Ah, 2015. You were, let’s face it, an utterly awful year all-round. At least the music was something of a saving grace, though, with among other things: the hip-hop album for a generation, the final pushes into the mainstream of a hipster, percussionist Serge Gainsbourg (Father John Misty) and a female, Australian John Cooper Clarke (Courtney Barnett), and, well, not really much else. But whatever new music reared its head in 2015, we were grateful for the distraction. So, rather than write the millionth dull list of “Best Albums”, here’s a few “awards” for 2015 in music:
Quote of the Year goes, unsurprisingly, to legendary quotesmith and occasional musician Noel Gallagher, who told Rolling Stone back in February that “modern pop music is bland nonsense[..] If it was a colour, it would be beige.” The accuracy (or not) of his indictment on modern music aside, the fact that this came from the mouth of the Bard of the Gallagher Family of all people makes it a particularly humorous line, considering “beige” is the embodiment of his entire post-Oasis output.
Kendrick Lamar is the clear winner in the category of Political Statement of the Year with the entirety of his sprawling epic To Pimp a Butterfly, whilst on the other side of coin, Courtney Barnett’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is my Apolitical Non-Statement of the Year – not everything needs to be as emotionally charged as Kendrick’s work of genius, and Barnett has reinvigorated the arts of chest-out rock and roll and incisive, humorous musical poetry. It isn’t easy to separate music coming from such different directions. Sparks and Franz Ferdinand, or FFS, claim the Weirdest Union of the Year, although their self-titled album really works.
Live Album of the Year is, naturally, A Night At The Odeon – Hammersmith 1975, the legendary Queen gig from Christmas Eve 1975 which finally saw official release almost forty years later. It was also the year, however, that complete Serge Gainsbourg concerts were available for the first time, with the second disc of Gainsbourg and the Revolutionaries consisting of the Christmas Eve 1979 reggae gig at Le Palace. The 1984 Casino de Paris concert would follow later in the year. On a similar subject, my choice of Concert of the Year belongs to the exuberant Courtney Barnett Three who I saw at the O2 Forum in October. I’m still balking at the price of the train fare though – it cost more money to get to a gig less than an hour away from me than it did for the gig in the first place.
It was almost impossible to find my Character of the Year, to the point that I have felt compelled to nominate two people. Possible names included David Bowie, who’s latest single “Blackstar” set the Internet alight with good reason, Patti Smith for baring her soul in the fascinating M Train or Brian May for completing his defection from intellectual guitarist to pinko commie socialist tree-hugging axe-wielder, the most controversial image change in Queen since Freddie Mercury wondered what he could do with his upper lip. My first winner, however, is Miley Cyrus. People can call her contrived, but which marketing genius would contrive to get her to record a messy, neo-psychedelic double-album with The Flaming Lips and then give it away for free? Her apparent desire for artistic freedom – and perhaps even integrity – continues to clash with her bewildered fanbase to increasingly fascinating results.
My other victor is Father John Misty, the artist formerly known as Fleet Foxes drummer Josh Tillman. Turning himself into a more debonair, hipster marriage of Ziggy Stardust and Plastic Ono Band-era John Lennon; the besuited, excessively bearded and phone-obsessed Father has become one of the strongest live acts in the world, whilst at the same time saving the art of songwriting, which this year focused on his recent marriage. The tender yet sarcastic artistry on I Love You, Honeybear is a true highlight of the year. Album closer “I Went To The Store One Day” can claim gold for Mawkish Yet Beautiful Lyric of the Year with its final verse:
Let’s buy a plantation house and let the yard grow wild until we don’t need the signs that say, “Keep out”
I’ve got some money left and it’s cheaper in the South
I need someone I can trust to protect me from our seven daughters when my body says, “Enough!”
Don’t let me die in a hospital, I’ll save the big one for the last time we make love
Insert here a sentiment re: our golden years
All because I went to the store one day
“Seen you around, what’s your name?”
On a more personal note, here’s a few awards based on my 2015. Weirdest Purchase of the Year has to be the vinyl LP of ancient Chinese folk music I picked up for a couple of quid. It’s quite good, as it goes. Runner-up has to be the CD copy of Otis Redding’s The Dock of the Bay that I bought from Asda and came complete with a Japanese obi. Oddest Moment of the Year was, by quite some distance, when Jessie J turned up to perform as a special guest at a party I attended and proceeded to look to me and take the piss out of my sister’s gobsmacked reaction. Nothing comes close, although one or two people tried. Best New Old Album, as in, an older album I’d never heard until 2015, is Leonard Cohen’s much-maligned Death of a Ladies’ Man, a 1977 Phil Spector production. I couldn’t disagree with them more. Runners-up are Pink Flag by Wire, and the great Fela Kuti & Afrika 70 with Zombie.
What else is there to say? 2016 already promises new albums from David Bowie and John Cale, and Yoko Ono’s second dance compilation, including a remix of “Give Me Something” featuring Sparks, a duet which promises nothing in the way of funny acronyms. Predictions not really being my thing, I’ll just make the one: at least three British chart-toppers will mention Instagram. You’ll have to tell me if I’m right, though.