The charts, particularly the singles charts, are no longer any kind of
barometer of the musical preferences of the nation. They reflect only the
success the industry has is marketing its product for short term gain to a
highly specific target audience, predominantly 10-16 year olds, who are not
buying music, but a wholly packaged dream of image and lifestyle. Sadly, the
drive for ratings has driven even public service broadcasters like the BBC into
the position where they are promulgating the myth whilst plumbing new depths
with the likes of Fame Academy and Pop Idol. Depressingly, the student music
scene, which has for many decades provided the healthy antidote to mainstream
pap, is itself suffocating in the grip of a narrow blueprint of rock and nu-metal
less imaginative or musically literate, and self-agrandising third rate hip
hop. Something will come along to lift us out of the mire, but it is taking an
inordinately long time, as I seem to say every year.
Good stuff is out there, but you have to dig ever deeper to find it. I've much enjoyed the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and seeing them on Top Of The Pops was a tonic. World music is buoyant, Damon Albarn notwithstanding, as is electronica and avant garde. I've particular enjoyed the natural sound collages of Chris Watson and the glitchy deconstructions of Christian Fennesz. Folk music is also enjoying a renaissance. The undisputed queen of new folk is obviously the wonderful clear-voiced Kate Rusby. I should have mentioned her in previous years, as her early albums are prized in my collection, likewise Eliza Carthy, whose Anglicana album was added to my collection this year.
My misgivings about the Coral after hearing their debut album seems to have been well-founded, and I have lost interest in the band. The smoothing of the jagged edges in the music that I liked seems to have continued, exposing the central weaknesses of composition and the vocals, and leaving a wake of less skilled copyists - The Zutons, The Bandits, ad infinitum.
Two musical highlights of the year, experienced via radio and TV, were, firstly, the Magic Band (with Drumbo filling in for Captain Beefheart) re-formed and playing sizzling sets from the back-catalogue better than I could have dreamed. Their set at All Tomorrows Parties, held at Camber Sands was broadcast both on Radio 3's Mixing It and on John Peel's Radio 1 show, which must say something. Secondly, Arthur Lee has been performing the entire legendary Forever Changes album with a well-rehearsed band, formerly Baby Lemonade but now recruited as the new Love for the tour, and a complete orchestra, the way it was meant to be on the original album. The complete performance of the LP at the Glastonbury Festival was broadcast on BBC3 in beautiful sound quality and was a superb rendition which went down a storm, both in the chilling fields of Glastonbury and in my home.
The best acquisitions and purchases of the year were also largely retrospective. I got hold of the incredibly rare CD of Tim Buckley's Starsailor, and Jeff Buckley's expanded Live At Sin-É, and replaced some much-loved but scratchy old singles and LPs with shiny new CD versions by people like Ike & Tina Turner, Love, Soft Machine, Kevin Ayers, Caravan, Trader Horne, the Beach Boys and Chuck Berry. Ace put out a great compilation called Phil's Spectre - A Wall Of Soundalikes, full of wannabe producers trying to recreate the elusive and profitable Phil Spector sound, which has been a hit with everyone I've played it to. I have been sent illicit CDR copies of Rhino's Nuggets and Nuggets II box sets, fantastic garage-psych from the 1960s, and their Doo-Wop Boxes I, II and III, all the definitive hits from the American 1950s, which I have yet to get to grips with.
Getting more up to date I have bought current albums by Múm, Lamb, the Creatures, the Fall, Electrelane and the Free Association, as well as CD singles or EPs by the Yeah Yeah Yeaks, the Distillers, the Detroit Cobras, the White Stripes, Broadcast, Calexico and Desert Sessions featuring PJ Harvey, so I am not yet entirely living in the past.
For those keeping count, my CD library by the end of 2003 had 2,876 discs (including a lot of CD singles, although this is an area that has stopped expanding as they become dearer, shorter, and harder to select among the mass-market junk), comprising 24,330 indexed song titles, whilst my MiniDisc and CDR collection is fast catching up at 22,616.