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Tuesday, December 26, 2006 

The worst music of 2006.

The Strokes - First Impressions of Earth

5 short years ago, the Strokes were hailed by the NME as the new saviours of music. 5 short years later, their third album should be cementing their position as one of the finest bands of the early stages of the 21st century. Instead, what we have is First Impressions of Earth. Julian Casablancas wasn't noted for his profound lyrics, but even by his standards this is a death rattle. Most of it based around Casablancas' apparent ennui of being in a hugely successful band, but that doesn't excuse this from the single Heart in a Cage:
See, I'm stuck in a city / But I belong in a field
Which unless Casablancas is projecting himself into the body of a cow in Mumbai is unforgivable. Sadly, it gets worse. On the Other Side is about as navel-gazing as it gets, relating how Casablancas hates everyone and hates himself for hating them. It's almost a relief when later on he starts warbling about how he has nothing to say; the first step is admitting that you have a problem. What makes it all the more aggravating is that the band themselves do sound tighter than ever: Juicebox especially is a punishingly angular attack. They've simply been let down by someone whose heart no longer seems in it. It's little wonder that Albert Hammond Jr has since escaped and launched his own solo side project - his album is far, far superior to this.

Tool - 10,000 Days

Could there be a less auspicious start than having the album information derided as fake by your own fans? Sure, Tool are well known for their trickery and jokes: a few years back Maynard announced to a fan site that he'd converted from being an affirmed atheist to Christianity. Some didn't notice it was April the 1st. Even so, for the first reviewer on Amazon to call "Rosetta Stoned" and "Lost Keys (Blame Hoffman)" obvious jokes didn't augur well. More embarrassing perhaps is the pages that follow of 5 star reviews. Far be it from me to suggest that Tool fans are deluding themselves, but 10,000 Days is by far their weakest record since their very first EP.

The opener, "Vicarious" is classic Tool: so much so that it sounds almost identical to previous tracks "Stinkfist" and "Schism". From there it's all downhill. There's nothing here that snarls as much as "Ticks & Leeches" or "Ænema", nothing as moving as "Reflection", and nothing as technical as the stomp of "Lateralus". It's the sound of mediocrity, of a band that has run short of ideas. When Maynard starts growling from the perspective of a hospital patient about "shitting the bed" it's an apt metaphor for what the band have in fact done: besmirched their own reputation by releasing an album that simply cannot compare to anything in their discography. That it took 5 years (although to be fair Maynard especially had been keeping busy in that period with A Perfect Circle) for this to take shape is all the more depressing.

The MySpace effect - Lily Allen / Sandi Thom

If you needed another reason to despise MySpace, look no further than Allen and Thom. Whether both really do owe their fame to the social networking site recently bought by Rupert Murdoch is open to question, especially in the case of Ms Thom, but it can't be denied that without the hype behind MySpace neither would probably be where they are now. Before you point fingers and say, hey, wait a minute, didn't those Monkeys emerge thanks to MySpace too, remember that their page there was never anything to do with them; rather set-up by fans themselves who then shared their demos. The same can't be said about our two female friends.

Both are products of the PR machine that many have duly accepted rather than protested against. How Allen, a product of numerous private schools, can somehow be considered "street" is a mystery, but it's one which has worked. In any case, the PR wouldn't matter if she was actually good, but Alright, Still proves otherwise. Allen, in case you haven't heard her, doesn't sing per-se, but rather speaks. This works fine when it comes to Eddie Argos of Art Brut, the irony being apparent, but here there is none: just a young woman pretending to be something she so obviously isn't. The single Smile, which reached number one, wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't for the fingernails down the blackboard sound of Allen attempting to harmonise on the chorus: "and then I just SMIIIIIIILLLLE, I just SMMMMMMILLLLLLLLLEEEE". The follow-up, LDN, has quite possibly the worst lyrics ever written, this being the pick of the bunch:
She was struggling with bags from Tesco.
There were people from the city havin' lunch in the park,
I believe that is called 'al fresco'.
The whole song contains the sort of lines that make you want to repeatedly slam your head into your desk, desperately hoping for the sickening wet thump that will represent the shattering of your skull and the welcoming incoming perpetual darkness.

Compared to Thom however, Allen is a genius. Thom's single, I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker (With Flowers in My Hair) is the deafening sound of the fast approaching musical apocalypse. Conflating the hippy and punk movements together, having no apparent insight or knowledge of either, Thom nonetheless sings about 69 and 77, trying to suggest that music from those eras genuinely meant something. The irony is that Thom's own recordings are so lacking in any individuality that her created tribute is in fact an insult, the equivalent of digging up Janis Joplin's corpse, pissing on it and then making her a permanent exhibit in Tate Modern. The only comfort is that Thom is now destined to fade into deserved obscurity; we may have to put up with Allen for years yet.

Fergie / Gwen Stefani

Not content with inflicting such masterpieces as "Shut Up", "My Humps" and "Hollaback Girl" on us respectively, 2006 saw the return of Fergie, freed from the restraints of her band mates in the Black Eyed Peas, and Stefani, freed from the apparent restraints of anyone who knows how to write an at least half-way decent song.

Despite probably having never been near London Bridge, Fergie's horrific take on a song about the structure will doubtless lead tourists to stay as far away as possible. Accompanied by a farting bassline, the lyrics could not possibly be any less vacuous, meaningless or unintelligible:
Grey goose got your girl feeling loose.
Now I’m wishin’ that I didn’t wear these shoes. (I hate heels)
It’s like everytime I get up on the dew,
Paparazzi put my business in the news.
Here is a clearly unconnected photograph of Fergie performing:

Stefani, deciding against the going down the Fergie route, instead samples yodeling. Yes, fucking yodeling. Wind it Up, the lead single and opening track, is so ghastly that it resembles the carnage at the end of Titus Andronicus, only converted to music form and played on the radio. The one thing that can be said in her favour as that when this decade's music is assessed, her onslaughts against the eardrums of the world will surely feature at the end of one chart, even if it is the worst.

Scissor Sisters - Ta-Dah

How? Why? Now? All questions that have to be asked about the utterly baffling success of the Scissor Sisters. Taking the worst excesses of 70s disco, adding to them the brain destroyingly bad influence of Elton John, with a liberal mixture of 80s glam, their music shouldn't work, and it doesn't. The Bee Gees sounded bad in their heyday, why the hell would anyone want to recreate it? Each member of the group has a stupid nickname, a trait that used to be confined to ridiculous over-the-top metallists and early punks. Add to this that one of them is called Ana Matronic, and has wires tattooed on her arm, and normally you'd have something that would be laughed about and sneered at. Something, sadly, has gone wrong in the machine. The terrifying single, "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'", with its faux-falsetto vocals and fizzing noises is enough to curdle the blood. The album itself, if it's possible, makes even "Candle in the Wind" look seminal.

Expect the best of 2006 tomorrow.


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