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Past perfect

6 December 2006

3:37 PM

6 December 2006

3:37 PM

It was one of those perfect New York days that make you feel grateful to be alive. I’d eaten my favourite breakfast — pancakes with maple syrup and crispy bacon — then salved my conscience with a huge bowl of fresh fruit, and was now taking a post-prandial walk in Central Park. The sky was an eggshell blue, the air was crisp, there were skaters on the ice rink, and squirrels were chasing each other across the branches of the trees like a scene from Beatrix Potter.

With that extra spurt of energy Manhattan so often provides, I decided to walk up to the reservoir, further than I’d ever gone before, and when I got there, it looked so beautiful in the late November sunlight that I walked right round it. And then I ambled happily over to the Guggenheim for its superb exhibition of Spanish painting and received one of the nastier jolts of my life.

‘One ticket, please,’ I said to the man at the desk once inside Frank Lloyd Wright’s miraculous spiral gallery.

‘That will be 15 dollars,’ he said. This surprised me as the large sign behind him said adult admission was 18 dollars, but perhaps there was a discount on Mondays. So I kept quiet, paid my 15 bucks, and took my ticket. And there they were, staring me in the face, just two words but enough to knock all the wind out of my sails: ‘Senior Citizen’. The crumblies apparently receive a three-dollar reduction. I, however, am a mere 51, no spring chicken to be sure, but 14 years shy of 65 when such discounts are presumably meant to kick in.

I didn’t have the heart to protest. How can you protest, anyway, when you’ve received a bargain?

My problem is that, although I evidently look like a pensioner, I still feel about 27. Indeed, I feel younger now than I did when I actually was 27, a wretched period of my life when I suffered recurring panic attacks and bouts of depression.

It’s always a shock to see that fat, bald guy reflected in shop windows, because in my mind’s eye, I’m still some hip, slim young thing who ought to be fronting the Arctic Monkeys. But perhaps I really am getting past it. My plan this month was to compare and contrast the greatest hits collections just released by U2 and Oasis. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get to the end of either of them. In short bursts I find Oasis’s yobbish anthemic rock exhilarating, but the solipsism of the songs, and Noel Gallagher’s almost touchingly inadequate use of the English language, begins to pall pretty quickly. But at least Oasis are devoid of the ghastly faux-profundity of U2, so many of whose greatest hits sound drearily similar with their mid-tempo wall of sound, the chiming, edgy lead guitar and Bono’s agonisingly sincere yet curiously vacuous vocals. Once you have heard ‘Pride (In the Name of Love)’ you have heard the best that U2 have to offer and they have been repeating the same formulaic pomp rock for more than 20 years now.

I also hate the smug way U2 draw attention to their own moral rectitude by urging their fans to sign up to not one but four charities on the album sleeve, including Amnesty International and Greenpeace. It’s so patronising and self-congratulatory that one feels like throwing up. Is Bono the world’s most irritating rock star? There’s admittedly strong competition, but I think he probably is.

So here instead is a recommendation for we crumblies. Past Perfect, a superb nostalgia label that attractively repackages the popular music of the Twenties, Thirties and Forties with absolutely superb sound quality, has just put out its new catalogue and it is packed with plums.

In previous columns I’ve recommended their Perfect Bebop collection as well as Jazz Age, an inexhaustible double CD of ‘Hot sounds from the 20s and 30s’ with all the big names from the golden age of jazz present, correct and brilliantly remastered. But you might also want to sample their Noël Coward, Cole Porter or Irving Berlin selections, Fred Astaire’s songs from the movies, their big band and swing albums, and the disc which apparently outsells them all, La vie Parisienne, featuring French chansons from the likes of Edith Piaf, Yves Montand, Charles Trenet and Josephine Baker.

I already have 20 Past Perfect albums in my collection and they are an unfailing source of pleasure. What’s more, the service is exceptional, with discs generally arriving the day after you’ve ordered them. The new catalogue is available online at, or by phoning 0800 019 4030 (intl: 44 [0]1869 325052), and the company is offering a free gift-wrapping service for Christmas. Initiate your young into the delights of George Formby. Pep up your maiden aunt with Fats Waller. Treat yourself to Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli and enjoy Christmas in a warm glow of stylish nostalgia.

Charles Spencer is theatre critic of the Daily Telegraph.

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