2014 and all that

High Fidelity

‘There’s that part of High Fidelity where, you may remember, Rob decides it’s time to rearrange his record collection. Not alphabetically, not chronologically, but autobiographically. In the film version, his words are channelled through John Cussack as follows:

“If I wanna find Landslide by Fleetwood Mac, I have to remember that I bought it for someone in the fall of 1983 and the didn’t give it to them for personal reasons.”

Comforting as both Rob and his friend Dick fid this notion, and ignoring the implicit adoration of that band with Stevie Nicks in it, the task of arranging hundreds of albums by the order in which bought, begged, borrowed or stole them seems a daunting, daunting, daunting task.

There was a time, once, when I was first embarking on my obsession with music, when, at year’s end, I would dutifully log all the albums (and singles) I had bought over the last twelve months. As my conglomeration has expanded, such an annual trawl would be riddled with appalling gaps in the memory.

One thing of which I can be sure is that the albums I bought with a 2014 release date were bought at some point in the last 365 days. That much I do know.

And so I can be certain I bought Alt J’s This is All Yours, St Vincent’s self-titled release and Damon Albarn’s Everyday Robots in 2014. The same goes for Morrissey’s World Peace is None of your Business and his ex-bandmate Johnny Marr’s Playland, along with Pink Floyd’s The Endless River and Half Man Half Biscuit’s Urge for Offal.

See also King Creosote’s From Scotland with Love, Wilko Johnson and Roger Daltry’s Going Back Home, the Manic Street Preacher’s Futurology, Robert Plant’s Lullaby and… the Ceaseless Roar, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks’ Wigout at Jailbags, Mark Lanegan Band’s Phantom Radio, Neil Young’s Storytone, Erlend Øye’s Legao, Wild Billy Childish and the Chatham Forts’ Acorn Man and Smoke Fairies’ Wild Winter.

In addition I might be able to claim some kind of custody rights over my wife’s purchases of Royal Blood’s debut, Beck’s Morning Phase, Elbow’s The Take Off and Landing of Everything and First Aid Kit’s Stay Gold.

It is, I appreciate a fairly orthodox list of albums one might have expected someone like me to have acquired in 2014. Six of the Morris household’s purchases appear in the BBC 6 Music 15 albums of the year, eight appear in the top 50 list from Mojo, nine are in the Uncut top 75, ten can be seen in Q‘s top 50, but just three are found in The Guardian‘s top 40.


All of which teaches us…not much really, other than your correspondent has been spending rather a lot of money (as usual) on stacks of music; we’ve not even got to a list of older albums which I’ve got my mits on in the last twelve months.

But there are some things I’ve learned. For example the Manic Street Preachers are sounding fresh and interesting again (for the second album running), a Morrissey solo album is always going to be better than a Johnny Marr solo record (the latter’s single ‘Easy Money’ was a brilliant piece of pop-mongery in an otherwise so-so long player), and Half Man Half Biscuit are still as brilliant as ever (“You’re so beige I bet you think this song’s about someone else” from ‘This One’s For Now’ being a particular favourite line).

What else have I learned? That Pink Floyd would have been well advised to have put out The Endless River (or an approximation of it), with all its nods to Wish You Were Here glory and percussive magnificence, twenty years ago instead of The Division Bell. That Neil Young can indeed front a big band – and an orchestra too, for that matter – but not both at the same time (the orchestral arrangements of Storytoneare spectacularly sumptuous, by the way: think of the sound on Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now album of 2000 and you’re very nearly there).

And I’ve learned it is possible for a Norwegian singer-songwriter to create a reggae album supported by an Icelandic band. I have also learned that it is possible to put a Christmas album in your list of favourite records of the year. See my Smoke Fairies post for further details.

There were plenty of other – slightly older – albums keeping me occupied during 2014 though. This was the year I discovered (a very, very late discovery I will be the first to admit) The Teardrop Explodes by way of their excellent Kilimanjaro. With its thrumming bass lines, Julian Cope’s full-of-gusto vocals and those telltale Teardrop trumpets parping away throughout, it is a piece of 80s indie perfection. There is not a duff note on it.

2014 also seemed as good a time as ever to swell my accumulation of American folk-rock. More of Dylan’s back catalogue entered the house: Hard Rain (1976), Nashville Skyline (1969), Together Through Life (2009) -­ even Christmas in the Heart (2009). Dylan’s sometime backing band, The Band were also recognised in an impulse purchase when I finally got round to buying Music from the Big Pink (1968 – you know the one: it’s got that song Ab Fab pilfered for their theme tune on it).

It can now finally accompany the copy of The Band (1969) I got 14 or so years ago at university. Was university really that long ago.

And Neil Young put in further appearances too; not just his Storytone record from what is now last year, but also the likes of Freedom (1989), Hawks and Doves (1980), Everybody Knows this is Nowhere (1969) and his self-titled debut of 1968. (Incidentally, has anyone else in possession of Storytone noticed the strange juxtaposition of ‘Who’s Gonna Stand Up?’, a song mourning the destruction of the planet through mankind’s selfish pollution, with the track immediately following, ‘I Want to Drive my Car’, which celebrates the joys of driving a gas guzzler for the sheer hell of it?).

From Neil Young it is but a short leap to Crosby, Stills and Nash. Or Crosby and Nash. Or Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. And so it made perfect sense to check out Crosby, Stills and Nash (1969 – where you’ll find ‘Marrakesh Express’), Deja Vu (1970), Daylight Again (1982) and Take the Money and Run (2008).

The sentimental part of me nearly shed a tear of pure happiness when driving boxes from our old house to our new one as ‘Our House’ poured out from the car stereo. But don’t tell anyone.

What is it that’s attracted me to the works of C, S, N and Y (and permutations thereof) and others? I guess it’s because the sound harks back to some kind of halcyon, golden age when cynicism was trumped every time by honesty, gutsiness and a untarnished love of the music.

It is, of course, most likely to be pure bunkum.

A listen of Crosby, Stills and Nash’s ‘Helplessly Hoping’ from the three-piece incarnation’s debut, reveals a load of pretentious gibberish that makes less and less sense the more you think about it:

Heartlessly helping himself to her bad dreams he worries
Did he hear a good-bye or even hello?

Well, hang on a minute, if he’s so heartless, why’s he worrying? And why would a heartless person take on the burden of bad dreams? And why would he feel guilt about intruding on someone who won’t greet him? Actually, what does it matter if she’s not said goodbye? What relevance does that have to the taking of bad dreams? And how, precisely, do you help yourself to bad dreams? As they’re not objects that can be stolen, I’d imagine it would involve some kind of talking therapy, which requires some kind of communication and a councillor-­-client relationship which would probably involve greetings and not being heartless at all. And -­- well, it just doesn’t make any sense at all, does it?

But there is enough magic there – or enough of an illusion there – to allow you to suspend your disbelief for just long enough to imagine yourself dropping out in Laurel Canyon and escaping pretty much everything the rest of the world insists on throwing at you.

All of which may well explain why the music I’ve been listening to this year – and getting most excited about – is not the fresh sounds of 2014, but stuff discovered by chance in the corners of record shops or hiding at the back of charity shops. It’s the things I’ve found out about by talking about music with others or just scouting around the internet.

Just don’t ask me to put these albums in the order in which I got them.

[first published 02/01/15]

Further reading: 2015: a year in music

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