Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Listening Project 2016: February

I started a pointless project to listen to every UK No. 1 Hit of the past 15 years, and here it begins.

We begin with albums from 2000.

The February playlist

  • Shania Twain - Come On Over
  • Travis - The Man Who
  • Gabrielle - Rise
  • Oasis - Standing on the Shoulder of Giants
  • Travis - The Man Who
  • Santana - Supernatural
  • Moby - Play
  • Tom Jones - Reload
  • Whitney Houston - Whitney: The Greatest Hits
  • Bon Jovi - Crush
  • Tom Jones - Reload
  • S Club 7 - 7
  • Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP
  • Richard Ashcroft - Alone with Everybody
  • Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP
  • Coldplay - Parachutes
  • The Corrs - In Blue
  • Ronan Keating - Ronan
  • Craig David - Born to Do It
  • Robbie Williams - Sing When You're Winning
  • Madonna - Music
  • Radiohead - Kid A
  • All Saints - Saints & Sinners
  • Texas - The Greatest Hits
  • U2 - All That You Can't Leave Behind
  • Westlife - Coast to Coast
  • The Beatles - 1 dagger

Shania Twain - Come On Over starts off well by being an album I actually own, which should ease me into the project. The exuberance of the music is what appealed to me at the time, and the opening bar of Man, I Feel Like a Woman still gives me good vibes. It's good housework music for me - I'd say good party dancing music, but weddings aside I've hardly been to any parties for years, my social circle is more coffee shops and board games (not least because it's rare for more than a handful to be off work at the same time). But it's kind of cheery country-pop-rock and it works for me much like Meat Loaf does, just with fewer motorcycles.

Travis - The Man Who is another familiar face. I own this album too (not too far out of the comfort zone yet!) having, as I well recall, bought it because I wanted a new CD and a girl I fancied liked Travis. I was a bit puzzled that she liked something this dreary, but it takes all sorts. I've slowly warmed to this album over the years, although it's never going to be a favourite. I tend to like my music either stirring, rippling or pulse-pounding.

Gabrielle - Rise is unexpectedly familiar, or at least the title track is. I don't particularly like it, but I do recognise it. Only a relatively small part of the album seems to be available with the relatively limited effort I'm prepared to make - I don't really want to be sitting there searching for tracks individually every three minutes, it rather ruins the effect. On the whole, the album seemed okay, but not something I'd particularly aim to listen to. It's sort of coffee shop music I suppose? Fine, inoffensive, fairly relaxing.

Oasis - Standing on the Shoulder of Giants is something I managed to miss entirely. I don't know how much my teenaged lack of interest in Oasis stems from them always seeming like rather unpleasant people, and how much is due to them being from Manchester (joke). The album starts off with a weird noisy thing that's just got a bit of ranting instead of actual lyrics, but Go Let It Out has a nice beat and Liam's cig-ravaged voice works well there. The sound's distinctive, and there's echoes of Wonderwall in a couple of songs. The song that worked best for me musically was Sunday Morning Call. On the whole, this album is okay, but a bit noisy for my taste perhaps; the lyrics are pleasingly weird but hard to make out. Might work as running music, at least for some songs. It's okay but I don't feel like I got this one wrong at the time.

Santana - Supernatural is refreshingly cheery after the last few. I prefer the more melodic ones; it probably highlights my staggering whiteness, but I've never got into off-beat music or spoken music, so tracks like Do You Like The Way (vaguely hip-hop, I think?) don't really do much for me. For some reason I liked Maria Maria more, possibly because it feels a bit more predictable musically? Some other tracks had a lot of guitarists doing twiddly bits. This album feels far more varied than most things I can think of; I don't know enough to say it's definitely crossing genres, but it seems like it. I vaguely liked about half the tracks, wasn't really into the other half, nothing jumped out at me although I can tell there's a lot of skill involved here.

Moby - Play is an odd fish. Quite a large proportion of it is the kind of thing I could listen to while working, because the lyrics don't intrude. I actually recognise one, Why does my heart feel so bad? which impresses me, and I do sort of like that one. Some of the album (particularly earlier tracks) feel like hold music, bland and rather toothless, although there are some punchier ones that would make this album as a whole unsuitable for background. On the other hand, I don't think there's anything I could run to. There's quite a lot of random bits - tempo changes, talking, the sort of thing that really throws off my stride. Sunday seems cool in the flowier keyboard bits, as does Flying Foxes, but I can't really warm to this album as a whole. I get the feeling the quirky videos are a large part of the point, and I'm not particularly interested in watching music videos. Actually, as well as the hold music comparison, it also feels rather like film score music (I suppose the mostly-instrumental aspect helps with that).

Tom Jones - Reload, wow, I remember a couple of these... I actually don't mind them this time around, whereas I'm pretty sure I rolled my eyes and skipped on in my youth. This is all collaboration-covers, so it's quite varied. I'm not a big fan of Tom's singing style personally, but this album seems pretty decent as stuff to have on in the background.

Whitney Houston - Whitney: The Greatest Hits is pretty cool. I find I've mellowed quite a bit on what I tend to think of as warbly singing; I still can't be doing with it in choral stuff but while I remember being a bit irritated by this style of singing years ago, it doesn't bother me now. I don't think I'll be singing along with most of it because, frankly, I can't, but I'm enjoying this. Some of it makes me want to dance. Other bits are a little overblown for my taste, but I can't tell which, because I eventually worked out the album I listened to was some other very similar compilation and there were no track listings. As far as I could tell, the songs were mostly the same, though, so it counts.

Bon Jovi - Crush. I already like Bon Jovi in a general sense, but only owned a couple of tracks because I'm bad at music okay. This was pretty solid; It's My Life is clearly the standout song here and nothing else is as compelling, but I enjoyed it.

S Club 7 - 7. No matter what my intellectual reaction, my lizard brain is immediately cheered and feels the urge to dance awkwardly and shamelessly in a living room. I'd forgotten that they swap vocals around between the group, which makes sense in (as far as I know) a non-instrumental group, but is still relatively unusual. "Natural" is weird because of the real-sounding oboe clashing with the very manufactured rest of the track. Sadly the rest of the album sort of fades out into nondescriptness - I can't really distinguish any of the lyrics, I don't particularly care, and the repetitive background tracks aren't interesting. Also random observation: this British group sound really American and it's annoying. This is true even though at that point most groups seemed to do that. I wonder if they still do?

Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP starts off distinctly underwhelmingly, with a track consisting mostly of swearing and sexualised violence. Apparently there's some kind of ironic self-aware thing going on here? It's all a bit Poe's Law though. Shame because I sort of feel like I could enjoy the wordplay if it was less tediously unpleasant - "Stan" is interesting and poignant, "The Real Slim Shady" has pleasing rhythm and rhyme (although frankly no rap will ever live up to Mitch Benn's "Macbeth"). Then I lost interest and started skipping forward, and noticed that I couldn't tell the difference between any of the remaining tracks. No, not my thing. I've definitely heard a few Eminem tracks that I enjoyed, but not much on here.

Richard Ashcroft - Alone with Everybody is the first (of many, I expect) artist I've genuinely never heard of. It feels a bit out of place, like it belongs to a slightly different era. Apparently this is true, since it turns out he's from The Verve. It's decent, I can see myself listening to this again, but equally none of it makes any particular mark.

Coldplay - Parachutes. Fine music to do the dishes to, nothing that really stuck out (and the high voices would make it hard to sing along to...). It's okay, I'd cheerfully listen to it again but wouldn't make a point of it. There's something a little intrusive about the singing that makes it slightly hard to focus on anything else.

The Corrs - In Blue. Man, I completely forgot about these people. I really liked them at one point, and the opening bars of Breathless bring that rushing back. Most of the rest of the album is much more chilled, but I like the voices of the group and the acoustic backing. It's a nice mixture of fairly smooth stuff and poundier tracks (I am so good at music vocab).

Ronan Keating - Ronan. I know Ronan Keating gets a lot of stick (okay, "got", I think he's basically considered irrelevant now?) but I actually quite like this music in a chilled-out sort of way.

Craig David - Born to Do It. Relatively catchy, and I like the narrative style of these songs, which contrast sharply with just about everything else. It does seem like all of the stories are basically the same, though, which makes it less effective.

Robbie Williams - Sing When You're Winning. I forgot that I liked Robbie Williams. This doesn't much help with the whole "modern music" thing, but it's nice to be reminded. Also I ended up actually watching some of the music videos, and the silliness and self-mockery was pretty fun. I've also got to say that the bittersweetness of a lot of the songs fits well with my own feelings, although whether that's a good thing is harder to say.

Madonna - Music. The first version of this I found had lots of random stuff that I have to assume was added for the "deluxe edition", mostly stuff that gets in the way of the actual music (like Ali G cameos - why?). This was... I'm going to say, fine, but nondescript. I barely noticed it while I was writing, other than the first track.

Radiohead - Kid A. I couldn't really be doing with Radiohead when they were big, let's see if I've changed my mind. The opening of the first track doesn't bode well, and nor does the rest of it. The music is a mixture of dull and distonally weird, I can't really hear the lyrics. It's not something I'm going to learn and sing along to, and it's not something I feel inclined to sit and listen to like a good classical piece. Mostly I want it to be over.

All Saints - Saints & Sinners. This is pretty cool. I don't remember paying them much attention at the time, but this something I can see myself chilling out to of an evening. Reasonably cheerful, smooth, pleasant vocals.

Stuff I didn't get round to

Since I am not taking this remotely as seriously as the Reading Projects out of sheer self-preservation, I didn't have time for the following albums:

  • Texas - The Greatest Hits
  • U2 - All That You Can't Leave Behind
  • Westlife - Coast to Coast
  • The Beatles - 1 dagger

Overall take

I didn't discover anything new and exciting. I did remember that I like the Corrs and Robbie Williams. I have no particular desire to own any of the albums I don't.

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