By Various Artists
The press release that accompanies this two disco compilation gives NME the moniker of "the pioneers of all things cool" before promising us an album that "has its finger on the pulse, so you don't have to!" It couldn't possibly be any clearer that this is an album for people who see a band on the front cover of NME, and then spend the next week enthusing about the greatness of said band, regardless of whether they like them or not.
If this album is to be believed, then NME have decided that electro is where it's at in 2009. Consequently, we get the bog-standard crunchy-electro and lilting vocals of Passion Pit's 'The Reeling;' the style-over-substance, synth-studded cool of '1901' by Phoenix; the bright and breezy, handclap-strewn skitter of Gossip's forgettable 'Love Long Distance;' and Jack Penate's 'Tonight Today.' The latter actually gets the foundations right, with an electro shimmy that's stuck on a short loop to ensure you won't be able to get that snippet of music out of your head. Its repetitiveness will probably see it fair tolerably well on the indie club scene, but the completely meaningless lyrics ("today's tonight / tonight's today / every day /every day") mean it's so much musical candy-floss; sweet, enjoyable, but insubstantial. You know you're onto a loser, when NME include Little Boots' chart-bothering 'Remedy' on its tracklisting - and it feels positively edgy.
But, the most depressing indie-meets-electro mash-up, has to be Franz Ferdinand's offering, 'Ulysses.' Heaped with electro effects, handclaps and chants of "la, la, la, la" it's catchy enough, but it's an easy sort of catchiness that's ultimately unfulfilling. A depressing introduction to their third album.
But, fear not, 'NME The Album 2009' is 90% synth-studded indie, so they were bound to stumble upon some good examples sooner or later. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Big Pink, White Lies and Esser all contribute songs that'll reaffirm your faith in the genre. Yeah Yeah Yeahs' 'Zero' slips coils of slow, mesmerising electro around the listener, before cracking out the rock guitars in a powerhouse of thumping trance-rock that has 'indie club smash' written all over it.
The Big Pink's 'Dominos' has a backdrop of buzzy bass and a roof-raising chorus that sees it skip between sleazy, grungy rock and chart-bothering accessibility. Meanwhile, 'Death' is another unique fusion of catchy electro and subtle gloom from the always-interesting White Lies. It's no 'To Lose My Life,' but it's a brooding slow-burner and a master class in how to jump on the synth-studded-indie bandwagon, without compromising your credibility.
Esser's 'Headlock' is one of those rare songs that doesn't take itself seriously. Opening with a burst of shamelessly cheesy falsetto and full-on trance synths, it's funky light-dance music sprinkled liberally with Nintendocore beeps, whines and whistles. It isn't cool, and it's all the better for it.
But, if it's rock with an experimental electro tinge you're after, then you can't do any better than Muse's 'Uprising.' It's easily as groovy and subversively, subtly odd as their mainstream-bothering hit 'Supermassive Black Hole.' If you've so far managed to avoid purchasing a copy of 'The Resistance,' then this grandiose, handclap-studded rock juggernaut will have you racing to your nearest record shop. The same can be said for 'Warrior Dance;' a drum-and-bass orientated thump with addictive female guest vocals, courtesy of The Prodigy. This is a single designed to shift shedloads of the album it's lifted off. Meanwhile, Enter Shikari's 'No Sleep Tonight' gets off to a shaky start, as it initially plays down the hardcore side of their sound. It does get more rocking as it goes on, and the vocals and giddy electro effects are nothing short of euphoric. Worth sticking with until the end.
There's a treat in store for Simon Neil fans, with a double-header of Biffy Clyro and Marmaduke Duke offerings. Biffy Clyro's 'That Golden Rule' is snappy, bristly alt-punk with an instrumental ending of strings, military drumbeats and jigging guitars that recalls the epic majesty of breakthrough album 'Puzzle.' The second slice of Simon Neil action is the brilliantly entitled 'Je Suis Un Funky Homme,' where the addictiveness of the warped electro and cartoonish vocals is surpassed only by the cheesy-funk of the wonderfully naff choruses.
Bonafide rock songs may be in short supply here, but fans of the nastier side of things will delight in the snarling, hardcore-punk of Gallows' 'I Dread The Night,' which sees Frank Carter edging towards something eerily reminiscent of actual singing, to surprisingly hooky effect. On a completely different musical tract, but still suitably rocking, is the steady, splintery shimmy of Manic Street Preachers' angular anthem 'Peeled Apples.'
NME dips its toe briefly into punk waters, with Green Day's towering 'Know Your Enemy' and the lip-curling, foot-stamping, pop-punk tantrum of Paramore's comeback single 'Ignorance,' which sees the formerly squeaky-clean cover stars sounding positively annoyed.
Compilations are a great way to discover your new favourite band, and there's a handful of songs here that'll pique your interest in acts you may not have previously heard of. Having caused a brief stir in 2006 and early 2007, The Horrors are back with 'Who Can Say.' It may feature a cringe-worthy voiceover, but it also features plenty of dramatic synths that just may see The Horrors reclaim some of their early popularity.
'Into The Chaos' by Howling Bells is similarly solid indie-rock that uses synths to give it that extra flourish. Factor in some clunky piano, frontwoman Juanita Stein's trippy vocals and clattering acoustic guitars, and this heady alt-pop number has the edge that 90% of this compilation is lacking. If Howling Bells whetted your alt-pop appetite, then skip straight to The Temper Trap's offering, 'Sweep Disposition.' A gently stirring piece of gossamer indie-pop, crammed with gorgeous vocals, it's a song of subtle and rare beauty, and a definite album highlight. Pure bliss, from start to finish.
'Please Venus' from Golden Silvers is a song of two halves. One half is a slow, soulful croon that's a languid, groovily modern take on jazz. The second half, is a bubbly combo of handclaps and cheesy "bah-bah-bah" vocals. Whoever thought it was a good idea to whip those loose, jazzy rhythms into a superficial musical froth, should hang their head in shame.
And then there's two songs to split opinion, Dananananaykroyd's 'Back Wax' and 'My Girls' by Animal Collective. 'Back Wax' is light and airy indie-rock that rumbles into an end-section of shrapnel riffing and yelpy vocals, in a final minute that'll be either a deal maker, or a deal breaker.
But, it feels positively pedestrian when compared to Animal Collective's world music-flavoured fusion of layered, choir-like vocals and sparking electro. You'll be half expecting Animal Collective to slip into a more conventional, main-song groove at any moment, but this isn't an experimental intro - this is the entire song. One for those who go mad for anything that's 'different.'
Contributions from Graham Coxon, Kasabian and Friendly Fires also bring an international flavour to this compilation. Both Graham Coxon and Friendly Fires' offerings are built on tribal-tinged drumbeats, although these are more prominent in the doomy thump of Coxon's 'Dead Bees.' Friendly Fires' 'Kiss Of Life' takes that unusual beat and does something far more eclectic with it. The choruses, for example, incorporate cartoonish vocals and trembly falsetto notes, all skipping along at a brisk pace and bringing an extra edge to proceedings.
Kasabian's 'Fire' is a song of jangly acoustic guitars, clunky choruses and vocals that twist and shimmer like heat-haze. It's a combination that evokes powerful desert imagery. Despite an unusual construction of fade ups and fade downs that damage the flow of the song, 'Fire' is, like the other two tracks, a wonderfully refreshing piece of musical exotica.
NME also make a brief foray into the more rock-orientated side of indie. Peter Doherty's 'Last Of The English Roses' is arguably the album's most straightforward rock track. There's a shambolic element to the broken-glass guitar lines that makes this a difficult song to get to grips with, and a stoner-rock tinge to Doherty's drawled vocals that isn't immediately grabbing. However, 'Last Of The English Roses' is a grower and, after so much shiny electro-indie dross, you'll just about go mad for anything that has a bit of grit to it.
The Enemy's 'Be Somebody' is close behind 'Last Of The English Roses' in terms of rock appeal, serving up a thoroughly refreshing racket, and Maximo Park's 'In Another World' alternates between relentless verses where they turn the bass up to eleven, and a jigging, euphoric chorus. The leap between the two takes a little getting used to, but whether they're raising the roof or pummelling the listener with black-hearted beats, 'In Another World' is a no holds barred headrush.
Album highlight at the more rock-orientated end of the scale, is The Cribs' 'Cheat On Me.' The ragged and genuinely pained-sounding chorus is a blast of bonafide anthemic indie you'll want to play over and over again. 'Cheat On Me' makes a genuine connection with the listener - a depressingly rare thing on this compilation.
Also worth checking out, are The Maccabees' 'No Kind Words' and '5 Rebeccas' by The View. The former is glimmering indie-pop with sombre vocals; it almost doesn't need to pick up the pace, but it does anyway, signing off with a storm of drum rolls and guitars. The View, meanwhile, may not be as popular as when they were singing about going to a disco in the middle of the town, but the rabble-rousing, indie-rock nursery rhyme of '5 Rebeccas' will have you wondering why the world isn't still going mad for The View.
Both songs are a million miles away from 'The Hill' by Bombay Bicycle Club, which is the epitome of indie that's solid rather than exciting, and the one-trick-pony of Ian Brown's 'Stellify.' No-one wants to listen to the same quirky little piano refrain, played over, and over, and over again.
'Obsession' by Marina & the Diamonds has the sort of Lilly Allen, heavily accented, spoken vocals that feel tired and second hand in 2009, a fate that almost befalls Jamie T's offering. Despite his annoying overly-exaggerated accent, the upbeat 'Sticks & Stones' has an infectious energy. It's overflowing with hooky backing vocals, and Jamie T's neat vocal twists and turns on the chorus tempt you to sing along. Surprisingly good fun.
Despite inclusions from heavyweights such as Muse, Manic Street Preachers, Biffy Clyro, The Prodigy, Paramore and Green Day, and a smattering of intriguing new artists, too much of 'NME The Album 2009' is content to plough an uninspiring electro-indie furrow.
A good portion of this album sounds exactly the same. There's a lack of adventurous song choices and edge; there's very little here that hasn't already enjoyed a heavy rotation on Radio One. The self-proclaimed pioneers of all things cool, have turned out a double album that's ultimately just a depressing statement on mainstream indie and rock.