Tuesday, 15 January 2008

The Best of 2007 (Part 2)

The second part of my favourite CDs from 2007.

Mark Ronson - Version (released April 2007)

Possibly a surprise inclusion for some of those who know me. The complete flipside of an album such as The Good, The Bad and The Queen. Damon Albarn's release really made you work for the rewards, but this album was an instant payout.

Despite my dislike for lazy, insipid covers (and with millions of songs to chose from, how come these reality TV show winners always release CDs with the same tracks on??!!), I'm a big fan of the cover version. My criteria for a good one is simple (yet rarely carried out!!):

- It shouldn't be an exact copy of the original. If it is, why bother covering it??

- It shouldn't be SO different, that you don't recognise the song any more

- The artist should (if they are of the right quality) be able to stamp their authority on it, and without changing it completely, make it sound like their own song.

As predominantly a covers album, this CD has a couple of interesting, quirky slants - the main one being that a few of the covers are sung by the original artists! Not every track is a winner, but the good far outweigh the bad.

The album kicks off with an instrumental version of Coldplays 'God Put a Smile Upon Your Face' - which despite being instantly recognisable, you'd swear came directly from one of those funky Studio 2 recordings from the 60's and 70's. The biggest surprise proved to me that 2 wrongs can indeed make a right, as an artist I'm not keen on sings a song I don't like to produce an absolute stormer! Yup, Mark's collaboration with Amy Winehouse convinced me that the Zutons' Valerie should have been a Motown hit of the 60's! Lilly Allen is also on hand to help cover The Kaiser Chiefs Oh My God, which she does in her tried and tested 'chav serving you in McDonalds' voice ("it dow matta ta me-eee"). Its not a bad cover by any means, but it's a shame it wasn't the far superier version Mark performed on The Jonathan Ross Show over Christmas, where Chief, erm, Kaiser Chief and Candie Payne shared the vocals. Maximo Park and Kasabian both contribute new vocals to Ronson re-workings of their own tracks. Worst track by far is Robbie Williams attempting to do The Charlatans, The Only One I Know. His voice isn't up to it and he just comes across like a Tim Burgess sound-a-likey on Stars in their Eyes.

It’s a real mish-mash of an album, with something for pretty much everyone included… everyone that is except possibly Morrissey fans! I love the fact that he dared to cover The Smiths on it (an odd mix of The Smiths' Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before and The Supremes' You Just Keep Me Hanging On with vocals by Daniel Merriweather), which prompted some upset die-hard Smiths fans to actually send him death threats (one particularly jovial fan told him 'I want to stab you in the eye.'… nice!). Of course by being so ridiculous, this minority of idiotic fans are simply helping to confirming that stereotypical image that all Smiths fan have had to suffer with for years. Anyway, I know of at least one Morrissey fan who thought the cover was fab! (she is currently in hiding alongside Osama Bin-Laden!!).

If you missed the performance on Jonathan Ross, you can check it out right here!

The Wolfmen - 5 Track Promo\Sampler
Although not strictly an official release from 2007, this 5 track sampler gave me a lot of pleasure at the back end of last year. See my review of the CD here for full details.

Marc Almond - Stardom Road (released June 2007)
What can I say about Marc Almond? He's been at the very centre of my love of music for over 25 years, and still he keeps coming up with the goods. Marc has always been a prolific writer, but a near-fatal motorbike accident in 2004 left him with brain injuries that rendered him unable to compose (something I'm pleased to say is now starting to ease).

So, after dozens of operations and 3 years of intensive rehabilitation (and with the 'imposed' writers block in mind), 2007 seemed the ideal time for him to release an album of cover versions. I must admit that I was a little concerned when this project was first announced - recent lazy, lacklustre cover albums from the likes of Rod Steward, Michael Bolton, Russell Watson, X-Factor contestants etc have left a nasty taste in the mouth. But I needn't have worried, Marc is much more than cheap rip-offs of over used tracks. What we actually got were personal, re-interpretations of mostly little known classics that have influenced Marc over the last 50 years (in fact, the majority of the songs included are so obscure that the casual listener would be forgiven for assuming it was mostly new self-penned material).

From a 'twin peaks-esque' Dream Lover to a simply beautiful version of Third World War's Stardom Road, Marc takes these songs and makes them his own. Although a 50 piece orchestra was used for the album, the production is beautifully understated, creating the perfect atmopshere for Marcs 'off-centre' take on these songs. Marc has made a career out of 'doom and gloom' songs where every silver lining has a cloud, but this album is truly uplifting and inspiring (it's amazing what nearly dying can do to you!). There is not a bad track on here, but the stand out one for me (and probably my favourite song from the whole of 2007) was his version of Charles Aznavour's I Have Lived. Oddly, I actually have the original of this song in my vinyl collection, but it had never struck a chord with me before (although I doubt the lyrics would have hit me so much back in my 20's as they do now in my 40's!). Hats off to Mr Az, these lyrics are so touching and thought provoking - In fact I now know this is the song I want played at my funeral! I was like a teenager with this record, playing it over and over continually, and have still yet to tire of it.

2007 also marked the 1st live shows for Marc since the accident, and this album formed the centrepiece of these dazzling concerts.

So that's my top 6 Cds that were released in 2007. However the vast majority of CDs I purchased last year were 'back catalogue', and I don't think I can finish without mentioning at least a couple that really hit the spot.

2007 was officially the year of the Marc's (Almond and Bolan), and there was a big 'Bolan buzz' at Piley Towers throughout much of the year. Most of my Bolan collection has always been on Vinyl, but thanks mostly to Amazon 'new and used', I've now finally rectified that! I love almost all of Marc's albums, but the recent Edsel re-releases of the later albums, with a full extra cd of alternative takes and rarities was just too tempting. However it was Slider that I really fell in love with all over again, and it became the soundtrack to my summer. It's definitely Bolan's best work, and one of the greatest pop\rock album ever. Every track is so darn perfect, and it can happily be left on 'repeat' for days without annoying you!

I'd always liked what I'd heard of Barry Ryan (Eloise is the obvious track), but had never really investigated his work seriously. In 2007 I spotted that his 1st 2 albums (Barry Ryan Singing The Songs Of Paul Ryan - 1968 and Barry Ryan - 1969) had been re-issued on one disc so thought I'd give it a go - to be honest I expected to give it a couple of plays, be a bit non-plussed and then file it (never to be played again!). But what I got was quite simply a revelation! Ryan has gotten a raw deal over the years.. Whilst similar acts such as Scott Walker have been elevated to legendary status (and rightly so), Barry has remained languishing in the 'cheesey 60's pop' category (possibly due to his earlier 'pop' career as a duo with his brother Paul). But some of the material included on these two albums is right up there with the best of those 60's torch singers. I couldn't believe the quality of this disc, it's all very orchestrated, and OTT, but no more so that Scott Walker.

It's a long CD (24 tracks), but as soon as it finished I had to keep re-playing it, and if I went out I took it with me to play in the car. I think it kept me going for the best part of a month! One of the best ten pounds I've ever spent! This album lead to a spending frenzy, as I picked up a number of other Ryan CDs - alas, everything else available are just various compilations, and his other 'proper' albums all remain unreleased on CD.

Here is Barry Ryan with the wonderfully OTT Kitch



Mondo said...

Excellent selection - I've given that Ronson album a swerve until now, but may lend an ear. Funny you should mention Studio 2 I've just posted a Studio 2 classic on Planet Mondo

The T Rex albums reissues are tip top too, Tanx is my fave. And the special edition of Electric Warrior with the 'Get It On' work in progress is a gem.

Anonymous said...

Quite a varied bunch, thanks for sharing them.

Like Planet Mondo, I have also ignored the Mark Ronson album, but you've tempted me with your review!


Piley said...

Yeah you guys should get on that Ronson album... it's kinda got too poular now (Brit awards, nominations and just about every TV station using tracks from it to use in their trailers) but it's a funky little gem!