On the record 2018, Part 7: The guy is clearly in love

The past five weeks have seen a really solid selection of albums that have made it a really pleasant time to be doing this adventure. I can’t promise that I remember every track or even liked everything I heard, but an over-arching theme of the recent records has been nice to listen to and just more to go in the memory banks of my musical education.

I do think I’m missing the critical stand-out albums this year, which makes me concerned for my top five/ten lists in a couple of months (yes, time is going by that quickly). I’ve got one, maybe two, definite contenders and the rest is totally up for grabs. But there’s still time. If there’s anything I’ve learned across the last couple of years it’s that the music just keeps on coming.

Week 31

  • MASSEDUCTION, St. Vincent
    Enjoyed this album. I wasn’t really aware of St Vincent before seeing her perform Los Ageless on a couple of TV shows, but I was keen to hear the full album. I don’t think it was as outstanding as I thought it would be, but certainly enjoyable from start to finish. The two singles stand out, and I really like Slow Disco although think it’s been slightly ruined by the Fast Slow Disco version.
  • Remain in Light, Talking Heads
    I had never heard of Talking Heads and when I started listening, I did wonder what I’d let myself in for. Most of the tracks didn’t really work for me, but of course, Once In a Lifetime is a proper tune which almost makes up for the rest of it.

Week 32

  • Pray For the Wicked, Panic! At the Disco
    Good album this one. Only discovered Panic at the Disco relatively recently so it’s nice to have a new album almost straight away. I liked all the songs on here but have to admit it felt quite a short album, almost over before it’s begun. Few of the songs are longer than three minutes, but they’re all good so I just wanted more.
  • Sigh No More, Mumford & Sons
    I know a few Mumford & Sons songs, and they’re the kind of band where you actually know more than you think you do. The trouble is, as this album demonstrates very well, is that whilst they are good tunes, they sound quite similar. Listening to 12 in a row was a nice experience, it’s good music, but I can’t lie and say I could distinguish one song from another.

Week 33

  • Know., Jason Mraz
    I love Jason, his witty lyrics and fast-paced patter and this album is another one to add to the collection. There were a few good tunes on there but actually, as an overall effect, I found the album to be oppressively saccharine. The guy is clearly in love, which is great, but every song was about how he likes to watch her sleep and doesn’t want to do anything but be in love with his partner. At which point I start wondering if he needs a hobby. Nice songs but perhaps needs more variety.
  • Dookie, Green Day
    I don’t think there was too much memorable about this album but there doesn’t really need to be. It is exactly what you want it to be – Green Day through and through. Strong guitars, solid beats, that recognisable lead vocal… enjoyable album but perhaps not my favourite of their work.

Week 34

  • Sweetener, Ariana Grande
    At first I really wasn’t sure about this one, it’s quite warbly in places, but parts of it started to grow on me. No Tears Left to Cry grew on me enormously after a couple of listens, and I cannot get the ‘mix it, and mix it, and mix it and mix it’ thing out of my head. It’s clearly a departure from Ariana’s previous efforts, more adult, more soulful, and I quite liked it despite its oddities.
  • Organisation, Orchestral Manoeuvres In the Dark
    A great album, this one. I only knew the song Enola Gay and I really wasn’t sure I knew what OMD were, but the rest of the album was a triumph. It didn’t stand out as much as the lead single but even so, I liked the moody synth overtones and the general feeling that it left with me after a full listen.

Week 35

  • B. Inspired, Bugzy Malone
    I really, really liked this album. Its been a while since a rap or hip hop album has appealed to me but this one was great. I love the main single with Rag N Bone Man, and generally speaking all the features are really good. Top notch and a welcome change of genre for this year.
  • An Innocent Man, Billy Joel
    I don’t know how I’ve managed to get this far without listening to any Billy Joel but how can you not love this? Happy, optimistic, joyful music that sort of sweeps you along and doesn’t put you down for 40 minutes. I thought I would only know Uptown Girl but I also knew Tell Her About It.

Lukeh’s Manics Mixtape

A while back, I talked about how I was just starting to figure out how awesome Manic Street Preachers were, and that I felt I’d missed out on a significant chunk of their career. On the flip side, good friend Lukeh is an absolute expert on the subject and should be considered a super-fan.

So, Mr C plied the man with mango-flavoured beer and demanded that he concoct an incredibly specific playlist of ten songs that would introduce a new fan (me) to the band, digging a little deeper than the obvious but not being too obscure as to be off-putting. All this after a drink or two and completely on the spot with no research.

Easy.

This, then, is the Lukeh-approved new-fan Manics playlist.

  1. You Stole the Sun From My Heart
  2. Australia
  3. Tsunami
  4. Little Baby Nothing
  5. The Masses Against the Classes
  6. Walk Me to the Bridge
  7. Some Kind of Nothingness
  8. Roses in the Hospital
  9. (It’s Not War) Just the End of Love
  10. Faster

I must say I really enjoyed the full list and it did help me further appreciate the Welsh band. I want to dig in even further and that can only be a good thing.

I also really like the idea of this version of essential mix-tapes. Apple Music may have their own Essentials Playlists going on but going to the super-fans and getting a specific selection of ten means you really have to pick the very best rather than just the singles. And it’s a great result.

On the record 2018, Part 6: One actual song done six different ways

And then, just like that, we’re over halfway through the year and the adventure. I feel as though the last few weeks have taken another dip wherein I haven’t enjoyed the albums quite as much as others, but then up popped George Ezra and the sun came out and the world was just a little bit better.

The rest of the albums vary in quality and in interest to me, but I’m still really enjoying the variety.

Week 26

  • Wildness, Snow Patrol
    A good, solid album this one, but perhaps a little bit on the depressing side – whilst I quite like the defiance of Don’t Give In (a really good song), there’s also a track called “What If This Is All The Love You Ever Get?” which really was a downbeat listen as you might imagine. Good album though, you just have to be in exactly the right mood for it.
  • Pure and Simple, Hear’Say
    I like this album because it’s familiar to me, I know most of the songs, and listened to it quite a lot when I was younger. It’s not good though. This is the pinnacle of manufactured pop, and that shines through from start to finish. I think Hear’say came too late in the pop cycle to really have any major success – they were more of a nineties band but hit in the early 2000s. Earlier, they might have done better, but as it is, we’ll have to put up with Monday Monday being the best they can do.

Week 27

  • High As Hope, Florence + The Machine
    I’ve not always been a Florence fan, but the latest single Hunger had really turned me around so I wanted to check out the rest of the album. I’m not sure it lived up to the lead single, really, it was a mellow listen but didn’t really capture my attention as I’d hoped it might. Also, a couple of the tunes were so reminiscent of the music on Westworld that it was quite distracting. Hunger is still a winner though.
  • Wanted On Voyage, George Ezra
    George’s second album very quickly became one of my all-time favourites, so I wanted to see what the debut effort was like. I really enjoyed this too, although I think I prefer the second one as a complete piece of work. Loving Ezra’s relaxed summer-time feel though, it just fits the mood at the moment perfectly.

Week 28

  • Palo Santo, Years and Years
    Really loved Sanctify when it was released, so was keen on hearing the rest of the album, and it loved up to my expectations. A really solid pop work, with many of the feelings from Sanctify spread across the rest of the songs. I think it didn’t quite get into my soul as much as it should have on only two listening, so I may have to listen a few more times, but otherwise a winner.
  • The Fabulous Johnny Cash, Johnny Cash
    Yay for the third album along my journey through the history of Johnny Cash. Whilst this is very similar to the previous two albums, I felt like I preferred it to the second record but not quite as much as the first. Good songs, great guitar work, and nice rhythms that keep you entertained. What’s not to like?

Week 29

  • mau5ville: Level 1, deadmau5
    I quite liked the last album I listened to by deadmau5, it wasn’t my usual kind of thing but I really got on with the dance beats. This one was a bit of a departure for that and it wasn’t quite my cup of tea. Good songs, but they’re all the same thing and with the guest vocalists it wasn’t so much dance music as just one actual song done six different ways. Good, but not great.
  • Out of Time, R.E.M.
    I vaguely remember being disappointed by the last R.E.M. album I listened to – good songs, obviously, but not a cohesive work that I liked. This time, I really dug it. The singles stand out, as always happens with such classic songs, but the rest of the tracks fill in really well to make it a good listen from start to finish.

Week 30

  • Expectations, Bebe Rexha
    This is a really good, strong pop album, some nice songs from Bebe, but I have to be honest, it wasn’t all that memorable. I’ve forgotten pretty much all of it only a day or two after the last time I listened to it. Also, it feels like she popped Meant to Be on the end begrudgingly, whereas it actually would have fit earlier in the track listing quite nicely.
  • International Velvet, Catatonia
    Mulder and Scully popped up on a radio stream I was listening to and I thought it would be fun to listen to a full album, but actually it turns out I was only really bothered by the two main singles. I had that weird feeling, too, when you know someone’s super distinctive voice for just one or two songs, when you hear them singing other stuff, it sounds really odd!

On the record 2018, Part 5: A little bit warbly in places

With the exception of James Bay, my choices in this collection of albums are all about fab females doing their thing. Kylie’s new adventure, Jorja’s debut and Lily Allen’s return. I’ve got mixed feelings about most of them, but it was still a fun journey devouring them all.

Meanwhile, Mr C’s selections proved just how eclectic this album adventure business can be – from a Latin goddess, to the King of Pop, including rock and… well, whatever words can be used to describe Madness.

Week 21

  • Electric Light, James Bay
    I really enjoyed the previous album by James Bay so was looking forward to this – it’s a good follow-up, although I don’t think it quite lives up to the great poppy-folky standards of the last. The intro and interludes don’t really seem to add anything to the story, but the songs stand up and it’s an easy-listening endeavour.
  • I’ve Been Expecting You, Robbie Williams
    Ah, great times with Robbie. He’s hit and miss and has a career as varied as you could ask for, but this was early solo Robbie and probably when he was at his best. Some strong hits in here, mixed in with other good songs, there’s no real dip in quality and there’s a variety of tempos and sentiments to enjoy. Top work.

Week 22

  • Love is Dead, CHVRCHES
    I really loved this, which was a surprise as CHVRCHES have only really appeared on my radar recently. But it’s a really strong album, all the songs are solid rock although it’s worth mentioning that they all get quite samey towards the end. Love their work though.
  • Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Gloria Estefan
    Saw Gloria promoting the musical about her life and realised I haven’t listened to any of her stuff, although I know some of the songs, obviously. I quite liked this album, although at this point in my musical journey it felt a little cheesy. She’s got such a good voice and a personality that comes across in every song, so it’s a lot of fun.

Week 23

  • Golden, Kylie
    I was dubious about this one, really, and probably wouldn’t have listened except I really liked Stop Me From Falling. Unfortunately, the rest of the album was kinda what I was expecting. It’s listenable but it suffers from not being one thing or the other – not really proper country and not really pop either. It didn’t quite stack up for me but I admire Kylie for constantly trying new things.
  • A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, Panic! At the Disco
    We suddenly realised that most of the Les Mills tracklists are propped up by Fall Out By and Panic! at the Disco so it was about time I listened to one of them. Opted for the debut album by P at the D, and whilst I enjoyed the songs, I sort of couldn’t get over the titles having absolutely nothing to do with the content within. Good fun rock, but not something I can get on board with!

Week 24

  • Lost & Found, Jorja Smith
    I was really looking forward to this debut release from Jorja, as the huge coverage she’s had on Beats 1 has hyped me up as intended. I was really impressed with the album, it’s very mellow, chilled out and easy to listen to. I thought it went a little bit warbly in places, but for the most part a really great album from Jorja.
  • Bad, Michael Jackson
    Really loved this, obviously, some of the great songs from the great man all packaged up in one neat album. I actually knew a few more of the songs than I thought I did which made it even better. But really, marching along the streets on a sunny lunchtime walk, with Bad blaring in your ears is basically as good as it gets.

Week 25

  • No Shame, Lily Allen
    I’ve only recently realised how much I like Lily’s work so far, and this album is another great addition to her body of work. It’s slightly different to what has gone before, though, and has a much more mellow quality than the rest. It’s also quite depressing, if you listen to it all in one go, very much instilling the loneliness and restlessness that Lily must have been feeling at the time throughout the tracks.
  • One Step Beyond, Madness
    In stark contrast to the low-key Lily Allen I listened to the same week, Madness are just a barrel of fun. A lot of it sounds the same, it all has the same reggae beat underneath and you just go along for the ride – great fun.

Not just anybody

We watched the Westworld edition of Carpool Karaoke yesterday, and thought “Yea, I know there’s a Paul McCartney one out but it can’t be as good as this.” Evan and James had great chemistry, great fun and got up to some fab antics with bonus Westworld memes thrown in there for good measure. So, we turned to the Paul McCartney and James Corden episode and… well, we couldn’t have been more wrong, could we?

(As an aside, how have we managed to get into a situation where there are two editions of the same show made by different people released on the same day to compete against each other?)

You’ll have seen this, by now, I’m sure. Everyone has and everyone is in agreement – this is a fantastic twenty minutes of television.

It was amazing that Paul agreed to do this, and he was a fantastic sport throughout the whole thing. His nostalgia tour of the streets and buildings that influenced the early songwriting days was inspirational and emotional, and the moment where he comforts James and follows it up with a comfortable silence was wonderful.

It’s also incredible that just his mere presence can still draw crowds – the guy is just walking in and out of a house, and there’s a huge crowd waiting to see him, touch him, tell him they love him, just be in his vicinity. And he handles it all with good grace.

Plus, of course, the jukebox gig in the pub is great and showcases what a wide variety of demographic the Beatles music still appeals to. Young and old appreciate the man and this twenty minute episode was a great way of proving it.

On the record 2018, Part 4: Synth music is right up my street

The year is certainly picking up bit by bit and I’m starting to love more of the albums than I’m not. Having said that, there are still a couple in the list below that I was hugely looking forward to but then found myself disappointed by. That happens, I guess!

In other news, I discovered new-found fondness for Manic Street Preachers and Depeche Mode, two very different bands. Read on for more!

Week 16

  • Resistance is Futile, Manic Street Preachers
    My first pass through this album left me thinking ‘pretty good, sounds just like what you’d expect from the Manics.’ Apparently that hasn’t always been the case for the last few albums, so that’s a start. On the second pass through, it all started growing on me. The first three songs are brilliant, and the rest stacks up pretty well too. Definitely one to re-listen to a few more times yet.
  • Get Rich or Die Tryin’, 50 Cent
    I was quite excited to listen to this but actually it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Solid hip hop and the singles are good but it didn’t blow me away. A bit too much Eminem, as well.

Week 17

  • 44/876, Sting & Shaggy
    You would never put these two together, would you? What a weird partnership but it totally, totally works. This is such a gentle but good album to listen to. It’s clear and open, honest and simple. From the UK to Jamaica, criss-crossing styles all the way. Nice and relaxing and probably perfect for summer.
  • Misplaced Childhood, Marillion
    I only know the song Kayleigh from this, played as the last song of series two of Car Share, but I can’t say I particularly liked this album. It’s okay as music goes but I really don’t like the way the tracks all blend into each other and nothing particularly stood out for me even after two listens.

Week 18

  • Speak Your Mind, Anne-Marie
    I’ve loved pretty much all of Anne-Marie’s singles, so this album was a long time coming and delivered exactly what you want – more of the same! Fun pop with the occasional serious edge, but lots of catchy choruses that draw you in from the start of the album to the very end.
  • Speak and Spell, Depeche Mode
    Well this was a revelation to me. I loved the album, and the band that I am now calling The ‘Mode, much to Mr C’s disapproval. I’d never realised it before but am suddenly growing to understand that synth music is right up my street and Depeche Mode are one of the key bands in this genre. Good stuff.

Week 19

  • Cool Like You, Blossoms
    Having recently discovered a love of synth it was brilliant to find that Blossoms are basically a modern synth band. I really enjoyed the album, although I’m not sure it’s quite as strong as the first one – I’m going to have to listen to that one again now!
  • All Saints, All Saints
    All Saints was my first ever album purchases, and so I know it quite well. I really like the funky nature of it, the kick-ass attitude of these girls who were trying to be the antithesis to the squeaky clean pop acts out there. It seems a lot safer compared to more recent artists but it still holds a fond place in my heart.

Week 20

  • Voicenotes, Charlie Puth
    I’ve been looking forward to this one and was disappointed when Charlie pushed the album back to make sure it was finished to his own high standards. Eventually got to listen though, and enjoyed it. I’m not sure it’s better than the last album, and the Boyz II Men song, whilst good, brings the mood right down in the middle where it would be better at the end. But otherwise, a good solid set of songs.
  • The Weight of These Wings, Miranda Lambert
    I did not enjoy this. I’ve enjoyed some of Miranda’s other songs, but this one was back to the roots country, with slide guitar and crazy Southern accent and all. Not only that but it’s a double album, so lasts about 90 minutes. It was a bit of a slog to get through it twice, I’ll be honest.

Super-sub bass

The BBC hosted their replacement for the absent Glastonbury festival this weekend, putting on four huge shows across the UK and welcoming the great and the good of the music world to play at them. There was far too much content to enjoy in one weekend, so I’ll be perusing the iPlayer for at least the rest of this week and maybe longer.

Crowd cheering at a gig, stage obscured by smoke

One performance that did stand out, however, was the Manic Street Preachers on Friday. I’ve been growing more and more fond of this band, from a sort of “mild indifference nodding at the occasional tune” to a more steady “well I need to listen to the entire back catalogue asap” situation.

The band were scheduled to perform in Belfast but unfortunately had to go on without bassist Nicky Wire due to a family emergency. All best wishes to him, of course, but I found the situation entirely intriguing. They went on instead with a super-substitute bassist, who did a stand up job under what must have been huge pressure.

The guy was adorable, in his efforts to ignore the limelight and just get through the songs without making any errors, rarely making eye contact with the band even, and stubbornly ignoring James Dean Bradfield’s efforts to give him any credit for turning up. I loved it.

But it got me wondering all sorts of questions about what went on behind the scenes. Do you just have super-sub instrument players waiting to go on? Was he a bod that just knew the sets and could step up without a second thought? If that’s the case, who then does the job he would ordinarily be doing? Also curious if it’s his own guitar, if he brings it along with him wherever he goes, if he ever jams with the band in their downtime.

It was also interesting to ponder how this was a unique set of circumstances that wouldn’t have worked out if it was any other way. If it was James who couldn’t participate, then presumably they would have to call the gig off. The super-sub bass didn’t appear to sing, didn’t even have a microphone, so presumably if there were bigger backing vocals required, again, they would have had to rethink. And also… at what point does it not become fair to go on?

For example, if I was going to see U2 (that’s a big if, trust me), and the Edge wasn’t there, I’d want my money back. It can work sometimes if you replace them with someone more famous – I know Chris Martin of Coldplay has done some super-subbing as singer in the past – but for the most part, people want to see who they came to see. I guess also it’s more relaxed at festivals than a specific artist’s gig. This way, there’s a huge bill of people and you’re unlikely to be there just for the one band, but even so, at what point does a band not still be the band as advertised?

Just some thoughts, no answers, and in this particular instance it didn’t seem to harm the set too much to have a competent, if slightly less flashy, bassist hammering out the notes.