To a Canadian Guy I Met in Barcelona (on the Subject of Music)
I've tried really hard to get into Arctic Monkeys since your recommendation. I like the lyrics (I think) but I've never really liked Alex Turner's voice. It's a shame because alongside the likes of fellow Mercury Prize winners Alt-J, they're one of the UK's most popular indie bands. But while i think Arctic Monkeys are deserving of the hype (at their best, they're brilliant storytellers: this performance of Fluorescent Adolescent is one of my all-time favourites), I don't think Alt-J are. Their lyrics are, quite frankly, stupid and the band have been deeply overhyped.
I've been listening to a lot of songs by The National recently. They've always been on my radar but it was only recently that I discovered songs like Don't Swallow the Cap and Bloodbuzz Ohio. I don't highly rate them as songwriters; their songs lack coherence, but if you like taking lines on an individual basis, as I sometimes do, then they're definitely a band to check out.
In terms of the songwriters that Britain has, I think Ben Howard is the one that has got it - should we say, most right - in his latest album, I Forgot Where We Were. I'm still obsessed by a song of his called Conrad - a very deep, multi-layered offering that actually seems to have something to say. Everything I've listened to recently (including the latest offering by Scotland's Paolo Nutini and Ireland's Damien Rice) just seems a bit empty, but I Forgot Where We Were has bucked that trend and offers something both emotionally and - I daresay - intellectually. It's like your compatriot Neil Young said about writing tender songs: as soon as you try to write a tender song, they no longer become tender.
Laura Marling is always one to look out for (What She Wrote, Goodbye England (Covered in Snow) and My Blackberry Stone are all near-masterpieces, and while they are sophisticated, they are slightly more elusive in meaning than the songs on her first album, Alas I cannot Swim), but she has never released an album without "I" or "Me" in the title, which should tell you something about the subject matter she tends to concern herself with. But it works, especially her first two albums, which I absolutely urge you to check out. They are essential. The only other female singer-songwriters we have that can be put in the same bracket as her are Adele and Florence from Florence and the Machine, which - as major UK exports - I'm sure you've heard of.
Out of all of our female singer songwriters we have, it is only Adele that has been able to detach herself from her own ego for 3 or 4 minutes and tell a good, simple story. She speaks to The Everyman and is arguably the most popular female artist this century.
As much as I love sophisticated lyrics riddled with deeper meaning, I'd love for a British Johnny Cash or Dolly Parton (not in terms of style, although my taste has tended towards country music for its purity in the last few years - a sign that I must be getting old!) to come along. I need a storyteller who keeps it simple, who keeps it funny, who provides a narrative and does all of this without pretension. But perhaps I'm asking too much. I think Rock Island Line, made famous by Johnny Cash, is one of the greatest songs ever written. I think it's got everything. I guess it's only a matter of time before someone like that comes along and produces songs so great that they get weaved into the public consciousness. I'll have my fingers crossed for that.