty and the Beat, The Go-Go’s
    Enjoyed this album, and expanding my knowledge about 80s bands. Loving the girls with guitars awesomeness, and it’s a really upbeat kind of album. My only issue is that a lot of the songs sound the same, so it’s hard to distinguish sometimes, but as they’re all good, it’s not really a huge problem.

Week 5

  • a girl a bottle a boat, Train
    Good, pop album, although it’s a bit cheesy in places. Play That Song being a particular example, it’s so saccharine it hurts, and using that riff is almost as bad as Cliff Richard’s Millennium Prayer. Still, the rest of the album is fine, but I’m not sure it’s worth many more listens.
  • Random Album Title, deadmau5
    Dance music has never really been my thing, but I did quite like this selection. I don’t think I would particularly seek out an album like this to listen to, but it was good for keeping a steady pace whilst out for a walk and quite handy to tune out to doing some admin work.

It feels as though it’s been a slow start to the year in terms of album releases – I assume this is because everyone tries to get music out before Christmas to cash in on holiday sales. Which is lucky because I have a list to catch up on, until the next big release!

On the record – 2016 wrap up

It has been an incredible year for me, listening to 100 albums in total across 50 weeks and learning an enormous amount about albums, artists, and music in general. The biggest lesson, though, is that there is so much more to learn. This album listening thing will continue into next year, but it seems only right to wrap up what has been a brilliant 2016 of albums for me.

Firstly, it’s worth saying that whilst I’ve always been a bit skeptical of the subscription music business model, this album adventure couldn’t have happened without it. When I was a listener of “just the songs that I like” then I wanted full control over what I did with them, which playlists I put them in, and wanted to hoard them which meant subscription services weren’t the right thing.

Now that I’m all about albums, which cost at lease a fiver a time, then there’s no way I could afford to listen to 100 in a year, and so the model is perfect. Thanks music subscription services, and thanks particularly to Apple Music.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about it for the last couple of weeks and have narrowed down my top ten albums that I’ve listened to over the course of the last twelve months. Here goes nothing!

  1. Native by OneRepublic
  2. Come On Over by Shania Twain
  3. Tracy Chapman by Tracy Chapman
  4. The First Time by Kelsea Ballerini
  5. WALLS by Kings of Leon
  6. Rumours by Fleetwood Mac
  7. Chaleur Humaine by Christine and the Queens
  8. Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morisette
  9. Get Weird by Little Mix
  10. The Chaos and the Calm by James Bay

It’s tricky compiling a list of best albums ever, because some albums are amazing but not really to be listened to all the time. For example, I loved Paul Simon’s Graceland but feel like I want to listen to it on special occasions. Similarly, Straight Outta Compton was top of my list for a while, until I realised that it’s reserved for when I’m angry.

Now, Mr C requested a top five list of specifically 2016 albums, of which I listened to 39.

  1. WALLS by Kings of Leon
  2. Chaleur Humaine by Christine and the Queens
  3. Oh My My by OneRepublic
  4. Wild World by Bastille
  5. Glory Days by Little Mix

Finally, a couple of honourable mentions, not because they are anywhere near the top ten but because they managed to get some special awards of their own.

  • Nine Track Mind by Charlie Puth, for the best timing ever. I wouldn’t have been able to listen to this one AFTER we watched Fast & Furious 7, so it was all very lucky.
  • Debut by Bjork, for turning out to be not intimidating at all. I was properly scared to listen to this one, but it was brilliant!
  • Thank You by Meghan Trainer, for being the biggest disappointment. I had been so looking forward to some great pop, but it was an eclectic mix of crazy.
  • Beneath the Skin by Of Monsters and Men, for being something I wouldn’t usually listen to, and turning out excellent.

A fantastic year of music, I can’t wait for 2017’s batch to begin!