Tuesday 31 October 2023

Thriller/ Michael Jackson (1982): Albums of my Life: an A-Z

   being excited by Michael Jackson's music from such a young age. I remember cassette tapes being excavated at car boot sales and I imagine that Thriller was among some of the early Jackson tapes I got my hands on. I was probably nine or ten when I first heard this album and the impact of it has never really left me. I listen to 'Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' now (the opening track) and that iconic 80s snare sound is seared into my soul; I could recognise it within a split second. Back in the early 90s, I was too young to have any awareness of the 80s hallmarks that this album so delightfully showcases (the Synclavier synths and Linn machine drums), however, my love for the sound and feel has never left me. In fact, in my 30s it has resurfaced in a deep, insatiable thirst for nostalgic 80s tunes.

Thriller is one of those albums I have put off and dreaded writing about! Its status as the best-selling album of all time (at an estimated 70 million+ copies) means everyone knows it and there is so much about it that could be covered. Despite its epicness, I'd like to treat it with the tenderness I have the other, less well-known albums I have written about. If only I could hear this album for the first time again, but alas, it is as familiar to many of us as hearing our own voice. In that sense, I can only approach it by giving the songs my full attention as I listen and write. Hopefully I can do it some justice.

Sunday 23 July 2023

A Short Album About Love/ The Divine Comedy (1997): Albums of my Life: an A-Z

   ...being aware of The Divine Comedy back in the 90s, in particular Everybody Knows (Except You) and National Express which felt like little more than novelty records at the time. Because there is something of the novelty and the theatre about Neil Hannon. He's quirky and feels like a throwback to 60s balladists, yet obviously plays to this and doesn't take himself too seriously. He's so much more than the frontman of a band that skirted the Britpop era-- he's a composer, a storyteller and an absolute legend of the industry. Of course, being a youngster at the time with a penchant for the likes of chart pop and then R 'n B, I was not ready to recognise this until years later.

It was only when I was in my early 30s that I started to delve into The Divine Comedy's extensive back catalogue. My first dabble was a compilation album where I was introduced to such 90s wonders as The Frog Princess and Something for the Weekend. On finding the album 'Absent Friends' from 2004, it became increasingly clear that a love affair was developing; the song Our Mutual Friend is a good example of Hannon's genius in the respect that he conveys such narrative and emotion with his lyrics. The use of strings on that track add such a stomach-twisting journey through the sweetness and excitement of falling for someone...only to face the inevitable stab to the guts in the climax of the song. I can remember listening to the album with my dad on a journey back to Kent and I remember how that song affected him. We listened to the album loud and without speaking; in the gap between Our Mutual Friend and The Happy Goth he uttered something like: "that's an incredible song". He had tears in his eyes. I think I have inherited his hypersensitivity to music because I so often react in the same way. The power of music.

Friday 7 July 2023

Revival/ Bellowhead (2014): Albums of my Life: an A-Z

  having recently discovered Bellowhead and trying to get into jogging. Like some miracle, I was able to run so much further fuelled by New York Girls and various other Bellohead jigs; it was then that I knew they were something special.

Bellowhead were a folk supergroup with eleven members playing all sorts of instruments from fiddles, melodeon, bagpipes, tuba, saxophone and trumpet. They split in 2016 and reformed for a tour in 2022 despite the sudden death of beloved band member, Paul Sartin, in September 2022.

Thursday 29 December 2022

22 Quick Picks for 2022: Albums of my Life: an A-Z

2022 has been another year of discovery in terms of music and also of revelation. Many of the artists I enjoyed in 2021 have released new music which has been really exciting. MUNA and The Big Moon have released albums and I was lucky enough to see the latter in a record shop just a few months ago. My love for 80s music has grown and the realisation that the band, Toto, have been involved in music that I have loved for years of my life has ignited a deep love for these incredible musicians. I've walked miles to these tracks, endorphins have been overflowing in the gym and I've also shed the odd tear. I've procrastinated, dreamed, reveled, despaired, lusted and mused over these songs, listening again and again-- such is my obsession with music. I wanted to document twenty-two of my loved tracks for 2022.

Saturday 29 October 2022

Prodigal Sista/ Beverley Knight (1998): Albums of my Life: an A-Z


  the cover of this album. Its shade of blue has adhered to my memory with Beverley's iconic presence looking you right in the eyes as you slide the CD out of its cardboard cover. Prodigal Sista came into my awareness as a teen when the single 'Greatest day' was released. Her voice, her positivity and her vibe had me captured within one listen of that song. I'm talking about the 'classic mix' of course, with its upbeat keys,brass and strings.

This was one of the earlier CD albums that I can remember purchasing with my own money and listening to a lot. Though it won 'Best Album' and 'Best R&B Act' at the 1999 Mobo Awards, it's always felt relatively lowkey to me-- none of my friends had it and, to this day, it's one of those albums that I've never spoken to anyone about. Until now!

Tuesday 16 August 2022

One Touch/ Sugababes (2000): Albums of my Life: an A-Z

  being aware of the single 'Overload' and not immediately loving it, but knowing that it felt a bit different to other girl groups. I'm imagining that I saw the music video because it is definitely a factor that set the tone of who these young girls were (and they were young, only 15 and 16 years old). The video is shot on a plain white background and pans across to reveal the girls in mid and close-up shots, and they just look so fresh, natural and 'normal'. It doesn't surprise me to read that they were formed in 1998 by the same manager as the group, All Saints, because they had this cool edge and their lack of frills and girliness appealed to me at that age. Also, the fact that they were about the same age as me at the time made them feel relatable.

I'm not sure about when I took the plunge and purchased the CD, but I did and I got it on vinyl last year-- testament to what a great album it is. When we were teenagers my dad would let us load up a CD into the car's player and in hindsight, it strikes me how much of a champion he was for us being into music because he always took an interest in what we listened to. Even though his music taste lay in the 70s for the most part, he (and my mum) have always been open to new music providing it had substance and musicianship to it. I recall him liking some of what he heard with this album, only a brief comment, but it was clear that he recognised the groups' skilful harmonies, something that I think makes the Sugababes a  standout group.

Monday 1 August 2022

Northern Star/ Melanie C (1999): Albums of my Life: an A-Z

 being part of the wave of excitement over the Spice Girls. I was the age for it, about twelve, I guess. The fun, the cameraderie, the outfits and colour-- I loved it. I think I went to see Spiceworld at the cinema twice! Watching that film as an adult was a real disappointment; the acting and cheesiness is cringe-worthy, but the album Spiceworld is still as wonderful as ever. Never Give Up on the Good Times, for example, is such a feel-good, innocent pop record. When I listen to it I still visualise their accompanying dance move and it brings a smile to my face.

I had the platform trainers, the Ginger Spice-inspired red hair with a yellow-blonde 'money-piece' (self- dyed of course) and some questionable bright and flamboyant clothing items, and I loved it!

Then I got a bit older and too cool for all that pizazz! And the Spice Girls went their separate ways with solo projects, and I was curious. I remember either owning or borrowing from the library (and recording) Emma, Geri, Mel B and Mel C's albums. I enjoyed parts of all of them at the time, but it is Melanie Chisholm's Northern Star that stood out the most, both then and now.

Tuesday 3 August 2021

Mary/ Mary J. Blige (1999): Albums of my Life: an A-Z

 spending hours of my time, in my room listening to albums like this one. At age 15, I was on an R n B/ soul train, browsing the comparatively small, devoted section in HMV like my life depended on it. It's not like we had Google, so I would get to see some music videos on MTV Base and then I would go from there just following artists through artists. If someone collaborated on a track of a singer or band I liked, I'd hunt that artist out. Or if I heard a snippet of something somewhere that caught my ear, I'd try and investigate, often taking a gamble on an album just based on hearing part of a song or the reputation of a singer or group. Some R n B and soul was brought to me through the mainstream charts-- but,  more than many of my friends-- I sought out music of black origin in a big way. There was nothing that came close for me in terms of the romance, the sweetness of the harmonies and the sexiness! 

From a young age, I listened to Michael Jackson's back catalogue with an affinity for the way it dove in and out of pop, soul, disco and funk. Of course, as a pre-teen, I'd never have given my passion for music a second thought, in fact, it's only as an adult that I realised that music obsession (listening to albums from start to finish, lying on your back on your bed, eyes closed; skipping back to a certain riff over and over to mentally assimilate the beautiful vocal acrobatism of it) is not something everyone does. But this is what music of black origin does for me. I say 'music of black origin' deliberately because as I've got older, I realise the importance of that. The far-reaching influences of R n B (from jazz, gospel, swing and blues) tell part of the history of its foundings; however, the context of racial segregation and discrimination can never be overlooked. From oppression comes solidarity within communities, creative power and a powerful sense of ownership.

Whilst Mary J. Blige's 'Mary' was part of a soundtrack to my own youth, it is my understanding that Mary J. Blige and other black female artists like her are not only iconic, but imperative role models within the African-American communities and beyond. 

Thursday 29 July 2021

Love is Here/ Starsailor (2001): Albums of my Life: an A-Z

  being 16 or 17 and this album just becoming part of my world. I owned it on CD and was starting to branch out a little from my beloved R n B/ Soul music interests into an indie direction. This album was suitably moody for my young sensibilities and James Walsh's voice stood out to me-- it still does, in fact.

The single 'Alcoholic' immediately drew me in with its piano accompaniment and dismal lyrics (fodder for inward-looking folk); the harmonies and arrangements spoke to me too and made Starsailor stand out from other groups of a similar ilk. As the years passed, I loved their others earlier albums such as 'Silence is Easy' and 'On the Outside', possibly enjoying some of the tracks on them even more than their debut. Despite that, 'Love is Here' is where it started and there's a vibe about it that takes me right back to 2001 and all of the mixed emotions of that time for me.

Sunday 4 July 2021

Kill the Wolf/ Matt Berry (2013): Albums of my Life: an A-Z

   having a family barbecue back home one Summer. It must have been 2008, a truly significant year for me. I was due to start my new job, beginning the career I had trained for; a few months before I had experienced a tough break up; I was living alone back in Hampshire and getting to grips with it all. At the barbecue, my brother put on this unusual prog album complete with a rich-voiced narrator overlaying some of the tracks. That voice belonged to comic actor, Matt Berry, and the album was 'Opium'.

I had loved the IT Crowd and it really tickled me that the hilarious 'Reynholm' would suddenly manifest himself onto an experimental prog album in our garden in Kent! The music was oddly infectious and I found myself wanting to hear more when I was back in Hampshire, so I hastily bought a copy of the album on CD. As my interest and love of this album grew, my fascination with Matt did too. I sought out more of his more obscure comedy work, from 'Garth Marenghi's Darkplace' (a parody 80s style hospital drama/ horror series) to 'AD/BC: A Rock Opera' (a comedy musical written by Berry and Richard Ayoade). In addition, I was charmed by his real life, low key and humble persona in interviews-- a far cry from his larger than life characters.