Tuesday, December 30, 2008

you're moving with such irresistible speed

Top 10 Albums of 2008

2. Perfect Symmetry - Keane (LB)

Following the in-fighting and tension that underscored the trio’s last release – 2006’s Under The Iron Sea – it is something of a miracle that Perfect Symmetry ever saw the light of day. After Tom Chaplin’s well-publicised stint in rehab and the barely disguised resentment that manifested itself in the lyrics of their previous release it took the threesome to retreat to the German capital Berlin to come up with a record that, to their great credit, tries to push the boundaries of their simple piano-led sound.

Reaction to their download-only teaser, Spiralling, was mixed. Sounding like it had been plucked directly from one of the early Now.... albums (circa 1984) I couldn’t decide for weeks whether I loved it or hated it, and only with multiple listens have I come to the conclusion that it’s an OK record (it could certainly do without the silly “do you wanna be an icon?” posturing in the middle, mind.)

The rest of Perfect Symmetry is cut from the same cloth. With influences from Talking Heads to David Bowie (Better Than This sounds like the backing track was lifted directly from a Bowie record) Keane have managed to successfully combine their emotionally direct lyrics with a sound that can be described as a sort of “modern Eighties”. There are moments which are classic Keane (the beautiful ballad You Don’t See Me and closing track Love Is The End) and moments where I am not entirely sure what they were trying to do (You Haven’t Told Me Anything is possibly the weakest song they have ever recorded).

It’s an interesting record, and rather than the likes of Snow Patrol and Razorlight who both basically threw out “more of the same” in 2008, Keane have tried to build on their sound and develop it in a new direction. Nowhere is this better evidenced by the sweeping U2-esque title track Perfect Symmetry which is (by the bands admission) the most ambitious song they have written. I also love the driving Somewhere Only We Know-ish single The Lovers Are Losing which was the absolute highlight of their recent Q awards performance.

It’s not a perfect record by any means. The polished 80s production fails to make the most of Chaplin’s vocals – one of Keane’s most important qualities – and so the songs here lend themselves much better to a live performance. It’s also less populist and so whilst some will embrace the new direction they have taken, the absence of the simple piano-chugging pop of Hopes and Fears will alienate many.

Perfect Symmetry is a great album and has meant that Keane retain their place as my favourite band of the 21st century. In bygone years I’d probably have lazily made it my #1 album of the year (simply because it was Keane!) but this time round I’m afraid it just wasn’t quite good enough.

Favourite track - You Don't See Me

2. Seventh Tree - Goldfrapp (Bedshaped)

She’s got lovely vocal and she’s on my list.

Wonderful. dreamy collection of songs that sees Goldfrapp move into much older territory. Much of the disco and electronic sound previously heard by this band have been put aside in favour of a more musical, gentille and melodic sound. There’s a vast array of instruments and sounds on this album. All working their little wonder into the songs in their own lovely way. At times, it’s nothing short of magical.

Sounding like it was recorded in a shack, buried deep in a forest that nobody could ever find, a wonderful sense of contentment and peace washes through this short collection of songs. The melodies created on such a variety of instruments make the listening experience much more enjoyable. And of course there’s Allison’s lovely voice, which I think is criminally underrated.

Even though each song stands up on its own, the collection is most pleasing when listened to in full. There’s a satisfying feeling waiting for everybody when the last track, Monster Love plays out. That final track evokes a feeling of bringing everything else together.

It’s a brave album for them to put out and judging by how quickly people stopped talking about them, perhaps it backfired. A definite shift that saw them drop the glam and handbag dancing days, moving into a much more mellow and sometimes melancholy mood, resulting in a collection of wonderfully constructed songs that stroke at the listener’s ear when those strings come in....or when those bells chime....or when that oboe moans....or when Alisson’s voice seduces.

Favourite track - Cologne Cerrone Houdini

2. The Seldom Seen Kid – Elbow (Swiss Toni)

Elbow have been producing fantastic records quietly and without any great fuss or fanfare since 2001. Like a fine wine, they have been slowly improving with age, although I don’t really think that “The Seldom Seen Kid” is really all that much better than 2005s “Leaders of the Free World”. For some reason though, 2008 was the year that the great British public fell in love with one of Britain’s most accomplished bands, and it was also a year when their commercial success finally started to match their critical appreciation. The album won the Mercury Music Prize, but the momentum was behind them long before that and songs like “Grounds for Divorce” and “One Day Like This” really sank into the public consciousness and were being used to soundtrack everything from Euro 2008 through to rallying on Dave.

Guy Garvey highlights the moment that he realised how perfectly everything was going as being their sundown slot on the Other Stage at Glastonbury, when he looked out and saw a sea of faces all singing his songs back to him. I was there, and it was a magical, intimate moment shared by the band with about 100,000 people and a TV audience of several million. The bottom-line here is that “The Seldom Seen Kid” is a marvellous album. Elbow grew up together and have been playing as a band for some eighteen years. They are a proper, tightly knit unit and this shows in both their live show and in their recorded output. Guy Garvey has a lovely, expressive voice and a poet’s way with words, and the band, produced by keyboard player Craig Potter, know just how to bring the best out of him.

Right from the swelling surge of “Starlings” all the way through to the lovely “Friend of Ours” (and bonus track “We’re Away”), this album is a slow-burner and a real grower, seeming to get better and deeper with every play. “Bones of You” and “Mirrorball” are gorgeous, shimmering love songs, “Grounds For Divorce” features the biggest, dirtiest riff of the year, “The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver”, “The Fix”, “One Day Like This”…. It’s just a fantastic album from start to finish.

It’s not the biggest or most famous song on the album, but Elbow’s appeal is summed up for me in the opening lines to “Friend of Ours”, a song dedicated to Bryan Glancy, the seldom seen kid of the album’s title:

“Before leaving get to the bar
No one round here makes you pay
Never very good at goodbyes
So gentle shoulder charge
Love you mate”

What other band has captured the nature of the love between two blokes better than that?

Key Track - The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver

2 Discussions:

Blogger swisslet said...

I need to give that Keane album another listen - "Spiralling" has really grown on me over the last few months, and I think I perhaps need to revisit the opinion I formed on my first listen that the band had produced the record so much that all the songs - and more importantly, as you say, all the vocals - so that they sounded pretty much the same all the way through. After a while I started to get annoyed that Chaplain's voice, such a powerful instrument, was completely flat and even from one song to the next. I'll give it another change.

As for Goldfrapp - well, unlucky not to make my top ten, as it happens. I think this is a lovely album, and A&E is one of my songs of the year.

I'm very much enjoying this list, incidentally, and I'm loving that we've only had 1 record in common so far, and I've already gone out and bought the Santogold album on the basis of a recommendation here.

Good stuff chaps!


10:32 AM  
Blogger swisslet said...

(special thanks to LB for doing all of the really hard work and posting the damn things up with pictures and stuff)

10:33 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home