And now in an entirely, inexcusably self-indulgent excursion into the sonic realm, here’s some music The Bemolution listened to and liked in 2014.
Customarily, when you come across these ‘best-of-the-year’-type collections in music publications and the Guardian they only concern themselves with records put out in the last twelve months, as you’d expect. To turn the solipsism dial up to eleven, we’re just going to bang on about stuff that happened to cross the Bemolutionary turntable between the 1st of January 2014 and now, regardless of when they were made.
And off we go.
We’d long-since pronounced quality pop music dead as a door-nail, but this year we stumbled across quite a bit of it – hooked after catching their beguiling, excellently-humoured turn at the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival earlier this year, The Bemolution whiled away a fair slice of Autumn listening the lead single from Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott’s What Have We Become on repeat. Wry and spiky, “Moulding Of A Fool” is a three minute gallop through blink-and-you’ll-miss-them vignettes about dumb consumerism, youthful indoctrination and life’s fleeting insignificance. Subtract one gnashing guitar break – misplaced, in our meaningless opinion at least – and you’ve got a perfect pop single.
Texas-born Annie Clark, writing and recording as the misleadingly ecclesiastical-sounding St Vincent, was a more recent revelation. Funny, articulate and unashamedly strange, Clark makes for a fascinating interviewee, as various YouTube videos attest – but she’s also an out-there guitarist in the mould of a J.C Macsis or a Thurston Moore, and a song-writing alchemist somehow able to build gorgeous, irresistible pop out of odd bits of noise-rock, jazz, funk and electronica. “Birth In Reverse” from this year’s St Vincent wins lyric of the year with “Oh what an ordinary day, take out the garbage, masturbate”. And we can’t choose between lush and woozy “Prince Johnny” and the trumpet-led strut of “Digital Witness”, which takes lyrical aim at the narcissism of social media society – so have both.
In March, beloved flamenco god Paco de Lucia, one of our very favourite artists, tragically kicked the bucket years too soon. As a rubbish memorial, we’ve been pumping out tons of his music ever since. We’ll probably keep doing so well into 2015. Here he is completely solo, showing what he could do. Watch from the start to see a solo spot by another of our 2014 favourites, Yorkshire-born guitar wiz John McLaughlin.
… Or just listen to this from McLaughlin-fronted Shakti, which combined jazz fusion with Indian music styles to mesmerising effect.
Watch Moloko live, and you’ll realise why they were one of the most profoundly annoying acts in the history of popular music. In 2014, though, we got hooked on this slither of icy electro-pop by its former front-lady, the rather enigmatic Roisin Murphy.
The Bemolution had long since abandoned hope of granite-chinned mope king Steven Patrick Morrissey ever turning out anything all that special again. After the splendour of The Smiths faded into the wry-lyricked but leaden-sounding MOR of Moz’s solo career, the once-reliable flow of stunning, funny, poignant tracks slowed to an intermittent drip. Early on, there were still some fabulous songs (Last of The Famous International Playboys, November Spawned A Monster, National Front Disco etc) – but far fewer than there used to be when non-lyrical duties were being handled by one Johnny Marr. Then, left permanently scarred by an acrimonious mid-90s court case – Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce, Smiths bassist and drummer, sued him and Marr over royalties – he settled down to a decade-plus of cranking out albums about how horrible it was being Morrissey.
But 2014’s World Peace Is None of Your Business was startlingly good. Still too long, still too many tracks, still too often unpleasantly bitter in tone – but good. Musically, it was his strongest in decades, perhaps of his whole post-Smiths career – take a bow multi-instrumentalist Gustavo Manzur, who’s brought much-needed finesse to Morrissey’s bludgeoning unsubtle backing band. Lyrically, at times, he sounded like he’d taken several leaves out of (Moz fanatic) Russell Brand’s book – “The rich much profit and get richer, and the poor must stay poor”, he croons on the title track, later declaring that “each time you vote, you support the process”. Before left-wing Morrissey acolytes get too excited, it’s worth remembering their idol’s history of erratic political pronouncements, culminating earlier in this year with – considering his militant vegetarianism – a woefully ill-informed endorsement for bloodsports fan Nigel Farage. Here’s our favourite of the new songs – ‘Istanbul’.
Mike Keneally was the last of Frank Zappa’s pet stunt guitarists – the nimble-fingered proteges hired to play their paymaster’s most complex compositions while on tour, freeing up Zappa himself to participate in much crowd-pleasing on-stage mucking about. In the years since Frank’s untimely demise, Keneally has gone on to become one of the most fiercely protective chroniclers of Zappa’s life and work – and, more pertinently, a highly original solo artist in his own right, mixing Radiohead-style alt-rock with the warp-speed guitar theatrics of Vai and Satriani. In 2014, though, we went bananas for a mellow pop song about leaders of the Roman Catholic Church.
Speaking of Zappa, by now it’s exceptionally rare of us to find something of his we’d never heard before – luckily, ‘Duke of Prunes’ was one of the nicest instrumental tracks he ever put out.
Another of the many fabulous musical discoveries we made this year, the astonishing but upsettingly obscure (and dead) US guitarist Sonny Sharrock was a luminary of the first wave of free jazz, eventually careening off into hair-raising avant-garde. Avant-garde guitar usually means either the shapeless rambling of a Derek Bailey, or Glenn Branca-style walls of noise. Sharrock somehow managed to mix the manic with the melodiously beautiful. From standout album Ask The Ages, (1991, just three years before his untimely death), compare the screeching intensity of ‘As We Used To Sing’ with the stately serenity of ‘Once Upon A Time’.
We hated Tubular Bells before we’d ever even heard it, because it was supposed to represent the pretentious nadir of mirthlessly self-regarding prog rock. When we actually sat down and listened to it, we could take or leave the Steve Reich-style signature motif that everybody knows, but loved the hushed, delicate melodies that unfurl during the piece’s quieter moments. We always turn it off before the pompous announcer bit starts, mind.
Probably the Bemolution’s most listened-to track of 2014 – Lodgers, by the Style Council. It’s unspeakably grim that political protest music written in 1985 is even more relevant now than it was then. “Only room for those the same/those who play the leeches’ game” might as well be the Tory Party motto. Funky, too.
Hot on Weller’s heels, the second most-sounded piece of 2015 was by ex-Japan singer and world’s most pretentious man David Sylvian – an acoustic rendering of one of his former band’s biggest hits, ‘Ghosts’.
“Lick my legs, I’m on fire” shrieked PJ Harvey, repeatedly, all summer, out of the Bemolutionary boom box. We went gaga for the local lass for several months this year, and her 1992 debut Dry was quickly catapulted into our list of treasured favourite albums. Here she is live.
For about five minutes, we went banjo crazy thanks to four-stringed virtuoso Bela Fleck. Enjoy Chick Corea’s ‘Spain’ as you’re very unlikely to have heard it before.
And to end, outsider hero Richard O’Brien singing his own ‘Science Fiction, Double Feature’ from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Merry New Year, leftist miscreants and music fans alike.