Saturday 3 December 2016

well, at least the music was great last year. . . .

Published 01/01/2011 | 05:00

In a year when the country seemed to slide inexorably back to the darkest days of the 1950s, we should at least be grateful that there's more to listen to on the wireless than John McCormack singing Panis Angelicus. Now some people may prefer the Count to, say, Simon Cowell's dastardly muzak filling the airwaves, but this really is the dictionary definition of Hobson's Choice.

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That said, some of the mainstream chart hits of 2010 were just so well done you couldn't help but admire their keen pop nous: Katy Perry would become one half of one of the most annoying showbiz couples on the planet when she married Russell Brand, but in California Gurls and Teenage Dream she made two of the best singles of the year.

Raunchy Rihanna left nothing to the imagination with the lyrics to Rude Boy -- also showing Chris Brown what he's missing -- and her big duet with Eminem also made her the queen of the playlists.

But she had some competition from the sons and daughter of the Liberties -- The Script and Imelda May. The latter's Mayhem and the Script's second album Science & Faith were the biggest Irish stories of the year, chart-wise. Although The Priests could sneak up on the inside lane.

Meanwhile, U2's world tour rolled on, although the year ended with some iffy reviews for their expensive Broadway Spiderman musical, which finally made it to the stage after more delays than you'd find on The Edge's guitar pedal.

Arcade Fire and The National turned in two of the best albums of the year in The Suburbs and High Violet (the latter fell just outside my top 10 below).

The most exciting newcomer, for me, was Nashville's Caitlin Rose, whose charming Own Side debut album revitalised the alt.country scene.

The xx were popular winners of the Mercury Prize for the immaculate introspection of their self-titled debut, pipping our own Conor O'Brien to the prize. Here, the Choice Prize judges got it right by handing the gong to Jape aka Richie Egan.

Staying with the home front, bands such as Holy Roman Army, Legion Of Two and Belfast dance evangelists Not Squares also spread the joy, while the Popical Island label was an oasis for those leaning left-of-centre.

With the general outlook even bleaker for next year, we've never needed to tap into the power of music to raise our spirits more than we do now. I'm sure we won't be disappointed.

My Top 10 albums of the year (International)

1. Best Coast -- Crazy For You

Bethany Cosentino barged right through the doors of our affections with her debut album fronting this LA trio. Bruce Springsteen, Jerry Seinfeld and, er, Paris Hilton are also reportedly fans of the instantly infectious surf rock. An indie pin-up is born.

2. Vampire Weekend -- Contra

No problems with 'difficult' second album syndrome here for the brainy Afrobeatniks who argue the case for the East Coast actually being the best. They just make it seem so easy.

3. Sun Kil Moon -- Admiral Fell Promises

A slight change of tack for Mark Kozelek as he becomes a virtuoso on the Spanish classical guitar and strips it all back, with just his hushed vocals adorning the intimate picking. The effect was simply spellbinding.

4. She & Him -- Volume Two

Zooey Deschanel has been making indie film lovers swoon for years; now she's doing it to music fans too. The Los Angeles actress's second album with cohort M Ward was a star-spangled affair that drew on old-fashioned influences from doo-wop to Doris Day, but still sounds fresh and ultimately timeless.

5. Stars -- The Five Ghosts

Another instalment of sumptuous Canadian pop introspection began with the mind-blowing Dead Hearts, a sort of cross between The Sixth Sense and Brian's Understand album. Particularly recommended for fans of the Postal Service's album.

6. Laura Marling -- I Speak Because I Can

The pale English waif's debut Alas I Cannot Swim only hinted at the talent that was to emerge with this Mercury-nominated sophomore album. Both erudite and intimate, Marling comes across like a modern day Sandy Denny.

7. Antony & The Johnsons -- Swanlights

More songs about love and death from one of the most original and singular voices working today. It's tough going at times and almost unbearably intense, but no one lays it on the line quite like Antony Hegarty does. All this and a guest vocal from Björk.

8. Sufjan Stevens -- The Age Of Adz

Almost five years since the epic Illinois album, Michigan's favourite son returns to the art of the song after last year's head-wrecking film soundtrack. Though a little inconsistent, there are few artists who would even attempt Sufjan's sprawling 25-minute genre-devouring finale 'Impossible Soul'. Now how does he follow that?

9. Teenage Fanclub -- Shadows

Any year with a Teenage Fanclub album in it is a good year. Norm, Gerry, Raymond and Francis check in with another gorgeous set of tunes to take the recession blues away. Thanks, guys.

10. Robyn -- Body Talk trilogy

Now that's what I call a creative purple patch -- three sets of dancefloor-hugging electro pop with attitude. Blonde Swedish pixie Robyn should really be a star of Gaga-like proportions by now. But it's a crazy world out there.

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