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John Walshe: League of Franz
2004 was a bad year in politics. Maybe that’s why the music just got better.
John Walshe, 04 Jan 2005
War, pestilence and famine: when will we ever learn? Huge swathes of Africa continue to experience drought and famine. Thanks to the Bush/Blair love-in, much of the Middle East is seriously at odds with what it sees as supremacist western power-mongering. And the results of the US Presidential Election would suggest that America has regressed into a heavily-armed, paranoid psycho-state. 2004: what a fucking year!
The irony is that the last 12 months have seen a wealth of amazing music being created at home and abroad, much of it influenced by the grievous global goings-on. Steve Earle followed up the mighty Jerusalem with the raw and righteous anger of The Revolution Starts Now, REM and Springsteen stood up and were counted, U2 produced their best album in ages and even Green Day added their two-fingers worth to the debate with the scorching American Idiot.
Elsewhere, Tom Waits released another fine album of trashcan blues and guttural rhythm in the shape of Real Gone. Franz Ferdinand exploded. The Killers released an OK album (Hot Fuss) that featured two of the singles of the year: ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’ and ‘Mr Brightside’. Graham Coxon proved there’s life after Blur with the rocking Happiness In Magazines. The Kings Of Leon went widescreen with the stunning Aha Shake Heartbreak and Interpol proved they’re in it for the long haul with the gorgeous Antics (I’m already counting down the days until their Olympia gig next year).
However, my album of the year comes from the troubled and often tortured songwriting of Mark Lanegan, whose Bubblegum is a work of exquisite beauty, monumental heartbreak and some damn fine rock ‘n’ roll into the bargain. Featuring a stellar cast of rawk luminaries, including the wonderful PJ Harvey, along with various Queens Of The Stone Age and Guns N’ Roses, Bubblegum is an epic journey (indeed it pretty much soundtracked my own adventures across Germany and Poland in July). It also includes arguably the most beautiful song released this year in the shape of ‘One Hundred Days’ (a view, incidentally shared by the charming and very fanciable Polly Jean Harvey, who I had the good fortune to interview in September).
Of the home crowd, Snow Patrol conquered the world through a combination of magical tunes and genuine charm. The Frames showed they’ve lost none of their songwriting prowess with the wonderful Burn The Maps. Waiting Room made lots of friends with their beautiful Catering For Headphones album, while the likes of Mundy, Mark Geary, Jeff Martin and David Kitt cemented their reputations with quality albums. The Chalets finally proved what all the fuss was about with two superb singles (‘Theme From The Chalets/Sexy Mistake’ and the Nightrock EP), while The Walls unveiled their finest hour in the shape of the rocking ‘Drowning Pool’.
Gig-wise there were many highlights: most notably BellX1’s victorious set at Vicar St, The Frames’ celebratory sprinkling of magic dust all over Marlay Park, The Pixies in the Park, NERD at Oxegen, Snow Patrol and PJ Harvey carving up the Olympia. My gig of 2004, though, was The Children Of Bam Fundraiser at Vicar Street, which I also had the good fortune to MC, where Damien Rice, The Walls, Lisa Hannigan, Vivienne Long and BellX1 (amongst others) created the warmest, fuzziest, sloppiest-grinned night of the year.
Hopes for 2005: that BellX1 go supernova á la Snow Patrol; that the brilliant Chuzzle finally release an album; that The Frames score a US number one; that Liverpool and the Dubs start to show some consistency; that the Irish rugby team go one better than last year and take the Grand Slam; that Brian Kerr’s boys qualify for Germany 2006; that my Going Underground show on FM104 is made daily. And that maybe, just maybe, some basic humanity will shine through the murky world of international politics.