100 for 2000 – #90. R.E.M. – Accelerate

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2008 – #10.  R.E.M. – Accelerate
(Warner Bros)

I have loved R.E.M. for as long as I can remember loving music. As a kid, in my uncle’s shop, hearing the One I Love and It’s the End Of the World As We Know It – god I would have been 6? I was too young to understand how they then jumped to a major label, all I knew was a few summers later Losing My Religion was my favourite song in the whole world. I wish I could say it was because I was in tune with such critical tastes at such a young age. But really, it’s probably because they weren’t as scary as Metallica, which is what my brother used to listen to at the time.

Along came Everybody Hurts. Now, I had no idea it was on a different album from Losing My Religion. Of course, I love the song. It was parodied almost immediately on my fave show at the time (The Late Show by the D-Generation). Monster and it’s radio singles came and I loved them, but the first record I ever bought of theirs was New Adventures In Hi Fi. It was bought without hearing a note. I remember wondering why this album wasn’t on radio as much as the songs before it. I mean, it’s just as good (if not better. It’s probably my fave REM record).

Of course, I went back eventually and got everything. And I followed them forwards too. The lovely but troubled Up record. The summery bubblegum of Reveal. The plodding and terrible Around the Sun. It was hard to believe in this band sometimes, but then you’d hear an old song in a new light, and bam, you’d be back there. For at least 3 months after every REM album release I am obsessed by the band. But before that, I’m always nervous.

So, the nice thing about working at Warners – when REM announced those dublin rehearsal shows, I got to go. 13 new tracks, followed by the trainspotter’s encore. The songs sounded great. Everyone wants them to ‘return to form’. I kind of just wanted them to show some life again.

So having peaked behind the curtain, I was very excited about this album. I was typically obsessed when the album did come out. The first single, Supernatural Superserious, was easily their best work in a decade. The tour was amazing, especially a couple of small showcase gigs.

Funny what two years can do though. Supernatural Superserious aside, I’ve come to realise how hollow this album is. It sounds like it should be great. The guitars, the harmonies, the brevity, and tempos – all what we want from REM, right? I guess be careful what you ask for.

The rockers on this album are solid, but by the numbers. Horse To Water, Man Sized Wreath etc… just adds nothing to their catalogue. We’ve heard this before. Living Well’s the Best Revenge I think is slightly better, but only slightly. Where has Stipe‘s muse gone? He’s not only talking crap, but his great artistic heart used to have big ideas – politics (Document), death (Automatic For the People), love (Up)…Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

The ballads are equally meandering. Nice, and not as bad as the worse moments on Around the Sun.

The saviour is I’m Gonna DJ. It doesn’t sound like anything other than a thematic cousin to It’s the End Of the World. Electro meets the Byrds, with no song structure and truly dissonant in some parts – it’s talented musicians pushing their boundaries, but in complete control.

FUCK! I want more of that shit.

Stop trying to make me happy anymore REM. They need to leave WB, and stop playing stadiums. Forget radio hits. And please, please, be the band version of someone like Tom Waits – career wise. Show us what you guys can do with no shackles. I would love to hear this. I would love to be surprised by an REM record, the way I had been up to Up.

This record comes in at number 10 because it was a big part of my year, and I did wear this album out. But I’m nervous about the next one.

REM’s Supernatural Superserious. Their best song in a decade.

100 for 2000 – #89. The Hold Steady – Stay Positive

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2008 – #9. The Hold Steady – Stay Positive
(Vagrant)

Coming off the success of Boys And Girls In America, the Hold Steady came back not one year later with an album even more anthemic and heartfelt. Stay Positive is a perfect distillation of what this band is about. It serves as both an album and a manifesto for them.

The Hold Steady, and Craig Finn in particular, often talks about the influence of 80s US hardcore on him and his music. I’m not sure what Ian MacKaye would think of them, but there was something in the heart of hardcore which was about staying positive. Do better. Eat better. Play better. BE better. Get off your ass. Don’t waste your life. Think for yourself. Don’t drink. Don’t smoke. Play incredibly difficult to execute music. It’s that inspirational and aspirational attitude that is wrapped up in this record.

It opens with Constructive Summer, a get-off-your-ass anthem if there ever was one. We’re all our only saviours/We’re gonna build something this summer. The title track talks of the long game, of how scene leaders go, drugs get everywhere but hey, another revolution is around the corner. It’s exciting to hear in this age – the world can be better, and soon.

The rest of the record breaks up in two other ways – story songs and songs about girls. Of the story songs, Sequested In Memphis is the best of the lot (and the first single). A nod to the city (complete with horns) and one of their most rousing choruses yet. But there’s also the biker gang drama of One For the Cutters.

The girl songs – usually ballads – are real weepers. Lord, I’m Discouraged is one of Finn‘s very best. Finn‘s noted his long and troubled relationship with faith and God, and seeing a sweet and innocent girl from around covered in bruises shakes him to the core. More by the numbers but no less stunning is Magazines – a drunken, desperate come on for the lonely.

I love this band. I love what they are about too. They treat rock ‘n’ roll as something to believe in. And in turn, I believe them right back. I am trying to hard to learn the lessons from this record.

Do something this summer. Staying positive. Being better.

Stay Positive – a new kind of anthem, and something to believe in.

100 for 2000 – #88. Panic At the Disco – Pretty. Odd

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2008 – #8. Panic At the Disco – Pretty. Odd
(Fueled By Ramen)

Before this album, I hated Panic At the Disco. To my defense, I was hardly their target market. In truth, I found their long and over wrought song titles quite funny and witty (I mean, titles like ‘The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide Is the Press Coverage‘ are pretty awesome). The harmonies jarred with me, but the band had hooks. I just wish they wouldn’t beat them to death. Anyway that all changed with Pretty. Odd., a pop rock album as fine as anything I’ve ever heard.

There is almost no emo on this record, and barely a trace that this album was made in the late 00s. It sounds, quite frankly, like volume five of Children Of the Nuggets. I’m not sure how this happened. What I’ve read has been little help – it was almost like they decided to change their sound overnight. That said, they join a long line of men who can play music who fall under the spell of the British Invasion in their early 20s.

The Beatles, Beach Boys and Byrds all come together on their masterpiece, Nine In the Afternoon. It has that awesome Mr Blue Sky urgent drum beat and lifts, breaks, trumpets fly in and falls around in crowd noise and applause. So many power pop bands would kill to write a song this good. And yet, it’s by no means power pop by numbers. It’s a bit skewered but their off kilter lyrics, and the guitars are a bit tougher. It’s a weird mutant of 60s rock.

I first heard Nine In the Afternoon in a boardroom. It was loud, and it was awesome. And the rest of the album is not as great, but it’s still pretty good. And surprising. The pretty acoustic ballad Northern Downpour is another classic. Plenty of more spazzo Brit invasion stuff (the lovely That Green Gentlemen is a lost Nuggets song if I ever heard one, with fuzzy garage guitar buzzing away).

With their massive success, they had a run of the studio. And they experiment. Little music hall ditties like I Have Friends In Holy Spaces to Pas De Cheval, an awesome Supergrass-y thing with an horse gallop beat. As much as Sgt Pepper has been bandied around when people talk about this album, it’s really the best of Oasis‘s blissed out psych take of the 60s, mixed with Blur Great Escape-era schizophrenia. If there is one band to compare these guys too, it is Blur. Very young men who are smart and want to be different, and have the musical talent to do it.

Sadly, so sadly, this album only did ok. And it probably only did that because of their huge fanbase already. Their original fans cried foul. Shy pop fans could never get past who the band was. I think history will remember this album like Their Satanic Majesties Request. Stones fans hate that record, but pop fans love it.

I’m not sure who in the band drove the vision of this record, but the band is now split in two. Two members left to start a new band, two remain in Panic At the Disco. Which leaves the possibility of another great hybrid album pretty much at zero. At least we have this excellent out of time album, that will never date.

Even the video for Nine In the Afternoon is brilliant. The Mr Blue Sky for the 00s. One of the very best songs of the decade.

100 for 2000 – #87. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2008 – #7. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
(XL)

Several waves of hype had come and gone before I heard this record. None of that story, which seems to matter to some people, mattered to me. Vampire Weekend‘s self titled debut was a breath of fresh air.

The whole albums seems to drift by like a dream. Less than 35 minutes long, you’d be lucky to make sense of even one rhyming couplet. There’s an afternoon sunshine to this record, and an innocence. But otherwise, it’s a marvelous blur.

I love the vibe too. I know a lot of people hate them for it, but I love the Wes Anderson type pretensions. The William Eggleston type photo. All those posh clothes and singing about butlers. It’s too oblique to be commentary. It’s just the colours they use.

There’s only 11 songs on this thing, and I love them all. But this is one of those happy cases where all my true favourites became singles – Oxford Comma, A-Punk, Mansard Roof. Somehow, what I hear in these guys is the same as what everyone hears – I think.

It’s a great pop record. It’s trying something new, yet it doesn’t try too hard. It’s going to be a delight to hear this in later years. It sounds fresher with every listen. Just be thankful the wave of imitators haven’t hit yet.

If you’re a fan of the BBC series IT Crowd, you’ll know Richard Ayoade as Moss, the fancy haired, spectacled misfit. You might know he is a stunning director, having made some of my favourite clips in the 00s. Oxford Comma is one of his best – a Wes Anderson impersonation.

100 for 2000 – #86. Shelby Lynne – Just A Little Lovin’

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2008 – #6. Shelby Lynne – Just A Little Lovin’
(Lost Highway)

Some years ago, Paul gave me Shelby Lynne‘s breakthrough 1999 album, I Am Shelby Lynne. As a big fan of songwriters with a country bent, I had always heard of Lynne and her records, but took me ages to really give her some time. I adore her last album, an album of Dusty Springfield covers.

I did say personal significance was a criteria. And it’s an album of covers, which is usually a non starter for me.

It’s the sensual/sexual nature of this album. It’s a friggin hot record. Lynne strips away the bombastics of Springfield‘s productions (the strings, the hysterical vocals) and throws in warm sounds and a whispery voice. It’s produced by one of my all time favourite producers – Phil Ramone. I love the originals, and I love these too.

Without going much more into it, but for several months this album was my alarm. Whether I was alone or not, this intimate album greeted me as the sun came in through the curtains. It’s so warm and loving, and there’s of course a morning theme in the tracks Just A Little Lovin’ and Breakfast In Bed.

Unlike She & Him, I can still listen to this record. I guess you can miss a person, but missing the sex is something else entirely. I still look back on the sex quite fondly. I tell you what though. I’m not sure I can listen to this album with other people around. It’s something I find difficult with certain artists, like Nick Drake (or, um, Je t’aime moi non plus).

A nice side effect of this record is I went back a got to know both Dusty Springfield and Shelby Lynne and little more. I filled the gaps in my Lynne collection and very much look forward to her new album this year. Dusty… well. I always thought she was a bit of a overly dramatic diva outside of Dusty In Memphis. I now know a lot better.

There wasn’t that much money poured into this record. They did make a clip though. Amazing to take such classic 70s songwriting and take the Bacharach OUT of it.

100 for 2000 – #85. Randy Newman – Harps And Angels

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2008 – #5. Randy Newman – Harps And Angels
(Nonesuch)

I am always exploring old music. It’s a lonely thing to do. Randomly deciding, because of a magazine article, or a cover version, or whatever, to explore the works of some artist from the past. No real current relevance, just a little side bet with myself in the music-loving game. You’re not sharing new releases or live gigs with mates.

I don’t know how I came across Randy Newman. I think obviously it was his songwriting for others. Toy Story. I do remember picking up Sail Away and loving it. I’ve now caught up, and there’s something about every album I love (especially the rarities on the box set). Then, in 2008, along comes the first new Newman record since 1999, since he came into my life. It’s a weird, but welcome feeling, when an artist whose work you loved from 30 years ago, suddenly puts out something new. Harps And Angels capped off a musical affair I had for many years.

The preamble though, is 2007, and a little car accident I got into. I was on my ass, and probably closest to death I’ve ever been. I felt terrible, and old. For some reason, Sail Away was a record I listened to over and over in that time, taking pills to suppress my appetite because my whole lower body was in a mess. I survived, and Harps And Angels was the opposite of Sail Away for me – it was the soundtrack of me coming out of my low.

The title track is the key text here. All southern groove and spoken word, our hero is on his ass too. Sick as a dog, thinking he’s going to die, he decides to pray, and what do you know? God actually answers (in French). It’s that kind of screwball comedy that has been missing in Newman‘s music for a while. And this album, with it’s musings on war, racism, the economy and death – it’s definitely laugh or you’d cry.

Laugh And Be Happy is about a cynical as the title suggests. The masterwork of A Few Words In Defense Of Our Country compares the Bush administration with history’s worse. A Piece Of the Pie attacks the economy with a little dig at Jackson Browne‘s world saving persona. It goes on and on.

Sometimes, it does sound like a grumpy, too-clever-for-his-own-good, old man complaining about the world. And it’s half true, and I like it. But it’s done with stunning wit, and great song craft. After a series of somewhat monotone records, Newman‘s uses a wide array of colors, voices and instruments. It’s probably the best sounding record he’s ever done.

All the cleverness is great, but the record is anchored into real emotion by two ballads. He tackles Feels Like Home, a song he wrote for the Faust musical, with lightness and an honesty he hasn’t touched since his first two albums. Finally, Losing You, combines the best of everything. The lyrical tricks, the pretty melodies, the strings and production, for what is possibly his best song ever.

He’s 66 now, and every time he’s in the news., it’s always about his health. He’s making a mint doing soundtracks and this will probably be his last album – although I hope for just one more. Either way, must feel great to be an old man who knows you are actually better than everyone. And the world is fool of as many slay-able sacred cows as ever.

A Few Words… was released before the album, as an op-ed piece for the New York Times. It’s a weird song, but used to devastating effect.

100 for 2000 – #84. Robert Forster – The Evangelist

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2008 – #4. Robert Forster – The Evangelist
(Yep Roc)

The Go-Betweens are one of my all time favourite bands. When Grant McLennan, one of the two main songwriters, died in 2006, it hit me pretty hard. By that time, I knew a lot of his friends and got to meet him a couple of times. His partner in crime for many decades, Robert Forster, declared the Go-Betweens dead. He took his time to write his first solo album, some songs he co-wrote with McLennan before his death. It’s a gorgeous album about life, death, friends and hope. I loved it.

I discovered the Go-Betweens from a book – Clinton Walker‘s masterful study of Australian music in the 80s called Stranded. I read it in high school, discovering these bands like Radio Birdman, the Bad Seeds and the Saints in print, before I heard many of their records. The Go-Betweens appeared often throughout the book and something really hit me about the band. They were the wussy guys, the arty ones. They talked about old films, french writers and other weird, pretentious things. They had girls in the band. Anyway it fit into my aesthetic. Out of that great scene in the Australian 80s, the Go-Betweens really grabbed me.

I bought all the albums, and read David Nichol‘s excellent biography. From there, I clearly felt like I knew the guys, right? My first ever over 18s gig was seeing Forster and McLennan at the Basement in Sydney. They were my world.

Most people prefer Forster – one of those silly things you do when you love a band, picking favourites – but I liked them both. I couldn’t deny all those great pop songs that McLennan wrote, even though Forster looked so much cooler. I managed to find some of their solo recordings, but never really got to know them. So I wasn’t really prepared for how good the Evangelist was.

McLennan‘s influence is all over this album. Forster shows a directness, and a simpleness in his songwriting and melodies. And the emotional honesty and the intimacy…out of this world. With very little instrumentation, there’s nothing separating you from the heart of these songs. For such a clown, Forster being so open is disarming – and fascinating.

The masterpiece is Demon Days. Half written with McLennan, it’s simple and direct, with it’s swaying chorus of something’s not right/something’s gone wrong. The ballads really make up the heart of this record. A Place To Hide Away and the title track are Forster‘s best songs in years. The Evangelist, a psuedo apology to his wife for taking her out of her home, is especially touching.

It’s not all slow and dreary either. Pandanus was the single, and shows Forsters love of the Velvet Underground has not abated. In fact, for an acoustic record, it’s surprisingly varied. That’s very, very hard to do.

I love Robert Forster, in that misguided but rewarding way some fans love their heroes. Together with Grant, they were my friends. They were equally as dorky as me, and they did the things I wanted to do. So above and beyond the details about this record, I’m so happy that Robert is ok. That this album was so good, and that he is still making music. An old friend is back on his feet again.

[Looks like there were no videos for this album…shame]

100 for 2000 – #83. Youth Group – The Night Is Ours

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2008 – #3. Youth Group – The Night Is Ours
(Ivy League)

This is the fourth time Youth Group have been written about since I started this decade list. I’ve been trying to figure out which are the songs and bands of the decade, and using this little exercise to help. One clear winner so far is Youth Group, my favourite Australian band. No one came close, and they knocked it out of the park again with The Night Is Ours.

Their last record, Casino Twilight Dogs, was huge on the production and the pop hooks. This record strips it all back. It’s darker, murkier and out of focus. It was recorded on, of all things, a disused ship docked on Sydney Harbour. The isolation and ocean imagery lives through the entire record. It’s a weird record, in a wonderfully moody and mysterious way.

Amazing to chart this band’s journey. They started as the poppiest of the indie pop bands, and four albums later, here we are, with bizarre, jagged, indie-dance of things like Two Sides. The album is bookended with two of the most dramatic things they’ve ever done. The slow burning Good Time greets us, with nary a guitar in sight, and ends with the rush of What Is A Life?

My favourite song on here is one of Toby Martin‘s best. Babies In Your Dreams is a piano ballad about having kids – a wonderful melody, a mystery and some of Martin’s best lyrics.

The lines go deep
The dough is set
We harden into our parents

One of many great images that permeate this record. Martin‘s definitely found new life in his lyrical muse. Lines come out at you…

Others are cruxifix.

Your lips speak Italian

I wonder, if he’s still with his wife?

It’s a dense record of such moments. It’s a beautiful, twilight record. It’s  great one to put on as you leave work, the sun is starting to set, and you’re far from home.

I’ve gone on about this band a lot. They mean a lot to me. It seems they are taking a break right now, and I hope it doesn’t last. I’m not sure if they fulfilled their professional dreams, but they made four perfect albums in the last decade. There’s only a handful of bands in the history of music can say that.

If you had 40 lives/you’d get it right by the 39th. How someone comes up with such stuff is beyond me, and I’ve marveled at that talent for a decade. Youth Group’s All This Will Pass.

100 for 2000 – #82. The Last Shadow Puppets – The Age Of the Understatement

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2008 – #2. The Last Shadow Puppets – The Age Of the Understatement
(Domino)

Alex Turner really is the second coming of Jay Farrar. A young, dour, serious but poetic man, who has managed to make 4 albums in 4 years (much tougher now than it was in the early 90s). That Turner also did it from the top of the mountain only makes this feat more impressive. And like Farrar‘s Uncle Tupelo, whose third record smashed expectations on what that band could do, so too does Turner make an about face on his third outing. He’s made a classic orchestral pop record in the vein of Bacharach or Scott Walker.

Of course, Turner is not alone here. His pal Miles Kane is an equal partner, and their love of this era of music pours through. And they update the template. The high drama of say, Dusty Springfield, is added to with the odd well placed jagged guitar chord and rock ‘n’ roll drums. It never sounds like it’s lost in time – it’s a modern record.

Yet it’s a million miles away from Arctic Monkeys (or Kane‘s band, the Rascals). The live gigs, at the Roundhouse and Royal Albert Hall, with full orchestra, were sights to behold. Two young men in suits, holding court in such prestigious venues, huge orchestrations and singing their wee northern hearts out.

So, the gimmick is great, and captivating. But there is also a turn in the songwriting. Two new weapons are now in Turner’s arsenal – beauty and mystery. Leaving behind the quick-fire spell-it-all-out of the monkeys behind, and let loose on classic melodies and chord progressions – this is not just an orchestra singing about Arctic Monkey type things.

And it’s all about women. The drama of them. Of love and young love in particular. Words unsaid. Hidden feelings. It’s a dark, noir world. Beautiful but unhinged women, tough men with mortal hearts. It all comes together in Turner’s best ballad to date – My Mistakes Were Made For You. The trippy film clip and the holes in the lyric all help paint this picture.

This album was released at the start of 2008 and sustained me through the year. I loved it and listened to it a lot. By the end of the year, I came back to it. Those regrets, that it-was-not-to-be attitude of the love songs, or anti-love songs, drew me in. By the time I got to the last two tracks – the lovers troubled farewell of Meeting Place, and the one-last-look-back of Time Has Come Again – well, I’m a mess.

It’s just amazing this album exists, and it got to number one. NME kids listening to such Bacharach-ian pastiches like Meeting Place? Brilliant. What balls these young men have. And for it to be so brilliant. So classic, yet so new. I guess the future of this side project is in doubt. But that mystery and beauty survived to the next Arctic Monkeys record, and for me, the story continues…

The amazing clip for My Mistakes Were Made For You, directed by Moss from the IT Crowd!

100 for 2000 – #81. She & Him – Volume One

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2008 – #1. She & Him – Volume One
(Domino)

She & Him. Volume One.

I loved this album when I was in love with this girl.

Now she is gone and I don’t listen to this album anymore.

I lost her, and I lost this too.

Maybe one day I’ll listen to it again.