Sunday 25 February 2018

Music: The year Adele conquered... again

The year's best selling artist, Adele.
The year's best selling artist, Adele.
Paul Cleary returned with The Blades.
Blur were a hit at Electric Picnic performance.
Dave Grohl provided one of the concert highlights with his Foo Fighters at a wet Slane
The Eagles of Death Metal made their stage comeback after the Bataclan outrage at U2's Paris concert
John Meagher

John Meagher

The record industry got a fleeting reminder of the glory days of huge sales and massive revenue on October 23. That Friday marked the release of Adele's first single in three years and 'Hello' duly topped the charts in 28 countries. It became the first song ever to shift more than one million paid downloads in a week. As a taster for her new album, 25, it ticked all the boxes - and made her record company, XL Recordings, the sort of money that many thought was no longer possible in this age of free downloads and streams.

When 25 was released a month later, it did similarly massive business, including 900,000 sales from the iTunes store alone on the very first day. Just four weeks after its release, it's comfortably the bestselling album of 2015. That achievement was surely helped by the fact that Adele refused to make 25 available to the myriad streaming services that really took off this year. It's a wonder that more of her peers don't follow suit.

Love or loathe her music, there's no denying that Adele Adkins is a sensation whose appeal transcends age, gender, demographic - you name it. When tickets for her two March shows in Dublin's 3Arena went on sale last month, they were snapped up in three minutes. That's 28,000 tickets gone quicker than a single play of 'Hello'.

How the industry must crave more Adeles, or Taylor Swifts. The latter may have released her excellent 1989 album in 2014 but it was among the biggest sellers of this year too. It also spawned one of the year's most intriguing albums - a track-by-track reworking from none other than Ryan Adams. What at first sounded as though it might be an elaborate joke, turned out to be a reverential, if flawed, homage. Adams' rendition of 'Out of the Woods' is one of my songs of 2015.

Speaking of year-defining songs, it was hard to escape Bruno Mars' and Mark Ronson's joyous 'Uptown Funk'. A global number one back in January, it showcased Mars' ability to mine pop gold and Ronson's genius in the studio.

Pop thrills were delivered from wildly disparate sources not least Australian prog-pop outfit Tame Impala ('Let it Happen") and a back-in-form New Order ('Restless'). Meanwhile, the formidably successful, but publicity shy songsmith, Max Martin was on hand for the guilty pleasure of 2015 - The Weeknd's 'Can't Feel My Face'.

Martin, incidentally, was the unwilling participant in one of the year's best music books, John Seabrook's The Song Machine, which took a detailed look at the backroom boys beyond the biggest pop hits of the day. Those keen to read the definitive account of how download culture changed the music industry forever should investigate Steven Witt's absorbing book, How Music Got Free: parts of it read like a thriller.

2015 was not a vintage year for album releases - although those featured in Listen Up to the left and below - are unreservedly recommended. Just missing the top-five cut are Jamie xx's In Colour, New Order's Music Complete and Sleater Kinney's No Cities to Love.

It was a brilliant year for Irish music, though, with Villagers' third album Darling Arithmetic suggesting Conor O'Brien might just be incapable of releasing a bad album. Jape's This Chemical Sea and Róisín Murphy's Hairless Toys should be heard by all music lovers, and my tip to win the Choice Music Prize for Irish album of the year is Girl Band's Holding Hands with Jamie, a blistering slice of indie rock released on the once seminal Rough Trade label.

No doubt the Hibernian Ed Sheeran, Gavin James will be in the running for Irish Song of the Year at March's Choice live event, but I hope there's some acknowledgement of The North Sea's blistering 'Drinking Alone'.

It was good to see The Blades finally getting around to releasing new music - a four-track EP called Smalltime, which proved that Paul Cleary is still capable of penning songs to fall in love with. His band were in blistering form earlier this month at Dublin's Olympia where they rolled back the years in glorious fashion.

The giant shadow of U2 hovered over their hometown of Dublin in November with a quartet of shows that were very well received. They delivered the evergreen hits but, if anything, it was the highly personal songs from latest album Songs of Innocence that impressed most, with 'Iris (Hold Me Close)' nothing short of an audio-visual spectacular.

Bono and friends played their rescheduled Paris shows just a few days after Dublin and on the second night, Eagles of Death Metal joined them for an emotionally charged version of Patti Smith's 'People Have the Power'. Few need to be reminded that just a couple of weeks earlier, the band had been playing the Bataclan theatre, Paris, when cowardly terrorists struck. Jesse Hughes et al had played Dublin's Olympia 48 hours before the Bataclan and their much-shared photo, taken from the stage, featured row after row of happy faces - the very thing that music should be about.

Whatever about album sales, live music seemed in ruddy good health in 2015. Electric Picnic sold out again - buoyed, no doubt, by the appearance of Blur on the bill. Damon Albarn and friends were back with their first album as a quartet since 1999 and while The Magic Whip couldn't rekindle former glories, their live show attracted acres of purple prose.

The country's festival scene has withstood a tough few years and it was heartening to see new entrants to the market, not least Metropolis, an electronic music two-dayer featuring more than 100 acts that took over Dublin's RDS in early November.

But old brands survived too, including Slane, which opened its gates to Foo Fighters in May. You can talk about your cool venues and daring new bands all you like, but sometimes seeing an up-for-it Dave Grohl by the banks of the Boyne is all you need.

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