Duffy, ‘Warwick Avenue’/‘Mercy’


Any seemingly endless round-up of 2008 would be incomplete without mentioning the Dusty-voiced siren from Wales. Rockferry was the bestelling album of the year, chart fans – no mean feat in a climate where Coldplay were releasing their best record in years (ever?), Oasis were returning to form (hmmm – maybe Q asserted that) and Leona Lewis was still shifting units by the warehouse. But is Duffy up to much? On this day in history or near enough, I saw her play at the Pigalle when she was a mere twinkle in an industry tipster’s eye, and thought, “Yeah, ok, she does it well enough.” That “it” being “the voguish ‘60s thing”. The songs are pastiche with a bit of verve – Bernard Butler’s calling card from McAlmont And days – and she has some nice, witchy hand gestures.

That’s about the limit, though. Today’s tune was ‘Warwick Avenue’, all bereft and stirring, but we turned to ‘Mercy’ soon after because we hadn’t quite reached nursery. To the first, Junior asked, “Is that Duff?” which seems harsh – it’s a pleasant song, even if it sticks to its template like glue. I could see Junior mouthing along to ‘Mercy’ in the rear view, which is no surprise considering its grating ubiquity. “I heard this yesterday,” said Junior, and in her speak that means any point in the past. Sounds about right.

[16] Fairport Convention, ‘Si Tu Dois Partir’

Aged 15 and in the throes of a short-lived U2 obsession – The Joshua Tree was the best album ever for a summer at the very least, the musical equivalent of a pair of black jeans, a flat-top haircut and a misguided strut down the high street – I bought the freshly minted Island Story compilation, a bit of self-congratulation for 25 years of quirky eclecticism from the label that always insisted white men could dance to reggae. The U2 contribution was ‘With Or Without You’, which I had anyway, so Lord knows what I thought I was getting. An intro to more impossibly earnest chest-beaters with ringing guitars and unforgivable headgear? Turned out to be an intro to Jim Capaldi, Pete Wingfield, Bob & Earl and Fairport Convention. And I was grateful.

Like any kid who grew up in the 70s and 80s, I nurture a natural suspicion of folk music. Where are the synths, the make-up, the safety pins and the snarls? Get these guitar-fumbling drips away from me! My stance has softened now, but Fairport Convention – at least from a distance – threw another problem into the mix: Q Magazine and their bewildering worship of Richard Thompson. I’m sure he’s brilliant and everything (this is 15-year-old me speaking, but it might as well be me, here and now) but I haven’t heard anything, and besides – he has a tidy beard and astonishing taste in shirts. If I drop my guard now, I’ll be championing Little Village and The Robert Cray Band within minutes.

Chaos and joy define Fairport Convention’s French Cajun and French language version of Bob Dylan’s ‘If You Gotta Go, Go Now’. Sandy Denny’s woeful accent (worse than Jane Birkin’s in the serendipitously adjacent entry) and her “Come on, children, join in!” schoolmarm-ish tone could be a turn-off, but I prefer to get involved. Anyway, you can only love a song that makes a tumbling stack of chairs meld seamlessly into the percussion. Junior swanned around the kitchen and didn’t get involved herself until the last few bars, but I think we can put that down to reticence – she’s obviously tired of grown-up rock mags prostrating themselves in front of Thompson too.

Hey, maybe he really is great. 

[9] Arcade Fire, ‘Intervention’

Arcade Fire, ‘Intervention’

Is there an Arcade Fire backlash yet? Now that Q have put Neon Bible at No.1 in their albums of the year, I imagine it’s about to start. I mean, come on, a good half of it is what the skip button was invented for.
But ‘Intervention’ wears its overblown charms with justifiable pride. It fashions the opening fanfare from Boy Meets Girl’s cheese-riddled ‘Waiting For A Star To Fall’ into something dramatic, something glorious, and piles headlong into a chest-beating damnation of church and state. Ridiculous. No strangers to pomposity, this most sullen (apart from the beaming, accordion-playing Regine Chassagne) of bands get away with it because of their profound well of top pop tunes.
Junior raises her arms to the sky for the organ’s opening notes then swims through the air like one of the eerie water babes from their stage films. We thought she was with her grandparents while we were at Glastonbury, but it seems she was there – squirreled away in a wellie?

[19] Radiohead, ‘Paranoid Android’

Radiohead’s first fan-shedding phase started, paradoxically, with the Greatest Album Of All Time (© Q Magazine, probably). It was a fantastic bit of over-hyping that even led to ‘No Surprises’ being tagged the Greatest Rock Single Of All Time early the next year. Stupendous. Your stalwart rock hacks were breathless, feverish. Just imagine the couple of seconds of awkward silence after they heard Kid A for the first time.

And last time.

Keeping up the contradictions, ‘Paranoid Android’ alienated swathes of fans and took Radiohead to the Top 3 for the first and – so far – only time. It’s a six-minute riot of joyous Italo-house pianos, frog choruses, Elton and Kiki Dee-style cheeky vocal interplay and Junior Senioresque infectiousness.

Nah, it’s a six-minute trial of studious fretwankery. But pretty good with it. It’s certainly worth a flash of air guitar, as Junior appreciated, and a wave of the castanets. I think she was being sarky there.