Best tunes of 2002: #30 Richard Ashcroft “Check the meaning”

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So it’s time to start in on a new list and today’s as good a day as any. And at number thirty to kick things off, we have Richard Ashcroft’s “Check the meaning”.

Some of you might be familiar with his name and those of you who are not, are surely familiar with the band he fronted through the 1990s: namely, The Verve. His solo work has already appeared in these pages when his first post-Verve solo single appeared at number five on my Best tunes of 2000 list. And in that post, I talked about how excited I was when I first brought home a copy of “Alone with everybody” because I was such a fan of “Urban hymns” and how there was a modicum of disappointment when the album didn’t immediately blow my socks off. I also waxed philosophical about how Ashcroft had moments that really worked and those that didn’t and that he was likely missing a sounding board to temper his flights of fancy.

All of that to suggest that when 2002 rolled around and news came of a second solo album, I wasn’t as quick to go out and purchase the CD. In fact, I think it wasn’t until a year or two later that I finally got around to listening to it. And even then, it was only because I had seen a copy of it at the library and taking it home for a spin was a no risk investment. Of course, with my expectations low, I was pleasantly surprised but not completely bowled over by “Human conditions”. I found it was at best great background music, save for a few moments that stood out.

The opening track, “Check the meaning”, is one of the grander moments. It is also a good example of how Ashcroft could use some editing. The album version is a bloated eight minutes in length, the video below has it cut to just over five minutes, but I think if it had even been trimmed by yet another minute, the song might be a good ten positions or so higher in this list. It’s huge in scope and multilayered, strings and horns and guitars that flit back and forth between the speakers. The drums are just so, not really moving the song along but allowing it to be and breathe. Ashcroft’s vocals are exactly those that we have come to know and love, looped and mixed in upon themselves, singing words that question what it is to exist. In the end, he tells us that everything is going to be alright and after all this beauty and majesty, I’m inclined to believe him.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.

Vinyl love: Frank Turner “Be more kind”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: Frank Turner
Album Title: Be more kind
Year released: 2018
Details: Black vinyl, 180 gram

The skinny: Okay. So I haven’t posted one of these paeans to the artifacts in my vinyl collection since last month. But don’t you ever take that to mean I haven’t been spinning tunes on my turntable. In fact, this album here, Frank Turner’s “Be more kind” has gotten a bit of a workout over this past month. I played it for my wife Victoria a few weeks ago and she really enjoyed it so she asked me to spin it again, just this past week. (I think that may be the first time she sat through the same record twice with me since I got my player a few years ago!) Anyway, despite playing some Frank Turner for her before on other occasions, this particular album, Turner’s lyrics, and the message appears to have to have struck a different chord with her this time around. I can’t complain at all, now that she is replaying certain songs from it, over and over again on Spotify, especially since I ranked this particular album #2 on my end of the list for 2018 albums. If you haven’t given it a spin yourself, I recommend doing so… right now.

Standout track: “Be more kind”

Best tunes of 2011: #20 Florence and the Machine “Shake it out”

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I’m pretty sure I came to Florence and the Machine’s debut album “Lungs” late. I don’t remember exactly when it was but I feel like it may have been around Christmas time, possibly in 2010, because I was definitely in Toronto visiting my mother-in-law with my wife and up late at night, playing around on YouTube. There were a number of videos already available there and I was completely taken in by frontwoman, Florence Welch, and that incredible voice of hers. I got a copy of the album soon after and became quite enamoured with it as well, picking up the comparisons to Kate Bush and Annie Lennox completely on my own. So when sophomore album “Ceremonials” came out in 2011, I was definitely keen to check it out.

What I didn’t realize then and didn’t quite put together until recently is that Florence and the Machine is an actual band. I always thought Florence Welch was a solo artist and that the moniker was just that, a name. But no, Welch formed the band with her friend, Isabella “Machine” Summers, back in 2007 and it was fleshed out to a five piece with Robert Ackroyd, Tom Monger, and Christopher Lloyd Hayden. There has been a few shuffles in and out over the years, the ranks expanding to nine, most of the original band members remaining. With so many hands, it’s no wonder their sound is so big and dramatic, a perfect vehicle to fly with Welch’s aforementioned angelic vocals.

Not counting the promotional teaser, “What the water gave me”, “Shake it out” was the first single to be released from “Ceremonials”, and it’s awesome. I feel like she’s more Annie Lennox here than Kate Bush. It’s old sounding but not at all delicate. No, decadent would definitely be the better word. More Marie Antoinette than Emily Brontë. It’s thumping and clapping drum rhythms and big wall of noise organs above it. It’s glorious singing, both soft and bold, and Florence Welch dancing all over the stage in a big period piece costume, while coquettish ladies in waiting sing behind fluttering fans. The words, too, are just as invigorating, empowering us all to shake off our demons and dance.

Not bad for a song purportedly written while hung over.

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