There have been a few that are worthy of mention; Matt Thorne's Prince biog was worth a look but flawed by a) its earnestness and b) the equal weighting it placed on all phases of his career. Normally, I'd be praising the latter quality as a sign of even-handedness, and the biographer as having the correct amount of detachment from the subject. But even his least ardent supporters would argue that the years 1979 to 1987 are the only ones that count in the Prince story, and that these are the ones any biographer should concentrate on. So I'm afraid that's not the winner. And neither is How To Wreck A Nice Beach, though I greatly enjoyed it and will return to it in future posts ("yeah, right"- ItP readers). No, my favourite book was Peter Hook's Unknown Pleasures. I know, I know. Hasn't this been flogged to death? Well, yes, it probably has. As someone astutely pointed out, New Order (and by implication, Joy Division) spent the first 20 years of their career not saying a word, while for the past fifteen it's been difficult to get them to shut up. And some pundits and fans see Hook's recent activities (the DJing, the club openings, the one-man talk shows, the touring, all on the back of his former glories) as tantamount to some sort of indie betrayal. Even I think that it's a bit strange that someone from a band and record label that were formerly noted for never wallowing in nostalgia is now making a career out of just that. However, as far as I'm concerned, Peter Hook, more than anyone involved in the Factory story, has earned the right to do whatever the hell he wants in his twilight years.
And what a story it is. Rightly redressing the balance, it paints a picture of a band made up of four individuals rather than Ian Curtis and three anonymous players. It also shows Curtis as being a long way from the tortured existentialist of popular myth. I, for one, will forever cherish the mental image of Curtis running along a Parisian street, jiggling a pair of imaginary breasts on his chest and asking a bemused Frenchman "Where are the girls?" I really cannot wait for the inevitable New Order book.
Biggest ticketing cock-up
Kraftwerk at the Tate Modern. Read the story here. Take my advice though, readers. To avoid this sort of teeth-gnashing fiasco, and the concomitant touting that bedevils any over-subscribed event, just say no to big gigs. Honestly, the bands don't need your money, they'll almost always be trading on past glories, they'll appear like ants in the distance and they won't have been relevant for 20 years or so. In the case of Kraftwerk, it's closer to 30. Plus, they only have one member remaining from the quartet that made Trans-Europe Express, Man Machine and Computer World. Why, then, do people fall over themselves to see Kraftwerk when other, worthier bands struggle to fill venues? I can't remember the last time I went to a gig where there were touts, for the simple reason that the artists I enjoy almost never sell out (literally or figuratively). On which note...
If you ever want to feel young, go to a John Cale gig. Most of the time when you go to a gig, it's like stepping into a branch of Urban Outfitters (most recently this happened at an Annie Mac DJ set- she was great, incidentally, but I and my companions were by far the oldest people in the room). At Cale's date in Edinburgh in the autumn, the hall was about 50% full, mostly of the sorts of people that frequented the Factory in the 1960s and the Batcave in the early 80s. It was like being on the set of The Addams Family. We were by far the youngest people there, which made a pleasant change. The gig was better than I expected, Cale essaying a great version of Helen of Troy, as well as most of his current album Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood (worst album tile of 2012, BTW). He's smaller than I expected. And as a bonus, Ian and I got to shake hands with Davey Henderson of the Fire Engines.
However, I'd have to say my favourite gig (and there weren't that many to choose from) was Saint Etienne, supported by Scritti Politti. Again, only about 80% full, but that meant we got to stand mere feet away from Sarah Cracknell. I've always liked Saint Etienne, but would be lying if I said they were my favourite band, or even in the top 10. And in truth, I'd sort of lost touch with them in recent years. But this gig reminded me just how dependable and consistent they are. Never quite Premiership leaders, but certainly cheerful mid-table chuggers. If this sounds like I'm damning them with faint praise, or implying that they're the West Brom of pop, then nothing could be further from the truth. Their newest album, Words and Music, is truly wonderful, a fantastic evocation of the power of music, and pop music in particular. On which note...
Despite strong competition from Grimes, Scott Walker, the Purity Ring, Hot Chip (who I've never totally warmed to, but whose In Our Heads finally delivered on their initial promise), I think Saint Etienne just shaded it, though it took the gig above to convince me. If you need convincing, just listent to Tonight (below) and listen to how Pete Wiggs, Bob Stanley and Richard X's words and music capture that feeling of being 17 and gleaning information about a band from the pages of the NME before going to see them. I'm guessing that in an age of Twitter, Facebook, music blogs, viral marketing and oversharing, that doesn't happen very often these days. Maybe I'm part of the problem. Hmm.
Metal Dance by Trevor Jackson
We can't say best single anymore, can we? Anyway, despite the cynical dreck turned out by the likes of Kanye West and will.i.am (all of which made the One Pound Fish song sound like Bohemian Rhapsody), there were some high points to the year from Jessie Ware, Burial, Dutch Uncles, Everything Everything and MIA. But the one that most resembled a classic 7 inch single (nagging hook, orchestration, shiny production, 3 minutes, proper ending rather than a fade out) was surely Carly Rae Jepson's Call Me Maybe.