Troubled Diva’s Albums Of 2002.

1. the streets – original pirate material
Maybe not the most played – but certainly the most original, arresting and affecting. And funny. Entirely new, and yet fitting into a fine tradition of “urban” albums which stretches back through Ian Dury, The Specials, Blur, and Those Of That Ilk.

2. lemon jelly – lost horizons
Because every time I hear it, it just puts me into the best mood possible. Deliciously inventive.

3. jim o’rourke – insignificance
OK, so this is the very template of Uncut magazine approved, finely honed, intelligently crafted, Neo-Americana Nouveau, or whatever we’re supposed to call it. But in a good way. Endless richness, variety, subtlety and depth – and I never even got round to analysing the lyrics. Simply put, I didn’t tire of playing this all year.

4. ms. dynamite – a little deeper
Because sometimes, the Critical Consensus does get things absolutely right. Admirable, noble, mature beyond its years and – surely? – impossible to dislike.

5. the coral – the coral
Gawd, I’m a bit bloody Mercury Music Prize in my tastes this year, aren’t I? I can see why this album might irritate some people (too precocious, too derivative, too bloody Scouse by half) – but for all that, it still scratches where I itch.

6. salif keita – moffou
A late climber up my chart of 2002. In strict musicianly terms, this would be my album of the year without a shadow of doubt. But hey, since when has this been solely about the musicianship? Immaculate stuff, though. If you only listen to one “world music” album from last year, then I urge you to make it this one.

7. solomon burke – don’t give up on me
Deep soul legend returns after many years, with songs donated by all the best people. The result is a slow-burning, smouldering triumph.

8. dj shadow – the private press
Surprise of the year, as I was far from convinced by his alleged “classic” debut, Endtroducing. Can’t argue with friskily inventive electronica like this though. We don’t still call this Trip Hop, do we?

9. aim – hinterland
Bought it – quite liked it – went right off it – re-discovered it – ended up loving it. Slow burner of the year.

10. charles webster – born on the 24th of july
Moody mood music from Nottingham’s erstwhile Mister Moody of deep house, now gone all languidly downtempo and sounding even better for it. Sounds particularly great in the car, when tootling round the Peak District on a moody afternoon.

11. david bowie – heathen
Oh no, honestly, he’s really back on form these days! Yeah, yeah, yeah. Look – I’ve heard Earthling, okay? Except…well, whaddya know? He really is back on form these days. Easily his best album since Scary Monsters. And ooh, don’t he look well for his age? And him such a heavy smoker and all…

12. soulwax – 2 many djs
Bootlegs and electroclash: the two big fads of the Spring were combined to stonking effect on this monster monster party jam of a mix CD. “Danger! High Voltage!”

13. papa noel & papi oviedo – bana congo
Congolese-Cuban fusion music. Not half as silly as it sounds. There is the most wonderful sense of freedom, abandonment and experimentation on this record – and yet it is all so exquisitely marshalled into shape.

14. missy elliott – under construction
Back to her hip-hop block party roots, and all that (you’ve read the reviews, right?) Just the sort of re-connection that hip-hop sorely needs, if you ask me.

15. city rockers present futurism vol.1
A monument to all that was cool and groovy about electroclash (and there was plenty of it, make no mistake). Most of the genre’s top tunes can be found right here.

16. koop – waltz for koop
We don’t still call this Acid Jazz, do we? A perfect soundtrack for the early evening cocktail hour.

17. herrmann & kleine – our noise
Leftfield obscurity of the year. Everything that Boards Of Canada’s Geogaddi promised to be, but wasn’t.

18. doves – the last broadcast
And I don’t even like overly earnest Epic Rock! No arguing with this, though.

19. blind boys of alabama – higher ground
Ancient old blues codgers show us all how it’s done. Just like they did the previous year, in fact.

20. youssou n’dour – nothing’s in vain
Diluted with commercial Western influences, you say? Well – yes, I can see that. Still bloody good, though. Unfairly dismissed by the self-appointed world music cognoscenti, in my humble opinion.

21. lambchop – is a woman
22. beck – sea change
23. cornershop – handcream for a generation
24. joni mitchell – travelogue
25. beth gibbons & rustin’ man – out of season
26. fc kahuna – machine says yes
27. groove armada – another late night
28. warchild: 1 love
29. a late junction compilation vol.1
30. orchestre baobab – specialist in all styles

Bubbling under:
chemical brothers – come with us
death in vegas – scorpio rising
flaming lips – yoshimi battles the pink robots
groove armada – lovebox
masters at work – our time is coming
mum – finally we are no one
my computer – vulnerabilia
norah jones – come away with me
pet shop boys – release
sigur ros – ()
soft cell – cruelty without beauty
thievery corporation – the richest man in babylon
underworld – a hundred days off

Delayed but played:
angie stone – mahogany soul
black rebel motorcycle club – b.r.m.c.
blind boys of alabama – spirit of the century
fischerspooner – #1
ladytron – 604
shuggie otis – inspiration information
susheela raman – salt rain

Disappointments:
boards of canada – geogaddi
wilco – yankee hotel foxtrot

Dud:
india.arie – voyage to india

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Troubled Diva’s Singles Of 2002.

Note that these have been chosen just as much for personal, sentimental, soundtrack-to-my-life reasons as they have been for objective, music-critic, landmarks-in-the-evolving-history-of-pop reasons. Because, at the end of the day, these are singles. That’s how they work.

1. the streets – weak become heroes
2. doves – there goes the fear
3. pet shop boys – home and dry
4. sugababes – freak like me
5. x-press 2 featuring david byrne – lazy
6. narcotic thrust – safe from harm
7. pink – family portrait
8. david bowie – everyone says ‘hi’
9. missy elliott – work it
10. db boulevard – point of view
11. truth hurts featuring rakim – addictive
12. shakira – wherever, whenever
13. angie stone – wish i didn’t miss you
14. queens of the stone age – no one knows
15. fischerspooner – emerge
16. doves – pounding
17. sugababes – round round
18. manic street preachers – there by the grace of god
19. frou frou – breathe in
20. tweet – oops (oh my)
21. belle lawrence – evergreen
22. ms. dynamite – dy-na-mi-tee
23. beyoncé – work it out
24. underworld –two months off
25. mull historical society – watching xanadu
26. aaliyah – more than a woman
27. brandy – what about us
28. bright eyes – lover i don’t have to love
29. the coral – goodbye
30. jakatta featuring seal – my vision
31. cornershop – lessons learned from rocky i to rocky iii
32. dj shadow – you can’t go home again
33. who da funk featuring jessica eve – shiny disco balls
34. layo & bushwacka! – love story
35. puretone – addicted to bass
36. chemical brothers – star guitar
37. badly drawn boy – silent sigh
38. the coral – dreaming of you
39. my computer – vulnerabilia
40. the bellrays – they glued your head on upside down

Bubbling under:
alizee – moi…lolita
the d4 – party
liberty x – just a little
justin timberlake – like i love you

Worst single of the year:
atomic kitten – the tide is high

Troubled Diva’s Gigs Of 2002.

Note that reviews of a lot of these gigs can be found by following the links from the we saw… (live reviews) section on my sidebar.

1. Le Tigre / Valerie
Attitudinous, shouty, colourful, eloquent, angry, groovy, cool, sussed, delirious, provocative, visual, inspirational, timeless/contemporary, femino-punk heaven. As perfect a gig as anyone could ever wish for. What’s more, Kathleen Hanna seemed to think the same way. We all struck it lucky that night.

2. Kevin Ayers
Some old heroes actually won’t let you down. More than made up for the disappointment of 22 years ago. Great guitarist he’s got with him these days.

3. Brian Wilson
Despite some early wobbles, this is a concert that – in my memory of it – has steadily grown in stature ever since. Always a good sign. And he played Pet Sounds in full, and I ask you: what could be better than that?

4. Neil Diamond
A masterclass in how to work an arena crowd. The most extraordinary synergy between performer and audience that I have ever seen.

5. Patti Smith
Age has not dimmed her. Incandescent, righteous stuff.

6. Groove Armada / Dirty Vegas
Groove Armada smash up the coffee table and get back to their dance roots. If only their new album had sounded half this good. Dirty Vegas: best received support act of the year.

7. The Bellrays / The D4
Rock. And. F***ing. Roll!!!

8. Doves / The Coral / Athlete
While the much anticipated Coral mostly disappointed, the previously dismissed Doves had me converted in a trice. Best set opening of the year (Pounding, There Goes The Fear). So good that I even moshed – and I do not mosh. Oh, and we liked Athlete. Nice boys.

9. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
The Jesus And Mary Chain re-incarnated. Actually, I remember very few details from this gig. Which is sometimes the best indication.

10. Butterflies Of Love / Tompaulin / The Chemistry Experiment
And the same thing applies for the Butterflies. Soundtrack to a damned good piss-up, essentially.

11. Richard Ashcroft
First half: pleasant, competent, somewhat dull. Second half: just stunning. Best vocal performance of the year.

12. The Streets / Blackalicious
Mike Skinner makes it all look so deceptively easy. Much sharper than he likes to pretend he is.

13. Kylie Minogue
And she even reached all the right notes, bless her! Spectacle of the year. If only we had danced a bit more.

14. Oasis
This one was all about the crowd. Plus, Liam was born to sing My Generation. He may be a twat, but he still makes a damned good rock star.

15. The Libertines
Full on! An unstoppable force of nature. Shortest set of the year. Not a minute wasted.

16. Badly Drawn Boy
Surprisingly charming. Longest set of the year. Not a minute wasted.

17. Pulp
In Sherwood Forest, no less. Will we ever see their like again?

18. The Musical Box
Genesis tribute band! Oh yes! That Selling England By The Pound tour in full! Yougoddaproblemwiddatorsumpin?

19. Pet Shop Boys
Real instruments! Musicianly values! No dancers! The occasional faint glimpses of emotion! Whatever next?

20. Manic Street Preachers / Ian Brown
The Manics started brilliantly, sagged badly, then rallied just in time. Ian Brown is an arrogant, talentless wanker with no singing voice whatsoever, and turned in by far the worst performance of the year.

Honorary Mentions:

Damo Suzuki’s Network / The Telescopes
Hours and hours of densely improvised goobeldygook which trod a fine line between genius and tedium. And he hugged us! Each and every one!

Mudhoney / The Alchemysts / The Catheters
Skull-crushingly heavy. Not Really My Thing, but plenty of good reasons for being plenty of other people’s Thing.

J Mascis
Amazing guitar work and all that, BUT I COULDN’T BLOODY SEE ANYTHING!

Duds:

The Thrills
The next big thing? With the amount of money that is being spent on them, this is entirely possible, I’m afraid. Some undeniably great hooks, but minimal stage presence, communication or (most fatally of all) passion. Careerists through and through. Looked like they were quickly, grudgingly “paying their dues” before that all-important Glastonbury tea-time slot next summer (er, whoops!)

Beth Orton / Ed Harcourt
Suffocatingly one-dimensional niceness without end.

Bryan Ferry
Just another day at the office, was it?

Alicia Keys
Oh dear, she’s gone Pop. And stretched every number out to ten minutes plus. Woefully short on focus and…you know…Soul?

Working backwards (Friday/Saturday/Monday)

(Friday)

We hated Bodyworlds. Really, really hated it.

First of all, it was the cheap shoddiness that rankled. The plinths were made from ordinary house bricks, roughly shoved together. The signs were bits of folded paper, printed off from MS Word and shoved under perspex. Overhead fluorescent strip lighting. Potted houseplants plonked down to form dividers. Filthy, smelly toilets: flooded, missing their seats, and covered in obscene graffiti. For a tenner a ticket, you would have expected some degree of care and attention. As it was, there was absolutely no aesthetic sensibility at work whatsoever.

The further we went round the exhibition, the more we were struck by the underlying disingenuousness of its intentions. This was neither art, nor science, nor education – merely spectacle. A grotesque spectacle, which betrayed an arrogant disregard for the humanity of its “plastinates”. There was no back story on these corpses – not even the scantest of details on their backgrounds, their nationalities, or even the circumstances of their deaths. Instead, their plastinated body parts had been snipped, stretched, mangled and contorted into pieces of breathtakingly tasteless whimsy.

Here: a corpse riding a bicycle, a ludicrous pair of spectacles perched on its nose. There: a leering warlock on a broomstick, in a stupid hat. A “basketball player” – a “goalkeeper” – a “swimmer” – and most notably of all, a “pole vaulter”. The pole vaulter was suspended upside down on a steel pole, well above head height. His entire gut system had comically “fallen out” of its torso, and had slid down the pole to eye level. People were actually standing round and chuckling at the gag.

In another room, a plastinate was kneeling in front of a makeshift altar, its facial features arranged into a crude caricature of beseeching piety, holding up a human heart on a tacky velvet plinth. The accompanying sign said: “In Memory Of All Our Donors”. Anger and disgust rose up inside us like bile.

There was worse to come, in the form of a woman in the eighth month of pregnancy, her womb slit open to show the almost fully developed foetus still curled up inside her. Astonishingly – unforgiveably – she had been arranged in a semi-recumbent, coquettish pose: turned on her side towards the viewer, her head propped up on one elbow, her lips artificially reddened and pouting, her pale, rubbery nipples crudely stuck back onto her plastinated breasts. Tragedy reduced to burlesque.

She was the sole adult female plastinate in the entire exhibition. Adjacent to her were a series of deformed foetuses in specimen jars: cleft palates, misshapen skulls, conjoined at the hip. We hurried past them as quickly as we could.

Before leaving, we scanned the comments books. Apart from the occasional gripe about the state of the toilets, there was almost nothing but fulsome praise for the show. Fascinating…educational…an amazing experience…didn’t feel squeamish in the slightest…wish I had brought my family with me…cool!…awesome!…wicked! Baffled and incredulous, we flicked through page after page, searching in vain for a dissenting view.

God knows, I have no religious axe to grind here. Neither does the idea of placing a naked corpse on public display offend me per se, so long as the donor has given their full consent. But did these people really know that they would end up like this? As utterly dehumanised objects of curiosity in a highly profitable modern day freak show, carted around from city to city by an egocentric self-publicist with deluded pretensions to high-minded scholarship?

Sigh. Whatever. Four fantastic exhibtions and one dud, then…

(Friday)

…but at least this means we can grab a decent curry on Brick Lane, before catching the 19:55 back to Nottingham. They’re all unlicensed, so K nips to the offy for a couple of large bottles of Indian beer. He has never had the Brick Lane experience before, and is delighted with it. We spend a pleasant 45 minutes or so, noshing and critiquing. The day has gone awfully well. A perfect blend of pre-planning and spontaneity. We should do this much more often.

(Saturday)

I had never brokered a blind date before. But in my head, they seemed quite well matched. And A liked my photos of B. And B saw A’s profile, and recognised him. And I wasn’t on hand to effect a proper introduction – all those gigs, all that art. And so numbers were passed, and phone calls made, and a rendezvous arranged.

And now here they both are, a day and a night later, drinking tea in the cottage in front of the fire, beaming at us, beaming at each other, and I am feeling so benevolent, and just so goddammed pleased with myself.

(Monday)

Before breakfast, before a proper wash, before conversation, before the seven o’clock headlines…as dawn breaks over Carsington Water, DJ Shadow is just the ticket. Abstract, moody atmospherics for a freezing Monday morning. As we hurtle back to town to beat the traffic, I give thanks for heated seating, and begin to unclench a little.

(Monday)

So I was thinking about this site over the weekend, and what I wanted to do with it, and whether I had already achieved everything that could reasonably be done with it, and whether I was suffering from the blogging equivalent of Second Album Syndrome, and whether I should drop it down a notch, or gear it up a notch, and what was my motivation for it these days anyway, and hadn’t I become bored of the cutesy personality cult side of things, and wasn’t it time to turn another corner, and to become less inanely pseudo-conversational and more, I dunno, “literary”…and I eventually came to the conclusion that it was time to re-commit, to stop complacently surfing on the stats, to try a little bit harder, to get my “edge” back, to get the hunger and the necessity back, to push things forwards…

…and I came into work today and got the Urgent Briefing To All Employees e-mail about possible redundancies and imminent interviews with those who are most at risk, and decisions that haven’t yet been made but will be soon…

…and all that fresh air instantly slumped out of my sails.