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 a biography of M.I.A.:
Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam better known by her stage name M.I.A., is an English songwriter, record producer, singer, fashion designer, and artist of Sri Lankan Tamil origin. An accomplished visual artist by 2002, M.I.A. came to prominence in early 2004 through file-sharing of her singles "Galang" and "Sunshowers" on the Internet. She released her Mercury Prize-nominated debut album Arular in 2005. Her second album, Kala, was released in 2007 and gained her mainstream chart success. She has been nominated for two Grammy Awards and an Academy Award. From Wikipedia
Read the original NME review from 2003:
In our green, moneyed corner of Planet Earth, possibility is being pissed up the wall. For the vast majority of human beings, at the age of about 21, the sparkle in the eyes deadens just a little, reason overtakes wonder, and they become a citizen rather than a soul. As the prophet Ally Sheedy foretold in the third greatest film ever made, ‘The Breakfast Club’, ‘When you get old, your heart dies’.
Yet for a few sacred people, that disengagement from the simple and the obvious is never quite total. Their eyes will always be that little bit wider than everybody else, and these are the people with the equipment that might lead them one day to genius. For Muse lynchpin Matt Bellamy, those years banging his head against a brick wall are over. He’s broken through, found a better place on the other side, and he wants us all to come with him. Just minutes into ‘Absolution’ he sets down his ultimate commandment to this lazy world, on thunderous opener ‘Apocalypse Please’. "It’s time," he says, "we saw a miracle".
Muse’s third album is packed full of them. The trappings of showbiz, muscle museums and plug-in babies have all been cleared away – swept under the carpet as childish things. Free of fripperies like detail, reference or circumstance, Bellamy has put together a collection of simple, poetic, transparent songs that re-engage with the old words and values; honour, courage and righteousness. It’s one long love letter to the Impossible Dream, and it WILL NOT SURRENDER. There’s been no record released yet this century with stakes so high. Musically, it could have been a disaster. But one man’s prog is another man’s progress, and every guitar here sounds like it’s from the future, every flourish and movement scored and orchestrated with the celestial vision. By indulging every pomp rock wet dream he’s ever had, Matt’s found that there’s no such thing as too much distortion, and that, when you care this much, chartbusting tunes really do fall from the sky.
It begins, of course, simply; a subtle, funeral dirge clambers in from the distance. Then ‘Apocalypse Please’ – all wailing vocal theatrics and operatic guitars – arrives and makes damn sure you know that the stakes have been raised. The single ‘Time Is Running Out’ briefly flies back to earth to pick up a few conventional rock tricks, ascending menacingly from scuzzy, brittle verse before crashing through the heart of the sun to unveil the album’s pure motive on the delicate, hymnal ‘Sing For Absolution’. But even this gives away further ground to the tingling rock-opera of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. Only on ‘Falling Away With You’ does Bellamy come close to anything as selfish as a love song, and even then, its intimacy is factored out to encompass the entire universe, Bellamy crooning, "forget the reckless things we’ve done, I think our lives have just begun" as much to the rest of this lost world as to any sweetheart.
Most crucially, this mammoth construction of sound never veers from its co-ordinates, never descends into either shoddy poetry or guitar masturbation. And the standard of instant, memorable tunes never drops. From here, a brief, dreamy ‘Interlude’ allows time to power up before ‘Hysteria’> cranks up the guitar for full-on chartbound power grunge. Things reach critical mass with album centrepiece ‘Butterflies And Hurricanes’. As a frantic electronic niggle slowly builds around squelching guitars, the incantation grows bigger, never losing momentum until a fuzz of distortion opens up to the sound of grand chamber pianos falling down spiral stairs, gospel backing vocals all adding up to – in its own head at least – the most powerful song the world has ever seen. It’s certainly the biggest commandment of the record, and also the simplest: "You’ve got to change the world and use this chance to be heard". You can see the tears as Bellamy desperately tries to make us feel and care as much as he does.
A record of this much scope and scale can only reach chaos, and so the only chink comes through on ‘TSP’ and ‘Endlessly’, which, for all their metallic splendour, could have been on ‘Origin Of Symmetry’. Which is hardly an insult, especially considering the final two tracks, ‘Thoughts Of A Dying Atheist’ and ‘Ruled By Secrecy’, represent one free-flowing fug of wonder. But by then, the work is done. On earth, Muse have made the UK Rock record of the year, but as it is in heaven, they’ve created a scripture; the defining document of a new religion no more complicated than Bellamy’s crystal clear lyrics; there is no afterlife, you have to create your happy ending here on earth. Sing for absolution, for sure, but it won’t be a God that absolves you come judgement day, it’ll be the only deity that’s all-powerful – the heroic, miraculous force of collective humanity, doing things before they die.
Muse have widened the goalposts and re-established what rock is allowed to stand for. Next to ‘Absolution’, even something as majestic as ‘Elephant’ sounds so painfully small. Which, of course, means that there’ll already be an army of dead-eyes queuing up to destroy it as pomp or prog or metal or bluster. But that’s its beauty. Like ‘Ulysses’ or ‘The Matrix Reloaded’, ‘Absolution’ makes as much sense as you decide it’s going to. But if you undo some buttons, dare to dream and allow this astonishing record total control, you might just prove Ally wrong.
48Bows And Arrows
Read the original NME review from 2004:
Not that we want to encourage growing up, but some time around the age of 28, you stop being a 'band' in the sense that your record is basically a loss leader for all the shagging, drugging and hairdressing. Which is all good and great, but after some of those people die, some go rich, solo and shit, and some go into 'short films', the rest of them start making records rather than just being in bands.
And The Walkmen know enough about being in bands, having collectively been in two - reconstituted from the remains of cult DC alt.rockers Jonathan Fire*Eater and still culter DC alt.rockers The Recoys. When those bands split, they formed The Walkmen because they "dug each others' bands". 'Bows & Arrows' is their second album and it's a bit Bunnymen, a bit Mary Chain, a bit Cure, a bit U2 - in fact, another bit of great music that suggests that, these days, the only decade to be referencing is the '80s. And in contrast to the likes of Franz and Scissor Sisters, The Walkmen are all about the dark indie.
And yet, to call The Walkmen revivalists would be to lump them in with the band of retards they're pushing out of the way. The real reason 'Bows & Arrows' sounds the way it does is because it's the sound of experience. It's a lesson in what happens to scenes when other people leave them alone and they sprout off in their own different directions, the scuzz of '90s New York and Washington allowed to grow and expand and evolve into something new. Lead single 'The Rat' could be Interpol with a chesty cough, '138th Street' could be a new wave Dylan, and 'Hang On, Siobhan' could be the, hush, Tindersticks. Overwhelmingly, it all adds up to an album that will never make a fuss in your collection, but every now and then you'll remember how much you love it.
Right now there's a whole clutch of these bands, such as The Bronx and The Constantines, making this kind of brash, crunchy, masculine rock music that's a wee bit in touch with its gay side. Out of all of them, The Walkmen are probably the least shagging, drugging, haircutting of the lot. But they have made the best record.
Read the original NME review from 2002:
Meet Jack White's favourite songwriter and where are you? You're in the Mississippi delta with an octogenarian called Howlin' discussing his recently deceased dog, right? Well no, actually, you're cruising Madison Avenue in a beaten up Chevy gassing about cars and girls with Brendan Benson, essentially Evan Dando if he'd never seen a single goblin. 'Lapalco' is a masterpiece of geography: the angular pop panache of Benson's hometown Detroit lashed magnificently to the cosmopolitan fuzz and fluster of his adopted New York. Imbued with the same comfort-blanket buzz they got from all those Quaaludes and Gerry Rafferty and Wings records in 1973, twentysomething relationship-rock killers like 'Folk Singer', 'Tiny Spark' and 'I'm Easy' are Sex In The City made music; slick, sardonic and perfect with a family tub of Ben & Jerry's.
46The Great Eastern
Read the original NME review from 2000:
After two LPs ('Domestiques' and 'Peloton') named after bicycling terminology, The Delgados have named their third album after a Glasgow dosshouse. Its stern facades keep watch over the inner sleeve, and the inhabitants' troubled spirits pass like a shiver through the album's darker tracks.
The group's ambitions are clearly high. It was recorded in upstate New York by friend of the glockenspiel Dave Fridmann. But while 'The Great Eastern' undoubtedly moves, even as it impresses, the album's grandeur - all swooping cellos, dulcimers, clarinets, flugelhorns, vibraphones - only lays bare The Delgados' limitations as unorthodox pop athletes.
You would have imagined that by now, Glasgow's most comprehensively strung would have learned to let shy tunes like 'Accused Of Stealing' unfold of their own accord. Instead, every graceful shoot here is instantly fenced off by woodwind, then locked in a great cat's cradle of fussy arrangements. Their cause isn't helped by Emma Pollock and Alun Woodward's two-note Swanney whistle melodies, whose very basic charms are no match for the rabid symphonics queuing up to overwhelm them.
With all the flavours on the emotional trolley, The Delgados still can't get past bittersweet. And for all their enthusiasm for music's vast palette, their songs all come out in monochrome. Like the institution with which it shares its name, 'The Great Eastern' feels haunted by opportunities missed.
45Since I Left You
Read the original NME review from 2001:
When The Avalanches were interviewed by [I]NME[/I] a couple of weeks ago, they balked at suggestions they were the coolest band in the world. 'Since I Left You' is, after all, an album constructed from hundreds of snippets of obscure songs no-one's ever heard of, a reflection of an adolescence spent trawling nerdishly through second-hand record stores, of endless evenings dedicated to listening to music rather than getting laid or shooting smack.
But then, 'Since I Left You' is proof that while being a vinyl junkie might not make you a teen idol, crafting a joyous, kaleidoscopic masterpiece of sun-kissed disco-pop definitely will. Just like those Daft Punk boys - two more geeky beat-spotters whose music has elevated them to the status of fashionista demi-gods - The Avalanches have found their irreverent, bittersweet take on pop turned into one of the albums of the year. Like, how cool is [I]that[/I]?
Well, pretty cool. Only, as far as the 'band' (sample sultans Robbie Chater and Darren Seltmann, plus their mates) are concerned, this record is two years old, and in many ways a diluted version of the 'Gimix' mix tape - an hour-long cut-up of tracks as diverse as The Smiths' 'The Boy With The Thorn In His Side' and Cyndi Lauper's 'Girls Just Want To Have Fun' that The Avalanches created as the perfect party soundtrack, and which became the blueprint for 'Since I Left You'. Copyright laws being what they are, the finished product is a different beast, with subtler samples, a slicker flow, still crazy but not as brilliantly shambolic as its redecessor. The Avalanches, always dodging those 'cool' tags, are already bored with it. They don't believe the hype.
You, however, should. Because when all is said and done, 'Since I Left You' is simply awesome. Some of it - like the title track - would be at home in a '50s musical. Some of it sounds like The Beach Boys soundtracking [I]The Love Boat[/I]. Some of it, like the Nancy Wilson-filching 'Flight Tonight', is quietly soulful. And then there's the moment in 'Close To You' where they drop a section of Kid Creole And The Coconuts' 'Stool Pigeon' and you just think, 'What the fuck's going on here?'
Well, what's going on is this: the benchmark-setting apogee of the genre-mashing spirit that's been taking over pop since DJ Shadow's 'Endtroducing...', a heartfelt remix of some of the most shamelessly ecstatic music of the last 40 years. Their sonic palette is larger than Daft Punk's - so while 'Electricity' or the astonishing 'A Different Feeling' do that sublime filtered disco thing as well as their French counterparts, 'Since I Left You' also steals from De La Soul, The Osmonds, Wu-Tang Clan, 5th Dimension and Madonna. It takes you on a trip (there's a loose travel theme), plays Dadaist tricks with sound like all those Napster soundclash terrorists, and serves up a final 15 minutes of breathtaking, sugary, disco-soul drama (hey, listen, isn't that a snatch of Boney M's 'Ma Baker'?) that's really quite unlike anything you'll have heard.
Cool? Sure, whatever. Brilliant? Undoubtedly.
44Speakerboxxx / The Love Below
Read the original NME review from 2003:
OK, let's take this slowly. 'Speakerboxxx/The Love Below' is OutKast's fifth album. Two CDs. 39 songs. 137 minutes of synapse-popping, gut-reorganising, breathtakingly adventurous music. As you've probably heard by now, OutKast's two members - Big Boi and Andre 3000 - take a CD apiece. It's a neat way to assert their differences, especially since Big Boi remains a major player in Atlanta's rap scene, while Dre is given to announcing "hip-hop is dead". But those nagging rumours of a complete split may be a little premature.
For a start, Dre produces a handful of tracks on Big Boi's half, 'Speakerboxxx' and, as the Boi repeatedly stresses, "Ain't no uno, we're a duo". It's easy to portray the two as opposing stereotypes: Big Boi the geezerish poledancing aficionado who calls his company "Boom Boom Room Productions", a rap traditionalist; Dre the effete hippy who styles himself as "Cupid Valentino", a psychedelic free spirit.
But as 'Speakerboxxx' proves, nothing is quite so straightforward. Take 'GhettoMusick', a dizzying varispeed trip through old-school rave, lascivious soul and Lord knows what else, or the uproarious Cotton Club swing of 'Bowtie', or the intricate, twanging electro of 'Flip Flop Rock' (featuring, delightfully, the sage Jay-Z's thoughts on footwear). By hip-hop standards - even those of The Neptunes and Timbaland - Big Boi is anything but conservative.
He's also a lot more thoughtful than his image might suggest. It's Big Boi who packs the political conscience in OutKast, so 'War' sees his lucid hyperbabble turned on the Bush Junta and its misadventures, neatly summarised as, "Basically, America you got fucked". The outstanding 'The Rooster', meanwhile, sets his problems as a single parent to supercharged P-funk, and is almost certainly the first rap song to touch on Princess Diana and nappy-changing.
Andre 3000 is not averse to filth, either. "Roses really smell like poo-poo," he coos on 'Roses', a singalong duet with Big Boi and one of the saner moments of 'The Love Below’. For here's the gilded and ludicrous album that Prince never got round to making, full of sex, schmaltz, idealism, self-indulgence, and the requisite guest spot from God ("Damn. . . you're a girl," approves Dre). Norah Jones and Kelis also turn up to this bizarre love-in, along with Aaliyah samples, Aphex Twin beats, jangly guitar pop and a jazz'n'drill'n'bass version of 'My Favourite Things' from The Sound Of Music. Honestly, it's amazing.
Big Boi, we may conclude, is something of a realist, while Andre 3000 is away with the fairies. Together and apart, though, it's clear they drive each other to new extremes. "We never relaxin', OutKast is everlastin'," claims Big Boi during 'The Way You Move'. And whatever their future, a place in posterity for 'Speakerboxxx'/'The Love Below' is assured: two Technicolor explosions of creativity that people will be exploring, analysing and partying to for years.
43Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Read the original NME review from 2002:
There's love, there's the war on terror, and for [a]Wilco[/a], both are a battlefield. 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot' sees the former country rockers streamlining their sound down to a painful bareness, and telling us how they hurt.
And, ouch, fingernails down the blackboard, it works brilliantly. In the songs of ex-Uncle Tupelo man Jeff Tweedy tall buildings shake, light is obscured behind the veil of tears, while Jim O'Rourke, the Zelig of alternative music, is on hand to pour sonic salt in the wounds.
Really, it's just as well. 'I Am Trying To Break Your Heart' liberally casts desolation from track one, and in spite of the 'White Album' joy 'I'm The Man Who Loves You' and a couple of Pavement-y frolics, it's a gripping darkness that doesn't often lift. It's hard going, but it's worth it, and that is undoubtedly their point.
Read the original NME review from 2008:
The New Year deserves a new you. Now’s the perfect time to do a Gok Wan on your wardrobe; to finally peel off those skinny black jeans that have been bonded to your legs with cider since 2003; to bin the mascara (girls and boys); to donate the pointy shoes to a tramp and leave anything neon (so 2007) in a bundle outside the Sue Ryder shop.
Instead, this season you should mostly be wearing striped Ralph Lauren shirts, deck shoes, chino shorts, pastel sweaters (in a knot around the neck, naturally) and accessorising the whole look with a Moroccan-style keffiyeh or a red, gold and green hand-woven waistcoat. At least those are the signals we’re getting from Vampire Weekend: inventors of the ‘afro prep’ style and the best band to come out of New York since The Strokes persuaded us to don those preposterously tight trousers in the first place.
Vampire Weekend inhabit a very different New York to The Strokes’ Lower East Side scuzz dens. They’ve got one foot on the cloistered campus of Columbia University, where they formed, and the other in Brooklyn’s artier outer reaches, from whence also came TV On The Radio, Yeasayer and Dirty Projectors. When NME visited them on home turf last summer they were playing their devastatingly charming afro-tinged indie-pop to a load of picnicking families munching vegan hot dogs in a municipal park. Not very rock’n’roll. But, compared to our usual diet of Camden grot and slutty rave hedonism, listening to Vampire Weekend’s music was like being caressed by a warm, tropical breeze. They’ve taken the wholesome, literate indie-pop of The Shins, cross-bred it with the camp post-punk of Franz Ferdinand and spiced it all up with exotic flourishes of soukous guitar, doing for African pop what Beirut did for Balkan folk.
There is simply nothing else out there that sounds quite like ‘Oxford Comma’. The prim choirboy harmonies – amplified by school-hall echo but without a hint of macho distortion – conceal an irresistible geek-pop tune played out over a delectable starched-collar groove. And have you ever before heard a lyric that elegantly rebukes grammar snobs and gives you a lesson in Tibetan geography before ultimately deferring to the wisdom of crunk rapper Lil Jon?
‘Mansard Roof’ may be even weirder: a song about neo-classical buildings (with a brief diversion into British maritime history) set to music that sounds like Gilbert & Sullivan bingeing on cheap speed. Vampire Weekend certainly like to make your brain whirr as your legs wobble, as you might expect from four such handsomely educated fellows, but they can also ambush you with unpretentious high-tempo hoedowns, such as the taut township groove of ‘A-Punk’, or the bustling, anthemic ‘Walcott’, which is Arcade Fire in an unusually chirpy mood.
Vampire Weekend are funky, too (in that naïve, gawky way perfected by their natural New York ancestors Talking Heads), while their relentless lo-fi cheeriness recalls Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers. Their strength is that, musically as well as sartorially, they’re unafraid to plunder and repurpose styles previously considered naffer than Bluetooth headsets. ‘Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa’ namechecks Peter Gabriel and the way it expertly incorporates African pop guitar riffs is a clear nod to Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ – an album that, until now, was listened to solely by eco-conscious Muswell Hill Mums organising dinner parties in aid of Nepalese yak farmers. There are uptight cod-ska rhythms that scream The Police, while the band even successfully ride out the fact that the intro to ‘M79’ sounds like the theme tune to a Sunday night rural detective series. A mischievous pop sensibility ensures all these little experiments come off as refreshing quirks rather than heinous transgressions.
Naysayers will inevitably take issue with Vampire Weekend’s privileged upbringing, but they’re actually no posher than most of the hoorays who patrol the London indie scene, and they’re a damn sight more inventive about how they channel their educational advantage into writing smart and original pop music. It’s true that most of Vampire Weekend’s songs seem to take place in a whitewashed Ivy League world where Blake and Walcott are acceptable Christian names, but singer Ezra Koenig is more Holden Caulfield than Frasier Crane, spearing the bores and the phonies in a language that’s too worldly and witty to resist.
Indulge in ‘Vampire Weekend’’s vivid, foppish fantasy, which can still tell you plenty about the human condition, even if its lacrosse whites are rather suspiciously well-laundered.
Read the original NME review from 2009:
Making the strange seem normal is the most accomplished act of artistic alchemy. Any idiot can try to be weird; most will just end up being depressingly inane. But to take something as wonderfully, magically strange as [a]Wild Beasts[/a]’ debut ‘Limbo, Panto’ and sublimate its elements into something as subtly beautiful as [b]‘Two Dancers’[/b] is something very special indeed. The ‘look at me!’ theatricality of Hayden Thorpe’s swoops and screeches, the poetic flourishes and jarring incongruities of the lyrics, the olde-world historical scenes… well, they’re all still there. But Wild Beasts Phase Two is less vaudevillian and a lot more lyrical.
The clever-clever playfulness of ‘Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants’ and ‘Please Sir’ is left aside in favour of a more mature, immersive and organic sound. Taking its jump-off point from the most refined song on [b]‘Limbo, Panto’[/b], ‘The Devil’s Crayon’, this is an album that takes your heart by sleight of hand rather than ambush.
The counterpoint between the neurotic, lascivious thrill of Thorpe’s falsetto and bassist Tom Fleming’s impossibly rich, sonorous, northern tones is delicious. It’s like listening to Ted Hughes read poetry in the drawing room while Maria Callas has a breakdown in the kitchen. The fact that these intriguing set-pieces are put to music this gorgeous is double the wonder. At one moment, an aching melancholy of word and tone conjoin, the next a horrific image sings out in a beautiful voice.
The other thing that’s so compelling about ‘Two Dancers’ is that it really is a cohesive album. Many pay lip service to the idea of the album in an age of downloading, but here is one where to skip a track feels like sacrilege. From the propulsive, Blue Nile-ish beauty of [b]‘The Fun Powder Plot’[/b], a deft exploration of the rage of fathers denied custody, to the almost [a]Panda Bear[/a]-like lullaby [b]‘Empty Nest’[/b], each feels like a dream-like, disconnected scene in an abstract play you don’t quite understand but that touches you in strange ways.
The two-piece title track is grim and gorgeous in equal measure. Recalling the tense drama of Associates and the strange emotional scapes of late Smiths and early Suede, it paints a picture that seems to be set in some nightmarish ancient ransack, all gang rape, poverty and broken families. The line, “Oh, do you want my bones/heart between your teeth” recurs in the second section, depicting a broken relationship haunted by the genetic ghosts of violent history.
[b]‘All The King’s Men’[/b], meanwhile, runs through the courtship ritual, Fleming wryly grouping “girls from Roedean, girls from Shipley” in a dizzy array of belles of the ball, before reducing them to sex (“girls astride me, girls beneath me”) and then “birthing machines” in a caddish exploration of droit de seigneur. Rather than an anthem of patriarchy, it feels like a man exploring the nastiest edges of his psychic potential. No less brave is the Hayden-led [b]‘We Still Got The Taste Dancin’ On Our Tongues’[/b], a folky ballad of quick fumbles up back alleys that makes the crude and mundane darkly romantic. Of all the second albums expected this year, this might not have been the one you were waiting for. You might even have hated their first. But [a]Wild Beasts[/a] have undergone a sea change, and this beautiful album is a treasure that deserves plundering. [B]Emily Mackay[/B]