I give the girls an intro for this one to shed some light, add a bit of context: “He’s a very strange Australian man.” “Cool,” says Junior. “He has a deep voice. Although all men have deep voices.” Eleven years. Eleven years I’ve spent force-feeding Bee Gees records to my kids and it’s all been for naught.
‘The Comeback’ reminds J2 of “chilling on the beach” and J3 of “flying”. It reminds me of a hyper-sleazy, washed-up Bryan Ferry trying to rekindle former, very lost glories. I don’t know who’s more right. It’s affecting; you want him to reconnect with his “show” because there’s still a trace of charisma in there and he may yet have the energy to exploit it. Right now I’m imagining Shakin’ Stevens doing a startling cover of it, limbs no longer quite under his command.
I’m only fluent in Spanish when I’m in Portugal, so Maria Usbeck’s lovely album Amparo passes me by, at least in meaning, but you know, I’ve always been hopeless with lyrics. I still haven’t nailed ‘Come On Eileen’ and I’ve played it 4,772 times since it blew my tiny mind on Top Of The Pops in the early summer of 1982. Those BBC4 repeats of the last few weeks have been a Proustian madeleine in so many ways, a synaptic assault of conflicting memories that have brought back seething recollections of my mum drawing the curtains while I was trying to record ‘Eye Of The Tiger’, and sadder ones of boarding school conjured by Chicago’s ‘Hard To Say I’m Sorry’. But let’s stick to the point.
‘Moai Y Yo’ flutters gorgeously, dreaming itself alive. Junior 3 says, “I don’t like it at all,’ but J2 has time for it, picking out the “smooth voice, nice tune”. In stark contrast, Junior herself is throwing a strop about tidying up, which doesn’t fit the mood in the slightest.
This song; Grimes at her softest; that track I can’t remember the name of right now on the recent Ellie Goulding album – it’s a strain of tick-tocking, quivering, ultra-catchy electropop I find instantly loveable. Obviously it’s not hard to love the improbably great tunes that Shura and the rest fill that template with, but I’ve got an unusually low guard here. Possibly comes from having early Depeche Mode take me by the hand and guide me through my pop awakening. Or something less sinister and seedy than that.
Junior says she knows this and likes it, adding to the weight of forensic critique we tend to bring here. J2 is singing it all, lyric sponge that she is. J3 says, “I’m sure-a I know this,” revealing a hitherto untapped talent for tabloid headlines. A hit for Shura! That’d be nice.
It’s half a song with none of the wires plugged in properly, but Justin Vernon doesn’t need much space (nor, indeed, reliable electrics) to create something beautiful. The extended version slots a reflective early morning on the prairie in at the end, adding a late dab of understated grandeur to a withdrawn, tentative track that chose not to build into a greater piece.
Frustrating, really. The gorgeous, reaching, multi-tracked melody, the Mahalia Jackson samples, the gentle synth wash; they leave you wanting more. What it needs is that massive widdling solo from ‘Beth/Rest’.
Juniors 2 and 3 have a different hot take: “It’s out of tune.”
A big couple of years for the Crutchfield twins, because of course Waxahatchee made this countdown last year. Check their Wikipedia entries. No, don’t check their Wikipedia entries. Allison’s made the right decision to stretch her legs outside Swearin’. Her debut solo album Tourist In This Town (which I’ve just seen is not out until February, so, sorry about the spoilers) takes her band’s scratchy lo-fi brashness but then digs out all the pop possibilities, bringing out the toplines and generally sounding like it’s not afraid to be out front.
And ‘Dean’s Room’ is the best New Order song since all those very decent efforts on last year’s Music Complete. Kind of undermined the compliment there, but you get the idea. It’s particularly good when it slaps the splashy beats on the chorus. J3 mimes them, J1 shouts “I like this!” with some surprise, J2 is making wry comments about her mum’s friend Allison: “Well, I never knew she could do this…”
For all its raucous earworm abandon, there’s something creepy underneath ‘Dean’s Room’ (“You just want to catch me alone… Think of you like a roach at my feet”) but it all slips under the pounding drums.
It was like Now That’s What I Call Music, wasn’t it? A Moon Shaped Pool was stuffed, once more, with wall-to-wall hits purpose-built for warbling in the shower, soundtracking summer BBQs and filling your favourite banger playlists. And ‘Burn The Witch’ was the catchiest of the lot with its convulsive judder, portent-heavy chorus and bouncing bassline. We got our Radiohead back.
You know, a bit.
“Apart from the singing,” observes Junior, “the music’s actually quite good! I can’t imagine playing it on my flute though – it’d be forte all the way through.”
I’m listening to The 1975’s I Like It When You Sleep… (that’ll do) for the whateverth time this year. Still don’t quite get the decision to end with two acoustic ballads. Every time I play it, I expect it to make some kind of sense to see out one of the most fidgety pop albums of the last 30 years in such a one-note way, but I’m not there yet. I’ll try to make this sound relevant in a minute.
“Is this Prince?” asks J2. She’s got a point. Clipped funk, falsetto and a knack for addictive pop make ‘Love As A Weapon’ very Purple, even if it feels more eager to please than he ever was. “Is it a man or a lady?” she adds. Clearly, Laurel Sprengelmeyer begs the same questions as Prince too. If Bowie managed to write his own epitaph this year, at least Prince got to hang around in spirit, and not just here. He’s embedded in that sprawling 1975 double as well, nestled alongside Duran Duran of every period from 1981 to 2004.
Perhaps we should recoil from referencing heritage artists whenever we listen to new stuff, but if the current breed can’t help doing it themselves, what can you do? It doesn’t bother me.
There are people who’d have gone from reception to graduation in the time it took The Avalanches to get off their sample-clearing backsides and release a second album. I kept a faith that was looking increasingly stupid, wishful and, frankly, futile all those years, but was improbably repaid. Wildflower – I’m not going to review it now; I did that quite comprehensively here – was almost everything I wanted, and certainly good enough to top my 2016 list, even if half that impetus was powered by nostalgia.
Nostalgia – that’s what The Avalanches are built on. ‘Because I’m Me’, Wildflower’s riotous, sunshine intro, pulls from The Honey Cone and 1950s street sounds to recreate The Jackson 5 (with some J Walter Negro-style block party rap) and makes you hug yourself to have them back.
“Ohhh Frankie Sinatra,” sings J2 because she knows what’s coming next, but not here. J1 likes the anonymous kid’s voice. That’s the feedback. The rest is dancing.
J1: “Awesome. The best.”
J3: “It’s gonna win.”
Well, that’s clearly, mathematically untrue. They’re all singing and dancing now, proving this isn’t just dad disco, it’s kid disco too. Monumentally cheesy, but somehow irresistible, which probably isn’t where JT should be at this stage of his career. More and more pop stars are accelerating towards Vegas, aren’t they? Sam Smith started about half a mile outside.
There are two things that really get me with this song: The hurtling chorus bonus line “All those things I shouldn’t do” that keeps it flying; the phrase “It goes electric wavy”. That’s charming, a bit ‘timey-wimey’. I’d dance to this in a really dad way if I still knew people who’d invite me to a wedding.
Not really. More pertinent questions: what’s a single? What is this? Who are we?
A single is a single, and we’re going to make the best of it. It’s also an ‘impact’ track these days, and pretty much any song that’s even marginally promoted outside the confines of its album. Look, these are confusing times.
This is a blog that’s been running since November 2005. Admittedly, it’s running rather sporadically now, but if I’m going to go through my favourite songs of the year, it’s still the best place.
We are me and my three daughters. Junior (J1) who’s 11 and has been doing this since she was flapping her babygro arms to Kanye West all those years ago; Junior 2 (J2) who’s eight and massively into Top Of The Pops 1982, smuggling Dexys and Haircut 100 CDs up to her room; and Junior 3 (J3) who’s six and opinionated.
Finally, Karl Blau is a honey-toned C&W geezer from the Pacific Northwest who, after years on the circuit, released the wry Introducing Karl Blau this year, a collection of covers that’s the best of 2016, pipping good old Dexys’ mind-bogglingly loose selection of ‘Irish and Country Soul’. They both did the Bee Gees’ ‘To Love Somebody’ but Blau wins there too by the length of a Hammond organ. This wildly extended version of Link Wray’s ‘Fallin’ Rain’ uses gently tinkling piano to evoke the raindrops and Blau’s own gentle commitment to convey the woes of the world. He’s a Nashville Isaac Hayes.
Over to our panel: J2 is measuring angles on her mum’s macbook, J1 is watching her. J3 is bouncing a cuddly tiger on my head.
J1: “It’s all right.”
J3: “It’s bad.” She pops on her headphones and goes to play the little Yamaha keyboard on the rug.