You want an intro? You got that in part one! Let’s get down to the dirty, sticky and dangerously unhygienic business:
This was an important year for me, this was when shit got real. Yeah, Labour won the election, which I was aware I was supposed to celebrate but not yet conscious enough to know exactly why, just that ‘our team won*. Princess Diana died, inspiring a nationwide reaction that even 13 year old Alex Palmer recognised as being a bit fucking much**. All that was meaningless background noise though, as most importantly 1997 was the year that I became really switched on to new music. Before this point, most of the albums I’ve listed would have been discovered by me later and posthumously lusted after in the kind of nostalgic necrophilia that I would later grow to despise. Yeah, sorry if you’ve already imagined me as an incredibly cool seven year old bopping his head to Soon by My Bloody Valentine. From this point on, these important albums in my life and personal development were pretty much all discovered as contemporaries. Seriously though, ‘It’s Great When You’re Straight… Yeah’ was the first CD that I ever owned. Yeah. I’m that cool/weird.
(*amid the lowest voter turn out since the polls were compromised by the invading Norman army in the eleventh century. There would be less and less people bothering to turn up with every subsequent election, as I got more into politics just as great swathes of the country decided they really couldn’t be doing with the utter shitshow, like someone deciding to really get into Manchester United after Alex Ferguson retired)
(**remember the famous images of the ‘punk’ with a giant red Mohawk crying and laying a fucking wreath for Lady Di?? Is it any wonder I never really got into punk?? As soon as I started paying real attention to music the whole charade was revealed to be a laughable sham! Always had respect for Wolverhampton Wanderers though- that kid gets it)
And, holy shit, what a year to get my musical grove on. If I decided to start paying attention as a prodigiously aware three days old in 1983, I’d be left choosing between spreading my affection across ‘Synchronicity‘ or, God forbid, U2’s ‘War‘. 1997, however, gave me so many wonderful new albums that I couldn’t help but be hooked for life. Obviously, there was Björk releasing another amazing record, possibly her best, but we’ve already established how I didn’t really pay much attention to female artists until at least the turn of the century, so unfortunately she’s unavailable for consideration. However, from the XY gang, we had career highs from The Chemical Brothers and The Foo Fighters (honestly, they were pretty good at one point); surprisingly decent evolutions out of Britpop from Blur and Supergrass; brilliant and unexpected comebacks/reinventions from The Verve, Nick Cave and Primal Scream; and incredible debuts from Mogwai and Daft Punk. Maybe, in retrospect, these albums aren’t the world changing masterpieces that the hormone ravaged Alex Palmer might have believed them to be in 1997, but they were all such amazing introductions to contemporary music that I’m happy to accept nostalgia’s blinding glare. Three albums, though, stand above all over like towering colossi of… of… erm… awesomeness, yeah?
In 1997, the biggest album- the biggest thing– for both me and my group of friends was The Prodigy’s Grand Canyon sized third album ‘The Fat of the Land‘. This is the first album I can remember knowing the exact date of release of, and getting Mum to drive me to Woolworth’s especially on the day so I could purchase it- as all my friends did. My little brother, Mizdow, wanted to listen to it with me in my room when I brought it home. I didn’t let him, because me being an absolute cunt is by no means a recent development, so he sat outside my door in the tiny space between my room and the bathroom. It was that big a deal. However, by the end of the year, I wrote my top twenty singles rather than albums (and, erm, gave the prize to Smack My Bitch Up. It was… a different time… Friggin’ tune though, yeah??) because I was scared of the reaction of my group of friends to me conceding that ‘TFotL’ wasn’t 1997’s greatest musical achievement.
Yeah, however old you are, you know that ‘OK Computer’ came out this year and would subsequently dominate the next few decades of discussion concerning musical perfection. I’m not about to hit you with a blazing hot take about how the album that list aggregator site besteveralbums.com ranks as… well… the best ever is overrated. Believe the hype- it is all that and a cage of pigs on antibiotics. However, over the succeeding 23 years I have grown to truly appreciate how the the W actually belongs to the number 223.
Spiritualized’s ‘Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space‘ is like if you had all the world’s psychiatrists, psychologists, lexicologists and gynecologists agree on the twelve correct definitions of beauty and gratification, then managed to package them into twelve audio files and capture them on a record using proton packs (or whatever, I don’t know the exact science). No album before or since sounds this good in this way to this level. Perfection. Sorry, Radiohead, perhaps you’ll have another chance…
Easy. We all love ‘Aquemini‘, ‘The Miseducation of Lauren Hill‘ (hey! Black people!!) and ‘Deserter’s Songs‘ (oh, never mind…), but there was honestly a shortly held belief that one collection released in 1998 would actually change the way (guitar) music was recorded, composed and released. The Beta Band’s (pronounce it properly, John Cusack!!) ‘The 3 EPs‘ brought together a collection of immaculate short form records by a Scottish group of musical geniuses that were defining what exactly acoustic, lo-fi and freaking record music had the potential to sound like. They would, of course, struggle to later match it, but so would humanity, so give the guys a fucking break, alright?
Over in the USA at around the same time that the Beta band were redefining music, Neutral Milk Hotel were also releasing a similarly lo-fi but significantly less ambitious and expansive collection of songs called ‘In the Aeroplane Under the Sea‘, that sold a similar amount of copies at the time but had a far less totemic impact on contemporary songwriters. Two decades later, that’s the album that’s widely considered an underappreciated classic. Humans- and I can’t stress this enough- are fucking dumb.
Two thousand, zero zero, party over- whoops- out of time. So this year, we decided to party like it was calendar appropriate. Almost as easy a choice as 1998, only with one particular little stink wrinkle. Otherwise, 1999 was a good rather than a great year for music, we had some lovely little anomalies such as Handsome Boy Modelling School’s ‘So… How’s Your Girl?‘, Roots Manuva’s debut and that Sigur Ross album that nobody can pronouce. Y’know, the one with the baby? Fun fact, I actually own three different Sigur Ross albums on CD, and have no idea which one’s which, which songs are on which, and what those fucking songs are actually called anyway, so in my mind every song they’ve done that I like is actually on the baby one and I haven’t the time to check if that’s the case. I like the one that goes ‘Izza woo-ah-woo! Izza woo-ah-woo!’, y’know?
Then, I’d like to introduce you to my stink wrinkle. The fact that Ultrasound’s 1999 debut (which isn’t even fully on YouTube, never mind Spotify) is one of the greatest, most ambitious, most expansive and most cruelly underappreciated debut albums of all time is the hill that I will freaking die on, y’hear?? It’s anthemic, it’s proggy, it’s touching, it’s occasionally very silly, it’s always very wonderful- find a way to get this album into your hereunto unfulfilled lives! I dearly want to name ‘Everything Picture’ as 1999’s standard bearer, but I unfortunately it’s be a case of me lying to you, lying to myself and, most damningly, lying to Ultrasound. Shit why can’t this album have come out in 1992 or something?
No! that year belongs to The Manics!! Don’t you dare take it away from them!!
No, come on, 1999 belongs to ‘69 Love Songs‘, doesn’t it? An absolutely incredible collection of literally dozens of expertly crafted pop songs that would soon become absolute standards. Much as I love Ultrasound’s debut and yearn for what could have been*, My introduction to The Magnetic Fields gave my life a soundtrack that still plays in my head to this day.
(*they’ve actually released two more albums. But of, like, guitar music?! Come on, like there isn’t enough of that in the world? Also, Stay Young samples and references Gary Glitter, which, by 1999 was… actually, a pretty gangsta move… and how good is Floodlit World, seriously…? Can I redo this entry…?)
So, we go to the year 2000. Not much has changed, but we lived underwater. And our great, great, great… grandmother…? Is pretty fine. Do you remember the year 2000 being a particularly good one for music?? The biggest selling singles were Music by Madonna and Can We Fix It? by Bob the Builder, which is- ha!- what?? One of those songs is fucking laughable while the other hardly represents the artist’s best work (Blonde Haired Girl in a Hard Hat was a far fairer representation of Bob’s talents). It wasn’t a good year for US elections or Douglas Fairbank Jnr. It certainly wasn’t a good year for Wrestlemanias. However, the fact that the biggest selling album of the year was the absolutely fantastic… Oh no, wait… the biggest selling album of the year was ‘No Strings Attached‘ by N*SYNC… But the second biggest selling album was the absolutely fantastic ‘Marshall Mathers LP‘ by Eminem, and how often is the second biggest selling album of a year that good and… Ah, fuck it, this ‘bit’ is starting to make less narrative sense now…
But, yeah, Eminem’s second album is fantastic, but the year 2000 was such an apparently fantastic year for albums that it might not even get a mention. It did though. See? I just mentioned it. If you want to look really cool, you might claim that ‘De Stijl‘ was The White Stripes’ best album. And you… might… be correct. Truth Doesn’t Make a Noise, though, ammi right? Huh?? Huh?!? If you wanted to look really cool you might claim that the wonderfully psychotic ‘XTRMNTR‘ is Primal Scream’s best album. And I… might… agree with you. If you wanted to look really cool then you would just mention how incredible Asian Dub Foundation’s ‘Community Music‘ is. Union Jack? And Union Jill? Back up and down back up and down back up and down the same old hill? Isn’t it? Many people may rank ‘Rated R‘ as Queens of the Stone Age’s best, but that’s just because it’s the first record of theirs that you heard and you far too edgy to pick the more commercially successful follow up. I might not be cool enough to call ‘Mystery White Boy‘ Jeff Buckley’s best album, but the compilation of live recordings might be the most magical distillation of his talents. And, if you wanted to be ridiculously cool you could even claim ‘Kid A‘ is Radiohead’s best album!! And I…
Wouldn’t agree with you at all. Seriously, ‘Kid A‘ is better than ‘OK Computer’ and ‘In Rainbows’?? Give over, have a fucking word with yourself. It was a laudable and surprising left turn, but a lot of the moments and ideas are by no means the band’s own, and the album often just sounds like they’ve made a drastic change to the artists that are influencing man. Don’t be fucking ridiculous, mystery straw man! What are you, Pitchfork??
Mystery Straw Man!! That’s the name of my debut album!
But, despite the competition, one album still stands easily above all others to me, it may well be the greatest album of the entire decade (that Kanye West album came out in 2010- different decade) and arguably the greatest hip-hop album ever (that Kanye West album came out in 2010, so… doesn’t count…). Ms Jackson by Outkast is one of those strangely rare songs that I can remember the exact time and place where I first heard it. I grew up in the UK, where it was actually incredibly rare to hear hip hop songs given wider play commercially amongst the Spice Girls, Oasises and Fatboy Slims of the world. I never heard any Tupacs or Wu-Tang Clans or Dr Dres during the 90s. We never know who either Notorious B.I.G or Puff Daddy was until one of them was singing about the death of the other. If you wanted to hear rap music, you had to seek it out like I did with Public Enemy, but usually I was too busy discovering Jeff Buckley and then the fucker dying on me!! I remember this being the case in the UK until, honestly, Eminem really broke through (yeah, I know, but we’re not having that talk right now, OK?). When I first heard Ms Jackson, I honestly hadn’t previously heard hip hop quite like it before. At that point in my life, hip-hop to me was either angry, militant Public Enemy growls (which I loved) or Puff Daddy associated, Hype Williams directed, commercialised nonsense (which I hated). Outkast came at me like Tony Blair, promising that there was a third way. Only, unlike Tony Blair, they didn’t soon disappoint me and abandon any principles they might have had. ‘Stankonia‘ is a multicoloured and multifaceted work of absolute genius, and I’m still stupid enough to believe that one of the most unique and artistically accomplished groups of my lifetime are still capable of one day releasing an album of equal quality to this day.
Fuck, I’m not even halfway done. Hey, isn’t it weird to think that you’ve been alive for longer in the 21st century than in the 20th?? OK, so maybe you haven’t, who knows? But I have!! Maybe you can’t remember the 20th century. Neither can I, to be honest. Was there a lot of foxes? I feel like there was a lot of foxes. Am I just thinking that because of 20th Century Fox…? I might just be thinking that because of 20th Century Fox.
2001 was an absolute banner year though. Young people might not believe me and think I’m over exaggerating the horror like a World War 2 veteran seriously trying to convince you that the Normandy landing was a hideous experience rather than the pleasant beach holiday we all secretly imagine it to be, but you can’t imagine how horrible guitar music was in the early 21st century. You might have heard about the trauma of Nu-Metal and assume it was some laughable underground cult like ‘Romo‘ or ‘Oi!‘ or ‘Jazz‘ that a bunch of perverts were seriously into for a thankfully short time, but that absolute dumpster fire of HIV infected cock-a-roaches (or infected Papa Roaches) was honestly all there was for a good twelve months. Any guitar music by that point has become the chief vestige of sexless, under developed man children to complain about how the sluts at school don’t appreciate their tortured artistry. It was either not in any way intended to be fun and life-affirming, or alternatively it was fun and life-affirming for fucking unholy perverts or sex offenders on an unbelievably wide scale. Were Lost Prophets Nu-Metal? I dunno, they were still part of that ungodly renal abscess of bad taste. Listen, all of that shit was Nu-Metal to me- Blink 182 were Nu-Metal; Sum 41 were Nu-Metal; The Offspring finally broke the UK and, fuck it, they were Nu-Metal now; Nicklelback were Nu-Metal; Evanescence were Nu-Metal; Puddle of Mudd (the extra ‘D’ stands for ‘Don’t Ever Come Near Me Again You Bunch of Fucking Reprobates or I’ll Spoon All Your Dumb Eyes Out With Your Own Fucking Beanie Hat’. But you probably guessed that) were ‘Nu-Metal’; Good Charlotte were Nu-Metal… That fucking sound, the one that infected the early 21st century like a vicious dope of venereal disease being spread around children by an untrusted Uncle? That was all Nu-Metal. And it was all terrible.
It’s hard to overstate just what a vital, effective and refreshing shot to the arm that The Strokes’s ‘Is This It‘ was, combined to a slightly lesser extent with The White Stripes’s album ‘White Blood Cells‘. Nu-Metal certainly wasn’t destroyed- especially if like me your definition of Nu-Metal simply referred to ‘any shit you don’t like’, but it made it a lot less loud. Suddenly, rock wasn’t just cool again, it wasn’t just a thing artistically warranted enough for actual adults to like, it wasn’t just this snappily dressed uber cool wave of bands you wanted so bad to be with names like ‘The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ and ‘The Vaccines’ and ‘The Mooney Suzuki’ and ‘The Kills’ and ‘The Ataris’ and ‘The Interpol’ and ‘The Verb’ and ‘The Peculiar Noun’, it was that rock music was sexy again. Which member of The Strokes do you most want to fuck? See, not an easy question, is it?
2001 was a notable year for many artists though, no matter how tangentially related they were to pale skinny boys with tight jeans and immaculate hair fucking groupies in gig bathrooms. Jay-Z’s ‘The Blue Print‘ was not just the first (and perhaps the best) example of Mr Carter translating his considerable talent into cohesive and rewarding records,but was also the first time Kanye West was introduced to the wider consensus.
Nick Cave bashed out his best album, and I’m going to get so much abuse for not having him win 2001, ‘All Is Dream‘ is an underrated follow up to the World*-eating ‘Deserter’s Songs’ by Mercury Rev, and ‘Toxixity‘ proved that the general sludge of Nu-Metal need not necessarily prevent legitimate artistic masterworks. But… I’m sorry- and I know how this album doesn’t fit the narrative at all– but the album that over the following 19 years that I’ve got the most enjoyment from, the album that set fire to those scientifically unproven flames that only the best music can possibly hope to do, the album that makes me more inspired, that makes me want to dance, that makes me want to succeed, that makes me want to fuck, didn’t come from some impossibly good looking New York trustafarians in jeans so skinny you can see if they’re circumcised. It came from a Californian who may or may not be clinically insane and may or may not actually exist.
(*of pathetic pale soy boys)
Listen, I don’t care if you think Andrew WK is merely a massive joke now. I don’t care if you think that ‘I Get Wet‘ shows how he was always a fucking joke. I don’t care if you believe his masterful debut album to be merely an eye rolling pastiche of ‘party anthems’. I don’t care if you honestly believe that this is some massive situationist prank that I’ve been gullible enough to be sucked into. I don’t care if it is a situationist prank. I don’t care if this is all carefully curated lie and I am just an idiot for being swept up in it. Maybe this is all fake, but the feeling it gives me are absolutely real, and the emotions it stirs and inspirations it motivates could not be more legitimate.
Or… maybe they’re all fake as well. Maybe nothing that any of us feels is real. Perhaps this is all an illusion. Perhaps Andrew WK doesn’t exist. Maybe I don’t exist. Maybe you don’t. Life, man, it’s a crazy ride.
Unfortunately, I can’t think of an overlaying narrative to fit nicely over 2002, like a delicately placed piece of table linen lain over my rhetorical dining table before I serve a three course meal of delicious hot takes. Fortunately, that means this will be a much shorter entry than many years and should ensure I get this fucking post finished before 2025. 2002 was merely a collection of wonderful soundtracks to the soulless yet gratifying drinking, drugging and fucking that would become my modus operandi for the next… decade or so… I didn’t realise that I liked UK Garage until The Streets released their fabulous debut ‘Original Pirate Material‘, I didn’t realise how much I loved 20+ piece Texan choral rock bands until the mindblowing debut ‘The Beginning Stages of the Polyphonic Spree‘, if you catch me in a certain mood I might tell you that ‘The Eminem Show‘ was his career highpoint, and how can you listen to Always and Forever and not consider JJ72’s ‘I to Sky‘??
But, seriously, it’s Queens of the Stone Age’s ‘Songs for the Deaf‘, isn’t it? Like, how could I possibly pick something other than this swamp rock masterpiece, where QotSA briefly became the best ‘supergroup’ of the era and crafted an astonishing piece of work that sounded like the ultimate culmination of everything the world’s coolest ginger had learned over his long career. That intro to No One Knows? That ‘KINK! KINK! KINK! Kinka-dinka…’? That’s what I’m all about.
Those tight jeaned 2001 boys (and girls. Girl. One woman) kick back into action with ‘Elephant‘ becoming The White Stripes’ true commercial breakthrough and ‘Room On Fire‘ being maybe The Strokes’ best album. But the year I started university saw few great steps made by dumb old guitar music, and I finally began to appreciate how other forms of music may in fact be far more satisfying. Jay-Z’ ‘The Black Album‘ was a mindblowing and effective expansion on the previously thought unimprovable ‘Blue Print’. However, it would soon be blown out of the water by a soon to come reimagining. I honestly think that Hey Ya puts up a serious argument to be considered as one of the absolute greatest songs ever, and the surrounding explosion of debauched ambition ‘Speakerboxx/The Love Below‘ was an incredible melange of incredible ideas and brilliant songs, just in a presentation box that’s far too big for its contents. Get this, I actually think this double album would have worked better as a single record. Oh, and Big Boi’s half is markedly superior. Don’t @ me. However, much as Mars Volta’s wonderfully expansive/pretentious ‘Deloused in the Crematorium‘ tried, only one album of 2003- of the 21st century??- truly sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before.
I can’t think of any other instance in my life quite like the first time I heard I Luv U late at night on some ‘urban’ music video channel with a name like ‘BRAPPPP’ or ‘No Chatz No Chanz’ or ‘Ed Balls’ or ‘Slimy’, high up in the upper reaches of my Dad’s satellite TV channels. I feel the phrase ‘like nothing I’d ever heard’ has been ridiculously overused by this point to have lost all meaning by this point, to the extent that you could describe the latest Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds album ass ‘like nothing I’ve ever heard before’ based on the fact that two tracks have melodicas on them and nobody would bat an eyelid. But, holy shit, this?? I had never heard anything quite like it before, I wasn’t even one hundred percent sure that you could technically class it as even music. It was just noise! Objectionable, ruthless and disobeying noise!! I… fucking loved it…
Dizzee Rascal’s incendiary debut ‘Boy In Da Corner‘ is like UK Garage mercilessly fed through the artistic meat grinder of Slayer before its bloody shards are aggressively kicked against the wall with Doc Martens boots. The sound of the agony is then recorded and released, because that’s what it wants to fucking sound like and that’s what you’re going to get!! Dizzee Rascal may have grown into almost a cuddly comedy celebrity for hire, far more interested in crafting (occasionally very effective) club bangers rather than redefining entire genres as he once did, but considering he was responsible for one of the most shocking and thrillingly subversive records of the 21st century, the guy can put his feet up for as long as he wants as far as I care.
Indie music was covered with the Futurehead’s debut, The Music’s incredible (and incredibly titled) ‘Welcome to the North‘, and elbow and Kings of Leon were making colossal strides with their sophomore efforts. The Streets followed up an extraordinarily well received debut by crafting a concept album that wasn’t shit (honestly, it’s quite the opposite). And, yes, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds gave us a double album of intense ferocity. Kanye West also officially arrived with the justifiably lauded ‘The College Dropout‘, kicking off the most significant musical career of the next decade and a half. If we were giving out these awards for most important or most influential albums of the year, then…
No, fuck it, I’d still give it to ‘The Grey Album‘. This illicitly produced ‘mash-up’ (which may not have even been a term back then) of the genius ‘Black Album’ by Jay-Z and the alright, I suppose, ‘White Album’ by The Beatles became a legitimate social event. It was, of course, impossible to purchase legally, so a whole generation of fucking cool kids (of which I was and, indeed, still am a standard bearer) about illegal downloads and things called ‘torrents’ and ‘magnet links’. Things that I’ve obviously forgotten about by this point, so there really is no need to investigate my hard drive. This was art that wasn’t allowed to exist. To properly appreciate one of the most important and significant albums of your teenage life, to be able to properly join in the conversation at the next house party between Jagerbombs and hits of Salvia, you had to break the law. And, because for us being freaking cool was more important than a clean criminal record, so many of us did. The Beatles’ copyright holder, EMI, ordered Danger Mouse and retailers carrying the album to cease distribution. People responded by coordinating ‘Grey Tuesday’, an electronic civil disobedience event held on 24 February 2004, where websites would post copies of The Grey Album as a free download for a 24-hour period in protest of EMI’s strong arming. This was exciting, this was an honest to goodness moment that we were all participating in. In the words of cultural critic Sam Howard-Spink– “A rich case study for the examination of a wide variety of contemporary cultural issues within the context of the ‘copyright wars’ remix culture and the age of the digital network”. Sampling was an art form, and Dangermouse became responsible for its greatest 21st century proponent. I mean, yeah, the Arcade Fire debut is good and all, but come on!
Oh, and the album’s fucking banging, by the way. Jay-Z later attempted to mirror its success with a mash-up with Linkin Park, which was surprisingly unsuccessful despite, as we all know, Linkin Park being far better than The Beatles.
Yeah, ‘Late Registration‘ was an extremely worthwhile follow up by Kanye, MIA’s ‘Aruler‘ was all kinds of awesome, and I might argue that ‘Get Behind Me Satan‘ is the best White Stripes album, but this is one of the easiest choices yet. Anthony and the Johnsons’ ‘I Am A Bird Now‘ was essentially the only album I gave any serious time to in 2005, when I was happily married, happily wasted and happily having regular sex, occasionally with my wife. And that’s that. It’s an absolutely perfect album that soundtracked both a great deal of my inner growth and solidified relationships between me and very important people. You know that already though, right? You do already love this album…?
My last year of university, and a sensible end for part two. I feel that I need to give Prince one more (and one last) shout out for the incredible ‘3121‘, which was the last truly great album He ever made. A quick mention of ‘The Sound of Girls Aloud‘, to pour some out for one of the most consistently brilliant pop singles acts of my lifetime and to confirm that, yes, best-ofs are allowed if I feel like it. elbow got even better with ‘Leaders of the Free World‘ and Sway’s ‘This Is My Demo‘ promised an incredible career that never really materialised. However, in terms of gorgeousness, in terms of fearless ambition and sweeping expansiveness, nothing in 2006 had anywhere near the effect that the astonishing ‘Ys‘ by Joanna Newsom did. Which means that, yes, it’s only taken us 23 years but we finally have a record by a female artist!!
Phew, I properly started writing my albums of the year in 2007, so the next part should be really easy, no…?