This list is taken from the End Of The Decade issue of NME magazine (on sale November 18th) where each album included is reviewed again from a 2009 perspective, alongside brand new interviews and a look back at the defining musical moments of the past 10 years.
80The Grey Album
Read the original NME review from 2004:
Some of the most striking modern popular culture has been born out of its creators imposing rediculous restrictions on themselves. The Coen Brothers tying themselves to the storyline of Homer's Odyssey for O Brother Where Art Thou, the real-time straitjacket 24 has willingly slipped into for three series, Demetri Martin performing huge palindromes within his stand-up routines...all subject to baffling self-imposed restrictions, all fantastic.
Frustratingly, the latest example, DJ Danger Mouse's 'The Grey Album'- a start-to-finish staggering, witty, delightful and ferociously funky remix album in which the vocals of Jay-Z's 'The Black Album' are endowed with tracks composed entirely of samples from The Beatles' 'The White Album', right down to the very last snare drum - may never see the light of day, because the moment that EMI heard about it, they raised a confetti of injunctions on it. This is frustrating, because they are bolting the stable door so long after the horse has bolted, that the horse has had time to send them a postcard. The album is out there now, probably already octuple platinum in download terms, and Danger Mouse has publicly stated that he doesn't care about the money so long as people get to hear it. What makes it even more frustrating is the short-sightedness of EMI's ire; one imagines a straining suit way up on the high somewhere, veins bulging as he mulls over the gross sacrilege of sampling The Beatles-You can't do that to The Beatles, two of them are dead! - and preparing to unleash the legal dogs of war.
To such people, sampling is that thing like wot Puff Daddy does, as devoid of artistic merit as a cabal of drunken townies murdering 'I Will Survive' on karaoke night. In reality, the astonishing deconstructions and desecrations that Danger Mouse visits upon both the Fab Four and Jigga make 'The Grey Album', at the very least, one of the great avantgarde pop records of the millenium. Like all great hip-hop producers, Danger Mouse takes production to be an act of vandalism as much as it is an act of creation, and the glee with which he shreds and reassembles Beatles tracks is all over every last second of 'The Grey Album' like stink on poo-poo. What he does to 'Glass Onion' or 'Piggies', for example, isn't just sonic manipulation - It's a virtuoso display of sampler-as-threshing-machine, DM bending and abusing his sound shards like a MIDI Jimi Hendrix.
The cruellest irony is that, as well as maybe getting a few dad-rockers to investigate independent US hip-hop. 'The Grey Album' might very plausibly have introduced a new generation of B-boys to the realisation that, yo, that cat Ringo got some phat beats. And pop fans everywhere would have wolfed it down like some kind of special-ice cream that makes you get thinner. Guess that won't happen now.
Even so, for what it is, for what it does, for what it represents and for exposing the idiocy of people who only care about 'what it earns us', then, a truly, truly, great pop record.
79Youth And Young Manhood
Read the original NME review from 2003:
Don’t put it down to coincidence that The Strokes and Oasis have been mention in the same breath as Kings Of Leon in the past couple of weeks- it won’t be the last time. The Strokes took time out from recording their new album to hang out with The Kings in New York and Noel Gallagher recently declared, “The Kings Of Leon are my new fucking favourite band”. With ‘Youth and Young Manhood’ the Kings haven’t just bested the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ ‘Fever to Tell’ for the debut LP of 2003 crown, they’ve gone and made an album that’s up there with The Strokes ‘Is This It’ and Oasis ‘Definitely Maybe’ as one of the most exciting rock ‘n’ roll debuts of the last ten years.
Like The Strokes, The White Stripes, The Coral and all the exciting bands around right now the Kings take as their starting point the music of the past (in their case drug-crazed ‘70s MOR rockers The Eagles, ‘60s beardos The Band and southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd). But it’s all recast with an insane sense of swagger, rowdiness and, yes, youth.
Rarely do you get as raucous a statement of intent as album opener ‘Red Morning Light’. Like Mick ‘n’ Keef before it all went to pot (and pills, crack and smack) in three minutes KOL showcase everything that got NME so excited about them in the first place: firecracker in your pants excitement, aggression, chewing gum cool, energy and of course they’re as horny as hell (“Hey hey another dirty bird giving out a taste” sings Caleb).
‘Happy Alone’ and Wasted Time’ are trackes that could justify The Kings’ reputation of the southern Strokes but, in truth, there’s a lot more than that- ‘Spiral Staircase is a saloon bar brawl between the riff from The Stones’ Satisfaction’ and Bob Dylan, while sinister gothic undertones abound in ‘Holy Roller Novocaine’ and the Lynyrd Skynyrd-esque ‘Genius’. Their sound is a boisterous boogie, a hard-drinking, hard-rocking sound from somewhere south of the old Mason-Dixon line.
It’s like the most rock ‘n’ roll episode of Jerry Springer ever. Unravel that Liam-raivalling scowl and you’ll discover what the frontman Caleb Followill has to say about the Kings Of Leon’s world is, frankly, quite scary. This is a record about easy women, fallen men and, on one occasion, an easy woman who turns out to be a man.
Take ‘Joe’s Head’ where the protagonist murders the guy who’s shagging his wife. Then murders his wife. Then has a fag afterwards to celebrate. Take ‘Happy Alone’ where you’ll find Caleb at the local whorehouse “Prancing around in my high heels/And your cherry red lipstick”. Then there’s the especially sleazy ‘Tranny’- it involves Caleb doing coke, “cheap trick hookers” and being “tied to a chair”. But then how could a song called ‘Tranny’ be anything but brilliant? It’s simply the greatest song about cross-dressing since The Kinks ‘Lola’.
On ‘Youth And Young Manhood’ KOL do for ballsy country rock what The White Stripes and The Strokes did for stripped down blues and New York new wave respectively. They are to 2003 what Oasis were to 1994 and The Strokes to 2001- the most exciting new rock band of the year. All hail to the Kings.
78Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant
Read the original NME review from 2000:
Two years since their last album of new material, and all the characteristic eccentricities that once made [a]Belle & Sebastian[/a] such an interesting, mysterious and nobly intransigent musical/ cultural phenomenon have begun to wear thin. They offered a suitably shabby, second-hand blanket of anti-establishment isolationist sentiment and fuzzily melodic nostalgia, and the disaffected flocked to them like moths to a porchlight.
Yet their continued refusal to engage with the media has begun to beg certain hazardous, legend-debunking questions: is their wilful facelessness a symptom of timidity, or arrogant inverse elitism? Is their dedication to the underachieving indie ethos and dusty musical convention a gesture of rebellion, or are they just lazy? Despite the unimpeachable beauty of their every recorded moment, their art has failed to evolve - and it seems that if they are going to be the voice of misfit society, they should at least have something to say.
Finding even a hint of modernity on a [a]Belle & Sebastian[/a] album would be akin to seeing Christ's face in a ciabatta roll - startling, unlikely and, in such a context, unappetising. It isn't as though one wants breakbeats or cameo rappers, but [I]some[/I] sort of progression ? a fresh twist that might distinguish this from any other B&S record, perhaps - seems a reasonable request. It is not one, however, that they seem particularly concerned with. Despite the fact that songwriting contributions from other members continue to proliferate, it's amazing how much their sound remains strictly marshalled within Stuart Murdoch's vision. So although there are intimations of Isobel Campbell's predilection for nursery rhyme lullabies and Stevie Jackson's love of Motown (plus a first-time offering from violinist Sarah Martin, 'Waiting For The Moon To Rise'), we are still fixed firmly in what is now 'classic' B&S territory - watercolour strings and parps of brass, intricately constructed arrangements executed with effortless, vivid panache. And, of course, Stuart Murdoch's airless, disinterested voice presides.
To be fair, there are minor diversions from the template. Even though the songs are narratives starring boys and girls rather than men and women, they deal less with mawkish adolescence and more with abstract emotional disquiet. 'I Fought In A War' is a soldier's letter home to his sweetheart, 'The Model' is a rambling, confessional apology (distinguished by lines like, "It was the best sex she ever had", sung by a man who sounds as though he would find the sight of a woman's bare ankle terrifying ), and the marvellous 'Don't Leave The Light On, Baby' shimmers with the sort of arching, dimmer-switch and shag-pile sensuality that begs for a reprise. 'The Wrong Girl' is a Spector/ Bacharach/'Daydream Believer'-type affair, and the most unashamedly pop song on the album, while 'Chalet Lines' is a minimal, brittle sketch of half-forgotten romance.
All of these balance out the album's less inspired patches - the nauseatingly cute 'Nice Day For A Sulk', the fluffy-cardigan handclaps and Schroeder piano of 'Woman's Realm', for example - and ultimately, despite all its self-defeating limitations and annoying, fey affectations, this remains a superb record. Quintessentially [a]Belle & Sebastian[/a]. Frustrating. Contrary. Insubstantial. Yet, in that insular, cloyingly sanctimonious world they inhabit, still peerless, still irresistible.
77Ballad Of The Broken Seas
Read the original NME review from 2006:
In a week that saw Barrymore rubbing Preston Ordinary Boys’ back while he puked, we should be used to incongruous pairings. Still, ‘Ballad Of The Broken Seas’ takes some beating. On one side: wide-eyed and pouting ingénue Isobel Campbell. On the other: grimacing man-beast Mark Lanegan. Isobel wears cardies, was in a band called the Gentle Waves and poses holding cute kittens on record sleeves. Mark is a bad influence on Nick Oliveri, writes songs called things like ‘Methamphetamine blues’ and has the look of a man who enjoys throwing kittens into canals in sacks.
But after meeting at a Queens Of The Stone Age gig in Glasgow- lord knows what they found in common to talk about- beauty and the beast agreed to collaborate over email on a collection of Campbell’s songs. Although, as a compelling array of trailerpark melodrama, southern gothic, murder ballads and eerie country-blues,’Ballad Of The Broken Seas’ sound less like it was written in Scotland than a rusty mobile home in Louisiana. You’d never guess that they recorded their vocals separately; much like heavily moustached country perv Lee Hazlewood leering over Nancy Sinatra, Lanegan’s boot leather baritone is smothered over Campbell’s guileless tones in an oddly sensual way, giving this album the unmistakable feel of an instant classic.
Read a biography of Capdown:
Capdown were a band from Milton Keynes, United Kingdom. Originally known as Soap, their songs have political themes as alluded to by their name, which is short for Capitalist Downfall. Mixing ska, punk, hardcore, dub and reggae, Capdown built a reputation around their independent releases and numerous tours. From Wikipedia
75Chutes Too Narrow
Read the original NME review from 2003:
Some things you should know about The Shins. Number one: frontman James Mercer is a songwriting genius, the rare poetic talent who can pen the tune to a Gap advert- which he did: it starred Dude, Where’s My Car’s Ashton Kutcher- and pull himself from the corporate slurry smelling of honey. Number two: their second album, ‘Chutes Too Narrow’, might not quite be the equal of 2001’s criminally ignored ‘Oh, Inverted World’, but that’s kind of like writing off Brian Wilson for not making ‘Pets Sounds’ twice. Number three: songs like’ Saints Simon’ and ‘Kissing The Lipless’ might hark back to some halcyon ideal of rosy ‘60s melodicism, but they do it with a sheer, unfettered joy that precious few of today’s writing retro-rock bores can match. And that’s three reasons why you need this record.
74The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me
Read the original NME review from 2006:
With the relentless march of ‘The Black Parade’, it’s easy to forget that there are other emo bands doing their damnedest to redevelop their identities as they watch the genre warp into something unrecognisable. Brand New are one such band. It takes no small degree of self-belief to title a record ‘The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me’, but thankfully every track here genuinely comes off as a struggle for singer Jesse Lacey’s brittle lil’ soul. It’s a compelling record that bears more resemblance to the indie of Bright Eyes or Modest Mouse (‘Degausser’ and ‘You Won’t Know’) than anything found on 2003’s ‘Deja Entendu’. Brand New: definitely not appearing on The OC anytime soon.
73You Forgot It In People
Read the original NME review from 2002:
Yes, there are 14 people in Broken Social Scene, but put the ideas of The Polyphonic Spree’s gimmicky fluff out of your mind. Reeling in numbers of several million fellow Toronto bands (the best known being post-rockers Do Make Say Think) their collective spirit makes for an exhilarating, loveable record. < br /> There’s something of the early Mercury Rev in the way ‘Stars and Sons’ stumbles wonkily from pretty floydian drone to slashing feedback, or ‘Anthems For A Seventeen Year-Old Girl’ employs the most gossamer of melodic foundations for a song that’s very odd and a little disturbing. There are a few autopilot alt.rock moments, but in the main, the Scene make a good argument for the communal party.
Read the original NME review from 2007:
There are two versions of the MIA myth. Myth the first: Back in 2005, into a world increasingly obsessed with revivalism, a techinicoloured terrorist emerged from the streets of east London dressed like sonic the hedgehog at a basement rave and ripped UK music from limb to limb. Then, armed with neon thread, this visionary stitched it back together, creating a patchwork of rave, raga, rap and rock. She stretched time and space until they snapped, slinging any dilapidated concept of genre into the cosmos to be gorged on by a trio of luminescent hip-hop phoenixes.
Myth the second: In 2005, into a world of genuine musical visionaries (Dizzee Rascal, Arcade Fire) a fluro idiot crawled inexplicably from beneath the nails of the zeitgeist. Backed by an incomprehensible melange of execrable sonic affectations, this bourgeois Londoner sang the praises of questionable military struggles in some of the poorest countries in the world while being dressed by the hippest designers in the west. Her unbearable vomit music was something forged in the flames of a thousand meaningless fads and she herself was destined for the pyre of fashion once her 15 seconds were over.
While some members of the NME office have fed several copies of her new album ‘Kaya’ into the shredder claiming aural abuse, this writer is inclined to veer massively towards any myth announcing MIA’s brilliance. The word ‘innovation’ is these days an ironically traditionalist musical term, but MIA innovates club music, art music and pop music at every turn.
This is an album recorded from India to Liberia, London and Beverly Hills and MIA leads her motley crew of influences through mansions, squats and slums with the unbeatable focus of Hannibal’s army. Leaked track ‘Birdflu’ bustles like an incinerated coup, while leaked (is she doing this on purpose?) single ‘Jimmy’ dances beneath a disco interpretation of the Bollywood Orchestra. It says much of her priorities, that from a thick guest list including Diplo, Timbaland, Aboriginal street musicians, Indian orchestras and mute(!?) African emcees, that it is only the superstar American producer feeling the cold rejection of the cutting room floor.
Three years ago her militant debut 'Arular' goaded every genre hiding within immigrant Britain into 14 songs, now as if she wasn't too busy worrying about floods, disease and the cunts who are running the show, she's doing the same trick for the whole of the planet. She's pulling up her lame leggings and kicking this silly bastard Earth into shape with a tough diet of basement, grime and electro reimaginationsof your alt.rock favourites. Yup, that’s right, from a white, western perspective, this is the weirdest indie megamix you’ll ever come across.
‘$20’ sees the militant attacking her audience over hellishly twisted rhythms of New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’. “Do you know the cost of AKs up in Africa/ $20 aint shit to you but that’s how much they are” she chants, before, inexplicably breaking into the chorus of the Pixies’ ‘Where is my Mind?’ as Arabic chanting haunts the background.
Opening track ‘Bamboo Banger’ is a staccato raga reimagination of The Modern Lovers track, and punk rock standard, ‘Roadrunner’. Clocking in at nearly five minutes, it sees MIA drawl “I’m knocking on the doors of your hummer-ummer…and we’re moving with the packs of hyena-ena…when I’m dogging on the bonnet of your red Honda”. It’s a hypnotic beast of an opener, enough to immediately dismiss any hopes from XL that MIA has decided to become the Asian superstar she could so easily be.
Indeed, the only real pop moment, the soft, soaring ‘Paper Planes’, sabotages any FM potential by crafting its infectious chorus around three crystal clear gunshots. The song samples The Clash’s ‘Straight To Hell’, and through that provides the clearest indication of where she sees herself, as the inheritor of true rebel music in an era of corporate punks.
Throughout ‘Kala’, MIA is brave enough to look her detractors in the eye. She, more than anyone, is aware of the disparity between her duel roles of cosseted superstar and self-professed insurgent, but this is a contradiction she accepts blankly. “Up some jungle, up some tree/ one second, my phones ringing, it’s my friend Habibi” she spits on ‘Hussle’ while the African rapper Afrikan Boy she shares the song with announces: “You think its tough now? Come to Africa”. Though she may invoke the spirit of Joe Strummer, her closest comparisons are blacker. The mega-rich American hip-hop stars whose wealth separates them from their background, but whose focus never leaves the ghetto struggle, or even the African superstars of the ‘70s like Fela Kuti, whose success transformed him into a glorious mash-up of James Brown and Nelson Mandela.
MIA's skills don’t necessarily lie in her singing, rapping or lyrics, rather the clarity of her vision. ‘Down River’, for example, flows gloriously with didgeridoo and a gang of aboriginal child beatboxers, only bursting its banks when MIA’s monosyllabic vocals appear. But who else would have to guts, or imagination to dream up such a song in the first place? Maya Arulpragasam’s disabilities are irrelevant when she is hunting so far ahead of the global pack.
Rumour has it that this will be her final album, and that she will turn her attention to cinema. This will surely please her narrow-minded detractors, but in time they will realise how lucky they were to share a world with an artist bold and arrogant enough to concoct such a vicious and complex oeuvre as she has done.
‘Kaya’ is the masterpiece of this collection. More than just a clash of east and west, it throws every micro-culture into confusion. Whether you were born in Hackney, Columbo, LA or Lagos it’s an album which subverts the familiar with the alien. Immigrant beats twist alt-rock standards and tourist rhythms shake basement basslines. There is no target audience beyond mankind itself. Like watching 400 global news channels simultaneously, this is a bewildering three dimensional picture of the 21st century and a triumph for its revolutionary creator. MIA: the screaming voice of planet Earth.
Read the original NME review from 2004:
Has there ever been a more eagerly-anticipated album? Or a more hotly-debated one? This is it, folks, the holy grail of music geeks: The Beach Boys' lost masterpiece 'Smile'. Or at least, it almost is.
A potted history: in 1965 The Beatles released 'Rubber Soul'. Songs such as 'Norwegian Wood' introduced instrumentation that went beyond the rock'n'roll template of guitars, drums and bass. The Beach Boys' songwriting supremo Brian Wilson was dumbstuck and vowed to make a better album. And thus legendary 'Pet Sounds' was born. Then Brian heard 'Revolver' and realised those moptops has raised the ante again. He dispensed with the services of the rest of his brothers and locked himself in a studio with the cream of LA's session musicians (only using his band to record vocals at a later date). Here he recorded this "pocket symphony", the peerless 'Good Vibrations', and an album that was to be called 'Smile.' The album sleeves were printed, posters and dummy sleeves were delivered to record stores, and then...nothing. 'Smile' was canned. Rumours abounded about Brian's state of mind and his alleged dependency on psychadelic drugs. Others said he'd bitten off more than he could chew, that his ambitions outreached his abilities. Many of the songs were re-recorded and put on the hastily released 'Smiley Smile'. But the fans knew this wasn't the real deal. This wasn't the 'Smile' that was going to change music. In the intervening years, Wilson obsessives around the world have assembled bootlegs and argued about the correct sequence of songs. And then, this year, Brian performed it live--with new segments to complete his vision--for the first time. Taking his touring band into the studio, he recorded this from scratch. 'Smile' is 17 songs in three movements, with melodic hooks repeated and rearranged throughout. It has ambitions so far beyond pop that it's embarassing.
The first movement starts with 'Our Prayer/Gee'. Part Gregorian chant, part barbershop quartet, it leads into a doo-wop that introduces some of the themes of second track 'Heroes And Villains'. What a melody: a descending scale that seems implausibly long. Those intriguing lyrics. That "you're under arrest" bit from the bootlegs.
'Roll Plymouth Rock' takes the 'Heroes...' theme through a big band and a harmonica interlude, and then introduces the timpani and bassline of 'Good Vibrations' before reprising the 'Heroes...' theme with eclectic harpsichord and Native American vocals.
The first movement ends with 'Cabin Essence' (not, as often thought, 'Cabinessence', fact fans). The "doing-doing" backing vocals, the ukelele, the "home on the range" and then the spiritual vocal harmonies take us to a primal, gnostic space before returning us from the embrace of the divine to the tenderness of the rural idyll.
The second movement starts with a 'Wonderful' that is neither as mawkish as the version on 'Smiley Smile' nor as capricious as that on the bootlegs, and takes us through 'Songs For Children' and 'Child Is Father Of The Man' where Wilson sings, "Easy my child, it's just enough to believe/Out of the wild, into what you can conceive, you achieve". Segment closer 'Surf's Up' is tearjerking. Wilson's age and frail voice has made its tale of lost childhood all the more poignant.
The final movement takes us through 'Venga-Tables' (where the original chewed-carrot percussion came courtesy of Paul McCartney's molars), a delicate 'Wind Chimes' with an unexpected groovy bassline, the terrifying 'Mrs O'Leary's Cow' and the enchanting 'In Blue Hawaii', in which Wilson exhorts God, or alcohol, to deliver him from night terrors ad on to calming beaches of paradise. Having finally finished his masterpiece, Wilson may yet find his Blue Hawaii. The album ends with a less frantic, more regal 'Good Vibrations'. You may now reach for the Kleenex.
Comparing 'Smile' to pop music is like comparing the poster paint daubings of an infant to the vast canvasses of Velasquez. Many pop musicians have tried to do 'serious' work and failed (pretty much all prog rock, McCartney's 'Liverpool Oratorio'). But 'Smile' stands up with any of the great music of the 20th century. In its interweaved and repeated melodic strands it exhoes Prokofiev's 'Kije Suite'. In its appropriation of American folk it stands up with the work of Gershwin and Copeland. In its sheer contemplative beauty it rubs shoulders with Miles Davis' 'Kind Of Blue'.
Brian's a canny fella. Earlier this year he brought out a solo album so overwhelming in its mediocrity that any hopes we might have had about 'Smile' were dashed. Now he's finished the year by realising his vision and delivering one of the greatest albums of the 21st century.