Chart for stowaways – 25 June 2016

The top ten singles this week look a little like this:

  1. Jean-Michel Jarre & Pet Shop Boys – Brick England
  2. Pet Shop Boys – Twenty-Something
  3. Pet Shop Boys – The Pop Kids
  4. Clarke Hartnoll – Better Have a Drink to Think
  5. Jean-Michel Jarre – The Heart of Noise
  6. I Monster – The Bradley Brothers Realise…
  7. Massive Attack – Ritual Spirit EP
  8. Clarke Hartnoll – Single Function
  9. Jean-Michel Jarre – Remix EP (II)
  10. Röyksopp – Sordid Affair

Greatest Hits – Vol. 8

Every so often I like to take a little downtime and remind you about some of the posts that you might have missed recently. Here are a few…

Electronic – Twisted Tenderness

Electronic‘s first album is widely celebrated as being excellent, and as I found out a couple of weeks ago, the second one turns out to be a lot better than any of us remembered too. But as I listened to that one to write the review, I found myself questioning my memories of the third one – is it really as bad as I remembered? Let’s find out.

I’m always a bit suspicious of noisy, industrial electronica, and listening to opening track Make it Happen, I wonder if that might be where my dissatisfaction with Twisted Tenderness stemmed from. It’s a nice enough jingly synth line at the beginning, and then a funky guitar line comes in before we get the vocal. This is telling: “Sometimes we find ourselves searching for something new,” Bernard Sumner tells us.

Well, doing “new” things just for the sake of it is a bit misguided, but let’s give it a chance anyway. Bernard and his bandmate Johnny Marr had clearly been listening to a lot of The Chemical Brothers (and as it turned out, Sumner was also working with them on Out of Control, which was rather better than this and appeared a few months later).

The other telling aspect is Arthur Baker, who turns up as producer here, with some supporting work from members of Doves and Black Grape. Baker has plenty of electronic music on his CV of course, but by the late 1990s seemed to have settled on a much darker, more industrial sound. Which is OK, of course – guitars are “electronic” too, but I suspect Electronic might have been on a mission to alienate their established fanbase here.

Eventually Make it Happen draws to a close and the charmless Haze begins. Where this succeeds over the preceding track is in its chorus: this time it fits nicely, whereas Make it Happen‘s seemed shoehorned in at best.

There’s a noticeable change in mood at the start of the one and only single Vivid, with its curious mix of electronic backing and harmonica with guitars and live drums. Despite that, it’s actually a pretty good song – it could have just about fitted as one of the less good moments on the preceding album Raise the Pressure. But that’s about it – it’s good, but nothing too great. And I can’t help but worry that might be as good as this album gets.

Neither is it ever too bad though – at worst, it’s listenable, even if it’s not really our thing. The less good moments (Breakdown) are always balanced by the better ones (Can’t Find My Way HomeTwisted Tenderness). I suspect the latter is intended to provide continuity to the previous releases, but even so, barely a moment goes by when you don’t find yourself looking at this album’s neighbours on the shelf and wishing you were listening to one of them instead.

Like No Other is forgettable, and Late at Night was almost going to be the second single, but never quite got its full release, and honestly that’s no major injustice. The better moments still appear – Prodigal Son drags on a bit, but it’s pretty good, but closing tracks When She’s Gone and Flicker are nothing special.

When I write these reviews, I just listen to the album and write what I think. Sometimes I’m wrong, and people quite rightly call me out for it. Other times their arguments (like mine) are clearly tempered by their memories. But I wonder if anyone will rush in to defend this album? Because honestly, right now I think I’m right – either it isn’t very good, or I’m just not its intended audience. Probably the latter, but in that case, who is?

You can still find Twisted Tenderness at all major retailers.

Chart for stowaways – 18 June 2016

A few changes on the albums this week:

  1. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise
  2. Pet Shop Boys – Super
  3. New Order – Music Complete
  4. Clarke Hartnoll – 2Square
  5. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 1: The Time Machine
  6. I Monster – Bright Sparks
  7. Conjure One – Holoscenic
  8. David Bowie – Best of Bowie
  9. ABC – The Lexicon of Love II
  10. Róisín Murphy – Hairless Toys

Sales Analysis – 2015

This post is a little late this year, but at some point in the first half of a new year, I normally like to take a bit of time to muse over the main headlines relating to the music “industry” in the preceding year. In case you missed them, here are the reports for 2014, 2013, and 2012 respectively.

If you still download music, you’re a dinosaur

The internet transformed the music industry from around 2004 onwards, initially with just illegal downloads, and then, until a couple of years ago, an explosion of legal downloads. That was starting to change in 2014, and by last year, the download was as dead as a dodo.

The number of streamed tracks has pretty much been doubling year-on-year recently, and the trend continued with 26.8 billion streams last year. Audio streaming now accounts for 22.1% of all music consumption in the UK.

I’m a dinosaur, apparently, by the way. There are far too many CD cases in my house already…

Revenues are on the up again

Overall music industry revenues in the UK had been steadily dropping for the entirety of the last decade – sales have continued to slump, streaming hardly contains any money for anyone except the people who make the app, and only live revenues have been increasing in a meaningful way.

This year, for the first time in a very long time, revenues did actually climb by an impressive 3.5%. Which still only puts them back to 2012 levels (that’s barely more than half of what they were in 2005), but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. There’s some detailed analysis and number-crunching here.

Germany, always a strong market, grew by 3.9%, meaning their music industry is now comfortably in third place, with the UK in fourth place, and the USA and Japan in number 1 and 2 respectively. While the Germans celebrate their luck (or happiness), Billboard magazine was rather more pessimistic about the situation in the US.

Everybody loves vinyl

Back in 2012, I questioned the repeated reports of a “vinyl explosion”, as the numbers didn’t seem to back it up. Every year since, I seem to have been proved entirely wrong, which just goes to show what I know. This year saw growth of 64%, meaning it broke the 2 million mark.

Last year’s total (1.3 million) was the highest since 1995, and this year’s is “the biggest for 21 years” (which may mean we’ve now beaten 1995 too).

Having said that, according to a recent Mark Radcliffe show, half of people who buy vinyl never actually listen to it, so the current resurgence may not last forever…

Two-thirds of albums sold are still on CD

Given that the CD format was officially pronounced dead about a decade ago, album sales are still surprisingly healthy. They dropped by just 3.9% from the previous year, which is far slower than it used to be. In fact, I suspect CD album sales are still roughly around the levels they were at in the early 1990s, which really isn’t that bad after all, although it’s difficult to judge, as the only figures I’ve seen prior to 2000 are for “deliveries” rather than sales.

Everybody loves Adele

Adele‘s comeback sold 2.5 million copies in its first 6 weeks, meaning more people bought that album shortly after it came out than bought an LP over the entire year. Yes, apparently she managed to sell 3.1% of all music sold in 2015. Which is quite impressive, to say the least. More on that here.

Understanding that makes it rather less surprising that 13.7% of all music consumed globally is British (I think the article is actually for the preceding year, but the trend is definitely positive), and that 53.5% of music sold in the UK is homegrown. Which is very healthy indeed.

Shit Robot – We Got a Love

A belated review of Shit Robot‘s second album is only timely now because he just reappeared with his third, so this is a good opportunity to reappraise We Got a Love. When I first heard it, I was underwhelmed after the charming sound of From the Cradle to the Rave (2010), so let’s see if that’s still true.

It opens with a nice plodding dance piece, The Secret. Shit Robot always builds his music slowly, and this one builds into a pleasant disco track after a few minutes. And this is, as it turns out, the way things are on this release. Where the previous one would suddenly surprise you with Take ‘Em Up or Answering Machine, this one plods along nicely, but never really charms you.

It doesn’t help that a couple of the tracks are almost identically named. Do That Dance is great, and honestly not too far from the standard of the first album; Do It (Right) is perhaps a little further away.

This isn’t a particularly easy album to review, all told – and not because there’s anything particularly wrong with it. Quite the opposite, in fact – it washes across your ears entirely pleasantly, but it doesn’t really feel like a worthy follow-up to From the Cradle to the Rave.

Feels Real is a nice disco piece, but ultimately it’s a little forgettable again, but then we get Space Race, originally released as a b-side a couple of years earlier. Ironically, although perhaps not too surprisingly, it’s better than anything else on here.

Space Race is an instrumental piece, with darker electronica undertones at times. It’s fairly simple, and fits nicely on here, but it seems to stand out somehow just by virtue of being a little bit catchier than most of its neighbours.

After that, things seem a little more positive – Feels Like starts off nicely, although after a minute or so it builds into another slightly dull electro-disco piece. Title track We Got a Love is fairly anonymous too, another one with a disco “vibe” and a waily vocal from Reggie Watts.

Finally, we get a particularly long and – at least initially – fairly dull instrumental titled Tempest, and the second album is over. All in all, I can’t help but see We Got a Love as something of a disappointment. Maybe the collaborators weren’t quite right this time around, maybe it’s another case of a “difficult second album,” or maybe a spark was missing. Whatever the reason, hopefully it’s come back for the third album.

You can still find We Got a Love from major retailers.