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)

Olivia Rodrigo – Sour

I’m not going to make a habit of this, but when you’re wrong about something and for the dumbest of reasons, there should be a mea culpa, even if you’re the only person who knows you were wrong. There is integrity in being honest, even about internal failures.

Stay with me, because I’m going to find redemption before I type -30-. But I really only listened to ”Sour” because of the plagiarism allegations.

When “drivers license” came out of nowhere, I played about 30 seconds of it on Spotify, decided it wasn’t for me and moved on. I heard more of it in an SNL skit, which was fun, but didn’t really force me to pay attention to the song. I don’t know why I resisted so strongly. The idea of the song – and the made-for-TV drama behind that – certainly was a factor. Female singer-songwriters are one of my musical sweet spots (just this week I discovered Macie Stewart and Nilufer Yanya, and you absolutely should be listening to Mitski), but when they are super young, they seem to either be idealized (isn’t she amazing?) or disregarded (she’s manufactured) or, much worse, infantilized (isn’t she cute?). I’ve done it myself – I’m still sort of resisting Billie Eilish, and I will totally get to work on that soon.

But then I read about the plagiarism claims, and rubbed my hands together with Scrooge-like glee. Especially because one of them involved Elvis Costello. Now, Elvis was a complete gentleman about it, acknowledging the debt his own work has owed to others. What he didn’t say was if he liked the record or not. So now I had to check it out.

Well, shit.

It’s a bit awkward, being 57 and therefore old enough to be her grandfather or maybe father with a much younger wife, to admit how much I like this record. The opener, “brutal” (which owes an unavoidable debt to Elvis’ “Pump It Up”) and “good 4 u” are high energy rockers with irresistible hooks. 

But it is the ballads where she shines. They have a recurring theme of girls who love too desperately and too openly. Maybe this partly struck a chord because I’ve been caught up in the teen angst of “Never Have I Ever”. But I really think it’s because Rodrigo is so plugged in to how it feels to be young and heartbroken, and she just lets it all out in that direct and unfiltered way that only teenage girls can. Her narrators have such innocence and vulnerability, that comes from believing every idiotic thing that comes out of the mouths of the boys they love like breath itself. Though the theme is repeated, each dead or dying relationship seems distinct.

All that sadness becomes a bit much, and I don’t love the record – it might be a bit weird if I did – but I respect it, and that might be a bigger deal for Olivia’s long-term career prospects. This is a good album, and I hope she has more to offer as her artistry matures. I also hope she never holds back telling us how she’s really feeling about something. Because those songs are the ones that just might leave you in a puddle in the corner, and there really isn’t enough music like that in the world.