It’s only right and proper that Elly Jackson notched up all those No.1 singles in 2014 (and that platinum Mercury-winning album, of course), because she wrote five to six of the best pop songs of the year, and naturally chart triumphs ensue. She couldn’t have done all that without support from Radio 1, so it’s fortunate the Nation’s Favourite was in her corner. And why wouldn’t it be? Trouble In Paradise spoke to its core remit.
Hang on, what did you just say?
“I know it and I love it,” says Junior 3, who’s gained that knowledge from her old man playing the album on repeat because IT’S NOT AS IF ANYONE ELSE DID, is it? “Fun!” says Junior. She and Junior 2 know all the words because obviously you couldn’t move for La Roux on the airwaves this year etc etc.
Absolute, the new Scritti Politti best of, begins with the hits, modest on both sides of the Atlantic but big enough, for Green Gartside, to constitute a harrowing commercial breakthrough that meant Top Of The Pops appearances, attention fit for a popstar and – rather more welcome – acceptance from the sort of R&B legends he was loosely trying to ape. These first five songs came from Cupid & Psyche 85, an impossibly precise marriage of perfect pop and blue-eyed soul which opened unexpected doors: notably, the chance to write for Chaka Khan and the odd sensation of seeing Miles Davis first cover one of your songs then, gloriously, guest on one.
My early acquaintance with Scritti was intertwined with the law. I bought Cupid & Psyche 85 with the five pounds (five pounds!) I was given as a reward for clocking the numberplate of a thief making off with a local lady’s handbag. Three years later, I was loudly anticipating Provision at a party – quite the conversationalist, me – as the police turned up to suggest the houses nearby might not enjoy us having a bonfire, draining the EEC cider lake and smoking freight-loads of cigarettes in the field right behind them. They might have softened if they’d known how excited I was about Provision.
Moving on, the 90s dawned with ‘She’s A Woman’, an unexpected collaboration with Shabba Ranks that dumped all Green’s philosophical lexicographical automatic hydromatic games with the word “girl” (i.e. ‘The Word ‘Girl”, ‘The ‘Sweetest Girl”) to go distinctly non-meta with a Beatles cover. It was a blip, in design and chronology, as the man decamped to Wales and hunkered down in beer and darts for a decade before popping up with the candy-pop-meets-hip-hop semi-success of Anomie & Bonhomie, where Green sparred sweetly with Mos Def, Lee Majors et al and generally affirmed some B-Boy credentials. Here it’s reprazented by three of the form plus the gorgeous ‘Brushed With Oil, Dusted With Powder’ that harks back to perfect pop and shines a light on the harmonic dreaminess to come – again – many years later.
That return was White Bread, Black Beer, a curveball Mercury nomination that emerged slowly and shyly in 2006 as Green stepped onto a stage for the first time in quarter of a century under the playful Double G & The Traitorous 3 (Plus 2) sobriquet, to focus group the songs first in a Brixton pub, then in a quasi-residence at The Luminaire. The law butted in again, rather closer to home this time, as I was told I couldn’t abandon my baby daughter to go to Brixton, but I made it to the Luminaire a couple of times to watch these songs jump off the page – truly, from Green’s own music stand. None of WBBB makes it here, likely because of its Rough Trade release; but from before my time, we do get three from Songs To Remember (but no ‘Faithless’…) and the fidgety, complex and in this company surly ‘Skank Bloc Bologna’.
And that’s it – apart from two new songs, the ballad ‘A Place We Both Belong’ and this. I’m not sure how new they are, but for Scrittologists they’re exciting enough for being hook-ups with long-time/occasional SP man David Gamson, not seen since 1999’s Anomie & Bonhomie. ‘Day Late And A Dollar Short’ bounces on squelchy bass, teasing a funk from somewhere on the Scritti timeline between 99 and 06, and a chorus that rises and falls with customary pizzazz and – let’s remember what this blog is meant to be about – makes Junior do the hand jive. According to her, it’s “fun”, Which is a bit of a bloody relief because I haven’t half wasted enough time and text on it.
Too many people give Lily Allen a hard time, because of who her father is, because she’s got an unfettered mouth, because she writes songs that tell how it is – at least for a young LDN lady. She’s undervalued as an artist. She runs the full gamut of pop – straightforward catchy songs, ska, hip hop, even country – and somehow is taken less seriously for it. Where the hell was her Mercury nomination? Sweet Jesus, Glasvegas got a nomination. Kasabian got one.
‘The Fear’ is Lil’ at her best: sharp, witty, personal, snippy and set to the best pop hook of the year. For Junior, it means earnest school disco dance moves and her parents coughing loudly over the swearwords.
Probably our dozen favourite British albums of the past 12 months:
David Holmes, The Holy Pictures
Bloc Party, Intimacy
Los Campesinos!, We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed
The Invisible, The Invisible
Higamos Hogamos, Higamos Hogamos
Dananananaykroyd, Hey Everyone!
The Horrors, Primary Colours
The Wave Pictures, If You Leave It Alone
Eg, Adventure Man
God Help The Girl, God Help The Girl
Little Boots, Hands
Damian Lazarus, Smoke The Monster Out
Winner to be announced when we get over the mediocrity of the list.
Wimbledon’s premier rap-skiffle rodent had a big year, what with that Mercury nomination (and he really should have won – or did I say that about Bat For Lashes? Anyway, Panic Prevention was wildly inventive, clever and fun) and a packed John Peel tent singing along to this track at Glastonbury. His range is clearest on ‘Calm Down Dearest’, which sounds like Saint Etienne’s ‘Nothing Can Stop Us’ sung by a particularly verbose drunkard. It’s even better than I paint it.
It was greeted with stomping feet by Junior, who also chose to mirror the lyrics with a snarly face. Has she seen the lad? It was uncanny. She threw all this into the first couple of bars, missing the later subtleties of Treays’ affecting semi-ballad – “racking and stacking them lines” – subtleties that fair bring a tear to a wincing eye.
WE BEGIN with the witchy, ethereal, Bjorkish, any other tired adjectives that might have been applied this year, Natasha Khan – runaway Mercury favourite on the night and Kate Bush for the Noughties. The ramshackle Klaxons snagged the award, but Fur And Gold was the most enticing album on the list, all horses and wizards.
This comes on like ‘Be My Baby’ with its thumping drum intro – let’s be clear here, it is the ‘Be My Baby’ intro – before it gets all, erm, witchy and ethereal with Natasha whispering her vexing situation as if she’s floating around right next to your ear. The chorus steals the drums again, but provides no answers, just that question. It takes you into a dark, unsettling world – pure pop drama.
Junior took the CD off me, popped it in the tray and pressed play, unprompted. We may have been doing this too long. She then held out her ra-ra skirt and curtseyed throughout, which was a new one on me, but I can quite imagine that Khan is a curtseying sort of girl.
Tough to choose just one of Belle and Sebastian’s legendary EPs – tough to call them ‘legendary’, but we eschew understatement here – so ‘Dog On Wheels’ gets the nod for ‘The State I Am In’. I reckon the album version is better, so I played them back to back for Junior to judge. She disagreed with her dad, possibly not for the last time.
The rougher EP version had our baby Belle grinning and banging her hairbrush on the coffee table. Quite a raucous response to B&S, but then I’m not sure Junior’s going to be a twee, gingham-frocked, church hall sort of girl. She’s going to be a B-Girl, Acid Tess, Studio 54 rawk chick.
Speaking of the Mercury Prize (as I was in my head), how the hell did Belle and Sebastian’s fantastic The Life Pursuit not get a nod? Makes the whole thing look like a sideshow farce.
Finley was 1997’s one year wonder. Smash hit single, monster album, scene-stealing Brits appearance (in ’98, admittedly, but you know what I mean), Mercury nomination… hmm, apparently no Mercury nomination. He must’ve been gutted. The flippin’ Propellerheads got a nomination. ROBBIE BLEEDING WILLIAMS got a nomination.
Well, I thought Maverick A Strike was quite good. 60-70% of it anyhow. ‘Sunday Shining’ takes a Bob Marley tune, makes it interesting, adds some light rawk, a sprinkle of cool and maintains the ma-ri-ju-ana quotient. Wikkid, man.
Junior and the iDog hook into the sinuous beats and lazy, slinky guitar licks. “Yes, sweetheart,” I say, “I know Robert de Niro didn’t seem like much of a ‘hero’ in Meet The Fockers the other night. Finley’s referring to… erm, jeez, I dunno.”
He’s Tricky’s uncle, doncha know. These segues are getting worse.