Saturday 27 May 2017

Lana, Laura, Polly and Kate -- a Rey of light in a dark year

Nick Kelly

If 2011 was the year when the citizens of the world found their voice and engaged directly with the problems of the day -- corrupt, murderous governments and thieving financial institutions prominent among them -- then their protest had a worthy soundtrack in PJ Harvey's Let England Shake, a record which resonated with these battle-scarred times and with the Mercury prize judges, who made Polly Jean the first artist in the history of the prize to win it twice.

The year's most environmentally friendly album came from Bjork. Biophilia is her most ambitious album yet -- and that's saying something: a multi-faceted multimedia project that came with its own specially created apps and a voiceover from David Attenborough. Is an Irish tour in 2012 too much to ask for?

Proving that you can never have too many kooks, Florence Welch showed that she was no flash in the pan, delivering another rousing set of tunes on Ceremonials, while Kate Bush returned like a long-lost, eccentric auntie into the bosom of her adoring fans with the beguiling 50 Words For Snow.

Adele managed the tricky feat of becoming globally successful while retaining the admiration of the critics -- if they ever make a TV show of her life, it should be called 'Everybody Loves Adele'.

Laura Marling continues to mature as a songwriter and the 21-year-old's third album A Creature I Do Not Know proved that she's here for the long haul. And the emergence of Scandinavian sirens Agnes Obel and Oh Land meant we were spoiled for choice when it came to pale and interesting Nordic chanteuses.

The phenomenon of what Simon Reynolds calls retromania continued apace with the much-trumpeted reunions of The Stone Roses and Black Sabbath. At this rate, it's only a matter of time before Beethoven and Mozart announce a world reunion tour.

There was also the by now annual smackdown between the evil Lord Vader of the music biz, Simon Cowell, and the rebel forces of the internet forums. No sooner had Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit been chosen to fight the good fight than Courtney Love raised the horrifying prospect of actually allowing X Factor to sadistically mangle her late husband's songs in the show itself. Ah, but it's only rock 'n' roll, isn't it?

X Factor did, however, give Celbridge boy Damien Rice's career a shot in the arm, with his lovelorn anthem 'Cannonball' being chosen for the show-stopping finale.

Amazingly, X Factor actually unearthed a real talent who looks like she may have a fruitful career beyond the simpering karaoke contest in Rebecca Ferguson.

Last year's runner-up has a voice that brings to mind a young Aretha Franklin and is the first artist since Leona Lewis who looks like transcending the deathless grip of Cowell's big fat merry-go-round.

Two Door Cinema Club were popular winners of the Choice Prize for Tourist History, which won in one of the competition's best shortlists.

The albums of 2011 that I kept going back to included: Wilco's The Whole Love; Richmond Fontaine's The High Country; Gillian Welch's The Harrow And The Harvest; The Unthanks's Last; AA Bondy's Believers; Bon Iver's Bon Iver; Fleet Foxes's Helplessness Blues; and Radiohead's The King Of Limbs.

nkelly@independent.ie

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