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2019 – Must I Evolve?

January 3rd, 2020 · Posted by Skuds in Music · No Comments · Music

Now we are firmly into 2020 (Happy New Year BTW) it is time to increment my 1962 onwards playlist by another tune.

Deciding what to put on there was a tough decision because there was so much good music last year, and I got to listen to a lot more music than I normally would. As I mentioned in an earlier post, what I listened to the most in 2019 was Hall & Oates’ Rich Girl, according to Spotify, but that is a bit of a red herring. There was so much more to the year, and to my experience of it, than that…As I may have mentioned in passing once or twice (or lots of times and at great length) I had a bit of a health issue during 2019. It wasn’t pleasant, but the silver lining was that I listened to a lot of music. In January I was laid low by chemotherapy, and even when not feeling the effects of that I didn’t dare go into work because of the immune system issues so worked from home with the radio on. There were many, many trips to the hospital in Guildford for scans, consultations, chemotherapy and physiotherapy all with the car radio on.  This was followed by about a month in hospital after the operation to cut my tumour out, half of it in intensive care. Fortunately Guildford hospital has very good free wifi and I had a laptop and phone so lots of Spotify, BBC Sounds and YouTube to pass the time.

After all that I was off work for about 5 months for post-op recovery and more chemotherapy and then going back to work gradually with lots of home-working, so a lot more time spent with the radio. I don’t think I have been able to spend so much time listening to the radio since I was a teenager, and doubt I will be able to again until I retire.

I was well up to speed on new releases, and yet when I look at the best sellers of the year I recognise hardly any of them because I was listening mostly to BBC Radio 6 music which is not known for playing Arianne Grande and Ed Sheeran very much.

On the other hand, when the Mercury prize came along I was familiar with most of the albums featured. I may have had a rough year but at least I wasn’t one of the Mercury judges. Choosing between that lot must have been a hell of a job: I would have had to toss a three-sided coin to decide between Little Simz, Black Midi and Fontaines DC.

It was another good year for strong female artists. Lizzo and Little Simz had an especially good year, both stealing the show a bit at Glastonbury. There were some strong albums from vintage artists like PP Arnold, Mavis Staples, Chaka Khan and Suzi Quatro. The Chaka Khan album was especially good. Newer female artists that shone in 2019 included Marika Hackman, Mattiel, Stealing Sheep, Pom Poko, Pip Blom, Cate le Bon, Sampa the Great and Brittany Howard. African music was well represented by Angelique Kidjo (of course) and Yemi Alade.

Some of the vintage blokes also put in a good showing in 2019. Bruce Springsteen with his cinematic album, Iggy Pop, Leonard Cohen with a posthumous release finished off by his son. The Who put out an album of new music and Van Morrison put them all to shame with three new albums. Even Van looked lazy compared to Lee “Scratch” Perry and Sly & Robbie. Its hard to work out how many albums they release because of all the collaborations and remixes of other reggae artists but it looks like about 6 albums each during the year. My favourite of them is, strangely enough, a not-very-reggae tune by “Scratch” Perry called Big Ben Rock.

On the prog front we had a couple of Yes albums. First off there was Yes 50 Live, celebrating the band’s 50th anniversary. Sadly there is no Chris Squire on it but it did have three different keyboard players featured (Downes, Moraz and Kaye). Of more interest was the release in October of From a Page. This featured songs from the 2009/2010 line-up of the band that were never finished/released. Oliver Wakeman finished them off and got them released as a mini album, packaged up with the Live from Lyon album. This is one of only two albums that I actually bought as CDs during the year. (The other was part three of the Deutsche Elektronische Musik series of 70s/80s German music.)

I can’t even narrow down highlights of the year to less than about 50 albums, it really was a good year! We had exciting new bands from Dublin like Fontaines DC and Murder Capital, more new jazz acts like The Comet is Coming and Ezra Collective, and more good NZ reggae from Fat Freddy’s Drop, and Scottish reggae from Mungo’s Hi Fi.

There were some notable comebacks in addition to that Who album: The Specials first new music for 20 years went to number one, and there were also new albums from Pixies, Ride and Tool. I have to admit that I was never much into Pixies at the time. I had one of their albums – the obvious one – but didn’t really follow them, however the 2019 album Beneath the Eyrie really made me sit up and listen.

Some of the music from the earlier prt of the year is quite hard to listen to now. I like it but I heard it a lot during trips to hospital and on heavy rotation while I was incarcerated in intensive care so listening now just reminds me of being sick. Vampire Weekend for example. The song Harmony Hall is beautiful but it makes me feel a bit quesy hearing it now. I hope that passes because it really is a brilliant song.

A few albums that really stood out for me were Hot Chip, Harriet Brown, Sleaford Mods, Black Midi, Chaka Khan and Michael Kiwanuka. The Divine Comedy album Office Politics was another highlight with its typically interesting lyrics. I rarely listen to lyrics in songs, but you just can’t help it with them.

When it came down to picking out a song to bung on the playlist for 2019 a couple of strong contenders were immediately ruled out because I already have the artists on the playlist from earlier years. If not for that arbitrary self-imposed rule I would have considered Iggy Pop’s James Bond or Chaka Khan’s Hello Happiness. Both were tunes I could not get enough of. Another very strong contender was Jah Wobble and Youth with the song A Very British Coup but that has disappeared from Spotify so is out on a technicality.

Other songs I had on heavy rotation during the year were Salted Caramel Ice Cream by Metronomy, Walking Away From Love by Steve Mason, Off My Mind by Richard Hawley, Jokin’ Me by Stealing Sheep, Shanalala by White Denim, Rocket Fuel by DJ Shadow, What Are We Going To Do About The Rich? by Pet Shop Boys, On Graveyard Hill by Pixies, Juice by Lizzo, Offence by Little Simz, and Home to You by Cate le Bon. Any of them could easily have been by 2019 song, but I went for Jarvis instead.

I’ll admit that Jarvis Cocker can annoy me a bit sometimes, particularly his style of delivery when he had a radio show, but Must I Evolve? is a very strong song. It came out about the time I got out of hospital and was able to start moving around a bit. When I hear it now I just remember being in the back garden in the sun, painting the fence and the new shed, and feeling good that I was able to do that much, even if I did have to pause for breathe a lot. Even without all the personal associations, its a remarkable song. I love how dramatic it is, how the female chorus interacts with Jarvis’ vocals, and how the main part of it has a driving beat that reminds me of the German motorik style.

It may only be on the playlist because I disqualified Chaka Khan and Iggy Pop, but in most other years it would have been a shoo-in anyway.


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