Posted by: Nick Walters | December 14, 2008

Albums of 2008

I realise that, because I don’t download, and I regularly by CD albums, I am part of a dying breed. But bollocks to that, CDs sound better than MP3s and I have yet to be even slightly convinced otherwise. Even buying CDs seems somehow like a betrayal to me, as vinyl sounds better than CD, if you have a decent deck (I have a Rega Planar 3).

Enough of such curmudgeonly Luddite moans! Here’s what I bought this year and what I thought of it:

Goldfrapp, Seventh Tree. Yawn. I can see what they’re trying to do – return to their earlier sound after the disco excesses of Supernature, but it’s just boring. There’s one great track, Caravan Girl, which is atypical of the album and the band, sounding more like Saint Etienne than themselves.

Duffy, Rockferry. Not usually my sort of thing at all. This isn’t a perfect album – there’s nothing on it to match the pop genius of Mercy, or the power of the title track,  and it lacks originality – but Bernard Butler is all over this and adds an indie edge to Duffy’s tunes. Needless to say her voice is astonishing. That she was not commissioned to do the Bond theme is criminal!

R.E.M., Accelerate. Everyone loves this, but it’s clearly nowhere near as good as Around The Sun, which everyone hates. Oh yes it ‘rocks’ in places and there are some good songs (Living Well, Supernatural, Hollow Man) but it’s too obviously a conscious move to return to former glories rather than a progression. R.E.M. always suck when they try to be loud – see Monster – and it only really worked on New Adventures, where they had the nous to be loud AND weird. Worst album of the year… until…

James, Hey Ma. Sorry, guys. This is dull, tuneless shite. Lucky R.E.M.! THIS is now the worst album of the year. At least the Athens boys rock – this does NOTHING.

The Fall, Imperial Wax Solvent. See review below! Another belter, better than last year’s Reformation! and FULL of top Fall pop and weirdness.

Half Man Half Biscuit, CSI: Ambleside. Not QUITE as good as Achtung Bono, this is like its rambling older brother. The music is slightly looser but Nigel’s lyrics are spot on as ever. Contains one of their best ever songs, National Shite Day.

Those Poor Bastards, The Plague and Satan is Watching. 2 albums in one year from those poor, POOR bastards Lonesome Wyatt and the Minister! The Plague is a cacophonous discordant shriek of terror envisaging a loathsome world punished by disease. It’s hard work and showcases the band’s noisier side. Satan, recorded earlier but released later, is much better, featuring more of the country/folk style which made Songs of Desperation such a classic. Lyrics are as always simultaneously grim and hilarious, and in the final track, No-One, Wyatt has crafted a song of such desperate truth and nihilism it takes the breath away.

The Wedding Present, El Rey. David Gedge, who is pushing 50, mentions text messages and jpegs on this album. Whooo! Steady on there, mate! Stick to what you know! Oh, he does: songs about women, loving them, cheating on them, lusting after them, etc etc. It’s horrible being a man and Gedge nails it. Sadly this is middling fare, despite being produced by Steve Albini, the album lacks power and punch, the songs (especially Lost the Monkey and Boo Boo) deserved better.

Beth Rowley, Little Dreamer. Like Duffy, not usually my sort of thing, but I love Oh My Life so I thought I’d take a gamble. None of the personality of Duffy or the Amy of Winehouse, this is a pleasant enough listen for a sunny summer day in the garden. I saw her live at the Harbourside Festival and her voice is amazing, this record doesn’t really do it justice.

Coldplay, Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends. Easily their best album. I can’t understand the bad reviews. It pisses all over X and Y, certainly, and despite the faux-proggery and military imagery pretensiousness, somehow comes across as LESS pompous than Rush of Blood.

Paul Weller, 22 Dreams. There are some great songs here (the title track, Shadows Round The Sun, Invisible, Why Walk When You Can Run), but OH, what a mess. The end of the album is almost unlistenable, redeemed only by the pop-tastic Sea Spray but it’s too little too late. Certainly better than the dull Illumination or the thin As Is Now, but Weller has not turned in a decent album since 2001’s Heliocentric.

Stereolab, Chemical Chords. Takes a while, but it eventually coalesces as a trimmed-down, concise, almost Motown incarnation of the ‘Lab. Best track is Daisy Click Clack, and not only because you can sing ‘jazz queens’ along with it.

Elbow, The Seldom Seen Kid. The first track is horrible – you can’t listen to it at any volume because of those bloody fanfares! But once that’s over, this becomes a solid album of dour Northern sensitive laddery welcome in this post-Beautiful South world.

Portishead, Third. Experimental only to those who have not heard their sources (e.g. Tangerine Dream, Vangelis etc), this is nonetheless a fantastic album. The beautiful misery. The Rip could be the best thing they’ve ever done (and it’s easy to play on guitar), and We Carry On sounds like The Fall circa 2006. Machine Gun is simply stunning, climaxing in a beautiful synth sequence that sounds like something out of Blade Runner. Small is a blatant early TD rip-off but no less amazing for all that, and Threads ends on the sound of a dying Martian war machine. Album of the Year were it not for The Fall.

The Ting Tings, We Started Nothing. Bought at around the same time as the Portishead album, and, it has to be said, listened to a lot more initially, I can’t help but love this. It’s dumb and clever and catchy as hell, and reminds me a bit of Brix era Fall, Toni Basil and a million other things in between. My only regret is not buying this during the summer as it would definitely have been Album of the Summer (that honour goes to Coldplay).

Cranes, Cranes. Initially – blank nothing. But what a grower! As a whole, better than Particles and Waves and certainly better than Future Songs, so maybe up there with Loved and Forever. Totally soothing chill-out winter dream pop. Best listened to whilst soaking in a bath of E45.

And that’s it, unless I manage to blag the new Pretenders one and the Late of the Pier album before the year is up.

Next year, new albums are due from Portishead (again! so soon!), Moz, Sonic Youth, Robyn Hitchcock and – I’ll believe this when I see it – Prefab Sprout…

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Responses

  1. It took me a while to get into the Portishead album, but I agree it’s superb. And of course Half Man Half Biscuit’s effort was predictably brilliant (for those not in the know, the lyrics to National Shite Day are here)

  2. May the Lord have mercy on Stringy Bob!

    I visit your site regularly, good work! Nigel should be Poet Laureate.


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