Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Pastures new...

I've finally had enough of Blogger periodically losing paragraphs from published blogs so I've emigrated over to Wordpress. All old content and new posts can be found at:

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Desert Island Discs

A discussion which has brought an uncharacteristically interesting debate in middle class households throughout Britain has been - 'What would be your Desert Island Discs?' Well having finally heeded the call the good people at Radio 4 have given me the chance to make my choices official. Before you rise up in outrage that a nobody such as myself has been given such an honour you best realise that anybody can! Go here to post your own. For those unfamiliar with the format this is the BBC explanation:

'' The format is simple – a guest is invited to choose eight discs, a book and a luxury to take with them as they’re castaway on a mythical desert island.  They’re given the complete works of Shakespeare and the Bible.  During the interview they explain their choices and discuss key moments in their lives, people and events that have influenced and inspired them and brought them to where they are today.''

Track One:
Elizabeth, you were born to play that part by Ryan Adams

I've written about this before so won't repeat myself. Quite simply I consider this the greatest song ever written. The purest demonstration of love is sacrifice and this song communicates that better than any other. The back story is Ryan wrote it from the point of view of one of his friends who's wife had suffered a miscarriage. It is a twist of fate that along with Brick by Ben Folds Five such a tragic subject matter could inspire two of the finest songs ever produced. My own connection with it is ongoing - it was one of a clutch of songs that I sought solace in when my good friend Ryan passed away, and it continues to be the song I turn to when I need to reflect and truly appreciate both what I am lucky enough to have and have had.

Track Two:
Don't Think Twice, It's Alright by Bob Dylan

Choosing which Bob song to go with was a truly hellish task - would it be the introspective beauty of Visions of Johanna, the merciless social comment of It's alright Ma or the comforting optimism of Forever Young? I took the easy option and went for Dylan most-simple, the song that made me fall under his spell in the first place. I remember listening to this as a 19 year old reeling from the break up of my first 'real' relationship and Bob's words seemed to not only reflect how I was feeling but point me in the direction of recovery. For a song to have that level of emotional connection forty years after the time of writing speaks volumes of its enduring genius.

Track Three:
Barcarolle from Tales of Hoffman by Offenbach

Again this has appeared on the blog before so I will be brief. A truly magical piece of music that formed the soundtrack to my honeymoon in Tuscany.

Track Four:
Hoppipola by Sigur Ros

Ditto Track Four basically although replace honeymoon in Tuscany with adventure holiday in Peru where I proposed. I know of no other song that can simultaneously soothe and stir the senses so effectively.

Track Five:
Livin' for the City by Stevie Wonder

Where to start? Arguably the outstanding track on my favourite album. Wonder mixes up the political consciousness of Dylan and spices it up with some funk. This song reminds me of growing up with parents who regularly filled the house with the sounds of Stevie and it is a tradition I intend to follow when I start my own family. Not only has this song impacted on me directly but along with the rest of Wonder's golden period output it has influenced so many other incredible artists from Prince to Outkast to the Fugees.

Track Six:
After the Goldrush by Neil Young

Some songs are just utterly faultless. The imagery of the lyrics, the frail purity of Young's voice combined with the simple, sublime backing infuse to form a near perfect whole. I'm ashamed to say that despite working with a Neil Young fanatic for a short period I never gave him a chance; probably owing to his failure to appear on an American Pie soundtrack. Thankfully it didn't take me long to wise up and thanks to some wise men of Kendal I was soon appreciated the wondrous majesty of Young at his best. The song evokes great memories of a particular barbecue celebrating a friends birthday where Young formed the soundtrack whilst great company was enjoyed.

Track Seven:
My Name is Jonas by Weezer

The intro to this song is like a time machine. I'm 17 years old, my (admittedly crap) band were going to make it big, life was a never-ending succession of great nights out with the best friends in the world. Such is the bewitching power of this tune that ten years on in a basement club in Camden for three minutes I was transported back to a time where my whole life was in front of me. For all his sins over the last ten years for Blue and Pinkerton I can forgive Rivers Cuomo anything.

Track Eight:
Oh Happy Day by Children of Agape

This song has a series of extremely strong emotional connections. I first heard it whilst volunteering in South Africa when totally unprompted some of the kids at the Orphanage burst into song. It turned out some of them and their siblings had formed a choir that was beginning to get recognition in an effort to raise money to rebuild their orphanage which had been burnt down in a fire. Despite my lack of connection with the religious content of the song their was an undoubtedly spiritual power to the infectious joy of their song. At the risk of sounding like one of those gap-year types my spell in Africa has a profound effect on me. It changed my perspective from one of intentions to actions and most importantly of all it was sharing this experience that confirmed for me who I should spend the rest of my life with. It was fitting then that as we signed the register on our wedding day the jubilant voices of the Agape Choir filled the Church.
As part of the show you are expected to nominate one song above all the others and for obvious reasons for me it is Oh Happy Day.

The other two decisions are book, and luxury item. As tempting as choosing Robinson Crusoe would be for handy tips it has to be 'The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.' It's a book I never tire of reading and Shakespeare and the Bible should give me plenty of variety. The luxury item would be my acoustic guitar - on an island miles from civilisation there would be no-one to complain about my extremely limited musicianship and atrocious singing.

I'd love to know what you'd choose so please leave comments.

PS - You may have noticed I've opted for Grooveshark over youtube. Sometimes I fear that videos for the sake of it - especially of poor quality - can detract from the music so I'm paring back the amount of videos I use within my blog. Hopefully this will be evened out by posts offering a selection of interesting songs with videos to match.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

I really should like them shouldn't I?

One of the great things about ageing is developing a greater sense of perspective and shedding the adolescent stubbornness that characterises so many young males. The jury's out whether this makes up for the onset of hair loss and susceptibility to crippling hang overs. As a youth, in between declaring my devotion to Noel Gallagher I would take time to spout vitriol about the Manic Street Preachers. A number of my friends were big fans of the Welshmen and took great pleasure in attacking my love of the Beatles and their subsequent clones. Like many at that age I was fundamentally unable to distinguish musical output with the personality of the creators. Nicky Wire's attention seeking provocative endorsement of Mark Chapman's slaying of Lennon ensured I was firmly in the anti-Manics camp. As you'll suspect, in older age this view has changed dramatically. I still believe Nicky Wire to be a bit of a wanker, but can appreciate the brilliant feistiness of early Manics and have enjoyed their recent resurgence, particularly their 'Journal for Plague Lovers' album. It seems we both have aged for the better.

Last night my twitter feed was overwhelmed by exaltations for late eighties-early nineties indie bands. It centred largely around two bands who were routinely hailed as the finest the world has ever known. One was The Stone Roses, and though I stop short of declaring them untouchable, I heartily agree that they were a truly magnificent band. If you remain unconvinced have a listen to Mersey Paradise, which was only a B side. The other band drawing such a lofty praise inspired me to write today's blog after a month's hiatus. Reactions to my disclosure of 'not being a fan' of this band have ranged from disbelief to fevered outrage. Rob Blanchette gave a typical response 'the greatest band of all all all time bar none. Best lyricist. Best guitarist. Genius of epic proportions.' Covering this territory yet again I thought I'd share with you five artists who I'm constantly told I should love yet am yet to catch 'the bug.' Starting with the centre of last night's storm...

The Smiths
The Smiths remain a source of continual frustration for me. They are like a phobia I need to conquer - much like how abseiling down a cliff in Cornwall dealt with my vertigo issues, I continue to search for a cure to my aversion for a band that more than any other, people tell me I should adore. Even my leader in life Ryan Adams considers them the best. They're right; I know they're right! The melodies are imaginative, the musicianship on the money, and lyrically I can appreciate how for many they are poetry. To make matters worse I have actually become partial to a Smiths cover - This Charming Man , Ask and There is a light that never goes out. So why have I failed to cross the Rubicon and embrace their alleged greatness? One simple reason:
All is going well until he opens his mouth. As hard as I try I can't get passed the irritating maudlin wail that Morrisey emits. It is like toothache when you are trying to enjoy a delicious meal. It is always there, preventing you from appreciating what you know to be good but you just can't enjoy it.

Pearl Jam
Another band who I should probably like but do nothing for me. I find Eddie Vedder pompous and they to me always give off an impression of inflated self-importance. I was quite fond of 'Jeremy' for a time but the frankly comedy lyrics meant it soon descended into farce. It also upsets me that Vedder in particular spends so much time massacring artists I hold sacred with abhorrent cover versions. I once had the chance to see Pearl Jam at Leeds Festival but much to the ire of a few of my mates watched Maximo Park instead. Je ne regrette rien.

Doves and Muse
These two deserve co-billing as they fall into very much the same category. Both brought out first albums that had me crowing to all and sundry that they were the future of music, blah blah. Both have spent the remainder of their career seemingly doing their utmost to prove me embarrassingly wrong. They have fallen in to disregard for contrasting reasons - Muse have become overblown showponies who seem to value histrionics over songcraft, and Doves appear to be on a mission to produce music so anodyne and dull that they could cure insomnia. Like The Smiths and Pearl Jam I have often been told how great they are but whereas there is still hope for me if I can conquer my Morrisey antipathy, these two I fear are lost causes.

New Order

Joy Division were an incredible band. Ian Curtis is rightly considered one of the finest lyricists of his generation and his energy and magnetism characterised what made the band great. There is not greater testament to the brilliance of Curtis than the result when his influence is tragically taken away from the band. I had the misfortune of seeing New Order at Glastonbury in 2005 and the fact that the highlight was chanting for John Barnes gives you an indication of the poverty of entertainment on offer. The decision to play some Joy Division tracks was somewhat masochistic in the way it exposed for all to see the startling contrast between the thrill of their previous incarnation and the turgid dross on show. Their are some who have extolled the virtues of New Order to me, some going so far as to cite the tedious Blue Monday as a landmark moment in Dance music. To me New Order are the musical equivalent of men in their late thirties hovering around on the perimeter of the local nightclub they should long since have consigned to their lost youth.

Comments welcomed, particularly your own similar experiences of bands you should like. 

Saturday, 9 April 2011


Glorious sunshine means no proper blogging today. Instead have these sensational videos of some amazing artists performing from Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop at South by Soutwest festival. One day I'll chuck in teaching, save up my pennies and finally go to the best festival not called Glastonbury.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

The sound of conflict

''The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.''
John Stuart Mill, 19th century English economist and philosopher.

What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?
Mahatma Gandhi

War has been a hot topic in the news with events in Libya bringing arguments for and against military action centre stage. I'm certainly not going to dwell on these arguments on a music blog - for fear of losing what's left of my readership after 21 days of inaction which is tantamount to blogger suicide (in my defence I was busy sorting the aftermath of being burgled!). To return to the point, war has been a subject addressed by many artists over the years and the whole gamut of views have been covered. Edwyn Starr's 'War! (what is it good for?)' stands apart as one of the greatest protest songs in history yet there have also been many gems supporting war. I strongly recommend this site  which has proved invaluable to me as a history teacher. Josh White's 'Berlin Blues' from 1943 is a superb example of the quality of writing engaged in the propaganda of war. In this blog I will choose five songs linked to the theme of war and offer my views on each.

'Masters of War' by Bob Dylan

It would be remiss of me not to include a slice of Zimmerman on here and although this might be a bit obvious I make no apologies. This song appeared on the wonderful 'Freewheelin' Bob Dylan' and contrary to popular misconceptions is an attack on the military-industrial complex rather than a condemnation of the act of war itself. The song was written around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis and reflected the sentiments of Eisenhower's closing White House address when he warned of the growing influence of the arms industry. Dylan is at his most blunt, eschewing the abstract word play of his later work to offer a extremely simple address to those in power which is all the more powerful for its simplicity.

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain

Like the majority of great protest songs the message was far from heeded and within a couple of years of its release the United States were embroiled in a war where the only winners were the manufacturers of Napalm and Agent Orange.

Here are three versions I find particularly interesting as it shows how the message endures through a variety of interpretations:

'Just War (feat. Gruff Rhys)' by Dangermouse & Sparklehorse

Dark Night of the Soul is an absolutely stunning album bringing together the unique talents of Sparklehorse and Dangermouse with a sprinkling of perfectly chosen guest vocalists (including David Lynch!). It is so consistently excellent that choosing a favourite is all but impossible. On this track the vocals are provided by Gruff Rhys from Neon Neon and the Super Furry Animals. The appeal of the track is how the bleak subject matter is contrasting with the lilting, almost jolly backing. Whether this was an intentional comment on the ease with which we accept the need for military intervention or purely coincidental is secondary to the primary enjoyment of a successful combination of seemingly hostile elements. I've chosen a video which uses a brilliant animation from 1982 which compliments the song perfectly.


'Ballad of the Green Berets' by Sgt Barry Sadler

I suspect my affection for this songs comes more from its value to me as a history teacher rather than an admiration of its composition. The melody is basic but the lyrics are a fascinating depiction of war as glory and the fact this song topped the US chart in the mid-60s shows how public opinion was once in favour of the Vietnam Conflict. It is easy to dismiss it as disposable propaganda yet when considered as a tribute to fallen friends as the writer intended it is actually tremendously moving and far more affecting than the plethora of sanctimonious anti-war songs latching on to a public mood to revive their own flagging career (cough* Greenday*cough)

'Two Tribes' by Frankie Goes to Hollywood

I used to hate the eighties. Perhaps it was reaching my teens in the following decade which made me loathe the prior decade. It seemed so bombastic, cliched and full of atrocious music usually sung by men wearing make up. It was only when I bid farewell to my teen years that I began to discover that lurking beneath the surface of excreta was some of the most brilliant, socially aware music ever committed to record. In the case of Frankie Goes to Hollywood they managed to combine a wit and eye for parody with challenging messages. Two Tribes is a sublime comment on the Cold War which manages to avoid polemics and instead offers a withering rebuke to both parties.

'Landlocked Blues' by Bright Eyes

One of the highlights from one of my favourite albums ever made. I won't linger on analysing the song as it stands for itself but one angle that I'm not sure others share is how this song reminds me of this scene from Terminator 2: Judgment Day. I remember the first time I heard the lyric about 'kids playing guns in the street' it cast my mind back immediately to this scene. It seems like a cruel twist of fate that the facet which drives human kind to achieve great things - namely competition and desire to be the best - is also the catalyst for so much pain and suffering.

That's it from me, I'll try not to leave it so long between blogs in future. A word of warning; I managed to get Ryan Adams tickets for June so expect even more Ryan worship than usual as my excitement builds.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

So what's my motivation here?

Tonight's blog is about concept albums. It always tends to make my heart sink when I hear the news that a band I have grown fond of  announce their latest record is a concept album. It might be considered blasphemy but I consider Dark Side of the Moon downright pompous and it seems for many to be the benchmark for concept albums. However despite this doom laden intro there have actually been some pretty damn fine concept albums. Here are five, with a brief description of the concept and a song to get your teeth into. The format seems to be increasing in popularity with major releases in the last year from Arcade Fire and Janelle Montae offering their own interpretations of the concept album formula. I'd love to know your opinions so it'd be just the ticket if you posted your comments below.

In the Aeroplane over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel
Rightly revered as an Indie classic this is loosely based around the unusual concept of the life of Anne Frank. The beauty of the approach is you could happily enjoy the album without knowing this yet once you do it makes the album far richer and poignant. In fact if I'm honest I could take it or leave it before the idea was explained to me and ever since I have grown to love it.

Songs for the Deaf by Queens of the Stone Age
Like many the involvement of Dave Grohl drew me to this band originally. What I never expected was such an exciting, thrusting, sonic experience based around the simple concept of a drive from Los Angeles to the Mojave Desert. The genius is how each song is supposedly from a different local radio station and there is genuine wit to some of the radio announcements; "We play the songs that sound more like everyone else than anyone else" being my personal favourite.

A Grand don't come for Free by The Streets
I suspect some of you will be reasonably disgusted by this choice as Mike Skinner appears to have divided opinion. This story constructed around the disappearance of a thousand pounds and the consequences is the most linear of the concept albums I'm featuring here. I actually think when you look past the admittedly grating single 'Fit but you know it' you find some gems. It is an ambitious idea and unlike with the albums that followed Skinner succeeds admirably.

The Fitzgerald by Richmond Fontaine
Grizzled, downbeat alt country songwriter holes up in Reno hotel; that isn't the concept it's how the album was written! The result is a stark but deeply moving document of events where the protagonist is trying to avoid being sucked into the dark. In contrast to the bleak sound scape the message of the album is undoubtedly optimistic as it recognises the daily triumphs of good over temptation.

Yoshimi battles the Pink Robots by Flaming Lips
As barking mad as the title suggests this is a special album to me as it became part of the soundtrack to my first year at University. A fantastic flatmate of mine was studying Japanese and we used to spend many an enjoyable afternoon playing Pro Evo whilst listening to the tale of a young woman battling evil pink robots. The undercurrent is actually an intuitive analysis of the fragility of global confidence post 9/11 but I prefer not to dwell on that and immerse myself in the wonder of the glorious world. Coyne himself denies that it is a concept album - pointing out that the 'concept' only really holds for four songs but they are utterly glorious and deserve recognition on here. In an act of moving bromance I gave my copy to my flatmate as he set off on his Japanese adventure and just a few years later he was raking it in as a James Bond lookalike. Dreams really do come true.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Bare with me kids!

Apologies for the lack of recent blog posts, basically busy as a hyper-active bee so I have not had the time to indulge the pleasure of writing about the wonder music. Unfortunately that situation remains unless I can steal some spare time later this weekend. For now may I offer five sublime tracks by way of apology:

Richard Hawley - Don't get hung up in your soul

Rolling Stones - Please Please Me (acoustic Beatles cover)

Boston - More than a Feeling (Live from Giant Stadium, 1979)

Thin Lizzy - Are you ready? (Live)

Daft Punk surprise appearance at Phoenix gig (jerky camera I know but the crowd reaction is immense!)
Watch from 1m 55secs

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Welcome back

New single by The Strokes ahead of new album Angles. I've listened to 10 seconds of it and already love it. For me they are still one of the best band's on the planet.

What were you thinking?

This week's blog might not excite and delight you as much as my usual dazzling array of tantalising tunes. My pre-Mancunian derby nerves has brought out the negative in me so I'm choosing five tracks I loathe by artists I love. I could of course make this easy and choose middling bands who I can take or leave, or dip into the catalogue or once great bands on the slide (yes I mean you Rivers Cuomo). Each track is by an artist released at the peak of their powers which contrasts sharply with the rest of their brilliance.

Bugger I may have set myself a very tough task. Time to get myself a brew and put the thinking cap on.

All Around the World by Oasis
It seems prescient to choose the famous Citeh fans as my first victims. Oasis were the band that made me want to learn guitar. Thankfully they also ensured that all their songs were simple enough for a clumsy teenager to learn and for that I will always be grateful to Noel. My sister and I collected everything they ever released (including imports) and I have spent many a duel with keyboard warriors defending their output. That most certainly extends to Be Here Now which was the victim of absurd revisionism when lazy journalists went from hailing it a masterpiece (which is isn't) to a catastrophe (which again, it isn't) inside of about a year. The album was made at their commercial peak and featured some truly brilliant tracks - Don't Go Away, D'yer Know What I mean? and the Girl in the Dirty Shirt. This abomination though is lazy Beatles parody at its worst - and not even good Beatles (more of that later). Everything about it sounds tired and laboured and one can only presume Noel dusted it off to finish the album asap so he could go and snort some more of his fortune.

Yellow Submarine by The Beatles
The track that killed the dream of the perfect album. If Revolver was a steak it would be lean, moist, juicy, succulent, with one unpleasant knot of fat so frustratingly placed that it threatens to ruin the whole gastronomic experience. Yellow Submarine is that fat. It isn't the worst song ever performed by the band - Hey Jude on repeat is my musical room 101 - but it is undoubtedly the most bewildering insert to an LP tracklisting I have ever known. Maybe Lennon, McCartney and Harrison didn't want to leave themselves with nowhere to go? Maybe Lennon wanted to see what he could get away given the manic adulation they received? Surely anyone else proposing a drug addled, children's nursery rhyme sung by the drummer would be told to forget it?  I have no idea, but what I do know is this song is wretched.

Whatz Ya Phone Number? - Tupac Shakur
'Does a bear shit in the woods and wipe his ass with a rabbit?' This track has long threatened to cross the line into 'so bad it's good' territory. I wouldn't suggest for a moment that All Eyez On Me is one of the great albums but it was made by Tupac at his commercial peak; Cali love, I aint mad atcha, Heartz of Men, Life Goes On, and All Bout U are superb singles. The problem with the album - like many of the era - is how hideously bloated it is which allows room for this slice of dire, dire music. The track literally consists of Tupac 'sexy talking' on the phone for five minutes. For a man capable of poetry in his more reflective moments the lyrics are sub-viz and in many ways reflect all that is wrong with misogynistic, production line, commercial rap music.

You were Always on my Mind by Ryan Adams
It would be very hypocritical of me to save the golden boy from criticism so here it is - a Ryan Adams cover which is completely unnecessary and achieves the ignominy of bringing a brilliant album to a close on whimper. The intro is promising, building the expectation that this is going to be great and it just... well isn't. Don't get me wrong, this is a superb song. Elvis brings gravitas in the way that only he could, Pet Shop Boys gave their own unique twist and I even have a soft spot for the Willie Nelson version; so why did Adams decide to tag on his own lukewarm effort? I have no idea and given the amount of chemicals in his blood stream at the time I suspect he couldn't offer an explanation either.

Isn't She Lovely by Stevie Wonder
Praise be that my Dad has no idea about this blog else I suspect I would be in for a dose of his version of  the 'hairdryer treatment.' Wonder was a God in my house growing up and rightly so - Innervisions is a contender for my favourite album of all time. However this song does my head in. The sentiment is commendable, the tune is jaunty and enjoyable and it features Stevie's harmonica skills which can never be a bad thing. So why do I loathe it? It goes on, and on, and on, and on, ad infitum. It marks the moment in Songs in the Key of Life where 'less is more' is decisively thrown out the window. Sadly too much of side two is overblown and borderline over-indulgent. Do I need to hear the baby being born? No. Do I need to listen to bath time whilst the same relentlessly upbeat melody drones on? Definitely not. If you try and slog through the entire song your love of Wonder diminishes to such an extent that you would gladly shove that harmonica down his gullet if it would just make him please, please, stop!

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Christmas, Leeks and Sheep

I'm afraid the White Stripes obituary has sapped my typing strength so I'm not offering a lengthy album review but highly recommend the new Decemberists album. They have made the wise move of getting the wonderful Gillian Welch on board and her vocal compliments Meloy perfectly to create a country sound which reminds me of Heartbreaker (unsurprisingly given the Welch connection) and Cassadega. There is possibly a hint of REM too - if not in the style of music but Meloy's vocal does have a touch of Stipe in places.

Enjoy the tasters below and track down this album!

Friday, 4 February 2011

Like London buses and Noah's ark.

Wednesday was a rough day. Two important parts of my life came to a whimpering, and regretfully expected conclusion. Gary Neville - Mr Manchester United - retired with immediate effect. It frightens me to my core that just Scholes and Giggs remain from the glorious core of my football heroes as a youth. On a musical level Wednesday saw the official announcement of the end of the White Stripes. It has been pretty obvious as Jack White dedicates more time to The Dead Weather and The Raconteurs that his collaboration with hugely under-rated percussionist Meg would be put to bed. I admit to finding it a little odd that White decided to announce a split rather than simply leave The White Stripes option on the back burner for a possible future renaissance. It would appear though that he has become fed up with Stripes related questions when promoting his current projects and perhaps wanted to offer fans some closure. It is arguable that the Stripes persona had worn tired as recent albums though impressive have lacked the sparkle that Raconteurs and Dead Weather have offered. White's songwriting partnership with Benson in particular offers a truly exciting combination of talents that has already given two quite magnificent albums for a so-called 'side-project.' The cynic in me might also suggest that the 'unreleased material' he pledged to release as a thank you to fans will now generate much more publicity and consequent sales as a result. I tend not to think of Jack White as especially financially motivated - the extra cash gained from a Bond theme and Coke commercial will surely ensure he has enough to fulfill his penchant for fancy dress and red trousers for the foreseeable future (atleast until the Stripes reform for Glastonbury 2025 anyway.) If he really falls on hard times he can go back to teaching musical instruments to cartoon characters.

So as is my laboured tradition I present my five must have White Stripes tracks. They really are one of my favourite bands of all time; as long term followers will know from previous blogs eulogising over their Glastonbury set of 2005. Thankfully everything White does seems to appeal to me so I can enjoy his future output hopefully without pining too much for the red and white days of old. I will steer clear of songs I have previously featured in the blog which may explain some of the choices!

Best Led Zep style wig out
Jack has always managed to sneak at least one blatant homage to the more indulgent moments of 1970s rock. It seems that as the Stripes career these moments have become a resident feature of each album. Noteworthy moments include Hello Operator from Der Stijl and Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn from Icky Thump. It is easy to pick out the crowning glory though. Page and Plant themselves would've been proud of the immense seven minute plus opus from Elephant. If you can listen to this without accompanying it with closed eyes, absurd lunges and air guitar soloing I have no time for you.

My, my, what a sweet heart you have!
In a world of ego driven, pompous showman playing the hardman Jack White is a bit of a no mark. Back in the day there was that scuffle with the frontman of some wretched Strokes wannabe band who's name escapes me but on the whole he has either failed to or shown no interest in being a rock star in the stereotypical sense. In fact, in the same way as a wig out per album is a given, so is an utterly charming, simple ode which exposes the sweet natured boy from Detroit. Fell in love with a girl is a tempting choice, as are I want to the Boy to warm your mother's heart and I'm Lonely (but I aint that lonely yet). However although a tad predictable perhaps, I can't look past this gem which the Moldy Peaches have spent their entire career trying to recreate.

An added bonus here is an awesome US school choir giving it a go; awesome not for the sound as much as one stand-out mullet - see if you can spot it!

The Bat Shit mental award
There really is never a dull moment with Jack White. He managed to pull out of the bag some of the most unhinged and ridiculous songs which somehow managed to work. I could make a case for Little Acorns and Little Ghost amongst others for this choice but ever since I first heard this song it has stood out as brilliant yet utterly crackers. The video is also absolutely glorious too.

Music as Art
I've never been a great lover of music videos. I think it stems from not having grown up with satellite tvGondry has proved fruitful from their early years and it would not be understated to consider the French director as one of the driving forces behind the band's success. My personal favourite is Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground. What I love about the video is how a simple idea of homecoming to a trashed house is expanded into something so much more.

Masters of Interpretation
Many artists consider covers to be old hat and unimaginative. In many cases this is the case - brilliant covers are few and far between and two often today a switch of gender on a vocal is considered revolutionary. One thing the White Stripes could never be accused of is taking the easy option with their covers and in many ways they have set the benchmark. The two standouts are well known and in a break from tradition I'm going to link to both of them. In both instances White's vocal drives to the heart of the emotion of the song and fully interprets the original sentiment with remarkable ease.

Fantastic band who'll be sadly missed, maybe Meg can finally fulfill her dream of becoming a chef?

I'd love to know your favourite White Stripes moments so please leave a comment.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

A night to remember

At the outset of writing this blog I was conscious of avoiding turning it into a Ryan Adams fan-boy site. I recognise today that I am danger of going the same way with The Head and The Heart so I will keep this entry short for that reason.

On Monday night I had the privilege of seeing them make their debut performance in our green and pleasant land in a small venue in North London. The night itself didn't seem particularly promising as the support bands both exhibited the kind of faux-Mumford and Sons that has become the hallmark of the current folky scene. If the two support bands had been around ten years ago I have no doubt they'd be playing forgettable garage rock and dressing like The Strokes. Here it was a case of grandpa jumpers and 'oh how intense we are' facial expressions. The first band we only caught the end of but they looked and sounded like a bunch of public schoolboys whose guitars were too small for them 'having a go at this band lark.' The second band promised to be a step up but were undermined by their own self delusion. In their minds it was clearly a moving, awe inspiring set to stir the emotions - they were wrong. They were boring. I found myself far more engaged in pointing out attractive members of the audience to my friends like a Sky Sports night on the town. The saving grace was their lead singer looking vaguely like a fresh faced handsome Johann Cruyff which at least provided something worthy of comment. So after a lot of shoe gazing and a surprisingly good final song the support shuffled off.

It is a rare occasion that an artist I have grown to love are still at the level of setting up their own equipment. The band themselves do not look particularly remarkable, yet once they started their charisma was undeniable. The atmosphere in the room changed dramatically and the 'pin drop' effect took over. I sensed a genuine sense of wonder from the crowd which perhaps concerned the band who's effort to instigate melodic clapping fell flat as people appeared just too engrossed in the music to become reactive. We were admiring a show with no intention to form part of it, but even this changed as the gig progressed and a deeper connection was made. The biggest initial difference between TH&TH compared to their warm up acts was a sense of joy. It was like a revelation that it was okay, and positively encouraged, to smile and enjoy the music. Each of the three vocalists have gorgeous and contrasting delivery; incidentally I would dearly like to see Charity given more opportunity to take the lead as so far her unique delivery is underused. I'm not going to list the songs played and rate them individually as you can listen to their existing tracks yourself and make your mind up. It is fair to say the Lost in My Mind and Down in the Valley were as incredible as hoped for and goosebumps were sustained for long enough to be medically dubious. However a greater joy was new songs I was hearing for the first time which were as warm and inviting as last year's album which I adore so much. The set was an absolute triumph and it was well worth the uncharacteristic Monday night trek to the big smoke.

I am loathe to tip them for big things for fear of jinxing them as I have many others before (My Vitriol, Kinesis, and Thirteen Senses spring to mind). It might be that the rest of the world don't fall for this band in the way I have but I will always have that night in North London.

A few related links can be found here:
Hear Ya
Sound Cloud album preview

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Like a moonlight shadow...

As regular readers will know I do a bit of moonlighting writing about my other passion - Manchester United. Here are links to a couple of articles I had published on a blog this week on my frustration with Wayne Rooney and my favourite Manchester United game.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Today in music

Bit of an extra post. I've spent an afternoon doing a bit of marking and listening to a lot of music. The results of which can be summarised through the following points:

The Warpaint album starts well but gets a bit tedious

Lissie makes a fine EP but grates over an album

My Jerusalem are potentially a little bit special

Different Class sounds as good today as in 1995. For me the finest album of the britpop years.

'That's just talking over music son'

The title of this blog is my Dad's articulate and well reasoned opinion on 'that rap music'. Now before you get angry and start castigating me for covering rap music again I am doing no such thing. Inspired by Big Daddy Frederick I'm taking his description literally and have chosen five brilliant songs of which the chief component is a spoken vocal over music. I have taken artistic licence with small bouts of singing but generally I have stuck to the formula which meant having to overlook such magnificent tracks as Little Acorns by The White Stripes and Popular by Nada Surf. Baz Lurmann did not make the cut on grounds of being shite.

Pow Pow by LCD Sound System

I chose this song as it came on my ipod whilst putting away the shopping this morning (rock and roll) and made me think of this subject for a blog. I long had an irrational dislike of LCD Soundsystem. They seemed to represent the try hard, indie wannabes that infested my favourite places as a student in Leeds and I never have (nor will) see the big fuss about 'Daft Punk is playing at my house.' So it was with some surprise that when enjoying the excellent Minnesota radio station The Current I heard a really interesting track and it turned out to be by the very band I'd often derided. Thankfully my stubborn days are over as meander towards my third decade so I can happily embrace the fact that I was wrong. The latest and allegedly final album is well worth a listen but then you are most likely cooler and trendier than I so know that already.

Be Safe by The Cribs

I love and always will love The Cribs. They were introduced to me by my best friend and we would take huge amounts of pleasure from experiencing groups of comedy outfitted scenesters bopping along to their songs totally ignorant of their meaning. It is always a bittersweet feeling when a band you have felt a personal link to becomes hugely successful. Although they have not hit the heights predicted The Cribs have undoubtedly gone up in the world - recording albums in LA and inviting Johnny Marr into the band. The mainstream output has left me cold in much in the same way as recent Kings of Leon songs have failed to resonate with me as Youth and Young Manhood so emphatically did. However it is doubtful that had they not pointedly looked to make an impact across the Atlantic they would have managed to attract Lee Ranald of Sonic Youth to collaborate on this absolute belter of a track. The Jarman brothers are underrated lyricists and this song is packed full of imagery so sharp you can picture it in your mind e.g. 'Ideas swirl but don't stick. They appear but then run off like rain on the windshield. One of those rainy day car rides my head implodes, the atmosphere in this car a mirror of my skull. Wet, damp, windows dripping and misted with cold. Walls of grey. Nothing good on the radio. Not a thought in my head.' Bob Dylan would be proud of that.

The Revolution will not be Televised by Gil Scott-Heron

Here is where it all began. My first awareness of this classic was somewhat ironically a television advert about  Nike basketball. As cool as that advert was as a yank obsessed teen it jars somewhat with the original which is a devastatingly cool and pithy take on the political and cultural whirlwind that was enveloping the globe with the fall out from the changes of the previous decade. It is hard to believe but this song initially featured no backing other than percussion in the form of bongos and conga drums. The right choice was made when it was re-recorded as what I can best describe as audio silk. The man himself has enjoyed an unlikely revival in the past couple of years and a good friend and fellow blogger even saw the great man in concert. You can hear Gil Scott-Heron explaining the meaning behind the song here.

Fire coming out of the monkey's head by Gorillaz feat. Dennis Hopper

Dennis Hopper is cool as fuck. Whether you feel Gorrilaz are a brilliant, avant-garde art project proving unexpectedly popular or a mawkishly self-indulgent vanity vehicle for Damon Albarn and friends you have to admit that Dennis Hopper reading a fable about primate dominated land facing environmental difficulties is inspired. His sad passing has left behind so many great moments on and off screen, but this might just be my favourite.

Going the Distance by Cake

Two songs always seem to sneak onto mixtapes and play lists I put together. One is the fantastic Teenage Angst by Placebo which seems ever relevant and the other is this ode to tenacity. It is essentially Aesop's tortoise and hair fable turned into a song yet it works brilliantly. I'm no great fan of Cake's other material but praise is due for concocting this quite ingenious motivational nugget.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Somebody up there likes me...

Even as a cynical, embittered Humanist, sometimes out of the blue something happens that makes you wonder whether the almighty is a reality.


Saturday, 1 January 2011

Dusting off a classic

Last night I watched the BBC adaptation of Nigel Slater's toast. It was potentially brilliant but was let down by woeful pacing that fractured the emotional connection built up in the first half. Anyway the undoubted highlight was the use of this absolute gem that I had never heard before. So I thought I'd share it with you...

If You Go Away by Dusty Springfield

Utterly beautiful.

For those in need of some soothing relief...

I had a quiet New Years but judging by my twitter feed ( I was in the minority so perhaps some of you might appreciate five delightfully chilled tracks. No complicated words for you to read, just blissful music.

Alone in Kyoto by AIR

Breathe Me by SIA

Love Will Tear Us Apart covered by José González

Nocturne Op.9 No.2 by Chopin

Jigglypuff's Song by Jigglypuff