Sunday, December 28, 2008

you do what i like and you like it

Top 10 Albums of 2008

4. Circus - Britney Spears (bedshaped)

Lead single and album opener Womanizer caught my attention when it started to gain radio and video channel rotation. A great pop song delivered in typical Britney style, with a chorus to die for that sticks in your head like a first kiss. It’s also a good indication of what can be found on the rest of the album. Funky basslines, samples a plenty, vocal alterations, catchy choruses, neat production and mixing, the occasional ballad and lyrics that make the listener double take all add to a very listenable collection of pop songs. And that’s exactly what this album is. It’s not trying to go in any other direction.

Just how involved Britney is with the writing process is questionable, although she’s regularly quoted as saying she more involved with the lyrics than anything else. Having said that, there are a few songs on here that fall out of the usual boy meets girls/love song criteria of typical pop songs and we get treated to yet another take on her relationship with the paparatzi, her relationship with her children and that photographer guy, her perceptions of how the public see her and a few brief but clever uses of word play; particularly on If U See Amy..If those words haven’t come from Britney, then you gotta take your hat off to the person who writes out her life so well.

Some of swankiest writers and producers around have been rounded up on this album, and there’s no mistaking it either. It all sounds very polished, almost too polished at times. There’s plenty of sampling and keyboard trickery afoot here too, so koudos to the guys twiddling the knobs. Britney sounds like Britney. She swoons, breathes, sighs, grunts, purrs and stutters through all the songs, sometimes with the help of keyboards, sometimes so over-layered that she’s in danger of stepping on Gwen Stefani’s toes.

There’s plenty of potential singles on here, if in this day and age that’s still a factor. It’s choc-a-block with songs the likes of The Pussycat Dolls, Madonna et al would probably perform public oral sex for. The album that Blackout should have been and the album Madonna wishes she’d made.

Favourite track - Mannequin

4. Workout Holiday - White Denim (Swiss Toni)

You can intellectualise music all you like, but once in a while a band comes along that hits you right in the guts and helps you to remember that music often works on an almost primal level. “Workout Holiday” is one of those albums, and White Denim are one of those bands. They caused a bit of a buzz at SXSW, but they didn’t hit my radar until some friends came back from the Park Stage raving about them (and their drummer in particular) at Glastonbury. I had gone to go and watch Tony Benn on the Leftfield stage, and he was as great as he always is, but I was determined to check out this band for myself at the first possible opportunity.

As it turns out, I didn’t have to wait long, and was able to see them a few weeks later at the Social in Nottingham. They were brilliant. The record is good, but they sounded even better live, taking their cues from each other and improvising freely, led by their sensational drummer, Joshua Block. On record, the band are a little less of a glorious mess, but not by much. The album kicks off with “Let’s Talk About It”, rips through quality songs like “Mess Your Hair Up”, “All You Really Have To Do” and “Look That Way At It” and doesn’t let the listener go until “IEIEI”. It’s barely 40 minutes long, but it’s the sound of a garage band captured in their prime. Thrilling… but seriously, go and see them live.

Key Track - Let’s Talk About It

4. Home Before Dark - Neil Diamond (LB)

Here’s a surprise entry of ever there was one. I have always had a soft spot for Neil Diamond, but only in a “I have a Greatest Hits CD and like some of it” sort of a way. I can’t say I have ever been tempted to buy an album of his, and wasn’t even tempted by this one when it went to number One on the UK album charts.

I then started reading some reviews of it which said, shock horror, that it was actually “quite good”. I then saw he was going to be playing the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury and so took a chance with Home Before Dark as I figured he’d include some of that material in his setlist.
It turned out to be a great decision. It would be easy to make a case for this album on a slightly ill-informed “well, he’s a legend, innit” sort of basis but the truth of the matter is that this is a very, very good album. Diamond’s abilities as a songwriter sometimes get buried amongst the slight Las Vegas naffness of his earlier career but this record proves that he really is a top drawer writer. There isn’t a bad song amongst this collection, and songs like The Power Of Two, If I Don’t See You Again and Pretty Amazing Grace are the equal of any of those recognisable songs of the 1970s.

I have no real affiliation with Diamond and this record is not here as some sort of tribute or eulogy. It’s here because it is very simply one of the best records I have bought in the last twelve months and I am as surprised as anyone that it is as brilliant as it is. Nothing in 2008 has been a finer accompaniment to a late, quiet evening than Home Before Dark and I can’t praise it highly enough.

Favourite track - The Power Of Two

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