Most disappointing and worst music of 2008.
When CD sales are dropping off a cliff, you would expect that one of the corners of the market that record companies would be going out of their way to cater for would be the obsessive fan, the type that buys remasters and expanded reissues. When Rhino announced that New Order's five 1980s albums were to be given just that treatment, as Joy Division had been last year, those self-same fans presumed that all the stops would be pulled out, and the tracklists suggested that they had. The horrible revelation only occurred once those suckers actually purchased them: far from going back to the original masters, a good number of the tracks on the bonus discs had been sourced from vinyl, and not pristine mint vinyl, but vinyl which had decidedly seen better days. Although for the most part the albums themselves had been properly re-authored, the bonus discs were littered with errors, with some online posts suggesting that in total the set had over 300. Faced with those they had aimed to please raging at the lack of effort, Rhino has said that the reissues will be, err, reissued in 2009. How the replacements will be sent out has however still yet to be explained, and considering that your humble narrator bought some of them from Zavvi, some will doubtless have to buy them all over again. It does almost make you understand why some record companies deserve to go under.
The Courteeners - St. Jude
When the Guardian had the audacity to only award the Courteeners' debut album one star, with the reviewer Maddy Costa suggesting that singer Liam Fray's lyrics were misogynistic and that he came across as "sneering, arrogant and aggressive", Fray became the first badly reviewed personality to take to the paper's response column to right the wrong. While Costa got the wrong end of the stick over "If it Wasn't for Me", which is clearly about a male friend who only hangs around Fray to get the "average girl with bad teeth", she wasn't far wrong in her other analysis. Fray doesn't just come across as sneering, arrogant and aggressive, he also seems to be self-obsessed and, like all the best artists, to hate his own fans. The songs which aren't about him, his band and his mates are about the other damaged individuals surrounding him who he also seems to loathe. Hence "Kimberley", in which he hopes "Cocaine Kim" is treated nicely for the two remaining days she has to live.
Fray isn't to blame, incidentally, he's just hopefully one of the last sufferers of "Libertines" disease, which infects those who think they can write lyrics while playing rudimentary music which otherwise would get them absolutely nowhere. Good can come from "Libertines" disease: see the Arctic Monkeys' last album, having got self-obsession, clubbing and pubbing out of their systems with their first, as well as the misogyny of "Still Take You Home". Fray however can't even begin to hold a candle to the Monkeys' worst lyric, and neither Pete Doherty or Carl Barat at their worst had the arrogance to tell a fan out of their head to get their "hand off of my trouser leg" as Fray does on Cavorting, a whole song dedicated to him sneering at the drug-addled that had to get themselves in such a state in order to enjoy his band's show. Probably as a result of the band's outraged fan base, all two of them voted repeatedly and succeeded in winning the Grauniad's inaugural "First Album" award, even when 50% of the votes were with the paper's critics. Nothing quite like consistency, is there?
The Ting Tings - That's Not My Name
Like some of the other artists featured here, the Ting Tings are not completely irredeemable. Their song "Great DJ" for instance was pleasant enough, and succeeded in not being too grating. Apart from their dreadful moniker and their biggest hit, "That's Not My Name", what really stands them out, or rather doesn't, is just how average they are. Their album title owns up to this, called "We Started Nothing", and they sure didn't. When a band is so average, it does however make you wonder how they got "big" in the first place, and the Ting Tings were helped along by the BBC, who inexplicably at Glastonbury last year featured them as "one to watch". Probably far more influential is the fact that singer Katie White is, as Alexis Petridis described her, "so pretty that you feel like giving her a round of applause just for existing", which always helps.
However much you might want to not hate them, That's Not My Name was a song both so ubiquitous, so jarring and so completely dreadful that it's impossible not to. Shouted rather than sung, with a vacuity which would make most of our politicians blush, it informs us that Ms White doesn't like being called "bird", "darling" or "Stacey", and that they are "not her name". The one consolation is that whenever someone recognises her she probably finds herself being subjected to a even worse rendition, or at least you hope so. The other silver lining is however indirectly I was introduced to the idea of getting your rat out via them, when one of my friends who had free tickets to see them was pleased to note that a drunk guy at the end of every song ordered White to do just that.
Katy Perry - I Kissed A Girl
The music industry is a cynical business, but the cynicism and marketing behind Perry is even by their standards approaching breath-taking. Plucked from obscurity, having previously recorded a Christian gospel album, I Kissed a Girl was a song so terrible on so many separate levels that it seems incredibly fitting for 2008 as a whole. It wouldn't be so bad if Perry, or at least those who write her songs weren't so intensely hypocritical, yet one of the other songs on her album is "Ur So Gay", which denounces a boyfriend for being effeminate. Whether this is the same boyfriend which she then hopes on "I Kissed A Girl" wouldn't mind her indulging in some bottom-level lipstick lesbianism is unclear, but it seems to sum up the entire conflicted nature of much of the mainstream towards homosexuality. After all, let's face it: a song by a young man about wondering what it's like to kiss one of his peers, especially when it "felt so good, it felt so right" with him liking it seems to have been unlikely to have topped the charts in a similar fashion. Perry hardly improved matters when she said of "Ur So Gay":
"It’s not a negative connotation. It’s not, 'you're so gay,' like, 'you're so lame,' but the fact of the matter is that this boy should’ve been gay. I totally understand how it could be misconstrued or whatever...I wasn’t stereotyping anyone in particular, I was talking about ex-boyfriends."
In other words, phony lipstick lesbianism makes money, as does insulting former boyfriends by calling them gay. No contradictions there whatsoever then.
Adele / Duffy
2008 has not been an exactly stellar year for music, with a few notable exceptions. In fact, it's hard not to suggest that the musical apocalypse seems to be fast approaching. The only music that seems to sell physically is either Take That, Abba or by artists endorsed by reality television, and with it the album as we previously knew it seems to heading for demise, as do the shops that stocked them. The one bright spot for the "old" music industry is that it's hit on something that is making them some easy money: give the public what they already like in ever decreasing quality. Last year we had Kate Nash, the low-rent Lily Allen, if there could be such a thing. The biggest artist of last year though was undoubtedly Amy Winehouse, before she went completely off the rails. Hence the search was on for the new stars that sound like her but are less likely to inject crack cocaine into their eyeballs. Quickly found were Adele and Duffy, producing much the same sounding material as La Winehouse but without the key factor that made some of Winehouse's songs so successful: soul.
Rather than Back to Black and Love is a Losing Game, both veritable masterpieces of the genre by comparison, Adele and Duffy have served up Chasing Pavements and Warwick Avenue, the video for which featured Duffy in tears throughout, although not apparently at the triteness of either the song's contents or her own performance. Again, the machinations of the industry itself were obviously at play: Adele was on Later with Jools Holland before she had released a thing, supposedly because of her undeniable brilliance rather than because of bungs changing hands. It wouldn't matter if no one bought the damn things, but Duffy has unsurprisingly became the biggest seller of the year. Take the unpredictability out of Winehouse and you have nothing except music for your bourgeois dinner party, which is the niche which both Adele and Duffy have filled.
Alexandra Burke - Hallelujah
Complaining about the X Factor or Simon Cowell is utterly pointless, such is the stranglehold that both seem to have not just on the nation's psyche but on music apparently itself. The problem is that after however many series' of first Pop Stars, Pop Idol, The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent, the number of artists waiting to be discovered has almost certainly been fully mined. Last year's BGT "discovered" Paul Potts, who had despite his evident talent not got far in making himself a career as a tenor. With even him gone, this year's decided on George Sampson, a teenager who could breakdance. Badly. Likewise, this year's X Factor had a paucity of real star talent that wasn't related to someone who had already been successful or who you didn't want to strangle on sight. After the ritual humiliation of those stupid enough to imagine they can sing in tune, it was narrowed down to an Irish kid with a ridiculous name, a boy band ripping off Boyz II Men and Alexandra Burke, who just happens to be the daughter of a former member of Soul II Soul. Hardly a complete unknown then. Predictably, having won and stretched her mouth to proportions the average human can only dream of, Cowell's shit machine took to massacring Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, which his record company happens to own the rights to. Burke's version isn't just the worst cover of this year, it might well be the worst cover version of all time. Not content with changing the lyrics, destroying all the tautness, tension and heartfeltness of the original, there just has to be a choir brought in at the end to finish the job. Every cliche box was ticked, every amount of warmth rung from it, all ready to be delivered to the nation to devour as only the truly brain-dead could, selling 900,000 copies within two weeks of its release. You couldn't even escape and stick up two fingers by purchasing Jeff Buckley's cover, the rights to which were also owned by Sony BMG, as the clever dicks on Facebook thought they were doing. The message is obvious: resistance is futile.