Part 3 of 5 – Ahoy, let’s go!
15. ONE DIRECTION “Take Me Home”
Amongst the toothbrush and toothpaste lines, the pillows and bed-spreads, the live-action dolls and all of those gay rumours, sits a sophomore album by a boyband that is at least 20% better than their debut.
“Take Me Home” is a busy record of seventeen tracks; if there were maybe six or seven less songs on here, we’d probably be dealing with a better album and a higher entry. To stay in line with the billions of screaming teenage girls (and teenage gays) following their every move and fantasing about them by their bedside of an evening, songs like “Last First Kiss” – the kind of song that makes Girls Aloud’s “Beautiful Cause You Love Me” sound like a song about murder and rape by Metallica – “Summer Love” and the so-generic even Rita Ora would cringe “Still The One” (which is the only of the four bonus tracks that belong as such) play along as boring, generic filler amongst some of the best pop tracks written in 2012. Even the faster-paced but legitimately boring Katy Perry co-write (and, presumably, a song she wanted nothing to do with) “Rock Me” – whose intro sounds like it was ripped right off of Katy’s “E.T.” song-sheet – plays out like an evening with a dud lover. “I Would”, the McFly penned song on the album, shines predominantly as the records absolute highlight and lends to the idea that, for album number three, there should be a LOT more Danny Jones/Tom Fletcher writing action rather than that of Ed Sheeran or Rami Yacoub. From the material on this record and the way One Direction sing together, it seems like a no-brainer that McFly as a writing team know exactly what One Direction should be singing about and what they should sound like. It’s a right pity they only get the one song on Take Me Home; a handful more could have propelled this record into the higher end of the Top 10, rather than sitting just inside the Top 20. Then there’s the singles “Live While We’re Young” and ballad “Little Things”, the latter which is probably their best ballad to date, but that’s not really saying that much now is it?
Take Me Home is a – mostly – great record with a few off-colour moments. Album number #2 seems like a bridge between the generic boyband pop from their first LP (“Live While We’re Young” is great but could have easily come from that debut) and a slightly older, fresher sound – the kind, for example, McFly have given them. I honestly think One Direction have a truly amazing and flaw-free album ahead of them in the future – and although Take Me Home remains amazing, there are flaws to be found throughout it; flaws we could have avoided if management had thought a little harder about where they’d be sourcing sounds. A boyband like this aren’t necessarily expected to take any risks but I honestly think that’s what a lot of us were hoping would happen for Album #2 and it just didn’t. Good enough to land the band this high on the countdown (last year they barely scrapped the Top 20) but still not quite Perfect.
14. TAME IMPALA “Lonerism”
Sometimes it’s hard to stay away from the hype, particularly when it lives up to its acclaim. Tame Impala’s beginnings were a lot humbler than they are now – gone are the days of their early interviews, where the band sat as a group of teenagers who’d been thrust into the limelight with little-to-no media training. Their debut album Innerspeaker lit the world alight, but it wasn’t until the arrival of Lonerism in 2012, a bizarre trip into psychedelic rock and pop that solidified them as the world’s latest Modular Records darlings.
Talking about the creation of the album, lead vocalist and producer Kevin Parker says “I surrendered to temptation and desire to make an album that is really fucked up. But I also have a desire to sound like Britney Spears, I love pop music and bad plastics. On the one hand this album is weird and fucked up, but on the other hand it’s very pop.” And it’s this, perhaps, that makes Lonerism all the more interesting. The production is weird and fucked up, and it’s as close to ‘Britney Spears’ as the band have ever been but that said, Tame Impala are still a rock band, and it shows through most of Lonerism. It’s exciting to think that a band with the reputation they have amongst “real music listeners” has gone into the creation of a record thinking about Britney Spears.
Naturally the commercial viability of Tame Impala is stronger than ever on Lonerism too, even if the construction of songs in this collection are as far away from your standard pop song as possible. Synths and chords in the verses play out like choruses, whilst choruses sound like they could be verses; it’s almost as if Tame Impala have niched themselves as the indie-world’s answer to Xenomania. And whether intentionally or not, Parker sounds more like John Lennon than he ever has before (see album highlight “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”, which sounds exactly like what The Beatles would sound like were they still recording in 2012 and using modern technology to do so,) adding perhaps a little bit more to the ‘plastic’ sheen Parker sought in creating the record.
But it’s the immediate connection and playability of first single “Elephant” – one of the songs of the year that borrows more from 1970’s Glam Rock than it does psychedelic rock from the 50’s and 60’s and is exactly where the band’s future lies. The incredible synths, the bizarre construction (where is the chorus?! Is that the chorus?! Or is that the verse?! WHAT’S GOING ON) and the sleek production – those bad plastics coming into effect, perhaps – it’s hard not to listen to Lonerism and find yourself sucked in by all of the magic.
13. GARBAGE “Not Your Kind of People”
It’s been seven years since the last Garbage record, 2005′s mainly great Bleed Like Me, and a lot has changed in the rock landscape since Shirley Manson and the Boys were filling up radio playlists and knocking out chart-topping hits. For starters, there aren’t many Women who Rock quite like the likes of Shirley. Women like Shirley Manson, Kathleen Hanna and even Courtney Love do not necessarily exist on radio playlists anymore, but Garbage’s wireless-ready return is a triumphant landmark in the bands always enthralling back catalogue.
The albums first singles “Battle In Me” and “Blood for Poppies” are a mild-glimpse into the gems across the record, but it seems a little baffling that its best song was offloaded as a free promotional internet download. The most exciting of all the songs on on Not Your Kind of People is the long player’s opener, the magnetic “Automatic Systematic Habit.” A thumper of a production that fuses all of the bands favourite sounds; it’s complete rock with this throbbing synth that glides through like a jackhammer come the chorus. One of the most forward-thinking moments to come from the band since their sophomore record and what appears to be a hugely wasted opportunity. The next single, “Big Bright World”, marks track two on the album and coincidentally is also People’s second best moment. Starting off as a ballad complete with a glittery shower-of-synths, the song then explodes into yet another radio-ready pop-rock moment. The final 35 seconds are classic Garbage too. The big ballads that follow are the tender “Beloved Freak” (spot the amazing use of another song in this tracks final 45 seconds – truly magical) and “Sugar”, the latter in which Manson declares with a seductive whisper “I don’t need much on my plate just give me Sugar.” The former is more arms-aloft-with-a-lighter rather than arms-down-the-pantaloons, but both make for gorgeous ballads nonetheless. Even the record’s bonus tracks works as killer, not filler, particularly “The One” which could very well have not only been a major album track but possibly even a single.
All up Garbage offer us a 15-track-record that somehow manages to supply (very nearly almost) non stop goods from beginning to end. Not bad for a band going 18 years strong.
12. THE PRESETS “Pacifica”
The Presets have long been a necessary staple in most of our CD racks. There was certainly mild success beforehand, but things reached a fever-pitch in 2008 when the boys released the confronting Apocalypso. One of the greatest albums of its year, the record spawned a mass of singles that commercial radio ate up. Hearing a song originally written about detention centres that has now become a pseudo teen-rebellion/Gen Y anthem on the radio was about 500 shades of brilliant, but perhaps not so much as the gender-bending radio hits “This Boy’s in Love” and “If I Know You”, which were an incredibly welcome surprise on Australian radios. So – album number three. It’s been four years since the whirlwind truly began with the release of their last LP and the anticipation for the arrival of this one has been global. So have Kim and Julian mastered yet another album of legendary proportions and, more importantly, is Pacifica as good as its predecessor? Well, it may be a little too early to tell as they are two very different records, but it’s definitely up there, perhaps on equal par.
Hear Julian channel Chris Isaac on the eerily beautiful “It’s Cool”, or the stadium-trance of album highlight “Fall” which plays out like “This Boys’ In Love” version 2.0. But the most interesting moment on Pacifica is the bizarre “A.O.”, where you’ll hear Julian singing about the “concrete crime” and corrupt nature of the city of Sydney. A massive Paul Kalkbrenner moment; very minimal but with this demonic thud of a beat. And just when you think you’ve probably heard the best song on the album, “Fast Seconds” comes along and rips your brain, ears and soul apart. Confrontingly hard techno that seeps its way into the pineal gland. Even The Carpenter’s get a nod on Pacifica’s album closer “Fail Epic”, which sounds like it’s been heavily influenced by “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft”, which is really not a bad place to take an album closer at all now is it?
Whether or not the record is actually better than its predecessor Apocalypso is almost irrelevant. Here we have two incredibly talented Australian-bred men who have grown a considerably amount in the last four years between records. There is almost a polar opposite in some cases not only lyrically but vocally to what is happening on Pacifica and what happened on Apocalypso. Just as Beams, their debut, delivered this exciting band of promise with twisted pop music that was almost on the insanity levels of Walt Disney’s Fantasia, they’ve once more continued with that similar mentalist fairy-tale soundtrack. Except their ones just happen to often come with a four-by-four beat. And you know what the best thing about the whole album is? It’s only 10 tracks long; the perfect length for a record. All killer, no filler.
11. RICKI-LEE “Fear & Freedom”
Ricki-Lee really didn’t get enough credit across the blogging world for this absolute pearl of an album. The first stroke of genius was making the record no longer than 10 tracks in length; some of the most perfect albums of all time house between 9 and 12 tracks in total and that is generally the first key to ensure your record is all killer, no filler. With her third foray into the album world, Fear & Freedom, Ricki-Lee has birthed one of the most honest, refreshing and enjoyable pop records of the year. Everything from the track-length to the pristine production spread across these ten tracks; this is exactly how a pop star in her element should sound.
This is also the very first time we’ve heard Ricki-Lee sound so assured, this confident and this frank on record as well. First single “Raining Diamonds” is as much of a revelation and immediate classic now as it was in 2011 when first released, and bonza-brilliant club-romper “Crazy” may just be the greatest high-octane moment on here – see also “World Disappears” for Ricki-Lee channelling her very big 1990′s dance-floor moment, which comes complete with a middle-8 ripped right out of the Alex Party handbook.
The exciting thing about this glorious album is that each track stands alone as a massive moment in the career of Ricki-Lee, a career highlight among an album full of career highlights.