Friday, December 24, 2004

Merry Christmas you cheap lousy faggots!
SWSL Top 10 Albums Of 2004

Fans of Razorlight, Keane, Kasabian and The Killers: you may want to look away now. Or, failing that, fuck off back to sixth form.

First of all, the shamefully long list of albums that might potentially have troubled the Top 10 had they assailed my ears…

THE ARCADE FIRE - Funeral
THE BLACK KEYS - Rubber Factory
BLUES EXPLOSION - Damage
THE CONCRETES - The Concretes
ELVIS COSTELLO - The Delivery Man
THE DEARS - No Cities Left
THE DELGADOS - Universal Audio
THE EARLIES - These Were The Earlies
THE EIGHTIES MATCHBOX B-LINE DISASTER - The Royal Society
GOLDIE LOOKIN CHAIN - Greatest Hits
THE HIVES - Tyrannosaurus Hives
HOPE OF THE STATES - The Lost Riots
THE LIBERTINES - The Libertines
MODEST MOUSE - Good News For People Who Love Bad News
THE RADIO DEPT - Lesser Matters
RADIO 4 - Stealing Of A Nation
RILO KILEY - More Adventurous
THE SECRET MACHINES - Now Here Is Nowhere
SIX BY SEVEN - 04
SPARTA - Porcelain
THE STREETS - A Grand Don’t Come For Free
TV ON THE RADIO - Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes
THE WALKMEN - Bows & Arrows
BRIAN WILSON - Smile

(New Year’s Resolution: seek out and buy more music.)

Next, the honourable mentions…

DAVID BYRNE - Grown Backwards
THE CORAL - Nightfreak And The Sons Of Becker
GRAHAM COXON - Happiness In Magazines
IKARA COLT - Modern Apprentice
MARK LANEGAN - Bubblegum
MORRISSEY - You Are The Quarry
QHIXLDEKX - The Twin Moon Conspiracy
SCISSOR SISTERS - Scissor Sisters
THE SHINS - Chutes Too Narrow
SONS & DAUGHTERS - Love The Cup
SOPHIA - People Are Like Seasons
WILCO - A Ghost Is Born

Of these, The Shins probably came closest to scraping in - charmingly fresh power-pop with incongruously shadowy lyrics, but after a corking start Chutes Too Narrow unfortunately tails off into a bit of a disappointment with one or two drippy tracks too many.

And now for the Top 10…

10. CLINIC - Winchester Cathedral
In musical terms the Liverpool four-piece peddle some of the most deliciously sinister pop around. Ade Blackburn's nasal whine might render the vocals almost entirely incomprehensible, but his malevolent hissing gets right under the skin. Winchester Cathedral might be business as usual for Clinic, but when business is this good that’s no reason to complain.
Key track: ‘Anne’

9. KELIS - Tasty
There may be a slump in quality over the course of the final few tracks, but for the most part this record is a classic lesson in how to precipitate salivation. Mrs Nas keeps us more than entertained with a succession of bootylicious sex jamz, ably assisted by The Neptunes. Yum yum.
Key track: ‘In Public’

8. PJ HARVEY - Uh Huh Her
After the polish, positivity and vitality of 2001’s Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea, Uh Huh Her marked a partial return to the gritty, raw and raucous sound of the early 90s, no doubt at least partially influenced by PJ's time hanging out with the likes of Josh Homme and Mark Lanegan. Nevertheless, the less immediate but more delicate and restrained tracks like 'It's You' and 'The Slow Drug' come into their own over time.
Key track: ‘It’s You’

7. THE ICARUS LINE - Penance Soiree
Obnoxious, abrasive, abusive LA brats embark upon a riotous romp through rock history like a bunch of marauding punk rock vikings. As on their debut LP Mono, The Stooges, The Jesus Lizard and The Birthday Party are vomited up to glorious effect, but this time there's also the sound of 70s rock imploding, psychotically pulverising metal and heavy-lidded doped-up Spacemen-3-esque epics. Sitting amidst the wreckage is a blast.
Key track: ‘Getting Bright At Night’

6. INTERPOL - Antics
In many ways a dream sophomore release, exuding, for the first time, self-belief and a confidence in their own musical identity. A more urgent record than 2002's Turn On The Bright Lights, Antics unfortunately retains its predecessor's lyrical deficiencies but also - thankfully - its drama, poise and dignity.
Key track: ‘Not Even Jail’

5. THE FIERY FURNACES - Blueberry Boat
Without doubt the album which rewarded the patient listener the most. Every spin revealed new facets, the record endlessly divulging its secrets one by one. The Fiery Furnaces are one in a million, and Blueberry Boat is fantastically rich in ideas, invention and wit, both musically and lyrically (how many songs do you know which start off by discussing a teenage dream of working as a typewriter mechanic?). A palatial place of refuge if you ever fear that music is lacking in imagination or ambition, or a first port of call if you're just in search of wholesome tales of piracy and lost dogs.
Key track: ‘Chris Michaels’

4. FRANZ FERDINAND - Franz Ferdinand
The Strokes sexed up and set to a disco beat. Assured and yet far from arrogant, Franz Ferdinand's electrifying debut lit a fire that burned out of control on the dancefloors of indie clubs in cities all over the place, whilst Alex Kapranos was to men's fashion in 2004 what Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs was to women's in 2003. "Super-fantastisch" indeed.
Key track: ‘Take Me Out’

3. SONIC YOUTH - Sonic Nurse
Their 19th studio album saw the New York legends come full circle, a natural continuation of the retreat away from the self-consciously obtruse avant-gardism of NYC Ghosts & Flowers which characterised 2002's Murray Street. Treading water for perhaps the first time in their career, then, but doing it with such style. Who could begrudge them plagiarising their own illustrious back catalogue when the results are as magnificent and melodic as 'Stones', 'Pattern Recognition' and 'Paper Cup Exit'?
Key track: ‘Pattern Recognition’

2. THE FUTUREHEADS - The Futureheads
Franz Ferdinand may have won the battle in taking the prize for best single, but The Futureheads won the war. Even on the umpteenth revolution this album bursts with an irrepressible lust for life. Impassioned and intense but above all stunningly good fun, The Futureheads' debut is one to live long in the memory - and the heart.
Key track: ‘Hounds Of Love’

1. NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS - Abattoir Blues / The Lyre Of Orpheus
Not one to dwell on departed friends (Blixa Bargeld) or rest on his laurels - which were wilting somewhat after last year's rather flaccid Nocturama LP - Nick Cave followed it up with a double album of staggering power and beauty. By turns lugubrious, angry and exultant - but, perhaps most notably (if not surprisingly for Cave afficionados), brilliantly funny. We might all be on the highway to hell, but we're gonna be grinning all the goddamn way there.
Key track: ‘Hiding All Away’

A reminder of the SWSL Top 10 Albums Of 2003:

1. THE RAVEONETTES - Chain Gang Of Love
2. THE MARS VOLTA - De-Loused In The Comatorium
3. EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY - The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place
4. MOGWAI - Happy Music For Happy People
5. THE STROKES - Room On Fire
6. YEAH YEAH YEAHS - Fever To Tell
7. RADIOHEAD - Hail To The Thief
8. HOT HOT HEAT - Make Up The Breakdown
9. CAVE IN - Antenna
10. EELS - Shootenanny!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

SWSL Top 20 Singles Of 2004

From The Futureheads to The Fiery Furnaces, Graham Coxon to Nick Cave, 2004 has been another vintage year for the humble single format.

First of all, the honourable mentions:

ABERFELDY - ‘Heliopolis By Night’
BASEMENT JAXX - ‘Plug Me In’
BEASTIE BOYS - ‘Ch-Ch-Check It Out’
GRAHAM COXON - ‘Bittersweet Bundle Of Misery’
THE DEAD 60S - ‘Riot Radio’
FRANZ FERDINAND - ‘Matinee’ / ‘This Fire’
THE FUTUREHEADS - ‘Meantime’
GIRLS ALOUD - ‘The Show’
GOLDIE LOOKIN CHAIN - ‘Guns Don’t Kill People, Rappers Do’
GREEN DAY - ‘American Idiot’
PJ HARVEY - ‘Shame’
THE HIVES - ‘Two Timing Touch And Broken Bones’
THE ICARUS LINE - ‘Party The Baby Off’
IKARA COLT - ‘Wanna Be That Way’
KELIS FEAT ANDRE 3000 - ‘Millionaire’
THE MARS VOLTA - ‘Televators’ EP
MAXIMO PARK - ‘The Coast Is Always Changing’ / ‘The Night I Lost My Head’ (double A-side)
MUSE - ‘Butterflies And Hurricanes’
N*E*R*D - ‘She Wants To Move’
OUTKAST - ‘Roses’
PRODIGY - ‘Girls’
SCISSOR SISTERS - ‘Take Your Mama Out’ / ‘Mary’ / ‘Laura’
THE SHINS - ‘Fighting In A Sack’ / ‘So Says I’
SONS & DAUGHTERS - ‘Johnny Cash’
THE STILLS - ‘Still In Love Song’
THE STROKES - ‘Reptilia’ / ‘The End Has No End’
TV ON THE RADIO - ‘Staring At The Sun’
USHER - ‘Yeah’
WILCO - ‘Spiders (Kidsmoke)’
YOURCODENAMEIS: MILO - ‘Schteeve’
THE ZUTONS - ‘Don’t Ever Think’

And now for the official countdown…

20. SCISSOR SISTERS - ‘Comfortably Numb’
2004 was barely a couple of weeks old when Scissor Sisters shoved a big gay cock up the arse of mainstream pop and spunked out this gem of a cover. A gleeful middle finger to comfortably numb po-faced Mojo-reading Floyd fans everywhere.

19. THE FUTUREHEADS - ‘Decent Days And Nights’
Like Scissor Sisters, spunky - only not in the same “mop it up with a Kleenex” kinda sense. Perhaps not quite as deliriously potent as ‘First Day’ or ‘Carnival Kids’ (the lead track on last year’s ‘1-2-3 Nul!’ EP), but a 2004 highlight nonetheless.

18. FRANZ FERDINAND - ‘Michael’
Indie disco dancefloor thrills courtesy of the latest band to be labelled Glasgow’s finest. More hip-shaking and homoeroticism. If brazenly heterosexual rock means Jet, then I’ll take this anytime.

17. PJ HARVEY - ‘The Letter’
A timely reminder that Polly Jean’s voice is still one of the most bewitching and beguiling around. She could seduce statues.

16. THE STREETS - ‘Blinded By The Lights’
No pretence, no posturing, a vivid portrait of Britain in 2004- this is the urban chronicler Skinner’s kitchen-sink garage at its finest, music utterly of its time in the best possible sense.

15. THE LIBERTINES - ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’
The Libertines have always been a complete mess, and break-ups are always messy - but rarely is it this enjoyable to hear the process on record. All the same, they’re not the messiahs, just a couple of very naughty boys - well, one of them in particular.

14. KELIS - ‘Milkshake’
Jaw-droppingly original pop beamed in from another planet. Still not sure what it’s all about, but it sounds positively filthy. Cold shower for one, please!

13. NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS - ‘Nature Boy’
As delightful as it was unexpected. Neither featherlight ballad nor blood-and-guts melodrama, ‘Nature Boy’ is a Bargeld-less Bad Seeds trying their hand at a charmingly breezy pop song, albeit one about “routine atrocity”. And it wasn’t even the best Nick Cave single of the year…

12. THE FIERY FURNACES - ‘Single Again’
Traditional song meets The Fiery Furnaces. With predictably unpredictable but thoroughly pleasing consequences. And a lot of electro squelching.

11. THE WALKMEN - ‘The Rat’
You’ve got a nerve” - who has? The Strokes, for daring to release singles far inferior to ‘The Rat’ and yet undeservedly laud it over their NYC brethren? Tense, nervous, agitated, insistent and angry.

10. THE RADIO DEPT - ‘Why Won’t You Talk About It?’
Listening to this is the equivalent of putting on a thick oversized fluffy jumper knitted entirely out of the strands of feedback and fuzz from The Jesus & Mary Chain’s Psychocandy. If you’re a regular visitor to this site, then you’ll know this must categorically be A Good Thing.

9. GRAHAM COXON - ‘Freakin Out’
Brattish, nihilistic, solipsistic, agoraphobic gutter-punk of the highest order. Does anyone else have difficulty believing that this man had a hand in writing ‘Country House’?

8. RACHEL STEVENS - ‘Some Girls’
No, no, no, no, NO! What were you thinking of, Ms Stevens?! And you, Mr X?! Don’t you know that Comic Relief singles are supposed to be shit, and not lip-smackingly splendid electro-pop!

7. INTERPOL - ‘Slow Hands’
No more lurking in the shadows for Paul Banks and company. ‘Slow Hands’ was a bold and strident step into the light.

6. MORRISSEY - ‘First Of The Gang To Die’
So, what’s all the fuss about this Morrissey character, then? Ah, NOW I see… It’s difficult to say whether even a totally cleaned-up Pete Doherty would constitute a more remarkable rehabilitation than this.

5. THE ICARUS LINE - ‘Up Against The Wall Motherfuckers’
One of those songs where the title says it all, really. The bassline is as ugly as sin (think Lemmy and Ann Widdecombe’s lovechild) and the whole thing’s as blunt and brutal as getting repeatedly struck in the face with a car jack. As they say - no pain, no gain.

4. NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS - ‘Breathless’ / ‘There She Goes, My Beautiful World’ (double A-side)
Forget ‘Breathless’, as gorgeous as it is - this was all about the Abattoir Blues track it was paired with. A majestically tempestuous and tumultuous triumph, and most probably the only single released this year to make reference to both Nabokov and Johnny Thunders.

3. KELIS - ‘Trick Me’
Delectably minimalist r ‘n’ b that fast grew into the biggest fattest burrowing earworm of the year. About dirty low-down no-good men and their deceiving ways and not about magicians, sadly - but most definitely magic.

2. BRITNEY SPEARS - ‘Toxic’
Postmodern bricolage par excellence or just a bloody marvellous pop song? Does it really matter? Ubiquity did nothing to dull its dazzling sheen.

1. FRANZ FERDINAND - ‘Take Me Out’
Even when nominally writing about Franz Ferdinand’s ‘Darts Of Pleasure’ for last year’s list, I couldn’t help drifting off and talking about ‘Take Me Out’, earmarking it as a frontrunner for this year’s top spot. Well, here we are, and here it is. Absolutely nothing’s changed since then, except for the passing of twelve months of inferior singles releases. Still a glorious marriage of arty Strokes new-wave and fringe-waggling disco stomp a la Blondie, and without a doubt my favourite single of the year.

A reminder of the SWSL Top 20 Singles Of 2003:

1. JOHNNY CASH - ‘Hurt’
2. THE RAVEONETTES - ‘That Great Love Sound’
3. BEYONCE FEAT JAY-Z - ‘Crazy In Love’
4. MICHAEL ANDREWS AND GARY JULES - ‘Mad World’
5. THE DELGADOS - ‘Hate’
6. ELECTRIC SIX - ‘Gay Bar’
7. JANE’S ADDICTION - ‘Just Because’
8. MEW - ‘Comforting Sounds’
9. THE WHITE STRIPES - ‘7 Nation Army’
10. OUTKAST - ‘Hey Ya!’
11. INTERPOL - ‘Say Hello To The Angels’ / ‘NYC’
12. THE DARKNESS - ‘Growing On Me’
13. YEAH YEAH YEAHS - ‘Date With The Night’
14. THE STROKES - ’12:51’
15. THE FUTUREHEADS - ‘1 2 3 Nul!’ EP
16. FRANZ FERDINAND - ‘Darts Of Pleasure’
17. RADIOHEAD - ‘There There’
18. HOT HOT HEAT - ‘Bandages’
19. THE RAPTURE - ‘House Of Jealous Lovers’
20. THE CORAL - ‘Pass It On’

Monday, December 20, 2004

The SWSL End-Of-Year Music Lists

Yes, folks, it’s that time of the year again. I’ve procrastinated, cogitated and deliberated long enough. Over the next few days I’ll be posting my Top 10 Albums and Top 20 Singles, complete with commentary, but to start things off here’s the Top 10 Live Performances of the year.

Read, enjoy, disagree and leave comments, or just ignore as an exercise in supreme self-indulgence – the choice is yours. But dammit, these things MATTER to us bloggers, you know…
SWSL Top 10 Live Performances Of 2004

Limited – I hope understandably – to my own gig-going experiences…

10. MUSE, Glastonbury Festival, 27th June
Recent single ‘Hysteria’ and ‘New Born’ get things off to an electric start and, although ‘Citizen Erased’ and ‘Apocalypse Please’ are spectacular, the set begins to flag somewhat in the middle, as the songs drift gradually away into the empty bombast and prog-opera for which they attract so much critical scorn. Thankfully, though, the three singles ‘Bliss’, ‘Time Is Running Out’ and ‘Plug In Baby’ with which they end restore the natural balance between pomp and substance, and in the encore they attack an explosive ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ with staggering ferocity. Let them eat rock, Matt Bellamy seems to have said – and we do, with relish.

9. FRANZ FERDINAND, Birmingham Academy, 27th January
It's great to see a band who came across as loveable but eccentric sell-nothing arty geeks back in August looking so naturally at home on the Academy's stage, buoyed by the knowledge that they've got a corker of an LP just waiting to be unleashed. The opening trio of songs - 'Shopping For Blood', 'Tell Her Tonight' and the ever-marvellous chart-scorching single 'Take Me Out' - are as clear a statement of intent as you'll ever hear, that statement being, ‘We have come for your ears and your stereos’. Let's get one thing straight: they ARE the new Strokes, if only in the sense that they're the most precociously well-formed band to appear since Julian Casablancas and company came into view. Parading almost mathematically perfect songs like ‘Jacqueline' and 'Darts Of Pleasure' on stage, they're like a newborn baby freshly emerged from the womb clutching the proofs for a new law of physics.

8. PJ HARVEY, Glastonbury Festival, 25th June
Most of the choice cuts from new album Uh Huh Her – ‘The Letter’, ‘Cat On The Wall’, ‘Who The Fuck?’, ‘The Life And Death Of Mr Badmouth’ – get a welcome airing, but my personal highlights are Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea tracks ‘Big Exit’ and ‘Good Fortune’, songs I love unconditionally. The cider having taken control of my body and mind, I spend most of the set nodding and gawping at the stage – as if the songs weren’t enough to arrest the attention and quicken the pulse, she’s wearing a Spice Girls dress and pink stilettos
(Also seen at Birmingham Academy)

7. THE ICARUS LINE, Nottingham Rock City, 3rd May
I'm not quite sure what it is that appeals to me - they're obnoxious, messy, graceless and not particularly talented. It must be something to do with the primal quality of their music, and their antipathy towards, amongst other things, everything that attempts to pass itself off as "punk" - plus, of course, the fact that they rock. There's little evidence in tonight's set of their seedier and sinister stoner side (stuff like 'You Make Me Nervous' from their last LP, the ferocious Mono), but we do get the brilliant single 'Feed A Cat To Your Cobra' (#7 in SWSL's Singles of 2002, dontcha know) and plenty of highlights from their latest offering: 'Seasick', 'On The Lash' and the single 'Party The Baby Off', during which band nutjob and Buddyhead co-founder Aaron North, sporting black 'Mask Of Zorro' eye make-up, walks along the bar and sprays Coke out of the soft drinks nozzle all over his guitar.

6. THE FIERY FURNACES, Nottingham Stealth, 26th August
What happens next is anyone's guess. The four piece career and crash through song after song without pause for breath, and I stand gobsmacked at the awesome intensity of it all, foremost in my mind the thought, ‘They do this EVERY NIGHT?!!’. It starts with 'My Dog Was Lost But Now It's Found', and 'South Is Only A Home', 'Single Again', 'Don't Dance Her Down', 'Blueberry Boat', 'Bright Blue Tie' and 'Tropical Iceland' are all in there somewhere, gleaming pearls of surrealist blues thrown out before the mulleted swine, while snatches and snippets of songs apparently discarded earlier creep back into the set.

5. MOGWAI, Nottingham Rock City, 24th March
'Sine Wave' gets the encore off to an inauspicious start, Martin losing track of his drum line amidst the industrial crunch, but the rising guitar riff and gently skipping drums of 'Mogwai Fear Satan' are on hand to make immediate amends. As ever it packs a mighty wallop, but the surprise is that, as in Birmingham last October, it doesn't close the show. That honour falls to 'Ratts Of The Capital', on this occasion a sinuous, shrieking beast that is so stunningly heavy it threatens to burst your eyeballs. For a moment, after about five minutes of powerchord barrage, I'm tempted to put my hands to my ears, but then just in time I stop myself - that would be to concede defeat to the sinister forces of old age and reason... So, no 'Take Me Somewhere Nice', no 'Like Herod', no 'My Father My King' - but then to complain about the omissions would be ungrateful and detract from what we did get. What Mogwai have gained in grace and songwriting skill over the years, they patently haven't sacrificed in power or extremity. I may be edging towards my late 20s, but there's still something special in feeling physically brutalised by music.

4. SPIRITUALIZED, Nottingham Rock City, 26th January
The mammoth and majestic set ends with a pure fucking noise freakout and all-out strobe assault that’s like Mogwai and The Velvet Underground self-combusting together on stage. It’s January, my first gig of the new year, and already it’s a serious contender for top spot come the end-of-year lists. Amazing. And graceful. The bar has been set obscenely high. Ladies and gentlemen, I am currently floating in space.
(Also seen at Glastonbury Festival)

3. THE FUTUREHEADS, Birmingham Academy, 6th December
Extensive touring over the past year has whetted their live set to a keen blade, their spiky songs like daggers which jab you in the ribs in a perversely pleasurable way. There's no stylish slickness here, just an invigorating clattering punk racket overlaid with the glorious three and sometimes four part vocal harmonies. You get the feeling that you're witnessing the release of years of pent-up frustration, the cork popping from the bottle marked 'Adolescent Energy'. Fast, furious and utterly thrilling to watch.

2. NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS, Wolverhampton Civic Hall, 7th November
Love. Disgust. Hope and warmth. Malice and foreboding. Songs of beauty. Stories of violence. Weightless balladry. Blazing fury. Carefree days of sunshine. Dark nights of the soul. Gossamer threads of guitar. Bar-room blues on PCP. The sublime. The ridiculous. ‘Babe, you turn me on’. ‘Routine atrocity’. ‘GET READY FOR LOVE!!!’ ‘THERE IS A WAR COMING!!!’ Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds experience … From the moment they reappear and Cave says, ‘So, what do you want to hear?’, the encore's just a little bit special. Cave sneering the reference to ‘moral sneaks in the White House’ in 'God Is In The House'; the explosions of noise in 'Red Right Hand'; the entirety of 'Deanna' (‘I ain't down here for your money / I ain't down here for your love / I ain't down here for love or money / I'M DOWN HERE FOR YOUR SOUL’); blood-soaked murderfest 'Stagger Lee' making gangsta rap look like kids' stuff. He doesn't play 'Do You Love Me?', but if he had I would have shouted 'Yes'.

1. SONIC YOUTH, London Brixton Academy, 2nd September
The star of the show has to be Thurston Moore, an art-punk legend dressed up as Bill or Ted. Even in middle age he's a goofy teenager getting to do what he's always dreamt of and loving every minute of it, tossing that unchanging mane with the same enthusiastic abandon of youth. ‘The last time we were here was about ten years ago. Those were the days, baby!’ Barely fifteen minutes into the set and he's humping his guitar on top of the enormous speaker stacks as 'Pattern Recognition', confirmed tonight as a modern classic in the same mould as 'The Empty Page', drifts away into feedback … Just take a look at the set-list. I've seen them play 'Teenage Riot' AND 'Expressway To Yr Skull' ON THE SAME NIGHT. I can die happy.

Every other band I’ve enjoyed / endured live this year:

Atlantic Dash / Basement Jaxx / Bright Eyes / British Sea Power / James Brown / Dead Meadow / The Duke Spirit / English National Opera / Funeral For A Friend / Goldie Lookin Chain (x2) / Hope Of The States / Interpol / The Killers / Kings Of Leon / Lostprophets / Maximo Park / Paul McCartney / Modey Lemon / Morrissey / My Morning Jacket / The Rapture (x2) / The Raveonettes / Red Organ Serpent Sound / Rilo Kiley / Scissor Sisters / Secret Machines / The Shins / Six By Seven / Sons & Daughters / Squarepusher / Television / The Von Bondies / The Walkmen / Wilco / Wolves! (Of Greece)

A reminder of the SWSL Top 10 Live Performances Of 2003:

1. RADIOHEAD, Glastonbury Festival
2. SIGUR ROS, Glastonbury Festival
3. LOW, Birmingham Academy
4. JANE’S ADDICTION, Nottingham Rock City
5. THE FLAMING LIPS, Glastonbury Festival
6. THE RAVEONETTES, Birmingham Academy
7. EELS, Birmingham Irish Centre
8. MOGWAI, Glastonbury Festival
9. YEAH YEAH YEAHS, Leeds Festival
10. THE DELGADOS, Birmingham Academy

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Reasons To Be Cheerful #4

(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)

The Farmers' Market / The German Christmas Market

New Street, in Birmingham city centre, is just your average shopping street. It could be in any city centre anywhere in Britain.

But every other Wednesday, the Farmers' Market takes over.

No, the city's not invaded by loads of welly-clad yokels with their trousers held up by string, chewing on ears of corn and saying "Oooo-arrr" whilst bartering over the price of cattle.

The Farmers' Market consists of loads of stalls selling all manner of exquisite specialist produce - sausages, wine, vegetables, cider, cakes, pies, cheese. It's not cheap, but sweet Jeebus it's delicious stuff.

A word of warning, then: don't go if you're feeling at all peckish, as the sights and smells - ostrich burgers and organic sausages sizzling away - will have you spending money like it's going out of fashion.

In the run-up to Christmas the Farmers' Market is shunted down to the Bullring end of New Street, the other end and Victoria Square becoming home to the German Christmas Market.

All kinds of traditional German goods are available - candles, jewellry, puppets, ornaments, chocolate-covered fruit. As a friend put it, a happy hunting ground for "the sort of presents that look like you've put some thought into them".

That's what I gather, anyway - my experiences of the German Market have been predominantly centred on the stall selling enormous spicy Frankfurters that are twice as long as the buns they come in and on the cabins from which deliciously sweet and intoxicating Gluhwein can be procured. A few of those, especially with an extra shot of Appelschnapps (makes it taste like molten alcoholic apple strudel) and you'll not know which way's up...

Incidentally, what a pleasure to discover the Birmingham: It's Not Shit site, as recommended to me by a friend and endorsed by Casino Avenue and The Highrise. There's photographic evidence of what Frankfurt gets in return for the German Market. Also, be sure to check out Baywatch Brummie Style - safe for work, but better with the sound on...
Listwatch

NME: Top 50 Albums
Rough Trade: Top 100 Albums
Rolling Stone: Top 50 Albums
Guardian: Top 10 Gigs
Blender: Top 50 Albums
Enthusiastic But Mediocre: Top 100 Singles Of 2004-ish (appearing bit-by-bit)

(Thanks to 50 Quid Bloke for the link to this webpage.)

Friday, December 17, 2004

Something in the way

INTERPOL / THE SECRET MACHINES, BIRMINGHAM ACADEMY, 16TH DECEMBER 2004

When The Secret Machines take to the Academy's main stage, we're happily gathered, chatting away with pints in hand. Unfortunately, we're not actually in the venue, but in a pub round the corner, and so only catch the last fifteen minutes of their bizarrely early support set. Precisely how many songs we witness in that time isn't clear, but their expansive and measured proggy sound is enough to convince me that new album Now Here Is Nowhere could be worth investigating.

When Interpol emerge into the lights to the delight of a roaring crowd, it's clear that time spent on the road has coaxed them out of their shells, and they come across as less sheepish and more showmanlike than before. Bassist Carlos D wears a black waistcoat over an arresting blood-red shirt. The most extrovert member of the band, guitarist Daniel Kessler, plays to the crowd, even going so far as to interrupt his intro to a song when struck by a 7" record, stopping to autograph it and chuck it back from whence it came. (That's as close as we get to what could be properly described as "antics".)

Even normally undynamic frontman Paul Banks goes to some effort, his tufty collar-length hair and the black trilby perched on his head making him look like Malcolm McDowell in 'A Clockwork Orange' - minus the eye make-up, of course. His between-song banter is as flat and platitudinous as ever, though.

'Next Exit' is first up, having triumphed over one of my personal favourites 'Untitled' in the battle of the opening tracks and shunting it from the setlist altogether. 'Obstacle #1' is next, and that's the pattern for the rest of the evening - great song after great song.

And yet something's not quite right.

It's partly the fact that the real sweet spot they hit mid-set - 'Not Even Jail', 'Hands Away', the ever-gorgeous 'NYC', 'Slow Hands' - seems rather short-lived, the impetus lost during a couple of the lesser tracks from towards the end of Antics.

It's partly the fact that, despite airing eight of the ten tracks from this year's LP, there's no room for the brilliant 'Take Me On A Cruise'.

It's partly the fact that there seems to be a strange reticence to put faith in the new songs at the business end of the show - 'PDA' ends the main set, followed by an encore of 'Leif Erikson' and 'Roland', and then another of 'Stella Was A Diver...'.

But, most of all, it's the fact that the sound is all wrong. Perhaps it's just where we're standing, but we get all Banks's vocals crystal clear (and that means all the the frequently excruciatingly bad lyrics) and almost none of the taut and inventive basslines that hold the songs together. Ultimately, that's probably what impedes my enjoyment most.

All the same, it's by no means a bad show, but ultimately one that makes me yearn for the songs' recorded counterparts - in that sense, the exact opposite of last week's Futureheads gig.

A very special band, then, who on the night just fail to do themselves or their music justice. That's my take on it, anyway - just try telling that to the hordes of beaming sweaty fresh-faced teenagers gleefully stomping on plastic pint glasses when the lights go up. Or my gig-going companions Kenny and Phill, for that matter...

Update: Kenny's posted a write-up of the evening on Parallax View.
Blogwatch

Yes, it's been awoken from its hibernating slumber...

Phill of Danger! High Postage, whose acquaintance I had the pleasure to make last night, is aggrieved that those scallywags and scoundrels at the Metro have plagiarised without permission his feature for the BBC website about Birmingham's refurbished Electric Cinema, which reopens its doors tonight. And rightly so - cheeky bastards. Incidentally, the Electric Cinema is shaping up to be a prime subject for the SWSL Reasons To Be Cheerful series - watch this space.

Elsewhere:

Vaughan tries his hand at political commentary - "A bearded cabinet minister, renowned as a no-nonsense, hardline political bruiser with the sort of right-wing policies you never dreamed you'd see from the Labour Party, has resigned. He has been swiftly replaced by a bearded cabinet minister, renowned as a no-nonsense, hardline political bruiser with the sort of right-wing policies you never dreamed you'd see from the Labour Party";

Jonny B has a very specific matter for the incoming Home Secretary to, ahem, clear up - "If Mr Blunkett had a fault, it was that he concentrated too much on the glamour parts of his job, like prisons and tanks at Heathrow and stuff, and did fuck all about the issue of dog shit. As regular readers know, I hate dog shit. If you offered me a choice as to whether I would want Dido rubbed into my face or dog shit, I would choose Dido every time. That's how much I hate it";

Paul is justifiably appalled by the ECB's decision to grant Sky exclusive rights to show live cricket from 2006 - "English cricket – it's on the rise, people are becoming interested again, the national team are winning, Twenty20 has revitalised the domestic game and from 2006 only those people with Sky will be able to watch it live. Genius. Only the ECB could find a way of screwing up the most promising climate for expanding the cricketing fanbase for years";

Nick enthuses about Can's Ege Bamyasi and Girls Aloud's What Will The Neighbours Say?;

and Angelo defends those authors nominated for the Bad Sex Awards, this year won by Tom Wolfe - "I realise that these authors are not always trying to be serious and I've had enough terrible sex to know that it's not always the way we'd like it to be in reality".
Know Your Enemy #52

"I really don't ever hate anything, but there was one appalling thing I went to: 'Shaun Of The Dead'. Quite the most loathsome film I've ever seen."

Ken Russell, one of the "movers and shakers" interviewed for the Guardian's review of the cultural year. Other interviewees include Andrew Motion, Corin Redgrave, Patrick Marber, Chris Ofili, Michael Grade, Alex Kapranos, Tom Paulin and David Shrigley.

(Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the link.)

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Pretentious? Nous?

The tracklisting for the forthcoming Mars Volta LP Frances The Mute, due for release on 22nd March, according to Punknews:

Cygnus....Vismund Cygnus
A. Sarcophagi
B. Umbilical Syllables
C. Facilis Descenus Averni
D. Con Safo

The Widow

L' Via L' Viaquez

Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore
A. Vade Mecum
B. Pour Another Icepick
C. Pisacis (Phra-Men-Ma)
D. Con Safo

Cassandra Gemini
A. Tarantism
B. Plant A Nail In The Navel Stream
C. Faminepulse
D. Multiple Spouse Wounds
E. Sarcophagi

It's business as usual for Messrs Bixler Zavala and Rodriguez-Lopez then...
Listwatch

Stylus: Top 5 Labels and Top 10 Movies (and the 4 Worst)
Prefix: Top 60 Albums
Chromewaves: Top 10 Albums

(Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the latter two links.)
Quote of the day

"Sit with pen poised over first card for half an hour. Recognise that because 'Merry Christmas' has already been printed for you, you have nothing else to say to the schoolfriend who had three kids by twenty and with whom you are only in touch the rest of the year by means of being a CC to the hilarious emails that do the rounds of her office every day".

From Writing Christmas Cards: The Green Fairy Guide, which trumps my own feeble effort from last week.

(Thanks to Inspector Sands for the link.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Griffin has his wings clipped

Remember the BBC's July programme 'The Secret Agent', which went undercover behind the scenes in the BNP to scratch away the party's facade of respectability?

Well, five months on and party leader Nick Griffin has been arrested on suspicion of incitement to commit racial hatred as a direct result of comments made unwittingly to camera in the documentary. Couldn't have happened to a nicer chap.

(Thanks to Jonathan for the link.)
Death by Christmas decoration

Yesterday, whilst out shopping in the evening, J and I stopped for a bite to eat at the Bullring. We sat in the cafe admiring the enormous and intricate neon stars suspended above the open-air thoroughfare, before noticing that they were swaying quite violently in the wind, the metal cables which hold them in place looking worryingly frail. J turned to me and said: "They're a 'Six Feet Under' death just waiting to happen". I'll be walking down there with care in future - as much as I'd like to meet the show's cast, I'd rather not do it encased in a wooden box.
Quote of the day

"If you can't have sex with the monkey, make friends with the organ grinder."

Mark explains to flatmate Jeremy his plan to get close to the object of his affections Sophie by befriending her boyfriend Jeff in last night's episode of 'Peep Show'.

The finest comedy currently on TV, ahead of more feted series like 'Little Britain', 'Max & Paddy's Road To Nowhere', 'The Smoking Room' etc? I think so, anyway.
Feel good hits of the 15th December

1. 'Kissing The Lipless' - The Shins
2. 'Carnival Kids' - The Futureheads
3. 'Back In Black' - AC/DC
4. 'Toxic' - Britney Spears
5. 'I Luv U' - Dizzee Rascal
6. 'Nature Boy' - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
7. 'Rhinocerous' - Smashing Pumpkins
8. 'The Coast Is Always Changing' - Maximo Park
9. 'The Only Moment We Were Alone' - Explosions In The Sky
10. 'The Bends' - Radiohead

Monday, December 13, 2004

The green green grass of home

"Romantic" and "comedy" are two words which, when placed together, ordinarily instil a profound sense of horror into my heart. 'Garden State' is, ultimately, a romantic comedy, but like 'As Good As It Gets' it's a particularly deceptive and devious one because it only comes out of the closet and reveals its true nature halfway through.

Up until this point, I had been utterly charmed by the film's offbeat humour, witty touches and general quirkiness, none of which feels at all forced - for which all the credit must go to Zach 'Scrubs' Braff, as its writer, director and star. He even gets a decent performance out of Natalie Portman, last seen (I think) doing a passable impersonation of a corpse as Queen Amidala.

After the midway point, the laughs are gradually airbrushed out, convention drifts in and the ending is disappointingly saccharine.

Nevertheless, it's certainly worth a peek - and, coming from this particular cynical and jaded individual, that's high praise for a rom-com.

(Braff even has his own 'Garden State' blog - click here to read it.)
Listwatch

Uncut: Top 70 Albums
Observer Music Monthly: Top 20 Albums and Top 10 Singles
Parallax View: Top 45 Singles
Rented Rooms: Top 10 Albums
50 Quid Bloke: Trevor Maynard's Top 10 Albums With Female Vocalists

(Thanks to Kenny for alerting me to the former two lists.)
Seasonal goodwill

What better way to embrace the spirit of Christmas than by inviting some new faces in from the freezing cold to roast their chestnuts on a roaring open fire? So, a warm welcome to the SWSL blogroll for:

It's Funny Because It's Shit
The Long Lost Lonely Lagomorph
Sashinka

Come on in, knock the snow from your shoes, help yourselves to a homemade mince pie and sit yourselves down in front of 'Only Fools And Horses'. And don't mind my gran - brandy has that effect on her.
We'll meet again...

... or, rather, we'll meet for the first time at some point in the future.

Owing to a last-minute change of circumstances, necessitating a corresponding change of plans, neither myself nor He Who Cannot Be Named were able to attend Saturday's blogmeet in London. I was thus deprived of the chance to reacquaint myself with at least one familiar face, Mike, and to meet those behind some of the more illustrious sites on the SWSL blogroll - Vaughan, Anna, Mark, Robin, Adrian, Sasha...

As far as I'm aware, there's no proper write-up to be found - shame on you all, except for Mike who has at least posted some brief comments on the event.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Regional assembly

THE FUTUREHEADS / MAXIMO PARK, BIRMINGHAM ACADEMY, 6TH DECEMBER 2004

The concept of a regional assembly for the North-East may have been overwhelmingly rejected in last month's referendum, but no-one seems to have told Mackems The Futureheads, who've invited Geordies Maximo Park along on a nationwide jaunt and thereby formed "some sort of North-East Alliance against boredom and complacency".

It's a marriage made in heaven. Warp signings Maximo Park perhaps don't quite have the songs to upstage their slightly more established art-punk siblings from down the road, but it's hearts-on-sleeves stuff from the word go, and though they might sing about confusion and entrapment, they're not in denial of their Geordie roots. Double A-side single 'The Coast Is Always Changing', forthcoming release 'Apply Some Pressure' and set-closer 'Going Missing' all sound like the boys from Sunderland taken round the back and given a good rodgering by Alex Kapranos or one of The Walkmen.

In frontman Paul Smith they have a real focal point too - dressed in an unfashionable suit, shirt and tie, with his hair slicked across his forehead in a ferocious side-parting, he leaps and bounds angrily around the stage looking like a nerdish Sixth Former who's just had his dinner money nicked. Or Alan Partridge with a bee up his sphincter. Now there's an image for you.

Like Maximo Park, The Futureheads bristle with regional pride, and make no attempt to disguise their accents. Extensive touring over the past year has whetted their live set to a keen blade, their spiky songs like daggers which jab you in the ribs in a perversely pleasurable way. There's no stylish slickness here, just an invigorating clattering punk racket overlaid with the glorious three and sometimes four part vocal harmonies. You get the feeling that you're witnessing the release of years of pent-up frustration, the cork popping from the bottle marked 'Adolescent Energy'. Fast, furious and utterly thrilling to watch.

'Le Garage' and 'Robot' kick things off, and the rest of the set rattles past in a flurry of angular guitar lines and tuneful bellowing. Over the course of the evening we get their entire debut album, guitarless a capella curiosity 'Danger Of The Water' aside, as well as a new song called 'Area' and their terrific cover of The Television Personalities' 'The Picture Of Dorian Gray'. In fact, judicious covers feature prominently, Kate Bush's 'Hounds Of Love' penultimate in the main set and the abrasive thrash through Neil Young's 'Piece Of Crap' following perhaps their finest moment yet, 'Carnival Kids', in the encore. As great as their album is, the live environment is where the songs are most at home.

The Futureheads, then: proof that even the most horrid, smog-filled, scabby cloud (ie Sunderland) has a priceless silver lining.

Suffice to say that tonight, at least, the "North-East Alliance" roundly trounced "boredom and complacency", and sent them on their way tails firmly lodged between their legs.
Listwatch

Blogwatch has stuffed itself stupid and briefly gone into hibernation over the festive season, to be replaced by Listwatch. As I myself deliberate over Sonic Youth and Sons & Daughters, The Fiery Furnaces and Franz Ferdinand, in preparation for publishing the SWSL End-Of-Year music lists (hey, who said us bloggers take ourselves too seriously?), it's good to see others have beaten me to the punch...

Stylus: Top 40 Singles
Auspicious Fish: Top 40 Albums and Top 40 Singles
Largehearted Boy: Top XI albums
No Matter What You Heard: Kevin Gregorious's Top 10 Albums (and the Honourable Mentions)
Underground Base Of An Evil Genius: Top 10 Singles

I think it's fair to say that The Arcade Fire's debut LP Funeral, much lauded across the pond, is one of those releases that's passed us Brits by. Perhaps it's a ticking time-bomb that'll blow up over here in 2005. (Click here to read a review of their recent Denver gig written by Marnie Christenson of Deviated Septum.)

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Quote of the day

"At least I didn't have to watch her recoil from my scrotal scar."

Mark consoles himself after missing out on sleeping with a student in last night's installment of 'Peep Show'. I'll add my voice to that of He Who Cannot Be Named in urging you to watch - though its unfortunate 11.50pm slot does rather make it a pleasure for those privileged few whose waking hour is "flexible"...
Superior furry animals

Ian Mathers takes a compassionate hatchet to Mogwai's debut album proper Young Team, and reconceives it as a double LP featuring several tracks from bits-and-pieces collection Ten Rapid. It's a sensitive and thoughtful reimagining: - no room for the towering beast that is 'Like Herod', but signature epic 'Mogwai Fear Satan' features, albeit not as the album closer - that responsibility is granted to 'Without Portfolio'.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Season's greetings

The return to giving Christmas cards for the first time since primary school - another sign that middle age is creeping stealthily up and youth disappearing into the distance.

This year we've felt a mixture of shame and pride at not only sending them as a couple, but also being efficient and organised enough to get them in the post just as the calendar has flipped over to December. It's all downhill towards decorous dinner parties from here.

Sending a card to those likely to send one to us is like some kind of benevolent pre-emptive strike: "Kerpow! Take that Merry Christmas! And those best wishes for New Year! Ha! We got in there first!"

Recipients have been targeted carefully after a period of deliberation - generally speaking, couples who'll appreciate the sentiment. After all, not everyone is keen on the idea of being one of the privileged few to receive our season's greetings - one friend told me: "If you send me a card, I'll hunt you down and set fire to you..."
Quotes of the day

"I'm not one of these people who go: 'I'll sleep when I'm dead'. Because you're not asleep when you're dead, are you? You're dead".

"I love that idea of watching films in colour on the back of your eyelids. Sometimes it feels more real than being awake".

Arthur Smith in the Sunday Times magazine feature A Life In The Day.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Tellin' stories

Sometimes you have to wonder why we bother with books, when fiction is ubiquitous.

Walk into any pub and the chances of being accosted by a bar-room bard are extremely good. Once the cogs of conversation have been oiled by an exchange of mundane pleasantries and a few sips of lager, storytime begins.

Last night's bard began by striking up a rapport over our shared North-East roots and our mutual geographical displacement, and before I knew what was happening I was privileged to personal and intimate revelations, and regaled with the sort of tales that Guy Ritchie might go down to his local boozer to overhear - pub brawls, cocaine dealers, armed robbery, arson, shooting up houses.

To be sure, tall stories for the most part, but the boundaries between fact and fiction are never quite clear, and the scarred cheek and the lengthy disappearance to the toilet and subsequent sniffing fits hint at someone who straddles both worlds, but who cloaks himself in fiction as a way of dealing with life and projecting an ideal self-image.

These pub proponents of the storytelling art are of the highest order, living and breathing fiction as much as a Rushdie or an Amis - indeed more so in that they make no division between work and life, and they go unpaid. Instead, they are rewarded by gaining the ear of a listener. The act of telling is an end in itself.

Listen up, and you can hear stories being told all around you.
Open wide and say "Aaaaaarrrggggghhhh"

What is it that makes dentists such sadistic bastards? Does their graduation from their dentistry degree hinge on how often they enjoy pulling the legs off flies?

If you're told you need a filling, then it's natural to assume that there's a hole which needs to be filled. So why do they then insist on making use of their full array of drills to make the hole bigger? Is it some kind of punishment? "Through neglect you have allowed your teeth to become decayed, and for this you must afflicted with unnecessary pain"...

Worse still, they not only make you complicit in your own torture - during Wednesday's visit I was asked to hold my tongue out of the way with a metal implement to allow the drill easy access - but also then force you to pay for the privilege.

It's enough to make you spit blood.
Blogwatch

Oh for those halcyon days of Mike Read, Mike Smith and Steve Wright! Inspector Sands laments the demise of 'Top Of The Pops', while Diamond Geezer looks back at what used to make it must-watch TV - "The most important part of TotP should be the music, not all the peripheral fluff that's grown to smother the show over the last decade. We don't care if Britney is on tour in Las Vegas, or what Geri Halliwell's favourite colour is. We can get enough of that crap on Saturday mornings thankyou. We just want the music".

Elsewhere:

He Only Lives Twice has to endure the hell that is the corporate presentation / conference - "Exciting numbers, exciting opportunities, colourful pie charts. Made-up words. In the vein of Iain Dowie’s bouncebackability but sillier, with more superfluous flourish";

Mark presents us with a rogues' gallery of some of his namesakes;

Vaughan is left sleep-deprived and traumatised by a troubling thought - "What if there are even more Bedingfield siblings waiting for their chance to begin a pop music career?";

and Jonny B is left disappointed by the delivery of his latest consignment of organic vegetables...
"Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world I feel like I can't take it, like my heart's going to cave in"

The Stylus I Love The 1990s series has reached its conclusion. Yep, MENSA members, that means 1999. As usual there are contributions from myself and Nick. It was very unnerving and, I must confess, surprising to discover that I'm practically the lone dissenting voice amidst the cacophony of scorn directed at 'American Beauty'. The level of hate is almost as staggering as the level of love shown to 'American Pie'...

Part One: 'Fight Club', 'No Scrubs' - TLC, 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?', 'Being John Malkovich', Pokemon
Part Two: the Latin pop explosion, Miss Cleo, Tom Green, 'American Beauty', Kid Rock
Part Three: Napster, 'Eyes Wide Shut', 'Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)' - Baz Luhrmann, 'The Blair Witch Project', Moby
Part Four: 'American Pie', 7UP / Budweiser adverts, 'You Get What You Give' - The New Radicals, 'Family Guy', the teengirl pop explosion
Part Five: 'The Matrix', Woodstock '99, 'Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace', 'Last Kiss' - Pearl Jam, Y2K scare
Quote of the day

"At least under the Republicans you get the thrill of feeling like a dangerous subversive just by being functionally sentient."

Amblongus, slowly coming to terms with four more years of Bush.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

A tribute to Two Tone

As seems to be becoming a disturbingly regular occurrence with all C4's best programmes (see also: 'Six Feet Under', 'Peep Show'), 'Two Tone Britain' was hidden away in a darkened corner of the TV schedules by controllers too besotted with shows telling people how to sort their sorry sordid lives out.

Aired at 11pm on Monday night, the programme, narrated by Mark Lamarr, told the story of the movement which centred around the Coventry record label Two Tone in the late 70s and early 80s. As the label's founders, The Specials were naturally given most of the limelight (though the lack of interviews with either Jerry Dammers or Terry Hall detracted from its value somewhat), but attention was also paid to Madness, The Selecter and The Beat, amongst others.

Not being a massive fan of the music, I was primarily interested in the political agenda of the movement's major players, and glad that Two Tone's wider cultural and political significance was very much at the heart of the programme. At a time of desperate divisions between whites, blacks and Asians, Two Tone fostered a disregard skin colour and actively promoted interracial mixing and a collective and inclusive ethos.

Fulsome praise was lavished upon The Specials' crowning glory 'Ghost Town', and with good reason - surely there can be few singles which not only sound brilliant but can claim to document the sociopolitical circumstances of their production in quite such a profound way? A record as much of its time as it's possible to be, and I mean that in a good sense.

Which is why the section on Two Tone's legacy was rather disappointing. The Streets, yes - the influence is there both musically and ideologically. But The Ordinary Boys - a pretentious and substandard indie band that missed the Britpop boat by ten years? Fuck off.

Why not talk about The Dead 60s instead? Even then, though, whilst the ideals and ethos behind Two Tone might still be relevant today (as the bloke from Brummies The Beat claimed), it hardly makes sense for the new generation to give their songs titles like 'Riot Radio'. We're not living in the same climate as we were when The Specials wrote 'Ghost Town'. As Mike Skinner would have it, new music needs to push things forwards, as his very much has, rather than drift into empty revivalism for the sake of it and, ultimately, anachronism.

The other thing that struck me is that there seems to have been a real flight from politics in pop music since punk and Two Tone. The Specials, a band with a serious political agenda, had #1 hits. How often does that happen now? Indeed, it's perhaps worth wondering whether it could happen at all. Of course it's still perfectly possible to look at politics and music together - cultural forms are always at least in part a product of their sociopolitical context, though they can in turn affect that context - but nothing's as overt and in-your-face anymore, or at least not in the mainstream.
Feel good hits of the 1st December

1. 'Not Even Jail' - Interpol
2. 'Chris Michaels' - The Fiery Furnaces
3. 'Falling For You' - Weezer
4. 'Ghost Town' - The Specials
5. 'Expressway To Your Skull' - Sonic Youth
6. 'First Of The Gang To Die' - Morrissey
7. '88-92-96' - Six By Seven
8. 'Whole Lotta Rosie' - AC/DC
9. 'Teenage Kicks' - The Undertones
10. 'Hit The City' - Mark Lanegan feat PJ Harvey