Spike’s Top Tracks: 16th March – 23rd March 2008
Maps by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
“Wait….they don’t love you like I love”
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs debut album Fever to Tell is characterised by its propulsion and brutish punk sensibilities. The opening salvo of the album showcases a modicum of finesse, but it soon gets overtaken by a ferocity which doesn’t really let up until the album has just about reached its end. There is a certain kitchen sink mentality to the album, with discordant elements thrown at every song in a hope of something sticking. That isn’t a criticism as such songs like Date With The Night and Pin are wonderfully frenzied, even Karen O’s vocals take on an air of hysteria as the intensity of the music becomes almost insurmountable.
Amidst all of this lo-fi, screeching, breathless energy is a song that is for want of a better word elegant. Maps is the ninth track of a twelve track album and it bears absolutely no relation to any of its accompanying songs. Yet despite this disparity it becomes a focal point of the entire album, a song that would define the band. Maps is the song that would be covered by other bands, the song that would even appear in the current rash of Guitar Hero games. On an album desperately trying to be destructive and iconoclastic, Maps is an iconic song.
Whereas other songs on the album seem to have the different elements fighting each other for dominance, Karen’s exhausting vocals usually winning, Maps sounds immediately like a collaborative effort. A guitar kicks things off, shrill strings providing an introduction before the almost tribalistic drumming that will underscore the whole song kicks in. Karen is at her most bluesy and most earnest in Maps, her vocal track tempered and mild compared to her usual agitated style. Maps doesn’t go full throttle like the rest of the album, it just pulses into life and invokes an effortless which the rest of the album just can’t sustain.
Leaders of the Free World by Elbow
“The leaders of the free world are just little boys throwing stones”
Elbow are without a doubt the best kept secret in British music, a fantastic, empowering, hook driven band who for whatever obscure reason have always operated on the periphery of the public consciousness. Even with four albums under their belt and a controversial tour of Cuba (becoming the first British band to play outside of Havana) to their name the band has never hit the mainstream in any qualifiable way.
Elbow’s third album Leaders of the Free World would be their most calculated attempt to break the mainstream. The album itself is far poppier than anything they had released previously and the bands unprecedented miserablism had been toned down. There was still an overriding angst to most of the songs, but nothing quite as acutely depressing as their previous songs on abortions and cot death.
The single Leaders of the Free World defines its titular album perfectly mixing angry lyrics about the state of global politics with a thudding guitar led beat. It is almost a marching song in its construction, a percussive rallying call for the disenchanted of the world.
Slow Show by The National
“you know I dreamed about you…..for 29 years”
Boxer by The National is an unusual sort of album because it sort of sneaks up on you after a few listens. Arcade Fire’s Funeral did the same thing, a few listens opening up every song to me and making me fall rapturously in love with it. Boxer has yet to fully open up to me, there are moments of brilliance which are easily perceived but as a whole the album still feels a little too restrained, a little too run of the mill.
Slow Show is probably my favourite song off of the entire album, a piece of music which is forcing me to try and appreciate the rest of Boxer. There is a simplicity and economy to Slow Show which is fantastic, simple orchestrations forcing attention onto the vocals (which to me invoke Berlin era Lou Reed). If the guitars, accordions and drums of the first section were all that made up Slow Show it would still be a great song, but when the song switches halfway through and becomes a piano led piece it becomes truly special.
There is plaintiveness to the vocal track which is apparent throughout the score, but the interplay of voice and piano in the last half is fantastic. The keys replicate the harmony of the voice completely and in doing so it gives the last repetitious verse a real sort of punch.
The Good Ship Lifestyle by Chumbawumba
“So sail a course, a course for nowhere”
A brief success can often be the end of a band, the term ‘one hit wonder’ hanging around their neck like a millstone. For the anarchist group Chumbawumba their success would be doubly troubling, their breakout song misinterpreted and decontextualised to the point where a treatise on the ridiculousness of club and pub culture became a full hearted drinking anthem.
Tubthumping would become the anthem of the late 90s, lunk headed masses adopting it without any realisation of the scorn the lyrics of song contained. It would also propel Chumbawumba into the spotlight, the groups becoming the ‘comedy anarchists’ of the charts a point exemplified by reaction to a band member throwing a bucket of water over John Prescott. With one song Chumbawumba had become a complete and utter joke in the public eye, which is a shame as the album Tubthumper was actually legitimately great.
Interspersed with vox pops of union members, striking miners and the general people, Tubthumper was an album which masked its deeper messages and meanings with acceptable pop rock. The Good Ship Lifestyle is a great example of this, its tale of urban alienation underscored by a riotous and explosive chorus. It is a song that is desperately trying to tell its listener a deeper truth, but it works against itself by virtue of how well produced it all is.