It was never going to go my way. One the main reasons I was in favour of complete global collapse on New Year’s Eve 1999 was so that we could have avoided referring to the next decade as the noughties, like a bunch of giggling simpleton pricks. I’m not even that keen on people (particularly Huw Edwards) saying the number as two blocks; 2000-7, 20-13 etc, instead being in favour of just saying the number by its full name. I need to get out more. Having said that, one of the bonuses of crawling into the new millennium was that I wouldn’t need to hear the song ‘1999’ by Prince quite as often. It’s not that I object to Prince, I’d have him over kiddie diddling Jackson any time, but when you take an alright song and play it forever, every day for weeks, just because it’s the same number as the year you’re in then things can begin to grate. In fact surely it now qualifies to join the list of songs that should never ever be played again. It could slide in nicely and spoon the likes of ‘Rock DJ’ and ‘Country House’ for the rest of time. And don’t get me started on Pulp’s ‘Disco 2000’.
So, the two thousands, weren’t they fun? It was this decade that saw me get my first proper job; as a lice extractor in a sanctuary for angry, incontinent gorillas, and started to make my own money. Most of that money I have since pissed away on wine, music and clothes, along with frivolous things like a mortgage. It was in this decade that I really began to accumulate a music collection worth parping about. I’m pleased that CD’s have clung on because I really don’t like the remoteness of Spotify and iTunes and digital downloads. I like the culture and history and folklore and image of music just as much as the music itself and by dumping an album on some cloud somewhere that doesn’t work whenever the internet feels like it makes it just a load of sounds. It’s like comparing good sex to sex with the parish priest. I was never a huge fan of going to gigs (which is a weakness, I know) but I try in my own sad way to make up for that by being informed about the music and musicians I like. And the ones I don’t. For instance it was only by reading a couple of paragraphs of Morrissey’s autobiography that I realised I was wrong about him being a prick. He is actually a prick AND a cunt. Sorry, let’s get down to business. In this list, for the first time, most of the choices are ones I really spent the decade with. Hurray.
- Out Of Season, Beth Gibbons and Rustin Man. Just listen to ‘Mysteries’ and you’ll understand. This is the sort of music that people who like Madeline Peyroux should really be listening too. By comparison Peyroux makes me want to pour scalding coffee in my ears. It’s torch music but somehow replaces all that whining angst with a beating heart and soul and vocals of such delicate intensity there are moments that might make you well up. Not me, of course, because I’m hard (just see 10). Gibbons is the singer with Portishead, which you probably knew. Rustin Man is actually called Paul Webb and played bass with Talk Talk, which you may not have known. If you did then help yourself to 5 bonus points. Buy it. Buy it now. (Ps – watch Portishead perform ‘Wandering Star’at Glastonbury 2013 if you can, you’ll understand that too.)
- Original Pirate Material, The Streets. Oh yeah baby, I love my UK hip-hop garage music. I don’t really but this is just wonderful. It’s fresh and funny and isn’t all about drive-by shootings and slapping yo motherfuckin’ bitch for bein’ a motherfucka and pimpin yo motherfuckin’ ho and look at me with my fucking cigar, bitch etc etc. It just describes the day to day goings on in lives which I don’t live but whose peripheries I can relate to. It also has music and lyrics that can make you tingle. For this experience start with ‘Turn The Page’ and finish with ‘Stay Positive’. Oh, that’s the whole album then! Discard your musical prejudices please and if I were you approach the rest of the catalogue with caution because it really never got this good again. The best debut album ever? C’est possible my fine friend.
- The Convincer, Nick Lowe. I remember this coming out and seeing an advert with the cover on and thinking ‘who the fuck is that and who the fuck is going to buy an album with that silly looking twat on the front?’. How wrong I was, though I haven’t learned my lesson and still judge almost everything far too quickly. A few years later I had started to learn a bit more about Mr ‘Basher’ Lowe and his pub rock roots and I was gently impressed. But once I got into this album I was overwhelmed. There is a gentleman in there telling stories of things we all know about with a lush musicality and laid back gait few could match. He’s also got a sense of humour, which helps. Listen to ‘Indian Queens’ and be tickled by lines like ‘I lived with a couple in Yellow Knife, but the woman caused me to move on’. What happened there? Splendid work. ‘The Beast in Me’ from The Sopranos? That’s Nick Lowe.
- Through the Windowpane, Guillemots. What became to The Guillemots? I’m not really sure but it may have something to do with the very lofty ambition of releasing 4 albums in the space of a year. My advice would be to only promise that kind of thing when you have 4 albums worth of material ready to release. Hubris is a dangerous thing but I guess it’s only music, not invading Russia. I have the first of those four called ‘Hello Land’ from 2012. Not a peep since. Maybe they meant a year on Jupiter. Still, their debut album is gobsmacking and totally loopy but in a great way. If ‘Made Up Love Song #43’ doesn’t make you tingle to be in love then you are the pre-op Tin Man. I went to see Guillemots at Kentish Forum once. Totally gaga, the whole fucking lot of them, but hey man, they could play. Far out, man.
- In Rainbows, Radiohead. This may well be their all-time masterclass album and it took me years to realise it. Everyone should be given the entire Radiohead catalogue on birth so that they don’t get led astray by fuck-nuts like Embrace or The Kooks. Wouldn’t the world be a lot nicer? Radiohead have a knack of sounding weird and accessible all at the same time and are a rare act that can go mental or slow and stately with equally authentic prowess. The first half of this album is so good I’m a bit startled that I got round to the second half enough times to love it just as much. The best band of the last 25 years? Is there competition?
- X&Y, Coldplay/Hopes and Fears, Keane. You could say from the sublime to the ridiculous but that would be a mite unfair. Ok so both these bands could be accused of being bed-wetters etc but they can write a song and just as importantly they can play a song. Keane are just a nice bunch of lads from Hastings who made a great first album and then have stuck fairly close to the formula ever since. I saw the do ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ on TOTP and that was enough. I bought the album on release day and I will defend it to the last drop of blood. Theirs, not mine. I didn’t like Coldplay for a while purely because everyone else seemed to and I like to be contrary. By their third effort I was on board and they seemed to take on some kind of high table status, the world waited for them to fart. And then applauded. From start to finish it’s proper good with the exception of ‘Fix You’ which is shmaltsy crap and as likely to appear at a key moment in a Hugh Grant film as it is behind footage of starving Africans. After ‘Viva’ Coldplay went a bit downhill. Hint – you don’t need to collaborate with Rhianna and Jay-Z to sound good.
- Truelove’s Gutter, Richard Hawley. This is absolutely thick with atmosphere and still stands as Hawley’s high water mark. That dark chocolate rich voice smothers over the whole thing and the arrangements are simple yet stunning. ‘Remorse Code’ is nearly 10 minutes of gripping, gentle, rhythmic pulsing and is transfixing. The build up at the start of the album is a noise which Brian Eno would have considered a triumph.
- One Was A Spider, One Was A Bird. The Sleepy Jackson. You don’t hear a lot about The Sleepy Jackson anymore. You didn’t before either. Their mastermind, Luke Steele, went on to form Empire Of The Sun and now I don’t know what he does. Australia doesn’t have a great international pedigree beyond AC/DC (they’re Scottish really) and INXS but they do have a nice side-line in popping out the odd great maverick pop band. Tame Impala are one, Savage Garden are not. This is just a pure sugary, but not sickly, delight with hooks which cannot fail to wriggle in. Lovely harmonies throughout and the odd soaring chorus doesn’t go amiss.
- Discovery, Daft Punk. Remember a couple of years ago when Daft Punk were poised to release Random Access Memories? I was itching to buy that album and I thought the little clip of them performing ‘Get Lucky’ with Nile Rogers and Pharrell Williams was sooo cool and it was just about all I talked about for at least a fortnight. Of course the whole world went apeshit for the album and it was, quite rightly, Daft Punk’s year. I mention this only because all that would never have happened without Discovery. It’s heaving with great ideas and special little retro moments, whilst having a modern polish so shiny it could effect your eyesight. Daft Punk are the best possible example of letting the music speak for itself and waiting for the rest to fall into place. If you do like this album then can I encourage you to give their live effort ‘Alive’ from 1997 a go too. Unless you can think of anything better to do with that fiver.
- Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, The Flaming Lips/Out of Control, Girls Aloud. No, you didn’t read that wrong. I really do like The Flaming Lips. All joking aside I think this lists demonstrates a certain fondness for irresistible pop and that’s where Girls Aloud come in. Yes, I know they seem to go against everything that good music represents; that they were put together by avarice riddled, oily fuckers and that they made Cheryl (insert most recent surname) a household dimwit but oh, what pop they made. Barely a scratch of it was written by them but it really doesn’t matter when you get lost in a song like ‘Untouchable’. Girls Aloud are the band The Spice Girls should have been. Speaking of whom I accidently listened to ‘Spice Up Your Life’ the other day and was astounded by how bad it is. It went to number 1, don’t you know, and a lot of people are responsible. Since I’ve crossed a considerable shame barrier I should also confess that I have Nicola Robert’s solo album, I once briefly thought The Corrs were a credible band AND I have the first two B*witched singles on CD. Oh dear, what have I done. The Flaming Lips turned a corner with previous album The Soft Bulletin so by the time they got into pink robots and Japanese school girls I was fully in the loop. It’s an absurd, joyous album and if anything it’s here to provide an antidote for anyone who tries and fails with Girls Aloud.
There, that was quick (as in quickly written), it probably reads like trying to run through tar. A few honourable mentions though. Think Tank by Blur is, in places, absolutely amazing (‘Good Song’, ‘Out Of Time’), as is Handcream For A Generation by Cornershop. DJ Shadow did The Private Press and I’ve always been fond of the first Cherry Ghost album. We hadn’t been blessed with John Grant’s solo stuff by then but The Czars did a few interesting things, ditto P J Harvey and Ray Lamontagne. There’s a lot more worth mentioning but special bizarre credit must go to Ian Brown. His best of named, with typical modesty and simplicity, ‘Greatest’ is as close as a best of has got to sneaking onto these lists. He had toones, he stuck to his guns, never apologised for his singing and you really wouldn’t have fucked about with him. Which when you think about it, makes him a bit like Bob Dylan.
G B Hewitt. 7.4.2016.