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Sleeve notes: 2014

So, I got monumentally bored on Boxing Day. This was the result….

Track one: “Do I wanna know?” – The Arctic Monkeys. 2013

With the crispest, cleanest opening I’ve heard in a long time, this is the first song on the Arctic Monkeys’ 2013 album, AM. I love they way they play with metre, which makes their lyrics feel like poetry (no nonsense, northern, sweaty, dirty poetry mind – none of your poncy daffodils shite here thank you).

Track two: “An audience with the Pope” – Elbow. 2008

Surely a contender for the best opening line ever – “Sweet Jesus, I’m on fire, she has the sweetest, darkest eyes”. Another track with that rolling, undulating drum and bass guitar riff that just calls to mind bodies and dark rooms and catches in breath. But, don’t worry, because all of this underlying charge of sexually-fuelled electricity is building up to….

Track three: “I want you” – Elvis Costello. 1986

I have a confession to make here. This is my all-time favourite song ever. Which is a little concerning, because it’s a no-holds barred, emotionally-devastating, howl of homicidal anguish from a betrayed husband to his unfaithful wife. But what I love about it is how completely subversive it is. It takes the words of every love song ever written and turns them into an utterly malevolent threat that you are never really sure that both parties are going to survive. It manages to be more heart-felt and candid, and oddly, passionate and love-lorn than almost anything else I’ve heard. But it is deeply creepy, and more than a little bit scary.

Track four: “Lost in the moment” – Edie Brickell. 1994

And, so, to some melodic antidote (although, it is a song about death and love, and the ultimate aloneness of everybody). I used to fall asleep every night at University to this album – Picture Perfect Morning – by Edie Brickell. Her songs have stories wrapped inside them, which is brilliant for drifting off, and she has the most beautiful voice (though she’s going to get some competition in minute, just after we’ve heard from…..)

Track five: “Red right hand” – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. 1994

Another god of the darkness, Nick Cave sits up there close to Elvis Costello and Kurt Cobain and Pearl Jam for me (don’t worry, no grunge on this playlist, though “The Man who Sold the World” nearly made it on). This track isn’t easy to place, because lyrically it’s a proper folk song, even though musically it’s a glorious clash of rock and something approaching punk. But I love all those hideous and dangerous organ chords.

Track six: “This woman’s work” – Kate Bush, 1989

Possibly the most perfect combination of song and singer ever. This is what I imagine choirs of angels might sound like, if there were such things. It’s also another lyric that subverts normality – she’s singing the man’s voice, and he is mourning the loss of his pre-paternal life – “just make it go away now” he says to his labouring wife. Men…….

Track seven: “Twist in my sobriety” – Tanita Tikaram, 1988

Well, yes. Exactly. And whatever happened to Tanita Tikaram….. Great track though. And I picked it to echo Red Right Hand.

Track eight: “Tangled up in blue” – Bob Dylan, 1975

So many Dylan songs I wanted to include, for no good reason other than that I love them. I could have just made an album of wheezy harmonica riffs and raspy voices. But I restricted myself to one track per artist from the start, and this one, from “Blood on the Tracks”, was the one I wanted – mostly because of the lyric about the 13th century Italian poet. I mean, what other American singer would reference Dante?

Track nine: “River” – Joni Mitchell, 1971

Joni is another one where there were so many tracks I wanted to include, but was forced to choose. Plus, I tend to associate the most important pieces of music in my collection directly to people or experiences, and as I’ve been living with Joni Mitchell music since I was about 14 many of her tracks already “belong” to others. But this one has been pretty much on loop over the last three weeks, speaking as it does about escape and regret.

Track ten: “Cousins” – Vampire Weekend, 2010

Because, really, I mean: cheer the fuck up. Gorgeous. The most perfect 2 mins 27 seconds of joy. Jump around!

Track eleven: “Snake oil” – Steve Earle and the Dukes, 1988

Slightly left of field, Steve Earle is another secret guilty pleasure. There is something devastatingly sexy about a gravel-voiced Louisiana guitar-wielding biker with what’s clearly a major Bourbon habit. Guess I never got the bad boys out of my system – plus, this track has both brains and a sense of humour.

Track twelve: “Train in the distance” – Paul Simon, 1983

Another track that I’ve loved long-time. Mostly because of the awesome lines “What is the point of this story? What information pertains? The thought that life could be better is woven indelibly into our hearts and our brains.” I mean, who gets the word “pertains” into a pop song?

Track thirteen: “To the end” – Blur, 1994

Yes. Exactly.

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