It’s hardly the Festive Fifty. The hipsters at Pitchfork and Stereogum needn’t be worried. The indier-than-thou bloggers can sleep easy, knowing that I probably haven’t stolen a march on them and unearthed the coolest LP of the year that you never read about before… BUT…
This inaugural year-end best of is probably a melange of the obvious, the not-so obvious and the odd curveball extrapolated from many of the music blogs, podcasts, Mixclouders, Soundclouders, happy Bandcampers and Twitterers (tweeters? tweeps?) I have drained of bandwidth over the past 12 months or so. While trying to avoid the influence of the popular pages’ picks of the past year (try saying that with a mouthful of sausage and egg McMuffin) some did catch my eye and remind me of a few albums I’d not heard.
Nonetheless a handful of quite possibly inclusion-worthy releases registered too late on my not-as-sharp-as-it-once-was musical radar – Swans, Actress and a handful of rappers-who-might-just-be-swearing-and-bigging-up-their-own-love-lives-a-tad-too-much-over-the-course-of-their-album-even-though-musically-and-”flow-wise”-they-may-be-pretty-spot-on (yer A$AP Rockys, yer Kendrick Lamarrs etc) missed the cut for.. er… those very reasons. Just as Neil Young failed to ratchet up a higher position for the perfectly acceptable “Psychedelic Pill” due to rather trying lyrics on Ontario, and Lana del Rey missed the boat completely – despite a year of stonking remixes – simply because those bloody lips annoy me and the hype has sadly outshone the music. Azealia Banks (who is the exception that proves my self imposed-rule on excessive gratuitous swearing spoiling records) misses out because she only released a 4-track ep and a mixtape this year, while the top Japanese chillwave Bandcampers LLLL are omitted on a technicality that a four or five track ep (or a couple thereof) still isn’t a proper album. Cornelius‘ top remixed-by-his-good-self album “CM4″ (his fourth collection of unique remixes for other people) was excluded as it’s really a compilation album, while salyu X salyu’s album “S(o)un(d)beams” came out in 2011. Oh damn, and I missed Cat Power. Bah. Too late now, sorry Chan. And Beak > and that other Geoff Barrow project which was most certainly double top. And John Foxx and The Maths, that was an ace album that just slipped my mind and I cant see how to shoehorn it in. Botheration. Oh, blimey… Dinosaur Jr.‘s “I Bet On Sky”!! How could I forget that!?! And… what? Gaz Coombes had an album out?
So… are we going to do this in reverse order stylee?
THE FAVOURITE FIFTY 2012 –
OUR BEST ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
50. ON THE HOT DOG STREETS – Go-Kart Mozart
Lawrence attempts a take over and reveals his preferences and pecadilloes, backed by what could be a synth ditched by Ted Chippington’s band. A very English album, without going anywhere near EDL territory. Or Morrissey territory for that matter.
49. ILL MANORS – Plan B
A move away from his male-Winehouse chart-busting success, Uncle Ben tells a harrowing tale of Broken Britain, even though – as he reminds us – there’s no such thing as Broken Britain. Not an easy listen, but a well crafted concept album. Prodigy mix was a corker.
48. THE CHERRY THING – Neneh Cherry and The Thing
Neneh Cherry drops the Buffalo Stance for some free jazz with Bristol’s The Thing. Wigs out in places.
47. ONE DAY I’M GOING TO SOAR – Dexy’s
Kevin’s put the dress and suspenders away for a new set of clothes. Just as well really. He too, has got a “wiggle“.
46. THE ORBSERVER IN THE STAR HOUSE – The Orb & Lee “Scratch” Perry
The Orb are a perfect foil for Perry’s mad dub-crazed meanderings, but their respect for him can let get the better of them when he really starts to wander. Golden Clouds is a brilliant re – work of the old 90s favourite though, and worth the price of an illicit download alone.
45. THE LOST ARE FOUND – Claudia Brücken
Ex-Propaganda fraulein bangs out eclectic selection of covers including ELO, Bowie, The Band and Pet Shop Boys (though not the obvious ones). The voice is what makes the package shine, along with a pleasantly chilled orchestration.
44. IS YOUR LOVE BIG ENOUGH? – Lianne La Havas
There was a great
One Two Inch Punch remix of one of these tracks, and Mary Anne Hobbs loves this to bits, which can’t be bad. Maybe a bit mainstream for some, but pushes buttons for me. Just hope she avoids the Tasmin Archer syndrome! Still can’t work out if the double entendre in the title is deliberate or not.
43. PSYCHEDELIC PILL – Neil Young and Crazy Horse
This marvellous album sounds as if it was recorded in the 70s, which considering it’s Neil Young is a compliment more than a put down! Crazy Horse haven’t aged at all, but – as I said before – lyrics to Ontario are a little (ahem) “shakey”. The mention of psychedelia also reminds me I’ve also forgotten Richard Hawley’s album. Sorry, Richard.
42. TRAMP – Sharon Van Etten
Being a female singer songwriter the old comparisons get trotted out with this one, but this album is definitely worth a listen. All I Can is a fantastic anthem, despite mentioning “Old Tokyo” quite randomly.
41. MOST OF MY HEROES STILL DON’T APPEAR ON NO STAMP – Public Enemy
Yeah boyeee! Chuck D, Flavor Flav and the rest wormed their way back into the British public’s general consciousness via the Paralympics, an inspired TV trailer and a five-year-old track that isn’t on this album. It’s no “Nation Of Millions” but this Fight The Power-inspired album shows this ageing crew of hip hop pioneers are still relevant in 2012.
40. TOY – Toy
It’s feedback. And you can’t beat a bit of feedback, can you?
39. SHIELDS – Grizzly Bear
Good to listen to late at night with a glass of 12-year-old whisky. Odd flashes of melancholy, occasional shoegazey splashes, even infrequent Billy Bragg chords. Just don’t try to dance to it.
38. FIN – John Talabot
The Barcelona-based producer’s first album turns in some solid tracks of an electronic variety. Strangely for someone who pinched his moniker from what was possibly his old school, his music sounds anything but. A Catalan Flying Lotus? Oh damn, that’s someone else whose fine album I’ve left out. There’s a remix album out of this as well.
37. PIRAMIDA – Efterklang
Efterklang is Danish for “remembrance”, but also “reverberation”. Fourth album “Piramida” is (say reviews) “hymnal”, and built around simple rhythms. John Grant likes ‘em.
36. THE BELBURY TALES – Belbury Poly
Most recordings on the excellent Ghost Box label evoke a world of haunted English villages, 1970s tv interludes and Open University broadcasts, enhanced by the beautiful Pelican Books-style sleeve art. And the Radiophonic Workshop. Sort of like modern electronic folk. But in a definitely retro dimension. Belbury Poly’s latest is no exception.
35. SLEEP GAMES – Pye Corner Audio
More of the same as this too is a Ghost Box release, but (as John Peel used to say) this one fades in. For those of us who grew up with short wave radio, public information films and black and white TVs. And for those who didn’t but are curious to know what it sounded like.
34. BASTARDS – Björk
Reworkings of her criminally under-bought “Biophilia” interactive album / app / concept thing from last year. Puff Daddy may claim he invented the remix (which is bollocks as Wikipedia says Tom Moulton invented the remix), but Björk re-invented the remix (remember her first remix album), and the blinding Omar Souleyman re-tread of Crystalline which opens the collection justifies the whole package sevenfold.
33. HAIR – Ty Segall & White Fence
Letterman-approved noise-merchant Ty Segall released three full-length albums this year, which puts him up there with Prince and Ryan Adams in the “jolly prolific” stakes. This was my favourite of the three. The sleeve art is far better than that of “Slaughterhouse” which looked like it had been done by someone’s brother. On acid.
32. LUCIFER / LUCIFER IN DUB – Peaking Lights
Peaking Lights are a husband and wife duo from Wisconsin (home of Yon Yonson, Dave Howard Singers fans). “Lucifer” is a trippy, dubby affair not unlike the woozier bits of Primal Scream’s “Screamadelica”, featuring the vocal contribution of their own sprog (who is, disappointingly, not called Lucifer, or even Damien) . “Lucifer In Dub” takes the trippy, dubby bit one stage further (hence the name), not unlike Primal Scream’s “Echo Dek”, into almost unrecognisable territory.
31. COEXIST – The xx
Several years on from their stunning 2009 debut, Jamie xx is now a coveted remixer and the virtual entirety of that album has been covered by everyone from Damon Albarn to OMD to Shakira, mashed up with The Notorious B.I.G. and sampled by Rihanna. Not to mention an infinity (see what I did there) of wubstep remixes. Three years on and the trio return with “Coexist”, which Jamie xx decsribed as ”developed” but not “completely a world away” and “a development of where we were before”. Which is exactly what it is. The complicatons of relationships are mulled in much of Oliver Sim and Romy Madely-Croft’s interchanges, the thread running through most of the album. It’s not a quantum leap for The xx, but does further define the unique sound of a band, a bit like the instantly recognisable chords of Depeche Mode or the dissected beats of Cornelius (even though the album sounds like neither, if you see what I mean). And, like a vast swathe of this year’s selection, it could well be described as “haunting”.
30. SOLO PIANO II – Chilly Gonzales
Imaginatively-titled follow-up to his “Solo Piano” album from 2004, featuring nothing but…er… solo piano. But sometimes there are times when only a bit of solo piano will do, and this does the trick a treat. Especially if you’ve already had your fill of Chopin’s nocturnes. A classical classic, as it were.
29. OH, MONSTERS! – Anni B. Sweet
Another female singer-songwriter? And a Spanish one to boot? Haunting (it’s that word again), almost Irish-tinged vocals which wouldn’t jar if played after the album at number 11 on this very chart. And to think she once did a folksy cover of Take On Me.
28. A+E – Graham Coxon
Following the “pastoral” excursion of 2009′s “The Spinning Top”, the reconciled Blur guitarist went back plying his established craft as a purveyor of excitable noisy pop songs, albeit longer ones than usual. Not his grazed knees on the cover btw, although he did take the picture.
27. WORLD YOU NEED A CHANGE OF MIND – Kindness
The audacity of this North American fellow covering Mrs. Brian May’s finest musical hour (or three minutes) on this record was incredible, but the welcome revisiting of the late Chuck Brown’s Washington GoGo sound was even more so. Who would have thought that one album could channel Prince, Talking Heads, Trouble Funk and Eastenders? Now where did I put that Trouble Funk remix of Copey’s World Shut Your Mouth?
UPDATE: In a strange twist of events that seems to be some inverted echo of LCD Soundsystem’s “North American Scum” premise, it transpires that Adam Bainbridge, the long-haired brains behind Kindness and the fellow on the album sleeve above these very words, is not from the heart of Washington DC, but from Peterborough.
Which should make the gogo element of his album all the more surprising and somewhat dulls the novelty of his Albert Square re-visit. But only marginally.
26. SHRINES –Purity Ring
Something about this album reminds me of the Grimes album. Is it the sound, the pitch, the vocals? Or is it just that it’s attractively weird and electronic at the same time. Grimes never sang about her sternum though, and Fineshrine is definitely one of my top five singles of 2012 – even though Tom Ravenscroft didn’t like it.
25. CELLULOID – Lippy Kid
Top Bandcamp discovery this, a mainly instrumental minimal electronic album harking back to the days of 8O8 State’s “Quadrastate”, echoing the sounds of modern cities in the way an ultra-slick metro train might hurtle down the neon tunnels of a Blade Runner-era Japan. Or something. His Love To Infinity EP (not on this album) is worth checking out too!
24. CELLS – Fake Blood
As forgotten two-hit wonder Carmel once opined in the mid 80s: the drum is everything. Even if it may be a very upmarket drum machine or a pricey computerised rhythm program. Unlike his popular “USED” mixtape series which was a jazzy selection of downtempo breaks and the like, “Cells” is a return to the beat-driven sound for which he carved a remixing niche for himself, although house, techno and yer quality electronica are used to incredibly uplifting effect, of which lead track Yes / No is a prime example. Bang to the beat of the drum!
23. DON’T BE A STRANGER – Mark Eitzel
The American Music Club founder returned to the recording studio after a good pal of his struck it lucky on the lottery and altruistically decided to plough a share of his generous takings into this album. As you might expect, if you are familiar with Eitzel’s often introspective oeuvre, it’s no chipper upbeat compendium of tunes… but competent production and a world-weary sense of humour pulls you through, and the record certainly stands up to repeated listening.
22. THE HAUNTED MAN – Bat for Lashes
Blimey, how many albums on this list could be described as “haunting“, eh? And this one’s even got the word “haunted” in the title. Laura is the key song on this disc, and it too could be described as haunting. Beautifully so, but haunting nonetheless. Natasha gets her kit off on the album cover as well, although pervs should be warned that she seems to be carrying the body of a dead (and also naked) man that cover up her bits. Maybe she caught him ogling from behind the bushes. Who knows what goes through this lady’s mind?
21. DJANGO DJANGO – Django Django
Rob da Bank liked this ‘un from the get-go and who can blame him? Hail Bop is the standout track from the album at We Love All That Towers (sadly they weren’t the first to use their comet-centrical punning title) as it has all the hallmarks of what I believe is called “an earworm” and Love’s Dart and Default were rum singles too. If the album reminds you a touch of the Beta Band it’s possibly because the Django Django drummer is the BROTHER of John Maclean out of the Beta Band.
20. SWEARIN’ – Swearin’
Another Bandcamp discovery that can actually be found as a totally legal free download on the internets if you know where to look, Swearin’ are an exciting Brooklyn band with echoes of the Sub Pop scene before grunge became stale. The Breeders are another touchstone when trying to describe that Swearin’ sound. If you can imagine a wide awake and jumpy version of slackers, this is what this band sound like. Hat tip to the Edinburgh Man podcast for alerting me to this!
19. IN OUR HEADS – Hot Chip
Some people were disappointed with this latest Hot Chip album, as maybe their previous work had set the bar too high. However, tracks like How Do You Do? and Flutes are worthy additions to the band’s exemplary canon, although why Night and Day B-side Jelly Babies wasn’t an album track (or even an A-side!) is anyones’ guess.
18. VISIONS – Grimes
Stupidly I expected Grimes to sound like Wiley or Roll Deep Crew, whereas actually this album is sort of industrial shoegaze chillwave electronica with female vocals (provided by Clare Boucher, aka Grimes) and hints of medieval folk music, Kraftwerk and metal in the mix. It’s strangely addictive, and sonically enthralling. It’s also on 4AD, which figures.
17. WONKY – Orbital
The Hartnoll Brothers join the long list of 90s rave comebacks, including The Prodigy and… er… Guru Josh. Okay, maybe it wasn’t such a long list. Wonky the single stands out, not least because of that mad cat video, but Where Is It Going? was a stormer of a track, both in its remixed “live style” version and in its Paralympics appearance with Stephen Hawking, who last contributed to a pop record doing the vocals to Radiohead’s Fitter, Happier in 1997. Possibly. Oh, and Zola Jesus also appeared on there!
16. PAMYU PAMYU REVOLUTION – Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
This is what Japanese pop should be about, dressing up in weird retro clothes, sporting daft cutesy wigs, long eyelashes and bizarre videos that would make any acid casualty check his drink. The whole album is like the “PONPONPON” video. Forget Gangnam Style and K-Pop, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is where it’s truly at in quirky Asian pop.
15. BREAKTHROUGH – The Gaslamp Killer
I first became aware of The Gaslamp Killer after watching an online stream from Dublab.com of William Benjamin Benussen (for it is he) doing a live video mix. His debut album is a freak-out in a padded room but bizarrely addictive. There is also a rather instructive linguistic interlude on Britain’s favourite four-letter word.
14. BLOOM – Beach House
It’s American shoegaze (they call it “dream pop”, you know) but it’s, like, from now! Or is it chillwave? You get the feeling they’ve listened to a few Cocteau Twins albums and Lush singles but that’s really not a bad thing. In fact we need more records like this. It’s the Lazuli of the land, my son.
13. MATURE THEMES – Ariel Pink’s Haunted Grafitti
Only In My Dreams was one of my singles of the year, an absolute pearl of a tune.. and although it is the obvious stand-out track on the album, the long player is no stinker. One track even sounds a bit like Julian Cope. Ariel himself does come across as a bit of a rose-tinted Evan Dando in the videos though…
12. SILENCIO – Laetitia Sadier
Debut solo outing from the voice of Stereolab. Despite her split from her band partner Tim Gane, Laetitia sounds as political on this album as Gane did at the height of McCarthy’s cult fame. And yes, it still sounds a bit like Stereolab, and not just vocally. Should have done better in the year-end charts!
11. MELODY’S ECHO CHAMBER – Melody’s Echo Chamber
Breathy French chanteuse (quite possibly named after Serge Gainsbourg’s trippy opus Melody Nelson) chases Tame Impala bloke half way round the world and tracks him down and gets him to help out with her debut album. Result, one charmingly woozy psych-pop album (mainly in English) with echoes of Lush and shoegazyness. Albeit one that sounds a bit like Tame Impala.
10. THE GHOST IN DAYLIGHT – Gravenhurst
At times Nick Gravenhurst sounds like an English Jeff Buckley, at other times it seems like he wants to be Kevin Shields. Melancholy and thoughtful, wistful but at times noisy. Another fantastic late night listen, on Warp Records despite being bleep ‘n’ glitch free. Well worth your eartime, I would say, as are all his albums. You might even say it too was haunting (groan).
9. BLUNDERBUSS – Jack White
Strangely less erratic than some White Stripes albums, “Blunderbuss” packs a punch. White’s reading of “I’m Shakin’” is a joy to behold. As journo Alexis Petridis once observed, “bonkers Jack White” is back on this album, jostling “earnest Jack White” to one side. Which can only be a good thing.
8. THE BRAVEST MAN IN THE UNIVERSE – Bobby Womack
This album basically follows a similar precept to that of Gil Scott-Heron’s swansong “I’m New Here”, a moderately well-known black male singer with an illustrious back catalogue and of advanced years showing he’s still “got it” by singing amazingly over a modern but strangely un-jarring series of compositions. And it works, to great effect. All the more surprising considering this was partly the work of Blur polymath Damon Albarn. It’s a shame no-one bothered to do this with James Brown when he was still alive.
7. VALENTINA – The Wedding Present
David Gedge is quite possibly the nicest man in post C86 indie-pop (or rock or whatever it’s called these days), but that doesn’t mean he can’t write a cutting line to a lover who spurned him. “Bang bang you’re dead!” he shouts on the opening track, with a very subtle Mark E. Smith “-ah!” at the end of the exclamation.. and this sets the tone for the whole album. Vintage Weddoes. “I understand you, and I can’t stand you.” And he even recorded one of the tracks in German.
6. LONERISM – Tame Impala
The lone member of Tame Impala – Kevin Parker – explained the album thus: “For me, it’s a combination of nice sugary pop crossed with really fucked-up, explosive, cosmic music. It’s like Britney Spears singing with The Flaming Lips”. Couldn’t have put it better myself.
5. OH NO I LOVE YOU – Tim Burgess
Oddly, it was only once head Charlatan Tim Burgess had left his adoptive home in L.A. to return to dear old Blighty that he produced his most Americana-tinged record yet in the form of the wonderful “Oh No I Love You”.
Helped out by Kurt Wagner of Nashville alt. country heroes Lambchop (Wagner actually went to school in Sheffield, to confuse matters) Tim has turned a real gem of an album, another disc that merits repeated plays from start to finish. High points are the record-lovers’ anthem A Case For Vinyl (did you see what he did there?) , originally a Record Store Day 7” single, White (which should have been a top ten smash but probably wasn’t) and The Doors of Then.
4. PEGASVS – Pegasvs
Some people out there might not be that familiar with Pegasvs (even though I featured them earlier this on the blog… keep up!) whose eponymous debut album oh-so-narrowly missed bagging bronze in this rundown of the best of 2012.
The Barcelona-based band was recommended to me earlier this year by @drelatsg on Twitter (who lives thereabouts) and since then they’ve garnered plaudits from TheQuietus (UKs premier intelligent music site), a BBC6Music play from Stuart Maconie and underground acclaim in various Latin American countries. Not bad for a noisy motorik band singing in Spanish! The album is a must-have, with tracks such as Brillar, El melodía del afilador, Atlántico and El final de la noche being standouts. Top videos too, courtesy of record label CANADA (all capitals). Hoping for bigger and brighter stuff from this lot in 2013.
3. CHANNEL ORANGE – Frank Ocean
In the top five of this We Love All That 2012 chart heavy iPod rotation counts for a lot, and so Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange” – his first album proper following a couple of critically applauded mixtapes – had to be top three at least.
Part of the peculiar Odd Future collective (kind of an abstract homophobic Wu-Tang Clan but with fewer kung-fu references and even more swearing), Ocean (no relation of Billy, you’ll be relieved to hear) “stunned” the world by issuing a press release fessin’ up (I believe this is the parlance) to having “loved” (I’m quoting) a person of the same sex. This normally would not have brought the internet to gush with praise – this didn’t happen when Will Young came out, did it – but given that fellow Odd Future acolyte Tyler (the Creator) was becoming a sort of Buju-Banton-it’s-okay-to-like in the eyes of some online music hacks, Ocean’s frank (pun intended) admission was a breath of fresh air in a genre of black music where “no homo” had seemingly become a jolly catchphrase to revive another prejudice.
Sadly, given that Ocean’s statement linked to a stream of the album which was the first chance most of us got to hear it, the man’s sexual persuasion did tend to overshadow the musical worth of a blinding album, which seemed to meld the good bits of Prince and Stevie Wonder and thrust them headlong into this confused post dubstep world. A Carpenters sample here, a (come on, let’s say it) wanky guitar solo there, an album that managed to sound vaguely off-kilter (Pyramids is over nine minutes long, but it seems shorter) but enticingly easy on the ear. Ill Manors it ain’t. Thinkin’ About You is another standout track, quite possibly about a male lover, real or imaginary. Unless I’m getting the wrong end of that “a new feel” line. Ok… best not go there. But a cracking song nonetheless. How can he top this though? Or will it be genre-hopping for Frank Ocean album number two?
2. BE STRONG – The 2 Bears
“Be Strong” can be summed up in one (albeit clumsy) sentence: positive 21st century balearic vibes for the beaten generation.
Another album that merits repeated playing, although the title track and singles Work and Bear Hug are obvious highlights. The 2 Bears moniker has been explained various ways… one being that it was a tongue-in-cheek reference to Hot Chipper Joe Goddard and comrade Raf Rundell as “bears” (google it) despite both being straight, another being that there was originally a third bear – Joe Mount from Metronomy – who left. Whether there was ever a Goldilocks or some porridge is debatable. The Hot Chip sound is detectable and Alexis Taylor even appears to chip in (pun intended) on Bear Hug.
But the Balearic mix of palatable 90s house beats and positive lyrics to uplift the listener whether on the dancefloor or in the “cans” makes a change from the tiresome dance clichés of sexual prowess and bling / cash / cars. If David Guetta was flogging this kind of gold dust to spotty braced-up American kids in Miami instead of the dross he currently churns out along with Pitbull, Flo Rida et al, the world would be a far better place, and more positive to boot. Oh, and the references in the title track are impeccable, possibly even more so than those of the band whose album is sitting atop the 2012 favourite fifty tree today…
1. WORDS AND MUSIC by Saint Etienne
For most people, the words “concept album” have disturbing connotations, often inextricably linked with the darkest excesses of prog rock, conjuring up all sorts of images related to an over-eager consumption of Tolkien, illegal substances and far too many hours ogling nine-sided dice in the Games Workshop. So if you are then told that the first track off this ‘ere concept album actually namechecks “Peter Gabriel from Genesis” you may start to worry. But fear not, for this is Saint Etienne we’re talking about here.
“Words and Music by Saint Etienne” (to give the album its full title) shows that, even though a quarter of a century gone by since the fantastic London-centric collage that was “Foxbase Alpha” (tastefully – dare I say masterfully – updated by Richard X as “Foxbase Beta” in 2009), the Heavenly trinity (see what I did there?) of Stanley, Wiggs and Cracknell can still produce fantastic pop music. Like whisky that has spent years in an oak cask, the band have matured, while retaining the essence of what we liked about them in the first place. The wistful nostalgia and the dewy-eyed memories of greasy-spoon caffs (remember Mario’s Café?) still remain, as do the overt references to pop-songs-they-have-loved.
The whole album, as the title suggests, is a paean to a bygone era, one probably dear to the hearts of anyone over thirty-five. The era “where music mattered”. Where music was a physical product, initially vinyl, which could serve not only as a backing track to our daily lives but actually something to be treasured, and often shared with friends – either “round at someone’s house” or copied onto a cassette tape – cementing friendships and defining what was “in” or “out” to the listener. Records were not just for playing, but for collecting… for coveting. As opposed to simply amassing, which is what even yours truly does with mp3s. And these vinyl platters aged, often adding a warmth to the recordings, a personal edge not unlike that which trouser manufacturers try hard to artificially replicate with their “stressed jeans” lines.
Every song on the album is connected to the way music connects to the listener: via the radio DJ, the club DJ, the seven inch single, the live concert, the stereo headphones etc. On a personal level I first heard the double album (with a disc of beefed-up remixes) and played the remix album to death, far more than the original disc. I even forked out for the 3CD box set, with a map, photos, a pin badge thing and all. But then a few weeks ago I listened to the original disc again and fell in love with it. Whereas the original album had previously seemed a bit limp compared to the kickin’ 2 Bears, Golden Filter and Tom Middleton remixes, upon further listening (especially to the lyrics) the whole album stood up as a solid body of work. Record Doctor is probably my least favourite moment on the album, but even that works in the context of the whole thing.
It’s rare to find an album these days that is not “just something to dip into” but a satisfying meal from start to finish. Where the words and the music are equally important. When one of your favourite bands does it, after so many years, it is to be commended. Along with the selection of remixers on the bonus disc as well, of course. The icing on the cake, as Stephen Duffy would have said.
So, when all is said and done, 2012 has been a fantastic year for music, even though – when the cans come off – the non-musical reality is pretty grim. Better keep those headphones on then. Besides, in this weather they keep your ears warm too.