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Not Fade Away 2009: Secrets, Accusations and Charges, by David McAlmont and Michael Nyman

So, can you tell I'm floundering? Maybe it's my age, maybe it's the David Guetta-isation of the charts which really begins to kick in this year; part of a dreaded pincer movement with the dead-eyed X Factor formula.

Whatever the reason, in 2009 I can't find anything much to like. What was I listening to five years ago? Old records, I guess.

Trying to keep up to date, I listened to the critic's favourites - Grizzly Bear, The Horrors, Girls, The Big Pink - and none of it caught my attention. Animal Collective's My Girl did, but only because it made me want to listen to the Frankie Knuckles track it "refers" to.

What else? Well, there was Lady Gaga of course. But I can't get too excited by Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, even though she truly embraces pop's love of otherness. Why does the music seem such an afterthought? Conventional, unremarkable dance-pop for the most part. (I've included Paparazzi among the Other Contenders as much for Jonas Akerlund's glorious video as much as anything, though there is a tune at least).

So what does that leave? Scraps and patches. Lily Allen's stiletto-sharp lyric on a gossamer-light tune, Dizzee Rascal's bid for chart supremacy, decent pop songs from Alphabeat and Camera Obscura, the emotive swoops of Bat for Lashes (though Natasha Khan would do better later) and tunes from old(ish) reliables Beth Ditto, Kenny Anderson (mostly for the New Order-style bass that kicks in late on No One Had It Better), Burial and Basement Jaxx.

And it leaves this week's choice, a bit of an outlier. Secrets, Accusations and Charges is a track from The Glare, a collaboration between singer David McAlmont ("one of British pop's most precious hidden treasures," according to music critic Simon Prince) and composer Michael Nyman.

In some ways I feel guilty selecting this particular collaboration - a sweet, sad wisp of a song charged by Nyman's trademark minor key piano and string combinations - given that I didn't go for McAlmont's storming collaboration with Bernard Butler on Yes, a roaring glory of a pop song from 1995 (it missed out to Tricky in that year's Not Fade Away decision). But in a year where there is a lot less competition, this lovely thing is a good as I can find.

It allows us, too, to address something we haven't touched on since Tomorrow Never Knows back in 1966; the crossover between pop and music that fits into the catch-all title of "classical".

When the Beatles incorporated Indian drone into pop they initiated an ongoing conversation between pop and contemporary music; a feedback loop that takes in everything from prog rock to math rock and which you can follow through the back catalogue of everyone from the Velvet Underground (John Cale worked with John Cage before joining the band) to Bowie and Bjork (most obviously, in the latter's case, with her work with John Tavener which links us back to the Beatles as his 1966 cantata The Whale came out in 1970 on their record label Apple).

You could maybe go further and argue that Michael Nyman - still best known for his surging minimalist soundtracks for Peter Greenaway's 1980s films - prefigured pop's sampling culture in his own work. His 1977 composition In Re Don Giovanni, is built around a 16-bar phrase taken from Mozart's opera. "I think I was possibly the first composer to sample and remix composed music," he told me in a Herald interview in 2010. "And long before Byrne and Eno worked together."

Influence worked both ways of course. In 1971 Brian Eno and David Bowie went to see Nyman's fellow minimalist Philip Glass in London: "One of the most extraordinary musical experiences of my life - sound made completely physical and as dense as concrete by sheer volume and repetition. For me it was like a viscous bath of pure thick energy," Eno said later. Conversely, the New Yorker music critic Alex Ross has pointed out that when he was young the composer Steve Reich was listening to Miles Davis and Bob Dylan.

In the end context is just context of course and none of this explains why Secrets, Accusations and Charges hits home so hard. The answer is simple enough; a pleasing confluence of voice and sound.

The Glare album saw McAlmont take some pre-existing Nyman pieces and add melodies and words to them, drawing on small newspaper stories for the narrative. There's even a song about that other great 2009 success story, Susan Boyle. Secrets, Accusations and Charges has a Scottish hook too. It's based on a story about an Aberdeen woman who ran international jewellery heists.

And that narrative is in the song. But McAlmont transforms it into what Garry Mulholland has described as "a string-drenched confessional of shame and lost love".

The result is genuinely moving and that's down to Nyman's gorgeous music and the sad, soaring sweetness of McAlmont's voice.

In another world this would have sold more copies than Susan Boyle's I Dreamed a Dream and Lady Gaga's Poker Face put together. Never mind. It gives us something to remember an otherwise dour year by and an opportunity to remember that music is a language that ultimately recognises no critical barriers. Everything is possible. It always was.

Other Contenders

The Fear, Lily Allen

Hyph Mngo, Joy Orbison

Daniel, Bat For Lashes

Bonkers, Dizzee Rascal

Heavy Cross, The Gossip

French Navy, Camera Obscura

No One Had It Better, King Creosote

The Spell, Alphabeat

Moth, Burial & Four Tet

Raindrops, Basement Jaxx

Paparazzi, Lady Gaga

NME Single of the Year: Zero, Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Festive 50 Winner: There are Listed Buildings, Los Campesinos!

And the best-selling single of 2009: Poker Face, Lady Gaga

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