We continue our fortnight of top tens looking back at 2021 and looking forward to 2022:
Let’s be honest, 2021 was hardly a barrel of laughs for anyone. Having said that, it was a pretty impressive year for new music even with all the debilitating issues that the industry had to face up to. In our series of top tens that we’ve chosen to end 2021 with we have tried to largely represent the great and good of the year. But we are Picky Bastards, after all. Here are the music related moments in the last 12 months that left us feeling a little less than happy:
Overall quality of albums 2021 – In all honesty I don’t think 2021 has been a bad year, but for me it’s definitely not been the best in terms of new albums. I’ve bought only eight records that were released this year, and calling all of those an album is pushing it (I’m looking at you Jorja Smith). In the Record Culture top 50 that a few of us contributed to, only two albums I picked made it into the list. That’s two. Out of 50. In previous years I’ve tried to be a little objective with my end of year lists and pick some of the big hitters that I recognised as being excellent even though they weren’t personal favourites, or albums I bought. In 2021, I didn’t bother with this. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert would be a good example of an album not making it on my list. I preferred to settle into my own indefinable and awkward tastes. On the other hand, post-punk has dominated the top end of many a list and it’s simply not my cup of tea. So I blame shouty men for ruining my year. Bring on all the good stuff in 2022.
Not being able to go to festivals with a newborn baby – Obviously, my daughter coming into the world is an absolute joy and a privilege. But did she have to do it six weeks before Green Man Festival? When we found out my partner was pregnant, live music seemed a million years away from returning and a wet field in Wales was the last thing on my mind.
But as I hallucinated from sleep deprivation and listened to white noise for the 50th night in a row, the likes of Fontaines DC, Nadine Shah, and Self Esteem were taking to my favourite stages. I’d have loved to have been there. We’d had tickets from the year before’s postponement and, as I changed another nappy and then read another Green Man review, I can’t deny that I felt a fair amount of envy towards those who were lucky enough to be there.
Mercury shortlist – We devote a lot of coverage to the Mercury Prize on this website, and the shortlist is a big topic of discussion among our editors, but when was it last not disappointing? This year felt especially so. We put out a very respectable list of deserved nominees and the judges promptly picked a paltry 3 of them.
Of course it’s a matter of personal taste, but was Mogwai’s tenth studio album more worthy of a place than widely-acclaimed debuts from Dry Cleaning or Anna B Savage? Was the Celeste album which featured the Sky Sports song AND the John Lewis song a better contender than the sophomore efforts from Kelly Lee Owens or Fontaines D.C.? Even the winner, Arlo Parks, followed their recent format of being very safe and not boundary-pushing in any way whatsoever. Yes we’ll cover it next year, but for heaven’s sake judges: give us something that we can get our teeth into.
Lorde’s Album – As soon as it was mentioned that we would be picking some disappointments from 2021 my instant response was Solar Power, the hugely anticipated third album by Lorde. I wasn’t just ‘excited’ for this album, I was coming in while having her last album framed on the wall in our house. Melodrama remains the best pop album of the 2010s, it’s a phenomenal achievement that I knew wouldn’t be matched but at least showed that Lorde could do no wrong for me as a fan. One listen to the tedious and irritatingly dull Solar Power and I was angry as much as disappointed.
I know the other Bastards went in pretty cold when they covered this on the podcast, and arguably I enjoyed it more than they did, but the drop off in quality is the biggest I’ve seen in ages from someone with a profile as big as Lorde’s. Even the songs I do like from the album, the title track and ‘Mood Ring’, still pale in comparison to literally anything else she’s produced before. I genuinely don’t know what happened…
Covid Deniers part 2 – Back again after a strong year in 2020, more assholes who have ‘done the research’ have decided to weigh in on public health. Complaining about vaccines, reduced occupancy of venues or even suggesting snake oil remedies. Most disappointing for me has been M.I.A. who just keeps doubling down on the vaccine misinformation. It’s weird to see someone who is so good at using their platform to champion progressive causes to get it so wrong. I don’t want to have to think about this bullshit when ‘Paper Planes’ comes on Shuffle. Some of the most notable idiots include Nicki Minaj and Eric Clapton.
Greentea Peng’s debut album – In our lists at the end of 2020 I declared Greentea Peng to be the new Amy Winehouse. Following the release of MAN MADE at least, she is a long way from anything close to this. On the basis of a string of storming tunes before the debut album, I had clearly got over excited. MAN MADE seemed bloated, overly long and lacking focus. I kept listening to it in search of something, but finding it proved impossible. I’ve not returned since.
Jason Williamson being a proper tool – I’ve never been a huge Sleaford Mods fan or anything. That said, there was always something appealing and interesting about Jason Williamson and his persona, the sense that he’d been literally dragged out of bed and into the studio, his voice suggesting a four day hangover. In an industry full of manufactured music and image conscious stars, he felt like a real breath of fresh air. He has also spoken up on some important issues, calling out fans who committed disturbing acts at their shows.
A good egg, right? Well, maybe not. Something got the Sleaford Modder’s knickers in a twist this year as he threw tantrum after tantrum on Twitter, taking sides with Spotify in the streaming wars, deciding he was happy that everyone’s vinyl was getting delayed if it meant that all the bands making post punk were suffering. What Jason showed was that, despite his jogging bottoms, he is actually the ultimate spiv – happy that he’s reached a level of success that guarantees an income, he doesn’t give a flying fuck about up and coming musicians who can no longer make money through streaming, vinyl sales, or, due to the pandemic, touring. Not a good look at all.
The ubiquity of Ed Sheeran – As I have been working from home most of the year, my undesired musical intake has been very low. I have not really listened to the radio, and most of our TV doesn’t have ads so generally when I listen to music I have chosen to listen to it. The new Ed Sheeran release broke this barrier. Promos for the album were everywhere. Every ad on YouTube. Every ad on the streaming service Hulu. Splashed all over Spotify. There were even crossovers with Pokemon GO! I get that they want to make some money, but he’s already going to sell a bajillion records. Surely that money could be useful elsewhere, instead of ramming Ed Sheeran in my ear holes.
Adele being pointless as fuck – If, like me, you were completely and utterly unmoved by the announcement and arrival of another Adele album then you might have missed her making a move that was even more pointless than another 11 of her ballads.
But as the album landed, we were treated to an announcement that one of the most powerful people in music has convinced Spotify to make an important change to their service. This was it. Surely. Adele had spoken to the people in the know and convinced streaming services to pay a fair slice of the pie to the artists who create their content. Despite her millions, she was sticking up for the little guy. She was about to make herself a legend.
But no. Adele chose instead to ask Spotify to remove a shuffle button that nobody has to press anyway. That’s what she did with her influence. She made it harder to shuffle.
INSERT VIDEO THAT DOESN’T EXIST ONLINE ANYMORE
SAULT deleting their album – We all clearly loved Untitled (Black Is) and Untitled (Rise) from SAULT last year, we couldn’t stop yammering on about them, so you might think it’s weird none of us are talking about NINE, the latest album from the elusive group in the conversation for Album of the Year. I’d love to say we’ve listened to it loads as we all really liked it, but it’s now super difficult to go back.
Announcing that the album was be ‘removed from all platforms’ after 90 days of release may have seemed like a way of fighting against the ubiquity of streaming or making a statement on how nobody owns the things they create anymore, but in the end it’s just meant all of us have forgotten that SAULT even released anything this year. The music is properly great as well, there’s no reason you wouldn’t want people to be able to listen to it, so why make it a pain for anyone who now needs to track down a copy on Vinyl or CD in order to listen to a brand new release?
The worst bit is, I’m disappointed in myself for falling for the whole point of it all. I bought a copy of the album on Vinyl even after knowing that this is what they wanted me to do all along.