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.
Read the original NME review from 2004:
Though they’ve tried admirably to repeat themselves as little as possible down the years, Green Day are seemingly cursed by the army of mosh-monkeys who would like nothing better than a series of third-rate ‘Dookie’ clones. 2000’s ‘Warning’ album bombed with the fanbase mainly because there was nothing that sounded remotely like ‘Basket Case’ on it (the bloody cheek) and those flimsy attention spans are liely to be creaking loudly again thanks to the highly conceptual ‘American Idiot’. Now pay attention Good Charlotte fans at the back because both main tracks- ‘Jesus of Suburbia’ and ‘Homecoming’- are nine-minute prog-punk collages constructed from five songs thematically related by the sorry state of American life under George Dubya. Yeah, alright, but that ever-so-slightly irritating sense of righteousness is easily eclipsed by an onslaught of varied and marvellously good tunes presented in an unexpectedly inventive way.
American Idiots? Not a chance. Green Day are smarter than most of us thought or wanted them to be.
59Boys And Girls In America
Read a biography of The Hold Steady:
The Hold Steady is a Brooklyn-based rock band comprising Craig Finn (vocals, guitar), Tad Kubler (lead guitar), Franz Nicolay (keyboards, vocals, harmonica, accordion), Galen Polivka (bass) and Bobby Drake (drums). The band's style has been described as a "riff-heavy mixture of classic rock," notable for its "lyrically dense storytelling." To date, the band has released four studio albums: Almost Killed Me (2004), Separation Sunday (2005), Boys and Girls in America (2006), and Stay Positive (2008). From Wikipedia
58Drum's Not Dead
Read the original NME review from 2006:
Perhaps because there are so many musicians around who’d eat their own vomit if they thought it would get them nearer the zeitgeist, there’s something oddly heartening about Liars’ near-suicidal trajectory from the mainstream. On ‘Drum’s Not Dead’, these tranced-out New York art freaks slip into another plane entirely, hammering out PiL percussion-scapes that, for all their eerie distance, happen on some beautiful moments. Out there, sure- but this is the sort of experimentalism Radiohead scoop plaudits for.
Read the original NME review from 2000:
Why wait for the conclusion. Let's cut to the chase. 'Stankonia' (pronounced Stank-O-nee-ya) is the best hip-hop album of the year so far. Take Mos Def's willingness to experiment, Common's intelligence and Kool Keith's futuristic rhymes and thread it together with some southern fried Atlanta funk and some complex concepts on life, and you get a rather simplistic if passable description of what you might find on this album.
What is impressive is that 'Stankonia' is Andre 3000 and Big Boi's fourth album, exhibiting creative evolution rare in contemporary hip-hop. They've also hit that rare balance of creative eccentricity and mass appeal - with their previous albums Southernplayalistcadillacmuzik' , 'ATLiens' and 'Aquemini' each going platinum in the States.
Brave and bold, in terms of movement between albums, Outkast are, perhaps, hip-hop's equivalent of Prince in the 1980s. The rapping is swift, and yet articulate. Fortunately, a lyric sheet is provided, hence you'll discover and appreciate the full depth of their philosophies. Whether it's their plea to their expectant babymother's mama that they're responsible men on 'Ms Jackson' or the contrast they make on 'Humble Mumble' (featuring Erykah Badu) between life's true beauty and society's reality, Outkast conceptually excel. While musically, real instrumentation makes long, seductive love with contemporary technology to produce a lush and varied soundscape.
Conscious, spiritual, stark and honest, Outkast's diverse and innovative style maybe hard to digest at first, but this has that little something special that Public Enemy's 'It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back' and De La Soul's 'Three Feet High & Rising' had. It's an audible novel. Meaning that it has eternal qualities that will unravel in time on an emotional, intellectual and spiritual level. A classic album that represents, as Outkast say on 'B.O.B.', "Power music, electric revival." Derek A Bardowell
Read the original NME review from 2005:
The whispers surrounding this, My Morning Jacket’s second major-label record, were perplexing. Kentucky’s hairiest, rootin’-tootin’ country dudes have gone a bit electro, you say?
The reality is, thankfully, nowhere near as ridiculous as that sounds: ‘Z’ is definitely not death-sex-gabba-techno. What it is, however, is the point where MMJ push their impassioned country-soul to its very sonic and emotional parameters. Driven by bassy synths, ‘Wordless Chorus’ (so called because the chorus is an explosion of hymnal passion) is an amazing statement of intent, with singer Jim James wondering, “What has not been done?/I’ll rush out and do it”. ‘Gideon’, meanwhile, finds shimmering guitars and haunting synths complimenting James’ trademark canyon-wide reverb-drenched vocals to such near-perfection that one wonders why the band have never attempted to marry them in such a fashion before. The album’s middle tracks tread more familiar territory – ‘What A Wonderful Man’ is a piano-driven southern-fried rock-out – before closing track ‘Dondante’ scales the space-rock peaks and blows everything away before it.
By balancing progression with consolidation, technology with tradition, MMJ have created a work of stunningly expansive ambition. ‘Z’ is nothing less than a masterpiece.
55Stars Of CCTV
Read the original NME review from 2005:
Lock up your iPods, Middle England: here come Generation Asbo. Scowling into rock’s Bluewater with their disco-sequinned hoodies pulled over their brows and glowstick ankle tags flashing, Hard-Fi watch the security cameras whirr in their direction and clock the undercover filth taking up pincer formation. They take a moment to pose for the lenses – hey, they’re superstars of the surveillance room after all – then LLLLEEEGGGIIIITTT! Tearing down the aisles of punk heritage, they snatch and grab with well-cased precision: ‘London’s Calling’ into an inside pocket, ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ into a thigh pouch of their combats, the skankier bits from the first Gorillaz album and The Rapture’s spare cowbells down the front of their pants. Then they burst out of the fire escape and burn off in a stolen Fiesta, stopping only to happy-slap The Dead 60s for trying to start a shit copyist ska revival in the car park. Bare rock-pilfering, bruv!
Except of course, barring one conviction for Bowling Under The Influence, Hard-Fi are no cartoon street thugs, leaping straight off a Dixons staff room wanted poster and into the charts. No Staines So Solid, theirs is a more pertinent and true-to-life social statement than you’ll find in any Daily Mirror ‘Teen Terror’ editorial. Hard-Fi know that all the most important bands – from the Pistols to The Smiths to the Roses and beyond – reflect and feed off the political frustrations of their age; if they didn’t happen to be making brilliant music, there’d still be a Channel 4 film crew making a ‘State Of Our Youth’ documentary about them. And Hard-Fi know that, in 2005’s wilderness of Blairite betrayal, they are the voice of the new ‘Ghost Town’.
See, Hard-Fi represent an until-now-silent sub-strata of youth culture. What The Libertines did for grotty/beautiful East End drug poets, Hard-Fi are doing for the dole-for-life working class, suburban estate Nowhere Kids; the M25 their prison wall, the night-bus route an escape rope that never reaches far enough, their lives plotted out from birth, right down to the nth unwanted ankle-biter, the x number of Jobstart courses, the y months of community service and the z allocation of caravan holidays in Bognor. Their lives are a ceaseless trudge from suspicious career counsellor to discount off-licence to violent nightclub doorman and back again. Screw all your ‘traditional values’ and ‘decent working families’ bullshit, Mr Blair, here’s the news: Hard-Fi are England, and all who fail in her.
Hence, ‘Stars Of CCTV’ is frontman Richard Archer’s howl of defiance against a dead youth. Expanded from its original self-financed mini-album last year, it’s now a satellite town statistic existence torn through in a bleak but dazzling 45-minute fast-forward, and the minutiae are heartbreakingly familiar. Every cash machine is set permanently to ‘insufficient funds’; every pregnancy test to ‘positive’. One old schoolmate is dodging car bombs in Baghdad ( ‘Middle Eastern Holiday’); another’s dodging shower daddies in Feltham Young Offender’s Institute ( ‘Feltham Is Singing Out’). Friday never comes too soon ( ‘Living For The Weekend’) while the rest of the week is spent skint and despondent at a tower block window, watching the planes rise out of Heathrow and dreaming of Anywhere Else (plaintive piano soul ballad ‘Move On Now’).
And all the while the street surveillance cameras zoom in, waiting for you to turn scumbag – they all do. “Every move that I make/Gets recorded to tape/So someone up there/Can keep me safe”, Archer falsettos on the deceptively jaunty title track – think Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Cecilia’ being bundled into a police van covered in kebab vomit and bloody bits of tooth – and suddenly ‘Dry Your Eyes’ seems about as ‘street’ as Derek off Big Brother. ‘Stars Of CCTV’ is more than a mere pop record: it’s the handbook of a mongrel generation that feels discarded, untrusted and invisible to all but the Shopping City security.
But if a flick through the lyric sheet has you reaching for a DVD of Nil By Mouth for light relief, the wonder of ‘Stars…’ is how magnificently alive all this suburban angst sounds. Tarring Hard-Fi with the same ska revival brush as dullards like The Ordinary Boys and The Dead 60s is, it turns out, a bigger injustice than Coldplay being kept off Number One by Crazy Frog.
There is a tirelessly inventive, genre-splicing genius at work here, producing never-before-imagined dark-pop concoctions. The yobbos mob-chanting “Twenty-one years old and out!” on ‘Feltham Is Singing Out’ are given a cinematic yardie sheen by dollops of Dre-style drive-by strings. ‘Cash Machine’ is more Gorillaz ‘Clint Eastwood’ or an overdosing Hot Hot Heat than anything off ‘Sandanista!’ . ‘Hard To Beat’ isn’t currently felching the chart to within an inch of its life because of its spiky way with a new wave guitar, but because of the way said guitars are coiled around Stardust’s spangliest disco glitter beats, like Joe Strummer pulling a Scissor Sister. In fact, the only blatant Specials rip-off here opens the brilliantly bitter kiss-off to an unfaithful ex that is ‘Better Do Better’, and even that explodes into ballsy Bono bluster come the chorus. No, ‘Stars…’ may be a record charged with the joyriding danger and ’80s desolation vibe of The Specials, but it packs a whole bootload of more interesting urban influences and it’s out to ram-raid the Millennium Dome. Witness the mischievous fury they bring to a song about fighting outside clubs ( ‘Unnecessary Trouble’), the Daft Punk-enslaved-by-Muse celebration of ‘Living For The Weekend’ or Hard-Fi’s clarrion call ‘Tied Up Too Tight’ – essentially the snotty urchins from Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ on an angel-dust riot through Morrissons. These are gigantic tunes, and the fact that they were recorded on a knackered laptop in a disused taxi office for £38.70 only adds to their gritty magnificence.
So, should we run through the charge sheet one more time? Eleven counts of Aggravated Pop Originality and Assault With A Deadly Hook. Several charges of Grievous Cultural Significance and Defining A Generation Without A Licence. Looks like you’re going down for Album Of The Year, sunshines.
54Songs Of Praise
Read the original NME review from 2004:
Sunderland foursome The Golden Virgins specialise in documenting the laborious cruelty human beings inflict on each other routinely in the name of love. Nothing groundbreaking there you might think, but it’s the panache with which they do so that proves to be so thrilling.
Over 12 glorious tracks The Golden Virgins overhaul the love song format as we know it by giving it a generous dose of vitriolic wit. Because not only does ‘Songs Of Praise’ contain some of the most enchanting indie rock melodies heard in our age, but singer Lucas Renney proves himself to be the kind of wry lyricist this intellectually barren pop landscape has been yearning for since Jarvis Cocker discovered his local fancy dress shop and ceased to be concerned with the antics of the common people.
The acidic barrage of Renney’s caustic tongue waxes lyrical on sordid affairs of the human heart, while his band craft songs of exquisite pop nous, sounding like arch grumpster Leornard Cohen aligned with The Pixies pop sensibilities- the end result being the kind of ace debut offering that doesn’t come around too often.
We should thank our lucky stars for the existence of The Golden Virgins. Praise be, indeed.
Read the original NME review from 2007:
Some people take immediate offence to Jamie T… hear him sing – all spittle-flecked excitement and cod-Jamaican pronunciation – and go “But he’s just a trustafarian from Wimbledon!”, like life might be more fun if all white kids from Wimbledon sung about tennis and shopping centres. Fact is, though, the best metropolitan records are part gutter reality, part romantic fantasy, and so it goes with ‘Panic Prevention’.
Like no other record since The Streets’ ‘Original Pirate Material’, it’s the sound of a pirate radio station you wish existed: a rag-bag of ska-punk, junk-shop hip-hop, DIY drum’n’bass and vocal interludes sequenced to flow like a mix-tape. On first listen, scrappy-sounding and instinctive, but 20 spins later, still pulling new tricks.
Jamie’s tools are few (thumbed acoustic bass, Casio keyboard, budget sampler) but with them, he crafts chaotic narratives startling in their vividity – all pavement punch-ups, spilt Smirnoff Ice and heaving nightclubs, populated by pissed-up schoolgirls and glowering ne’er-do-wells. Jamie is no angel – the predatory, poetic ‘Salvador’ finds him hunting the club for skirt like a panther on the prowl. But the secret heart of ‘Panic Prevention’ is its surprising moments of pathos: take ‘So Lonely Was The Ballad’, skilfully conjuring lump-in-throat nostalgia from the sight of “Girls singing on the bus/Fellas kicking up a fuss” to a shuffling hip-hop beat, or the immortal ‘Sheila’ – a penny dreadful tale of doomed alcoholics and addicts perishing on the banks of the Thames. Forget the accent: Jamie T is a genuine voice, the sort of untrained, maverick personality that doesn’t come along too often. Britain, you’re honoured to have him.
Read the original NME review from 2001:
Sweet but deadly, the world of Rufus Wainwright. Full of love that offers fleeting epiphanies and lasting aches. Chocolate that tastes beautiful, but makes you fat. Drugs that take you higher but fracture your mind. If he had a signature pose, it would be reclining on a couch, lost in a poetic, melodramatic swoon.
'Poses' is Wainwright's second LP, and it sees him displaying splendid musical finery. Not afraid to over-egg a potentially sickly pudding, the 27-year-old's songs have inspired orchestral flourishes and run from light electronica to huge piano balladry. Kept on the rack by his own indulgence, it's easy to imagine him alone in a poet's garret - a garret with room for a string section.
In this respect, at least, Wainwright is part of a great tradition. Certainly musical quality runs in his veins (he's the son of folk singers Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III), but he operates on a far more lush and grand scale than his parents ever did. The Beach Boys collaborator Van Dyke Parks has worked with him, while his debut LP was an epic tale in itself, costing $750,000 to make.
But what price money, Wainwright seems to be asking, when you have a vision? Like the works of other great swooners from Cole Porter to The Divine Comedy, 'Poses' is held together by its maker's maniacal attention to detail and conceptual strength. A series of snapshots that find Rufus in a number of attitudes - listing his vices in 'Cigarettes And Chocolate Milk', admiring his new leather jacket in 'Poses' - the songs that comprise this album chart his doomed experiences in the most select of the world's [I]demi-mondes[/I], and do it with great melodic drama. He's a sponge, not a stone, and if he fails, then he has reconciled himself to failing in style.
Which, as master of the audacious stroke, he hasn't. An exercise in self-mythologising, 'Poses' leaves us with the impression of Rufus Wainwright he wants us to have: romantic, talented, handsome, and tragically alone. Except for the timpanist, of course.
51The Good, The Bad And The Queen
Read the original NME review from 2007:
Damon Albarn doesn’t half make it easy for people to dislike him. There he was, onstage at Camden’s newly refurbished Roundhouse venue with his new band (who, apparently, are “all too old to have a name”) performing this, their first album, in its entirety. But, one minute into ‘Three Changes’, he stops proceedings and loudly orders his partners in crime to “fucking focus”. A second version begins and the same thing happens. Third take, and the band – consisting of far-more-legendary-than-anyone-in-fucking-Blur Clash bassist Paul Simonon, 66-year-old afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen and no-slouch-either-having-been-in-The-Verve guitarist Simon Tong – keep their heads firmly down, so as not to further incur the wrath of their megalomaniacal leader. The good vibes now lie in tatters. Damon, sensing the atmosphere, attempts to address the situation with the pogoing-and-cartoon-gurn routine that got him through Blur’s ‘The Great Escape’ days. But it’s too late. Things have all gone a bit… well, sinister.
It’s a turn of events that perfectly encapsulates the criticisms most often levelled at the (ex?) Blur leader. Yes, he is without question one of his or any other generation’s most consistently exciting and innovative, clever and brilliant songwriters; but he’s also always been seen as the fanatically driven-rather-than-tortured perfectionist – a man ruled by head rather than heart. He’s phenomenally talented, the argument runs, but when was the last time a Damon Albarn composition made someone cry, or fall in love, or – aw, fuck it, we’re gonna have to make the comparison sooner or later – feel like they were gonna live forever? The answer, fantastically, is now.
The signs were there in lead off download-only single ‘Herculean’: an eerie, absolutely beautiful (and let’s face it, that’s not a description you could level at Gorillaz’ ‘Dirty Harry’ or ‘DARE’) Air-gone-human shuffle that is as emotional as it is musically sophisticated. “Everyone’s on the way to heaven”, mourns Damon of the post-Armageddon wasteland that surrounds him, sounding more sincere than he ever has before, backed by more moving music than ever before.
‘The Good, The Bad & The Queen’, then, though billed as “a postcard from London”, is as far from a ‘Parklife’-style cor-blimey-guv’nor concept record as is possibly imaginable. Yes, it may often evoke imagery of tower blocks, trilbies and Charles Dickens, but more noteworthy is the fact that there is more soul contained within these 12 songs than in every Blur and Gorillaz record combined.
Opener ‘History Song’ sets the moody, cinematic, textured, ethereal tone, with a plucked, cheap-sounding Spanish guitar married to Simonon’s crude dub basslines (“punk” if you’re being polite; “a bit ropey” if you’re not) and Allen’s minimal tap-tap rhythms, processed to within an inch of their life by producer Danger Mouse (yeah, him again); the waltzy ‘’80s Life’ and stomping next single ‘Kingdom Of Doom’ are just as creepily addictive, not least because they sound exactly like ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’-era Blur with Paul Simonon on bass and, er, Tony Allen on drums. With Danger Mouse prod… well, you get the picture. It’s a rare example of an idea that sounds wankerishly credible on paper, but which in practice feels perfectly natural.
For all its weird beauty, this is very much Damon’s record – much more so than Gorillaz. Or indeed, Blur. Simon Tong’s guitar is tastefully atmospheric, but ultimately anonymous; Tony Allen’s drums often sound more like the work of a machine; Simonon’s clunk may have been placed deliberately high in the mix by Danger, but even at its most magically intrusive it fails to divert attention from the staggering brilliance of Damon’s melodies.
On ‘Behind The Sun’ he strains to the very tip of his range, sounding more fragile – damaged, even – than ever before; the psychedelic, Syd Barrett-esque ‘Green Fields’ could well be the best thing he’s ever written; ‘The Bunting Song’ (which, like ‘Herculean’, at times sounds uncannily like Air’s ‘Talkie Walkie’) finds him yearning for innocence and of childhood days. Yes, haters, you read that right. But then, would you ever have imagined hearing this social commentator and sometime futurist singing lines like, “Emptiness in computers bothers me/We make our own confining time” (‘A Soldier’s Tale’)? Even if they are supposedly in the third person?
If and when Damon Albarn makes a shit record, there’ll no doubt be queues round the block to lambast him. His critics’ll have to wait though, because with ‘The Good, The Bad & The Queen’, he’s just laid waste to their long-running last complaint (“Yeah, it’s good, but it’s not very soulful, is it?”). Damon Albarn? Yeah, he got soul.