Skip to content

13. The Rapture – House of Jealous Lovers

11/12/2009

Maybe it’s the apeshit counting in the middle. Maybe it’s every instrument trying to play a solo at once. Maybe it’s Luke Jenner’s petulant scream that never seems to let up. Or that incessant cowbell. Whatever it is, it makes House of Jealous Lovers’ five minutes sound like the biggest free-wheeling abandonment of control ever, like a fairground teacup waltzer that’s come free of its couplings and is careering into the stratosphere while its passengers scream with oblivious glee. It sounds rebellious and unruly, it makes you want to be in its gang. Even before it begins, a cacophony, somewhere, is raging. It’s a glorious, sloppy, kicking-screaming intro, all detuned guitars and wails – and then the groove arrives, the cowbell and bass, and we’re off. Electro-punk tautness is replaced by blare and yell, which in turn is replaced with tautness and then more crunch. House of Jealous Lovers is a rattling rollercoaster of a record, swerving and diving but always rickety enough to induce a genuine sense of danger and keep the adrenaline coursing through the track. It’s erratic and impulsive, maverick and cocksure, and one of the most fun ways to lose it ever committed to tape.

Advertisements

14. Graham Coxon – Jamie Thomas

10/12/2009

While Blur were busy creating the most cerebral music of their career on penultimate album 13, their guitarist was pleasing himself outside of school with the most visceral of his. And what a delight. Music doesn’t get much wilder than Jamie Thomas: it’s a blitzkrieg of a record, a panzer attack of precision chaos, all over in the blink of an eye, leaving smouldering remains and a stifled squeal of feedback at the tail for good measure. Nothing is tethered here, and that abandon makes the song so awe-inspiring. If Blur’s authenticity was often questioned because of their constant musical shifts from album to album, the bludgeoned bleat of Coxon’s vocals here – not to mention the brutal guitar work – is simply too feral to be affected. But above all, every emotion bundled up in these 150 seconds feels pure: Jamie Thomas is pure ferocity, pure adrenalin, pure windmill-fists mushroom-cloud-laying sonic assault. Set it against virtually any other track this decade in terms of undiluted zeal, and it’ll surely come out on top.

15. The Futureheads – The Hounds of Love

09/12/2009

Most cover versions are attempts at either humour or homage, with varying degrees of success. And while The Futureheads’ attack on Kate Bush has both, in spades, it also has an innate joy that gleams from the record’s every groove. It’s a joy that lifts it above other reimaginings – there are surely few songs that sound as gleeful and as glorious as this, original or no. It actually helps that, aside from a common melody, The Futureheads’ version doesn’t owe much to Kate Bush – that sense of detachment allows it to become its own song. The bellowed backing vocals at the start, the mighty guitar downstrokes that herald the first chorus – these are straight from The Futureheads’ own playbook, and the accompanying sense of anarchy in making light of such a po-faced, earnest record is hugely entertaining. With the rich Mackem accent proudly unhidden and the football-chant delivery, this is a less a cover version, more a transformation: The Futureheads have taken a song of prattling sincerity and created a piece of wide-smiling delight, a boisterous terrace chant of untrammelled joy.

16. Eels – It’s A Motherfucker

08/12/2009

16

In his heartwarming autobiography, Things The Grandchildren Should Know, Eels leader Mark Everett tells a story about this song:

The campaign to elect tragically inept Republican candidate George W Bush to the White House used the Daisies of the Galaxy album as an example of the entertainment industry marketing smut to children. The CD had a storybook-like cover and song titles such as “It’s A Motherfucker” (which was actually a tender ode to the hardships of missing the girlfriend I had recently broken up with), so they deduced that the storybook cover meant it was targeted for three-year-olds or something. It was great. You could download my lyrics from the ‘George W Bush For President’ website.

While this was clearly nothing more than Republican rabble-rousing from Dubya, his campaign team might’ve inadvertently had a point – never mind the cover art, It’s A Motherfucker feels like a children’s song itself. Short and pretty, all tinkling pianos and lullaby strings, the lyrics are undeniably childlike in their honesty: “It’s a motherfucker / Being here without you / Thinking about the good times / Thinking about the bad” – this is hardly grown-up imagery, but that’s what makes the song so affecting. What also makes It’s A Motherfucker so startling is its title. Its coarse maturity – its inarticulacy – is wonderfully juxtaposed against the intervening verses as a splash of harsh, grown-up reality among the daydream. A song this saccharine, with any less offensive a title, would surely enter Hallmark territory. Here, instead, Eels have produced something brutally honest, and beautifully tarnished.

illiant autobiography, Things The Grandchildren Should Know, Eels leader Mark Everett tells a story about this song:

The campaign to elect tragically inept Republican candidate George W Bush to the White House used the Daisies of the Galaxy album as an example of the entertainment industry marketing smut to children. The CD had a storybook-like cover and song titles such as “It’s A Motherfucker” (which was actually a tender ode to the hardships of missing the girlfriend I had recently broken up with), so they deduced that the storybook cover meant it was targeted for three-year-olds or something. It was great. You could download my lyrics from the ‘George W Bush For President’ website.

Despite this obvious reactionary rubbish from Dubya, the Republican rabble-rousing and short-term thinking, his campaign team might’ve inadvertently had a point – never mind the cover art, It’s A Motherfucker feels like a children’s song itself. Short and pretty, all tinkling pianos and lullaby strings, the lyrics are undeniably childlike in their honesty: “It’s a motherfucker / Being here without you / Thinking about the good times / Thinking about the bad” – this is hardly grown-up imagery, but that’s what makes the song so affecting. What also makes It’s A Motherfucker so startling, though, is its title. It’s coarse maturity – it’s inarticulacy – is beautifully juxtaposed in the intervening verses, a splash of harsh, grown-up reality among the daydream. A song this saccharine with any less offensive title would surely enter Hallmark territory; here, instead, Eels have produced something brutally honest, and beautiful spoiled.

17. Wilco – Poor Places

07/12/2009

Jeff Tweedy is not okay – countless Wilco songs are testament to this. But what makes Poor Places such a beautiful expression of his unease is that for all the multilayered density of its production, the song still feels like one single outpouring – it’s a whole, irreducible entity (albeit a complicated one), a portrait of Tweedy’s tangled synapses. The brilliance lies in how the track begins and ends: in the space of five minutes, a baleful folk song of distant fathers and sailors being sent off to war becomes a psychotically rocking, foetal-position white-noise meltdown. But Poor Places isn’t some whinge of self-pity; every lyric, no matter how evocative or oblique, feels honest, almost humble. Nor is it simply noisenik posturing without intent; every blast sounds necessary, and is complemented by some other element: the tumbling piano lines ripple against the military snare drums, the snatch of shortwave radio locks in with the increasing fizz of guitar feedback. It ends with Tweedy repeating “It makes no difference to me… I’m not going outside” while the entire record crashes down around him, each element veering in and out of earshot. The sense of bleakness and isolation is inescapable, but when it’s painted in such dramatic colours and with such individualism, it’s hard not to acknowledge the accompanying greatness.

18. Mogwai – Batcat

06/12/2009

Batcat is so slackened and gory, yet simultaneously crisp and sharp, that listening to it is like watching a horrendous but unavoidably captivating piece of ultraviolence in super slow-mo. The opening 20 seconds are presented at normal speed, and then bang: the incident arrives and the frame-rate heads skywards. Grizzly overdriven bass guitars snap like bones in a Sky Sports injury shocker replay; the walloped, hissing cymbals spurt super-choreographed Tarantino group-battle blood, each high-def droplet colliding, molecule by molecule, with pristine pressed cotton; the howling guitars are cars crashing across a racetrack, end over end like a ragdoll cast out of a petulant pram. As a spectacle, it’s awesome. And the reason that it all works so well is because Batcat is essentially a slowed speed-metal record, executed with all of the punch and aggression of that genre but with dramatic down-shifts in tempo that simply insist you probe the track’s innards. Then, just to augment the experience, like with all good action replays, Mogwai play it again: the back half of Batcat is simply an even more monstrous performance of the front, and the fiercest track that Mogwai have produced this decade is no less compelling a second time around.

19. Queens of the Stone Age – No One Knows

05/12/2009

Plenty of grunting sexy rock songs have been released in the past ten years. What puts No One Knows on top of that pile is that while it’s a terrific grunting sexy rock song, it does so much more than just sit there and smoulder. Sure, the song pounds and slimes with all the sleaze and swagger that you’d expect from a hard-drinking, drug-guzzling, multi-tattooed rock band, but there’s a subtlety to its game too, a complexity in arrangement and tone that hints at depth without ever feeling the need to show off about it. It’s a clever trick, too: despite the delicately mournful backing vocals, satanic whispers and progtastic guitar wig-out with a minute to go, No One Knows remains a propulsive and cocky rocker, but the added flashes of musical flair gives the song’s grit more bite. Crucially though, it feels totally comfortable in its own schizophrenic skin – No One Knows isn’t the sound of a tough guy playing schooled, or a boffin dumbing down, but simply a band who know their capabilities lie just as equally in rockin’ out as in geekin’ down. Indeed, in that respect, it feels like a companion piece of Radiohead’s Electioneering – a rock song at heart, but a tender piece of meat at that.