23 albums and what do you get?
Another Day Older and Deeper in Deaf

Chris Marling spends too much time listening to some dodgy CDs we sent him

Jaed - Dirty Days (Instant Karma)
Belting debut album from Aussie teen Jaed. She wears her grungy influences on her sleeve, with obvious reference points being Veruca Salt, L7, Hole and Nirvana, but when the songs are this good and this much fun, who cares? Much like a female version of Nine Black Alps, Dirty Days is reverential yet refreshingly young and lively enough to mean you don't care - like a good action movie, you happily suspend your beliefs and just go with the flow. There's some pretty heavy lyrical stuff on here, with a tough upbringing of drug and drink problems exposed, but some comedy interludes means it never gets stodgy and over emotional. Expect great things.

Gary Numan - Jagged (Cooking Vinyl)

I used to love Numan when I was little. He was the first gig I went to without a "grown up" with me, at Hammersmith Odeon in about 1983, and he was amazing. Sadly, it all went to poop, and he's spent 20 or so years playing to the same 1,000 die-hards across the globe, eking out an existence thanks to a small adoring public. Last outing Hybrid saw him reinvent some of his classics with no small success, and this continues the renaissance. It's still Gary Numan, but there are moments here that are nearly as invigorating as classics like Down in the Park and Are Friends Electric? He can now once more stand alongside the likes of Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails, who did such a good job of taking his ideas and making them reality where he was failing so miserably.

The Fondas - Dirty Kick (Levelsound)
For someone who's press release describes them as "the must-see, must-hear act of 2006", their debut album is patchy at best. There are some corkers on Dirty Kick - Sleep grabbed me like all the best bits of Clearlake, and opener D'ya Feel Lucky? Is a lovely yet anarchic indie romp, but for each gem is a turd or two, with some real plodding pub rock nightmares in the shadows of the good stuff. By the end, sadly, the majority falls into the latter category, and there's a lot of it about at the moment. Some great tunes here, but its not a great album. Probably cracking live though.

Ellenby - All You Need to Know (Levelsound)
Accomplished, talented, spirited, and utterly, utterly dull. Folk rock with a heart full of passion but absolutely no musical balls at all. Turgid nonsense, which is as painfully worthy as it us pointless. Music for people with no soul. Really, I cannot describe how bloody awful this truly is. A bunch of second-rate show tunes, but with no show to hang them on.

Killing Joke - Hosannas From the Basement of HELL (Cooking Vinyl)
Much like their recent live shows, everything about this album scream "lost it big time" - only the true believers are staying with this nutjob now. Killing Joke were a seminal band but now they're reduced to a second-rate goth album a million miles from the boundaries they used to push. Perhaps they should drop the "Killing" from their name to better reflect their new position in the world of seriously noisy music. Definitely an album too far, and only for the die-hards.

Jegsy Dodd & the Original Sinners - Wake Up and Smell the Offy (Cherry Red)
I'm happy to say that having John Cooper Clarke sign a Frisbee for me at a shit club in Nottingham is one of my favourite rock star memories, and I now hope Jegsy Dodd will one day do the same (but hopefully not in the same shit club/city). If you hadn't guessed, this reminds me a lot of the classic punk poet, the only difference being the crap backing keyboards he felt he had to use when he was recording are actually used to reasonably good effect here (although there are some distinctly dodgy "doo wup wups" by some dodgy bird). But the important thing is obviously the words themselves, and our Jegsy is a funny man. It doesn't all work, but if you want some comic and often poignant poetry in the wake of the tragic death of Ivor Cutler and the virtual disappearance of the Clarke, you could do a damn sight worse.

Warner Brothers - The Platinum Collection
The Beat

Pretty good cheapo "Best of" featuring most of the classics, including Mirror in the Bathroom, Hands off She's Mine, Can't Get Used to Losing You and Too Nice to Talk To but missing the classic Tears of a Clown and a few other beauties, like Hit It. Shame, but if you want a slice of one of the better 2-Tone bands of the classic 1980 crop, this is (currently) on Amazon for £3.33 - can't go wrong.
Like The Beat, this is pretty good too, including all five singles from the classic Big Calm album, plus Trigger Hippy from their debut and World Looking In and Way Beyond from the third and fourth albums. They were a great trip hop band and are still going strong - one of those bands I reckon everyone should have a CD by. This is too light on tracks from Who Can You Trust? and a bit of a missed opportunity to put on some of the more interesting tunes, like live classic Big Calm, but a bargain all the same.
Alvin Stardust
It's got My Coo Ca Choo on, as well as Be Smart, Be Safe (The Green Cross Code Song). What more do you need to know? Erm. He wore bad 70s clothes, but then everyone did in the 70s, and it's kinda like Slade or someone like that. Glam eh. Crazy.
Peter Shelley
Well I was expecting Mr Buzzcocks and I got some second rate 70s crooner with massive collars, sitting on a stool, whining about women. Don't make the same mistake kids! Includes the classics (I'm guessing here) Gee Baby (first track, so has to be the biggy) and some dodgy covers like Leaving on a Jetplane and By the Time I Get to Phoenix. Although, if you're in the right mood, it isn't so bad… Better than Killing Joke anyway.
The Bluebells
This is actually the Singles Collection repackaged. What a swizz. But if you haven't got that, and want to be reminded of this rather twee and poppy early 80s Scottish indie folk band (think Aztec Camera) it's just about perfect. I don't really like them for the same reasons I didn't like The Alarm and Icicle Works - they always seemed to be the TA of the music world, being a bit good but not really scary or impressive or something to aspire to, and your mum wouldn't mind if your sister brought them home for tea.

Windout - Onward (demo album)
Apparently Windout are the best band in St Neots. If that's the case, it's safe to say I won't be attending any local gigs there in the near future. They're certainly not shit, but there's not an ounce of originality here, or any clever or particularly moving lyrics, great songs - just some painfully ordinary pub friendly indie rock anything that's make you think of putting "best" in a description. Bit like saying "best Tory politician" really - cos frankly, who cares?

Intention - Afraid at the Edges (Black Records)
I don't really feel qualified to comment on this kind of stuff nowadays, but it sounds pretty typical of the genre to me. It's the debut album from this Walsall noise outfit, who loftily compare themselves to the likes of Dead Kennedys (but less imaginative), GBH (but less intense) and Sick of it All (but less fun) and make a pretty decent fist of it all. Not my cup of tea, but worth checking out if you like it fast and frantic.

The Destroyed - Russian Roulette (self released)
Remember the days when punk was hard to listen to? I don't mean because it was new, and you weren't used to it - I mean when a lot of the bands were just bug-eyed retards who made a god-awful racket to a bunch of glue-sniffing morons? Crass got away with it by being a bit arty, incredibly intelligent and packing a mean message, but most didn't, and this is another example of the wrong end of the scale. Tuneless, pointless, talentless and hopelessly dated.

MJ Hibbert & The Validators - Shed Anthems (Sorted)

I didn't get sent this for free, I bought it, and it's not new either - I just wanted to say nice things about it, as it's a new discovery to me and he seems to play Cambridge semi-regularly. Mr Hibbert plays silly songs about a variety of subjects, ranging from rock competitions (Let the Weird Band Win) to the World Cup (The Fair Play Trophy (Again)), also taking in a beautifully realised cover as a bonus track (I won't spoil the surprise). Anyone craving a Midlands version of the mighty Half Man Half Biscuit or perhaps Ballboy could do a lot worse than checking this lot out. It's a mini album full of great observational lines about everyday life ("I'm ensconced in academia, you, you're still in bed") coupled with a lovely, clever yet innocent sense of humour. I think it's safe to say you'll never listen to a Bolivian nose flautist in the same way again after hearing Shed Anthems.

The Vines - Vision Valley (EMI)
Who exactly do this lot appeal to? There are some belting sleazy indie noise monster riffs on here, like Anysound, Grossout and Fuk Yeh, but the rest is either late Beatlesy pap, psychedelic nonsense or turgid balladic claptrap of the highest order. Remember a band called Ratcat? No, most people don't. They made a short and largely unheralded career of making stuff like this, but generally better, and got nowhere. I'd suggest The Vines should go the same way, fast, or concentrate on what they do well instead of trying to please everyone with a disappointing mish mash of largely worthless retro.

John Vanderslice - Pixel Revolt (Barsuk Records)
This is a well-composed collection, mixing up guitars and keys with obvious skill but ultimately leaving me cold. Pixel Revolt is a little too polished, a little too clever and a little too soulless to make a real impact. Apart from the lovely Trance Manual (which would sit comfortably on a good Eels album) I quickly forget this is on, which is never a good sign. I suppose the comparisons in the press release to Steely Dan and REM should've warned me really.

Nadie - The M'Maughton Rule (Hal Records)
Nadie is a fine purveyor of polished pop rock that sadly falls down for its lack of originality. This is the kind of album that, with a shed-load of money behind it, could easily trouble the chart, but without it will struggle to find an audience. She's a beautiful woman with a fantastic voice and an undoubted song writing talent - there are more catchy hooks on here than you'd need for a barrel of hits, but without backing she's a small fish in a big pond that worships money far and away ahead of talent. But if you're looking for an angsty female singer-songwriter with a great line in tunes that you can probably catch in a London pub for a fiver, look no further.

The Dresden Dolls - Yes Virginia (Roadrunner)
Odd pair these. Plenty of theatrical pianos ala Ben Folds, a slightly off-kilter yet hugely talented female vocal plus some drums and the occasional male harmony make for a quirky, playful yet ultimately poppy collaboration that nods all over the pace - one minute there's a bit of Queen, the next a bit of emo, the next Joe Jackson. Hard to define, perhaps, but anyone who likes a good bit of plinkerty plink grand piano action in the classic rock opera vein will be happy here, while those with a penchant for the ever so slightly avante garde will also have plenty to twirl their moustaches to.

Depeche Mode - Playing the Angel (Mute)
You've got to hand it to these boys - seventy squillion albums of keyboard noises (pretty often the same ones) and still going strong, with hardly a new band member, idea, image or haircut in all that time. But if it ain't broke, don't give it to the dog, as they say, and the only thing that surprises me about Playing the Angel is that it's bloody marvellous. I was watching the classic 101 DVD the other day, and somehow, even with all the horrible American 80s kids tagging along, Depeche Mode the band still looked cool. How an 80s new romantic band can stay timeless is truly miraculous, but tracks like the hugely uplifting John the Revelator and Enjoy the Silence rip-off Precious are as good as anything they've done. Long may they continue.

Richard Ashcroft - Keys to the World (Parlaphone)
Frankly, I never liked Verve, so this album never stood much of a chance. However, I didn't think it'd be as bad as it was. I haven't managed to get past track 3 yet, as its so painfully dull, plodding and worthless up to that point. But my young lady friend implored me to give title track Keys to the World a go (doubt I'd ever have made it all the way to track 5 for it, even on a very charitable day), so I did, and, what do you know, it's actually pretty good. Nice upbeat female soul sample, bit of dramatic keyboard, bit of life in the vocal - it's a good song. Not great, but good. But 6 is pitiful, and 7 as bad. Guess I'll never hear 4, 8, 9 and 10. But I'll live.

Regina Spektor - Mary Ann meets the Gravediggers and other short stories (Sire)
Wow. Regina Spektor has a beautiful individual voice, startlingly vivid imagination, no fear when it comes to song writing and an ear for a tune rivalled by few. While the "girl-with-piano" thing is going to lead to the obvious lazy Tori Amos comparisons being thrown at her, there's a lot more going on here than the ginger poppy Kate Bush rip-off ever had to offer. Ani DiFranco at her most jazzy and playful comes leaping out at you, as does the wildness and freedom of Patti Smith, but most of all the childlike lack of convention and strange stories set her apart from anything I've ever heard before. This is actually a compilation of earlier tracks collected from her earlier albums, but it's a good starting point for the Regina virgin. A truly precious talent.

Various - Blue Skies Up: Welcome to the new Pop Revolution (Dog Box)
This is apparently the "choicest cuts from the Dogbox kennel" and while it houses more than its fair share of little terriers, there's a good few that need picking up with inside-out poo bags. Highlights for me are Swimmer One's We Just Make Music For Ourselves (intelligent poppy electronica), Planetakis's Beautiful Today (mostly sung in foreign but a great slice of alternative euro pop), Gotta Go by the Shla La Las (fun girly garage pop punk) and The Lodger's Not So Fast (slightly twee but beautifully measured indie pop nougat) but the outstanding track is Bed Scenes by Robots in Disguise - a clever and hugely infectious indie dance tune to pump up loud before you hit the pub. Not bad for eight quid.

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