Magazine article The Spectator

Seriously Good

Magazine article The Spectator

Seriously Good

Article excerpt

What makes an album last? What makes it great? If the latest poll in Q magazine is anything to go by, it helps if it's made by a man, or a collection of men; it helps if it is broadly defined as 'rock' rather than 'pop'; and it certainly helps if it takes itself very seriously. Most important of all, an album seems to acquire greatness when everyone agrees that it has acquired greatness. The magazine's list of the 100 greatest British albums ever has all the usual suspects. The Clash's London Calling is fourth; the Rolling Stones's Exile On Main Street is third. Radiohead's dismal and forbidding OK Computer is only second. What, do you mean to say that a better album has been recorded by Britons in the past 40 years? Yes, indeed, and it's the Beatles' Revolver, as it always is. Kate Bush's Hounds Of Love (20th) is the only album by a woman in the top 60.

Great albums, like any work of art, take time to emerge; instant responses may only be partially reliable. Last year I droned on at length about XTC's Apple Venus Volume 1 (Idea), a glistening pop album which didn't sell half as many as it deserved to. But it doesn't last that long. I come back to it occasionally but my feelings towards it are now more muted. In fact the 1999 album I still play all the time is one I don't think I have mentioned in this column at all: Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt's Western Wall (Asylum). This was a real slow burn: a duet album with country tendencies, folk roots and a broad palette of rock sounds, all applied to a faultless set of songs. First hearing, and the distinctive dynamics of a song like 'Loving The Highwayman' come as an almost unpleasant shock. Fifth hearing, and you're singing along in the street. Twentieth hearing, and you're still finding new things to enjoy. It's not a 'great' album in the Radiohead sense. It's just a fantastically adept and imaginative piece of work you might enjoy for many years to come.

I look back at the albums that have really lasted for me over the past dozen or so years, the ones I come back to again and again, the ones that never seem to age. Leonard Cohen's I'm Your Man, an extraordinarily mordant and comic album with terrific tunes and an atmosphere like no other. (It's a sort of electronic Jewish gospel, if that makes any sense, and about 50,000 times better than it sounds. …

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