2008 in the arts: Hallelujah! Leonard Cohen's our man

2008 in pop music: From Vampire Weekend to Jenny Lewis

In 2008, a sage came down from the mountain and a maverick band came in from the cold. Some of our biggest domestic guns were fired as the world of music delivery systems spun out of control, and a Welsh woman showed no mercy.

Recent years have been full of high-profile returns, but 2008 had two of the best. Leonard Cohen was forced from his Buddhist retreat thanks to the perfidy of a close associate, who ran off with his pension fund. His ensuing world tour brought a most unlikely phenomenon - Len-mania - to the UK, and sell-out arena performances. Last year, Cohen's best-known song, 'Hallelujah', was reverentially mauled on American Idol. It is now likely to be No 1 in the UK this Christmas, thanks to this year's winner of X Factor UK. Not bad for a frail 74-year-old poet.

But 'Hallelujah' isn't the only instance of pop turning to other forms for a dose of gravitas. Currently, Leona Lewis tops the singles chart with a cover of 'Run' by Snow Patrol (see Turkey, below). Next year, can we expect to see grime-pop irritants N-Dubz covering Van Morrison?

Inactive since 1992, one of Britain's most reclusive bands, My Bloody Valentine, reformed for a series of gigs that were as thrilling as they were ear-splitting. But will a new Valentines album come out in 2009? Stranger things have happened. After a 15-year wait, Guns N' Roses finally released the Holy Grail of metal, their sixth album, Chinese Democracy. The intervening years saw the spread of the internet, the invention of the iPod, the rise of fundamentalist violence and a global economic meltdown. Axl Rose sounded as relevant as Rumpelstiltskin.

Oasis, Coldplay and a bevy of other reliable big hitters released albums by various means. The surprise hit of the year on both sides of the Atlantic was Duffy, whose retro styling persuaded many that she was the new Amy Winehouse.

Despite their combined efforts, physical CD sales are still plummeting. Downloads aren't making up the shortfall. But there have never been as many ways of owning music as there are now. Amazon recently launched an MP3 site to rival iTunes, and mobile phone company Nokia now gives music away for free. Most significant of all, though, was the election to the US presidency of Barack Obama - a man who can shuffle an iPod and whose grasp of the works of Stevie Wonder is no mere pose. On Newsnight, Dizzee Rascal told a boggled Jeremy Paxman that hip hop won the race. Really, though, anyone whose life has been touched by music can now claim to have a kindred spirit in the White House.

Top 5 albums

1. Vampire Weekend Vampire Weekend

2. Stay Positive The Hold Steady

3. Motion to Rejoin Brightblack Morning Light

4. Dear Science TV on the Radio

5. Acid Tongue Jenny Lewis

Turkey: Do You Like Rock Music? British Sea Power.

Top 5 tracks

1. 'Machine Gun' Portishead

2. 'L.E.S. Artistes' Santogold

3. 'Sound of Kuduro' Buraka Som Sistema

4. 'Paper Planes' MIA

5. 'Love Lockdown' Kanye West

Turkey: 'Run' Leona Lewis.

Top 5 gigs

1. Vampire Weekend London ULU

2. Leonard Cohen Manchester Opera House (and again, London O2)

3. Robert Plant & Alison Krauss Manchester Apollo

4. My Bloody Valentine London Roundhouse

5. Björk London Hammersmith Apollo

Turkey: MGMT London Astoria.


The 'too folking good' award for transcending genre: Rachel Unthank & the Winterset.

Most stunning instance of incomprehension that came to light this year: David Cameron being a fan of the Jam's 'Eton Rifles'.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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