JUST AN OBSERVATION

Friday December 9th

 

After the strikes of last week this week’s disruption-in Scotland and Northern England anyway- came in the shape of the brilliantly named Hurricane Bawbag yet again closing schools, businesses and causing mayhem on the roads. Only Scotland would have the audacity to name a bit of high wind after a much used term of regional abuse as opposed to the totally ineffective and inappropriate names usually tagged to hurricanes such as Katrina, Katia, George et al and it is easy to imagine those out on the streets struggling against the forces of nature muttering away disdainfully ‘bawbags’ amongst other more expressive less salubrious terms as they found themselves at the eye of the storm. Actually I only ventured out once yesterday and must say as one who lived in London in 1987 when with no warning we were hit by a hurricane of epic proportions yesterday was little more than a bit of gusty wind in comparison. In 1987 I witnessed cars being thrown, overturned and flying down the street like toys that had been hurled in a tantrum whilst trees were pulled out by their roots then crashing into the middle of the roads. Although the damage has yet to be fully measured and, perhaps I was lucky in that my locale was not too highly affected, many will protest that the safety measures were unnecessary it is worth noting that they are in place to minimise damage and danger so erring on the side of caution is perhaps the safest solution. Apparently the winds reached 165mph in some areas and there is bound to be some fallout from conditions such as those but as I listened from the comfort of indoors it sounded more like my washing machine attempting to go into full spin with little success. Personally I found the whole thing a bit of a storm in a teacup but did welcome the excuse to postpone the Xmas shopping and curl up with a True Blood boxset and a supply of chocolate whilst listening to the wind attempt to whip itself up into frenzy outside.

Talking of whipping things into frenzy-steady- the media have gone mad in their end of year appraisals with several naming PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake as album of the year with many others positioning it near the top of their lists. It certainly was an album I played in rotation on its release in February and has never left my consciousness since. Probably her most complete and satisfying work- To Bring You My Love and Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea both come close- with its themes civil unrest and the horrors of war it captured an unsettled and unsteady zeitgeist what with inner city riots and casualties and fatalities from the Middle East never far from the headlines. Although she focussed on themes of World War 1, utilising elements of Goya and Wilfred Owen amongst others, there was a sense that the issues raised have relevance in these difficult times. The jauntiness of some of the melodies contrasted with the dark lyrical themes thus the potency of lines such as ‘Blown and shot out beyond belief/Arms and legs were in the trees’ in The Words that Maketh Murder sat comfortably against a backing which sounded as if she had drafted the Oompah Loompahs in to perform backing vocals before taking Eddie Cochran’s great line  ‘What if I take my problem to the United Nations’ from Summertime Blues’ as a lead out motif.

Harvey may have scooped all the awards and accolades but as far as music is concerned 2011 has been very much the year of the Woman whilst their male counterparts have languished in predictability and some form of stasis. Just look at the global phenomenon engendered by Adele whose album 21 also released in February is the biggest seller of the millennium so far. Although due to overexposure it has been relegated to the realms of over familiarity and cliché but even despite this it is a remarkable record and her emotional rawness on many tracks still affect on listening. Likewise Laura Marling, still only 21 and on her third album, gained all sorts of plaudits for A Creature I don’t Know and its sense of maturity which although it encompasses so much already hints at an impressive future ahead so much so at times she resembles elements of a pagan Kate Bush. Talking of whom the grande dame of them all Kate Bush also had a highly productive year releasing not one but two albums after a six year hiatus. Admittedly the first, The Directors Cut, was a rebooting of old tracks she felt the need to present in a sparser, stripped back less cluttered way but something must have re-ignited her muse to inspire her to enter the fray again. One to watch out for is a 22 year old American going by the name EMA who sounds like the strange yet logical marriage between Patti Smith and The Velvet Underground. The lead off track California opened with the typically irreverent line ‘Fuck California, you made me boring’ before crunching its way through a performance reaching primal peaks, hysterical emotional depths and levels of intensity which are anything but boring.

Sadly the person who brought the female singer back into fashion by affording it gravitas, Amy Winehouse, made her untimely exit from the stage this year so it is not all good news and if rumours surrounding Adele’s partying garner strength I hope the same downward spiral is not on the cards or her. Mind you she has always come across as grounded and strong as opposed to Winehouse’s fragile vulnerability so hopefully this will stand her in good stead. It is interesting to see so many women- in Harvey’s and Bush’s cases extremely mature women to boot- wrestling control what has been essentially a male dominated arena for too long. Most of their male counterparts this year have turned in blanded out pieces of predictable slop with little imagination. It would appear that in 2011 cock rock has gone a little limp. Mind it is not simply in the musical arena in which female of the species are outclassing the male as schools and many work environments now house some of the brightest and hardest working females who are shining in their own light. It would seem that after years of being sidelined they have come into theor own with a vengeance. Come on guys must do better in 2012.

With female singers very much in vogue it will be interesting to see if Amelia Lily wins X-Factor this week as Cowell’s eyes are always shifting towards the market the big money can be made from. Rumours about it being fixed for her to win have been rife in the press after her version of the winning single already went up for sale on the HMV website. A similar thing happened with the voting lines to re-instate her giving her an unfair advantage. At the moment none of the three finalists are deserving of a place in the final in my estimation as ranging from mediocre to average at best none have what the programme claims it sets out to find, the elusive X-Factor. To be honest I think the public is really beyond caring and it doesn’t really matter who wins as this is no guarantee of success just witness last years already soured and bitter winner, Milk Curdle, or the totally forgotten Joe McElderry-who made the mistake of coming out as gay not something Cowell knows how to market- from only 2009. If this years winner wants to be handed that poisoned chalice so desperately then all I can do is wish them luck. For the rest of us it means the weekend television schedules are no longer clogged up with this drivel but it is only a matter of weeks before Cowell returns with Britain’s Got Delusions or something.

Here is  a performance of PJ Harvey performing Let England Shake on the Andrew Marr show featuring a backing track of Constantinople with a non-plussed Gordon Brown in attendance only days before he lost the election which instigated the formation of a government which has plunged Britain into its most disruptive state for generations. Very appropriate.

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