While scouring my hard-drive and emails for long-lost artifacts I actually came across some of my old album of the year lists so thought I’d post them here. I’ve not made any changes, even though some of it reads so clunky that it was hard to resist ‘pulling a Lucas’. It’s not amazingly good writing, but disappointingly it’s also neither hilariously bad. And there’s some fucking belting albums
-Describing the Darkness as having ‘faces like bins outside the World of Leather’ may actually be the best line I’ve ever written
-Burial’s Untrue is ‘the best British soul album since Blue Lines‘ in places!! Blimey, I wish I was that unafraid of making big statements nowadays
-Urgh, I actually use the ‘if I told you, I’d have to kill you’ line, what a cunt I was
-Predicted Burial for the Mercury Prize, wrongly
-Jesus, I mention how I first heard of a band through Teletext. This wasn’t even a decade ago!
-Predicted Shaun Ryder appearing on I’m a Celebrity correctly, 3 years early
-Goodness:OK Computer is ‘as big a reference point for British music journalists as 9/11 is for American politicians’!!
-I take two separate swipes at Razorlight. I’m not sorry
-Jesus, In Rainbows being as low as 5th is ridiculous, but even so it’s a strong list
-‘The Manics are the greatest band in the World, possibly ever’ not even protending to be unbiased
-James Murphy is so cool that ‘when he goes to parties he name drops himself’. Doesn’t quite work does it? But there’s a great line hiding in there somewhere!
Well, without further ado:
20. Dizzee Rascal: Maths + English
After a full three year gap after releasing the vastly underrated Showtime album, and a good two and a half after looking so ridiculously out of place in the Band AID 20 video you’d swear he’d accidentally walked into the recording studio looking for the gents (if after reading this you feel the urge to re–watch the video on YouTube, I’ll inform you in advance that those funny looking blokes you don’t recognise with faces like the bins outside World of Leather are ‘The Darkness’. No, me neither), the man his mum still calls Dylan returned triumphantly with… comfortably his weakest album yet. Yes, at least half of it was the kind of exhilaratingly abrasive grit–hop that he does better than anyone else on the planet, but that only emphasised the disappointingly sterile sounds of the more commercially minded songs on the album. Seeing as Dizzee’s previous attempt at a big crossover ‘hit’ resulted in the excruciatingly bad Dream, someone really should inform him that he’s never going to write Hardknock Life, and should probably just stop trying. Yet in a year of disappointing rap albums from both sides of the Atlantic, this was still one of the best, and he remains the Don of British hip–hop, Robbie Williams’ Rudebox notwithstanding.
19. PJ Harvey: White Chalk
I’ve always found it bizarre when, when on the subject of PJ Harvey (or ‘Peej’ as no one has ever called her), journalists continue to mention the fact that she was one of Kurt Cobain’s favourite artists as some kind of ‘proof’ of her abilities; this is a man who took heroin all his adult life, adored the ABBA tribute act ‘Bjorn Again’, married Courtney Love and then shot himself in the head– I am far from enamoured with his decision making abilities. He also inspired Last Days, a 2005 Gus Van Sant film that was so fucking awful it made me want to take smack, which perhaps was the point. I’m digressing slightly here, what I’m trying to say is that had Kurt Cobain been alive to hear PJ Harvey’s last album, 2004’s Uh Huh Her (even the title was catatonically half–arsed), then it probably would have finished him off anyway. While that album’s critical and commercial failure, not to mention the almost three years of near silence that followed it, had many people speculating that we may had seen the end of Harvey as a creative force, White Chalk signalled an astonishing and completely unexpected return to form. A contrary cow at the best of times, each of the album’s eleven tracks feature little more than a lone piano and PJ Harvey’s ethereal, disembodied voice, jettisoned her trademarked primal blues in favour of some of the year’s most beautiful songs, and could signal a creative rebirth and a second stage in her career in the same way that Nick Cave’s The Boatman’s Call did in 1997. The only quibble I have is that the whole ‘Victorian Ghost’ theme that underpins the album (PJ even goes as far as dressing as Nicole Kidman in The Others for the album sleeve) is in parts so contrived you fully expect the next track to open with Derek Acorah telling you he feels ‘a presence in the room’.
18. Burial: Untrue
If this list were based on music evoking atmosphere and a general sense of impending menace, then the admirably anonymous Burial would occupy first, second, third, fourth and sixth place (fifth place would be The Hoosiers, a band that continue to fill me with terror and a strange sense of self–loathing each time they are in earshot). His second album’s a technical marvel, managing at once to be an amazingly evocative snapshot of the capital and still sound, in places, like the greatest British soul album since Massive Attack’s Blue Lines. The problem is that you’ll form this opinion at around track three, only to find the album struggles to find any real momentum after its opening tracks, so much so that by the time you get to Dog Shelter or Homeless at the album’s fag–end, you’ll swear that the songs have already been on. It’s this sense of ‘déjà vu’ that blighted Burial’s 2006 debut and hasn’t been addressed fully here. All in all though it’s a very good album, Archangel is one of the best songs of the year, and Burial (whoever he is; I have a theory on his identity that involves Terry Wogan and the West End cast of We Will Rock You, but if I told you it I’d have to kill you) is so prodigiously talented that he will make a classic album one day. Just not this one. If you like a flutter though, I can guarantee that a tenner placed on him winning next September’s Mercury Prize will result in Christmas already being paid for.
17. The Twilight Sad: Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters
If anything, I know even less about this Scottish foursome (Hmm, I must remember never to use that description again, it sounds like a bordello’s Super Saver deal) than I do about Burial’s real identity, and I may never have heard of them at all if it weren’t for the sad fact that I still feel obliged to check Teletext’s music pages at least once a day (and still feel strangely smug that I’m doing something ‘modern’), which routinely championed the band, eventually naming Fourteen Autumns… as it’s album of the year. Yet anyone else who still thinks requesting to poke someone’s Facebook should usually require a night in police custody but knows instinctively that the football scores are on page 316, this album was a rare treat; folky (with a small ‘f’), epic in the right places, warm, and with production so rich that if you look up the word ‘lush’ in the 2008 Oxford Dictionary it should by all rights simply play a thirty second blast of Talking With Fireworks. Highly recommended, with only the fact that in its more bombastic moments it veers a little too closely to sounding like the BBC’s coverage of Hogmanay keeping it from a much higher position. In fact, I’m convinced that if they weren’t cursed with a name so wet it actually slides off the CD cover if you tilt the case, they’d be huge by now. Having said that, considering that two of Britain’s biggest bands are called Arctic Monkeys and Coldplay, perhaps their problem is that their name just isn’t shit enough? Makes you think… No it doesn’t…
16. Ian Brown: The World Is Yours
One of the major achievements of this album, the fifth by the former singer of The Wonder Stuff (or was it Northern Uproar?) can be found on the chorus to track seven, when Ian Brown chimes in with ‘’I wish I had a home/ With ten million rooms/ I’d open up the doors/ And let the street children through/ Wish that I could scoop/ All of these children in my arms/ And give them the love they need/ And to protect them all from harm’ and the challenge to find the year’s worst lyric is declared a no-contest. It says a lot for Brown’s unshakable charisma, not to mention the great affection he is still held in by many, that his lyrics may occasionally veer into territory that Michael Jackson would reject as being a bit mawkish (to be fair, I think in general Jackson would be well advised to avoid lyrics about taking children into his house in the future. Just a thought) and he still seems to come out of it smelling of roses. It also helps that his solo work has maintained a steady quality throughout, and on this album it seems he has truly found his ‘sound’ and his confidence in it is evident in almost every track. Ditching almost any semblance of being an ‘indie’ act, he instead trades in moody electronica and the kind of almost Wu-Tang-esque strings he first implemented on F.E.A.R, with vocals that now sound closer to rapping than singing (never his strongest talent, let’s be honest) that dovetail gorgeously with Sinead O’Connor on the two tracks she guests on. The enduring impression of this album is that Brown, unlike many of his contemporaries, is still refusing to simply trade on former glories, and sounding all the better for it. Just don’t get me started on Morrissey…
15. Jay-Z: American Gangster
Here’s good rule of thumb; if you’re a gadzillion-selling internationally renowned rapper, having Chris Martin guest on your album may be a good indicator to fans that you’ve lost your edge somewhat. Kanye West demonstrated this on last year’s underwhelming Graduation album, and Jay–Z found to his misfortune when he roped in Mr. Paltrow to sing on 2006’s Kingdom Come, his first album after the least convincing ‘retirement’ in music history that wasn’t so much bad as it was overwhelmingly forgettable (interestingly, the ‘Chris Martin Factor’ also applies to any indie band believing that having Kate Moss sing on a couple of tracks can only be a good thing, and artists of any description that allow Wyclef Jean within 1200 yards of their recording studio at any time. Having said that, I did happen upon Wyclef’s version of Little Drummer Boy over the Christmas period, which I found so mind–bendingly dreadful that it may in fact be the greatest song ever). Thankfully Shawn Carter relocated his muse in a big way when he was so inspired by an early cut of Ridley Scott’s American Gangster that he immediately retired to the recording studio to record a concept album loosely based around the film, writing, recording, mixing and releasing it all in the space of four weeks, achieving his eighth successive US number one album in the process. While as a record it hardly reinvents the wheel in the same way his 2001 Blueprint album, it at least found Jay–Z rediscovering the talents that have made him possibly the most revered rapper of his generation.
14. Happy Mondays: Unkle Dysfunktional
Of all the albums released in 2007, this one was head and shoulders above the rest in terms of how hard it was to convince your friends it was listenable, never mind that it was Shaun Ryder’s best work in over a decade (never mind trying to convince people that when you saw The Happy Mondays live, Shaun remembered nearly all the words and stood up all through the set!). Probably the most surprisingly good album of the last 12 months, if not the last century, it saw the newly trimmed down band (just Shaun, drummer Gaz Whelan and, obviously, Bez from the original line–up, plus new guitarist Kav Sandhu, who was just recruited to piss off my computer’s spellchecker, which presumably explains the album’s title) rediscover the kind of dark Manchester funk they’d last visited with any success on 1988’s Bummed, full of songs like Cuntry Disco (sic, obviously), In the Blood and Jellybean (‘Now that I am naked I’m a lady/Now that I am naked I’m set free/ It’s good to feel my arse against the grass/ It’s good to push my tits against the glass’, you don’t get that with Razorlight) that rank alongside their very best. Enjoy it while you can, before Shaun Ryder turns up on next year’s I’m a celebrity Get Me Out of Here pushing wallaby testicles up his nose and it finally becomes officially unforgivable to admit to liking them.
13. Grinderman: Grinderman
There was a time, not so long ago, when Nick Cave albums would arrive roughly once every blue years, and people would presume that seeing as he was in the ‘advanced’ years of his life, we should just be patient. When it took him and The Bad Seeds nearly three years to follow 2001’s No More Shall We Part with the distinctly half–baked Nocturama (if you were thinking of doing a Nick Cave parody, you’d do well to think of a better album title than that) he was practically applauded for his effort, with one reviewer stating that it was ‘good to see him out of the house’ and another remarking that Cave was ‘still remarkably sharp for his age’. Then, almost out of nowhere, he released Abattoir Blues/ Lyre of Orpheus, a furious blast of gospel–infused blues rock and swooning ballads, it reaffirmed The Bad Seeds as one of the most technically proficient bands around and many rate the double album as the finest of his career. Cave didn’t stop there though, once The Bad Seeds’ epic tour finished in early 2006 he found himself writing songs on the guitar, an instrument he’d hardly ever played before. His technical limitations led to a much rawer and primal sound, he recruited three of the Bad Seeds (Warren Ellis, Martyn “With a Y” Casey and Jim “Put This in Your Spellchecker” Sclavunos), grew a moustache that gave him the look of one of the more Faustian Village People and Grinderman was born. Wrongly described in some circles as ‘simplistic’ or ‘basic’ rock, as if it were an album made up of two–minute Hives covers, it’s actually an astonishingly powerful rock album, with stripped–to–the–bone arrangements that add extra power to the more grand expressions of Electric Alice and the title track, whilst never veering close to becoming unlistenable. It also contained possibly Nick Cave’s most explicitly humorous lyrics to date (‘I sent her every type of flower/ Played her guitar by the hour/ I patted her revolting little Chihuahua/ And still she said that she didn’t want to’– No Pussy Blues, ‘I’ve been listening to the Women’s Hour/ I’ve been listening to Gardener’s question Time/ But everything I try to grow/ I can’t even grow a dandelion’– Love Bomb) and essentially sounds like it was the most fun record to make, like, ever. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ new album’s due in March, it seems there really is no rest for the wicked.
12. Arcade Fire: Neon Bible
The sad thing is that a great amount of people were actually expecting this to be the greatest album released for about a decade, possibly the greatest single piece of art created by humble human hands since the latter days of the renaissance. When in the end it turned out to be neither of these things, but ‘just’ a very good album that didn’t quite scale the peaks of their 2004 debut, but nonetheless had some pretty sublime moments, half of those people were so caught up in the hype they excitedly proclaimed it the ‘best album since OK Computer (the album that’s as big a reference point for British music journalists as 9/11 is for American politicians)’ seemingly half way through hearing the opening track, whilst the other half got so incensed that the album wasn’t the aural equivalent of the Ten Commandments, that they disowned them altogether, declaring them ‘over’ and filling out the government forms to officially request a backlash, seemingly halfway through track three. All I’ll say is: did it become compulsory for every major American rock album of the last two years to shamelessly ‘pay homage’ to Bruce Springsteen on at least one track, as Arcade Fire do with Keep the Car Running?
11. Soulsavers: It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s the Way You Land
It’s not clear to me whether Mark Lanegan just has an uncanny knack of picking collaborations of unusually high quality or if he really does have the swamp rock Midas touch, transforming the uninspired and the plain awful into 21st century blues gold. We probably won’t know for sure until next autumn, when he releases Eey Oop, It’s Growly Up North, his long awaited collaboration with The Kaiser Chiefs (or, to give them their full name, The Kaiser–Sodding–Chiefs), until then all we know is that this alliance with Manchester production duo Soulsavers was particularly inspired. No album of 2007 opens quite as brilliantly as this one, with Revival, Ghosts of You and Me and Paper Money setting the scene perfectly for what promises to be a gospel–blues masterwork. If the album managed to keep up this momentum all the way through to track ten it would be the album of the year, Israel and Palestine would resolve their differences, James Blunt would rejoin the army and Scotland would at this moment be looking forward to a successful Euro 2008 campaign. It can’t, of course, if life was that perfect John Terry wouldn’t be on £120’000 a week would he? That’s not to say there isn’t much to love in the remaining seven songs, which still contain some of 2007’s more affecting songs, and anything with Mark Lanegan’s growl, thankfully unaffected by July’s smoking ban, is rarely less than compelling (I would say ‘he could sing the phone book and make it sound great’, but that would be a blatant lie. I mean come on– all the phone book? If I’m being honest my interest would probably waiver around ‘Anderson’). But for now, file under ‘close, but no cigar’…
10. Justice: ┼
Dance music, like cheese, sex and arrogance, has long been something that the French seemingly excel at (to be fair, if you manage to marry the twin obsessions and cheese and sex, things every other nation has long–since deemed completely incompatible, then I suppose you’ve every right to be arrogant), exporting acts of the highest quality such as Air, Daft Punk (pre their so–bad–it’s–actually–fucking–heinous Gap commercial , which has actually grown steadily more gruesome with age) and Cassius around the globe whilst other European countries such as Holland had to make do with The Vengaboys, and Justice do nothing on their debut album to dispel that idea. The band first came to prominence more than four years ago when they sent in a remix of Simian’s rather anonymous indie mini–hit Never Be Alone Again into a contest on a Parisian radio station, the song was then bandied around the internet and slowly became a hit all over Europe before eventually gaining a commercial release in Britain in 2006 as the immense We Are Your Friends. It says a lot for the high quality of the twelve tracks here that the absence of possibly 2006’s biggest club hit is not even an issue as its place is filled with some of the year’s most deftly crafted pop songs, and moments of truly infectious euphoria such as D.A.N.C.E that even Lou Reed would crack a smile and throw a few shapes (why is that such a horrible mental image?). It’s not all smiles though, Justice wear their rock influences on their sleeves in the crunching synths of songs like Let There Be Light and Phantom Part II and aren’t afraid to explore music’s darker corners whilst never forgetting that dance music’s main objective should be to make you, well… dance. I would say ‘très bon’, but that’d just be naff wouldn’t it?
9. Bruce Springsteen: Magic
Now, this album did not mess about. After a couple of low–key, mainly acoustic albums and a collection of Bob Segar covers (I find his version of Froggie Went A–Courting one of life’s little pleasures) thee first thing that strikes you when opening track (and first single) Radio Nowhere charges out from the speakers is how it sounds uncannily like Bruce Springsteen, and after pretty much every band and their pet dog attempting to imitate his sound in the last two years (apart from Razorlight, who evidently thought the time was right for a Boomtown Rats revival) it was nice to be reminded that Bruce is probably better at sounding like himself than most. While none of it is particularly groundbreaking, it’s refreshingly filler–free and easily one of the year’s best rock albums, and while none of the record’s twelve tracks would really sound out of place on most Springsteen records of the last thirty five (!) years, tracks such as the aforementioned Radio Nowhere, Living in the Future and especially Devil’s Arcade sit comfortably alongside his very best. The E–Street band remain a thrillingly tight ensemble, despite a combined age roughly equal to that of Jupiter’s moons, and after the demise of The Sopranos ‘Little’ Steven Van Zandt (‘Little’? He looks like he needs planning permission just to sit down) can now concentrate on his day job and remind himself who his real boss is. Is it possible, in a world where most middle–aged journalists attempt to convince us that David Bowie’s Hours is easily the equal of Low and each time Bob Dylan passes wind in earshot of a nearby microphone it’s hailed as a return to form, that Springsteen is the only one of his mainstream contemporaries still making music that’s truly comparable to his heyday?
8. White Stripes: Icky Thump
One of the less trumpeted anniversaries of 2007 occurred on November 11th, a date which marked thirty glorious years since Paul McCartney finally cemented John Lennon’s place as the world’s favourite Beatle by releasing Mull of Kintyre, and as a result marked the precise date when the free–thinking world unanimously decided that bag–pipes in rock were ‘a bad idea’, and like naming your child ‘Adolf’ post–1945, the practice was fairly rapidly phased out. Obviously Jack White didn’t get this memo, as an apparent discovery of long lost Scottish ancestry convinced him to enliven not one, but two tracks with them, and as a result Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn and St. Andrews become the aural equivalent of the American tourist who buys a kilt for his visit to the Edinburgh (pronounced ‘Eden–burg apparently) festival. It’s the little drops in quality control like this, and the disappointingly bland FM–Rock stylings of You Don’t Know What Love Is, that blight The White Stripes sixth album, resulting in a lack of consistency which makes it perhaps their weakest set of songs since their debut album. However, a White Stripes album slightly (and it is only slightly) below their best, is still head and shoulders above 99.78439% of every other rock band out there, and songs such as Rag and Bone, I’m Slowly Turning Into You and the Mariachi–led Conquest demonstrate that The ‘Stripes (as ver kidz call them. Possibly) as still the most interesting and least–conventional of mainstream rock bands, and the inspired Leppelin–with–a–kazzoo insanity of the title track is one of the years best singles, a fact gloriously vindicated when it stormed to the number 4 in Denmark (it actually charted higher in Britain, but that simply doesn’t sound as funny does it?).
7. Les Savy Fav: Let’s Stay Friends
Every year throws up a band that music fans are duty bound to pretend they’ve known about for years, exclaiming loudly how pleased they are that the band are ‘finally getting the recognition they deserve’ and letting people know that actually their hard–to–find 1998 mini–album is their definitive work, despite the fact that the first time they heard them was when the new album was piped through the speakers at Topshop two weeks previously. In 2007 that band were Les Savy Fav (French for ‘the savoury favourite’, I imagine) a New York art–rock collective that have been a going concern since 1995, releasing five albums to a response that wasn’t so much ‘muted’ as it was a stony silence, but maintained a reputation as an exhilarating live proposition enlivened by front–man Tim Harrington’s (a man who you’d politely describe as ‘rotund’, and with the glazed eyes of a Vietnam vet) multiple costume changes. Not having heard their first five records (including their debut 3/5, which handily reviews itself to save music journalists precious time) so I couldn’t accurately state what it was their sixth album had musically that their previous didn’t, although I can quite confidently state that if all their albums had exquisitely idiosyncratic art–rock (I’m require by law to use the word ‘angular’ when describing their music, I don’t make the rules) of the quality of The Lowest Bitter, with the pizzazz of Patty Lee and the stuttering grooves of Brace Yourself, then we would’ve heard of them a long time ago. Get into them now, before Madonna ropes them in for her next video, or something…
6. MIA: Kala
The artist formally known as Mathangi Arulpragasam (I think I’ll stick to MIA) released possibly the most singular and distinctive record of the past twelve months, an astonishingly forward–thinking album which flummoxed journalists the world over as they strove to find something, anything to compare it to (imagine Shampoo fronting Squarepusher. It wouldn’t sound anything like MIA, but wouldn’t it be ace?). It’s an aural celebration of just about every culture on Earth, incorporating so many musical styles that listening to it can make your head spin (but crucially; no bag–pipes), it usual takes Michael Palin a good three series to cover the amount of Global reference points that MIA can usually knock off in just under four minutes. While you could possibly argue that the simply immense amount of musical genres and styles covered can occasionally make the record sound a little disjointed in places, and perhaps if the foot wasn’t taken off the accelerator slightly for the gorgeous Clash–sampling Paper Planes there would be a danger of the record sounding slightly one–note, you’d just feel you were needlessly nitpicking at what is by far and away the least boring album of the year, possibly ever. If you don’t like it, in all probability your name’s Colin and you spend all day making match–stick models of the 17th century’s grandest ships in your Lemington Spa semi–detached that you share with your German shepherd called ‘Clapton’, so your opinion doesn’t really count. Also, the fact that Jimmy only managed to limp to number 74 in the UK singles chart should be such a matter of shame for the country that in twenty years time our Prime Minister (Davina MCall) will have to issue a public apology for these atrocities committed in Britain’s name.
5. Radiohead: In Rainbows
WH Smith used to put little money boxes near the doors of their shops for people too busy to queue to quickly pay for their morning paper, effectively trusting the general public to pay a fair price for their Daily Mail and packet of Revels. It was phased out quite quickly, with WH Smiths learning the hard that the general public really aren’t to be trusted, but obviously Thom Yorke (the man with the least phonetically spelt name in Rock) and Radiohead were inspired, and decided to let the public decide how much they were willing to pay for their new album In Rainbows (not an entirely new idea; people have been choosing how much money they want to pay for downloading music for years, and they usually choose zilch). The fact is that if you were using Radiohead’s last two albums as a yardstick, you’d probably deem their music to be worth roughly seventy–six pence, which won’t even buy you a copy of The Independent these days. 2001’s Amnesiac (“they’ve forgotten how to write songs! Hurhurhurhur…”) was billed as a ‘companion piece’ to 2000’s Kid A, but simply sounded like songs that weren’t good enough to go on the first album, while 2003’s Hail to the Thief was an almost laughably lackadaisical ‘protest’ album that, with a couple of notable exceptions, was so full of whinging self–pity it was probably the reason George Bush got re–elected (if you mention any of these misgivings to a hardcore Radiohead fan you will be told in no uncertain terms that you ‘don’t understand it’. Why is it only Radiohead albums I don’t understand? I don’t like Shania Twain’s Come On Over LP either, but no one accuses me of misunderstanding that). Thankfully though, if you listen carefully to the initial bars of opening track 15 Step, you’ll hear five distinct ‘popping’ noises, which are the sounds of Radiohead finally electing to remove their heads from their backsides ever so slightly and back up what could have been seen as a tedious marketing gimmick with easily their best and most coherent collection of songs since Kid A, possibly for a decade. While some critics seemed to base the return to form on the rather tedious assertion that ‘there’s more guitars on it’ (there’s loads of guitars on the new Nickelback album, and I don’t see anyone clamouring to give them any awards), neither did it see a return to ‘conventional’ song–writing, it’s simply a succinct package of ten well–crafted and beautifully performed songs, which remained experimental and original (save the band’s continuing fixation with Boards of Canada), but crucially not at the expense of everything else.
4. Arctic Monkeys: Favourite Worst Nightmare
God I want to hate the Arctic Monkeys, they gather music press so gushing that you can almost see the beads of drool nestling on the page, have more fans than all of your favourite bands combined, racked up record sales so huge that it’s practically vulgar and all while being so young that they’ve only just developed hair on their head, never mind their upper–lip. And it’d be so easy to despise them too, if it weren’t for the infuriating fact that they’re very, very good. Bastards. This was supposed to be their ‘difficult second album’ (sorry, but someone had to say it) after their monstrously successful debut Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not, an album with even more sales than words in its title, but they seemed to knock it out without breaking sweat. While they weren’t nearly as many anthemic choruses and pristine pop songs as its predecessor (save the peerless Florescent Adolescent), it was in every other respect a far superior album, undeniably a more challenging listen, but much more rewarding as a result. The album also explored much darker places sonically than their debut, with Alex Turner increasingly willing to write songs around grooves and unconventional structures, all but abandoning the standard verse/chorus/verse/chorus method and as a result leaving virtually all of their rivals so far behind they’re practically still brushing their teeth.
3. Manic Street Preachers: Send Away the Tigers
The Manic Street Preachers are the greatest band in the world, possibly ever, for reasons far too numerous to go into here, but there had been signs recently that the band themselves, always their own biggest cheerleaders, had began to doubt it. 2001’s Know Your Enemy was a glorious failure, a mammoth 17 tracks of everything from scuzz–punk to Disco rock (no, really)that was about as coherent as a Shane McGowan best–man’s speech, this was followed by a maddeningly incomprehensive greatest hits, before 2004’s collection of glacier–cold art–rock Lifeblood that pretty much confused everyone and even prompted people to wonder whether the band were going to grow old with dignity?! Thankfully, such fears were unfounded, as the Manics engineered possibly the greatest comeback of 2007, reminding their fans precisely what made them fall in love with the band in the first place, returning to the upper–reaches of the pop chart (all–conquering comeback single Your Love Alone Is Not Enough was just a few hundred copies short of becoming their third number one) and even acquiring some new fans (The Manics haven’t had any ‘new’ fans since mid–1997) along the way. They achieved this simply by recording the album without any pretence, without any self–inflicted constraints (recording Lifeblood they consciously decided not to use any hi–hats, and that James could only play a solo if it was integral to the song’s structure: James gets roughly six solos a song here, whether its integral or not) no objective other than to write the best Manic Street Preachers album they possibly could. It’s an approach that resulted in their best collection of songs in a decade, combining the euphoric anthems of Everything Must Go with the rock posturing and Guns N’ Roses licks of Generation Terrorists, with Nicky Wire finally unworried by any Richey Edwards comparisons and contributing his best and most coherent lyrics in years. There’s still no one in the world that can touch them when it comes to making intelligent rock sound so fun.
2. LCD Soundsystem: Sound of Silver
For a genre that’s apparently been ‘dead’ for about 18 years now (according to most press reports, although you can read long obituaries on it roughly every two weeks if you look hard enough), dance music is in remarkably good health. Admittedly, almost all the dance tracks that break the charts are certifiably odious remixes of 70s and 80s soft–rock with brainless ‘titillating’ videos (blame Erik Prydz), but ever so slightly outside the mainstream there are bands like Justice crafting top–notch populist beats, Burial at the other side of the coin soundtracking then darker nights of the soul, and MIA for those who like their music as cutting–edge as possible. Best of all last year was James Murphy, an overweight man in his late 30s who looks like he should be pestering you for change with a voice like the lovechild of David Byrne and Mark E Smith (you’d have to feel sorry for the child with those parents) , the brains behind LCD Soundsystem and a man considered so cool that when he goes to parties he name–drops himself. The problem with his self–titled 2005 debut is that it was almost insufferably cool; the hi–tech beats coupled with Murphy’s laid back delivery and smug lyrics filled with in–jokes and references to the New York scene that spawned him began to grow tired after about track 4, so the fact that the album seemed to last about six and a half hours certainly didn’t help. In short, he became a name you’d drop into a conversation at the drop of a hat, but would never think of listening to once you got home. The Sound of Silver, though, was a vast improvement on pretty much every level, losing all the excesses of the first album to craft a remarkably succinct 45 minutes that doesn’t threaten to lose your attention for a second. The trademark style was still there, never more so than on fantastic first single North American Scum, but the music now became much more substantial, with Murphy allowing himself to write around more conventional song structures, but still managing to sound as cutting edge and state of the art as always. The major leap forward musically though, was the sense of genuine emotion and heart in songs such as All My Friends (which sounds precisely like the previous two Strokes albums should have done) and the dazzling Someone Great. Rest assured, it still sounds like one of the most effortlessly cool albums of 2007, but it’s also the sound of someone realising that maybe that’s not the most important thing.
1. Kings of Leon: Because of the Times
The quality of Kings of Leon’s music seems to work in inverse proportion to the amount of hair they have. Around the time of their first album, an amiable but unspectacular collection of 70s rock pastiches, they looked like they’d covered their heads in glue and then wiped them on the floor of the barbers, their second album was a giant’s leap forward artistically, and the fact that the boys had now tamed their Lynyrd Skynyrd bouffant into something more akin to Liv Tyler in Lord of the Rings was surely not coincidental. When they returned last year sporting haircuts you could only describe as ‘sensible’, you knew you were in for something special (I can’t imagine how great they’ll be when they finally make it all the way down to Right Said Fred). It wasn’t the most groundbreaking album of the year (That’d be MIA) or the most critically lauded, which depending on your age group was either The Klaxons (14–20), The Good the Bad and the Queen (30s) or Robert Plant and Alison Krauss (114), but it was the best, for the plain and simple reason that no other artist released a better and more harmonious collection of songs throughout 2007. Considering that when they first emerged Kings of Leon’s music (enjoyable yet generally insubstantial retro rock co–written with the man behind The Mavericks) seemed to take a distant backseat to the sheer novelty of these four ‘sons of a preacher man’ who looked like they’d stepped straight out of Almost Famous, the Followill’s musical progression has been startling. After their second album took everyone by surprise by actually being so good that people immediately stopped seeing them as a novelty band (shaving those moustaches might’ve helped), their third album may well turn out to be their masterpiece. Starting with the epic, brooding Knocked Up (which isn’t quite as jovial a story of unplanned pregnancy as the film of the same name) which is quite possibly the most technically accomplished song they’ve written thus far, and also one of the best, the album then takes the listener on an exhilarating ride through pitch–perfect garage rock, rabid Pixies–style punk, swooning FM rock and Epic guitar workouts. Put simply, no other album of this year touched on so many bases, offered more variety and was harder to dislike. The Kings of Leon have long been one of the most adored bands on the circuit, and with this album the became comfortably one of the best.
Kanye West: Graduation– Good, but below his standards
Bloc Party: A Weekend in the City– Jesus Christ man can you not stop whinging? Go and develop a drug problem, it’ll give you something to write about other than how stupid other people are.
Maximo Park: Our Earthly Pleasures– One brilliant single (Our Velocity), one very disappointing album
The Klaxons: Myths of the Near Future– Give it a fucking rest
The Go! Team: Proof of Youth- Did you like their first album, but didn’t like the cover? Well you’re in look, as The Go! Team have apparently just repackaged it
The Good the Bad and the Queen– I haven’t actually heard it, but apparently its good so I thought I’d better mention it, you know, for tax reasons
The Reet Dandos: Green Milk– I just made that one up, but see how many people you can convince to go and try to buy the CD.
The Dillinger Escape Plan: Ire Works– Brain–meltingly heavy thrash–metal, backed by Aphex Twin style disjointed electronica and with a singer who sounds like Justin Timberlake, almost completely unlistenable. It’s brilliant.
Ah well, I’ll see if I can be bothered going through all this again next year, when I fully expect Guns N’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy to be nestled somewhere near the top spot, adios…