Today’s advent picture isn’t particularly spectacular. It’s a photo of the new Brian Wilson CD, What I Really Want For Christmas. Horrible, horrible artwork, and a fairly uneventful record. It’s nice enough, but, y’know, I’ll listen to it a couple of times and then stick it in the Beach Boys shrine.
I’ve been a bit down on Brian since his Live 8 appearance, when his proper Berlin concert was cancelled, (they say it was due to less-than-spectacular ticket sales – since when did not selling-out a concert straight away mean artists could just cancel the show, huh?), yet he still came to the city and played a handful of songs in front of a bunch of indifferent Green Day and A-ha fans.
And now this album. I’m all in favour of Christmas albums, there’s a couple of handfuls of them in my record collection, but the packaging… fucking hell, it’s so insulting. I’m guessing the only people who buy this album are those, like me, that will dutifully trek to the shops and buy anything with Brian’s name on the front; so, y’know, make a fucking effort with the artwork, would you? Using that silver-y mirror-y type of cardboard isn’t big or clever, it’s cheap and nasty. Slap on a clip-art bow: we got ourselves a CD cover, boys. The on-disc art is just as tossed-off: a red bauble with Brian’s head Photoshopped onto it so it looks like it’s reflected. But done really badly. And to think that record labels wonder why we all ignore their pleas for us to stop illegally downloading mp3s…
While I’m on the subject of music, when I was in the UK, I did the requisite amount of shopping in that most money-sucking of shops in London, Fopp. It’s one of those shops where everything is priced just right. None of this £9.99 rubbish, everthing is nice round amounts: £5.00, £10.00, £12.00, £15.00, etc. And everything is at the price that is the tipping point between leaving something on the racks and opening one’s wallet.
(Plus their name is kinda cool. When I used to work for a record distributor, I used to talk to someone at one of the Fopp shops in Scotland, and was told the reason for the name. Wikipedia says the shop is named after an Ohio Players song, but that’s not what I was told. It’s an acronym, apparently. The last two words represented in the acronym are Poor People. You can guess what the F and the O mean, can’t you?)
Anyway, a couple of the things I bought were the Babyshambles album Down In Albion and the re-issued edition of Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run.
As anyone who saw this might’ve worked out, I love Bruce Springsteen. He’s like my wise uncle who tells me good stories and lends me good records, ‘cept I’ve never met him, and he knows not who I am. He’s been a constant joy in my life for over 20 years now, so I don’t really worry about re-buying an album just for the extras.
I also really liked the two Libertines albums. Of all the modern guitar-y groups who’ve got one foot stuck in 1979, they, to me, seemed the most convincing. I love how their records sounded like they were about to fall apart at any moment, and it was just will power that kept things going.
So, in a way, it’s interesting (for me, anyway) to compare both of these albums. Both are third albums by the artists involved. Both are kinda make-or-break albums. Both of the artists were around the same age when these albums were released (Bruce was a month shy of 26, Pete is 26). I guess it’s unfair, though, to compare a record that seems to have come to be regarded as a, and I hate to use this word, classic; while the other has been on sale for about three weeks, but I’ll do it nonetheless.
Down In Albion is rubbish. Okay, that’s a tiny bit harsh, but it’s not good. But it’s such a huge disappointment after the ace-ness of the Libertines records, and the lovely, acoustic demos of the songs Pete Doherty allowed to float around the Internet. Hearing a gorgeous song like Albion have the shit kicked out of it by a crappy band and dull, lifeless production is a real shame. And I think that’s what makes this album different to the two Libertines records: it’s lifeless, there’s no dynamism. The knocked-out-with-a-guitar-and-a-tape-machine-ness of the demos just doesn’t translate when seemingly knocked out with the same attitude in a studio with a band. Is being Kate Moss’ junkie boyfriend really how you wanna be remembered?
Born To Run, on the other hand, still sounds magnificent. If you don’t like Bruce Springsteen, you’ll probably not like it. But, hey, you’re wrong. It begins perfectly (Thunder Road), ends perfectly (Jungleland), and it’s shit-hot inbetween. That’s how to make a third album. That’s how to take the good start you made with two good albums and take that next leap forward.
And anyway, Born To Run is integral to the greatest ever moment in The Sopranos: Tony and Silvio having a meeting. Christopher walks in.
Tony asks, “Where the fuck you been? You’re late.”
Christopher replies, “Highway was jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive.”
Cue Springsteen fans the world over nudging the person they’re sat next to, going, “Eh, look, Springsteen lyrics… and Silvio… played by-” [companion falls asleep with boredom].