Saturday, December 27, 2008

good old texas, sat doing nothing while the world's up-coughing asbestos

Top 10 Albums of 2008

5. The Cross Eyed Rambler - Paul Heaton (LB)

Let’s get one thing straight. Whilst the former Beautiful South frontman’s record is a departure from the two decades of work with his former bandmates if you were never much of a fan of the South, you aren’t going to like this all that much either. Whilst the material may be different and the sound a lot more guitar based and gruffer, his voice is basically still the same one that graced the charts with the Housemartins and the Beautiful South and so if that never appealed, this is unlikely to.

I was reluctant to buy this at first. I’d seen Heaton live in Nottingham and whilst I enjoyed his solo work, the sour taste of him steadfastly refusing to throw in even one obscure Beautiful South track for a baying audience remained. Eventually I gave in though and I am glad I did as the Cross Eyed Rambler is a really, really excellent piece of work.

Like I say, it’s edgier and tougher than his previous work but the beauty of the album remains the cutting satire of his lyrics. I’d argue that Heaton has been the leading British lyricist of the past twenty years or so (perhaps Neil Tennant might run him close) and whether you like his work or not there can be no doubting the quality and humour that define his songwriting.

The Cross Eyed Rambler is in much the same vein. The fantastic God Bless Texas is a wonderful satire of redneck America (“....good old Texas/lazy old days in the Amarillo haze in my work vest/sitting on the porch, wondering which country to torch next....”) and The Pub tells the story of the development of his local boozer from the 1980s to today (“....quiz night replaced the blues night in 1983.....”). The highlight though is Heaton’s very own Grumpy Old Men moment – the seven minute rant Everything is Everything in which he takes out every last frustration of the reality TV culture of Britain in 2008.

The butcher sells you pantyhose
The supermarket sells you land
The newsreader likes to read the news, but he’s also in a band
Feminism’s fast asleep with a cock in either hand
Everything is anything to anyone
And locate, locate, locate the victim’s house
Swap their wives, take their lives and turn them inside out
Nothing left in closet, nothing left in doubt
Everything is anything to anyone

I really like this record. It manages to combine the brilliance of Heaton’s lyrics with a modern, guitar based sound and is easily as good as anything he released with his bandmates over the last fifteen years. Highly recommended.

Favourite track - God Bless Texas

5. Como Te Llama - Albert Hammond Jr (bedshaped)

He’s the guitarist with The Strokes, don’t ya know. There’s certainly a strong influence from his own band, but there’s also nods towards Velvet Underground, Bowie, and even The Beach Boys to be found on here.

No suprises to find this is a guitar driven album, with catchy hooks, decent enough vocals and damn catchy melodies. He’s not got a fantastic voice, but it’s ample for the songs and it’s in the songs that this album wins, time and time again. There are some interesting interjections of instruments you wouldn’t expect to find on such an indie sounding album, but nothing objectionable. Yep, thank goodness those horns on Hard To Live In The City from his previous album have thankfully been laid to rest.

This isn’t an album that’s gonna make people start to question the future of The Strokes. If indeed anybody still cares about them? And it’s not an album that’s gonna win him lots of attention either, more so, it’s gonna be one of those really good albums that slips under all the radars, but is to be found in the stereos of cool people.

Favourite track - Lisa

5. Viva La Vida (or Death and All His Friends) – Coldplay (Swiss Toni)

When you aspire to be the biggest band in the world, one of things that you need to do, if you’re following the U2 model anyway, is to hire Brian Eno. If Eno could stop Bono singing about bullets ripping the desert sky, then perhaps he could stop Chris Martin worrying about puzzles missing pieces? Quite how much input or impact Eno ultimately had on “Viva la Vida” is debatable (he’s credited with ‘sonic landscapes’), but there are definite signs here that Coldplay are developing as a band. It’s not a dramatic change, and is certainly a case of evolution rather than revolution: for the most part Coldplay still sound unmistakeably like Coldplay.

They seem more self-confident though, as if have acknowledged to themselves that yes, they do want to entertain the largest number of people possible, and that actually, that’s ok. Radiohead, it should be remembered, from a similar position, drew a rather different conclusion. Coldplay are good with melody, and there are melodies aplenty on this album: “Viva La Vida”, “Violet Hill”, “Lost”, “Cemeteries of London”, “Lovers in Japan”… the lyrics might still be a touch woolly, but the tunes are huge and compelling, and with “Strawberry Swing”, the band even show a little bit of unexpected African swing.

They’ve been roundly criticised for their new stage costumes of course (they are a much criticised band), but this is a band trying to escape themselves, even by a little bit at a time. Those uniforms have enabled Chris Martin to escape from his long-sleeve t-shirts, jeans and from the slogans scrawled on his hand… all previously a key part of the band’s identity. They’re not a cool band, of course, but they’re striving to get better and I think they’re worth sticking with.

Key Track - Viva La Vida

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