Preview – Chvrches

Ridiculously named Scottish band Chvrches have been floating around for a while doing something called “chillwave”. They’ve finally managed to finish their debut album The Bones of What You Believe, from which this track Gun is taken:

Retro chart for stowaways – 20 September 2003

For no particular reason, here are the top 10 singles for stowaways from exactly a decade ago this week:

  1. Conjure One – Centre of the Sun
  2. Dido – White Flag
  3. Dave Gahan – I Need You
  4. Goldfrapp – Strict Machine
  5. Richard X feat. Kelis – Finest Dreams
  6. Erlend Øye – Sheltered Life
  7. Kosheen – All in My Head
  8. Madonna – Hollywood
  9. Paul van Dyk – Time of Our Lives
  10. Kraftwerk – Tour de France 2003

That was a massive climb back up the charts for Erlend Øye, shooting up from number 19 with Sheltered Life, while Sudden Rush shot up from 20 to 12.

On the albums, Enigma jumped in with an unpredictable number one with Voyageur while Röyksopp continued their hold on the top ten at number 7 with debut Melody AM.

Dido‘s White Flag, by the way, was actually quite a good song. For the record.

Mercury Music Prize 1992-1994

The Mercury Music Prize launched in 1992, and has always stuck to its guns – in September, a list of the finest albums of the year will be nominated, and then in October a winner is announced. Simple as that. Despite some speculation in recent years that it may have lost its way somewhat, it’s still a good guide to what might be going on in the world of “real” music. Here’s a guide to what happened over its first three years…

Mercury Music Prize 1992

According to The Guardian, the award was devised by Jon Webster, the Managing Director at Virgin Records, who hoped it might become “the Booker Prize of the music industry”, independent of the music industry but with its endorsement. The panel is led by Professor Simon Frith, and chosen by the event’s organiser David Wilkinson.

The prize name, by the way, is purely from the event’s sponsor, the now largely defunct telecoms company Mercury. The first awards took place at The Savoy Hotel, 8th September 1992.

Nominees:

  • Barry Adamson – Soul Murder
  • Jah Wobble – Rising Above Bedlam
  • The Jesus and Mary Chain – Honey’s Dead
  • Bheki Mseleku – Celebration
  • Primal Scream – Screamadelica
  • Saint Etienne – Foxbase Alpha
  • Simply Red – Stars
  • John Tavener and Steven Isserlis – The Protecting Veil
  • U2 – Achtung Baby
  • Young Disciples – Road to Freedom

Winner: Primal Scream

Mercury Music Prize 1993

Nominees:

  • Apache Indian – No Reservations
  • The Auteurs – New Wave
  • Gavin Bryars – Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet
  • Dina Carroll – So Close
  • PJ Harvey – Rid of Me
  • New Order – Republic
  • Stereo MCs – Connected
  • Sting – Ten Summoner’s Tales
  • Suede – Suede
  • Stan Tracey – Portraits Plus

Winner: Suede

Mercury Music Prize 1994

The 1994 awards were controversial, as nobody actually seemed to like the winners very much. The Independent even suggested that they might have won due to positive discrimination. Took place on 13th September 1994.

Nominees:

  • Blur – Parklife
  • M People – Elegant Slumming
  • Ian McNabb – Head Like a Rock
  • Shara Nelson – What Silence Knows
  • Michael Nyman – The Piano Concerto / MGV
  • The Prodigy – Music for the Jilted Generation
  • Pulp – His ‘n’ Hers
  • Take That – Everything Changes
  • Therapy? – Troublegum
  • Paul Weller – Wild Wood

Winner: M People, although Paul Weller thought he should have won

Further information

Enigma – Voyageur

This week sees the anniversary of the release of two Enigma albums – the first we looked at yesterday; the second was ten years ago. Voyageur was their (well, strictly speaking his, for Enigma is mainly Michael Cretu) fifth album, following the first “best of” compilation which had been released a couple of years earlier.

The opening track is From East to West, which opens softly enough, working its way into the traditional wah-ha sound which had, at this point, opened every Enigma album since time began. An extremely chaotic drum beat arrives, and then the main track begins. It’s pleasant enough, but the drums are totally distracting, and out of sync with anything else you hear, leaving the end result as a bit of a mess.

The title track Voyageur comes next, and although the album version isn’t as good as some of the alternative mixes on the single, it isn’t bad. There’s a good pumping bassline, a bit of wailing from Cretu, and a bit of French whispering. In fact, monks aside, it’s got most of the ingredients of classic Enigma, but even so it falls a bit flat.

A bit of scatting is always good. If you’re recording a jazz record, which Cretu wasn’t. He also never seems to have understood that his own vocals don’t really fit his music particularly well, and hiding them under a whole load of effects doesn’t make it any more ethereal or dreamy, it just renders them incomprehensible. So all told, to call the third track Incognito a bit of a mess would be doing it rather a large favour.

Cretu has said before that he doesn’t really listen to “modern” music, and so it’s difficult to judge quite what the purpose of Voyageur was. He obviously wanted to break away from all the mediaeval chanting and whatnot of the preceding four albums, but he also seems to have struggled with the right direction, fusing pop with… well, whatever you would call this.

Page of Cups is similar – it’s got some pleasant elements, but it’s also entirely pointless and doesn’t really go anywhere in particular. Not only that, but it fails to go anywhere over a duration of seven minutes. That’s a lot of filler, even for a chillout album!

Boum Boum, with vocals by Cretu’s long-term collaborator Ruth Ann Boyle (formerly off of Olive) is probably the closest this album gets to a pop song, and despite the rather vacuous lyrics it’s pretty good too. Of course, the Chicane remix on the single the following year was considerably better, but the original is certainly the best track on the first half of the album.

After that it’s back to being lousy. Total Eclipse of the Moon is a brilliant Enigma title, and also one of the worst tracks he’s ever recorded. Fortunately it’s pretty short, although the ending does make it sound as though he just got bored half way through writing it (I wouldn’t blame him). Then Look of Today, in which Cretu seems to narrowly avoid accidentally covering ABC‘s The Look of Love, is a little better, but not a lot. Its bass line does make up for some of its other failings, such as the vocal, the lyrics, the melody, the manic drumming, and… well… the entire rest of the song.

Another experiment Cretu tried with this album was with the packaging – the booklet is largely round, which is certainly distinctive. Unlike the semi-transparent Le Roi est Mort, Vive le Roi! sleeve (1997) I don’t think the intended effect is really achieved.

Let’s pause for a moment and contemplate In the Shadow, In the Light. Just because it’s the best track on the album, and is entirely deserving of a bit of extra contemplation. It may not be up to the standard of the first few albums, but that’s OK – he’d been churning out that monk-based stuff every year or so for a decade and a half. Ignore that, and this track is very good indeed. The vocal is from Andru Donalds, another of his regular collaborators.

Then you get the pointless and dreary sound of Weightless and The Piano, and finally you’ve made it to the last track, Following the Sun. For this one he brings back Ruth Ann for another outing. Again, the lyrics are largely drivel (“Following the sun, the golden one,” seems an unnecessary distinction given the number of suns that most people revolve around), but the melody is good, and it’s a nice enough song. And after that, the album is over already.

It’s difficult to say exactly what went wrong with Voyageur, but it certainly seems to have missed its mark in a very significant way. I suspect the fairest thing to say would be that this one is for completists only.

You’re probably best to go with the download version of Voyageur if you really want it, as the CD has become rather expensive. Start here.

Enigma – Seven Lives Many Faces

I must confess, I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Enigma. He may be a little predictable at times, beginning every one of his seven albums in pretty much exactly the way, and having reused the same swing-beat on a huge proportion of his tracks, but that’s not always a bad thing.

His seventh album Seven Lives Many Faces, released five years ago this week, kicks off in particularly weak form with a filler called Encounters. I think perhaps he couldn’t figure out the right introduction, because this one is bad. Fortunately things pick up quickly with the first “proper” track Seven Lives, although honestly it still isn’t amazing. It’s got energy and a bit of oomph, and the strings give it some authenticity, but somehow it feels a bit empty. I think part of the problem, as always, is Michael Cretu (the driving force behind Enigma) having provided his own vocal – somehow his vocal style fitted perfectly on his solo projects in the 1980s. On his Enigma albums, it always jars somewhat.

It is this trend of slightly inappropriate aspects to songs which permeates throughout this seventh album. The bizarrely titled Touchness starts off beautifully with string pads and guitar-like sounds. And then… nothing. The vocal eventually turns up properly nearly half way through the track, doesn’t really say anything, and then disappears again.

The Same Parents has a lovely sentiment, and is well delivered too, but it is extremely familiar Enigma territory, which does seem somehow to detract from it a little. But the next track, Fata Morgana, is where things really start to get interesting.

A ‘fata morgana’ is a type of mirage, and for starters it’s an extremely good song title. In this instance, it also doesn’t really sound completely like traditional Enigma – true, the rhythm is the same as always, but there’s a big flanged guitar that adds a bit of power to it.

The titles of tracks on this album are interesting – apart from Touchness, we have the bizarre Je t’aime Till My Dying Day (what?) and the rather odd Hell’s Heaven, which makes up the halfway point of the album. It feels a little misdirected at times, but when the distorted electronic noise appears in the middle, you have to forgive its lesser parts, because it is rather brilliant.

But it is the next track where things get really interesting – in collaboration with an absolutely stunning Spanish vocalist, we get the excellent La Puerta del Cielo (literally, the gate of the sky, or perhaps more accurately, the gates of heaven). OK, it’s got the same bloody rhythm as every Enigma track ever, and really it’s the vocalist that makes it what it is, but it’s still extremely strong.

She turns up again on Between Generations, which is also rather nice, but it is fair to say that the vocalist can make or break a track – on Je t’aime Till My Dying Day (what?) Michael Cretu turns up again, and for some reason sings “D’you really love-a me?” as though he’s trying to do a bad impression of an Italian speaking English. Why? I’ll have to leave you to work that one out for yourself.

The rest of the second half of the album is good, but generally without any particular stand-out tracks. What’s more surprising is the five-track bonus disc, on which three of the extras are actually better than anything on the full album. I won’t review it in detail here, but it’s definitely worth having if you’re thinking of tracking this release down.

Cretu had made mistakes before – the entirety of 2003’s Voyageur is a good example, but he had always bounced back, as the 2006 follow-up A Posteriori proved perfectly. And Seven Lives Many Faces does have its interesting aspects, particularly in the shape of La Puerta del Cielo, but I couldn’t help myself thinking back to MCMXC a.D. (1990) or The Cross of Changes (1993) and wishing I was listening to them instead. This album is good, but it really isn’t up to the standard of the first three in what I believe was originally intended to be a trilogy.

Seven Lives Many Faces is available through all the usual outlets, including iTunes.

Barclaycard Mercury Music Prize 2013 – Nominations

They used to keep us in suspense throughout the summer, but these days the Mercury Music Prize nominations turn up in early September, with the final award announced at the end of October.

To celebrate, this blog will spend the next few Saturdays counting down to this year’s ceremony by looking at the nominees, winners, and coverage from previous years. In the meantime, here’s a list of the potential winners for 2013:

  • Arctic Monkeys – AM
  • James Blake – Overgrown
  • David Bowie – The Next Day
  • Jake Bugg – Jake Bugg
  • Disclosure – Settle
  • Foals – Holy Fire
  • Jon Hopkins – Immunity
  • Laura Marling – Once I Was an Eagle
  • Laura Mvula – Sing to the Moon
  • Rudimental – Home
  • Savages – Silence Yourself
  • Villagers – {Awayland}

You have to agree, that’s a pretty good list. There are a few notable omissions, but also a lot of very eligible albums. I’m not sure I want to advise you where to put your money, but personally I think David Bowie would be a well-deserved winner – as would Jon Hopkins. We’ll find out who wins on October 30th, and discuss the outcomes on this blog a couple of days later.

Q Awards 1990-1993

The first couple of years of the Q Awards seem to have been largely forgotten by the internet, falling into that early 90s gap before everything was reported and recorded. With this in mind, here’s everything I could find out about the first few years of the awards…

1990

The inaugural Q Awards were held in October 1990. This much is beyond dispute. Apart from that, though, it isn’t easy to find information about what actually happened.

Best Album

Winner: World Party for Goodbye Jumbo

Best Reissue / Compilation

Winner: Beach Boys for Pet Sounds

Best Live Act

Winner: Rolling Stones

Best Act in the World Today

Winner: U2

Best New Act

Winner: They Might Be Giants

Best Producer

Winner: Paul Oakenfold / Steve Osborne

Songwriter Award

Winner: Prince

Merit Award

Winner: Paul McCartney

1991

October 1991 saw the second ceremony, with the following winners:

Best album

Winner: R.E.M. for Out of Time

Best live act

Winner: Simple Minds

Best Act in the world today

Winner: R.E.M. / U2

Best new act

Winner: Seal

Best producer

Winner: Trevor Horn

Songwriter award

Winner: Richard Thompson

Merit award

Winner: Lou Reed

1992

In October 1992 the third awards ceremony took place. Here’s a picture of Brett Anderson out of Suede at the awards.

BEST ALBUM

Winner: R.E.M. for Automatic for the People

Best reissue / compilation

Winner: Bob Marley for Songs of Freedom

BEST LIVE ACT

Winner: Crowded House

BEST ACT IN THE WORLD TODAY

Winner: U2

BEST NEW ACT

Winner: Tori Amos

BEST PRODUCER

Winner: Daniel Lanois / Peter Gabriel / The Orb

SONGWRITER AWARD

Winner: Neil Finn

Q Inspiration award

Winner: B.B. King

MERIT AWARD

Winner: Led Zeppelin

1993

In October 1993 the fourth awards ceremony took place. Here’s a picture of Brett Anderson again, this time with Morrissey.

BEST ALBUM

Winner: Sting for Ten Summoner’s Tales

BEST REISSUE / COMPILATION

Winner: Beach Boys for Good Vibrations

BEST LIVE ACT

Winner: Neil Young

BEST ACT IN THE WORLD TODAY

Winner: U2

BEST NEW ACT

Winner: Suede

BEST PRODUCER

Winner: Flood / Brian Eno / The Edge

SONGWRITER AWARD

Winner: Neil Finn

Q INSPIRATION AWARD

Winner: Donald Fagen

MERIT AWARD

Winner: Elton John

Epilogue

It would probably help if I had a copy of Q Magazine to hand, so I could tell you a little more about what happened, but unfortunately all my back issues are stored away somewhere half way round the world. I’ll report back, some day in the future…

FURTHER INFORMATION