Over these recent months, I have accumulated a wealth of songs in my treasure trove. As my readers know by this point in time, writing about music is the high-point I always seek. That makes up my ultimate treasure trove. So in no particular order, I not only listened to a mix of songs straddling years and eras, old and new but ensured I rediscovered some underrated gems from familiar and self-assured artists I admire.
Here is the months’ worth of songs and their creators who kept me engaged with their voices and lyrical powers. They are all equally important to me and so there’s no chance of letting one supersede another. It’s a library of riches and thanks to Spotify, I have expanded my listening arc.
It’s a journey that we undertake with the originator when it comes to meaningful songs. Hence to have Calum Scott’s wrenching piano ballad BOYS IN THE STREET hold itself so steadily against internalised homophobia and familial misgivings is a journey, from failing to understand the ethos of desire and love to one of acknowledging that one’s true happiness must be put first over misinterpretations and prejudice. He’s vocally at the top of his game, putting both sides of the narrative at the forefront.
The caravan of swooning love and self-reflexivity, coming to terms with a relationship where one half of the pair had already developed cold feet and had committed perhaps to an universal idea of ‘home’ and a joyful journey through the years all make Shania Twain’s discography worth it. THE WOMAN IN ME, HOME AIN’T WHERE HIS HEART IS and DANCE WITH THE ONE THAT BROUGHT YOU hail from her first two albums and all three are valuable to any playlist, especially the gentle rhythms of the first two standouts.
Then comes along the excellent balladry occasioned by Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram on SOMEWHERE OUT THERE. It’s a duet for the ages. Period. Nothing more or less can convince me of Ms. Ronstadt’s place in my heart and this addition to her classic portfolio is enriching for me as a listener.
The ball keeps rolling and we arrive at the house party aesthetics of Jessie Ware’s FREE YOURSELF, her latest single after WHAT’S YOUR PLEASURE as a compact album sealed her musical stature with universal acclaim. This is one enjoyable continuation of her efforts at lifting spirits.
In the same spirit of musical discovery, I expanded my knowledge regarding two iconic rock outfits, i.e. Pink Floyd and Metallica.
The latter band is a bedrock of profound sonic sensibilities to me owing to NOTHING ELSE MATTERS, an ubiquitous melodic standard and of course their most recent MOTH INTO FLAME that is enough to recharge one’s batteries.
Other canonical titles like THE UNFORGIVEN and ENTER SANDMAN, both tackling earnest issues with aplomb, are now formidably placed here along with MASTER OF PUPPETS, an eight minute hard-rock epic on the way we are all made to live as marionettes under someone else’s command. It’s such veritable societal truths that are highlighted fearlessly by the band’s output.
As further testament to these songs’ staying power, listen to Rina Sawayama cover ENTER SANDMAN and Miley Cyrus and co. rip into NOTHING ELSE MATTERS in spellbinding vocal fashion. Miley can actually be a torchbearer for any cover without compromising on its original integrity, a feat she has accomplished again and again. Suffice it to say, she is at her dependable best here too.
From Lords of Hard Rock to the transcendental multiverse of beauty that is very much Pink Floyd’s mainstay, it’s a journey to sonic textures of bliss as on the instrumental SIGNS OF LIFE, the blunt edges of THE DOGS OF WAR, the intermingling of serenity and saxophones on US AND THEM and the heartwarming quality of vocals and guitars employed in the clear-eyed vision evinced in its most recent dispatch LOUDER THAN WORDS, a song I rediscovered once again after almost seven years. It’s such a variegated profile and I love that music does that to us- create a loop of constant discovery and tastes, always stunning, always diverse.
In that fashion, we can add KILL OR BE KILLED and WON’T BACK DOWN, that continues in rampant succession, the conceptual glory of Muse since DRONES. The guitar work, drums and overall production is top-notch, aiding its sense of socio-political immediacy. Above all is Matthew Bellamy’s vocal power that is unmistakably pronounced to enhance the band’s latest album WILL OF THE PEOPLE. Following suit is the eternally peppy GIRL PANIC from Duran Duran, its beats and lyrics as iconic as that star-studded music video starring the likes of Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford et al.
On the other hand,Chris Cornell and his team’s exemplary standards bear their fruits on the Led Zeppelin-esque COCHISE and the power-packed SHOW ME HOW TO LIVE, the latter acting as a showcase also for the way Cornell is often cited as one of the greatest singers of our times.
The continuum of personal favourites and icons then culminate with the no-nonsense rock charge in Avril Lavigne’s trifecta from her earliest albums, in the form of LOSING GRIP, NOBODY’S HOME and UNWANTED or her cover of the Joan Jett manifesto BAD REPUTATION off her self-titled 2013 set.
That apart, Tori Amos’ GOD and SPARK bring poetry, vulnerability, melody and her very own worldview to this eclectic mix. She is one singer who keeps on gifting us with her fount of creativity that’s raw and edged with its proudly alternative mould.
Add the stark but pointedly aching confessional in ME AND A GUN covering the painful aftermath and preceding conditions leading to a sexual assault , the piano notes on BAKER, BAKER, the congenial vibes of A SORTA FAIRYTALE and the peppy yet sharp critique of an image-based culture on CORNFLAKE GIRL to that list. Amos hence constantly finds her ground across these meritorious gems.
Foo Fighters were also perennially on my playlist and some of their greatest hits joined the bandwagon. Definitive titles such as THE PRETENDER, BEST OF YOU, WALK, ROPE, SOMETHING FROM NOTHING shared a complete disregard for coercive authority. Rabble rousing always sounds credible in these lads’ hands and with RUN off their last album being a sure-shot favourite of mine in addition to BEST OF YOU and WALK, I send my deepest gratitude to Taylor Hawkins, the band’s drumming pioneer who is no more with us. After all, what would a Foo Fighters song be without his signature kinetic contribution?
The same sentiment of revisiting the corpus from MUMFORD AND SONS yielded a better appreciation of numbers like THE WOLF, BLIND LEADING THE BLIND, perennial classic I WILL WAIT. This coincided with Marcus Mumford’s solo album spawning the deeply personal CANNIBAL and GRACE, the soft, secret world of confessions and the thrust of disclosure in the former and latter respectively touching a raw nerve. Sexual assault again made this particular instance of recollection and recovery grave by its focus on the buried trauma of males.
Next up is Arcade Fire’s READY TO START, an always exuberant, vulnerable and thoughtful ode to starting over, that created the imagery of a journey through places and emotional states for me;
the song retains its comely, eternal charms for this listener a decade later. From the opening guitars and drums, the vocals to the instantly hummable chorus, this one is a winner and remains aligned with my own journey, in the context of home and a world drifting away with memories of an age of innocence. A beautiful example of music being more than just strings and lyrics and hewing closer to a spiritual experience.
To top it off, I finally immersed myself in Kurt Cobain’s flawless renditions of WHERE DID YOU SLEEP LAST NIGHT? and PENNYROYAL TEA courtesy his iconic MTV UNPLUGGED set. Nirvana’s acoustic depth and the naked vulnerability of the words find a perfect interpreter in Cobain. Once heard, they remain soulful meditations haunting our souls. On the pithy Tourette’s and Territorial Pissings too, the enraged and overflowing soul sees society’s errant ways and explodes.
Nirvana is a certified institution and these renewed listening experiences add to the potency of more visible entities as COME AS YOU ARE, ANEURYSM, HEART-SHAPED BOX, LITHIUM and SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT. Krist Novoselic’s pioneering grunge guitar patterns and Dave Grohl’s drumming prowess acquire solidified heft.
The batch of musical resonances is good to go with Hole’s visceral and bouyant JENNIFER’S BODY, Pearl Jam’s engaging dissection of social malaise affecting an already disgruntled generation, on the lacerating JEREMY, and Annie Lennox’s somber contribution to the life-story of Marie Colvin in REQUIEM FOR A PRIVATE WAR. War and Peace are the entities summoned here, to remind us of where we stand as a civilisation. Each of the three deal with our world’s ravenous, amoral and avaricious tendencies in their own distinctive manner and hold us captive by their sincerity and craft.
We now come to the songs and artists that will cap off this journey with their sheer brilliance in terms of melodic standard, voices and the lingering effect of their songcraft.
Beauty and truth seem to be cornerstones of an unjustly underrated song off motion picture Puzzle’s original soundtrack from 2018. HORIZONS is composer Dustin O’ Halloran and vocalist Ane Brun collaborating on one of the most beautiful tunes you will ever come across. I say that with utmost earnestness because making the claim for a song or work of art’s validity can feel like getting lost in a jungle of mediocre creative posturings at best. But Horizons is a piano ballad, a hymn of the human soul that is designed like a chant, an epiphany. Ms. Brun’s vocals are soulful and enchanting and the words come alive in her compassionate phrasing. I’m awed by its structure and the way it seeps into one’s consciousness each time one listens to it. Which is why it’s a pity and source of discomfort that such worthy songs escape mainstream notice. Hopefully if I can make listeners take note of them, my efforts will find an echo of recognition.
Talking of melody and lingering effects, we have another clear standout in the form of FADE INTO YOU by Mazzy Star. It’s such a patient melody, as if it was placed among us to circumvent the constant flow of noise that governs our days and allow ourselves to experience the rare feeling of being wrapped up in warmth. I love the acoustic depth here as much as Hope Sandoval’s voice, a wisp and a whisper that is transcendental and beautifully haunting.
With the Nineties wagon finding many artists of merit in its trail, PJ HARVEY too came up with aces, charging her way with the no-holds barred guitars and vocals of RID OF ME and DOWN BY THE WATER. But my favourite of hers remains HENRY LEE, a duet of composure and passive tempers with Nick Cave. A simple melody and almost conversational style are built around the piano and both singers get their equal dues here by exchanging the verses between them. It’s hard not to fall for the innocence which actually cloaks a dark tale of intrigue here.
Since melody has obviously come into sharp focus here, I can say with certitude that discovering KD Lang has been one of the highlights of this year. So far her featured vocals on The Killers’ 2020 standout LIGHTNING FIELDS was my only connection with her discography. Her featured vocals had become memorable to me within the limited span of the song’s runtime. So it’s no surprise that her iconic stature as a vocalist had to somehow make an entrance in my life and give credence to my journey of musical discovery.
CONSTANT CRAVING and MISS CHATELAINE are the frontrunners as well as her emotionally accessible duet with Roy Orbison on CRYING. But there are gems galore in her refined discography where love, longing, loss and the possibility of a breakthrough combine to produce an ultimately exultant feeling of hard-won hope.
HUSH, SWEET LOVER, I CONFESS, SEXUALITY, PULLING BACK THE REINS, TRAIL OF BROKEN HEARTS, YOU’RE OK, THEME FROM THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS and her iconic take of HALLELUJAH, blessed by its originator Leonard Cohen himself, are among the beautifully composed and flawlessly sung masterpieces in her repertoire. Each one is brilliant and a vocalist’s guide. A listener and afficianado’s ultimate treasure trove.
So listen to these as also her collaborations with Tony Bennett on WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD, LA VIE EN ROSE & BLUE VELVET. She’s a versatile artist who deserves more love and genuine appreciation because her skills are distinctive.
2022 obviously has seen Rina Sawayama’s deserving ascent. If 2020’s boisterously promising and versatile SAWAYAMA was an early signal of the sophomore effect being trustworthy of greater merit then HOLD THE GIRL is the answer.
The title track is a clear standout, the flow of the beginning notes, the energy envisioned in the chorus and the gospel-choir inspired latter half all giving much boost to a showcase for her confident bearings while CATCH ME IN THE AIR and THIS HELL are crafted with care to make this a trifecta to relish. I love the interpersonal core of the mother-daughter bond in the former and the sassy, guitar-powered felicity of the latter, also the first single released from the new set.
The winning playlist finds further integrity with the uptempo, breathlessly fierce HURRICANES and the vulnerable PHANTOM, impressively dappled in a conciliatory mode and accomodating tone.
Of course, the whole album needs to be listened by me in full but if these five songs begin the show then we need to be assured of one of this year’s best pop records. More power to Rina and her journey of success.
BARBRA STREISAND’S CRY ME A RIVER- OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO
This all-time classic rendition has been given the music video treatment in an official capacity circa 2022, conflating Ms. Streisand’s early performance at a New York nightclub through archival photos and on-screen lyrics with recreations in black and white of the night’s aura.
I love it, given that it can now be seen by modern audiences who’ve been enraptured by one of the singer’s many perfectly enunciated standards.
AVRIL LAVIGNE’S LIVE PERFORMANCE OF COMPLICATED ON TOP OF THE POPS.
With a recent Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the twentieth anniversary of her debut since 2002, the eternally talented and youthful Avril Lavigne takes us back to a great live performance of COMPLICATED here.
SINEAD O’ CONNOR PERFORMING NOTHING COMPARES TO YOU (LIVE) ON TOP OF THE POPS.
Finally, the caravan culminates with Sinead O’Connor at her sublime best, in this live iteration of her greatest moment as an artist. It’s more poignant since it coincides with the recent release of the Showtime documentary NOTHING COMPARES that seeks to deconstruct her fearless spirit and pure soul that had been hijacked and censored indiscriminately by power-brokers hell-bent on destroying her essence.