Monday, December 29, 2008

the humans are dead

Top 10 Albums of 2008

3. Flight of the Conchords - Flight of the Conchords (Swiss Toni)

Yes, this is a comedy record. It’s a really, really funny record. But you know what? That’s not what makes this one of my favourite albums of the year, and probably the single album that has given me the most listening pleasure over the last twelve months. The thing that has enabled me to listen to this album over and over again is the plain fact that the songs on here, funny as they are, are also proper songs.

The Mighty Boosh clearly fancy themselves as a band, but a song like “I Did A Shit On Your Mum” only really works in the context of the episode in which Vince tries to become a punk. The beauty of Flight of the Conchords, is that the songs work in their own right.

In case you aren’t familiar with their work, Flight of the Conchords are an imaginary band and the stars of an eponymous TV series which sees them struggling to make it in New York. In their heads, they are genre-spanning geniuses, but the sad reality is they are formerly New Zealand's fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo, and they’re rubbish. And now this imaginary band have put out an actual record, and I’m not entirely sure whether they’re trying to be the band that’s in their heads or the band that they actually are, and I’m not sure that it actually matters.

I’m not sure I can do the songs any justice at all by attempting to describe them: some are parodies, some are pastiches, some are simply daft…. Almost all are superb. How could you not love a song like “Robots”, which features a binary solo (0000001 00000011 000000111)? Or a tribute to “The Most Beautiful Girl (in the room)” that includes the lines "You're so beautiful, you could be an air hostess in the’re so beautiful, you could be a part-time model…but you'd probably have to keep your normal job." Or a song like “Business Time” that inadvertently celebrates hopeless, once-weekly sex with a long-term partner. Hmm. Like most good jokes, it they seem to pale in the retelling, but do yourself a favour and give the album a go, even if you’ve never watched the TV show. Which you should, incidentally.

Key Track - Robots

3. Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends - Coldplay (LB)

OK, so I am a Coldplay fan. Whilst that might have ensured their fourth album made it onto my shortlist it doesn’t automatically follow that it will be one of my top three albums of the year. The reality is, however, that the Worlds Biggest Band (ish) returned with a quite superb record which would deserve its place in this list in any year.

Viva La Vida... ended up being one of those rare albums which I simply couldn’t take off my stereo for a few weeks. Most albums get a couple of spins and then go into the iPod morass with everything else to be plucked out at a later date. Viva la Vida..., though, accompanied me in the house, in the car and on the bus to the office for a month or so.

It’s difficult to pick particular highlights as everything here is great. The opening instrumental Life in Technicolor sounded like the best song ever crying out for some lyrics, until the “sequel” appeared on the Prospekt’s March EP and blew the original away. I love 42 and Lovers in Japan but it is the title track itself that bestrides the rest of this album. The band’s first UK number one single, Viva la Vida succeeded where other Coldplay tracks have failed not only by its uplifting, anthemic melody but also by Martin’s brilliant lyrics, something that has not always been in evidence on their previous releases. Destined to be a modern classic (and already being used at sports events and the like in its instrumental form) Viva la Vida is worth the price of the album in itself and provides a magnificent centrepiece for this record. Whilst lead single Violet Hill is, oddly, the creative low point on the album, it recovers through the gentle Strawberry Swing to a climax with the pretty Death And All His Friends.

Rather than dilute the quality of Viva la Vida, I also found that the later Prospekt’s March EP actually enhanced the overall collection (with the exception of Jay-Z’s rather unnecessary contribution to Lost, perhaps). Between them it is difficult to find a better collection of songs in 2008 and only the fact that it was a truly exceptional year of releases prevents this comfortably being my favourite album of 2008.

Favourite track - Viva la Vida

3. Only By The Night - Kings of Leon (Bedshaped)

First came Sex On Fire. So soon after their last great album and they already have an undeniably great song? How can this be? Well, it just is. Some bands struggle for years and put out some turkeys in between, but not, it seems, these guys. And the rest of the album is just as good. It’s always nice to have albums where you’re never tempted to skip the filler track, simply because there aren’t any.

Good old fashioned rock and roll. Dirty sounding guitars, heavy drums and Caleb’s throaty voice are all you need here. And the catalyst to it all lies within the songs. They’re all good. It’s a simple as that. From opener Closer, with it’s haunting guitar and hypnotic drumming, you get a good feeling for what’s about to follow. By halfway through it, you’re already convinced this is going to be a really good album. And it is.

Punchy guitar riffs that make you wanna join the local air guitar group and catchy choruses that even the tone deaf can howl along to. What more could you want?

Favourite track - Closer

1 Discussions:

Blogger swisslet said...

given what I've already said about the band and about this album in particular, I won't comment on Coldplay except to say that I agree almost entirely (and to no ones great surprise on this subject) with LB.

As for the Kings of Leon, it feels a bit weird not having them on my list, as this is clearly a pretty good album and was certainly on my shortlist. The more I thought about it though, the more I realised that, although this is a decent album, in my opinion, this is the first album in their career where the band haven't made a creative stride forwards. Alright, the first and second albums are probably my favourite, but I could see the band advancing with their last record. This one though, I'm not sure. "Crawl" is a brilliant song and would have been at home on any of their records, but the rest is good but not great, in my opinion. Even "Sex on Fire", which has clearly been hugely successful, sounds a bit not-quite-right to me, falling between the two stalls of their traditional bluesy-southern rock sound and a more obviously commercial feel. It's not a bad record, by any means, but for me it doesn't hit me the way that some of their older stuff has. It's probably in my top 15 of the year, but it doesn't make my top 10.

...and a comedy record does.

Go figure.

(KoL are a great live band though, incidentally)


8:21 PM  

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