Sunday, 1 February 2009

THE BLUE IN THE AIR 2008 ALBUMS: NUMBERS 20-11




20. MARIAH CAREY: E=MC2

From the chained girl who sings like a diamond ring everyone wants but no one can afford, we go into the pink-purple ticklish ease of a woman who has liberated herself and is able to do and say what she pleases; is there anyone as famous and as changed as La Carey? She KNOWS she's fly and IS the crazy chick Charlotte Church once proclaimed herself to be; she is a diva who is cosy with the term, so cosy she doesn't even use it seriously (not is she all that fussed about #1 singles: Sir C Richard, take note). Emancipation on the personal level IS political; Carey is as free as she can be, as sensual as she likes to be and has gotten that gilded cage out of her system at last.

19. T-PAIN: Thr33 Ringz

No, he can't believe it either, that he's floating in waters not unknown by the Style Council - how "Long Hot Summer" and then "Can't Believe It," especially the Timberlake remix of the latter, and doubt us - but he's intent on being the highest common denominator of fun threading this tale together. Kanye (warming up for his meltdown), Weezy, Mary, Luda and (on the thundering "Karaoke") the human megaphone that is DJ Khaled - they all drop by to offer a cup of punctumised sugar and he stirs it up in brews colourful for any year, let alone this exceptionally colourful one.

18. DAMON ALBARN: Monkey: Journey To The West

Colour, it was all about colour, and legends, and tales of wit and redemption, J-Pop fissuring with Carla B(ley/runi, you take your choice) and what in many others should have been learned from the sunshine of the early eighties; the unleashing of primary-coloured rays of hope to counteract the loved grey of the London he lamented (and praised, and kissed) last year, a scope which none of his alleged peers would even have dreamed of matching; Damon can be anything - including, just maybe, a second Escalator - because he doesn't forget that the sun has to rise in the East for any Westward journey to be perceptible, and felt.

17. LOS CAMPENSINOS!: Hold On Now, Youngster…

Like an expected echo, this was a journey to the West and the East, from the only British collective to understand Broken Social Scene. They are Welsh but harbour no ambition to reload spent crooners; instead, they attracted Mr Neufeld to produce them, became the honorary (non-) Canadian act on Arts & Crafts, and grasped that great songs sail and stumble and reassemble just as life is lived; the mess as thing, as LOVE, in itself. You, me, dancing - what else is needed for the recipe of redeeming art? With music and spirit of this quality, we forgot to miss independent.

16. NE-YO: Year Of The Gentleman

One of the most charming moments of a certain hip hop DJ's show - or one of the most poignant, depending on how much you care about said DJ - was hearing Ne-Yo attempting to school a man decades older than him in the fine and timeless art of finding the right woman, or, as the DJ puts it, a "hot chick," in the club. The DJ, being English, considers himself to be, I am sure, a gentleman, but Mr Smith is the real thing; polite, suave, kind, and would he EVER call himself "Shoe Hefner"? We doubt it. And for those of you wondering who should be MJ's next big songwriter...here he is; the same strut, the same beats and New Pop-friendliness (a-ha and the seemingly ubiquitous Human League who form the hidden river in this list). The Gentleman is yours in lush harmonies and courtly deeds, and admires that certain something about you. What is it...is it...

15. GIRL TALK: Feed The Animals

TOTAL FUCKING GENIUS!

14. SCOOTER: Jumping All Over The World

Ah, THAT'S it! Music which feeds itself from that same river but puts in a good deal of metallic roughage to boot; not to oppose, you understand, but all the better to elevate. Here's a 1982 world where Status Quo's 1982 is of equal importance to Architecture And Morality, and few debut number one albums were so richly deserved, particularly since most of the Great and the Good preferred to look the other way - to give Scooter the Elbow, so to speak - and pretend that it wasn't happening. But it was; dictionary definitions gave way to bouncing under orders, wonderful Mars and the question being - what is the question? And if that weren't enough you got a Radio Tip Top bonus greatest hits CD with 20 dynamic hits of tungsten history which linked the Shadows to Stump and didn't even stop at Shut Up And Dance. The moral? TV On The Radio will get you nowhere, he's HP! THIS time was love.

13. DANITY KANE: Welcome To The Dollhouse

The highest-placed girl group on this list and you know what? You can actually HEAR all five of them – in the front, on the side, behind this or that beat or moment – yes, five individual women celebrating and lamenting what girl groups always celebrate and lament; love, ecstasy, loss, desire and sass. These women are vocally in control (even if they have been reduced to a trio now – no girl group is immune to diva problems, alas) and not even Rick Ross can slow down their handclaps, harmonies and heavenly skills that are sensual, bold and ballerina-en-pointe. They drive the sleek shiny yellow car through the city, privileged and “bad,” while they wonder if these designer labels can mend their hearts. They drive into the country for fresh air, free of their bad boys…for now…

=12. BON IVER: For Emma, Forever Ago
=12. VAMPIRE WEEKEND: Vampire Weekend

As you may have noticed, this blog is now a collaborative affair, a coupling, and the most natural coupling either of us could ever have hoped for. The list you are reading was compiled by both of us; every album on the list – and many others which we weren’t able to include on the list – was carefully listened to by both of us and the final order of the list was agreed by both of us (the comments were similarly composed by both of us in tandem but we trust that readers will be able to discern who wrote what). The numbering and ordering are quite deliberate; you may recall that in the early days of the British singles chart, jointly held positions were things in themselves, independent of mathematics but thoroughly faithful to logic.

Here, therefore, is a top twelve in precise keeping with the top twelve as it stood in the week ending 14 November 1952; not two different or parallel top twelves, but a dozen couplings, sets of pairs of records which seem to fit together and advance the tale this list has been attempting to tell. It is not a list as the Village Voice or Rocktimists would know it, nor is it an attempt at establishing a new order, although its new order (not the mention the secret rivulet of New Order which flows all the way through it) would be an apt soundtrack to the new order which has been established while we have been compiling it.

First, the meeting of two seemingly opposing ways of recording music; we have the lonely stoner (likely to be a central figure in 2009’s tale, and not that distantly related to the Worried Man as Robbie Robertson and Greil Marcus would have known him), the sober jiltee – that is, if this Emma ever knew – retreating to his cabin, or somebody’s cabin, on the periphery of nowhere, structuring his life and art anew; it might even be Aidan Moffat’s worried awakener in the bus stop, considering where and how he might eventually end up. He caresses, he pierces (like John Martyn, undervalued even after life, did), and somehow he weavevs these bumps, flickers and querulous clicks into – what? A trapdoor, or an escape hatch? He is alone; his voice and instrumentation stop just temptingly short of natural but you can feel that he’s trying to escape the drawing and relocate himself. And you have no doubt that he will.

Meanwhile, in the city (Manhattan to be precise, with local cold and distraction found just to the east and north on Cape Cod) we have the basic building blocks of music – almost like the courses themselves leapt out of their curriculum – the classical Western and the even more classic African merge and take over the campus. Rock’s African roots made explicit…yes. But there is more to the Vamps than passing courses, SPY magazine typography and a general prepitude (if it’s not a word, well now it is) of language. No matter what, there is a Pavementesque air to their concerns, as if they are the sophisticated-enough former townies who see the vanity fair and cosmopolitan METROPOLITAN happenings and sure enough get hopelessly caught up in them (as if they were all Nick Carraways in this less decadent Gatsby-style university world). One day they will graduate and be truly loosed upon a city that is startlingly beautiful, for many reasons: one of them being the very transience and fragility of that golden light, those all-seeing omniscient eyes capturing and framing as much as they can.

=11. NEIL DIAMOND: Home Before Dark
=11. PATTI SMITH AND KEVIN SHIELDS: The Coral Sea

“His delicate eyes saw with clarity what others did not.”

The ambition to include everything; it’s not a strictly New York thing, as anyone from Walt Whitman to Elizabeth Alexander would tell you, but it’s the truth of remembering. Like Pincher Martin, Mapplethorpe’s voyage may all have been in his mind and indeed occurred after his life, or within the final, few, ravenously resigned moments of his life, but in those seconds he saw it all, clear, and it was Patti’s duty to express and re-record them, keep recording them no matter how much it pained her to do so, alone, for the best part of twenty years.

Eventually she came to London and to her bloodier valentine – well, what kept them waiting? – and set the truth down twice, in two different years and in two separate but inviolably connected forms. The Coral Sea is a hugely significant record, so significant that it briefly seemed too huge a record for this list, that somehow it existed ABOVE this list, presiding over it, floating, praying, resolving. The placings in this list are all intended in the sense that this is the order in which they best link together to tell this tale of 2008. That this record shares eleventh position does not necessarily mean that it is not the greatest record – as a RECORD – in this list.

Its fury, its love, were unmatched in 2008; its intensity and commitment beyond question. And yet it is here to bridge the personal and the public elements of this tale, since here is an extended, rangy remembrance – those final few moments kaleidoscoped out into an elegy exceeding two hours – for the loved, the missing, the burial, the ship at sea (“Never give up on that ship!” as an old philosopher said when Patti was six), the tears, the screams but above all the exhilaration, the celebration, the refusal to drown, to die in monochrome, to get home and end that darkness. It was the Church of Patti and its resurrection was inbuilt.

It’s the hour of the day; if the sun isn’t down by now, it will be soon. A time to be wary, cautious, to make sure that what appears to be real is real and not illusion. A man drives through this light with his lady, secure in knowing that what they have is genuine, not a trompe l’oeil; they sit in comfortable silence, perhaps listening just to the approaching the night itself. They are connected to each other, in their world, in THE world. It wasn’t always like this: even two, three weeks ago he was scared – yes, scared – of opening his heart and soul up one more time to someone, because he needed them TO be opened so much; it HAD to be right, and getting it right was so rare, so important. Could he? Could he take this further than mere friendship? The golden light itself gave him the nerve, the idea, that YES this was worth it, there was no reason or need to be scared, his loneliness was unnecessary. There wasn’t any more time or energy to waste.

And so, he and she are together, her grace allowing him to give himself to her, her light showing the way, even into the darkness.

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