Yeah, that’s right, I’m rolling on through!! I’ve promised myself that I can play a bit of the Resident Evil 3 remake after I finish this entry, so don’t expect me to be 100% focused…
Oh, so she uses proper capitalisation on the album cover, but not in the official stylisation?? Seriously, Charli, what the WTF?
There is no better artist in recent times at embracing the everything than Charli XCX. Her genius has always been to encompass pretty much every facet of modern pop music and modern sound into bite size chunks and serving them up for the aimed consumption of literally every single person on Earth. She has always liked to do this through bridging as many connections with as many people as possible. She is an insanely public artist, connecting to all of her fans on every social platform and ensuring that they are always explicitly aware of how important they are in whatever success she has, leading to live performances that can feel more like a mass therapy session mixed with the prelude to the greatest mass orgy all thousand people present have ever experienced mixed with the purest exhibition of Arthur Janov‘s treatment of primal screaming. She’d also do this by collaborating with as many other artists as she could, ensuring that so many of her fans were introduced to slightly more challenging acts such as Cupcakke, Dorian Elektra and Tommy Cash. You have to imagine that Charli hugs each and every person she passes on the streets and tells them that she loves them, and to never stop being awesome. It makes every trip to the Post Office last about an hour and 45 minutes. For this most hyper-interactive, hyper-communicative, hyper-compassionate and hyper sharing artist- one who thrives on the maddening stimulation of modern life- to suddenly find that you’re not allowed to meet with anybody and, really, shouldn’t even leave your freaking house might have come as a defeating blow, like if you’re a My Little Pony fan and the government suddenly announced all swastikas were now illegal.
Instead, the self-confessed workaholic just went nuts. I mean, yeah, obviously she went nuts, didn’t we all? I know I did some crazy fucking things during lockdown. Charli went nuts in a good way though, setting up a dedicated email so producers could send her beats and song motives, showing her fans screenshots of conversations about works in progress, involving them in Zoom meetings so she could further update everyone on what’s happening with the project, sending video messages out on social media where she’d excitedly make announcements wile taking a dump or cleaning the oven after the explosion following the latest failed attempt to make banana bread… She obviously never gave herself any time off to allow the possibility that the overwhelming sadness of the current situation overtake her. Then, amazingly, in May, just two months after lockdown commenced, she released ‘how i’m feeling now’.
It’s possibly her finest work yet. An absolutely dizzying performance of multiple influences and of limitless hyperpop that harks back to some of the more hyperactive and sonically excessive work that Charli usually quietly pushes out onto mix albums, but always in reverence to her more mainstream ability to craft a tune. It seems crude to refer to the record as ‘The Ultimate Lockdown Album’ or ‘COVID-19’s Greatest Hits’ or ‘Coronatrythis, Ammi Right, Lads??’. Much like I said in my scandalously low placing of 39 for her album last year, “write anything you want into the form ‘Who is the most [ADJECTIVE] [NOUN] of [DURATION]?’ and the answer will always be ‘Charli XCX’”. With its hyperactive pace and onslaught on information, regardless of the context ‘how i’m feeling now’ might just be the perfect album to distill and explain the insanity of our times.
Not quite at Manics levels, but she’s getting there. Ooh! Speaking of which!
Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaars!! What, so you think that because I reviewed it when it was rereleased it shouldn’t be eligible for this list?? Or you think me already going on record saying that it’s the best record of 1993 that somehow disqualifies it from being judged alongside other 2020 releases by mere mortals?? You think it shouldn’t be included because it’s a reissue?? Mate, you were happily nodding your head when I spoke about Kid Cudi at number 11, and that wasn’t released this year, like, at all! You’re gonna lose your shit when you see what album came 7th… Anyway, remember ‘Futurology‘? Yeah, that means The Manics are a:
What’s that? What did you just say?? No, you idiot, they’re not a ‘future champion’, because this album came out in 2020, not 1993! Don’t agree? Well why don’t we ask your precious Spotify what it thinks:
There, case closed. It’s an album released in 2020 and, what’s more, it’s the ninth best album of this year. This year 2020. Yeah, the unremastered 1993 original may have been the best album of 1993, but that can either mean the next eight records would be the best album of that year had they been released 27 years ago, or maybe you can decide that the 1993 original might not have been so highly praised had it been two and a half hours long. Oh, and word to the wise, you might argue that I only said ‘GATS’ was the best album of 1993 after I’d decided to give 1994 to Jeff Buckley, 1996 to the Auteurs, 2014 to Sharon van Etten and realised- lordy-loo!- that there wouldn’t have been any Manics albums on my list otherwise. I know! Ahead of ‘In Utero’! Fandom’s a weird thing. This is all just a theory though. Pretty crazy conspiracy though, don’t you think? It’s like it’s all connected… WWG1WGA…
I’m glad we had that little argument though, because otherwise I might be struggling to think of stuff to say about the ‘GATS’ reissue that I hadn’t already said in my much heralded (in my mind) and multi-award winning (in my mind) original piece. It’s an amazing restoration job, with each song now barking out the speakers with the crispness than Gary Lineker’s regifted Christmas presents. The eight b-sides included here are among the band’s very best, and the demos are incredibly interesting if you’re a fan but completely worthless if you’re not. You know how it be, yeah? Seriously though, have a listen to this album and tell me it’s anything less than fantastic! I can’t be the only one!!
Ah, shit, I have to list the previous entries again, don’t I…?
Yeah, yeah, I know, this is the obligatory number one choice. There’s been a critical consensus, this is a ruling handed down by Lord Lestor Bangs, and every journalist, blogger, weirdo in his spare room after having an argument with his wife, and angry self-described musical expert on Twitter has to strongly (and violently, if necessary) voice their reasons for not naming it their album of the year if they dare upset the Gods by doing so. So, yeah, that’s what I’m about to do. Strap yourselves in. And strap on the strap on to yourself, we’re gonna have a lot of fun. Don’t forget to click subscribe. Wink emoji.
Firstly, ‘Fetch the Bolt Cutters’ is a fucking incredible album. It feels dumb saying that, since if you avert your eyes a little further up the page you’ll see that I’ve named it as the eighth best album of a year that I have repeatedly praised as being an especially good one for music, but I feel like it needs to be said. I am not going to be slagging the album off now, as it is honestly a near peerless achievement that it’s not easy to fault. I’m just going to present my case why I don’t believe it’s the greatest album of 2020, but all I’m saying is why I believe there are seven better albums than it. Cool your jets, yeah? I mean, Jesus, I’ve put it one place above the freaking Manic Street Preachers, so it’d be like questioning whether I was really a fan of a person I’d just begged to punch my Mum in the face so I’d have an impression of their fist that I could easily make a commemorative plaster cast later on. It’s astonishingly ambitious, shockingly diverse and inventive, absolutely exceptional in its production, its composition and its presentation. You wanna name this album of the year? Go ahead, that wouldn’t be an insane decision. It’d be wrong, but not insane.
I think the main reason I didn’t go quite as doolally over ‘…Bolt Cutters’ as many of my (cough) peers (ahem) is that I honestly have no previous relationship with Fiona Apple. She’s hardly as prolific as Shamir, considering she started her career 25 years ago in an era when musicians were properly paid for their work and so doesn’t have to completely rely on money from releasing records when there’s an incident like, say, a pandemic puts paid to live music and makes it her only feasible way of making a living. In those 25 years, she’s been comfortable enough to only release five albums. Which is nice. The thing is, I am more than often concerned with hearing new music, so realistically there have been four opportunities for me to get into Fiona Apple since 1996! First, there was her debut ‘Tidal‘, but in 1996 I was a twelve year old arsehole happily listening to Kula Shaker’s debut, I didn’t have time for that shit! Her next album I was genuinely interested in buying, mostly because it was called ‘When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks Like a King What He Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight and He’ll Win the Whole Thing ‘fore He Enters the Ring There’s No Body to Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might So When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand and Remember That Depth Is the Greatest of Heights and If You Know Where You Stand, Then You Know Where to Land and If You Fall It Won’t Matter, Cuz You’ll Know That You’re Right‘. But this was in 1999! No radio station in the UK was playing Fiona freaking Apple! Though I was interested, you might not understand what a big commitment it was to get the train to Woolworths, realise they didn’t have it in stock because it wasn’t in the top 40, get the train all the way to Manchester instead, pay £15.99 for a CD you’ve never heard anything from before, just because you like the long title and (if we’re being honest) you thought the singer was quite cute (hey, I was 15!)? Be reasonable! She released ‘Extraordinary Measures‘ six years later but, I dunno, 2005? I was (technically) still at university,(technically) married and (absolutely) drinking and drugging myself to death, you really expect me to find time for Fiona among all that?? Come on! Then there was ‘The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do‘, which, yeah, another great long title, but I was in China in 2012! You think the Communist Party will even allow such a thing??
So, yeah, Ms Apple and I gave managed to avoid each other for the last 25 years. Before listening to ‘…Bolt Cutters’ I honestly couldn’t name you one Fiona Apple song. Didn’t she do Stay (I Missed You)? I’m not saying that intimate knowledge of Fiona Appleis in any way essential to enjoying ‘…Bolt Cutters’- number 8, remember?- just that it seems in order to truly appreciate the album, you need to be aware of the wider narrative and the successes and failures Ms Apple has had up to this point.
Also, that debut album sold two point nine million, which, oof, OK, eesh, Ms Apple, you can take as much time as you need. Can I have some change for the bus?