Review // The Album Years podcast – A New Pair of Ears

The Album Years, a new music podcast by No-Man colleagues Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness, went off to a roaring start, with fans applauding the first two episodes. The new series even hit the top 3 on Apple Podcasts in various countries. 

My opinion? The enthusiasm and insights of Wilson and Bowness make you want to pick up a pencil and take extensive notes. I’m afraid this series is going to cost me a small fortune in record stores. If a music podcast can achieve that, it’s a success in my book.

Each episode zooms in on a particular ‘album year’, a year from an era where albums existed as a unified art form, not just a random collection of hits. For Wilson and Bowness, who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, the era started in the mid-60’s–which is true, as long as you don’t take jazz albums into account–and ‘ended’ around the year 2000, which seems to be a more arbitrary choice, especially since the album era never really ended. But you need to draw the line somewhere. I get that.

Beyond Bowie and Pink Floyd

The first two episodes, focussing on 1980 and 1973, where lots of fun already. Without spoiling anything, I can say that while ‘Closer’ by Joy Division, Bowie’s ’Scary Monsters’ and Pink Floyd’s ’The Dark Side of the Moon’ are briefly mentioned they don’t feature in the official selection. As Wilson rightfully comments, these albums have been dissected and reconstructed over and over already: “There’s nothing more to say.”

Instead, Wilson and Bowness pick favorite, significant and strangely-under-the-radar records of a particular year and reflect on it, placing the albums in their historical context, commenting on sonic innovations, adding personal recollections and funny ad-libs (like only friends can), talking about the influence and nachleben of certain albums, often connecting the dots between them. It’s history, debate and annotated playlist rolled into one.

Real discussion

They don’t always agree, which is the kind of dynamic you need to make a podcast like this interesting. Even more so as the podcast isn’t allowed to use any sound clips, so both hosts have to work extra hard to ‘dance about architecture’ and they’re magnificent at it.

Wilson talks quite quickly and in a confident voice (almost as if his knowledge and opinions are fighting to get out), at times cutting off the soft-spoken Tim Bowness mid-sentence.

The Album Years Podcast - Steven Wilson & Tim Bowness - No-Man

The latter chooses his words with great care and manages to keep his composure when Wilson questions his choices or statements. It really makes you want to be a fly on the wall during No-Man recording sessions, which have consistently spawned great albums. Maybe that’s their magic.

But both offer remarkable insights and analysis. Even when they talk about records you already know, you’ll be inclined to dig up that LP and listen to it with a new pair of ears.

Just to give you one example: in the 1973 episode, Wilson talks about the horrific drum sound on Todd Rundgren’s ‘A Wizard, A True Star’. So I went back to the Zen Archer, and lo and behold, he’s right. Though one could argue it’s part of the DIY aesthetic of the album.

Insightful and exciting

There’s really no point in judging the selection of albums. Wilson and Bowness have been sharing their playlists online for years. Together they turned me on to dozens of albums. They set out the boundaries of the podcast clearly and within that framework I’m confident they’ll keep balancing every episode between the familiar and the obscure, the accessible and the bizarre. The Album Years has been both insightful and exciting so far.

Enjoy ’The Album Years’ now on all major podcast platforms.

Jilted John - True Love Stores

“Gordon is a moron” // ‘Jilted John’ by Jilted John

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon an episode of The Guardian Radio Hour Podcast, in which comedian Stewart Lee talked about the cross-pollination between music (or more precisely: punk) and alternative comedy in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

A fascinating listen. In fact, I listened to it twice. The first time while falling asleep, smiling like an idiot. The second time to make extensive playlist notes … smiling like an idiot.

The one track I couldn’t shake off, was ‘Jilted John’ by Jilted John, a brilliantly funny slice of teenage life which reached no. 4 in the UK single charts in 1978.

John and Julie

At just 19 years old, Manchester-based comedian Graham Fellows created the character Jilted John and released the album ‘True Love Stories’ that same year. The back sleeve of ‘True Love Stories’ provides some insight into Fellows’s alter-ego:

“Jilted John, otherwise known as Graham Fellows, is a full time drama student in Manchester and his ambition is to become a full time actor. He has 3 sisters and a very nice mother and father who live in Yorkshire. Jilted John likes fancy mice, Kate Bush and the countryside. His dislikes include Gordon the Moron, anyone successful with girls and gardening.”

Gordon the Moron being the name of interest there.

I think I can safely say that Gordon is Jilted John’s nemesis. The song ‘Jilted John’ wouldn’t be half as good without a depressed and angry John bemoaning losing his girlfriend Julie to Gordon, who is – so he keeps repeating – a moron.

Yeah yeah, it’s not fair

In just a few lines, Fellows paints a series of vivid, tragicomic scenes, that gain power through John’s mildly revengeful cockney-voiced delivery:

“She said listen, John, I love you
But there’s this bloke I fancy
I don’t want to two-time you,
So it’s the end for you and me”

“Who’s this bloke, I asked her
Goo-oo-oor-don, she replied
Not that puff, I said dismayed
Yes, but he’s no puff she cried”

(He’s more of a man than you’ll ever be)

Later on, while crying “all the way to the chip shop”, John is mocked by Gordon and Julie, “standing at the busstop”.

“Gordon is a moron”, John decides, before he launches into a feast of insults and hilarious threats.

In ‘The Rough Guide to British Cult Comedy’ (2006), Julian Hall writes: “[Jilted John’s] lament that “Gordon is a moron” made for one the most bizarre singles of the 1970s – no small feat in a decade that also gave us punk and the Wombles.”

Listen to ‘Jilted John’ on Spotify.

Factoid: ‘True Love Stories’ was produced by Martin Hannett – then Martin Zero – who went on to produce such landmark albums as ‘Unknown Pleasures’ by Joy Division and ‘The Return of the Durutti Column’, as well as work by Magazine, New Order and Happy Mondays.

Further reading / listening