Wednesday, January 09, 2013

2012 Round Up Part Two

Best book
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...

Best gig
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...

Best album
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.

Best compilation
Metal Dance by Trevor Jackson

Best song
We can't say best single anymore, can we?  Anyway, despite the cynical dreck turned out by the likes of Kanye West and (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.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

2012 round up part one, better late than never

2012 Irk The Purists Story of the Year

Just sneaking in under the wire at 10pm on 31st December, this was the strange sighting of Tim Burton and Helena Bonham-Carter at an Angus leisure centre.  The reasons for their appearance are a little unclear at the time of writing (and while I'd love to see Willie Wonka and the Haunted Squash Court, I think we can safely discount the possibility that they were there for research purposes), but I'm keenly watching to find out more. Thanks to Lesley S for spotting.

Gerry Anderson,  Fontella Bass, Neil Armstrong, Marie Colvin, Donna Summer, Dave Brubeck, Ravi Shankar, Alistair Burnet, Max Bygraves, Tony Scott, Eric Hobsbawm, Ray Bradbury, Gore Vidal, Larry Hagman, Sylvia Kristel, Davy Jones, Etta James, Jocky Wilson, Robert Hughes, Vidal Sassoon, Herbert Lom, Whitney Houston, Bob Holness, John Barry, Alexander Cockburn, Hal David, Robin Gibb, Terry Nutkins, Andy Williams, Bert Weedon, Byard Lancaster, Frank Wilson, Terry Callier

The 2012 "Nice Try" award
This year, the award goes to EMI who, at the height of Olympic fever in the UK released the debut single Winner from the Pet Shop Boys' recent album.  And while the lyrics may not have referenced athletics and the Olympics specifically, the allusions to being "in the running" and its timing in particular led many (and here's a case in point) to believe that it had some semi-official endorsement from Team GB.  I'm guessing that this was EMI's hope, at least- that its vaguely Olympic theme would allow it to ride on the coat-tails of Jessica Ennis et al into the public's hearts, and therefore into the charts.
The trouble, though, was that the Pet Shop Boys don't do strident, triumphant and victorious.  Neil Tennant's voice has always connoted distance, dispassion and irony.  The song doesn't even sound victorious; it sounds apologetic and half-hearted, more "Oh well, never mind" than "Yay! Go us!"  Which is ironic, because as far as I can tell, this is as celebratory as the PSBs get (see video, below).  It's just that they have the British capacity for self-deprecation, a capacity that Team GB managed to overcome in some style, hard-wired into their souls.  Predictably, the rest of the public was as confused as I was, and while Elbow and others shifted loads of product on the back of our sporting achievements, Winner limped home at a chart high of number 86.

Label of the year: 4AD
Whouldathunkit? Like many people my age, I had a high regard for 4AD in its heyday, thought that Colourbox, the Cocteau Twins and the Wolfgang Press were the shizzle, and sat mesmerised by Vaughan Oliver's (and Russell Mills' and Nigel Grierson's) sleeves in the same way that older friends stared at those of Roger Dean and Hipgnosis.  With the departure of Oliver and the label's co-founder and eminence grise Ivo Watts-Russell more than a decade ago, it seemed that like Blue Note and other labels suddenly cut asunder from the people with whom they were most closely identified. 4AD was likely to limp along, occasionally knocking out so-so albums by so-so bands and living on its ability to licence and re-release its vast back catalogue.  In recent years, though, it's made some interesting signings that were distinctly different from those that made the label's reputation  (Camera Obscura, Zomby, The Big Pink- and BTW, didn't they miss an open goal when they failed to call their debut Music From Big Pink?), and this year really hit the ball out of the park with albums from Scott Walker, Purity Ring, David Byrne and St. Vincent and, especially, Grimes. About whom more next time...

And yes, we now have internet at ITP Towers once more.