Originally posted on The Unpleasant Lair Of Spank The Monkey 14/01/2001
You know how these things work by now, surely? Since 1993, Spank's Pal Lou has been getting the same Christmas present from me every year: a compilation of my favourite songs from the previous twelve months. And since 1998, I've been sharing details of the contents of those compilations with you lot (check out the pages for 1998's Damn Your Black Heart, Barbra Streisand and 1999's Dance A Dickless Jig if you weren't previously aware of this).
With the year 2000 just gone, it's time for another one. As before, I've given you enough information to be able to recreate the compilation on your own CD writer should you so wish. It'll all fit on a standard 74 minute CD-R, providing you trim that silly hidden track off the end of the Radiohead song. Alternatively, if you don't feel like putting that much effort into it, read on to discover how you could actually win a copy of the CD for yourself (assuming you're reading this before the end of February 2001).
So what did 2000 sound like, then?
1. DELTRON 3030 - 3030 (from Deltron 3030, 75 Ark 75033)
It's a rare experience these days to find yourself skimming through the radio channels only to be stopped dead in your tracks by a song: but that's exactly what happened to me with this one. A collaboration between a couple of legendary hip-hop figures, the Deltron 3030 album features the musical stylings of Dan 'The Automator' Takamura, whose big kitsch choral and orchestral samples are reminiscent of the decadent grandeur of ZTT's early material. You sometimes wish for a harder edge to the music - Datta of Film Unlimited got it right when he referred to this as "art school rather than old school" - but it's a fascinatingly detailed production job. I'm not really aware of the earlier work of rapper Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, to be honest: his sci-fi futuristic ramblings fit this track perfectly, although they drag a little over the length of an entire concept album. (How seventies.)
2. A PERFECT CIRCLE - Judith (from Mer de Noms, Virgin Records America 7243 8 49235 2 0)
The installation of digital cable TV at Spank Towers earlier this year ultimately led to the inclusion of Judith here. MTV2 fell heavily in love with this song, or more exactly with the beautifully distressed David Fincher video accompanying it: a simple live performance cut up and distorted into something apocalyptic, with the added bonus of the sight of Paz Lenchantin dry-humping her bass for the duration. It's a fine lolloping alt-rock monster, with a Cocteau Twins-style feel to the slide guitar that sends the choruses through the roof. It's also, incidentally, one of the most blasphemous songs ever to make it onto primetime MTV uncut, as they seem to have accidentally missed out on the line most likely to give offence.
3. OTIS LEE CRENSHAW - He Almost Looks Like You (from Otis Lee Crenshaw & The Gadflys Live From The Hi-Fi Ballroom Melbourne Australia, only available at gigs)
Nick and I saw more gigs by Otis Lee Crenshaw than any other artist in 2000. Four shows out of six during his residency at the Comedy Store in London, then Nick saw him during his Edinburgh run, and then we both caught the triumphant show at the Jazz Cafe following his well-deserved Perrier award. The album this song's taken from - a recording of a 1999 Australian gig - shows how much Rich Hall has developed the character of Otis since then: after all, the hidden agenda of the Comedy Store residency was to work up new material for the Edinburgh Fringe. But I suspect He Almost Looks Like You will remain a staple of his set for some time to come. The only song about prison rape that's made me want to hold a lighter in the air (though I suspect Spank's smoking Pals are aware of this, as they mysteriously went into hiding whenever Otis played this tune at the Store shows).
4. ANDREAS JOHNSON - Glorious (from Liebling, WEA 398426914-2)
I spent most of February 2000 working nights in a shed in South London, supervising the running of a computer system with a hardened crew of operations staff. Computer operators are a breed unto themselves, particularly the nocturnal variety: they get through the night on a diet of microwaved food, Channel 5 soft porn and a radio constantly tuned to Virgin. In situations like this, you learn to appreciate the emotional value of a killer chorus: such as this one, which was on heavy rotation during those long Vauxhall nights. The Liebling album is all very nice, with some rather fine songs apart from Glorious: still, you suspect Johnson will never do anything as good as this one song ever again. But some nights, that's enough.
5. EMINEM (WITH DIDO) - Stan (from The Marshall Mathers LP, Aftermath Ent/Interscope Records 490 629-2)
I have real problems with including this here, believe me. What do you do about an artist who's personally a horrible human being, but makes great art? Because no matter how good Eminem's records are, and how much he claims he's dealing in fictional personas, there's still no way of getting around how he seems to be most comfortable in the fictional persona of an evil wife-beating fuck. Not to mention the complication of a song like this - which actually plays off of his evil wife-beating fuck reputation, and manages to be his best track ever. The material is grim, but there's a fantastic storytelling technique here coupled with an industrial strength dramatic irony. (Note how Stan's analysis of his final hour is based around a Phil Collins lyric that he's too stupid to understand.) And, of course, there's Dido, whose sample of Thank You counterbalances the horror of the story perfectly: if you don't believe me, check out the single version of this song, which manages to be much more disturbing because it omits the final reprise of the chorus (straight after the deaths) and doesn't give you time to get your breath back. I told you Dido would be big last year, so I'm feeling pretty smug now, thanks.
6. THE WATERBOYS - We Are Jonah (from A Rock In The Weary Land, RCA 74321783052)
There's something vaguely sinister about Cantonese pop music. Over a Chinese meal with Patch a few months ago, I finally worked out what it was. It's so predictable that you can see the chord changes coming well in advance, leading to the spooky situation where you find yourself humming along to a tune that you've never heard before. It's the same with this: a distillation of all the Big Music cliches that head Waterboy Mike Scott has been using over the last 15 years, tied to a gloriously surreal lyric involving whales, grandmothers and Montgomery Clift. And it's wonderful. I still don't understand the alchemy that makes Mike Scott solo records tank and Waterboys ones succeed, but it's here in abundance.
7. RADIOHEAD - Motion Picture Soundtrack (from Kid A, Parlophone 7243 5 29590 2 0)
This is where the title Cheap Sex & Sad Films comes from, in case you were wondering. (I know the last two compilations have been named after lines from South Park songs, but I couldn't keep that up forever.) So what do we make of Kid A? Sure, it's a brave record, but do people buy records for their bravery? Judging from the plummeting sales of the album, they don't. But given all the old-style Radiohead copyists popping up all over the place (Muse being the best if you really need one), why shouldn't the 'Heads try something new? If anything, the problem with Kid A is that it's nowhere near as off-the-wall as people insisted it was going to be. Having said that, this number - an old live favourite, and one of the most traditionally structured songs on the record - is transparently lovely, and doesn't feel the need to bury its loveliness under three tons of distorted noise: Thom Yorke's fragile voice has never been as weightlessly supported as it has been here.
8. KIRSTY MACCOLL - England 2 Colombia 0 (from Tropical Brainstorm, V2 Records WR1009872)
They say that Internet access in the office can seriously affect worker productivity. I can vouch for that: I found out about Kirsty MacColl's death in December 2000 while surfing the web at work, and it seriously fucked me up for the rest of the day. It's particularly heartbreaking in the light of her storming appearance at the Finsbury Park Fleadh six months earlier, which drove me to buy the Tropical Brainstorm album the very next day. As ever, the songs are tuneful affairs tempered with a razor sharp wit, this time with a lilting South American feel to them (despite most of the backing being constructed from samples). The football metaphor on England 2 Colombia 0 isn't overplayed, and the result is a wee comic gem bolstered by her usual fine harmony work. She'll be missed, no question.
9. UTE LEMPER - The Case Continues (from Punishing Kiss, Decca 466 473-2)
I've had a soft spot for Ute Lemper for some time, but I've always been frustrated by her swings from showtunes to Brecht/Weill and back again - she never seemed to acknowledge that in 1989 she made an album called Crimes Of The Heart, a collection of contemporary songs that was her best to date. Until now. Lemper approached her favourite songwriters to write material specially for her, and her list of favourite writers comes terrifyingly close to mine. We have songs by Nick Cave, Elvis Costello, Scott Walker, Tom Waits and Philip Glass, plus a couple from the Divine Comedy's team of Neil Hannon and Joby Talbot, of which this is one. Magnificently melodramatic, with the usual splendid arrangement from Talbot: and as with the Divine Comedy's Eric The Gardener two years ago, they make a song in 5/4 time seem like the most natural thing in the world.
10. MOLOKO - The Time Is Now (from Things To Make And Do, Echo ECHCD31)
Moloko were doing okay - no more - until the summer of 1999, when a discoed-up version of Sing It Back made them the talk of Ibeefer. The remix was wildly different from the wonky jazz inflections of their usual work, so their follow-up album was always going to be interesting. In the end, the usual sonic weirdness and wacky interludes were still there on Things To Make And Do, but this time accompanied by a few more tunes. This bastard godchild of He's The Greatest Dancer is another terrific song, and there's a real sense of free-falling suspension of time in that final chord. "Let's make this moment............. last."
11. FATBOY SLIM & MACY GRAY - Demons (from Halfway Between The Gutter And The Stars, Skint BRASSIC20CD)
Gearing up to be a fave of 2001 rather than 2000 (Demons was released as a single in the first week of January), this is still the best thing off the Fatboy's latest album. Macy's patented yelp and Slim's thudding beats may not seem an obvious combination - and truth be told, it all falls apart a bit during that final percussive coda - but this is a spiritually uplifting piece to rival Praise You, reaching a transcendent peak as Macy hits those final choruses. Not much more I can say apart from that: it's out as a single as I write, and for some reason you buggers aren't buying it, a situation you should rectify right now.
12. KELIS - Caught Out There (from Kaleidoscope, Virgin Records America CDVUS167)
You remember where you were when you first heard this. I was in a car with Simon on the way back from a meeting in Altrincham when this came on the radio. As a mad bird screamed "I HATE YOU SO MUCH RIGHT NOW! AAAAARRGGGHH!" over the top of two Space Invaders machines having sex, Simon proclaimed it to be one of the worst records he'd heard in ages. "I don't think I've ever hated anyone that much," he said. Well, he ought to get out more. For the rest of us, male or female, this is a cathartic joy. It works because the verses are nearly as compelling as the chorus, with the little inserts between the lines playing off beautifully. It takes a couple of listens before you hear that gun being cocked just before the final chorus, leaving you in no doubt as to where this relationship is heading. Kelis was also responsible for the best live set I heard this year (at V2000), and she's reported to have virtually pulled Liam Gallagher's balls off when he groped her bum, so hooray for her.
13. SAINT ETIENNE - How We Used To Live (from Sound Of Water, Mantra MNTCD1018)
If Kelis' V2000 set was the live highlight of the year, then this lot - same festival, previous day - came a very close second: especially with this song, which gained some much-needed balls in the transition to the live arena. You've got to admire Saint Etienne's instincts for committing commercial suicide: a nine-minute single in three almost entirely unrelated movements, where the title doesn't appear until the last minute or so. But when that middle section kicks in, it's the most joyous thing I've heard all year. Even with the modern bleeps and programmed percussion included, it's a perfect recreation of Swinging London: you can almost smell the upholstery on the open-top car as it whizzes down Carnaby Street. Easily the best - and most - British single of the year.
14. BJORK - New World (from SelmaSongs, One Little Indian TPLP151CD)
So does Dancer In The Dark - the movie whose soundtrack this comes from - work? Personally, I'm still not sure. The standard critical line appears to be that when director Lars von Trier last did female martyrdom in Breaking The Waves, it was some sort of masterpiece: but when he tried the same trick in Dancer In The Dark, it was grubby and exploitative. Whereas I'd say it was exactly the opposite way round. When von Trier puts an actress as fragile as Emily Watson through the treatment she got in Waves, it feels like gratuitous abuse, whereas Bjork is obviously made of stronger stuff. Besides, the musical interludes in Dancer help remind us that this is a story - a melodramatic one, granted, but still just a story. This end title theme had the almost impossible job of wrapping up a desperately bleak film in such a way as to send the audience home feeling uplifted: even if you hate the movie, Bjork deserves credit for pulling that off.
So that's my Pick Of The Year for 2000. Having selected the songs, I burned six copies of the CD: one for me, four for assorted Pals (Lou, Carole, Smudge and Patch)... and potentially, one for you. Last year's CD competition was obviously too hard (it took two months for Simon to send in the first correct answer), so this one has more of an element of chance to it.
Here's how it goes. The title Cheap Sex & Sad Films comes from a line in the Radiohead song Motion Picture Soundtrack, track 7 on this 14 track CD. Using your skill and judgement, answer the following question: at the exact point on the compilation where Thom Yorke starts to sing the line 'cheap sex and sad films', how much of the CD has still to play? Make a guess in minutes and seconds, and send your answer to email@example.com before 11.59pm GMT on February 28th, 2001. Nearest estimate wins the CD. One entry per person. Competition not open to anyone who already owns the bloody thing, obviously. And in the event of a tie, the CD will go to the person who gives the biggest bribe or makes the best offer of no-strings-attached sex. Hey, no arguing, I make the rules here. Being a monkey, and all.
Deltron 3030 [dead link], A Perfect Circle, Andreas Johnson, Eminem, Dido, The Waterboys, Radiohead, Ute Lemper, Moloko, Fatboy Slim, Macy Gray, Kelis, Saint Etienne and Bjork all have official sites you can visit. Kirsty MacColl: Freeworld isn't official, but it's certainly heartfelt.
TalkBack manage Otis Lee Crenshaw: in the absence of an official webpage for the great man, their site is the only real point of contact if you want to find out more about him or get hold of his CD. But considering how big TalkBack are in British comedy, what with TV shows and artist management and so on, isn't their web page shit?
The Monkey Mall is, as ever, just gagging for you to buy any of the above-mentioned CDs from WHSmith or Amazon.com. (Any of the CDs apart from Otis Lee Crenshaw's, of course.) As an added bonus, I've set up the Cheap Sex selections as an Amazon Listmania List to confuse the hell out of casual shoppers.
Popbitch is currently my favourite resource for gossip and scandal in the pop music world. Sent out as a weekly e-mail newsletter (see a sample [dead link]), it specialises in anonymous items of scurrilous filth about unnamed pop stars. The classic one everyone knows about is the tale of the British starlet known as Chazbaps, because of her alleged tendency to let guys snort cocaine off her tits. Lots of funny stuff, some surprisingly accurate midweek chart predictions and a hefty monkey fetish make this an absolute must to have stuffed in your inbox every Wednesday night.