Album of The Year
1. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!
Federico Garcia Lorca once wondered about the impact great art has on us. The Spanish poet murdered by Franco's goons in 1936 talked about the wound it leaves in our sensibilities as duende. Lorca defined it as all those songs that have dark notes and raise gooseflesh on our skin. You get that palpable sense all over Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!
Profligate with the exclamation marks or not, Nick Cave writes with the fervour of a snake-eyed Old Testament preacher one minute and the imagination of Lord Byron the next. On We Call Upon the Author, Cave addressed God directly, and shouts at those who want too much from him: "Young people gather round my feet/Ask me things -- but I don't know where to start." On the bleak psychosis of Albert Goes West, Nick goes all Charles Bukowski and rhymes "vulva" with "sucking a revolver".
Elsewhere on the nocturnal beauty of Moonland and the soothing darkness of Night Of The Lotus Eaters, Nick brings us into his interior world, a place you mightn't necessarily want to go. The last time he released an album with his Bad Seeds was 2004's Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus -- and this one is that but with the effects of his side-project Grinderman times a hundred.
I have been smitten by Cave ever since I read his novel And The Ass Saw The Angel (which is like a King James version of the Bible rewritten by Neil Jordan).
Here on Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!, the Australian bard imagines Lazarus's reaction at being raised from the dead.
"Ever since I can remember hearing the Lazarus story, when I was a kid, you know, back in church, I was disturbed and worried by it," explained Cave of the record's inspiration recently.
"Traumatised, actually. We are all, of course, in awe of the greatest of Christ's miracles -- raising a man from the dead -- but I couldn't help but wonder how Lazarus felt about it. As a child it gave me the creeps, to be honest. He never asked to be raised up from the tomb," sings old Nick on the resurrection shuffle.
As The Observer put it, the album's titular zombie, "brought back from the dead to wander the streets of America, lost, confused, frustrated, and ultimately left for dead all over again ... imploring heavenward to demand his maker explain the fucked-up world in which we live."
2. Bob Dylan
Tell Tale Signs: The
Bootleg Series Vol 8
One of the many things I love about Bob Dylan as a writer is that he never erected a protective screen between his emotions and the listener.
"Every step of the way, we walk the line/Your days are numbered, so are mine/Time is pilin' up, we struggle and we scrape/We're all boxed in, nowhere to escape," he sings on Mississippi, and we know exactly how he feels. His legendary voice comes at you out of the speakers, like a ghost in our past. An itinerant prophet of a faded tradition of social conscience, Bob is the voice of the American everyman.
Bruce Springsteen once described the opening of Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone as "the snare shot that sounded like somebody kicked open the door to your mind". With Tell Tale Signs, Bob keeps right on kickin'. Let's hope the 67-year-old kid from Hibbing, Minnesota, has another few great albums in him before he has to come down from the mountain and into the valley of the shadows. Roll on his two Irish gigs in May.
3. Kings of Leon
Only By The Night
The preacher's sons from Tennessee with their Grizzly Adams beards could become a Strokes-Skynyrd supergroup of sorts with this album.
Instead Only By The Night is a record that stands alone in its big album greatness (and might scare U2 a bit into the bargain.) "I've taken all I've had to take/This takin's gonna shake me," sings Caleb like he means it.
4. Paul Weller
To think that the skinny kid who used to front The Jam is now 50. Weird. But not as weirdly beautiful as these 21 tracks -- Weller's very own White Album.
He broke up Britain's most popular band The Jam to form a jazz-soul combo called The Style Council; so Weller knows how to break free from the constraints his fans and critics put on him. And here he does it again with a highly unconventional record that puts Dad-rock to the sword. As The Guardian put it best: "Perhaps the horror of having David Cameron announce his love for The Jam's Eton Rifles has alerted Weller to the possibility of being too conventional for your own good."
5. Fleet Foxes
Imagine Beach Boys channeling Nick Drake in a church with choral harmonies in Seattle singing about loss and love and death. And then drink a bottle of brandy -- with Bono. And that's what Fleet Foxes will conjure up in your head. Or maybe not.
Gig Of The Year
It's a two-way tie ...
Bruce Springsteen, RDS, June
Over three nights, the boss appeared to have the whole of Ballsbridge toe-tapping to Badlands and Mary's Place and a dozen other songs.
I was standing next to Colin Farrell on the final night and he was smiling like a preacher who has sought, and found, the Promised Land.
Bruce didn't run from the truth either. "I think we've seen things happen over the past six years that I don't think anybody ever thought they'd ever see in the US.
"When people think of the United States' identity, they don't think of torture. They don't think of illegal wiretapping. They don't think of voter suppression. They don't think of no habeas corpus," he declared from the stage.
On all three nights, the whole of the RDS resounded with the emotional power of The Rising: "Spirits above and behind me/Faces gone black, eyes burnin' bright/May their precious blood bind me/Lord, as I stand before your fiery light," the 58-year-old sang.
I went each of the three nights. On the opener, Thursday night, Bruce moved the crowd first with the melancholia of The River and the fate of poor pregnant Mary, followed by the hard realities of Darkness On The Edge Of Town. "I lost my money," he sang, "and I lost my wife/ Them things don't seem to matter much to me now".
Bono, Larry and The Edge were watching from backstage on Thursday night.
I couldn't help thinking what thoughts were flashing through Bono's head as he watched a jeans-and-shirt-clad Bruce perform Thunder Road on a stripped down and gadget-free stage, holding 40,000 people in thrall with just the bare songs. No bells. No whistles. Just the E Street Band.
Bruce and his band all came together for the musical alchemy of Last to Die, Born To Run, Radio Nowhere, Lonesome Day, Mary's Place, Gypsy Biker, and American Land. "You have seen the house rockin', pants droppin', booty shakin', love makin', heart breakin', soul cryin', death defyin' legendary E Street Band," Bruce told the crowd.
On Friday night, Bruce played Dancing In The Dark as part of a four-song finale on Friday night -- he left the song off the set list the previous night -- to a rousing reception from all present.
He encored on Sunday night with Born To Run, Rosalita, American Land, Dancing In The Dark, Ramrod, and Glory Days.
Leonard Cohen, Dublin, June
There's a universality, a depth of humanity, to Cohen lyrics -- however poetic -- and music that resonates with just about everyone over 27 who realises manufactured teen bands are not the future.
That's no disrespect to Westlife, who deserve their success, but their music can never say anything about our lives in the same way that Leonard Cohen's does. Bono called him "Our Byron, our Shelley."
There's more to it than that. Just don't ask Leonard. He quipped once that he always thought of himself as "a competent, minor poet," (This is the same minor poet who wrote: "There is a crack in everything/ That's how the light gets in.")
"I know who I'm up against," the high priest of pathos added with his charmingly crooked smile.
Asked what he was up against, exactly, Cohen smiled and replied: "Dante, and Shakespeare, Isaiah, King David, Homer, you know. So I've always thought that I, you know, do my job OK."
Over three nights in Kilmainham, the Montreal mensch brought us to another world with his magical words.
Once he walked onstage, the old man in a grey suit and the hat turned each night into an event of near-biblical dimensions; as he sang with that otherworldly gravel voice of his on The Future: "I'm the little Jew who wrote the Bible."
Over three hours on the first night, he played everything from I'm Your Man to Hallelujah, First We'll Take Manhattan to Dance Me Til The End Of Love to The Future to Closing Time to Bird On A Wire.
Frail as a bird on wire himself, Leonard never stopped smiling (so much for his title as 'The Dada of Despair').
I really hope you'll be back in Ireland next year, Leonard.