Sunday, December 24, 2006

Top 50 Albums of 2006 (20-16)

20. Justin Timberlake - FutureSex/LoveSounds (Jive)

I was one of the people who felt that while Justified, Timberlake's debut solo record, was better than most mainstream pop music around that year, it was disticntly singles-skewed. Other than the singles, there wasn't a hell of a lot else to write home about. Timberlake has managed to sidestep the killer-filler deficit with astonishing aplomb on his follow-up, FutureSex/LoveSounds; an album that has garnered as much critical acclaim as actual sales.

This comes as absolutely no surprise whatsoever, as FutureSex/LoveSounds is one hell of a pop record. The only gripes are that it is front-loaded a little, but said front happens to last for eleven songs and, although I've warmed to it slightly (in that I no longer hit the skip button when it comes up), I will never truly love 'SexyBack'. There are a good ten songs here though that are pretty much peerless when it comes to pop in '06. Taking some of the most eminent male pop stars of all time (Prince, Michael Jackson, '80s Bowie) as his guiding lights, Justin jacks up their blueprints with a few flourishes and nuances of his own, giving the templates a modern sheen. 'What Goes Around...' is on a par with 'Cry Me A River' in the devastating sexual betrayal stakes, while 'Damn Girl' is the best thing that Will.I.Am has ever produced, full stop. The title track's metallic funk lurch is complemented by JT's suitably pervy vocal ("Tell me which way you like that" goes the chorus) and 'My Love' is the best pop song of the year, without a shadow of a doubt. All this and he mastered the lost art of the interlude too, with '...Comes Around (Interlude)', in particular sending a shiver down the spine. One of the very few pop stars around today who deserves his status as a million seller and long may he continue to do so.

Justin Timberlake - What Goes Around.../...Comes Around (Interlude) (mp3)

19. The Long Blondes - Someone To Drive You Home (Rough Trade)

Despite what fans of Arctic Monkeys and Jarvis might think, Someone To Drive You Home was definitely the best album to come out of Sheffield this year. A record full of confident, angular, indie-disco songs that seems to have been eclipsed by lesser albums, The Long Blondes' debut is consistently thrilling and continues to reward the more you play it. Not ones to go for style over content, even though they are effortlessly stylish, the lyrics are actually worth listening to, but something tells me that I'd still like them even if they rolled out the standard rock 'n' roll lyrical tropes.

The Long Blondes are just the complete package, a band who spin tales of sex, both bad and good, love and all the paranoia, self-loathing and general ill-feeling that often goes with it. 'Swallow Tattoo' speaks of the futile jealousy we all sometimes harbour for our other half's ex, 'Giddy Stratospheres' does the "what's he/she doing with them" thing as good as Joe Jackson did, while 'Once And Never Again' casts Kate Jackson as a deceptive predator, giving a girl power-style pep talk while trying to persuade her to, ahem, bat for the other team. Best of the bunch, 'You Could Have Both' sets a lover's tiff to pulsating disco-drama. While dull, male-fronted bands like The Automatic and The Fratellis sold records left, right and centre, The Long Blondes languish in that hinterland where bands get the critical raves but still can't really get arrested. Maybe they're too good to go platinum.

The Long Blondes - In The Company Of Women (mp3)

18. The Pipettes - We Are The Pipettes (Memphis Industries)

Nobody divided opinion this year like The Pipettes, but it isn't surprising when what they do feels so false and studied, from the choreographed dance moves and polka dot dresses through to keeping the all-male backing band silent and the music's reverent subservience to the Brill Building pattern for girl-group pop. Carefully considered artifice it may well be, but We Are The Pipettes still pushes all the buttons and ticks the boxes and is imbued with enough heart from Becki, Gwenno and Rosay to render any carping from the campaign for real rock ridiculous.

We Are The Pipettes is a genuinely unabashed record that's more interested in making you move than making you think, but The Pipettes never go for the lowest common denominator when sass and smarts are way more appealing. The music may well be an early-60s throwback, but the sentiments of the lyrics are, in fact, pretty modern, with SEX (just like that, in capitals to enhance the aggression) never being too far from the ladies' minds. 'One Night Stand' and 'Sex' are the most obviously sexual songs; songs in which the women hold the power, especially in the case of the pushy, assertive former. The Pipettes, like The Long Blondes, have paid the price for their upfront, literate nature in the form of poor showings in the unit shifting stakes. They deserve better, but the haters don't deserve them.

The Pipettes - Because It's Not Love (But It's Still A Feeling) (mp3)

17. Destroyer - Destroyer's Rubies (Merge)

Dan Bejar's masterpiece, Destroyer's Rubies comes off as a precocious, bookish indie kid's wet dream, with its circuitous, intricate wordplay and shaggy reinventions of classic rock musicality, which makes me want to hate it. The compelling way that Bejar loads his songs with tricksy abstractions and oodles of references (mostly of his own past work, but occasionally the work of others, as evidenced by 'A Dangerous Woman Up To A Point''s, blink-and-you'll-miss-it nod to 'Losing My Religion') makes any attempt to dislike the album pointless, because there's lots of fun to be had in just hearing Bejar twist his voice around words like "profitous", "gazelles" or "hitherto".

The extent of Bejar's self-referentiality is enough to put less hardier souls off (Christ, there's even a Destroyer Wiki that attempts to tally up all the refs in Destroyer's Rubies), but they'll be missing out on one of the most edifying releases of the year. Not just in the lyrics though, as musically, this album is eminently likeable in the jangle and thrum of '3000 Flowers' or the escalating raucousness of 'Painter In Your Pocket'. Regardless of what you think of him, Bejar certainly doesn't just rifle albums off and when a craftsman as talented as this puts his all into each album it's difficult to not at least have some semblance of respect, even if it's begrudging. I'm sold though, as are many precocious, bookish indie kids.

Destroyer - Painter In Your Pocket (mp3)

16. Mission Of Burma - The Obliterati (Matador)

While critics got a bit priapic about Mission Of Burma's 2004 comeback album, ONoffON, I thought it was a little disappointing. Sure, just the mere presence of a MOB record in the 21st century was reason enough to hang out the bunting, but ONoffON just wasn't all that great. It was good, decent enough, but not, y'know, mind-blowing like everyone wanted it to be. The Obliterati is the real reason that they reformed, because this is a blistering, pummelling, powerhouse of a record that commands and demands the listeners attention.

The highest compliment I can think to pay The Obliterati is that it never, at any point sounds like the work of three fortysomethings, one of whom suffers from tinnitus, as Clint Conley, Roger Miller and Peter Prescott (with Bob Weston on tape manipulation duties) play with the verve and energy of young bucks hammering out their debut. Juddery, muscular opener, '2wice' sets the tone and the pace, which they never let up, all the while injecting humour into their vicious noise, as heard on the wonderful 'Donna Sumeria' which tips its cap to 'I Feel Love' with the guys cooing the refrain in falsetto before Miller snarls "And now it's all gone wrong", and also on 'Nancy Reagan's Head' which offers a contender for couplet of the year in "I'm haunted by the freakish size of Nancy Reagan's head/No way that thing came with that body". Mission Of Burma may not better this album in the second phase of their career, but in The Obliterati they've put out a record that rivals the classic Vs.

Mission Of Burma - 1001 Pleasant Dreams (mp3)


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