Thursday, 30 July 2009

89: Panic At The Disco - Nine In The Afternoon

Panic! At The Disco were the mid-Noughties music critic's punch-bag of choice, an easy target for scorn in the music press. Derided as a poor man's Fall Out Boy, they were an easy target. Unnecessary punctuation in the band name? Check. Post-nu-metal tunes popular with pre-pubescent emo Americans? Check. Stupid song titles, such as 'Lying Is The Most Fun A Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off'? Check. Even stupider lyrics (e.g. "What a beautiful wedding, says a bridesmaid to a waiter")? Check. The critics hated them, but the fans loved them, as 2.2 million sales of debut album 'A Fever You Can't Sweat Out' can testify.

Then something rather unexpected happened. In January 2008, the band announced they were dropping the exclamation mark, and would henceforth be known simply as Panic At The Disco. As if that wasn't enough of a sign of growing maturity, early reviews of their second album talked about the obvious Beatles influences. The childishness of the first album appeared to have been forsaken.

When the first single from 'Pretty. Odd.' (ok, so they kept some of the bizarre punctuation) dropped in early February, there was genuine surprise. 'Nine In The Afternoon' sounded more ELO than My Chemical Romance. The change of direction didn't appear to have affected the band's commercial appeal though, with the album entering the charts at #2 in both the UK and the US.

I think that 'Nine In The Afternoon' is a real grower. For evidence of that, consider that I originally ranked it as my 25th favourite song of 2008, yet it was in my Top 10 of 2008 by the time I came to create this list. And in the month or so since I drew up my Top 100 of the decade, I've even toyed with the idea of placing it higher than this. I put it down to that glorious, rousing pop chorus, reminiscent of Blur at their very best, and the Kinks-ish piano. The lyrics are a vast improvement too, and I genuinely love the line about "losing the feeling of feeling unique". The proof is in the pudding, and in contrast to their earlier work, fans and critics alike loved the song and album. And that means that PATD's was the most justified career reinvention of the decade.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

90: Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Zero

2009 is the year that indie went disco. With the NME-touted La Roux, Little Boots, Florence & Her Machine et al. storming to the top of the charts, and off the back of recent success by the likes of Hot Chip, Justice and Calvin Harris, "credible" artists are queueing up to add beats to their guitars.

Of course, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs always had a hint of disco aesthetic about them, courtesy of Karen O's outlandish wardrobe and stylised vocals. But 'It's Blitz', released in the spring of this year, heralded a clear refocusing of direction for NYC's coolest band of this past decade. The whole record is packed with dancefloor fillers, and even the slower tunes like 'Zero' are flexible enough to lend themselves to countless dance remixes.

Video here (embedding has been unhelpfully disabled).

The fluctuating, Rolf Harris-on-a-wobbleboard style of guitar playing allows Karen O's vocals to the fore, and as per usual, she doesn't disappoint. I particularly like the opening gambit ("shake it like a ladder to the sun"). Not sure if it means anything, but it's a great line nevertheless.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

91: Foo Fighters - Best Of You

The ultimate test of a rock song is, in my view, how it sounds when driving on a warm summer's afternoon. If it comes on the radio, do you feel an irresistible urge to wind down the windows and sing along at the top of your lungs?

'Best Of You' fits the bill in spades. From the moment Dave Grohl admits "I've got another confession to make", this is one song that never lets up. I'm sure it was no coincidence that the band chose 'Best Of You' as the lead single from fifth album, 'In Your Honor'. After major success with the previous multi platinum-selling album, 'One By One', the band must have felt the pressure to release something BIG to herald the arrival of their new long player.

There's nothing especially fancy about 'Best Of You'. It's white collar rock from a white collar band, efficient, rousing and catchy. The "wooooooooah woooooah" of the bridge is about as exciting as the song gets.... and yet... somehow, it just feels right. Five albums into a career may be a little late for it, but perhaps, with the release of 'Best Of You', Foo Fighters finally had a declared mission statement, a call to arms. And if not... well, they still have the consolation of a massive-selling single (their biggest seller to date), and a live-show staple. Those of us who had the pleasure of seeing them at Wembley Stadium in the summer of 2008 can testify to that much - the sound of 80,000 people roaring "the best, the best, the best, the best of you" sent a tingle down the spine. Instant classic.

Friday, 24 July 2009

92: Placebo - Meds

Next up, a song which flew under the radar in Britain, but received huge amounts of radio airplay in the States in late 2006. 'Meds' was the title track and third single from Placebo's fifth studio album, and featured guest vocals from Alison Mosshart of The Kills (and now also Jack White's sidekick in The Dead Weather).

It's a typically frenetic Brian Molko performance, the urgent strumming of the intro building up into the main riff, accompanied by a frenzied drum beat as Molko sings of the descent into madness on the comedown from a drugs high. Mosshart's soothing vocals on the chorus, the ever-concerned partner asking "baby, did you forget to take your meds?" contrast with Molko's increasingly distressed tone of voice, as the song crescendos, and then collapses back to that original strummed rhythm.

The video (below) is weird, but then why expect anything else from Placebo? It's an unusual song in that I can't really think of another song from the decade that sounds even vaguely similar. But it really struck a chord (pardon the pun) from the first moment that I put the CD in my player. It's dark, moody, agitated... put simply, it's Placebo doing what Placebo do best.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

93: Franz Ferdinand - Take Me Out

Not without reason was 'Take Me Out' rated as the 34th greatest track ever performed by a British artist. In late 2003, Franz Ferdinand were one of a raft of up-and-coming British indie-rock bands, whose debut single, 'Darts Of Pleasure' had spent one week at #44 before dropping out of the UK singles charts altogether. Fast-forward six months, and the follow-up single, 'Take Me Out' had hit the giddy heights of #3 in the UK charts, #7 in Canada, and #66 in the Billboard Hot 100 - no mean feat for a ramshackle bunch of Glaswegians. Better yet, the single went gold in the US by virtue of half a million sales, and the world-renowned Time magazine described them as "a band you wish you hated".

And the single at the centre of this stratospheric rise? Well, it's one of the most recognisable guitar riffs of the decade. A frantic intro gives way to that slow pounding drum beat, before the guitar kicks in. Go on, sing it to yourself, it's easy. "Nur nur na-na nur-nur-nur." That riff was EVERYWHERE in the summer of '04. And the lyrics were as easy to sing along to as anything the Kaiser Chiefs could produce. "I say you don't know, you say you don't go, I say.... TAKE ME OUT".

I'd like to direct you to the brilliant Pythonesque video, directed by Swede, Jonas Odell.

From my research, I'd say Franz actually put more thought into the video than the single itself. But no matter. It's a timeless piece of Brit-pop-rock, that still gets used to soundtrack computer games and sports highlights montages 6 years later, and that's a testament to the song's sheer brilliant simplicity.

Friday, 17 July 2009

94: Doves - Pounding

In at #94 in my countdown, and it's the band formerly known as Sub Sub. Debut album 'Lost Souls' had been a slow-burning hit in 2000, earning the band a Mercury Prize nomination. And when the second album, 'The Last Broadcast' "dropped" in the spring of 2002, it soared straight to #1 in the charts (supplanting Blue's 'All Rise' from the top spot).

'Pounding' was the second single released from the album, and peaked at #21 in the singles charts. Built around a pounding drum beat (hence the song's title), it became one of the festival anthems of the decade, a joyfully upbeat ode to seizing the moment.

Fact #1 for fact fans: the song is currently being used on promotional advertisements for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Fact #2 for fact fans: the previous single, 'There Goes The Fear' was only available in shops for one day before being deleted, but made it to #3 in the charts. This is still Doves' highest charting single, although they also hit #3 in previous incarnation Sub Sub, with the brilliant '
Ain't No Love (Ain't No Use)'

Monday, 13 July 2009

95: Sweet Female Attitude - Flowers

UK Garage was something of a phenomenon, no? For a brief period from the summer of 1999 to the summer of 2001, the UK Singles Chart was littered with big-selling chart hits that fitted neatly into their own genre, best described as "speed garage" or "2 step", more club and radio-friendly than earlier jungle and drum'n'bass tracks. Significantly, most of these tracks were successful only in the UK, giving the whole scene a very British feel. Shanks & Bigfoot, DJ Luck & MC Neat, and The Artful Dodger all hit the top of the charts in 1999, and by 2001, as the genre was starting to be supplanted by more traditional rap and R'n'B, Mis-Teeq and So Solid Crew were still able to record huge hits.

Right in the middle of the era of UK garage, in April 2000 came one of its biggest successes, and most likeable tracks, in the form of 'Flowers'. Recorded by one-hit wonders from Stockport, its catchy rythmn and singable chorus ("I'll bring you flowers in the pouring rain, living without you is driving me insane") created a dancefloor smash that summer, which sold over 300,000 copies, and was nominated for a Brit Award.

Sweet Female Attitude turned out to be such one-hit wonders that no other information seems to exist about them on the entire interweb. I can tell you, however, that their names were Leanne Brown and Catherine Cassidy, and that having gone off to start families, they are now back recording again, working with a member of Body Rockers under the name The Koo Zooz. Though bizarrely, their MySpace now lists Arctic Monkeys as an influence.

Friday, 10 July 2009

96: White Lies - Death

The first 2009 song to appear in this countdown is this 5 minute epic from Ealing's newcomers to the alternative scene, White Lies. The first British band to hit #1 in the album charts during 2009, White Lies originally released 'Death' last autumn without much success, but it hit #17 when it was re-released a month ago.

From the instant I heard 'Death', I fell in love with the song. Harry McVeigh's 'doom and gloom' vocal is accompanied by a slowly building riff and rhythm, until it bursts into life at the end of the song's bridge. Of course, the song is most easily recognisable for its chorus lyric "this fear's got a hold on me". However, the lyrics in the verse and bridge are well constructed, and allow listeners to draw their own conclusions as to the meaning. Personally, I subscribe to the theory that the lyrics are about a fear of flying (which, coincidentally, was the band's original name), but specifically, the lyrics are ambiguous enough to not only relate to aviophobia, but also to a fear of falling in love, or worse, of falling out of love.

Finally, I defy you to find me a more powerful lyric thus far in 2009 than "I live on the right side, I sleep on the left, that's why everything's got to be alive or dead".

Fact fans: eight of the ten songs on the album 'To Lose My Life' feature the words 'die', 'dead', 'death', 'died' or 'deceased' in their lyrics.