Add It Up to Airportman

WOKE the other morning to headline news of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s ‘conscious uncoupling’.

Normally, this would have been met with justified indifference and an attempt to get at least a few more minutes in bed before stumbling the into shower.

But having initially misunderstood and thought Conscious Uncoupling was the bizarre name for their latest sprog, two startling concerns hit me.

First that we were going to be subjected to acres of newsprint wasted on something so desperately uninteresting to anybody not involved and, secondly, that Martin would use his feelings for a new Coldplay album.

The first, which has happened, is just about tolerable and easy to ignore. The second – and there are warnings of a new selection of songs to creosote to – is a fearsome prospect.

There is no Coldplay anywhere on the road from A to Z on my iPod and, while the second episode has not been littered with too many sparkling highlights, it has been infinitely superior to Martin and his cohorts’ earnest greyness.

Amid a wide selection of album tracks and songs burned off compilations given away with magazines were a few first entries from major bands who will pop up regularly – just not their best.

Three of those maiden appearances came from acts at the top of my best live gigs list – Ryan Adams, Radiohead and REM.

Radiohead (Airbag) have chalked up a hat-trick of gigs from supporting James at Gloucester Leisure Centre via a big tent in Newport to a stunning appearance at Cardiff’s International Arena.

REM appeared at track number 102 with Airportman – well after Bill Berry had left and they had ceased to be a reliable trademark for quality (Murmur to Automatic for the People must rank as one of the greatest run of top-quality albums from any band).

And their gig at the Newport Centre just as they were about to become massive ranks right at the top of my list.

Haven’t counted but Adams, who leads a growing collection of Americana in this list, will probably appear as much as anyone in this blog. That’s partly due to me being a bit of a completist and Adams’ lack of quality control (three albums in one year could easily have been squeezed into one).

But when he’s good – as he was at Wales’ Millennium Centre – he is very, very good.

At least one friend of mine will perk up at the very mention of Neil Young (who also appeared with After The Gold Rush as part of a recent attempt to study a few supposed classics) and acclaim him the greatest living singer-songwriter.

My feelings for Adams are not quite that strong, but he’s getting there, even if his first entry Afraid Not Scared only fits somewhere in the middle of his quality scale.

There were more firsts from Arcade Fire (After Life), Prefab Sprout (Adolescence from last year’s surprising validation of Paddy McAloon’s talents, Crimson/Red), Sufjan Stevens (the less than sparkling Age of Adz), Sonic Youth (Against Facism from their finest hour, Dirty), Carter USM (After The Watershed – probably the only song on this list to namecheck an ex-Hereford United goalkeeper) and the Violent Femmes, who kicked off this section with Add It Up. All will return.

Other notables included …And They Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead (Aged Dolls), who provided an answer in my favourite round of University Challenge.

The question required four clueless students to identify the three famous people after which the songs played were named after – Sylvia Plath by Ryan Adams, Einstein A Go Go by Landscape and Mark David Chapman by Trail of Dead. They got none, two of them will appear later in this list.

Annoyingly, Jeremy Paxman declined to say the band’s full name.

And so we rattle along to the end of this section and the end of the first 100 tracks. The honour of that landmark went to Wilco with a live version of Airline To Heaven, hot on the heels of the version they did with Billy Bragg as part of the Mermaid Avenue Woody Guthrie project.

So that’s 100 down (and another two, to be honest), just 11-odd thousand to go.


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