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Friday, 30 December 2011

Pop goes 2011....

At this time of year thoughts inevitably turn in two directions - on one hand reminiscing about the highs and lows of the twelve months just gone, and on the other setting out our hopes, dreams, expectations and targets for the year ahead. Whilst there are countless personal goals that I'd like to see come to fruition in 2012, one of the most important, and, hopefully, achievable, will be to GET CREATIVE! Primarily I plan to do this through writing, be it in the form of blog postings, short stories, poems or even tweets, but I also aim to put more effort into enjoying the pleasures of making music, in particular dusting off my piano far more regularly and attempting to push myself a bit further than the same Grade 5 pieces circa 1999, which is my groundhog day as far as tinkling the ivories is concerned.

As 2011 hasn't been the most prolific of years in terms of my own output, I decided to take the time-honoured approach that fills many a column inch and tv retrospective at this time of year. So here, in no particular order, are some of my audio-visual highlights of the year that was....

POP GOES 2011 - Ten of my favourite songs of the year

1. Coldplay - Paradise

You can knock Coldplay all you like, but it's hard to deny that in spite of somewhat lacklustre lyrics the dramatic production and anthemic chorus of this song are addictive. Although Chris Martin has been the subject of much criticism over the years, the continued popularity of the band speaks for itself, and much kudos should be given to the band for their recently revealed long term support of the excellent Kids Company.

2. Ed Sheeran - Lego House

The debut album from flame haired singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran has proven himself to be a most versatile talent; with everything from ballads to rap tackled with panache. Lego House is in itself a sweet love story, but it was the memorable video  starring fellow ginger legend Rupert Grint as an obsessive Sheeran fan that really made this song for me.

3. Kasabian - Re-Wired

A great stampede of a singalong track from the ever reliable Kasabian.

4. Birdy - People Help The People

I always loved the original version by Cherry Ghost, and Birdy's cover more than does it justice with haunting vocals lending a different, but equally mesmerising feel to the song. Birdy's debut album has been criticised for consisting entirely of (admittedly well chosen) cover versions, but the undeniably talented fifteen year old is apparently working on her own material - definitely one to watch in the future.

5. Adele - Turning Tables

An unoriginal choice I know, but Adele's 21 is a truly great album, albeit not the best thing to listen to when going through any kind of relationship crisis or indeed feeling a bit sorry for yourself. Heartfelt lyrics, soaring melodies and big, bold vocals make this an album which I return to time and time again, with Turning Tables being just one of the many great tracks worthy of instant 'classic' status

6. Foster The People - Call It What You Want

American indie-rock band Foster The People released their debut album 'Torches' during 2011 and several of the tracks have already been picked up for use in tv adverts, trailers and even on the soundtrack to perennial video-game favourite FIFA 12. The album is full of joyously upbeat, rhythmic tracks melding modern electronic sounds with rock and pop flavours, and this, the most recent single release, is one of those pieces to which its impossible to resist dancing.

7. The Wanted - Glad You Came

An unashamedly cheesy choice here. The Wanted are far from the greatest of boy bands - they're certainly not The Beatles, Take That or even JLS. With the almost nursery rhyme like simplicity of the melody and naff lyrics (Hand you another drink, drink it if you can?) this is certainly not a classic, but boy is it catchy. For some reason this song ear-wormed its way into my head to such an extent that I can recite it by heart - much to the chagrin of my colleagues when I spontaneously perform it in the office.....

8. Lana Del Rey - Video Games

The retro stylings and husky voice of Lana Del Rey mark her out as something a bit different to the multitude of other female soloists who have achieved success in 2011. There has some criticism of her  'authenticity' , (Del Rey being the trailer trash stage persona of Lizzy Grant, in 'real life' the daughter of a millionaire) but I found her live performance on Jools Holland's 'Later' mesmerising and look forward to hearing her debut album, due for release in January.

9. Lady Gaga - Born This Way

Hard to believe that this song was only released in the past twelve months, such is its 'instant classic' nature. A brilliant crafted pop song (albeit one that pays a heavy homage to 1980s Madonna) with a clear, loud and proud message that celebrates difference. Love her or hate her, you can't deny that Lady Gaga does a great job when it comes to empowering lyrics, catchy choruses and general barmy brilliance.

10. Christina Perri - A Thousand Years

This features on the soundtrack of the latest Twilight movie, but forgive it for that as it's a beautiful song. Her tattoos and individual style make Perri refreshingly different, but her songs, wrought with emotion and angst, will be sure to strike a chord with a massive audience beyond the inevitable teenage vampire lovers.

SQUARE EYE HIGHLIGHTS - My top 5 tv shows of 2011

Again in no particular order.....

1. Fresh Meat (Channel 4)

Fresh Meat was a real joy from start to finish; a comedy drama that perfectly captured the characters and experiences of university. From the writing team that previously brought us Peep Show, the programme was frequently hilarious but also succeeded in making the audience really care for the characters, tackling serious topics including politics and grief in a way that blended effortlessly with the humour. Really looking forward to the second series due to hit screen in Autumn 2012.

2. Misfits (Channel 4)

As the third series hit screens I was concerned as to how this ensemble led show would cope with the absence of the cocky Nathan, portrayed in series 1 and 2 by the brilliant Robert Sheehan. Fortunately his replacement Rudy (played by Joseph Gilgun of 'This is England' fame - of which more below) stepped perfectly into his shoes as the comic, carnally obsessed member of the community service superhero crowd, and this series was just as entertaining as its predecessors, with a flawlessly executed blend of comedy varying from the irresistibly scatalogical to pitch black dark; blood and guts horror and superhero antics worthy of the finest comic book.

3. This Is England '88 (Channel 4)

The follow up to the harrowing This Is England '86 was never likely to be a barrel of laughs from start to finish, and true to form it tackled some very dark subjects. Shane Meadows's writing is as strong as ever, and the performances of the whole cast (with particular praise to Vicky McLure and Joseph Gilgun as Lol and Woody) will surely be showered with awards in the same vein as the preceding series.

4. The Walking Dead (FX / Channel 4)

Sure the plot is sometimes ludicrous and Andrew Lincoln's american accent still a bit disturbing, but series 2 of The Walking Dead shaped up to be just as much fun as the first. Post-apocalyptic drama with lashings of gore - what more could anyone want? (See also True Blood - Sexy vampire / supernatural drama with lashings of gore.....FX is definitely home to the best US shows)

5. Frozen Planet (BBC1)

The penguin rock thief. Polar bear babies. Sir David Attenborough.
Nothing more required to be said - instant classic.

Keen to hear any readers thoughts on anything that I may have missed from this list - and here's to hoping that in 2012 I manage to drag myself away from the TV / radio long enough to post blogs / creative writing stuff at least weekly!