PLANET OF THE APES
2006 saw some great acts, but one ruled them all, writes Jim Carroll
IT WAS the year of the Monkeys. In January, four scowling Sheffield scallywags released their debut album. It was one of those moments when pop stormed the barricades. Chart records were smashed, live shows were sold out and hysteria was widespread. Even BBC’s Newsnight raised an eyebrow, as it is wont to do at times of great cultural significance.
All these months later, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not is still a cracker. Listening to it now, you’re bowled over by the dashing, thrilling energy and hooks which stick in your head for hours.
Best of all are Alex Turner’s tales about modern life in an everyday northern town. Very few songwriters possess the same wit, verve, bittersweet romance and fantastic eye for detail. Put it all together and you have one of the finest debuts in years, an album for all the family. The cheap champagne and cider we have in the fridge will be sent to Sheffield.
Elsewhere, there was a lot going on. There’s always a lot going on, even at a time when the music industry is supposed to be fighting for its life against uploaders, downloaders, buccaneers and Long John Silvers.
The schism between the record labels and the live industry became even more pronounced in 2006. When you hear how much MCD Concerts stood to make from the cancelled Eminem show last year, you know where the real cash is in this business.
That said, there are still plenty of euro to go round. More and more phone and techie companies are joining the beer merchants in the shakeup for music tie-ins. Unlike many of the bigger labels, these buckos know that the music sells and they want their products associated with bands and gigs. That the record industryis unable to take advantage of the sheer pulling power of music will go down as its real Waterloo.
Those are the broad brushstrokes, but the real masterpieces were produced by all manner of acts. Raconteurs still sound like a brilliant idea, Jack White abandoning his Stripes for another colour scheme and coming up trumps with a powerful set of new rock classics. White, Brendan Benson and assorted Greenhornes also produced one of the live shows of the year, a night when Jape’s Floating was turned into an anthem.
If Baltimore provided the setting for one of the finest TV shows of recent years (what do you mean you haven’t seen The Wire yet?), Charm City also had a turn in the musical spotlight this year thanks to Spank Rock’s Naeem Hanks. YoYoYoYoYo contained one low-slung symphony of sleazy, subsonic beats and stoned electro bleeps after another, with Hanks riding the mic on top. Spank Rock have yet to soundtrack an episode of The Wire, but give ’em time.
Your heart flipped a little every time Cat Power’s The Greatest was put on the stereo. A return to Chan Marshall’s southern roots produced the most unlikely lazy, hazy country- soul triumph of the year. Recorded in Memphis and backed by some of those legendary soulmen who filled in the gaps for Al Green, The Greatest was sad, soulful and melancholic.
Amy Winehouse receivedmuch attention in 2006, sadly as much for her drinking as for her powerful Back to Black album. It’s a pity, because the album is as sassy and sharp as they come, Winehouse hitting the basement with the soul sisters for the best wannabe Motown album of the 21st century.
If you’re not yet acquainted with Camille Dalmais, time is on your side. Le Fil, the Frenchwoman’s latest album, was a strange and beguiling sound with a hugely engaging avantgarde sense of occasion. Here was proof that you could make experimental music which sounded both catchy and compelling.
At home, The Immediate delivered a smashing record which had everyone singing their praises. Si Schroeder’s Coping Mechanisms took all the electronic honours, chiefly because he chose not to overlook the melodies. Duke Special’s Songs from a Forest was where Peter Wilson’s vaudeville chic and bittersweet, bruised romanticism met a load of great songs. All those involved with The Cake Sale deserve nothing but the best this Christmas.
Away from The Frames, Glen Hansard showed he knew other ways to skin a cat with The Swell Season. A new star beckoned in Fionn Regan and his articulate and smart End of History. Kudos too for Deep Burial, Messiah J& The Expert, Ten Past Seven, David Kitt and Oppenheimer, all producing albums which caught the ear. And, whatever about the initial doubts, Snow Patrol’s Eyes Open is simply too well crafted a set of epic slow-burners to ignore.
Hip-hop had a pretty miserable year, with most of the main players either sitting this one out or delivering below-par performances. The only new cat to really shine was Lupe Fiasco, the skateboarding Muslim’s Food & Liquor a grandstanding showcase for his wordsmithery.
Some veterans did hit the mark. Grandmasters from Gza and Muggs was a dark, creepy delight, its Exploitation of Mistakes in particular shaping a fine, fine album. Another Wu-Tang Clan luminary in flying form was Ghostface Killah; his Fishscale knocked socks off with its wobbly funk and flow. Hip-hop lost J Dilla to lupus and kidney failure, but the Detroit beatsmith left behind some mighty sounds, not least the Donuts album.
Of course, there were others. At various times, albums from Joan As Police Woman, Nathan Fake, Cand Staton, Final Fantasy, Tunng, Lily Allen, Juana Molina, Toumani Diabaté’s Symmetric Orchestra, Vetiver, Ali Farka Toure, Dr Who That?, Heritage Orchestra, Joanna Newsome and Georgia Anne Muldrow all found spells as soundtracks to the working day. When all else failed, Cansei de Ser Sexy’s Let’s Make Love (And Listen to Death from Above) always brought a smile.
Perhaps 2006’s most surprising joint came from Bruce Springsteen. Whatever intentions he may have had when the We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions album was first mooted, the project took on a whole different vibe when Springsteen and his new band hit the road. By the time he returned to Ireland for a second round of shows in November, it was clear that Springsteen had found a new lease of life in those old folk songs – and a brand new way of looking at his back-pages too. While many can’t wait for him to stop fooling around and get back in the saddle with the E-Street Band, chances are we haven’t seen the end of this band yet.