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Adele overtakes Pink Floyd on UK all-time albums sale chart

There are some things which have stayed the same for so long that you just sort of assume they were always that way. Your brain can’t really remember when you didn’t have a computer on your desk at work. It’s almost beyond comprehension that there was a time when you couldn’t get a hold of somebody on the phone pretty much 24/7. And yes, there once really only were 3 channels. But while all those changes seemed strangely organic, the UK Top 10 album sales of all-time would surely never change. Queen. Pink Floyd. Dire Straits. Abba. The Beatles. There they were and there they’d stay. Especially seeing how no-one buys albums any more, do they?

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I know a lot about art, I just don’t know what I like – 10 Classic Album covers

The Government estimates we produce over 10 million tones of packaging waste each year. The Daily Mail have declared war on the simple plastic bag, declaring it a hazard up there with nuclear war, Labour and immigrants. Even asking for one in Marks and Spencer is now akin to saying ‘I would like you to show me your most effective cakes for luring children back to my shabby abode for inappropriate fun’. The world hates packaging.

But truly great albums are not complete without a stand-out package. You simply couldn’t imagine, say, Full Moon Fever or Parklife coming in different covers or having a different track order. The sleeve notes, the insert photographs….they all have a part to play. In these days of instant individual download and songs never accruing any physical status, it’s sometimes hard to give albums that almost mythical status that some of these classics achieved.

Here are some of the albums you simply can’t imagine coming in a different cover.

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Simply the Worst # 4: Lola

What’s this? It can’t be! Has ELM gone mad? In our run-down of rubbish there appears to be a song by The Kinks! There must be some mistake! No, it is indeed Ray Davies’ ode to getting jiggy with a transvestite. Explain yourself!

Sacred cow – Something too highly regarded to be open to criticism or curtailment.

It’s fair to say received wisdom suggests that the Beatles are the most important band in the history of pop music. They are virtually inescapable, even today. Re-issues, books, magazine covers…they seem almost as of this time as they do their own. This doesn’t please everyone, of course. The Fabs sheer omnipresence makes many scream in frustration. Continue reading

Confessions Of A Justified Sinner – What Critical Darlings Do You Just Not Like?

Do you remember Simon Mayo? He used to be on Radio One in the 90’s, which was odd as he was a bit of a turgid Godbotherer, but there you go. He had a not-very-good segment on his show called ‘Confessions’ where members of the public would make up stories and pretend that they had done them so they could ‘confess’ and get on the radio. It was bobbins.

What brought this to mind was hearing a musical confession from a friend in the pub the other evening. A Bob Dylan song came on and, rather sheepishly, he admitted that whilst he recognised Dylan’s undoubted and unfettered genius, he just didn’t like his music. Now, Dylan is one of the rock firmament’s most sacred of sacred cows. You just aren’t allowed not to love him, or at least pretend to. Kudos to my friend for admitting it.

Deep down, there are a few out there that you just, objectively, cannot understand what all the hoopla is about. I have never seen the point of The Specials. ‘Ghost Town’ is shite and has no tune. There, I’ve said it and I don’t feel bad. But it always makes every list of ’20 Greatest Singles’ in music publications I respect. Yet every time I hear it – and I have tried to see what the fuss is about, honest to God I have – I sit and wonder why anyone would want to listen to it for pleasure. It’s a dreary, funereal trudge with novelty Goon-style noises. (There’s another one, now I think about it. Spike Milligan. He’s not fucking funny.)

Now, there are many acts out there who you may not like but you understand why people do – that’s not what I’m after. For example, Bjork has never rung any of ELM’s bells, but we can see what she brings to the table. I would never dream of sticking on a Moby Grape album, but I get why people would. No, I’m after the stuff that people absolutely salivate over that you hear and think ‘that is utter cack!’

Aphex Twin, Rufus Wainwright, Antony & The Johnsons – all beloved and all absolute anathema to my ears. But no more shall we feel guilty! For today, I shall take on the role of a musical Priest (though without the paedophile tendencies, and therefore fictional) and absolve you of all sins. Today, you can speak freely and without fear. If there is an act that all your mates like, that all the music press adore but that you just deep down do not like, step up and say it proudly. You will get into musical heaven undaunted! Carpe the diem folks! Lose the weight from your shoulders! This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to get rid of the critical baggage and no act will see you condemned!

The Beatles and The Clash excepted, obviously. We have standards round here, people.

If Guns N’Roses can make a comeback…..

Well, it’s finally happened. To fanfares, garlands a papal message (not really), Guns N’Roses long-awaited album ‘Chinese Democracy’ hit the shelves on Monday. After a fourteen year gestation period, Axl Rose’s pet project has arrived fully formed and, by all accounts is actually quite good. It’s been mooted for a while but never quite made it into the public domain. For a while there, it looked like there was more chance of actual Chinese democracy than this fabled disc. You can argue it’s not really a GnR record, of course, as only the warbling one remains from the original line-up (no Slash? Heresy!) but no-one will care too much about that right now.

But, Good Lord, fourteen years…what the hell do you do to take so long? Is it possible to spend that long on the studio without going mental? Well, to be fair, Axl Rose was pretty loopy before this started, so we’ll skate past that. but yeah, it’s a long, long time – it kinda makes The Stone Roses look like The Fall.

But If Guns N’Roses can put aside their differences  – with himself – and return to the rock fold, who else could do so? There have been a lot of acts on indefinite hiatus for a while now. Let’s imagine if we had returns for the following….

Dire Straits – Ah, the Sultans Of Swing, wouldn’t it be great if Mark Knobfeeler could be persuaded to don the headband and issue forth an album of gritty Geordie blues rock to a grateful nation? After all, ‘Brothers In Arms’ sold 18 gazillion copies so therefore the world must be waiting? Anyone? No?!

The Cult – Anyone who says that the world isn’t waiting with baited breath for a new album by Goth Rock legends The Cult is, in fact, correct. But why not? Well, because when they played live, if they kicked off with ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ everyone would leave.

UB40 – The only thing better than reggae is a bunch of white Brummies performing Reggae. UB40 were as ubiquitous in the 80’s as the form they were named after. They were also as pleasant, sadly. Ali Campbell now has a puzzlingly successful solo career to match his puzzlingly successful band career. therefore unlikely to happen. Awww.

B*Witched – Say you will, say you won’t, say you’ll do what I don’t, say to him, say to me…c’est la vie! That was their hit. Doesn’t the world need more of it? No. No, it doesn’t. Plus, it would be really unfair to get the girls back together right now and deprive the Dublin branch of Boots their best counter assistants in the run-up to Christmas.

The Beatles – Been a while since this mob did anything. Must be needing the money by now?

Who knows? This could happen!

Moonlighting – Solo and side-projects

Ah, the solo album and the side-project, as timeless rock clichés as ‘getting it together in the country’. The emergence of the concepts in the 60’s generally saw some very talented musicians working together or alone to produce some deeply uninspiring music. What, you mean you haven’t a place in your heart for Balls, the ‘supergroup’ containing various Moody Blues, Move and future Sabbath members? For shame. Meanwhile, solo projects could see ‘creative pipes being unblocked’ (music writer code for ‘drugged-out shite they only got away with because of their day job’; see George Harrison’s ‘Wonderwall.) The most famous example of this being John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s remarkable ‘Two Virgins’, an album of unlistenable feedback and screaming made just before they consummated their relationship (and God love their neighbours based on the racket they made while they were only at the foreplay stage; orgasm must have sounded like dropping a piano in a church.) Iconically, the two hairy devils appear nude on the front cover of the album, which prompted label boss, the legendary Lew Grade, to say ‘if one of them has to be naked, can’t it be Paul? At least he’s attractive.’

Over the years, side-projects developed less into fucking around with your mates and more about artists working with others who intrigue them (David Byrne has done a lot for the respectability of the concept.) Arctic Monkey Alex Turner recently collaborated with friend Miles Kane from The Rascals, and as The Last Shadow Puppets delivered an album inspired by Scott Walker and Jacques Brel, which would most likely have alienated most of the Monkeys fanbase if released under that banner, but as a side-project, stands up well. This is the genius of it. Had Johnny Marr been allowed to go off and do his own thing for a year in 1987, then who knows, we may well still have had a functioning Smiths unit today. It prevents tensions within bands spilling out, schisms becoming massive, problems becoming insurmountable.

One that caught my eye is the announcement that Eddie Argos, singer with Britpop Punkers Art Brut – the delightfully arch successors to Pulp, and honestly one of the best live acts in the UK right now – has formed a band with utter mentalist David Devant (formerly of David Devant & His Spirit Wife) in which he intends to showcase his Glam Rock side. Now, as Argos has a range of about two notes, this promises to be somewhat intriguing. Whether it will be brilliant, hilarious or a mess, and I know what my money is on, wild horses wouldn’t keep me away if they gig.

And in terms of solo work, Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. release his second solo offering ‘Como Te Llama?’ on July 8th. Hammond Jr.’s eponymous debut album was that strange thing – better than the recent work of his band (only ‘Is This It?’ is better, frankly.) It was a lovely mixture of Strokes and FM Radio America that the band aimed for on ‘First Impressions Of Earth’ and failed to deliver. Worth looking out for.

Great Moody Bastards in Rock

People, as Depeche Mode once so sagely pointed out, are people. And some people are nice, and some people are nasty. The Beatles, unarguably the most influential pop band of all time, set the tone by being led by the relatively fluffy bunny who was Paul McCartney and the complete bastard who was John Lennon. Lennon’s music, so often beautiful and inspirational, seemed completely at odds with the man who made it. And, much as ladies love a bad boy, rock fans are intrigued by the music made by people for whom the epithet ‘difficult’ seemed ready-made. Here we look at a motley crew of artists who were not only tortured, but probably deserved to be.

Van Morrison – Van’s blend of Celtic soul, jazz and groove has the power to inspire and beguile. Which is odd, as he is a gruff little tool with an unreconstructed sense of self-worth and a contempt for, well, anyone who isn’t him, really. Almost poetically rude, it still can’t deflect from a body of work the equal of any of his contemporaries.

Warren Zevon – An alcoholic drug-addict with a taste for group sex with hookers, the term hellrasier doesn’t do the man justice. His various ex-wives tell tales of a charming man who would kiss them as he left for a show, then return with ladies on his arm, coke up his nose and no care as to how they felt about it. Top selfishness and yet album after album of twisted beauty.

Johnny Ramone – Right-wing bigot who stole Joey Ramone’s girlfriend and refused to apologise for it even though they remained in the same band for another 14 years. When asked if he felt like reconciling with Joey when he heard that the singer had terminal cancer he replied ‘No. Why would I want to do that? That would be for me rather than him.’ Famously wrong-footed the audience at the Ramones 2002 induction to the Rockn’Roll Hall of Fame by praising President Bush. But he was still a Ramone, dammit, and that’s good enough for me.

Ian Brown – Never knowingly smiled. Thinks he is acting as a mysterious shaman, instead resembles a gurning monkey attempting to read Próust. Still responsible for the best opening and closing lines on any album, ever.

Roger Waters – Christ, where do you begin with Waters? An absolute ball of loathing wrapped in a sweater. Hates his band, his band mates, war, famine, teachers, money, politics and Bono (so he’s not all bad, then.) Pre-Wenger, one could suggest his love of Arsenal was linked to this, but no excuses these days. Lives in New York and rides the subway sneering at commuters, probably. Some utterly knock-out music in his back catalogue, however.

Paul Weller – Possibly the man least likely to cover ‘Shiny Happy People’. Reeks of abrasiveness and so difficult he broke up the Jam at the peak of their success because he was bored. Respect. Refused to play in a supergroup covers band with Noel Gallagher because the Oasis man wanted to do a Bowie cover.

Barney Sumner – The New Order frontman is, even by Mancunian standards, a miserable bastard. Once did a photo-shoot for a magazine where they had agreed he would have veto over any pictures he didn’t like. Of the 220 they sent him, he red-penned 219, saying they were ‘ a bit Wet Wet Wet.’ Announced in the late 90’s he was taking Prozac. This did not come as a shock.

Peter Buck – Although he’s calmed down a bit in the last few years, the R.E.M. axesmith was a top rock curmudgeon in his day. Famously hating videos, he simply stood in them, body language reminiscent of a reluctant teenager on a family holiday. Was arrested in 2002 for running amok on a plane flying into Heathrow. He claimed the combination of taking a sleeping pill and drinking “small amounts” of wine had caused a reaction known as “non-insane automatism”, and he had not intended to commit an offence. (He was found not guilty.) In the 80’s was censured by his band-mates for conducting an interview hammered, announcing ‘I hate Americans, we are a nation of used car salesman’ and calling for someone to shoot then-President Reagan.

Rivers Cuomo – The Weezer frontman put the band on hold for five years after the success of their huge selling eponymous debut to go to college and complete his humanities degree. Later said that even his Mother was saying ‘honey, this is really the time you should be concentrating on your rock band.’

Pete Townshend – Always intrigued me that a man who could write something as beautiful as ‘Let My Love Open the Door’ could, in any interview, book or anecdote, come across as such a cunt. Never seems to be happy with anything. Doesn’t appear to enjoy anything. Despite being in The Who! Mental.

Well, that’s enough tough-lovers to be dealing with for one day. One thing all the above have in common is they have a songwriting ability most of us can only dream of. So, should the artist be tortured? Maybe!