Best tunes of 2012: #26 Passenger “Let her go”

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Mike Rosenberg, aka Passenger, took an interesting and somewhat circuitous route to stardom. He formed a band with friend Andrew Philips in 2003 and called it, you guessed it, Passenger. Rosenberg and Philips were the only static members of the rotating group of musicians and the group only released one album in 2007 before disbanding in 2009. Rosenberg then embarked on a solo career, still using the Passenger name, that took him to Australia, away from his native homeland of England, and where, after plenty of touring and performing, he gained his first spate of popularity.

Still, things didn’t really get going for him until his fourth solo record, “All the little lights”, which was released in 2012 and on which he was backed by a band made up almost entirely of Australian musicians. It was this album’s second single, “Let her go”, that broke him in a country outside of Australia, charting first in Netherlands, then, slowly but surely spreading throughout Europe, and finally, hitting North America’s shores the following year. The song’s music video became a smash on YouTube, gathering more than 2 billion views, one of the most viewed clips on the platform. And this popularity translated to big time sales for the album, getting on year end charts for both 2013 and 2014, and achieving gold and platinum status in many countries.

I remember falling for it despite my best efforts to avoid doing so back in 2012. Indeed, it managed to place just outside my top ten favourite albums when I sat down to put together my year end list. I thought that it struck just the right balance of folk aesthetic and pop sensibility and Rosenberg’s backing band added some lush instrumentation to his busker friendly tunes. And though he’s quite the prolific guy, releasing a new album pretty much every year, I haven’t really paid much attention to him after this one album. I was actually quite surprised at how many videos he has on YouTube when I went looking for the one for this particular song.

I’m pretty certain you all know “Let her go”, even if not by name. It’s instantly recognizable from the get-go so just the first few seconds of the acoustic guitar plucking and matching keys will do the trick if it’s not one of your favourites. Rosenberg’s earnest vocals are front and centre throughout, all lonely and forlorn, easily heard even when he let’s her go and the drums kick in. His voice is all impassioned and fragile, singing about not knowing what you have, the love of life, whatever, until it is gone, long gone out the door. And it’s him, alone in a crowd, a big backing band, bass feels, backup singer, and a string quartet… because of course there is. And it’s him alone in front of a crowd, an adoring audience cheering him on, just him, sounding ready the break down into a massive puddle of tears. It grabs me by the proverbial feels every time.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2012 list, click here.


Best tunes of 2011: #27 Noah And The Whale “Life is life”

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It’s Sunday and I’m on a mini-holiday. So I’m not going to go into an all out rail against Pitchfork, that taste-making, music-reviewing website that sometimes feels like its trying too hard to keep its taste-making credentials intact. But I will say this: if I didn’t listen to all the albums for which they have given rotten reviews, I might be missing out on some of my favourite albums.

Noah and the Whale’s debut, “Peaceful, the world lays me down”, for instance, was given a lowly 2.6 rating out of 10, the reviewer calling it “twee pop you might order in a kit”. For my own part, I guess I must have a soft spot for generic, derivative schlock, because I actually quite enjoyed the album.

Thankfully for me and scores of others, the indie pop band out of Twickenham either has thick skin or never did read the article. I say thankfully because they continued on, releasing three more albums before finally calling it quits seven years later. By 2011, though, Laura Marling and Doug Fink, brother of frontman Charlie Fink, had both left the band and Noah and the Whale’s sound had changed quite a bit. They had dispensed with the ukuleles, banjos, and glockenspiels, and really, the folk pop sound that was so prominent on the debut and then, added synths and crisp production on their third album, “Last night on earth”.

“Life is life” is the opening track and third single released off this third album. The mechanized sounding beats that open the song are definitely no longer twee, nor are the synthesizers. However, the handclaps and crowd vocals still signal that this is Noah and the Whale. A rousing number, it’s a third person observation on the act of scrapping everything to start anew. “Left his house at midnight, resolute and young, in search of something greater than the person he’d become.” Perhaps it’s a little heavy-handed and obvious but it’s got a great beat and energy to spare. And of course, it’s cheerful, like a lot of their work, and sometimes, that’s just what you need.

Almost like a Sunday morning, on a mini-holiday. Cheers.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.


Best tunes of 1991: #28 EMF “Unbelievable”

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What do you call it again when an artist or band writes a song that becomes the biggest thing they ever do, overshadows their entire body of work, and becomes the only song they are remembered for? Oh yeah…

Well, in the case of EMF’s “Unbelievable”, it just happened to be the first single that the Gloucestershire dance group ever released. It was actually released in the UK in 1990 but didn’t hit North American shores until 1991, which is when I would have first heard it (hence it being in this 1991 list rather than for 1990). It found itself at or near the top of the charts in most countries and hit gold status in Australia, Canada, England, and the United States. All that means nothing though. You really know you’ve made it when ‘Weird’ Al Yankovic takes notice of you. That prince of parody fit the song’s chorus lines, “The things you say, your purple prose just gives you away”, into his polka medley, “Polka your eyes out”, on his 1992 album, “Off the deep end”.

Yeah. That’s right.

Though “Unbelievable” sounds a bit dated today, it hit all the right notes in 1991. It took the acid house beats and psychedelic sounds of the baggy Manchester deeper into dance floor territory. I definitely heard it a few times at high school dances and mouthed along with the chorus lines while shuffling along in my own corner of the auditorium or gymnasium floor (whichever it was at the time). It is an unbelievable danceable groove, peppy drumming set against a slick bass line and plenty of fun samples, mostly notably, the Andrew ‘Dice’ Clay trademark “Ohhhh!!!!!” leading into every chorus.

Okay. So this song isn’t going to save the world but at least it might make us forget our troubles for three and a half minutes, while we’re sweating out the alcohol molecules underneath the disco ball.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1991 list, click here.