Yeah, found this as well so thought I may as well post it…
-2008 was a great year for music…
-My first introduction to the insanity of Fuckbuttons, I predicted that there was ‘no chance of their music being the theme tune to the next series of Planet Earth’, unaware that they would soon soundtrack damn near everything
-Describing Glasvegas (remember them?) as ‘adopting the dress code of revellers attending The Fonz’s funeral’ was pretty neat
-There’s actually a ‘best of Alphabeat’ now?!
-Have the track names changed in the last 8 years, or have I actually got every damn name wrong??
-Nick Cave is ‘less fire and brimstone, more Galton and Simpson’. I’ve gotta steal that line…
-My love for Sway has lead to me placing his album WAY too high…
-I claim about 67 songs are the ‘best of the year’, or similar
-Same Difference, Brian Dowling… Some very 2008 references
-My writing is often unreadable…
There’s always a thrill associated with listening to an artist who you strongly suspect is actually certifiably insane, and judging by Parisian Camille’s third album she’s evidently as mad as Jack Nicholson dressed as a hatter sitting in a box of frogs. She’s always been one of the more individual of artists, her genius 2006 album Le Fil (‘The Line’) was made up entirely of overdubs of her own voice, with a constant unchanging one note drone undercutting all the tracks (the ‘line’ of the album’s title), but Music Hole (a fantastic title by the way) is in places so bonkers it almost defies categorisation. Perhaps aware that people may read the fact that she’s singing in English for a first time as a conscious attempt at a commercial breakthrough, she turns in her least mainstream set of songs yet, with the accapella style of Le Fil still in place, but aided by pianos, orchestras, synths and occasionally bizarre US R&B style vocal samples. Camille occasionally exhibits a perverse, and yet strangely compelling desire to desecrate and subvert her own God-given talents, she has one of the most astonishingly beautiful and varied voices in modern music, and yet she’d much prefer to use it to make farmyard noises for two minutes, as she does towards the end of the fantastically odd Cats and Dogs. She pretty much admits to this herself on album centrepiece Money Note, where she claims to want to be bigger than ‘Whitney and Mariah’ while showing off a voice that could pretty much bury either of them, but doing it over a track so spectacularly unhinged that it’ll doubtlessly be a while before anyone attempts it for their X Factor auditions. As she proves with tracks such as Katie’s Tea and the gorgeous The Monk, if Camille chooses to she can write beautiful individualist songs which even verge on being radio-friendly, but her dogged refusal to be adopted by the dinner-party set has to be applauded, even if the general nuttiness that pervades the record can occasionally begin to grate over the eleven tracks.
Gains points for: A very convincing array of animal impressions
Loses points for: Forcing me to use the thesaurus an inordinate amount of times to find different words for ‘insane’.
19. Guns N’ Roses: Chinese Democracy
It’s hard to imagine now, but when Guns N’ Roses started Chinese Democracy 14 years ago there was not one magazine or newspaper article that listed the events that have happened since Guns N’ Roses started Chinese Democracy. Truly, we live in different times. The album arrived trumpeted as the most awaited album of all time, the chatter and rumours circulating overtaking biblical proportions about five years ago, even its title always seemed to jokingly suggest that actual democracy in China is currently a more realistic proposition. There’s something strange about actually holding it in your hands, it feels as mythical as the Ark of the Covenant and it’s almost a thrill to confirm that, yes, it actually exists! But is it any good? Does it matter?
The reason Guns N’ Roses, or Axl Rose in particular still continue to inspire such devotion and curiosity in the general populace is precisely because of grand follies like this record; Axl Rose remains the one true throwback to the days where our Rock Stars would demand we’d wait at least a decade while they tinker with what they believe to be their great masterpiece in some ivory mansion somewhere, beard down to their waist and tissue boxes on their shoes, and why should we expect any difference? Rock stars like Nirvana and Oasis seem to popularise the idea that people wanted bands to be ‘just like us’, that we wanted to gaze out on stage and see a mirror image of where we could be in 12 months time if we started learning guitar or bought a parka. Axl Rose is, emphatically, not ‘just like us’; we don’t think we could be him, we don’t especially want to be him. He’s an ego-maniac, an occasionally semi-psychopathic control freak who displays many traits of full-blown autism, who seems to base his dress sense on a mix between Steven Tyler, Joey Ramone and Rowdy Roddy Piper. He is, put quite simply, a rock star. These days we’re treated to TV shows like ‘X Factor’ and ‘Making the Band’ offering an almost surgical intimacy into the making and marketing of a pop star, before later on in the career being subject to everyone from Ricky Wilson to Robert Wyatt being interviewed, reviewed and dissected by more forms of music press than there’s ever been, before eventually watching them attempt to win back the public’s affection by chewing wallaby foreskins live on prime-time ITV. It’s telling to point out that Axl Rose has on the whole retained his fans attention, kept the press and industry interested and generated more than a decade of excitement while all the time doing pretty much nothing at all, bar a dozen or so gigs (some of which he actually didn’t cancel) and some bizarre impromptu radio appearances, and yet all the while his fans have been almost patient with him as he strives to produce his masterpiece. To put it in context, The Streets released their fourth album in 7 years this summer, and no-one gave a flying fuck.
What? Oh, is it any good? Well, about two thirds of it is actually quite fantastic (Better, There Was A Time– thank God someone managed to convince him that the working title ‘T.W.A.T’ might not translate well- I.R.S and the epic Madagascar particularly), with the remaining third made up of wet ballads that would probably be the low points on a Daniel O’Donnell album, and absolute shite like Shacklers Revenge which sounds heavily influenced by Nine Inch Nails and The Prodigy, makes you realise how long this album’s been in production when you realise these were relevant when it was started, and is an embarrassment for all concerned. Yes it’s too long, in places ridiculously overproduced and pompous in the extreme, but this is Guns N’ Roses, and it’s the kind of preposterously overblown record that we will probably never see again as we fully embrace the age of individual downloads and rush-released cash-ins. And were people seriously expecting some sort of subtle alt-country work which takes ‘multiple listens to reveal its myriad charms’? Sod that, I’m a busy man.
So, yeah, better than The Spaghetti Incident anyway…
Gains Points for: Since Dr Pepper promised a free can to every person in America (minus Slash and Buckethead rather cruelly) if Axl Rose delivered the album before the end of the year, Chinese Democracy did its bit to make sure the free world stayed refreshed in these troubled times. Even if it’s with a drink that tastes strangely like antiseptic cream.
Loses Points for: Have you seen Axl Rose recently?? He looks like an old ginger cat that’s been biting off its fur, I can’t help but imagine him with a cone around his neck
18. David Byrne and Brian Eno: Everything that Happens Will Happen Today
Ah, now this album takes multiple listens to reveal its myriad ch… Hang on I’ll start that again…
If you’d asked me after the first few listens of this record I would have easily filed it alongside my most disappointing records of the year, alongside Donkey by CSS (the most charming band in the world contrive to make utterly charmless album) and The Odd Couple by Gnarls Barkley (seemingly knocked out in the 87 minutes last year Dangermouse had off from production duties). The reason for this being that the duos previous release, 1981s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is one of the greatest albums ever made. Arguably responsible for the invention of sampling, the record certainly took the form to hitherto unimagined levels, using analogue technology (ie: David Byrne holding a reel of recorded sound in his teeth while he desperately looked for the end of the selotape) to sample radio Djs, real life exorcisms, African chanting, radical clerics and pretty much anything else they could find over hypnotic- and more often than not faintly unsettling- dance music that managed to sound at once like the very first music made by primitive man and the way it would sound 300 years in the future. It was astonishingly ahead of its time, and still to this day sounds strangely like the future.
Quite an act to follow as you can imagine, so its surprising to listen to the album for the first time and realise the pair have recorded a sodding gospel album! That goes verse/chorus/verse! It was written on an acoustic guitar for God’s sake! Even after a few disgusted listens, you can’t fathom the unholy pleasantness of the whole exercise.
Eventually though, the shock dies down and you begin to appreciate the album for what it is- it may not change the face of popular music, but its warmth and, occasionally, beauty can burrow itself in your mind if you let it, with many tracks achieving a kind of tiny euphoria as they reach an almost anthemic chorus. Cynical, perhaps, but undeniably affecting. It’s hardly a complete retreat from the sonic adventures of their previous release though; you’re not going to hear the jagged arrangements of I Feel My Stuff or the percussive patterns on Home the fantastic Strange Overtones on a James Morrison album any time soon. Overall though, thanks in no small part to Byrnes vocals and melodic gifts taking centre stage, it feels more like a new Talking Heads album than a follow up to one of the most influential albums of the last 30 years
Gains points for: Being nothing like what people expected
Loses points for: Being nothing like what people expected
17. Kings of Leon: Only by the Night
U2 have a lot to answer for. Time was when a band would celebrate their previous album properly entering the mainstream by ensuring the follow up was either a) a meticulously researched three disc concept album based around the relationship habits of North American cicadas when Saturn is in the cusp of Pisces, recorded over 74 tortuous months in a dilapidated studio in the Peruvian jungle while the lead guitarist tried to tackle his newly acquired $10’000 a day barbiturates addiction, a record which the band would promote by dressing up as Mayan warriors, giving themselves new aliases such as ‘Broquęzŏ’ and playing a free gig on the Pantanal Wetlands. Or b) adopt a ‘more is more’ approach, draft in the London Symphony Orchestra, make a carbon copy of their last, successful album only twice the length, much, much louder and about half as good, watch their epic seven minute long comeback single (complete with £2.5 million Oliver Stone-directed video) limp to number 8 in the charts before disappearing completely and then spend the rest of their career complaining of how the music press ‘builds you up just to knock you down’.
Not now of course, post U2 (specifically their 1987 album The Joshua Tree) bands can’t do that any more, now once you’ve gone ‘mainstream’ you have to attempt to go ‘stadium’. Only by the Night is one of the most shameless attempts at a ‘stadium’ album since Bonjovi’s Slippery When Wet, a record so intent on reaching Wembley that it’s probably entered itself into this year’s FA Cup. All the standard clichés are here; the chiming guitars, the choked voice that can only mean passion, so much echo effect that you can only assume the album was recorded in the Grand Canyon, choruses that go ‘Whooooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!’ It’s not a bad album by any means, in fact its one of the best rock albums released this year, with songs like Crawl really showing this is a band still operating at least close to the top of their game, its just after last years fantastic Because of the Times really suggested the band had developed their own sound and seemed sure top take it in increasingly interesting directions after building steadily on their first two albums, this is definitely a step backwards. B+, a good effort, must try harder next time
Gains points for: Sex on Fire, which they cunningly released back in 2004 to test the public’s affection for it, back when the song was called Dakota and they were going under the pseudonym ‘Stereophonics’
Loses points for: I Want You, such an unabashed rip-off of Gigantic by The Pixies that it would probably lead Kim Deal to kill herself just so that she could spin in her grave. Come to think of it, did they actually write any of these songs?
16. Fuckbuttons: Street Horrssing
Really, what the fuck is all this about? Is this actually the worst record I’ve ever heard? Or 48 minutes of twisted genius that comprise the most individualistic and groundbreaking debut album of the year? No, scrap that last statement, it really is awful. Or is it actually one of the best records I’ve ever heard?
Street Horrssing (what??) defies definition and categorisation more than any other album I’ve heard this year, but hey, I’ll give it a shot anyway. Similar in parts to both the percussion-led drone rock of Can and Neu, and the slightly upsetting semi-prog-doom-rock (try asking for the directions to that section when your next in HMV) of Slint and (whisper it) Van Der Graaf Generator, while at the same time sounding absolutely nothing like any of those bands I’ve just mentioned. Ironically, the main facets of Fuckbuttons’ (astonishingly, that’s only the second worst band name on this list) sound- incessant repetitive motives, heavy African influences, occasional indecipherable mumblings, piercing tribal drums- most closely resemble Mea Culpa, a track off My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. The difference being of course that Mea Culpa is over in 4 minutes, while Street Horrssing lasts the best part of an hour.
The album is definitely not for the weak-willed, or even faint hearted, only two songs last under 9 minutes, and of those two one is 7 and a half while the other- Ribs Out– comprises of just a solitary drummer and a looped sample of a monkey screaming and is quite possibly the most unsettling 4 minutes of music I’ve ever heard. First track Sweet Love for Planet Earth is a case in point, it starts with an impressive intro consisting of an echoed droning synth line, which builds up great anticipation as you wait for the drums to kick in and the song to tear the roof off, until nine and a half minutes passes and you realise that droning synth line was the song.
Still, it’s undeniably hypnotic in places, and it’s great to see any act truly challenging the listener as Fuckbuttons indisputably do, there will not be one person that will not have a strong opinion either way on this record if you play it to them, and how many albums can you truly say that of? After listening to it all the way through, this album invokes a strange, shell-shocked feeling in the stomach that no other record this year can match. Even if that feeling is possibly nausea.
Gains points for: Making sure there’s no chance of their music being the theme tune to the next series of Planet Earth.
Loses points for: May induce vomiting and lack of appetite, do not listen to while operating heavy machinery.
Epic scope, Spector-esque arrangements, heart-breaking lyrics and a vocal so Scottish it’s practically painted on a shortbread tin- yes, The Twilight Sad’s debut truly was one of the best records of last year.
Arf! Seriously though, while the similarities between last year’s Who-the-hell-are-you-get-off-my-stage-can-I-see-your-passes-pleases and this year’s biggest new indie band are plenty, and it may stick in the craw of a fan of the former band that it was Glasvegas who received the attention and record company support, the simple fact is that Glasvegas did it all much, much better.
Unfairly maligned in some quarters as the most humourless Scottish doom-mongers this side of Gordon Brown, an opinion only strengthened by the band adopting the dress code of revellers attending The Fonz’s funeral (and what’s more depressing than that), Glasvegas actually crafted one of the most strangely uplifting records of the year. Continuing in the rich vein of Scottish bands who refuse to believe any other bands have ever existed other than the Velvet Underground and the Ronnetes, their sound may be doused in a hefty vat full of melancholy but it is very rarely anything less than utterly beautiful and, with James Allan’s wonderfully different voice (well… if you don’t count The Proclaimers) over it all, the abiding impression is of those moments in Rab C Nesbit when Rab admits to camera through a fog of whiskey on his breath that, hey, maybe life ain’t so hard after all.
However, the album’s high point is also one of its main flaws, and the reason this album isn’t higher up in this list. The second track Geraldine is a staggering piece of music, the best single of the year and a song of such overwhelming lyrical and musical beauty that it simply overwhelms everything else on the album, even Everest-like peaks such as opener Flowers and Football Tops and last year’s matinee single Daddy’s Gone. With possibly the greatest lyrics of any hit-single this year (Brandon Flower’s inability to remember the plural of ‘dancer’ notwithstanding), that seem to both celebrate a most unconventional love story whilst at the same time hint towards possibly a darker motivation behind the title character’s actions, any song that can get the listener singing along to a chorus of ‘I’m your social worker’ can’t be a bad thing can it?
Gains points for: Recording a Christmas album and resisting the temptation to re-record a special festive version of Geraldine with Peter Kay playing the titular character on guest vocals. No charity needs the money that much.
Loses points for: If you read the more reactionary (i.e. stupid) corners of the music press, you will already have been informed that- with songs about absent fathers, child death and the self-explanatory ‘Let’s Get Stabbed’– Glasvegas are in fact the sound of ‘Broken/ Blade Britain’ (delete as appropriate), a sign of these fair isles travelling on a handcart somewhere south and a shocking indicator that, yes, Curly Wurlys did use to be bigger years ago. All complete nonsense of course, and can you imagine how unbearably shit a band would be if they only sang about the good things in life? Hmmm…
14. Alphabeat: This is Alphabeat
Oh cheer up you bunch of miserable bastards.
People of the world can basically be divided into three categories; those that have never heard Alphabeat, those who absolutely adore Alphabeat, and those that are bare-faced fucking liars. To not instantaneously fall in love with this collection of simply the greatest, most unpretentious and most superbly crafted pop songs of the year is simply unthinkable, an act of psychotic self-constraint up there with throwing away unused bubble-wrap and peeling the seal off a new jar of coffee instead of popping it with a spoon.
There is simply no song on this album which isn’t a note-perfect joy, each song is such a perfect exercise in infectious hooks and zeppelin-sized choruses that it sounds like a best-of collection of a decade old band that no-one’s ever thought to introduce you to before, This Is Alphabeat wisely does away with all the chaff you inevitably have to wade through on pop albums (no ballads! Praise the lord!) to leave you with a lean, fresh collection of tune after tune after tune after… And what tunes they are, the inescapable highlight Fascination (this year’s Hey Ya, a pop song so blissfully and joyously unconcerned with life’s problems it could reverse the recession in a heart beat, if only someone would give it a chance) aside, from opener Fantastic Six through Boyfriends’ exhumation of Debbie Gibson and What is Happening, which has to be the happiest sad break-up song ever. If this last year is anything to go by and Alphabeat are actually planning to release all these songs as singles (so far they’ve released tracks 2, 3, 4 and 5, in that order, so if you want to second guess their next release then track 6 Go-Go seems a decent bet) than it’s only because they all could be singles.
So yes, maybe it’s a bit throwaway and disposable, but that’s what pop music has always been, if we can only enjoy things we know will still be as fresh ten years from now we’d all just eat lentils. And yes it’s all a bit so disconcertingly wholesome and sugary sweet in places that you could almost be listening to Same Difference, but just because a piece of music isn’t a ten minute three cycle concept piece revolving around the singer’s imagined rape at the hands of Cervantes doesn’t mean its inane, or unworthy or in any way less of a fantastic piece of work. Sometimes we need to find some time for the nicer things in life don’t we? I mean, can’t we all just get along?
Gains points for: ‘10’000 Nights’ opening line; ‘I was not looking for an arty-farty love’. Worth a place in the list based on that alone
Loses points for: May be linked with toothache and diabetes
13. Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend
They’re Ivy League graduates and dress like they’re auditioning for a mid-west USA remake of Brideshead Revisited. They’re heavily influenced by sub-Saharan African music and actually name-check Peter Gabriel in one song. Their biggest hit to date was about the merits of a little-used form of punctuation and they’ve actually got a song called Campus with a chorus of ‘I see you/ You’re walking across the campus’. Seriously, how much do you wanna hate this band?
And you would, if it weren’t for the fact they made music quite so lovable. One of the year’s most unexpected and yet welcome minor-success stories, who would’ve thought that one of the year’s biggest indie debuts would be the one that most closely resembles The Las attempting to cover Paul Simon’s Gracelands? There’s no way of describing this album that can make it sound in any way cool, but then it never makes any attempt to be, and therein lies its charm. While a lot of the talk around the band was of their supposed high-intellect and the surreal reference points of their lyrics, what really made the record such a hit was the breezy charisma of the songs themselves, where the myriad African references in the music don’t stand out nearly as much as the fact that the album is held together by simple, summery jangly-indie tunes, the like which went out of fashion with Dodgy in about 1996. On paper it sounds awful, in practice it was the sound of the summer.
Predictably, the album didn’t seem to work quite as well come October and you had to endure some smug get singing ‘Kape Kod Kwasa’ while it pissed down outside, and strangely enough for all its intricacies and invention it still comes across as rather shallow and unsubstantial and its hard to imagine anyone really losing themselves in it like you could with truly great albums. Like a good salad then, extremely refreshing, unlikely to make you feel completely full, but undoubtedly very good for you.
Gains points for: Leaving many a sixth-form goth band left even more pale than usual when they realise that, not only has the name ‘Vampire Weekend’ already been taken, it’s been taken by a bunch of cheery, rose-cheeked New Yorkers.
Loses points for: Seriously, they actually named a track Campus…
12. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Dig! Lazarus, Dig!
And for his next trick…
Merely months after both delighting and terrifying audiences by releasing Grinderman- the band that all middle-aged jobbing pub bands look and sound like in Hades, and possibly the most rock and roll mid-life crisis ever- into the world, Nick Cave seemed to have expelled that blast of biblical swamp-rock out of his system so well that he went on to make possibly the most accessible album of his career. ‘Accessible’ is relative of course, even at 168 (or thereabouts) he’s not quite at the stage where he’s releasing covers albums of Cole Porter standards and performing them on the Paul O’Grady show, and there’s very few points during, say, Albert Goes West where the song is in any real danger of lurching into More Than a Feeling by Boston (although, come to think of it, that would be awesome), but musically at least this is more of a straight-forward rock album than pretty much any other in his collection.
It’s still bloody fantastic though, and received probably the warmest and widest critical reception of any of his albums to date (even Classic Rock Magazine were sufficiently moved to give it 9/10). The Bad Seeds prove once again that they’re simply the tightest, most exhilarating and damn-near-it best band of rock musicians in the civilised world. Springsteen’s E Street Band may generate an awe-inspiring wall of sound big enough to knock Mars ever so slightly off orbit, but can they produce the kind of lightning-in-a-bottle controlled chaos that characterise the Bad Seeds at their best? And they most certainly are at their best here, clattering their way through most of these eleven tracks like they’ve just found out they’ve only an hour to live (which judging by their combined age of 12’628 isn’t too outlandish a thought). Cave himself is also having the time of his life, contributing his wittiest set of lyrics yet, continuing to push the self-depreciating humour of his words to the forefront of his writing as he did on the Grinderman album; less fire and brimstone, more Galton and Simpson. When the two factors come together best on the amazing (or astonishing, astounding, remarkable, wonderful, incredible… Well you all have thesauruses) We Call upon the Author to Explain it creates something that’s at the same time hilarious, elating, spine-tingling, inspiring, absolutely unique and basically something I doubt any other artist in history would come close to even thinking up, never mind recording.
The rest of the album never quite reaches those heights again though, and despite all of the factors I’ve mentioned there remains a strange restraint to the album, and only on a handful of songs does it really feel the band are really allowed to let loose, and never quite in the certifiable insanity sense of a song like Hiding All Away. The most damning criticism you could level at would be that, while it is undoubtedly a more accomplished album than Grinderman, it’s no way near as fun, and it would be a shame if Nick Cave were to channel more of his unhinged leanings toward his side project whilst leaving the Bad Seeds as more of an outlet for his more commercial output, then we really would have to call upon the… Well you get the picture
Gains points for: The video for the title track, where Nick Cave attempts his own homage of Peter Kay’s video for Is This the Road to Amarillo?
Loses points for: That moustache. I’m sorry but it’s gone on for too far now
Or The Curious Case of Derek DeSafo. Put simply, there’s absolutely no-one in Britain doing commercial hip hop better than Sway, and in terms of actual rapping talent, lyrical ingenuity and wordplay he’s probably up there with the best in the world, his style very much calling to mind Jay-Z, except with the self-aggrandising replaced with a very British self-depreciative wit. For proof just listen to his 2006 debut This is my Demo (Mercury nominated and quite possibly the best album released that year) or any one of the countless mix-tapes and EPs he’s put out over the past few years, or even his guest spots on songs from everyone from The Streets to Ian Brown. What’s not so easy to comprehend is why he’s not absolutely chuffing huge. While he’d never admit it, Sway musty have looked on in bewilderment as his main peers Wiley and Dizzee Rascal had by far the biggest hits of their career by adopting a more radio-friendly sound, while all the while Sway’s career is creating radio-friendly hip-hop, produced with the aim of being as big as possible and unashamed of it. And yet he’s still mysteriously shunned by 90% of all the mainstream music mediums, many of whom often use the excuse of how hard it is to present Grime music as mainstream entertainment, despite Sway being about as ‘Grime’ as Barry Scott. It says a lot about the wider problems British hip-hop acts face trying to break through a bizarrely reluctant British media that Sway has signed to Akon’s US label and has just started making waves in America, where they obviously find the idea of a South London rapper a lot easier to swallow. The most successful British rap song? Rat Rapping by Roland Rat. I rest my case.
The Signature LP itself sounds like a very conscious attempt by Sway to record his masterpiece, and as a result occasionally overreaches and doesn’t quite live up to Sway’s admirably lofty ambitions. While the use of the London Symphony Orchestra on a handful of tracks (most notably breathtaking opener Fit for a King) are undeniably affecting, and never quite lapse into sounding conceited and pompous, the album could have done with a couple more punchy numbers like Say It Twice to really push it into classic territory. It’s still a fantastic album though, much superior to Maths and English, Dizzee Rascal’s semi-successful attempt at a crossover last year, the only real minus points come as a result of one of Sway’s close friends dying close to the albums release, which is tragic as it means we’re subjected to two mid-tempo weepies about how much he misses her, which both completely break up the flow of the second half of the album. This isn’t Sway’s masterpiece, but he’s not far off it.
Gains point for: Jason Waste, the album’s high point and an absolutely extraordinary collision of slightly off-time beats, distorted wailing female voices and Sway’s tale of the world’s biggest waste of skin. Quite unlike any other song released this year and proof that Sway isn’t all about the mainstream
Loses points for: Akon’s guest spot of Silver and Gold. What’s that Akon? Women are just after your money are they? Still going on about that? Oh she’s a stripper you say? Change the record you fucking moron.
To be perfectly honest, once the Dad of the Mystery Jet’s lead singer left the band last year it seemed to me like the group’s one Unique Selling Point had been lost and, while they were never less than perfectly enjoyable, they would simply cease to be known as The-Band-With-The-Lead-Singer’s-Dad-In-It, move onto being referred to as The-Band-Which-The-Lead-Singer’s-Dad-Used-To-Be-In for a short while before being eventually quietly forgotten about. What no-one could’ve predicted is that the Dad was obviously such a heinous cramp on the band’s style that by jettisoning the old fart completely (Ok, in reality he still co-writes some of the songs, but I’m enjoying this imagery way too much to let fact get in the way of it) they would be sufficiently liberated enough to produce probably the most unexpected great album of the year.
While their 2006 debut was a perfectly pleasant, and occasionally somewhat enchanting blend of prog-indie and psychadelica, it never once really suggested that the band were in for the long. It’s main obstacles were the band’s at times wearisome idiosyncrasies (at times it sounded like they were all trying that little too hard to sound as out-there and experimental as they could, whilst never quite shaking off that strange suspicion that they’d much rather be at home watching Countryfile with a hot mug of asparagus Cup-a-Soup) and the simple fact that the album’s eleven songs had barely half a tune between them. The Fantastic Twenty One pulls off the perfect second-album trick of ironing out pretty much all of the problems of the debut while at the same time losing none of its charm, individuality and sense of fun; the album starts with what sounds like a Public Enemy sample on Hideaway and only manages to get more exciting from thereon in, managing to take in alt-folk, 80s Disco, stadium ballads, indie-funk and strange new genres that even I can’t find the effort to attempt to make-up.
A lot of the credit must go to Errol Alkan, the producer of two of the albums in the top ten, who seems to be becoming an expert in reeling in artist’s more over-eccentric leanings to complement a coherent sound, and also introducing them to the idea that a great pop song may not necessarily mean you’ve sold your soul to the devil. Both Errol and Mystery Jets sound like they may be in here for the long-term.
Gains points for: Young Love, a fantastic duet with the offensively young and talented Laura Marling (see The Roy Walker Section), easily one of the best singles of the year and one that almost defies definition.
Loses points for: The saxophone solo in Two Doors Down; come on boys, there’s writing an 80s pastiche and then there’s just being silly.
9. British Sea Power: Do You Like Rock Music?
Another album that saw its creators jump effortlessly from the D-list to the A-list, British Sea Power’s third album was so undeniably superior to its predecessors that it immediately catapulted the band from being indie rock’s Brian Dowling to being its, oooooh, Cat Deeley at least. Not quite out of nowhere, but definitely out of being ‘that mildly irritating smartarse band with the slightly twee sound and song titles so arch you could park them in Paris and call them the Triomphe’, you would have got very long odds on BSP (or the ‘C-Powas’ as almost certainly no-one calls them) to release the best British rock album of the year back in January, but 2008 saw the band make the full transition from couldn’t-give-a-flying to the country’s most polite rock Gods, you’d call the record ‘a monster’ if you weren’t so sure you could still beat it up. From the opener All In It through Lights Out For Darker Skies, Atom and especially bona-fide classic Waving Flags, plus more, the band’s sonic adventures and appreciation of the effects of a great quiet/LOUD dynamic places the album’s sound somewhere between Spiritualised and The Pixies, while still managing to cultivate a sound that was all their own, take out the unspeakably horrendous Trip Out (which sounds like a cantaloupe attempting to rewrite Gomez’s Whippin’ Piccadilly after a six day LSD binge, is unbearably jovial and probably what people who hate British sea Power think all their songs sound like) and pretty much every track’s a killer. The greatest compliment you could pay it is that it so comprehensively out-Arcade Fires Arcade Fire themselves that everyone pretty much forgot about the Canadian’s second album less than a year after it was released. Not that it sounds anything like Arcade Fire of course (come on, keep up), it may share the same sense of noise, flamboyance and scope, but it also pulls off the strange trick of creating a sound that is at once joyously uninhibited, all Kevin Shields guitar noise and the occasional choir, while at the same time retaining a certain sense of reserve, which may have a lot to do with singer Yan’s breezy vocal style and curiously parochial lyrical reference points, which lends the entire collection a strong sense of Englishness, bizarrely perhaps more than any other record this year. They could eventually become the country’s greatest rock band.
Gains points for: Taking the Bulgarian People’s Choir on tour with them, seemingly just for the hell of it.
Loses points for: That terrible, smarmy album title, it makes me wish I hated the record just so I could say ‘evidently not’.
8. David Holmes: The Holy Picture
Here are a few facts about David Holmes; 1) He’s Irish, or if you prefer, ‘Oirish’. 2) He is probably most well known nowadays as a six squillion dollar a day (my estimates) Hollywood soundtrack composer and compiler, most famously Oceans 11. 3) So yes, he is at least part responsible for subjecting the world to that dishearteningly ubiquitous remix of A Little Less Conversation a few years back. 4) He often goes unshaven, perhaps hoping a bit of stubble will put people off the scent of how much exactly he earns from those Hollywood soundtracks. 5) His first album was, ironically in light of his later work, called This Movie’s Crap Let’s Slash the Seats, which is currently in my top three album titles of the last 20 years, along with My Pain and Sadness Are More Sad and Painful Than Yours by McClusky, and The Only Difference Between Me and You Is That I’m Not On Fire, coincidentally also by McClusky 6) He made far and away the best dance album of last year, probably his best work since 2000’s Bow Down to the Exit Sign or even 1997’s Let’s Get Killed. Driven by an almost insatiable marching rhythm that almost cuts through the entire album, obviously influenced by Kraftwerk’s sonic adventures down the Autobahn, its almost euphoric guitar lines and synth bursts make it a much lighter, in terms of tone, addition to the Holmes canon, but no worse for it. 7) McClusky were never that good a band, but they could sure do album titles, proof that everyone’s got a talent somewhere, if they just put their minds to it. 8) The artist the record resembles mostly though is vintage Contino Sessions/ Scorpio Rising Death in Vegas, even so far as much as during moments in some songs, most notably opener I Heard Wonders, you wonder slightly if Holmes may have taken on his influences a tad too far and lurched into full-blown parody, which is odd for someone so obviously talented. Then he throws something as marvellously batty as Theme/I.M.C your way and it’s so good you stop caring) 9) Seal could never write album titles, he just named his first three albums ‘Seal’ the lazy get, and that Peter Gabriel’s no better. Oasis are the absolute champions of the bad title genre though, stick Standing on the Shoulder of Giants, Don’t Believe the Truth and Heathen Chemistry in a time capsule and you’d have a perfect illustration of early 20th century stupidity. 10) Combine all this with David Holmes’s slight and whispery voice (occasionally uncannily like Jim Reid, which coupled with the songs’ driving sound gives a lot of the album a certain Jesus and Mary Chain feel in places, especially Love Reign Over) singing over most of the album and you have probably the most accessible of his career, if perhaps not the best, and definitely the easiest one to throw shapes to.
Gains points for: The Story of the Ink, a brilliant song which is almost agonising to listen to as it builds up to what sounds like it must be the greatest drop in the history of recorded dance music, all the instruments build up unbearable tension over five and a half minutes before… it finishes. A fantastic tease.
Loses points for: Well, the album title’s a bit pedestrian isn’t it?
No band were more ‘2008’ than MGMT, arriving early in the year sounding like the missing link between nu-rave and Girls Aloud, embraced by the hipsters, their parents and their kid sister all at the same time. If they could have existed at any other time, they almost certainly wouldn’t have been half as successful, and as a result the songs from Oracular Spectacular were used to soundtrack every sodding event of the entire year. It’s got to the point now where I can’t even understand televised sport unless it’s preceded by a montage of talking points set to the tune of Electric Feel, and I always though the News at Ten were just having a laugh with all that Robert Mugabe stuff, until they started sound tracking their reports with Weekend Wars. You want the adverts for your new drama to scream ‘cutting-edge’ and ‘cool’ while at the same time appeal to the mass-market? The first few bars of Time to Pretend will do nicely. It was reported that Alaister Darling was inspired to cut the Bank of England’s interest rates in the face of such a harsh economic climate by the synth line to Kids, and if you look closely at Barack Obama make his way to the podium to make his acceptance speech as the new President of the United States of America last November, you’ll see he’s actually mouthing the words to Fourth Dimensional quietly to himself.
In normal circumstances such overexposure would quickly turn MGMT into the most reviled band since Josef Fritz became the bass player for Scouting for Girls (note: this may not have happened), but luckily the band had some of the greatest pop songs of the year in their hold-all. Have any band this century kicked off their career with a run of singles as perfect as Kids, Time to Pretend and Electric Feel? Has any band of the last 25 years? You might have to go back as far as Frankie Goes to Hollywood to find a pop band that arrived with three such fully-formed statements of intent. The rest of the album predictably pales slightly in comparison, although it’s hardly filler, made up of some fantastic psychedelic pop, with Youth and Of Gods and Monsters being particular standouts, that positions them as some sort of more primary-coloured Fisher-Price Flaming Lips (The Lips’ Dave Fridmann produces the record), with only the deathly dull directionless noodlings of Fourth Dimensional really falling flat on its face. The biggest question that arises from the whole thing is, with such spark and invention in their music, why do the band themselves seem like such dullards?
Gains points for: The synth line from Kids, an absolutely joyous thing that even a billion Skins adverts can’t ruin.
Loses points for: So is it pronounced ‘management’ or what?
6. Roots Manuva: Slime and Reason
Ah, The Daddy. Roots Manuva is to UK Hip-Hop what David Bowie is to Glam Rock (or perhaps even Nirvana were to grunge); both colossuses of their genre who loom over their scene to such an extent that their rarely even considered part of it. Even though Roots Manuva’s first album only came out in 1998, and this is only his fourth studio album (sixth if you include the two dub re-workings of his previous albums), he often seems like he has been around forever, he predates both grime and even Uk garage, and it’s hard not to think of him as the Godfather of the new breed of British rap, putting out his peculiarly British strain of hip-hop since Dizzee Rascal, Kano et al were still in baggy nappies. Not that he’d take this as an excuse to put his feet up of course, in fact in 2008 he released what is assuredly the best album of his career to date.
Working with a handful of outside producers for the first time, including electro-pop whizz-kids Metronomy, in an exceptionally successful attempt to bring in dashes of different ideas to a sound that was dangerously close to stagnating on his last album (an occasionally stodgy collection of songs pulled from the darker side of Roots’s psyche, that he still had the good humour to call Awfully Deep) with the result being both his most varied and his most coherent collection to date, which is no mean trick to pull. All thoughts of this album being a grim retread of the dark corners of Awfully Deep are blown out the water approximately 2.4 seconds into opening track Again and Again, by far and away the best hip-hop song of the summer, blending his characteristic Jamaican dancehall-influenced sound with something approaching calypso music (reflected in the song’s ace cricket-based promo video, which follows on from Manuva’s previous video’s exploration of British pastimes such as school sports days and… erm… ventriloquism), it’s the best single Mr. Rodney Smith has done since Witness (1 Hope) and if it doesn’t at least raise a smile then you’ve got to consider the fact that there’s little hope left for you in life. So it’s got to be all downhill from there then?
Not at all, the album does not have one track on it that is less than great (although special mention must go to Kick Up Ya Foot and the Metronomy-produced Let the Spirit), and even tracks that occasionally sound slightly underwhelming at first, such as Do 4 Self and the first single Buff Nuff, with time reveal their subtle nuances and charms. On previous albums Manuva had struggled to really successfully mix the two almost bi-polar sides of his character, the one firmly at home on the dance floor and the one destined for introspective dark nights of the soul, yet here dub bangers such as Do Nah Bodda Me can sit easily next to more soul-searching laments like It’s Me Oh Lord and the effect seems seamless. A near-flawless record and another high-watermark for rap in this country.
Gains points for: Playing the Norwich Waterfront in November and adamantly claiming throughout that he was Delia Smith’s nephew. He knows how to please the locals.
Loses points: The awful album title and hideously gaudy artwork that give the album the feel of an Ultramagnetic MCs bootleg from about 1986. Actually, maybe that’s a good thing.
5. Late of the Pier: Fantasy Black Channel
Let’s get the obvious problem out the way first- Sponge Theatre, Hip Skimmy, Attila the Frump, Johnny Moustache, Greg Proops-Doggy-Dogg, The Maltese Falcons, Whiteboard Marker, Basil Geoff and the Fresh Mince, Double You Dot, Vermiscillious- that’s just the first ten possible band names that came to my head, none of which to my knowledge are currently in use, and each of which are at least twelve times better than the one that this Castle Donington band finally settled on (Ok, maybe not Double You Dot, I’ll admit that I may have been possibly running out of ideas when I thought of that one). I refuse to accept that we’ve reached a stage of modern culture where we’re so bereft of new ideas that we’re willing to accept Late of the fucking Pier as a tolerable band name. It doesn’t even make sense! If it were Late at the Pier or Late to the Pier, then I could accept that maybe it was inspired by a band trip to Brighton or Wigan where it took them a little longer than expected to reach the main attractions, but Late of the Pier? Rubbish.
Luckily for us, the imagination the band so obviously chose not to exercise on their name is put to use one hundred times over on their album’s content. In fact, it’s difficult to recall a British debut album in recent years so awash with ideas and inspiration. Late of the Pier may concur with the theory that we have reached a stage of cultural evolution where so much has gone before it is now impossible to create any art form that is truly ‘new’, and so to sidestep the issue they’ve simply decided to attempt pretty much every style of music ever conceived. At the same time. It’s a glorious rush to hear snatches of funk, Smithsian indie, 80s hair-metal, big beat, acid house, industrial rock and brit-pop, and then realising you’re only on track two. The band’s complete disregard for convention is an absolute joy (again, credit to producer Eroll Alkan for reigning in the band’s penchant for the ludicrously out-there), and the sneaking suspicion that it all may be one great piss-take actually only adds to the fun. There’s more invention and sense of adventure and the possibilities of music in, say, Space and the Woods than 99.999999999% of bands will even attempt in their entire career. What really makes the album a joy though, is the band’s dogged insistence that above all their music should be entertaining, this isn’t an album to stroke your beard to while marvelling at the 4/8 rhythm employed in the middle eight, it’s not an album that’s intended to be scrutinized at length or picked over, it’s just there to be enjoyed, and as a result is probably the most purely enjoyable listening experience of the year. The only question is how they’re going to follow it.
Gains points for: The bit about ninety seconds into Focker where the band evidently gets bored of the song completely and decides instead to play a bit of industrial house music, as you do.
Loses points for: I’m quite happily prepared to admit that approximately 38% of people will find this album positively unlistenable. Dull people, generally, but people all the same.
Lesbian twins! Admit it; you’d love this band even if the songs were shite.
Although they may sound like an act dreamt up by the features editor of Nuts, or at best the kind of musical curiosity destined to spend the best part of an hour on late night BBC2 attempting to fend off Louis Theroux’s progressively elevating eyebrows as he investigates the stranger side of North American folk music, Tegan and Sara’s fifth album is actually a little-known gem, and a minor pop classic. While it would be asking a lot to expect that the duo could ever completely escaping their USP (at least they cut their hair differently in an attempt to look different, The Proclaimers are just trying to mess with your mind), their blend of ever-so-slightly twisted pop rock should at least ensure that the inevitable first comment (see above) will be followed by ‘…and their music’s chuffing great and all’.
What Tegan and Sara (I better state conclusively here, lest there be any confusion later, that no, I have no idea which one’s which) do fantastically is write consistently and occasionally beautiful pop songs, and then twist and subvert them ever so carefully until the effect is at the same time one of both familiarity and a very welcome shock of the new, of the conventionally affecting and the downright weird. One way they achieve this is by writing some of the best and most perplexing lyrics of the year, often very simply written but loaded with enough intrigue to keep the listener still fascinated 12 months after its release (it was actually released autumn 2007 in America) whether it be the oblique Are You Tens Years Ago, The Con’s chorus imploring us to ‘Encircle me/ I need to be/ Taken down’ or album highlight Like Oh, Like H’s opening lines telling us ‘When I was eight I was sure I was growing nerves/ Like Steel in my palm/ S.O.S to my mother/ Take the hinges off the door’ possibly putting the track up there with The Undertones’ Teenage Kicks when it comes to great songs about… erm… teen ‘introspection’.
Their voices too are also a joy to listen to; their Canadian accents are so thick that you initially presume they’re putting them on (Hope a Plane’s chorus of ‘Arl Oi Warn to ear is zat ure nart moyne is a particular delight’) and they both evidently prefer a good scream to any kind of recognised singing, but the effect is absolutely charming, and adds to that beautiful oddness (not ‘quirkiness’, and most definitely not fucking ‘kookiness’) that make the entire album such a delight.
Gains points for: Did I mention the bit about them being lesbian twins?
Loses points for: Considering there are moments on the album where it’s hard to shake thoughts of Terrance and Philip from your mind, would it be too much to ask for a cover of ‘Uncle Fukka’ as a secret bonus track?
Like Michael Myers in Halloween, rumours of where Richard Gere likes to exercise his pets and Peter Mandelson, it seems that ABBA are just refusing to die. Just as ABBA Gold finally begins to slide down the charts, you realised you haven’t seen Waterloo discussed on any talking heads show for a good two months, Muriel’s Wedding hasn’t been taken off the shelves at your local Blockbuster all year and you start to believe that maybe, just maybe the band have been finally consigned to the Magic FM dumper. But no, just then the British public as a whole decides to ride out the recession watching Meryl Streep dance around a Greek island singing The Winner Takes it All’, the corpse is duly exhumed and the whole unholy cycle starts afresh (coincidentally, I’ve decided to ride out the recession watching Burnley striker Ade Akinbiyi dance around the Canary Islands. I figured it’d at least pass the time).
I only mention the Swedish Overlords of Pri-Mark Pop as their lastest renaissance (I make it their 296th ‘critical revaluation’ since the turn of the century) has overshadowed the fact that their native Sweden is actually churning out better pop music in the last couple of years than it has in decades. To place alongside Robyn’s excellent 2007 album (the only non-embarrassing electro-pop album in centuries) is this debut by Lykke Li, an absolutely masterpiece in modern pop and the sweetest, assist and sexiest album of the year by a country mile.
Ok, first the bad; Trumpets in my Head is a bit of a pointless interlude, and you can practically hear Lykke herself shouting ‘how many more tracks do we need?’ over Complaint Department. I just need to get those minor gripes out of the way so I could state categorically that the rest of the album is pretty much perfect, and the best debut album of the year. How Lykke Li (pronounced ‘licky lee’ apparently, but I’ve always preferred ‘like lie’, have a play around with it yourself, see what you come up with) must curse MGMT, as if it weren’t for them there’d be no-one else this year who could touch her run of singles quality-wise; Breaking it Up, I’m Good I’m Gone and Little Bit are classic twisted-pop, infectiously melodic but with a dark streak in them as long as a Swedish winter night (see what I did there?), Lykke also pull off the ‘holy grail’ of great pop lyrics, writing words that can at once be either be sweet and naïve, or absolutely filthy, depending on how you listen to. What Lykke Li achieves that MGMT don’t though is keep the quality just as high throughout the album, a collection of songs so fantastic that you find yourself really liking Lykke at around track three, deciding you love her about track six, rehearsing your marriage proposal by the end of track ten, before losing all control altogether before the end and electing to leave several obscene messages on Granddad Li’s answer phone.
Gains points for: Her voice, while not technically over-accomplished, is used fantastically effectively throughout the album, at different points cold and distant, warm and sweet or barbed and resentful, seemingly without even changing.
Loses points for: Irresponsible use of a megaphone throughout, all the kids will be wanting one of those next Christmas.
Rarely can one band’s success been celebrated as sincerely and as wide as Elbow’s in 2008, their Mercury Prize win in September was greeted with the kind of rejoicing rarely witnessed in this country outside last minute FA Cup Final goals and Conservative election defeats. This only had half to do with the fact that the album was the most worthy recipient of the award since Antony and the Johnsons incredible I Am a Bird Now came out on top in 2005 (and unlike Antony, Elbow never had any numpties like The Kaiser Chiefs questioning their ‘Britishness’. Yes lads, because you so would’ve won otherwise, wouldn’t you?) and half to do with the widely held belief that, in all of British music, no band was more deserving of a breakthrough than the five friends from Bury with the lived-in faces and midriffs that came sponsored by Guinness. Since 1999’s perhaps critically overrated (and also Mercury nominated) debut Asleep in the Back the band have made a career of being the best band that not-quite-enough-people-have-heard-of; few people cared when they blew their debut out of the water with the grandiose arrangements and lofty ambition of the follow-up Cast of Thousands before 2004’s triumphant Leaders of the First World was released to unanimous apathy, upped the bar again to seemingly unreachable heights, and sounded emphatically like a career-best. That opinion may have to be revised.
Of course Elbow’s real breakthrough came months before the Mercury was announced; it first came when the album was released to the best reviews and most widespread attention of their career, as people started to wonder whether this group of unshaven barflies were actually one of the country’s best groups; it gathered momentum during football’s European Championships where both BBC and ITV elected to soundtrack every single segment with a different track from The Seldom Seen Kid (literally in ITV’s case) and they were finally catapulted to the cusp of the mainstream when they stole the show at pretty much every festival of the summer (if it weren’t for Jay-Z’s scene-stealing turn, and all the preceding controversy, it’s likely that all people would’ve talked about this Glastonbury was Elbow’s main-stage set). The Mercury Prize, after the year Elbow had had, was merely the icing on the cake.
The album itself saw Elbow’s sound, one so expertly fine-tuned on their previous releases, approach something close to perfection, sonically ambitious with out being at all pretentious or ever running close to losing its almost hypnotic charm on the listener (it sounds bizarre now how they were lumped in with the likes of Travis, Embrace and Turin Brakes for large parts of their career by the lazier parts of the music press) while Guy Garvey could now have a decent claim to be the best white male voice in the country, as he manages to do justice to Elbow’s best set of music as well as his most accomplished lyrics. Ten months after it’s release the likes of breath-taking brass-led opener Starlings, the icy fragility of Glitterball, the bluesy single Grounds for Divorce and the epic centrepiece The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver still have the ability to astonish, and are now beginning to sound suspiciously like modern classics. It says a lot for the album when even the weakest track On a Day Like This sounded initially like a cynical attempt to write a festival anthem, but eventually found new life in the summer when it was adopted as… erm… a festival anthem. A masterpiece, but unfortunately for Elbow there were two of those last year.
Gains points for: The Fix, where the band rope in Richard Hawley for a track about pigeon and horse racing and create what may be the most northern song ever recorded.
Loses points for: Being so obviously pleased with their Mercury win, that’s just not very cool is it?
1. TV on the Radio: Dear Science
I have a reoccurring dream, in this dream The Artist Currently Known as Prince suddenly has a bewildering moment of clarity, possibly nursing a hangover after Paisley Park’s Tuesday night pub quiz (perhaps Sheena Easton’s team came first and won a deep-fat fryer), when he happens come across his record collection, glances over his recorded output since 1991’s Diamonds and Pearls and realises that, with a handful of exceptions, it’s all pretty much a pile of shit. In a horrible moment of realisation he rushes to the recording studio, realising he has to reverse his mistakes, he ditches the funk workouts, he doesn’t just release the first sodding thing he records, he immediately hands each of his useless ‘protégés’ a fifty dollar bill and demands they never darken his doorstep again, he rings up The Revolution and says that all is forgiven, he even invites in some outside producers to bounce ideas off and finally, after a gruelling eighteen months getting the recording just right, Prince releases one more masterpiece, one more record that’s as good as his live shows, reminiscent of his mid-80s peak and the world falls in love with him once again. And in my dream that record has an opening track that’s as good as Halfway Home by TV on the Radio.
It won’t happen of course; partly because Prince is still obviously a depressingly long way from rehabilitation (he’s recently said that his motivation for releasing his new record next year-one of three, naturally- is that he ‘got tired of waiting for Sade to release an album’. Jesus suffering Christ) and partly because Halfway Home, the greatest opening track on the greatest album of the year, is so brain-numbingly fantastic that I’m not convinced even Mr. Rogers Nelson could pull it off. If you don’t fall desperately in love with the Brooklyn band’s third album the first time you hear Tunde Adabimpe’s falsetto beckon the track’s chorus in, then you really should be considering whether you like music at all, as opposed to taking an interest in Uwe Bolls films or collecting thimblettes.
The quality doesn’t drop at all after that, the track only makes up one fifth of an opening tirade that’s followed by the funk-rock of Crying, the dance/rock/rap/God-knows hybrid Dancing Choose, the beautiful electronica of Stork and Owl and the none-more-Prince single Golden Age before the achingly sad Family Tree gives the listener five minutes for a breather (albeit a breather to a tale of lynching in the deep south), before the band attempt to invent reggae metal with the next track Red Dress and the cycle starts again. Seriously, I don’t see any reason why all albums can’t be this good.
On their two previous albums TV on the Radio were more of a band to be admired than to be enjoyed, a copy of, say, Return to Cookie Mountain on your shelf may well suggest that you were a cerebral type who wouldn’t hesitate to applaud a bit of jazz-influenced key-changes or a wilfully eclectic middle-eight, it would unfortunately in no way suggest you were any fun. The band’s problem was that they always seemed that little bit too studied; there was very rarely a sense of warmth to their music or, crucially, that sensation of spontaneity that evokes true adventure. They were also David Bowie’s favourite band, which never sounded good.
Well, maybe it was David Andrew Sitek’s stint producing Scarlet Johansson’s album (yeah, I know, but this album’s amazing so I’m gonna let it slide, Ok?) helped him discover his mojo, but Dear Science is an absolute joy. They’ve managed to pull of the near impossible trick of making the year’s most wilfully experimental album while at the same time not forgetting to write absolutely killer hooks, it’s simply the most perfect a mix of the cerebral and the visceral since Radiohead were at their peak.
If there’s any justice, when commentators are tallying up the best records of the decade this December, they’ll remember to nestle this somewhere near the top. Perfect.
Gains points for: The line ‘Foam-injected Axl Rose’ on Dancing Choose.
Loses points for: Nothing, for now, but Channel 4’s decision to use Halfway Home to soundtrack the new Skins adverts may result in it being unbearable in two months time.
The Roy Walker Section
They’re good but they’re not quite right
Sebastian Tellier: Sexuality. For when only a paunchy, middle-aged bearded Frenchman singing about sexual Sportswear over 800s synths will do. Also features Divine, easily the greatest Eurovision entry ever, as it proved by coming second last
Wild Beasts: Limbo Panto. Just missing out, by far and away one of the best- and strangest- new indie bands out this year, and the year’s best new voice.
Laura Marling: Alas, I Cannot Swim. Incredibly beautiful, offensively young and outrageous talented, she can fuck right off basically.
Guilty Simpson: Ode to the Ghetto. Amazing music, thick as pigswill rap
Half Man Half Biscuit: CSI Ambleside. Should need no introduction, fantastic as ever
Lil’ Wayne: Tha Carter III. Cut this down to 11 tracks and it’s easily in the top ten, but that’d mean ploughing through seemingly dozens of skits and filler. Disheartening.
Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes. Very good, but are they really that good?
Oasis: Dig Out Your Soul. Two half decent Oasis albums in a row! It’s 1995 all over again!
Metallica: Death Magnetic. What should have been an all-conquering return to form is marred by Rick Rubin’s awful ‘everything up to eleven’ production.
19 thoughts on “2008 Albums of the Year”