I even went to Port Talbot for them

Last week, I attended my thirteenth Manics concert. Even I had started to wonder if I might actually get bored of them at some point and yet they proved once again why I adore them quite so much. The three of them truly love being in that band. They love being on stage with each other, they love playing those songs for these people and James seems to have really grown into the role of all-conquering showman. On this recent tour, they played the whole of the new album, ‘Journal For Plague Lovers’, took a ten minute break and then belted out an hour of classics. It’s hard to pick fault with a second of it.

‘JFPL’ is a monstrously great rock album. It’s been called The Holy Bible’s second coming and, to be fair, there are some similarities but I’m still not sure that that’s the best way to approach this album. If anything, it’s the perfect blend of the Manics just prior to Richey’s disappearance and the Manics not long thereafter. The quite beautiful arrangements on ‘This Joke Sport Severed’ and ‘William’s Last Words’ are pure ‘late period Manics’, while the splendidly shouty chorus of ‘All Is Vanity’ and  the terrifying propulsion of ‘She Bathed Herself In A Bath Of Bleach’ come straight from the military era of 1994. It’s a truly fabulous album and a likely contender for my album of the year. That said, if you’ve never liked the Manics, this isn’t going to change your mind.

The rapturous response to pretty much every song in the classics set further reinforced my belief that I will never tire of this band. ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ is one of the best songs of all time to witness live and the ferocity of this latest rendition was probably the best performance of it I’ve ever witnessed. Even early b-side, ‘Sorrow 16’ (great chorus, forgettable verse), prompted plenty of cheers and by the time we were all haplessly singing along to ‘A Design For Life’ the world had been put to rights and James, Nicky and Sean had triumphed once again. God, I love this band.

I spent much of last night gazing out of the window at perpetual drizzle whilst listening to a selection of Manics b-sides from across the years, although I seemed to alight on the ‘Everything Must Go’ era. (Yes, I am sad enough to have all of the b-sides categorised by album on the iPod.) Now, I know that my love of these tracks come from my fanboy-ish desire to hoover up every last note whenever possible and thus, with familiarity, so often a liking grows, but I genuinely believe that there is some outrageously good songwriting tucked away on numerous Manics b-sides. If I were to pick three, just from that era, for you to track down, I’d send you off to hear ‘No One Knows What It Feels Like To Be Me’, ‘Mr Carbohydrate‘ and ‘First Republic’. Go on, treat yourself. And if you can’t, there’s an email address in the previous post, get in touch and I’ll see if I can help you, er, find the songs.

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As for albums of the year, if I had to pick my top 5 right now, it’d be these…

5. Super Furry AnimalsDark Days / Light Years

4. Trashcan SinatrasIn The Music

3. Graham CoxonThe Spinning Top

2. Manic Street PreachersJournal For Plague Lovers

1. DovesKingdom Of Rust

It’ll all change, of course, but there have been some truly wonderful albums already this year. Bubbling under for that list are Grizzly Bear, Lily Allen, Jarvis, Madness, Duckworth Lewis Method, Moz and the new Magnolia Electric Co album, ‘Josephine‘, which is the best thing Jason Molina’s ever done. I’ve not had it that long, so it’s not in the top 5 just yet, but I suspect it may get there.

In a nutshell, I’ve bought lots of records.

I’ve had a thoroughly enjoyable week, piling up CDs wherever there was space remaining. After getting hooked on the Trashcan Sinatras last weekend, the three albums of theirs I didn’t own arrived from various different parts of the UK. DVD.co.uk have an insane 4 for £15 offer on that, at the time I ordered, included the deluxe edition of Joy Division‘s ‘Still‘ amongst the spoils. Add in The Loose Salute, The Blue Nile, Northern Portrait and Ladybug Transistor after hearing them played on Gideon Coe‘s show and it’s been rather a splendid week for new tunes.

The Northern Portrait EP , ‘The Fallen Aristocracy‘ is a little charmer. Four songs of prime British indie jangle a la The Smiths, only made by a trio from Denmark. Even the cover looks like a Smiths record, which earns them a bonus points or two. Sample a track via the mux if you happen to be interested. See the previous post about this EP to order yourself a copy.

I’m now incredibly glad that I pursued The Trashcan Sinatras after ‘How Can I Apply?‘ piqued my interest last week. Its parent album, ‘A Happy Pocket’ is a total charmer of Teenage Fanclub proportions, while ‘I’ve Seen Everything’ – their second album – also has a touch of late Beatles to it. The harmonies are divine and every last second is so delicately constructed I can’t help but wonder why I didn’t know about it before this week. That said, when you look at it on Amazon, most of the reviewers seem intent upon mentioning Travis, which is enough to make you think again. The aforementioned, ‘How Can I Apply?‘ has also made it to the mux this week, and their first three albums, while not in print, can be tracked down for reasonable prices by trawling all of the different online outlets for second-hand music.

Momofuku‘ to you and you and ba-ba-bahh. Bonkers name for an album, even more bonkers approach to distribution in the UK, but nevertheless, the new Elvis Costello is upon us. It’s actually really rather good. It was supposed to be double vinyl and download only, but it didn’t quite work out like that and a CD copy will be in all good stores from tomorrow. Which is more than can be said about the vinyl edition. That said, it would seem that it has just reached British shores as Amazon briefly had two copies in stock on Friday. HMV are knocking it out cheap too, but to me it seems like the sort of thing you should buy from an indie store. You know, one of the shops that carried on supporting vinyl even when the big stores were trying to persuade us that we didn’t need it anymore. The ones who haven’t just come flooding back to it because they sense the opportunity for a quick buck. Anyway, despite the fact that the album actually came out in the US on April 22nd didn’t seem to bother the distributors in the UK who, despite seemingly having told most shops that the UK release date would essentially be the same, have been unable to supply any copies to any shops until the last couple of days, thus bringing the vinyl release date, at least in the UK, in line with the CD’s appearance. Dopey, if you ask me. I ended up buying my vinyl from the US because I was tired of waiting, and it’s this kind of balls-up that the industry could do without right now. Some of the more charming if neurotic types over at the Elvis Costello forums have decided it’s all a deliberate part of Costello’s plan to piss off the UK because some posh people went to Glastonbury the other year. Is it fuck.

Oh, and the Portishead album’s actually rather good. There had been mumblings about the record after a sub-standard leak appeared some time ago, but the beefy and brutal sound of the double vinyl has made me sit up and take notice. ‘The Rip’ may well be one of the finest tunes released this year. Still think that £40 boxset’s a big old load of bollocks though.

Vinyl Junkies – written from scratch (d’ya geddit?)

Eurgh. This weekend I have mostly been getting annoyed with lazy journalism. Cajun Dance Party are just finishing their A levels, apparently. They got the album finished and ready for release and then went back to school. Fair play to them. But does that really make it ok to then say that they’ll soon be ‘top of the class’? Is that really the best way to say that they’ve got plenty of potential (and a decent debut album, as it goes)? It’s like the reviewer was channeling the jokes of Jimmy Tarbuck in an attempt to avoid having to think of a single, original idea.

It’s not entirely the fault of these vacuous dullards that clutter up the reviews section of most of the (notional, if not actual) broadsheets. If you’re going to tell someone to review an album in 100 words or less you may as well have a rating system of just: Excellent, Good, Ok, A Bit Dull, Crap, Blunt. Why bother with the other words if, having deployed a subordinate clause, the review is pretty much over before its begun?

Today’s Madonna review in The Observer set of the crapulous bullshit alarm almost as quickly as the actual album being reviewed. Almost every time Gavin Henson plays in a rugby match at which his partner, Charlotte, is present,  the commentators will call him Mr Church at some point in the game. What the hell is that all about? Apart from the fact it means absolutely fuck all, it’s such a simplistic and dopey way of saying he happens to have a famous girlfriend. In a similar manner, today’s review of ‘Hard Candy’ mentioned a ‘Mr Ciccone’. When exactly did Guy Ritchie change his name by deed poll? I wasn’t aware he had time in between making gangster films according to the law of diminishing returns to do such a thing. I mean, for fuck’s sake, it doesn’t matter where that review had appeared; it’s shit journalism, and it’s meaningless space filling. I should know. Ahem.

I know I shouldn’t be getting worked up about this, but do any newspaper reviewers actually have anything to meaningful to say about the music they’re attempting to evaluate? Having spent a few years writing reviews for one of the monthlies, I can vouch for the fact that it’s bloody hard work, but that doesn’t mean you should just settle for the first draft to avoid getting stressed. A review needs to be an interesting piece of writing on its own, irrespective of what it’s about, otherwise why read it in the first place? 

I can’t actually remember what the review said about the album, but I’m willing to bet it’s every bit as desperate as the single that preceded it. Oh, and if you can spare a couple of quid, probably best send it to the ‘Clothes-that-aren’t-underwear for Madonna to wear in pictures and videos from now on fund’. Just Google it.

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I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the tunes of The Field Mice and Trashcan Sinatras this weekend and, were I less worked up about trifling matters, I would happily tell you more. As it is, have a quick poke around the interweb. Emusic-ers can get a splendid compilation of pretty much all of the essential stuff by The Field Mice right now, while Trashcan novices can download slightly low quality audio files of much of their output here.

Oh, and the muxtape’s been updated to reflect some recent musical highlights.