[8] Manic Street Preachers, ‘Walk Me To The Bridge’

manics 2014

“DA-DA-DA-DAAA” – it’s a riff you have to sing along to. Juniors 1 and 2 sing along to the riff.

Well, this is timely, seeing as everyone’s talking about the Manic Street Preachers right now. Between you and me, I’m not sure I’ve ever listened to The Holy Bible all the way through, or at least not more than once. I was never invested in the cult of the Manics although I did buy ‘Stay Beautiful’, ‘Love’s Sweet Exile’ and ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ (and Gold Against The Soul just for the first two singles), and later ‘A Design For Life’ and ‘If You Tolerate This…’. They just didn’t speak to my politics, which were, in essence, can I dance to it? And is Staropramen on tap?

Which makes it all the more surprising to see them here, so long after even their biggest fans would admit was their peak. Except for those fans who think that terrible single with Nina Persson was any good, of course. But this is such a great, punchy single. I always did like ‘Yellow Pearl’. And the false chorus appeals to the pop anarchist in me, as does the mild is-it-isn’t-it about Richey Edwards intrigue. Nicky Wire says it isn’t and you have to trust a man in shades, don’t you?

[9] The War On Drugs, ‘Red Eyes’

war on drugs 2014

I could’ve gone with ‘Under The Pressure’, ‘Burning’, ‘An Ocean Between The Waves’ or any other Mark Kozelek-vexing slab of Springsteen-meets-Knopfler highway rock, but it was the first “Woo!” in ‘Red Eyes’ that really made me feel like I’d chanced upon something special. I was passing through Victoria Station, in a little road movie of my own. Albeit one that just involved trains.

My first exposure to Adam Granduciel was previous album Slave Ambient, although I’d actually forgotten that I’d heard it. When I put on Lost In The Dream I thought I was coming in cold and I was smacked down by how good it was. It’s a comfort blanket of sound but feels vast and spacious too, the sense of charging forth into the desert with just the right clothes on. There’s nothing worse than chasing the American dream in the wrong outfit. ‘Red Eyes’ is the album’s slamming pop song that keeps dipping down into the motorik lowlands before rocketing up again at the very limits of control.

“It’s rather boring,” says Junior.

[10] Shamir, ‘If It Wasn’t True’

shamir 2014

Each beat a little chip out of your skull, fidgety hooks, a slinky wriggly sexy vocal, all of these things make a great dance-pop record in 2014. I decided a few minutes ago that I’d call it ‘post-Disclosure’, in the sense that this has that early 90s Strictly Rhythm house kineticism but still feels ‘now’, but I think there’s some DFAism too – The Juan MacLean, Hercules & Love Affair, you know where I’m at. The insultingly young Shamir Bailey just adds another level, and considering the strength of the whole EP and the more recent ‘On The Regular’, he’s an exciting new proposition altogether.

Those hard, seductive beats get Juniors 1 and 2 robot-dancing around the kitchen table. “Awesome!” says Junior. “I’m imagining myself as a Cyberman.” Me too – even more when Shamir’s playing.

[11] Charli XCX, ‘Boom Clap’


Junior thinks this is Katy Perry, but all three of them know all the words.

And that’s Charli XCX in a nutshell. Thank you.

(Other than that, simple but hugely effective pop song – with an onomatopoeic but also self-fulfilling title/chorus that Junior appreciates (“It’s like, ‘BOOM! CLAP!'”) – sulked out by someone who doesn’t appear to play the game, hence relative lack of recognition, but who might end up at its top. Kind of startling that a blogstar’s breaking through. Come back in 2015 for a trio of No.1 singles from Jai Paul.)

[12] Jessie Ware, ‘Tough Love’


Regular readers of Jukebox Junior (generous plural there) won’t be surprised to learn that if a song sounds like it could be from the 80s then I’m likely to give it a more than fair hearing. But here’s the thing – it needs to be a good tune too. I won’t accept any old Little Boots or Metronomy crap. This has been a strong year for excellent songs that sound as if they could be from the 80s, and I’m going to stick my neck out and guess there’s more than a handful to come in this countdown. Anyway, here’s Jessie Ware.

“It’s good because it’s called Jessie and it’s a ‘where’,” says Junior 3, somewhat cryptically. Well, it’s a point of view. I think it’s “good” because it could be a splice of Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’, Sheila E’s ‘The Belle Of St Mark’ and in fact any Prince slowie of the mid-decade, and Ware maintains a stiff upper lipped poise against uncertainty, floating above the turmoil and popping beats. “I like it,” says Junior, “because it was all silent and calm.”

[13] One Direction, ‘Steal My Girl’


I don’t wanna talk
About things we’ve gone through
Though it’s hurting me
Now it’s history
I’ve played all my cards
And that’s what you’ve done too
Nothing more to say
No more ace to play

That’s what I sang the moment I heard ‘Steal My Girl’. My wife looked a bit uncomfortable.

I’ve since learned we’re supposed to think of Journey’s ‘Faithfully’ too, but, well, I’m British and we didn’t pay Journey any attention until ‘Don’t Stop Believin” was on The Sopranos. OK, I mean Glee.

The point is, ‘Steal My Girl’ sounds like other things apart from itself, which is just one of those things that pop does – you just twist it into different shapes, throw in a hands-clapping-above-the-head chorus, draw back, release, give that little tingle that makes you forgive any corniness. Whatever’s been stitched into its patchwork, ‘Steal My Girl’ is proof One Direction are making increasingly strong records, no longer content to churn out shrill will-this-do-isms that satisfy every top 10 criterion but subtly short-change the fans. I find it pretty implausible that anyone’s going around trying to spirit Harry Styles’ girlfriend away from him – unless they’re John Mayer or something – but at the same time it’s charming there’s still some vulnerability about him/them, however affected.

“You’ve been singing this at bathtime,” accuses Junior 2. She’s right. She also has a series of hand signals to describe the lyric, and she and Junior belt it out. Still, Junior herself has some reservations: “Everyone says they’re show-offs,” which is reasonable in every way. She likes it despite all that.

Last word to Junior 3, who judges it alongside the Neneh Cherry track we played earlier. “It’s a thumbs-up from me because it’s One Direction and it’s a bit more cool.” This is the world we live in.

[14] Neneh Cherry, ‘Spit Three Times’


Junior 3 says we should’ve played this at Christmas. She then sings ‘Jingle Bells’ in a vaguely similar tempo, which is odd because there’s nothing festive or jolly about ‘Spit Three Times’, a song that explicitly references the “black dog in the corner”, the manifestation of Neneh Cherry’s depression after the death of her mother. Maybe it’s just that we remember lost ones at this time of year.

Cherry seemed like a lost one for so long. This year’s fantastic Blank Project is her first pure solo album in 17 years – she’s edged in here and there, notably going jazz freakout with The Thing in 2012 – but even a little bruised it was a strong, confident record, helped along by Kieran Hebden and RocketNumberNine. One of my stellar moments of 2014 was interviewing Cherry in a pub in Kensal Rise, where she’d taken time out from a friend’s wake to talk about the new album. That’s a punishing schedule that says a lot about the demands of trying to muscle back into the public eye, but she really wanted to talk about this – something that meant a great deal to her –and even understandably distracted, she was generous and lovely company.

Junior thinks this is “good, in a slooow motion way,” which is how we all described trip-hop in the early 90s. Cherry’s woven into the fabric of all that, as Massive Attack’s babymother in the late-80s, and into the Bristol sound in all its variety as a Rip, Rig & Panic pioneer even earlier. Gareth Sager of RR&P even barged into the interview halfway through, asking to sit on my lap. Old habits die hard.

[15] David Bowie, ”Tis A Pity She Was A Whore’


Well, it appears that Bowie put out a feeler last year, a sonic reconnaissance mission to check whether anyone still gave a flying. The Next Day’s a splendid, vital (for a guy in his late 60s, come on) piece of work on its own terms – and most others – but bravura experimental Dave wasn’t really coming out to play. We had muscular, occasionally a bit damaged Dave. And he’s a good guy.

This year he’s not doing an album, just plumping up a new best of, and he’s doing that with more gnarly excursions this time around. ‘Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)’ was avant-jazz Dave, the kind of thing you find yourself protesting “but I really do like it! I’m not just saying it” about. (I really do like it! I’m not just saying it.) But ”Tis A Pity She Was A Whore’ is a nagging, hurtling, panicked, hovering thrill that – let’s face it – could’ve turned up on an album by our old pals TV On The Radio. They’ve got a mutual love-in thing going on anyway, and that’s fine with me because I’d like to be slap-bang in the middle of that sandwich. Figuratively. Sometimes not so figuratively.

So, I’m happy here. The Juniors? Absolutely not. “It wasn’t really loud or one of those rocky ones,” says Junior, as if that’s a good thing, “but it wasn’t that interesting.” Her younger sisters are even harder on it. “It hasn’t got much talking and it’s very boring,” points out Junior 2. “It’s a zero.” I think Bowie would quite like being called “a zero”. Junior 3 is more succinct: “I do not like it so thumbs-down.” He might not be so happy about that, but of course all reactions to art are equally valid.

[16] TV On The Radio, ‘Careful You’


How Brooklyn math-rock scuzz-punks TV On The Radio have smartened up their act. New album Seeds is clean, sharp and somewhat sentimental – but no worse than Desperate Youth or Return To Cookie Mountain. The signs have been there since Dear Science – where beats became more sequenced, edges were rasped away – but even when they’re metronomic, TVOTR land a punch. Particularly live, as I’ll find out again next February.

Junior 2 wants to come along as well, but her plan is to sneak into the boot of the car and spy from a distance. She says the stately, pitching and rising ‘Careful You’ is “a thumbs up from me, and it’s a 10.” Junior herself points out it’s “between middle and good,” which I guess is the kind of thing that gets you to No.16 on a good week, if not for the entire year. Eventually it grows, which is why it’s here.

[17] Ariana Grande feat. Iggy Azalea, ‘Problem’


The most alarming thing about this is Junior 2 knows all of Iggy Azalea’s rap. Second most alarming thing is that this is Iggy’s second appearance on our chart, and Junior knows this, pointing out that she’s “rapping in that other song”. I suppose when you butcher your vowels quite like that, you’re pretty unmistakable.

For the girls, Ariana Grande is fairly anonymous – and however great her voice is, however good she looks, however ubiquitous on our screens (telly or otherwise) she is, that’s Grande all the way. Star quality isn’t everyone saying you’re a star. Still, ‘Problem’ has balls and what we’re obliged to call ‘sass’. Because it has horns, basically. Funky sass. Free your mind and your sass will follow.