I’ve stared at a blank page for a while now, trying to compose this. I feel a little like the first time you tell someone you love them. The words are there but you can’t quite find your way into them. Deep breath. It’s only a blog post. It’s only a quick reflection on your favourite records of 2017. Okay. Here goes.
Lorde’s “Melodrama” was, for me, the standout record of the year. And, to be honest, other than a late and spirited run from Phoebe Bridger’s brilliant “Stranger In The Alps”, nothing else really got close. Nothing new at least. I had that thing again this year, which looks like it’s here to stay, where I either discovered or rediscovered something old. Poked around in the attic (technically Spotify but, you know, attic sounds more romantic) and dusted down something previously lost: this year it was a lot of “Rumours” era Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young’s “After The Goldrush” and, most of all, a lot of The Beatles. I mean a lot. I don’t think I really, genuinely, got The Beatles until this year whereas I will now quite happily argue the toss about why they are absolutely the greatest band to ever walk the planet.
I’m drifting. Another deep breath. Lorde. In some respects the fact that I love a record aching with the crushing sadness of being young, falling in love, falling out of love, figuring out your place in the world, dancing like it’s the only thing worth doing, hurting with the intensity that you hurt that first time you get hurt, hell, feeling everything with the intensity you feel that first time, isn’t a surprise. It’s maybe a surprise that a record that so perfectly encapsulates being young hit me like a sledge hammer when I have more grey hairs than brown, am probably closer to the end than the beginning. Bit it did. Does.
“Melodrama” is as damn near perfect as makes no difference. It’s smart and funny. It’s happy-sad. It lifts you up, it puts you down, and then it dusts you off and you feel like everything will be okay. It’s beautifully written: Lorde’s words were the sharpest, most perceptive, warmest, that I heard this year. There are lines that made me smile, lines that made me gasp, lines that made me cry. It’s a writer’s record. She strikes me as one of those musicians that could happily strike out and write prose or poetry – like Willy Vlautin or Nick Cave or Joni or Bob. I know that’s exalted company and she’s only 21 but I think she’s pretty special. And did I mention that I adore her record? God I adore her record.
There’s a host of details I love about “Melodrama” – things like the chk chk pause between the verse and first chorus in “Perfect Places” – but it’s the cohesion of the whole piece that has brought me back to it over and over. The narrative of the first rush of love – falling in and then falling out – framed loosely through a party isn’t necessarily new but I don’t think I’ve heard anyone articulate the experience of being young so clearly. The simultaneous joy and terror of it. The rawness of it before you learn to get a little more numb.
“Supercut” is the standout for me albeit it seems picky to zero in on one song on an album that works, fundamentally, as an album. It hangs together as a whole (which may, sadly, partially explain its relative lack of commercial success compared to its predecessor “Pure Heroine”). “Supercut” is glorious. To be honest if all it had going for it was the line we were wild and fluorescent come home to my heart then I’d be there. That is beautiful and perfect. The rest of the song, a reflection on lost love and the edited highlights of it that are all that remain in memory, ain’t too shabby either.
This wasn’t, I don’t think, what I’d envisaged for this post. But there’s something in that opening analogy about expressing love. If I needed a reminder that music is the thing, for me, that rips right through the rational part of me, the cynical part of me, and cuts to the core – the inner kid that heard the heartbreak in “Winner Takes It All” and fell in love with sad songs – then Lorde’s record does that. I can rationalise and explain all sorts of reasons why I love it but, ultimately, it just connects with me and does what music’s supposed to do: makes you feel alive.
Elsewhere, as alluded above, I also got cut open by the Phoebe Bridger’s record (especially “Motion Sickness” and the absolutely gorgeous “Scott Street”) and a range of records from the past. I spent a lot of time in the company of Stevie Nicks (who inspired her own spin off range of short stories – here) and Fleetwood Mac and I was bowled over by The Beatles, maybe twenty years after I should have been. But I guess that’s the flip side benefit of losing cultural touchpoints defined by everyone hearing things together (does that even really happen now?) – everyone now has access to everything so the past is laid out like a new country to be discovered.
2016 was the tidal wave. I lost my mum and it was like nothing I’d ever known. 2017 has been the undertow. I’ve been back on my feet but get pulled over and sucked back. I think I’m learning that grief works like that. I think it probably always will. I’ve always leant on music as my emotional crutch and the Lorde record was the one I leant on most this year.