This week, I’ll be looking at the newest albums on the 2006 list: not exactly “up to date” but as close as we’ll come in this project. Annoyingly, more than one of these albums had disappeared from the list in later editions. Were the compilers right to remove them? Let’s find out!
Beck – Guero
I’d already listened to one of Beck’s recks for this project, ‘Odelay’, and found it easy to admire but hard to love due to the measured ironic posturing. This album brings back the same producers, the Dust Brothers, and the same kitchen-sink approach, but feels easier to connect to than ‘Odelay’. Perhaps this is because it feels less mannered and self-conscious, perhaps because the influences are easier for me to engage with. Distorted bass lines inform ‘E Pro’ and ‘Rental Car’, while the gruff baritone Hansen adopts on ‘Emergency Exit’ reminds me of fellow junk-shop eclectist Eels. There is yet another Beck on the list, ‘Sea Change’: I’m slightly keener now to check it out than I was. This one is good.
Kings of Leon – Aha Shake Heartbreak
Before their unexpected rise to stadium rock band, the Followills had a sort-of Southern blues take on the Strokes template which they were still using on this, their second album. The album’s lead single was its best track, ‘The Bucket’, a killer single which remains the band’s best song. So this isn’t the disaster I thought, right, I hear you ask. Well, no, and yet it’s a difficult album to love, with Caleb’s slurry mumble rendering most of the lyrics impenetrable. The second half of the album adds some more imaginative flourishes onto their standard sound, but it’s an inessential listen. This isn’t even the only KoL album on the list!!
M.I.A. – Arular
M.I.A.’s minimalist template goes beyond drum’n’bass and expunges the bass as well, leaving only the vocals and the drums as the dominant instruments (with low-in-mix synths here and there). Largely written on a Roland 505 previously owned by Elastica’s Justine Frischmann, the obvious debts to Missy and Peaches are largely written off by an artist furrowing her own path. Okay, if largely a triumph of sass over substance, ‘Arular’ pre-dates her best-known songs (‘Paper Planes’, say) and I would be surprised if there weren’t better albums later in her career.
The Streets – A Grand Don’t Come For Free
This was in the If I Must pile thanks to the bloody awful singles (‘Dry Your Eyes’ was a slog) and it’s mildly surprising to see this on the list instead of ‘Original Pirate Material’. Despite my reticence to listen to it, though, the album has a sort of scrappy DIY feel to it which should have come as an inspiration to young rappers in the same way as, say, Bratmobile inspired punk grrls. Here we have a rapper delivering rhymes in a stilted, hesitant fashion over beats he recorded at home, calling it ‘Fit But You Know It’ and having top 5 hits. As much as I hate to use these words there’s something that feels authentic and genuine about the experiences Skinner describes, couched in the language he’s comfortable with, which is charming despite some seriously ropey material (‘It Was Supposed To Be So Easy’ for example) and despite the fact that Skinner’s singing on the choruses rivals D-12’s ‘My Band’ for Worst Vocal Delivery On A Rap Song.
Rufus Wainwright – Want Two
Given the wealth of uninspiring choices this week I perhaps reacted more favourably to Rufus than I might have done normally, even if all he’s doing here is a selection of camp theatrical pop songs performed with his celeb mates (mother Kate McGarrigle, sister Martha, Anhoni Hegarty, Levon Helm from The Band etc). Patrick Wolf (who is not on the list) did a similar thing in a more aggressive style with thunderous beats, of course, and ‘Want Two’ doesn’t quite maintain interest all the way through. There is, though, a lot to like about Wainwright’s songs and arrangements, which take in solo piano, Eastern-sounding violin, Van Dyke Parks orchestrations and more.
The White Stripes – Get Behind Me Satan
I’d been a White Stripes fan at the same time as everyone else had, but I got off at this stop due to lacklustre singles ‘Blue Orchid’ and ‘The Denial Twist’ (and because I was bored of Jack White’s fetishisation of ancient equipment) so never heard this album. This album appeared on 2006’s list but was hastily removed in the 2007 edition, indicating that posterity hadn’t been kind to it: and so it proves. The previous albums had been most effective when White was either going in hard with riotous rock-outs or going in soft with sweet Paul McCartney ballads; this album mostly expunges both. The album mostly focuses on piano or marimba, and poor Meg is often sidelined or absent. Unlike the previous two albums in their career, you don’t need to own this.
The Zutons – Who Killed The Zutons?
Back when I was at university I was seeing a girl who went to university in Liverpool and we’d see the Zutons semi-often at tiny venues like Le Bateau. This was in 2002, where they sounded very like The Coral and their sound diversified only on the tracks Abi Harding featured on saxophone. By 2004, they’d become monsters with moronic geezalongs like ‘Don’t Ever Think (Too Much)’ and ‘You Will, You Won’t’ scaring me off pursuing their career any further. The concentrated horror of ‘You Will, You Won’t’ is, thankfully, an anomaly that isn’t sustained throughtout the album, and they’d largely purged their Coral-alike elements by this point, yet there’s little here that hadn’t been done before; in some cases, 30 or 40 years before.
Next week, I’ll be checking out some more of the jazz on the list. Jazz is not a genre I know almost anything about. Will that change by next week? We’ll find out!
The week after will be REQUESTS WEEK so feel free to pick an album for me to enjoy (or not enjoy if you’re a sadist) – full list here
STATUS: 315 albums listened to (31.5%), 686 remain.