The Best Albums of 2022 so far

Proving that it has difficulty in reading the calendar, The Guardian has started a series of ‘Best of So-Far’ articles selecting the best in each category for the first half of the year, a first half that has three and a half unused weeks to it. Yesterday, it was TV Shows, today it’s albums.

I decided to read the list out of curiosity, nothing more, and a very small sliver of wondering what I might be missing. It made for interesting reading, in one way. Out of a list of thirty albums, I have heard of only six artists and out of those six I have only heard two, and one of them over fifty years ago. Unsurprisingly, he – reggae star Horace Andy, singer of ‘Black Pearl’ in 1970 – is the only one I’m interested in hearing more from.

The other act I’ve hear is Wet Leg, whose music does nothing to excite me, although hester Chambers is a very nice looking woman.

From my perspective as a 66 year old, it would be very easy and extremely predictable to turn this into a rant about music being better in my day. I mean, generally I do think it was: most of us think that about what we heard when we were young, enthusiastic and impressionable. It connects us to our memories of when we were every bit of that. Modern music will never be able to do that and even the rare ones that set the fires blazing have too many years to overcome.

But I can’t and won’t do that. How can I say that this is crap, shit, unlistenable or any of the words my generation learned from our parents when it came to what we liked, when I’ve just admitted never having heard fourteen fifteens of the list? I could easily remedy that by clicking on the Spotify playlist provided, which includes all thirty, and more, that is if I ever listened to Spotify. Which I don’t and never have and aren’t interested in doing so.

The point of all of this is to illustrate two things. The first is that I am more completely out of touch with modern music than even when my only radio listening was Junior Choice for the comedy records. And the second is that I’m not in the least bothered by my ignorance and sam prepared to confess this to anyone who hasn’t run away fast enough.

It’s inevitable. It is now closing in on forty years since I made a conscious decision over two albums and went for the one representing the past I’d flown past, instead of the one that meant still being obsessed with what was new. I didn’t turn my back on new music, not by a long way, not for a very long time yet. But I changed my focus to exploring what I had missed. For the last twenty years, near enough, my principal fascination has been the obscurities of the back half of the Sixties, and the still-not-ended flow of gems from that time that I have yet to hear.

If I were to listen to these Best Albums So Far, I might be surprised by what I find, might find riches I’m deliberately choosing not to discover. There’s a very sad aspect to that but in all honesty, I would be surprised to find one that did it for me in any way, apart from Horace Andy that is, who’s older than I am, so that would be like cheating. And I don’t mind. In fact, if I were to discover that as many as ten of these people were making music as great as the reviewers say, I would start to seriously worry about music in 2022. Because this music is not beding made for me, and it damned well shouldn’t be. Music is a wavefront that should continually be moving forward, beaching generation after generation in order to accomodate present and future generations. It’s great that, out of nowhere, people are suddenly latching on to Kate Bush again, and more power to them, but the gorgeous Ms Bush has always transcended eras and, well, just about everything. If it started to multiply, I’d enjoy it, seeing other stars, like Bowie perhaps flash back across the heavens. As long as they started inspiring the youth of today to develop new sounds from them, and not just recycle what they hear.

Otherwise, long live lists like this that are strange and impenetrable, and shut your mouth about how shit/awful/noisy/stupid/horrible music is today. They’re making it for themselves, not you, just as we did when it was our time. Let them do so.

Or else fold your arms, scowl at them and rant about how this is far better than that trash they call music… You might be right, but when they tell you to piss off, they’ll be even righter.

The Ultimate Artist: Neal Adams R.I.P.

Very little comes as a shock any more. I woke up late, checked my e-mails and found an alert from downthe tubes: In Memorium, Neal Adams. Another of the ‘gods’ of my youth goes from us. It’s only to be expected: I am now 66, and the men and women whose worl stirred me were all older. They will go before.

I asume I don’t need to explain Neal Adams for you. He was comics’ premier artist, drawing the most real and dynamic of scenes, in demand from the fans. He took Batman back to the night. He redesigned Green Arrow. Dealers in back issues would flag comics he’d drawn and these would be more expensive, often twice as much as the issues either side of a guest pencilling. I remember finding two Adams’ Batman or Detective in Dave Britton’s comics shop on Peter Street whose name I’ve forgotten, at 45p each, buying them, and walking down Deansgate almost trebling at my audacity in buying two comics that were 45p. Each.

Adams was a fan favourite alright but only to the fans. The general audience comics then had were less enthused. Adams only drew a dozen issues of Green Lantern/Green Arrow and it was cancelled for low sales (admittedly, the comic was in trouble before he and Denny O’Neill took it over).

The run is probably the most famous run of Adams’ career. The art’s superb but the comics haven’t weathered well, their earnestness too blatant. Now we have neither of the creators, nor its editor, Julius Schwartz.

I’m not the person to speak of Adams’ career. After those days at DC in the Seventies, and some memorable work at Marvel on The Avengers and X-Men he took advantage of the independent boom of the Eighties to take control of his work, most of which he also wrote. He wasn’t half the writer as he was the artist.

But he was yet one more who was there when I needed stimulation, and my head expanding, and my eagerness satisfying. He is, once again, another good one gone.

P.S. Reading other’s tributes has reminded me of one thing on Neal Adams’ list of credits that I should not have forgotten. In 1978, he went in to bat for Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, the creators of Superman but then two old men, living in impoverishment and virtually forgot. Thanks to Adams’ energy, determination and advocacy, there is now and for over forty years never has been an interation of Superman that does not have his creator’s names indelibly applied, and whilst they were still not party to the uncountable billions their character has earned, Adams’ efforts secured for them an easeful and comfortable old age. Without him… it doesn’t bear thinking about, and I should have said that without needing to be prodded.

Not wishing to speak ill…

I’ve just read a report on the death, aged 88, of television writer Eric Chappell, a successful writer of sitcoms, most notably celebrated for the 1970s series, Rising Damp, starring the late and brilliant Leonard Rossiter as the mean, miserly, prejudiced landlord, Rigsby.

If you follow the link, you csan read the many tributes being paid to Chappell and his work. The praise is high. I wouldn’t normally go around raining on anyone’s parade, especially not at a time like this, but the level of praise being accorded Chappell surprises me. Because I have a completely different opinion.

Let’s go back, firstly, to Rising Damp. In its way, it was a very strong sitcom. Rossiter was, of course, the star, a true monster, in his way only little exaggerated as a cheap landlord of cheap accomodation, but the strength of his three supporting members can’t be stressed enough. Frances de la Tour played Miss Jones, a spinster, Richard Beckinsale was Alan, a long-haired, naive medical student, and Don Warrington was Philip, smooth, suave, self-confident and more than a match for Rigsby’s cheap and pathetic racial prejudice.

I loved the series. It was very funny. Until, for some reason, perhaps obeying a subconscious concern, I experimented with one episode. I forced myself to ignore the performances and instead focus only in the dialogue. My stars, the contrast was explosive. There wasn’t a funny lkine in the entire episode. Nothing ingenious or unexpected, nothing with wit in it. Just cliched comedy lines, lowest common denominator stuff, punchlines you could see approaching from a rooms-width away. The whole bloody show was obvious, in the worst way. It was all in the acting.

Unfortunately, a thing once seen can no longer be unseen. Rising Damp was spoiled for me, irreversibly. And Chappell’s next, and wholly inexplicably successful sitcom, Only When I Laugh, set in a hospital ward, horrified me. It lacked a Leonard Rossiter to fuill it with pent up energy and so relied solely on its dialogue, which was even more predictable and dull than Rising Damp. After that, whenever a new sitcom appeared on ITV, I checked for who was writing it and, if it was Eric Chappell, gave it a wide berth. And if it came from Yorkshire TV, it was invariably his work, they didn’t seem to have another writer.

To be honest, Chappell was perfect for ITV in those decades. The commercial channel, dependent upon advertising, had to pitch for the largest possible audiences, which in the field of sitcoms meant broad, unoriginal, full-of-cliche comedy. It was significanmt that the BBC sitcoms were always far better, more sophisticated, more individual, better written.

I read the praise for Eric Chappell’s writing and I can’t believe it. It’s praise far beyond any of his comedies were worth. He was the archetypal ITV writer of the time, who would give the audience what they wanted and only what they wanted, namely everything they had heard before. The truly great writers don’t do that. They don’t give the audience what they want, they give them what they don’t know they want until they get it.

Apologies to anyone offended, but I had to get that off my chest.

Averagely dumb Journalism

Yes, it’s the idot Stuart Heritage again. Pontificating today on Netflix’s Anatomy of a Scandal which, if his summary is only 50% exaggerated, sounds like the creative equivalent of the Gobi deserts having the DTs. I mention it because, in describing the end of episode 3, he refers to ‘…that Aimee Mann song from Magnolia‘.

Dear, ignorant little fellow, the whole point of Magnolia, to which I can attest because I’ve got the soundtrack CD, its that it’s full of Aimee Mann songs. The one in question turns out to be ‘Wise Up’ which, if you check it below, is far superior to Heritage’s usual strain-for-effect writing and, probably, the entire season itself.

I’m assuming she got paid well, though.

Crap Journalism?

Ok, so it’s the idiot Stuart Heritage again, but this time I’m not holding him up to despite or ridicule. He’s written a column about a Hollywood blogger who’s announced, from secret sources, that the Queen is Dead.

No, this is not a Morrisey/Smith revival, the guy is claiming the Queen Elizabeth II, monarch of England throughout my whole lifetime, who is 95 and who has been officially announced as contracting COVID19, has actually passed away, and that the long-awaited news and the careful plans about the disclosure of the same, will now be going forward. Presumably, given the current World situation, when they think we’re ready to be told about it.

How likely is it to be true? That Mrs Elizabeth Mountbatten-Windsor has finally laid down her duty? Eminently so. That this no-mark gossip monger from America has somehow beaten the country’s biggest security operation going? About as likely as Boris Johnson saying something truthful.

Nevertheless, I’m marking it here. Just, you know, in case. Be prepared.

I’ve started so I’ll finish: Bamber Gascoigne R.I.P.

No matter that I probably watched more of the programme under Jeremy Paxman, at an age when I knew enough to be able to answer some of the questions, but not many, I automatically associate University Challenge with Bamber Gascoigne. Genial, unassuming, unflappable, self-effacing and, as a friend of mine on the forum that has broken the news to me has said, always giving the impression that he could have answered all the questions himself without need of Encyclopedia Brittannia (whose presence in the credits led me to believe this was some super-knowledgeable human being without whom the show simply couldn’t have existed, until I mentuioned this to my Dad, who laughingly corrected me).

What I was doing watching a quiz show for not just adults but, unlike such things as Take Your Pick and Double Your Money, clever adults, I have no idea. I was at the level of Top of the Form but that was it. But I would watch it, cluelessly, but still absorbed.

I ended up growing up as a smartarse. You might have said the same about Bamber Gascoigne, and in that respect I was nothing like as big a smartarse, but the man wore his knowledge lightly, would never have annoyed anyone by unfailing producing the right information, and never ever once could have been thought of as a Know-it-all. Those days are gone forever, over a long time ago.

The Exile Begins (Again)

Almost a year ago, March 17, 2020 to be specific, I told my then Operations Manager that I had Type 2 Late Onset Diabetes and was told to go immediately, go home and self-isolate for fourteen days. Which I did. When I got back, I was one of the first to be issued with a laptop to enable me to work at home. I declined. I had already learned enough to know that I couldn’t possibly work from home. My pokey little flat doesn’t give me room to create a workspace separate from the ‘homespace’, and leaving aside the security concerns associated with dealing with company data and customers’ personal information, my job involves taking calls from customers whose services are not working. Indeed, as a senior Agent shortly to ‘celebrate’ ten years service, I frequently take repat calls, customers whose faults have not been fixed at first insatance (or second instance, third, fourth…). As you can imagine, not all those customers are philosophic, reasonable or capable of recognising that you are on their side and not just willing but eager to help. Two or three of that kind of customer a day, and you need time and space in which to decompress, and a physical severence between work and home .

Anyway, I couldn’t cope with the distractions available within easy reach. I can function in the ofice and, what’s more, concentrate. At home, I would be crawling the walls in less than half an hour.

It’s gone ok since then. I miss the friends I haven’t seen in nearly a year, I miss the buzz and energy of people about. I am the only one of my team who works in the office, but I haven’t felt as if I’m part of a team for a very long line.

Not of this is meant as a litany of complaints, though it sounds lilke it. It’s a factual account. This is work. Only it’s not right now, nor for the rest of this month.

I was shocked to get home from work on Thursday and find a letter from the Council, telling me the NHS has added me to the Critical Patients List and I am required to Shield until 31 March. Shocked because I have managed well so far. I have not contracted COVID nor have I infected anyone that I know of. I was sent home from work for a fortnight in October because somebody on my floor had tested Positive for COVID and they were closing the floor for two weeks as a precaution, and to undertake a deep clean. Since the Monday before Xmas, I have been off ill once, for two hours, with a headache.

But I have not survived this far by kicking against the medical precautions that have been urged on us. Work agrees: I will be put on Shielding Status (that means at least one holiday I’ll get back because I’m not on Duty to take it). I have to obey instructions, if I choose to work it’s entirely at my own risk. Despite feeling a fraud, I have sorted things out at work, let them take a copy of my Shielding letter for evidence, and was back home even before my shift should have started today.

Being on my own with no Support group, I cannot perfectly Shield. I was only going to four places as it was: work, food shopping, the chemists, the launderette, and the furthest of those, the chemist, is only two miles away at most. For the rest of the month, that’s down to three.

The Exile observes his solitary, and rather pokey, kingdom and is thankful for the sheer volume of books, comics, CDs and DVDs that are his sole companions. Maybe I’ll even clean the place properly as well…

More Crap Journalism

In the Guardian today, author Namina Forna wrote about discovering fantasy through The Lord of the Rings and subsequently how disappointed and cut-off she felt on watching the film Trilogy and discovering that it featured no black or African characters. Maybe it’s just the fact that this is appearing in the Guardian, who have to find some means of denigrating any work of creativity that doesn’t conform to Twenty-First Century identity politics and sectionalism, but the piece comes over to me as critical of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien for failing to be more multi-cultural. I don’t think that’s meant to be Forna’s angle but under a sub-heading of ‘As a Black Lord of the Rings fan, I felt left out of fantasy worlds. So I created my own’ the slant is plain to see.

My first response was, what do you expect? This is a book written between 1936 and 1951 by a middle-aged Midlands white male who was a Professor of Ancient Languages at Oxford University and whose lifelong creative impulse stemmed from wishing to give Britain the kind of myth-cycle enjoyed by the Norse and the Greek. Is that a multi-cultural theme. It’s rather me, as a white European male, feeling excluded from the Afro-centric myths of Sierra Leone that she’s used to underpin her own fantasy fiction.

I wish her luck with her work. The thing about fantasy nurtured by myth is that it plays upon people’s unconscious attachment to those myth, upon the sense of resonance with things buried deep in our sub-consciousnesses. I would not expect Forna’s myths to necessarily resonate with me as I haveno cultural connection to the mythology of Sierra Leone or any other part of Africa. That she found resonance in Lord of the Rings probably indicates a broader mind than mine (I hope it doesn’t indicate that ashe may have been subjected, in the worse sense of the word, to European Cultural Colonial dominion).

But the Guardian‘s seeming incapbility to distinguish between then and now pisses me off more and more each week.

Fairytale Time 2020

It’s that time of year again, and it’s getting to be that time of year earlier and earlier. Last week, the first two Xmas singles crashed into the Top 100, the perennials of Mariah Carey and Wham! Long term readers of this blog will know that I take a personal interest each year in one Xmas song, the one that for me is the perfect Xmas song, and the one that has re-charted for the longest sequence in time of any record. Obviously, that is ‘A Fairytale of New York’ by The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl.
Which has today entered the Top 100 at no. 63.
Unfortunately, this time of year is also the time of year for boring arguments about ‘A Fairytale of New York’ with reference to a couple of lines in the lyrics, namely the second verse where MacColl and Shane McGowan’s characters slag each other off. A matter of him calling her an old slut on junk and she responding by calling him, amongst other things, a cheap lousy faggot.
Are these nice things to say? No, of course not. Is McGowan a misogynist and McColl a homophobe? We don’t even know if the characters whose roles in the song they are singing are misogynist or homophobe, or just a couple who have been involved with each other’s rough lives for so long that they will reach for any insult with which to attack the other in their disappointment made acute at the Xmas season.
Does it matter? These are, as I said, not-nice things to say, but this is a world in which people say not-nice things. I have, on many occasions, said not-nice things, even if they were not these particular not-nice things. But people say them, and a certain amount of accepting this is, I think, necessary.
The question of language in ‘A Fairytale of New York’ has once again been taken up by the sledgehammer-to-nuts BBC Bashing Brigade. This year, the BBC have announced a mixed approach: Radio 1 will play a bowdlerised version recorded by The Pogues and Kirsty in 1992, Radio 2 will play the original and DJ’s on 6 Music will play whichever version they prefer. One local radio DJ – there’s always one, isn’t there? – has already vowed not to play it at all and described it as a ‘nasty, nasty record’: I need hardly tell you my response to that, do I?
And the Guardian, forever eager to build mountains up out of social molehills, has convened a panel of radio listeners to debate if the BBC should censor the record at all. My opinion? SFW. The record is the record. I have owned it since 1987 and I play it whenever I want. I really don’t care what they do on the radio, any radio, the song is thereby untouched. And, to be very honest, have people completely lost the ability to make up their mind for themselves about something that, at base, is entirely personal?
That’s what worries me most. Since when does someone else’s opinion about a piece of music matter so much? Can nobody think for themselves any more? If you like, great. Play it, enjoy it, be moved by it as I am. If you don’t like it, pass by it, as I do Mariah Carey and Wham! We’ve got too many more important things to worry about this year than a bloody Xmas song.