Favourite “New” Music – March 2022

In early March, my wife and I were discussing the latest Ed Sheeran plagiarism news, and, as is often the case during such chats, my position changed mid-conversation. Initially, I thought Ed might be the Robin Williams of pop music, absorbing ideas and influences until they became a part of him, only to later emerge from his subconscious without any actual knowledge of their origins. But I soon decided he had done nothing untoward, not even through inadvertence, and not just because the song he’s accused of stealing from completely sucks (you’ve been warned, so it’s on you if you click on the link).

A tremendous amount of music is released every year. I could find no authoritative source on this, but one conservative estimate put it at 100 new albums each week, so let’s use that. At approximately 45 minutes each, that would total 75 hours of new music. If you have around 11 hours each day to spare, you could get through it all with an attention level that would likely vary greatly.

Now the true number is probably much, much higher. Two years ago, Spotify was adding about 40,000 tracks each day, which at four minutes apiece, would come to almost 19,000 hours of content each week. This doesn’t include the hours and hours of un-Spotified content from places like Soundcloud and Bandcamp. And whatever the number for new recordings, there’s also the long history of music that came before today. At this writing, Spotify has over 5 million hours of music in total. That number is insane.

I love the TwinsthenewTrend guys, but when I first saw them I was puzzled by how they’d never before heard “In the Air Tonight“. But then I considered that they were two modern teens who maybe weren’t inclined to (at least initially) go looking for music that was twice as old as they were, and definitely would not be considered cool in their circle (unless it was a retro ”Miami Vice” crowd, which I would pay to see). Or consider Sam Smith, who claimed never to have heard Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” until its similarity to his “Stay With Me” was pointed out to him. (For what it’s worth, I don’t hear it – this is no “Got to Give It Up”/ “Blurred Lines” or Olivia Rodrigo/ half-the-music-business scenario.) Is it so unusual that Sam maybe didn’t grow up listening to a classic rock track that peaked at #28 in his home country three years before he was born? Is it a song we would expect a gay chubby musical theatre nerd to be hunting down for a listen? I don’t think so.

So, no, Ed didn’t steal the “oh I, oh I, oh I” part of “Shape of You” from a shitty song that has – even after all the recent attention – a mere 274,000 streams (around $1,000 in revenue) on Spotify. (For perspective, “Shape of You” tops 3 billion, or around $12 million in revenue.) The odds of him even having heard that song are astronomical. I’m sure Ed has better things to do than looking for shitty songs to plagiarise.

The point of this – other than slamming a song I don’t like (hey, Jethro Tull can’t carry the entire burden) – is to play my little part in cutting through some of that noise. Below are the “new” albums I enjoyed most over the month just ended. It was a great month – I cut several records that I genuinely loved (including, to my shock and delight, one from Alicia Keys) to make this of reasonable length. May you find something in there to love – and, if nothing else, I will have spared you the horror of “Oh Why”.

  • Sparks – A Woofer in Tweeter’s Clothing (1973)
  • T-Bone Burnett – Trap Door (1982)
  • The Del Fuegos – The Longest Day (1984)
  • Hindu Love Gods – Hindu Love Gods (1990) (Warren Zevon and three-quarters of R.E.M. playing classic blues and a kick-ass Prince cover? Yes, please.)
  • Madonna – Ray of Light (1998) (It might have been a mistake to spend the last quarter century trying to ignore her music.)
  • David Byrne – Look into the Eyeball (2001)
  • Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle (2015)
  • Franz Ferdinand – Always Ascending (2018)
  • Lana Del Rey – Blue Banisters (2021)
  • Tyler, the Creator – Call Me If You Get Lost (2021)
  • Tears for Fears – The Tipping Point (2022) (I might like this more than their classic albums from the 1980s – no longer angsty youths, Roland and Curt have seen some shit, and come out the other side reinvigorated.)
  • Conway the Machine – God Don’t Make Mistakes (2022)
  • Nilüfer Yanya – Painless (2022)
  • Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul – Topical Dancer (2022)
  • Dashboard Confessional – All the Truth that I Can Tell (2022) (A mature and introspective return from one of my favourite emo bands of the 2000s. (Others on that list: Something Corporate, Brand New, A New Found Glory.)
  • Young Guv – GUV III (2022) (Delightful power pop that, at its best, puts me in mind of peak Matthew Sweet.)
  • Dave East – HDIGH (2022) (Fast becoming one of my favourite rappers.)
  • Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard – Backhand Deals (2022)
  • midwxst – better luck next time. (2022) (It’s like the whiny parts of Drake were filtered out and replaced with DNA from Fall Out Boy.)
  • The Boo Radleys – Keep On with Falling (2022)

Not the Pazz and Jop 1973 – #8

Marvin Gaye – Let’s Get It On

I expect I am on a very lonely island thinking “What’s Going On” is a highly overrated record. I am completely okay with that. Our reaction to music is deeply personal, and consensus doesn’t make something true. And I do like a lot of Marvin Gaye’s music. There are parts of “What’s Going On” that I love. My all-time favorite of his is “Got to Give It Up“, and I can’t believe I missed the obvious thievery (shame on everyone involved) of “Blurred Lines”. I never much cared for “Sexual Healing”, but his duets with Tammi Terrell still rock (just ask Meredith Quill). Marvin’s catalogue contains multitudes – you just need to find the bits that work for you.

I was not a fan of socially-conscious Marvin, but horny and lovelorn Marvin is a very different beast, and this is easily one of the most horned-up records of all time. There are funk elements in the backing tracks, but this isn’t a funk record. It’s right in the heart of what soul should be, while dabbling in a half dozen other areas, with pre-disco wah-wah guitars in places, jazzy elements in others and, in “Come Get to This”, he offers up a slightly slowed down version of something you’d expect to hear from an early ’60s girl group rather than the pre-eminent singer of sweaty ballads of a decade later. Finally, there’s almost a bossa nova feel to “You Sure Love to Ball”, and if you didn’t get the point from the title, the opening coos of pleasure from his female paramour remove those last few drops of uncertainty. It’s the kind of song you expect to hear near closing time at a bar that thinks it’s a lot classier than it is, filled with patrons with more self-awareness than the disc jockey but still happy to play along.

Marvin was far too attached to strings for my liking on “What’s Going on”, and it didn’t feel like a good fit for the harder-hitting content of that record. But they are perfect on a tribute to eros, and the cinematic strings – and liquid horns – of “If I Should Die Tonight” are a perfect complement to Marvin’s heartfelt yearnings.

It’s the rare record that has something unique to offer in every track. It’s also a record that marks a sort of journey, from the don’t-be-a-tease, you-know-you-want-this-as-much-as-I-do callout to a reluctant lover-to-be in the slow grind of “Let’s Get it On”, on to the grateful narrator’s attestation of happiness in “If I Should Die Tonight”. “Keep Gettin’ It On” has echoes, both in its sound and its lyrical content, to the title track, and the frustrated wanna-be lover of the first song is replaced with one who thinks he’s now found the key to how to make the world a better place. By “Distant Lover”, with its dreamy floating feeling, romantic but with the harder edge of his pathos-impassioned vocal, he has switched from frustration to satisfaction, from yearning for the unknown to wishing for a return to the known.

After all the back and forth, the push and pull, Marvin wants to love and be loved. But he knows the challenge of doing this. “Just to Keep You Satisfied” is a heart-rending finale, a tale of love that has soured, but with an enduring nostalgia for what was and sadness over what could have been. It’s the most affecting song on the record, and deeply personal. It doesn’t really end, just drifts away, and then dissolves into silence.

I really liked this album on the first listen, and now, four or five plays in, it just feels richer and more complex. This is a record in love with love, and all the sex talk is merely part of that. Marvin, like all of us, just wants to find that one person he can be himself with: his path to finding that just happens to start in the bedroom.

Pazz and Jop 1971 – Potential Sin of Omission

Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On

Rolling Stone voters last year ranked this as the best album ever made. So, WTF was going on with (most) music critics in 1971 that it couldn’t even crack the Pazz and Jop top 20? It’s not like this was an unappreciated gem at the time: the album sold two million copies, spent over a year on the charts, and spawned three Top 10 singles. I don’t have any perspective on this: by the time I noticed the album’s existence, it was because I was being told it was great, so I have no way of judging 1971 listeners. But I don’t disagree with them.

Side one is a blur, and I’m only now realizing how much similarity there is between “Mercy Mercy Me” and the title track. It’s a soul record, but loaded down with so many strings that it has a jarring sweetness that feels years out of date and undermines the lyrical content. Songs flow smoothly into each other, echoing themes from the previous track, but this is an unfortunate sameness that limits how much any individual song can stand out. (If you can distinguish tracks 2 to 4 from each other, you’re much better at this than me.) Side two starts out cooking, but two-thirds through “Right On”, those damned strings are back, before coming back to life in the last 40 seconds or so, then reverting to form on the next track.

No, this isn’t the best album ever made. That’s just silly. I wanted to love this record, but I just can’t see it ever happening. It’s 3 or 4 good songs joined to background music for a boring dinner party. I’m going to give the 1971 critics a W for this one over the 2020 critics.

(Originally posted on Facebook, March 21, 2021)