Tracks Review of the Year 2006

If 2006 could be defined by a song, then there’s only one song that it could be. It appeared on an advert for Radio 1 early in the year, the distinctive jittery keyboard riff giving way to a vocal that sounded almost other worldly. When it was eventually released, it became the first single to go to Number One on download sales only. And if only for that reason, 2006 belonged to Crazy by Gnarls Barkley.

That collaboration between producer Danger Mouse and soul singer Cee Lo was absolutely everywhere throughout the year. It blared from mobile phones, it was the soundtrack in every clothes shop you visited, and it was impossible to switch on any radio station without hearing “does that make me crazy…”. And impressively enough, it was near impossible to become sick of. Despite the song’s ubiquity, Crazy became the song of the year, mainly due to its sheer excellence.

Crazy, while being far from the first ever download-only single, certainly popularised the way for a whole slew of others. One of the most notable download-only tracks came from a man who, ten years earlier, had become one of the reluctant leaders of Britpop. Yet the optimism and joie de vivre of that period had given way to disillusionment and a jaded cynicism. Yes, like a decade before, Jarvis Cocker was back to articulate the thoughts of his generation. And what did his generation think in 2006? Well, “cunts are still Running The World” for one…

One hearing of Cocker’s first ever solo single proved that the man had not lost his magic. Michael Hubbard of musicOMH described it as “unbridled anger from a man setting himself up as a champion of the working classes”, and if you listened carefully you could almost hear the bile seeping from the speakers. The subsequent album was just as impressive, but didn’t quite have the shock value of hearing Running The World for the first time.

Elsewhere, Welsh rockers The Automatic seemed to own the summer festival circuit with their unstoppable cry of “what’s that coming over the hill, is it a Monster“, yet most people agreed that it was getting pretty damn annoying by the time September had drawn around. The more discerning festival goer preferred the soundtrack of Justice Vs Simian, whose pumping We Are Your Friends was the perfect mix of dancefloor beats and memorable songcraft.

2006 could also be said to the year that MySpace burst into the public consciousness (so much so that Rupert Murdoch decided it was worth shelling out $580m for). If there was one singer who exploited the potential of MySpace to its full it was Lily Allen. At the start of the year, her MySpace page was being furiously emailed around friends – by December it’s actor Keith Allen who’s now better known as “Lily’s dad”. Smile was everywhere during the summer, but it was LDN that really brought her to everyone’s attention, a bittersweet ode to her hometown that passed into legend for rhyming Tesco with ‘al-fresco’. She gave us a damn good interview as well.

One of Lily’s friends also broke big this year. Wimbledon may previously be best known for wombles and a certain tennis tournament, but it’ll soon be famous as the home of Jamie T. While Salvador was an excellent opening salvo, it was Sheila which really demonstrated what the young singer/songwriter was all about, a ridiculously addictive John Betjeman sampling number with the winning opening couplet of “Sheila goes out with her mate Stella, it gets poured all over her fella”. The debut album follows in 2007.

If you’re familiar with the term Erotic Volvo, you’re either a reader of some very specialist magazines, or you’ll have witnessed the intense lunacy that is a Misty’s Big Adventure live experience. Fronted by the lugubrious Grandmaster Gareth, and featuring an enormous dancing man with inflated blue gloves over his red all-in-one cloak (the aforementioned Volvo), Misty’s single Fashion Parade was a biting satire on the ‘indie’ scene. With a video that mercilessly took the piss out of Franz Ferdinand, a subtle “ooooohhhhhhh” swipe at the Kaiser Chiefs and a cameo from none other than Noddy Holder, Fashion Parade was one of the year’s best kept secrets. 2007 could well be their year.

Of the more established bands, Scissor Sisters returned and did the almost impossible task of sounding even more gay than last time with the wondrously fun I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’, Muse went all slinky and funky with Supermassive Black Hole and Keane came back sounding weirdly like U2, especially on Is It Any Wonder. Those curmudgeonly Arctic Monkeys meanwhile decided to release chart-ineligible EPs which just happened to contain some of their finest moments yet. Despair In The Departure Lounge and Leave Before The Lights Come On were at least the equal of anything on their debut album.

Of the bands likely to be tipped ‘this year’s Arctic Monkeys’, Dundee’s The View, released the incomprehensible yet wonderful Wasted Little DJs, Larrikin Love had a string of excellent singles, of which the highlight was the Tony Blair baiting Downing Street Kindling, while the year’s most unlikely icon turned out to be a 15 stone lesbian from Portland, Oregon. Beth Ditto, lead singer of The Gossip belted out Standing In The Way Of Control and couldn’t fail to bewitch all who heard her.

Throughout the year Girls Aloud and Sugababes kept the ‘quality pop’ flag flying, while Take That reformed and slayed all before them with the number one hit of Patience. All Saints also got back together, yet nobody appeared to really care. Their reunion was hardly Rock Steady. Some of the year’s finest pop though was produced by three polka-dot clad girls from Brighton. The PipettesPull Shapes and Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me produced the most fervent hand-jives of the year amongst those in the know.

Yet the more serious teenager was more interested in a darker shade of music. The ‘is it emo, is it a goth revival?’ debate ran and ran throughout 2006, but My Chemical Romance‘s third album catapulted them into the stratosphere. It was trailed by Welcome To The Black Parade, an utterly barmy mini-rock opera which musicOMH‘s Vik Bansal described as comparable to “everyone from Blink 182 to Queen in one song and (still) not sound crap”. The Daily Mail hated it, which makes it good enough for most right-thinking folk. Embrace meanwhile, despite World At Your Feet being the official England World Cup choice, just sent most people to sleep.

And that was the year in a nutshell. For those who say that 2006 was a disappointing musical 12 months, just point them towards the hopeless windswept romanticism of Made Up Love Song #43 by Guillemots, the hypnotic beat of CSS‘ Let’s Make Love And Listen To Death From Above, the sumptuous electronica of Hot Chip‘s Over And Over, or Metric‘s undeniably thrilling introduction to Monster Hospital. We think it was a great year for music. Does that make us crazy? Possibly.

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