My ten albums of the decade:

Thing is, I don’t take music all that seriously. I like what I like, and screw everyone else. But holy mother of God, this list in the Times (London) has me reeling. Kid A as the album of the decade? KID FUCKING A? I couldn’t give that piece of shit away once I realised I hated it. OK Computer was a good album, sure. But this pile of wank I couldn’t get past a second listening of.

So, here are the ten little masterpieces that gave me aural heaven in the last ten years:

10. Gold – Ryan Adams (2001)

This isn’t even a favourite amongst Ryan’s fans but I find it far less heavy than ‘Heartbreaker’ in the good way. ‘Goodnight, Hollywood Boulevard’ remains one of his best songs for me, along with ‘Somewhere, Somehow’ which is the kind of song you wish your lover sang about you. (Pity Kaite, I just make up dirty limericks about her…). Not to mention that there’s a non-nauseating anthem to New York and a gorgeous breakup song in the form of ‘Harder Now That It’s Over.’

9. Wicked Little High – Bird York (2006)

What can I say? I love her voice and her hair. This is a sort of ‘best of’ in a way, a more marketable smushing up of earlier stuff with the new (and yes, including that song from Crash/House/everything that was nominated for an Oscar!). ‘Save Me’ breaks my heart, and it’s proof of that rarest of things in songwriting – a fresh perspective. The title track is a perfect deconstruction of why we’re all such a mess in relationships, and sums up perfectly all those people you should have known better about.8. American Demo – The Indelicates (2008)

God, I love smart music. The lyrics are playful, intelligent, cruel and incisive. Exquisite dissections of history and pop culture (‘Unity Mitford’, ‘If Jeff Buckley Had Lived’). Compulsively catchy tunes, unique voices and a hundred moments of thinking “if I wrote songs, I’d want them to turn out like this”. It’s like a less whiny version of The Smiths for my generation.

7. The Stage Names – Okkervil River (2007)

I’m a fairly recent convert to this band, but my GOD, I like their songs. They have just enough of the ‘whiny boys with guitars’ flavour, but some seriously punchy basslines to go with it. As an album, this showcases about the best of them – their reworking of an old folk song (‘John Allyn Smith Sails’) will have you on your feet punching the air and singing along. I love the movie theme that runs through the songs – ‘Plus Ones’ kills me with its reference to Paul Simon and ‘the 51st way to leave your lover’. What else can I say? I love a man who knows when to wail.6. The Green World – Dar Williams (2000)

I feel like this album is a perfect riposte to anyone who whines about female singer-songwriters. This is life and poetry and fun, folk meets pop and rock without losing anything along the way. The songs that focus on family or childhood (‘After All’, ‘We Learned the Sea’) have a pleasing innocence to them, while ‘Another Mystery’ and ‘I Won’t Be Your Yoko Ono’ make me really happy about being a girl. Thoroughly, indisputably awesome. Her lyrics snap, crackle AND pop.

5. More Adventurous – Rilo Kiley (2004)

Choosing a favourite album from Rilo Kiley wasn’t easy, since there are two or three of my all-time favourite songs on each one. But ‘Portions for Foxes’ remains my ultimate ‘get up and kick ass’ song, so that swayed the balance in the end. There’s satire in the form of ‘It’s A Hit’ and a scathing look at love and affairs in ‘Does He Love You?’. It’s got everything from mellow and dramatic strings to synth-pop and good old fashioned guitar thrashing. Perfection.4. A Brighter Beat – Malcolm Middleton (2007)

My second favourite love song of all time is ‘Fuck It, I Love You’… and they say romance is dead? Not only that, but this witty, depressing yet upbeat little collection is also home to the best anti-Christmas video ever in the form of ‘We’re All Going To Die’. It’s nothing if not brutally honest. I was never a fan of Arab Strap in any meaningful way, but I love Malcolm’s solo stuff. Oh, and ‘Superhero Songwriters’ would get an honourable mention for the title alone, but the song isn’t bad either.

3. The Photo Album – Death Cab For Cutie (2001)

For eighteen months after I first discovered it, this was the only Death Cab album I had. That’s because it was the only one I needed. ‘Styrofoam Plates’ is a vitriolic rant against the hypocrisy of deadbeat dad that makes me feel like I’ve been punched in the gut every time I hear it, with the kind of zinging guitar solo for a bridge that makes you need a lie down afterwards. ‘Why’d You Want To Live Here’ is a love/hate letter to LA, but in a lot of ways it could be about any big city and the overcharged fools who live there. ‘Information Travels Faster’ remains has some of my favourite lyrics and is one of the few tracks I never, ever skip when it comes up on shuffle.

2. Lost In Space – Aimee Mann (2002)

My first brush with a ‘concept album’ and I was hooked from the first few lines of ‘Humpty Dumpty’. Jo originally got me into Aimee with snippets of ‘Bachelor no 2′, but with time this has become my favourite of Aimee’s albums. It’s about drugs and the lies and deceptions that come along with addiction, the miscommunications and false hopes that they provide. ‘Invisible Ink’ is epically fantastic, I can’t even put into words how much I love that song. It’s all a tad mellow and maudlin, but that’s how I like my music a lot of the time, okay? ‘Real Bad News’ and ‘Today’s The Day’ are other contenders for best song, but with the pure emotional connection I have to Invisible Ink, nothing can touch it.

1. Tallahassee – The Mountain Goats (2002)

I suppose it’s not exactly shocking that my favourite album of the last ten years is the one that contains my all-time favourite song. But this is about so much more than the ‘screw you love ballad’ that is ‘No Children’. You might not think there’s much that’s uplifting in an album about the world’s most dysfunctional couple (“The Alpha Couple”) who are determined to drink themselves to death while taking lumps out of each other, but somehow there is. Mixed in with all their hate is the love they had for each other in the first place, and that old familiar feeling of ‘oh we’d have been fine if life hadn’t gotten in the way’.
It’s about a relationship, essentially, in all its fucked up glory. Some of the best lyrics ever penned are on here, set to simple acoustics or a simple guitar/drum combo.

Our conversations are like minefields, no-one’s found a safe way through one yet” //

In this house like a Louisiana graveyard, where nothing stays buried” //

“People say friends don’t destroy one another, what do they know about friends?” //

“Someone’s going to do something someone else will regret, I speak in smoke signals and you answer in code” //

“I want to say I’m sorry for stuff I haven’t done yet, things will shortly get completely out of hand.”

 

As with so many things, John Darnielle’s lyrics say more for the album than I ever could.

“The rhetoric and treason of saying that I’ll miss you”

Why I Don’t Write About Music, Or At Least Why I Haven’t Until Now.

Well, for a start, I’m not going to compete with entries like this.  I mean, I’m not completely insane.

So yeah, I suppose it’s rooted in an inferiority complex, which is frankly ridiculous.  I don’t feel like an ‘expert’, I don’t live and die by the releases of my favourite bands, and my attitude to music in general is a sort of like a kid at a giant pick ‘n’ mix: I rarely listen to whole albums; there are only a couple of artists I’ve bothered to collect the whole discography for; and I go through phases in such a rapid cycle that even I don’t know what I’m in the mood for half the time.

Which means I’ve built up this weird mental block when it comes to writing about the music (and films, and sometimes books) that have influenced me.  I don’t feel qualified to talk about them most of the time, and though I know the few people who do read me aren’t internet trolls, I have an irrational fear that I’ll be somehow torn to shreds for ill-informed wittering.  Which is ludicrous, because isn’t that basically the foundation of blogging?

The problem with WestEndBitch is that it’s neither one thing or another.  The name is rooted in my love of theatre, a love I rarely indulge anymore.  I still prefer the secure enclave of Livejournal, and find the 140 character banality of Twitter an easy way to keep up with everyone important.  I think for me to use this place more (or at all) I need to stop putting things off-limits, which isn’t a problem so long as I remember to write responsibly.  So yes, this can be a dumping ground for ramblings about the songs I can’t live without, the realities of life on the Tube (when I’m actually driving the damn things again) and most likely a lot of ranting about football, since it’s the overarching love of my life.

Self-censorship is pointless, and I didn’t even realise I was doing it until I tried to find a topic and finally saw how hemmed in I’ve become.  So it’s time for another revolution in the land of Lola.  I can always be insecure and productive at the same time.

“meat is murder”

Good news from PETA – seal-hunting season has come to a close, and while sadly some poor animals were still brutally slaughtered, 3/4 of the seals intended to be killed were actually spared.

That’s a fantastic improvement, but still not quite enough.  Thanks to the EU and the US banning seal products, the demand has fallen dramatically.  Sometimes the most effective way to effect change is by hitting these people where it hurts – in the pocket.

I really can’t bear animal cruelty, and it makes me annoyed at my own prevarication on committing to being a veggie.  I only buy free range meat products now, but it’s still not enough.  The fact that my little freezer is jam-packed with Quorn is a step in the right direction, but still not quite enough.

For health reasons, for my own moral reasons, I really think I have to do this once and for all.  Goodbye, meat.  The sweet hangover cure of a bacon sandwich isn’t worth this guilt.

“There are no tears, just pity and fear”

What the hell, South Africa?

Seriously, can somebody please give me a positive association for this country?  If it’s not car-jackings in Jo’burg, it’s growing up amidst the global embargoes in place because of apartheid.  Not to mention what the accent does to my brain – it really is like tinfoil on a filling sometimes.

Is patriarchal society really an excuse for 1 in 4 men committing rape?  We’re not talking about in the midst of civil war either (and I don’t think rape as a weapon is ever, ever excusable. But hey, it’s cheaper than bullets, right?)

It’s rare in this over-exposed, media-junkie life of mine that a news item can make me feel sick to the stomach.  This managed it from the headline and it only got worse.  I struggle with the blanket ideologies of feminism, but one thing I really feel we still have to fight for is better and more effective prosecution of rape.

I’m lucky to have the life that I do, working in a ‘man’s job’ with nary a comment being passed.  I honestly thought equality was within our grasp and in so many ways it could be.

As long as men can inflict this on women, we’ll never be equal.  That’s as wrong as it is terrifying, and I never thought I’d be in a place to admit that.

“what’s new pussycat is you were once a lioness”

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Now playing: Rilo Kiley – The Angels Hung Around
via FoxyTunes

I understand cause and effect just fine thank you.  I will cause your shredded paper to fly around the room and the
only effect will be you standing around going “awwwwww”.


When will scientists ever learn? There is no point doing psychological testing on cats because they are smarter than humans, never mind dogs.  Why on earth would they bother choosing between two pieces of string when they know that by simply looking cute they’ll get whatever is attached to it eventually anyway.

There is no disdain like the haughty disdain of your average pet cat.  This psychologist was just on the receiving end of 15 doses of it.  (The cat who got everything wrong was clearly a close relation to my beloved Orlando)

“The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks”

“The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks”

It’s a gorgeous sentiment, from a beautiful and talented actress.

It almost feels like the tide might be turning, like those ridiculous hate-filled arguments against gay marriage are finally being exposed for the small-minded poppycock that they are.

I count my blessings, not often enough, that here in the UK Civil Partnerships became a fact of life with little more than a few placards at Parliament and some snippy opinion columns from the same people who hate anyone who isn’t straight, white and morbidly dull just like them.

We managed that, and the hippy-dippy state of California was thwarted by the rich, white old people in Orange County (and their ilk) and uh, the Mormons.

But it’s going to be okay, because you’ve got Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine already on board. As Mark Morford notes in this article, the tide of ‘what’s the big deal?’ is getting bigger and will eventually sweep aside the bigotry and disgusting intolerance of the past.

If, as Patricia says, this truly is the age of Obama, it would be nice to see his administration spending less time defending DOMA and more time actually implementing that change we’re supposed to believe in.

“I’m a woman and proud of it..”

If I haven’t mentioned it before, let me say it now… I love the Donmar. Not just because of its original and often groundbreaking productions, but the vibe of the place itself. It’s like watching a play in a classier, upscale version of your primary school gym hall.

Some of the biggest names in theatre, film or television will perform in a setting so intimate you can see the cracks in their greasepaint and the sweatmarks on their dresses. A few months ago I saw a fantastically raw production of Piaf with Elena Roger and this Saturday gone it was Gillian Anderson’s turn to wow me.

Happily, my original TV girlfriend did not disappoint.  One thing we remarked on at the interval is that although she’ll forever be known for the X-Files, as the attendant there-but-for-the-Grace-of-God Society proved, she has the poise and discipline of a quite marvellous stage actress.  I’ve always thought the best performances I’ve seen have been like watching someone try to cross a canyon on a tightrope: they weave hapharzardly from charming to irritating, never falling into one or the other, always keeping you enthralled.

Nora isn’t perhaps the most likeable character in literature, but she is sympathetic.  You root for her to save her marriage in one moment, the next you’re cheering her sad but clinical decision to end it.  Like the great heroines, she is as strong as she is weak, locked in a continual battle between what she is, what she was, and what she ought to be.  When the entire theatre is hanging on your every word, you must be doing something right, so brava Ms Anderson.

The rest of the cast was actually quite enticing from the programme – Christopher Eccleston being the only thing I’ve ever liked about Doctor Who, Toby Stephens a magnificent actor who used to rehearse his sword-fighting in leather trousers every night when I worked Front of House at the Haymarket.  While the former disappointed with his shouty acting and awkward stage presence, the son of Maggie Smith did the family dynasty proud.  At the play’s dénouement, I felt compelled to look away from his raw tears, but only because they were so painful that they were too close to real.  It takes a lot to make me do that, and his turn as the favour-seeking politician was the perfect counterpoint to Nora’s moral journey from start to finish.

The supporting cast were capable, and even the child actors managed to stay on the right side of grating.  A restrained but beautiful production, and thankfully, the perfect birthday present.

A Doll’s House plays at the Donmar Warehouse, London until Juy 18th

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Now playing: Aimee Mann – Nothing is Good Enough
via FoxyTunes