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Book of Brilliant Things - Five things we’ve loved this week - 21st November

This week's Brilliant Things includes the late Sharon Jones, celebrating 30 years of U2's Achtung Baby, the Song Exploder podcast, the new song by Spoon and finally Britney is free!


1. Remembering Sharon Jones

This week saw the 5th anniversary of the late, great Sharon Jones, front woman of The Dap-Kings and a powerhouse soul & funk singer. Proof that size does not matter, she was barely five foot tall, yet her voice was energetic, powerful, a driving force behind the neo-soul movement that emerged in the 2000s.


I had the privilege of seeing her twice live - once at Koko in Camden in 2010, and then again at The Roundhouse in 2014. The former show was a whirlwind of energy, just stunning. I lowered my expectations for the second show, as she had been diagnosed first with bile duct cancer, and later rediagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She'd had chemo and refused to wear a wig, she was herself always, no fakery or show. That second show was another whirlwind of energy, stunning vocals and a fabulous, no holds barred stormer for a show.


Today is also my father's anniversary - he died three years ago, also from pancreatic cancer. I saw how tough that was first hand, and it leaves me flabbergasted to think she had been going through the same experience.


If you don't know her, go check her out, The 100 days, 100 Nights album is just stunning, as are all her records. RIP Sharon and have a chat with the old fella, if you get a chance. Though he's more a Don Williams man.


2. U2 Achtung Baby is 30!

Some artists make the same record over and over again (hello the aptly named Status Quo). Some artists are constant chameleons (Bowie, The Fall). Some artists come with an expected sharp left turn, others you expect to follow a steady, unchanging trajectory.


U2 were in the latter category - little changes, but not a radical shift. Sure The Unforgettable Fire is a more arty, refined version of Boy - War era U2. But not that radical. However, by the end of 1989, U2 needed a change. Rattle & Hum was bloated, irritating...dull. Their heads were firmly up their sanctimonious arses. But they at least had the good grace to know it. Bono said at their last gig of 1989 that they were going away to reimagine it all.


I remember a little Irish band called The Power Of Dreams who said they were so angry at U2 they sent them Doolittle by Pixies to show them what real music sounded like as they had clearly forgotten. It worked.


Achtung Baby and its accompanying Z00 TV tour were NOTHING like the U2 of old. The tour was pomp rather than pompous. The mullets were gone; the wrap around shades and PVC suit were in. Tongues were firmly in cheeks and U2 had reinvented themselves in a way that was unimaginable.


The album stands up today as a classic - it's U2 but not as we knew them. The tour was incredible. I saw them when it had evolved so Bono has developed his "Macphisto" character, welcoming Salman Rushdie onto the Wembley Stadium stage - an incredibly brave thing to do given the fatwa that had been taken out against him at the time.


Give it a spin this week and marvel at how well it stands up 30 years on.


3. Song Exploder

My colleague Paul reminded me of a fantastic podcast, Song Exploder. It's presented by Hrishikesh Hirway who has the most calming voice I have ever heard. Each show takes a deep dive into one song across a broad range of music.


These little 15 minute vignettes are a great way to learn more about something you have been listening to for years. I am loving the dive into This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both of Us by Sparks - lots of snippets I never knew. Well worth a listen.


4. New Spoon song - The Hardest Cut

I love Spoon. That's not a peculiar declaration of a cutlery fetish (and if you are turned on by cutlery, good luck to you - no judgement here. Whatever floats your gravy boat).


Spoon are a rock band from Texas, who have released The Hardest Cut, ahead of their tenth album, Lucifer On The Sofa, which is due out in early 2022. Their style is arty, funky, quirky and experimental. Think Radiohead but more straightforward, without their head up their arse and with more of a groove.


I am really, really looking forward to the album and hope they tour over in the UK. They are quite splendid live. Do check them, out!

5. Britney is free!

The conservatorship of Britney Spears is one of the more peculiar stories in the annals of pop history. Yes, she has had some mental health issues, but the whole deal seemed disproportionate and some of the claims on the limitations on her life seemed wholly inappropriate. This should have been a short term arrangement and then some steps to give her life back should have been taken. But instead this was in place for over 13 years. If she was so ill, why was she being made to work and deliver a huge number of Vegas shows? It's difficult to see how this served her best interests...


The work of her fans has been inspiring and their Free Britney campaign was impressive and sustained. I wish her well and hope she now can get own with her life. And if she could bang out another Toxic, that would be amazing!

See you next week, stay safe, x

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