Singles of the year: #80

80. Tropical Ice-Land – The Fiery Furnaces

Although it took me a long time to “get” this act, there was always something right from the off which made me return to their music time and again. This has happened a few times before over the years (the first Prefab Sprout album springs immediately to mind), and it’s always a good sign.

(If you’re still struggling: the quirk-ee! zan-ee! randomness beds down with increased familiarity, as the sharp angles convert to pleasurably familiar kinks.)

Singles of the year: #81

81. Your Game – Will Young

Hear’say, David Sneddon, One True Voice, Alex Parks, Michelle McManus – and, unless I have severely misread the situation, Steve Brookstein before the end of January – of all the winners of the souped-up-for-the-C21st TV talent shows, only two acts have yet to run out of steam (*), and only one act could ever have been said to have any measure of true artistic control over his career. Precision-tooled mainstream pop-funk with a pleasing gospel edge, which probably sees itself as being of the Simply Red/Jamiroquai school of sleek blue-eyed soul, but which actually elevates itself well clear of such dodgy comparisons.

(*) Yes, yes, I know about Lemar – but he didn’t actually win, did he? Do stop muddying the waters.

Singles of the year: #82

82. See It In A Boy’s Eyes – Jamelia

Co-written with the Blessèd Chris Martin (*) out of Coldplay (peace be upon him), but don’t let that put you off. In a notably thin year for decent R&B (so what happened there then?), it was left to plucky Brits like Jamelia to show the Stateside lot how to do it properly.

(*) Say what you like about the “special relationship” between U2 and iPods this year, but at least none of them went so far as to name their children after the f***ing company. Did Chris & Gwyneth get special trademark clearance for that, one wonders?

Singles of the year: #83

83. Somebody Told Me – The Killers

…whereas, a month or so after the Big London Clubbing Night Out (see post below), I find myself being dragged along by the Young People (well, early thirties, but it’s all relative) to a good old-fashioned Indie Disco, on a Saturday night at the Cookie Club in Nottingham. And, well, don’t all those NME guitar bands sound a whole lot better when you’re lurching around to them in a lagered/Red Bulled frenzy? (Distorted fuzzboxes and cheap booze: it’s one of life’s classic combinations.)

Except that, quelle horreur, I don’t recognise all the tracks that are played. Aiee! My powers, they are fading! And, curiously, whenever I ask one of the Young People for a track ID, it always seems to be the same band. “It’s The Killers, Mike! You must know it!” Except that I didn’t, not at all; must have missed that particular meeting. (*)

Of all their, um, hugely popular and successful hits this year, which you obviously all know and love, Somebody Told Me was the one that stood out then, and stands out now. It’s a perfect lager-frenzy record, with just that nice lyrical touch of polymorphous perversity to lift it above the fray (see also Franz Ferdinand, #87 below).

(*) Come to think of it, Razorlight and Kasabian must have been on the same agenda. Totally passed me by on the other side. Wouldn’t recognise a single note. Are they any good? They’re not really my sort of thing, are they?

Singles of the year: #84 (NMC)

84. Flashdance – Deep Dish

This year, I only had one Big Clubbing Night Out in London: a late summer excursion to DTPM @ Fabric, followed by Beyond @ Fire. Both pleasant enough events in their own ways, and yet, and yet… was it just me getting older and more jaded, with priorities re-aligned, no longer buying into the collectively maintained illusion, or was there something fundamentally missing? Because, compared to my glory days at Trade in the mid-to-late 1990s, both events seemed terribly… I dunno… polite, restrained, buttoned-up, just another leisure time routine/lifestyle option to be consumed, rather than to actively participate in. Where was the heady, delicious sense of freedom, of letting go, of surrendering yourself to the mayhem… of community even? Because frankly, you’d find about the same levels of friendliness and interpersonal connection in your nearest out-of-town supermarket.

I suppose that what has changed is this: firstly, that all remaining connection with late 80s/early 90s rave culture has long since been severed (whither PLUR these days?), and secondly, that the shock of the new has vanished: even at Trade in 1996/97, there were still plenty of newbies each week, experiencing full-on club culture for the first or second time – and their sense of amazed wonder and delight was infectious, influencing the overall mood of the night. Whereas now, gay club culture is an entirely known quantity, fully documented and codified – and largely static, it has to be said.

So, anyway… there we were, Buni and I, early on, finding our way round the unfamiliar hi-gloss labyrinth of Fabric, feeling for all the world like nervous country cousins in the big bad city, having our first shy little bop in the main room, and I’m wondering what the music’s going to be like, and this track comes on with this nagging, repetitive rock guitar riff, and I’m thinking: goodness, wasn’t expecting this sort of thing… and three or four weeks later I hear it again on the Top 40 countdown, and oh, this is Deep Dish is it? Wow, they’ve changed their sound since the Junk Science album (my favourite album of 1998, no less). So, you know: memories and associations, basically.

Postscript: A couple of hours later at DTPM, and I’ve got well into the swing of things, away with the fairies, lurching about to funky tribal house or whatever the hell they were playing by then, when this short girl next to me nudges my elbow, looks up at me with a concerned expression, and asks whether I’m feeling all right.

– Yeah, I’m fine, why do you ask?

– Well, you were pulling such a face – it looked like you were in pain or something.

You see? You can’t even do cheesy-quaver gurning no more. Kids today, they’ve no idea…

Singles of the year: #85

85. Matinee – Franz Ferdinand

I like the stuff about sliding fingers inside blazers, and the bit about being on Terry Wogan, and the way that the intro makes me think of TFI Friday when it was still fresh new telly with loads of good bands on.

Oh, and I forgot to mention: there’s another competition. The first person to guess correctly which single is my personal Number One of 2004 wins a copy of my (compiled but as yet unburned) best-of-year triple mix CD. One guess only per person, please – you can leave it in any of the comments boxes attached to this list.

(So what are you going to do? Try and get your guess in early, with longer odds, or hold out until the last possible moment and risk getting beaten in the rush? Ooh, that’s a tricky strategic poser to grapple with.)

Singles of the year: #86

86. Surfing On A Rocket – Air

Now, you see… in years gone by, I would have excluded something like this from a Best Singles list: an album track shoved into the wrong format, merely as a promotional tool, and issued after the album had been purchased in any case. But that was before this year’s iPod/MP3 blog paradigm shift, which has served to turn songs back into individual tracks all over again, just like the old days. Since I’ve enjoyed Surfing On A Rocket on its own many times over, it has to qualify for inclusion. Which is why last year’s Top 60 has become this year’s Top 90, I guess.

Singles of the year: #88

88. Love Is War – Ignition

As Bloc Party’s She’s Hearing Voices is to c.1981 post-punk, so Love Is War is to c.1983 electrophonic phunk. (Only more so; if you’d told me this was a newly unearthed obscurity from that era, I would have believed you.) Meaning, once again, that I cannot help but be favourably disposed. This is all it takes to please me, you know: give me a painstakingly accurate reconstruction of a genre I understand in detail, tell me it’s The Sound Of Now, and I’ll feel all pleased with myself for being au courant and hip to the beat of the street and shit. Been happening on a regular basis ever since electroclash.

Singles of the year: #89

89. Everybody’s Changing – Keane

Look: I did my best to loathe Keane, I really did. Because you know how much I hate all that corporate-indie misery-lite dirgey droning – the musical equivalent of beige – as espoused by Coldplay, Snow Patrol, Starsailor and the like. Indeed, my prejudice against Keane ran so deep that I successfully avoided even listening to Everybody’s Changing until a week ago, when curiosity finally got the better of me. And guess what: it’s lovely, and really rather moving actually. Nevertheless, by my standards of cool, which I do realise are rather different from most people’s – this is possibly the most uncool single on the entire list.

(Cool, uncool – bah. Ghastly paradigm.)

Singles of the year: #90

90. She’s Hearing Voices – Bloc Party

So pleased that I remembered this at the last minute, as it knocks U2’s Vertigo out of the all-important Top 90. (A good tune, but I have historically had Issues with U2, meaning that rating it would have felt like too much of a climbdown. Besides, there would have been that awful iPod commercial of a video to contend with.)

Yes, it’s a Top 90. Because the gap between Stuff That’s Good and Stuff That’s Really Good fell at around the 90 mark this year – whereas in 2003, it fell at around the 60 mark. So does that make 2004 a significantly better year for music than 2003? I’ll come back to that in a bit.

Anyway, the inclusion of She’s Hearing Voices in a Best Singles list, when it was actually track #3 on an EP, warrants some explanation. This year, I’ve widened the scope of the list to include any track which somehow took on a life of its own, independently from any parent album. This still stops the list from simply turning into a list of favourite songs. And in any case, only a tiny handful of the tracks listed fall into this category; the vast majority did see the light of day as A-sides during 2004.

Bloc Party are being very much talked up as a band to watch in 2005; I am already kicking myself for missing the opportunity to see them at the Rescue Rooms in Nottingham a couple of months ago, as I could then have basked in Scissor Sisters-esque “I saw them first” smugness for, ooh, months. She’s Hearing Voices owes a heavy debt to early 1980s post-punk (which is more than fine by me), with echoes of the Gang Of Four, Bauhaus, and some very specific song whose identity continues to elude me.