Greatest Hits – Vol. 11

Time for another selection of reviews that you might have missed in the last year or two.

You can also see Vol. 10 here.

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Stowaway Heroes – Vince Clarke

One of the most prolific names in music is Vince Clarke. After a couple of excellent false starts including Yazoo and The Assembly, he’s spent most of his career as the knob-twiddling genius responsible for Erasure‘s backing tracks.

Things started out, of course, with Depeche Mode, and we can’t really overlook his sunglasses and designer stubble in their breakthrough hit Just Can’t Get Enough:

Of course, Erasure is where he’s spent most of the last thirty years, and it would be difficult not to give him credit where it’s due for his exquisite performance in the video to Abba‘s Take a Chance on Me:

In recent years, he has branched out, working again with his old bandmate Martin L. Gore as well as half of Orbital, all of Jean-Michel Jarre, and others. From 2Square, his project with Paul Hartnoll, here’s Better Have a Drink to Think:

Genius is an over-used word without a doubt, but it’s absolutely fair to say that Clarke should be one of our stowaway heroes.

Stowaway Awards 2018

After all the excitement of previous years, I’ve decided to tone down the Stowaway Awards a little this year, with just six categories. Here they are, with the full lists of nominees!

Best Track

Nominees:

  • Depeche Mode – Where’s the Revolution
  • Erasure – Be Careful What You Wish for!
  • Gary Numan – My Name is Ruin
  • Goldfrapp – Become the One
  • Kraftwerk – Radioaktivität
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – As We Open, So We Close
  • Pet Shop Boys – Reunion
  • Saint Etienne – Whyteleaf
  • Sparks – Scandinavian Design
  • Yazoo – Only You

We announced the winner already – it’s Depeche Mode.

Best Album

Nominees:

  • Depeche Mode – Spirit
  • Erasure – World Be Gone
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – The Punishment of Luxury
  • Saint Etienne – Home Counties
  • Sparks – Hippopotamus

The winner is Depeche Mode.

Best Reissue / Compilation

Nominees:

  • Liza Minnelli – Results
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – The Punishment of Luxury: B Sides & Bonus Material
  • Pet Shop Boys – Nightlife
  • Pet Shop Boys – Release
  • Pet Shop Boys – Yes

The winner is Pet Shop Boys, for Release.

Best Artist

Nominees:

  • Depeche Mode
  • Erasure
  • Goldfrapp
  • Saint Etienne
  • Sparks

This year’s winner is Sparks.

Best Live Act

Nominees:

  • Jean-Michel Jarre
  • The Jesus and Mary Chain
  • múm

The winner is Jean-Michel Jarre.

Outstanding Contribution

Nominees:

  • David Bowie
  • Vince Clarke
  • The Future Sound of London
  • Leftfield
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

The winner: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.

Grammy Awards 2018

I never really have enough patience to look into the Grammy Awards in too much detail – there are just way too many of them. But it’s always worth a quick skim, particularly this year it seems. So here are some headlines.

Best Dance Recording went to LCD Soundsystem this year for the irritatingly-spelt Tonite, beating Gorillaz‘s Andromeda, and both were also nominated for Best Alternative Music Album for American Dream and Humanz respectively, but lost out to The National.

One of my favourite awards, Best New Age Album this year overlooked a strong nominee for Brian Eno with Reflection and went with Peter Kater instead for Dancing on WaterBest Dance/Electronic Album surprisingly went to Kraftwerk for the sublime box set 3-D The Catalogue over Bonobo‘s Migration.

In a pleasant surprise, Dennis White won Best Remixed Recording for his Latroit Remix of Depeche Mode‘s You Move. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds got a couple of nominations, one in the Best Music Film category for One More Time with Feeling, and once in the Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package category for the work of the art direction on their singles compilation Lovely Creatures, but failed to win in the end. Roger Waters suffered the same fate for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical.

That’s all I’ve got. There’s a more comprehensive list of winners and nominees on the Billboard website.

The Beloved – Conscience

Most people have probably forgotten The Beloved by now – after all, they only had a couple of hit singles, and they were a long time ago. But hidden, somewhere back in the 1990s, are several extremely good albums, and one of them, Conscience, celebrates its twenty-fifth birthday this week.

Conscience was actually The Beloved‘s third album, following the largely ignored Where it Is (1987) and the hugely successful Happiness (1990). But this was their biggest hit, peaking at number 2 in the UK in early 1993.

The album opens with Spirit, a pleasant but relatively forgettable track with a bit of a gospel feel, which seems to be largely about the trials and tribulations of recording a comeback album. It includes what I think might be The Beloved‘s only example of a key change in the chorus, which maybe wasn’t their wisest move ever.

It didn’t need to be – the top ten hit Sweet Harmony is next. I think indisputably The Beloved‘s finest moment, this was of course the primary reason why this album was so successful. The world had waited a little over two years for their comeback, and then they reappeared with one of the catchiest pop songs of the decade. You can even forgive a extended saxophone solo when the song is this good.

There were actually three singles from Conscience in the UK, plus a couple of overseas and promo releases, and Outerspace Girl was the third of these. A minor summer hit, it easily has all the qualities that it needs, and despite a couple of slightly daft lyrics (“whizzing onwards at warp factor nine”) it’s really rather good.

Lose Yourself in Me is the moment where The Beloved decide to channel Depeche Mode, and while it may not be entirely successful in that regard, it’s still one of the best tracks on here, helped to stand out by the unique sound and mood.

The first weak moment on this album is the longer part-instrumental Paradise Found. I suspect the intention here was to try to recapture some of the mood of their brilliant 1990 remix album Blissed Out, but it doesn’t quite manage it unfortunately, and instead drags a little for its seven minute duration.

The second single was a double a-side of the middle two tracks on the album, led by the beautiful, semi-acoustic song You’ve Got Me Thinking, and backed with the deeper house Celebrate Your Life. Both are fantastic, as is the US-only single Rock to the Rhythm of Love that follows.

Let the Music Take You is a bit questionable, but it’s only the lyrics that are the problem, which are a little on the meaningless side. The general pop-house feel of most of the album continues, and actually it continues to come together rather well.

“Today I woke up smiling,” is the opening lyric on 1000 Years from Today, and it’s very fitting – there’s a glorious early-morning feel to the gentle house beats and rippling piano sounds. It might seem a little dated now, 25 years from its original release, but it still sounds extremely good.

The dreamy feeling continues with the fantastic Dream On, the six and a half minute ethereal piece that closes the album. It’s broad and huge, and a truly wonderful closing track for what really is a great and long-forgotten album.

Conscience is, ironically, one of The Beloved‘s weaker moments for me, and the fact that it’s overflowing with great songs is proof of just how good they were during the decade or so that they were on the charts. For me, a couple of decades on, I still really miss them.

You can find Conscience at all major retailers.

Albums chart of the year 2017

It’s been a great year for reissues, so it’s no surprise to see a few on the 2017 top twenty. Here’s the full list:

  1. Depeche Mode – Spirit
  2. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène 3 [number 21 in 2016]
  3. Saint Etienne – Home Counties
  4. David Bowie – Legacy [number 27 in 2016]
  5. Kraftwerk – 3-D Der Katalog
  6. Pet Shop Boys – Release [released in 2002]
  7. Goldfrapp – Silver Eye
  8. Erasure – World Be Gone
  9. The Human League – Anthology – A Very British Synthesizer Group [number 37 in 2016]
  10. Pet Shop Boys – Nightlife [released in 1999, number 89 in 2004, number 177 in 2005, number 83 in 2006]
  11. Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon [released in 1973, number 34 in 2014, number 20 in 2015, number 42 in 2016]
  12. Pet Shop Boys – Fundamental [released in 2005, number 5 in 2006]
  13. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – The Punishment of Luxury
  14. New Order – Lost Sirens [released in 2013]
  15. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène Trilogy [number 40 in 2016]
  16. Pet Shop Boys – Yes [released in 2009, number 172 in 2015, number 171 in 2016]
  17. Dusty Springfield – Reputation [released in 1990, number 35 in 2016]
  18. C Duncan – The Midnight Sun [number 12 in 2016]
  19. Gorillaz – Humanz
  20. Pet Shop Boys – Elysium [number 2 in 2012, number 14 in 2013, number 179 in 2014, number 120 in 2016]

Stowaway Awards 2018 – Nominations

Apart from the Best Track category, which will be awarded based on the “top tracks of 2017” that we listed here on the run-up to Christmas, there are just five other categories in this year’s all-important Stowaway Awards. Here are the nominees:

Best Album

  • Depeche Mode – Spirit
  • Erasure – World Be Gone
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – The Punishment of Luxury
  • Saint Etienne – Home Counties
  • Sparks – Hippopotamus

Best Reissue / Compilation

  • Liza Minnelli – Results
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – The Punishment of Luxury: B Sides & Bonus Material
  • Pet Shop Boys – Nightlife
  • Pet Shop Boys – Release
  • Pet Shop Boys – Yes

Best Artist

  • Depeche Mode
  • Erasure
  • Goldfrapp
  • Saint Etienne
  • Sparks

Best Live Act

  • Jean-Michel Jarre
  • The Jesus and Mary Chain
  • múm

Outstanding Contribution

  • David Bowie
  • Vince Clarke
  • The Future Sound of London
  • Leftfield
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark