The End. From the banality of X Factor to the beauty of Amy Winehouse.

After writing about 69 memories of music that I’ve either loved or helped to shape me as a person, the year 2000 and the release of Lost Souls by Doves is an apt place to end. Why, especially as a ton of amazing music has been released since? Maybe being made redundant three times from music shops I was managing gave me a long-lasting musical downer post MVC, Music Zone and Fopp? Nope, that sucked, especially losing my job on Christmas Eve at MVC, but I got over all three quickly.

Around the late ‘90s I rediscovered a passion for local (Dorset) bands. Inspired by impassioned promoters Solid Air I frequented many local gigs, becoming friends with many promoters, gig-goers and band members. From 2006 I’d end up running my own music promotion business, resigned to losing money along the way I realised very quickly that most of the music I was enjoying locally was better than the majority of crap that was finding its way into the slowly evaporating singles chart. Way too much of that crap had achieved sales and chart success on the back of the growing popularity of TV talent shows. I hated them intensely.

Popstars, Pop Idol, Britain’s Got Talent, Fame Academy, The Voice, X Factor and a bulging bunch of failures you’ve probably never heard of like Rock Rivals have hugely contributed to not just the lowering of standards and expectations, literally discouraging ground-breaking creativity, but also by force-feeding that banal dross into our TV screens these singers and songs are what kids now aspire to be. Dull. Monotonous. Manufactured. And it makes me want to puke. I see these programmes as nothing more than money-makers for their inventors and as vehicles to enhance or extend the celebrity status of the show’s ‘judges’. Fuck that.

When I was working for Fopp in the mid 2000s there was a ‘charity single’ released by Simon Cowell’s X Factor. At the time a usual CD single would cost £1.99 or £2.99, rarely more. This X Factor ‘charity single’ – a lacklustre piece of dross with a shitty remix as a B-side cost £3.99. Now, big up Simon Cowell for making so much money for a worthwhile cause, right? But in very, very small letters on the back of the CD it read something like: £1 from sales of this single will go to the charity. So £1 to the charity and £2.99 to Cowell, because he needs it. To me, this typifies Cowell’s ideology. He’s in it for the money. The music is not even secondary, it’s a means to wealth.

I see the huge advancements in technology and the impact they have had on recorded music as a double-edged sword. To have an infinite amount of music available at your fingertips is clearly incredible, but not if it’s free. Having seen the energy, skill and commitment it takes to make amazing music, how can it be right for it to be free, or at best for the artist, a pittance? Why music, which has taken weeks or months of time and talent to perfect and not a painting, book or a meal at a restaurant, and why should streaming sites earn such a huge amount of money from music that others have created? Bands who have already achieved a level of success can obviously make money from live performances, merch and other endorsements, but the vast majority of bands who are just starting out or haven’t appeared on a shitty TV talent show? Yeah… here’s our music we’ve spent months creating. Take it. Money? Nah, it’s yours.

Now that all sounds a bit negative, which it is. Give me music before free downloads and fucking X Factor stuck their knives in any day. But, amazing, creative bands and artists exist as much as ever, it’s just they don’t appear on TV any more. Post 2000 I’ve loved Weller, Graham Coxon, The Bees, Belle & Sebastian, Richard Hawley, Radiohead, Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips, Doves, Fleet Foxes, Kate Tempest and Kings Of Leon before they cashed in and became vacuous. But one artist stands out a mile. Amy Winehouse. When we received Back To Black in Fopp and I’d read the reviews of this amazing new soul singer, I was cautious and heavily reluctant to believe the hype. But instantly I could hear this was the real deal. Everything about it screamed of a brilliant and undoubted talent. For an authentic soul artist in 2006 the perfect vintage production was great to hear, but more than that it was the quality of the songs and her incredible voice that blew me away. Her loss is truly tragic.

Seeing Neil Young perform at the Hop Farm Festival and Brian Wilson at the Opera House were gigs I’ll never forget, as are some amazing times promoting, watching, and hanging out with local bands. Music remains a constant love, but now more than ever I find myself looking back rather than forward. Writing Melody Calls has brought back so many incredible memories, not just of the music but the people associated with those times. I feel blessed to have lived a life so entrenched in and indebted to the skill, passion and sheer genius of so many artists.

Thank you all and thank you for reading.

Doves – ‘Lost Souls’

As a person I did a lot of growing up in the ‘90s. That said, at times I probably didn’t act very grown up, but I’ve never given myself a hard time about sometimes partying a little too much. In many ways the ’90s was socially gluttonous and by the end of the decade the house scene was way past its best, Britpop was over and shit talent shows with shit judges were appearing. But, like a glorious homage to all that was to be celebrated as well as forgotten about the decade, Doves released Lost Souls, a masterpiece.

Since its release in April 2000 no other album has come close to the number of extended plays through my speakers as Lost Souls. The album feels like a ‘90s hangover, a beautifully reflective and euphoric comedown of epic, melodic proportions. Opener Firesuite lays it down; moody as fuck, dark and heavy with a deep, ambient groove it sets the tone brilliantly. The mood remains the same with the intense Here It Comes, and lyrically we instantly know where we are…

“This is a call
A call to all
It goes out to those who’ve been bad
And I should know
Because I’ve been
Yeah maybe once a week on Mondays”

Lost Souls contains such intensity, and a depth of feeling that you can just submerge yourself into. Nothing is hurried; everything rides along on a dense rhythm, thick with a warm, sometimes subdued glow. I’m already in deep by the time Break Me Gently does just that, and through to Melody Calls I’m riding that warm glow of claustrophobic tales on a sublime, faintly trippy groove. Catch The Sun is more direct, but no less intense, primarily due to Jimi Goodwin’s passionate vocals on top of a throb of rhythm and guitars.

The Man Who Told Everything is so beautiful it makes my soul ache. Goodwin’s vocal over the gentle, hypnotic rhythm is melodic perfection. When he sings of blue skies ahead it just breaks me. The Cedar Room is that melodic comedown, a hauntingly deep, dark and stunningly overwhelming seven and a half minutes, containing a chorus that stabs me in the heart every time…

“I tried to sleep alone
But I couldn’t do it
You could be sitting next to me
And I wouldn’t know it
If I told you you were wrong
I don’t remember saying it…”

Reprise sounds like the after effects of Cedar Room, like the music is coming to terms with what has come before and then it ends, seemingly smouldering in barely burning flames…

“Day after day and the life goes on
And I try to see the good in everyone
If I ever find myself here again
I’ll give everything”

Lost Souls is the best album of this millennium and I doubt very much I’ll hear a better one. Their follow-ups The Last Broadcast, Some Cities and Kingdom Of Rust were all superb, and if I were to carry on writing my musical chronicles would all feature as glorious highlights. But Lost Souls shines like a diamond at a time that the industry was about to sink into a cesspit of talent show bile. Just in the nick of time, a testament to the downfall of the ‘90s. The perfect album for the times.

Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach – ‘Painted From Memory’

My new car journey to work was at best, just under an hour. That meant I could listen to an album going to work, then another coming home. For a good few weeks in the Spring of ’99 I’d play an album mornings and evenings, no other album got a look in. That album was Painted From Memory by Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach. At 52 minutes it was tailor-made for my commute.

Now, I was a big fan of Elvis. From his classic singles in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, through to Spike and Brutal Youth in the ‘90s I loved his passion, his attitude and acutely culture-referenced songwriting. Burt Bacharach is quite simply one of the best songwriters of all-time. I Say A Little Prayer, This Guys In Love With You, Walk On By, Do You Know The Way To San Jose, Anyone Who Had A Heart… with Hal David he produced a legendary back catalogue, with Dionne Warwick being the main beneficiary of their combined brilliance.

On first listen Painted From Memory sounds like it could be Burt Bacharach songs sung by Elvis Costello, as the romantic nature of many of the lyrics appear fit Bacharach’s usual style. But it most definitely isn’t. Both lyrics and music are co-credited and for me it just enhanced my love of Elvis by a sizeable notch or two.

Elvis’ usual vocal style is strained, and when singing such emotive songs of love and loss that strain is intensified, and almost all of the time that works beautifully. On the very odd occasion a sweeter, Dionne Warwicker voice would smooth and sooth over the exemplary strings, gentle horns and perfect orchestration, but then when Elvis pleads: “Does the extinguished candle care about the darkness” on the beautifully sad This House Is Empty Now, it hits hard.

I Still Have That Other Girl is a crooner’s delight and Such Unlikely Lovers is just a gem, but nothing on the twelve tracks is less than exquisite, musicality wrapped around stunning songwriting and vocals. Commissioned for a film in ‘96 God Give Me Strength was the start of this perfect collaboration, with Elvis writing in his 2015 autobiography, “To have written a song like “God Give Me Strength” and simply stopped would have been ridiculous…” Another gorgeous song of a love lost, with clear roads it met with the end of my journey, the album seeing me home feeling somehow warmer, calmer and better with the world.

Mercury Rev – ‘Deserter’s Songs’

I must’ve done an okay job in Penzance because a request to return nearer home and to a bigger shop was granted. Fareham was over an hours drive from home and turnover was five times what it was in Penzance. I had a challenge and my work cut out, but I was back home. At the tail end of ’98 I had new colleagues, so new inspirations and new music. The first that grabbed me and sucked me in deep was the voluptuous Deserter’s Songs by Mercury Rev.

The album certainly has musical highs and lows, but the highs hit such incredible heavenly heights that the occasional and unnecessary musical interludes are easily forgiven. Jonathan Donahue’s alto tone matches Neil Young’s in its forlorn yet hopeful fragility, croaked over romantic, dreamlike tales and never better than in the luscious opener, Holes. A grand statement of intent, it was followed by a flow of lush orchestration, full of peaks and troughs, complementing Donahue’s exquisitely frail vocals.

Opus 40 is a work of art. The orchestrated crescendo that builds up to Tears in waves, minds on fire / Nights alone by your side” is euphoric, before the dreamy Floyd-esque outro. Deserter’s Songs has many glorious peaks, the highest of which might just be the immense Goddess On A Highway, unbelievably written some ten years earlier when Donahue was a part of The Flaming Lips. The production, as with the whole album is perfection, peaking for the ecstatic, repeated chorus.

“And I know it ain’t gonna last
And I know it ain’t gonna last
When I see your eyes arrive
They explode like two bugs on glass.”

On the back laborious Britpop and the rise of what to me was nauseating nu-metal in the late ‘90s, Deserter’s Songs sound was a dark but beautiful breath of fresh air. The album catapulted Mercury Rev from relative obscurity to worldwide recognition, and rightly so. The album’s grand, psychedelic and symphonic sound seemed to act as a catalyst for the likes of Grandaddy and particularly The Flaming Lips who themselves matched and then surpassed the Rev’s critical acclaim with their next three rapturous albums. Deserter’s Songs came out of nowhere but was not a one-off, with follow up All Is Dream coming very close to matching its brilliance.