PLANET OF THE APES

2006 saw some great acts, but one ruled them all, writes Jim Car­roll

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC2006 -

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.

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