This week I’ll be putting on display my pick of the albums and songs of 2020, with accompanying playlists of course (as well as exhortations to buy and not just stream the music you like). Yes, just in time for you to sneak something on to your Christmas list, or duck into the store yourself and buy it.
Meanwhile, as this time of year is all about retrospection, which is the raison d’etre of Wind Back Wednesday, it’s also time to look further back to a year not yet completely lost in the mists of time.
Last year we took in 2001 https://www.bernardzuel.net/post/2019/12/18/eminem-kylie-m-miss-dido-go-russ-go-wind-back-wednesday-does-a-year-in-review-for-2001, and that went off like hotpants (!), so let’s skip a few beats to 2005 and a time when several members of one family took over the town, a kid called Dylan did good, some “youngsters” prepared the way for Leonard Cohen later that decade, and it was far easier to decide which of the Adams “brothers” it was ok to like.
So, 2005, as they say north of the 49th parallel … encore!
Sing with me: Oh Canada, our home and native land, true patriot love in all thy sons command.
There were times this year when it seemed not just prudent but necessary to declare yourself Canadian. To admit to a love of Molson's ales, respect for Wayne Gretzky and keenness to provide a French translation of every comment you made (fournissant une traduction française de chaque commentaire vous avez fait).
It began with a concert which was one of the most exhilarating, captivating and satisfying nights I have experienced. It ended with a Canuck stepping into the shoes (and leather pants) of a leonine but no longer living Australian singer. As ever it was the best of times and worst of times, a year which went from the sublime to, well, you know.
As part of the Sydney Festival, Came So Far For Beauty, a tribute to the great Canadian poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen, brought together the sort of line up which tends to congregate only at a funeral.
Where else could you find the likes of Nick Cave, the McGarrigle sisters, Kate and Anna, and Kate's children, Rufus and Martha Wainwright, Jarvis Cocker, Linda Thompson and son Teddy, Beth Orton and two of Cohen's finest co-vocalists Julie Christensen and Perla Batalla on the one stage?
In nearly four compelling hours it had fascinating interpretations, eccentric performances and to paraphrase Christensen "many themes that run through [Cohen's] poetry: the judges, the muse, the ruthless jazz police with sunglasses, the ladies and their lingerie, the performing whores and the consequences...truth or consequences".
Oh, and it had Antony. The tall, be-wigged Englishman from New York was unknown at the beginning of the three shows but by their end he had astonished and beguiled in equal measure with a voice of startling beauty. His two albums released through the year confirmed what we saw briefly and his return to the Festival next year can't come soon enough.
If Antony's one voice was striking, the multiple voices, not to mention colourful robes and psychedelic gospel of the Polyphonic Spree made for an exultant experience at the Enmore a night earlier. Their entertainingly hippy set at what was a generally flat Big Day Out was topped by an evening where the holy roller churches were played, and beaten, at their own game.
In February the McGarrigles and Wainwrights put on a family show where messiness didn't detract from song and humanity (Martha later in the year released an impressive album with one of this night's highlights, a song written about her father called Bloody Motherfucking Asshole) and then Rufus performed several solo show to ever growing awe at his boundless talent. They're all Canadian you know.
More Canadians toured to some disappointment (k.d. lang who was not served by either the venue, the Opera House concert hall, or the dull use of orchestra) and some surprise (Dianna Krall who showed that her earlier polite albums were no match for her jazz group's lively shows).
Both though outshone easily the farce which was Cher's supposed farewell tour, a "spectacular" which had Cher actually on stage and singing for less than half the show's running time. She was barely dressed and she was barely there.
No shortage of time for Ryan Adams who attempted to single-handedly meet the international demand for new albums by releasing three of them in one year, one a double disc effort. His near three-hour concert at the Enmore Theatre with a classy and sympathetic backing band, the Cardinals, was one of the year's highlights.
And if you're wondering, yes there was a Canadian moment here too as, spurred on by a heckling audience member, Adams performed Summer Of 69, once a hit for his near-namesake the bland Canadian Bryan Adams.
Podcasting took over from downloading and MP3s as the latest "way of the future", the promise of individual music taste rather than the advertising brains of dull radio dictating music listening tantalises. Well, we can all dream. No doubt someone already has set up an All Bob Dylan All The Time pod and for those types who can't wait to subscribe to this, 2005 was another stellar Bob-time.
Several more books came on the heels of last year's quirky autobiography, none as minutely detailed and fascinating as veteran Bob Watcher Greil Marcus who gave us Like A Rolling Stone, a book on the seminal tune of that name. Yes, a whole book on just one song. Better still was Martin Scorsese's compelling two-part documentary on Dylan up to 1965, No Direction Home, where the Bobster himself talked candidly if sometimes cryptically.
Even with that most American of songwriters it was the Canadian contingent of the Band we could see backing Dylan during some of his incendiary performances in the mid-60s as he "went electric". The Band themselves released an all-in-one book-CD-DVD collection called A Musical History which put historical reissues on a new plane.
While rock of a loud and decidedly '70s nature still made the most noise, locally it was two slim and relatively quiet performers who garnered awards and sales. Missy Higgins, one of the star turns at January's often inspiring Wave Aid tsunami relief concert, and Ben Lee, were the king and queen of pop and even outshone Delta Goodrem whose first concert tour mixed the gauche and the impressive.
While Midnight Oil briefly and gloriously reformed for Wave Aid, it was The Doors who prepared the ground for the year-end resurrection shuffle by touring with two original members and a singer who kinda sorta but not really tried to be Jim Morrison. It was strange and impersonal. Something like the new INXS album, which features the vocals of J. D. Fortune.
The Canadian (oh yes, it had to be didn't it?) achieved his position as the new singer in INXS, replacing the long ago late Michael Hutchence, by winning a television talent show. As you do. Or as you do in these strange, strange times.
It's enough to make you sing, or maybe plead, God keep our land glorious and free! O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.