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2022 – Dirty Rat

January 11th, 2023 · Posted by Skuds in Music · No Comments · Music

First things first. I realise that I have started to get carried away. Having created a playlist with one track per year of my life about 5 years ago (I think) I subsequently decided to write a little post about each track but I have ended up writing about everything else in the year and it has all turned into a bit of a monster, but at least it keeps me out of trouble. Anyway, this is 2022, the year I turned 60, which is not something I really expected to do when I was 57.

I’ll be honest, I was expecting more from 2022. There was a lot of good stuff to listen to, its just that I thought that with life returning to more like normal there would be more. Looking back at what was released in the year, and what I was playing, I can see a lot that I really liked and can’t work out why I am not feeling more excited. Perhaps its an age thing; more on that later.

New acts

It could just be that there were not a lot of new acts, at least not ones that I heard. There was The Smile but that is not new talent; just a new project from established artists (half of Radiohead). Similarly there was The Waeve which is new project from Graham Coxon and his partner. Do Lost Bitchos count as new? Apparently they have been going for about 5 years but only put out their first album in 2022, though they did sneak out a single in 2021. Nothing wrong with any of them, I enjoyed all three albums, but in 2021 there was Wet Leg, Dry Cleaning, Yard Act and Olivia Rodrigo all bursting on the scene – all a lot younger and more exciting.

New to me

Of course there were loads of people in the ‘new to me’ category, where they might have been going for ages but I only discovered them in 2022. One such artist was The Jazz Butcher which managed to escape my attention for a whole 40 years! Sadly the album released in February (The Highest in the Land) was a posthumous release, as the main man had actually died soon after recording it in 2021.

Goat are a bit more recent; I only missed out on them for a mere 10 years, and really enjoyed their album, especially the track Do The Dance. Other new (to me) acts included Objekt (I heard Bad Apples on the radio and it blew me away), UXB, Sankt Otten, The Tangent and The Routes.

I can’t believe I had not heard The Tangent before. They are peak prog, sounding like a mash-up of classic Genesis, Yes, ELP and others. UXB is nice, relaxing, almost ambient electronica, that I played at bedtime a few times throughout the year. It turns out that the bloke behind it is part of what you could call the Burning Shed universe along with Tim Bowness who I also got into this year after a year or so of listening to his podcast with Steven Wilson I finally got round to listening to his music properly and his new album Butterfly Mind was one of my favourites of the year.

As a contrast to all the new proggy/motorik/electronica acts I discovered, there was also The Routes, who are a lot more old school, being influenced by 60s UK/US music. What caught my attention was their album The Twang Machine which is a whole load of Kraftwerk songs done in a sort of rockabilly style – I am a sucker for odd Kraftwerk covers – but they seem to have knocked out two other albums during 2022, which I will be having a listen to as well.

Oldies

Moving on, there was also a lot of new product from well-established artists that I had actually heard of and are still going. There were new albums from Bruce Springsteen, Marillion, Spiritualized, Elvis Costello, Stereophonics, Wolfgang Flur, Horace Andy, Arctic Monkeys (and it does feel shocking to think they now count as established ‘oldies’), Megadeth, Ozzy Osbourne, Suede, Michael Rother, Liam Gallagher, Johnny Marr, and many more.

Obviously there was also another new album from Van Morrison. He keeps churning them out. I know he has turned into a bit of a conspiracy anti-vax nut, but I find his recent albums OK, probably because I don’t pay attention to lyrics very much. There was another new album from Jean-Michel Jarre. Its good to see him still going, although the album didn’t do a lot for me, except maybe one or two bits of it.

One ‘oldie’ whose new album I did really enjoy was Todd Rundgren. I have always thought of him as more of a producer so never listened to his own music a lot, but his album Space Force was one of my albums of the year. I haven’t noticed it in any of the multitude of ‘best of 2022’ lists on the internet but it is right up there for me. It was also good to see a new EP from Primus which has me hoping a whole album is on the way.

Returns & returns to form

When I look back on the year, I do take some pleasure in looking at the category of returns and returns to form. These are artists that have either re-appeared with new material after a long gap or have recaptured past glories after being a bit meh for a while, and there were some great returns this year.

Probably the longest gap was Altered Images who put out a first album since 1983 (Mascara Streakz), and it was a good one. Not quite such a long gap – a mere 30 years – but there was also a surprise new album from Betty Boo (Boomerang). I have a lot of time for Betty Boo and had her first album in several formats, so I was thrilled to find that the new one was right up there. Soft Cell put out a new album after a 20-year gap, which included a collaboration with Pet Shop Boys, and was worth the wait.

Red Hot Chilli Peppers put out two albums with John Frusciante back in the band for the first time in 16 years. I know they had a few albums while he was away, but I don’t think they are the same without him. Another part of the Burning Shed expanded universe, Porcupine Tree, reformed and released a new album called, teasingly, Closure/Continuation which was another highlight of the year because I have dipped into Porcupine Tree in the past but it never really clicked for me before, but this time it did.

It is only six years since the last Metallica album, but it feels longer, and this year they trailed an impending 2023 release with a single that really has me looking forward to that.

Re-issues

Taking a pause from new music and new releases, there were some interesting re-issues. The big ones were Revolver, getting the full remaster treatment + box set of demos and alternate versions, and the Blondie box set (Against the Odds: 1974-1982). In both cases I have listened to some of the ‘extras’ on Spotify and there really is some fascinating stuff there. If money was no object I would be snapping up the deluxe box sets of both.

Toyah continues her relentless campaign of reissues. 2022 saw nice box sets of Anthem and Toyah Live. I bought both, and look forward to Changeling getting the same treatment, but I will probably pass on most of the later albums. She also put out an expanded version of the Four More from Toyah EP on vinyl, and a version of Slave to the Rhythm as a teaser for the 2023 re-release of the Court of the Crimson Queen album, which is getting marketed as ‘the prequel to Posh Pop’ which is an interesting development.

For me, the best re-issue was probably the long-awaited release of the 2018 remix of Pink Floyd’s Animals. The album gets overshadowed by Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall, but I really like it, and the new remix does have a lot more punch than the original. Having said that, it is worth mentioning the labour of love that was the re-release of Finn, the album by Tim and Neil Finn. This was the first time it was available on vinyl and came with a second disc full of demos of songs that ended up on Crowded House albums later on. The album itself gets overlooked, but I have it on CD and have always enjoyed it, so I was well chuffed to get this from Santa. It was as good as I remember and the extras were both fascinating and brilliant.

Vinyl

I have mentioned vinyl a couple of times, so it is worth noting that I treated myself to a turntable for my 60th birthday this year so have been buying vinyl for the first time in ages, including a few 2022 releases – like Johnny Marr, and Tim Bowness. It has really made me listen to music properly in a more mindful way than streaming. I listen to one side of an LP most days while having my post-lunch espresso and it is changing the way I listen to music.

During 2022 I re-discovered the pleasures of browsing through record shops and record fairs, but I am so far resisting the temptation to let record collecting become the obsession that it used to be.

Female artists

Anyway, back to the 2022 releases, and another category I keep an eye on which is female artists. I realise that I used to listen to predominantly male artists in the past, especially in the 70s and 80s, and make an effort to seek out new female acts these days. All of which is a lot easier now because radio and TV do seem to be promoting them more. Or it could be that there are more good female artists coming through, or a bit of both.

This year saw some good new releases from Anna Calvi, Beyonce, Cate le Bon, Mattiel, Billy Nomates, Poppy Ajudha, Florence + the Machine, Lizzo, First Aid Kit, and Christine & the Queens – and then there were all those bands fronted by females, or with females in the line up. Not that this is completely new, but back in the day it was rare and often a novelty if there was, for example, a female drummer or bass player in an otherwise male band. The lack of fuss about women in bands feels like a step in the right direction.

Right at the end of the year Little Simz released a surprise album (No Thank You), after winning the Mercury prize for her last one, and it was immediately catchy. No resting on laurels for Simz.

Bjork released her first album for five years. It hasn’t grown on me yet, but the lead track very much has. There was also a sort-of new album from Neneh Cherry. Well, it was new, but it was new versions of her old tracks in collaborations with lots of other female artists like Robyn, Sudan Archives and Greentea Peng.

Africans

I have not really followed African music for a while and I am a bit out of touch with it, but it seems to me that there a was a lot of it crossing over into mainstream or near-mainstream this year either on its own or via interesting collaborations. A lot was from newer artists, but a few of the old favourites are still going strong.

Angelique Kidjo had another remix out (another version of Agolo) and she appeared on a track on Sampa the Great’s album and on a single with Jessy Wilson. The main event was an album collaboration with Lebanese jazzer Ibrahim Maalouf. It felt like she did more because whenever I heard Ibibio Sound Machine on the radio it sounded a lot like her older stuff.

Other interesting collaborations with African artists were the Khruangbin/Vieux Farka Toure album Ali and the Amadou & Mariam/Blind Boys of Alabama EP From Bamako to Birmingham. Amadou and Mariam also featured on a single called Sete which is credited to BLOND:ISH, Francis Mercier and Amadou & Mariam, which is anpther of those perfect blends of dance and African music.

Gruff Rhys cropped up on one track of the album Aboogi by Imarhan. The whole album is pretty good but that last track with Gruff Rhys was a hypnotic earworm for a large part of the year.

Other new releases from Africans that caught my attention during the year were Kokoroko, Ibibio Sound Machine, Gonora Sounds, Rokia Kone, Oumou Sangare, and controversy-ridden but brilliant Burna Boy.

Deaths

Like any year, the pleasure of new music was mitigated somewhat by several musicians dying, cutting off the supply of new music from them. Some of the older generation to depart were Christine McVie, Gary Brooker, Vangelis, Klaus Shulze and Alan White. Alan was behind the kit for the first ever ‘proper’ concert I went to, so that one hit me hard even though it was not a shock because he had been quite unwell for some time.

The real shocks were those in my generation: Andy Fletcher, Terry Hall, Taylor Hawkins, Nicky Tesco and Keith Levene. And then there was Jet Black. Although part of the punk scene he was actually older than any of the older generation listed above.

And of course there was Wilko Johnson who was given six months to live about five years ago but miraculously got better.

Other albums

Obviously there were many, many albums released that I have not mentioned. I think there must be more albums released each month than there used to be in a whole year in the 1970s, at least it feels like that, so too many to mention but to highlight a few that fit my subjective tastes:

More excellent new releases from the new wave of British jazz acts. Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam from The Comet is Coming I didn’t find as enjoyable as previous work but still interesting. I think the Ezra Collective album Where I’m Meant To Be is rumoured to be their last. I hope not, but if it is I’m sure all the members will go on to other equally interesting projects. That whole scene is very fluid with lots of collaborations and side-projects.

New albums from Muse, Slipknot, Kasabian, Black Midi and Jack White were all good enough, even if they didn’t really take with me. By which I mean there was nothing wrong with them, just that there is only so much attention to go round so I doubt I will be dipping into them much in the future. Or maybe I will. Who knows?

I could say the same about the less rock-based albums like Alt-J, Hot Chip, Gabriels and Jockstrap.

Special mention to King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard who knocked out at least 5 albums in 2022. They are so productive I wouldn’t want to be too precise in case there was one I missed. I probably won’t listen to them specifically but only because I will probably be too busy with loads of future releases. Making King Gizzard look lazy, was SAULT who released 6 albums in the year. In both cases I only found time to listen to a fraction of what they put out.

Albums that I probably will listen to going forwards are Sampa the Great’s As Above, So Below, Warmduscher’s At the Hotspot and Fujiya & Miyagi’s Slight Variations. I will definitely be listening to Wet Leg’s debut album, Yard Act’s debut album, and Dry Cleaning’s Stumpwork with it’s disconcerting cover photo.

Other tracks and singles

A few artists didn’t release albums but did put out noteworthy tracks and singles. The big surprise was a new single from Pink Floyd (Hey Hey Rise Up) to raise funds for the Ukraine. That dispute also led to Jah Wobble releasing The Ukrainian National Anthem in Dub. Always a pleasure to hear something new from Wobble. Raising awareness/funds for a different cause was Squeeze with the excellent track Food for Thought.

The unlikely collaboration of the year was the very catchy Turn up the Sunshine by Tame Impala and Diana Ross from the Minions film soundtrack. It has been a bit of a trend recently for animated films to throw up some fabulous songs.

I can’t not mention the track Do You Well by Nakhane, featuring Perfume Genius. Every time this came on the radio I was convinced that it was a return to form by Erasure.

Events

With the pandemic in the past, events were again a possibility, not that I particularly engaged with them. There was the return of Eurovision and the UK actually did very well for a change, and might even have won if not for the huge sympathy votes for Ukraine. I didn’t watch the whole thing but I saw the bit where they play little clips before the vote and quite a few of the songs seemed to be very strong to me, though the ones I liked were not the ones that did well.

Festivals also returned. Again, I didn’t particularly indulge but I did watch the Paul McCartney set at Glastonbury. Not only was it good for an 80-year-old but it was just good for any age.

One event I did look forward to, making a point of watching and recording, was the appearance of Public Service Broadcasting the the BBC Proms., performing a new piece to celebrate the BBC centenary, and it did not disappoint.

The 2022 Mercury Prize was another satisfying result, with Little Simz winning at last, after being robbed in 2019 and against some stiff competition from Wet Leg, Yard Act and Self Esteem.

And finally…

So after all that, I need to decide what track to add to my ever-expanding Spotify playlist with one track for each year of my existence.

The track Glasgow by Jockstrap was with me for a lot of the year, but I think it struck a chord with me because I was spending so much time in Glasgow during the year. I really liked 100% Endurance by Yard Act – both the original and the version with Elton John on it but it really is too much like all the other sprechsegang-style acts at the moment.

Pixies had two singles that I really liked, and Suede had Personality Disorder. In both cases they are bands I never really got into at the time who I am getting more into with their current music. Both strong contenders.

Even stronger contenders were Arctic Monkeys. I thought the Mirrorball single was great and then Body Paint came along and became an immediate favourite.

Other tracks that I thought about were Get Me To the Weekend by Betty Boo and Atopos by Bjork. While the Bjork track is typically strange with its unusual instrumentation it is very compelling, Betty Boo is very conventional and just very, very catchy. And talking of catchy, what about Goat with their track Do the Dance? Brilliantly percussive with a driving fuzzy bassline. Every time that came on the radio I had to stop and listen.

A couple of other tracks that always made me happy when I heard them were Blue Bones by Billy Nomates, with an equally driving, but cleaner, bassline, and Looking at your Pager by KH.

Although generally I didn’t find 2022 to be a classic year, it really did have some outstanding tracks to choose from but the track I decided to put on my ‘1962 Onwards’ playlist was Dirty Rat by Orbital and Sleaford Mods. Although it is really Sleaford Mods doing the guest vocals on an Orbital track it just sounded like a Sleaford Mods track, which is no bad thing. I wouldn’t claim it was the best track of the year, but it certainly entertained me the most and isn’t entertainment one of the main purposes of music?

I’ll admit that it was a bit of a coin toss between this track and Sunset by Caroline Polacheck. Sunset is absolutely gorgeous. Just to hear it makes you feel like you are on holiday, but in the end I went for the greater excitement and entertainment of Orbital.

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