Album Of The Year
I was unfortunate enough to catch Newsnight Review two Fridays ago, or at least the last bit of it, where Arcade Fire’s all-important second album was under the pretentious hammer. I don’t watch this programme any more. Not because they have never invited me back on it since my debut in October 2005, but because ever since they took Mark Lawson off it and added a superfluous fourth panellist, it’s been a shadow of its former self. (Nothing against Kirsty Wark – she presented it when I was on, and she remains a rigorous, likeable and fair chairperson – but I miss Mark Lawson.) Anyway, not watching it any more, I occasionally catch the end of it by mistake, and the last time I did this, I saw my friend John Harris manfully defend The Good, The Bad & The Queen against an onslaught of ill-informed, lazy critique from someone called Bidisha, who turns out to be an all-rounder whose first novel was published when she was 18, and actor-playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah, who couldn’t even be bothered to learn the names of the songs and called them “Track 1” and “Track 8” (imagine a book of poetry being subjected to this kind of insult – Poem 7, Poem 15 etc. – it would never happen). John was eloquent and enthusiastic and, most importantly, right. That album is a masterpiece. Conceptually and sonically. What a collaboration. And Green Fields, as good as any slow song Blur have ever made, is immaculate.
Anyway, two Fridays ago, there was John again, in the same spot on the Newsnight sofa, this time standing up for Neon Bible by Arcade Fire. Bidisha was there again, slagging it off, and Toby Young was there, reciting an awfully clever tirade against American indie bands he’d prepared earlier (even though Arcade Fire are from Montreal), and a third woman, Anna Blundy, another novelist, appeared not to have listened to the album at all, and kept attacking its “14-year-old” politics. Well, once again, John Harris was right. “It will sell a million copies,” he stated, confidently. It amazes me how badly pop music is treated on this programme unless Paul Morley happens to be on. It struck me that only John had given this magnificent album more than a cursory background spin. It is, as he rightly pointed out, a profound piece of work, lyrically reflective of the scary, uncertain world we now live in. I’ve only listened through to it about four times, but every track matters, even the one “the woman” sings. (Surely that will get me on Newsnight?) My standout thus far is Windowsill, which deals with climate change and wider issues of American global arrogance. It’s angry and it’s sorrowful and beautiful. That’ll do for me. Although it took me longer than it ought to have done to see the light with the band’s first album Funeral, once the pieces fell into place on Redhill station platform through my iPod, it engulfed and obsessed me. Well, this one worked its magic immediately. Recorded in a church, it certainly has a funereal quality, and it sounds like all those people are playing on it at the same time. Maybe they are. I know I missed some London gigs of theirs recently, but I wouldn’t have wanted to hear the album played live without knowing the songs. It would be a waste.
I’m glad I never saw Newsnight reviewing the Klaxons album, if they ever did. It would have been too much.