Every music critic likes to imagine, even if only subconsciously, that their year-end wrap-up will have some neat tale or trend that encapsulates the year in a couple of easy paragraphs. Unfortunately, the nearest one I could find is that two of the year’s best albums both had ‘England’ in the title and wrote about the country from completely differing, yet equally telling angles; and not only is that a drastic over-simplification that ignores 96% of my yearly top 50, but writing about that on an American website is hardly all that user-friendly, is it? (And hell, it’s probably about as relevant as pointing out that another two of the year’s best were also recorded by women with the surname Roberts.) For a while, I though the fact that I couldn’t find an angle might be the angle, that I’d end up writing about how music had splintered so much that it would be impossible for a story-arc like 1967’s psychedelic revolution, 1977’s punk outbreak, 1991’s ‘year of grunge’, or 1995’s Britpop wars to ever happen again.
Then I looked at the music I’d listened to this year, and I suddenly realized what the real story was – this was a fucking great year for music. There was so much good going on this year that I feel like I’ll still be catching up with it in April; there’s at least a dozen acclaimed albums I’m sure I’d like that I simply haven’t got around to yet (hello,
It all started as a joke; a suggestion on Twitter that people should go out and send “Pow”, arguably grime’s premier posse cut (and certainly its most famous), to the top of the Christmas charts in the UK. Lethal Bizzle – the man who enjoyed top billing on the original track – couldn’t have predicted the reaction to his comment, but at least he was smart enough to harness its power and set about recording an updated version straight away.
Problem is, he rushed it.
“Pow 2011″ is still pretty good – P Money, Wiley, and Ghetts absolutely kill their verses – but it’s not hard to listen to it and think about how much better it could have been. Kano completely fluffs his bars (and takes 16 to everybody else’s 8 too), JME’s attempts at singing are just awkward, and Chipmunk brags about having written “Oopsy Daisy” – trust me son, that’s the kind of thing you should be letting people forget. Most worryingly, it just feels like, for the most part, everybody is trying to upstage all the other MCs on the track – Face, especially, taints his own verse by doing this, as do JME, Chipmunk, and Kano, and even Lethal B’s chorus, noticeably more aggressive than the original, just sounds like he’s trying to shout over the crowd. As if that wasn’t disappointing enough, it’s even been revealed that some MCs were denied a spot on the track because they took too…
Users that are younger and more American than me might not really get this, but for somebody who didn’t get an internet connection until they were 16 and immediately set about using forums populated almost entirely by people over 3,000 miles away from them, the culture shock was surreal. I remember going into college and discussing all the crazy things we’d found out about the world at large from using forums the night before; learning that Americans think Blur are a one-hit wonder, for instance, was little short of mindblowing. The one discovery that stuck with me more than any other, though, was that no other country in the world cared about their Christmas #1.
It never occurred to me how silly this is until I had to explain it to a bewildered Canadian, but silly or not it’s true – the Christmas number 1 single is an absolutely huge deal in the UK. Getting it is a badge of honour for the bands that did, to the point where it even gets occasionally mentioned among the other major achievements of The Beatles (in ‘63, ‘64, ‘65, and ‘67) and Pink Floyd (1979 with “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2″), and has become the most commonly accepted barometer of the popularity of the Spice Girls. For some, their solitary Christmas #1 is enough to keep them famous among the general public for years to come – you’d be surprised how many parents in the UK started reminiscing about…
It might be a reflection of me, or my friends, rather than the world at large, but the passing of Henryk Gorecki marked the first time since Michael Jackson that I found out about a musician’s death through a text message rather than the news. To me, it seems like that speaks volumes about how deeply people care about his music, how unerringly it connects with its audience. And this is to say nothing of the way one of his most famous and most cherished friends and compatriots reacted. As CBC reported, “[Krzysztof] Penderecki insisted on seeing him [in hospital]. We tried to joke, make plans for the future. Penderecki promised he would direct his Beatus Vir for his 80th birthday.” That birthday, like Penderecki’s own 80th, would have been in 2013. Something as simple, poignant, and sweet as that says everything. His death, like his music, was deeply human.
That is one thing that’s refreshing, almost, about Gorecki’s death. The last time I wrote an obituary for this blog, I was writing about a man that died very young and very suddenly. This time, I’m writing about a 76 year old man who had been ill for some time. There is no big story here, no coals to rake over, no skeletons in the closet to pause on – there is just a tribute to be paid to a great artist, and nothing more. We arguably haven’t had that since Stockhausen died, and even he did his…
Pele once said that an African nation would win the World Cup by 2000. He was laughed out of the room. Zinedine Zidane, on the other hand, once said that soon, Spain would start winning, and when they did, they wouldn’t stop. How unerringly right he was.
There was almost a sense of inevitability about Spain’s victory. They were clearly the most talented side in the competition, were on an absolute roll going into the finals, and have such an embarrassment of riches at their disposal that players as good as Fernando Torres, David Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Juan Manuel Mata, Jesus Navas, and Victor Valdes – all of them star players for their clubs – couldn’t get into the first eleven. And yet, any idea that this was somehow a disappointing finish to the tournament were ended instantly when the realisation that Spain had won sunk in. This is Spain, the biggest under-achiever in football. A country on the verge of political meltdown. A bunch of (mostly) immensely likeable footballers. And when Iniesta scored the winning goal and tore off his shirt to reveal a tribute to Dani Jarque, the Espanyol captain who died suddenly and unexpectedly earlier this year, it became clear that this wasn’t just fate, it was right. Enjoy it, Spain, and keep on enjoying it – it’s completely deserved.
Plenty of people assume that they are au fait with traditional Spanish music, but they may be surprised to learn exactly what…
Congratulations are in order, then – after a cracking game with Uruguay, Germany have finished third! And they completely deserve it, too.
As a direct follow-on from my little rant about the 2006 World Cup in yesterday’s blog, one of the things Italy’s success at that tournament proved is that you can win the competition without being the best team. Now, I’m not saying that’s the case in 2010 (Spain, of course, beat Germany when it really matters) but after their simply sublime 4-1 and 4-0 maulings of two of the pre-tournament favourites, Germany could certainly make a very, very strong case for having been the best team here. Certainly they’ve been the best to watch, with their extreme youth (experienced old head Bastian Schweinsteiger is only 26) adding a great dollop of fizz and adventure to their finely-tuned, well organized, hard-working tactics. Indeed, a full set of World Cup Oscars would almost certainly favour Germany more than anybody – Joachin Loew for best manager and best dressed, Phillip Lahm for best eyebrows, Hans-Jorge Butt for most childishly amusing surname (shared with Waldo Ponce), Thomas Mueller for best young player, and Mezut Ozil for both biggest revelation and greatest lookalike. Honestly, just look at the range of things this man looks like.
I spent far too long working on that.
Where to start with German music, then? How do you even begin to approach such a vast, famous, dominant entity? How do you narrow down a possible…
If you’ve been paying attention to this blog (and if you haven’t, I forgive you), you’ll have noticed that the three teams yet to appear include one team in Sunday’s final, and one team who’ve made tomorrow’s third-placed playoff. So far, so good, but the third team haven’t been a part of the World Cup since the 24th of June, when they unceremoniously dumped out of the competition by Slovakia, having failed to win a single game or keep a single clean sheet (how shameful for the country that invented pragmatic, ultra-defensive football!). And yet, they are (for the next two days, at least) the reigning champions of the world.
Truthfully, the campaigns of 2006 and 2010 weren’t that far apart for Italy, at least from the eyes of the neutral. They didn’t thrill here, and didn’t have any star stand-outs, but then, they didn’t in 2006 either – in fact, their victory in that dull, dull final was a crushing blow to anybody that appreciates attractive attacking football (especially coming after Greece’s similarly bloody-minded win in Euro 2004). And yet they won. Of course they won – it is the Italian way. They are a country that historically comes out on top – the Roman Empire, Catholicism, the Renaissance, numerous examples in football – to the point where failure isn’t really considered as an eventuality until it’s already happened. Music is no different; it’s just another field where Italy have consistently been world leaders.
It’s something that will probably be lost to time and forgotten about entirely, but one of the most disappointing things about this World Cup is that so many African stars, given the first chance to represent their nations in their own continent on the world’s biggest stage, never got the opportunity. Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o can count himself very lucky that he made it to the tournament fully fit, because it seems like he was the only one – Michael Essein and John Obi Mikel both missed out entirely through injury, Benni McCarthy wasn’t even picked to play, Sully Muntari seemed to be out of favour with his manager, and Dider Drogba – the man Ivory Coast’s hopes rested on, broke his arm. He eventually played a part in every game of their campaign while wearing a cast, but he was off the pace and understandably shirked a few challenges; it – along with Luis Suarez’s Hand of God II: Electric Boogaloo – was the most immediate symbol of the rotten luck Africa had throughout. Many felt that Ivory Coast would qualify from their group with relative ease, so uninspiring were rivals Portugal in qualifying for the tournament, but Drogba’s arm, and the subsequent loss of momentum it brought (and North Korea’s incompetence against Portugal, in fairness), stopped them from getting the results they needed. Drogba – a hero right across Africa – should have been one of the tournament’s stars. Instead, he barely got out of first gear. Côte d’Ivoire’s…
And so Uruguay are vanquished, and Europe come to dominate; it’s a Holland vs. Spain final, and Jules Rimet is promised a European home for another four years. That’s not how it looked three weeks ago though, or even two weeks ago, when England bumbled, Portugal stumbled, Italy crumbled, and France…..well. What to say about France?
I’m not one for hyperbole, but – with respectful nods to Andrés Escobar – I don’t think any team in the history of the tournament has ever had a worse world cup campaign than France have this year. Coached by a mental invalid, who dumped their greatest player to the bench and didn’t even pick two of their most gifted for the squad, they staggered through an excruciatingly dull opening match with Uruguay before being thoroughly tanked by both Mexico and South Africa – and in the midst of all this, the whole team went on strike after the centre-forward leading their line was sent home for being smart enough to realise his manager was a cock. The whole scenario was among the most embarrassing and shameful things ever witnessed in international football, and it was enough to ensure that not a single member of the French team emerged from the tournament with credit (except, maybe, the ones that didn’t play). As such, I wonder whether any of them deserve a picture here. So here’s a memory of happier times.
Of course, nowadays, this man is just a disgrace to everybody in football.
As Holland take to the field tonight against Uruguay, Brazilian could be forgiven for looking on with just a little anger and disappointment. Holland deserve a great deal of credit for the way they pressured Brazil and made them crumble towards the end of their quarter-final match, but the reality is that in the first half, Brazil could have had that game wrapped up. And, as Dunga’s recent sacking shows, losing in the quarter-finals simply isn’t good enough for a team of their standing. Not when a semi-final beckons against a now-gloating neighbouring country that their fans probably would have seen as an easy scalp. Not when their footballing principals had, in the eyes of their media, been abandoned. Not when a star like Ronaldinho had been left at home. Not when Miroslav Klose is so close to breaking Ronaldo’s all-time record for World Cup goals. And not when everybody appears to have caught yellow foot disease.
Maybe it’s patriotic, I guess?
Luckily for me, this blog post is an easy one to write – in terms of countries that don’t speak English, Brazil is bettered only by Germany when it comes to how well documented their music is, certainly when popular music is brought into the equation. Most of that writing revolves around tropicalia, a genre that ran concurrent with psychedelia and shared many of its ideas and ideals, but put them in a decidedly, unmistakably Brazilian context. There’s no shortage of major acts in the genre, with…
As we wait with biated breath for the semi-finals of the World Cup, here’s an absolutely cracking stat for you – if either Germany or Spain go on to win the tournament (which, with no offence intended to Nagrarok, they probably will), then the only team in the entire tournament to be unbeaten will be New Zealand. Fancy that. Switzerland – already covered way back in part 7, were Spain’s conquerors in the first game, but Serbia, the only team to beat Germany, have remained untouched until now. Let’s change that.
I’m not gonna lie – I just really like this picture.
The thing I find most immediately fascinating about Serbian music throughout the ages is the unique fascination with epic poetry – it’s certainly not the part of the world you would first think of when epic poetry comes to mind (Greece wins out there, of course), but where the Greeks kept their words and their music generally separate, Balkan culture, and particularly that of the Serbs, has sought to integrate the two. As a result, it’s now as much a musical genre as a literary one. This piece of music is based on the poem “The Building of Skadar”, a religious text of unknown authorship, and a traditional Serbian folk melody.
Unfortunately, not all Serbian music is as high-minded and moving. Some people react to major world events by trying to reflect the devastation in their own art, while some ramp up the feel-good…
You know, something has only just occurred to me. After the respective falls of France, Italy, and England, there was plenty of talk on football websites about the dominance of South America at this tournament, with their representatives in the quarter finals totalling half the draw. And yet, the tables have turned dramatically – European teams have put an end to Brazil and Argentina’s hope in emphatic style, while an admittedly impressive Paraguay couldn’t do enough to take Spain out and the continent’s lone remaining team, Uruguay, needed the Hand of God II to even have the chance to beat Ghana on penalties.
And to think, back when Mexico and Uruguay qualified from Group A at the expense of 2006’s beaten finalists France, it all looked so rosy. It was only a spot of continental in-fighting with Argentina that stopped Mexico’s impressive run – one so incredible that it even managed to make Giovani dos Santos look like a professional footballer.
In case you’d forgotten that he played for Ipswich, here’s proof.
Since they border America, you would expect that plenty of Mexican acts have found favour there – intriguingly, that’s not the case, as most of the acts that have crossed the border from the Mexican charts to the American ones have been from elsewhere in South America, be that Columbia (Shakira), Spain (Julio Iglesias), or Puerto Rico (Ricky Martin). The one clear and obvious exception to that is Carlos Santana, the man behind one of the biggest…
When England were pummelled into submission by Germany, there can’t have been much consoling the players or the more dedicated fans. If somebody had told them, however, that the team that had just humiliated them would go on to inflict an even bigger and more spectacular dicking all over their bitterest rivals, it might have made things easier. Thanks, Germany. You’ve done us all a favour. The only sad thing is that now we have to bid everyone’s favourite fatso Diego Maradona goodbye, presumably with a big sloppy kiss, a bear hug, and a smack on the arse.
I’m not joking. He even kissed Carlos Tevez.
A picture with so much grease it should carry a health warning.
Neuva cancion was already covered in Chile’s entry, with the music of Victor Jara, but Argentina also embraced the genre and contributed to it heavily – and no wonder, with the sheer volume of political upheaval the country suffered during the 1970s. He’s not quite the star that Victor Jara is, but Atahualpa Yupanqui is Argentina’s most important figure in the movement – he was too early to really be a part of the political activism that surrounded the music, but he was frequently covered by acts at the heart of it (including, on the rare occasion, Chilean ones) and in Argentina, he came to take on a Godfather-style role. He was even given the nickname Don Ata. As the key link between the country’s folk tradition and its first…
God, did anybody else feel seriously bored these past two days? We’ve been spoiled this summer; somehow it just didn’t feel right not having any football on, even with Wimbledon to keep my thirst for sport going (even if there are literally two people willing to talk about tennis at my workplace, and one of them is me). We’re back today, though, with a potential classic in the shape of Holland against Brazil. It’s easy to have mixed feelings on a match like this when it happens at the quarter final stage – it’s brilliant for the neutral fan and for the world cup itself that a team as unfancied as Ghana or Uruguay (or perhaps even Paraguay) will make the semi finals, but at the same time, it seems wrong that we will be kissing goodbye to one of these teams so early. Perhaps it’s for the best that Holland go out now, though – I mean, could you imagine a team lifting the World Cup when their star player looks so much like Screech from Saved by the Bell?
C’mon, are you seriously gonna tell me you can’t see it?
Dutch folk music distinguishes itself from that of the countries around it almost purely by virtue of tempo – to be blunt, it’s faster – although the more simple rhythms and grounded melodic patterns are also a giveaway sign. Much of it is built around dancing, which goes a way to explaining why…
Okay, so maybe I was a little harsh on Honduras when I described them as the nondescript country in the World Cup. It was true, sure, but it was harsh. There are, after all, no small number of European countries with diminutive personalities taking part, and unfortunately, today I have to turn to one that haven’t played a game in the tournament in a week, since they were beaten comprehensively by Japan. I, of course, decided to write about them at the time, since I expected Denmark to progress. D’oh. Why, I’ve almost made as big an idiot of myself as this prick!
One of these men plays for Denmark. It’s not the sober one.
Denmark’s music scene is arguably the most notable thing about it right now, as it happens. You might be shocked to realize how many Danish acts you know – Aqua, The Ravonettes, the shit one out of Metallica, Mercyful Fate, and Junior Senior are just five you should all have heard of, and that’s before you get to Mew. Truthfully, I was determined NOT to post anything by Jonas Bjerre’s rag-tag mob of foppish art students, simply because they’re so big within the Sputnik community, but I’ve reneged for one reason; I’ve realized that their best song, which dated way back from 1997, will have been missed by a big chunk of the fans who found them via Frengers and And the Glass Handed Kites. So for those people….here it is.