2006 – November

Well, it’s that time of year again : Christmas is coming! Are you ready for it? Are you still wondering what to buy everyone? Everybody loves a CD, don’t they? Well, check out this little lot …

There are countless “lookback”s over the year on the telly during December, whether the subject is the news, or sport, or TV itself … and music is no different. The holiday season is a time for retrospection, and what could be better than to bring out the “Best Of…” or a “Greatest Hits” of your favourite artist?
Fastest off the blocks has been the Modfather, PAUL WELLER with Hit Parade which showcases his entire career from the young and angry stylings of The Jam, through the more mature soulful pop of The Style Council right up to the present day dad-rock of his solo career. It’s a good balance, actually, and the songs have been well picked – the guy has relentlessly high standards and with numbers like Town Called Malice, My Ever Changing Moods and Wild Wood on here, you can’t go wrong. You could also spend a good couple of hours arguing about which songs could have been dropped and which should have replaced them. Which leads us nicely to OASIS and their Stop The Clocks. Now, Noel Gallagher has already gone on record by saying there won’t be a “proper” or comprehensive anthology till the band calls it a day so right away the alarm bells should be ringing about this one. Choosing largely material from the first three albums, along with a couple of B-sides that were on an earlier compilation, The Masterplan, this is a bit hit and miss for me. Personally, I wouldn’t bother with this at all if you’ve got all the albums already. There are no exclusive new tracks or any new singles that might tempt you, so it all smacks a bit of desperation to me. Avoid.
Hinting that there will be a second album (possibly next Christmas?), DEPECHE MODE bring us The Best Of – Vol.1, which spans the Basildon bleepers’ entire career, setting early pop singles like Just Can’t Get Enough and See You alongside their stadium rockers Personal Jesus. Given that various members of the band have lived through a variety of trials and tribulations during the last three decades, with singer Dave Gahan close to self-destruction at one point, it’s not only amazing that they’re still together but also a testament to their enduring friendship that they continue to evolve as a band. Some of their latter material is spellbinding and of a completely different scope to their early synth noodlings. If you’re not familiar with the band, this is as good a place to start. If you are, you’ll be buying this on release anyway – the fans are notoriously loyal. U2’s fans are also eager to hoover up anything from Bono and the boys and will no doubt claim that they need 18 Singles for the car. There are a couple of new tracks – a Skids cover (Saints Are Coming) and Window In The Skies – but given they’ve already released two best of collections, it’s a bit rich if you ask me. A bit like Bono, then?
But while we’re in an incredulous mood, why not take a look at GEORGE MICHAEL‘s career? He’s released precisely ONE studio album since his last retrospective, the excellent two-disc Ladies and Gentlemen, and it makes the new Twenty Five collection a bit of an oddity. Okay, so he’s included the best of the Wham! stuff and also tacked on the Elton John duet plus a version of Heal The Pain with Paul McCartney, but by and large it’s more of a skim through his career than the earlier, more comprehensive look at his solo output. Maybe both he and Paul Weller are feeling a bit insecure and want to remind themselves and the general public of just how important they really are?
Cynical? Maybe, but when someone like DANNII MINOGUE is releasing a Platinum Collection, I think I’ve got every right to be. Honestly … can you name ONE of her songs? What is the world coming to?

Still struggling for gift ideas? How about those older members of the families? They’ve got everything already haven’t they? What are you gonna buy grandma and grandpa this year? Well, how about TONY BENNETT‘s excellent Duets album? You know the score here, it’s nothing new, but the production is faultless, the guest list amazing and ol’ Tone’s voice is showing no sign of losing any of his trademark power and poise. Always a better singer than Sinatra, TB has recently featured on The X-Factor, and it’s largely this renaissance that has seen the resurrection of his recording career. Alongside the likes of Sting, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Diana Krall, Bono, Celine Dion, Elton John, Michael Buble and Paul McCartney, Mr Bennett shines like the star that he is, singing all the biggest hits of his illustrious back catalogue. This is a belter of an album and a fitting tribute to an amazing career.
On a similar but altogether more bum note, CLIFF RICHARD also has a Duets album out but his version is distinctly second division I’m afraid. Elton pops up again, but other than that Sir Cliff can only call on the likes of Sarah Brightman, Lulu and Daniel O’Donnell to pad out his own panto special of an outing. I know it’s easy to knock Cliff, but when he keeps cranking up the cheese-o-meter like this, is it any wonder?
With a slightly different kind of look back, both BARRY MANILOW and ROD STEWART also have new albums out. Bazza’s Greatest Songs Of The Sixties is a slushy trudge through the very worst of sixties schmaltz. It’s so over-produced it may as well be covered in sugar when you take it out of the case. Horrible. (and it’s overseen by the same guy who produced Diana Ross’ equally hateful I Love You album which I haven’t even mentioned until now). Rod on the other hand is bravely trying to shake the past by the throat, as you might expect. The title of his latest outing is Still The Same – The Greatest Rock Classics Of Our Time and though he’s gamely trying to gravel things up throughout, you can’t help wish he’d selected a few more gutsy songs to murder this time round. I think those three albums of crooning cover versions have dulled his senses as I don’t think there are many “rock classics” on the album at all, with the possible exception of Lay Down Sally. A definite missed opportunity in my opinion.

Going back to the X-Factor for a moment, ABBA release Number Ones on the back of the show’s themed night based on the work of Sweden’s best ever export. This is a shameless rip-off : nineteen tracks, the same number as the million-selling Abba Gold collection, though three tracks are different. The three lost? Thank You For The Music, Does Your Mother Know and Lay All Your Love On Me (presumably they only reached no.2 in the chart). And the replacements? Ring Ring, I Do I Do I Do and Summer Night City. You tell me which compilation is the better?

George Martin’s been fiddling about in the studio again : THE BEATLES “new album” is called Love and features some of their best-known songs, reworked for the 21st century. Now if anyone’s work is still gonna be played in the 25th century, surely it’s the Fab Four’s?? I don’t really know why this has come out when the original albums have still to be remastered, but like last year’s “Let It Be Naked”, there are some interesting new arrangements. There’s a new verse on While My Guitar Gently Weeps, a new ending for Strawberry Fields and a medley made from Blackbird and Yesterday among other delights. Having said all that, if you buy the double-disc version there’s a terrific second disc containing Dolby 5.1 versions of all the songs which IS well worth it, but you do have to wonder what Sir Paul and Ringo must make of all this nonsense …

GUILTY PLEASURES‘ latest collection, Shameless Blameless Fun, sees the London club night go from strength to strength. If you’ve not heard of it, don’t panic! It’s not some raucous rave, but a gently cheesy night of all your most embarrassing memories from the world of pop … and I love it. What a great idea! Now I can wear my ELO badge with pride and boogie on down with like-minded people to great artists like Toto, Hall & Oates, Doobie Brothers and Dolly Parton. If you’re late-30s or older and have long since given up trying to be cool, let your hair down with any of their compilations : they’re all top-notch and contain hardly any tracks you’ll skip. Great for the car … if you’re driving somewhere alone it’s even better, because you know you’re gonna be singing along!

ROBBIE WILLIAMS jolts us all rudely back to the present with his latest outing, called … er … Rudebox.
Honestly? This is utter tripe. Complete rubbish. A lazy insult to his fans. I hate it.
Basically, the boy’s been given a synthesiser and then gone mad with it. I can’t believe how little effort has been put into this, what with five or six awful cover versions along with all the comical “rapping” he seems to do all over the album. Instead of The Streets, it’s more like My Back Yard.
Remember the song “Louise” by The Human League? It was a whiny dirge about lost love and a real low-point in their career. Well, Robbie’s brought it back to life … almost. How about Stephen Duffy’s “Kiss Me”? Same thing. My Robot Friend’s “We’re The Pet Shop Boys”? Ditto. There’s even a tribute to Madonna on here, along with a terrible version of world-music hero Manu Chao’s “King Of The Bongo”. The only saving grace is an underground classic by one of my favourite artists, Lewis Taylor. The song is called Lovelight and by the time you read this, should be number one in the charts. It’s a great record, marred slightly by Robbie’s weedy vocals, but nonetheless the brightest highlight on the whole of Rudebox. The sad thing? Lewis Taylor has since gone into early retirement on the back of the royalties … giving me yet another reason to dislike Mr Williams, as if I needed one after this lame effort.

Which brings us nicely to the denouement. Honestly, I couldn’t put this article to bed without mentioning possibly the worst record ever released. Ever produced. Ever even thought of … certainly the worst I’ve ever heard. Forget Paris Hilton. Don’t even mention Terry Wogan! Ladies and gentlemen … I give you … KATIE PRICE + PETER ANDRE!! Yes folks, A Whole New World has it all – every single karaoke duet you can find! Do it yourself, go through the book … there aren’t that many of them, and they’ve murdered them all. From Islands In The Stream, Cherish and Endless Love through to Tonight I Celebrate and Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, this album has got the lot. It’s bloody awful. Shamelessly bad. A complete cheese-shop in a box. It’s rubbish. It’s so bad it’s almost good.
So if you really are struggling to find a present for Aunty June who you don’t really like that much anyway … you know what to do.

I’m outta here!

Originally published in 2006

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