Wild Mercury Sound

Bruce Springsteen, Michael Rother, Mahmoud Ahmed and your 2007 favourites

John Mulvey

Happy New Year, everyone, and many thanks for all your responses to the Bruce Springsteen and Favourite Albums Of The Year blogs I posted just before Christmas.

Following some of your advice, I had a good listen to "Born To Run" and "Darkness On The Edge Of Town" while cruising the North Nottinghamshire badlands and so forth over the holidays. And while I don't think they quite compare with the euphoric thickness of the live show (I'm stunned by Tim's suggestion that the O2 gig was a relative off night), I am beginning to get the point.

One revelation was "Racing In The Street", which struck me as being exactly what I imagined Springsteen was like, but somehow more tender and nuanced; all the epic romance and finely-tuned cliche given much more humanity and gravity than I thought possible. Another was "Adam Raised A Cain", which was, on the other hand, nothing quite like what I expected of Springsteen - much more ragged and grungy, and deeply pleasing for that.

Listening to "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out", meanwhile, I was struck by an affinity with one of my favourite bands, Dexy's Midnight Runners. Not just in the vigorous, Staxy horn section, but in that weird conceit, so prevalent in whiteboy soul - I'm thinking of Van Morrison here too - of fanatically self-conscious "passion". On paper, it always looks pretty constipated and excruciating, but Springsteen, like Kevin Rowland, somehow pulls it off.

Anyway, besides Springsteen, my Christmas listening was fixed mainly on those first four Michael Rother solo reissues that turned up at the end of last year, and the start of my further explorations of the Ethiopiques catalogue; "Volume 7: Mahmoud Ahmed". Ahmed is terrific, with the persistent grooves that make so much of this Ethiopian funk so compelling, coupled with a melodious wail that seems - to my semi-tutored ears - a little more North African than some of his contemporaries (though I haven't heard the records in years, the memory of some late '80s and early '90s Rai spring to mind, maybe Cheb Khalid specifically).

I'm slightly embarrassed that I've never investigated the Rother albums before, since the first two especially - that's "Flammende Herzen" and "Sterntaler" - seem a logical continuation of the Neu! motorik. I guess Klaus Dinger's volatility is missing - this is more streamlined than ever, and Can's Jaki Liebezeit mainly reins in his more octopoidal rhythmic tendencies.

But I love how Rother mixes that familiar motorway guitar strafe with some twanging classicism that calls to mind The Ventures and takes these two lovely albums out of the Krautrock experimental sector and into a broader rock'n'roll continuum. Works on the A1 for me.

Finally, thanks again for all those Best Ofs. I should point out that I reviewed - and liked - something like 150 albums on this blog in 2007, so their absence from my Top 20 - like, say, Devendra Banhart's misunderstood and underrated "Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon" - is hardly evidence of me disliking them. Good to see we share many highlights and prejudices, though one thing that's baffling me a bit is the massive support for "Boxer" and The National. They always struck me as a pretty corny stab at the bohemian and the literate, set to some ponderous foursquare music, and most of their supporters at Uncut seemed to prefer "Alligator".

But, as you can see, at our continuing Best Albums Of The Year vote, "Boxer" is doing great. Just don't ask me to try re-evaluating it in 2008. Plenty more to be getting on with, and the new Stephen Malkmus album just arrived. Onwards!


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