15 years of albums

The good folks at NME are running a Best Albums of the Past 15 Years vote, which has sent me spiralling into a deep pit of nostalgia – and feeling more than just a tad anxious about the passing of time, I must confess. Go on, admit it. You also thought of Pink Floyd’s The Division Bell. That’s not mathematical ineptness on my part, Mr Davies, just sheer shock at how fast the time is flying by. It came out in 1994, you all know that, and so falls just outside the target area. If you really got close to the edge and stretched as though your life depended on it, your tingling fingertips might just brush the case (cassette or CD, probably both knowing you lot), but, alas, you’d never be able to drag it inside; it’s too far gone.

So, noting with some reluctance that only those albums released since 1996 are valid, and allowing myself a loose chronology to order my selections neatly…

1996

Everything Must Go by the Manic Street Preachers. Yes, some said they sold out and became too mainstream and commercial with this release, but if there was one reason to acquire and cherish this album, it was ‘A Design For Life’ with its opening line: “Libraries gave us power, then work came and made us free.”

Also this year, Ocean Colour Scene’s Moseley Shoals received a lot of play in my Discman, which unlike my iPod still works, I’ll have you know.

1997

Lots to choose from this year. Bob Dylan’s 30th studio album, Time Out of Mind; the promising debuts from Stereophonics (Word Gets Around) and Mogwai (Young Team); The Verve’s Urban Hymns and Charlatans’ Tellin’ Stories. By this time, of course, Britpop was noticeably waning and perhaps that was no bad thing. (Discuss?)

1998

Another from the Manics (This is My Truth, Tell Me Yours). Didn’t really need much more, to be honest, as also released were the Greatest Hits of the Lemonheads.

1999

The Man Who from Travis, its opening track and debut single, ‘Writing To Reach You’, perfectly sets the tone for the sensitive, melodic and dream-like music that follows. I guess many of us could, in 1999, relate to this lyric:

“Every day I wake up and it’s Sunday
Whatever’s in my head won’t go away
The radio is playing all the usual
What’s a Wonderwall, anyway?”

Not forgetting Californication from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

2000

Coldplay’s swirly, shimmery Parachutes is the only original work to compete with The Best of The Doors and of The MC5, I feel. Presumably we can all overlook the tediousness of ‘Yellow’ just this once. And the fact that reissues don’t count.

2001

There’s only one: the Manics again and Know Your Enemy. A return to form, many felt, they ditched their politeness and offered some vitriolic lyrics, starting with ‘Found That Soul’ and ending with ‘Freedom of Speech Won’t Feed My Children’ (“it just brings heart disease and bootleg clothing”). It also has a gem of a hidden track, a cover of McCarthy’s ‘We Are All Bourgeois Now’.

Unusually, it’s the only album of theirs, I believe, to feature a Parental Guidance sticker warning of explicit lyrics (in part for their observations on the campaign to Free Tibet):

“We love to kiss the Dalai Lama’s ass
Because he is such a holy man
Free to eat and buy anything
And to fuck from Paris to Beijing”

Wonderfully offensive.

Actually, there is another and, frankly, it’s better on many levels: the debut from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – simply B.R.M.C. What a debut it is. So loud and grungey with unforgettable riffs, the type of album you play from start to finish and never really know which song is which.

2002

Coldplay’s second and the point I lost interest in them, to be honest: A Rush Of Blood To the Head. I thought Idlewild also peaked with The Remote Part. One of this album’s two hit singles – ‘American English’ – ends with the delightfully bleak “You’ll find what you find when you find there’s nothing.” Indeed.

I should also list the following:

– The Mooney Suzuki, Electric Sweat
– Queens of the Stone Age, Songs for the Deaf
– Starsailor, Love is Here

2003

This year was all about the refreshingly new Kings of Leon, who released Youth and Young Manhood. Back when they were hairy and far from being anyone’s darlings, they seemed to be a breath of fresh air. I’m not sure what happened next.

The year’s other stand out, for me, was Take Them On, On Your Own from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, which managed to be even darker than their previous effort with superb lyrics such as these, from ‘U.S. Government’, for example:

“I spit my faith on the city pavement
To keep a smile
I bought my legs from the US government
To keep me in line”

2004

Again, only one and it was Jet’s Get Born. Thrashy and catchy, if parts of it were not soon to be overplayed.

2005

Two debuts: Little Barrie’s extremely funky We Are Little Barrie and the eponymous Wolfmother. To be fair, Howl from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club could have been created by a completely different band, so far is it from their previous two albums. Almost entirely acoustic, with Howl they blended Blues, Country and even Gospel to produce a fine piece of work. Dare I say, Dylanesque?

2006

Oh my, what a year.

– The Blue Van, Dear Independence
– Burning Saviours, Hundus
– Ray Davies, Other People’s Lives
– Bob Dylan, Modern Times
– Jet, Shine On

Special attention must be paid to Neil Young’s powerful, poignant, pin-prickly Living With War. Its lyrics, as you’d expect from a wound-up Neil Young, hit hard. One example from ‘The Restless Consumer’:

“People around the world, we need someone to listen
We’re dying from our disease, we need your medicine
How do you pay for war and leave us dying?
When you could do so much more, you’re not even trying”

Oh, and David’s On an Island. We liked that one, didn’t we?

2007

Just the one, but it is rather special and also a double album. Surely nothing could top the first Eagles album in 28 years, several years in the making: Long Road Out of Eden. The title track is ten minutes of indescribable brilliance with Don Henley at his finest. Another record very much of its time, it won two Grammy awards, one of which was in recognition of a most utterly haunting instrumental, ‘I Dreamed There Was No War’. If you haven’t, really, you should. I hope you do.

2008

The debut from Fleet Foxes, predictably called Fleet Foxes, was the one everybody talked about, but Neil Diamond gave us something of great beauty in the form of Home Before Dark. To this, add Paul McCartney’s third and hastily-done (not that you’d think it) project with producer Martin Glover, better known as Youth from The Orb: The Fireman, Electric Arguments. Amazing what you can do in just thirteen days.

There was also the Frank Sinatra CD+DVD compilation, titled Nothing But the Best to mark the tenth anniversary of his passing.

Oh, and something called Live in Gdańsk. I seem to remember some of you mentioning it once or twice…

2009

Speaking of exquisite live albums, not that we should as they don’t count, Leonard Cohen was Live in London and live at lots of other places, too. If you didn’t see him on tour, kick yourself and ask the nearest person to kick you, as well. I can only hope that you heard this recording.

Also for 2009, two modern supergroups: first, The Dead Weather (made up of The Kills’ Alison Mosshart, Jack White of The White Stripes, Dean Fertita of Queens of the Stone Age, and Jack Lawrence of The Raconteurs) – with Horehound – and second, requiring no title, Them Crooked Vultures (‘them’ being John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters, and Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age).

2010

Last year, other than smatterings of Baby, I’ll Play from the Thomas Oliver Band, nothing really caught my ear and I found myself preferring the sound of silence to much of the newer musical creations I’d been exposed to. Similarly, I don’t think there’s been very much this year which has particularly interested me beyond the latest offering from Mogwai. If there’s something I should be listening to, please tell; I have to ask Father Christmas for something other than socks and books, after all. (I will ask him for the new album from Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues, fear not.)

I hope I’ve jogged a memory or two with my above selections; memories of pleasantly rowdy house parties, of the seemingly limitless opportunities afforded by jukeboxes to provide suitable accompaniment to time spent around pool tables, of the eternal soundtrack to college lounges and long, familiar bus rides, of hours lost and parts of lectures missed because of the plastic wonders of HMV. It’s certainly been emotional looking back and listening to the music of the Nineties and, to a lesser extent, the Noughties. I suspect I’m not alone in wondering just when this time machine that Sci-fi has been teasing us with for so long is finally going to materialise and allow us to return to possibly happier, simpler times.

Were those Parkas not great in the Nineties? As were the shabby, flared jeans. The decade’s fashion seems so much more tasteful than the current, hideous Eighties revival with its ankle-grabbing, lycra-infested denim, complemented, if you can say that, by plimsolls. Yes, plimsolls. For goodness sake, it feels as if we only just got rid of them and now they’re back in all their slip-on horribleness.

But, I digress.

To help you along, here are your favourite Nineties albums, some random nonsense from 2008, as well as a further dose covering those albums released since 2000.

Lastly and just a bit mischievously, hands up who thinks Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black (2006) would still feature so prominently in the NME list were it not for her tragic death earlier this year.

Save it for the chatroom, if you prefer. It will be open tomorrow from 1pm (UK).