published: 22 /
In the latest instalment of his 'Condemned to Rock 'n' Roll' column, Ben Howarth pays testimony to some of the older and more established artists who constantly continue to release material of a high standard
I’ve been writing this column for over two years now, and, without really noticing it happening, I’ve completely abandoned its initial premise. I intended to take a none too serious look at the main events in the music scene each month, but a quick summary of recent entries shows that I generally do nothing of the sort.
This hasn’t been deliberate, exactly, but I don’t think I could have avoided it. I began the column as a student, while I now get up and go to work for a living, making free time a much rarer commodity. Consequently, I first stopped pouring over the music pages with quite the same intensity and then I decided that a home internet connection was a bit pricy, so I’ve stopped bothering with other music websites too. In all honesty, I have absolutely no idea what the main events in music this month have been.
In 'The Observer' a couple of weekends ago, a reviewer gave the debut album from Glasvegas a good review, but pondered whether they might be harmed by all the hype (apparently, Alan McGee is a fan, a fact which has proven quite a curse to anyone not named Gallagher). I hadn’t really noticed this ‘hype’, but that’s hardly a surprise - not only had I never heard a note of Glasvegas’ music, until that point I had never even heard of them.
Who needs new bands anyway ? There are plenty of older artists releasing stuff of a high standard, so why punt on something with no track record ? Indeed, I’m on an excellent run of purchases at the moment - there are times when every new CD seems to be a let-down of Pulp - 'This Is Hardcore' proportions, but these have not been those times.
It started with Jaymay, who I saw play as a support artist last year, and whose album ‘Autumn Fallin’ delivers all the charm of her live performance, but adds tunes that can’t quite find their way out of your head. She may at times seem be setting an episode of 'Friends' to life, but anyone who finds Joanna Newsome a little too kooky will find a home here.
Equally impressive has proven Colin Macintyre’s ‘The Water’, which contains a poem read by Tony Benn and also twelve delicious pop songs - fuzzy, inventive and unable to hide their affection for ELO. For no discernable reason, Mr Macintyre has abandoned his Mull Historical Society moniker, but this is the best album he has made. With songs like these, the wider public should really have made him a star by now, but I’m also just a bit happy that I can keep him all to myself.
Meanwhile, Aimee Mann has kept up her usual high standards with ‘@#%&! Smilers’, which I tentatively suggest is also the best of her career to date. The wry lyrics are in place, accompanied by some of her best melodies and lively accompaniment. She seems to be turning into her generation’s answer to Randy Newman.
Speaking of the great man, he’s back with a new album himself. ‘Harps and Angels’ has surely got excellent reviews, as Newman’s lyrics are just about the best in the business - he actually writes songs under the curious assumption that grown ups will be listening, using a perceptive humour as often as not turned on himself. Despite his second life soundtracking Disney Pixar classics, Newman is about as natural a singer as John Prescott is a 100 metre runner, but those words and his classy New Orleans jazz tunes keep a devoted few happy. Well into his 60's now, he hasn‘t lost any of his charm, so why did he wait nine years between albums?
Just when I thought the reissues market had been plucked dry, on the same day as I bought the Newman, Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue emerged in double disc form and proved all those vinyl addicts that have spent the past twenty years telling the rest of us how good it is very, very right.
Hopefully, my good run will continue. I’ve established a mouth watering mental list of future purchases. Ben Folds hasn’t made a less than perfect album yet in his decade and a half long career, so I have high hopes for his next album, out this month. After that, Okkervil River, who I ignored for too long but for whom I have recently nurtured a near obsession, release the second of two albums recorded at the same time last year in October.
But before then, more Beach Boys related fun comes in the form of a Brian Wilson solo album. It is highly unlikely that a man who can barely register a note when he plays live is capable of producing a solo album of any note, but I couldn’t imagine not buying it. It is Brian Wilson, after all.
Finally, sometime during October, I will be shelling out for the new Bloc Party album. The downloading classes apparently have access to this already, but I suppose at least two or three of us will be waiting for it in disc form. Of course, the last Bloc Party album was dismissed in many quarters - but it emerged as one of my favourites of last year and I’ll settle for this being half as good.
So there we are - a full listening schedule, and not a penny spent in WH Smiths. Music critics, eh, who needs ’em ?