Originally posted on The Unpleasant Lair Of Spank The Monkey 18/01/2003
1993: Younger Than The Stones
1994: And You Sure As Hell Can't Sing
1995: Make A Cup Of Tea, Put A Record On
1996: We Are The Kids And We're Out Of Our Heads
1997: Nothing But Total Respect For Annie Lennox
1998: Damn Your Black Heart, Barbra Streisand
1999: Dance A Dickless Jig
2000: Cheap Sex And Sad Films
2001: In Relation To Me Getting Out Of Bed
2002: Here's A Picture Of Me Bum
"What you've got here," said The Belated Birthday Girl as she looked at the stack of 10 CDs, "is a complete record of you in your thirties."
Shit. She's right, and all. As regulars will know, between the years of 1993 and 1997 I was producing C90 compilations every Christmas for my mate Lou, collecting my favourite tunes from each year. In 1998 I bought my first CD burner, and one of the first things I did with it was burn my own reference copies of the tapes. Since then, the compilations have been CD only, and this will be the tenth in the series. And it's true, I started doing all this shortly after I officially got the right to wear my Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine Thirtysomething t-shirt and mean it. Which means that this stack of CDs is an invaluable glimpse into my state of mind for an important decade in my life, and far too psychologically revealing to be left unattended in the hands of my girlfriend.
Or possibly even the hands of you lot, for that matter: but never mind, here are the details of this year's CD anyway. A brief analysis of my mood based on these 18 songs would appear to be 'cautiously upbeat and a bit Japanese'. See what you think.
1. CRAIG ARMSTRONG - Ruthless Gravity (from As If To Nothing, Melankolic CDSAD13)
Armstrong's a regular fixture of these compilations, either for his soundtrack work (Plunkett And Macleane, Moulin Rouge) or his solo albums - which tend to sound like soundtracks in search of a film anyway. Ruthless Gravity is a particularly fine example of the latter: its prowling menace makes you want to grab a camcorder and drive around the backstreets of Glasgow at 3am on a Sunday morning, looking for images of urban decay to fit to the music. (WARNING: the management of The Unpleasant Lair Of Spank The Monkey accept no responsibility for any stabbings incurred by people foolish enough to attempt the above.)
2. MORNING MUSUME - Souda! We're Alive (from Ikimasshoi!, Zetima EPCE-5149)
"So is there any more of that Japanese paedo stuff on this one?" Those were Lou's exact words as I handed his copy of Here's A Picture Of Me Bum over to him. And yes, here it is, the first of four Japanese songs on this year's compilation. It's an obvious consequence of my Oriental travels in the past 12 months: who knows, maybe the 2003 CD will be full of Australian power ballads, or something. (Hey, Chris, remember I was telling you about a forthcoming announcement that would SCARE THE LIVING CRAP OUT OF YOU? This is where it starts.) My thoughts on this gloriously mental bit of pure pop haven't changed all that much from when I reviewed it in J-Pop Jamboree six months ago, but I will add this. If a bunch of college-educated white boys with guitars had made a record as incoherent as this one, they'd be calling it a rock opera. I don't why a record made by a manufactured group of Japanese schoolgirls should be treated any differently.
3. ELVIS COSTELLO - Spooky Girlfriend (from When I Was Cruel, Mercury 586 829-2)
After far too long away (his last proper solo album was in 1996), it's good to see the One True Elvis back and on form. When I Was Cruel hops gaily between styles like all the best Costello records, and it's a shame that listening to it nowadays brings back painful memories of his Edinburgh Fringe gig, where a ham-fisted sound mix reduced all these songs to a uniform sludgy mess. It's the quieter, more menacing songs that work the best: Spooky Girlfriend manages to be jaunty and disturbing all at the same time. The slightly more intense When I Was Cruel No. 2 almost made it onto this compilation instead, only bumped off in the end because of its seven-minute-plus length: Bum comes to just seven seconds short of the CD-R 80 minute limit as it stands. Not that I have any particular objection to long songs...
4. DOVES - There Goes The Fear (from The Last Broadcast, Heavenly HVNLP35CD)
...and this long song was always guaranteed a place on here. (Though The BBG keeps complaining to me that there are too many songs over six minutes on Radio Spank, making it a little wearing on the attention span. Discuss.) The Last Broadcast is an okay album, I guess, although I'd have thought the market for Stone Roses tribute bands was a little saturated by now. The Roses comparison is an accusation that could be made of There Goes The Fear as well, except that this song manages to transcend its blueprint in ways that Ian Brown just can't seem to manage any more.
5. BILLY BRAGG AND THE BLOKES - Take Down The Union Jack (from England Half English, Cooking Vinyl COOK CD 222)
I've been involved in two attempts to rig the singles chart this year, and they were both rather successful. While I was in Edinburgh I told you about John Otway, and his plans to get his second ever chart hit in time for his 50th birthday. I'm happy to report that thanks to fans like The BBG and myself storming the record shops during the first week of release, his single Bunsen Burner roared into the charts at number nine, and the scenes of revelry on that week's Top Of The Pops were a wonder to behold. A couple of months earlier, Billy Bragg had been rallying fans at his gigs to pull off a similar stunt, but for slightly less egocentric reasons. Bragg's aim was to make it onto TOTP during the week of the Queen's Golden Jubilee, performing a song that questioned the British obsession with national identity, and asked if it was possible for us to have one that wasn't defined exclusively by our hatred of other nations. And, as they did for Otway, the fans (including us again) gave Billy his wish. Despite the odd bit of lyrical clumsiness (including the one that gives this compilation its title), this is an important record: because at a time when we were being bullied as a nation into joining in with the jingoistic frenzy, Bragg managed to start a public debate about whether that was a good thing. Maybe that's the best a political pop star can hope for, in these post-Strummer times.
6. THE UKRAINIANS - Oh Ukraine (from Respublika, Zirka ZRKCD3)
I have fond memories of a 1988 concert by The Ukrainians, back when they were just The Wedding Present with a few foreign mates playing loud fast folk tunes for a laugh. I managed to literally destroy a perfectly good pair of shoes in the ensuing dance frenzy. Seeing them fourteen years later at the Borderline, they were a little more restrained - well, we've all got older in the meantime - but the manic pacing and love of a stirring tune were still there. The 'Legendary' Len Liggins says that he wants this particular number to be the Ukrainian football team's next official World Cup song. Roll on 2006.
7. BADLY DRAWN BOY - You Were Right (from Have You Fed The Fish?, XL Recordings TNXL CD156)
Manc boy makes good, again. Critical opinion seems to be divided over whether Have You Fed The Fish? is a better or worse album than its predecessor, The Hour Of Bewilderbeast. I'm in the 'better' camp: Darren Gough seems to have clamped down on the gratuitous eccentricity and concentrated on just writing cracking songs. Besides, this compilation is a bit light on wussy male singer/songwriters in comparison to last year's, so I'm happy to allow Gough to fill that role, particularly with a lyric as delightful as this one.
8. EMINEM - Lose Yourself (from Music From And Inspired By The Motion Picture 8 Mile, Shady/Interscope 493 530-2)
The Eminem Show was passable, nothing more. Now all the pre-release hype's died down, it's become apparent that Eminem was suffering from Difficult Third Album Syndrome big time. But the song he wrote for the movie 8 Mile is a tremendous return to his old form. A nifty four minute summary of the film's story, internal rhymes falling over themselves to make it to the end of each line, a couple of po-mo self-referential bits to keep the broadsheet critics happy ("this ain't no movie / there's no Mekhi Phifer"), and further evidence that Eminem writes the best shoutalong choruses since the glory days of Slade. Good movie, too.
9. YUKI - 66db (from Prismic, Epic ESCL 2300)
I met up with a couple of The Belated Birthday Girl's Japanese friends while we were in Tokyo, and I was smugly pleased with the cool points I picked up from Miki and Taeko when I mentioned how much I liked Judy and Mary, a splendidly noisy J-Pop band. Lead singer Yuki has now gone solo, and her career seems to be taking Bjork as a role model, from the head-on cover pose to the wilfully eclectic nature of her collaborators on the record. And at a time when J-Pop seems to be getting blander and blander, I love the way she still experiments with noise: witness the climax of this particular song when the drums threaten to blow out your speakers completely.
10. IAN DURY AND THE BLOCKHEADS - One Love (from Ten More Turnips From The Tip, EastCentralOne DUR2)
It's surprising just how frequently Durex turns up on these compilations now that he's dead. Last year, he was represented by assorted celebrity mates on the tribute album Brand New Boots And Panties: this year, we have a collection of songs from the cutting-room floor, tidied up posthumously by the Blockheads and released as new. These grave-robbing exercises are normally an affront to human decency, so it comes as a shock to discover just how terrific most of these songs are. Taken from assorted sessions over the last decade, the results showcase the man's wit and humanity as well as anything he released while he was alive. One Love dates back to 1991, with overdubs added a decade later: it's got more joie de vivre than pretty much anything else released this year, and it was made by someone who died two years ago. But that was Dury for you.
11. RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS - Dosed (from By The Way, Warner Bros. 9362-48140-2)
The Chilis release an album. A track from it ends up on my Pick Of The Year CD. No surprises there, other than just how widely they've been accepted into the mainstream these days, with only a slight softening of their original approach. After all, for all the prettiness of Dosed, it's a song that talks about love in terms of the metaphor of heroin addiction. (No surprises there, either.)
12. TRUTH HURTS - Addictive (from Truthfully Speaking, Aftermath 493 331-2)
The year's key example of that old chestnut: cracking single, blah album. Another one of Dr Dre's protegees, Truth Hurts (which is a barmy name for a girl, I know) is an okayish R&B singer, and most of the tracks on Truthfully Speaking are indistinguishable from pretty much anything else you can hear on MTV Base. But Addictive has enough propulsive drive and attitude to make it stand out, even before you add in that killer Bollywood hook. Critics have been using Missy Elliott and Timbaland's dabbling with Eastern samples as a reference point, but surely the use of Rakim's rap is an obvious nod to the real original source - Coldcut's remix of Eric B and Rakim's Paid In Full, which featured the exotic stylings of the late Ofra Haza way back in 1987. If you're going to steal, it's always a good idea to steal from the best.
13. LOVE PSYCHEDELICO - Standing Bird (from Love Psychedelic Orchestra, Victor VICL-60888)
More J-Pop, and once again Love Psychedelico take up that all-important 13th track on the CD. Love Psychedelic Orchestra is a more consistent album than last year's debut, The Greatest Hits: that one had one balls-out classic song (Last Smile) surrounded by a lot of pretty good ones, whereas this is uniformly excellent throughout. It made choosing one particular song from it tricky for a while, but the loopiness of that "green light / untied / high tide / breaking the wind" refrain ended up swinging it for me. Is there any language in which that makes sense?
14. FREELANCE HELLRAISER - Smells Like Booty (from The Best Bootlegs In The World Ever, No Label NL1)
If we're going to be honest, bootleg mixes - the combination of one song's vocals and another song's backing track, in defiance of all known copyright laws - were more of a 2001 thing. 2002 just saw them move into the mainstream, to the extent that the Sugababes made it to number one with a cover of one of the most popular bootlegs on the dancefloor, the head-on collision of Freak Like Me and Are Friends Electric? Given the dubious legality of the mixes in the first place, it seems appropriate that some chancer or other should download sixteen of these things off the net and sell them as an album for profit. The compilation's a somewhat slapdash affair, to the extent that I couldn't tell you for certain who's actually responsible for this mashup of Destiny's Child and Nirvana - the sleeve credits DJ Freelance Hellraiser, but I've seen it attributed elsewhere to the Soulwax crew, who also struck it big this year with their 2 Many DJs mix album. Well, whoever did it, the vocal and backing track fit so snugly as to make this a whole new third song with no real connection to either Bootylicious or Smells Like Teen Spirit. Which is what any good mix should aspire to, I guess.
15. THE STREETS - Weak Become Heroes (from Original Pirate Material, 679 Recordings 679003CDLP)
"Do I keep up with current trends?" [Dave] Gilmour chuckles. "No." He thinks for a minute, and comes up with something unexpected. "I like that fellow Mike Skinner, the Streets... It's rhythmically and musically interesting, and philosophically interesting as well." People chuckled when Pink Floyd's guitarist gave mad props to The Streets in a Guardian interview recently, but they're more closely linked than you may first think. The melancholic nostalgia of the Floyd's Time ("and then one day you find / ten years have got behind you") isn't that far removed from the sense of loss Skinner feels for his old clubbing days ("then the girl in the café taps me on the shoulder / I realize five years went by, I'm older"). It's a defiantly modern urban sound, but instead of basing itself on American styles it does something very distinctively English, and that may be why it's struck so much of a chord in this country. On this evidence Skinner's definitely a, um, "fellow" to look out for in the future.
16. THE WHITE STRIPES - Fell In Love With A Girl (from White Blood Cells, V2 63881-27124-2RE)
The inspiration for not one, but two of the best marriages of images and music this year. First there was Michel Gondry's spiffy original video, a manic thrash through the song which was then re-animated frame by frame in Lego bricks. (Buy the US limited edition of the album, and you can get the video on a bonus DVD.) And then shortly after that, Flash animator Joel Veitch made two kittens in a gazebo mime to the song on guitar and drums, and created an internet cult that was only rivalled by Weebl and Bob for sheer viral spreadability. As for the music itself, it may just be another example of a failed US band using London cult status to relaunch their career, but it's the best example of the year.
17. THE POLYPHONIC SPREE - Five Years (from the single Hanging Around, 679 Recordings 679L012CD1)
June 17th, 2002. It's a date that will live in infamy, or so she tells me. The Belated Birthday Girl and I were sat in the Royal Festival Hall waiting for a Divine Comedy gig to start. Suddenly, twenty-five Texans in white robes troop onto the stage and start making this joyous racket: it's like they've all beamed down from some alien planet where the only music that ever existed was the last four minutes of Hey Jude. (The BBG, on the other hand, thinks that's a bad thing, but there's no accounting for taste.) Their supporting slot at the Divine Comedy gig was at the request of David Bowie, as the show was part of the 2002 Meltdown festival he curated on the South Bank. Bowie asked every band at Meltdown to do a cover version of one of his songs, and the Spree chose Five Years from the Ziggy Stardust album: its repetitive structure fits in nicely with their own stuff. Their own album, The Beginning Stages Of The Polyphonic Spree, is rather restrained in comparison to their live shows: this session recording for BBC radio (subsequently released as the b-side of a single) is the closest they've come to capturing their ramshackle exuberance on tape, or whatever they use instead of tape nowadays.
18. RINGO SHIINA - Heidenroslein (from Utaite Myouri, Toshiba-EMI TOCT-24780)
The fourth Japanese record of the disk, but for a change this is someone I didn't discover until after I visited Japan. Ringo Shiina popped up on a BBC Choice filler programme about J-Pop, and I ended up being fascinated enough by her spiky singer/songwriter style to buy all three of her albums. After the second, 2000's rather fine Shoso Strip, she took some time off to have her first child, and I was somewhat concerned that the Japanese Alanis Morrisette would come back all babies are lovely la la la. Sneakily, we still don't know if that's true yet, as Ringo's comeback album is entirely comprised of cover versions - her first wholly new material should be seeing the light of day early in 2003. In the meantime, we have this 2 CD collection of her favourite songs sprawling across multiple languages and genres, the first disk of which ends with this delightful oddity: a Schubert song arranged for drum machine, fuzz guitar and piano, and sung in the original German by a Japanese girl. She's very proud of the way she can roll her r's in direct contravention of the racial stereotype, and who can blame her?
So, that's this year's compilation out of the way. And you greedy bastards are demanding to know: how can I win one? So once again, it's COMPETITION TIME. One copy of this CD is up for grabs to be won by a lucky reader. That's assuming you manage to answer this year's question, of course: there's a possibility that this may end up being another Dido/catfood fiasco like '99, as it's a bit tricky.
Anyway, it's like this. That cover image at the top of the page there: I hate to disappoint you, but it's not my bum. Your main task is to search the internet to find out whose bum it is, or at least find the site that I stole it from. You'll need skill, judgement and Google Image Search to be in with a chance. The particular image in question is on at least two sites I know of (not counting this one), but the specific site I'm asking you to track down has a big obvious connection with an act which had a number one single in the UK in 2002. (And as you seem to be having a lot of trouble with that, I'm throwing in these [dead link] two links just to make sure I get some sort of response.)
To win a copy of the CD, send the title of that single to firstname.lastname@example.org before 23:59 GMT on March 31, 2003. (Usual rules: first correct answer wins, no entries allowed from people who already have a copy of the CD, and so on.) And apologies for the slight rudeness of the email address, but I've used it in anticipation of the day when I get an achingly sincere Nigerian spam mail sent to it, asking Mr Heresmebum to look after twenty-six million dollars for them. It's an idea that just amuses me. Being a monkey, and all.
Craig Armstrong, Morning Musume, Elvis Costello, Doves, Billy Bragg, The Ukrainians, Badly Drawn Boy, Eminem, Yuki, Ian Dury, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Truth Hurts, Love Psychedelico, The Streets, The White Stripes, The Polyphonic Spree and Ringo Shiina all have official sites for your viewing pleasure. Freelance Hellraiser don't, but Boom Selection [dead link] is a weblog about the whole bootleg scene, with copious links to MP3 files of the best mashups. It's no longer being updated, but you'll find some treats in their archives [dead link].
Radio Spank currently has the eighteen songs listed above as part of its playlist of 80. So try before you buy. (While you're there, is there any chance you could register on Live 365 - it's free - and vote on how good you think the station is? Your approval doesn't give me any financial benefits or anything, but it does get me moist.)
The Monkey Mall is open for business if, having tried, you fancy buying any of the CDs listed here. But you probably won't. Having said that, though, some of this year's selection can't be supplied by either Amazon or WHSmith...
Kim's Video sold me my copy of The Best Bootlegs In The World Ever during an afternoon of bohemian depravity in New York (waves at RussMeyerGirl): though as their shop page is currently banjaxed, you're probably better off going to Rough Trade to buy it online. (Alternatively, just felch the songs off the interweb like everyone else does.)
CD Japan are your best bet for Japanese CDs in general, and the ones by Morning Musume, Yuki, Love Psychedelico and Ringo Shiina in particular. (Yes, I know a couple of them are on sale at Amazon, but look at that import markup, ferfuxake. Even if it does mean more yummy commission for me.)
Joel Vietch deserves more praise for his glorious animations of kittens playing pop hits. Apart from the White Stripes number mentioned earlier, you can also hear them covering John B, Elbow (doing Destiny's Child), Led Zeppelin and The Vines.