Some One Or Other: Halleluiah.

I’m pleased to be writing a review of the 2008 UK Christmas number 1 single having thankfully still not heard it. Hopefully I will continue to successfully dodge it until it disappears off of the radars of the short attention spanned musically illiterate that devour it.

Not being a believer does not preclude me from appreciating Cohen’s sublime lyrics that I have loved since first hearing them on 1984’s “Various Positions”. In fact it’s hard to produce a cover version of such a beautiful song without a serious risk of being accused of murder. Jeff Buckley however gave it a go on 1994’s superb “Grace” album and managed to lift what was already a piece of genius to a new height. In fact the whole “Grace” album is a 90’s classic. (See my list of top 10 albums). Should I not therefore be pleased that the profile of both Cohen and Buckley has been raised by the song selectors of a banal Saturday night TV Karaoke contest. No. As far as I’m concerned those whose musical horizons are only stretched by Saturday night TV can remain in blissful ignorance. There’s a wealth of banal tripe songs for the pop star wannabies to plunder if they do not have the talent of song writing. I can quite happily ignore the modern pop culture as I find it simple to divorce the entire concept from what I know and love as music, but when it reaches into my domain and attempts to pollute my preferred art with its fetid commercialised dingo’s kidneys, I get a little upset. What is wrong with you people? And no I’m not including the new Take That album in my 2008 review.

Randy Newman: Harps and Angels

I suspect many people these days will be more familiar with Randy Newman through his film scores than his back catalogue of albums (predominantly from the 1970’s). The songs he has provided for various films, especially Pixar films, and his Oscar for “If I didn’t have you” from Monsters Inc, are fully representative of his distinctive and often caustic style. Harps and Angels is true to the piano led compositions from these films

Ry Cooder: I Flathead

Cooder’s peculiar mix of Blues and Country is probably about as American as you can possibly get. None more so than “Fernando Sez” and the story of how he’s recording some new songs in order to pay of Fernando's garage bill and get his Cadillac back.

The Ting Tings: We Started Nothing

Very bouncy and jovial radio friendly garage pop from duo Katie White and Jules De Martino. One of the sounds of 2008 and possibly the next big ting?

The Verve: Forth

When Richard Ashcroft got back together with his old mates from the Verve for this years new album and festival headlining gigs I had high expectations that they’d continue where they left off 11 years ago with Urban Hymns. I have to admit to be a little disappointed with new album that doesn’t come close to its predecessor. Perhaps they should have just stolen another riff from the Rolling Stones and taken the inevitable court case on the chin.

The Fratellis: Here We Stand

These Glaswegian Indie Rockers took their handle from the despicable villainous family in the film, “Goonies”. “Here We Stand” builds upon 2006’s debut with more jolly guitar based pop. Here We Stand is a buoyant and bubbly album in comparison with many of their pop peers.

My Morning Jacket: Evil Urges

MMJ went through a number of line up changes in their earlier incarnations, but seem to have settled on the successful quintet from their excellent 4th studio offering, “Z”. “Evil Urges”, their fifth album supplies an eclectic mix of American Rock and Funk from the thumping riff of “Highly Suspicious” to the more serene country rock of “I’m Amazed”.

Paul Weller: 22 Dreams

Weller’s last album, “As Is”, in my opinion never got the commercial or critical success that I believe it deserved. He seems to have reacted by changing course completely and delivering a more experimental album that provides interest in places and demonstrates variety but lacks the lively enthusiasm of its predecessor. If “As Is” was recorded by Paul Weller (from the Jam), 22 Dreams was recorded by Paul Weller (from the Style Council).

Goldfrapp: Seventh Tree

The duo of Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp have evolved their musical style considerably over their 4 studio albums to date. This forth album, is far less spooky and ambient than their debut (Still my preferred Goldfrapp album), less electronic than their 2nd album, and less “poppy” (if that’s a word), than their 3rd album. Seventh Tree instead builds on their gentler more acoustic element while retaining elements of electronica.

REM: Accelerate

At only around half an hour long, Accelerate is as short and sweet as my review of it, but more importantly, its back to the standard they set before the departure of Bill Berry.

The Raconteurs: Consolers of the Lonely

It’s easy to quantify this as my top album of 2008 by looking at its play count in my iTunes library (70+ at the last look, although it’s a somewhat unfair metric for those albums released later in the year). Even better than their debut in 2006 this album contains blistering guitars and vocals from both Jack White and Brendan Benson not to mention the solid rhythm section of “little” Jack Lawrence’s thundering bass and Patrick Keeler’s sturdy drumming. I had started listing and describing the standout tracks but realised the review was going to be too long as I would have to include almost all the tracks.

Don Cavalli: Cryland

I frequently take a punt on an artist or album I’ve never heard off and this inevitably leads to a few misses, however those misses are more than compensated for when you get a hit like this. This album is a real gem, quite unexpected and it struck a chord with me on the very first listen. The opening track, “Gloom Uprising” has a sort of Ennio Morricone feel to it, but updated to suit a Tarrantino soundtrack rather than a Leone one. “I’m going to a River” continues with a pulsating guitar and “Aggression” adds a vocal reminiscent of Moby’s cover of “Run On”. “Here Sat I” adds some funk to classical blues lyrics. “New Hollywood Babylon” supplies a bizarre diversion with a surreal and upbeat guitar refrain but two of my favourite tracks have to be “Wonder Chairman” and “Casual Worker”, both of which have a great Cream styled late 60’s British Blues sound. This is definitely an artist who deserves a higher profile, I couldn’t find a wiki entry for him and I had to manually add the album art to my library as iTunes was unable to find it.

Metallica: Death Magnet

Although I listen to music almost exclusively on my iPod/iPhone/iMac these days (Stick a lower case i in front of a piece of technology and chances are, I’ll buy it), I still like to buy on CD rather than downloading. I think the main reason for this is the packaging, I’m a big fan of a nicely packaged album with a wealth of information and lyrics. So my first impression of “Death Magnet” after ripping into the days Amazon parcels was favourable. Like the last Iron Maiden album, they’re not messing around with 3 to 4 minute little ditties. When you’ve gone to the trouble of discovering a good riff, why not play it for 8-10 minutes.

The Script: The Script

Despite essentially being a traditional 3 piece rock/pop band growing up in Dublin on a diet of U2, Van Morrison and Black American Soul, The Script have ended up sounding at times like an Irish Boy Band. The Vocal styles make me envisage the band lined up without instruments performing coordinated steps and moves rather than lurking menacingly behind their instruments. The above observation may be rather unfair as The Script are clearly talented musicians with frequently eloquent lyrics as clearly demonstrated on “Rusty Halo”. Still I’m sure there must be a huge market for a halfway house between Coldplay and Westlife.

Nickelback: Dark Horse

Another band with an interesting origin for their name. For those who haven’t heard, “Nickelback” comes from the change frequently proffered to customers when one of the band members worked in Starbucks. “Dark Horse” is produced by Mutt Lange who’s impressive discography includes AC/DC’s “Back in Black” and Def Leppard’s “Pyromania”, so this simple fact alone affords it an initial listen. This album however offers variable fare. “Burn it To The Ground” is a perfectly plausible up beat, boppy piece of hard rock, but is immediately followed by a tedious power ballad. Also rather sadly Nickelback have thrown away all integrity and credibility by bowing to their corporate masters and releasing an exclusive Wal-Mart edition in the US with a bonus downloadable mp3. Please focus on Rock N Roll, not marketing.

Fucked Up: The Chemistry Of Common Life

Fucked Up are five Canadian hard-core punks whose second album explores the laudable and grandiose topics of birth, death and the origins of life. Their band name may well have been selected as an attempt to push the boundaries, but there’s much more depth to this band than the crude name implies. “The Chemistry of Common Life” flits between aggressive grunge like “Magic Word”, that could have appeared on Nirvana’s “Bleach”, to gentle and contemplative instrumentals like “Golden Seal” and “Looking For God” with stripped down simple crisp and distorted guitars. “No Epiphany” is a swirling and pounding rock classic that proves there’s a lot more on offer than shouty hard-core punk.

Katy Perry: One of the Boys

Being able to burp the alphabet and choosing guitar over Ballet as described in the title track certainly strike a chord with me. Apparently she also kissed a girl and liked it. Still no complaint from me, in fact that’s quite an achievement for a Californian grown daughter of 2 pastors raised on sweet gospel music. However, I suspect she’s just teasing rather than getting down to some serious girl on girl action, but still, she kissed a girl, and I liked it. Katy’s bright colourful burlesque and sassy image could well just be a brief distraction but as Rob Brydon would say “It’s just a bit of fun”. This may be a little different from my normal musical fare but oranges aren’t the only fruit.

Mercury Rev: Snowflake Midnight

Moody electronic ambience prevails over the psychedelic rock of previous albums and sound effects entwined in the synthesisers bring nature and life to these new recordings. The overall feel of “Snowflake Midnight” is solemn and melancholic, but that suits a contemplative old misery like me.

Cold War Kids: Loyalty To Loyalty

“Loyalty to Loyalty” is the second album from the Californian Indie Rockers whom presumably have taken their name from the generation in which they have grown up. Standout tracks include “Against Privacy” which has a first-rate but distant guitar that sounds like it was recorded in the studio down the corridor while rest of the band meandered though a steady blues number. And “Something Is Not Right With Me” with it’s series of 6 word shouted short sentences that sounds like a White Stripes song with added bass.

Dungen: 4

A scratching Violin is joined by jazzy drums and piano and then a highly distorted guitar and we’re off on a psychedelic freak-out. This Stockholm based 4 piece use drums evocative of Pink Floyd’s “A Saucerful of Secrets” throughout “4” whilst blending their native Swedish folk music with Progressive Rock and Jazz. “Samtidigt1” sets them off into a world of vastly twisted guitars rather like Hendrix going off-piste on spaced out jam whilst other tracks bring the trip down gently with softer piano focused numbers.

Pink: Funhouse

My 12 year old daughter recognised the opening track, “So What”, when I played it today. She doesn’t normally appreciate the dulcet tones emanating from my study, so I’m either getting more hip in her eyes or more likely, I’m starting to loose the plot and need to return to a strict diet of Zeppelin and Floyd. But surprisingly I rather like the brash, in your face appeal of “So What”. Unfortunately, after this opening track the album calms down and at times tries to take itself far too seriously with a string of tedious ballads.