Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Wooden Finger Year in Music: Part Three


To me, the statements following Michael Jackson’s death of his impact upon pop music seemed a little overblown given that his main impact over the past fifteen years has been to fill the gossip mags and serve as the easiest of punchlines. But it may be that I’m selling Jacko short. To help answer this, I decided to refresh my memory on exactly what hits he had post-‘Dangerous’. Turns out he had only three US Top 10 hits - ‘Scream’ (with sister Janet, who was still kinda relevant at that stage), ‘You Are Not Alone’ and ‘You Rock My World’ – with only the second of those reaching #1 (for one week). In the UK he had three #1s – ‘Earth Song’, ‘You Are Not Alone’ and ‘Blood On The Dance Floor’. Internationally, ‘They Don’t Care About Us’ is really the only other song that had much of an impact. So it would seem that my initial impression that MJ had disappeared up his Neverland over this period was correct.

However, in this respect, Michael Jackson is hardly alone. Consider what his main rival of the early ‘80s – the artist who I think is currently known as Prince – has achieved over the same time. To his credit, unlike Jackson, Prince still regularly released records, but only ‘The Most Beautiful Girl in the World’ and ‘I Hate U’ could be considered hits, and they were released back in 1995. And I doubt that Prince has been making truckloads of albums-of-the-year lists during that time. So perhaps Michael Jackson’s decline is simply symptomatic of the fall in popularity that occurs with all musicians.

What about Madonna? She’s done considerably better, with ‘You’ll See’, ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’, ‘Frozen’, ‘Ray of Light’, ‘Music’, ‘Don’t Tell Me’, ‘Beautiful Stranger’, that god-awful ‘American Pie’ cover, ‘Me Against The Music’, ‘Die Another Day’, ‘American Life’, ‘Hung Up’, and ‘4 Minutes’. But Madonna is something of a phenomenon – the biggest hit-maker this side of the Beatles. Bruce Springsteen’s had basically nothing since ‘Streets of Philadelphia’ (though his albums do consistently well), Sting basically nothing since he teamed up with Bryan Adams and Rod Stewart for ‘All for Love’, and Billy Joel basically nothing since ‘The River of Dreams’. And so on. I guess you only really need to sell 100 million copies of something once in your lifetime and you’ve had an impact. RIP MJ. You still had more hits than me.


It’s hard to forget the first five or so minutes of the Flaming Lips (at Festival Hall) – the big screen with the swirling, pulsating colours and the go-go girl in silhouette, her opening her legs up wide and each of the band members emerging on to the stage, Wayne Coyne making his appearance inside his Zorb-like ‘space bubble’, kids dressed up as green frogs and pink kitty cats dancing free-form at either end, large yellow balloons being bounced around by the crowd on the floor, Coyne rolling his ‘space bubble’ across our fingertips (did he reach us?), and bash! ‘Race For The Prize’ starts up like a military march for the irretrievably demented. Earlier that day I had lifted a particularly bothersome burden from my shoulders, and watching the balloons float around made me feel as if I myself were lighter than air. Best. Entrance. Ever. The set-list that followed was pretty fab – ‘The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song’, ‘Yoshimi…’, ‘She Don’t Use Jelly’, ‘Do You Realise?’ – although I could have done without some of the Bush-bashing that went on (not that I have much sympathy for Bush, but I don’t think you should necessarily assume your whole audience agrees with you). I’m still not sure whether the Flaming Lips are simply a novelty act on an epic scale, but they packed more effort, fun and epilepsy-inducing images into their show than just about everyone else I saw put together.


5. The Horrors – Primary Colours: Sounds like it was recorded in a dark, giant tunnel in a coal mining town and all the tracks are pretty compulsive, but it drops a few spots because I actually don’t really listen to it that much.
4. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest: ‘Two Weeks’ and ‘Cheerleader’ are the perfect ‘wake-up-with-a-hangover-and-walk-down-the-street-feeling-the-cool-breeze-on-your-face’ type songs. Because, you know, you always need a couple of those…
3. Future of the Left – Travels With Myself And Another: Crunching guitars and irreverent lyrics made it a welcome antidote to all the synthetic pop going around, and that includes the next two albums on this list…
2. La Roux – La Roux: The opening few tracks grate on me a bit, but the middle part of the album – ‘Bulletproof’, ‘I’m Not Your Toy’, ‘Cover My Eyes’, ‘As If By Magic’ and ‘Fascination’ – is such a perfect encapsulation of synth-pop that they may as well retire the genre.
1. Passion Pit – Manners: Yes, I still can’t believe he sings the entire album in that falsetto and I don’t want to smash my iPod to pieces. However, it contains three tracks that are addictive-as-Wii – ‘Little Secrets’, ‘The Reeling’, and the track that never ceases to amaze me how it’s not a complete mess ‘Sleepyhead’ – and in a year without a record that towered over the world like a monolith that’s enough to get it the top spot.