Tuesday, January 27, 2004

I’ve seen the light

As regards Spiritualized, I mean.

But first their support act, local luminaries Six By Seven.

Me and Six By Seven go back a long way. We first encountered each other in May 1999 at the Ballroom in Nottingham, where they were supporting Fugazi. Since then there have been numerous rendezvous, including a thrilling gig in celebration of the Social’s first birthday in 2000 and a fabulous performance at the Leeds Festival in 2002.

There was the very frosty interview at the Boat Club in October 1999, when for a while it looked like giant frontman Chris Olley was about to make mincemeat out of myself and my partner-in-crime (or at least partner-in-self-indulgent-student-journalism) Olav following an ill-advised line of questioning.

There was the drunken night in The Rig in June 2000, when a pilled-up Chris tried to pull one of my friends while another spent half an hour trying to get keyboardist James Flower to hum the theme tune from ‘Murder She Wrote’ with him (incidentally, the latter friend, already very much the worse for wear, went home at the end of the night, drank the best part of a bottle of gin and climbed into a fridge – but that’s another story…).

There have been sightings of various band members at an assortment of gigs in the city, including …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead and The Flaming Lips, plus the surprise pleasure of being served in shops by James on several occasions – first in Waterstones and then in Fopp.

Theirs has been a turbulent history. Having started off as a five-piece, they’re now down to three – Chris, James and drummer Chris Davis. Guitarist Sam Hempton left some time ago (and is in the crowd tonight), but this is the first time I’ve seen them without bassist Paul Douglas. How would they cope without that throbbing propulsive bass which is practically their trademark? Even more to the point, how would they cope with being dropped by their label Mantra after three critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful records?

Well, the answer is by concentrating on new material in which the keyboards are more prominent, and by playing only a handful of older tracks for which the lack of bassline isn’t obvious (‘I.O.U. Love’, ‘So Close’, ‘European Me’). The new tracks aired tonight, including recent Fierce Panda single ‘Bochum (Light Up My Life)’, don’t have the pissed-off snarl and bite of their second and third albums (The Closer You Get and The Way I Feel Today), nor are they a return to the mesmeric prog-indie of their debut, The Things We Make. Instead, they’re pushing in a direction they’ve only hinted at occasionally before, all spiralling keyboards and looped grooves and thumping drums. One sounds like them laying claim to ‘Pounding’ by Doves and making it their own.

If I’ve got any reservations, it’s only because a bassist gives them more strings to their collective bow, and because music like this conjures up the idea of loads of people packing the stage – certainly, splendid as it is, gargantuan debut single ‘European Me’, which closes the set, might have benefited from sheer weight of numbers. On this evidence, then, the new slimmed-down Six By Seven aren’t trimmed of fat, leaner and hungrier, but a little bit more lightweight, a bit of their muscle wasted away.

Great to see them back, though - they’re still a damn fine band, and I can only hope that their forthcoming LP Down Here On The Ground finally secures them some serious recognition. If I’m sick of writing about “Nottingham’s best-kept secret”, then I’m sure they’re even more sick of hearing it.

So, anyway. The light. I’ve seen it. And it’s damn well nearly blinding me - literally and metaphorically speaking. At one point I’m convinced the insane strobing effects must be scorching my retina beyond repair – but I just can’t avert my eyes from the Rock City stage.

Until fairly recently I thought Spiritualized were decent but consistently overrated. Then I got a copy of Amazing Grace which, despite the schizophrenic and jarring ordering of the tracks, was just beginning to sink its claws into me. And now – this. First of all, everything, absolutely EVERYTHING taken from Amazing Grace and played tonight sounds incredible, far superior to the recorded counterparts. They basically have two types of song: smacked-up garage rock bruisers that feel like an alleyway brawl with The Stooges and The Rolling Stones – opener ‘Electricity’, ‘She Kissed Me (It Felt Like A Hit)’, ‘Never Goin’ Back’, ‘Come Together’, ‘Cheapster’, ‘This Little Life Of Mine’ – and heavy-lidded space-gospel songs which build to a suffocating and overwhelming intensity before eventually relenting, sedated and spent, and which sound like divine salvation even when they’re about damnation – ‘Hold On’, ‘Lord, Let It Rain On Me’, ‘Oh Baby’, ‘Let It Flow’. Both types shine a harsh and unforgiving light on the likes of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, who suddenly look like shallow posturing charlatans.

True, it wouldn’t be hard to parody a Spiritualized song – just chuck in a few lyrical references to God, Jesus, needles and veins (oh, hang on, we’re back to BRMC again…) – but there’s a blackened and charred wit lurking in and behind many of the couplets which diverts the songs away from a gloomy slide into maudlin self-pity, and a fascinating interweaving of the light and the dark, the sacred and the profane, in everything they do. Jason Pierce isn’t interested in fads but in a sort of timelessness. His songs have a tremendously rich sense of musical history, a vintage quality that seems neither forced nor contrived. A quietly authoritative band leader, he conducts his musicians on stage (six besides himself – all together, in terms of sheer physical presence, they look like Six By Seven should do, by rights), facing them rather than the early-thirty-something parka-clad congregation.

The mammoth and majestic set ends with a pure fucking noise freakout and all-out strobe assault that’s like Mogwai and The Velvet Underground self-combusting together on stage. It’s January, my first gig of the new year, and already it’s a serious contender for top spot come the end-of-year lists. Amazing. And graceful. The bar has been set obscenely high.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am currently floating in space.
Bruno delivers the knockout punch

The Fourth Round of the FA Cup. What a time for “the new Zidane”, Bruno Cheyrou, to find his shooting boots. Admittedly he’s finally started to live up to his reputation in recent weeks, with important goals away at Chelsea and Wolves. But to strike twice against us was cruel. We might not have done enough for a win, but we could have sneaked a draw and a replay at St James’s, particularly given a strong first half showing.

After encouraging results recently away to notoriously troublesome opposition (namely Southampton and Man Utd), we might have been forgiven for thinking we could settle another score by coming away from Anfield with a victory – but those hopes took a very early blow when Cheyrou scored in the second minute. Thankfully, Robert was on hand to rocket home a free-kick two minutes later to even things up – his 11th of the season, making this his most prolific campaign in a black and white shirt to date. But unfortunately we couldn’t capitalise on having a slight edge in the first half, and in the second Liverpool, buoyed by the return from injury of such key players as Owen, Gerrard and Carragher, wrested control away from us and then scored a decisive second. Even still, Shearer could have snatched the draw late on, had it not been for Dudek’s acrobatics.

So, now we can concentrate on the League and the UEFA Cup etc etc. All fine and well, but we had a much better chance of success in the FA Cup. Oh well, at least it wasn’t a disgrace, unlike last year’s lame Third Round exit at the hands of Wolves. I just hope that the race for fourth place doesn’t go to the wire, with us needing a win in our last game of the season – it’s at Anfield…
Oh, that? It’s the B-side to the new Yo La Tengo single…

Don’t you just love small independent record shops? You know the sort - you walk in to find the staff are busy flaunting their good taste and gleefully experimenting on their guinea-pig customers with some obscure new gem, just waiting to see if anyone comes up to the counter to ask what it is. Even better if they manage a sale. Over the years I must have ended up making at least a couple of purchases that way, though I couldn’t tell you which albums they were.

In Tempest (Birmingham) today, I’m not sure what it was - I cruelly denied the staff the satisfaction of telling me - but it sounded like Les Savy Fav gone REALLY spastic, the kind of music that would make Steve Albini cream his pants at twenty paces and, thankfully, a million miles from what you’d get in Virgin – sickly gloopy slush that oozes from the speakers and curdles in your ear. Like Dido.

Friday, January 23, 2004

'God Save The Queen'? God save us, more like

When the rumble in the jungle is all over, Peter Andre - who wants it shouted from the rooftops that he's working with Timberlake's producers - would like to collaborate with his fellow 'I'm A Celebrity Twat' contestant John Lydon. What kind of delusions is the man suffering from? Oh yeah, the sort that lead him to believe that he's talented and that his appearance on the show can relaunch his pop career. The poor misguided fool. I'd pay to watch Lydon tell him to fuck off in his own inimitable style.

(Thanks to Cat for the link.)
Music is my aeroplane

How prophetic. Although I made a point of noting my disgust at the glorification of suicide in last week's NME, I'm not the first to trace the unfortunate coincidence of that issue and the death of Hope Of The States guitarist Jimmi Lawrence - Leon and Kenny got there first. But it seems the band themselves are equally appalled, as well as saddened - in a statement, they say: "we would ask that this awful event not be co-opted as a glamorous 'rock 'n roll' death. We will forever believe this was not supposed to happen and our dear friend would hate to be thought of in this way". I'm imagining, with an extreme amount of pleasure, Conor McNicholas writhing around in acute discomfort. Quite where this leaves Hope Of The States is unclear, but I for one hope the album sees the light of day, for Jimmi's sake. The world needs a pocket-sized Godspeed!.

On a very different note, congratulations to Franz Ferdinand on reaching the heady heights of #3 with their fabulous second single 'Take Me Out'. I'm not about to launch into some Stereophonics / Virgin Radio-esque spiel about how it's nice to see "proper" music in the charts for once, but I am glad that the song, which is full of mainstream appeal but which could so easily have sunk without trace, has been recognised for what it is. It's also good to know that after years of sterling work promoting some very fine bands (Pavement, Sebadoh, Clinic, Royal Trux and Hood amongst others) without much in the way of payback, their label Domino might be at last reaping some financial rewards. It's all left me wondering whether the band will still be first up on the NME Awards Tour show when I catch it in Birmingham on Tuesday.

The hottest thing on my stereo right now is The Coral's Magic & Medicine. I think I might have underestimated quite how good it is - thanks to Leon for pointing out the Doors echoes, and getting me to think of it in a different way! You never know - I might have really got to grips with it by the time their new album comes out...

Also on heavy rotation is My Morning Jacket's It Still Moves - without doubt a grower, and sublime in patches although in others it's a bit workmanlike and unnecessarily drawn-out. The band have just announced that they've parted company (amicably) with Johnny Quaid and Danny Cash, but replacements are already lined up.

Good news on the gig front - Spiritualized (whose Amazing Grace has also been getting a fair few spins of late) have just announced they'll be supported by local heroes and close friends Six By Seven for Monday night's gig at Rock City. Might just have to grab myself a ticket now - I'm intrigued to see quite how they do things now that they're down to a three-piece, bassist Paul Douglas having recently left.

Opening the Metro on Wednesday, I was slightly bewildered by the sight of a review of the new Sophia LP People Are Like Seasons, their first release on the City Slang label. I saw them supporting Mogwai at Leeds Metropolitan University in November 2001, and they were pretty decent, reminding me of the mournful and criminally underrated Codeine, but unfortunately my enjoyment of their set was impeded by the fuckwits I found myself standing next to, who were shouting at them to get off stage.
Blogwatch

Congratulations to Sarah, who will be swapping the bright lights and delights of south-east Northumberland for Greece, having bagged a place on the Large Carnivore Project. Presumably this really WILL involve talking to wolves. Sounds a bit daunting to me - make sure you get all your limbs insured before you go.

Best wishes to Inspector Sands, who was mugged on his own street earlier this week and left battered and bruised. Glad to hear you seem to be getting life back to normal, and I hope the increasing likelihood that you'll not be losing your beloved Scott Parker to Chelsea before the end of the month will help speed your recovery!

There's a marvellous post over on Little Red Boat about the supposed connection between depression and the necessary inspiration to write which treats a contentious subject in a thoughtful and yet typically witty way. Congratulations to Anna for her nomination in the 'Best Use Of Houmous' category of the Bloggies - but where were all my other nominations, eh? No No Rock 'N' Roll Fun, no Troubled Diva, no Fluxblog, no Creepy Lesbo, no The Remote Part (Agnes's photography just gets better and better) - surely some mistake?!

Not to mention the omission of LondonMark, who has responded to missing out on the Bloggies and the Guardian awards in the only way he knows how - by producing even more superb writing, this time in the form of some 'How to...' guides which suggest he's a man after my own heart and has been cultivating a natural, healthy and curmudgeonly dislike of the general public. It can only be a matter of time before this blog gets the recognition it so richly deserves.

"The other Mark" has been out and about, observing and detailing the misfortunes of others with a mischievous glee: "the girl sitting opposite me on the train was sick in a carrier bag. It was a WHSmith's bag, in case you're wondering. When the ticket inspector came round she thought she'd lost her season ticket and started crying, proclaiming it 'the worst evening of her life', a long black streak of mascara running down her cheek. She'd shut the handle of her bag in the door so couldn't look in it properly. While she stood up and searched through her coat pocket, her boyfriend held her bag of sick. Aah, young love".

Meanwhile, Kenny sticks the boot into Paul Abbott's much-lauded new C4 series 'Shameless': "It's not that 'Shameless' is bad or unwatchable TV, but it's far too obviously derivative to deserve the blanket adulation it's receiving from the hacks. It's a glorified soap with the odd f-word here and a flash of tit and bum there to help disguise it as a 'flagship drama'. Is British TV really getting that bad that we have to pretend to be excited by this? Come back 'Cold Feet', all is forgiven". However, if I might be so bold, "shameless" is how one might describe the way Kenny has allowed his regular 'Mason & Dixon' Watch slot to slip quietly away - c'mon, let's have some more! You've got a public service to provide - I want to know what I'm letting myself in for before picking it up...

... and finally, thanks to Bob and Nicholas for the linkage - much appreciated.
Animal magic

I was told in a text yesterday "Carl Cort talking to Wolves". My reply? "Well, he certainly does doolittle"...

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

All the rage

Having never read any Salman Rushdie before, I'm not quite sure how to assess 'Fury'. The story - convoluted as it is, and related with a fair amount of skipping back and forth in time - is of Malik Solanka, a retired professor born in India, educated in England and now resident in New York. A dollmaker, he has made a vast fortune from a character called Little Brain who from humble beginnings has mutated into a planet-gobbling monster. Solanka's flight from England was precipitated when he found himself stood over his wife Eleanor and his son Asmaan in the night with a kitchen knife in his hand. However, even in America he finds there is no escape from the anger which builds up inside him.

The problem with 'Fury', for me, is that, impressive as the writing is at times, it just tries to do too much at once. As an exploration of fury, of the unfathomable rage that can spring from even the pettiest incidents, and as a depiction of modern man's intolerance and violence, Rushdie's novel is frequently compelling:

"What was true of him, [Solanka] found himself thinking once again, might also be true to some degree of everyone. The whole world was burning on a shorter fuse. There was a knife twisting in every gut, a scourge for every back. We were all grievously provoked. Explosions were heard on every side. Human life was now lived in the moment before the fury, when the anger grew, or the moment during - the fury's hour, the time of the beast set free - or in the ruined aftermath of a great violence, when the fury ebbed and chaos abated, until the tide began, once again, to turn. Craters - in cities, in deserts, in nations, in the heart - had become commonplace. People snarled and cowered in the rubble of their own misdeeds."

But at the same time it is a vividly-drawn portrait of pre-9/11 New York as a buzzing, seething metropolis and, in broader terms, an attempt not only to take the pulse of America but to offer a perceptive cultural critique:

"Americans were always labelling things with the America logo: American Dream, American Buffalo, American Graffiti, American Psycho, American Tune. But everyone else had such things too, and in the rest of the world the addition of a nationalist prefix didn't seem to add much meaning. English Psycho, Indian Graffiti, Australian Buffalo, Egyptian Dream, Chilean Tune. America's need to make things American, to own them, thought Solanka, was the mark of an odd insecurity. Also, of course, and more prosaically, capitalist."

Passages like this, pithy and intelligent as they are, are rather unsatisfactorily shoehorned into the narrative as thoughts attributed to the central character (remove the words "thought Solanka" above, and what have you got?), when what Rushdie evidently feels a burning need to say would be better suited to a non-fiction essay or series of essays dissecting America in sociological and sociocultural terms. Similarly, the fact that Solanka is a dollmaker allows Rushdie to speculate on themes of control and power, particularly with respect to the nature of fiction (the character Little Brain escapes from the control of her creator, much to his chagrin, while it is revealed that Solanka and his associates all have "back-stories", just like those he creates for his dolls). As it is, all this material, while intriguing in itself, tends to impede the narrative in a way that damages the overall effectiveness of the novel. While Solanka himself is a fascinating character, he's essentially just a vehicle for Rushdie to expound and explore his ideas, and the other characters (Eleanor and the two women who come to occupy central places in his life, Mila Milo and Neela Mahendra) are for the reader almost incidental, as are the relationships between the characters.

Add to this the fact that the ending is strangely rushed, and that Rushdie's fondness for cultural references becomes rather overwhelming (as does the rather smug and self-conscious epigrammatic cleverness of some of his phrases), and I have to conclude that 'Fury' wasn't the masterpiece I was hoping for. If it doesn't quite work as a novel, it's because there's just too much going on at once - that said, though, much of it is still well worth reading and on the whole very well written. I'd always rather come up against too many ideas than too few.

*Following a recommendation from Loaf, I'm now reading 'Money' by Martin Amis. Never let it be said that I don't listen to my public!
On a wing and a prayer

There's no doubt about it, Monday's 3-1 win over Fulham at St James's was as important as they come. If we're going to stay in the running for the final Champions League spot we have to take our chances and beat our closest rivals. The difference between the teams as suggested by the scoreline is about right, I think - we could have bagged a lot more than three, but then had Fulham been more incisive up front, with our old boy Saha on the pitch rather than en route for Old Trafford, they could have reaped greater rewards than Davis's strike for some sharp passing and slick approach play, much of which was channelled through their Geordie captain Lee Clark, still fondly remembered on Tyneside.

Our defending was, on the whole, sound. Woodgate continues to prove his worth, and even came close to scoring - a feat that his central defensive partner Andy O'Brien managed after just four minutes to set us on our way. However, what really made the difference between the teams was our aerial ability and some superb crosses. Robert put in several great balls, hit a couple of fabulous shots and capped a fine performance with a spectacular overhead goal, his tenth of an increasingly impressive season, while on the other flank Solano also underlined his importance to the side for Bobby's benefit with some neat passing - we really do look better with two wingers, or at least midfielders who like to play out wide (that can't be said of the likes of Dyer, Viana or Bowyer). For once Shearer wasn't on the scoresheet, but the other old-timer in the side Speed notched an important header.

So, still unbeaten in 2004 - this is the sort of form we desperately need to keep up. Ultimately, though, we have to accept even at this stage that that still might not be enough - Charlton, four points ahead of us, are on a great run of form and show no signs of slipping up. They're the ones in pole position - and Liverpool move back above us if they succeed where Man Utd failed and beat Wolves at Molineux tonight. Let's just hope lightning does strike twice, eh?
Pretty vacant?

So, John Lydon is to appear on the forthcoming series of 'I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here'. The question is: appalling betrayal of everything he supposedly stands (or stood?) for, or shrewdly taking the system down from the inside? You decide. At least he'll make it watchable, the sour-faced old provocateur that he is- a fact which, of course, suggests it is the producers who will inevitably win the game of who's playing who.
Where's Whitley Road?

In the last couple of days one of my most recent discoveries, Whitley Road, seems to have disappeared into the cyber-ether without a trace - a source of much disappointment, because not only was it a good read, but it was also a pleasure to find another Toon-affiliated blogger out there. So, Damo, I hope the hiatus is only temporary - leave me a comment or drop me an email.

There's also upheaval over at Ulterior, one of my most regular reads. Razorhead, hopefully you'll resurface sometime soon - please let me know where!
Quote of the day

"I'm not proposing Bush=Hitler, but I would proffer the notion that the Bush Regime is more or less implementing the same type of 'you disagree, we silence you' mentality made famous by the Hitler Regime. A leader, among other things, is an icon; a representational figure for a consortium, the power elite behind the slogan-covered backdrops, who influence the decisions made by the figurehead ... I'm glad I'm not living in a country where car bombs are killing 20 of my fellow citizens, and hi-tech helicopters (and other aircraft) can be shot out of the sky by portable missiles. Yet. It doesn't really qualify as 'improved living conditions' to me."

Bob Mould, writing on his very own blog.

(Thanks to No Matter What You Heard, Parallax View, Alex McChesney Dot Com, Wisdom Goof, Largehearted Boy and Wherever You Are for all pointing me in the right direction.)
You WHAT?!!

Hey you! Yeah, you! You, who stumbled across SWSL after entering such things as these into a search engine:

loudest human fart records
virginia woolf mogwai
fundraising pie throwing ingredients
words to chimpanzee song
scousers from newcastle
andy fordham naked

Listen up, and listen good: SWSL does not cater for your sick, twisted little minds. Be off with you.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Welcome! Willkommen! Bienvenue!

The latest blogs to find their way onto my blogroll and into my heart:

Blogged
Crumbling Loaf
Via Chicago
Wildly Inaccurate

Fine reads one and all - spread the word, kids.
A measure of how far NME has fallen #537

On the front cover of this week's issue:

"Live fast, die young! Dead rock star glossy pull-out!"
Feel good hits of the 15th January

1. 'Take Me Out' - Franz Ferdinand
2. 'Stop' - Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
3. 'In The Forest' - The Coral
4. 'No, Not Now' - Hot Hot Heat
5. 'Strays' - Jane's Addiction
6. 'Roses' - Outkast
7. 'She Kissed Me (And It Felt Like A Hit)' - Spiritualized
8. 'The Wagon' - Dinosaur Jr
9. 'Favours' - The Delgados
10. 'Hole In The Head' - Sugababes
Know Your Enemy #35

"It's a home movie. It's the most self absorbed narcissistic movie since, well, 'The Virgin Suicides'. Rich people! Oh they're so funny with their troubles! It's as if they really think J D Salinger is literature!"

Crumbling Loaf on 'Lost In Translation'.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

"We all realised we were leaving confusion and nonsense behind and performing our one and noble function of the time, MOVE"

When I told a friend recently that Jack Kerouac's 'On The Road' was sitting on my bookshelf as yet unread, he laughed and said I'd better read it quick before I get too old - so that's just what I did.

The novel details "the raggedy madness and riot" of the lives of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty as they travel, beg, borrow and steal their way across America from coast to coast in search of excitement and kicks. It's not hard to see why it's been quite such an influential and inspirational book, chronicling as it does the joyous recklessness of youth in post-war America in such breathless prose that the reader is swept up in the tumult of it all, the characters' restlessness and openness to new experiences in which to delight, even in the face of poverty and deprivation.

More than that, 'On The Road' is a powerful statement of the American love affair with the car, as a metaphor for freedom, and of the obsessive lust for exploration and for wide open spaces. As the title suggests, the road itself is perhaps the most potent metaphor for freedom - the emphasis firmly on the journey and not the destination, which doesn't matter because there isn't any real end point to it all anyway: "What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? - it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies".

Of course it would be easy to be cynical about it all - it would be easy to trace the going-to-Goa-to-sample-the-culture-and-take-drugs-and-thereby-"find-yourself" gap-year rites-of-passage bollocks back to its beginnings in this book, and some might argue that to call it "an exploration of personal freedom, a test of the limits of the American dream" (as the back-cover blurb of my copy does) is to dress up the sprawling, brawling antics of a bunch of wasters in inappropriately grandiose finery. But this can only come after - when you're actually reading the novel you can't help but absorb and become immersed in the manic energy of it and its characters.

Well worth a read (if you're still young at heart) - and not least because the passages about jazz are brilliant pieces of music writing.
The big read

As has been the case for the last few years, one of my aims for 2004 (I wouldn't glorify it as a resolution as such) is to read more for pleasure. This time I'm determined to do it. I'm already well on the way to finishing Salman Rushdie's 'Fury', and I've got a great pile of books waiting to be looked at (the consequence of buying books faster than I read them):

FICTION
Virginia Woolf, 'The Waves' / 'The Years'
Martin Amis, 'Money'
Don DeLillo, 'Underworld'
Salman Rushdie, 'The Ground Beneath Her Feet'
Ian Rankin, 'Resurrection Men'
Philip Roth, 'Portnoy's Complaint'
Bret Easton Ellis, 'Glamorama'
Saul Bellow, 'The Adventures Of Augie March'
Thomas Pynchon, 'Mason And Dixon'
Julian Barnes, 'Flaubert's Parrot'
Jonathan Frantzen, 'The Twenty-Seventh City'
Frederic Beigbeder, '9.99'

NON-FICTION
Jon Savage, 'England's Dreaming'
Melvyn Bragg, 'The Adventures Of English'
Kurt Cobain, 'Journals'
Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies, 'Why Do People Hate America?'
John Simpson, 'A Mad World, My Masters: Tales From A Traveller's Life'

Ultimately I want to get through them all, but in the meantime any suggestions on what to read next?

(And yes, Kenny, you were the inspiration behind my recent purchase of 'Mason And Dixon' - the fact that it was available as slightly damaged stock for 99p in The Works was merely the icing on the cake!)
Containment breeds contentment

It might not have been a win, but it certainly felt like one. After several wretched displays against Man Utd we finally got it right and left Old Trafford unscathed with a 0-0 draw - and it could have been even better.

The problem in the past seems to have been that we've had some kind of inferiority complex which has meant we turn to jelly as soon as we step out onto the same pitch as them. Other sides seem to raise their game and throw everything into it, even if they ultimately get beaten, whereas in the recent past we've just rolled over meekly, fawning at their feet. Paul Scholes was probably looking forward to this fixture like a little kid waiting for Christmas, and van Nistelrooy's face probably lit up like he was about to get a carrot and some sugarcubes.

But with Woodgate once again an assuring influence, and a battered, bloodied but unbowed O'Brien standing tall alongside him in central defence, we managed to keep a third consecutive clean sheet. Of course it helped that their attack was unusually blunt, apparently incapable of slicing through us like the proverbial knife through butter that I was fearing (and, it has to be said, expecting). It was never as if we were clinging on, either - our passing was, if anything, sharper than theirs, JJ hit the bar with a thumping header and, had we had a little more self-belief going forward, we could have taken advantage of their disinterestedness and humbled them.

There's been a lot said and written about the penalty incident and referee Paul Durkin's later admission that he got it wrong - suffice to say that while I applaud the fact that he confessed to making a mistake rather than holing himself away in his dressing room, there WAS contact between Howard and Shearer and it WAS a penalty and the decision could have robbed us of a famous win. Of course penalties awarded to the opposition at Old Trafford are about as common as magnanimous comments from Fish-Eyed Ferguson - it's quite telling that the last player to score a penalty against Man Utd on their own patch was Ruel Fox, for Norwich back in 1993...

Having said all that, though, we were very lucky that Durkin ruled out Silvestre's "goal" - there was little wrong with his challenge on O'Brien, and no immediate complaint from the defender. A Man Utd victory would have been thoroughly undeserved - as it was, a single point was scant reward for a fine team performance, especially given Saturday's results for Charlton, Liverpool and Fulham.

Nevertheless, that's three games unbeaten - long may 2004 continue in the same vein.
One hundred and eighty!: Norse power

How quickly a week passes. Congratulations to Andy Fordham on his triumph in the Embassy World Darts Championships - a very popular winner, not least because his opponent in the final Mervyn King is a bitter, grumpy tosser. It's unusual, to say the least, to find a sportsman at the absolute top of his game who looks like a cross between a redneck extra from 'Deliverance' and the Stay-Puft marshmallow man from 'Ghost Busters', but there's no denying Fordham's a fine darts player, and a bit of a legend with fans and fellow professionals alike. Thanks also to Andy for providing the first unmissably gripping bit of TV of the New Year - his sensational comeback from 4-2 down in the semi-final to beat reigning champion Raymond Barneveld 5-4. It was enough to make me want to seek out the Queen's Arms pub in Woolwich, which he runs with his wife, just to shake his hand.
Is it just me...

... or is the setting for 'Midsomer Murders' a Daily Mail reader's wet dream? Lush green countryside, huge manor houses, country pubs, morris dancing, unlocked doors and not a black face in sight.
Quote of the day

"If there were a few more clipped ears, there'd be a lot less gun crime."

Norris in last night's 'Coronation Street'.
It was the dead of night when the coffin creaked open...

... and out stepped Mike, unable to resist posting his end-of-year lists. Eclecticism is the word.

Friday, January 09, 2004

ToonNews

A nervy win on the pitch, a mixture of instability and mild relief off it – just a typical few days in the life of Newcastle United.

Wednesday’s win over Leeds was vital to our chances of staying in the running for the fourth Champions’ League spot, but it was far from comfortable. We controlled the match and carved out chance after chance following Shearer’s 4th minute strike, which proved the winner – Jenas and Dyer went close, Speed hit a post, Shearer uncharacteristically missed a sitter – and yet despite only leading by one goal the players started getting complacent in the second half and allowed Leeds back into the game. In the end we could have found ourselves gifting a priceless away point to relegation fodder, and a better team would have punished our slackness. Still, at least it was a win, at least we look more watertight at the back following Woodgate’s return to the side, and at least we’re still creating chances.

However, creating chances might become more of a problem if, as seems increasingly likely, Solano is allowed to leave the club during the transfer window. Sir Bobby has effectively put Nobby up for sale by publicly inviting bids, and there are sure to be no shortage of interested clubs, not least Villa. The whole situation strikes me as bizarre. Although he can, like our other forward players, have quiet games, not only is Solano a creative asset on the pitch and a useful option to have on the bench, but he’s also (like Dabizas) one of the few recent imports to have worn his heart on his sleeve and played his heart out for the club, one of Kenny Dalglish’s best signings (along with Given and Speed). He also chips in with a few goals every season – always helpful from a midfielder. Who’s going to replace him on the right side of midfield? Bowyer’s been poor there this season, and like Dyer he prefers a central role, while I’m yet to be convinced that Ambrose is ready for regular first-team football. I can imagine he might have left sooner had we beaten Blackburn to the signature of Brett Emerton in the summer, but as it is he’s the best right-sided player we have. I doubt I’m alone among Newcastle fans in hoping he doesn’t leave, and certainly not for a rival Premiership side for the paltry £3m that’s currently being bandied about – it’s not so long ago that Real Madrid were allegedly sniffing around…

Meanwhile, how to react to the news that the Premiership players accused of the Grosvenor Hotel “rape” in September (including our own Titus Bramble) have been let off the hook, it having been decided that there was insufficient evidence? I don’t know. Let’s just hope all our young tearaways learn to curb their libidos, grow up and act like the highly-paid responsible professionals they supposedly are.
How to get suspended from your job and your programme taken off air in one easy step

1. In an article in a Sunday newspaper, refer to Arabs as "suicide bombers, limb-amputators, women repressors".

Well done Kilroy, and well done to the Sunday Express for publishing such wonderfully enlightened opinion.

(Thanks to Bushra for the link.)

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Bullseye

If you'll excuse the rather inappropriate figure of speech, lately my laziness seems to have scaled new heights. Last time I was searching for an explanation for my lethargy, I put it down to listening to too much smack rock. This time the blame falls squarely on the darts.

Darts players all seem to be corpulent men with dubious moustaches and laden with so much gold that they look like they've just raided One Eyed Willy's pirate ship (oh come on now, it's a 'Goonies' reference - if you've not seen the film, you should feel very very ashamed). Mr T has nothing on these guys. For me, the wonder is not so much that these "characters" can consider themselves to be athletes - after all, if you spent all day sat on your arse in the pub with a pie in one hand and a pint in the other (as they must certainly do - that's the only way to maintain that distinctive physique, although sitting watching the darts on TV and munching on pork scratchings like I've been doing probably goes some way towards it), you'd consider standing sweating under some hot lights and throwing some miniature arrows at a board to be as tough as running a marathon. No, the real wonder is that they have wives and girlfriends. Seriously, does anyone out there find someone like John 'Boy' Walton attractive? Would anyone like 'three in a bed' with Co Stompe and Jarko Komula? Even 18-year-old Scouse whizzkid Stephen Bunting is not a model of youthful good looks but the sort of pudgy kid who probably routinely gorges himself on second helpings of school dinners.

They all look at least faintly ridiculous. And no-one looks more ridiculous than Andy 'The Viking' Fordham. The long-haired King Kong of the darts world, Andy's enormous forearms are like something out of 'Popeye' and suggest that he spends an awful lot of his time, er, playing darts. I have visions of him attending a meeting organised by Cavemen Reunited, clad in a loin cloth and with club in hand, and chatting away about the time he ate a whole boar in one sitting to the equally hirsute Martin 'Wolfie' Adams - a man who's adopted a wolf, for fuck's sake.

Still, even if they do all look ridiculous, fucking hell can they play darts. So far the championship, and its colourful cast of characters, has served up some fantastic entertainment. I've been getting sucked in deeper and deeper, taking an increasing interest in statistics and strategies, and picking up some of the terminology - even to the extent of using phrases outside of their normal context (see: "Bent the wire!" - an exclamation which roughly translates as "Close, but no cigar"). Come Sunday's final I'll be fully conversant in dartspeak.

Right, I'm off down the pub to put some practice in. Drinking, that is. I might even throw a few darts. If you happen to be around when I start playing, a word of advice: duck.
Quote of the day

"It's probably the best thing that's ever happened to me, getting stabbed - in a funny kind of way"

So said darts player Tony West in a brief interview last night. It inspired him to take up the sport, in case you're wondering. Although I would have thought an experience like that would make him want to avoid sharp pointy objects. Perhaps he really does fantasise about using his attacker's face as a dartboard.
Greek love

So, Nic the Greek has left us for pastures new - or, rather, blue. Having fallen out of favour despite the, er, occasional shortcomings of our regular back four, Nicos Dabizas decided to accept an offer from Leicester. Publicly he's had nothing but praise for the club, the manager and the fans, and I must admit to feeling a bit sorry to see him go. Though not the most accomplished defender in the world, and a little too prone to making costly errors and having rushes of blood to the head (a case in point: handling on the line in the fourth minute of last season's match at Blackburn - he was sent off, they scored the penalty and went on to win 5-2), he nevertheless gave his all for the cause whenever called upon, which is more than can be said of some players still with us.

His time at the club has been more up-and-down than most - signed by Kenny Dalglish in 1998, I have it on VERY good authority that he was told in no uncertain terms by Ruud Gullit on the training pitch in front of the rest of the squad that he'd never play for Newcastle again, only to return to the team under Sir Bobby. Finest hour? It HAS to be his winning goal against the Mackems in the Stadium of Shite in the 2001-2002 season (even though it was followed by several very ropey displays). I also gather he's a genuinely affable person, too - in his early days at the club, along with Georgiadis and Ketsbaia, he used to meet up regularly for coffee with a Greek friend of mine who at the time was studying at Newcastle University.

All the best for the future, Nic - I hope Leicester stay up, if only for your sake. But please don't score against us, as every other old boy seems to...

In other Toon-related news, after the Southampton game Sir Bobby was quoted as saying of man-of-the-match Dyer: "Kieron went to hospital on Monday and had a minor operation. He was in on the morning, out in the evening. It was all to do with constipation and a complication to do with his bowels. It was a very unpleasant problem." No surprise, then, that he was able to crap freely all over the Saints defence...
Musicians living dangerously

"Bedingfield 'blessed' to be alive" - yeah, that's right you knob, think of yourself why don't you?! What about the rest of us, eh? We're evidently cursed to be subjected to more of your inane white-Craig-David wet-lettuce r 'n' b dreck. So you "cheated death", did you? Haven't you heard that cheats never prosper? Next time I hope your near-death experience is even nearer.

On a similar note (ie musicians sustaining injuries), a special SWSL Award For Superb Bad Taste goes to Kenny for writing a blog post which alludes the shooting of The Kinks' Ray Davies in New Orleans and entitling it "You really got me"...

Monday, January 05, 2004

The critical urge

Am I just too cynical to watch films anymore? My trip to the cinema on Friday (the first in ages) to see the third and final installment of the ‘Lord Of The Rings’ saga was undertaken more out of friendly coaxing and compulsion than choice, but despite a general apathy towards watching the film I found it mildly diverting for the most part. I could just about overlook the trite pseudo-feminist agenda tacked onto the plot (if you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I mean – “I’m no man, I’m a woman”) and the absurd self-importance with which Orlando Bloom delivers all his lines (mercifully, he doesn’t feature much), allowing myself to be swept up by the admittedly impressive battle scenes, a real visual treat far more satisfying than the shitstorm that was the last ‘Star Wars’ film. But then all my goodwill was eroded by that (literally) arse-numbingly tedious ending which seemed to last an eternity and which is filled with nothing but platitudinous set-piece scenes and nauseating Hollywood schmaltz to such an extent that it comes across as some kind of truly horrific parody.

Back at home, I watched ‘Bowling For Columbine’ on video for the first time. Even then, despite agreeing with much of what Michael Moore is implying, I couldn’t help finding fault. For me, the film is let down by the same things that threaten to spoil ‘Stupid White Men’ – an occasional tendency towards too great a reliance on and overstatement of personal individual anecdotes, the occasional use of meaningless statistics (for instance, referring to the number of people killed by guns in different countries each year is only meaningful if expressed as a percentage of the population, and not simply as a figure), and occasional inconsistencies of argument. These tendencies shouldn’t be allowed to detract from the overall merit of the movie (there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s a very valuable and provocative piece of film-making, even if it can’t provide any conclusive answers or solutions), but it’s just frustrating for someone like me, who broadly agrees with Moore’s stance, that he leaves himself open to criticism from those who would seek to discredit his arguments in their entirety.

In between the two, I caught a repeated ‘Room 101’ which had Stephen Fry as the guest. His first selection was critics (more specifically, critics on late-night TV review programmes), his argument essentially being that these people expend all their energies in sneering at and tearing apart the genuinely creative work of others (writers, musicians, film-makers etc) without actually offering any positive cultural contribution themselves. It all seemed rather appropriate – I long for some kind of creative impulse, believe me, but, as you might have noticed on SWSL, in its absence I enjoy cynically taking aim at everything and anything. Grumpiness seems to be my raison d’etre, and were I ever to be on ‘Room 101’ it’d be a dream come true – listing pet hates to my blackened heart’s content.

Oh well, here’s hoping the spring can thaw my icy cynicism.
Thirty years of hurt never stopped us dreaming

Following abysmal displays against Leicester and Blackburn over the festive period, Saturday’s superb FA Cup win over Southampton was as surprising as it was warmly welcome – not least because we hadn’t beaten the Saints on their own ground (both The Dell and St Mary’s) since 1972, having suffered some heartbreaking defeats in that time (in the ‘90s, mostly thanks to that big-nosed bane of our existence Matt Le Tissier). The manner of the victory was impressive, and the contribution of everyone in a black-and-white shirt commendable (the presence of the returning Woodgate, for instance, proved a calming influence on a previously jittery back line), but the post-match plaudits belonged to one player in particular.

Last April, in the build-up to the home league clash against Man Utd, North-East regional daily The Journal ran an article which suggested that Paul Scholes’s status as something of a sacred cow within the England team was laughable, and that Kieron Dyer was far more deserving of his shirt and position. The offending article found its way onto the Man Utd dressing-room wall, and spurred Scholes on to claim a hat-trick as the bastards tore us limb from limb on our own patch, whilst Dyer was as poor as anyone else in the Newcastle side. The difference in quality was plain to see that day. And yet, for all that, Dyer is a player in a very similar mould as Scholes – skillful and quick-thinking on the ball, tenacious in the tackle, bursting with energy to get from box to box. The one thing that really sets the two players apart, though, is finishing. Ferguson knows he can rely on Scholes to weigh in with a decent goalscoring contribution every season, whereas for all his creative promptings and forages into the opposition penalty area Dyer managed just two league goals last season, both of those coming in the 3-0 win away to Leeds. If only he could add regular goalscoring to his game, he’d be an even more valuable asset to the side. On Saturday, playing just behind Shearer, he marked his return to the first team after injury by scoring two excellent goals (the second, in particular, was a gem) and tormenting the normally composed Saints defence all evening. It was as good a display as he’s ever produced for the club. As with Robert, we desperately need him fit and scoring goals to take some of the onus from Shearer.

So, let’s hope he and the team started the year the way they mean to carry on – in fluent and incisive form.
Lists, glorious lists

Why is there such a HUGE disparity between most albums and singles lists I've come across for 2003? Singles = Beyonce, Sean Paul, Justin, Outkast, etcetera; ie oodles of hook-laden ultra-modern hip pop. Albums = The Rapture, Songs:Ohia, White Stripes, Strokes, etcetera; ie oodles of dirty rockist shite. ¿Que?

A point made by self-confessed listophobe Nick Southall of Auspicious Fish that’s pertinent to my own lists, and one to which I’m not sure I’ve got an answer – except perhaps for the fact that what works best as a single doesn’t work best when repeated along similar lines several times in sequence to make an album.

Other end-of-year music lists can be found and enjoyed on the following fine blogs: Deviated Septum, Glamorama, The Naked Maja, No Matter What You Heard, Parallax View.

(Incidentally, Nick’s also written some interesting stuff on The White Stripes and the whole notion of “authenticity” – worth a read.)
Know Your Enemy #34

Although we do know that it genuinely was a marriage, it's going to be annulled this morning on the grounds that it was unconsummated (i.e. although vows were exchanged, there was no photographer from OK present, and as such the wedding is invalid.)

No Rock ‘N’ Roll Fun on Britney’s marriage.
Quote of the day

Rock people used to say they wanted to die young, but they weren't to know that when they get old, they get easy money and knighthoods.

Courtesy of a genius friend.

Wednesday, December 31, 2003

The SWSL End-Of-Year Music Lists 2003

I write this, appropriately enough, as ‘High Fidelity’ blares out of the TV in the background. Appropriate, because of the central character’s obsession with music, and, more particularly, with lists. It’s a film I hate, at least partly because I’m the sort of person who’s the butt of most of the jokes.

I know that at this time of year the internet is awash with public professions of personal preference regarding music released over the previous twelve months, and also with numerous scathing critiques of this whole tendency. OF COURSE what I think matters not a jot in the grand scheme of things. OF COURSE organising and ranking albums, singles etc into lists is a horribly artificial practice which necessarily assumes that subjective opinions can be somehow quantified.

But fuck it all – come the end of December, I am powerless to resist the psychological compulsion to list stuff. I make no pretence to be all-inclusive – it’s personal, subjective, OK? I’m writing about what I’ve heard, and, believe me, I know there’s so much more out there that I’ve missed out on. Despite professing occasionally to be an enlightened lover of music in general, the lists below do suggest otherwise – that I am still very much a resident of the white-boys-with-guitars ghetto.

Music is all about opinion. So, if you’d like to take issue with any of my choices, or you’ve got any comments to make, then feel free to do so. And if you’re not interested, or are disgusted at the whole self-indulgence of it all, don’t read – it’s as simple as that.
The SWSL Top 20 Singles Of 2003

There’s no doubt in my mind that 2003 has been a vintage year for singles – just take a peek at the honourable mentions, what rocked the SWSL party but didn’t quite make the Top 20:

AUDIOSLAVE – ‘Cochise’
THE BLACK KEYS – ‘Hard Row’
BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB – ‘Stop’
BURNING BRIDES – ‘Arctic Snow’
NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS – ‘Bring It On’
CAVE IN – ‘Anchor’
THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS FEAT. THE FLAMING LIPS – ‘The Golden Path’
THE COOPER TEMPLE CLAUSE – ‘Promises Promises’
THE CORAL – ‘Don’t Think You’re The First’ / ‘Secret Kiss’
THE DARKNESS – ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’
THE DATSUNS – ‘Harmonic Generator’
DEFTONES – ‘Minerva’
DESERT SESSIONS – ‘Crawl Home’
DIZZEE RASCAL – ‘I Luv U’ / ‘Jus A Rascal’
EELS – ‘Saturday Morning’
THE EIGHTIES MATCHBOX B-LINE DISASTER – ‘Psychosis Safari’
ELBOW – ‘Fallen Angel’
ELECTRIC SIX – ‘Danger! High Voltage’
THE FLAMING LIPS – ‘Ego Tripping At The Gates Of Hell’ EP
FOO FIGHTERS – ‘Low’
THE FUTUREHEADS – ‘First Day’
GIRLS ALOUD – ‘No Good Advice’
GOLDFRAPP – ‘Strict Machine’
GRANDADDY – ‘Now It’s On’
HAR MAR SUPERSTAR – ‘Power Lunch’
HOPE OF THE STATES – ‘Enemies Friends’
HOT HOT HEAT – ‘No, Not Now’
THE ICARUS LINE – ‘Love Is Happiness’ EP
JUNIOR SENIOR – ‘Move Your Feet’
THE KILLS – ‘Fried My Little Brains’ / ‘Pull A U’
THE LIBERTINES – ‘Time For Heroes’
STEPHEN MALKMUS AND THE JICKS – ‘Dark Wave’ EP
THE MARS VOLTA – ‘Inertiatic ESP’
MIS-TEEQ – ‘Can’t Get It Back’
MUSE – ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ / ‘Time Is Running Out’
QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE – ‘Go With The Flow’ / ‘First It Giveth’
RADIOHEAD – ‘2 + 2 = 5’
THE RAVEONETTES – ‘Heartbreak Stroll’
RAZORLIGHT – ‘Rip It Up’
STELLASTARR* - ‘Jenny’
SUGABABES – ‘Hole In The Head’
SUPER FURRY ANIMALS – ‘Golden Retriever’
JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE – ‘Rock Your Body’
THE WHITE STRIPES – ‘I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’
YEAH YEAH YEAHS – ‘Pin’ / ‘Maps’
YO LA TENGO – ‘Today Is The Day!’ EP
So, now for the SWSL Top 20 Singles Of 2003 (yes, 20 this year and not 10, and the result of much agonising…):

20. THE CORAL – ‘Pass It On’
The Las saddle up and take a ride through the American Mid-West. A sublime pop song.

19. THE RAPTURE – ‘House Of Jealous Lovers’
The new Stone Roses? Fuck that – this is intelligent, hip and edgy. I defy you not to dance.

18. HOT HOT HEAT – ‘Bandages’
More yelping and insistent danceability, achieved this time without the mythical Midas touch of DFA – skills.

17. RADIOHEAD – ‘There There’
As the title suggests, a bit of mollification for those discomfited by the more left-field leanings of Kid A and Amnesiac. This felt like a classic after just one play.

16. FRANZ FERDINAND – ‘Darts Of Pleasure’
Clever and witty art-pop that, as – ahem – someone once put it, puts the arch into Archduke. Plus, this is one of those singles on which the B-sides are just as good if not better than the title track. (Take note, however: new single ‘Take Me Out’ goes one better – the sort of marriage of new wave and disco that Blondie would be proud of. I’ll go on record like Kenny and say this could well already be a serious contender for next year’s Singles Of The Year.)

15. THE FUTUREHEADS – ‘1 2 3 Nul!’ EP
Fantastic gritty punk thrills complete with spectacular vocal interplay. From Sunderland. Who’d have thunk it?

14. THE STROKES – ‘12:51’
Suave and sharply-dressed. And who can possibly argue with handclaps?

13. YEAH YEAH YEAHS – ‘Date With The Night’
Sonic Youth’s ‘No Queen Blues’ smeared in lipstick, ripped to the tits on champagne and rolling around on top of a bar loudly demanding a shag.

12. THE DARKNESS – ‘Growing On Me’
This gets the nod ahead of ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’ for two reasons: firstly, it sounds less like Def Leppard and, secondly, it’s about genital warts – quite appropriate for a cock rock band. Good to know that, even while they’re immersed in the sexually licentious world of rock ‘n’ roll, Hawkins and company are aware that a quick rumble in the back of the tourbus can result in all manner of unpleasant lumps, rashes and discharges.

11. INTERPOL – ‘Say Hello To The Angels’ / ‘NYC’ (double A-side)
The fact that the ravishingly gorgeous ‘NYC’ pisses all over ‘Say Hello To The Angels’, itself the missing link between The Strokes and The Smiths, speaks volumes for the quality of the album from whence these two gems came.
10. OUTKAST – ‘Hey Ya!’
If a hip-hop tune is supposed to be a joyless braggadocio-laden recitation of misadventures with guns and / or hos, someone certainly hasn’t told Outkast’s Dre. ‘Hey Ya!’ is imaginatively uninhibited in a way perhaps only The Coral could match.

9. THE WHITE STRIPES – ‘7 Nation Army’
Only one bassline was more ubiquitous than that of Timberlake’s ‘Rock Your Body’ this year, and it wasn’t even played on a bass.

8. MEW – ‘Comforting Sounds’
What Sigur Ros might sound like on record if they didn’t live in their own alternative universe on a diet of helium and tranquillizers.

7. JANE’S ADDICTION – ‘Just Because’
A storming, stampeding, bludgeoning brute of a single that screamed, “Get out of our fucking way, or be mown down like a Belle-And-Sebastian-loving shrew by a steroid-rock juggernaut! We’re BACK, motherfuckers!” Sales of gold trousers have picked up where they left off in 1991.

6. ELECTRIC SIX – ‘Gay Bar’
THAT riff, hamsters, homoeroticism, Abraham Lincoln – all the ingredients needed for a video that still kicks The Darkness into next week. Resistance was futile – I tried for a while, but then found myself forced to bend over and be buggered by its punching-your-fist-in-the-air greatness.

5. THE DELGADOS – ‘All You Need Is Hate’
Romanticism, humanism, hippyism be damned. Set to a disarmingly sprightly tune, self-loathing and misanthropy don’t come much more concentrated than this. Like biting into a coffee cream and finding it’s full of pus.

4. MICHAEL ANDREWS AND GARY JULES – ‘Mad World’
A remarkable cover, and an even more remarkable Christmas #1 – one in the eye for the hype machine. No doubt The Darkness, the Pop Idles, Cliff Richard, Atomic Kitten and the rest are all cursing the fact that it really is a very very mad world. To which I say: fuck ‘em, this is brilliant.

3. BEYONCE FEAT. JAY-Z – ‘Crazy In Love’
With this preposterously bombastic and showy planet-gobbling pop Godzilla, Beyonce seemed to be saying, “Now THIS is a tune! On your knees, you snivelling peasants! You’re not fit to lick the shit from my shoes!” Few would care to argue.

2. THE RAVEONETTES – ‘That Great Love Sound’
Sometimes the simple things can be the most spectacular. Everything a pop song should be, and in spades – a thrillingly instant headrush.

1. JOHNNY CASH – ‘Hurt’
Poignant isn’t the word. The Man In Black twists Trent Reznor’s gloomy original into something inestimably more compelling – a simple yet painfully eloquent elegy for his own life, and a reminder that death stalks us all.

And, finally, a reminder of the SWSL Top 10 Singles Of 2002:

1. SUGABABES – ‘Freak Like Me’
2. QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE – ‘No-One Knows’
3. THE MARS VOLTA – ‘Tremulant’ EP
4. YEAH YEAH YEAHS – ‘Master’ EP
5. THE WHITE STRIPES – ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’
6. THE CORAL – ‘Dreaming Of You’
7. THE ICARUS LINE – ‘Feed A Cat To Your Cobra’
8. THE DATSUNS – ‘In Love’
9. INTERPOL – ‘PDA’
10. THE VON BONDIES – ‘It Came From Japan’
The SWSL Top 10 Albums Of 2003

Perhaps it’s not been quite such a good year for albums as it has for singles, but there’s still been plenty of LPs that have elated and excited these ears.

First of all, an admission – all the albums I haven’t heard but which might have made it if I had (a shamefully long list):

ARAB STRAP – Monday At The Hug & Pint
BARDO POND – On The Ellipse
THE BLACK KEYS – Thickfreakness
DAVID BOWIE – Reality
THE BUFF MEDWAYS – 1914
COLDER – Again
THE COOPER TEMPLE CLAUSE – Kick Up The Fire, And Let The Flames Break Loose
THE DARKNESS – Permission To Land
THE DISTILLERS – Coral Fang
DIZZEE RASCAL – Boy In Da Corner
ELBOW – Cast Of Thousands
THE FIERY FURNACES – Gallowsbird’s Bark
FOUR TET – Rounds
GOLDFRAPP – Black Cherry
GRANDADDY – Sumday
JETPLANE LANDING – Once Like A Spark
M83 – Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts
STEPHEN MALKMUS AND THE JICKS – Pig Lib
MEW – Frengers
MUSE – Absolution
OUTKAST – Speakerboxxx / The Love Below
PRETTY GIRLS MAKE GRAVES – The New Romance
THE RAPTURE – Echoes
SOLEDAD BROTHERS – Voice Of Treason
STELLASTARR* - Stellastarr*
THE WARLOCKS – Phoenix
ZWAN – Mary Star Of The Sea

Next, the honourable mentions – what floated the SWSL boat but didn’t quite make the Top 10:

A SILVER MT ZION – “This Is Our Punk-Rock”, Thee Rusted Satellites Gather + Sing
BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB – Take Them On, On Your Own
CANYON – Empty Rooms
JOHNNY CASH – American IV: The Man Comes Around
NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS - Nocturama
THE CORAL – Magic And Medicine
DEFTONES – Deftones
DO MAKE SAY THINK – Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn
ELECTRIC SIX - Fire
JANE’S ADDICTION – Strays
THE KILLS – Keep On Your Mean Side
MY MORNING JACKET – It Still Moves
QHIXLDEKX – Welcome To Qhixldekx
SPIRITUALIZED – Amazing Grace
THE WHITE STRIPES - Elephant

It’s worth saying that, of these, Canyon’s Empty Rooms probably came closest to scraping in, and also that Nick Cave’s Nocturama was up against it for me right from the start, simply by virtue of its being the full-length follow-up to No More Shall We Part, the 2001 SWSL Album Of The Year by a country mile. As for Elephant, like the other White Stripes albums I find it overrated – it follows the pattern of what’s gone before by starting off in blazing form and then becoming much less consistent in terms of quality, plus there’s only so much of Jack White’s little-boy-lost faux-naivety I can stand (see songs like ‘I Want To Be The Boy To Warm Your Mother’s Heart’ for particularly damning evidence). Plus, ‘Well It’s True That We Love One Another’ is a piece of shit.
So, now for the SWSL Top 10 Albums Of 2003:

10. EELS – Shootenanny!
By no means E’s finest hour (that still has to be 2000’s excellent Daisies Of The Galaxy) Shootenanny! has nevertheless proved, over several listens, another thoroughly enjoyable Eels record. There’s more welcome fruits of the partnership he’s formed with PJ Harvey collaborator John Parrish, but the real beauty, as ever, lies in his instinctive understanding of how to fashion an unpretentious but evocative pop song and in his wonderful lightness of touch when it comes to even the darkest lyrical material.
Key track: ‘Fashion Awards’

9. CAVE IN – Antenna
Although Antenna noticeably more melodic, slick and palatable for the mainstream than their previous records, Cave In’s full-length major label debut is a potent indicator of what they’re all about – bending rock, metal and post-hardcore into new, unusual and occasionally awkward shapes with the same sort of gusto and determination as Josh Homme’s Queens Of The Stone Age.
Key track: ‘Woodwork’

8. HOT HOT HEAT – Make Up The Breakdown
The record that’s propelled the legendary Sub Pop label to the attention of an audience too young to remember grunge, Make Up The Breakdown is stocked full of infectiously vibrant pop songs with a sharp punk edge. Virtually guaranteed to make anybody dance – even the moping moody indie disco type who would normally only move their feet if someone were shooting at them.
Key track: ‘Get In Or Get Out’

7. RADIOHEAD – Hail To The Thief
As something of a halfway house or bridge between the Radiohead of The Bends and OK Computer and the Radiohead of Kid A and Amnesiac, Hail To The Thief is a little frustrating – fleetingly superb, but also unusually inconsistent. The fact that what is probably my least favourite Radiohead LP since Pablo Honey still makes it to #7 on this list is less a reflection of the deficiencies of the competition and more of the phenomenally high benchmarks they’ve set themselves – what is still a good album by their standards is a great one by everyone else’s.
Key track: ‘Sail To The Moon’

6. YEAH YEAH YEAHS – Fever To Tell
A fucking riot of hedonistic energy and exuberance from the start almost right to the finish, when the likes of ‘Maps’ and ‘Modern Romance’ change the mood by beautifully documenting the drunken and tearful comedown. Even if Karen O is destined to be most vividly remembered for being the catalyst behind the complete change of face undergone by high street fashion in 2003, at least she’ll also have the satisfaction of knowing that her band dropped a gloriously feisty debut LP.
Key track: ‘Maps’
5. THE STROKES – Room On Fire
By rights, the words “careless” and “effortless” should be synonyms, but they’re not. The Strokes’ second album, like their first, manages to sound not careless but effortless, in the very best sense of the word. A snappy and perfectly-crafted triumph once again, then, but perhaps they won’t be allowed to stand quite so still next time around.
Key track: ‘I Can’t Win’

4. MOGWAI – Happy Music For Happy People
The most perfectly realised album-length statement of what they’re all about to date.
The songs on Happy Music For Happy People possess a poise, grace, beauty and sheer cohesion that is unparalleled on any earlier record (I’m not of the opinion that Young Team’s their best – quite the opposite).
Key track: ‘Hunted By A Freak’

3. EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY – The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place
A storm in heaven. And that’s all you really need to know.
Key track: ‘Memorial’

2. THE MARS VOLTA – De-Loused In The Comatorium
Wonderfully, wildly ambitious – 70s prog dreamscapes and musicianship meets post-hardcore muscle and power. Out of the clanking darkness seemingly random strands and ideas suddenly coalesce and fuse to form songs which flash and dazzle with a remarkable intensity. Unapologetically difficult at first, but give it time and I guarantee your patience will be richly rewarded.
Key track: ‘Drunkship Of Lanterns’

1. THE RAVEONETTES – Chain Gang Of Love
Raymond Pettibon’s black and white cover for Sonic Youth’s 1990 major label debut album Goo features two young tearaways sat in a car and the words “I stole my sister’s boyfriend. It was all whirlwind heat and flash. We killed my parents and hit the road”. Well, this is the album the pair were listening to, the sound of The Beach Boys and The Ronettes being roughed up at knifepoint in an alleyway by The Ramones and The Jesus & Mary Chain. Sheer black-hearted magic.
Key track: ‘Love Gang’

And finally, a reminder of SWSL’s Top 10 Albums Of 2002:

1. SPARTA – Wiretap Scars
2. INTERPOL – Turn On The Bright Lights
3. SONIC YOUTH – Murray Street
4. …AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD – Source Tags & Codes
5. GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR – Yanqui UXO
6. QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE – Songs For The Deaf
7. IDLEWILD – The Remote Part
8. CAVE IN – Tides Of Tomorrow
9. THE HIVES – Your New Favourite Band
10. BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB - BRMC

(If you asked me now, the following would all have found their way into that list: LOW – Trust, THE CORAL – The Coral, THE DELGADOS – Hate, CALLA – Televise.)

Monday, December 29, 2003

SWSL Top 10 Live Performances Of 2003

A large proportion of my 2003 has been spent in fields and grimy sticky-floored venues exposing myself to both the new, the familiar and the breathtaking. Each and every gig or festival has been documented here on SWSL: this year, as I wrote in the wake of the Leeds Festival, “I feasted at the table of Rock, and I feasted well. Indeed, at times I feasted too well, and was in danger of becoming vomitous.

So, the highlights of what has been another busy year of gig-going – the Top 10:

10. THE DELGADOS, 2nd February, Birmingham Academy 2
What sets The Delgados apart from the crowd is the fact that the strings and woodwind are completely integrated within the fabric of songs which blossom into glorious technicolour, to the extent that self-pity and disillusionment attain a bittersweet grandeur. Although with the lyrical content of their tracks they may, like Arab Strap, have their hearts in the gutter, like The Flaming Lips their eyes are very much focused on the stars.
(Also seen at Glastonbury)

9. YEAH YEAH YEAHS, 22nd August, Leeds Festival
It’s quite telling that there’s no place in the set tonight for ‘Our Time’ – the track from last year’s ‘Master’ EP that features the repeated line ‘It’s our time to be hated’. Absolutely bang on the money, and the best band of the day.
(Also seen at Nottingham Rock City)

8. MOGWAI, 27th June, Glastonbury Festival
But then what was already great becomes instantly magical with the opening chords of ‘My Father My King’. Almost 23 minutes of the reworked and instrumental version of the Jewish hymn later, and having taken the song from the brink of silence to the outer edges of the sound barrier, the band’s diminutive and moustachioed genius Stuart Braithwaite is rubbing his guitar on the edge of the stage and then pushing it up and down the tracks fitted for the moveable cameras. Awesome. The title of the new album might be ironic, but they leave happy people everywhere.
(Also seen at Birmingham Sanctuary)

7. EELS, 6th July, Birmingham Irish Centre
The real gems, though, are reserved for the encores, of which there are three – E thanks us for playing the game of ‘celebrity cat and mouse’ for applauding and encouraging them back on. It is here that the rock mask slips, to wonderful effect. In the first encore, sandwiched between ‘Rock Hard Times’ and ‘Grace Kelly Blues’, we get the one song I’ve been praying for, ‘It’s A Motherfucker’ from the Daisies Of The Galaxy album. Short, simple, understated and effortlessly heartwarming, it’s what E does best and what marks him out as quite such a talent. In the second encore, they finally play ‘All In A Day’s Work’ in its entirety with vocals, and then, with neat and effective symmetry, Shootenanny’s closing track ‘Somebody Loves You’. In the third we get just E and his keyboard for an unexpected rendition of the gorgeous and touchingly na├»ve ‘Beautiful Freak’ which somehow blows everything that has gone before out of the water.

6. THE RAVEONETTES, 30th October, Birmingham Academy 2
Eventually, after the queasy and bruised metronome of ‘Love Can Destroy Everything’, dedicated to Johnny Cash, the warped surf guitar genius of ‘Untamed Girls’ and a fabulous mauling of Buddy Holly’s ‘C’mon Everybody’, old favourites ‘Attack Of The Ghost Riders’ and ‘Beat City’ round the evening off in a joyous celebration of pure noise. The biggest compliment I can pay them is that they make me want to go out, buy some gut-rotting headfuck white cider, drink it in the bushes, enjoy a drunken snog and then go home to spew all over the carpet. As it is, I step back into the rain with ears and head buzzing, glowingly happy. As PJ Harvey sang, this is love.
(Also seen at Leeds)
5. THE FLAMING LIPS, 28th June, Glastonbury Festival
Close your eyes for a second, and then open them – you feel as though you’re on a serious LSD trip. Accompanied by numerous 6ft animals and two ‘permanent suns’, Wayne Coyne – white-suited and face covered in fake blood – is stood centre-stage leading a field of thousands in an impromptu version of ‘Happy Birthday’ for the five-year-old daughter of one of the T-shirt vendors.
(Also seen at Birmingham Academy)

4. JANE’S ADDICTION, 7th November, Nottingham Rock City
‘Ain't no wrong now, ain't no right / There's only pleasure and pain…’. The hedonist's credo, according to Jane's Addiction - a band who know what they're talking about. A band that have fucked anything that moves and snorted or injected anything that doesn't, and lived to tell the tale. … When the steel drums of 'Jane Says' bring the set to an end, the whole band line up at the front of the stage to bow and take the applause together. The theatricality of the whole show is encapsulated right there - we know we've witnessed a PERFORMANCE. If there really is only pleasure and pain, then the world was a much more painful place without them.

3. LOW, 10th February, Birmingham Academy 2
This is a band for whom superlatives were invented. Pretention, glitz and showmanship be damned - this is all about the stark, the fragile, the beautiful. It's all too easy to erect a huge wall of noise on stage behind which to hide. Watching Low, that defensive tactic starts to smack of downright cowardice. This trio are, by contrast, courageous enough to leave vast gaps and spaces in their songs. These are artists who, in the normal course of performing their music on stage, must ritually leave themselves utterly exposed and defenceless - they play at such a low volume and slow tempo that the slightest murmurings of conversation in the audience would be fatal. They seem to have an innate understanding of the power of interweaving light and shade, tone and depth, music and silence; indeed, on songs like 'Closer' and '(That's How You Sing) Amazing Grace' the silence really does speak loudest.

2. SIGUR ROS, 29th June, Glastonbury Festival
Everything – the sense of a gathering storm presaged by a few large raindrops, the falling dusk, probably even the leylines of legend – is in its right place so that it all makes perfect sense. As on ( ), the songs seem to flow seamlessly into one another, less discrete stretches of music than the constituent parts of a much larger whole. Consequently the performance itself seems to trace a narrative progression, starting slowly but gradually and gracefully building up through successive songs to a climactic peak, the final track from ( ), which erupts with volcanic passion to stunning effect. Comparisons with Mogwai – who, through their curation of the 2000 All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, introduced the UK to the band (and vice versa) – are not only inevitable but also, it must be said, favourable. As good as Braithwaite’s bunch of Buckfast-swilling noisemongers were, on this occasion they can consider themselves overshadowed and outdone: this is even more wondrous, even more awe-inspiring, and – crucially – even louder.

1. RADIOHEAD, 28th June, Glastonbury Festival
The reason tickets sold out in record time, Radiohead could have ambled onstage and farted and still drawn a rapturous ovation, such is the esteem in which they are held by adoring fans and bands alike. This is being billed as a homecoming, after the spectacular triumph-over-mud that was 1997. Thankfully, though, instead of opting to thrill the crowd with their trouser trombone techniques, they sweep through a wonderfully majestic set that cements many times over their status as our most valuable national treasure.
Every other band I’ve enjoyed / endured live this year:

Aereogramme, Alfie, Asian Dub Foundation, Bardo Pond, The Black Keys, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Blur, Billy Bragg, British Sea Power, Calla, Cave In (x2), The Darkness (x2), The Datsuns, Death In Vegas, Doves (x2), Dureforsog, The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster (x2), Elbow, Electric Six (x2), The Fabrics, The Fiery Furnaces, Franz Ferdinand (x2), The Futureheads (x2), Grandaddy, Har Mar Superstar (x3), Hell Is For Heroes, Hope Of The States, Hot Hot Heat (x2), Hundred Reasons, Idlewild, Interpol (x2), Jet, The Kills, Kings Of Leon, The Libertines, Linkin Park, The Mars Volta, M.A.S.S., Mclusky, Metallica, Mew, Mull Historical Society, My Morning Jacket (x2), The Polyphonic Spree, Primal Scream, Radio 4 (x2), The Rapture (x2), Razorlight, REM, The Sights, The Soledad Brothers, Sparta (x2), Stellastarr*, Sugababes, The Sun, System Of A Down, Therapy?, The Thrills, The 22-20s, The Warlocks, Winnebago Deal

And, last of all, a reminder of the SWSL Top 10 Live Performances Of 2002:

1. GUNS ‘N’ ROSES, Leeds Festival
2. SONIC YOUTH, London Shepherds Bush Empire
3. QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, Glastonbury Festival
4. JANE’S ADDICTION, Leeds Festival
5. THE ICARUS LINE, Leeds Festival
6. QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, Nottingham Rock City
7. THE WHITE STRIPES, Glastonbury Festival
8. GODSPEED! YOU BLACK EMPEROR, Hackney Ocean
9. J MASCIS, Nottingham Social
10. FUGAZI, Nottingham Rock City
Christmas turkeys

Last week found me pondering whether a goalless draw at Charlton constituted a good result. A 4-2 win for the Addicks over Chelski and a couple of abysmal Toon performances later, and it (and especially the clean sheet) looks positively miraculous.

Boxing Day last year saw us go down in spectacular fashion, 4-3 at Bolton. This year, a lacklustre display at lowly Leicester looked like ending in a similarly dire defeat until substitute Darren Ambrose nodded in a rebound from a Jenas shot in the very last minute to salvage a point. What should have been a meat-and-drink victory for any side with Champions League aspirations turned into a nervy get-out-of-jail draw.

But then Sunday’s showing, at home to Blackburn, was even worse. That Paul Gallagher’s winning goal was an unbelievably blatant handball shouldn’t be allowed to detract from the fact that we thoroughly deserved to lose. Who would have thought that, in the very next home match after the 4-0 thrashing of Spurs, we could look so woefully unimaginative and disjointed in attack? This in itself was very worrying, but what continues to gall me is the number of times I’ve been angered by the constant references by media types and pundits to the weakness of our defence, only for the players themselves seemingly doing their utmost to undermine my case. Even after yesterday, it’s worth noting, we have the best defensive record at home in the Premiership, but I won’t be inviting the pundits to stick that in their pipes and smoke it, though – judging by yesterday’s excruciatingly inept defensive display, that statistic masks some serious deficiencies. At times it was like something out of a slapstick comedy, as a back four minus the cool-headed marshalling of Woodgate staggered and stumbled around like a bunch of punchdrunk clowns. All it lacked was some cream pie throwing and Bramble swinging a ladder around, knocking O’Brien out and allowing Andy Cole a free run on goal.

All of which roughly translates as: “Dearest fans, merry fucking Christmas, love all at Newcastle United”.
’Tis the season…

Hearty SWSL congratulations, felicitations and salutations to Leon, who has just got engaged. All the best, mate.

PS Get your rock ‘n’ roll arse up to Nottingham!
Quote of the day

From one friend to another on Saturday night:

If I didn’t know your parents, I’d say you were raised by wolves