26 April 2006

All the muse that's print to fit.

MOJO, that voluminous and prodigiously priced magazine for the out-of-touch old wrinkly discerning music fan, has just reached its 150th issue. In addition to a great little piece about Elvis by Robert Gordon, and interviews with Chrissie Moore and Christy Hynde (shurely shome mishtake?), the latest Mojomag also features a list of "100 modern classics" (it says here) - albums of distinction that have come out in the years since the mag itself started out in 1993. For those without the mag, the list is up at rateyourmusic so you can see the countdown for yourself.

It's an interesting selection. The usual names turn up, your Becks and your Dylans and your Radioheads and your PeeJay Harveys. Siochfraidh Ó Buachalla's wonderful album Grace is up there at a very deserving #1. It's also a relief to see Michael Head (of Shack)'s solo album The Magical World Of The Strands getting in there, a classic record that more people should hear. (Maybe now it won't be so hard to find...) Mucho fabulatto also to see Solomon Burke's comeback album getting in. And (sigh) I suppose they had to put the dire and passionless twaddle that is Caldploy in there somewhere (like at the very end, ha ha).

Yes, another list at Mojo... but this is kind of interesting. Simply because it only includes albums that have come out since October '93, so a lot of otherwise quite obvious albums of the 'nineties didn't make it. No Loveless, then, no Nevermind, no Use Your Illusion and no Screamadelica either, for instance.

Anyway, (moving swiftly along from the fact that I own all but 20 of the albums on the list), here are five personal favourites of mine (plus one that got away) from that timeframe that Mojo left out...

Alpha - ComeFromHeaven
Okay, Mojo didn't forget Massive Attack. Or Portishead. Or Tricky, bless him. But what about this lot? Alpha signed to Massive's Melankolik label and brought out this beauty. Apart from the technology involved (sampling and beats) there are few points of reference in common with their above-named compadres. This doesn't sound like an 'electronic' album at all. It's full of strings, lush musical settings, well-placed live playing and evocative, elemental sounds. The voices of Martin Barnard and Wendy Stubbs weave around each other, circling like wary lovers. SometimeLater is absolutely heartbreaking. The first time I heard this record I had to play it over and over, just to find out what was going on, what it was that moved the spirit so. I still don't know, but this is a record it's impossible to get sick of. Put it on when it's raining, open all the windows and breathe deeply. The linked review says that this is the sort of album that "Jay Gatsby could get into". That's fair enough.

Richard Davies - Telegraph
I don't know much about Davies, except that he used to be in a band called the Moles and he's an Australian singer-songwriter based in the USA. The songs on this album are very hard to compare to anything else. In places you might think of a more restrained Robyn Hitchcock or a more together Syd Barrett but... no. Davies puts together songs that are unique and call up images and feelings that are impossible to pin down. Excellent, economical backing underpins these oddball vignettes of everyday (and not-so-everyday) life. Telegraph seems to call up a curiosity and "sense of puzzlement" that I thought had gone missing from music. Good thing I was wrong.

Gorky's Zygotic Mynci - Barafundle
Imagine some pretty piano and falsetto singing. Then imagine some tough metal riffing. Then think of the Beach Boys. If the Beach Boys sang in Welsh. (Put Super Furry Animals right out of your mind.) Then think spanish guitars and violas and crumhorns (played by the singer's dad). Then think of something else altogether, and chances are that the Gorky boys (and girl) will come up with it sooner or later. But whatever about the dizzying eclecticism of this record, it's full of great moods, fine moments and a host of little suprises. Patio Song and Better Rooms are quite wonderful. So is the Tolkien pisstake The Wizard And The Lizard. Gorky's earlier stuff was very much an acquired taste, their later stuff remains solid and listenable but I guess we've grown used to their singular slant on things. Here they sound like The Band or the Waterboys one minute, Kevin Ayers, Robert Wyatt or even Gentle Giant the next. Overall, you can't but think of a bunch of punked-out pixies who have discovered a moog synthesizer under a fairy mound. Brilliant.

The Posies - Amazing Disgrace
The Posies album before this, Frosting On The Beater, was their major-label debut; it was full of fine tunes but suffered a bit from generic production that tried to make the band sound like a cross between Sonic Youth and Crazy Horse, with pretty harmonies on top. Nuh-uh. Here the band rock harder but keep the melody and those trademark harmonies, and there's plenty of dark humour on show (as opposed to the eye-rolling adolescent anomie that used to pass for "irony" in the 90s"). Plus the writing is noticeably stronger. Frosting was a fine record, but here they sound like they mean it. And yes, one was rather pleased that when the reformed Posies played down the Róisín last year, they featured quite a few numbers off this album.

Saint Etienne - Tiger Bay
The first words you hear on this album are: "Milan, when I was a kitten / We'd sit and sing old songs"... This record isn't entirely unlike the Alpha album in a lot of ways, in conception if not sound. There's that same breathy, romantic quality, but with a sort of wry humour too. I would have nominated the one before this, So Tough, except it came out before the first Mojo, but this is as good a place as any to start. Saint Etienne draw their influences from all over the place, from classic sixties pop through cutting-edge electronica to modern-day Eurocheese, and here they stretch out a bit and get in touch with their acoustic side. Tiger Bay is full of lovely touches of spanish guitar and strings, and singer Sara Cracknell is in fine voice, duetting with Stephen Duffy of the Lilac Time on an excellent treatment of the old standard Western Wind that manages to fuse dub, orchestral music and folk. Elsewhere, the pretty pop vibe is never buried in tweeness, and always tempered with a bit of wit. This record is sandwiches and cider on a sunny day, with true love just around the corner...

Oh, and it's a pity that Giant Steps by Merseyside's Boo Radleys doesn't quite qualify - because it came out a couple of months before the first Mojo - but it's a little classic, well worth searching out. Probably the most ambitious record to come out of the later indie era, barring perhaps the aforementioned Loveless. There's a bit of everything here, from dub reggae through free jazz and shoegazing fuzz to just plain old pop music. Best Lose The Fear is awesome, Lazarus even more so. The gently louche Thinking Of Ways sounds like Smile-era Beach Boys after a trip to the pub. Butterfly McQueen is a beautifully realised three-minute mini-opera that wouldn't sound out of place next to Pete Townshend or Ray Davies' finer moments. Listening to Giant Steps is like being a kid in a musical candy store, there's so much going on it's hard to know where to start. Plus, there's a bit of cheeky Merseybeat on the closer, What's That Noise, which could have come off the Yellow Submarine soundtrack or a Paul McCartney b-side.

No comments:

Post a Comment